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3 posts categorized "Derek Miller"

01/17/2011

Miyajima

As the scents of the late autumn winds mix with the breeze from the ocean, I stare out into the distance, while white puffy clouds along with numerous small islands and crystal blue water create the view before me.  This recalls to mind the numerous paintings I have seen in my East Asian art history class. 

A few weeks ago I went on the CIEE weekend trip to Hiroshima.  During our stay in Hiroshima we visited the Peace Museum and Miyajima.  The Peace Museum was very humbling, and while difficult at some points to walk through, it is worth experiencing completely.  We also had two lectures, one by a professor who talked to us about the dropping of the atomic bombs, and one by an atom bomb survivor.  Both were informative, and the talk by the atom bomb survivor was very moving.

On the second day we traveled to Miyajima, which is an island famous for its red shrine gate in the water and the numerous semi-tame deer everywhere.  To get to the island we took a ferry, which was fun and around a 20-30 minute ride.  After arriving at port we disembarked, and began walking towards the shrine.  On the way to the shrine we passed by lots of different gift shops which all sell various Hiroshima or Miyajima goods, and also lots of interesting food stands and small restaurants.  The shrine is very scenic and there was also a traditional Japanese wedding occurring when we were walking through it, so we were very lucky to see the bride and groom.  There was also a traditional performance taking place with a group of priests playing traditional Japanese instruments.  The mood and setting made it feel as if we were a hundred or more years in the past.

After the shrine we took the cable cars which lead to Mt. Misen at the top of Miyajima island.  The rides up are quick and fun, and offer a stunning view of the island and a chance to rest your feet after hiking up to them.  Even though it was late fall already, there were still plenty of fall colors to be seen on the trees that had already turned but not lost their leaves.  At the top of the island the view was stunning.  You could look out for miles and see the many different islands that scatter the area, and even look back and see Hiroshima in the distance.  The fresh scents of the different trees and the ocean air washed over us in an interesting and refreshing breeze.  One could easily spend many hours taking pictures from atop the island just sitting and enjoying the view, which is exactly what I did. 

Afterwards, I returned down the mountain on the cable cars to visit the various shops that are near the shore.  There are dozens of small shops with all kinds of food, and everything is absolutely delicious.  My favorites were the oysters, for which Miyajima is famous. They tasted amazing, and were the best I’ve ever had.  Then there are countless souvenir shops which had some very remarkable trinkets and items for sale that you don’t see on a regular basis.  Unfortunately my time was a bit limited as this point, so I didn’t spend too long looking around, but I did see a lot, and it was fun looking at everything.  All in all, it was a memorable trip and a very valuable experience.

 

12/06/2010

Traveling on the Rails of Greater Tokyo

Ever wondered what it might feel like to be a sardine in a can?  Well you may have that opportunity in Tokyo.  Tokyo has one of, if not the best, metro systems in the world, and it deserves that title.  There are two main systems that run throughout the whole of greater Tokyo, one is the Tokyo Metro, and the second is the Japan Rail (JR) line.  In addition to these two there are smaller train lines located in different parts of the city and its suburbs that are privately owned and have their own routes. 

I have had the opportunity to ride both the JR line and the Metro and ridden on one of the smaller lines when I was on a visit to an elementary school.  When I first arrived in Tokyo and looked at the maps for the JR lines and the Metro lines I was definitely intimidated and very worried about navigating through the system.  The first thing to take note of is whether you want to ride on the JR line or the Metro and where your closest station is.  I have been asked by a few foreigners about trying to find a station and discovered that their confusion often stems from looking at the wrong map.  Some of the larger stations, such as Shinjuku, Tokyo and so on will serve as stations for both many JR lines and many Metro lines.  What is convenient, though, is that every station has almost everything in English right beside the Japanese, so that if you lack Japanese reading skills, you can still navigate where you are trying to go in the station.  While on trains as well they will announce what stop there are arriving at and where they are bound in English as well.             

There are many lines both on JR and on the Metro.  The Metro lines seem to have only select stations and their platforms clearly labeled and separated from each other.  However, JR, which I use for my daily commute, and also has many lines, may sometimes share the same platform as another line in a station.  If you are using JR, be wary of this fact and also be wary that not every train on the same line will have the same final destination.  Sometimes some trains do not go to the very last stop as the subway normally does.  Some lines also separate and go off into two different directions after starting in one direction, thus you need to make sure the one you are getting on is the right one.  Every platform will have posted on some of the pillars the stations that a train on that line stops at.  You will find the station lists for individual lines on platforms only where they stop at.  Hopefully this has not lost you yet, and does not sound too confusing.  It may seem kind of intense, but as long as you have a map with you, and take a couple minutes to look at the overhead displays that announce when trains are coming and going, then you should be fine.  Unlike in America, trains in Tokyo are very specific about being on time, however there are delays from time to time.

Tokyo is a huge city, and thousands upon thousands of people live here.  Many of these people use these trains for the daily commute and there are always people using them to visit friends or go shopping and get other places.  During rush hour, the stations, particularly the larger ones, and the trains, can be a bit overwhelming.  Large stations like Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Tokyo have thousands of people passing through them on a daily basis and peak hours are when it they are most crowded.  There will be constant crowds and large waves of people coming and going as they rush to get off one train and on to another, or to their next destination.  It is best to just remain calm and be prepared to dodge people who are running from one train to the next.  Since many people are in a rush, they may seem a bit pushy or even bump into you, but it is best to not take any of it personally and to shrug it off.  No one is intentionally trying to bump you or run into you, it is just a part of being in a crowd.  By that same token though, be careful that you are not pick pocketed during these crowded times.  While Tokyo is a very safe city there is still some crime and it is better to be safe than sorry.   

11/04/2010

College Club Life in Japan

Today I’m going to talk briefly about a part of society in Japan and how it functions.  In Japan people are identified by the groups that they belong to.  These groups range from the school you go to, to the company you work for.  For example, since I am a student at Sophia University right now, I would introduce myself as Sophia University’s Derek Miller. 

Anyway, in college life there are clubs just like there are in America.  At Sophia there are clubs and circles.  The difference between the two is the amount of time that they spend per week practicing or meeting to do whatever the club is about.  In Japan one of the best ways to make friends is to join one of these circles or clubs and immerse yourself in it.  At large schools there are dozens of clubs and circles, and they cover all sorts of activities from sports to video games to art such as calligraphy.  Becoming a member of a club gives you a chance to meet new people from different backgrounds but with a common interest, and doing that in Japan is very important and helpful.  The people you meet in these clubs will also sometimes be the people that you hang out with outside of class and during the free time you have. 

I have actually been in Japan for almost five months now, and I have had a chance to have the whole club experience at two schools.  During the summer, I studied at Kanazawa Institute of Technology, and there I joined the breakdance club.  I was in Kanazawa for only six weeks and unfortunately at the time was not sure where to go, what to do, and had a long list of things I wanted to do.  Initially I only went to the breakdance club a couple times a week, but as the weeks passed I started going more often, and this was for several reasons.  I found that the easiest way to make friends here in Japan was through the club experience, and it gave me a chance to experience part of the social life of college age Japanese students.  The breakdance club also had students from other nearby smaller schools and some people who were in their early twenties and had recently graduated from college and were now working.  Thus it gave a chance to also connect with people living in the Kanazawa area and find out about events that were going on and fun places to go.

Having had so much fun at the breakdance club in Kanazawa I decided to seek out the club here at Sophia called G-Splash.  G-Splash is a very awesome and dedicated group of dancers at Sophia.  The club itself covers a number of dance styles ranging from breakdancing to popping and hip-hop.  I have also joined a more social club, the Sophia International Student Exchange Council (SISEC), and I go once a week to the calligraphy club.  The clubs here are not only a lot of fun, but they have helped me in many ways as well.

I have been given an opportunity to make a lot of new friends who are Japanese, and it has given me the chance to speak Japanese a lot more often than I would otherwise normally have.  I have also made a lot of awesome friends who are eager to tell me where events are and when.  They also know where fun things like good restaurants or other food places are to go eat and relax.