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05/07/2012

My oh my how time flies

Please don't remind me that we're over a third of the way through the semester. Please.

Golden Week is coming to a close, and classes will start again tomorrow, and then time will just hop on by. 

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Vegetable udon in Nikko

The first day of Golden week, I went to Nikko with three of my friends to hike. 

And to see the monkeys. Everyone I've asked says there are monkeys in Nikko, but we didn't see any. They must have been on vacation.

Or maybe we were just in the wrong part of Nikko. 

We walked towards Toshogu Nikko, one of UNESCO's "Shrines and Temples of Nikko," which was built in 1617 by Tokugawa Hidetada for his father, Tokugawa Ieyasu. We had to keep stopping and asking people where to see the monkeys. One person said they would be right up the road, in the shrine, so to the shrine we went. It wasn't until we got to the gate that I remembered, I've been here before, 3 years ago with my parents. The monkeys at Toshogu aren't real monkeys, they're carved into the wood, saying "hear no evil, "see no evil," and "speak no evil." 

Let's call this a learning experience.

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Buy all the monkey souvenirs. We stopped in here on the way for monkey souvenirs, and, needless to say, I'll have enough souvenirs to last me a few years.

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Hanging up her wish at the shrine. It will be burned at the end of the day and carried on the smoke to the gods.

Sunday we spent in Harajuku, at the Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade, a small parade around the hub of Harajuku, one of the cheaper shopping districts in west Tokyo. It wasn't as big as a parade in, say, Los Angeles or San Francisco, but I wonder if queer issues are featured less in Japanese politics than in American politics. My friend explained to me that, though LGBTQ people in Japan don't have as many rights as they do in the States, it also isn't as hot a topic. LGBTQ life is tacitly accepted, not condemned, so they must not feel the need to fight as hard or as loudly for equal recognition. 

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The Nyan-cat car!

A break from excitement was needed after that weekend, so I decided to take it easy on Monday. We met up near campus and went to Ginza together, to find the candy store in Tokyo Station that sells an array of kit-kats in various flavors, and then out of the station for Kimuraya, the first shop in Japan to sell an-pan (red bean paste buns). 

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I was told before coming to Japan that I needed to find the kit-kats and ice cream, and I've since discovered that, not only do they have as many flavors of kit-kats as one can imagine, as well as of ice cream, they also love soft cream (a softer version of ice cream.) We each planned out how many we'd buy, and started a small kit-kat trading circle. But they were better than trading cards. We had red bean paste, molasses, blueberry cheesecake, strawberry cheesecake, wasabi, red pepper, strawberry, orange, and cherry blossom/green tea. 

And then we had an-pan from Kimuraya. 

Inspired by our sweet-filled evening, I decided I wanted to do a weekly pastry tour of the city, trying one new place each week, so I created a Facebook group called Tokyo Sweets, where I create an event each week for a new destination. Last Wednesday was Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi, the basement of which has a whole floor of famous patisseries, and this week I'm going to Namjatown in Ikebukuro for the tens of flavors of ice cream they have.

If you look hard enough, you can find anything. 

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Because we hadn't made any plans to go out of Tokyo for our vacation, we decided this week was the best time to go to Tokyo Disney. I've only ever been to Florida Disney (Disney World), because I live in North Carolina and go down to Florida occasionally. Though I go to school in Los Angeles, I still haven't been to the California Disneyland (shame.) We went to Disney Sea, right next to Disneyland, with some water-themed attractions, and organized into geographic regions. 

It was pouring, but we powered through, making our way around "New York," "Cape Cod," the wilderness, Ariel's underwater palace, and Agrabbah, while grabbing the oddly-flavored popcorn at each stop. They had strawberry, curry, milk tea, and others. Curry popcorn is something I need to do often. 

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The koma-tora of Agrabbah; Shinto shrines are marked by "koma-inu," guardian dogs flanking the entrance. In this case, there are tigers, "tora." You can tell the koma-inu by their mouths: the one on the right is voicing the Sanskrit syllable "ah," and the one on the left, "m," together saying "om," the primordial syllable, from which creation springs. 

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Slightly distressed by how much money I spent during orientation and the first few weeks of school on food, and my lack of non-food cultural experiences, I decided to do my own weekly tours of Tokyo, choosing a new theme each week. I started with Shinto shrines (and also visited a Buddhist monument), and then moved onto parks. This week will be art galleries and museums. 

Unforunately, the weather was just slightly more than detestable the day I wanted to go to the parks, and I woke up late because my clock was an hour off (I blame gremlins), so I only went to two of the four locations I had planned: Shinjuku Gyoen and 21_21 Design Sight, an art gallery on top of Tokyo Midtown (I'd planned on going to two parks in Roppongi, but decided to stay close to Midtown and went to the gallery instead.) 

Shinjuku Gyoen was created as a garden for the Tokugawa shogun family, in the middle of Shinjuku. It consists of 3 sections: the Formal French section, the British section, and the Japanese Traditional section. The greenhouse was under construction, so I walked around the first part, which I assume was the British section based on the looks. And on my way back to the station, I discovered a curry restaurant.

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The point of my explorations is to force myself to see things I hadn't heard of or thought to see, and to go away from the train stations. On my way to each location, I might get lost and discover a whole side to the district I'd never seen, or I might go to a district I hadn't yet visited. When you're abroad, you should take the initiative to see what's around, and go out of your way to discover something new. Also, you should do things you might not have imagined yourself doing (like eating octopus-flavored ice cream, or riding a rollercoaster in pouring rain.)

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21_21 Design Sight is a design museum that focuses on reimaginations of everyday ideas and objects, and is located on top of the Roppongi Metro, and luckily you can walk underground all the way up to the front door. The current exhibit, which will end after our program in August, is called "Tema Hima: The Foods of Tohoku," and is about food and crafts from Tohoku. The exhibit follows one on clothes by Issey Miyake, one of Japan's greatest fashion designers, and pays homage to the area affected by the earthquake last year. Entrance to the museum is 800 yen, but I highly recommend the price, as being inside is a more calming experience than perhaps any monastery can show you.

 

I've finally figured out how to balance my time between my CIEE friends, studying, exploring on my own, getting to know my family, and engaging in extra curriculars. I wouldn't say my schedule is consistent, but I always enjoy the surprises I find each week, and welcome any challenge to try something new. 

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