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9 posts categorized "Anna Morris"


Nara and Kyoto

I believe I mentioned this in a post a while ago, but because of the electricity shortage Sophia University decided to shorten the semester -- so instead of finals going until the end of July, we all finished our finals on July 20th. That has given everyone a lot of free time to explore Tokyo and surrounding areas in Japan, which we have all taken great advantage of! Last Thursday and Friday, I took off to explore Nara and Kyoto - it was a great trip!

I left Tokyo Wednesday night by overnight bus, which actually wasn't too bad - I was super tired so I was able to sleep the whole way, and the bus was even darker than my room so it was a pretty good sleep. I got to Kyoto around 7:30am Tuesday morning and then took a train to Nara, which is well-known for all of its temples and shrines. I'd actually never been before -- when my family was in Japan three years ago we were supposed to go, but the afternoon my dad had planned for us was the same one when I found out I had a shellfish allergy (after eating seafood for lunch)... needless to say I couldn't make the trip.

But, this time I made it to Nara pretty early Tuesday morning and went to drop my bag off at the hostel before beginning to explore the area. I walked SO much today and yesterday - I should probably get better sandals. But anyways, I spent most of Tuesday wandering around looking at the different shrines and temples -- they were absolutely beautiful, so just look at the pictures! One thing of interest was at Todai-ji where there is another big buddha statue, and one of the temple columns has a hole at the bottom that is the same size as the buddha statue's nostril. If you can fit through the hole, supposedly it aids you on your path to enlightenment! It was a tight squeeze, but I eventually wriggled through and a very nice gentleman took some pictures for me. It was quite the experience! My favorite thing of the day were the lanterns at the Kasuga Taisha (Shrine) -- there were both bronze and stone lanterns, hundreds of them, and they were absolutely amazing.  Check out my Facebook photo album for lots and lots of pictures!



Wriggling through the nostril hole!


Kasuga Taisha lanterns~~




Later in the afternoon I got pretty tired so I went back to the hostel to take a nap. I met a girl from London who spent two weeks visiting a friend in Tokyo and is now traveling around Japan for another two weeks -- we bonded over the joys of solo traveling and then I passed out in my super comfortable bed until dinner time. For dinner, I wandered around looking for something to eat until I found a picture of something appetizing outside a restaurant -- I went inside and ordered it, and then when it came I realized it had some unknown bits of what I presumed to be seafood. I decided to eat some of it anyways -- big mistake. After dinner I was able to walk around more and see some of the sights that were illuminated at night, but when I got back to the hostel I started to not feel well. Later at night I had another allergic reaction -- something about me and Nara I guess.... But, I made it through the night and felt fine today, so things could be worse I guess.

This morning I woke up, packed up, and headed from Nara back to Kyoto (about an hour by train). I didn't have much of a plan, so I got a map "eigo no chizu" (English map) and started exploring. I came to Kyoto with my family before, and my dad is a great tour guide so I figured he had shown us most of the interesting places. The first temple I went to, I can't remember the name of, but it was apparently the biggest wooden building in the world. I lost my map there, so after that my plans were pretty much shot... But, after a lot of wandering around I made it to Ginkaku-ji, or the Silver Pavillion, which wasn't as awe-inspiring as the Golden Pavillion (also in Kyoto) but was still really pretty. I also wandered through the Kyoto Imperial Palace Grounds, which are now surrounded by a big public park. You can't go into the actual palace grounds, but you can get closer than you can in Tokyo! I saw some royal roofs, at least.


The giant wooden building~




Once I was sufficiently tired out I headed back to Kyoto Station to take the shinkansen home. Let me just say, a 3 hour bullet train ride is definitely > a 7 hour overnight bus ride. But, it takes bus rides to really make you appreciate the shinkansen I guess. (For reference, Kyoto -> Tokyo is about twice as far as Boston is from New York City, but you can make the bullet train trip in less time than it takes to drive from Boston to NY!) I made it home to delightfully cool weather in Tokyo, which has continued for a few days now. It's nice to have a break from the heat, but I think it's supposed to get hot again starting tomorrow. A bunch of CIEE students are going with SISEC on a big camping trip -- it should be a lot of fun! After that, I'll have a few days left in Tokyo before heading home on August 1st - can't believe it's that time already. This semester has flown by! Matane~~



Nagano and Matsumoto

One of the many (many many) great things about Tokyo is that it's only a few hours' train ride from so many places! A few weekends ago, I went on a weekend trip to Nagano and Matsumoto with my boyfriend who was visiting from America (lucky me!). It was an amazing trip! We headed to Nagano first by way of an early morning shinkansen. I didn't get us reserved seat tickets in an attempt to be a bit economical, but then we found out the hard way that they let people stand on the shinkansen if there aren't enough seats available -__-''. But, we were able to sit down after a few stops, so it wasn't too bad.

When we got to the station, we stored our overnight bags and began walking to Zenkoji, a famous Buddhist temple. You may remember that Nagano was the site of the 1998 Winter Olympics -- one of the first things we walked by was one of the platforms where they presented medals! It's condition has worsened a bit since then but it was still really cool to see -- I may or may not have taken advantage of my ignorant gaijin status and taken a picture or two on the medal podium :). We made sure to continue our walk quickly after that!

On the medal podium ;)



Despite the heat, we finally made it up the hill away from the station to Zenkoji -- the temple was amazing! There were tons of people walking around and the architecture was really beautiful. We were looking around in awe for a bit when a Japanese lady ran up to us and excitedly asked if she could show us around -- she was a volunteer tour guide! She gave us a lot of really cool information about the temple, and we were admiring one statue when she frantically tugged on my backpack and said something about "the governor the governor!". At first I thought she meant the statue, but then I realized that she was pointing to the stately Japanese man on the other side of the statue -- the governor of the Nagano prefecture was there with his family (this guy)! We were really lucky to bump into him and even more lucky that we were with someone who could tell us who he was!


After lots of bowing and konnichiwa-ing we continued exploring the temple. Our "volunteer" guide talked us into paying the (small) fee to go down into the "Kaidan Meguri," loosely translated as the path of Buddha. It's a dark tunnel that you walk through in search of the "Key to Paradise," which is the closest point to the main altar that the general public can access. Since we were following the voice of our guide she told us where to touch, so we took the easy way out to enlightenment. Still, it was a really cool experience as it was literally pitch black!


After we had our fill of temple scenery, we headed did some more exploring of the streets then made our way back to the train station to head to Matsumoto for the night. We had a relaxing train ride there and got to the station just in time for the shuttle to the ryokan we were staying in for the night. The place was REALLY nice -- we had great service and a delicious dinner before relaxing in the hot spring baths later at night. We were exhausted from our day of travel so we retired to our futon-style beds pretty early!

The view from the top of a dam near the ryokan ~ breathtaking


Dressed in traditional yukata in the ryokan :)


Matsumoto Castle!



The next morning, we woke up and had a hearty breakfast in the ryokan dining room before heading out to explore the area. Our main destination was Matsumoto Castle, but we also checked out some shopping streets and local specialty foods. The castle itself was beautiful -- we decided not to go inside, but the scenery outside was amazing! We took a lot of pictures and relaxed with some snacks before heading back to the station to go back to Tokyo :(. I actually just remembered this now -- that same night we had dinner with my homestay mother and daughter! They were really excited to meet my boyfriend and we had a great time playing together despite the language barrier. They are such a great family. I also picked up the cups that I made the first time I stayed with them -- pictures below!

Actually the cutest child alive


My masterpieces!


Our little family :)

If you've made it this far in this ridiculously long post, congratulations! Stay tuned for posts about my last few weeks in Tokyo and our CIEE final party -- can't believe I go home in 2.5 weeks! It's been a great semester!


Sushi Making!

Last Wednesday, there was a CIEE-sponsored sushi making event! We got the opportunity to try our hand at making one of the foods we've been eating pretty regularly while in Japan. It was a lot of fun, and it was nice to spend the afternoon inside out of the heat!

The event was located just a few stations from school, so we got there soon after lunch (although we had been told to have a light lunch since we would be eating our sushi after we made it). When we got there, we donned our aprons, washed our hands, and then got orientated with the kitchen environment. First, we watched a demonstration by one of the staff members. She showed us how to make two types of sushi--makizushi and inarizushi. They had a step-by-step guide book with instructions in both English and Japanese – it was really cute!

Our helpful instructors~

The inarizushi, or tofu rolls, were pretty simple – we just took a premade fried tofu pouch, squeezed out some of the oil, and then stuffed some rice in.  The makizushi, was a bit more complicated. The roll consisted of an egg, rice, cucumber, salmon flakes, ginger, and more rice. For the makizushi, we first cooked the egg in the frying pan. I don't remember what it was called, but it could best be described as an egg pancake--we beat the egg, then spread it out really thinly in the pan and cooked both sides.

In the meantime, rice had been cooking in a rice cooker, so we had to cool it down before we could roll it up. It was actually a pretty complicated process. We dumped the rice into a big wooden bowl, then were instructed to spread out the rice using "horizontal cutting strokes" while simultaneously fanning the rice. More than once we were instructed to fan more vigorously. When the rice had finally been cooled sufficiently, we took the egg pancake and covered it with a layer of rice and some pickled ginger. Then we rolled it up tightly and set it aside for later.

Hard at work cooling the rice!

Next, we took a piece of mori (seaweed) and covered it with a layer of rice. Then we placed the egg roll in the middle and put a long slice of cucumber on either side, and another slice on top. Then we rolled up the seaweed with the help of a bamboo mat called a makisu, and used more rice to connect the roll together. Then we sliced the roll into six pieces – the cross-section looked like a flower! We finished it off with a pinch of pink fish powder. It was really pretty!


Rolling up the makizushi

The instructor's finished sushi! 

By the time everyone finished rolling their sushi, we were all pretty hungry. The staff also prepared soup and orange slices for everyone, so we ended the afternoon with a great meal! It was really cool to make the sushi ourselves, and the inarizushi were simple enough that I may try it on my own again~ especially if it turns out as well as it did below!


Our delicious meal~


A day in the life...

You may be wondering, "what is a typical school day like for a CIEE student in Tokyo?" Read this post to find out!

My day starts bright and early at 7:00am when I wake up to start getting ready for class. I have one period of Japanese starting at 9:15am; others have a double block from 9:15-12:30, and a lucky few have only second period Japanese starting at 11:00am. Most of those with a first period leave the dorm by about 8:00am in groups of one or two or three, and the commute to school is about an hour door-to-door. Once leaving the dorm, we have about a 10 minute walk to Nishikawaguchi Station. There are several combinations of trains that can get you from Nishikawaguchi to Yotsuya, but most of us do the same thing. From the station, we smush into the train and take the Keihin-Tohoku Line to Akabane (7 minutes), and then transfer to the Saikyo or Shonan-Shinjuku and take that train to Shinjuku (~20 minutes). The Saikyo and Shonan-Shinjuku trains are supposedly the most crowded trains for the morning commute, and we've each had enough rides squished into a mass of Japanese bodies to believe that it's true.

Rush hour on the Keihin-Tohoku

Rush hour in Akabane Station.. so crowded~~

Yotsuya Station in the morning!

Once reaching Shinjuku, we transfer to the Chuo Rapid Line train and take that one stop to Yotsuya (5 minutes), where our campus is located. Once reaching Yotsuya, we exit the station and join the mass of people crossing the street. All of our Japanese classes are in building 11, which is at the far end of campus from where we enter. My Japanese class is in the basement by the cafeteria, so I usually walk through and get a drink or a snack before class.

Once my first period Japanese class is over, I don't have another class until third period (starting at 1:30pm). So, I usually read or study in the library or in the cafeteria. I get my lunch around 12 or 12:15 every day, and stake out a place to sit with friends. Others, however, are not so lucky - those who get out of class at 12:30pm are caught in the rush of students coming in to get food and seats. It gets unbelievably crowded in the cafeteria during lunch and it's really hard to get food, much less get seats together. I'm a big fan of not having a second period :).

108_3607The Building 11 cafeteria (when it's not crowded...) 

After lunch, we split off to go to class, the library, or to run errands before class. Once done with class, people either go home, meet for group projects, or explore nearby areas like Shinjuku, Harajuku, or Shibuya. Our campus is in a really great location - we can be in all of those areas within about 10 minutes.

Wednesdays are a nice exception because, due to the Mon/Thurs or Tues/Fri scheduling of classes, almost no one has afternoon classes (I acually do, but there are only four of us with a seminar in the afternoon). So, on Wednesday afternoons the city is ours to explore. Yesterday, I went to Ginza to "shop"/mostly sightsee in the famous Mitsukoshi department store that has really high-end goods. Other options include will go to Asakusa, Shibuya, Shinjuku, Ueno, or pretty much any combination of consonant-vowel-consonant-vowel you can think of.

Whenever we decide to head home, the night commute is usually better than the morning commute. Night rush hour can be anywhere from 6-10pm, but it's usually not as bad as in the morning. At any rate, the trains aren't as muggy and hot. At the end of a long day, however, the walk home seems to take forever, but getting home to bed is great motivation!



Hello again! The week since my last post flew by and I had another good weekend. Yesterday (Sunday), a bunch of CIEE students went with SISEC to the island of Enoshima. I'm not sure if I've already described what SISEC is, but it's basically a circle at the university that holds events for foreign students and Japanese students to hang out and get to know each other. It's a lot of fun and we've all made some really good friends through their events. So, yesterday morning we set off from our dorm at about 9:30am to make the  journey down to Enoshima. Luckily, we caught a rapid train so we cut about 30 minutes off our travel time, but it still took us almost two hours from door to door to get there. Thankfully, though, we weren't last, so we had time to get some lunch around the station while we waited for the last stragglers to arrive (who may or may not have been CIEE students... ahem).

IMG_1573 Outside in Enoshima

Once we were all there, the group of about 40 students set off for the Enoshima Aquarium. I actually went to the aquarium in Kobe a few weeks ago, but for many people it was their first time going to an aquarium in a number of years. So, we had a lot of fun reliving our childhood and marveling at all the different fishies. The Japanese Giant Crabs and all of the jellyfish were my particular favorites. Later in the afternoon, there was a dolphin show that also featured a sea lion - it was really cool! There was one animal swimming around that we have deemed a "wholphin," or a cross between a whale and a dolphin, although if you actually click that link you will read that apparently there are only two in existence (both in Hawaii). This thing at the Enoshima Aquarium, however, could secretly be a wholphin - it was ginormous and really did look like a cross between a dolphin and a whale. It also didn't do any tricks - it just kind of swam around in circles. I think it's sole purpose was to be impressively big and disprove Wikipedia articles.

IMG_1664 The sea lion!

After the dolphin show we had more fun squealing at the touching pool, and then headed out to the beach. It was an overcast day but wasn't too chilly, and we were just lucky it didn't rain. The water wasn't actually terribly cold, so most of us put our feet in, and some of the guys went actual swimming. We got a lot of great pictures in the waves - it was really entertaining to see every group pictures be interrupted by people sqealing as a wave broke over the back of their ankles. Eventually we had had enough, however, so we went back to an area where we could all sit down and rest.

A picture of the group right as a wave hit :)

Everyone cleaned up, and then the group split up to go different places. Some people went to the "Sea Castle" which is a tall observatory on the island, though it was really cloudy so I'm not sure what the view was like. I actually headed home with some people, since it was already after 5pm and we were looking at a long trip home. We were really looking forward to having dinner at our favorite ramen place by the dorm, but unfortunately it was closed, so we had delicious okonomiyaki instead. Can't complain! Overall it was a really nice, relaxing day and it was nice to be home relatively early to get ready for this week. We are past midterms, but now we only have about three weeks of classes left - absolutely insane! We all want time to slow down! Matane~ :)


Hiroshima and Miyajima!

It is a cool but cloudy Monday morning in Tokyo, and the CIEE students just finished an amazing weekend in Hiroshima and Miyajima. On Friday afternoon, we left from campus to go to Tokyo Station to take the shinkansen up to Hiroshima. Our nozomi shinkansen train was super fast and comfortable – we made it to Hiroshima in just about four hours – but when we got to the station in Hiroshima it was raining. But, we didn’t have far to go to the hotel, so we packed into the street car and set off for the hotel. Hiroshima is one of the few cities in Japan that still uses street cars, so it was pretty cool to get to ride in one. We only had a few stops to go, and once we got off the street car we were only about a 10 minute walk from the hotel, so were in our rooms by 10pm or so and were able to run any errands we needed to run before turning in early to get ready for the big day ahead of us!

Street car A street car in Hiroshima!

Saturday started out dreary and drizzling, but it actually cleared up and turned into a beautiful sunny day. We had a buffet breakfast in the amazing hotel restaurant – it was on the 15th floor and had a spectacular view of the surrounding area, including the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. After breakfast, we left the hotel and walked over to the Peace Memorial Museum that was built to honor the victims of the bomb and continue to advocate for peace and the abolition of nuclear weapons. We had a few minutes to explore the exhibits downstairs before going to watch a film about the experience of the mothers of victims from the bomb. It was a pretty heavy film and started the day off on a somber note, which continued as we spent the rest of the morning wandering around the museum and seeing the exhibits. It was a personal experience for all of us and being there is hard to put into words, but I will say it is definitely a place you should visit at least once if you go to Japan.

A view of Hiroshima - you can see the a-bomb dome over to the left

After the museum, we went on a walking tour of the Peace Memorial Park. By that time the rain had gone away and it was a beautiful sunny day, so we got a lot of great pictures. The park is really well done and is a beautiful memorial to the victims. Monuments in the park include a cenotaph housing the names of all the victims, a flame that will burn until all nuclear arms are decommissioned,  the museum itself, and the atomic bomb dome, which was pretty close to the hypocenter of the bomb but remained (comparatively) pretty intact. All of these elements lie in a straight line, which made for a really cool picture!

ParkThe cenotaph in Peace Memorial Park. Behind it you can see the eternal flame, and behind that you can see the a-bomb dome

After walking around the park, we had obento for lunch and then had the amazing opportunity to hear an “hibakusha,” or someone who was affected by the bomb, speak. The woman, Matsubara-san, was a school child at the time of the bombing and was working outside helping the government to demolish houses for a fire break when the bomb hit. Her story was really emotional and it was an incredible opportunity to hear her speak in person. There are currently about 70,000 hibakusha still living in Hiroshima, but of course that number is continuously declining. She seemed to be in pretty good health, and although it was hard to understand her English at times, she said a lot of interesting things. She concluded by talking about how the hibakusha won’t always be around to fight for peace. She passed the “torch of peace” on to us and urged us to continue fighting against the use of nuclear weapons in the future. It was really moving and definitely got us all thinking.

Later in the afternoon we had free time to explore Hiroshima more. A group of people went with our tour guide to Hiroshima Castle, where they explored the castle grounds and got to try on samurai and period costumes. But, instead of the castle, I went with several people to explore the “hondori,” which is a covered arcade lined with shops. It was incredible, and I definitely did my part to stimulate the Hiroshima economy -- I did more souvenir shopping this weekend than I had done in the whole semester combined. After shopping, the whole group met back at the hotel to go to dinner at an okonomiyaki restaurant. Okonomiyaki is a type of pancake made with flour, cabbage, egg, meat, and whatever other toppings you want, and it originated in Hiroshima so is a big part of the local scene there. The dinner was delicious and a lot of fun – we all sat around a big grill and watched them make our food. After dinner, we split off to wander around the area some more, either shopping or just seeing the sights. It didn’t rain the whole time we were outside on Saturday – we really lucked out with the weather.
Girls Girls in Hiroshima!
Sunday, however, was a different story. We woke up to rain and it rained steadily the rest of the day. But, we didn’t let that stop us from enjoying the beautiful Miyajima Island and Itsukushima Shrine. We left the hotel around 8:15am to take the bus to the ferry to get over to the island. I had been to the island before so I knew what to expect, but as the famous Itsukushima torii (gate) came into view for the first time, the boat almost tipped over from all of the people on that side of the railing taking pictures. (Not really, but it was fun to see everyone run to one side to take pictures. Myself included.) It was rainy and foggy but some of the pictures actually turned out pretty well!

 The famous torii of Itsukushima Shrine!
When we got onto the island, our tour guide took us to some places of interest before heading over to the shrine, which is absolutely beautiful. The shrine has been  designated as one of the “top three most scenic places in Japan,” so it’s definitely worth a visit whenever possible. We actually had the amazing opportunity today to see part of a Shinto wedding that was going on in the shrine. It was really beautiful and we saw part of what I think was the “vow ceremony” before the bridal party moved to an outer part of the shrine to watch a performance of traditional dance. The costumes were amazing and it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience – we were really to get to witness it.
A traditional dancer dancing in front of the bride and groom
After our tour of the shrine finished, we all split off to explore the island on our own. A group of us walked out into the marshy area to the actual gate – it was low tide so you can walk pretty far out in the sand. We spent the rest of the day wandering around the streets of Miyajima, trying the local momijimanju (mapleleaf shaped waffle type things with various fillings) and oysters – both of which the island is famous for. Despite the rain, it was a lot fun, and we all got some good omiyage (souvenir) shopping done. I also did this thing called "Dr. Fish" where you put your feet in a pool and this special type of fish eats all of the dead skin off your skin. It sounds gross but it was really cool - it tickled a lot and left my feet noticeably smoother and feeling better. And it was pretty cheap - about $5 for 10 minutes! Definitely worth it.
Out in the mud and rain by the torii!

But, eventually the rain took its toll and most of us got back to the ferry station a few minutes before our scheduled meeting time of 1:55pm. After that, there were five different means of transportation between us and getting home – the ferry, our bus, the shinkansen, the JR rail trains, and then the walk from our home station back to the dorm. But, we all made it back safely and collapsed into our rooms to get ready for the week. This weekend flew by and I can't believe it's already the middle June! Can't wait to see what's in store for this week - mata!


Homestay Weekend!

Hello everyone! This past weekend, CIEE students had the amazing opportunity to do a homestay weekend. I was really excited when I found out we would have this option, because I was originally signed up to do a homestay for the semester, but those plans changed after the earthquake. But, CIEE arranged for students to have the option to stay with a family from Friday night until Sunday, and many of us were paired with the family we would have originally lived with -- so it was really cool to actually get to meet them. My family was absolutely amazing. The mom and dad are in their late 20s/early 30s, with a four-year-old daughter and another child on the way (due in late July!). On Friday afternoon, there was a small party at CIEE where many of the families came to the study center office to pick up their students and take them home. But, some of us met our families directly at the train station (myself included). Around 6:30pm the mother, Hanae-san, met me outside of a coffee shop and we headed back to their apartment. I'm a beginner at Japanese so I was kind of worried about how well I would be able to communicate, but it actually went really well!

108_2958My room for the weekend!

When we got back to the apartment, the father (Yosuke-san) and daughter (Kohaku-chan) weren't home yet, so I settled into my room and talked to Hanae-san some more. Their apartment is really nice -- they have wireless internet, which is atypical for Japanese homes, and a really nice layout and living area. The father is really into music and has a record player and a cabinet full of vinyl albums -- the jazz albums constantly playing set a really good mood for the house. The CIEE staff had told me that the daughter, Kohaku-chan, was really shy, but when she got home we immediately hit it off. We played various games and once she discovered YouTube on my computer, we watched about 50 videos of "Purikuya," which is kind of like Sailor Moon for today's generation. Friday night was really nice and relaxing -- we talked a lot, I showed them some pictures from home, and we had a really delicious dinner!

Saturday, I had an amazing breakfast with bread and lots of fruit, and then we drove to Chiba to go ice skating. It was Kohaku-chan's first time going so I knew it was going to be an adventure. When we got there, it was pretty crowded since it was a rainy day, but we found a place to sit down and changed into our skates. At ice skating rinks in Japan, there isn't an attendant handing out skates -- you just go choose your own and keep your shoes with you. Once I found skates that fit and we got Kohaku-chan into her training skates, myself, Kohaku-chan, and Yosuke-san headed out to the ice. Kohaku-chan was pretty good at it, and by pretty good I mean she was capable of standing up while her dad or I supported her and moved her forward around the ice... She was super cute though, and had a lot of fun. But, with the amount of people packed onto the smallish rink it was kind of stressful at times, especially when we all rendesvouzed at one point and her parents sent Kohaku-chan off skating alone with me. I was pretty much terrified for her saftey but we went really slow, and she didn't fall the whole time I was with her! We all had a lof of fun and Hanae-san got a lot of great pictures -- she is really into photography and wasn't skating because of the baby :).

DSC_0053Ice skating with my host family little sister!

After ice skating we went to this pizza place that was actually the best pizza I have ever had. Seriously. It was so delicious. Yosuke-san said he thought it was the best pizza in Tokyo, but it seriously might be the best pizza anywhere outside of Italy. If you're in Japan or Chiba you should definitely check it out -- it's called Pizzeria Veicolo and I have their business card if you want the address (in Kanji..)!

After eating we headed back home and had a relaxing Saturday night before Hanae-san and I started to prepare Sunday's dinner (I actually missed that memo originally and thought we were going to eat it later Saturday night, so I was pretty disappointed when I found out we had to wait until Sunday night to eat it). I haven't done that much cooking before, but Hanae-san was a patient teacher and she picked something pretty easy for us to make. Basically I just cut up a bunch of vegetables, fried some meat, and put it in a pot with some noodles and various condiments to boil -- but it was really delicious. I went to bed shortly after we finished making dinner because I had been told I had to wake up early on Sunday!

108_2847Sunday night's dinner!

Sunday was another rainy day, but Hanae-san had special plans for us to go to a ceramics studio and throw our own pots! So, Hanae-san, Kohaku-chan, and myself got out our umbrellas and trudged to the bus stop to ride over to the area where the studio was. It actually took us a while to find, but we finally got there and it was such a cute little shop. I'm pretty sure the owner lives in the back, and the store was half shelves with things he was selling, and half his studio where there were two potter's wheels, the table, and the kiln. We all squeezed inside and set about to "learning" how to throw -- it was a lot of Japanese so I basically just copied what the sensei did and they threw in a few English words like "faster," "slower," "thin," and "thick" -- which I know how to say in Japanese anyways... but, after a few good attempts and lots of corrections I finally made two little cups, and Hanae-san made two bowls. Kohaku-chan made two plates by hand (not on the wheel), and she was really cute while doing it. The ceramics studio was a lot of fun and was a great bonding experience. The clay was too wet to paint, so we selected our colors, and the sensei is going to paint and fire it, and then we pick it up later. I'm excited to see the finished product!

108_2909The cups and bowls we made!

The rest of Sunday was a great day with the family. We had lunch in the area and then walked to this shrine whose god is the protector of "car safety," so people can drive their cars up and park them in front of the main temple. It was pretty cool. The street outside the temple had lots of vendors giving out samples, so we got lots of little dessert treats for free! It was a great way to end the afternoon before heading home (and the rain had let up soon!). Sunday night we finally ate the meal we had prepared the night before, which turned out pretty well if I do say so myself, and then after dinner we did origami as a family at the table. It was amazing. I made a few simple things myself (a heart and a hat), but the parents pulled off some pretty amazing folds. They ended up giving all of the finished products to me as a present, which was really sweet. In all, I had an amazing weekend with my family, and everyone else I have talked to had a positive experience as well. We have enjoyed living in the dorm together, but it was really cool that we could still get a taste of what living with a Japanese family would be like. My family invited me back for dinner any time, and of course I am going to go see the baby when it is born! I can't wait!



Kobe and Fuji-san!

It is a cloudy Monday morning in Tokyo and I am writing from the ninth floor of the Hotel New Otani overlooking the rose garden (in short, things could be worse). I am really lucky to have my family visiting me this week - my parents lived in Kobe for two years and have several family friends in the area, so with my 21st birthday being last Friday and my sister having a break between the end of classes and start of summer job, this was a great time for them to visit. I have been staying with them in their hotel, which is approximately 3.5 minutes from my 9:15am classroom. Sure beats taking the train for an hour in the morning.

Having my family here has been a really interesting experience. My Japanese could be considered "beginner" at best, and so I've been relying on a lot of other people since I've been here to translate for me. However, showing my family around has shown me just how much I know about the city and how I can actually get by with my Japanese in several situations. For example, yesterday we went to Kawaguchiko to see Mt. Fuji and I had to make our bus reservation over the phone! It was really stressful but between my broken Japanese and the operator's broken English, we got it done. Success!

As I said, my parents lived in Kobe so they are pretty familiar with Japanese culture, but didn't spend very much time in Tokyo. So, our agenda was very open when they got here. Thursday night we spent some time walking around the Yotsuya area around campus, and had a nice dinner all together. I kept them busy until after 10pm so that they would have a better time adjusting to the jet lag. On Friday, I had two classes but in between we got lunch near campus, and then after class I took them to Harajuku to do some shopping (my dad was really excited about that part...). My mom, sister, and I ended up doing "purikura" (those Japanese photobooth things where you take pictures and then decorate them), while my dad wandered around exploring the area. We had dinner in Harajuku, and then my parents went back to the hotel while my sister and I went over to Shibuya. We were going to meet some friends but ended up getting window seats on the second floor of Starbucks, overlooking the intersection across from the JR station. We got really absorbed in watching the crosswalk -- it was amazing how many people crossed every 30 seconds or so. At one point, an ambulance and police car were trying to make it through the intersection, but they had to sit and wait for a while to let people go by and cars in front of them move!

Shibuya crossing pandemonium

On Saturday, I went with my family to visit Kobe (where I was born). When we got there, my mom's good friend picked us up and we went to have lunch at the church where I was christened, which is now a German cafe... my parents pointed out where the altar used to be, and where the pews were, and the friend with us thinks she actually sat in the area our table was in. It was an interesting experience, to say the least. After lunch we went over to the Kobe aquarium, which was really cool -- I can't remember the last time I went to an aquarium, and this one had a ton of different kinds of marine animals. The jellyfish especially were really neat -- there were at least three different kinds. We also saw a dolphin show, which was really cool. I sat just outside the splash zone, so I had a pretty good view but my camera was safe! After the aquarium we went back to our friend's house for dinner, and then had a very informal personal tea ceremony -- and my sister and I got to try mixing the tea! It was a really cool experience, although the tea itself I am not that fond of -- it's very bitter, and is definitely an acquired taste.

Church turned German cafe...

Jellyfish in the aquarium!

Sunday was a great day -- we were pretty tired from the day before, so we didn't leave the hotel until 12noon, and decided to head towards Mt. Fuji. I made the bus reservation (as I mentioned previously), and we made it to Kawaguchiko by about 3pm. From Kawaguchiko there is a bus that will take you to the "5th Stage Trail" area which is basically the bottom of the mountain, but it turned out we had missed the last bus. However, that turned out to be a blessing in disguise as we decided to walk around the area, and found a ropeway car that took you up a hill to an AMAZING view of the mountain. It was a cloudy/rainy day but the mountain itself was actually very clear -- we were very lucky and got some great pictures. It was incredible to see Fujisan in person -- it's obviously very tall but is also very wide at the base -- the amount of land area it takes up is incredible. That view is something everyone who visits Japan needs to see!


My family is here for another few days, so I am showing them more of Tokyo this week. They are actually in Nagano today and tomorrow (without me since I have class!), so Wednesday and Thursday will be jam-packed. It has been really nice to see them though -- it's hard to believe it's been almost two months since I left home! Time is flying by, and I can't wait to see what else Tokyo has in store for me this semester!


Volunteering in Tohoku

Hello all! My name is Anna Morris and I am a student with the CIEE Tokyo Arts & Sciences program at Sophia University for the spring semester. I am a junior majoring in economics at Wellesley College, which is just outside of Boston, Massachusetts. You could say I have "family roots" in Japan -- my parents lived in Kobe, Japan from 1988-1990, and I was actually born there right before they moved back to the states. Since then, I lived in North Carolina all my life before going up to Boston for college, where I have spent most of my time for the past three years!

This semester, I am taking four courses: public economics, NGO management, an anthropology class on the recent disaster, and beginning Japanese. I really like all of them and have great professors. My NGO management class is taught by the founder and CEO of Second Harvest Japan, which was started about 10 years ago and is the first organized food bank in Japan. It's pretty cool stuff.

I know the recent disaster is at the forefront of everyone's minds, so I might as well go ahead and address my experience with it now. I had an internship in Boston from January until March, and March 11th was actually the day I was scheduled to drive from Boston to NC to spend some time at home before leaving for Japan. Of course, everything changed when I woke up to the devastating news of the earthquake and tsunami. I finished up packing and moved through the motions of saying goodbye to people in Boston, but my mind was on Japan and how this was going to affect my semester. Once I got home the next two weeks were very up and down as tons of information poured out of the country (and the American media certainly did their part to make it seem like the apocalypse was coming). I had no idea when I was going to leave for Japan, if at all. However, the decision to postpone the program start date by two weeks was eventually made, which put me and my parents more at ease, and I finally made it to Japan on April 8th. Things in Tokyo are very safe and seem relatively normal, but last week for Golden Week I had the amazing opportunity to go up north and do relief work in Tohoku. Talking about it will make my first post on this blog relatively somber, but it was an incredible experience and I'm glad to be able to share it.

I was working in the city of Rikuzen-Takata in the Iwate prefecture, which is about an eight hours north of Tokyo (by bus). It is a costal town that was hard hit by the tsunami -- 5,000 of 8,000 homes were submerged, and over 70% of residents were reported dead or missing immediately following the tsunami. The coastline featured over 70,000 trees (mostly pine) before the disaster, but now one lone tree remains -- which has become a symbol of hope for the city and prefecture.

PhotoThe lone tree standing on the coastline

108_2342The backyard of a house in Rikuzen-Takata

I was with a group of about 30 other individuals from all different backgrounds and ways of life, and we came together to do what we could to aid the immense cleanup process. I was there for four days, and did about four hours of solid work each day. The campground we were staying in was about two hours away from the worksite, so the commute took a good chunk out of time out of the day. But, we did a lot of good work:  two of the days we were removing from rice paddies the trash and debris that were left on them by the flooding. We picked up everything from soggy newspapers to tatami mats to a mostly full vending machine (I watched the men move that one). Having followed the developing situation closely on the news, I knew mostly what to expect, but removing items like that was one of the hardest parts -- we found so many stuffed animals, articles of clothing, and everyday items that were remnants of the homes that used to stand there.

Cleared rice paddies with the piles of removed trash on the side

Most of the main roads in Rikuzen-Takata have been cleared and are driveable, but most everything else is still under a two-foot layer of mud that was left behind by the receding waters. So, Wednesday and Thursday we worked to clear the sidewalk of one of the main roads so that the children could use it to get to school. It was very physically challenging -- the mud was caked down so first we had to loosen it up with crowbars, and then shovel it all off, all the while pausing to pull out items such as blankets, tree roots, and even a kitchen sink that had been buried in the dirt. However, we made great progress and it looked great when we were done.


108_2347Part of the cleared sidewalk!

We also visited an "asaichi" (morning market) that has been set up in the town for anyone in the area to buy prepared food, groceries, clothing, and other everyday items. Some people from our group worked there each day, and on Thursday I got the opportunity to volunteer there. It was one of the most rewarding parts of the trip. Thursday was Children's Day, so all of the koinobori (carp streamers) were hanging up and tons of local children were playing in the area. They all got a bag of treats and then we raised the koinobori that they children had decorated. It was very inspiring to see the children and their parents coming together in the face of tragedy and maintaining some semblance of normalcy. My Japanese is very limited, but I was able to talk to some of the locals, who mostly asked where I was from (I have reddish hair and am tall so I stand out), and then thanked me for coming -- both in Japanese and English. It was really humbling that they took the time to say thank you even given what they were facing.


Koinobori at the asaichi

Local children raising their koinobori

The trip was both emotionally and physically challenging, and it's hard to believe I'm back in Tokyo where there are very few reminders of what's going on up north. I caught up on sleep last weekend and am getting back into the schedule of class and homework. My birthday is on Friday and my family is coming to visit next week, so I have a lot to look forward to! I'll blog again soon about my adventures in Tokyo -- thanks for reading, and happy belated Mother's Day to all the moms out there!