Category Archives: Temple Japan

Final Post: A Reflection on Fall 2016


The semester is over and it has been a great experience. I stayed in Japan for one more week after the end of finals to explore more of this great country. All the while, I reflected on this trip and how it has impacted my life.


Itsukushima Shrine at high tide on Miyajima Island


Sadako’s memorial standing tall


Trying Kobe Steak and tempura from street vendors along Dotonbori


Happy deers in Nara


A little bit of gold in the darkness


Twisting paths along Fushimi Inari Shrine’s senbon torii


The godairiki stones from Sumiyoshi Taisha

While all of these experiences individually impacted me, I have to say that I was mostly changed by the people I met along the way on this journey. From the other study abroad students to the students from Kaetsu University to the residents I met on the streets of Itabashi City – everybody has changed me a little bit or helped me to grow.


Thank you Kaetsu Univ. students – you taught me more Japanese than any class ever could


Thanks, Azumi, for being a great friend from day 1

This semester was difficult, as being far away from home is always difficult, but it’s kind of like the lights I saw in Yoyogi Park. The full beauty of the lights cannot be appreciated without the darkness to accent it. I hope to return to appreciate its beauty again soon.


Final’s Week; Final Critique


I’ve posted a lot about my adventures, both academic and non-academic, on this blog. However, the main reason I am in Japan (as I have been reminded again and again) is to study. I’ve had a few weeks where my blog posts fell to the bottom of my priorities list in favor of school work and projects. One of the classes I took this semester was Introduction to Printmaking. Instead of a final exam, we have a final critique, in which we present and showcase the project we’ve been working on during the final weeks of classes.


There was some last-minute printing going on right before critique


Patrick adding the last touches to his piece before he puts it up for exhibition



His final product – portraits of his friends


Phyo is putting her pieces up for display


Karis’s purple damask wallpaper. Each one was printed individually.


Kenta and Atsushi posing with their final pieces


Tom putting his piece up for exhibition


Critiques have begun! Tom explains the concept behind his piece


Alex points out some aspects of his prints during his critique


Kaito utilized the sunlight streaming through the blinds to help illuminate his piece

Now that finals week is over, many students are relieved with the end of the semester. The overwhelming stress has dissipated in favor of excitement for the holiday season.



How do you celebrate Thanksgiving in a country that doesn’t celebrate the “traditional American Thanksgiving”? Simply – by spending the day with friends exploring the culture of the country you’re in.


The big Buddha statue with fall leaves at Tennoji Temple


The main approach to Nezu Jinja


The goshuin for Nezu Jinja


An old merchant’s store turned into a pseudo-museum


The daruma doll arrangement at Yushima Tenmangu’s fall festival


The entirety of the temple’s grounds were covered in flowers


Yushima Tenmangu is the temple of the scholars, so many students come here to pray for successful exams (which we did as well)

We couldn’t afford a real Thanksgiving turkey, so we celebrated by going to eat yakiniku, which is a restaurant style that brings you raw meat that you cook on your own at a little grill at your table. It was very good!


All of the drinks were mango juice

And of course, what was a night in Tokyo without experiencing some of the fun activities with friends? This is purikura, a large Photo Booth that is notorious for creating the illusion of larger eyes and clearer skin. It was a lot of fun!


A Thanksgiving miracle! It showed in Tokyo in November for the first time in 54 years. Well… it was more like sleet than snow, but for this Hawaii girl, anything that isn’t rain is spectacular. f1614010_tokyo_first-snow_tamlynkurata

Spirited Away (And then forced to come back)


It’s that time of the year again – final project week(s). The last few weeks before final exams where every professor in every class asks for a 3,000 word essay and a 20 minute presentation. In the midst of all the paperwork and presentation slides, I have to take a break and step back from it all. And while I’m laying on the floor of my dormitory, covered in note books and loose-leaf handouts, I think back to the last bit of freedom I had: the four-day cultural holiday weekend. During that weekend, it is not uncommon for many of the Japanese students to go home to be with family, or for the study abroad students to travel to farther cities (or even to Korea!) to get away from the constant hustle and bustle of the city. As for me, I went down south to Suo-Oshima, an island in Yamaguchi-ken, to be with a friend from home who is in Japan with the JET program teaching English to middle and elementary school children.


There are more cats than people on Nakasejima

The school I went to is on a very tiny island called Nakasejima. There are less than 100 people living on the island, and there are only 11 children (3rd – 8th grade) at the school. One of the classes only has one child in it.

Most of the island’s inhabitants have lives that revolve around the ocean, and fishing still a huge part of their lifestyle.



Fishing vessel on glassy water (taken from the side of a speeding ferry boat)


The whole area is spotted with tiny (seemingly uninhabited) islands

Then, the weekend came! Some of the JET teachers and I made the almost two hour trip from Suo-Oshima to Matsuyama, the capital of Ehime prefecture. When in Matsuyama, you must visit Matsuyama Castle. It is built on top of a mountain that rises 433 feet (or 132 m) above Matsuyama City and it’s a HIKE to get up there. But once you’re there, the view is absolutely spectacular and the castle is gorgeous amongst the Autumn leaves.


Also on the grounds is an expansive garden. The garden has this bamboo monument to commemorate a coin found that signifies the tragic love story of a Russian prisoner and a young Japanese woman. The garden is incredibly popular for wedding or engagement photos, and many young couples come here looking for blessings on their relationship. The garden also doubles as a pretty expansive mikan (or tangerine) garden. Just don’t take any of the fruit or one of the garden workers will chase you down… not that I know from experience or anything.



Matsuyama City as seen from one of the watch towers in Matsuyama Castle

Sometimes I feel like I’ve been spirited away from my city lifestyle and taken back to feudal Japan.

At the bottom of the mountain, there was a huge festival going on. Upon further inspection, we came to find out that it was the Japan prefecture character festival! Each prefecture in Japan has its own mascot or character, as do most of the government offices and public services (firefighters, police, post office, etc.). Many companies also have their own figure. You could take pictures with the mascots, partake in very cheap and delicious fair food, play games, and get free stickers and tissue packets.


Oomapyon from Omachi City (Nagano Pref.)

Our last stop in Matsuyama was to the famous Dogo Onsen. Dogo Onsen is the oldest onsen still standing in Japan, and it is part of the inspiration for the onsen in Spirited Away.

Unlike other onsens, which are very expensive, Dogo Onsen is relatively cheap with the most expensive option being a little over 1500 yen. However, they do not provide towels or soap, shampoo, or conditioner. You can find these things in the shopping street right in front of the onsen for very cheap, though.

The experience was amazing. It really felt like I was in one of my favorite movies. Everybody was wearing yukata walking around this part of the city. Plus, there was a bon festival at night, so there were tons of performances and traditional music.


But of course, all good things must come to an end, and the airplane that spirited me away from Tokyo had to bring me back. As I sit writing this post, I keep on looking at the paper to my left due in two hours that I should have started last night but put off until now and the presentation on my laptop that I have to give at 15:30. Oh well… ’tis the season, right?

Pumpkin Carving (A Late Halloween Post)


With all of the excitement from the past few weeks, this post has been painfully pushed back to the point where it has become slightly irrelevant. That’s okay, though, because all of the students’ hard work should still be shared!


Mickey and Minnie are ready to start pumpkin carving!


Zach is working hard on his pumpkin


Shannon and her scary pumpkin face


Alyssa and her cat (which needed emergency tail surgery)


First-time pumpkin carvers. Success!


Marie posing with her kitty pumpkin


Zach and Hannah’s final product: Death the Kidd from Soul Eater


All of the pumpkins are lit and on display


TUJ student body president Tiago casts his vote for the winning pumpkins


The pumpkin carving winners! (with a rare photo of the photographer; photo credit: Marie Kabanga Temple U ’17)

It was a lot of fun, and a great way to celebrate Halloween in a country where it is a new holiday (Japan only recently started celebrating Halloween about 4 years ago). Looking forward to more enjoyable activities!



Growing up in the United States, back to the inevitable return to school in the begging of September, nothing quite defined autumn like Halloween. It permeated every aspect of life come October first, from the pumpkins that began to show up on the doorsteps of suburban homes, to the inescapable ads and Halloween themed merchandise, the holiday owned the season. However, coming to Japan, I had no idea what to expect, or even whether or not Halloween was even celebrated over here, as I knew that it was not nearly as big of a deal in other western countries as it is in the United States.

I learned that Halloween really took off here, somewhat out of nowhere, around five or six years ago. Since then, it’s become unstoppable, massive. The stores began to sell pumpkin and ghost themed goods about a month in advance, just like in the States.

As Halloween is relatively new here, most of the people who seem to celebrate it are young adults, people in their late teens, twenties and thirties. What was really interesting to me was that most of the people who celebrate Halloween did not grow up trick or treating, which was the pinnacle event of the season when I was younger. Even more, although Halloween seems to be gaining traction as a holiday, trick or treating still seems to be a pretty American custom; biking home from my internship on Halloween night I ran into a few groups of young children, but only about one or two. Instead, Halloween in Japan seems to be a Holiday where young adults have an excuse to dress up and go out for the night.

My roommate and I had heard from some of our Japanese friends that the place to be on the Saturday night before Halloween was Shibuya, something that was actually echoed by some of the teachers at my internship. So come Saturday night, without costumes or any idea what to expect, we jumped on the JR and headed out. When we got to Shibuya it was so crowded you couldn’t see the ground, which, given the crowds that normally flock to the area on a Saturday night, might not be saying much, but on this night the crowds were double what they usually are, and everybody was in costume, and the costumes we saw put the kind of lazy, pun-based get-up most America adults seem to wear to Halloween parties to shame. These were some of the most incredibly detailed and elaborate costumes I’ve ever seen, my personal favorite being two men operating a cardboard giraffe that towered five or six feet above the heads of everyone in the crowd.

Being broke study abroad students as we are, we didn’t actually go in anywhere; instead, we opted to spend the night walking around and people watching and just being generally awestruck by the scene unfolding in front of us.


Climbing Takao


I finally got to see the mountains! About two months into my stay in Japan, my roommate and I at long last made the trek west, out past the endless boxy suburbs and into the mountains that exist beyond the special wards. We were headed to Mount Takao, called Takao San in Japanese, for a day of hiking and visiting the Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines that dot the mountainside.

We’d read about Takao San online; its well known for being a fairly easy hike, not the arduous all day or all night slog of Fuji, and for being a highly doable day trip from Tokyo. It only took us about an hour to get to Takasosanguchi station at the base of the mountain from Shinjuku Station.Hachioji seemed a world away from the frantic pace of Shinjuku we’d left behind. The base of the mountain was crowded with both hikers and small restaurants and shops, but the world seemed to move at a decidedly unhurried pace. 20161016_14001120161016_14220920161016_152851Hachioji and the entire region are still part of Tokyo prefecture.

The path up the mountain was steep, much steeper than we were initially ready for, but it was also, to our surprise, paved, with a van going up or down every once in a while. This, we found out upon our arrival at the top, was because along with various shrines and temples, Takao San is home to a few small restaurants, a beer garden, and a monkey park (!), and the path has to be paved in order to get food and supplies up the mountain. Even though it was a cool, rainy morning, we were sweating like crazy by the time we reached the first observation point, about halfway up. The view of the endless sprawl of the suburbs and the Tokyo skyscrapers off in the distance then proceeded to take our breath away, as if we weren’t already winded enough. The view in both directions, looking out towards the city and then turning around to see the mountains was incredible, and definitely worth the climb.

One of my favorite parts of Takao San was the monkey park. While we were pretty disappointed that the monkeys turned out to be in an enclosure, and not just running around wild (which, upon further thought makes total sense), it was still great to get up on the observation deck and take a break from hiking to watch one monkey’s endless war against a rope that hung from a pole. He would sit, sulking and glaring at the rope for a few minutes at a time, trying to think of another way to go about what he was doing, before giving up and deciding that he’d had it right every other time he’d tried. Then he would spring up, shrieking and yanking on the rope as hard as he could, trying his absolute best to pull it from the pole, before giving up once again and going back to his sulking. One unexpected bonus of our time at the monkey park was when I realized I understood when the Japanese guide was explaining how old the monkeys were. It’s slow and hard coming, but I’m definitely picking up a bit of Japanese.


Hakone Trip Part 2: Mt. Komagatake


Part 2! The final stop on the trip was to Mt. Komagatake, one of the many mountains that can be reached by cable-car in Hakone. f161101_tokyo_komagatake-gondala_tamlynkurata

They say you can see Mt. Fuji on a clear day. Before ascending, the clouds were quite heavy, so Forrest took the opportunity to try and create his own “Mt. Fuji selfie”. f161102_tokyo_getting-the-perfect-shot_tamlynkurata


Fortunately, the clouds moved aside for a little bit so that Mt. Fuji was visible in the distance


All smiles at the top!


The clouds returned, giving the shrine at the top a mysterious vibe



Forrest: “Hey, doesn’t this remind you of The Sound of Music? Except not European?”


Posing on the rocks surrounding the shrine


The sun began to set as our trip came to a close. When you’re in Tokyo, it’s easy to forget how colorful the sky can be. Actually, it’s easy to forget what the sky looks like since there are so many tall buildings and neon light displays. The whole trip brought the students back to nature a little bit as they unwound in the warmth of the onsen and took in the natural beauty of Hakone from atop the mountain. Japan is truly a wonderful place to be.


Savoring the last few moments of sunshine

Hakone Trip Part 1: Temples and Hot Springs


The Office of Student Services (OSS) hosted a one-day trip to Hakone, located approximately 50 miles outside of Tokyo. The area is known for its picturesque landscapes (especially in the Fall), hot springs, temples, and mountains.

The first stop on the trip was to Daiyuzan Saijo-ji, an expansive area filled with many different temples under the Daiyuzan Saijo-ji name.



Over 1,000 steps to the top to reach a secluded shrine


Halfway up and Forrest isn’t even breaking a sweat


A large statue of Kannon in the sunlight


Madison rings the bell before prayer at one of the many temples

After exploring the temple grounds, we hopped back on the bus for our second destination: Tenseien Hotel and Onsen.


This is one of those onsen hotels that give out yukata (cotton kimono) to wear around the premises. The trip fees included an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet serving both Japanese and Western food. The restaurant within the hotel overlooked the scenic ponds, waterfall, and mountain on the hotel grounds. The yukata come in very limited sizes (especially for those who are over 6′), but they can be easily adjusted.


Forrest and Joe posing in their yukata


Madison and Abigail are monks meditating under the waterfall


Now they are just standing underneath it


There were many koi filling the hotel’s 4 koi ponds

We made one more stop before heading back to Tokyo, but it was so surreal that it deserved its own post. Check out part 2!




To celebrate, a few friends and I decided to taste the more “touristy” side of Japan. This is Asakusa, known for its plethora of winding shopping streets, temples and shrines, rickshaw runners, and street food stands.

It was a clear and sunny day, which was a welcome surprise after the past few days of constant dark clouds. The main entrance to Asakusa is called Kaminarimon, and it’s a red gate with a huge red lantern (which is what the temple is famous for). From the gate, Tokyo Sky Tree was visible, towering over the rest of the buildings. f16901_tokyo_tokyo-sky-tree_tamlynkurata




The main shopping street between Kaminarimon and Senso-ji Temple

As depicted in the picture above, the street is incredibly crowded. I said Asakusa was touristy, right? The majority of the people walking the street are tourists, so many of the vendors speak English (for those of you who want to explore but know very little of the language, this is a perfect place to start). The shops sell a large variety of goods from toys and games to keychains and coin purses to full kimono and yukata sets.

One of the activities you should look into if you plan on going to a temple or shrine is omikuji (御神籤). These are sheets of paper with your fortune written on them, which you are given by shaking a box of sticks and the stick that appears corresponds to the drawer with your fortune card in it. They range from great curse (the worst) to great blessing (the best). If you get a bad fortune, don’t panic! There are places to tie your bad fortune to so you don’t take the bad luck with you. Sahara and Marie took a few tries, but a good fortune finally appeared.


Finally got a good fortune!



Senso-ji Temple


Another religious activity you might be interested in deals with the huge smoking pot in front of the main approach to the temple. It’s filled with incense sticks that you can purchase for about 100yen each. The resulting smoke is supposed to bless you if you waft it towards you. Want to become smarter? Waft the smoke towards your head. Want to become richer? Waft the smoke towards your wallet.


Incense Pot


The line of people waiting to pray (the third and final huge red lantern)

If you’re really dedicated to visiting a lot of shrines and temples, you may want to look into obtaining a shuincho (朱印帳)to collect goshuin (御朱印). Goshuin are like stamps that you can collect from almost every temple or shrine in Japan. They are handwritten by a monk or a kannushi, and have the temple/shrine’s seal, name, and date. Each one is very special. Senso-ji offers two goshuin, but most places only offer one.


Goshuin from Senso-ji

After praying at the temple, we walked around the shopping side streets a little bit. Asakusa has one shop in particular that is known for its large melon pan filled with ice cream. They also offer a spot to dress up and take photos with plastic versions of the bread.


Melon pan!