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7 posts categorized "Cynthia Liang"

01/22/2012

End of Semester Post in Moriya

Hello again everyone! Recently I was invited to revisit my host mom's son's soba shop in Moriya which is in Ibaraki, Japan. She decided that since finals were coming up soon and that since my imminent departure date was getting closer and closer that we would have a going away celebration there. I previously told her about my seijinshiki (coming of age day) in Shinjuku and how wonderful everyone's kimonos were and my slight disappointment at being unable to purchase or rent an affordable one for the occasion. Hence I was really grateful that my host mom decided to surprise and make up for my seijinshiki by borrowing her mother's old wedding Kimono and invited a Kimino store friend to help me dress up in it and take pictures while we were in Moriya.

Most people I've known who have worn a kimono before often told me that wearing one often got uncomfortable after a while because of how tight the middle obi part often is. However I wasn't so much bothered by it as much as I was bothered by my inability to walk as fast or sit down and get up without effort! However being able to see and be in the process of having a kimono put on me and the numerous layers and accessories underneath was very interesting and fun to watch.

Ki01(Me wearing Host mom's mother's wedding Kimono from the Taisho Era)

Here is a frontal view of the kimono. The sleeves were a tad short due to my height however it was still a very beautiful and unique looking Kimono. I was told that this Kimono was made around the Taisho era (early 1900's) and that the embroidery and designs were well made and unique compared to Kimono made nowadays.

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(A view of the back with the obi tied)

I first visited Moriya in late September where it was oddly still warm and very reminiscent of summer at the time. It was hot that day as well as beautiful but also filled with mosquitoes waiting to ambush people near trees! This weekend was completely opposite in terms of weather, it was definitely a cold winter afternoon and to top it off it rained the whole day. Since I am from Oregon where it rains frequently it didn't bother me as much and actually reminded me a bit of home.

There was a new years drinking party at the time and I was introduced to many of my host mom's nephew's high school friends. I had a wonderful time meeting new people and catching up with some others that I haven't been able to talk to since my last visit. Also I was able to finally try some of the soba made by her son that I was unable to try last time because it sold out in the afternoon. From this experience I got to find out that I definitely enjoy cold soba more than warm and overall the soba he made was super delicious! 

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(Soba made by host mom's son)

During dinner I got treated to some oyakodonburi (chicken and egg over rice) which I have heard a lot about before coming to Japan but never actually had the pleasures of trying.

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(Oyakodonburi!)

This was also really tasty and now I will be on the lookout for it when I go to other restaurants or even Japanese restaurants in the US as well. After dinner I was delighted and surprised with a strawberry cake in to commemorate my coming of age day (which is 20 years old)!

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(Strawberry cake, my favorite!)

This will be my last post of the semester, regrettably I am only a semester long student and will be returning at the end of this semester which is early February (coming up too soon!). I am glad and grateful that I had such a wonderful host mother and met so many kind and helpful people since coming to Japan. I think I will miss the people here the most but I have also made many wonderful memories to remember for a long time.

It has been a lot of fun blogging and sharing about some of my experiences and opinions while studying in Tokyo. It has  has also been really fun reading some of the encouraging comments left by readers as well! In hindsight I am glad I overcame my fear of blogging and am glad I decided to go on ahead with it. It definitely made exploring and taking pictures (especially with regards to food) even more enjoyable and meaningful for me. With about 2 weeks left in Tokyo, after finals this coming week I plan to do some more exploration and eating around in Tokyo before I am due back in the states. I plan and hope to make the most of my short time left in Japan. Thank you for reading!

 

 

01/16/2012

Some of my food adventures in Tokyo

Happy 2012, it's hard for me to believe it is already the middle of January. Time really goes by quickly especially in the last month of the semester in addition to the scrambling to buy, eat and do as many things one can  before departure. Also with the customary final's stress creeping up on everyone the last week of my semester in Tokyo is even more dreaded and seemingly ominous.

One of the things I find myself doing a lot more here in Tokyo than in the United States...is that I am almost ALWAYS taking pictures of my food no matter where I go. I was never this camera/food crazy before, but there is just so many options on top of all the delicious looking food here that it is hard not to want a photo to remember it forever after you've already eaten it. Also in a city where food is slightly more expensive than average and you want to stay in budget (unless you live off combinis) taking photos makes shelling out for the experience even more worthwhile--for me anyway. Which is why I will talk about some of the foods I've eaten that I have really enjoyed thus far.

The first thing I must list is Miso ramen, I have always enjoyed eating noodles be it soba, udon, ramen, spaghetti etc. However, miso ramen instantly became my all time favorite when I started venturing into ramen stores in Tokyo. I usually like saltier and stronger tasting foods and although  miso soup itself is lighter in comparison to its ramen version it has always been a favorite easy to make soup of mine and I could not pass up trying its alternative. I have  heard of miso ramen but never had the opportunity to truly try the dish back at home in Oregon where Pho restaurants far outnumbered ramen shops in terms of asian noodle type cuisines. When you love miso ramen, there are literally hundreds of ramen shops to try while in Tokyo. Prices ranging anywhere from 500-1000 yen a bowl. Because I am not a seasoned ramen expert I turned towards the internet and recommendations by Japanese friends for my miso ramen experiences.

IMG_3336(Miso Ramen with egg and Nori near Koenji station)

Truly both beautiful to look at and scrumptious as well. Koenji's miso ramen was relatively affordable and a good size at around 500 yen. This shop was recommended by a Japanese friend after a game of futsal. Near Ichigaya station there is also a miso ramen shop that had decent reviews on both a Japanese food review site and an english one. The broth here was slightly thicker and saltier as the miso taste (and paste mixture) was heavier but not so overwhelming that it overpowered the whole dish.

IMG_3971(Miso ramen at Ichigaya)

Another food item I have been wanting to try and eventually did was anmitsu. Anmitsu is a traditional Japanese dessert comprising of small white jelly cubes made from seaweed and juice. Usually they come served with anko (red bean paste) and seasonal fruit as well as a small pot of sweet black syrup.

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(
Anmitsu near Iidabashi)

I love fruit and anko so this was a nice experience for me. The jelly itself was not very sweet at all and almost lacked any taste by itself. It is also harder and less jello texture than I initially was expecting. Hence the syrup was a nice pairing to go along with it. Needless to say this was interesting but not exactly my favorite dessert I had in Japan, still nice to finally find out and have though!

Buffets (or vikings as they call it in Japanese) are my all time favorite places to visit and eat at in Japan. There are, as I mentioned in my first post, cake buffets in Japan. As a huge sweets lover this fascinating concept was hard to pass up and was definitely a love at first sight/bite. I have been to three different cake buffet places by now and my all time favorite is still Bitter Sweets in Shinjuku, they have the best selection of cakes as well as waffles and crepes, a nice interior design, and various teas to choose from.

IMG_4654(Berry waffle and mixed fruit crepe both with strawberry ice cream)

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(My first plate of cake that day)

Other types of all you can eat that you can find easily anywhere in Japan is Sukiyaki, Nabe and Shabu Shabu for those of us who crave and love the idea of different kinds of all you can eat beef, pork, tofu and vegetables simmered in various types of flavor based soups. Since my family is from Taiwan and hot pot is something I super look forward to eating every time I head back. Hence nabe and shabu shabu are both very similar to hot pot in that you simmer meats and veggies in a soup base or plain soup and use dipping sauces after its cooked they didn't super wow me aside from my craving for it, this doesn't mean I loved either less even though I have just had it similarities my entire life! Hence sukiyaki was the one out of the three that was truly a new experience for me which I loved! You use a shallower pot than either of the above two and the soup base is normally sake, soy sauce, sugar and water. Hence there is no dipping sauce needed as the stuff all comes out nice and flavorful. The only dipping sauce provided is raw egg which some (like me) prefer not to eat, however I have heard it is very very good eaten this way as well.

IMG_2650(Our pot of Sukiyaki simmering)

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(Kimchi based shabu shabu)

In addition there are also many all you can eat yakiniku places (grilled meat) where you may have all you can eat beef, pork and chicken brought to you so that you may grill and enjoy at your own pace alongside your hungry party.

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(Maple cream pancakes)

Again I am a huge sucker for desserts and pancakes are one of my favorite breakfast items. I miss being able to make my own and so I have researched and been wanting to visit a particular pancake chain (named Pancake Days) for weeks. I was lucky enough to stumble past one on our way to the Ghibli museum and was overjoyed that some other students were willing to eat there together as well!

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(Christmas special pancake platter)

There are numerous coffee shops here that also occasionally sell fruit parfaits and even premium fruit stores (such as Takano) that have a dedicated cafe just for fruit parfaits and desserts as well as places that specialize in just green teas and tea flavored parfaits. Near Tokyo Dome just inside Tokyo Dome City there is a nice green tea shop that sells matcha parfaits alongside there green tea.

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(Matcha parfait next to seasonal strawberry parfait)

I had the matcha parfait to the left. It was very strong in matcha flavor not the weak light stuff you sometimes get in matcha desserts or Kit-Kats which was nice in a parfait such as this. It came with matcha gelato slushie at the bottom, mochi, anko, a frosted cereal flake layer, green tea ice cream and cubed mochi covered in kinako (toasted soy) topped with whipped cream and green tea sauce.

Sadly, due to the current terrible exchange rates (ie. super weak dollar) many students have has to set themselves personal monthly budgets in terms of food as well. And because I am especially determined ( or super stubborn) I stick to this budget as close as I can. I am not going to lie and say I have never skipped come meals occasionally just to hit this goal. However, on the weekends I reward my good efforts, aside from shopping, by going to buffets and various other food places. I feel less guilty if its once a week as opposed to 4 days a week.

Also because I love food/cake and there is just so many different choices within choices here. There are way more photos of food and places I have taken that are not posted in fear that I will flood this whole page with just food photos. As I am nearing the end of my short semester in Japan I am more determined to revisit all the foods and places I enjoyed as well as hit up new places I have been wanting to eat at and not yet done so. Stay warm and see hope to see you in my last post coming up!

12/29/2011

Three day trip in Nagano!

As I mentioned in my last post, Sophia University is currently on winter vacation for about 2 weeks meaning lots of free time leading up through New Years. With all this extra time during a bustling holiday season I decided to make a 3 day trip to Nagano from Tokyo by Highway bus. Nagano is about three and a half hours by car/bus from Tokyo and is much colder with about 2.57 meters (101 inches) of snow total during the winter season. Nagano is also known for having hosted the winter Olympics in 1996.

I stayed at a cozy hostel very close to Zenkoji temple from Nagano station. It was an amazing and beautiful trip and it snowed the first 2 days I was there, which was perfect for me  as I wanted to see snow while in Japan! I arrived at Nagano station around 3pm and luckily it was still light out and so I headed out to explore Zenkoji temple after dropping off my luggage at the hostel. Zenkoji is a Buddhist temple built around the 7th century and houses one of the first known Buddhist images brought into Japan.

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(Zenkoji main hall in the snow)

There were also many beautiful snow covered gardens and memorials sites around the temple worth seeing such as a memorial for the women who served the Tokugawa household as well as the Rokujizo statues.

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(Rokujizo statues in the snow)

The shops around also Zenkoji sell unique flavored ice creams such as miso and soba flavored, both were interesting to sample and definitely worth a try if you enjoy unique flavored foods.

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Also if you ever go to Nagano don't forget to have some soba while in Nagano as it is also a place famous for the origin of soba noodles (Japanese buckwheat noodles). Yes, don't be like me as I was too busy running around in the snow and regrettably forgot to have some while there.

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(Snow covered streets leading up/away from Zenkoji temple)

Snow definitely makes beautiful places and things even more magical. It was getting dark and the winds and snow were picking up and so I headed back to my hostel for some much needed nabe dinner and rest to prepare for my trip to Jigokudani for snow monkey sight seeing the next day.

From Nagano it is about 45 minutes from Shibu onsen (an onsen or hotspring village) from there it is a 10 minute bus ride and 30 minute hike up to the famed snow monkey park in Jigokudani (the name literally means hell's valley due to the numerous natural hot springs in the area). The park gets more crowded during the day and I wanted a more peaceful experience hence I got up around 7 in the morning to catch the earliest train there.

IMG_3780(Monkeys relaxing in a nice onsen while it snowed)

The park offers a close up and unique experience for visitors wanting to see snow monkeys in their natural habitat. The hike up to the park itself was very peaceful and beautiful especially in the quiet early morning. On my way back down around noon it definitely got more crowded and noisy; which is why I highly recommend going there as early as possible if you do decide to visit.

IMG_3803(Mother and baby)

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(A cutie pie)

The snow monkeys all had very interesting facial expressions and personalities. From the alpha monkey watching over and scaring young ones into place to the playful baby monkeys and relaxed expressions of older monkeys enjoying a good soak; the monkey park is truly a really wonderful place to visit.

Afterwards I headed back down to Shibu onsen and had a nice soak in an outdoor and indoor hot spring. It was very relaxing and pretty as light snow fell on me as I was sitting out. It made me understand the snow monkey's desires to bath in hotsprings on cold days as well.

On my last night, at the hostel I stayed at we had a okonomiyaki (Japanese pancakes) dinner party. I got to eat warm and delicious food alongside many other travelers visiting from all over japan and various parts of the world as well.

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(Okonomiyaki made by a traveling businessman at my hostel)

On my last day in Nagano I decided to visit Masumoto castle (about an hour away by train). On this day the sun was peaking out. Around early noon the skies had cleared and melted away most of the snow.  Allowing for very clear and picturesque views of Matsumoto castle.

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(View of Matsumoto castle with mountains in the background)

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I am extremely glad I decided to take this 3 day trip to Nagano. The idea of traveling outside of Tokyo in a foreign country by myself was intimidating at first. But everywhere I went I met extremely helpful and kind people. Looking back on this trip I am so glad I went with it anyway and in return I got to see so many beautiful and wonderful places and met so many nice people along the way.

In addition to the places I visited there are many more places to visit in Nagano as well that I wish I had had the time for. Such as Togakushi, a place famous for its soba, cedar forests, natural scenary and the fact that it is home to the Togakure school of ninpo (in other words home to the Togakure school of ninja arts).

I have one more month left in Japan before the end of my study abroad experience. Time really did fly by quickly during the last couple of months. Even though school gets in the way of sightseeing and visiting places outside of Tokyo,  I plan to attempt as many activities in Tokyo and day trips outside as well before the end of this semester. Until next time I hope you all have a safe and happy new year!

12/23/2011

Christmas in Tokyo

    Hello everyone! It is already late December and Christmas light displays, costumes and Christmas cake advertisements are everywhere in Tokyo. Therefore I will be bringing you a customary post of the wonderful things I have been able to see and do during Christmas while in Japan! Although New year's (お正月) seems to be a bigger event in Japan than Christmas (i.e. New years = custom gift giving, new year obentos, staying up for the first sunrise of the year and visiting crowded temples). There are still multiple places that offer wonderful light displays to get you into the warm Christmas mood here in Tokyo. One of the places I visited was Tokyo Midtown's Starlight garden and various other Christmas displays within and around the large Roppongi department store. The main feature was a splendid field full of lights on display outside that played a captivating light show accompanied with epic music, color changes, steam and etc.

Photo-0051Starlight Garden

The garden light display at Midtown was hands down, one of the coolest Christmas light displays/shows I've seen. It was butt freezing outside, but we stayed out for about 20 minutes just viewing the show over and over. Within the department store there is also a Christmas tree decorated/made entriely out of different Santa Claus figurines. Adorably dubbed the 'Santa Tree'.

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There was also a "Dazzling Tree" on display outside, dazzling because it vigorously flickered its lights every so often almost giving one a delightful seizure.

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As well as sidewalks lined with decorated trees and wine glass light displays leading up to the starlight garden.

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Wine glass light displays

Inside Midtown, there were lots of restaurants, cafes and clothing stores. As well as a gingerbread house display.

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Gingerbread house on display inside Midtown

Also, because there were so many drool worthy patisseries inside midtown I couldn't resist and so we decided to eat some decadent cakes at a crowded store called Jean Paul Hevin.

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So delicious and popular some of the desserts were sold out by the time we got there

Regrettably, my camera battery died early that day and hence I am unable to post photos of the Midtown Christmas boot and etc that was also on display. However, if you are ever in the mood for shopping, yummies and beautiful lights during Christmas season while in Tokyo--then Tokyo Midtown is a place worth visiting.

   The day before Christmas eve I also  attended a Christmas party that took place all day on campus. I was one of the Christmas event organizers for the SISEC (an international student exchange/communications circle on Sophia) event and so I arrived early to help set up, organize and partake in the circle event. We had gingerbread house building contests, games, Santa contests, a gift exchange event and even a chocolate fountain!

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Gift table and Christmas Tree

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Chocolate fountain!

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One of the Gingerbread Houses a group made

Gingerbread houses were a really fun activity for both international students and Japanese students alike. When we first planned for the activity we were worried about the accessibility of all the materials normally used to build gingerbread houses in Japan. Most stores here sell items in small quantity and gingerbread or even graham crackers required going to an import store where it would only be available in small portions and be sold for way more than the costs for it in the states. Hence we made do with what was available (wafers and chocolate bars) and were relieved they turned out just as well!

There are many other things to do during Christmas in Japan (such as Christmas cake buffets) even when a world away and I am glad I was able to participate and see some remarkable ones. It is finally winter break here at Sophia and I am looking forward to a much needed break and rest as well as a trip to I will be taking to Nagano during break (which I hope to cover afterwards)! As well as the huge sales that take place during the first week in January, winter Comiket, and New Years celebrations while here! I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and I hope to share again real soon!

11/30/2011

Miyajima Trip

    Hey everyone! As you all may already know, or maybe not, CIEE students had an amazing group trip this weekend where we experienced both Hiroshima and Miyajima in just three short days. Both locations were beautiful and Hiroshima itself was both interesting and insightful as we were allowed to tour the Hiroshima Peace museum, visit the peace park, view the A-bomb Dome and attend a guest lecture by a Hibakushiya (Atomic bomb survivor). As the Hiroshima part of our trip (and pics) were already covered in another blog post by my good friend Jennifer, I would like to try and cover more details about our experience in Miyajima.

IMG_3055    (View of the Tori gate from inside Itsukushima Shrine)

    Miyajima is a small island located less than an hour away from Hiroshima and takes about 10-15 minutes by boat to reach. Miyajima is also known as shrine island as it's most recognizable feature is the large red tori gate greeting visitors and marking the symbolic and sacred entrance into a Shinto ground of worship. Itsukushima shrine in Miyajima is mainly built on top of the water much like how the famous red gate is built above water as well.

IMG_3045(A man painting a view of Itsukushima shrine)

    We arrived at Miyajima around nine in the morning and were given a tour of Itsukushima Shrine and some brochures of main attractions beforehand so many of us were already pumped and super excited to explore. Aside from the stunning shrines, Miyajima also offered beautiful autumn views of crimson leaves and natural scenes in Momijidani park.

IMG_3111(Picture taken in Momijidani Park)

    Another interesting tidbit about Miyajima is the numerous wild deer that roam the island. Most of them have gotten used to tourists and so many of the deer casually walk up to sniff and eat paper/clothes of passersby. One of the students in our group learned this lesson when a part of his map was eaten by a deer as he was attempting to take a photo of said deer.

IMG_3093(Is an adorable deer but will eat your money if he could)

       We were only given a little more than an hour to explore Miyajima after our tour of the shrine and trip by cable cars up to the top of Mt. Misen. However, Miyajima is also famous for its succulent oysters and momijimanjus, which are maple leaf shaped cakes normally filled with azuki or red bean paste but can be found filled with anything from chestnut cream to cheese as well, momijimanjus are commonly brought back by tourists as gifts for friends and family. Because I am a huge glutton (or inner fatty) the short time and numerous opportunities to eat genuinely unique and mouth watering food propelled me to try to eat as many different variations of Miyajima foods as I could in under an hour...and eat I did.

Below is  collection of all the foods I managed to sample while on our Miyajima trip!!!

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(Freshly roasted chestnuts)

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(Steam/grilled oysters!)

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(Fried oysters that were worth burning my mouth for!!)

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(Momijimanjus hot off the machine/press)

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(FRIED! Momijimanjus, this one was azuki filled and was even TASTIER than the original as it was fried!!)

IMG_3139(What better to eat than okonomiyaki on a stick for people on the go!?)

    As I ran out of time to take pictures last minute some of the foods not pictured that I sampled were baked sweet potato with vanilla soft serve ice cream!

    By the end of our day at Miyajima I was immensely content with all the wondrous places we were able to visit and see and definitely all the superb food I was able to eat along the way. Both mentally, physically and emotionally I was beyond content. Of course my only regret was not getting enough time to visit the famed crafts district of Miyajima or the aquarium.

    Not as important as the prior regret but a regret related to my gluttony my only other regret was, of course, that I was unable to eat and slowly enjoy more than one share of each of these various types of delicacies offered on Miyajima (please forgive my gluttonous ways). Overall though, I was indeed very satisfied, to say the least, with our day trip to Miyajima and overall our weekend trip in general. I am very much looking forward to experiencing and sharing about the winter and Christmas seasons of the year in Japan. Until then stay warm!

11/18/2011

7-5-3 Celebration

    According to Japan National Tourism Organization's description, 七-五-三 (shichi-go-san) or 7-5-3 is a ceremonial visit paid by parents and children to their tutelary shrines to offer gratitude for the healthy growth of their children. Celebrations are carried out on November 15th for boys who reach the age of 3 or 5, or for girls who turn 3 or 7 years old. The custom is for the children to dress in their best clothes, and to carry Chitose-ame which are long thin candy sticks colored in red and white, believed to bring good luck. I had the wonderful opportunity to accompany my host mom and her son's family as they celebrated her three year old granddaughter's 7-5-3 at Meiji Jingu shrine.

    November 15th was a Tuesday and luckily I had a long break between my morning class and late afternoon classes to meet up with my host mom for the big day ahead. I left Sophia campus after my morning class and headed straight to Shinjuku by subway. I live with just my host mother normally and so this was also my first time meeting her son, his wife and her granddaughters whom I hear many stories about. We all had a nice and filling Obento lunch at the top of Isetan department store before heading for the shrine.

IMG_2658(Unagi (eel) and chicken boxed lunch with egg and vegetable sides)

    Although it was a regular weekday, with many people still at work or school, Meiji Jingu shrine was bustling with activity that day. There were many adorable children dressed up and running around with their family for the celebration. There was also more tourists than usual at the shrine whom could be seen eagerly snapping up photos of the cute children as they passed by. Many parents (usually mothers only) were dressed up in kimono as well alongside their children. Some even wore matching hairstyles and kimonos! Because Meiji Jingu shrine is quite large, it took us about 15 minutes or more to travel by foot from Harajuku station to the inner grounds of the temple for the ceremony.

    During the ceremony parents and their children sat down in seiza or the traditional formal way of sitting (on your knees with your feet tucked beneath you) as we listened to prayers and chantings performed by priests and a dance performed by the priestesses; after the ritual adults were offered a small saucer of Nihonshu on their way out and so I also received a saucer and had my first taste of fine sake in Japan. Pictures were not allowed inside the temple during the blessing and purification ritual. However afterwards we gathered up and took group photos at various places around the temple.

IMG_2666(A group photo of my host mom, her family and I; posing for a photo at Meiji Jingu)

    As we were exiting the area after the ritual my host mom pointed out to me a traditional wedding ceremony also taking place at the time. Luckily I already had my camera out and so I quickly joined alongside many other tourists and took a few photos of this beautiful bride on her big day. Many on lookers and photo takers were scrambling to get their cameras out, into position and out of the way of the the procession as quickly as possible which was also amusing to watch.

IMG_2700(Picture of a traditional wedding taking place at Meiji Jingu)

    Overall I had a great time with my host mom and her son's family and was really glad I had the opportunity to attend and witness such a notable and unique tradition in Japanese culture. By the end of it I didn't feel as guilty taking photos of other families and their children as I did initially as my host mom was also doing the same along our way back to the station. I guess no one can quite resist taking photos of all the adorable children on their big day.

IMG_2715(A boy playing around in his formal clothes on 7-5-3)

    I leave you all with an adorable shot of a boy in his 7-5-3 clothes. It is already late November and the weather has finally started to act more like autumn as it slowly turns colder everyday in Japan. The autumn leaves are finally turning redder in hue as everyone starts looking forward to maple leaf viewing in Japan. Stay warm and until next time!

10/27/2011

A sweets addict in Japan!

Greetings everyone!

First, a little info about myself. My name is Cynthia Liang and I am a student from the University of Oregon. My family is from Taiwan however, I was born and raised in the city of Portland, Oregon itself so you can say I am bit of an expert on the weird, spring allergies and year long rainy weather!

In terms of education I am double majoring in International Studies and Japanese. I wanted to study in Japan to not only improve (hopefully) my language skills but to experience and learn as much as I can about Japanese culture as it is something that has always fascinated me as a child. The reason being...since I was a kid, going back to Taiwan equated to frequent exposure to Japanese popular culture as it permeated every possible outlet in Taiwan. You see Taiwan definitely had a love affair with Japan from everything from Japanese television to drama, to Japanese fashion and food. Naturally as I got older, from my childhood experience, I developed an interest in wanting to know more about the culture that so influenced my family's home country.

Currently, it has already been over a month and a half since I first set foot in Tokyo this September. So much has happened since then that I can almost fool myself into believing that I have been here much longer. Before I got acquainted with my host family, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit some sites planned out by CIEE staff. First we visited Narita-san, a beautiful temple near Narita airport.
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Afterwards we had a guided bus tour to get ourselves acquainted with some popular/famous areas in Tokyo. We also were able to visit the famed Asakusa temple where I drew one of the best luck of the year slips from the temple (Win for me!). Back on the bus everyone had some much needed rest on the bus due to our jet lag and probably some essential mental adjusting to the fact that we were all finally here in Tokyo! I myself was mentally noting all the cool places I wanted to visit within my first month here. Which luckily I got to do almost immediately!

One of the many notable things I have done since my arrival here has been the opportunity to go to a maid cafe in Akihabara (AKA Otaku Paradise). Just to be even more awesome, I visited not just any run-of-the-mill-cutesy-maid cafe--I visited a samurai maid cafe. And although there were strict rules against photography in the cafes without first paying, overall the cutesy games and service provided along side the experience and fact that you can say "I did it" are well worth it. Although some people might find the fact that Akihabara's streets being populated abundantly with maids and maid cafes (even butlers) a tad bit intimidating--or just plain weird. However I myself have always been intrigued by this widely popularized and commercialized market niche for maid cafes and the like. Also, if they exist and have been able to for quite some time now, it just means its fulfilling the needs of someone out there and all the more power to them.

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Me (Top Left)

Although bad for my health I have always been a huge sweets addict (and food + buffets but mainly desserts yum!). Finding out from a Professor of mine that Japan offered Cake buffets (or cake vikings as its called here), you guessed it, all you can eat cake, landed cake buffets as another huge reason for me to visit the mystical and wondrous land of Japan. And eat cakes I did.

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(My first plate of cakes)

I visited the cake buffet aptly named Bittersweet in Shinjuku, which offered a good selection of cakes, crepes, waffles and even pizza and pastas alongside tea and coffee. I would go there everyday if I didn't have to worry about becoming diabetic.

As you can tell from the Halloween decorations on the desserts. Halloween itself is coming up soon! This weekend in fact is Halloween. And although only recently has Japan started to embrace more Halloween themed decorations and traditions. It seems the young people of Japan (plus exchange students of course) celebrate it in all its candied costumed glory much like they do in the United States.

So far Japan itself has been a dream come true for me and there are still many more places and things I'd love to see (and eat). Keep your eyes peeled for my next adventures, until next time! Also I wish everyone a fun and safe Halloween!