Category Archives: Temple Japan



This past Sunday night, my grandma and I were just eating dinner. We decided to open the shades to ventilate the living room, but instead we were met with a collective gasp! Out in the sky was a huge moon—and a red one at that. I’d only seen this kind of moon on the covers of vampire/werewolf/supernatural creature novels (sorry, I am neither Team Edward nor Team Jacob), but to see it in person was breathtaking!

Super Blood Moon next to the Skytree

Of course, I’d already seen pictures of this natural wonder on my Facebook newsfeed with the hashtag #SuperBloodMoon (unfortunately, where I get most of my news), but didn’t think I would get to be seeing it all the way over here in Tokyo. Massachusetts and Japan are separated by a thirteen-hour time difference, and California and Japan are separated by a sixteen-hour one. Now I don’t completely understand the actual logistics of how long an eclipse should last (I thought it was only a few minutes…?), but I definitely didn’t think it would travel halfway across the world and still be eclipsed!!

This was all beautiful, but it got me thinking about the impact of the time difference for international students living in Japan. As we get further and further into college, it becomes harder and harder to maintain contact with our friends from other countries. To begin with, preparing ourselves to become actual functioning adults in the real working world gives us so many more responsibilities—so we have less downtime for the things outside of our schedule. Then, there’s room for technical difficulty like Wi-fi connection and the ability to be multi-tasking while you’re in a video conference.

All these things made me think that time difference would be a huge obstacle and that it would be very crippling to my communication, especially because I’m not that good at keeping in touch long-distance. But being away from friends at home has strengthened some of my relationships, rather than weakened them. I guess the age-old “absence makes the heart grow fonder” idiom is pretty true!

Instead of literally instant messaging, I’m able to drop messages here and there throughout the day until the other person reads it. Usually, it’ll be in their morning while it’s nighttime over here–and this is surprisingly effective, as one of us is ready to face the day while the other is getting ready to finish it. It’s a little hard to explain, but it’s almost as if the fact that I’ve lived the day ahead of them (though this is technically not true) and that they are reliving the day that I’ve just had (also untrue), makes both of us more optimistic for the coming day.

And not only that, but when I really am alone from my California and Boston friends (a time chunk usually from about 4 until I sleep; they’re sleeping at this time so I can’t reach them), it pushes me to develop the relationships around me, instead of through the internet. Looking at the Super Blood Moon with my grandma was a new kind of bonding experience that I don’t get at home–and it was pretty nice seeing that the rest of my apartment complex was also looking out from their balconies and enjoying the moon.

Adventures During Silver Week, Osaka and Kyoto!


Since we had 5 days off during silver week, my friends and I decided to go somewhere. We all wanted to go to Kyoto and Osaka to experience different parts of Japan. South of Tokyo, it is very different from the Japan we are used to. We took the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) to Osaka and stayed there for two nights. It was unbelievably fast. The train is a feat of technology and engineering all on its own.

The Shinkansen (bullet train). It was quite impressive!

The Shinkansen (bullet train). It was quite impressive!

We arrived after two hours on the train and checked into our hotel. Our room was on the 49th floor and as soon as we entered the room we were greeted with an amazing view. I immediately noticed that the lay of the land was very different from Tokyo. It seemed a lot more expansive. The sprawl of the city was amazing! There was nothing but buildings and mountains as far as the eye could see.

The view from the Osaka at night! It was beautiful!

The view from the Osaka at night! It was beautiful! It is very different from Tokyo.

The next morning we went to Osaka castle. I had wanted to go because I had seen many pictures of the famous castles in books I read. The castle was the site of a famous siege in the 17th century in which the Tokugawa family defeated another clan, the Toyotamis, and consolidated their power. The Tokugawas would dominate Japan until the 19th century when Commodore Perry lowered his guns against Tokyo harbor and demanded Japan open up her ports. The castle was huge. It sat on a stone base and had many statues on the outside that were painted gold. It was a long walk to get up to the castle! As I walked I wondered how anyone could have possibly taken this castle. It was surrounded by a moat and layers of walls. It made me appreciate the military genius of Tokugawa Ieyasu. To be able to take a place like Osaka castle is an impressive feat.

Osaka Castle. It was huge and beautiful!

Osaka Castle. It was huge and beautiful!

Inside there was an impressive museum. It included explanations about the Siege of Osaka and the background behind the siege. It had an impressive array of weaponry, armor, and art. Some of the art was very impressive. The painted wood panels were gorgeous and depicted the battle in a brilliant fashion. We went to the top afterwards and were greeted with an amazing view!

The view of a statue from the roof. They had screens to keep people from falling.

The view of a statue from the roof. They had screens to keep people from falling.

We came back to the hotel amazed at what we experienced and made us all the more excited for Kyoto. We went to Kyoto the next day and stayed at a hostel. Hostels in Japan are the best. I read online some places that people would never stay at a hostel except in Japan. It was actually a very nice place for very cheap. As soon as we dropped our stuff off we went to go explore. The city was a dream for an architecture lover like me. There were gorgeous temples and shrines all over. Apparently there are over 2,000 of them in Kyoto alone!

A shrine in Kyoto. It seemed like they were around every corner.

A shrine in Kyoto. It seemed like they were around every corner.

Unfortunately the day we went to the famous temples, Kinkaku-ji, the gold temple on the water, and Kiyomizu-dera, the temple famous for its veranda, I forgot my cell phone and could not take a picture of them. But the memories I have from the temple are with me. They were gorgeous beyond all belief. When most people think of Japan, they think of Tokyo and many rarely venture outside of Tokyo. But there is so much more to Japan than Tokyo. Many of the regions are unique and each prefecture has its own unique food and dialect. If you ever go to Tokyo, make sure you take trips outside of Tokyo. Much how like New York does not represent the entire United States, Tokyo does not represent all of Japan. In order to truly understand Japan, consider taking trips to other places. You might be surprised at the differences you find.

Oh, Onsens!


This past weekend I went to an Onsen. It was a wonderful experience. The Onsen is not only used for cleaning yourself, but also for rest, relaxation, and socializing. We arrived soon after playing paintball in Chiba. I was covered in paint and was happy to finally to be able to bathe after being nailed by so many paintballs. When we first arrived I was struck by just how fancy the place was. It was similar to my house in the fact that you had to take off your shoes before entering and put them in a shoe locker.

It was so pretty! They had a courtyard in the middle surrounded by a small moat.

It was so pretty! They had a courtyard in the middle surrounded by a small moat.

Before you even consider going to an Onsen, find reading material on the do’s and don’ts of Onsens. It was fortunate for us that they gave us reading materials on the Onsen. It was almost ritual-like with what we had to do. We first had to bathe ourselves in a certain way before getting in the bath. This was understandable. The place can’t be constantly changing out their bathwater. Washing off most of the filth helps the place out by saving them money and time, and Japan is all about politeness and helping out others.

After the bath we hung out here for a while. It was fun talking to other travelers!

After the bath we hung out here for a while. It was fun talking to other travelers!

There were so many types of baths I did not know what to do! Luckily other people were on the trip with us who could tell us which baths to go in. We first went into the hottest one. It was enormous! It felt like a swimming pool. Don’t swim around though–it is not courteous to others and Japan appreciates courteous people. There were so many other baths, but somehow I managed to try them all. There were individual baths that made me feel like a bowl of soup and an ice cold one. However, the Onsen is not just for bathing, it is also for socializing. It may seem odd at first, but Japanese are more open in the baths whereas usually they are more quiet and reserved. It was fun talking to the Japanese, and I made quite a few friends in the bath. It was so much fun in the bath that it made me wish that we had Onsen in the U.S. Obviously I couldn’t take pictures in the bath, but trust me when I say it was a sight to behold.

A fellow student enjoying the massage chair after the bath. It was wonderful and felt like heaven!

A fellow student enjoying the massage chair after the bath. It was wonderful and felt like heaven!

The Onsen was an awesome experience. It was relaxing and it gave me a chance to talk to strangers in Japan, which you rarely have a chance to do unless you approach them. Here, they approached me and I made some friends with people I would never have met unless I went. If you ever find yourself near an Onsen, go. I guarantee you it will be worth it for the amount of contact you get with Japanese people. Just make sure you follow the rules and be respectful of others.

The Little Things


A month might seem long or short depending on how you’ve spent your time, but for this TUJ student (who’s here for an academic year), this first September flew by!! There’s a lot to be excited about and it can be kind of overwhelming to try and absorb all the new things that are happening around you. I found myself conflicted with wanting to immediately adopt some of the Japanese trends, but also extremely confused by all of its lavishness (in that everything seems to be taken care of with such thought)!!

Without knowing it, Japan has already changed me (it’s already stretched my attitudes so much, as seen in my two previous melodramatic posts). But externally, little parts of my life have changed so much. There is such a specific lifestyle required to survive here. The general quality of life is just so different from America (speaking as someone who’s only lived in Southern California and Boston), but the only way I can explain it is bit-by-bit. As a big picture, Japan is so impossibly scattered and beautiful that I have to divide it up into little pieces to feel like I’m properly explaining it!

As an independent housing student, I’m living with my grandmother about forty minutes away from campus. She wasn’t exactly equipped to house a grandchild in her little apartment, so we’ve had to make do with things we’ve found around the house–one of them being a fold-out mattress (she explains this to me as being closer to her because she had to do this in her younger days, too). It only takes a couple minutes to completely set up and pack up my bed, but the extra effort in making my bed definitely makes me more appreciative of and efficient with the time I have in the morning.

And with the rain constantly coming to get us any second, I’ve had to upgrade my measly Californian tools: a new Uniqlo (pocketable!!! which is so cool!!!) parka and an emergency travel umbrella (in the case the rain makes another sneak attack this week). But on the other hand, we also have to be prepared for heat! So I’ve started to carry around a towel-like handkerchief to absorb sweat from the body heat from the train and a little fan (only one of many that was handed out in the streets of Japan).

Just in case, I also carry around a “point-and-speak” Japanese translation book if I ever need to use some more advanced vocabulary (so far, I’ve only got very basic phrases). Apparently, this also makes Japanese locals feel better because there’s a point of reference in their conversation with a stranger. The little candy boxes are also good sources of energy when you’ve been walking around all day and losing energy! There are always cool new flavors at the train station vendors (like red bean and almond caramel)!

Apart from my new list of room/backpack essentials, there are moments throughout the day that make me surprised how differently Japanese people are living. For example, on my way home from the train station, I saw an elementary student walking with his mom with A CAGE OF BUGS IN HIS HAND. I couldn’t tell where all the concentrated noise was coming from at first, but when I saw where it was coming from, I was in awe. No kid in California would have gone out to do that for fun (none that I’ve seen at least). And this is all just from a month of being in Japan! I can’t wait to see what else there is to find out, once the holidays roll around!

Temples, Shrines, and Festivals! Oh My!


I’ve always been a fan of architecture and history. So when I was near the Meiji shrine, I wanted to visit. When I arrived at the gate to the temple I noticed people bow before entering, so I did the same to show respect. Luckily, there was a Japanese student with us who explained to us that the reason for all these rituals and customs before entering the shrine is simple. It is a sacred place for Japanese people–although I could tell that just by the name. Emperor Meiji helped modernize the country so rapidly that in less than 40 years time, Japan would crush the Russian Navy at Tsushima and win a hard earned victory at Port Arthur essentially defeating the Russians. It was the first time in a long time that an Asian country had defeated a European country. Japan cannot decently mourn its military dead of the Second World War without bitter backlash from China, Korea, and the U.S. The bitterness about Japanese war crimes still lingers on in these countries as a result of controversial statements and denying or skirting around responsibility for these atrocities. Instead of going to the Yasakuni Shrine (the shrine that exonerates the 14 A-class war criminals and the Japanese military dead) some Japanese visit the Meiji Shrine instead.

The inner shrine at the Meiji Shrine. We were not allowed to set foot there, but it was quite amazing nonetheless.

The inner shrine at the Meiji Shrine. We were not allowed to set foot there, but it was quite amazing nonetheless. Apparently if you do a certain pattern of movements (bowing and clapping) and say a wish it will grant it. I did that, but I’m not telling you guys what I wished for. 

When I entered the temple grounds we had to wash both our hands and our mouths with water. It started to dawn on me just how important this place is to Japan. People were quiet and talked in hushed tones. The faces of the Japanese were somber. Everything denoted that this place deserves everyone’s utmost respect. As for the grounds, It was beautiful. The grounds were covered in beautiful green scenery. We walked around for quite a bit observing the architecture and the grounds. After a couple of hours we left the Meiji shrine and I walked away with more respect for the Japanese. Everyone from the oldest down to the youngest did not need to be told this place was sacred and they should keep it as such. It also made me kind of sad. Where I go to school (Gettysburg), tourists do not show they same kind of quiet respect to the grounds they stand on. If you don’t honor those who fought and struggled for the people of your nation in turbulent times, then why be a nation at all?

Here I am all smiles in front of the entrance to the temple. It was an amazing experience

Here I am all smiles in front of the entrance to the temple. It was an amazing experience.

When I arrived back in Koganei and started walking back towards my house, I heard music and drums. I followed the sound and I soon came across a small festival. Seeing as how I’d never been to a Japanese festival and I had heard so much about them, I decided to check it out. The food at the festival apparently is special. It’s similar to fair food in the fact that it’s mostly sold just at the festival (I might be wrong about this, but I have not seen the food anywhere else). It was a lot of fun watching people dance around the central tower. They seemed to be having a lot of fun. I didn’t dance for fear of standing out too much. There was also calligraphy going on and people were writing things and posting them on a wall nearby. I assumed they were wished or dreams. I left after a couple hours and walked home in awe of what I witnessed that day.

The central tower of the festival. I don't know what it's called, but I assume it has a name.

The central tower of the festival. I don’t know what it’s called, but I assume it has a name.

Cool statue at festival.

Cool statue at festival.

Japanese temples and festivals are great places to go if you want to experience Japanese culture to the fullest. The temples are marvels of architecture and the festivals are just a lot of fun to go to. If you ever want to come to Japan to experience the culture, put these two things down on your “must do” list.

Lost in Translation


It’s typhoon season here in Japan, so for the past three days the clouds have been heavy. No longer quite as hot as earlier summer rains, but it doesn’t make the country any less beautiful.

Clouds gathering during a nighttime walk along Shinobazu Pond in Ueno Park.

Personally, I love the rain so much and the way it sounds (even thunder!!) and how it makes the streets look like oil and even little droplets that miss my umbrella and land facefirst into mine. I never hate it. But I do like it the least when I’m not prepared for it — like if someone brings home pizza when you’re full (Japanese pizza is HEAVENLY in their cheese-to-tomato ratio and masterful handling of crispy thin crusts; you definitely need to try it when you’re here, but again, I digress). Anyway, I fell asleep too deeply on the train and missed my stop. Just by one, and luckily one that was close to my previous stop, so I didn’t think it was too bad if I could just walk over to a nearby bus station. I’d brought an umbrella and enjoyed walking in Japan since there’s so much more greenery around.

Little did I know how gravely I underestimated a Japanese rainstorm. The clouds made the night only dimly lit, which wasn’t so convenient because I was under an unfamiliar industrial bridge that was blocking me from any recognition of my surroundings. Even if I stepped really carefully, my entire foot would be drenched from sloshy puddles. And after a while, my umbrella just started drooping under the weight of all that water, starting one of the saddest walks home of my life.

I kept thinking, “I can take this, I like the rain, I’m fine,” but being lost, cold, and wet really pushed my limits (even with rain) and I called over a taxi in my desperation to get home. The driver yelled, “Daijobu?! (Are you okay?!)”  and I yelled back, “Hai!! (Yes!!)” I got into the car and tried to tell him my address, but I only know it in the English pronunciation so we spent several minutes trying to figure out where it was I wanted to go. Suddenly, I had to make use of any Japanese that I’d learned over the past couple weeks.

Because I’m studying to be a writer, language is supposed to be one of my most important tools. The more I learn about English, the more I cling to it. But here, I have to completely forego everything I know (I don’t think I’m alone when I say I’m hesitant to do that). When learning a new phrase, I would think “What’s the English translation for that?” and assign an English meaning to a Japanese phrase. This was kind of problematic because the way I viewed Japanese was only in relation to English. But the experience changed how I viewed learning in that I realized there’s nothing embarrassing about trying.

Normally, the situation with the taxi driver would’ve given me way too much anxiety, but I felt relatively calm. I straight up told him that I didn’t speak Japanese, but tried to pronounce the words correctly anyway. In my desperation to get home, embarrassment flew out the window. My conversation (albeit a very broken one) was adequate enough for me to get home safely, so I’d say that’s a pretty successful start! Only afterwards did I realize that without knowing it, I’d picked up many more Japanese phrases and words than I’d ever thought. This is when I realized I have to be uncomfortable to get comfortable. While I’m still struggling to completely dive into the Japanese language, these days I now find myself having a more Japan-centric mindset. I think about what the words and phrases mean to the Japanese, and they start to separate themselves from English-translated words. No more embarrassment! I just have to go for it! I already look back at this memory as a fond one (and even kind of funny in the way a taxi driver, a stranger, cried over my rain troubles with me).

Clouds looking beautiful over Tokyo the next morning.

Clouds looking beautiful over Tokyo the next morning.

And We’ll Never Be Royals


This weekend I decided to go to the Japanese Imperial Palace. I was very interested in the place when I first came to Japan, despite my usual disinterest in the life of royals. The reason I was so interested was because I had heard at one point in the 1980’s, some economists valued its real estate higher than all of the Californian real estate at the time (Oddly enough, the Economist who gave this number has no idea where it came from). I was never into following the British royal family and I never understood why some Americans did. I rarely followed any royal families anywhere mostly because I really didn’t understand it. However, this week through some reading, a visit to the Imperial Palace gardens, and research, it led me to have major sympathy for the Japanese royal family.

The Palace from Outside the gates

The Imperial Palace from Outside the gates.

When I was flipping through a textbook for one of my classes (Professor Kingston’s Book, Contemporary Japan), I noticed a section on the Japanese Royal family. Seeing as how I’ve heard nothing about them except the Emperor’s name, I decided to read the section. What followed was a revelation. The royal family has quite a hard time. For example, the Japanese media attacked a Japanese princess to the point where she had a mental breakdown. Her husband the Crown Prince apparently tried to shield her from this to no avail. The fact that he had to propose to her 3 times (She didn’t say no because she didn’t love him apparently. It was also because she had a promising career in the Foreign Ministry.), tells one that life in the Imperial Court is difficult. If I were in her shoes, I would say yes a million times over. The stress of court life and constant media coverage was obviously well known to her.

The palace grounds are enormous. When my friend and I entered, we had to get a ticket to prove we were “guests” of the royal family. My buddy and I had a hard time finding our way around and getting to places. It was beautiful though. There were layers of stone that resembled walls and there were layers upon layers of them. I assume they were layers of walls to protect the royal family. We climbed to one of the highest points on the palace grounds which was the base of an old castle. We could see for miles. It was surreal that here we were on the base of an 800 year old castle and there were skyscrapers all around us. It was a wonderful blend of traditional and modern. We looked around the palace gardens for a bit and then left excited to tell others to go to the palace. At the same time, however, it did demonstrate how isolated the royal family is. Despite being on the palace grounds and walking all over, we never came close to the family’s quarters.

Fish statue right inside the palace grounds.

Statue right inside the palace grounds.

According to Professor Kingston’s book, The IHA, or Imperial Household Agency controls their budget and therefore their lives. They can’t go anywhere or do anything without permission first. They have to be extremely thrifty (the emperor drives a 1994 model car) and are even forced to be aloof. They don’t want to be aloof. For example, in the horrific aftermath of the 3/11 earthquake they quietly visited victims in normal clothes and stayed with them for quite sometime. Other Japanese bigwigs and politicians made a big show coming to visit victims and left soon after they arrived. The fact that members of the royal family quietly did this and for an extended period of time, speaks volumes about their character. The Emperor himself has made many attempts to reconcile with Korea. Japanese politicians however, keep screwing it up by making controversial statements by not mentioning comfort women or Japan’s war crimes. Some are just outright denying his claims. I could not even begin to imagine how frustrating this must be for him. In short, the Japanese royal family is made into a soap opera by media attacks and political strife. They are good, honest people from what I have read and they genuinely care about the Japanese people. The aftermath of the 3/11 destruction demonstrates that. If that isn’t benevolent ruling, I don’t know what is.

A cool picture. In the background is modern and in the foreground is traditional.

A cool picture from inside the Palace grounds. In the background is modern and in the foreground is traditional.