Category Archives: Richel Diaz

Mad Dash to the Finish Line

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Lawson runs, catching the next express train, stepping outside my dorm room into a kitchen full of friends- words cannot describe how much I will truly miss everything this program and country have given me these past few months. Especially the everyday scenes in Tokyo, like people riding their bikes to and from train stations, or the wildly various fashion styles found throughout the city. I am going to miss having a stunning view of bustling Shibuya and quiet residential neighbourhoods in Azabu on my daily commute. But most of all, I am going to miss all the people I have met on this trip. From my wonderful professor (Mr. Ian Lynam), to all the friends I made in my classes, and of course everyone who lived at the dorms with me, the people I have met have made as much an impact on me as my studies and travels here.

Three friends seen riding on their bike while on my way to the station.

Views of Tokyo from a building near my internship office in Ebisu.

A crepe I bought on Takeshita Street during my weekly visit to Harajuku.

People lining up for the next train at Shibuya Station.

My friend, Kazuki, a native of Japan, on our lunch together!

Views of Odaiba from the train.

One of the many local festivals that happen throughout Tokyo. This one was right outside the station I get off at for my internship!

 

This past week was the official last week for the study abroad program. Personally, I was busy until the very last minute with school, my internship, and trying to squeeze in as much time with everyone! It was really weird making plans with people and coming to the realization that it would be the last time (at least for a while) until we would see each other again. It was a strange mix of feeling excited to hang out in Tokyo, and reminiscent because it was the end.

Matt, Seamus, Colin, Ariel, and I at our last “family dinner” together. [Photo Credit: The Waitress]

A very colorful room of interactive art at the Sky Circus in Ikebukuro.

Ariel in her favorite room at Sky Circus.

Ariel and I enjoying a light display inside a room covered in mirrors.

Hinako, Ruchi, Kelsang (birthday girl!), myself, and Hina! [Photo Credit: Rob Weiss]

Greg giving his speech surrounded by Erik, Kevin, and Shaani.

Phil, Shaani, Kevin, and myself!

The whole family together at the end! [Photo Credit: Super nice locals!]

As luxurious as this trip was, it was not an easy one, but it was most definitely worth every penny and struggle it took to get here. I am truly grateful for Temple University for allowing me this opportunity. They say study abroad is a once in a life time experience, and I am here to reassure you that statement rings true.

Summiting Mt. Fuji

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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

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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.

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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.

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6th Station on the Subashiri Trail

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Almost at the 7th station

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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.

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

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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!

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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.

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

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Above the clouds on the summit of Mt. Fuji.

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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.

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

 

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.

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.

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!

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.