Not sure what program is right for you? Click Here
CIEE

© 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Study Abroad in

Back to Program Back to Blog Home

04/23/2015

The Great Buddha of Kamakura

DSC_0017 DSC_0028DSC_0065 DSC_0093DSC_0104DSC_0099

Ahhh Kamakura. I really enjoyed visiting each time I was here. I came two years ago with a group of awesome people from Hope College, and got to go again with a group of awesome people from CIEE. Although, Kamakura is only about 40-50 minutes from where I live, so I really can just go whenever I feel like it. And I will feel like it again! Haha!

We started off touring a shrine close to town called the Hachimangu. A bunch of candy stands lined the road up to the main shrine, so on the way back many of us got a candy apple or candied grape. It was like the greatest lollipop. There were even candied strawberries, and I want one of those too (next time, Emily). The coolest part was the two traditional Japanese weddings happening there. It is always neat to witness these rare ceremonies because it reveals another part of Japanese culture and tradition. Music was also playing from inside one of the shrines for the ceremony. I didn't get any good pictures because I was hesitant to infringe on their special day. 

Near Kamakura station is a Studio Ghibli shop that I absolutely love. Studio Ghibli shops are not too too common, so whenever I see anything with Studio Ghibli characters on it, I freak out. I could buy the whole store ( bye money, I didn't want to go to college anyway! Haha, just kidding). But really, after we had lunch at a restaurant where we took our shoes off before entering, we took a short train to see the Great Daibutsu. This Buddha is amazing! You can even go inside! Its construction began in 1252, and has never been built on since its completion. It is totally original! I ended up buying a mini Buddha figure of the larger one because I love Buddhas ( in case you wanted to know what to get me for my birthday....). I took a Japanese religions class at my home school, and have always admired the teachings of Buddhism. The mini statue looks like the Daibutsu, so it will always remind me of my time there.

Next we went to the Hasedera temple, which has a beautiful garden and koi pond. Many parts of the temple are built in layers on the side of a hill, so you have to walk up a decent amount of steps to see everything. It also has an excellent display of Jizo statues, and a giant Kannon statue inside one of the buildings. There is definitely a lot to see there, including a great view of the sea. Once we arrived there it actually started raining, and then continued to pick up once we returned to Kamakura station. I'm glad the rain waited until the end though (otherwise my shoes would have been soaked all day). It did kind of infringe on my plans to explore Kamakura some more, but next visit I will succeed!

 

-Emily Oliver 





SPRINGTIME FUN IN JAPAN ON A TIGHT BUDGET: WHITE WATER RAFTING IN SHIKOKU

                In one of my previous blog entries, I wrote about how pretty the autumn sky looks on a clear and sunny day in Tokyo. Well, it is around the middle of March that spring begins in Japan, and as though to tease the famous springtime saying “April showers bring May flowers,” I got to enjoy many sunny days in Tokyo as the new season slowly arrived. In fact, the number of consecutive sunny days grew so great that I eventually found myself inspired to take a trip down south to Shikoku, one of Japan’s four major islands.

              The end of March was approaching, along with the final day of the 2-month interim break. Fearing that the good weather would soon leave me as well, my friend Chieko (a fellow CIEE student) and I decided we wanted to do something that would make the most of the remainder of our holiday – but it couldn’t be just anything. It had to be an outdoor activity, something fun and exciting, preferably in a location close to nature, away from the hustle and bustle of the city, and most importantly: something that could be enjoyed particularly in Japan; a few minutes of internet research revealed that white water rafting in Shikoku was to be our next adventure. We packed our bags, booked budget airline tickets, emailed our study abroad program coordinators, and were on our way down south faster than you could say “rapid.”

              Shikoku is divided into four main prefectures: Kagawa, Ehime, Tokushima, and Kochi. We arrived at Matsuyama airport in Ehime prefecture, probably the furthest prefecture from our destination (a rafting company called “Happy Raft” in Kochi) early on a partly-cloudy morning. Grumbling at the fact that our budget airline didn’t service a closer airport, we hopped onto a limited express train down to Oboke Station, our only solace being the opportunity to stock up on sleep on the 4-hour ride. The excitement at the prospect of riding down the rapids of the Yoshino River however, kept us awake.

              When we arrived at Happy Raft Headquarters (a little hut built by the bank of the river), we were warmly greeted by our guide for the day, a Japanese rafter named Toru. He gave us a safety briefing, lent us wetsuits, and drove us to the starting point of our journey along the river.

 

RIMG0050

              Happy Raft really gave us a full experience. Strapped in our rafting gear – a helmet, three layers of wetsuits, a life jacket, and even special rafting sneakers – we fully inflated the raft on our own, placed it upon the surface of the water, and embarked upon the rapids of the Yoshino River with Toru. My recollection of the next part of this adventure is comprised of mainly auditory elements: splashing water, wooshing white rapids, laughter, and excited screams. Toru told us that we had been blessed with a perfect water level that day, as he steered us into the river’s fast currents. We were followed by another employee of Happy Raft, Mark (a rafter from Australia), who was equipped with a waterproof camera to capture the moments. Our boat capsized once as we were traversing the fastest rapid on the course, and according to Toru, we’d been his first capsized group of the season. Fun fact: it’s a tradition amongst the rafting companies in the area that if a guide capsizes the tour boat, then he or she must buy the entire company beers at the end of the day.

RIMG0053

RIMG0059

RIMG0867

              At the end of the tour, we were sent off with warm lemon drinks, and even warmer sentiments.

              This adventure in Shikoku was probably one of my favorite moments of my experience in Japan. For those looking to travel around Japan on a tight budget, I strongly recommend this island as a destination. Not only was the travel fare cheap, the people we met were extremely kind and helpful; after the tour, Toru personally delivered us to the train station, and even helped us figure out cheap routes to the few tourist destinations we had decided to stop by before our flight home. I will definitely be returning to Shikoku before the end of the CIEE program. Also, I think Happy Raft gives you a free shirt on your third visit, which is nice.

04/22/2015

When the Sakura blooms

One of the main reasons why I decided to go study abroad in Japan is because of the Japanese unique culture and custom. Inclusively, Tokyo is a city with such exciting contrasts between modern and traditional culture that will give me an extremely challenging and enriching international experience. CIEE has done a great job in providing students the opportunities to explore Japan in order to assist our adapting process. I have not met anyone from the CIEE program that is unhappy about either the host family or the dormitory thus far.

Personally, I am in love with the location of my home. There is a small shopping street on the way from my station, including Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC, and many other Japanese restaurants and shops. In addition, I found a germ when I coincidentally looked out from the window during my train ride home. I saw something that looks so much like my current Facebook's cover photo that I got from Google. I was shocked at first, but suddenly I realized that it is really the the Meguro River- one of the most famous Sakura viewing spots in Japan, which is only two stops away from my station. I was more than escalated.

Luckily enough, I came to Japan just in time for the Sakura season. Naturally, I made a trip there with a few friends. The Meguro River was extremely packed, but I still got a chance to enjoy the beauty of the Sakura. Furthermore, I used to go to festivals when I was living in Vietnam at a young age. To me, it felt exceptionally nostalgic especially with all the festival food stands. I spent most of the time there trying several types of festival food because to be honest, who wouldn't do that? I did not think that it would be possible to experience all sorts of feeling at once, but I no longer surprise that to me,  anything is possible in Japan.

Wherever I go, a mixture of traditional and modern beauty always blends in so perfectly. Even though it has only been more than a week, living in Japan has helped me mature. Despite the fact that many people  tend to focus on their electronic devices at all time, I have learned to appreciate my surrounding more, take a deep breath and enjoy whatever is in front of me. The reason being I do not want to miss any of the precious moments of living in Japan. I am sure that this will be the once in a lifetime chance for me to live my dream to the fullest. From a flowing Sakura petal, to a rush of people crossing at the intersection; I found beauty in all of that including a fusion of amazement and fascination.

Even though the Sakura season has more or less subdued to the windy and rainy days, but somehow, the Sakura in my heart has bloomed. I have become much more comfortable and optimistic despite the culture difference and the language barrier. I am determined to do my best in order to get fluent in Japanese and to be completely immersed into the culture. That is my way of living the moment here in Japan, and that is the encouragement I get when the Sakura in me blooms. 

IMG_1228

- Festival food- お団子(odango)

IMG_1229

IMG_1234

- Festival food stands

IMG_1210

- The Meguro River through my lenses 

IMG_1220

- The Meguro River through my lenses 

 

01/19/2015

Studying Abroad in Japan with Anxiety

Before I talk about my experience dealing with anxiety while studying abroad, I should add this disclaimer: I am not a licensed therapist or medical professional of any kind. I am just a college student who has been diagnosed with anxiety. I am writing about my own experiences and how I cope with my triggers. Also, people with mental health conditions react to different situations differently and have different ways of coping. While I hope that this entry will be helpful to someone, anyone with a physical, mental, or emotional condition should consult with a licensed medical practitioner before making the decision to study abroad. .

 

I would think that anyone living with anxiety, of any kind, knows just how hard it is to do things that should be “normal everyday activities.” For me, being in crowded places, going to new places, or talking to new people can be difficult. Now just imagine being in a foreign country and that feeling being amplified by one hundred. It's a pretty daunting thought, I know, just thinking about it used to give me anxiety. However, I am very glad that I did not let my anxiety hold me back from coming to Japan.

  10624032_10205080422147871_4138038401535411892_o

Coming here is a huge change, something that sounded incredibly scary for me, but Tokyo is one of the most amazing places in the entire world, in my opinion. There were challenges everyday for me, but having anxiety just seemed to make those challenges even harder. My biggest fear in coming here was the massive train system. I was terrified of just how crazy the maps seemed to look, and how getting on a wrong train could take you somewhere you have never been. It was a terrifying thought. But, once I got here and started to understand the train system, it is actually pretty easy to use in my opinion. The stations were a little confusing at first, but I have never seen such a complex system set up in such an easy manner. I have gotten lost quite a few times, of course. But the more I rode the trains, the easier it got to navigate the city. Within just a couple weeks I had almost all of my lines and platform numbers memorized.

 

Another main anxiety of mine in coming here was getting lost and not being able to get to where I needed. Before coming here I had 4 years of Japanese, so asking for directions and getting help wasn't too big of a fear. But just the anxiety of getting lost in a place as massive as Tokyo was daunting. Thankfully, whenever I do get lost, when I ask for help people are more than glad to help me. I don’t even have to use difficult Japanese; simple phrases like “where is this train going?” and “where is this?” have worked fine. The Japanese people I spoke to always pointed me in the right direction, or even reminded me which stop was mine when we were on the same train.

  WP_20141112_001

I know I said that I have anxiety about talking to people, so yes, asking for help from random strangers is scary, but at the same time I feel much more relieved when I’m able to find out where I’m going.

 

For me, the best way to deal with anxiety is to find ways to ground myself when I encounter “triggers.” For example, trains still make me anxious, but what helps me is listening to music and tuning out the world around me while I am on them. However, I have to be careful to know when my stop is! Another way I deal with my anxiety is traveling with people on the trains to different places. Going with friends is much more fun than going alone! With the anxiety of getting lost, the easiest way I have found to battle this, is to always carry a map with the train lines that I need to take. That might seem like a hassle, but they are always in my backpack just in case I can’t communicate what I need.

  WP_20140919_008

The ways in which I deal with my anxieties will be different than yours, so the methods that I use might not work for you at all, but for me, listening to music and having the train maps with me makes me feel calmer. While that might not be your thing, the important thing to do is to find what helps you battle your anxieties and try to make sure you can have those things/do those things when you start feeling anxious.

WP_20140919_017
 

 

 

01/18/2015

“SEIJIN NO HI:” MY COMING OF AGE IN JAPAN

Standing at five-foot eleven and weighing in at one-hundred and fifty pounds, I am an adult in at least the biological sense. However, I still get lost in department stores, I can’t take cereal without milk, and I still throw tantrums over the smallest of things – characteristics not very becoming of what one might term an “adult.” According to the formal Japanese administration though, as I am 20 years old, I am definitely an adult in every sense of the word whether I like it or not. To that end, in this blog post, I’d like to talk about my experience with the day in each year Japan has set aside for the celebration of those coming of age throughout the nation: “Seijin no hi,” or “Coming of Age Day.”

Seijin1

In Japan, Coming of Age Day is celebrated on the 2nd Monday of January. Those who turned 20 years old the preceding year are invited to their local city office, where they listen to speeches and come evening go partying. Also, girls are supposed to wear kimonos, and guys suits. At least, that’s what the preemptive Google search I did revealed. And as long as you’re a registered citizen of the city of Tokyo, even if you’re just a study abroad student in Japan for a limited time, you’ll get an invitation from the city office if you’re turning 20 that year. I didn’t know that last part until I found my own invitation in the mailbox last December, and it surprised me too.

My host family seemed more excited about my coming of age ceremony than I was, though perhaps my lack of excitement was due to the fact that I didn’t really understand what I’d been invited to. I mean, I understood that this was to be a celebration of my coming of age, but considering the culture which I’m used to, it was like the mayor was asking to be invited to my birthday party. “You should do it,” my host grandmother told me earnestly. “Sekkaku nihon ni kita kara ne,” she added. Since you came all the way to Japan.

She then asked me if I had brought a suit to Japan with me, and I replied that I didn’t. A few weeks later, I found myself at the home of my host grandmother’s younger brother, whose son had agreed to lend me a suit for this important day in the Japanese man’s life. Back in America, we don’t really have anything like Coming of Age Day – one’s sweet sixteen is the closest comparison I can draw. Back home, when someone becomes a man/woman (at age 21), the celebration is usually held amongst friends, as opposed to here, where the entire country designates a national holiday to celebrate its new batch of adults. So needless to say, I was quite surprised with the amount of attention I was getting in light of this upcoming ceremony. I spent a day playing dress-up with my folks, as we tried to find an outfit fitting for a ceremony of such importance.

Seijin2

Then came the 12th of January 2015 – the day of the ceremony. I threw on my suit, and made my way to the Nakano Sun Plaza, invitation in hand, heart filled with excitement at the prospect of formally becoming a man.

Seijin3

When I got there, I was ushered into a rather grandiose auditorium, and waited for the ceremony to begin. I recall speeches from a few contemporaries and older gentlemen, before eventually falling asleep along with every other 20-year old in the auditorium who had risen early for this day. I woke up about an hour later at the end of the ceremony, fully-rested, and a man.

Seijin5

I decided to skip the partying part of the day, and returned home. Grandma asked me how it went, and I truthfully admitted that I had fallen asleep during the speeches. She laughed, saying that that was what she had expected. According to her apparently, the significance of Coming of Age Day for most these days is just looking good and having a great time afterwards – her excitement had been due to the fact that she rarely gets the chance to dress a boy up for a special occasion. It’s a special day, but not so much in the traditional sense anymore; the most valuable thing this day presents is the opportunity to have fun as you acknowledge the transition from one stage of your life to another. Personally, I think I accomplished all of those things that day. At least, I’m sure I knocked the looking good part out of the park; boy, did I look good in that suit.

THE END OF A JOURNEY: REFLECTIONS ON MY DECISION TO STUDY ABROAD IN JAPAN

There’s no doubt about it: studying abroad was the right thing for me to do. The nostalgic pangs that have been weighing down my heart recently could only mean one thing: I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that my semester in Japan is drawing to a close, and with that, I find myself falling into a state of deep retrospection. It has definitely been a crazy, fun-filled journey, but the point I’d like to bring to your attention and elaborate upon the most is this: I had absolutely no idea it was going to be as amazing an experience as it turned out to be. Prior to signing up, I had some serious reservations about putting my life in Los Angeles on hold. Jumping into Japan was a stunt I pulled with my eyes closed, and I’m happy to report that I’m extremely glad that I did. Thanks to CIEE, I fulfilled my personal life goal to visit Japan, gained a ton of valuable life experience, and most importantly, made friends whom I’ll keep in my heart probably for the rest of my life. And thus, in this final blog post, I’d like to tell you the story of how I came to the decision to study abroad in Japan with CIEE, and why I’ll never regret that I did.

 

PCEntry15

One’s collegiate years are a time for self-discovery. It’s a time when we make that awkward transition from high school brat to working adult, and are given the time to experiment with different ambitions. For me, as someone whose interests have always involved stuff like Pokémon and Dragon Ball Z – amongst other popular anime and manga series – going to Japan has been something my heart has yearned for since childhood. I’d decided that I was definitely going to study abroad in Japan at some point in my college career. At the same time though, I’ve also always had a strong interest in the performing arts, and about 6 months after I moved to Los Angeles following my acceptance to the University of Southern California, I fell in love with the theater, and decided to pursue an acting career.

DSCN2128

Fast forward to the end of my sophomore year in college. I’d just gotten my foot through the door of the acting business, and was in a spot where, if I were to put things on hold for a semester to go study abroad, getting things back in motion when I got back might not be so easy. At the same time however, I still really longed to see Japan for myself. I still applied, deciding that I’d withdraw if I really couldn’t bear to leave Los Angeles in the end. I came really close to submitting that withdrawal form the day before my flight.

I’m so glad I didn’t.

I’m so glad I decided to follow my heart.

Opportunities to study abroad in a country of your choosing don’t come very often. I decided that it was going to be easier for me to jump back into the acting game upon my return, than to spend the rest of my life wondering what it might’ve been like if I’d decided to embark upon the journey I’d always wanted to go on after all.

It’s also important that I include this: Sure, anime and manga got me interested in Japan, but it’s the life and the people I found here that made me want to stay. Being able to learn about the culture, places, and people portrayed in my favorite stories through the excursions to major Japanese cities and heritage sites organized by CIEE has been an invaluable experience, and being able to share this journey with like-minded contemporaries resulted in some very strong friendships. Throughout my time in Japan, I’ve borne witness to vastly different lifestyles, seen incredible sights, met many great people with fascinating stories to tell, fallen in love, made sushi, and forged powerful bonds with people I won’t soon forget.

Most importantly, I believe the life experiences I’ve gained have made me a better actor – this is the point I’d really like to drive home. No matter what your ambitions may be, it’s more than likely an experience abroad will help you gain some very valuable – and applicable – experience (time management skills, communication skills, etc.). Thus, I’d like to end my final blog post by imploring each and every single one of you to follow your heart. Don’t be afraid of the future, and don’t dwell on the past, but treasure the present; don’t wonder what “could’ve been.” Fight for what you love, and never settle.

DSCN0470

Sometimes, I get a real giggle when I think about how worried I was prior to leaving for Japan. There is no doubt in my mind that broadening my horizons was the right choice, and I am ready to take back my life in Los Angeles with a fulfilled heart. This journey in Japan with CIEE will forever remain a treasure trove of sweet memories in my mind.

Seijin-no-Hi: Japan’s Coming of Age Ceremony

In Japan, everyone who turns 20 years old becomes an adult. To celebrate the occasion, everyone goes back to their hometowns to participate in a coming of age ceremony called seijin-shiki (成人式). The ceremony is seen as a rite of passage for many, although the level of participation has dwindled the past few years according to government reports. At the ceremony all the women dress in kimono and the men usually dress in suits. The city leaders such as the mayor give speeches to welcome everyone in to adulthood, and there’s usually a performance or concert that follows.

ceremony
Kawasaki's Coming of Age Ceremony 2015

This year I turned 20, and so I decided to participate in the coming of age ceremony as well. My host mother very generously let me wear her kimono from when she went to the ceremony. She also helped me make reservations at a salon to have my hair done and to have my kimono put on. Kimono are incredibly complicated to put on; two women at the salon helped wrap me nice and tight in all the layers of fabric and various ties. At first it was painful to wear, but it was definitely worth it. All the women looked beautiful in their kimono! They each have different colors and patterns, and the obi—the large bow-like arrangement in the back—are also of all different colors. I have never felt as beautiful as when wearing my kimono!

kimono back
My kimono from the back

At the ceremony location near my homestay, everyone was mingling with their high school classmates they haven’t met with in two years. Inside the stadium, even more people were gathered. My city is so big that the concert hall filled up both the ground floor and the first floor of stadium seats. After a drum performance by local middle school students, the mayor of Kawasaki and the various district government members gave their congratulations. The main attraction was a guitar performance by an up-and-coming celebrity called Rina Sumioka. It felt like an American graduation ceremony, but everyone was dressed for prom. After the ceremony, I went to lunch with a friend who happens to live in the same city and went to the ceremony as well.

milling
Waiting outside the ceremony

Almost all Japanese people have participated in the ceremony, and so it felt very special to say I have also had a coming of age ceremony. While some people in the United States have similar coming of age rituals such as Quinceanera or debuts, I never had such an experience. Also, since the Coming of Age Ceremony happens on the same day for everyone in the country on a national holiday called Coming of Age Day (成人の日), it felt like I was part of a greater Japanese experience. My host family was excited to see me in Kimono, I was excited to wear kimono, and overall it was a unique experience in which I was honored to participate.

 

01/17/2015

Sophia University’s Faculty of Liberal Arts: A Truly Global Experience

At Sophia University, in addition to a Japanese language course, CIEE students take classes in the Faculty of Liberal Arts (FLA). This faculty offers its classes in English. The classes are a mix of degree seeking and non-degree seeking international students, Japanese students that were raised abroad, and Japanese students that have never lived abroad but have very high English ability. With such a mix of students, I have found my FLA classes to be incredibly diverse, more so than my university in America.

This semester in FLA I took an intermediate Japanese class, Comparative Politics of Post-Communist States, Anthropology of Japan, and East Asian Media Flows. In every single class I found myself interacting with people from all over the world with very different perspectives and experiences than I have. Being able to hear different opinions and worldviews has been the best part of my academic experience here this semester. It has been both challenging and rewarding, and I think it is one of the best parts of studying abroad here at Sophia University.

skating
Ice skating with a German classmate


 

For example, my Comparative Politics of Post-Communist States class is a discussion-based class with a grand total of seven students. Three of us are Americans; there’s one Mongolian, one Japanese, one Mexican, and one Russian. In a class about Communist politics, talking with my Russian classmate – who has firsthand experience of Russia today and of the last few years of the Soviet Union – has been more interesting and more informative than any textbook. Mongolia was also a former Soviet country, and so having the Mongolian perspective also adds to a more personal connection between our class and the countries we’re studying. Moreover, the perspectives of how the world works and how international relations ought to be handled are completely different between my classmates at my university in America and my classmates here at Sophia. While my classmates in America always had their own opinions, their life experience was much more similar to mine; we were raised with similar educations, and so our worldview was more similar than different. Here in Japan, however, my classmates have vastly different educational and life experiences than what I have had. I have learned so much from my classmates in Japan. Although we sometimes disagree, we also have a lot in common, and we have all become good friends.

 

chocolate
German, Japanese, and Filipino classmates

Being in FLA has challenged me to question the assumptions upon which I base my view of the world. It has also challenged me to reexamine what it means to be an American in a foreign country. Through the perspectives of my classmates, I have learned to view my identity as an American from less of a privileged perspective and more from a sense of responsibility. Yet, more than that, being in FLA has taught me to appreciate the views from people all around the world. With classmates from Japan, Hong Kong, Hungary, Mexico, Russia, Germany, France, Taiwan, Belgium, Britain, Mongolia, and many other places, the classes in the FLA have given me an opportunity to learn about countries all over the world. It has also given me the opportunity to grow and learn in a global context, getting to know individuals that are all unique and all united by the experience of being in Japan. While I came to Japan to learn Japanese and to see the Japanese way of thinking – and I have been able to do so – I am glad to have encountered many other perspectives as well at Sophia University. 

Christmas in Kyoto- What we did during the winter break

For those of you who are studying abroad in the fall semester, there is a week and a half winter break. That might not seem like a long time, but the amount you can accomplish is amazing.

  WP_20141223_007

Personally I am not really a very Christmassy person, so not going home wasn't too big of a deal for me, but for others it was very hard not being able to be home with family during the holidays. But, what better way to counter that than to go out on an adventure in Japan with your friends?!

  10869465_10204665024558504_2948904765935620447_o

My friends and I decided to go to Kyoto for four days. Kyoto has been one of the cities that I have wanted to visit even before I came to Tokyo, so having the opportunity to go was amazing! Also, if you plan it right, you can go for a kind of insanely cheap price. We were able to go to Kyoto via train, get a hotel looking out over the Imperial Palace’s garden, and visit at least 5 shrines for about 150 dollars. Which is crazy cheap!

10865773_10204665017838336_1438484644092081567_o 

We started our adventure at around 9 in the morning and traveled by train for about 8 hours, which was a lot more fun than it sounds. The scenery was beyond beautiful! We passed the ocean, Mount Fuji, and beautiful forest landscapes. I didn’t realize just how big Mount Fuji was until we passed by it. Most mountains in Colorado are tall and connected, but Mount Fuji is a force of its own..

 

 

Once we arrived in Kyoto it was dark, but we were excited to have made it a good 8 hours away from Tokyo. And personally, for me, being so close to the mountains was amazing. It felt like home, being so close to them. Our fearless leader planned the rest of the days for us perfectly. We started off visiting beautiful temples and shrines,  but just being in the mountains and its calm nature was enough for me. Being out in the open all day surrounded by trees and flowers completely relaxed me from all the stresses of school. It was like time stopped for a while and I could enjoy Japan for all of its beauty without worrying about school.

WP_20141225_010
 

The atmosphere at each temple is hard to explain and is definitely something that you would have to experience for yourself. But the architecture and symbolism were beautiful. At the famous Kiyomizu-dera temple you could drink from one of three fountains depending on what you wished to be blessed with; love, good studies, or money. My friends and I each took a turn drinking from the fountain, hoping to be blessed with good luck for love, wealth, and studies. Even if you don't believe in that sort of thing, it is a cultural experience that you can only get here in Japan.

  WP_20141224_055

Another fun thing to do at shrines is buy omamori, which are little good luck charms for different aspects of life. When we visited the love shrine, my friend and I bought each other love-seeking charms for each other in hopes of finding some soon. While it was mostly just because they were cute, they are also a good way of remembering a fun time with friends in a new adventurous place. You can also buy your fortune for the New Year by paying 100 yen and then shaking this tin container and pulling out a stick with a number on it. You can get either a good or bad fortune depending on your luck. My friends seem to get the best fortunes! Getting fortunes was fun, but some of them were written only in Japanese, and translating them was challenging.

  WP_20141225_017

Besides going around to beautiful shrines and temples, just the time spent with friends was enough of a treat. During the school year things tend to get really busy, so finding time to hang out with friends is a great treat. Being able to relax and run around a new place together, get lost, create new memories, and try new food are wonderful memories that I am never going to forget. 

It’s important to remember your studies of course, but it is also important to give yourself mental breaks and enjoy your time here. You may be here only once, so take in everything you can and make the most of it. Winter break might be short, but if you plan right, you can pack it full of amazing adventures all over Japan.

WP_20141225_023
 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating New Year’s in Tokyo: Meiji Shrine

Hello, Hello! 

In case you didn’t know, New Year’s is a very busy and celebratory time of the year for Japan. Many people go home to their families outside of the city to have a family party and welcome in the New Year together. Thousands flock to any of the numerous shrines or temples around their area to bring in the New Year with good luck, and to pray for a prosperous and healthy year for themselves and their loved ones. It’s a touching and wonderful time of year, one I was able to share with my friends in Harajuku of all places!

New Years Meiji Jingo

Here we are walking up to Meiji Jingu! Notice the crowds…

My friends and I decided to bring in the New Year like many of the Japanese do and visited a shrine  to get a fortune for the year, and to wish us luck and good spirits. Specifically, we visited the very famous Meiji Shrine (or Meiji Jingu). On New Year’s Eve, we first set off from our dorm to get some good soba. Soba is traditionally eaten to promote good luck and a long life during this celebration. Luckily, our local train station had recently opened a new soba restaurant and we were able to get deliciously cheap soba to celebrate with.

After eating dinner, we made our way to the next station and boarded the Yamanote train line for Harajuku. Of course, I’m sure a few more hundred people had the same idea, and the trains were very crowded and rowdy. We could tell the excitement for the night was surely building up in the people around us. We managed to struggle through the crowds to get to the temple, and it was amazing! The entrance gate was illuminated nicely, and friendly police officers were escorting the floods of people to the shrine. Before even getting to the shrine, there was what seemed to me to be a huge food market, like at the State Fair. All types of food were offered, from traditional grilled fish stuffed with roe on sticks to Mexican tacos and Greek gyros. The choice of food and snacks was amazing and impressive!

IMG_2015

The choice of food here is glorious.

IMG_2012

Here we have grilled meats and the traditional fish on a stick.

There were plenty of souvenirs to pick up as well in the many gift shops that were open on the shrine grounds. They boasted some of the largest collection of “typical traditional” Japanese gifts I’ve seen since getting here. The options ranged from fans to small wooden toys to mini dolls and Kabuki masks and even purses. They had an adorable Hello Kitty doll in a beautiful kimono for sale that I was very tempted to get.

IMG_2011

Oh, how I wanted this so badly! 

As midnight approached, my friends and I stood in line to get to the actual shrine and pray for the New Year. The line was massive, at least a couple hundred people pouring in from all directions of the shrine. The police had the lines moving very neatly and quickly. Though we waited for over an hour and a half, it passed quickly as sections of people were allowed to go up to the shrine at a time. However, midnight struck while we were in line! It was fun though, since people around us were counting down from the 30-second mark in at least three distinct languages. It was a very powerful and unforgettable moment. By the time we got to the front of the shrine where we could toss our 5 yen coins and make a prayer, it was past midnight, but we were there in the early hours of the New Year, so I believe our luck still counted. Naturally, I prayed for academic success in the upcoming year and the happiness of my friends and family. I could have probably solidified it more if I had gotten one of the nice little charms they were selling right outside of the main shrine building, but I did get a nice fortune for my troubles.

Now, it’s apparently good luck to watch the first sunrise of the New Year, and since the trains to our dorm were closed off, my friends and I decided that it would be best to spend the next 5 hours inside a karaoke place. We took the next train to Shinjuku and did karaoke until 5am! Somehow my voice recovered. It was an amazing time with amazing friends.

IMG_2036

Karaoke! We drank a lot of coffee and melon soda to keep us going until 5am!

We headed back to Harajuku to catch the sunrise, since it was supposed to rise at 6:50ish. We needed food so we went to the local McDonald’s, but unfortunately we ended up staying in there for too long and missed the initial sun-rising. It was such a funny moment; to know that we spent our lucky sunrise hours in a McDonald’s eating 100yen apple pies. I mean, the sun was still rising so I still count it in my head, though one of my friends was crushed!

Overall, it was an amazing experience and I think that going to a shrine like this on New Year’s would definitely be worth the time. It didn’t cost too much, we got great food at the shrine, we sang karaoke for 4 hours straight, and we spent the morning in a McDonald’s. I can’t imagine a better scenario.

Thanks for reading, and may the New Year bring you happiness and good luck! 

Leilani 

CIEE FA14 

Class of 2015