Tag Archives: Japan

Pre-Japan Musings: Preparing to Go Abroad

Standard

My decision to apply for Temple University Japan’s summer semester was an easy one. I’ve had a very personal, very lifelong aspiration to study in Tokyo, but my home university was offering in Japan nothing for anyone outside of the Photography Department. When I heard about Temple University Japan through a friend of a friend, a program that offers an entire range of classes, I jumped at the opportunity and investigated. I was more than eager to jump through the many hoops to get the OK from two separate universities, because it’s led me here: graduating college after finishing one last summer semester abroad with Temple University.

This next stage – preparing for the educational, cultural, and personal experience of a lifetime – has been an even greater pleasure. I currently live and study in New York City, but I would not make the mistake of expecting the same atmosphere from Japan’s capital city. My first time away from Western culture will be a singular experience.

One of the first things that I did upon my program acceptance was contact an author who I’d met previously, at the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Sakura Matsuri (Cherry Blossom Festival) in 2016. Kate T. Williamson’s book, A Year in Japan, details her time studying Japanese visual culture in Kyoto on a fellowship with illustrations and handwritten observations. I remembered how I had expressed my own hopes for visiting Japan, and the simple but thoughtful inscription she made to me when I bought her book:

To Ariel- So nice to meet you today at the Sakura Matsuri! I know you will have your own adventure in Japan soon! With very best wishes, Kate”

I received an email back almost instantly, with congratulations and a long list of suggested places to visit and observe in Kyoto, Tokyo, Okinawa, and Osaka. On April 29th, I attended Sakura Matsuri again, meeting back up with Kate. It felt particularly rewarding for her inscription to come true, and to receive another in her latest book.

williamson_inscription

Kate T. Williamson’s latest inscription for me – as well as a glimpse at a postcard she created and A Year in Japan.

Between the five classes I took up this past semester, I’ve began to study basic Japanese. This has included marking up a Basic Japanese Conversation Dictionary, and a Japanese Hiragana & Katakana guide for beginners. I’ve found the language app Memrise to be particularly fun and helpful in a pinch, especially on the NYC subway. As for this summer, I’ve enrolled Practical Japanese for Study Abroad Students. Studying daily in the States has given me a healthy head start, and complements my research on culture as well. One of my major sources of this has been Tofugu, a Japanese language and culture blog. Common and uncommon cultural topics alike, travel guides, reviews, and even videos comprise the content that Tofugu’s produced since 2008. The more that I prepare, the more excited I become to study media, culture and sociology in Japan. My experiences inside and outside of the classroom, including the many TUJ excursions and volunteer work I intend to take up in Tokyo, will leave me well-informed — and well-equipped for keeping this blog.

A couple months ago, a professor of journalism who has traveled around the world gave me the highest reassurance about a lack of concrete postgrad plans – once I explained my upcoming enrollment in TUJ. “There’s almost no use in planning in what comes after,” she said, “Because this will define it for you.” Once going abroad, many students are transformed. My hopes are that, over the course of the program, and hopefully as I blog and inform, I can discover what comes next.

My Time Abroad in Japan: A Reflection

Standard
IMG_0463

Some last shots of Japan

   On April 29, I took a plane from Narita International Airport back to my home in the United States. I remember staring out the plane window, watching the green fields, the tile roof houses, and the rice paddies growing smaller and smaller, with an unmistakeable feeling of sadness.

    My time in Japan was truly amazing. It was my second experience leaving the country, and my first experience living someplace outside of my home state of California. I had never experienced such a huge adventure; such a dramatic change in my way of life. I was amazed at how quickly I adjusted to the country, referring to my tiny Monthly Resi Stay apartment room as home and becoming familiar with all the shortcut streets that lead to the train station. When the time came to leave, I didn’t feel as though I was leaving a foreign country, I felt as though I was leaving a home.

IMG_2074

I’m going to miss this place and all the happiness I found here

    I remember taking very quickly to life in Japan, going through all the pre-described states of culture shock within a week and setting my sights on cultural integration within the first month. I knew I couldn’t completely integrate, but I still wanted to understand the people and places around me as much as possible. The tiny girl I met who called me onee-chan or older sister and liked screaming out of windows, the man who sold sportswear who laughed when I told him I watched Doraemon to learn Japanese. I wanted to learn more about them; I wanted to learn more about Japan.

    Strangely enough, the best memories I have in Japan the mundane ones. Memories of going to the park with my friends, grabbing a tasty beef bowl meal at my local automat, working on art projects at school, having an old lady hold my arm for support on a crowded train, or stumbling upon the odd temple while shopping for necessities. I have memories of sitting in on a happy couple’s wedding plans, cooking in my room with my friends, asking my art teachers to practice Japanese with me, and running through the rain to the karaoke bar on a Friday night. I loved those small, quiet moments of enjoyment in Japan, when I felt as though I was settling into my life abroad. I definitely had fun on touristy outings–going to museums or famous temples, but I was most content when I was able to relax and absorb my environment.

IMG_0486

I had some amazing food

IMG_0479

And saw some beautiful places

IMG_0751

It was really amazing!

     I’m going to miss many things about Japan now that I’m in America. I am surprised at how quickly all the things about Japan that amazed me–the trains that ran on time, the heated toilet seats, the ubiquitous vending machines–all became mundane to me after a month, and then became an easy convenience that I couldn’t believe I had lived without. Back home, I don’t understand why we can’t have a better reaching rail system and why every convenience store does not have a rack or ready-made rice balls. I even miss weird things, like how everyone in Tokyo seemed to like dressing up their dogs in little jackets or padded vests.

     Though I miss the many conveniences of Tokyo life, I think I will miss the friends I made most of all. People I met around the city or through mutual friends, my classmates and my teachers, I have a hard time thinking that I will never see them again. Everyone I met taught me so much and I wish I had more time to get to know all of them better. I hope I’ll be able to return again soon.

IMG_0777

Thank you for all the laughs and memories

IMG_2182

I hope I’ll see you again soon!

Cherry Blossom Season in Retrospect

Standard
IMG_0632

Cherry blossom season in Japan is incredibly beautiful

    At the end of March and beginning of April, the cherry blossoms began to bloom, ushering in warmer weather and a festive attitude amongst the Japanese people. I was too preoccupied with school work to make any posts to the Temple Abroad blog–I needed to start several final projects simultaneously. However, I still want to share my experience of cherry blossom season in Japan.

    During cherry blossom season, delicate pink and white flowers bloom from the numerous cherry trees in Japan. The season ends when the flowers fall from the trees, to be replaced with budding green leaves. Tourists and native Japanese alike flock to parks and gardens to take pictures of the short-lived blooms, called sakura. Many people also set up picnics or parties to watch the cherry blossoms, called hanami.

    I was lucky enough to go on several hanami outings. Some were sponsored by Temple University, while others were personal trips I took with friends. However, cherry blossom trees are so common in Japan, every trip outside felt like a mini hanami session. Hanami trees lined major streets and were planted in every park. There was one directly outside the TUJ dorms and three directly behind main campus in Azabu.

IMG_0754

The cherry blossom trees in Hama Rikyu Gardens

    The first flower viewing I went to was a field trip for one of my art classes. We went to Hama Rikyu Gardens, a series of gardens belonging to the Japanese government which initially served as the grounds for a wealthy feudal lord. The garden was crowded with other hopeful flower viewers. One fully blooming cherry tree was quickly surrounded by twenty or so people, all trying to take a picture of its sakura. My friend and I joined in the chaos and took some nice photos, although it was difficult to work around the many other people crowding around.

IMG_2023

Picture of myself with cherry blossoms and several other people in the background

    Though I thoroughly enjoyed Hama Rikyu Gardens, my personal favorite hanami experience happened at night, near the end of the season. I was meeting up with a friend who went to a nearby school. We ate dinner together at a bar and then casually strolled through Ueno Park after evening fell. The cherry blossoms were difficult to see and impossible to take pictures of in the dark, but I could still see their flowering branches stretching overhead, covering our path in a flowery canopy. Strings of lanterns illuminated small patches of white blossoms and the numerous picnics taking place underneath. Business men and groups of friends laughed and cracked open bottles of alcohol. Polite signs asked picnic-goers to throw away their trash, and the atmosphere was fun and lighthearted. My friend and I walked past the rows of picnics and food stands, passing by a large lake. Through the cherry blossom branches we could make out the bright city lights from across the water. I thought the view might have looked better during the daytime but in the nighttime, a serene atmosphere settled over our surroundings.

    The sakura season ended after two weeks. I remember going to school during finals week and feeling a twinge of disappointment upon seeing the pink petals replaced by tiny green leaves. The cherry blossoms lasted such a short time, but I still have some excellent memories and photos from the experience.

IMG_0775

Hanami in Ueno Koen

Standard

The cherry blossoms have been blooming all over Tokyo for the past few weeks, and despite the supposed numbing effects of photo saturation one might assume would come with that, they really are quite breathtaking. Locations around my neighborhood that I’ve now been familiar with for months have transformed, quite literally overnight, into stop-and-take-note type views, pictures worthy of sending back home or putting up on instagram.

This season in Japan is called Hanami, and is often filled with feasts and parties held beneath the Sakura trees, celebrating the temporary beauty of the sakura, as they only last for a week or two, as well as the return of the nice weather. In many parts of Japan, the blossoms line up with the beginning of school or work vacation, timing which lends itself well to the festival like atmosphere.

Hanami parties at night are called Yozakura, and some of the larger parks in Tokyo, most famously Ueno Park, put up temporary paper lanterns for this purpose. Last Friday night we decided to head to Ueno and see for ourselves.

The park was insanely crowded, and in a way that was strange to see in Japan: kind of a mess. Not necessarily in a bad way, it just looked like there had been a massive, multi day party going on there, which of course, there had been. All of the spaces under the cherry trees were packed, covered in tarps and groups of friends, families, and coworkers, eating, drinking, listening to music, and celebrating. The trees themselves were gorgeous, and being offset against the grey, 8pm sky gave them a far more dramatic feel than they had during the day. We walked around the park for a bit, watching things unfold in the light of the paper lanterns, before deciding to stop by some of the food trucks and stand that had been set up near the temple for dinner.

We must have walked around looking at the food on sale, debating where to eat for about thirty minutes, at least for long enough to realize that some of the stands were starting to close, so we’d better decide fast. Settling on a massive portion of Takiyaki, or octopus inside of fried dough balls covered in fish flakes and different sauces, we sat down on a bench and people watched for the rest of the evening.Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 12.13.45 PMScreen Shot 2017-04-07 at 12.13.31 PMScreen Shot 2017-04-07 at 12.13.22 PM

Enoshima

Standard

 

I’m a little late with this post, but a few weeks ago, in order to properly celebrate the beautiful weather we had in Tokyo on the first day of spring, my roommate and I decided to get away from the noise of the city and instead spend the day around the noise of the tourist filled, yet strikingly beautiful island of Enoshima.

Enoshima is a small, rugged island about an hour by train south of Tokyo’s Shinagawa station, off the coast of the beach town of Fujisawa. An easy and incredibly popular day trip, the island is home to numerous small restaurants and bars, shops, ancient shrines, a massive cave (inside of which is the ancient-ist of all the ancient shrines), and best of all, in my opinion, some incredibly breathtaking views out over the Pacific Ocean.

From Enoshima station, the island is accessible by a crowded pedestrian bridge that takes you to the small, shop filled town at the base of the small mountain that covers most of it. From there we decided to take the central staircase up to the first shrine, from which, when you turned back to look out over the bridge, gave an impressive view of the town and the bay. The weather was impeccable, clear and cool, and while seemingly all of the Tokyo area had the same plans as us that day, we honestly couldn’t have picked a better day to go.

My favorite part of the day came when we climbed up to the very top of the island. From there, on the east side, we had an incredible, unobstructed view of the ocean, standing up on the edge of the cliffs that led down to the water. At the bottom of the cliffs, large, flat rocks jut out into the Pacific, making it look like the edge of the Earth, or the classic cover of Shel Silberstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. There was a steep staircase that led down from the top of the island to the rocks, which we climbed down to go walk around and stare out at the sea. The waves would crash against the rocks, throwing spray down the backs of all the families posing for pictures.

Eventually, we got hungry, but instead of trying the overpriced food on the island, we decided to walk into town to go to what looked like an incredible burger place we saw on the way from the station. The sun was starting to set, and with that the temperature started to drop, reminding us that, although it was the first day of spring, it was only just. As we walked over the bridge to the mainland at sunset, Enoshima began to look just like Hawaii, with the shadows of the palm trees on the coast being thrown out over the bay. Altogether, it was a very successful and refreshing trip outside of the city.

Day Trip to Yokohama

Standard
IMG_0690

The port city of Yokohama

This past week, Temple University was closed on Friday and Monday, giving students an extended four-day weekend. My friends and I used two of our four days off to travel Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan. Yokohama is only an hour and a half away from Tokyo and sits on the waterfront, a notable port city throughout Japan’s history.

My group of friends arrived in Yokohama on Sunday afternoon to explore Minato Mirai, a major business and shopping district in the city. We saw numerous ships docked in the harbor and the pale blue ocean stretching out towards the horizon. Minato Mirai wraps around a concave docking area, so we were able to see the ocean from several vantage points, as we strolled across oceanside bridges and over piers. Most notably, we climbed up Osanbashi pier, a large futuristic, metal and wooden structure with grand decks and outdoor staircases. We also visited the Red Brick Warehouses, historical buildings renovated as a high end shopping mall, theatre, and convention center.

IMG_0659

Evening falling on the Minato Mirai area

A huge tourist attraction in Minato Mirai is the Cupnoodles Museum, dedicated to invention and growth of the Cup Noodle instant ramen brand. We saw timelines of the company, learned of the resourcefulness of Cup Noodle’s company founder, and sampled noodles from around the world. We were even able to make our own Cup Noodle cups, complete with unique toppings and permanent marker decorations.

IMG_0685

Cupnoodle Museum’s instant ramen timeline

IMG_0686

The small theater where we were shown a film on the founding of Cupnoodle

We paid a visit to Cosmoworld, an amusement park in the center of the Minato Mirai area. During the day, the park seemed to contain only innocuous pastel-colored rides, but at night the park glowed with fluorescent electric energy. My friends and I made sure to ride the Cosmo Clock, a giant ferris wheel in the center of the park, with a giant digital clock at its center. The ferris wheel was so large, one rotation took fifteen minutes.  From the top of the Cosmo Clock, we could see the entire city, lit up. Cars looked like crawling ants and small clusters of lit up boats slowly made their way across the pitch black sea.

IMG_0680

The Cosmo Clock at Cosmoland

My favorite place in Yokohama was Chinatown, roughly a fifteen minute walk from Minato Mirai. As someone of Chinese descent, I felt both relief and nostalgia as I recognized the food and atmosphere present in Yokohama’s Chinatown. The tacky linoleum floors, the greasy pan-fried food, the gold-trimmed red signs in doorways promising luck and wealth all seemed familiar to me. My friends and I ate family-style–sharing the same meal from several large dishes–at a Chinese restaurant and then bought cha siu bao (steamed or baked pork buns) and jian dui (fried rice flour balls with sesame seeds on the outside and red bean paste on the inside) from streetside vendors. Red lanterns lighted our way as we shuffled our way through the hot, crowded city streets back to the metropolitan Japan that waited outside of Chinatown’s gilded entrance.

TUJ Campus Life

Standard
IMG_2017
When I tell other Temple students I’m taking four studio classes and a Japanese class, I always receive the same response. “Oh no, that’s so hard! Good luck! You’ll need it.”
Indeed, my four art classes take a significant amount of time. While most classes at Temple last an hour, studio classes last roughly three hours. I only have two classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays but I still need to be at school from 9am to 4pm.
Though studio art classes take a lot of time, I enjoy the in-class work, the casual atmosphere, and the interesting teachers I have. I’ve been able to experiment with mediums and subjects I never would have considered before. For instance, I never thought I could create a mask with chicken wire and paper mache. However, I’ve been able to make a decent cow-shaped mask worthy of hanging from the classroom wall.
IMG_2016

My Cow Mask Proudly Sits on the Wall

I’ve become accustomed to the long hours in class, but I’ve also adapted to the daily commute from the Temple dorms to campus. Everyday, I spend 100 minutes, traveling from my dorm in Takadanobaba to Temple campus in Azabu-Juban. The trip includes two subways, one transfer, and a lot of walking. I initially found the route extremely confusing but after two months it has become an easy and routine part of life.
FullSizeRender

Waiting on the route to school

The Temple campus in Azabu-juban is a large black-tiled office building with 12 floors. Though the first five floors are part of Temple campus, the top seven floors hold offices for Japanese companies. Students often run into Japanese businessmen in the building, usually in the elevator.
IMG_2018

Temple University Japan Campus Building

The fact that our school is in an office building can be easily forgotten during lecture-based classes but becomes painfully apparent during art classes. The carpeted floors don’t mix well with clay and paint, and the rooms are often too narrow to store large canvases or sculptures. The offices for three of the art teachers are humorously jammed together in one small supply closet and not all of the art classrooms are on the same floor. The setup is strange but amusing.
Possibly my favorite aspect of Temple University is the collection of vending machines on the second floor. The machines serve a large variety of products, from hot chocolate, to energy drinks, to tiny cups of pudding. My personal favorite is the strawberry milk box, which tastes excellent midway through drawing class.

Spring is Here!

Standard

The weather here in Tokyo has been insanely nice for the past couple of weeks. Although it’s technically still winter, the end of February and the beginning of March have been absolutely beautiful, in the mid to high sixties. In Japan, this means the blooming of the iconic Ume trees, or Japanese plum: the bright pink flowering trees that closely resemble the more famous Sakura, or cherry blossom, which blooms a few weeks later, in April.

Very close to where I’m living in Shinagawa, the Ume have been in full bloom in Rinshi no Mori Koen, something I discovered by accident while out for a run. The park was packed with people picnicking under the trees, taking pictures and spending time with their families. The park itself is gorgeous any day, full of winding trails and one of the most diverse collection of trees in Japan (it was formerly a government run arboretum), but the blooming trees really made it look picturesque, the kind of platonic ideal people think of when they think of Japan.

The other day, we had an undergraduate holiday in the middle of the week. After sleeping in, which was much needed, midterms are in full swing here, I decided to take my bike and head out to Setagaya to see the Todoroki Ravine, the only ravine within Tokyo, tucked away in the quiet residential neighborhood of Todoroki. It took about an hour by bicycle to get to from my house, but it was a very easy and pleasant ride that basically stayed on the same major road the entire time, something which I was incredibly excited to see when I pulled up the directions on Google. Even after living here for (almost) two semesters, navigating unknown parts of the city on a bike is still very daunting.

The park is easy to miss; hidden from the street, you have to go down a steep flight of steps that lead down the side of the cliff to a path below. At the bottom of the ravine is a small river, and the path follows along, crossing here and there, leading to a waterfall capped with stone dragon heads and a small shop selling Japanese snacks and sweets at the end, all in the shadow of a large temple.

The ravine is gorgeous, filled with lush green trees and shrubs. Like many of these secluded green spots within the city, I have trouble remembering that I’m in the most populated metropolis on earth. These places definitely do not fit the image I had of Tokyo before I came over here, all hellishly crowded commuter trains and Blade Runner-esque neon cityscapes. Tokyo, of course, is full of those, but also so much more. I read recently in an article published by the Guardian that “Tokyo is a million different cities”, something that I’ve come to agree with wholeheartedly, and not just because of the way the different wards are incorporated. The city can feel like a world in and of itself.

How I’m Spending My Food Budget

Standard

Though my days as a study abroad student are largely dedicated to schoolwork, commuting, and learning about the country I’m living in, cooking and buying food is central to my daily life in Tokyo. Temple University in Japan has no meal plan and no facility for making students meals, so Temple students are required to find food for themselves. While some students are provided meals through homestay, the majority of students eat from the same, extremely cheap, restaurants, grocery stores, and convenience stores.

Like my peers, I frequent the Lawson’s and Seven Eleven convenience stores that appear on every city block in Tokyo. Unlike those in the the United States, convenience stores in Japan are known to carry a variety of Japanese food, both healthy and unhealthy. Frozen Slurpees are replaced with nikuman, a steamed bun with meat filling. Cans of Coke are substituted with cartons of strawberry and matcha-flavored milk. I often go to my local convenience store to grab a pre-packaged lunch or a quick snack. My personal favorites are egg sushi trays and onigiri, rice balls wrapped in seaweed with a small amounts of mayonnaise, fish, veggie, or egg in the middle. Food is sold at a reasonable price, usually between 100 to 500 yen, roughly 1 to 5 U.S. dollars.

The Seiyu supermarket a block away from my dorm is also a great source for inexpensive meals. Seiyu is literally the Japanese equivalent of Walmart, as both store chains owned by the Walmart Corporate Company. I have been able to find pre-packaged meals of slightly higher quality at Seiyu between 10,000 and 300 yen (10 to 3 U.S. dollars). I often use these meals for lunch or a last minute dinner.

img_0330

Last minute dinners from Seiyu are pretty satisfying

Japanese supermarkets hold daily sales on pre-packaged meals, so the store can restock on fresh meals for the next day. The sale at Seiyu starts at 9pm and goes until 11pm, so I often go by the market late to grab discounted meals. I’ve been able to find some very nice entrees, such as a full sushi tray or chicken karaage meal at discounted price.  

I also buy raw ingredients at Seiyu to cook back at the dorm. I eat dorm-cooked meals twice a week with my friends. The kitchenette in my dorm room is very small, so my friends often find themselves cutting vegetables on my desk and cooking rice on my floor. We eat dinner while sitting on my bed or at my desk, and I often find dishes people left in my room the next day.

img_0334

Cooking at home with friends is the best!

We have tried a combination of Japanese and Chinese recipes, and the Japanese recipes are much easier to cook in the dorm kitchen. Japanese dishes often involve boiling food and adding various sauces and spices for flavor, while Chinese recipes call for pan frying. I don’t want to buy another pot or pan, as I have no way of taking such a thing home. However, stir frying in one small cooking pot has proven difficult, and has occasionally ended with me scraping blackened bits of food from the bottom of my once-silver appliance.

img_0331

Chinese food can be a little tricky–but it’s pretty worthwhile

Extreme Sight-Seeing in Kyoto

Standard

When Temple University Japan gave students a two-day undergraduate holiday, my friends and I took the opportunity to go on a weekend-long trip to Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara. The experience was simultaneously exciting, frustrating, tiring, and incredibly fun. I feel extremely lucky to see and experience so much of Japan, and I know the memories of this trip will stay with me for a long time.

Our group left for Kyoto Friday night, boarding a Shinkansen bullet train. The Shinkansen runs at around 200 miles per hour and brought us to our destination within three hours. We arrived, in freezing snow and surrounded by closed storefronts, though the time was only 8pm. For roughly an hour, my group of friends and I attempted to find our Airbnb apartment room before realizing it was on the fourth floor of an apartment across the street.

We woke up early the next morning, bought bus passes, and attempted to squeeze the maximum number of Kyoto tourist attractions into a 9-hour time frame.

Kyoto is Japan’s most popular tourist destination, with numerous temples, shrines, and important landmarks from Japanese history. Our itinerary for Kyoto included one palace, one museum, one park, three temples, and one general district. We had a lot of ground to cover in two days.

img_0375

We had to hit the road early to see everything in Kyoto.

The day started off with us boarding a bus in the wrong direction and making an unplanned visit to a temple along the incorrect bus route. Toji Temple was a quiet way to start the morning, with its carefully kept gardens and old wooden structures. The signs around its premises were written completely in Japanese, so we were unsure of the temple’s significance, but enjoyed it nonetheless.

img_0373

Checking out the gardens around Toji Temple with McKenna and Nikki.

We then paid a visit to Arashiyama park, where we were able to feed monkeys, visit shrines, and walk through the famed Arashiyama bamboo forest. Our visit to Arashiyama was fun, but overwhelming, as the park was very crowded and we struggled to find important landmarks without English signs or park maps guiding us. Still, we were able to see much of the natural and man-made beauty in Arashiyama, from the Tenryuji Temple lake to the charmingly old-style souvenir shops lining the streets.

After spending most of the afternoon in Arashiyama, we visited Ryoan-ji temple, which contained several shrines and a rock garden. The rock garden was actually inside a large Japanese-style house, so we were asked to take off our shoes and put on slippers before viewing the area.

img_0415

Viewing the simple, yet elegant rock garden at Ryoan-ji with McKenna, Nikki, and Ben

From Ryoan-ji, we raced to the Kinkaku-ji temple, a Zen temple which is covered in gold from the second floor up. We were concerned that we would not be able to visit the temple before closing time, at 6pm. However, we managed to get to the temple with time to spare. We took pictures, and explored some of the surrounding gardens.

img_0436

The famed Kinkaku-ji temple with gold covering its upper floors.

The next day, we headed to the Kyoto Imperial Palace, and were able to tour the palace grounds with an English-speaking tour guide. The Imperial Palace grounds are massive and hold incredible amounts of history and tradition. Every gold-leafed parking structure and red-painted gate was a significant in the lives of early Japanese royalty.

From the Imperial Palace, we walked to the Kyoto International Manga Museum. The museum held particular significance to me, as my first exposure to Japanese culture was through Japanese comic books, or manga. We were not allowed to take pictures inside the museum, as the place is filled with volumes upon volumes of published and copyrighted manga. However, visitors are allowed to touch and even flip through Japanese comics, some of which are over 30 years old.

We ate lunch in Gion District, an area historically known for geisha entertainment, and then headed over to the Fushimi Inari Temple.

16712010_419057505111278_9222351756565819530_n

Walking up Inari mountain through the torii gates.

The Fushimi Inari Taisha is dedicated to the Shinto diety, Inari, the god of rice and agriculture. The temple is famous for its red torii gates which line the trail up Inari mountain. Though we were unable to hike the trail in its entirety, we still had a good time eating snacks, pointing out fox statues, and watching the Shinto religious rituals which are still performed at the temple.

From Fushimi Inari, my friends and I took the train straight to Osaka. Our two days in Kyoto were exhausting, but extremely enjoyable.

16711834_748832728606536_232404857734058012_n

What would an epic trip across Japan be like without a group picture?