Author Archives: richeldiazinjapan

About richeldiazinjapan

Hello, I'm Richel! I'm a sophomore Visual Arts major with a concentration in Photography and Design at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Being born and raised in New Jersey, I have decided to break out of my comfort zone and travel with Temple University all the way to Japan. Aside from photography and design, I'm also interested in symphonic band, culinary arts, and dance. I can't wait for all the adventures, new experiences and food ahead!

Work and Play

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One of the many bridges leading into the Imperial Palace

This week I spent a lot of my time doing school work and internship work. However, I did still find time to go out and explore new areas of Tokyo I haven’t been to before. My friends and I ventured out to Ginza to go to the Museum of Modern Art Tokyo. Along the way, we stumbled upon the Imperial Palace! We didn’t even realize it until we had gotten inside and read some information panels.

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View from outside the Palace

The views from inside and outside the palace were equally stunning. What amazes me the most is how something so traditionally Japanese looking stands amongst the tall skyscrapers of modern day Tokyo.

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A rare candid shot of me outside the Imperial Palace. Photo Credit: Ariel Kovlakas

We spent some time walking through the palace grounds and the perimeter. While taking candid shots of all of my friends, one of them got this picture of me. Candid photos of me are rare since I’m usually the one behind the camera, so it was nice to see this one (I also sent this to my mom).

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Discounted student tickets into the Modern Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo!

After exploring the Imperial Palace, our little group headed over to the National Museum of Modern Art Tokyo, which was about a 5 minute walk from the Imperial Palace. As Temple University Japan students, we got discounted tickets into the museum! It only cost 250 yen to get in! That is crazy cheap compared to the student discounted tickets in NYC (usually around $12).

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Traditional Japanese art inside the museum

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Ariel watching a Robert Smithson’s video

The museum had both traditional Japanese art and more contemporary art from all over the world. Artists like Jackson Pollack, Pablo Picasso, and Robert Smithson were featured in the collection. It was really interesting to see these artists, and many others, contextualized into Japanese culture. This visit actually really opened my eyes to how art is viewed and shared across the globe and how different cultures can influence or adapt art movements throughout history. I’m currently taking a Japanese graphic design art history course, and so this museum trip had a lot more impact on me because I had some background information going in. Thanks TUJ!

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Small alleyway filled with tons of food!

My friends and I ended the week by visiting an area that was really close to the Temple University Campus. All throughout Japan, I keep finding these small networks of alleyways that are just lined with different restaurants and entertainment spots. This particular area had a lot of karaoke and yakitori places.

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Seamus and Ariel inside Tiger Gyoza Restaurant

We decided on eating at a place called Tiger Gyoza Restaurant. This decision was made solely on the name of the place and the captivating wall art seen both inside and outside the restaurant. Seamus even got to put his Japanese Elements I knowledge to the test by ordering our food that night.

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Yusuke and I with our newly won friend inside Shinjuku station. Photo Credit: Colin Reineberg

I ended this week by meeting up with an old friend who I hadn’t seen since high school, about 3 years ago. It’s so funny that I keep meeting up with old friends in Japan and not in my home country. I guess Japan just brings people together.

I met up with my friend Yusuke in Shinjuku. I introduced him to my friends from Temple and we all set out to get some dinner. Afterwards, we headed towards an arcade and tried our luck at the many crane games. With strategic moves and a lot of money spent, my friend Seamus won this big dog plushie and was so kind enough to let me keep it!

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Colin, Yuki, and Shunske chat while doing homework in the lounge

After Shinjuku, we all headed back to the dorms and settled in the lounge where we could all get some work done. Hanging out and doing homework in the lounge has become routine now and it’s honestly one of my favorite parts about this experience. The dorms I live in include many students, both Temple and non-Temple, Japanese and non-Japanese. It’s always an interesting mix of people that hang out in the lounge and I meet and get to know so many people. Making friends with the native Japanese students is actually really easy because they’re all so friendly. Most are eager to practice the English they know with me and in return I get to practice my Japanese with them so it’s a win-win situation. It’s moments like these I know I’m going to miss the most. But, I shouldn’t dwell on that just yet, I still have a little over a month left here. Better make the most of it!

Settling In

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As of now, I have been in Japan for over three weeks; and honestly I cannot believe how that is possible. It feels as though I have been here for only a few days and an eternity at the same time. Daily life has become comfortable enough where I know when to leave to catch the express train to school, yet hasn’t become routine because everyday I’m doing something I’ve never done before.

I’ve finally gotten used to my work and school schedule and I’m able to manage my time better now. Everything I’m learning in class is actually very interesting to me and I feel very secure in my choice of education here. My professor is not only a great teacher but also a really cool guy I can get to know and be friends with. He can even make art history, a relatively monotonous subject, very interesting and easy to digest.

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Going over Graphic Design in Japan during the early 1900s in class.

This past week or so I’ve gotten pretty sick, but that hasn’t stopped me from going out and exploring this beautiful country! My weekends are packed full of adventures out with my new friends. This past Friday, my friends and I went to an okonomiyaki/monjayaki restaurant in Harajuku called Sakura Tei. At this restaurant, you order what you want and you get a bowl of raw ingredients you get to cook on the grill in front of you. Three of us ended up ordering the same thing so we decided to combine all of our ingredients and create one ultra-monjayaki. It was truly a work of art.

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Colin and I with our ultra-monjayaki at Sakura Tei.

Over the weekend I met up with an old friend who lives here in Tokyo. We went to an aquarium in Shinagawa and got to see cute seals and dolphins as well many interesting fish.

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The view from Shinagawa Aquarium.

The rest of my week consisted of class and work. My internship actually sent me out to Gotokuji temple so I could go take pictures of the place and take notes for an article I’ll have to write for the website. Gotokuji was a great experience because it took me away from the hustle and bustle of central Tokyo. I got to walk along narrow streets with the local residents; as far as I could tell, I was the only foreigner there. It was really peaceful and humbling to experience.

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Walking around quiet residential streets outside downtown Tokyo.

Gotojuki Temple is famous for the maneki neko, or beckoning cats. The cats of the temple are said to bring good luck and fortune to those who pray and make offers. As I have been sick for over a week, I purchased a small cat statue with hopes of getting better soon. The man who sold me the cat told me I should take the cat home with me and if my wish comes true I should return to the temple and add my cat to the collection. Hopefully I’ll get to return soon!

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All the different Ema at Gotokuji Temple.

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Just a few of the many cat statues at Gotokuji.

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Ariel standing in awe amongst all the cats!

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Cats Cats Cats!

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All the different sized cat statues you can purchase to make a prayer or wish on!

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A small cemetery behind Gotokuji Temple.

 

Inside TUJ activites

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My friend, Colin and I decided to try out the Purikura booths in Harajuku.

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TUJ Student Activities put together an overnight trip to Niigata. On our way there we stopped at Fukiware falls where we got to explore a beautiful natural landscape.

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The trip also included a lunch at a traditional restaurant. We had to take off our shoes before entering and we sat on the floor. Our meal was soba and tempura! Super delicious.

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The next stop on the trip was at Okutadami Dam, where we got to ride a cruise along the water. We were surrounded by tall mountains on all sides.

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After a long day of travel we finally arrived at the hotel. Every hotel room had futon beds that were actually really comfortable. All of the students also got to enjoy the onsen at the hotel which was really nice after sitting in a bus for hours.

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The next day we visited the kite museum where we learned all about the tradition of the festival. This was great because it helped us enjoy the actual festival.

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The museum also had a wind tunnel simulation where students got to fly their very own kites. Pictures here are Chris and Seamus.

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During the festival, there were men and women participating in a shrine carrying tradition. The crowd had a lot of energy that made us visitors very excited.

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During the battle of the giant kites, we watched a several teams sent their kites into the sky. Teams would walk pass us with their giant kites and miles of rope getting ready to take off.

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After the trip we all returned to classes. My friends and I decided to take a mid-week trip to Shinjuku where we blew off some steam at an arcade in Shinjuku.

The Starting Line

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The past week has raced by. From my departure from JFK in New York up until this very moment, I have been non-stop moving, doing, and seeing. From Narita airport I took an express train to Musashi Kosugi station and walked from there to find the Crevia Will Musashi Kosugi dorms. It was a bit of a walk, especially with my heavy luggage in tow, but upon arrival I was greeted with kind faces and luxury that made it all worth it.

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Lobby of Musashi Kosugi Dorms

The dorms here at Musashi Kosugi are brand new and I feel so lucky to be able to live here for the next 10 weeks! The lobby has a nice lounge area for students to gather and chat or do work. Beyond that area is the cafeteria where they serve breakfast and lunch for a reasonable price! And the food is actually really good, nothing like American college dining hall food.

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Bed inside my room, sheets included!

The dorm manager gave me a folder with my room card and some information about the building. He kindly showed me to my floor and helped me find my room. One thing I’ve noticed in Japan is that the people here are very kind and generous. They are willing to go the extra step for you without expecting tips or anything else in return. This is such a (good) shock coming from New York where everyone is expecting some form of tip because they helped you carry your bag to your room.

My dorm room is small but extremely modern. I have my own room so I don’t have to worry about any roommates, and I have my very own bathroom with my own shower! No more communal showers for me here! The room also has a desk, a closet, and a shelf for storage.

I moved in a bit early so I unpacked my things are tried to settle in a bit. Shortly after, more students began to arrive at the dorms as I could hear more luggage rolling down the hallway. That night a few students and myself went to a nearby 7-Eleven to do some initial shopping. It was so easy to make new friends here as everyone is excited to go out and see Japan.

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Fellow students on our way to the first day of orientation.

The next morning we all woke up bright and early, (with no problem because we were all jet lagged) and met some TUJ guides to help show us the way from the dorms to Azabu hall. From the dorms we have to walk to Musashi Kosugi station which is about a 10 minute walk. From there we board a train for Shirokane Takanawa station and walk another 8 or so minutes to Azabu hall. I was so glad for the guides because it was a long commute to try and do for the first time. Long commutes are common here in Japan, so we all boarded a train and stood literally shoulder to shoulder, packed like sardines, joining the locals for the morning commute. I wonder how bizarre a big group of (clearly) foreign students looked on the morning commute.

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Temple Japan Campus

Orientation was a total of two days where various faculty and staff introduced themselves and explained aspects of living in Japan to help us better understand our new environment. There were presentations on all the services offered at the school like different computer labs, tutoring and counseling. They also went over commuting, banks, health insurance, legal actions and night life. At the end of the first day of orientation they gave us all a free lunch of tuna katsu bento!

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Newly made friends enjoying free lunch at orientation.

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Students Wesley, Matthew, Seamus, Shaani, Ruchi, and Ariel outside Azabu hall.

Orientation spanned across Wednesday and Thursday. Friday we had our mornings free and had the Welcome Party in the evening to go to. The welcome party included all kinds of TUJ students. It had students like me, who were there for summer study abroad, and it also had general admission students who were there for their undergraduate degree. This was a good time to meet the other students who lived in the dorms who weren’t just here for the summer, as well as a lot of Japanese students who were attending the school. TUJ is full of a wide variety of people and it was so exciting and honestly heart warming for me to see. The reality of actually being in Japan, attending a university with other Japanese students and taking courses related to my major, really started to hit me at this point. I met so many people from all over the United States and Japan who had such interesting backgrounds. One guy I met was a professional chef before he decided to apply to Temple University Japan and now he’s studying international business and Japanese here.

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TUJ students new and old, summer study abroad and general admits alike, at the Welcome Party put on by OSS!

After the welcome party, a group of friends and I decided to spend our Friday night exploring Tokyo a bit more. We ventured out to Shibuya and were dazzled by all the lights of neon signs and store fronts. Shibuya crossing was huge and full of so many people hustling and bustling in all directions. Hundreds of shops, cafes and restaurants lined the neighborhood’s streets. There was so much to take in!

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Exploring Shibuya after the welcome party.

Even after a late night exploring the city, it didn’t stop my friends and I from waking up at 7:30am the next day to go to Jogashima- an island not too far away from Tokyo. It took two trains and a bus ride but we eventually made it to a beautiful little island. The travel there wasn’t even that bad even though it took a bit because the scenery was amazing. The further from the city we got, the more cozy the houses looked and the more trees and nature took over where sky scrapers would be. A recent TUJ graduate helped us get there and showed us a bit of the island before we broke off into separate groups to enjoy a whole day by the ocean side. This island has an amazing – and I mean breath taking – view of Mt. Fuji. One of the first things we all did was go diving into the ocean with Mt. Fuji as our backdrop. How amazing is that?

We walked the coast line of the island finding caves and beautiful rock formations across the ocean, which was very active and put on a show of its strength and grace for all of us. The island also had a nice hiking trail that overlooked the ocean and Mt. Fuji. After jumping, swimming and hiking, we all went to an Onsen close by and got to enjoy the hot baths and a nice shower to clean off.

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Seamus enjoying the view of the waters around him in Jogashima.

The best part of the day – the whole week rather – was being able to watch the sun set over Mt. Fuji while sitting on some rocks by the edge of the water with newly made friends. This whole week was filled with so many new things. I already have so many precious memories I will never forget and it’s only the first few days! Classes will start up soon, along with an internship I have and I cannot wait to see what else is out there for me in Japan.

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Seamus, Ariel, Colin and I watching the sun set over Mt. Fuji in Jogashima.