Category Archives: Blogger – Summer 2017

Welcome to Japan: Arrival and Orientation

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Welcome to Japan: Arrival and Orientation

When I first used my TUJ key card and entered my dorm room, still just less than 36 hours ago, I felt like crying. Temple’s Musashi-Kosugi dorm in Kawasaki, just outside of Tokyo, instantly felt perfect: just enough for room for one person, clean and new, with windows facing a multitude of train tracks, and most importantly, my own and in Japan.

Backtracking a bit, on May 22nd, I woke up at 4 AM on a quiet Connecticut morning in order to board the first leg of my journey to Japan, in Toronto, Canada. After an easy two hours in a small aircraft, I had officially left the comfort of my home soil, meeting up with a number of new TUJ peers for the main event: the 13-hour flight to Tokyo. Spending this amount of time sitting in the air was a first for me, and though it was replete with restlessness, anticipation, and minor headaches, I enjoyed the novel ability to watch the critically-acclaimed 1985 Japanese comedy Tampopo on the plane console and eating Cup Noodles at 36,000 feet.

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Served hot, these simple Cup Noodles were Air Canada’s main in-flight dinner option.

After arriving – and almost being overcome with sentimentality when seeing my new room – I took a trip to a konbini (convenience store) and unpacked my suitcases. Our first stretch of orientation – today, the 24th – started early the next morning. A Temple student representative guided us to the Musashi-Kosugi JR line for the first time. As true since the minute I disembarked at Haneda Airport, the beauty and personality in every street struck me, in every portion of neighborhood that we walked through. I know that I have much of Tokyo, and even more of Japan to discover, but every single area I have seen thus far has brought me a sense of appreciation, especially in strong contrast with the American context I’m accustomed to.

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A snapshot from our first walk to TUJ orientation, very close to Azabu Hall.

On campus, we began our orientation session, which was jam-packed with speakers from various TUJ services, question-taking, and a guided tour. Towards the beginning of the day, TUJ’s dean of students Dr. Bruce Stronach spoke to us on the relationship between the strong human inclination for group identification and the growing effects of globalization. A force as large as globalization inherently affects the way we identify and define ourselves, over national and other types of boundaries. Above all, globalization is a phenomenon that exists, Dr. Stronach explained, and we’re going to continue to experience its effects. And, he continued, much like every peer we meet along the way who is different from us, we are not obligated to like this, but only to understand it. Since two of my four TUJ classes are tied strongly to Dean Stronach’s words (Development & Globalization and East Asia & the United States), a need was spurred to record and remember this observation as I move forward in T0kyo.

 

Finally, a group of new friends and I spent some time walking around Minato Ward after orientation. We came upon Zōjō-ji, a Buddhist temple, built and remodeled in waves from 1622 to 1974. Zōjō-ji was the first temple I’ve ever encountered in Japan, and though rich with historical and religious significance, one couldn’t help but notice the bright orange traffic cones surrounding it. Modern trucks, materials, workers were busy setting up a festival on Zōjō-ji’s grounds. This, combined with a view of Tokyo Tower peaking over the temple’s left shoulder, set up a juxtaposing visual of old and new, traditional and modern. The scene should’ve felt interrupted, but instead, it felt apt for such a complex country. As I continue in Japan, and especially as I begin TUJ classes next Monday, I hope to consider these elements, too, to truly discover Japan both in and out of the classroom.

 

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Zōjō-ji, as mentioned, accompanied by cones, construction workers, and Tokyo Tower standing not far behind.

Pre-Japan Musings: Preparing to Go Abroad

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My decision to apply for Temple University Japan’s summer semester was an easy one. I’ve had a very personal, very lifelong aspiration to study in Tokyo, but my home university was offering in Japan nothing for anyone outside of the Photography Department. When I heard about Temple University Japan through a friend of a friend, a program that offers an entire range of classes, I jumped at the opportunity and investigated. I was more than eager to jump through the many hoops to get the OK from two separate universities, because it’s led me here: graduating college after finishing one last summer semester abroad with Temple University.

This next stage – preparing for the educational, cultural, and personal experience of a lifetime – has been an even greater pleasure. I currently live and study in New York City, but I would not make the mistake of expecting the same atmosphere from Japan’s capital city. My first time away from Western culture will be a singular experience.

One of the first things that I did upon my program acceptance was contact an author who I’d met previously, at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival) in 2016. Kate T. Williamson’s book, A Year in Japan, details her time studying Japanese visual culture in Kyoto on a fellowship with illustrations and handwritten observations. I remembered how I had expressed my own hopes for visiting Japan, and the simple but thoughtful inscription she made to me when I bought her book:

To Ariel- So nice to meet you today at the Sakura Matsuri! I know you will have your own adventure in Japan soon! With very best wishes, Kate”

I received an email back almost instantly, with congratulations and a long list of suggested places to visit and observe in Kyoto, Tokyo, Okinawa, and Osaka. On April 29th, I attended Sakura Matsuri again, meeting back up with Kate. It felt particularly rewarding for her inscription to come true, and to receive another in her latest book.

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Kate T. Williamson’s latest inscription for me – as well as a glimpse at a postcard she created and A Year in Japan.

Between the five classes I took up this past semester, I’ve began to study basic Japanese. This has included marking up a Basic Japanese Conversation Dictionary, and a Japanese Hiragana & Katakana guide for beginners. I’ve found the language app Memrise to be particularly fun and helpful in a pinch, especially on the NYC subway. As for this summer, I’ve enrolled Practical Japanese for Study Abroad Students. Studying daily in the States has given me a healthy head start, and complements my research on culture as well. One of my major sources of this has been Tofugu, a Japanese language and culture blog. Common and uncommon cultural topics alike, travel guides, reviews, and even videos comprise the content that Tofugu’s produced since 2008. The more that I prepare, the more excited I become to study media, culture and sociology in Japan. My experiences inside and outside of the classroom, including the many TUJ excursions and volunteer work I intend to take up in Tokyo, will leave me well-informed — and well-equipped for keeping this blog.

A couple months ago, a professor of journalism who has traveled around the world gave me the highest reassurance about a lack of concrete postgrad plans – once I explained my upcoming enrollment in TUJ. “There’s almost no use in planning in what comes after,” she said, “Because this will define it for you.” Once going abroad, many students are transformed. My hopes are that, over the course of the program, and hopefully as I blog and inform, I can discover what comes next.