Category Archives: Temple Summer

The Long Journey to the First Day of Work

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The Long Journey to the First Day of Work

We’ve gone over adjusting to a different culture, but now let’s get down to business: what is an internship abroad like? As I’ve mentioned in my first post, I’ve now had two internships abroad: one in London and one in Tokyo.

Generally, an office is an office no matter what side of the ocean it’s on. You come in, work, eat lunch, do more work, and leave.There may be office hangouts or bar hopping Fridays, but those things generally depend on the office culture, not the country culture. Especially as an intern, you won’t be expected to know everything and be put in business-critical situations that could make or break the company, such as conducting meetings.

The look of confusion is a universal one, and people in any culture will be nice enough to help you through whatever you’re confused about. Don’t be self conscious about minor mistakes; just take a mental note for next time and move on.

So, what happens after you decide to work abroad? First thing first is:

Applying

This will be, minimum, 2-3 months before your projected start date. Make sure to start applying early! You don’t want to start late and realize you missed the chance. That includes trying to figure out how you are finding your internships. There are a couple ways to find internships abroad: directly applying to companies, applying to a non-university placement program, and going through a university program. I was semi-successful directly applying to a company last summer, but found a placement program that worked better with my schedule and needs. University programs tend to be the easiest and least risky route since you’ll be applying and working with staff within the States. As a rule of thumb, you should settle in on a program choice at the beginning of the semester before you fly out. For summer internships, that means you need to have a plan by January-Early February.

Any program will give you a list of possible placements and tell you to pick your top few choices to help you apply. If you’re not applying directly, staff will be there to help you craft a culture-appropriate resume and cover letter/ CV. If you are applying by yourself, make sure to research what is appropriate for the country you are trying to work in, and make sure to heavily research any visa requirements and such. It’s relatively easy to find information nowadays online. Once you send off a resume and cover letter, it’s just a waiting game to hear back about interview.

Interviewing

Time differences! Know the time difference between your city and the city you are planning to work in by heart! The UK is only 5 hours ahead of Philly, so that wasn’t bad. Tokyo, though, is a full 13 hours ahead. That was a nightmare to try and set up. I had originally sent my interview times in EST, and had said that in the email, but that got lost in translation. Long story short, I thought we had a definitive time setup, then I woke up in the morning to an email sent at 4 am saying I missed the interview.

Cat on a Clock because Why Not

Tic-Tok, something, something. I just wanted an excuse to put this cute cat clock in here

That was a mini heart attack. The company was understanding, since they knew I was so far behind Tokyo time, but I made sure to send my availability in Japan time just to make sure. And then my interview ended up being at 1 am. Yes. 1 am. It happens. Don’t be surprised if it happens to you. Otherwise, an interview is an interview. It will most likely be over Skype, and don’t be alarmed if the interview is under 20 minutes. For both internships, my interviews were 12 and 9 minutes respectively. I got accepted at both, so obviously it wasn’t too much of a problem.

Pre-Departure

So you have the internship, and you’re packing to go. If you walk away from this blog post, let it be this: email your supervisor before you even start packing and ask questions. More specifically, ask about the dress code. I was lucky; when I emailed for this internship, the response I got was “people wear jeans here, so it’s pretty casual!” There are companies, though, that may have strict dress codes and you won’t know until you ask. Even if your company is a casual one, you don’t want to be dressed up in a full suit on your first day surrounded by jeans and sandals. The opposite situation would be even more devastating.

Also, ask if there are any special instructions on arriving to the office. Is there a reception desk where you have to ask for a certain employee before you’re allowed in? Ask, especially, if there is a picture of the building you can have. Especially in Tokyo, this is important. Tokyo is an extremely dense city, often with offices, restaurants and stores all being stacked on top of each other with hard to find markings. My first day of work started with me being 30 minutes late because I found the office building on time, but couldn’t find the elevator that took me to the correct floor. Make. Sure. You. Ask. Don’t be like me.

Day 0

Once you land, you’ll most likely have at least a day or two where you have free time. Go to your office. Don’t actually go in, but look up directions and familiarize yourself with the area. Make sure you know the building and the floor number. Find the elevator you need to take. Pretend you are actually commuting, and go all the way up until the point you are staring at your office door (or at least as close as you can). Even if it looks easy on Google Maps, it can get hairy when you actually try and find your office, especially during peak/rush hour, when the streets can be bustling and the trains stifling. Once you know your office, you’ll be ready to actually start working. So please mind the gap, and get ready for the commute!

The Toyoko Line

Consider yourself lucky if the station is this empty when you board

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4 Unique Restaurant Experiences in Japan

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4 Unique Restaurant Experiences in Japan

Almost every time I go out to eat somewhere in Japan, it turns into an entire experience in itself. You could have fun here simply visiting restaurants and trying all the food that you could not get back home. That being said, if you are a picky eater, then I think you are truly missing out on some priceless experiences here in Japan. Here, I added pictures of my most memorable experiences:

 

1. Japanese Hotcakes

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The first picture is of the famous Japanese hotcakes. You might have seen videos of these on Facebook or some travel channel show. It was probably the best pancake I had ever eaten. The restaurant where you can find these unique pancakes is called West Aoyama Garden, a short walk from Nogizaka station after riding the Chiyoda line. The restaurant is based off of a high-end French cafe, so there is also bakery located in the front. Keeping with the theme, there are no chopsticks to be found either, and all the menu items are European to some degree. The servers even dress the part and give you a hot towel, known as oshibori, to wipe your hands with before the meal.

2. Maid and Butler Cafes

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Now, if you like cafes but want a more kawaii experience, then I would recommend any of the maid cafes in Akihabara or mascot cafes like Cinnamoroll Cafe in Shinjuku. There are also animal-themed cafes, like cat or dog or even owl cafes, where one is entertained by the animals while waiting for the food. I would recommend going to a maid cafe at least once because there is really nothing like it. As you probably have seen across websites or social media, all the servers are women dressed in maid outfits. At the maid cafe there is a bell you ring to get the servers’ attention, and if you grow fond of one of the servers, you can pay extra to get a picture of them. The concept overall seems to be geared towards single men, as those appeared to be the only other kind of customers other than tourists that were there when I went with a group of friends. The interactions with the server were always entertaining and funny, so they made for a good time.

However, if women in maid outfits don’t particularly appeal to you, then Japan also has a butler cafe, The Swallowtail, in Shibuya. This cafe delivers a much different experience. Here, the women are treated more like royalty, as the “master” title given to male customers in maid cafes has been substituted for the title “princess.” It is much more expensive, and there is a list of rules one has to follow when dining there. I haven’t yet visited, but it might be a place to check out.

3. Mascot Cafes

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A much more relaxing and cozy experience can be found at Cinnamoroll CafeIt doesn’t have the “maid experience” but, instead, has booths with plushies of the mascot that you can play with while waiting for your food. All the food items are designed to look like the mascot, too. This cafe seems like a much more popular date destination; half of the customers when I went seemed to be couples. I ordered a strawberry sponge cake when I visited, and it is still the best dessert I have had since I arrived.

4. Conveyor Belt Sushi

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The last kind of restaurant is the conveyor belt sushi. This experience was the most fun I had at a restaurant. With a device like an iPad, you can order a wide variety of sushi, and within minutes, the plate with your food comes traveling down the belt. It is not that expensive either, considering it charges per plate and the amount of food you can get for around $10 is substantial.

 

Culture Shock pt. 2: Getting through It

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Culture Shock pt. 2: Getting through It

So if you didn’t read my first post about how I experienced culture shock, here’s the run down: I’m an intern in Tokyo and I experienced culture shock, which surprised me.

As the second part of reflections on the topic, this post is going to be about getting over culture shock. Sometimes, culture shock can be an actual shock, over in 7 minutes. Other times, it can take months. Whatever the case, there’s always a light at the end of the shorter-than-you-think tunnel. So, before you go anywhere, learn a few ways to deal with the shock. Here’s how I did:

Step One: Recognition

Culture shock will most likely hit you in the first place where you really start realizing you’re not “home”, and that may not be some new and exciting place. If you’re in an internship, it most likely will be at your workplace Or at least it was for me: the first day of work was really when it hit me. I’m interning in a company where 98% of the employees are Japanese. For my first day, it felt like there were hours where the only sounds I heard were people typing. People tell you that no one talks on trains here, similar to many other countries (not the US, as many of you reading may know). What no one tells you, though, is that the “be quiet” rule extends beyond trains.

I’m not saying that Tokyo is this eerily stark-silent city. It’s just so quiet compared to other cities I’ve lived in like Philly and London. I spent the night after my first day on the job and half of the next day trying to figure out why I suddenly wish I wasn’t there, why I felt this pang in my chest if I thought about going back to work or riding the train. After hours of internal deliberation, I finally accepted that it was culture shock.

Once you realize you’re experiencing culture shock, it lifts half the weight off of your chest. Recognition can last from a months-long experience to maybe just a few days-long experience, because once you figure it all out, it’s easier and faster to move through it.

Step 2: Respond to Your Stress

Now, this is probably specific to me, but I need to reason myself out of being stressed or sad so that I can actually take action to get past whatever it is that’s upsetting me. You might be different. Before going abroad, really ask yourself how you respond to stress and what works for you. Even if you don’t get culture shock, knowing how to deal with stress will help you a lot. 

For me, I started by asking myself exactly what was making me so uncomfortable. That was easy to find out after my strangely quiet work day. I had to remind myself why that makes me uncomfortable, and then start listing any other thing that was contributing to my culture shock (ie. the language barrier). Anything that stops you from feeling as if you don’t belong in your temporary home–list them out. It really helps to know exactly what upsets you for…

Step 3: Point Out the Awesome

This is probably the most important step. Honestly, you might even be able to skip to this step. No matter what makes you uncomfortable, no matter what is different or strange to you, there will be 10 more things that are new and make you actually excited to be where you are.

A Typical, Cheap Work Lunch

Spoiler alert: most of what I love here is food, like this cheap and yummy lunch à la 7-Eleven and my work’s vending machine

For me, I was already loving:

  1. Sushi need I say more?
  2. Ramen bars where have these been all my life?!
  3. Udon barsimilar to point 2
  4. Non-SEPTA public transport seriously, why does SEPTA pose so much hassle
  5. Conbini EVERYWHERE I can even get sushi here (see point 1)
  6. How nice everyone is! I once had a very nice man take me 5 blocks out of HIS way because he saw a poor lost American
  7. Seaweed snacks I am addicted
  8. Fashion everyone looks so put together all the time
  9. Little random fairs everywhere street food is amazing no matter the country
  10. The Umbrellas ok, stay with me, but they are so cute here! And they really help rain or shine
  11. Sushi
  12. Sushi
  13. Just all the food, really
  14. Traditional Shrines they bring you peace and new culture
Meiji Shrine Entrance

The Meiji Shrine entrance, right in the middle of bustling Tokyo

The point is, no matter how long your culture shock lasts, even if it lasts for the entire time you’re here (which it won’t, don’t worry), keep reminding yourself of the reasons you DO want to be here. You’ll find that culture shock just subsides a bit everyday. Mine lasted about a month. Whether or not you experience full on culture shock, you will get a little homesick or feel a little sad sometimes. Just walk outside and find a new thing to fall in love with.

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So, now that we know how to get through the shock, shall we head to work?

 

3-Week Mark: Learning How to Get around Japan

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3-Week Mark: Learning How to Get around Japan

Three weeks in, and I can firmly say that when I ride the subway, I usually know what I am doing. For the traveler with no knowledge of the native language, the subways and the stations have been made very accommodating. Every overhead sign with info about the incoming train is in English. When riding, you’ll also hear every stop is repeated in English. Google Maps will become your best friend when you’re here. Just type in what station you’re at/near and what station you want to go to and it shows what route is the quickest, what trains to ride, whether it’s local or express, what platform the train arrives on, and even the approximate cost in yen of the trip. The trains are always on time, and if you miss your train don’t feel bad–there’s another one arriving in 3-5 minutes.  The subway is the go-to for traveling within and around Tokyo.

As it was mentioned during orientation here, Japan is not just Tokyo. There is also the city of Kyoto, which I highly recommend visiting, that has retained traditional elements of Japanese culture. Here you will find older shrines and temples, more people wearing kimonos and yukatas (a casual kimono), bamboo groves, festivals, and the elusive geisha. Now getting there from Tokyo can be a bit expensive. Everyone tells you to take a shinkansen (the bullet train) which gets you there with 2 to 3 hours. Tickets are around 12,000 to 16,000 yen one-way (about $120-$160) and get even more expensive if you really want to travel in luxury.

However, there’s also a second option that I chose to take advantage of, and the round-trip fare cost less than a one-way ticket for the bullet train. I took an overnight bus that departed Tokyo Friday night and arrived in Kyoto Saturday morning, and then picked me up Sunday night and dropped me off back in Tokyo Monday morning. It was easy to make the reservations on the website–it’s mostly in English and tells you the exact pick up and drop off points and the times to be there. Now, since I spent the weekend, I needed a place to sleep. Hotels are fine, but if you want to save money to use for other activities, I recommend staying at an 24-hr internet cafe. Another unique feature of Japan, these cafes allow you to spend 5 hours overnight for around $15. You get a small cubical that comes with a PC, all the Japanese manga you could read, a shower, snacks, and free drinks. They are surprisingly quiet, like most of Japan, and can be a great place to get some sleep.

I would also highly recommend taking any trips to places far away from Tokyo during the first couple weeks of your stay. You’d be surprised by how fast your weekends fill up. Depending on what kind of classes you’re taking and how many TUJ student activities events you sign up for, your schedule can become very busy. Almost every weekend since I have been here has been occupied with either class field trips or TUJ trips (TUJ trips are particularly fantastic, and are offered at a great price!), so it’s always beneficial to plan ahead. Japan is filled with so many beautiful unique places and cultural experiences that it really makes you consider signing up for a second semester abroad.

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These were the only geisha I could find after my weekend in Kyoto. People dressed as such are hard to find, so do not be surprised if there is a line of Japanese people waiting to take a picture as well!

Hi. I’m an Intern, and I’m Experiencing Culture Shock

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Hi. I’m an Intern, and I’m Experiencing Culture Shock

The title says it all — I suffered culture shock. So let’s back-track a bit. I’m a Summer Intern in Tokyo this summer. It’s not my first time interning abroad, but it is my first time in Asia. I interned in London last summer, so I didn’t have to worry about culture shock (to the same degree as here, anyway). England and the US are fairly similar in culture, to the point where I’d have to look closely at times to find differences in the culture. Tokyo has definitely proven to be a different experience.

It took me a few days to realize it, but those were a hard few days. It’s not the most glamorous subject and I’m probably about to write multiple posts about this, but I want to be clear, and thorough about this. I feel like some people talk about the concept of culture shock, but, at least for me, no one really impressed how it can emotionally drain you. Culture shock slowly sneaks up on you…and then it hits you right in the face. It wasn’t until I almost (almost, but not fully) regretted my decision to come to Tokyo that I really accepted that I was experiencing culture shock. If you’re reading this and are scared about culture shock, don’t be. It’s normal and it just takes a few days to really acclimate yourself–a couple days or weeks to really start loving where you are.

View From Talisman's Office

I mean, really–look at this view!

This is especially true for people interning. You’re going to spend 140 hours surrounded by people from a culture that’s different to yours, and it’s hard. But you know what? That’s good. You’re really experiencing culture. You’re not visiting, you’re living. That’s why you’re here. That’s what will make your experience that much more valuable to you when you return home (I may have repeated this to myself a few times until I finally came to believe it).

So, once you get here, be ready for it. Don’t just ask people what’s awesome about Tokyo (because trust me, there is a lot). Ask about the hardships, and ask how to get through them. If you don’t really know anyone who went abroad yet, and you’re interested in the perspectives of this random blogger who you’ve stumbled upon, then here we go. Since this is going to be a somewhat long story, I’m going to split this post in 2 parts: 1) “So What” and 2) “Getting through It.” This is obviously part 1:

I’m in Tokyo, I’m a student and an intern, and here is my culture shock story (cue the Law and Order *dun dun*).

So What?

Coming to Japan, I thought I was somehow immune to culture shock. Well, really, I hoped. I thought not experiencing culture shock somehow meant a person was a good “World Traveler”. News flash: it doesn’t. Culture Shock can come from the smallest things. For me, it was how quiet it seems to be here. The commute, the streets, my workplace. Everything just seemed so quiet. For others, it might be the language barrier (I’m getting remarkably good at pointing and interpreting body language), or maybe its the commute to work (I spent 6 minutes this morning not being able to move my arms on the train, but that’s a subject for another blog post).

So I went through a few days in denial, just thinking I was a little homesick and it would go away. If you find yourself almost resenting a certain thing in your new host country, or you find yourself constantly comparing it to another country you’ve been to or back home, stop yourself. Really take a step back and ask yourself, truthfully and repeatedly: “is this culture shock?” Once you find the answer (and really, if you’re asking, the answer is probably “yes”), it suddenly becomes a lot easier to move on. And once you move on, you’ll really start realizing how freaking cool it is to be here. Because trust me, it is!

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So let’s get started, shall we?

Preparation for the Land of the Rising Sun

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This is a picture I took when my flight started its descent into Abu Dhabi International Airport. My connecting flight to Narita Airport in Japan would arrive three hours later.

As the number of days until departure dwindle, I find myself filled with the same mixture of anticipation and excitement that I would get during Christmas time when I was younger. The list of things I am looking forward to is also continually growing: the bustling city life of one of the world’s largest and densest cities, unique local cuisine, historic castles, spiritual temples, festivals, and the beautiful forests. And I haven’t even mentioned the karaoke stops, hobby shops, hot springs, neon robot restaurants, and those weirdly themed cafes that seem to always show up on travel shows.

I had known that the Japanese held honor and respect in very high regard, with the traditional bowing as one of the most noticeable practices to any outsider. I also knew as an American student I would stick out in Japan, so before departure I looked up YouTube videos made by foreigners (“Abroad in Japan” is one of my favorites). Mostly videos about social etiquette with titles like “10 Things NOT to do in Japan” (this is part of my attempt to assimilate into Japanese society and not look like someone who has gaijin, or”foreigner,” written on their forehead. I thought it would be helpful to list some of the things I have found for myself and for those who are also interested in visiting Japan.

  1. Don’t misuse chopsticks (stick upright in rice bowls, rub together)
  2. Don’t tip, or modify food orders
  3. Don’t blow nose in public or eat on trains
  4. Don’t get physical (handshaking, hugging)
  5. Don’t forget to take off your shoes (private or public, look for change in floors)

 

Yes, this might be an incomplete list with only “don’ts” on it, so to lighten the mood I must offer an essential “do”. Do stay open minded and have fun! Try new things that you can only do in Japan, but be safe about it and be aware of your situation! I am telling myself this in preparation to try to alleviate whatever potential culture shock or frustration I might experience.

I thought it would also be wise to start learning some additional Japanese phrases that are useful in certain situations, like when one is at a restaurant, in a conbini (convenient store), or at a train station, and kanji (Chinese symbols that represent ideas) as well before leaving. I made sure to know what the kanji for man and woman looks like, because the last thing I want to happen is for me to accidentally walk in a Japanese women’s bathroom. One last thing I learned that I think also deserves some attention is Japanese-only restaurants or any place that prevents foreigners from entering. From my research, it seems these are rare in big cities, but in rural areas or perhaps in the outskirts or back alleys of cities, they seem to still exist.

As I prepare to leave for Japan, I have also been reflecting on the journey to this point. I think this is a good time to mention that partly what made this trip possible for me, particularly financially, was the Gilman International Scholarship. They give awards to students who are from minority backgrounds and who are the first in their family to attend college. They helped me take advantage of Temple’s study abroad program and made sure that I could get the invaluable experience of self-growth and education that one can only receive while abroad. Looking ahead, I am so excited to see what this summer in Tokyo holds for me!

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.

Final Thoughts on Final Days, Live from Narita Airport

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Today at around noon in Tokyo, Japan, I took the last final exam of my foreseeable college career. It was a bit strange getting sentimental as I wrote about American international relations in East Asia, but I did nonetheless. This week has been full of paper-writing and test-taking, but I’ve still been keenly aware of the little time I have left to be with my friends and TUJ peers – and be in this program in general. So, in between studying, I’ve crammed outings for sightseeing and quality time, including trips to war museums by Yasukuni Shrine, Ueno markets, and a long-awaited return trip to Ikebukuro’s Sky Circus.

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Next to this koi pond at Yasukuni Shrine was a vending machine selling boxes of fish food for ¥100 apiece. I happily took part.

For those who have been following along, I’ve been meaning to come back to Ikebukuro ever since my last visit to Sky Circus. The first time, I took advantage of almost all the interactive observatory had to offer, excluding one thing: a window with a transcription reading, “Let’s meet here at night, because something happens in this window.” I finally made the trip back, but not until my very last night in Tokyo, planned last-minute. The mystery window turned out to be a compatibility tester, which two of our friends tried out in good nature. It was then that we realized that Sky Circus is a popular location for young couples on dates. It was an interesting little observation on local life that wouldn’t have been possible with a little context and a second look.

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Matt and Seamus, to their delight, find their compatibility rating to be 99%.

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A shot of Richel in my favorite room in Sky Circus: one made completely of mirrors that shifts scenes of different seasons.

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Friends feeling sentimental on their last night together in Ikebukuro. (Credit: Seamus Kirby)

Today also marks my last day as a Temple student in the Kanagawa dorms. With two close friends I’ve made on this trip, fellow students Richel and Seamus, I have a trip to Osaka, Kyoto and Gifu planned. Directly after my last final, I headed to a bridge and park area off the stop before Musashi-Kosugi, called Shin-Maruko. Each day to and from class, I’ve watched this bridge go by. Much like with my return to Sky Circus, I’ve been telling myself I’d visit, but had no concrete plans. A last-minute, final group get-together – almost the entire Summer Study Abroad group living at the dorms – is what eventually got me there. As TUJ student Greg said in a small speech, this trip has brought together people from very different places and very different backgrounds – and very fast. For a group of people who I’ve only known for two months, saying goodbye was heartbreaking. We, unfortunately, had to rush to the dorms to move out and make it to the airport. In the end, we may have lingered just a bit too long trying to delay our sad farewells, and missed our 8:25 PM flight. Terminal 3 of Narita Airport is where I sit now, awaiting the next soonest at 9:45 AM. Of anywhere, however, I’m glad that it’s this incredible city of Tokyo that I’ve become stranded in.

What’s next, after Japan? I return home, hopefully soon to find a place and career back in New York. I’m still not entirely sure what that entails. If my time in Tokyo has shown me anything, it’s that it is okay observing and discovering as you go. This city is fluid, containing both traditional and modern, peace and robustness. Appreciating and applying this is its own precious skill I feel I’ve acquired, thanks to my time with this wonderful city, my wonderful friends, and TUJ.

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.

From the Dorms to Fuji and Back

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Even a Sunday can be eventful while abroad with TUJ. My week began with exploration of an area that is very old to Tokyo, but very new to me. Asakusa is one of the city’s oldest districts, and was the site of my final outing with part of my Practical Japanese class and our professor, Matsuhashi-sensei. A few of us treated her to brunch at a small okonomiyaki joint. We then explored the area, stopping by Sensō-ji, a well-known and longstanding temple built in the 7th century. Although Asakusa is a large tourist attraction of Tokyo, and thus we were caught in large crowds most of the time, I felt fortunate to experience it with my professor, who could provide some background and answer questions.

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The owner of the restaurant took our photo after our okonamiyaki, shared on a hot plate. From left to right, back to front: Greg, Matsuhashi-sensei, Kevin, Rob, myself, and Ruchi.

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We unexpectedly pet an owl while exploring the streets of Asakusa after brunch.

Not less than a day ago, three study abroad friends and I took on summiting Mt. Fuji. I would be remiss if I didn’t admit how nervous I was about whether or not I could manage. But with the help of my friend’s good planning, the advice of the OSS office, and several boxes of Calorie Mate (a popular energy bar/meal replacer in Japan), we completed the journey.

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The Wednesday morning sun rose around 4:40 AM on the summit of Mt. Fuji.

We woke up early in the morning to make our way to Mt. Fuji’s 5th Station from the Shinjuku bus terminal. By the time we prepared ourselves for climbing by eating a sizable lunch, it was already around 3:00 PM. As physically taxing as it was, the lesser-taken Subashiri Trail was very tranquil, and one of the only places that I can remember ever experiencing complete quiet. We arranged to stay briefly at a hut at the 7th station, 3,000 meters above ground level. Taking our time to rest and have some fun, we were a couple of hours later to our respite site than we planned to be, which only made our warm meal and bed even more satisfying. We made sure to be up by 12:30 AM sharp to avoid the same situation and make the sunrise at the summit, the main event of the trip. Many pictures, huddles for warmth, and warm bowls of ramen later, we began a difficult descent. At 10:00 AM, we finally arrived back at the 5th station and were immediately greeted by travel guides and shopkeepers who were eager to help us on our way home. Thanks to them, we made it back to the TUJ dorms early and without too much trouble. Especially after what has probably been the most taxing physical event of my life, it was more than I could ask for.

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A worker at the 6th station hut brands a stamp into my party’s walking sticks.

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I ordered a simple miso ramen at the summit.

Yesterday’s helpful community on Mt. Fuji has not been an isolated experience. In previous posts, I’ve discussed the noticeable friendliness of construction workers and shop owners on Mt. Ashigara. Over last weekend as well, I witnessed such greatness in the community where I live. Just around the corner from the school’s Musashi-Kosugi dorms in Kanagawa, there is a daycare where students can often see children at play while on their daily commute. Participating in some type of mini summer festival, the kids of the preschool marched down the block on Saturday afternoon, carrying mascot-themed mikoshi and chanting exclamations. Along with their parents and teachers, the kids immediately waved to us when they spotted us from our window. I was charmed by this exchange, and felt grateful to momentarily be a piece of the subtle liveliness that is the residential neighborhood of the Musashi-Kosugi area. Though I move out in a matter of days, a part of me will certainly remain.

 

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I managed a picture of the children’s festival parade from the window as the Musashi-Kosugi community waved at us.