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8 posts from July 2016


Confessions of a College Gaijin


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.

Reflections of a College Gaijin


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).


Learning to Say Goodbye



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.

Thank you.




Meiji Shrine

Okay, so technically I did go to Meiji Shrine during Golden Week, but I was getting tired of putting "Golden Week Part" on my posts, and worrying about when specific things happened. The other posts were getting extremely sketchy, because it's been a long time since Golden Week, and I don't really remember when exactly these events took place. Consider this post a bonus.
Meiji Shrine is a shrine dedicated to the deified spirits of Emperor Meiji and his consort, Empress Shoken. Located next to Harajuku Station, the shrine is nestled in an extremely abundant forest, accessible via a massive torii gate. The size of this torii gate makes all of the other ones look like a joke. The colors of the shrine are predominantly green and brown, which is pretty different from the red you usually see at Shinto shrines. I really enjoyed Meiji shrine, because it was much more spacious than the all of the other shrines I have been to before.
The main area was comprised of a beautiful tree and large offering hall. Fortunately, we happened to show up on a day that a traditional Shinto wedding was taking place. A huge crowd of visitors watched and filmed as the bride and groom walked towards the shrine. I filmed a bit of it and posted it on snapchat, and I also saved it, so let me know if you see me and want to watch it, I gotchu. I really enjoyed watching the procession, as it was quite different from the weddings I have grown accustomed to in the States.
After we watched the wedding for a bit, we checked out a small shop which was selling omamori (Japanese amulets). I bought an omamori for good fortune in my relationship with bb-chan. Afterwards, we walked around for a little bit more before heading out.
If you are visiting Tokyo, I would say Meiji Shrine is a must-see location. Try to fit it into your schedule if you are checking out Harajuku.
That's it for the posts on this blog. Just want to say thanks to anyone who has read them/kept up with them. Check out my personal blog: for more!
See You Space Cowboy.

Golden Week Finale

Golden Week Finale
Hakone is a beautiful area located in Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park. Famous for the hot springs, ryokans (traditional Japanese inn), and Hakone shrine. Hakone is an extremely popular destination for both Japanese and tourists, and was my favorite location outside of Tokyo this entire trip. Unfortunately, we did not have the time to experience most of the things Hakone has to offer, but still enjoyed our time nonetheless.
My mom and I planned the route early, and started off the day strong with some Doutor coffee. Afterwards, we boarded the first train, and mistakenly thought we could sit in the reserved section. We even took a high class selfie in said section. However, after awhile, a young Japanese attendant notified us that we did not have a green pass (reserved ticket), and politely asked us to gtfo. After coming back down to the regular car, we soon arrived at our destination.
The next part was a bit tricky. I had to use my Japanese language ability, or rather try to, to figure out which bus route would take us to our points of interest in Hakone. We decided to head to the shrine, located in a dense forest next to Lake Ashi. Before trekking over to the shrine, we stopped in to a quaint little restaurant next to the lake. We enjoyed some more coffee, and some delicious pizza. By the time we got out, the weather had taken a turn. A beautiful storm was approaching, which created a fog like I have never seen before.
Part of the shrine was still visible from the lake, so we made our way over, and walked through the torii gates. We saw some absolutely beautiful things, and honestly my words can't really do it justice. My favorite moment, possibly of my entire experience here in Japan, was when my mom and I walked on a narrow trail in the forest. I looked up and just stood there, watching the fog move gracefully through the unbelievably tall trees. I have never been somewhere so serene, somewhere where I felt completely at ease.
Anyways, after we walked through the entirety of the shrine, and after I ate my ice cream in the super cold weather, we made our way back to the bus. I really want to visit Hakone again before I go home. We barely scratched the surface of all that Hakone has to offer.
That's it for the Golden Week posts! The rest of my posts will be kind of random, just some places and things I saw up until now. 19 days left! Final posts of the trip will be on my personal blog:
See You Space Cowboy.

Golden Week Part 4: Parks

Remember when I said I would post regularly? I may or may not have stretched the truth on that one a little bit. School has made me quite uninspired to write, and I'm more ready than ever to walk out of Sophia's gates for the last time. My finals start in about a week (yes I'm still in school), and at this point I'm more interested/concerned in just surviving them, as opposed to receiving amazing scores. I suppose I felt like that at Tech also. I'm sure it's normal, but for the past month my traveling has taken a nosedive, so I am planning one last trip outside of Tokyo before I return to the States.
Well anyways, this will be one of the last Golden Week posts, and I am mainly going to talk about the two parks that I went to: Shinjuku Gyoen and Yoyogi Park.
Shinjuku Gyoen is an absolutely beautiful park located in... you guessed it, Akihabara. Just kidding, it's located in Shinjuku. For the small entry free of 200 yen, this is a place you really should not miss if you visit Tokyo. There are so many gorgeous things to see, like a rose garden, tea garden, and a really neat greenhouse. The park is not crowded during weekdays, and is a perfect place to read, study, or relax and enjoy the scenery. I am going to let my pictures do the talking on this one.
Yoyogi park is located near Harajuku, and is quite different. It's not so much about the physical scenery here, but more about the people that show up. Many performers of all kinds put their talent on display here. When we visited, there was an LGBT parade going on near the park, so the place was packed. If you want to watch someone play trap music while painting with spray paint, then wow this is the perfect place for you. We walked around for a little bit, getting in some good people-watching.
After we had our fill of Yoyogi, we made our way back to the station, but decided to walk through the LGBT parade to get there. I think it goes without saying that when you combine an LGBT parade and Japan, you get a pretty weird outcome. I took a couple pictures, just a couple.
Other than that, I showed my mom around Takeshita street and Omotesando Street in Harajuku, and I finally ate a crepe. It was extremely rich but very delicious.
That's about it for now. My next post will be the final Golden Week post, and will be about Hakone.
See You Space Cowboy.


Tanabata and Yukata!


Vega and Altair on their meeting day (source)

Around this time of the year, many Japanese people get together to celebrate Tanabata matsuri (festival). This festival commemorates a Romeo and Juliet-esque story of two lovers, Vega and Altair, who were separated across the Milky Way and were only allowed to meet on the evening of Tanabata (July 7th). To celebrate, my friend's host mom set up an event with her English language elderly students to have a sort of cultural and language exchange. I was very excited to not only meet everyone, but to wear a yukata for the first time! I headed over to my friend's homestay earlier in the day in order to get properly dressed. There were several beautiful pieces to choose from, and I choose a white and pink floral pattern. The first part of the yukata is a long robe piece that is tied across by the obi (belt) pretty tightly. The yukata is made for the hot summer days as it has a opening from the sleeves that allows for much needed ventilation! The last part of the outfit is a flower hair pin for the girls and fitted geta (wooden slippers). 


My friends and I all dressed up! (source)

The event itself was quite fun and we began the day by writing our Tanabata wishes onto thin, long, decorated paper slips and tying it to the bamboo tree as is customary for this festival. Following that, we were treated with a special finger flute performance by two of the elderly men who attended the event. Having never seen a finger flute performance (or even having heard of it), it was quite the treat and very entertaining. The two men played both American and Japanese songs! One of them has been training in the finger flute for over two decades and definitely proved his talent.

Next, we proceeded to the crafts and games part of the day, beginning with origami. While I have done origami several times before, I definitely did not remember all the steps. Luckily, the group at my table was able to show me how to make a cute paper crane! In the spirit of Tanabata, we also made "ama no gawa" decorations which are made to look like the Milky Way. It was great learning how to make some new origami, hopefully I will remember it when I get home! :)

Origami galaxy milky way tanabata japan

Milky Way origami (source)

Lastly, we rounded out the day by playing some Japanese games including Karuta. The version we played started off with three stacks of cards in the middle of the table. On the cards are either a picture of regular man, princess, or monk and depending on which one you pick you either gain or lose cards. The players take turns going around the table and drawing from the deck. Drawing a card with the regular man lets you keep your card, a monk makes you lose all of your cards, and a princess lets you take the cards lost by other players or draw from the main pile. The goal is to end up with the most cards in your hand when the piles are empty. I was not lucky enough to win this time, but it was definitely a fun game!


Karuta cards (source)

I had a great time at the event and enjoyed wearing yukata with all of my friends, old and new! :)


A Day in the Countryside


If you’ve ever watched anime or read manga, you’ve seen the scenario. Lots of young students gathered together at some remote location for an overnight trip. It’s almost always a time of warm nights. Maybe the protagonist falls off a cliff, and her love interest somehow ends up next to her. Or maybe there’s a test of courage. Or maybe it’s a sports-themed and the entire team has to get super-powered before some big competition. Whatever it is, it’s happening overnight.

Known as a 合宿 (gasshuku), these training camps/overnight trips are a quintessential part of most foreigners’ imaginary Japan. At least, it was a part of mine. This weekend, I got to participate in a gasshuku with my tennis circle, and this experience (as expected) defied my preconceptions while (happily) exceeding any and all expectations. Our location? Hadano—a small town located in the hilly田舎(inaka—countryside).

My trip began in darkness. Class ended at 6 pm, but dinner, bathroom breaks, and general delays resulted in us arriving at Hadano Station at around 11 pm. From the station, we had to walk 30 minutes to reach our lodging for the night. A few streetlights lined the street, and we walked in the quiet of the night. A few of the male club members challenged each other to じゃんけん (jyanken—rock-paper-scissors) on the condition that the loser carried the others’ bags for a set period of time. Another member tried to scare us with ghost stories that just so happened to have taken place in Hadano. It was a simple, carefree walk, but it was also a long one. By the time we reached our destination, we were thoroughly exhausted and quite sweaty.

Unfortunately (or fortunately?) for us, the night was only just beginning. After everyone showered, one of the members produced a DVD of Annabelle, a horror film, to my abject horror. We spent approximately two hours of screaming, yelling, and sharing mildly violent reactions. We clutched each other’s hands and stomped on the floor. Retrospectively, the film was really quite silly, but being able to be afraid with one another was an extremely fun (and tiring) experience. After the film ended, we retreated to our respective rooms and went to sleep. There was no test of courage, lost classmates, or hidden confessions.

We woke up early the next day to play tennis. From 7:30 am, it was already clear that was going to be a beautiful, sunny day, which means that it was also guaranteed to be a hot, horrible, and sweaty day. It was. We practiced often, and I tried my best to not make a complete fool of myself on the tennis court, and also did a wonderful job at failing at just that. I missed the returns, rarely served properly, and spent a lot of time resting/hiding in the shade. Nonetheless, it was incredibly fun and unbelievably fulfilling. I was able to get closer to other members in my club, and I was able to do so much more naturally. There’s something intimate about spending the night with people, and there’s almost an inevitability of getting closer to one another.

And that was all. Some might find it boring, and perhaps as a story (or a blog), it is. But as a memory, it is unforgettable, and as an experience, it is one of my most learning ones. There was no drama or excitement of puppy love or hot-blooded training. There was, in many ways, nothing but a quiet, and intimately shared contentment. But that, in the end, is more than I could have ever imagined or asked for.