Category Archives: Blogger – Summer 2017

Mixing Things Up in Tokyo

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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.

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Poster critiques in my graphic design class

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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!

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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.

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Seamus riding a mechanical bull inside Spo-Cha

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Fellow student Toru testing his luck with the mechanical bull

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Inside Venus Fort

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Fountain inside Venus Fort

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

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Views of Rainbow Bridge

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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.

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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.

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Fellow students Jason and Matt, spinning records in Shibuya

 

Week 8 & Authentic Experiences

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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.

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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.

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

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

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.

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

 

 

 

 

 

Endurance

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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.

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At the start of the hike

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About 2-3 hours in and still climbing

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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.

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

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Views from the summit of Mt. Ashigara

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The wonderful Nahomi resting and talking with students Greg and Rob

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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.

 

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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.

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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!

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

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Taiko drummers performing along the streets of the festival!

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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.

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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

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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.

Over the Honeymoon Phase

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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!

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Entrance into China Town in Yokohama from Motomachi Chukugai Station

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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.

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View of the cliff side at Nokogiriyama

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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.

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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!

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Ooyama Rice Fields

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PJ and Tim helping Shaani up out of the rice fields

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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.

 

 

Cycling Through Assimilation and Realization

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Greg, Ariel, Matt, Seamus, Colin, and Ruchi outside Genki Sushi in Shibuya.

The weekend started off as it always does, heading out into Shibuya for a night out. This time my friends and I went to a sushi place called Genki sushi. At this restaurant, you order your food from an ipad and then the sushi gets delivered to you on a train! I found this place last year and I love coming back to it. Plus it’s super cheap!

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Huge lily pond in Ueno Park!

This Saturday TUJ Activities had planned a biking trip across Tokyo. Over the course of the day, a group of 20 or so students biked all over Tokyo; starting at TUJ Azabu campus we biked to the Imperial Palace in Ginza, Kanda Myojin Shrine, Tokyo University, Hosokawa Park and more. At the end of it all, we were all super sweaty but had accomplished a 30km bike ride. I really enjoyed being able to ride on the streets of Tokyo. There are so many curvy and steep back roads that I had no idea existed. This excursion let me see yet another side of this huge city.

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Ariel, Seamus, Ruchi, and Greg at Higo-Hokusawa Garden

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Another view of Higo-Hokusawa garden

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Seamus tying omikuji at Hatanomori Hachimangu

On Sunday the Tokyo Coffee Festival was being held in Shibuya. My friend Colin is a coffee addict so naturally when he heard about it we all had to go. At the festival, there were almost 50 different vendors offering their unique blend of coffee. The whole area smelled like heaven. There were even food trucks that sold vegan food and other cuisine unique from Japan. One particular food truck vendor selling burritos and tacos saw me jamming to his music outside his truck and offered me his business card and some lavender pictured below.

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Polaroids and coffee at Tokyo Coffee Festival at Farmer’s Market UNU

Classes started up per usual on Monday. In my graphic design class, my fellow classmates and I got to design some typeset by hand with screen printed sheets. This method of typesetting is almost extinct, my professor told us that these sheets aren’t really made anymore and they’re hard to come by. As a graphic designer in this age, everything is digital, and I really came to appreciate the art more by doing it analog. I actually think it might be easier to come up with ideas when doing things by hand. I’ll be sure to take this lesson with me going ahead.

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Typesetting by hand in class

My internship sent me to Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa to take pictures for an article. Senso-ji is really beautiful but also really touristy. It was still a fun time to get to walk down Nakamise Dori  and see all the different shops that lined the street. The temple and surrounding grounds were also very beautiful.

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Senso-ji Temple

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Kokonoe Manju shop at Senso-ji Temple

Tuesday evening, my friends and I headed over to Tokyo Tower because it’s super close to Temple’s Azabu campus. We had a great time getting dinner in a gyoza shop down one of those small alleyways and then walking over to the tower. The experience at night was way better than coming in the day. The tower was lit up outside and all throughout the inside floors there was a spectacular light display with projections on one floor and Christmas lights on the other.

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Tokyo Tower

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Tokyo Tower is lit

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Ariel looking down a glass pane in the floor

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Seamus looking 300m down to the ground level

The longer I stay in this country, the more I’m becoming aware of how easy it is to adapt and assimilate into the culture. However, I am starting to notice slight culture differences. Japan is a very fast moving country that has become very forward-thinking over the years but there are still aspects that aren’t at the same level as they are in America. In my everyday life here, I’ll experience small instances of micro-aggressions, or sexism, more so than back home in New Jersey. As a foreigner in this country, working and studying under superiors, I have to find a balance between understanding the cultural difference and working towards a more equal and liberal Japan.

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!

Kabuki & Art, Difference & Similarity

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On Friday evening, I attended my first kabuki performance with my Practical Japanese classmates. During Discover Kabuki, a limited-time program offered at the National Theatre of Japan, a kabuki actor and an English-speaking TV personality walked us through the components of the traditional Japanese art before our show. Performed exclusively by men (although interestingly, it originated with women actors in roles for both men and women), kabuki incorporates elaborate makeup, costuming, and a dramatized style of acting. Both the on-stage movements and the dialogue were delivered very deliberately, with a great emphasis on sound effects (made with both a hidden orchestra and a simple wooden instrument called hyōshigi). This was certainly different than any theater-going experience I’ve had thus far. I felt very lucky to experience such a vital tradition with the help of an English audio guide, as well my language professor.

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In this picture, a painted screen is descending over the kabuki set. The curtain behind it displays black, green, and orange – kabuki’s trademark colors.

Some of my best adventures have come from tagging along on my friends’ school or work assignments. This weekend’s adventure took place at Tokyo’s National Museum of Modern Art. For the very reasonable fee of ¥250 for college students (¥500 for full admission price), we traversed the museum’s four floors of paintings, photography, and other mediums by Japanese and non-Japanese artists alike. Aside from contemporary Japanese artists like Tsuguharu Foujita, MOMAT also had collections that featured famed Western artists such as Pablo Picasso and Jackson Pollock. This didn’t come as much of  a surprise, considering that much of contemporary Japanese art, and contemporary Japan in general, is inspired by or viewed in proximity to the West (according both to my classes and a MOMAT plaque that I read). What I was surprised with, however, was the extreme quiet we found there, especially compared against a typical weekend at the MoMA in New York City. Yet, I noticed a similar pattern in museum layout and content that felt a lot like home.

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This plaque hung at the entrance to the museum. Although photographs are allowed inside, I made a conscious effort not to focus too much on capturing the experience on my phone.

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It was a beautiful day in Chiyoda, where we walked around as my photographer friends took shots. Here’s one of my own along the Imperial Palace’s East Garden.

Thus far, much of my blog has included my feelings on cultural differences and vulnerabilities, but I’ve also found some things to be universal, even aside from those found in art. Waiting on the platform for a JR train, I witnessed a toddler throwing a tantrum. I’ve also seen kids out cold across train seats or their parents’ laps. In these instances, I feel like I could have been in any country. You can always rely on children to feel and express emotions without restraint. Observing this has been amusing as it’s been interesting. Since arriving in Japan, the awareness of my difference has been the most striking thing, definitely the focus of my observations – and anxieties. As I spend more time studying and living in Tokyo, I feel this is giving way to awareness about similarities. I’d like to think that both are necessary to understand the place of my peers and myself as we study and explore.