Tag Archives: tokyo

a night at the movies

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After the first half of the week tricked me and the rest of Tokyo into thinking we were comfortably entrenched in spring, at last, the weekend brought a total reversion, complete with icy rain. Always one to let the weather get the best of me, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to catch a movie at one of the city’s many cinemas.

I had read about the extravagancies of Tokyo theaters, luxurious recliners and blankets and whole meals served during the show,  but no one in my immediate circle had gone to one yet so I would have to do further searching on my own. After reading through one article which listed theaters showing mostly arthouse or dated films in English, I felt like an idiot when I clicked on the Toho site on accident and discovered that just about every current U.S. release screened there is shown with English audio and Japanese subtitles.

Of course.

I settled on the Shinjuku location (known for a Godzilla head peaking out of its higher levels, Google it) and Black Panther for the movie. Although IMAX 3D and 3D MX4D (which purports to make the audience “feel” what happens on screen, something I’m not sure you’d want when watching a movie that is 75% punching but to each her own) weren’t much more than the standard showing, spanning a spectrum from 1,500 to 2,000yen, I decided to keep it simple. After classes on Friday, I set out from TUJ with three friends by my side for Shinjuku.

When we arrived to buy tickets at 5:45, with our showtime at 7, the rest of my party was a little anxious for reasons I couldn’t understand. We had an hour and fifteen minutes; what was there to stress about? As we purchased our tickets from the self-service kiosk, expressions of joy at the student discount quickly souring when it became clear there were almost no connecting seats left and those that remained were in the front row, I realized that seeing a movie in a small town is entirely different from seeing one in a big city. No chance of having the theater to yourself or waltzing in during the previews; seeing a movie in Tokyo requires planning.

We settled for the four connecting seats in the front and went to get dinner before the show, slightly worried by the number of moviegoers already camped out in the lobby when no new showings were being seated until 6:30, all times staggered by three hours instead of occurring according to running time. Upon our return, things had become even livelier and entrance was being permitted by theater number, not the free-flow common to U.S. theaters; ours was screen #4 and there must have been another film showing with four (yon) in the title because we twice queued up to enter after hearing yon only to be shooed away.

I had just entered the snack line when we were finally called and was haunted by my loss though pleased to see the front row wasn’t practically pressed against the screen like in U.S. theaters. Let me say, I have never in my life purchased movie snacks and was raised to bring a tote bag full of dollar store treats with me to all theatrical outings. But, I had my heart set on a reasonably priced churrito. So after ten minutes of trying to figure out the theater’s policy on re-entry (they hadn’t torn our tickets but it’s easy to seem suspicious as a foreigner, especially when tiptoeing around something you’re uncertain of, a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts), I went for it.

IMG_2869Yes, I know this isn’t a Star Wars screening; let me wield my churrito in peace.

And, even if I had been questioned, it would still have been worth it.

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getting the perfect shot

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Without stepping on my photoblogging counterpart’s toes, I feel it’s my duty to offer some tips on taking photos in Tokyo for those of us with less artistic inclinations. I strive to get pictures of everything in preparation for old age, from food to candids of friends to blooming flowers, and this is a lot less embarrassing than it is back home because even locals love to photograph the city’s wonders. And, if a picture is worth a thousand words, what better way is there to explain your semester abroad? Answer: there isn’t one.

  1. Find a cool background

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This especially works with food and beverages; see the countless “______ (food/beverage) in the air” accounts on instagram. This can be difficult with particularly tasty treats, because you end up eating them before snapping a picture, and crowded streets, where no one cares about your excitement for what claims to be the richest matcha gelato in existence. However, with some determination, you can prevail.

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Coordinating colors always make for a cool picture. Sure, it’s just a piece of penny candy but with a coincidentally matching train stop behind it? Art.

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And of course this applies to street art and sticker-blasted walls more than anything. Without this backdrop, Caroline appears uncomfortable, like she’s holding back her thoughts. But thanks to the “heartless” banner adjacent to her head, we know she’s truly smug, shoulders back as she takes on the line for conveyor belt sushi today, tomorrow the world

2. Appreciate the mundane

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Sure, the lights of Yokohama Chinatown are cool, the tins of dim-sum mouthwatering, but what about the people who keep the streets running? Here you can see one chef on break, one at work in the window, people passing by oblivious, all bookended by industrial items like crates and Japan’s ubiquitous vending machines. (Deserving of far more attention than they receive.)

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This shot, taken through the window of my train and that of the train next to it during an emergency stop, is the epitome of the Friday rush hour. Blaring red scrawls notifying passengers of their train’s movements and destinations, sleeping passengers, the teal light making everything feel like slogging through an ocean current.

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The above image would likely inspire a Pixar short, if shown to the right people.

3. Shadows and profiles, people! “Head on” is for migraine relief, not photographs!

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Open markets selling knick knacks and produce cover dozens of streets from dawn till dusk. You can find all the colors of the rainbow framed by gritty lights and damp alleyways. Why capture a bowl of fruit when you can have a whole stand?

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Again, vending machines are ubiquitous in Tokyo, on every street corner, so find one with an inventory that compliments your lipstick and click away.

4. Go close up or far away

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Crowds are a given, wherever you go, but you don’t have to settle for pictures taken over the top of a sea of blurry, moving figures. Go for a close-up of wood work instead of the whole shrine; no one will be in your shot though you might end up in someone else’s.

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Or embrace the business and get the whole picture with some help from mirrors or shop windows. The above arch, at a Harajuku department store, is beyond cool with its web-like effect but a shop-window selfie with passersby forming a human horizon line is just as good.

So there are my tips for capturing Tokyo, no filter required.

 

snow-kyo

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On Monday of this week, Tokyo experienced the heaviest snowfall seen in four years and I had the fortune (not necessarily good or bad, but just fortune) of being in the middle of it.

As the weekend was sunny, mid-fifties, I had a hard time believing in the predictions of my weather app and the tittering of classmates (both local and visiting like me) that snow was on the horizon. Coming from the northeast, I consider myself something of a savant when it comes to snow: I can think of countless times where I’ve called a school delay, beat the grocery store rush, and pulled my sled out of the cellar hours before the first flakes even fell. Though snow is a non-issue down south, I was confident my instincts hadn’t been dulled by my two storm-free years.

So, Sunday night, I went to bed with my window cracked as always and a cotton dress hanging up for the next day…only to wake up to pinpricks of icy rain plunging in through the crack in my window. Switching the dress for a thick sweater, I was still unconvinced that full-blown snow would be touching down on the already hectic streets of Tokyo. Not unconvinced enough that I left my umbrella in the dorm, which I was grateful for later on.

The first true snowflakes started around 1 p.m., and although everyone was composed for the most part, the atmosphere in class had definitely shifted. Eyes darted between the windows on one side of the room and the clock on the other. I’m sure some were already dreading their commute, but the palpable excitement outranked any murmurs of unease. The stairways were especially packed (expect to see that phrase or a similar one a few more times, tight spaces and crowds are as inherent to a snowstorm in Tokyo as the white stuff itself) as students rushed outside to take pictures. Again, being a northerner, this wasn’t particularly noteworthy, so I took this diversion as an opportunity to beat the line at 7-11. No regrets.

Snow was the furthest thing from my mind for the rest of the day, anguish over the lack of pastries in stock at 7-11 demanding my full attention. Oh, and I guess my studies were holding my focus, too. Regardless, when I walked out of Azabu Hall after my last lecture, it was time to admit defeat: yes, it had indeed, truly, beautifully, tangibly, snowed. As I stomped my way to the metro station, I was awed by the magnificence surrounding me. White coated rooftops and awnings, an ebbing sea of opened umbrellas, all of the bright lights reflected in the slick streets: walking through snow-covered Tokyo can really make a person feel small.

IMG_1638Right outside of Musashi-Kosugi Station.
IMG_1644A usually busy side street, cleared by snow. Also, as a side note, why are umbrellas only used for rain back in the states? C’mon, people, let’s make this a trend.

But don’t worry, being crammed into a train you had to fight to even board, with countless shoulders and elbows pressing into you, and the realization that your closest neighbors can likely smell lunch on your breath just as well as you can, will make you feel big again in no time. And finally getting off of said train is an experience unto itself; marriage, childbirth, sky-diving, all pale in comparison to the elation of exiting an overcrowded train. The trek home, through greying slush and still-falling snow, felt like a victory lap after that train ride.

Back in my dorm, cotton dress hanging with a smugness you would not think fabric could exude, I took just enough time to warm up before venturing out to take pictures for posterity.

DSCN3813A fellow northerner casually regards snow.
DSCN3824Ankle-deep snow and more coming down directly outside the dorm.

Though almost all of the snow was melted by noon Tuesday, my observations will stick with me. It’s easy to focus on differences when living abroad, in a country like Japan, but finding reassurance in similarity is a much better decision in the long run. I don’t think I’ve felt as comfortable since arriving in Tokyo as I did watching Japanese people at the station super market stock up on eggs and other staples the way people do with bread and milk back home.

-Nora

How (Un)Lucky I am That Saying Goodbye was So Hard

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Saturday, I came back home. It’s been a strange experience being back home after being in Japan for so long. The jet lag meant I was up until six in the morning the first night I got back (my mom was not happy). I cried for a good hour in my room the next night because home felt strange rather than familiar because so much had changed in four months. Hearing all the English around me when I went into a store, I thought it was weird. Nothing felt familiar anymore and that confused me. I was expecting these feelings to a certain extent. Home becoming unfamiliar is a feeling I deal with every time I come back home from college, since I go to a school out of state. When I leave, I keep expecting everyone at home to stay the same but of course people change. However, the feelings are a bit different from what I am used to. I had gotten used to a whole new culture. To be pushed back into my old culture all of a sudden, of course I miss certain aspects of Japan and find myself doing things that are normal in Japan but not so much in America (e.g. bowing).

I have no answer on how to adjust. I do have some suggestions that helped me begin the process of recovery. Embrace the fact that you will take time to recover. It took me awhile to adjust to Japan. I guess people expect that since I know American culture, I don’t have to adjust to America. People are wrong. I’ve become used to Japanese culture. Meaning, I’ve become used to people not being overly loud, neat queues that people respect, and bowing. Now that I’m in America, I pretty much have to unlearn all that I’ve learned. Another hard part to accept is that everything I’ve learned has no more outlet. All these Japanese customs and habits I picked up, but I have to use for them anymore. Hopefully, I can find a new place to use these customs or work to return to Japan.

The one thing that really helped me get over my dissatisfaction of being home was sharing stories of being abroad. It’s not enough. I feel that no one at home understands. But it helps. They may not completely understand but they get to grasp a glimpse of my experience. I get the added benefit of reliving my study abroad moments. Refreshing my memory makes the experience seem more real than an elaborate dream that I made up. Talking about it reminds me and my family that I changed. By sharing stories, I hope that my family and me can catch each other up to the people we are now, rather than stuck knowing the people we were. I think it would be helpful to talk with your study abroad friends. They are all going through the same thing you are. If anyone gets it, it would be them.

Coming home has been tough but I know I’ll feel better eventually. My time in Japan forced me to grow up in leaps and bounds. I’ve changed but not into an unfamiliar person. Rather, I’ve turned into a person that I’ve always wanted to be. I just never knew I did. Coming to terms with this change will take time but once the people around me and I have, my time in Japan will always leave a tangible mark on me.

 

Week 15- All Good Things Must Come To an End

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Visiting Nakamise Dori, my favorite street in Tokyo, one last time!

Fall ginkgo trees with the Sensoji Pagoda in the back.

Nakamise Street again- the best place to buy souvenirs!

A decorated garage storefront.

Tsukiji Hongan-ji in Chuo, an Indian architect styled Buddhist Temple.

The entrance to the Tsukiji Fish Market.

Skewered grilled eel!

And some skewered grilled salmon belly!

The dorm room in Musashi-Kosugi. All moved out!

The bathroom at the dorm.

Thank you so much for following my journey in Tokyo! ありがとう ございます (arigatō gozaimasu/thank you) and さようなら (sayounara/goodbye) Japan!

Week Fourteen- An Escape into Tokyo’s Nature

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The pathway of yellow trees at Meiji Jingu Gaien.

The main street, where the annual Jingu Gaien Ginkgo Festival is held to celebrate the “leaf peeping season!”

Some of the intricate ceramics sold at the festival. Many of these cups were over ¥6,000 a piece, around $60.

The pop-up German Christmas market in Roppongi Hills. There are around 5-6 Christmas markets around Tokyo!

A Torii in Yoyogi Park.

The sake wall at the Meiji Gardens!

Another Torii in Yoyogi Park- showcasing Tokyo’s beautiful fall foliage.

Tokyo Tower- I love randomly turning street corners and then suddenly having Tokyo Tower in sight!

A daytime view of Tokyo from the south Metropolitan Government Building. The 45th floor observatories in both the North and South buildings are completely free! Also, the view of Yoyogi Park is reminiscent of Central Park in NYC.

Christmas lights at Tokyo Midtown- a large shopping center. While there is still so much fall foliage here in Tokyo, at night the trees transform into a Christmas wonderland!

Visiting a Japanese Cultural Festival

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I’ve been steadily going through a list of well-known places in the Tokyo area while here. Each trip has yielded amazing sights, good food, and surprising cultural events (not all the time, but every once in a while). However, one thing I recommend that everyone should check out if they have time is a university cultural festival. I don’t know about the spring, but I know a bunch of cultural festivals occur in November. My friend and I managed to attend two: Waseda University’s and Keio University’s. Two reasons why you should go: it’s cheap and a great way to experience some Japanese culture.

The two cultural festivals I attended were both free of charge. The trick is finding it. Waseda University’s cultural festival my friend had told me about (and she had found out from a friend). Turns out the festival we had attended for that school was not its main festival but rather a smaller section done by its science department located at the science campus (go figure). It was still great fun though and probably better for us because it meant a much smaller crowd. Keio University I heard about from the Japanese girls on our hall (a good number attend Keio). We arrived there fine because we just followed all the college-aged kids who left the train station at the same time.

Outside you’ll see lines of stalls, probably selling food. All of them are decorated with construction paper and are probably manned by one particular university club. Be prepared to be bombarded by college students, holding posters, and advertising for their stalls. These stalls are a great place to try some Japanese food for cheap. I had hashimaki (okonomiyaki on chopsticks) for the first time at Keio.

If you follow along these stalls, you’ll eventually hit a stage. My friend and I got to see many awesome performances there. Waseda University had a bunch of dances that looked like classical Japanese dance with a modern twist (maybe). At Keio my friend and I saw a couple of juggling performances, Michael Jackson dances done by the Michael Jackson club, and a bunch of awesome dances done by another dance group. Everyone was very talented and blew our socks away.

Don’t spend the entire time outside. I recommend going inside the university’s buildings because there are events inside. Waseda had a bingo sheet with the room numbers as the spaces (we did not know where we would have gone if we had gotten bingo). Each room had a different kind of activity, probably relating to the club that was hosting. Keio had a floor dedicated to each music club and each held a performance. The third floor had a bunch of lecture halls with more performances. I’m sure there was more but I had no idea how to go about finding them.

A fair warning to all who decide to attend a cultural festival: they are not super English friendly. These events are not catered to tourists so that means while some things may be written in English, not everything is. Also, the level of English each college student knows is different so you may end up getting someone who’s struggling with English or someone who knows a decent amount (chances are that you’ll meet the former rather than the latter). That should not deter you from going but just be prepared. Probably go in with a basic understanding of hiragana and katakana. It’s definitely worth seeing to see what Japanese college students get involved in.

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Dancers at Waseda University

A List of a Few Places to Visit in the Tokyo Area

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All the Places to Explore Will Make Saying Goodbye so Hard

Before leaving for Japan, I had so many people ask me what countries were I going to visit while studying abroad. I told them that I’d be too busy exploring Japan to be leaving it. The truth though was less glamorous. I did not have enough money to be going to a foreign country every weekend. Besides, I may be in Japan but I was still here as a student. Meaning, I still had schoolwork to be doing. In the end, I did not end up leaving the Tokyo area (except for one trip I’m currently planning and will do in two weeks). Honestly, there’s nothing wrong with that. The Tokyo area has so much to offer, that I feel like I need another two months to visit every part of it. Probably a whole year. What I have seen so far has been gorgeous and exiting.

Asakusa

Asakusa is where I went for my first solo trip in Japan. I had originally gone to see the Sensō-ji temple. The temple was a bit of a let-down. It was such a tourist attraction, with way too many people crowded in to enjoy the experience of being at a temple. The streets of shops, on the other hand, were great to wander through. They sold a great variety of souvenirs and Japanese sweets (wagashi). It’s also really hard to get lost because apparently every one of those shopping streets somehow lead you back to the Sensō-ji temple. Either that, or my sense of direction is just that bad.

Shinjuku

I’m not much of a night life person, so if that’s what you want to know about, sorry, can’t help you. I did go out to Shinjuku at night once. While our planned activities turned out to be a bust, the lights and hustle and bustle of the people at night were well worth the trip. I was mostly satisfied with the amazing street magician we ended up seeing.

On a separate trip, I went to Shinjuku to see the Shinjuku Gyoen National Gardens. It costs 200 yen to enter but well worth the money. In fact, I feel like they are really underselling it because the views in that park are well worth 1000 yen, if not more.

Shibuya

Shibuya station is huge. There’s so much to see in Shibuya so if you’re ever in Tokyo, you will end up going there. My experiences involved shopping for the most part but from what I hear it’s where the clubbing happens.

Yokohama

My first trip to Yokohama, I ended up going to Yamashita Park and walking alongside Ōsanbashi Pier. The waterside view was stunning. My second trip, I explored Yokohama’s Chinatown with a friend. Japan’s Chinatown is very different that the Chinatowns I’ve visited. The Chinatown in Chicago is Americanized but many Chinese people visit Chinatown and shops are more catered to Chinese Americans. Japan’s Chinatown felt like it was catered toward the Japanese. That comparison made visiting Yokohama’s Chinatown interesting.

Ueno Park

Ueno Park is a gigantic park with a zoo and a ton of museums. You can do what I did and just wander or you can visit the zoo or one of the museums. A great tip for those wanted to save some cash: bring your own food. A easy way to spice up the trip is to give yourself a little picnic at these great scenic spots. Not a great cook? That’s fine, then just buy a meal at the conbini and bring it with you.

Shimokitazawa

A great place for thrift shopping. Harajuku Chicago is a great shop to use as a starting point. The area around it has a great many thrift stores. It was amazing how many cute outfits I was able to buy for cheap.

 

Ginza and Kamakura are on my list and I plan to go in the next few weeks (the former for kabuki and the latter for the shrines). If you’re like me and are already stretching your wallet by coming to Japan don’t fret so much about travel. As you can see, there’s still plenty to do right within Tokyo.

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The entrance to Yokohama’s Chinatown

Week 11!

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Coffee shop in Azabujuban.

Photo from my daily commute- it takes about 25 minutes on the train each way to school from the dorm.

Japanese Supermarket

The Japanese culture involves a lot of gift giving-Here is a example of some winter gifts, such as sauces and foods, that are currently being sold all over department stores and supermarkets.

Red bean covered dango- A popular Japanese dessert!

Some hiragana (left) and katakana (right) that I have learned in my Practical Japanese for Study Abroad Students class.

Alex playing a popular Japanese game we learned in class- Putting features on a face while blindfolded.

I’ve learned how to write my name in katakana!

Morgan learning how to write calligraphy in our Japanese class!

The sun setting over Tokyo Tower.

Week 10!

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A little piece of home in Tokyo!

The nighttime scene near Shinjuku.

“Piss Alley”- A famous street filled with small bars and eating spots

Water separating the city and the Kokyogaien National Park in Tokyo.

Sunset in Chiyoda.

Adam in front of a “kawaii” wall!

 

View from the North Observatory Tower in the Metropolitan Government building.

Another nighttime view over Tokyo. The tall, very bright building is the NTT Docomo Yoyogi Building.

Adam in an area of Shinjuku.

The sun setting over the Imperial Palace.