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9 posts categorized "Nikki Nguyen "

07/15/2015

Discoveries and suggestions

Just like that, and there is only less than a month before I complete my study abroad term in Japan. There was time when I felt a bit homesick, but now I do not want to leave. There are still so many things I want to do here in Japan, yet time is so limited. However, I do not think I will leave Japan with any regrets, because I have spent every moment in Japan very wisely. 

I always have an agenda and plan every day. It was pretty overwhelming to have a mindset of wanting to visit all the places and try all the food in Japan. I cannot go a day without opening my agenda, and looking through to see if there are any open spots for me to fit more places/ restaurants in there. I managed to go to at least one unique town/ spot of Tokyo, or try the food that I haven’t tried before, or go to a restaurant that I cannot find outside of Japan. I am always doing something every day. By doing so, at the end of the day, I feel very satisfied because I don’t want to waste a single moment to explore Japan (mostly Tokyo in my case). Also, by keeping a calendar, it helps me remember the places that I have been to and the things that I did in Japan. I want to forever remember the joy and happiness that I experience daily in Tokyo.

With that being said, I understand how stressful it is to having to keep up with everything, so I am coming up with the list of the places that I have been to, and want to recommend to everyone.

 One life-saving tip: utilize the “save” button on Google Map. Whenever I find a new place, I immediate go to my Google Map, look it up and save the location so I don’t end up forgetting everything, or having a long list untouched.  

There were several great shops which I do not remember the names, but I will try my best to make sure the best places are listed.

Note: I am a big foodie, so most of the places will be restaurants, but food is such a large part of the Japanese culture (especially sweets!). I am not sure about others, but the Japanese food/ sweets give me such a strange feeling of happiness that I don’t think I can find it anywhere else.

Most of these places can be found immediately using just the name on Google Map, so I hope finding these places will not be any problems.

 Restaurant:      

-       Nabezou / Momo Paradise / MK Restaurant (they have many different branches, from Shibuya to Harajuku to Shinjuku)

  • All you can eat for Shabu Shabu (hot pot) and Sukiyaki (special Japanese dish stew served in hot pot style)

-        世界で2番めにおいしいきたてメロンパンアイス in Shibuya

  • The one and only place that sells this unique melon bread filled with ice cream!

-       Soup Stock Tokyo (right outside Sophia in the Atre Building)

  • Famous healthy and delicious soups with a wide variety. They also serve curry and different lunch sets

-       Hatsudai (初代) in Ebisu:

  • White potato cream curry udon (shiroi kare udon)

-       Japanese Ice Ouca in Ebisu

  • In my opinion, has the BEST ice cream with the most unique flavors (4 tea flavors alone, pumpkin, premium milk, different fruits, cream cheese, etc.)

-       Bittersweet Buffet/ Sweet Paradise in Shinjuku/ Ikebukuro/ Shibuya

  • all you can eat Japanese sweets (the crepes and waffles here are amazing), on top of salads, Italian cuisines, drinks, etc.

-       Cosme Juicery in Daikanyama, Shibuya’s Hikarie Building

  • Healthy organic cold-pressed juice/ smoothies

-       SASA Grill Burger in Daikanyama

  • Serve avocado, salmon, mushroom, and all types of unique and delicious burgers with great atmosphere

-       Burn Side Café in Harajuku

  • Soufflé pancakes! One of the best

-       Rainbow Pancake in Harajuku / Honolulu Coffee in Yokohama:

  • Madacamia nut cream pancake

-       Pablo Cheese Tart in Shibuya

  • They have seasonal flavors! This is a great gift to buy and enjoy with host family because only a whole cheese tart is sold here (but it was so good that I could finish the whole thing by myself).

-       Rapoppo in Shinjuku Station/ Shibuya Tokyu Store B1/ Sky Tree:

  • Sweet potato sweets!

-       Bills at Harajuku/ Yokohama:

  •  Hot cakes!

-       Ichiran (一覧)everywhere

  • Known as the best ramen restaurant

-       Harbs in Shibuya/ Shinjuku Lumine Est

  • Mille Crepes with fruits filling- one of the best creations in the sweets industry in my opinion

-       Tsurutotan in Roppongi

  • Authentic and delicious udon. The size of one serving is three times bigger than normal, and the “udon” is all you can eat, so enjoy

-       Ice Monster in Harajuku:

  • Taiwanese ice shave

-       Bake Cheese Tart in Jiyugaoka/ Shinjuku

  • Famous baked cheese tart- there is always a line but it is worth it

-       Quil Fait Bon: fruit tarts

-       Croquant Chou Zakuzaku in Harajuku/ Shinjuku:

  • Premium Milk Ice Cream from Hokkaido and churros with custard filling

-       Pancake House: Dutch pancake

-       Gyukaku (every where): all you can eat yakiniku (Korean BBQ)

-       Croissant Taiyaki

 

Interesting shops to check out:

-       Kiddy Land

-       Tokyu Hands

-       Book Off

-       Troll along Harajuku/ Shimokitazawa for unique cheaper goods

 

Small local towns:

-       Daikanyama

-       Ebisu

-       Shimo kitazawa

-       Kagurazaka

-       Yanaka Ginza

-       Enoshima/ Kamakura

-       Nakano

-       Nakamekuro

-       Jiyugaoka

-       Tsukiji

-       Ameyoko

-       Jimbocho

There are many more places that I want to talk more details about, but I am sure if students take time to explore the local stops on their route home, there will be plenty of hidden gems are waiting to be discovered. 

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-       Soufflé Pancake at Burn Side St. Café

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- Melon Pan Ice (Melon bread filled with ice cream) at世界で2番めにおいしいきたてメロンパンアイス

 

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-       Ice shave at Ice Monster

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-       Premium milk ice cream at Croquant Chou Zakuzaku

 

One PIECE MUSEUM

Studying abroad in Japan has given me all kinds of opportunity and benefit. Even though I did not start off learning about Japan from anime and manga but through the arts; I have become a huge anime lover over time. Being in Japan, especially Tokyo, gave me countless access to anime so I can let the inner otaku me runs free. I have been to several anime-related places like the Jump Shop, Naruto Museum, to Manga Museum (Kyoto), Anime/ One Piece shops on the 6th floor of Parco Building in Shibuya, and even the Ghibli museum. However, the place that I have enjoyed most is the One Piece Museum on the Tokyo Tower. 

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One Piece has been one of my all time favorites since forever (beside Detective Conan). Since One Piece is very popular especially in Japan, the admission for the museum is quite expensive (3600 yen). I had a hard time deciding whether or not to check out the museum with this cost, but since this will probably be the only chance and place for me to check out the One Piece museum, I have decided to go for it with no regret. 

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The museum is much larger than the Naruto museum that I have been to in the Mori Tower. There are three floors with several different activities. The first floor consists of life-size One Piece figures and walls full of One Piece important moments and story lines. The set up of all three floors really reflects the setting of the anime. On the second floor, there are special rooms/ spaces with unique themes for each specific One Piece character. For example, there is a sword training room for Roronoa Zoro, who is a “bushido” in the anime. There is also a casino room, a haunted house, and “sniper” contest space among others. Each room is filled with special 3D effects that one can barely tell which is real and which is not. Lastly on the third floor, there are two cinema rooms; one is for a special short video that is only available inside the museum, consists of the past, and future clips of the anime. Another cinema room is used for a live-action show of One Piece. Everything was done very elaborately with great details. I have really enjoyed myself there.

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Many who do not know much about Japan, usually see Japan as a place filled with anime/ manage geeks and cosplayers. However, anime-related matters are just parts that made up the characteristics of Japan. Anime/ manage-related museums is not just there to promote the anime/ manga, but also to show the real progress of creating the work, which reveals many other aspects of the Japanese culture as well. For example, it requires highly advanced technologies to create these special affects. It also demands high collaborations and great passions to create the arts and the story lines, especially for long-running anime/ manga like One Piece.  Going to the One Piece museum really helps me understand a lot more about the process. It is no less interesting than the Ghibli Museum, where the development, the work of arts were show cased. Being exposed to unexpected museums like this makes me appreciate Japan even more. I can always find a nice balance and mixture of every little thing here. Even with anime museums and anime shops everywhere, the environment here clearly indicates that anime is not just for the “anime geek,” but it is a huge part of modern Japan culture that many Japanese people are very proud of. It is not just about the anime alone, but about the people behind the scenes and many other aspects which together built a unique characteristic that makes Japan, Japan. 

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06/11/2015

The Hidden Gems of Tokyo

Two months have passed by too quickly. Coming to Japan with the mindset of wanting to explore all the renowned places in Japan have given me a lot of pressure. Japan is very “distracting” in a good sense. My “to do/ to go” list have gotten longer every day. Time is limited, yet there are always new places to go to. I have been frantically trying to plan for big trips, and using the rest of my time to go to well-known touristy spots such as Shibuya, Roppongi, Shinjuku, Harajuku, etc. Even though I have enjoyed myself greatly, sometimes I felt exhausted thinking that I have to check off every single thing on my enormous to-do list. Then, I started to pace myself slower, and take time to absorb the little simple moments around me. I am learning to accept the fact that I will never get to eat all the good food in Japan and go to all the fascinating places in Tokyo. However, because of that, I have started to appreciate the normal flow of my daily life, and have discovered various hidden gems locally, which I found to be very precious. That was the moment I realized that with a mixture of famous spots and local places, I can really see the real colors of Tokyo.

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- Brown sugar matcha ice cream, on top of organic matcha ice cream with red beans and matcha jelly - Japanese Ice Ouca, Ebisu

I have accomplished one goal that is to stop at every station along my train route to just explore, sightseeing and get a feel of normal Japanese life. Some of the places that I have come across purely by coincidence are Nakano, Daikanyama, Nakameguro, Ebisu, and Jiyugaoka. Each little town has its own characteristics and I was surprised to find so many popular local spots hidden behind the busy Tokyo life. For example, as written before in my first blog, Nakameguro is one of the most famous sakura flowers viewing spot in Japan. It also has a local shops surrounded the Meguro river, especially the sushi shop with the “dancing chef.” Sushi is not even the best part; one cannot take their eyes away from the chef while he was making the sushi like an art show. It was fantastic.

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- Gyu katsu (Beef Katsu) near Shibuya/ Daikanyama district

In addition, Daikanyama is the neighborhood that is famous for celebrities to reside, which includes varieties of American/ European restaurants and trendy shops. Daikanyama is one the places where I get the sense of modern Japan in an “authentic Japanese” environment, unlike Shibuya or Shinjuku where modernization is overloaded. In Daikanyama, I found a Juicery Kitchen, which sells the healthy cold compressed juice that is good for both the body and soul. I feel so lucky to find such precious shops that I otherwise would have missed out if I neglected the local aspects of Japanese life. 

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- Daikanyama's Cosme Kitchen Juicery (right outside of the station's exit) 

In continuation, in Ebisu, I found Japanese Ice Ouca, where in my opinion, sells the best ice cream including 4 different flavors of Matcha alone. Not only so, there is a famous local curry whipped cream udon, sounds strange, but it was extremely delicious! Looking for unique types of food that I will not be able to find outside Japan is one of my passions, so I was beyond escalated. 

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- Curry Udon with Whipped Cream in Ebisu

Right outside of Nakano station, there is a “Broadway Nakano” shopping street, which reminds me a lot of Ameyoko in Ueno. I found a local restaurant that sells an unagi (eel) bowl for only 500 yen! The quality is equivalent to those at Tsukiji Fish Market. The taste is to die for. There is also a ramen burger restaurant in Nakano, much better than the one I have tried in the United States. This ramen burger does not fall apart when I take the first bite, it stays intact and absorbs all the goodness of the sauce and the meat. I am not a big fan of burgers, but this is exceptional, I can eat it as many ramen burgers as possible, but I need to limit myself if I want to reach my goal of trying more unique food in Japan. 

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- Unagi (eel) bowl and unagiyaki at Nakano

Lastly, Jiyugaoka is a heaven for sweets and bakery, notably the “Bake Shop” and “Jiyugaoka Sweet Forest.” They also have many trendy and local restaurants as well. What makes Jiyugaoka unique is that it has the warm and connected atmosphere, as if all the shops are united to design their decors in some similar way, which gives me some sense of belonging. It feels magical, especially during the evening time, where the lanterns along the streets are brightly lit up.

 Since I stumbled across these places while exploring, they all hold a very special meaning to me, because this part of Tokyo came to me naturally, it makes me feel more much more native and appreciative. I will continue to explore more local places on top of planning out some last minutes trips because time is passing by quickly in a blink, it is unbelievable. I cannot wait for what discoveries I will find next, because in Japan, there are always surprises wherever I go, and they always manage to go beyond my expectation and I am very grateful.  

Mori Tower- Sky Deck: A Magnificent place to be

Being in the CIEE program, I have had many chances to experience several different activities in order to improve my knowledge of the Japanese culture. Naturally, most of the activities associate with the more traditional aspect of the Japanese culture in one way or another. However, Japan is becoming more and more modernized. In fact, according to Business Insider, Tokyo falls into the category of “cities with the most futuristic features.” In my opinion, having a chance to experience the Tokyo city and its modernization is also one of the most important aspects of the Japanese culture. The Sky Deck of the Mori Tower is the best spot that I could really see the real Tokyo as a big picture. This is why it was one of the most enjoyable moments I have experienced in Tokyo.

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The best time to go to the Mori Tower's Sky Deck is about half an hour before sunset in order to view Tokyo in transition: from daylight, to sunset, to the outburst of city lights. On the Sky Deck, I could see the Tokyo Sky Tree, Odaiba, Yokohama, and especially the Tokyo Tower brightly shines above all else.  This is what I call “my Tokyo.”

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I have composed an album of Tokyo, and the photos that I took from the Sky Deck are the ones that I am most proud of. I am the type of person who adores night-lights, who treasures the beauty of the city once it really “wakes up” after the sun has been set. Being on top of the Sky Deck has made me once again reaffirm the reason why I love Japan, as these photos have really represented my personality. Even though I do cherish every moment of learning about the traditional Japan, experience the modernized Japan is what I have always hoped to achieve during my term of studying abroad. I personally 100% prefer the Mori Sky Deck more than the famous Tokyo Tower and the Tokyo Sky Tree. I believe using the photos I took on the Mori Sky Deck will truly help me to have a stronger impact on others, whenever I have the opportunities to do presentation or give talks about my experience in Japan. This will certainly show the prosperity of Japan economically, on top of maintaining the most traditional heritage sites. Coming from a business school, seeing how Japan grows into this “futuristic world” sounds very appealing and fascinating.

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Having a chance to experience this view of Tokyo at night also gave me a chance to reflect upon on my past 2 months in Japan. Ironically, seeing this busy life of Tokyo did not make me feel pressured, instead it gave me a strange sense of peace. I finally felt relaxed and let my thought flow with the stream of the city. If I have to choose one location that I have enjoyed most in Tokyo, Mori Sky Deck would surely be one of my top choices. 

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[Note: the cost to the observatory floor is $1200 with a Sophia University student discount, but to any photographers out there, an additional $500 will provide access to the very top floor- the Sky Deck with no surrounded mirror. The total cost is kind of pricy, but I believe it will be worth it, definitely it was an experience of a lifetime for me]. 

Iaido- Bonding with Host Mother

During the first few weeks in Japan, I was very nervous about my decision of doing homestay. I have heard mixed thoughts about doing dorm versus homestay; each has its own benefits and drawbacks. I had to really think a bout it: what is the main goal that I want to accomplish while I am in Japan? For me, it is to become more fluent in Japanese and to be immersed into their culture. There was really no better way to assist me to reach my objective, so I became much more determined with my decision.

At first, everything was a little bit stiff because my host mother is a pre-intermediate English speaker, and I am pretty much a Japanese-speaking beginner. We used a lot of hand gestures and body language, but it has become very fun overtime. After two to three weeks, we have become much more comfortable around one another and our Japanese conversations went on longer. However, there was not much bonding time between my host mother and I beside dinnertime. I felt like I wanted to have a stronger relationship with my host mother, so despite the fact that I was afraid to ask, I suggested that we should do something together during her free time. From there on, magic happens.

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My host mother has a friend who is the master of the Iaido’s dojo branch in Tokyo, so she took me there for an iaido practice. I have heard of judo, aikido, karate, etc. but iaido is completely new to me. The meaning of iaido is the “ways of the sword,” it is all about the smooth and controlled movements of the sword. I have had a few practices, and I have to say it is one of the most beautiful Japanese martial arts that I have ever seen and experienced.

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In addition, even getting dressed in Iaidogi (Iaido’s uniform) is an art. It took me around 10 – 15 minutes every single time. I am glad that sensei and my host mother were always being patient with me. Furthermore, all the katana that we used to practice were real and extremely heavy, I was awfully scared. Growing up always being the “small” kid in a group, I had a hard time holding the katana, let alone drawing, striking and replacing the sword into the scabbard. Sensei was the nicest man, but he was also very strict. I was told to stay in the same pose, and strike the katana until I get the right form (I did so for about 15-20 minutes). Each pose and form requires different breathing pattern, different expression and angle/degrees of the katana. It took me a while, but everyone was very supportive, and that was the only encouragement I need to try harder.

My arms were intensely sore, but I was determined. I have always wanted to do karate, but I never had a chance because of limited resources and opportunities back in the United States. I believe each martial art has its own beauty, so even though I still did not have a chance to learn karate, being exposed to iaido has given me another whole different perspective. I am glad I was given this chance to experience something that brings me a lot closer to the Japanese culture.

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At the end of each session, we all required to perform one by one in front of the camera recorder. This was done to show our progress over time, and to evaluate our own forms and mistakes. I was the first one to perform every time because of my newest ranking. Surprisingly, I was awfully calm. Iaido not only has taught me to control the way of sword, but also taught me to control my breathing pattern and stage of mind. This skill that I have learned continued to help me during my daily life. I realized that I am much more patient than before. I am forever thankful.

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By breaking the barrier between my host mother and I, she has started to suggest us to do more activities together. From going to a tea ceremony, to the children sport festival, we have really connected. I believe that the rest of my homestay experience will be great. Even though I have enjoyed the time with my friends, I really do appreciate all the moments that I get to spend with my host mother just the same. This is the balance that I have created for myself in order to make the most out of my time in Japan. 

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05/11/2015

Stepping Out of the Comfort Zone

It has been more than a month since I came to Japan, and I am surprised that my usual homesick stage still hasn't kicked in just yet. The main reason is probably because I am enjoying every moment here in Japan. Even though there were several times when I felt anxious and foreign, I have learned to overcome the "downs" by utilizing the “ups” to the fullest.  

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- CIEE Hiroshima Trip

The biggest challenge I have encountered thus far is forcing myself to step out of my comfort zone. From what I have seen in my home country, people usually formed groups during freshman week, and would stay with the same group for the rest of their college years. I brought that mentality with me to Japan. To be honest, I was afraid that I would not be able to join a “group” during orientation week. However, the CIEE students and other exchange students are super friendly and I am grateful to become friends with quite a few of them. I noticed that we have really bonded during the trips that CIEE has planned for us, especially the trips to Kamakura and Hiroshima. I have become more relaxed because I have found my own “comfort zone.” 

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- CIEE Karakura Trip (Group 10 Rocks!)

Naturally, we communicated using English 99% of the time because not everyone is in the same Japanese level. However, I started finding it stressful to speak Japanese to my host mother or during daily situations since I have only used English with my friends at school. I then figured out that I fell into the new “comfort trap" that I created for myself. I have to find a balance to break this barrier so I can truly adapt into the Japanese culture. Apart from hanging out with my CIEE friends, I have taken a step further to make friends with Japanese students at Sophia University. It was nerve wracking at first, but I am getting the hang of it. It takes time to crack open my shell to speak more confidently using broken Japanese. I asked my friends to correct my pronunciation or errors every time I say something wrong (which is about 80% of the time at this level). This has become very enjoyable and effective.  

Now, I found myself hanging out with my Japanese friends a lot more. It gave me a chance to practice my Japanese, and in exchange I offer to help them practice their English. It is like an “exchange program,” but much more fun and exciting. Through my Japanese friends, I also learned a lot about the customs that are not common enough to be found online. For instance, I learned how to purchase Shinkansen tickets and bus tickets via a Japanese website. I also learned how to bargain, how to know which price is good for different types of fruit, etc. Sometimes I no longer feel foreign, and that is the feeling I pursued when I first came to Japan. I am sure there will be tons of difficulties ahead, but I will find a way use these obstacles as a bridge to get closer to my goal.  

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- Purikura with my Japanese/ non CIEE friends

Even though I found myself pretty busy with schoolwork, I always leave room open for my CIEE friends, my Japanese friends, and also my host mother. It seems hard to fit everything with only 24 hours within a day, but I have learned to find the balance to make this study abroad experience worthwhile. Although it was only a short period of time, but everyone has become so important to me. They are the reason why I always worked hard to manage my time wisely so I can spend quality time with everyone.  

This sounds cliché, but when a challenge is conquered through hard work, the result will become much more rewarding. I am glad that I have finally stepping out of my comfort zone, because discovering new discomfort and learn from it- is my new way of adapting. 

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- With my awesome people during CIEE Hiroshima Trip :)

Golden Week- Kyoto: The Land of Traditional Japan

On the second day of my Golden Week trip, my friends and I went to Kyoto from Osaka. Time was limited so we did intense planning in order to complete all of our goals in one day. This would be the only chance for all of us to conquer this quest together.

We left Osaka at 10AM and arrived at Kyoto Station via train at around 12PM. We bought a daily pass for 1200 yen because most of the places that we wanted to visit were accessible via bus, since the pass could not be used for JR lines.

First, we visited the Fushimi Inari Taisha shrine with the famous Senbon Torii (1000 gates). The bright orange shrine and gates were much better than pictures. Also, the street foods along the road to the shrine were fascinating! Luckily, there was also a festival going on, where 30 trucks were passing by slowly with people in costumes. It was the first festival that I have witnessed at a shrine, but a few people were getting impatient because the road was blocked for the avidity for about 30-45 minutes. To me, I relished seeing a different perspective of Japan because it has helped me getting a bit closer to look at things in a Japanese perspective.

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- Senbon Torii (1000 Gates)

On the way back, we made it to the Kiyomizu Temple. It was a pretty far walk from the station and we also had to walk up a hill, but it was completely worth it. There were several ladies and couples dressed in kimono walking up a road along the traditional houses, hotels and shops. Despite the fact that the temple was very crowded, I felt at ease because I was getting closer to the more traditional Japan. There were three streams of river where people could drink and pray for long life, success in school or good love life. However, one should only take water from one of the streams, or else that person would be seen as greedy. We passed on this opportunity because the line was very long, and we were satisfied with everything else that we have seen at the temple. The view once we have reached the temple at the top was majestic. We could oversee the Kyoto landscape and also the Kyoto tower. Once we headed down, the Kiyomizu-michi shopping street has filled the air with noise and excitement.  I got tons of omiyage for my host mother and my friends back in Tokyo. Most of the shops offer samples of the famous omiyage food from Kyoto: yatsuhashi. We tried many different flavors of yatsuyashi until we realized that we were too full for lunch. Everything was delicious, from matcha flavor, to red bean, to black sesame, and banana and chocolate flavors. Everyone needs to try this Kyoto’s specialty whenever a chance is given.  

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- Kiyomizu Temple (you can also see the Kyoto tower in the background)

Afterward, we took the bus to Kinkakuji, the golden temple. We made it there at around 4:30 PM, which was unexpectedly good timing because there were not many people at the temple since the closing time was 5:20 PM. The sunset turned the golden temple even more shiny and gleaming. On the way out, we saw Mt. Hidari- Daimonjiyama, where the enormous kanji大 was engraved along the mountain. The entire kanji is being fired up during Daimonji Gozan Okuribi festival, which held on August 16th. It was totally unplanned, so I was very pleased because I have only seen it in an anime episode of Detective Conan. The excitement was real! 

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- Kinkakuji- The golden temple

Lastly, even though it was getting late, we were determined to finish our goal to visit Arashiyama bamboo grove. It was dark once we got there, so we could not see the bamboo forest. However, the mountain, the river stream, and night shops were all lighted up with lights and lanterns. It is the sight that I would not trade anything for. At Arashiyama, I could smell the freshness and gain a sense of peace.  The place seemed to be "isolated" from the rest of the city, which strengthened my connection with nature- something that had long been buried by the liveliness of the city life.  

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- Arashiyama

In addition, we did not expect to save the best for last, but we came across a “kimono forest” at Arashiyama. For some reasons, not many people have heard about this kimono forest, which light up wonderfully every evening. Even my Japanese friends and my host mother were completely speechless when I showed them the photos. It was such a worthwhile day! We felt more than accomplished because not only we have completed our list, but we also discovered new unexpected stunning sites.  

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- The "Kimono Forest"

After living in the busy Tokyo city for more than a month, Kyoto is a traditional land that gave me a chance to really absorb what old Japan really is about. I truly appreciate the opportunity, a Golden Week trip to such astounding places with lovely friends.  

Golden Week - Osaka

Before coming to Japan, I made it a priority to visit Kyoto and Osaka during my study abroad term. While CIEE students were kept busy with orientation activities to assist our adapting process, Golden Week was coming quickly. Like many other students, my “Golden Week” group could not find a hotel in Osaka or Kyoto because people usually make reservations several months before Golden Week. Then, we shifted gear to plan a trip to Hakone- the only alternative that we could find at the time. Regardless of how excited I was for Hakone, I could not make it because of some personal conflicts. Luckily, a Japanese friend of mine coincidently told me about her trip to Osaka, and she invited me to come along.  I was beyond escalated and we started planning frantically within a week before our departure date. This was possible only because we did not have to worry about the hotel, since we would be staying at a friend’s apartment. I finally got a chance accomplish two more goals in my bucket list.

 

The first day:

We took the Shinkansen from Tokyo Station at 10AM. Any students at Sophia could get a discount certificate (which I believe was 20% off) from the machine on Building 2, 3rd floor. We arrived at Shin-Osaka at 4pm. We immediately headed toward Dotonbori, the most famous tourist spot in Osaka. 

When in Osaka, one has to try Kushikatsu Daruma (deep fried skewers). The food quality was true to its name, so delicious despite the fact that it was extremely oily. Luckily, the line was short because we got there quite early before its peak hour (which is around 7pm – 11pm).

Afterward, we explored the Dotonbori area, which is not only popular for tourists, but also for Japanese people as well. I personally love the colorful night-lights and the busy-like atmosphere, so Dotonbori had me at the first 2 seconds. There were icon statues everywhere; each represented a restaurant or a shop. Dotonbori was very crowded, but that characteristic has made Dotonbori the way it is, so I did not mind the crowd one bit. Furthermore, Osaka is famous for its takoyaki (octopus balls). It is very different comparing to the one in Tokyo and Hiroshima (which are the two other places where I have tried takoyaki). Osaka’s takoyaki is larger, softer, and cheaper! However, I prefer Tokyo’s takoyaki a bit more because of the crunchiness; though my friends prefer Osaka’s. That is being said, it all depends on personal preferences, so takoyaki is a must-try when people visit Osaka.

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- Dotonbori

 

[On the second day, we went to Kyoto, which I will write another entry about since there is so much to tell]

 

The third day:

We went to Banpaku Koen, which I believe should have better recognition because it is tremendously large. Banpaku Koen contains many different kinds of nature, including: waterfall, rose garden, tulip garden, bamboo forest, little rivers, lake, hills, and many more. We still have not get through the whole park after 3 hours of walking. Even though we got very tired, but we were completely taken away and forgot the time. How nostalgic it felt to be engulfed by the fresh and the beauty of nature once in a while. There was also a pirate festival going on with tons of food stand and activities for kids. This park was where I found neutrality, and yet not so isolated from the rest of the world. This harmony of nature and human life is what I do not usually find in Tokyo despite the fact that shrines, temples and parks could be found anywhere in Tokyo.

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- Waterfall at Banpaku Koen

In continuation, we went to Osaka Castle with a magnificent view. It was less crowded in comparison to the temples and shrines in Kyoto, so I had a better chance to really observe my surroundings. Beside from the fact that everyone was busy with picture taking, many of them were also eating street food and gathering in the gift shop. There was a small “concert” with local Japanese singers who sang Japanese pop music, which surprised a bit, because I expected to hear traditional Japanese songs at Osaka Castle. This proves that I can never be open minded enough to take in all the differences at once. This is why I am constantly in the verge of learning and adapting. 

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- Osaka Castle 

Lastly, we decided to make a stop at Tsutenkaku Tower on the way back and I could not be more glad. We got to see the area at dawn, which was beautiful because all the shops were lighted up with lanterns and decorated with iconic statues, beside the brightly lit-up Tsutenkaku Tower. This area strongly resembled Dotonbori, but the air was completely different. The shops seemed more local and native because I could actually recognize the Kansai dialect (which I have picked up from watching Japanese shows and anime). The area  was less spacious, but because of that I felt more blended in. 

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- Tsutenkaku

 

The fourth day

We went to Universal Studio Japan. The settings were very similar to the one in Florida, USA. However, it is very interesting to see the more modernized and youthful aspects of Osaka. I saw little kids dressed in Hello Kitty costumes, some older parents/ grand parents dressed in Spiderman towels, and a few people even wore spandex suits. Everyone went all out and 99% of the people left USJ with several gift bags. People expressed their passion for Universal Studios very enthusiastically. For once, I really do felt the heat of excitement from the older generation to the younger generation at Universal Studios Japan all at once. I felt extremely pumped even when my energy was drained after three days of intense walking and exploring.

 In Osaka, even with the modernized structure, I can always see mountains somewhere in the background, which makes Osaka a perfect blend of modern and traditional.  I will definitely plan to come back to Osaka again in the near future. It gave me so much joy and I have certainly created tons of unforgettable memories in Osaka.

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04/22/2015

When the Sakura blooms

One of the main reasons why I decided to go study abroad in Japan is because of the Japanese unique culture and custom. Inclusively, Tokyo is a city with such exciting contrasts between modern and traditional culture that will give me an extremely challenging and enriching international experience. CIEE has done a great job in providing students the opportunities to explore Japan in order to assist our adapting process. I have not met anyone from the CIEE program that is unhappy about either the host family or the dormitory thus far.

Personally, I am in love with the location of my home. There is a small shopping street on the way from my station, including Starbucks, McDonalds, KFC, and many other Japanese restaurants and shops. In addition, I found a germ when I coincidentally looked out from the window during my train ride home. I saw something that looks so much like my current Facebook's cover photo that I got from Google. I was shocked at first, but suddenly I realized that it is really the the Meguro River- one of the most famous Sakura viewing spots in Japan, which is only two stops away from my station. I was more than escalated.

Luckily enough, I came to Japan just in time for the Sakura season. Naturally, I made a trip there with a few friends. The Meguro River was extremely packed, but I still got a chance to enjoy the beauty of the Sakura. Furthermore, I used to go to festivals when I was living in Vietnam at a young age. To me, it felt exceptionally nostalgic especially with all the festival food stands. I spent most of the time there trying several types of festival food because to be honest, who wouldn't do that? I did not think that it would be possible to experience all sorts of feeling at once, but I no longer surprise that to me,  anything is possible in Japan.

Wherever I go, a mixture of traditional and modern beauty always blends in so perfectly. Even though it has only been more than a week, living in Japan has helped me mature. Despite the fact that many people  tend to focus on their electronic devices at all time, I have learned to appreciate my surrounding more, take a deep breath and enjoy whatever is in front of me. The reason being I do not want to miss any of the precious moments of living in Japan. I am sure that this will be the once in a lifetime chance for me to live my dream to the fullest. From a flowing Sakura petal, to a rush of people crossing at the intersection; I found beauty in all of that including a fusion of amazement and fascination.

Even though the Sakura season has more or less subdued to the windy and rainy days, but somehow, the Sakura in my heart has bloomed. I have become much more comfortable and optimistic despite the culture difference and the language barrier. I am determined to do my best in order to get fluent in Japanese and to be completely immersed into the culture. That is my way of living the moment here in Japan, and that is the encouragement I get when the Sakura in me blooms. 

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- Festival food- お団子(odango)

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- Festival food stands

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- The Meguro River through my lenses 

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- The Meguro River through my lenses