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12 posts from May 2014

05/29/2014

The Northern Island

    It seems like everybody in Japan wants to visit Hokkaido, and for good reason.  The food is good, the air is fresh, and people are nice.  I was convinced to visit Sapporo before coming to Japan after watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations television show, Sapporo edition. 

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            Getting to Sapporo from Tokyo is a simple one and one half hour plane ride, which is seemingly nothing after the 14 hour plane ride from New York to Tokyo.  We immediately went to our hostel after landing, and we were pleasantly surprised to find our room to be traditional Japanese style, with Tatami mats and Futon.  After unpacking, we quickly headed to the famous ramen street of Sapporo, only a five minute walk from our hostel.  We all ordered butter-soy sauce-miso-corn ramen, and devoured the entire bowl.  Even after a huge bowl of ramen, we were still hungry, so we headed for Hokkaido Milk Ice Cream.  It was a great night of food. 

            The next morning we woke up early to head to Mt. Moiwa, taking the historic streetcar of Sapporo to get there.  To get up the mountain, we took a ropeway half way up, and then walked the rest.  During our walk, we encountered an older man who talked to us for about thirty minutes about what we were doing in Japan, a great experience for us to talk to a local and practice our Japanese.  The view at the top was indescribable.  On one side, there was a complete view of all of Sapporo city, and the other was a beautiful view of the mountains.  IMG_5822

            After our descent down the mountain, we headed to Maruyama Park, where we were able to view the last of the Sakura blooming.  However, it seemed as though every citizen of Sapporo was barbequing and picnicking.  It seems like it would be amazing to be a local and hang out at the park on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.  We ended our day with more of the delicious, creamy ice cream. 

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            On our last day in Sapporo, we went to the outskirts of the city to go to the Shiroi Kobito Chocolate factory, where they make the most delicious white chocolate cookies.  Outside of the factory is a gorgeous park with old-style, German style architecture and fields of flowers.  Inside the factory, you can watch the cookies being made, as well as learn the history of the factory and the cookies. 

            After our chocolate factory adventure, we headed back to Sapporo station, but had extra time so walked to another park; Sapporo people really appreciate the outdoors.  There, we saw people playing violin, people dancing, and more picnickers.  We picked up some famous Hokkaido cheese to eat during our stroll throughout the park.  At the end of the park, we found two slides that looked “natural” or as if they should be in the park, as they were carved of stone, on which children were playing.  When we decided to go on the slides, we received many stares and smiles.  IMG_5929

            It was difficult to leave Sapporo, as there was so much to see.  I hope to return to Hokkaido, to explore some of the more rural sections.  When in Japan, Sapporo is a must see. 

Fresh Air and Mountains

Tokyo is a great city, yet a prolonged stay can make you feel claustrophobic with crowds and endless lines.  We were finally able to escape the swarms of people and jam packed trains through a getaway to the mountains of central Honshu. 

            Our first stop was Kamikouchi, a picturesque, Japanese national park that has the nickname of the “Japanese Yosemite.”  Located in the Hida Mountains, which also bears a nickname, the “Japan alps,” it is a three and half hour bus ride from Shinjuku station.  Luckily, the view from the bus was breathtaking enough to make the time pass quickly.  IMG_5599

            Upon arrival, we immediately noticed the drastic temperature difference from Tokyo (Tokyo being around 65 degrees Fahrenheit and Kamikouchi being only about 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  After leaving one of New York’s harshest winters in late March, I hoped to see snow for the last time until next year, but there was an abundance of snow up in the mountains. 

            After a five minute walk from the station, Mt. Hotoka is in sight and your consciousness of the cold is gone.  There are a few hiking trails to follow from there, with different ranges of difficulties, and we chose the middle difficulty.  It was about a 2 hour hike to Lake Taisho, an gorgeous lake formed by a volcanic eruption.  We headed back soon after to catch our bus to our next stop, and in the time in between, stopped at a gift shop, where you could buy all types of Kappa goods.  Prior to this, I was not entirely sure what a Kappa was, but it is a figure from Japanese legend, and an inspiration for characters in Japanese games (like koopa troopas for anyone who plays Mario games). 

            We were greeted by the owners of the hostel at which we were staying at the station of Matsumoto, and the were kind enough to drive us to the hostel from the station.  The best part of the hostel may have been the hospitality of the owners.  After an exhausting day of hiking, our stomachs needed food A.S.A.P. and in large quantities.  We asked the owners there suggestion, and they immediately pointed us in the direction of locally famous ramen shop.  I’m not sure if it is because I was extremely hungry, but that was the best ramen I’ve in Japan up to this point.  IMG_5734

            The next day we got an early start, and headed to Matsumoto castle.  A traditional style Japanese castle, Matsumoto is a beautiful sight.  Leading up to the castle were some vendors and small shops, where we were able to find vintage post cards and maps of Japan, as well as Taiyaki for the road.  

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            Our next stop was Nagano.  To get to Nagano, we took the most scenic train ride.  Once in Nagano, our goal was to eat soba, for which Nagano is famous.  We asked some locals for opinions on the best soba, and they led us to a place hidden in a basement.  We entered, and it was very traditional and filled with all the local people.  We were served the best soba that anyone could ever want. 

            Soon after, we headed to Zenkoji temple.  On the way, we got the creamiest, and best ice cream of Japan ice cream on the way.  We were also asked to be on video with a bull for some television show.  At the temple, we were lucky enough to view a Buddhist ritual outside of the temple.  After viewing the grounds and gardens, we picked up some sweet potato ice cream and headed back to the station.  We were stopped again on the way, this time for an interview for a television show in Nagano, asking us whether we knew what basket of edamame was or not.  From there, it was time to go home.  

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            Our trip out of Tokyo was refreshing; we breathed fresh air, ate good food, and saw some of the most beautiful natural sights of Japan.  This would be the inspiration for more many more trips away from Tokyo. 

Tori in Toei

Deciding to go to the Toei Studio Amusement Park was one of many moments I have had during my study abroad experience where I have said to myself afterwards, “I’m really glad I decided to try something new.” I had just gotten back to Kyoto station as part of our CIEE weekend trip to Kyoto and Nara, and though it was the early afternoon, I was absolutely exhausted. My group had just trekked around the Arashiyama mountain, exploring the famous Tenryuji temple and passing through the beautiful bamboo forest, and I was about ready for a nap. But when we arrived to Kyoto station and were standing outside the bus to Eigamura, I asked myself when I would ever be making this specific choice again, and so I chose to get on the bus. 

Only five of us (four students and a CIEE staff member) took the trip to Toei, and out of all of them I think I knew the least about Toei--and probably Japanese animation in general. My two good friends both had a wealth of information about Japanese animation, and were also familiar with Toei productions. For me knowing nothing, I chose this activity because it was truly a unique experience, something I was completely unfamiliar with. 

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Because we got to the park in the later afternoon, we missed a lot of the crowds and fanfare that were probably there in the morning. But the lack of people actually allowed us to really do whatever we wanted with minimal waiting time. We only had an hour and a half before the park closed, so we randomly picked a nearby event: a live Goemon producton. I had only ever heard of the name Goemon through Nintendo 64, but my friends told me that he was a very popular character known to many Japanese people. I was sort of surprised by the audience, as really there were kids of all ages watching this performance. 

After a short introduction, this dude with crazy red hair (Goemon) jumped out onto the stage and was soon fighting these completely ninja-attired ninjas. Not only were the costumes amazing with colors like in a comic book, but somehow they had synchronized a projector to give life to the background, the illusion of other ninjas, and huge flames. Soon, a girl dressed in lighter colors flipped onto the stage and began fighting Goemon, and it seemed that from that point on everyone became extremely acrobatic: they cartwheeled and did backflips to avoid their opponent’s blade, jumped onto the stage from a balcony--all complete with the sound effects of swords clashing and this intense video-gamey fight music. In all, there were only five actors (not including the narrator) who put on this production, and by the end, everyone was clapping and turning to their neighbor excitedly saying, “Sugoiii!” 

The production lasted only about half an hour, so we moseyed around until we came to a gift shop. Inside they had a plethora of equipment and garb, anything from ninja stars to kamikaze headbands. We were admiring the samurai swords in a glass case when a shop attendant came over and encouraged us to try holding them. Because they were replicas and not real swords they could be taken on a plane (in your checked luggage), but they were a lot heavier than they looked and actually pretty dangerous. The attendant showed us how to properly unsheathe a sword, with the blade facing towards you allowing you to draw it out and immediately face your opponent. I had always wondered why Zatoichi would slide his blade against his fingers as he sheathed his sword, thinking that it served to wipe off the blood of his enemies. The attendant told me that this actually served the purpose of guiding the blade back to its sheath, and when he quickly sheathed the sword it looked really awesome. 

He also showed us over to a box of black daggers, and taking one, demonstrated that it was an envelop opener on a paper he pulled from his pocket. Then, he stuck the thing in my stomach and I instinctively jumped back thinking it would be sharp, but it turned out that it was only rubber. So I bought the trick dagger and fooled a bunch of the other CIEE students later that day. 

We then tried our luck at ninja-star throwing, but only one of us was able to hit the perimeter of the target. 

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Holding one of the four tips of the star, you then pull the star back towards your hand slightly, raise it over your head, and throw it as if throwing a baseball. I think we all wished we could have thrown more of those stars, as it was extremely satisfying. 

Our last event was another production, but very different from Goemon. Here, there were only three actors--a director, a good samurai, and a bad ninja--who performed on a real movie set complete with buildings and realistic-looking natural background. They were separated from us by glass windows, but right in front of the stage sat a cameraman whose video projected onto televisions. They comedically demonstrated how they could give off the illusion of being in the forest by holding a branch over the corner of the lens--as well as other camera tricks. Then they enacted an action sequence as if they were filming, which was amazing because it involved live fighting and prop effects like an arrow sliding on a thin line. By the end they had everyone roaring with laughter.

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I hope to visit Kyoto again in the future, and when I do, I am definitely going back to Toei to explore the other attractions and events. 

Adventures in Aikikai

After testing out a few different clubs during the first weeks of the semester, I decided to join Sophia University’s Aikikai circle. Aikikai is a sub-discipline of Aikido, and the main sensei who teaches the group is apparently the grandson of the Aikikai founder. 

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What impresses me most about the circle is how well they blend a sense of professionalism and composure with genuine friendliness. During the practices, everyone is extremely focused on learning the moves; yet the senpai (older or more experienced students) who help the new students are very patient and devoted to teaching you properly. Unlike some of the other clubs that meet six days a week, Aikikai only meets twice a week for an hour and a half, and is actually mostly taught by a student. This adds to the creation of an atmosphere built on understanding fused with high levels of respect. Furthermore, the circle is co-ed, which adds even more to the circle’s inclusive nature. 

Part of the cause of such a disciplined and friendly atmosphere is the art of Aikikai itself. The moves we have learned so far are fundamentally built on a few steps that, when put in combination, can be extremely practical defensive moves. Practice begins with stretches, primarily loosening the joints and muscles that will be most used, such as the wrists. This is all done in silence following the student leader, who herself practices everyday of the week. Then, everyone lines up and goes through simple drills like falling and front and back rolls--all of which are essential to the moves we perform. Then, the student leader and one of the senpai demonstrate the move we are going to practice. All the while during this preparation, everyone maintains a sort of zen composure, bows when necessary, and gives their undivided attention to the student leader. 

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The same respectful atmosphere remains when we transition into the actual moves. Each new student pairs up with a senpai, and takes turns being the attacker and defender. Most pairs need to move extremely slow to understand the proper technique of falling, joint manipulation, and the shifting of body weight. In this extremely structured practice, everyone comes out feeling good for having learned the moves and proud of the group as a whole. 

The group atmosphere is another cause of why the Aikikai circle so strongly welds respect and friendship. A couple weeks ago, the circle took a weekend trip to Mount Tsukuba for a gasshuku (a new student welcoming event held by most clubs and circles). As we learned in our pre-orientation at the beginning of the semester, it is important for Japanese people that they identify and associate themselves with a group. For the circle, the new students are going to become part of this group for the next four years, and thus it is important to build that sense of family early on. 

As a foreign student, I certainly gained that sense just from the gasshuku. Because it was a weekend trip that started on Saturday, we really only had a day. But every moment was well-planned and coordinated by the group leaders: we spent a few hours playing games at a gymnasium, ate a delicious barbecued meal in a beautiful mountain setting, lit small fireworks in a parking lot, relaxed in an onsen bath, and spent the rest of the night hanging out and talking. While the separation between senpai and new student is very clear in practices, events like this showed that we could also be friends. This is an important lesson that I have learned about Japanese culture, that context matters so much in determining what kind of respect you show and how you act. 

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This is my impression of the Aikikai circle so far, but really I can only imagine my image of the circle improving as the semester progresses. I can’t wait to see what else is in store for the rest of the semester! 

05/16/2014

Tea for Three

This week my host mother took me and my little sister to a historical Japanese tea house and Japanese-style garden around our neighborhood. Moreover, there is a beautiful temple about a 5 minute walk away with beautifully detailed buildings. Yamamoto-tei is a sukiya-style house that was built around the end of the Taisho period and the beginning of the Showa period of Japan. Yamamoto-tei blends both Japanese and Western styles of architecture together in one house. The majority of the tea hall was done in the traditional Japanese style: tatami mat floors and shoji sliding screens. However, there was a sign Western style room, the drawing room, which boasted western style furnishings including a fireplace. Of course, because it is a Japanese house, we had to take our shoes off before going inside.IMG_6285Besides formal tea ceremony, Yamamoto-tei allows visitors to relax in one of its many Japanese style rooms or on the balcony overlooking the garden. Although I love the feel of tatami mats beneath my feet, it was a beautiful day outside so my mother, sister, and I decided to sit in a shady spot on the balcony. Although I have pretty annoying seasonal allergies (Japanese people refer to it as Hay Fever), it was worth it to have a great view of the garden while relaxing with my host family. One thing my little sister enjoyed pointing out to me was that the koi fish swimming in the pond below us were unusually large. One orange and white koi was larger than my arm and about as thick as a wooden telephone pole (the ones they have in the U.S.).

While enjoying the scenery, we took advantage of the snack and drink menu that the tea house provided. They had a modest selection of both traditional and non-traditional drinks. My younger sister chose the orange juice while I went with the iced matcha. Both came with small almond cookies, they had unfortunately run out of wagashi (traditional Japanese sweets).  IMG_6283Not to be confused with the typical convenience store or café iced match, this was the real deal. No milk, no sugar, just traditional matcha used in tea ceremony, but served cold instead of hot. I really love tea, and bitter foods are not really a problem for me, so I really adored the iced matcha. Especially because that day was pretty hot, t was refreshing to sit in the shade with a cool drink. It was equally refreshing to spend quality time with my host mother and sister. IMG_6296Lastly, we walked through the entirety of the house and saw a few antique tea ceremony fixtures as well as a beautifully painted wall adorned with white and purple flowers. The entirety of the grounds was very beautiful and I imagine the scenery would change with the passing months. I would love to see how the garden, house, and menu changes with the seasons. I would definitely come back to Yamamoto-tei in the future to relax and drink tea. Hopefully I can convince a few of my friends to make the trek as well. I can only hope that they will have wagashi when I return.

05/13/2014

Tofu Here, Tofu There, Tofu Everywhere

The day after my birthday on May 5th, or the Japanese national holiday Children’s Day, my host parents invited their previous student from America, my host sister from Thailand, and me to a traditional Japanese tofu restaurant. This is without a doubt the best eating experiences I had so far in Japan. 

What’s interesting about this restaurant is that its old-looking exterior is actually a façade; apparently, the restaurant is quite modern in terms of its age. Regardless, the architecture is absolutely stunning. The restaurant is built around a garden that has its own tiny Inari shrine that requires you to walk up an uneven staircase made of rock slates. It was quite terrifying to walk down.

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Besides the shrine, there was also a water wheel and a bridge with a waterfall in the background. I loved the sound of the waterfall so much that I recorded it; it was refreshing to hear nothing but water after living in the crowds of Tokyo for a while. I was shocked to see an absence of koi in the small pond. But the shock dropped as the beauty of the flowers and trees growing around me distracted me, as cheesy as this sounds. 

Inside the tofu restaurant was a magnificent samurai figure, called武者人形 or musha ningyo. This amazing warrior hero is a popular display on Children’s Day, representing the wish for boys’ health and prosperity. The dolls representing girls’ growth and happiness are called 雛人形 or hina dolls on Hinamatsuri (雛祭り) that is celebrated on March 3. Children’s Day, however, celebrates the healthy and bright future of both girls and boys.

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Besides the doll, the restaurant lobby also had two large barrels of soybeans for customers (more like kids) to play with. My host siblings and I couldn’t help but grab handfuls of them and swishing them around.

 

After about 10 minutes of exploring, we were led to our room. The waitress directed us into an elevator, which took about four seconds to go to the second floor. She startled everyone, but the host parents, when the door opened and she was waiting for us on the second floor! My host dad jokingly explained that staff in this restaurant is ninjas. (I think he’s right since the staircase was on the other side of the building! How….???)

Now, time to talk about the food… it was melt-in-your-mouth delicious! Or as a Japanese comedian said on tele, “うまい〜〜” As a tofu lover, the different textures and styles of tofu were just so good if I had to state it simply. Besides taste, the colors and placement of the food make me wish that every plate of food I eat is also a form of art. There were six courses, starting with a square piece of tofu in soy sauce with green onions on top. 

The second consisted of fried tofu that had different condiments, including soy sauce, fish flakes, spicy bean sauce, and onions.

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The third included three small servings of vegetables and seafood. 

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The fourth was a bowl of a potato with one piece of the most succulent meat I have ever eaten.

The fifth was a juxtaposition of cold and hot tofu that was being boiled in soybean milk, my favorite

The six was miso soup and sakura shrimp rice in a wooded bowl. 

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For dessert, we had a small bowl of cold, sweet anko with two drops of mochi.

This entire eating experience took about three hours. I really wish I could eat for three hours for all my meals in Japan. 

Meat, Eel, Sashimi!

My 21st birthday was very special; not because I’m finally an adult, but because this is the only year that I did not have an exam on my birthday! Not May 5th, the day of my AP exams, not May 5th the day of my finals, but May 5th, the day I was born (and also Children’s Day, the Japanese national holiday)!

As a celebration of my birthday, my host family and I trekked our way to the MEAT FAIR taking place in Tokyo's Komazawa Olympic Park. Yes, meat fair. As a meat lover, I have to admit that this might be the best fair ever.

Also, the park hosted some events in the 1964 Summer Olympics! One of my life goals is to attend an Olympic event, so it made me really excited to be there〜 I can’t wait for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo!

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The family left around 9:10am for this 11:00am event. We arrived around 10:00am, but the line was already super long. To make it worse, the gray sky was becoming darker and darker until finally, the first raindrops plummeted down on the crowd. What I learned about the Japanese population is that they are always prepared for rain. Even though I did not notice anyone carrying an umbrella, once the rain started, everyone pulled one out of thin air! My host mother was even carrying two umbrellas for the four adults, and two rain coats of my little three and five years old siblings. Simply amazing preparation.

The line kept moving, so I did not notice that it took about 2 hours to buy our tickets to the meat festival. While walking away from the ticket booth to the line to get into the festival, I saw the first persons in line to run towards the meat booth. It was a fascinating sight to see. Seeing that, I thought we were close to finally having meat in our stomach. I was wrong. The line to get into the fair circled down the walking bridge and around the park. My host sister and I were shocked to see so many patient folks.

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Thankfully, this line moved quite quickly too. While waiting, we looked through the Meat Fair pamphlet and chose to eat two kinds of meat. I immediately picked 馬肉 or horsemeat since this is something I never tasted before. As I found out later, it is also something I will never have again. The taste is very unique… I had trouble eating it alone after a while. I had to eat it with honey-glazed chicken to drown out the horsemeat flavor. But again, it’s an experience! I can say that I had horsemeat.

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After horsemeat, I had a plate of Egyptian food that surprisingly and disappointingly lacked meat. So I had バナナ生クリームクレープ or a banana cream crepe! It literally took over 30 minutes to buy this crepe; I counted with my Japanese friend who arrived a bit early. He told me that Japanese people are quite patient and willing to wait; I don’t doubt it after waiting in these long lines.

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After picking dandelions and making flowers out of them for the kids, the host family packed up to go. The family and my friend said their goodbyes, him parting to go to Shibuya while we went back home. Before going home though, my host family asked what I wanted for dinner. Since I normally don’t celebrate my birthday, I said ramen, prompting laughter from my host parents. Finally I said, “魚?(Fish?)” and my host mother helped out by asking, “鰻はどう?“ I immediately smiled like this ヾ(@°▽°@)ノbecause who would deny eel for dinner?!

Dinner was better than I thought. Dinner included eel and sashimi! I even was able to eat my favorite roll cake filled with milk-flavored cream! 

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Needless to say, best birthday so far!



Cinco de Mayo on May 3rd

On the first day of my Golden Week vacation, my friend and I visited the Cinco de Mayo festival in Japan, which was surprisingly and hilariously on May 3rd. Before finding the Cinco de Mayo festival though, we found a Ping-Pong event that had a HUGE Pikachu bounce house. I’m not quite sure how Pikachu and Ping-Pong relate, but it sure was an attention grabber.

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Since the official website stated that the festival took place in Yoyogi Park (and nothing more specific that than), we walked into the heart of it; we walked in circles and almost gave up when we realized that we had to cross the walking bridge, which we passed many times! Finally getting to hear the crowds and smelling the delicious Mexican food when you’re on an empty stomach makes you want to jump for joy.

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Basically, a quick glance of the festival told me that there are numerous booths selling tacos, sausages, and alcohol. As I said earlier, we were extremely hungry… at least I was. We walked around, trying to find authentic meals prepared by Mexican cooks; my favorite stall was called Drug-on TACOS. The English in Japan is sometimes very entertaining.

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We finally settled on getting steak tacos, but we belatedly found that Japanese cooks prepared these. To make matters worse, the sauce from the steak tacos spilled on my shirt and shorts. Also, the steak was tough, and honestly, more fat than steak. But it was an experience! The stall selling the steak taco had salsa and pickled daikon as condiments! My friend did not try the daikon, but I went straight for it. In my opinion, the pickled daikon pairs really well with the salsa and taco. I would have added a picture of the food, but I gulped the (tiny) taco in about 1.5 minutes… Instead, here is a picture of the booth.

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After eating, we checked out the other booths again and found loads of interesting things now that our stomachs stopped interrupting our concentration. We found booths selling accessories, clothes, bags, and snacks from Mexico. We even found a booth selling Edo Style Paella, which I wished I had instead of the steak tacos…

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One of the best parts of the trip, though, is the Doritos booth. As long as people completed a survey (in Japanese) asking about their Doritos consumption, people received a large bag of Doritos, either taco or cheese flavor. In celebration of Cinco de Mayo, we both picked the taco flavor.

Seeing as there was nowhere to sit, we left to find a place in the central of Yoyogi Park. We completely forgot that Yoyogi Park lacks the benches that line the walkway in New York’s Central Park. Here in Japan, if one plans to relax at a park, a mat is essential. I was lucky to spot a large enough rock under a tree to sit and eat our Doritos. As we found 10 minutes into it, we should have shared one bag; we barely finished it, especially after just eating lunch.

We spent a long time sitting on that rock, talking, people watching, and avoiding the sun. My friend sunburns easily, and she realized that her pale skin on her shoulders has turned into a brilliant octopus shade—a sort of warm red shade. As a Pacific Islander, I thought that I do not burn… I was wrong. I found my shoulders also baring a light salmon color. Thankfully, the wind carried a cool breeze under our hiding spot—the perfect ending to our exciting day.

05/11/2014

Kita-Kamakura Archery Surprise

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Today I went to Kita-Kamakura to do some hiking.

When I first arrived, I took a trip to Engakuji temple. The second I entered, I decided to leave the tourist crowd and locate the small less traveled routes to different small structures on the grounds. The moment I left the main stream of people, I discovered something amazing. As I was approaching one the buildings, I discovered it was purely dedicated to the art of archery.  I was even more fortunate to arrive on a practice day.

The small buildings housed 3 main areas. A prayer center, a bow storage area, and a shooting range. From inside the spacious and open buildings, archers were able to shoot at a row of targets placed in the garden grounds next to the building. Each archer was silent and took turns to individually try their luck at a target in the garden. The archers moved extremely slow. Every breath was precise. It took so long for the archers to actually pull back their arrow; I almost thought they were never going to shoot it. Once released, the archers showed no emotion and proceeded to collect to return their bow and retrieve the arrows. This process repeated over and over with multiple people. While waiting their turn, other archers were praying below different shrines while others were having personal lessons. One woman was teaching a man how to stretch his arm correctly, and used a big rubber band to mimic the tension in the bow.

Initially, I thought it was the same archery going to be displayed at Kamakura’s Matsuri. I learned about the town’s matsuri through CIEE’s first trip to Kamakura. The festival was to take place the next day to celebrate the history of the town. At the festival, Yabusame archers were to ride horseback to reflect the ancient skills of older samuri. The archers and riders have dragonflies sewn into the sleeves of their shirts to represent never going back. Dragonflies only fly forward.

After some research I've concluded that this was Yabusame but instead Kyūdō, the way of the bow. Kyūdō focuses on the meditation just as much as the archers accuracy. Wikipedia said, "[the] goal most devotees of kyudo seek is seisha seichū, "correct shooting is correct hitting"'. Therefor the process of shooting the arrow is more important that the actual shooting of their arrow. A sense of inner balance and control is needed to have the bow and the person be in harmony.

I watched the practice for quite some time, pondering my own impatience compared to the silent and graceful patience of the Kyūdō archer. Sometimes life in Tokyo can be too busy. It is nice to slow down and look more at the details of the journey, rather than the outcome. My special surprise allowed me to reflect on my first month in Tokyo, and to appreciate the process in which my adventure has started. I was very lucky to watch the archers that day. It was truly something special to watch.

 

Climbing Adventures

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Last week was my first trip with the ワンダーフォーゲル部 (Wondervogel Club)! At first I did not understand their name. The club is first and foremost a hiking club. They do activities like weekend hikes and day trips to climbing gyms. After spending some time on Wikipedia I discovered the reason for their name.

“The name can be translated as rambling, hiking, or wandering bird (differing in meaning from ‘Zugvogel’ or migratory bird) and the ethos is to shake off the restrictions of society and get back to nature and freedom.” Wikipedia

The club itself is really old. The earliest photos of the club posted on their website are in black and white and capture young men climbing mountains together. I am so happy to join such a historical club. It makes me feel a part of something culturally significant at Sophia. Today I was especially excited because we visited a bouldering gym. Rock climbing and bouldering is a long time hobby of mine. I was especially excited to meet some new friends to share their own experience climbing. In the past month, I have visited two rock climbing gyms in the Tokyo area. One was called B-Pump in Akihabara (秋葉原) that was strictly a bouldering (short wall) gym. The other gym was called Runnout in NishiKokubunji (西国分寺). With the club, I went to a gym called Apex about 20 minutes walking from Sophia.

As a climber in America, I already know a lot about the climbing culture. However there are many things in Japan that are completely different in terms of climbing etiquette and routine that caught me off guard. Most of it can be related back to the history of Japanese culture and how they approach sports. When inside the locker room, I was not allowed to open my chalk bag or put on my climbing shoes. Shoes must only be worn in the climbing areas. This of course is understandable and relatable to my life in the homestay where shoes are never worn in the house. Also, the rating of climbs is completely opposite of U.S. standards.

The Japanese use the Dankyu (Dan and Kyu) system which resembles that of martial arts. Climbs that are rated 1 are the hardest and get easier as the numbers ascend. Unless, the climb is labeled as 足+手 (hands and feet), you are only to follow the holds that are colored with your hands. Feet can be placed on whatever hold you choose, very strange in terms of U.S standards.

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The entire club was extremely nice and patient with my lack of Japanese speaking skills. Although some clubs at Sophia can be very demanding, this club is very kind and very relaxed. They are also very nice about having study abroad students join events. I made a lot of new friends and cannot wait for their next hiking trip!