Monthly Archives: July 2017

Summiting Mt. Fuji


This past Tuesday into Wednesday, my friends and I climbed Mt. Fuji, the tallest mountain in Japan.

We first arrived on Mt. Fuji at the 5th station of the Subashiri trail, where we were greeted with two small stores, a restaurant and a place to sit and eat. Everyone there was very welcoming, and as we walked towards the stores a lady handed us a small cup of hot soup, which was totally free! My friends and I hung out here for a bit, to get acclimated to the high altitude we were at. We grabbed a bite to eat and looked around the shops.

After an hour or so, we began our ascent with high energy and high hopes!

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Seamus, Ariel, and Matt at the start of our hike


Starting altitude!

The beginning of the hike was very green; not what I pictured a volcano to look like. The temperature wasn’t too hot, but it was extremely humid. It was probably the most humid climate I have ever experienced.

Within the first hour or so of our hike, it began to downpour! We scrambled to get our ponchos out of our bags and to put them on. The end result can be seen below.


Seamus, Ariel, and Matt in their ponchos

After all our struggle to try and get our ponchos on, the rain only lasted for about 5 minutes.

From there, we continued to hike up the mountain, taking breaks every now and then.


6th Station on the Subashiri Trail


Almost at the 7th station


Views up the mountain when the clouds cleared away

Our very helpful and kind friend at TUJ OSS (Temple University Japan Office of Student Services), Nahomi, advised that we should reserve a stay at a hut along Fuji, and boy, am I thankful we did. Nahomi had warned us that some climbers experience altitude sickness, which is basically feeling dizzy/nauseous because of the extremely high altitudes. Of course, I was the one to succumb to this sickness, so my way up the mountain was rather painful. When we had finally reached our hut, I was so grateful for a roof over my head, a hot meal, and warm bed to lay down in. My head was spinning and lying down for a few hours helped me settle down.


Ariel, Matt, and Seamus eating a hot meal at our hut


Two very tired bloggers [Photo credit: Seamus Kirby]

We stayed at the hut for a total of maybe 4 hours and then continued our climb to the summit! We left the hut at about 12:30am and it was an estimated 3 hours until the summit, where we would watch the sun rise over the clouds.

When I told friends and co-workers that I was going to climb Fuji, many people told me that I should definitely buy a hiking stick. Hiking sticks are sold at the 5th station, where you start, and come branded with about 3 stamps. As you go up the mountain, you get a new branding at every station you reach, until you finally get to the summit. The catch is that you have to pay for each branding along the way, so it can be a little pricey. However, I think that the hiking stick really helped me along my ascent, and definitely during my descent along the mountain. Plus, now I have a really awesome souvenir!


Getting my hiking stick branded!

The last 2 hours before the summit were so slow! At this point, most of the trails have merged and so there’s just hundreds of hikers queueing on the trail slowly making their way to the summit. Be that as it may, when we finally reached the top, the view was amazing. Not to mention, the satisfaction of being able to say I had reached the summit of Mt. Fuji.


Seamus, Matt, Ariel, and myself at the summit for sunrise! [Photo credits: fellow hiker]


Above the clouds on the summit of Mt. Fuji.


Me showing off my “Fujidas” shirt on the top of the mountain! [Photo credit: Matt Hazell]

Would I do it again? Maybe. However, I’m very thankful for the experience. Climbing that mountain took a lot of strength and mental endurance I didn’t think I had. But, now I can use “I’ve been to the top of Mt. Fuji!” as my new ice breaker.


From the Dorms to Fuji and Back


Even a Sunday can be eventful while abroad with TUJ. My week began with exploration of an area that is very old to Tokyo, but very new to me. Asakusa is one of the city’s oldest districts, and was the site of my final outing with part of my Practical Japanese class and our professor, Matsuhashi-sensei. A few of us treated her to brunch at a small okonomiyaki joint. We then explored the area, stopping by Sensō-ji, a well-known and longstanding temple built in the 7th century. Although Asakusa is a large tourist attraction of Tokyo, and thus we were caught in large crowds most of the time, I felt fortunate to experience it with my professor, who could provide some background and answer questions.


The owner of the restaurant took our photo after our okonamiyaki, shared on a hot plate. From left to right, back to front: Greg, Matsuhashi-sensei, Kevin, Rob, myself, and Ruchi.


We unexpectedly pet an owl while exploring the streets of Asakusa after brunch.

Not less than a day ago, three study abroad friends and I took on summiting Mt. Fuji. I would be remiss if I didn’t admit how nervous I was about whether or not I could manage. But with the help of my friend’s good planning, the advice of the OSS office, and several boxes of Calorie Mate (a popular energy bar/meal replacer in Japan), we completed the journey.


The Wednesday morning sun rose around 4:40 AM on the summit of Mt. Fuji.

We woke up early in the morning to make our way to Mt. Fuji’s 5th Station from the Shinjuku bus terminal. By the time we prepared ourselves for climbing by eating a sizable lunch, it was already around 3:00 PM. As physically taxing as it was, the lesser-taken Subashiri Trail was very tranquil, and one of the only places that I can remember ever experiencing complete quiet. We arranged to stay briefly at a hut at the 7th station, 3,000 meters above ground level. Taking our time to rest and have some fun, we were a couple of hours later to our respite site than we planned to be, which only made our warm meal and bed even more satisfying. We made sure to be up by 12:30 AM sharp to avoid the same situation and make the sunrise at the summit, the main event of the trip. Many pictures, huddles for warmth, and warm bowls of ramen later, we began a difficult descent. At 10:00 AM, we finally arrived back at the 5th station and were immediately greeted by travel guides and shopkeepers who were eager to help us on our way home. Thanks to them, we made it back to the TUJ dorms early and without too much trouble. Especially after what has probably been the most taxing physical event of my life, it was more than I could ask for.


A worker at the 6th station hut brands a stamp into my party’s walking sticks.


I ordered a simple miso ramen at the summit.

Yesterday’s helpful community on Mt. Fuji has not been an isolated experience. In previous posts, I’ve discussed the noticeable friendliness of construction workers and shop owners on Mt. Ashigara. Over last weekend as well, I witnessed such greatness in the community where I live. Just around the corner from the school’s Musashi-Kosugi dorms in Kanagawa, there is a daycare where students can often see children at play while on their daily commute. Participating in some type of mini summer festival, the kids of the preschool marched down the block on Saturday afternoon, carrying mascot-themed mikoshi and chanting exclamations. Along with their parents and teachers, the kids immediately waved to us when they spotted us from our window. I was charmed by this exchange, and felt grateful to momentarily be a piece of the subtle liveliness that is the residential neighborhood of the Musashi-Kosugi area. Though I move out in a matter of days, a part of me will certainly remain.



I managed a picture of the children’s festival parade from the window as the Musashi-Kosugi community waved at us.

Mixing Things Up in Tokyo


Finals season is upon us and I am busier than ever. Between doing projects for my graphic design class, writing papers for my art history class, work for my internship and going out with friends, I have almost no time for anything else.

This past week I did a bunch of fun things. On Friday I went to an Art Aquarium at night, which was really interesting. The atmosphere was high class and mysterious. The aquarium had gold fish in all different types of tanks that were lit up with neon lights against the dark background. It was a pretty cool sight to experience.


Poster critiques in my graphic design class


Art Aquarium in Nihonbashi

On Saturday I got really sick. I basically woke up in extreme pain. I was sick for about the first month of my stay here but I never went to the hospital because I didn’t think it was necessary. However, this time around, I knew I had to go.

As a foreigner in this country I was a little nervous trying to deal with healthcare. Dealing with hospital visits in America is a headache in itself, so I imagined it would be even more difficult in a country with a different language. To my surprise I was wrong. As a part of this program, Temple University requires students to sign up for GeoBlue Health Care. It’s an international health care plan available for students abroad. This service helped me find a facility that was covered by my health insurance, and that fit my needs. All the facilities listed on their website speak English, all I had to do was make a phone call to set up an appointment for that same day.

After the hospital visit, I was pretty beat so I took it easy for the rest of the day. The medicine the doctor gave me took effect right away and I was already in a lot less pain than I was at the start of the day. That was a huge relief because the next day I had to go to Spo-Cha!


The best place in Odaiba!

Spo-Cha is a huge sports complex located in Odaiba. You can go and play soccer, tennis, basketball, baseball, volleyball, bowling, rollerskating, they even had Segways people could ride. The complex also had a bunch of arcade games, darts, and billiards.

After Spo-Cha, my friends and I walked around Odaiba for a bit. Odaiba is huge, with at least 4 mega malls surrounding the area. It’s a great place to go shopping and find cool things to do like Spo-Cha and other places like amusement parks and game centers.


Seamus riding a mechanical bull inside Spo-Cha


Fellow student Toru testing his luck with the mechanical bull


Inside Venus Fort


Fountain inside Venus Fort


Ariel trying to stay cool in the hot and humid weather!


Views of Rainbow Bridge


Gundam Cafe at night

I ended my week by going to the Ginza Graphic Gallery or the GGG as it’s known. I went on a field trip with my art history class so it was cool to go with other people who knew about what was on display.


Inside the GGG (Ginza Graphic Gallery)

After the gallery, a few friends I made this semester in class took me to Shibuya and showed me a recording studio. This was probably one of the coolest things I’ve done here in Tokyo so far. My friend Jason, pictured below on the left, was teaching Matt and me how to mix songs together like a DJ. I actually bought a disposable camera to shoot film on that night, which I did, but then I forgot when we left. I guess this experience is just one I’ll have to remember without it.


Fellow students Jason and Matt, spinning records in Shibuya


Week 8 & Authentic Experiences


In week 8, I am starting to make more preparations not only for impending TUJ finals, but for my post-program travel. Preparing for the organized chaos of undergrad finals feels like clockwork now, making it all the more surreal that this time around, I’m finishing for good – and doing so in Tokyo, Japan. My first ever summer semester is also my last. It has felt understandably short, but even more so considering how packed with adventure it has been.

This week was no exception to that statement. On Friday, I took the advice of local residents and brought five other TUJ students to Nihonbashi for Tokyo’s Art Aquarium. Featuring thousands of goldfish in artistic tanks, I was beyond thrilled to experience it. Taking place from mid-July to late September, Art Aquarium tickets can only be bought by way of 7-11 ticket machines. Learning to use this technology, in itself, has been an interesting cultural adjustment over the course of my time at TUJ. 7-11 and Lawson ticket machines were a daunting task back in June. This month, though I feel like my actual comprehension of the Japanese display has improved only slightly, I felt a lot more confident in my ability to work my way through, especially with the help of native speakers, than before. Though still constantly aware of my foreignness, I am not as embarrassed of asking for help – a necessary step to learning while abroad.


Even iPhone 6 quality couldn’t help but pick up the vibrancy of the Art Aquarium exhibits.

In addition, I took an impromptu trip to the old city of Kamakura and island of Enoshima in celebration of the long weekend. There, I encountered shrines, temples, and landmarks familiar to tourists in Japan. I took note of how comfortable I’ve become traveling with my friends, fellow TUJ students, even with our varying, low degrees of Japanese comprehension. There is a sense of being collectively pushed outside our comfort zone – a weird sense of security, but specifically in encouraging each other forward.


Kamakura is famous for this giant Buddha statue at Kotoku-in Temple.


With a shrine cat in Enoshima. Picture credit: Colin Reineberg

Last post, I mentioned meeting native Japanese students, some of which made plans to give us the “authentic Japanese student” experience. Shuhei and Tohru brought us to Spocha, a complex that offers sports, arcade games, and karaoke for a flat rate, in Odaiba. I was amazed by the huge range of, and even variety within, the activities offered there. One gem included a simple Japanese arcade game, in which you had to carry out certain traditional tasks and manners, such as bowing at the right angle and practicing handing off your business card (an important and common practice in Japanese professional life). Our own Spocha group was accordingly varied in terms of nationalities and included American, Japanese and French students. At one point in our afternoon, one Japanese and one American student, who could communicate very limitedly in one another’s respective first language, realized that they could both speak fluent Spanish. Through their second languages, these students could connect with much more ease than before. We came for an “authentic Japanese uni experience,” but I also felt that what I observed was an authentic and unique experience in its own right. Overall, my time in Tokyo seems to be following this same path.


An endearing Spocha arcade game, in which the practice of trading business cards became suddenly very intense.








Temple Japan continues to set the bar high this week. My most recent and final excursion with TUJ activities happened last Saturday. About thirty students, including myself, hopped onto a bus at 7:30AM and made our way to Saijoji, a buddhist temple, where we would begin our hike up Mt. Ashigara.


At the start of the hike


About 2-3 hours in and still climbing


Just about at the summit of the mountain

The hike was no walk in the park. It was equally exhausting and rewarding at the same time. From the beginning, the hike started with a steep climb up some stairs. From there, the steep incline continued but we had to go through trees, narrow passages, muddy canals, and loose rocks. The first hour or so of the hike was probably the hardest for me. However, at one point my body adjusted and I was fuelled with energy to keep going. The views along the whole way were breath taking. The higher we climbed, the more we were rewarded in sounds and sights. Totally encapsulated by nature, the sounds of birds and cicadas filled the air while we made our way through views of tree trunks to tree tops. Along the way up to the summit, the group had split up into smaller groups going at their own pace. We all reconvened at the summit where we all stopped to eat a packed bento lunch and take in the views.


Direction signs that helped keep us on track when we got separated


Views from the summit of Mt. Ashigara


The wonderful Nahomi resting and talking with students Greg and Rob


Steep slopes on the way down the mountain

Throughout the hike we passed several other hikers, all of whom were Japanese and we greeted each other with a friendly Konnichiwa as we crossed paths. The kindness in this country never ceases to amaze me.

After the hike, we all got bussed to an Onsen. It was one of the nicest onsens I’ve been to in Japan and it was even better experienced right after a 6 hour hike.

Tanabata also took place this weekend. Tanabata, also known as the Star Festival, is a festival in Japan that celebrates the meeting of two deities. This was the second festival I was able to take part in while here in Japan. (The first one was during my excursion to Niigata for the Battle of the Giant Kites trip with TUJ.) Louis, a friend of mine in Japan, had invited me out to go to a festival in Asakusa, and of course I took him up on it.



Louis and I at Sensoji Temple. [Photo Credit: Friendly stranger]

We met up and headed to Sensoji Temple in Asakusa, Tokyo’s oldest temple. This was my third time visiting Sensoji, however this time was made special because of all the stands and booths that were placed for the festival.


Street festival for Tanabata!

After Sensoji, Louis and I walked down a few streets where we were greeted with a full on street festival. The streets were lined with decorations and filled with visitors both local and foreign. Along 3 or 4 blocks, food and drink vendors lined the sidewalks while different performance groups set up stage in the middle. As you walked down to see more of the festival, you would run into more and more dance or music groups. It was such a lively and exciting environment!


Wishes tied to a bamboo tree as part of the Tanabata tradition


Taiko drummers performing along the streets of the festival!


Sensoji Temple at night

After we had gotten our fill of the festival, Louis and I made our way to Tokyo SkyTree where we got to see a spectacular view of Tokyo at night.

Every now and then, I get hit with moments of “Am I really here?”. Even as I reach the end of my stay in Japan I still experience things that make me stop and think about where I am and who I am in this moment.


Tokyo as seen from the very top of Tokyo SkyTree

This past week pushed me physically and mentally. In all honesty, I didn’t know what I was getting myself into when I signed up for the hike, and if I had known how difficult it was going to be, I’m not sure I would have even signed up for it at all. However, I’m so glad I did sign up for it and that I completed it. My physical endurance was pushed to its max and it was all a mental game for me to get up to the top. Somewhere on that mountain I broke through barriers that were keeping me from doing bigger and better things. As I reflect back on it, I feel empowered to reach for higher goals in my life and to go for things I might have thought were out of reach for me previously. Everyday here in Tokyo I feel my limits being pushed, forcing me to be a better student, artist, and person.

Field Trips, Excursions, and the Versatility of Japan


With certainty, the physical and emotional highlight of this week was TUJ’s hiking excursion on Mt. Ashigara. Located about an hour and a half outside of Tokyo, we parked outside of Saijoji Temple around 9:00 AM and began our climb. Lasting at least seven hours, the hike was more difficult than many of us anticipated. Our large group of around 35 people inevitably ended up at different paces, and a smaller group of friends and I traveled together for the most part. We regrouped again at the summit to rest, eat our bento lunches, and enjoy the spoils of our work.


A snapshot from the summit of Mt. Ashigara.

After reaching the summit, we spent at least an hour of our walk back (I would say our walk down, but this was a path replete with both inclines and declines) surrounded by bamboo on both sides. Our path was quiet, partially overgrown, and felt never-ending at times. The “quiet” I describe here is only in contrast to the human noise of the city. There were times that the sound of cicadas, birds and crickets were overpowering, which felt surprising for midday. Stopping to take a break, I noted how this was the most likely the first and last time I would experience this otherworldly quality while in Japan, and perhaps anywhere.

Once again, towards the very end of the excursion, we all stopped at a small shack with a seating area, fresh water, and last but not least, some extremely hospitable hosts. Without asking, the owner brought out three rounds of traditional Japanese treats, including yakitori, for no charge. This payoff was almost as good as the post-hike Kowakien onsen in Hakone. With numerous outdoor pools, it was by far the most beautiful onsen I’d been to in Japan. Soreness aside, our day-long hiking excursion was well worth it – and a welcome test-run for my endurance, as a trip to Fuji awaits me in just a couple of weeks.


Students rest while the owner of the mountain shop doles out a refreshing snack.

Just a day after, I visited the Cup Noodles Museum in Yokohama for a Practical Japanese field trip. I was surprised with the amount of content in the exhibits; I learned much about Cup Noodles inventor Momofuku Ando, including the fact that he created his last innovation, instant ramen for astronauts, at the stunning age of 95. Moreover, I had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know native Japanese students. Tohru, a full-time TUJ student, was my partner in making ramen from scratch, an exclusive activity offered by the museum. I’ve even made plans with Shuhei, a non-Temple student, who plans to take myself and some other abroad students to Spocha over the weekend. An amusement center that boasts arcade games and sports for a flat fee, Shuhei tells us that Spocha is a quintessential pastime for Japanese university students.


Shuhei, Seamus, and I at the Cup Noodle Museum in Yokohama.

Just yesterday, I had another tour, this time at NHK (Nippon Hōsō Kyōka), Japan’s national broadcaster, where Professor Jefferson of my History of Journalism course is a long-term employee and announcer. Having gotten a chance to see a couple different newsrooms in the United States, I was immediately excited to observe NHK’s. Not surprisingly, much of it was the same – the close quarters of the writer and researcher rooms, the abundance of technology, and busy atmosphere. At the same time, I sensed a much more global perspective than anything I’m familiar with on mainstream American broadcasts. Just waiting for our tour to start, I watched a weathercast for cities across Africa and Latin America – in addition to a sumo wrestling match projected on a large screen beside it.


Security was understandably tight at NHK, and these passes were procured at least ten days in advance to our visit.


A live broadcast was playing as we entered this room, filled with focus and energy.

NHK seemed especially versatile to me, much like Tokyo itself. As I approach my finals and my last month in Japan, I’m finding more ways every day in which this proves true.

Over the Honeymoon Phase


This week was filled with a lot of realization and adjusting. Now that I’m into week 6 of my stay here, I’m past the honeymoon phase of living in Japan and into really settling here.

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This Lawson is the closest one to the dorms and is my saving grace.

Although I’m past the honeymoon phase, I still find new places of Tokyo to explore. This week, my friends and I went to Chinatown in Yokohama. It’s pretty similar yet also still very different from the Chinatown in NYC which I’m familiar with, so it was still a fun experience!


Entrance into China Town in Yokohama from Motomachi Chukugai Station


China Town in Yokohama

This weekend, I went on yet another TUJ excursion to Chiba. We visited several places including a hike at Nokogiriyama, Ooyama Rice Fields, Seaworld, and Noumizu Waterfalls.


View of the cliff side at Nokogiriyama


Ruchi, Rob, Matt, and Cody taking in the view

On the hike at Nihonji Temple we got to ride a cable car up into the clouds. It dropped us off near the cliff sides pictured above.


Another view of the giant Buddha

This giant Buddha statue was at the first stop on our trip and it was one of my favourite! I agree with a lot Buddhist ideas and this is actually one of the biggest statues of Buddha in the world!


Ooyama Rice Fields


PJ and Tim helping Shaani up out of the rice fields


Students taking in the view of the rice fields

On the way to Seaworld we also stopped at a rice field. These were really cool to see, especially for the students who had never seen a rice field before! The field was very expansive and took over a large portion of a hill side. After being stuck in a bus for a few hours, it was great being able to stretch out and run around a little bit.


Noumizo Waterfall

The trip to Chiba took place at the end of an exhausting week for me. I’ve had to tackle a few uncomfortable instances this week at work and school but I think the experience has helped me grow. As I visited all these beautiful landscapes, such as the waterfall pictured above, I kept thinking about how lucky I am to be here, to be living in Japan and exploring the country outside of the cities. I’ve learned how and when to seek out help from other people. If something isn’t working, or going the way it should be, I’ve learned that it is way, way better to speak out to someone and confront things. Compromises can be made and solutions can be worked out to create a better experience for everyone involved. As I’m completely on my own here in Japan I’ve had to become even more independent than I am at home. No more going home to my sister and complaining about stuff. Working and going to school in Tokyo has really pushed me as an individual so far. I can feel myself getting closer to my goal of becoming a global citizen.

Cultural Observations and Japanese for Study Abroad Students


This week, I’d like to start by sharing some direct cultural observations that I’ve been able to make, thanks to my Japanese for Study Abroad Students class at TUJ.

This week, my stay with Temple Japan has been filled with a lot of casual exploration of the area around our campus, in the Minato ward of Tokyo. My professor, Matsuhashi-sensei, informed of us the upcoming Tanabata Matsuri, or “Star Festival.” A very popular summer event, the Tanabata festival celebrates the legendary annual meeting of two lovers in the Milky Way galaxy. Matsuhashi-sensei advised us to look out for signs that a community was preparing to participate in the festival, set on July 7th. Soon enough, I found myself running into Tanabata decorations while on walks: large structures with streamers attached and wishes written on paper, tied to branches of bamboo. In class, we even practiced writing our own wishes in hiragana in case we attend the festival ourselves. With my graduation from college just around the corner, I decided on hoping for a good job (in hiragana: “いいしごとがもらえますように。”) Many areas of Japan celebrate Tanabata on the 7th of either July or August – both of which fall during my stay in Japan. With luck, I’ll be able to attend both occurrences of Tanabata festival and observe differences, if any.


Tanabata Matsuri preparations outside a building in Azabu.

I found another practical application for my classroom knowledge when I came across a shrine on my walk towards Tokyo Tower one afternoon. A large ring made of grass hung in the entryway, and I quickly recognized it as an element of a Shinto ritual we briefly discussed. In the two months of June and December, worshippers perform a purification ceremony (ooharae) by passing through the ring, called chinowa. (“People purify themselves for the removal of kegare (bad spirit), impurity and misfortune,” Matsuhashi-sensei remarked about the tradition.) In seeing both this and the Tanabata festival preparations, it seems to me like these Japanese summer traditions share a common thread of looking towards the future – in making wishes, and in partaking in a type of rebirth.


Taken in between TUJ and Tokyo Tower, this picture features chinowa at the entrance of a shrine.

As always, these observations on tradition were in tandem with an exploration of Tokyo’s modern side. I attended an event in Roppongi Hills, for a fellow TUJ student and friend’s internship. An expo for the car brand Rolls Royce, the event took place at the renowned Mori Hills complex – and, to this college student, was a pretty unique experience. After dropping in, a friend and I explored the area and quickly stumbled upon a pop-up exhibit in the middle of the mall. A creative marketing tactic, participants had to step up on a cloud-painted platform to tap on the handle of an umbrella, triggering a music note. “Light up the rainy season!” A nearby plaque proclaimed. Though a relaxed week in Tokyo in terms of big events, I found plenty of observations in the way of preparation of events, cultural and otherwise, to fill the sense of wonder I’ve kept ever since arriving.


Fellow TUJ Student Jon participates in the pop-up exhibit at Mori Tower.