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2 posts from May 2017

05/30/2017

My Golden Week was Golden

Earlier this month was Golden Week in Japan. For those of you who doesn’t know what Golden Week is, it’s a public holiday that spans about 4-5 days. It was a break from school and a chance to travel and explore a bit more of Japan. However, it was fairly unexpected for many of us. We just arrived in Japan and began school only to take a break. Many of my fellow classmates decided to go to Kyoto and Osaka for the break. I didn’t have the mental preparation to do such a trip and so decided to stay in Tokyo with some of my other friends.

My first day of break (May 3) was spent in Shin Okubu and Ueno. Shin Okubu is Tokyo’s Korean Town. It was a switch of scenery and food, which was really great. Afterwards I spent the afternoon in Ueno Park. Ueno Park is comparable to my hometown’s park, NYC’s Central Park. Ueno Park had many museums, zoo, theater, shrines, and pop up shops. There is always many people there, tourist and locals a like. I decided to go into Tokyo’s National Museum. Tickets for many of these places are fairly cheap, costing around 600 yen, or if you’re a student a free ticket to some museums. In the National Museum, many artworks and artifacts of Japanese history was on displayed. It was an educational experience to learn the history of Japan. Coming to Japan, the only history I knew was WWII and some pop culture phenomena. I learned a lot about indigenousness Ainu people of the north and their life style. I didn’t know how diverse areas of Japan would be, since it’s a much smaller country than the US.

Thursday, I spent the day with my host family. They thought it would be a good adventure to bring me to Kamakura. They were a bit hesitant because of Golden Week traffic but ultimately decided to go anyways. Golden Week traffic is not a joke. Japan is already flooded with tourist 24/7 of the week, but Golden Week allowed many Japanese family to come to these areas as well. It took about 3 hours to drive there which typically taking the train would be about an hour and a half. In Kamakura, I went to Ugafuku Shrine. It’s a well known place for locals to come and wash their money in the purified water. It’s believed that washing money with the shrine’s water would bring about future fortunes. For dinner we drove to a nearby island called Enoshima. Enoshima is known for its Shi Ra Su (White bait) rice bowls. We waited for a seat in a restaurant for more than 2 hours. I got a normal Su Ra Shi, while my host brother and host dad ordered a tempura style rice bowl.

Friday, I went back to Kamakura to go to the beaches and play some beach volleyball with some friends. I spent all day in the sun, and by the end was fried to a crisp. I never realized how popular surfing was in Japan either. Many older adults and kids were surfing.

Saturday, I went to an onsen, Japanese hot spring, with a friend. Traditionally in onsens, one is suppose to be all nude, but because I was not comfortable with that idea, I found one that allowed bathing suits as well. Although I don’t really like hot springs I felt it to be necessary to at least try it in Japan. It was actually a better experience than I thought it would be. We were given a Japanese style robe to change into and found our way to the outdoor hot springs. There were multiple springs ranging from different temperatures and architectures. This is meant to maximize the level of comfort. It was a family friendly activity as kids of all ages were brought there and taught how to relax. The onsen also had open areas with futons that allowed people to nap, to eat, and catch up on reading. People spend almost the whole day in an onsen because its not just sitting in the hot spring that’s part of relaxing. It’s a process, you need to soak in the hot spring for a while, then rest up either eating, or lounging in the futons and then go back to the hot springs. It’s a whole process of relaxation and not just a single event when going to the onsen. After the onsen, I went to Odaiba. Odaiba is a man made island that was famous for it’s giant Gundam figure but has been removed only recently. However, there was still much to do in Odaiba. It so happened that there was many events being hold such as Cinco De Mayo celebration and a Hula dance demonstration. It was a nice way to end the day by walking along the seashore and viewing the Tokyo Skyline.

Sunday, was the last day of the break and it was a day of rest. In the morning I went to Tsukiji fish market. However, because I went around 12pm many of the shops were already closing. Tsukiji is known for it’s early morning tuna auctions but is limited to the amount of visitors. There are many shops and food stands that a seafood enthusiast would love. I decided to eat a raw oyster and some squid jerky. A walked around for about one more hour and called it a day and headed home to prepare for school the next day.

Although I didn’t go to Kyoto and Osaka for Golden Week , I was able to explore many parts of Tokyo that I  wouldn’t have found if I did not stay. There’s always something to do in Tokyo even when you think you’ve done it all.

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A shopping district in Enoshima island. Some popular products when looking around was mango ice cream as well as Shi Ra Su (white bait).


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The skyline view of Tokyo from Odaiba. That is the Rainbow Bridge.


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A Shi Ra Su (white bait) rice bowl! It was Oishi and such a large portion.


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A picture taken on Enoshima island looking over Kamakura.



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In the Tokyo National Museum. You can explore two floors of art and artifacts with many more exhibitions that require tickets.


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My friends Axel and I in Odaiba near Diver City, a mall.


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Me with a towel tied behind my head waiting for lunch at the onsen! Getting out of the hot spring my appetite was huge!

05/11/2017

A day in Hiroshima

April 21, Friday 4:50 pm I hopped on a train with my fellow program mates to Hiroshima, Japan. I didn't really know what to expect on this trip besides learning about the Nuclear bomb and the aftermath of the bomb. Heading from Yotsuya station to Tokyo station we had sometime to roam around.No experience is complete on a Shinkansen without a bento box. I ordered a hamburger steak bento which to my surprise wasn't half bad. Maybe it was largely due to the artistic colors and organization of the items put into the box. The 4 hour train ride passed by quickly when the views through suburb Japan is breath taking. Mountains along mountains and rice fields across rice fields, the views never felt repetitive. 

We arrived in Hiroshima around 9pm and went to the hotel. I went out with some friends to an Izakaiya (Japanese bar) and had some sashimi and chat about our experienced so far with some friends. One thing that we didn't realize during orientation was how separate our daily lives were once school started. It was nice to catch up and finally see the people we came here with. We called it a night early because the next morning we were going to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. 

The peace Memorial Museum, was one of the most humbling and enriching experience I had while abroad. Knowing a bit about the bombing that took place over 70 years ago, I soon learned other point of views of the bombing. The museum focuses heavily on the aftermath of the bomb, something that my education never really taught me. We saw pictures of the mushroom cloud, the empty flat terrains after the bomb but never, of the ground level. It was shocking to learn that many of the people who died were kids. They were younger than me and were deployed early in the morning to work. The work, to tear down buildings in case of air raids.  Seeing the uniforms of the kids and knowing they were normal kids like me touched me. Along the museum we continued to see daily life artifacts and how the intense heat and radiation caused it to deform. 

One specific exhibit hit home for me, Sadako and the thousand paper cranes. I remember reading her story as a child and folding paper cranes just like her and making a wish. Sadako’s story begins well after the bomb. As a child she survived the bomb along with her family. She lived a healthy life for 12 years, being a fantastic runner.  However, as a teen, she developed leukemia as an effect of the exposure of radiation from the bomb. She died 8 months after being diagnosed. I never really thought much about the story as a kid, whether it was real, or fictional, to me it was to teach me the lessons of tragedy in war. I had no emotional connection to Sadako. But walking in the museum I didn’t realize how real she actually was. Her daily items, her post cards, her shoes were all in display. The most amazing part though, was the actual paper cranes she folded. In all she made over 1300 paper cranes. Each with the wish to live.

Afterwards, I had the opportunity to hear the story and life of the survivor of the bomb. Hearing her story and how traumatic it was to see the lifeless bodies as a kid, was terrifying. However, I find it important to hear these stories because as years pass we won't be able to hear them and continue their legacy. The rest of the day was a walking tour around Hiroshima. Its impressive how lively the city is and how quickly it recovered from the bomb. Hiroshima and it's citizen are strong advocates for world peace and the demolition of nuclear power. During the walking tour we got to see the only surviving building from the bomb. It was the epicenter of the bomb but because of the dome shaped bronze coated ceiling, the building managed to survive.  It is now a UNESCO heritage site. 

The last day in Hiroshima we visited the neighboring island of Miyajima. Miyajima is well known for its Tori gate on the water. Arriving on the island we were greeted by many wild deers as well as our tour guide.  We got to walk along the shrine built on the water as well as go on a cable car ride up mount Misen. We ended the day taking the Shikansen back to Tokyo. 

My experience in Hiroshima, although short was an cultural and historical enriching one. This trip allowed me to reflect on what's currently happening around the world and the crises many innocent people are facing because of pointless violence. It reminded me that history repeats itself therefore it's important to hear history and those who lived through it to help us make informed and humane decisions.  IMG_0547

The Tori Gate. Because of low tide we were able to walk up to it and touch it, Sugoi (amazing)! IMG_0477 (1)

A couple of friends up on Mount Misen. Amazing views! (From left to right, Kevin, Senna, Me (Kevin).