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6 posts categorized "Emily Oliver"


Tokyo Skytree with a friend





Two years ago when I came to Japan I made an awesome friend named Yumi. She is so cute and such a kind person. I was looking forward to visiting with her while I was here, but I don't know if we will be able to meet up again since we are both busy. It was really nice to get to see her though, and I really valued the time we spent together. I think when you go to another country to visit it's important to try and make connections with people. Learning about them and their life in a place unfamiliar to you is a good way to broaden your world view and learn something new. Yumi will start her job soon and I'm really rooting for her to achieve her goal! I am also hoping that she will be able to come and visit me one day and I can show her around Washington D.C. 

For the first time in months I finally got to cook an actual meal! I was overjoyed you have no idea. I love being here, but I really miss being able to cook for myself and Austin. We always had fun whipping up something, and I definitely had fun doing the same with Yumi. We picked out a recipe in her cookbook and picked up the items as well as a yummy dessert. The main dish was a sort of donburi (rice bowl dish). We cooked together ground chicken, carrots, onions, red pepper, and basil into a mouthwatering concoction then topped on to rice. We also made a soup that had ocra and seaweed in it. I think my first time trying ocra was here in Japan. Yumi and I talked about family and boys and the future while we ate. For dessert we had croissant taiyaki. Taiyaki is a fish shaped cake usually filled with sweet red bean paste. These were slightly different and I loved them!

Yumi is lucky enough to live five a minutes walking distance to Skytree, so after our meal we headed over to the Skytree village to shop and go to the planetarium. Skytree is the tallest free-standing broadcast tower in the world. No, I did not pay to go up there. I already have a great view from my house, remember? I did walk around the village area and browse the Studio Ghibli store (haha), and then see an awesome planetarium show entirely in Japanese. Ok, I didn't really know what was being said most of the time, but I learned that Sasori means Scorpio (for anyone who likes Naruto). I would definitely recommend coming here to see one of the shows. They are beautiful and fascinating in and of themselves even if you can't understand them. There is also a nice aquarium in the Skytree village I would recommend. I went there two years ago though. 

After a day wonderfully spent with a great friend I returned home, already planning my next visit there to the chocolate cafe (which I already did by the way)! It was amazing. 


A Day Trip to Nikko






Nikko was such a cool place I wish I could go back! If you travel north to the very end of the Nikko line, you will reach this delightfully quaint town. I went with my very good friend Mac, and it took us about two and a half hours (plus accidentally getting on the wrong train) to get to there. Nikko is a World heritage site and home to the Toshogu Shrine. I am actually learning about this shrine in my art history class so I was pumped to get to visit! It was built for Tokugawa Ieyasu, and he is enshrined there. He then became deified as the shinto god of the shrine, and he was known as "the Great Illuminator". The Yomeimon (Sun-bright gates) was actually the most expensive structure of the time period (Edo period). They felt like flaunting their wealth with this giant and elaborate gate, which was unfortunately covered up when we went. :( However, all of the buildings at this shrine were intricately decorated. Tucked into the forest and surrounded by lush mountains, it was probably the most breathtaking shrine I have visited yet (architecturally too, because my favorite shrine is still the Fushimi Inari in Kyoto). There are lots of animal motifs in the buildings as well. The three monkeys-hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil- are carved into one structure, there is a sleeping cat on another (not sure why though), elephants, and a room with a giant dragon painted on the ceiling. This place had it all.

So this adventure began early on a Saturday, to where I took a train to meet Mac in Ueno. We then took another train to....I forgot the name of the station, and once there I got a delicious teriyaki hotdog wrapped in a tortilla. These things will be the future of hotdogs. I'll make sure of it. It was another two hours to Nikko after we got on and off the wrong train. Luckily we didn't miss the one we actually needed. It was cool watching the landscape change from urban buildings to rice fields and trees. I am always fascinated when I can actively watch the bustling city of Tokyo melt into a natural paradise. 

As soon as we made it to the rural town it began to rain. Ok, downpour is more accurate. Mac and I were desperately searching for a place to eat, and we settled on a small restaurant that offered Nikko's specialty-Yuba. Yuba is the thin layer that accumulates from boiling soymilk. Sounds weird, like how would you eat that? But it was interesting, aside from slightly resembling a soggy plastic bag. Go try it, it actually tastes good. And it's nutritious! The entire meal was delicious and comprised entirely of several small plates.


After our lunch we set off towards Toshogu Shrine, but the rain was relentless. I took pictures anyways, because dangit I needed them so I could write this blog! I actually really like the way they turned out, so I was not mad about the rain. In fact, there was a point in which it was raining so hard, I just laughed and laughed because what else can you do in a situation like that? I actually brought my smaller umbrella with me so I could put it in my backpack, but that also meant my backpack and purse were basically soaked. But lets be real, I was pretty much just wet in general. Mac kept joking about getting trench foot because he wasn't wearing waterproof shoes, and the hairspray he sprayed on them due to strong encouragement of his host mother did nothing to help. Maybe laughing in the face of the onslaught from the heavens actually proved to be good luck because the rain let up once we made it to the shrine. 

After the shrine we visited a temple next door, but it was under construction. It was an interesting experience but it felt more like a museum. Because it was contained inside a metal building, it didn't have the charm of the naturalistic elements that play in to the architecture of a temple or shrine. When they are finished reconstructing or whatever it is they are doing, I'm sure it will look amazing; but if you should go to Nikko and see this building that is supposed to be a temple, I can't say I would recommend paying to see it. However, Mac and I walked up several flights of stairs to view the scenery from up high (we climbed a lot of stairs that day). I think my favorite part of being in Nikko was seeing the thick steam created from the rain billow out of the forested mountains. It was so mysterious and alluring. Thank you rain!

Other things that happened on our trip:

  • I got a death glare from a European girl (I don't know why)
  • We saw a man walking his ferret
  • We got gelato and talked with the woman working there. She was vey nice.
  • I celebrated the 4th of July by consuming my second hot dog of the day, which happened to be from a French bakery...


Japan’s Happiest Place on Earth: Tokyo Disney Sea







Ok, this might seem really silly, but I think going to Tokyo Disney Sea was the one thing I was most looking forward to doing with my boyfriend, Austin, when he came to visit. I have never been (so bonus for me, yay), and my dad raved about it so there was lots of pressure building on this moment. I have been to Disney World more times than I can remember, and have been to Disneyland in California once. I love the parks, and grew up watching Disney movies and listening to Disney songs. Austin has only been to Disney World once when he was little, so I was super excited to share these Disney moments with him, and it was so much fun!

We started at the Tower of Terror, which was immensely different than the ones in the U.S. It has the same appearance, but the story is way weird. It has to do with this explorer rich guy who steals a cursed freaky looking totem, which in turn haunts the hotel. Sound like Indiana Jones? It was pretty much Indiana Jones, I'm serious. Still, the ride was fun, unless you don't like being in elevators. Despite going on a weekday, we waited about an hour to ride the Tower of Terror, and an hour and a half for Toy Story Mania. While we waited in line Austin and I played several rounds of tic-tac-toe. I totally schooled him. I also crushed him in Toy Story Mania. If you are unfamiliar with the game, you basically shoot objects at targets all projected on a screen in 3D. It's pretty awesomely awesome. 

On our way to the next ride (I'm pretty sure it was Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull), we happened upon milk tea flavored popcorn, which completely stopped us in our tracks. Now, I am not a huge fan of popcorn. The kernel shells or whatever always get stuck in my throat, and it either has too much butter, or not enough flavor if it's regular popcorn. Oh and occasionally I'll bite into an unpopped kernel, and then I just give up. Cheddar popcorn is, however, delicious, as well as caramel corn. Basically the milk tea, which is a popular drink in Japan, tasted somewhat like caramel corn. I think I ate more than Austin, which is ok considering we ended up trying four different flavored popcorns. On the map, there is a list of the different kinds and where you can find them in the park. Besides the milk tea we tried curry, jalapeño cheddar and white chocolate. By white chocolate I was popcorned out of my mind, and am pretty sure it comprised most of our diet that day.

So we went on the Indiana Jones ride, which reminded me of how I really need to see the other two, and we went on a roller coaster called Raging Spirits. The signs kept warning us that it was rough, but it was literally the smoothest roller coaster I've ever been on. The head guards were also cushioned. It was like riding a luxury coaster (hint hint America). For lunch we ate tacos! It was nice to eat some Central/South American inspired food. After our meal we checked out King Trident's Kingdom. The outside is impressive enough, but the inside was spectacular! It really made you feel like you were underwater. Now, if there weren't so many people and giant strollers taking up the walkway it would have been awesome to explore, but Austin and I just wanted the heck outta there! So we rode Jasmine's flying carpets. It was much more relaxing! 

In case you are wondering, the lost island (which is a place in the park) is actually hard to find... Austin and I kept walking around it and didn't know how to get there, but we finally did, and decided to wait in line for the Journey to the Center of the Earth ride. During this queue we played hangman. It passes the time, you should try it next time you wait in line. The ride itself was really really cool! I have never seen the movie, but it has piqued my interest. The decorations and strange creatures were fascinating and colorful. I think it was actually one of my favorite attractions, as well as Austin's. Unfortunately the submarines were not operating, but I'm sure they would have been fun as well. I have never been in a submarine!

As evening descended upon us, we had to make the very difficult decision of where to eat. Like, this was a life or death decision clearly, because we could not pick a place. We also wanted to make sure we were close by to where the Fantasmic show was happening, because otherwise we probably just would have ate curry! I finally just got a giant hotdog from a stand that didn't have anyone in line until I decided I actually wanted one.  Austin got a sandwich from a nearby restaurant, and we made it in time for the light show. Unfortunately, because it was windy, they did not set off the fireworks. :( Fantasmic was pretty cool though, so we were both satisfied. It was a long day full of fun and magical memories, indeed!

Oh, I never told you my favorite Disney movies: Aladdin, Hercules, Emperor's New Groove (I always laugh so hard),  Mulan, The Incredibles (because superheroes), and Frozen. 

Sushi and Cats: Fun Dining in Tokyo






I am so lucky to have such an amazing boyfriend who flew all the way here just to visit me for a week and a half. We did so many fun things while he was here, but I want to share with you two of our most memorable dining experiences. The most important thing you must know about Austin is that he loves cats. In Japan there are so many different types of cafés, its ridiculous (in a good way). A popular genre is the cat café. I had never been to one before, nor did I know where to find one, but since Austin loves kitties, I wanted to surprise him by taking him to one. We ended up going to きゃりこ (Calico), which is in Shinjuku. If you didn't know this before, Shinjuku station is the largest train station in the world. WOOOORLLLD. Every time I go there I walk out of the wrong exit to where I need to go. Currently I am getting the hang of it, but that day, we had to walk around the entire station to get to this place. Emily was grumpy. However, upon seeing Austin's excitement once he knew where we were going immediately made me happy. In fact, I think this was one of my favorite moments with him because he was beaming the entire time. They do in fact serve food and drinks, and the drinks were actually very tasty and cheap. Of course, there are dozens of cats to pet and feed as well. For one hour there it is 1000 ¥, and drinks are only 200¥. So if you are missing a pet from home, or need a way to de-stress, why not unwind with some adorable cats? We were given free drink coupons when we left, so I will be going back for sure. :)

 Perhaps the biggest and most interesting thing we did while he was here (besides Disney Sea, because that was pretty big), was eat out at an authentic sushi restaurant. Okay, every sushi restaurant in Japan is technically authentic, but I'm talking about non conveyor belt and non order-what-you-want type of deal. The chef chooses what he wants to give you based on the fresh fish he has. It was terrifying and so much fun! The name of the restaurant we went to is called Sushiryori Inose. I found it on trip advisor, no joke. It is also in Shinagawa, my homeland. It was advised that we make a reservation, so we did and showed up at 6:30 like instructed (shout-out to Emiko who actually helped me get a reservation). We were the first people there, but as time went on it filled up. This place was small though, and there was only one chef, so I can see why the reservation was needed. 

Sitting next to me was actually a guy from Philly, and he said that he goes to the restaurant every time he is in Japan. Dang. He was really nice and gave us some suggestions of places to go check out. I don't know how many pieces of sushi I had, but they were all delicious. From what I remember, I know I ate surf clam, toro, anago, salmon roe, and mackerel. At the end of the meal the chef sliced up cucumbers to look like butterflies sitting on bamboo. His wife, who everyone was calling mama or mama San, flitted from customer to customer, serving food, drinks, and making toasts. Never before have I been to such an intimate and lively restaurant. The customers seemed to all be regulars, and mama San and the chef were so adorable and silly. I would go back in a heartbeat if the price didn't take a toll on my checkbook...let's just say it was the most expensive meal I have ever had and had to pay for. Regardless of money though, the three hour (yes, three hours) long experience of eating, chatting, drinking and photo taking will always hold a fond memory for Austin and I. We agreed it was definitely one of the coolest things we did overall. 

From Study Abroad to Career: Tokyo Career Panel

I have to start off saying that CIEE does so much for its international students, and I really appreciate it. I guess I can’t speak for any of the other countries, but here in Japan we have some pretty great staff! I say this not because I am sucking up, but because they provide us with so many fun and informative cultural activities that we probably would otherwise not get to do. Whether its sumo, kabuki, a taiko drum session, the Studio Ghibli Museum, movie lunches, museum tickets, or embassy visits, I always take advantage of what they have to offer because it is a great way to learn new things about Japan.

 Recently, they had a career panel comprised of foreign professionals working in Tokyo, two of who are CIEE alumni. These professionals represented a variety of fields, including global business, information technology, and translation and interpretation. I thought this was such a smart idea because it gives us an opportunity to learn about job opportunities in Japan, and hear their perspective on how they went about getting a job in a foreign country. To be honest, I was hesitant to go at first because my field of interest is art, and all of the speakers were business-y engineer types. I’m glad that I went though, because sometimes you never know what kind of job can open up and where you will find it. That was the case for one of the speakers who became a translator and interpreter for Honda. She happened to be teaching English in a rural area that was looking for specific qualifications that she had, and she got the job! Her story was pretty inspiring to me because everything just fell into place for her, and she didn’t even expect it. I’m not saying this is what happens here in Japan, because the other presenters talked about interviews and applications, but I think that if you are passionate about being somewhere (Japan) and work hard, you can find success.

 I think that is what the overall theme of the presentations were. Most of them talked about how they thought their degrees were pretty much useless for their type of work, but they actually turned out to be more helpful in some ways than they realized. Even if they didn’t go into the same line of work that college or grad school prepared them for, their degree programs still gave them relevant skills and experiences. Some were able to get jobs because they taught English, but all had some background in Japan. Teaching English in a foreign country is a great gateway into the job market, and I believe gives you important communication life skills that will prepare you for any long term future job(s). At least, I have been considering teaching English in Japan for a while now, because I am still unsure of what I want to do for a living. All I know is that I love Japan, want to travel, and want to be happy. Even if I don’t work for a Japanese company, my time here as a study abroad student and hopefully teaching English, will be considered huge assets career-wise, and in my life as a whole. 


The Great Buddha of Kamakura

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Ahhh Kamakura. I really enjoyed visiting each time I was here. I came two years ago with a group of awesome people from Hope College, and got to go again with a group of awesome people from CIEE. Although, Kamakura is only about 40-50 minutes from where I live, so I really can just go whenever I feel like it. And I will feel like it again! Haha!

We started off touring a shrine close to town called the Hachimangu. A bunch of candy stands lined the road up to the main shrine, so on the way back many of us got a candy apple or candied grape. It was like the greatest lollipop. There were even candied strawberries, and I want one of those too (next time, Emily). The coolest part was the two traditional Japanese weddings happening there. It is always neat to witness these rare ceremonies because it reveals another part of Japanese culture and tradition. Music was also playing from inside one of the shrines for the ceremony. I didn't get any good pictures because I was hesitant to infringe on their special day. 

Near Kamakura station is a Studio Ghibli shop that I absolutely love. Studio Ghibli shops are not too too common, so whenever I see anything with Studio Ghibli characters on it, I freak out. I could buy the whole store ( bye money, I didn't want to go to college anyway! Haha, just kidding). But really, after we had lunch at a restaurant where we took our shoes off before entering, we took a short train to see the Great Daibutsu. This Buddha is amazing! You can even go inside! Its construction began in 1252, and has never been built on since its completion. It is totally original! I ended up buying a mini Buddha figure of the larger one because I love Buddhas ( in case you wanted to know what to get me for my birthday....). I took a Japanese religions class at my home school, and have always admired the teachings of Buddhism. The mini statue looks like the Daibutsu, so it will always remind me of my time there.

Next we went to the Hasedera temple, which has a beautiful garden and koi pond. Many parts of the temple are built in layers on the side of a hill, so you have to walk up a decent amount of steps to see everything. It also has an excellent display of Jizo statues, and a giant Kannon statue inside one of the buildings. There is definitely a lot to see there, including a great view of the sea. Once we arrived there it actually started raining, and then continued to pick up once we returned to Kamakura station. I'm glad the rain waited until the end though (otherwise my shoes would have been soaked all day). It did kind of infringe on my plans to explore Kamakura some more, but next visit I will succeed!


-Emily Oliver