Study Abroad in
CIEE strives to provide students with as many opportunities as possible to immerse themselves in Japanese culture. One way we do this is by offering a number of activities throughout the program, including a daytrip to Kamakura City during the onsite orientation period just after students arrive. In Fall 2016 we continued this tradition and enjoyed a gorgeous sunny day at the city that served as Japan’s capital from the late 12th to early 14th century.
Kamakura is rich in culture and history. It was during the Kamakura period that the samurai warrior class emerged to play a significant role in Japanese society. It is also the home of world-renowned cultural and religious sites. During our daytrip, local guides took us on a tour of three important sites: Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Hasedera Temple, and the Great Buddha Statue. By seeing these sites and hearing the guides’ explanations firsthand, students had a helpful introduction to Japanese religious traditions; knowledge that is important to understanding the fundamentals of Japanese culture and society.
In addition to the Kamakura daytrip and other immersive activities, during the onsite orientation we conduct sessions on academics, daily life and cultural adaptation, and health and safety. We place great importance on all these subjects, and where health and safety are concerned we go above and beyond to help ensure the wellbeing of our students. As in past semesters, we visited the Life Safety Learning Center (LSLC), a facility operated by the Tokyo Fire Department where people are welcome to learn how to respond to emergency situations. Under the guidance of LSLC staff, students experienced a simulated earthquake and learned how to best protect themselves, learned how to escape a simulated burning building, and learned how to properly operate a fire extinguisher. Through the LSLC visit and other safety-related activities and discussions, we’re confident that students gain the tools to enjoy their life in Japan in a safe and responsible way.
A day at Mt. Fuji
One of the benefits living in DK house Nerima is that we have many discounts for a lot of events happening in Tokyo. For me Mt. Fuji was on my bucket list before I even came to japan, so when there was a one day trip to Fuji mountain, I didn’t thought twice about signing up!
We met at 六本木 at 7 am next to the love sign, it took a while for everyone to gather, and I was surprised that most of the people going on this trip was tourists instead of students. Although many of them were elders, they spoke fluent English, and was able to communicate perfectly. At first I was kind of shy and afraid to talk to anyone, luckily someone from my dorm was also going, so I had someone to share my thoughts about my excitement about going on this trip! (picture 1)
The tour guy explained on the way to our first stop that Mt. Fuji can only be climbed during July to early September due to snow and other purposes, but we were very lucky that day because the weather was perfect that day so we get to take some really great picture with our eyes.
Our first stop was Lake Kawaguchi(one of Fuji five lakes), it was there I had my first clear view of Mt. Fuji , my first impression of it was elegant and full of love from the glaze of the sun. At the lake(picture 2) the water was really clear and we could see the natural reflection of mountain Fuji, back in where I lived all the pools and lakes were heavily polluted.
Next we went to Oshino Eight Seas, here we can see a lot of Japanese traditions and rural views which we don’t normally see in Tokyo. This is where I realized that I was no longer in the fancy part of japan. Instead I saw smiles after smiles, the pace was slower and the attitude was warmer. I bought some souvenirs and postcards to send to my friends, the old lady at the store even went to Taipei 20 years ago, for some reason, my heart felt really warm while I was here, and I’m pretty sure the sun was not the reason for it.(picture 3)
For lunch which was covered in the money we paid at the beginning of the trip, we went to Oshino ninja village, where we had all kinds of food from sushi to a small hotpot, they were probably afraid that some of the tourist wasn’t used to Japanese food so they also had some American food such as potato fries and fried chicken. As we were eating, a ninja came in and everyone wanted a picture with her(picture 4) After taking pictures she performed martial arts in front of everyone, and it was really fun to see her running around with swords. I personally would give this lunch a 4 star out of 5 , even if this was a buffet the quality of the food was pretty delicious.
Then we went to the highlight of the trip, fifth station of mt fuji, this is the closest we can get to mt fuji, up there it felt like heaven because the clouds were under us and the scenery was absolutely stunning, we could see the snow on top of mt fuji very clearly. Unfortunately I forgot my jacket on the bus so I was the only one in the area that was wearing a t-shirt. Upon looking at mt fuji I started to understand why it has such a large place in Japanese peoples’ hearts, after world war 2 , it stood there in the bad times and the good times, great weather, typhoons and earthquakes, it stood there strong and confident. （picture5 and 6）
Before we went back to 新宿station and back to reality, we went to fuji q to experience a 4D plane ride, it was a really interesting event, we could smell the flowers and the feel the wind. We stopped at the food park near it to grab some food, I had a mt. fuji bread to end the trip, needless to say, it was delicious. (picture 7,8,)
I hope to come back again and hike mountain fuji next year if possible , before then I will always have mountain fuji in my mind!
A NIGHT IN SHIBUYA
It’s almost Halloween, back in the USA where I studied for the last 3 years, at this point of the time you can already see a lot of Halloween decorations. From downtown atmosphere to school starbucks, it’s always surrounded by this magical holiday. Luckily I’m in Tokyo, the place where Halloween is a must dress-up as well. From professors to newspapers, the place everybody recommends you to go for the Halloween weekend is Shibuya.
Before the Halloween holiday, I’ve only been to Shibuya once for a dinner meeting with my Chinese friends. My memory of Shibuya is just a place with the famous Shibuya crossing, not a super fancy place like Shinjuku but a place with many delicious restaurants. After the night of the Halloween weekend everything changed.
I’m in a club in Sohpia university called Sophia Communication, members have lunch 3 times a week together to talk about different cultures and interesting things about japan or their lives. They have big events every month, from hiking to trips around Tokyo, and for October they have a Halloween party in Shibuya on 10/31.
After I picked up a costume at Donkihote, a magician costume (picture 1 ), I was ready to shine the night, our dorm had a small party from 4 to 6 which suits me perfectly because the party at Shibuya starts at 6:30, everyone in the dorm had already dressed up.(picture 23456).
You can see that a lot of people in the dorm like to play with makeup as fake blood which is a pretty genius idea. However I do not like the feeling of something sticking on my face for more than 10 seconds. Needless to say I rejected the idea of having paints on my face, but I did put some on my arm just for fun. After a couple of soft drinks and cookies I was ready to go to Shibuya with my friends to enjoy the night!
As we arrived in Shibuya station, the girls had nowhere to change their costumes because all the restrooms in the station was closed and not allowed to change. So we had to go to 7 eleven to change, as you can imagine the place was crowded. And it was at a point where if we didn’t hold each other’s hand we would get separated by the crowd. Every inch of the Shibuya crossing was covered by nothing more than dressed people. While we were on our way, we had the luxury to see a lot of well-dressed people around us. Many of them was taking pictures with each other. I had the chance on our way to take a few with many well prepared strangers, the most we seen was joker and little red riding hood for the costumes at Shibuya.(picture 7891011).
After 40 minutes walking which was supposed to be 15 min on google map, we finally arrived at the party sohpia communication had prepared for us. We were in a small club that was booked specifically for us, there was music and movies playing on the screen tvs around us. Everyone was talking to each other, complementing on each others costumes and how the “traffic” outside was stuck. For the last 30 minutes of the party we played games sharing the love of Halloween, I even won a small souvenir to brag about when we left the party at 9.(picture 1213141516)
At that time the crowd outside wasn’t as much as when it was 6, the funny part was that as we were getting out of the club, there were a group of people dressing like Donald trump and Hilary Clinton and arguing with each other, it sure captured everyone’s attention and gave us all a good laugh.
The train was indeed packed with thousands of people on one train, but I safely arrived home before 12, I think this was a great experience but to be honest I don’t know if I want to do this again as I have no idea how I survived the crowd that was swallowing me!
Our time in Japan is comparable to eating delicious cake at a fantastic, but expensive bakery, which for the sake of this metaphor, everyone enjoys. Make the cake any flavor or without eggs so that you too can enjoy it and attempt to decipher this seemingly nonsensical connection.
Everyone wants to eat the cake, some more than others, but you want to eat slow enough to savor the unique flavor. You’re well aware that eating too much is unhealthy and will possibly ruin your life. For the sake of this comparison you are also now a health conscious foreigner. Fearing too many calories and desiring to be fit, you eventually realize that you need to stop eating. Thankfully, you can always come back for more cake next year, month or maybe if you have the cash, week. If you thought, why don’t I just go back for more cake tomorrow, this bakery is only open once a week on weekends. In even more cringe worthy terms, the cake is Japan. I’m going to risk talking in absolutes and say that everyone enjoyed Japan, but it is time to stop indulging and return home. Some of us may never again revel in this flavor, while others might purchase stock in the bakery and eat the cake everyday for the rest of their lives.
This post is a sequel to my Reflections of a College Gaijin blog, but stands on its own stronger than Episodes 1-3 of “Star Wars,” so feel free to squander your time here instead of aimlessly scrolling through Facebook or Snapchat.
Sophia University is small enough to fit on this page. The short walk across campus to Building 11 is about seven minutes, the same time it takes to eat five pieces of quality sushi. The most memorable feature is the giant billboard in the center highlighting “Mr. and Ms. Sophia Contests.” I can only imagine beauty contests in American colleges leading to certain disaster, but that’s probably because I go to George Washington University were even the slightest off hand comment can spiral into a bloody political debate to the death.
Classes back home felt like “The Flash” creating a vigorous whirlwind on the streets compared to Sophia University’s subtle breeze gently caressing cherry blossoms into the cool spring air. CIEE staff member Darren, the real MVP of the trip, emphasized the commitment behind Intensive Japanese like Gandalf blocking the path of evil yelling “You Shall Not Pass” in “The Lord of the Rings.” But there’s a light at the end of the patronus. Even though no one knew what form their trip would take, we all gained something and unlike most of the cast of “Game of Thrones,” we did not die. With “Pokémon Go” currently unavailable in Japan, a few injuries and “Fox News” cameos were likely avoided.
Walking to the top of Miyajima wasn’t rough, yet I still offered to carry a friend’s bag. That friend happened to be a girl! GASP! Commence gossip. Rumors with less evidence supporting them than OJ Simpson on trial are likely to spread even in college. Japan was a wonderful experience, but neglecting some of the darker aspects of study abroad that more than likely exist in every college experience would be a shame.
Not everyone gets along and some people cannot be friends: Light Yagami and L from “Death Note,” Pepsi and Coke, and the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. Making two friends would be lucky, but I made more than I’d typically see on a Friday night back home. Insert first world problem about neglecting friends to hang out with other friends because there are too many great people on the program here.
Hand me a gavel because I’ll be the first to admit I’m quick to judge, but that doesn’t mean I don’t change my opinion of people once I get to know them. The best advice I can give future CIEE students is to talk to as many people as you can. Some people might eventually act differently because they became comfortable enough to be themselves around you like a not so cute Siamese cat, or removed the mask they wore in hopes of making more friends to show their true colors. Hopefully their actual color is compatible with your zodiac sign.
Many people make friends with students outside of CIEE, including local and other exchange students, or never even talk to other CIEE students, and that’s daijoubu (okay). If staying in your room and going to Akihabara alone is your idea of experiencing Japan, then proudly do so. There’s no correct way to study abroad, only your way.
There’s still the irritating classmate that asks the teacher a question they’ve already answered and sounds like a plastic from “Mean Girls,” that dude who lifts weights instead of a pencil and cannot for the life of him say anything other than “wakarimasen” (I don’t understand) when the teacher calls on him, the annoying group talking far louder than they realize about something no one cares about, and the ones that fall asleep while playing trendy phone games like “Tsum Tsum.” Everyone studies abroad for different reasons, education not always being one of them.
Smokers in restaurants that are harder to avoid than crowds of shoppers rushing to grab free samples at Costco, locals attempting to abduct you into mysterious church cults quicker than Tom Cruise can whisk away one million dollars into the intellectual abyss called scientology, and salary men that probably served as templates for storm troopers robotically meandering around Tokyo conspiring to nonchalantly inconvenience you on trains are a few of my other complaints.
In Yelp terms I’d give Japan five stars and $$$. The rest would be unwritten, not to reference Natasha Bedingfield, but because my experience in Japan was drastically different compared to what I’ve known and come to expect. The best explanation is to see it for yourself.
Getting lost in Narita Airport felt like a foreboding start to my time in Japan. However, our stories almost never turn out the way we draft them. My story isn’t anything special. I’m merely a gaijin (foreigner) in college walking the spotless Tokyo streets, spending spare change trying new and unusual drinks and snacks at the konbini (convenience store), and braving rush hour trains just to experience a local festival or landmark. Sure I can continue writing about typical tourism and study abroad activities, but I felt it would be best to finish my blogs with something different. Here’s a small glimpse into a book only I can open. Unfortunately my book isn’t narrated by Peter Falk like “The Princess Bride” or by Morgan Freeman like we all wish, but part of it features pages we all turn.
I was more than just a gaijin in the Japanese sense. I entered the country with little to no experience hanging out in big groups or being excessively social. Happiness came easily enough through a handful of friends a few days a week. Other days, I enjoyed almost every introverted activity from reading to movies to gaming. Japanese culture shock combined with the challenges of basically starting college over to create a tremor that could have easily shaken my life to pieces. Staying optimistic, I slowly walked over to the CIEE staff member at the airport and began a journey far longer than my plane ride.
Jet lag could not stop the excitement of our first morning in Japan and neither could waking up early for CIEE orientation. Random group assignments placed me into group 7 and introduced me to a few of my friends. Thankfully there was not an otaku (A socially awkward person obsessed with something) or weeb (you’re probably better off Googling this one) in sight. The rest of CIEE were on average third years like me. The real difference in years came from our experience with the language. Turns out knowing little to no Japanese in Tokyo does not hamper the experience. Having friends well versed in the language really helps though, so if you somehow happen to be reading this, lack confidence in your language skills and aren’t my mom, make friends to use, I mean enjoy, Japan to the fullest.
Before starting any group activities we needed to elect leaders. Leadership in these instances almost justifies pushing people around, but also requires unnecessary effort so I abstained. At the same time I forced Ellyn into the position and the almost omnipresent indecisive millennial attitude of our group let me have my way. It didn’t take long for me to paint myself as the villain. Although Ellyn didn’t actively want the role, you can easily tell she cares more than the average person about everyone else, making her a great kaicho (leader). My point isn’t to praise my friend. Understanding your peers is more important when studying abroad in Japan because if you’re like me then good luck attempting to befriend local students when you can only tell them your name, school and country for the first month of classes.
DK House (I tricked many people into thinking DK stood for Donkey Kong) offered the college dorm experience I wanted freshman year: single rooms for privacy, a large lounge to hangout and kitchen facilities to unleash my inner Gordon Ramsay. Other students reading this might quickly write me off saying, but cockroaches! Strict visiting rules! Small dungeon like bedrooms! Hmm, good counter points past Tim. However, keep your room clean and your window closed to avoid attracting roaches. The one time a roach snuck up on me was because I accidentally left my window open all day. Manly screams were uttered. No help came, so after my friends refused my requests, with my favorite refusal being, “I’m just the comic relief,” I shamelessly asked the dorm manager to play grim reaper for me. The visiting hours aren’t really an issue when you realize other people want to rest peacefully at night and pay to stay here, while visitors do not. Feel free to post an angry message on my Facebook wall if I’m wrong about the small bedrooms, but none of us paid to come to Japan to sit in our rooms all day.
The biggest complaint about the dorm is the fifty-minute commute to school. Trains in Japan are fantastic, except when you’re face to face with a 50-year-old businessman on a cramped train during rush hour. My personal highlight was when a group of people exiting carried me away while all I could do was reach my hand out to friends and make faces as if reenacting the scene in the “Lion King” where Mufasa dies in the stampede. Remember those corny scenes in a romantic anime when a guy bumps into his love interest on a train because of turns or other people pushing? Well, they’re definitely believable now.
Plutonic relationships during this trip were similar to gachapon machines. All of the options were laid out in front of us. We could walk over to any gachapon or interesting person, except you never knew what was inside until you stepped forward and took a risk. Romance is still as mysterious and dangerous as ever, maybe even more so in Japan because of cultural differences. Thought you had trouble approaching a girl/guy in America, well how about approaching a girl/guy that might not speak your language? Can’t say I’ve tried.
I can only fit so many reflections in one blog post, so I’m cheating the system with a sequel post called Confessions of a College Gaijin. In the meantime, thank you very mochi for reading. The next time someone is angry with you just say control your tempura. Maybe even say udon know me, if appropriate, or what chu tako bout? I’ll see miso out on the next Shinkansen (bullet train).
I first said goodbye to home as a bright-eyed 17 year old, embarking on her first adventure away. Besides a few trips out-of-state for a science competition (yes, I know), I knew little more than the admittedly large area that comprises Los Angeles County. Cliché as it was, I felt like the entire world was at my fingertips. Goodbye was a word that was wagging on the tip of my tongue.
Goodbye this time is a stone in my stomach. Goodbye this time tastes like melancholy and missed opportunities. It lingers like a threat. I found home in Japan, and sometimes I doubt whether the home I left behind is still waiting.
And of course it is. But it’s hard to remember; especially when I'm in the midst of what I can confess is simply a dreamy escape. It’s hard to remember when I look at the kind faces of my host parents, who I may never get to see again. It’s hard to remember when I’m getting a delicious meal can cost as little as $3 at a convenience store. It’s been especially hard when I make my daily walk home, and realize how all routines come to an end.
I took a walk with my host mother to fetch groceries over the weekend. We had lunch at the same restaurant that she first took me to. When we first met, we wore coats and warmed our hands as we quietly admired the cherry blossoms. This time, we fanned our faces and sought out shade in the pauses in our conversation. Coming to Japan wasn’t easy, but like the weather, my world has warmed. I found contentment. I really did. And how can I say goodbye to something I’ve only just encountered?
And I don’t know. But I’m trying. Please believe me, I’m trying. And some of my fellow students might be ready to leave. But others will be just like me, waiting in apprehension. Fearing the weekends because it means one weekend less. Trying to squeeze in everything you “would find time for later.” Whining to friends about the possibility of returning.
But I’m trying. And it’s still July 11, and I don’t leave until August 5. So I don’t know when attempting becomes succeeding. But, I’m learning to say goodbye, I am. And I don’t know if it’s working, but it’s what I’ve been trying.
I stopped trying to think about the world as ending. I thought to possibility. I looked to the future I put on pause, and realized how much is ahead of me. I agonized over job hunting, and grimaced at requirements (Royce Fellowship—why!) I looked back to family, and back to friends who had stood beside me from the very beginning. Goodbye carries finality, but it doesn’t always have to. The world spins onward, and so do we. I love Japan, I do. But the first part of learning to say goodbye is recognizing that I need to.
So when the time comes, goodbye Japan. Thank you. Maybe I’ll see you again.