This post isn’t about anything in particular. It’s a list of things I’ve done that don’t warrant a post all their own. Together these are the moments that add up to a legitimate abroad experience. For me, rattling them off is a relief from the pressure of feeling I have to make meaning out of my time in Japan, to somehow justify to someone that I’ve thought critically and reflected on what I’ve been given the privilege to do. They reflect the experience better than any musing I could ever muster.
Cat café: They’re worth it. Some people may not be thrilled about cats. May not be thrilled at the idea of spending money to be around cats. But, if you’re an animal person and feel the lack of personal affection that can only come from a pet, go to a cat café for a professional surrogate pet experience. Therapy animals do some real deal good. In my experience the café aspect is downplayed, and it’s really all about the cats. You can sip juice or tea if you want to, but it costs extra and distracts from the reason you came in the first place.
Museums: A touristy yet important thing to do. Even if you’re not an art buff, you should frequent at least a couple museums. I’ve gone to several, the names I forget. The trouble with Tokyo museums is that their names are all astoundingly similar, at least in English. Combine the words Tokyo, national, art, of, urban, metropolitan, the, for, and every combination will constitute a museum existing in Tokyo. I’ve gone to museums at different points in my stay in Japan, and each time it is interesting to revisit artistic motifs that are becoming more familiar as the culture at large becomes more familiar. As a bonus, CIEE and Sophia makes going to museums easy. CIEE hooks it up with the free special exhibit tickets. A Sophia student ID can get you in for free, or at least a discounted rate. I’d gone to the Kunisada and Kuniyoshi print exhibit at the Bunkamura museum in Shibuya. Most memorable museum visit, the drawings on the prints and the colors therein vivifying an older Japan, and I paid nothing to do it. The next day I attended an experimental fashion exhibit, one which emphasized efficient production with futuristic design. It was difficult to believe the same culture produced both, and that is the breadth museums can deliver if you choose to seek out what’s on display.
Conbinis: On the opposite side from the cultural high-brow there is the beloved convenient stores. Everyone in Japan already knows how great they are. I bring them up because someone about to come to Japan will rest easy knowing about how great they are. I was afraid of being left to starve if I couldn’t speak Japanese well enough to order food, or if I’d run out of money. Conbinis are a saving grace, carrying quick food that can actually be called food for cheap. American convenience stores be shamed. One could feasibly live off these places, albeit not the healthiest option. In addition, one can buy concert tickets, pay for health insurance and online purchases, and many other life tasks through them. The staff is always friendly, with the position surprisingly dignified when compared to American convenience store workers. This section isn’t really anything more than a praiseful advertisement, but conbinis have truly smoothed over what could have been some rocky moments in getting acquainted with Japan.
Sumo: The last and greatest. Any visitor to Japan should make a good attempt at going to see sumo. It is perhaps one of the most recognizable traits of Japanese culture, and it delivers as being one of the most interesting. Though it’s somewhat violent, there is the honor and skill that comes with a martial art. Every step is laced with tradition, and would be interesting to watch even if the wrestlers never squared up in the ring. But they do, and each bout is as exciting as the last. There is a surprising about of pageantry, but it comes with the tradition, honoring the centuries of practice in conjunction with the steadfast dedication it takes to be a wrestler. Sumo combines the traditional with simple excitement more than anything else I’ve gotten to experience thus far.
And so concludes a brief list of a few things I’ve gotten to do. There isn’t much more to say about it than that. I recommend everything. I recommend also the things I’ve yet to do. It’s all good, and a matter of finding the time to do it all. And pay for it all.