Tag Archives: reflection

Touching down in Tokyo

Touching down in Tokyo

In my Special Topics Japanese literature course on Natsume Soseki, my professor never failed to remind my classmates and me that we are members of the elite, privileged in our pursuit of a higher education. As I awaited my early morning departure to Narita International Airport, her words finally began to sink in. Most of us graduate without realizing how lucky we are to have been able to attend college and better ourselves through communicating with brilliant minds – not all of them close to home. I enrolled in TUJ’s study abroad program with the goal of understanding what it means to be Japanese by living in Tokyo.

This was not the first time I’ve packed the contents of my life into luggage and relocated to a new city. At 23, I’ve traveled and lived in more places than most of my friends, but I was still just as nervous about flying as I was at 19 when I stepped onto my first plane to Montreal. It was a gutsy move: not only had I never left home, but I had never been outside of the country. Looking back, I’m grateful that the challenges of living in Montreal prepared me for life in Tokyo, the city I have always dreamed of visiting.

Picturing myself trying authentic ramen, visiting the Rikugien Gardens from “Norwegian Wood”, seeing Tokyo Tower, and visiting other famed cultural attractions helped me through the 15 hour journey. I reminded myself to keep my expectations realistic, too. Having once studied abroad, I expected my first week in Tokyo might be difficult – how could it not? From the moment I passed through Customs, I knew that I would have to step up my Japanese. GPS and Google Translate have been my closest companion this first week! A major plus: I’ve already discovered that the best part about living in Japan as a gaijin (foreigner) is how eager many Japanese are to help you practice your language skills.

Living in the Takadanobaba dorm is the best of both worlds: lovely residential buildings and the Kanda river are just ten minutes away from dozens of restaurants, boutiques, and bars. The area is known for its population of students who attend Waseda University, and the neighborhood’s lively nightlife and colorful storefronts reflect its youthful population. (Note: the absence of sidewalks definitely takes some getting used to.)



Kanda River, just one minute from the Taka dorm.

Taking a morning train for the first time on the Tozai line was an interesting albeit slightly claustrophobic experience. Our cheerful student guide, Yuri, led us TUJ’s main campus, a sleek office building ten minutes from Azabu-Juban Station. TUJ’s campus may be on the small side, but it has an incredibly diverse student body. I’m grateful that going to school in a tiny corner of Minato gives me an even greater opportunity to exchange ideas about life, literature, and social issues with Japanese students. Without a doubt, there’s a strong sense of community on campus. Many of us are at least 6,000 miles away from home, and seeing familiar faces in our classrooms and hallways is an added layer of comfort.


For those of you who are curious about studying in a non-English speaking country, but too afraid to make the leap: don’t hold yourself back! I’ve experienced plenty of ups and downs my first week in Tokyo, but the challenges have been a worthwhile learning experience. Traveling and studying in a foreign country is a unique way to reevaulate our paradigms and understand ourselves on a deeper level. I already foresee that my experiences exploring Tokyo and studying at TUJ will open my eyes to cultural and social issues that will shape me as both a writer and a humanitarian.


My Time Abroad in Japan: A Reflection


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.


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.


I had some amazing food


And saw some beautiful places


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.


Thank you for all the laughs and memories


I hope I’ll see you again soon!

On Leaving Japan, My Second Home

My last selfie in Japan: me fresh from a night's stay at the 9hrs capsule hotel. I stayed here the night I arrived in Japan and I stayed here again on my way out.

My last selfie in Japan: me fresh from a night’s stay at the 9hrs. I stayed here the night I arrived in Japan and I stayed here again on my way out.

Packing up all of my cumbersome suitcases and stuffing souvenirs into over-sized carry-ons opened up a bubble of time for me to reflect on the four months I spent studying abroad — my first adventure overseas. Living, laughing, and learning in Japan made up the busiest few months of my life; I was constantly scuttling about, getting on and off subway trains as I went to classes and taught some of my own with the superstar instructors at a Japanese high school. My faux leather planner was full of circled dates for extra activities and potential meet-ups with friends and family. The short, dirty blonde hair you see to the left framed the face of a girl whose brain previously swarmed with plans of trips and visits to cool destinations in Tokyo, many of which, of course, never happened. All students who get the opportunity to study abroad go through this, I’m sure of it. Our schedules quickly become packed, and the places and events that hovered at the bottom of our wishlists turn into adventures unrealized. I had several of these stragglers that didn’t make it into my study abroad scrapbook, but even with all that was on my plate, I was able to make the most of my time in Japan, my second home.

The experiences I have had in Japan blessed me with amazing new opportunities and helped to build a stronger me. The brave young woman who boarded a plane bound for Japan in January was very different from the braver and bolder one who stepped off a plane in New York, late April. I never expected to learn more about my self and my soul, but I did along the streets of Tokyo on my morning walks to class. I didn’t anticipate meeting inspiring new people and making new friends, but it happened in a Japanese high school in Kanagawa. There is so much I owe to those who made it possible for me to study overseas, but at least I was able to give a little back through my internship.

My suitcases ready to roll around the airport and leave for America. (The other cart should say "Goodbye, Japan.") 😞

My suitcases ready to roll around the airport and leave for America. (The other cart should say “Goodbye, Japan.”) 😞

Because these experiences helped me grow and I became attached to life in Japan, leaving it was an event akin to leaving behind a beloved stuffed animal in a hotel as a little kid. I was sad, frustrated, and a little over-dramatic, but I knew that it wouldn’t be my last time there; if the map of my future plans uncurls its paper edges the way I hope it will, I’ll be stepping the streets of Japan again soon. I also knew that I’d become the “back in Japan” kid for many years after my return to the States, but I’m more than happy to be that kid. I did my family proud by realizing my dream of visiting Japan, but more than that, I did myself proud, and that is what we should all seek to do.

I hope that the students who read these blogs and dream of studying and exploring in a new places, get the chance to do so. Make the most of your college years while you still can, and plan to travel!

Back in the Saddle


Philadelphia.  Seven months detached.  Some things have changed, and others remain the same.  Looking back it all seems like just one long dream.  Thinking about the experiences I had, I want to take this final blog post to reflect on the things I have learned while living in Japan.

Number 1: Differences are beautiful, accept them.  Before I came to Japan I was not much of an otaku, nor did I have any extreme interests towards specific aspects of Japanese culture.  I just had a general interest in the country, based on things I had already knew.  I took the trip so that I might learn more from a first person perspective.  When we are in our comfort zone we tend to do the same things that we know we like, and stick around those who are similar to us.  This stifles growth and learning.  I came to the realization that I would not have a comfort zone in Japan similar to the ones I had at home.  Therefore, I learned how embrace cultural differences and apply them to my own living abroad.  This is not to say that I compromised my own identity.  I just merely developed ways to communicate and interact effectively across cultures.  One night, while out with a group of friends, I look around the table.  Looking back at me were faces from all parts of the world.  Deep down you get a sense that everyone is connected on this Earth.  Our differences don’t separate us, they are what identifies us as unique.

Number 2: Balance and Harmony.  Balance seems to be an important part of Japanese culture.  I got a grasp of this mentality and applied it to various aspects of my life.  I began to eat healthier and stray away from sweets.  I chose water or unsweetened tea over sugary, caffeinated drinks.  As the days turned into weeks, it became an unconscious habit to be healthy.  My time management skills also increased.  Balance may sound like such a rigid, static word; but harmony accompanies it as well.  I developed a go-with-the-flow mentality, and did my best to extinguish conflict among groups.  I started to listen more, and be more in tune with the body language of others.

Number 3: The world is huge!  I understand the size of the world differently now.  Of course we all know how vast the world really is.  Yet when were living in the small little complex world of our community, we sometimes forget about the outside.  Living abroad, I always was aware that there was an outside, and that there were other things going on outside of my small Tokyo community.  It’s an interesting feeling: to be fully engrossed in your living space and at the same time being concerned of the things going on back at home and around the world.  I have grown to become more concerned about international matters in general.  We are all in this world together.

From friends to family, to those I may not know personally, thank you all for following me on this seven month adventure.  I encourage you to check out the other bloggers studying abroad in different countries, we all have interesting stories to tell.  Lastly, I’d like to thank everyone at Temple University Education Abroad for allowing me to utilize this site as a platform to express my own personal reflections on Life in Japan.  If any followers are interested in learning more about Japan from my point of view, or just have questions in general, feel free to email me at eric.burton13@temple.edu.  Thanks again and,左様なら!

Seizing Moments


Spring is finally here in Japan.  The cherry blossoms are almost in full bloom.  Which means over the next few weeks I maybe invited to a few 花見 (hanami) parties by my friends.  Although spring is a symbol for new beginnings, there are so many things around me that seem to be ending.  The semester is finally coming to an end.  Some of my Japanese friends have graduated and are now entering the working society.  My study abroad friends are preparing to assimilate back into American society; everyday I see leftover Domino’s pizza boxes in the dorm trash cans, and other various American brands.  Even I myself brought a few boxes of Pringle’s recently, I guess my food cravings are subconscious indicators of homesickness.  Even with all of these things coming to a close around me, I feel like my adventure in Japan is still unfolding.  I have decided to extend my stay for the summer semester, and take in as much as I can in these next four months.


Imperial Palace Grounds

It’s almost weird to feel accustomed to living in a place other than my home.  The first six weeks just felt like an extended vacation.  As time progressed, the repetitive school schedule began to reflect in my attitude.  I began to feel more and more apart of the society.  Unconsciously, I started to use Japanese gestures and expressions in my daily conversation, even if I was speaking in English.  I developed a “Where’s Waldo” mentality; some days I felt as if I blended in to the point at which I could not be distinguished from other Japanese.  Then moments later I’d snap out of it, looking around the train and seeing so many faces that don’t like mine.  It almost feels like a dream.

Ikegami Line

The emptiest train I’ve ever been on in Tokyo

As I write this on my birthday, reflecting back on the time spent here so far, I can say that there is one lasting lesson I’ve learned while living here.  Live Life in the Moment.  A year ago today I had lost all my intentions of coming to Japan.  Family and friends were worried because of 3/11, and tried everything they could to persuade me not to take the flight across the Pacific.  I let their thoughts get the best of me and gave up.  Fortunately, I remembered months later that I had to do this.  This is experience has taught me so many things I may have never realized had I let my family get the best of me.  Although I have no reason to, I kind of feel selfish for being in that small percentage of college students that study abroad.  My friends back at home always joke with me about how jealous they are because they are still in America.  People (including myself) always have an excuse for why they can’t do something.  If anything I hope that my experiences influence others to find a way around those excuses.  Every college student needs to do this!

Ikegami Shrine

Finding a Balance



Hangin’ out at Ontakesan  Photo Credit: Carli Gaudet

Knowing that my time here is limited, I have found it somewhat challenging to find a balance between my school life and my social life. It is easy to forget about school altogether and enter into “vacation mode” when you are so far from home. In addition to this, I found it somewhat difficult at first to efficiently budget my expenses, especially on the weekends. Therefore, I came up with a few simple rules to help myself stay on track with my studies and still enjoy my time in an affordable way while in Tokyo.  I hope this may be of some use to prospective study abroad students.

1.)   Try to Finish Most of Your Work Before Returning Home: If you are planning on living in a TUJ Dorm, particularly Ontakesan, you will come to realize very quickly that there are an ample amount of ways to socialize and get to meet people.  Every evening the common lounge/kitchen area is filled with people cooking, studying, talking, playing board games, videogames, or watching television.  Since I cook my own meals on most nights, I can’t help but linger in the lounge after eating meal, and  I always end up staying longer than planned.  So if you feel like you’re one of the social types I’d suggest spending a few extra hours in the library after class so you can spare them later that evening.

2.)   Cook!: Cooking can save you a lot of money while you’re here.  Supermarkets are very much affordable.  American imported products can be very pricey though, but there is almost always a store brand alternative that tastes pretty much same as the branded product.

3.)   Shop Late: In addition to cooking, shopping late can save an almost outrageous amount of money.  Pre-made dinners are marked down significantly later on in the evening.  Also, products that are expiring within 1-2 days are marked down a great deal.  Since products tend to come in small packages, you can use them up before they expire.

4.)   Part Time Work: Part time work is a good way to earn a little cash on the side for your weekend excursions.  I currently work in the Teaching and Learning Center, tutoring English and Math for a couple hours a week on campus.  TUJ jobs do not require students to apply for work permits directly from the government.  Yet if you are planning on staying longer than a semester, getting a work permit  should be a consideration.

5.)   Enjoy the Weekends: Try to get out and visit the city for at least 1-2 days on the weekend.  There is so much here to take in and experience.  I myself find the weekends to be most expensive, but everyone has different interests.  If you are more focused on sightseeing, you’ll find that weekend enjoyment is very cheap.  If you are more interested in trying various types of restaurants and cuisines you may find your weekends to be somewhat expensive.  If you’re a night owl, and tend to be more interested in going to concerts and other types of evening events you may find things to be more expensive.

Well those are my tips for now.  If you have any other questions about life abroad feel free to put them in the comments section, じゃまた