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9 posts categorized "Leilani Leechalad"


Celebrating New Year’s in Tokyo: Meiji Shrine

Hello, Hello! 

In case you didn’t know, New Year’s is a very busy and celebratory time of the year for Japan. Many people go home to their families outside of the city to have a family party and welcome in the New Year together. Thousands flock to any of the numerous shrines or temples around their area to bring in the New Year with good luck, and to pray for a prosperous and healthy year for themselves and their loved ones. It’s a touching and wonderful time of year, one I was able to share with my friends in Harajuku of all places!

New Years Meiji Jingo

Here we are walking up to Meiji Jingu! Notice the crowds…

My friends and I decided to bring in the New Year like many of the Japanese do and visited a shrine  to get a fortune for the year, and to wish us luck and good spirits. Specifically, we visited the very famous Meiji Shrine (or Meiji Jingu). On New Year’s Eve, we first set off from our dorm to get some good soba. Soba is traditionally eaten to promote good luck and a long life during this celebration. Luckily, our local train station had recently opened a new soba restaurant and we were able to get deliciously cheap soba to celebrate with.

After eating dinner, we made our way to the next station and boarded the Yamanote train line for Harajuku. Of course, I’m sure a few more hundred people had the same idea, and the trains were very crowded and rowdy. We could tell the excitement for the night was surely building up in the people around us. We managed to struggle through the crowds to get to the temple, and it was amazing! The entrance gate was illuminated nicely, and friendly police officers were escorting the floods of people to the shrine. Before even getting to the shrine, there was what seemed to me to be a huge food market, like at the State Fair. All types of food were offered, from traditional grilled fish stuffed with roe on sticks to Mexican tacos and Greek gyros. The choice of food and snacks was amazing and impressive!


The choice of food here is glorious.


Here we have grilled meats and the traditional fish on a stick.

There were plenty of souvenirs to pick up as well in the many gift shops that were open on the shrine grounds. They boasted some of the largest collection of “typical traditional” Japanese gifts I’ve seen since getting here. The options ranged from fans to small wooden toys to mini dolls and Kabuki masks and even purses. They had an adorable Hello Kitty doll in a beautiful kimono for sale that I was very tempted to get.


Oh, how I wanted this so badly! 

As midnight approached, my friends and I stood in line to get to the actual shrine and pray for the New Year. The line was massive, at least a couple hundred people pouring in from all directions of the shrine. The police had the lines moving very neatly and quickly. Though we waited for over an hour and a half, it passed quickly as sections of people were allowed to go up to the shrine at a time. However, midnight struck while we were in line! It was fun though, since people around us were counting down from the 30-second mark in at least three distinct languages. It was a very powerful and unforgettable moment. By the time we got to the front of the shrine where we could toss our 5 yen coins and make a prayer, it was past midnight, but we were there in the early hours of the New Year, so I believe our luck still counted. Naturally, I prayed for academic success in the upcoming year and the happiness of my friends and family. I could have probably solidified it more if I had gotten one of the nice little charms they were selling right outside of the main shrine building, but I did get a nice fortune for my troubles.

Now, it’s apparently good luck to watch the first sunrise of the New Year, and since the trains to our dorm were closed off, my friends and I decided that it would be best to spend the next 5 hours inside a karaoke place. We took the next train to Shinjuku and did karaoke until 5am! Somehow my voice recovered. It was an amazing time with amazing friends.


Karaoke! We drank a lot of coffee and melon soda to keep us going until 5am!

We headed back to Harajuku to catch the sunrise, since it was supposed to rise at 6:50ish. We needed food so we went to the local McDonald’s, but unfortunately we ended up staying in there for too long and missed the initial sun-rising. It was such a funny moment; to know that we spent our lucky sunrise hours in a McDonald’s eating 100yen apple pies. I mean, the sun was still rising so I still count it in my head, though one of my friends was crushed!

Overall, it was an amazing experience and I think that going to a shrine like this on New Year’s would definitely be worth the time. It didn’t cost too much, we got great food at the shrine, we sang karaoke for 4 hours straight, and we spent the morning in a McDonald’s. I can’t imagine a better scenario.

Thanks for reading, and may the New Year bring you happiness and good luck! 



Class of 2015

Appreciating the Tradition: The Beauty of Shrines and Temples in Kyoto

Hi again!

While in Japan, I think it’s only natural to go and venture into the traditional and spiritual territory deeply rooted in Japanese culture. Yes, I’m talking about the shrines and temples. Japanese shrines and temples are actually very common around Tokyo and in Japan as a whole. In fact, there’s even a huge shrine in Harajuku that we were able to visit on New Year’s! Visiting a shrine is a great way to get an up close and personal experience with one of Japan’s most culturally rewarding activities. Shrines specifically are a huge part of New Year’s activities as well, which I’ll have elaborated more on a different post. Shrines and temples offer gorgeous scenery, day or night, and fun and charming fortunes to pursue and collect. Visiting a shrine or temple gives you a chance to sit back and observe how they work and why they’re so important to the people here. And how many times can I mention that the scenery is always peaceful and gorgeous!


The beautiful gardens of Ginkakuji Temple in Kyoto.


The gang’s all here at Kiyomizu Temple!


One of my favorite views of Kiyomizu Temple on the mountainside!

The above imagery is from Kyoto alone, and most temples that I’ve visited have equal beauty in their design and appearance. It’s very peaceful and promotes a sense of calm and relaxation. Walking through the gardens and looping mazes of ponds and trees is a tranquil activity and provides plenty of photo opportunities! Oftentimes, you can see small children, young couples, or elderly people walking around in traditional hakama, taking pictures or being a part of a ceremony. You can even see the temple priests and priestesses as they maintain the general upkeep of the shrines and keep them looking nice and well stocked with charms. The charms you buy are meant to give a certain luck to the person you’re buying the charm for. You’re not supposed to by your own luck! That only brings bad luck, or so they say.

The routes to the shrines or temples are generally busy streets littered with gift shops for you to buy plenty of omiyage, or souvenirs, that are shrine or temple specific. There’s tons of cute and popular anime themed merchandise, but at the same time they offer many traditional gifts such as fans, masks, shoes, and even hakama. A wonderful mix of tradition and modern meets here before the shrine gates in the shops. This is of course accompanied by plenty of delicious food as well!


Tradition meets modernity!

Shrine and temple visiting has become one of my favorite things to do here in Japan, and I’ve gotten plenty of opportunities to do so, through CIEE and from my own volition! I highly recommend taking the time to go out and visit some of the big shrines and temples around Tokyo, such as Asakusa Shrine near Sensoji Temple, and get a feel for the shrine itself, take a look at the amazing scenery, and pick yourself up some good fortunes! You’ll be glad you did!

Well, here’s to wishing you the best of luck!



Class of 2015

Our Very Own “Family" Christmas In Tokyo!

Hello, Hello!

Since we’ve just returned from the holidays and the New Year, I’d like to share with you some fun holiday tips and treats that you can enjoy while abroad. I know the holidays can be a very trying time when you are away from family if your family holds certain traditions and parties that you’d be missing out on. Add on the cost of what it would take to go home for the holidays, and it’s just not a very fun situation to think about. That’s how it was for me this year. It was also my very first Christmas away from home; being without my family for the holiday season was looking pretty bittersweet. That was until my friends and I decided on making the most of our holiday and spend it together, travelling to Kyoto, holding our very own Secret Santa, and even squeezing in an impromptu day trip to Tokyo Disney Sea (which was beautifully decorated for Christmas!).

Kyoto family christmas portrait

Our Classy Family in Kyoto

We didn’t want this holiday season to be too melancholy, so my friends and I planned a quick day trip to Disney and a wonderful four-day excursion to Kyoto for Christmas. At Tokyo Disney Sea, the entire park was marvelously lit up in seasonal lights and décor, and there were plenty of holiday-themed treats to snack on. We planned our day in advance and even woke up at the crack of dawn (5am) in order to make it to the park right as it opened. Our planning and determination paid off as we were the first in line to the big attractions, such as Journey to the Center of the Earth and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Both attractions were thrilling and memorable. They are Tokyo Disney Sea exclusives, so if you have the chance and the money saved up, I highly recommend taking a journey to this theme park for some exciting and exclusive fun!

Disney Chrismas Group 3

The beautiful Journey to the Center of the Earth Mountain behind us

The day was jam-packed with fun and delicious food, and even though most of us were running on five hours of sleep, the excitement and joy of being together in “the happiest place in Tokyo” kept us going. Of course, the weather did try to dampen us, quite literally, as we were caught in torrential downpour at night. Though we were cold and soaked, having to walk through puddles and seek shelter often, this only made for a better memory! We were laughing together as we ran through the rain from attraction to attraction and snack to snack, and the downpour we had to fight through was fought together, making it all the more memorable. Good or bad weather, Tokyo Disney Sea during Christmas is definitely a treat you should seriously consider to save up for and experience. It was truly a magical experience!

More disney christmas

In the freezing rain, the Christmas lights were heartwarming.

After a wonderful kick-off to the holiday break at Disney, our group prepped for the big trip to Kyoto. We took a few days to plan out this one, and if you’re planning on travelling over your winter break, or any break for that matter, you should definitely take a few hours out of your week to plan it out carefully. Without the master planning by our (self)-designated leader, Khoi, we wouldn’t have had half the amazing trip we did in Kyoto. We were able to get a student travel train pass split 6 ways from the JR lines, which granted us unlimited JR line access for a set amount of days. Since it took a good day of train rides (around 8 hours of travel) this pass saved us all a bunch of money. We were even able to afford a really nice hotel in Kyoto with the money we saved from this pass!

Christmas in Kyoto 1

 Here we are in Kyoto Station ready to explore and celebrate!

We spent Christmas Eve traveling around a few of the shrines and temples, which are bountiful in Kyoto. All of them were simply gorgeous and the scenery and slow pace was a refreshing contrast to the hustle and bustle of Tokyo life. But on Christmas Day, we all awoke early, just like we did as children, and exchanged Secret Santa gifts! If you’re unfamiliar with Secret Santa, it’s basically a “secret” gift exchange between friends. Generally a spending limit is set and everyone puts their names into a hat and draws out a different name. You don’t tell anyone which name you have and this is the person you give a gift to. Our Secret Santa was a huge success, and we all loved the gifts that were carefully picked out for each other. Everyone also received one small animal plushie to represent themselves in the group. It was a cute little bonding experience that was shared with Christmas Cake as well! 

Christmas Cake

                          Our Kyoto Christmas Cake!                


Our Alter Egos. 

Overall, it was a wonderful and truly memorable holiday season spent well with my Tokyo Family. Christmas away from home doesn’t have to be sad or boring or filled with too much home-sickness. It’s entirely possible to make the most of your holiday season with the new friends and family you’ve made while here in Tokyo, and it’s something you’ll never forget. I know I’ll always cherish the holiday I spent here, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the wonderful time I’ve spent with friends.

Hope this gives you some tips on the possibilities of the holidays in Japan!



 Class of 2015


The Paper Crane and Hiroshima: Origami with a Surprisingly Deep Meaning

Paper craneThe well-known favorite, The Crane

 I’m pretty sure you know of this little guy! This is a paper crane, and it is easily one of the most recognizable paper crafts from Japan. Japanese origami is a really neat and fun little past time that requires you to precisely fold, crease, unfold, and manipulate little sheets of paper into beautiful, fun and intricate designs! It’s definitely one of my favorite past times, which I enjoyed even before coming to Japan. Luckily, there are tons of different little origami books and paper supplies all over, so I’m in no way lacking in terms of supplies. Yet, I’ve definitely found a greater appreciation for origami after coming here to Japan. First of all, I’m able to learn many new little tricks and practice Japanese with the people who have taught me new designs. In fact, I was able to participate in a CIEE sponsored origami lesson/event during lunch, where I received a delicious bento lunch and learned to fold some cute little designs! I made a flying folding crane that flaps when you pull the tale and then made a sort of spinning top out of three sheets of origami paper!

Top spinnerThe top is made with three colors and actually spins!

The instructors were very nice and helpful, and most importantly patient with all of us who were learning! My favorite was definitely making the spinning top, because now I can idly spin this little contraption when I’m bored writing an essay or doing homework. It’s great.

However, there is more to folding origami than just being a little pastime. Origami contains some bearings in Japan’s history. When we went to the Peace Museum in Hiroshima last weekend, we were able to see the power of the belief in hope during dark times. I was very moved by the melancholy yet inspiring story of Sadako Sasaki and her belief in the 1000 Cranes Wish. Legend has it that if you fold 1000 paper cranes, your wish will come true. Sadako, at the age of 12, sought to fold 1000 cranes in order to recover from Leukemia caused by the radiation from the atomic bombing of Hiroshima during WWII. I’ve always been taken with the belief of the 1000 Cranes Wish and though I’ve never made 1000 cranes, someday I hope to. Though Sadako sadly passed away, her story inspired the nation and continues to inspire people today, like me! Hers is a story of hope and desire for peace.

Sadako mem

Sadako's Memorial. She's holding a Paper Crane.

The Peace Museum has a statue built in Sadako’s honor, featuring her on top with a giant paper crane to symbolize the power of hope and peace. Surrounding the memorial are giant clear spaces for schoolchildren to put the 1000s of creatively and diligently made paper cranes they fold in her honor and in the hope for peace around the world. I found the entire story and memorial very moving and I will never forget what I saw and learned at the Peace Museum.

Sadako cranes 2

Hundreds of students fold cranes for peace and hang them like so.

Sadako cranes 1

Th pictures made from cranes are intricate and heart touching.

Sadako’s story is one I’ll always remember when folding origami in the future, and it’s one I love to share. Origami holds more meaning than simply being a simple past time. I’ve definitely learned that here and maybe I will finish those 1000 cranes sooner than I think…

Hope you enjoyed this little post and you’ll have a greater appreciation for paper cranes like I do. Until next time~



Class of 2015

The Famous Cafes of Japan: Cat Cafe!

Grrreetings Efurryone!

Today, I’m going to talk about one of my favorite activities that’s pawsitively purrfect for cat lovers such as myself! All around Tokyo and the greater Tokyo area, there are numerous cafes or “kissaten”「きっさてん」 that often times have a special theme to draw people in. These themes can range from simply adorable to delicious, but my absolute favorite kind is the cat cafe!

Cat cafe room

Extremely clean, well kept, and well loved.

At the cat cafe, you first remove your shoes, wash your hands, and then pay a small entrance fee that correlates to how much time you wish to spend there. After that, you’re fur-ee to spend time with the cats! There are plenty of cats for everyone to play with and pet, and the cats freely roam about the cafe to say hi to you. Lying about the rooms are cat toys, scratching posts, and gazebos for them to jump onto or nap on. These areas are completely accessible to guests and the cats are so well behaved that you can pet them all you like!

Me and cats

This is how I want to be remembered.

Cat feeding time

Snack time!

In addition to housing many cats, the cat cafes are stocked with manga for all readers, and it’s a great way to practice your Japanese reading! They even had one of my favorite series, Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

Cat cafe manga             Cat cafe pmmm

A manga fan’s dream.

Of course, what’s a cafe without coffee or lattes? They have a latte drink bar available to all customers and you can drink as much as you like from the self-serving machines. The lattes and hot chocolate are definitely worth it. I’d even dare to say they’re… purrfect. Seriously, I’m not kitten you right meow. But bad cat puns aside, the drinks are really good and I’ve found nothing more relaxing than having a cat rest on your lap while you read some good manga and sip a lovely little latte.

There are plenty of other themed animal cafes in Japan, such as an owl cafe, numerous dog cafes, and even more cat cafes. Naturally, my preferred (Purr-furr-ed?) cafe is the cat cafe, and I highly recommend venturing to one of these magnificent and rewarding venues! They don’t cost that much at all (~12USD for an hour), and you get all the drinks, manga and cats you could pawsibly dream for!

Well, I could go on for days on end about the cat cafes and all the different ones I’ve seen so far, but I’ll just leave you with this little snippet of the wonderful world of cat cafes. You should definitely try one at least once while you’re here in Japan!

So long fur meow~ [or for now]



Class of 2015

The Hiroshima Local Specialty: Okonomiyaki

Hi again!


During our trip to Hiroshima, we learned not only of the historical importance of the area and its desire for remembrance and peace, but also of its delicious local specialties! Okonomiyaki, or “As-you-like-it (Fried)” is a kind of savory pancake. There are two basic types: “Osaka style” and “Hiroshima style.” The dish bears historical significance; after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the area was nearly completely leveled, and not much was left to feed the survivors. By using their creativity and resourcefulness, the people in the area took any flat sheet of metal they could find and transformed it into a grill of sorts. The super heated thin scraps of metal made great substitute grills, and were easy to find and use. Inside Okonomiyaki went anything and everything that was edible, so this provided a good way to feed the recovering, hungry people.

Oko 1


Today, Okonomiyaki is eaten fondly, and is a local specialty that is a “must do” for visitors from all parts of the world. Okonomiyaki features a doughy batter fried lightly on a large heated flat-iron grill, sort of like a Hibachi grill. The cook lays out the batter in pancake sized circles but makes it very thin. From there, depending on what you ordered, different ingredients pile right on top of the frying dough-pancake. The dough isn’t necessarily sweet, but it is very good and light in flavor, similar to a tortilla but more sturdy in texture. It’s very hard to describe, but very delicious! On mine, I ordered the “meat special”, which means that I was given a ton of meat in addition to the heaps upon heaps of lettuce, egg, sprouts, seaweed, even more bacon, sprouts, and a bunch more I can’t remember! It was like magic in front of my eyes as I watched the delicious-ness be created by this local master chef!

Oko 2
The Master's Grill

After it was all cooked and flipped, the chef pushed the pile of deliciousness over to our edge of the grill, where it stays. The plates we had were very small and were coupled with a pair of chopsticks and a sort of spatula. Using the spatula and chopsticks, I was able to cut my okonomiyaki into fourths like a pie and eat each fourth on my plate individually. It’s an art form that takes careful mastering and a big mess of trial and error before you’re able to eat it! Everyone ordered a different type of okonomiyaki and seeing all the variety really reminds you of the resourcefulness of the people recovering from the war. It’s not only delicious, but extremely filling! After 3/4ths I was struggling, as was everyone else. No wonder this was such a good meal to have!

 Here’s a little video about the cooking of Okonomiyaki:


Experiencing this local specialty was not only tasty but a great reminder of the real struggles that the people of Hiroshima faced. What better way to remember the creative resourcefulness than to appreciate and enjoy the now-famous dish? It’s definitely something I’d love to eat again, and something anyone going to Hiroshima should experience at least once!

Hope you enjoyed it, and I really hope you’ll someday get to experience okonomiyaki, too!



Class of 2015


Having Fun on A Budget in Tokyo: a Dorm Student's Perspective

Having Fun on A Budget in Tokyo: a Dorm Student’s Perspective

Hello, Hello~

    Leilani here from CIEE’s FA14 Semester! If you’re like me, you’d love going out with friends and having a great time. You’d also love to eat a lot of good food and buy a lot of cute and cool merchandise and clothing from your favorite shops. You know what’s a common theme present in all of the above? It all costs money, and it can end up costing a lot more than what you’d like to admit. I’m here to have an amazing study abroad experience, to learn a lot about the culture and myself, but also to ultimately have a good time! Now, having good time on a budget doesn’t mean that you’re missing out on anything remarkably special, or that you wouldn’t get the most out of what you’re doing. There are plenty of ways to have a ton of fun and eat a lot of good food for reasonable prices!! (We’re talking under 10-15USD) Here are some things my friends and I have come up with to enjoy a weeknight or weekend together. Some will be quite a bit pricey, but those are the ones you save up for and do once a month!

    For your every night kind of deal, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with just hanging out in the dorm common room lounge with your friends and popping in a movie. In fact, we’ve had many an awesome night going to 7-11 (yes, the gas station 7-11, but let me tell you it’s a whole other world. The world of Conbini), buying a bunch of snacks for 100yen (~1USD), and just throwing in a good movie. It’s important to note that each dorm is a bit different, but in general dorms have common room lounges and space to cook.  The dorm that we currently live in is an international house filled with accommodations for your cooking and lounging needs. There is a larger common area with the kitchen and TV and game systems, but then there is a smaller, more private room that holds a very special place in my heart. This smaller room has a sliding door, and a TV with an hdmi cable to hook up your laptop to. In this fashion, we have watched many a movie or TV series and sat around the table with our endless snacks. It’s also a great place to study privately or in a group with your friends. One of my favorite things we did in there was celebrated one of our friend’s birthdays! It was a surprise event, and we brought down a Japanese styled birthday cake complete with candles and presents. He was so caught by surprise and it was such a wonderful night! Little things like that can be fun, and we didn’t spend more than 15USD each for that night!


        Depending on your dorm location, you may be able to gain easy access to one of the many commercial hubs of Tokyo. Another big thing we love to do that doesn’t cost much is go to Sunshine City, a huge shopping complex in Ikebukuro. Ikebukuro just happens to be on our commuter route so it costs us nothing to get there by train, and it’s only one stop away on the express train from our dorm. Now, you could potentially spend a lot of money at Sunshine City, with it being a shopping center, but most of the stores there are very reasonably priced and the restaurants are delicious and affordable, as well!! I’ve purchased some very cute items for good prices, say 3 things for ~10USD, but the best part for me is, again, the food. There are so many good snack shops and restaurants where you won’t spend more than 10USD at a time. We’ve enjoyed…


Super good Ramen…


Amazing Tonkatsu Dinners…


Bubble /Boba Tea…


…and, the best crepes, next to Harajuku of course!

Sunshine City is definitely one of my favorite spots to visit! All of that for a decent price is definitely worth your while!

    Now, budgeting also means saving up for bigger weekend excursions. You’ll definitely want to do some pretty big trips to see some of the big things in Japan, such as Mt. Fuji, or going to Kyoto to visit the more traditional side of Japan. These are going to be events you’ll want to do a little planning beforehand to get your group together and to make sure you’ve put away enough money to save up for your little adventure! For instance, one of my all time favorite activities we did was go to Tokyo Disney for the day. Tokyo Disney is actually a good deal cheaper than Disney in Florida or California! A ticket was less than $70 and the food was only around $10. For the day, we spent maybe less than $100 on food, tickets, and merchandise. And, the best part about our trip was the timing since it was Halloween!! It’s definitely a must do for Disney fans and fans of cute and exciting fun! There are a bunch of Tokyo Disney exclusives you can’t experience anywhere else in the world, and it’s a great weekend trip for a group of friends! There is another Disney theme park next to Tokyo Disneyland called Tokyo Disney Sea, which is exclusive to Japan. We’re hoping to explore both parks for our friend’s birthday, which will be a lot of fun!


    Hope these little activities were helpful or at least insightful as to what you can do for fun around Tokyo for just a bit of money. Budgeting is always important, and I think it’s always a good idea to have some emergency money in your room, too. But budgeting doesn’t have to stop you from having fun. There are plenty of ways to have inexpensive fun that will be memorable and amazing, while there are even greater experiences worth saving up for~

Ta Ta for now,



Class of 2015

The Advantages of Studying Abroad with CIEE

The Advantages of Studying Abroad with CIEE

Hello Again!

    It’s Leilani from the CIEE Tokyo FA14 semester! Today, I just want to talk about the huge benefits I’ve come to realize I have through CIEE. I didn’t know I had such an advantage at first, but after being here for a few weeks and talking to some other exchange program students, I’ve found we have some great benefits provided by CIEE for us, and I really want to express my gratitude and relief for them! You wouldn't know what sort of advantage it is, but after living through the awkward language and culture barriers, they really come in handy! 


    First is our Suica/PASMO cards, or our commuter train passes (SUICA is for Japan Railway lines, PASMO is for the subway; CIEE covers the details during orientation). In Tokyo, public transportation is HUGE. There are a lot of people who need to go to a lot of places in a certain amount of time. I happen to be one of those people. It can get very crowded, very fast, in the morning on the commute to school so a commuter pass is very important! Mine is a Suica card, and when filled out it has a blue stamp that has the different stations on your route printed on the front of it. I really like Suica mainly because of the penguin mascot, but the coolest thing about these cards is the fact that you don’t have to swipe or slide or insert the card anywhere on the ticket gate. You simply touch your pass to the sensor, and it will glow blue for go. You can even keep your pass in a wallet or bag and touch the bag to the sensor, and it will read the card through your material. Very handy! I had to get these set up in a certain manner since I’m part of the dorm students commute. CIEE gave everyone a neat little yellow slip and helped us fill the form out in order for us to have our Suica card edited into a Suica commuter pass. CIEE told us where to go to get this change made and how to do it, which was immensely helpful. We were given a stipend for it, to the exact cent I’ll let you know, and we were off to get our passes! The process was as smooth as can be, and I can travel to a lot of big-name Tokyo places, like Shinjuku or Ikebukuro for free since they’re part of my commuter route (depending on your dorm location you may have commuter route access to different, but still very cool, parts of Tokyo). It’s such a handy and wonderful feature, and the process was so smooth thanks to CIEE’s help and guidance. I had a lot of other exchange students in our dorm ask how I get my commuter pass, and I had to explain to them the process since they had no one to help them out. They didn’t have such a helpful program to walk them through and make sure it was working properly like I did. And doing it by yourself can be pretty daunting if you’re not at a certain level in Japanese, I can imagine. Since I’m pretty beginner, I was relieved to have the process go smoothly without much of a language barrier rising out of complications. 

    Another wonderful benefit would be the fact that CIEE helped us with more than just our travel plans. We even received help with our city registration, a very daunting and nerve-wracking process when done alone. With CIEE, it was a simple little sheet to fill out and turn in at the city’s main office. All the little paperwork that would be arduous and complicated to completely fill out and turn in was taken care of by CIEE for each of us, and we were guided through the process smoothly. It was such a great thing to have something so official taken care of so easily. What a relief! CIEE even helped us register for our classes and made sure we fulfilled everything we needed to. Even our Japanese health insurance cards came in with no problem thanks to the help and guidance of CIEE. All the documents in Japanese were pretty confusing, even for some upper level students, but we received the help we needed.


    CIEE gives us tips and suggestions about cool activities available around the Tokyo area. There are also a number of cultural activities built into the program. For instance, we went to make handmade glass bells, something I never even thought of doing until they suggested it. Pictured above is my little glass bell, hand painted and personally glass blown!!

    We also went on a Yotsuya Walking tour, learning more about the city where our school is located and the history of Japan. This was one of my favorite little trips, since we could just walk around with a guide and learn all about the history and importance of our area. The guides were personable, funny, and could speak to us in English and Japanese, so it was very beneficial for learning the language. On the tour, we were guided to this wonderful and peaceful Zen garden complete with rock and sand gardens, koi ponds, and a beautiful waterfall! Some of the amazing sights we saw also included the Akasaka Palace and the Imperial Palace. It was truly a breathtaking experience.



Thanks for reading!



Class of 2015

Tokyo Incoming: My Flight to Japan

Tokyo Incoming: My Flight to Japan

    We often hear about how time flies and how quickly it can pass, but you know, it really does speed by! One minute, I’m at home imagining my semester abroad, and in the blink of an eye I’m on a plane crossing the Pacific on the way to my dream semester! It’s a time full of excitement, wonder, and lots of nerves!! I would be lying if I didn’t convey how nervous I was for this adventure, but the excitement of being in Tokyo, making new friends, and living in another world was all I needed to cope.  


            Before explain the beginning of my adventure and how I got here, I’ll say a little something about myself. I’m Leilani, a senior in college majoring in Biology with a Health Professions concentration. That’s right; I’m a science major on the way to med school, so how and why am I over here in Tokyo? Well, Japan has always been one of my personal interests, culture-wise and linguistically. I love the Japanese language, and grew up with an admiration for the animation and gaming the nation has exported across the world. Since my home school offered Japanese, I took all the courses they had to offer, and when the Study Abroad seminars popped up, I was eager to see if my school offered any abroad programs for Japan. Unfortunately, my school lacked a program for Japan, but I was determined to find a way to make this Study Abroad experience happen in Japan. Working with my Study Abroad office, I came across CIEE’s Japan Arts and Sciences program, and found everything I was looking for. The best part about this was that I had already fulfilled my science credits and only needed electives! How perfect this opportunity became! Upon being accepted into CIEE’s program, I was so relieved, happy, and excited! I was really going to Japan, after years of dreaming and some painful semesters of searching. The online application process was easy to complete, simple, yet comprehensive. I knew what to turn in and when, and the staff was very accommodating, especially in helping me coordinate my return date with my other obligations. But, everything worked out in the end, and before I knew it, I was on that JAL flight to Tokyo! Leaving my home airport, waving goodbye to my mother with tears in her eyes, it was a bittersweet take off at 5am. Yet, the excitement quickly took over any sadness, and I could always FaceTime her anyway.


            I started my journey on JAL with tickets I booked through a wonderful student travel agency, StudentUniverse. The plane was one of the biggest I’ve ever seen, and being inside for 13hrs wasn’t as scary as I thought it could be. I had a nice aisle seat with a TV complete with games and around 15 movies. The flight even offered Wi-Fi, so my brother and I could send lovely selfies to each other throughout my flight. Here’s my map view:


Flight Map!

    After finishing one of the longest plane rides of my life, passing customs and claiming my baggage, I was here in Japan!  I was one of the first people to meet up with CIEE at our designated meeting spot at the airport, along with two other CIEE students. To kill some time before our bus took us to our hotel, I got a Starbucks, which was a great decision. With our luggage shipped and our tickets claimed, we boarded the bus from Narita to Tokyo!



    CIEE met up with us at the airport and took us to where we were staying. We received an info packet, along with our cellphones, which have very interesting ringtones and text tones. Small group by group, more of the CIEE students arrived, and we eagerly traded numbers. Orientation ended up being a blast, and we made friends very quickly! We went out to eat at some fantastic places that were big on flavor even though they were small in stature.




        We even had time to go to karaoke! Yes, the first song we sang was “Let It Go.”




    So far, the journey has been very exciting, fun, and educational already. It’s the small differences in culture that really get to you and not the glaringly obvious ones, but that’s for another time.  Here’s our new school, Jochi Daigaku, or Sophia University, from a panoramic view.




Thanks for reading, and I hope to talk more soon!




Class of 2015