Field Trips, Excursions, and the Versatility of Japan

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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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