Category Archives: Temple Japan

Places Around Tokyo: Tokyo Tower and Ueno

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Looking for places to visit in Tokyo but want to also save on money? Recently, I was able to visit Ueno and Tokyo Tower in the Tokyo Metropolitan Prefecture, and was able to do just that.

One of the most iconic buildings in Tokyo is, of course, the Tokyo Tower. This is only a few stops away from the TUJ campus, and really let's you see all of Tokyo. The best part is a ticket only costs ¥900.

One of the most iconic buildings in Tokyo is, of course, the Tokyo Tower. This is only a few stops away from the TUJ campus, and really let’s you see all of Tokyo. The best part is a ticket only costs ¥900.

Christmas lasts forever here! Tokyo Tower was featuring their Winter Wonderland display all the way until the end of February. They even had an entire display synched to holiday music.

Christmas lasts forever here! Tokyo Tower was featuring their Winter Wonderland display all the way until the end of February. They even had an entire display synched to holiday music.

TUJ student Carlos Casademont couldn't believe how pretty the observation deck was. "When I looked outside, it made me realize just how HUGE Tokyo is."

TUJ student Carlos Casademont couldn’t believe how pretty the observation deck was. “When I looked outside, it made me realize just how HUGE Tokyo is.”

Tokyo Tower was completed in 1958, making it one of the oldest modern structures in Tokyo. In 2011, the tower actually took some slight damage from the 3/11 Earthquake, but was soon repaired afterwards.

Tokyo Tower was completed in 1958, making it one of the oldest modern structures in Tokyo. In 2011, the tower actually took some slight damage from the 3/11 Earthquake, but was soon repaired afterwards.

Tokyo Tower has a whole floor of restaurants, many of which have a ticket order system. This lets you order your meal through a machine, and have a ticket given to the chef to make it. This can be very useful and less stressful if you are still hesitant with the language.

Tokyo Tower has a whole floor of restaurants, many of which have a ticket order system. This lets you order your meal through a machine, and have a ticket given to the chef to make it. This can be very useful and less stressful if you are still hesitant with the language.

Ueno, north of Tokyo, has an abundance of shallow ponds, parks, and museums. Here, the Tokyo National Museum is reflected. Although no pictures are allowed to be taken inside, these buildings hold centuries of valuable culture and immaculate history. This museum also offers discounts for students with IDs, making the entrance fee come to ¥410!

Ueno, north of Tokyo, has an abundance of shallow ponds, parks, and museums. Here, the Tokyo National Museum is reflected. Although no pictures are allowed to be taken inside, these buildings hold centuries of valuable culture and immaculate history. This museum also offers discounts for students with IDs, making the entrance fee come to ¥410!

One of Ueno's largest ponds is filled with lively tulips, a little odd to find in the month of February but was a pleasant insert into the harshly horizontal landscape.

One of Ueno’s largest ponds is filled with lively tulips, a little odd to find in the month of February but was a pleasant insert into the harshly horizontal landscape.

Ueno's larger pond really scales the Tokyo National Museum. It's huge (and that's only one of the buildings)!

Ueno’s larger pond really scales the Tokyo National Museum. It’s huge (and that’s only one of the buildings)!

Ueno has a side completely different from it's parks and museums. These tiny streets are filled to the brink with stores, many of which happen to be resale and discount stores, drawing in large crowds with their low prices.

Ueno has a side completely different from its parks and museums. These tiny streets are filled to the brink with stores, many of which happen to be resale and discount stores, drawing in large crowds with their low prices.

Here where some of the merchants in Ueno. Unlike some quieter marketplaces, like the ones in Itabashi near the dorms, these streets are loud. Vendors will call out to customers to come in and buy things. You will hear occasional english bits as they try to entice you to buy their wares.

Here were some of the merchants in Ueno. Unlike some quieter marketplaces, like the ones in Itabashi near the dorms, these streets are loud. Vendors will call out to customers to come in and buy things. You will hear occasional English bits as they try to entice you to buy their wares.

Although Ueno may be a bit further than Tokyo Tower, both of these places are must sees on any map of Japan, and definitely are worth it, without emptying your wallet.

Taking a Step Back

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TUJ campus was closed February 11th and 12th in celebration of Nation Founder’s Day. Since there were two days off, it felt like an extra weekend and I’m positive that there will never be a day when a student doesn’t appreciate an extra weekend. As if to further my own notion, I planned my days off in the same way that I do my Saturdays and Sundays: one day dedicated to work and the other to play. Unlike back in the states, the winter temperatures in Japan are considered mild. There have been a few snow-showers, but the snow melts fairly quickly and the chances of having a delay of any kind or a snow-day are extremely low. This means that we have to keep a closer eye on our schoolwork.

I have discovered, forty-seven days after arriving in Japan, that the scale balancing your schoolwork and social activities doesn’t fade away. Any student considering study abroad should think about what it is they truly want from the experience. Additionally, it’s important to remember graduation requirements as they will help shape an appropriate class schedule. The minimum credit requirement for students studying abroad at Temple University Japan is twelve while the maximum is seventeen. At orientation, professors encouraged us to take only the amount of classes we felt comfortable committing to and this advice should not be overlooked. I purposely chose a hefty load this semester—sixteen credits—because there are courses offered at TUJ that I can’t take at my home-college. It’s because of this that I tend to spend more time on campus or in my dorm finishing up schoolwork than late nights out in Tokyo. It’s not a negative aspect of my experience, however, and I certainly don’t feel jaded. I’m a student, not a tourist.

Even though I enjoy being a student, it’s a treat to have a day off. February 11th and 12th were like a breath of fresh air, especially the 11th, when some friends and I took to the streets of Shinjuku to visit the cats at Cat Calico Cafe. While our day had started with cats, it hadn’t ended there. We were within walking distance of the of the Tokyo Metropolitan Building, a popular attraction known for its fare-free observatories on the 45th floor. Take my word for it, the view is dazzling. Tokyo seems especially endless when viewed from such a high up location. I can hardly believe that there are so many buildings and houses and that those same buildings and houses make up a very small part of Japan. I’m almost always getting swept up in my schoolwork so views like this remind me that there’s a much larger aspect to the study abroad experience, and it’s important to take a step back and take it all in.

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As seen from the Tokyo Metropolitan Building.

Me, The Wide-eyed Student-Tourist I Knew I’d Become

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Sitting — or most often standing — in a crowded subway train, one experiences an array of emotions, especially upon encountering morning and evening rush hour. I have come to think of these instances as a series of mental tests that improve, daily, my character and tolerance level as a growing adult. On the 6 o’clock morning trains I look forward to swallowing hairspray and perfume and taking the occasional briefcase to the hip. After a long day at work or school I’m perfectly fine with building up arm and leg strength via germ-infested train handles instead of plopping onto a warm, heated seat. I also treasure, and will most definitely miss, the one magical act that never fails to make me feel closer (sometimes too close) to fellow humans than I’ve ever felt before: the grumbles and grunts we all utter in unison when new friends from each station push their way in through the train doors to join us on an hour-long commute. Because I see these beautiful sights five days a week here in Japan, I know that these experiences will stay with me forever…

What will fade away into the misty recesses of my 21-year-old brain are the truly breathtaking sights I get to see with my frequently inadequate free time — the magnificent gardens, the other-worldly giant statues (and the small cute ones too, namely Hachiko), the remarkably designed buildings, the smooth criss-cross of people in the streets, the engaging museums… And this is why I have evolved rather quickly into the American tourist I knew I’d become. After reading pieces in my literature classes that sprinkle names of Japanese cities here and there, I actually get to go out and see them for myself, whether they’re big tourist spots or everyday quiet towns. Phone and sometimes crappy camera in hand, I document what is, for typical people here, the normal goings-on of Japanese cities. But to my eyes it’s all fresh, and I find myself describing Japan with phrases like “a blur of color,” “fantastical and whimsical streets,” and “modern and stylish pedestrians,” although I could attribute these words to many cool cities and places in my home country. I hate to think of myself as the obsessive photographer and the girl who takes notes spontaneously on the subway like a desperate author searching for their next hit novel, but, that’s who I am in Japan and I can’t get enough.

If you’ll put up with the shaky camera and you’re willing to take on, for a moment, the same over-excited tourist mentality I feel everyday as a student here, join me in taking a look at a few of the places I’ve been to in Tokyo. I’ll show you the cute pup Hachiko, the Tokyu Department Store in Shibuya, and a few more spots in Harajuku, Ginza, and Itabashi. Come see the sights with me!

Tokyo and Kanagawa in Black & White

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Having only been to Tokyo and Kanagawa, I’ve seen just a small piece of Japan from the cities I’ve explored (and by explored I mean barely skimmed the surface of the culture and amazing locations in these cities). As my internship mentor reminded me, all prefectures are distinct, even considering the size of Japan as a nation. Based on my experiences so far, I thought I would show you parts of my daily little adventures here in Japan, starting with the things I see everyday — the things I love and respect, and the things I’m still getting used to — captured in black and white.

Rain, Not Snow

Rainy StreetThe first entity I’m getting acquainted with is… rain — a true separate being in Japan. If it’s a beautiful day on Monday, there will be some rain around the corner for you on Tuesday, just to make sure you’re getting your baths and keeping clean. Here winter = rain, not snow. But the “sunny” side of this is that you have more chances to admire and come to love the morning dew, more instances when you find yourself staring at the shining black streets on your way to the train, and more opportunities to study the myriad of possible umbrella designs. One very handy thing that gets paired along with the rain, however, is free umbrella sleeve stands. They come out of the woodwork whenever it drizzles and stand waiting for you with an endless supply of clear plastic sleeves. Whether this is a courtesy for me (the chick who just walked in swinging around a dripping umbrella that refuses to close properly) or just a selfish means of protecting the store floors, I know not. But I still love them even though I almost always struggle to get my umbrella out of the stand’s catch once the sleeve is on, but that’s my own issue…

One day of snow -- which everyone was excited about throughout the day -- left remnants of its glittering goodness along curbs. Can't say that I miss snow too much though!

One day of snow — which everyone was excited about throughout the day — left remnants of its glittering goodness along curbs. Can’t say that I miss snow too much though!

Convenience

ConvenienceConvenience is another aspect of the Japan I see that I cherish daily. Innovations here — at the very least — make me grin and many things in places I’ve visited are executed so well they leave me constantly comparing Japan and the US, with Japan typically coming out as champion; the first thing, if I remember far back enough (to just four weeks ago!), being convenience stores themselves. Japan’s コンビニ are cleaner, better stocked, and feature much better sweets (the most important part, obviously) and whole meals than US convenience stores. I discovered this at the Narita Airport and later realized that it wasn’t just a sparkling version plopped in a place that welcomes travelers on a daily basis; all コンビニ are amazing. Convenience blew me away and back again when we had to stay the night at the airport before checking into the dorms the next afternoon. 9h (nine hours) was wonderfully comfortable, spotless and mod (check out their website, it’s even more clean and minimalistic: ninehours.co.jp). Also… vending machines!! They are everywhere and even line the neighborhood streets where I live. They glow at night offering cheap drinks, both cold and hot, amazingly. Can’t get enough! I’m definitely getting used to these brilliant conveniences.

Art & Culture

Culture — of course — is unique, and although Japan has opened its doors to the outside world’s influence, historically speaking recently, it still has breathtaking sights to see that are untouched and invaluable. What stand out the most to me are art and architecture (a mix of very old and a crazy mix of relatively new), as well as the small everyday quirks you see throughout Japan. Museums, well-designed buildings, and fake food. So far I’ve only had the (quiet and serious) pleasure of visiting one small museum in Shibuya, The Shoto Museum of Art, which features old pottery, paintings, scroll-like textiles and the like. This trip proved difficult as the names and descriptions of each piece featured beautifully impossible kanji, and my Japanese skills failed me as they so often do here. But still, I loved staring at the artwork wondering where it came from and who made the intricate brush strokes that I was inspecting so intently. (Thanks kanji.)

The building was designed by a very talented architect, Seiichi Shirai. It's beautiful and the museum featured books with photographs of his other gorgeous designs.

The Shoto Museum of Art was designed by a very talented architect, Seiichi Shirai. It’s beautiful and the museum featured books with photographs of his other gorgeous designs.

It's a fake food battle out there: restaurants in fancy areas have enormous expensive displays that showcase what they offer.

It’s a fake food battle out there: restaurants in fancy areas have enormous expensive displays that showcase what they offer inside (the plastics used to create the fake food is expensive!).

Tokyo and Kanagawa feature the coolest buildings I've ever seen. This one, from Tokyo, looks like the result of a heavenly being swooping down and slicing off a corner. Awesome.

Tokyo and Kanagawa feature the coolest buildings I’ve ever seen. This one, from Tokyo, looks like the result of a heavenly being swooping down and slicing off a corner. Awesome.

Clothes & Food

A few weeks ago, when my aunt asked me where I’ve visited and shopped so far in Japan, she rattled off some places and mentioned that she wanted to take a look around one shop in particular together. I knew it was coming — the name that instantly makes me picture the brightly colored, unified, minimal interior — a place I often call the “Poofy Jacket Store,” Uniqlo (ユニクロ). Uniqlos are everywhere! They don’t feature that many items but they are very popular in Japan.

Crepe shops are also pretty popular, and I can’t get enough of their cutesy storefronts and delicious wares. They usually feature fanned out fake crepes that reveal fresh bananas and strawberries, perfectly swooped dollops of whipped cream and curls of chocolate and vanilla ice cream. French style bakeries, too, line the hallways of large subway stations and neighborhood streets — I never get tired of this.

Adorable bear muffins in a train station. <3

Adorable bear muffins in a train station. <3

Crepe shops in Harajuku compete for customers, one claims to be the oldest and one claims to be the best!

Crepe shops in Harajuku compete for customers–one claims to be the oldest and one claims to be the best!

 

Shrine Visitations

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We swung by the shrine while a wedding ceremony was in progression. The bride, groom, and attendants looked stunning!

Recently a friend and I stopped by Meiji Jingu on our way to Harajuku Street. Since the shrine is in close proximity to Harajuku station, we wanted to visit before going shopping. Initially our plan had been to spend a half an hour exploring the shrine grounds, but we’ve made a habit out of stretching the definition of “short plans” and spent a majority of the afternoon there. On the way to the main building, we constantly found ourselves amazed at not just the nature that swaddled the area, but the bridges and buildings that were spread out around us, too. Although we weren’t aware at the time, we had been walking in a forest that spanned 700,000 square meters and featured over 100,000 trees that, when first planted, were planted by hand to honor the souls of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken.

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The front of the ema featured this lovely image!

After washing our hands and rinsing our mouths at the Temizuya, we entered the main shrine building, which bustled with activity. This area felt far less congested than Shibuya’s scramble crossing—it was a roomy walk for visitors and locals alike. Shrine assistants threaded through patches of crowds to get to their stalls, which sold a variety of good-luck charms and fortunes. My friend and I decided to purchase ¥500 ema, the wooden plaques used for prayer requests. While in the middle of writing my prayer, I thought back to my prior spring semester when I was enrolled in the search for meaning course at my home college. This course taught vernacular religious practices with a focus on Western traditions. Several times throughout the semester our class took field trips and one of the first trips was to the Saint John Neumann Shrine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Our professor, as well as one of the parish priests, discussed the history of the shrine and some of the activities that parishioners participated in.

Western and Eastern cultures tend to contrast each other and I found myself trying to recall the experience at Saint John Neumann’s so that I could register these differences for myself. First and foremost, the Catholic church and the Shinto shrine answer the calls of two different religions. Shintoism places an emphasis on nature whereas Catholicism focuses more on religious figures. I felt that the décor of both shrines reflected their respective religions in this manner. Meiji Jingu, a Shinto shrine, overflowed with naturalistic elements, from the plant-life that isolated it from the rest of Harajuku to the wood-based shrine houses. The Saint John Neumann Shrine, on the other hand, was stunning in the sense that there were a variety of different artworks and items.

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Snapped a picture of Ashlee Mantione as she wrote down her prayer at the shrine.

What bound these two experiences together weren’t the practices, and certainly not the interior and exterior designs, but the people visiting. You don’t need to identify with any religion to offer loved ones positive thoughts or prayers. Nor do you have to be a committed parishioner to appreciate the beauty at the Meiji Shrine or Saint John Nuemann’s. Realizing this made my afternoon at the Meiji Shrine so much more enjoyable and I can hardly wait to visit more shrines over the course of the semester.

Interning 101: My Tips & Experiences

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Me after a long day at Kanagawa Sohgoh! <3

Me after a long day at Kanagawa Sohgoh High School! <3

Working as a teaching aid at Kanagawa Sohgoh High School is my first internship experience, and it’s true that I work in an environment that holds a few culturally different working values. But it seems all internships require the same level of attention and passion, and I’d like to relate a few tips that will allow you—the eager new intern—to go above and beyond in the eyes of your future, or current, supervisor.

I have only been working as an intern for a few weeks now but already I have had so much fun both in the classroom and out; I’ve met brilliant students and have actually participated in several extra activities that have brought me closer to the students and my supervisor. I remember panicking about taking on such a big responsibility before I learned that I was wanted at KanaSoh and I spent a lot of time researching the best ways to search for an internship, secure one, and maintain it — imagine sweaty palms as I scrolled through WikiHow and Forbes articles. But since then I have done some fieldwork for you, the reader. (I’m envisioning you as I was: a nervous sophomore sitting in my dorm room, pushing up plastic glasses as I imagined what this mystic future internship would consist of.)

Tip Zone #1: Communication

  • Be a reachable human being. Reply to all emails and messages you receive related to the the internship and your supervisor so that they know you are alive and tuned in to the job. They should not have a difficult time contacting you, and you need to make sure to check all forms of communication that you have ever provided your supervisor with. If you and your supervisor are friends on Facebook, respond to late night messages! They could be wanting to check in with you or discuss timing and upcoming activities.
  • Be formal until further notice. Compose emails in an appropriate way — which means typically more formal than everyday speech! But do adjust your tone when you feel like your supervisor would appreciate casual conversation. Be personable and have fun chatting and growing together as human beings, if they encourage it!

Tip Zone #2: Time Management

  • Compare schedules. Whether you’re beginning classes for the semester or you’re working part time, as soon as you learn of important dates for you (exams, work events, projects) figure out which dates in the future would work best as time reserved for these other obligations (study days, breather days after exams etc.). Let your supervisor know as soon as possible of instances when you don’t think you can handle full work days at your internship. Now check their schedule; ask about important events that might come up in the next few weeks or months ahead at your internship. Do they have any work parties, conferences, or fun activities that would benefit both of you if you joined in? Be proactive and ask!
  • 遅くなってすみません! When you’re running late be sure to call, text, Line, Skype, Facebook, email, anything! Let your supervisor know of your lateness or unexpected absence as soon as possible because they might have to change their schedule around you, and they will probably be worried about your well being (if they love you enough). If you’re traveling to a foreign country, try to find a replacement for your phone plan back at home — look for a cheap phone you can load with minutes, a SIM card you can stick in your phone, etc., but look for these options early! It took me the longest time to find a replacement for my American phone. Initially I thought Softbank’s Simple Plan would work for me, even though it would come out to a little less than $100 for a cheap phone and the first round of minutes. But I heard from a friend of a friend that a SIM card with 2 gigs of data for three months would be a much better deal (and it was —$40 for three months!!). Research plans but also keep in mind certain restrictions on your options as a foreigner — I tried to get a phone at Softbank several times but they were either packed and had no time slots left, or they lacked English-speaking representatives to guide me through contract paperwork (they come and go at certain times!).

Tip Zone #3: Delivery and Quality

  • Work it, girl. I grade papers at my internship — nothing too fancy — but whenever I do, I try to take my time and grade thoughtfully, sometimes leaving constructive feedback or alternative ways to fix sentences (yes, sometimes smiley faces do the job too if the students write something really cute or well-written). Take your time and do your best in all situations, and work with all the curve balls you might be thrown. This week I was given the opportunity to get even more involved than usual with students: a teacher I worked with gave me a few minutes to meet the students and then he expected me to take over, introducing the new lesson to the class and getting the students to speak up in new activities. I was a little stunned when he motioned with a swoop of his hand for me to begin the lesson, but I tried to relax and go with it and it ended up being a fun little push that gave me a feel for really teaching a class.
  • Work it more, girl. With any internship, if your supervisor invites you to come along to any kind of extra event or activity, go for it! It not only means your supervisor wants your help or would love it if you were present, but also shows that they think it might be a good experience for you. I’ve gotten the chance to go to a few extra practice sessions with students preparing for English exams, some who are visiting other countries, and a few who just want to hone their English skills. I have also been to a large get-together with students and faculty from several schools in Kanagawa where we discussed English education in Japan and I had an amazing time.

Following all the tips and tricks you find online won’t guarantee you a mind blowing internship, let alone an internship at all, but it will prepare you for the possibilities of your future. I tried one summer to get an internship at a newspaper company, only to be let down by the communication skills of my would-be supervisor; even after visits placing resumes on desks, I still waited for a few weeks, phone at the ready and confused eyes on my email. But after that raging success story I found an even better opportunity with KanaSoh through my university! It’s really up to you and the choices you make when searching for and applying to internships. Be ready to apply to a few, be conscious of what avenue you want to work in and how it would relate to your studies, and try to find something that will give you the most amazing and beneficial experiences.When you finally do secure an internship, do your best and HAVE FUN! 頑張ってね!


Words to know:

遅くなってすみません — おそくなってすみません — I’m sorry I am late!

頑張ってね — がんばってね — Good luck!

Traditional Arts TUJ Activity

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On Sunday, January 25th, TUJ had an activity for all students to go to (if they had signed up). Our events included a tea ceremony, learning Calligraphy, dressing in a kimono, and hearing some traditional music.

The house we went to was surrounded by a beautiful garden, decorated with lanterns.

The house we went to was surrounded by a beautiful garden, decorated with lanterns.

Lanterns like this decorated areas of the garden, and really complemented the scenery.

Lanterns like this decorated areas of the garden, and really complemented the scenery.

Mark Sullivan, Cristian Tracci, and Yanan Shen waiting for the events to start.

Mark Sullivan, Cristian Tracci, and Yanan Shen waiting for the events to start.

Our host beginning the events of the day with a prayer.

Our host beginning the events of the day with a prayer.

Ivan Karavitchev looks on while our host explained how to play the koto.

Ivan Karavitchev looks on while our host explained how to play the koto.

Our host was a talented musician. She played the Koto (the Japanese horizontal harp) and sang. We even joined along!

Our host was a talented musician. She played the Koto (the Japanese horizontal harp) and sang. We even joined along!

Our host showed us how to do Ikebana, which is the art of flower arranging. There are many rules involved, and it took her a year to learn!

Our host showed us how to do Ikebana, which is the art of flower arranging. There are many rules involved, and it took her a year to learn!

The final look of the Ikebana.

The final look of the Ikebana.

Dina Pakstis is loving the kimono she got to wear. "It's so comfortable!"

Dina Pakstis is loving the kimono she got to wear. “It’s so comfortable!”

Jennifer Hayes, Naomi Polite, Kay James, and Louisa Lightfoot are taught how to do Calligraphy.

Jennifer Hayes, Naomi Polite, Kay James, and Louisa Lightfoot are taught how to do Calligraphy.

Kay James tries her hand at Calligraphy.

Kay James tries her hand at Calligraphy.

Megan Smith wears her kimono, and couldn't believe how warm it was.

Megan Smith wears her kimono, and couldn’t believe how warm it was.

The kimonos that the girls wore had exquisite detail, and were made of real silk.

The kimonos that the girls wore had exquisite detail, and were made of real silk.

Here are some of the girls who decided to get dressed up in kimonos. They had so many colors and varieties to choose from, so every looked so pretty and unique!

Here are some of the girls who decided to get dressed up in kimonos. They had so many colors and varieties to choose from, so every looked so pretty and unique!

Waiting for tea.

Waiting for tea.

Marissa Spennato sips her matcha (green tea that is made into a fine powder and then steeped) tea.

Marissa Spennato sips her matcha tea (green tea that is made into a fine powder and then steeped).

This tea was made from pickled sakura (cherry blossoms). It was supposed to taste bittersweet, but it was actually quite salty.

This tea was made from pickled sakura (cherry blossoms). It was supposed to taste bittersweet, but it was actually quite salty.

During the ceremony, sweets and snacks were given out to compliment the tea.

During the ceremony, sweets and snacks were given out to complement the tea.

The turn out for the events was over 15 students from TUJ, and we even had our host's neighbour join us for a bit.

The turn out for the events was over 15 students from TUJ, and we even had our host’s neighbor join us for a bit.