On Cycling through Tokyo

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Half a week after my 8-hour bike ride through Tokyo, I’m still slightly sore and bruised. Cycling from around 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM on last Saturday’s TUJ excursion was both a challenge and delight for me. With a TUJ representative, official tour guides, and some members of TUJ’s cycling club, myself and 14 other study abroad students mounted our rented Brompton bicycles (known for their small size and foldability) by school in the early morning. I was equal parts excited and anxious, having not ridden a bicycle in three years. Despite my reservations, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to cycle through Tokyo’s backstreets.

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Our first destination was Zenfukuji, where we stopped to briefly practice our cycling. In the foreground of this picture, just outside of the temple, is actually the first American embassy in Japan.

We had many destinations packed into our schedule, but the sights along the way were equally a part of the experience. For example, just minutes from leaving campus, we passed a temple that was the site of a very famous doctor from the Edo Period’s grave. After viewing the outside of Japan’s Supreme Court, the Imperial Palace, and other impressive sights in Chiyoda, we parked our bikes at Kanda Myojin Shrine and walked to Origami Kaikan, an origami museum just a short distance away. Though our visit was limited to about fifteen minutes, their exhibits were small and intimate, and an origami demonstration upstairs in the giftshop caught the attention of many visitors. After lunch at a soba noodle spot, our group visited several other sites sprinkled throughout the city, including Dentsu-in Temple, Higo-Hosokawa Garden, and Ueno Park.

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I was shocked to find that this rainbow crane piece at Origami Kaikan is constructed of one continual sheet of paper.

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A snapshot from Higo-Hosokawa Garden, one of the most scenic spots on our trip.

Tokyo University was a particularly striking destination for me. Full of distinguished and beautiful architecture, Tokyo University was explained to us to be “the Harvard of Japan.” As we stopped by a pond full of turtles and koi right on campus, I thought of the extraordinary lives of students here: surrounded by this expansive beauty, both natural and architectural, and with direct access to the experience of living in Tokyo. The many dualities of this city, which I’ve praised often in other blog posts, felt contained in their own microcosm here on Tokyo University’s campus.

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The water in Shinobazu Pond in Ueno is almost completely hidden by these water lilies.

One constant throughout our trip was the presence of construction – and construction workers, who would watch and nod to every one of us as we passed on our bikes. Their friendliness, something you might not find as naturally in the United States, became an integral part of my ride. While construction everywhere indicates how the city is changing, this remained the same, no matter where we were along our 20-mile path. We weaved among marathoners in Chiyoda, pedestrians in Shinjuku, and traffic in Ueno, eventually ending back at TUJ (from which we limped home).

To quickly speak on the rest of my weekend, and the first half of my week, would have to include my case of laryngitis (no doubt a product of a slight cold, plus karaoke, plus a vigorous bike ride). My sick day on Sunday was a good excuse to stay in and focus on studying for midterms. Once again, I remain incredulous that I’ve already reached such a point in my studies here. My goal for the next five weeks is to remain in the moment with my studies, my friends, and this country.

 

 

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About Ariel Kovlakas for Temple Japan

Hi there! My name is Ariel Kovlakas, and I’m a senior majoring in Communications (Media, Culture & Society) and minoring in Sociology. As a student at Fordham University's Manhattan campus, I’ve been grateful to live in a hub of opportunities and experiences that have never failed to expand my worldview. In a very real way, my time with TUJ will be a defining and final chapter in my undergrad career, as I’m heading out into the world directly after my abroad experience. And what a way to go – studying in Tokyo, Japan with Temple University. As (extremely) excited as I am, I’m even more grateful to participate and record my experience. I’ve always had a passion for Japan (its food, art, architecture, festivals, you name it). My hopes are that the more I explore Japan, the more I’ll be able to uncover about myself and what comes next.

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