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15 posts from June 2015

06/22/2015

THE BEAUTY OF NATURE IN JAPAN: FIELD OF PINK FLOWERS IN CHICHIBU

In past blog posts, I’ve often enthused about the very admirable unity that exists between urban civilization and nature in Japan. And if that topic hasn’t gotten old to this writer, then it goes to show that natural wonders in this country really are astounding. It really depends on the season, I suppose, and after enjoying all the fall-slash-winter brand of natural wonders in Japan last semester, I feel myself very inspired to report on my personally preferred spring-slash-summer brand of outdoor tourist destinations. This time, I would like to talk about a little daytrip I took to a vast field of pink, purple, and white flowers out in the boonies of Chichibu, Japan.

               There were a few weeks before the rainy season settled in, when Japan enjoyed sunny day after sunny day. It was during one of these days that I was struck with the familiar urge to go do something outside. Usually, I would greet such a feeling with much dread, as back in Los Angeles, all I could find within a drive-able distance on such a day was concrete and more concrete. In Tokyo, however, the internet has thus far revealed to me many great outdoor locations within reasonable distance, including a field of beautiful flowers in Chichibu, just under two-hours away from the city via a limited express train. With little difficulty, I purchased my ticket from the ticket machine at Ikebukuro station, and hopped onto the train with little waiting time in between.

               Chichibu is a quaint little mountainous city in the west of Saitama that doesn’t get to enjoy a lot of visitors all the time, which I think is why so much energy surrounds the train station during the times of year when events are taking place there. I’d arrived too late to catch the bus up the mountain to where the flowers were, but there were plenty of signs in every direction (some in English) to show me the way by foot. Though I did regret having left so late, it was a relief to know that at least, I was going to get to enjoy a marvelous sunset as I walked through the city of Chichibu, even if the park had already closed for the day.

               As I made my way up a hill (where the field of flowers was supposedly located), I encountered more than a few signs in Japanese that said something about the park closing at five o’ clock. I solemnly glanced at my cellphone, saw that it was already a half hour past five, and nearly turned on my heels, when I decided that hey, I might as well just make it to the top. Boy was I not expecting there to still be a crowd of people walking through the field of pink, purple and white when I did reach the top, nor did I expect no one to stop me from walking through the gates – the security guard even waved at me with a smile.

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               Sure, the flowers and sunset were both really pretty, but what really got to me that day was the idea of how accessible nature is in Japan. In spite of it having been past the park’s closing time, visitors were still allowed to enter in light of the beautiful sight that had been spawned from the union of the golden sunset and pink petals. It’s the kind of nationwide appreciation for nature – free of all the artificial “save nature” campaigns which take the magic away – that I haven’t found anywhere else. And it’s an attitude which I will truly miss upon my return to the United States. For now, I’m planning to soak up as much of that Japanese sunshine as possible, before the rainy season hits.

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SEEING SUMO WRESTLING MATCHES LIVE IN JAPAN, UP-CLOSE AND PERSONAL

On the topic of Japan’s most iconic indigenous sports, I’m sure many would agree that one is most likely to think of sumo wrestling. For me, just hearing the word brings to mind the image of two gargantuan human beings battling each other upon a clay ring, and since the last time I went to see a sumo wrestling match in Japan, that image has grown extremely clear.

               The first sumo wrestling match I ever saw live was at Ryogoku Kokugikan in Tokyo, on a CIEE-organized event in December 2014. I remember feeling extremely pleased at the prospect of finally seeing in person something which I had thus far only had a very storybook image of in my head. We were seated on the second level, looking down as pairs of very large men entered and exited the stage. Too preoccupied with excitement, I failed to understand anything about the art of sumo wrestling. My knowledge of sumo wrestling, however, was to become much more profound the next time I were to visit the Ryogoku Kokugikan.

               I had the chance to become acquainted with the mother of one of my friend’s students at the international school where she teaches part-time – turns out, the mother’s what they call an “okamisan,” the master of a “sumo stable.” Indeed, sumo wrestlers train, eat, and are housed in what is called a sumo stable, and I was lucky enough to have met the master of one. Apparently, being the acquaintance of an okamisan comes with a few perks, as I eventually found out when my colleague and I were presented with free front-row tickets to another sumo wrestling match at Ryogoku Kokugikan.

               Here’s how a day of sumo wrestling matches works: The spectator area remains open, meaning you can go in and out whenever you want, thus facilitating the processes of getting a snack or going to the bathroom. Matches are held throughout the day in procession, beginning with the lower-ranking (not-so) small-fry sumo wrestlers. On average, each match lasts just a few seconds, so it’s easy to become familiar with the process after a few matches. A pair of sumo wrestlers enter the ring, and each wrestler bows to the other. Then, each wrestler begins to cycle between the motions of squatting at the starting line, performing a few motions (slapping their bellies, stomping on the ground, etc.), and throwing salt across the ring. Then, the fight begins. It usually only takes two to three seconds for one sumo to ring-out the other. This is a simple enough process, to say the least, and I was able to enjoy the matches my first time at Ryogoku Kokugikan. However, it took the okamisan explaining to me the significance behind these motions for me to really appreciate the art.

               As I watched from one of the front-most sections, the okamisan explained to me that the wrestlers wrestle each other when they feel like it, without exchanging a word. The cycle of motions and throwing salt serve to pump up the Japanese fighting spirit of the wrestlers themselves, as well as to excite the audience. When both wrestlers are ready to take on the other, they will communicate their readiness with a mere look – the referee is just there to make sure they don’t go over the time limit.

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               Apparently, there are both honorable and dishonorable ways for a sumo wrestler to win, and a wrestler is not liked simply for his fighting ability, but also for his “nihonseishin,” or “Japanese spirit.” I remember the okamisan expressing particular distaste for one wrestler who had won by tricking his opponent to come at him, then dodging out of the way.

               Occasionally, a match would be preceded by several people in robes walking onto the circular stage, and circling around the wrestlers whilst holding up flags with advertisements on them. It was a sight I had seen my first time at the stadium, but had yet to understand. The okamisan explained to me that these were sponsors for either one of the sumo wrestlers on stage, and that each flag was worth about six hundred US dollars. The victorious wrestler would be given six hundred dollars for each flag as reward money, a discovery which had me gaping for several minutes straight. Some matches were preceded by about two or three flags, others by over thirty, and most with none at all. I remember counting a total of over thirty flags for the final match, and watching with great envy as the victor left with literal handfuls of money.

               To me, the most interesting part of this experience was seeing how the wrestlers who were popular for their “Japanese spirit” weren’t all Japanese, but mostly Mongolian. There was even one Russian wrestler amongst the top-division sumo who was received with quite an uproar after winning his match. It goes to show that being Japanese isn’t a prerequisite to possessing the moral values which the Japanese people uphold, which gives me hope, as after seeing all those six-hundred-dollar flags, I am currently considering a lucrative career in sumo wrestling.

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HOLDING BABY FOXES IN SENDAI, JAPAN: ZAO FOX VILLAGE

There are 24 hours in a day, right? So an itinerary consisting of 10 hours of travelling – 5 hours there, 5 hours back – plus maybe about 3 hours at the actual destination, not counting meals, should, in theory fit into a single day. This is, of course, if one were to negate the need for sleep and food, the possibility of getting lost, and assume that there would be no school the following day. Well, I am proud to announce that as of the end of May 2015, I have joined the ranks of people crazy enough to undertake such a demanding daytrip. Now, one might begin to ask, “what kind of tourist destination in Japan could possibly warrant exhausting oneself to such a degree?” The answer, in the case of this blog post, would have to be “Zao Fox Village” in Miyagi, Sendai.

               A friend of mine, whose favorite animal is the fox, spends much time on the internet looking up things about foxes. One day, whilst searching for fox-related things to do in Japan, she stumbled upon the website of a fox preservation site up north in the Tohoku region. I consulted my agenda, but it did not seem like we were going to have a good chance to go up there anytime soon, as Golden Week had passed, and there were no three-day weekends in sight. Upon my friend’s fervent urging, however, we eventually made plans to make a daytrip to Sendai. This was our plan, which was to be executed on a Saturday: leave extra early in the morning on a bus, get to Sendai station just before noon, ride down to Shiroishi station, catch a taxi to the fox village, then do the reverse on the way back. Equipped with an artillery of snacks and caffeine, we set off upon this journey.

               After hours of non-stop travelling, we finally reached Zao Fox Village. Around May, the weather starts becoming oppressively hot very fast, so I had preemptively dressed in single-layers. Unfortunately, I had failed to account for the fact that we were going to be at a higher altitude in the north, where the winds blow particularly cold. But once I paid the 1000-yen entrance fee and was brought into the village, the sight of adorable little baby foxes made warmth pour from my heart and flood my body.

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Prior to my departure, I’d seen many mixed reviews regarding Zao Fox Village. A lot of people were reporting how broken-hearted they’d felt to see such cute little foxes locked up in such small cages. Indeed, whilst the entry-area is where baby foxes are kept in cages, one of the village guides explained that it was for their safety as they were being raised, and once they reached adulthood, they would be released into a significantly larger free-roaming enclosure – one which guests were allowed to enter.

               The enclosure is designed to feel exactly like a naturally-occurring forest populated by foxes. Albeit, a forest with signs all over the places warning you against touching the foxes, lest they bite you. My friend had to fight hard to resist the temptation of petting her favorite animal, and was rewarded for her resistance when the staff announced the following: for 300 yen, we would be allowed to hold the baby foxes (which had yet to grow teeth) for as long as we wanted. Now, I feel pretty neutral about foxes, but the moment that baby fox was placed into my hands, my heart melted. At this point, I’m not sure what to say. It was seriously very cute.

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               With that said, one can only imagine the state of senseless bliss my friend must have found herself in. I almost had to drag her out of the village in order to make it back home on time.

               I feel like something such as a “fox preservation site” that is open to tourists would never fly back in the United States due to some inherent “dangers,” so I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to have been able to get so physically close to one of nature’s cutest marvels in Japan. Though I probably won’t be undertaking a trip of this scale again, I don’t regret my decision whatsoever, and am glad I made the trip. Now, if only there were a pug preservation site in Japan…

06/16/2015

How to Have Fun in Tokyo, Japan While on a Budget

Before coming to Japan, one of the first things people warned me about was how expensive everything is – to which I’ve quickly come to discover, they were right. Unfortunately, being a major city, Tokyo turned out to be just as expensive as people warned, however, not in the way I was necessarily expecting it to be.

Essentially, I was anticipating spending all of my money on clothes, shoes, and other entertainment related goods, but to my surprise, most – if not all – of my money went to food and travel expenses. Not to say the food here is expensive – it’s actually quite the opposite. Most food purchases can be made at any local convenient store for no more than five dollars, the only bad part is convenient stores are almost too local. I routinely stop in and purchase a snack or two of some sorts (typically melon bread), which has quickly depleted my money supply.

I knew I had to break my bad habits of making daily trips to convenient stores and limit my travels to just the weekends. Looking back on my experiences adjusting to life in Tokyo, I would have benefited greatly from knowing how to spend my money more wisely on inexpensive fun and more substantial (and filling) meals. Luckily, after getting adjusted to Japanese life, I’ve been able to find fun places to go and cheap places to eat that are relatively cheap, affordable, and won’t suck your wallet dry.

First off, if you're looking for a place to hang out with friends that is easy and fun, local game centers are the way to go. Not only are these places hard to miss – as they are typically large, red buildings with the sign “game” plastered on the front – but these massive giants have multiple floors, each containing various types of amusement, able to satisfy even the pickiest of gamers. What’s more, each game typically costs around 200 to 300-yen, which is around $2.50 a game. In my opinion, this is a small price to pay for the amount of fun a person can have for one game alone.

And ladies, don’t worry! If gaming isn’t your thing, there is an entire floor dedicated solely to purikura – which is essentially a Japanese version of a photo booth. Basically, for around four dollars, you and your friends can get high quality photos taken. And, for a small fee, you can dress up in various costumes ranging from an adorable tiger to a dedicated flight attendant.  

Aside from common game centers, there are also local parks such as Yoyogi and Setagaya, located about ten minutes away from the heart of Harajuku. These natural playgrounds are the perfect place to go and enjoy nature and spend time talking with friend. The best part is, it’s completely free.

Ideally, to make parks more of an enjoyable daytime activity, stopping at nearby convenient stores to gather some tasty snacks is always a good idea. Essentially, some sun, a cold refreshing drink, and quality conversation is all one needs. As an added bonus, Yoyogi Park and Harajuku are optimal places to spend a few hours because they are both about a ten-minute walking distance from Shibuya.

And while I highly recommend doing some of the aforementioned activities with friends, these are just a few suggestions on ways to have fun in Tokyo while being on a budget. There are many different things to see and do in Japan and knowing how to save money wherever you can helps make the experience a little more enjoyable. Happy saving! 

The Road Less Traveled in Tokyo, Japan

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Day and night, hundreds of people – from tourists to natives – flood the streets of Tokyo. So much so, if you’re not careful, you can easily get swept away in the strong wave of bodies moving unanimously from one place to the next. And, while following a crowd around places like Shibuya and Shinjuku can lead you to popular and exiting places – especially if you do not already know where you are going – many unique side streets are sadly overlooked. I’ve come to discover, by getting lost, I stumble across places I never knew existed and may have never found while moving with the crowd.

Often times, when I find myself wandering the lively (and kooky) streets of Harajuku, I tend to stay within the areas I am most familiar with such as Yoyogi Park and Takeshita Street. Little did I know, by doing so, I really hindered my chances of coming across a really cool store, or truly awesome (and delicious) pancake restaurant.

Recently, I decided to be a little more unconventional and venture down streets I would always pass along my typical route down the main strip. Finally, I broke away from the swarm of people in order to venture a little farther into the maze-like streets; and, to my delight, I discovered places I would never have ventured into otherwise.

One place I stumbled upon in Harajuku was a large vintage thrift store – need I say more? This massive clothing wonderland had just about everything you could think of, from large tiger-faced fanny packs to sky-high platform boots – this place had it all. The best part about it was the location. It wasn’t near the main strip that was littered with high-end stores and overpriced coffee shops. This unique gem was hidden under a little walkway I only discovered after wandering a little ways deeper into Harajuku side streets.

Another great place with a few unique side streets is Shibuya – which luckily, is walking distance from Harajuku. After making my way through the famous Shibuya crossing, I came across a small alleyway that was lined with quaint little bars and restaurants. As I made my way through the cluster of tiny stores aligned closely, one next to the other, I stopped in front of one specific shop that peaked my interest and decided to give it a try. Fortunately, there was only one other customer eating what looked like octopus, which left room for me to comfortably set me things down and grab one of the seven seats available, which were lined against one narrow wall.

One of the aspects I loved most about this tiny shop was the fact it was run by an elder woman and her husband. I could tell, simply by observing the place, this dedicated couple had been running their shop tirelessly for some time.

On the other hand, I was a little apprehensive about sitting there in such confined quarters knowing I wouldn’t be able to hold a decent conversation with the shop owner and her husband. As much as I wanted to keep conversation light and airy with the welcoming couple, my Japanese speaking ability wasn’t up to par. However, once I ordered a small plate of bright red octopus legs, I broke the ice and started conversing with the shopkeeper. And, while I made many grammatical errors and endured enough awkward silence to last me a lifetime, I truly enjoyed myself. I even gained more confidence in my Japanese speaking ability – although, I can still use a considerable amount of practice.

But overall I’ve learned, gems are not so easily found and it takes patience and curiosity to discover some of the most secretive spots in the most obvious of places. And although Japan is a relatively safe place, filled with kindhearted people who genuinely care about the safely and well being of others, it is always important to utilize caution and common sense when traveling in a foreign place. That being said, if you do choose, or have a heart, to venture into the side streets of Tokyo – or anywhere for that matter – I advised you to do so with a trusted friend, and always be aware of your surroundings. Once you understand and recognize this, I highly recommend taking the road less traveled and wander a little farther, as you never know what awaits you in the heart of Tokyo.  

06/15/2015

Adventures in Kyoto, Japan

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Recently, I received the wonderful opportunity to join my friend on a weekend adventure to Kyoto, Japan. And, after a brief two and a half hour Shinkansen ride, I was away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo and transported to an entirely new Japan.

Tokyo, known for it’s fast-pace city life, is unique in that it differs from the rest of Japan’s slower, more laidback areas, such as Kyoto. And, being from California, I truly appreciated Kyoto’s friendly and welcoming atmosphere. Not to mention, I was able to see clear, blue skies rather than dark shadows of towering skylines hovering above me. What's more, escaping city life for a short while was extremely refreshing and rejuvenated my wanderlust spirit.

Despite only having a brief two days to bask in the wide-open spaces, I did my best to make the most of it. In order to do so, I booked the earliest departure time from Tokyo to Kyoto, which meant I had the wonderful task of waking up bright and early at 4:45 in the morning to make it to the station on time. To my delight, the train ride itself was a great experience in and of itself. Whizzing by at an astounding 200mph, the Shinkansen is called the “bullet train” for good reason. Surprisingly, it was a fairly smooth ride with little bumps along the way, along plenty of convenient store bought snacks to keep my appetite fully subdued.

Once in Kyoto, I immediately went straight for the information booth to grab myself a 500-yen (around five dollars) bus ticket and local maps of the area. I wanted to do my best to cover as much local ground as I could, as I knew my time there was incredibly precious. Luckily, I was fortunate enough to meet up with some friends who were also in Kyoto the same weekend. Having them along with me definitely enhanced my experience for the better – I even got some awesome Purikura pictures out of it!

In regards to some of the more historical places I visited, Kiyomizu Temple unquestionably made a lasting impression on me. I undeniably fell in love with the vibrant, red temples intricately placed amongst the cluster of trees. Not to mention, the view was impeccable and truly breathtaking – I was even able to see Kyoto Tower from the very deck of the Temple itself.

After spending a decent amount of time exploring the temple grounds, I made my way over to traditional, Kyoto style house – one with a long entryway leading up to the front door. Here, I partook in the time-honored painting of traditional Japanese fans. This by far was one of the most relaxing activities I participated in, and I would surely jump at the first chance I got to do it again. The best part was, you didn't have to be an expert artist to paint something beautiful, as stencils were provided to help those achieve a more professional looking masterpiece. Unfortunately, being the perfectionist I am, I spent around two hours making sure my work of art turned out just how I wanted it to – even with the use of guided stencils.  

Lastly, after all of the site seeing was done and I had my completed artwork – which I was very proud of – to take back with me, I ended the trip doing what I love most, shopping.  Fortunately for me, I was able to exercise self-control and managed to walk away having purchased only one item – a beautiful gold necklace from a store located in OPA shopping center (it has quickly become one of my favorite pieces).

Overall, I had an amazing time exploring a different side of Japan and not only learning more about the traditional history of Kyoto, but actually seeing the innate beauty this rich land possess. It’s safe to say, I highly recommend Kyoto to anyone who is presented with the wonderful opportunity to go! 

Japan’s Happiest Place on Earth: Tokyo Disney Sea

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Ok, this might seem really silly, but I think going to Tokyo Disney Sea was the one thing I was most looking forward to doing with my boyfriend, Austin, when he came to visit. I have never been (so bonus for me, yay), and my dad raved about it so there was lots of pressure building on this moment. I have been to Disney World more times than I can remember, and have been to Disneyland in California once. I love the parks, and grew up watching Disney movies and listening to Disney songs. Austin has only been to Disney World once when he was little, so I was super excited to share these Disney moments with him, and it was so much fun!

We started at the Tower of Terror, which was immensely different than the ones in the U.S. It has the same appearance, but the story is way weird. It has to do with this explorer rich guy who steals a cursed freaky looking totem, which in turn haunts the hotel. Sound like Indiana Jones? It was pretty much Indiana Jones, I'm serious. Still, the ride was fun, unless you don't like being in elevators. Despite going on a weekday, we waited about an hour to ride the Tower of Terror, and an hour and a half for Toy Story Mania. While we waited in line Austin and I played several rounds of tic-tac-toe. I totally schooled him. I also crushed him in Toy Story Mania. If you are unfamiliar with the game, you basically shoot objects at targets all projected on a screen in 3D. It's pretty awesomely awesome. 

On our way to the next ride (I'm pretty sure it was Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull), we happened upon milk tea flavored popcorn, which completely stopped us in our tracks. Now, I am not a huge fan of popcorn. The kernel shells or whatever always get stuck in my throat, and it either has too much butter, or not enough flavor if it's regular popcorn. Oh and occasionally I'll bite into an unpopped kernel, and then I just give up. Cheddar popcorn is, however, delicious, as well as caramel corn. Basically the milk tea, which is a popular drink in Japan, tasted somewhat like caramel corn. I think I ate more than Austin, which is ok considering we ended up trying four different flavored popcorns. On the map, there is a list of the different kinds and where you can find them in the park. Besides the milk tea we tried curry, jalapeño cheddar and white chocolate. By white chocolate I was popcorned out of my mind, and am pretty sure it comprised most of our diet that day.

So we went on the Indiana Jones ride, which reminded me of how I really need to see the other two, and we went on a roller coaster called Raging Spirits. The signs kept warning us that it was rough, but it was literally the smoothest roller coaster I've ever been on. The head guards were also cushioned. It was like riding a luxury coaster (hint hint America). For lunch we ate tacos! It was nice to eat some Central/South American inspired food. After our meal we checked out King Trident's Kingdom. The outside is impressive enough, but the inside was spectacular! It really made you feel like you were underwater. Now, if there weren't so many people and giant strollers taking up the walkway it would have been awesome to explore, but Austin and I just wanted the heck outta there! So we rode Jasmine's flying carpets. It was much more relaxing! 

In case you are wondering, the lost island (which is a place in the park) is actually hard to find... Austin and I kept walking around it and didn't know how to get there, but we finally did, and decided to wait in line for the Journey to the Center of the Earth ride. During this queue we played hangman. It passes the time, you should try it next time you wait in line. The ride itself was really really cool! I have never seen the movie, but it has piqued my interest. The decorations and strange creatures were fascinating and colorful. I think it was actually one of my favorite attractions, as well as Austin's. Unfortunately the submarines were not operating, but I'm sure they would have been fun as well. I have never been in a submarine!

As evening descended upon us, we had to make the very difficult decision of where to eat. Like, this was a life or death decision clearly, because we could not pick a place. We also wanted to make sure we were close by to where the Fantasmic show was happening, because otherwise we probably just would have ate curry! I finally just got a giant hotdog from a stand that didn't have anyone in line until I decided I actually wanted one.  Austin got a sandwich from a nearby restaurant, and we made it in time for the light show. Unfortunately, because it was windy, they did not set off the fireworks. :( Fantasmic was pretty cool though, so we were both satisfied. It was a long day full of fun and magical memories, indeed!

Oh, I never told you my favorite Disney movies: Aladdin, Hercules, Emperor's New Groove (I always laugh so hard),  Mulan, The Incredibles (because superheroes), and Frozen. 

Sushi and Cats: Fun Dining in Tokyo

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I am so lucky to have such an amazing boyfriend who flew all the way here just to visit me for a week and a half. We did so many fun things while he was here, but I want to share with you two of our most memorable dining experiences. The most important thing you must know about Austin is that he loves cats. In Japan there are so many different types of cafés, its ridiculous (in a good way). A popular genre is the cat café. I had never been to one before, nor did I know where to find one, but since Austin loves kitties, I wanted to surprise him by taking him to one. We ended up going to きゃりこ (Calico), which is in Shinjuku. If you didn't know this before, Shinjuku station is the largest train station in the world. WOOOORLLLD. Every time I go there I walk out of the wrong exit to where I need to go. Currently I am getting the hang of it, but that day, we had to walk around the entire station to get to this place. Emily was grumpy. However, upon seeing Austin's excitement once he knew where we were going immediately made me happy. In fact, I think this was one of my favorite moments with him because he was beaming the entire time. They do in fact serve food and drinks, and the drinks were actually very tasty and cheap. Of course, there are dozens of cats to pet and feed as well. For one hour there it is 1000 ¥, and drinks are only 200¥. So if you are missing a pet from home, or need a way to de-stress, why not unwind with some adorable cats? We were given free drink coupons when we left, so I will be going back for sure. :)

 Perhaps the biggest and most interesting thing we did while he was here (besides Disney Sea, because that was pretty big), was eat out at an authentic sushi restaurant. Okay, every sushi restaurant in Japan is technically authentic, but I'm talking about non conveyor belt and non order-what-you-want type of deal. The chef chooses what he wants to give you based on the fresh fish he has. It was terrifying and so much fun! The name of the restaurant we went to is called Sushiryori Inose. I found it on trip advisor, no joke. It is also in Shinagawa, my homeland. It was advised that we make a reservation, so we did and showed up at 6:30 like instructed (shout-out to Emiko who actually helped me get a reservation). We were the first people there, but as time went on it filled up. This place was small though, and there was only one chef, so I can see why the reservation was needed. 

Sitting next to me was actually a guy from Philly, and he said that he goes to the restaurant every time he is in Japan. Dang. He was really nice and gave us some suggestions of places to go check out. I don't know how many pieces of sushi I had, but they were all delicious. From what I remember, I know I ate surf clam, toro, anago, salmon roe, and mackerel. At the end of the meal the chef sliced up cucumbers to look like butterflies sitting on bamboo. His wife, who everyone was calling mama or mama San, flitted from customer to customer, serving food, drinks, and making toasts. Never before have I been to such an intimate and lively restaurant. The customers seemed to all be regulars, and mama San and the chef were so adorable and silly. I would go back in a heartbeat if the price didn't take a toll on my checkbook...let's just say it was the most expensive meal I have ever had and had to pay for. Regardless of money though, the three hour (yes, three hours) long experience of eating, chatting, drinking and photo taking will always hold a fond memory for Austin and I. We agreed it was definitely one of the coolest things we did overall. 

From Study Abroad to Career: Tokyo Career Panel

I have to start off saying that CIEE does so much for its international students, and I really appreciate it. I guess I can’t speak for any of the other countries, but here in Japan we have some pretty great staff! I say this not because I am sucking up, but because they provide us with so many fun and informative cultural activities that we probably would otherwise not get to do. Whether its sumo, kabuki, a taiko drum session, the Studio Ghibli Museum, movie lunches, museum tickets, or embassy visits, I always take advantage of what they have to offer because it is a great way to learn new things about Japan.

 Recently, they had a career panel comprised of foreign professionals working in Tokyo, two of who are CIEE alumni. These professionals represented a variety of fields, including global business, information technology, and translation and interpretation. I thought this was such a smart idea because it gives us an opportunity to learn about job opportunities in Japan, and hear their perspective on how they went about getting a job in a foreign country. To be honest, I was hesitant to go at first because my field of interest is art, and all of the speakers were business-y engineer types. I’m glad that I went though, because sometimes you never know what kind of job can open up and where you will find it. That was the case for one of the speakers who became a translator and interpreter for Honda. She happened to be teaching English in a rural area that was looking for specific qualifications that she had, and she got the job! Her story was pretty inspiring to me because everything just fell into place for her, and she didn’t even expect it. I’m not saying this is what happens here in Japan, because the other presenters talked about interviews and applications, but I think that if you are passionate about being somewhere (Japan) and work hard, you can find success.

 I think that is what the overall theme of the presentations were. Most of them talked about how they thought their degrees were pretty much useless for their type of work, but they actually turned out to be more helpful in some ways than they realized. Even if they didn’t go into the same line of work that college or grad school prepared them for, their degree programs still gave them relevant skills and experiences. Some were able to get jobs because they taught English, but all had some background in Japan. Teaching English in a foreign country is a great gateway into the job market, and I believe gives you important communication life skills that will prepare you for any long term future job(s). At least, I have been considering teaching English in Japan for a while now, because I am still unsure of what I want to do for a living. All I know is that I love Japan, want to travel, and want to be happy. Even if I don’t work for a Japanese company, my time here as a study abroad student and hopefully teaching English, will be considered huge assets career-wise, and in my life as a whole. 

06/12/2015

Maintaining Academic success while studying abroad

The first word in "Studying Abroad" may be studying but if you ask my friends, I am most definitely the least scholastic of the bunch. Regardless of this fact I still wanted to do well while studying here in Tokyo. While these past few months have been tricky, I think I've discovered a few tips that have helped me tremendously.

 

The first thing I've learned is to be flexible. The Japanese higher education system is vastly different that the US. Many of my instructors have gone strictly by the lesson plan and rarely gone off course. I could hold a grudge and be really upset about this but that won't help my grade so I've learned to bend and mold accordingly in each class. My Japanese class for example, we have 3 different teachers and one of them is REALLY strict. The other two are pretty laid back and go at their own pace. So now I only bring my textbooks to class on Tuesdays & Fridays. This is an arrangement that has been approved by the other two teachers of course!

Secondly I've learned to be consistent. This has been really tricky because I want to get the most out of my experience here. But with good preparation and proactivity I've learned that I can make it work. If I know I have a busy week coming up, I'll save an extra hour or so to go study at the local library in my neighborhood. The hard part is sticking with this. Having friends from class study with me has been super helpful to keep me on track.

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The third thing I've learned is to be optimistic! No matter how stressful things can get with tests and quizzes this too shall pass! My mom always has to remind me to look at the big picture rather than analyze everything on a microscopic level. This skill has been really helpful in Tokyo because surprisingly classes can get pretty stressful here in Tokyo! 

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The last and most important thing that I've learned is BALANCE. Yes I am here to learn and get better at my Japanese. Yes I'm here to challenge myself academically in a new setting. BUT I am also here to soak in and experience as much of the Japanese culture as I can! If I stayed in my room and studied for 3+ hours every night then that wouldn't leave me with very much time t explore! And inversely, if I went out every night unit last train and never studied I would definitely flunk. Life is all about balance! Studying a little each day has kept me from having to cram last minute. And most days I try to finish all my homework and studying before my friends decide where we want to go for the night. 

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All in all I would say mastering flexibility, consistency, optimism, and balance have all carried me through this experience. It has not been the easiest thing and I definitely try at it each and everyday.