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6 posts categorized "Religion"


Combatting depression, loneliness, and home sickness while Studying Abroad

When you hear the words study abroad you may think of an awesome adventure filled with new discoveries and lifelong memories! And it’s true, I’ve gone on countless adventures like visiting Daibutsu, climbing mount Takao and getting delicious crepes in Harajuku. So far I’ve had an awesome experience BUT that doesn’t stop me from feeling down every now and then.


One of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with while being abroad is having intense feelings of loneliness, dissatisfaction and homesickness. I consider myself a pretty “strong” person when it comes to staying optimistic but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t broken down at all during this experience. But breaking down doesn’t make me weak it makes me human. Honestly, these things are inevitable and completely natural! Every one of my friends that I’ve talked to here has experienced one or more of the aforementioned emotions.  Feeling homesick or down in the dumps while abroad happened easier than I expected. It’s easy for my to internalize my feelings and shield my true emotions with my extroverted personality. The tricky part is finding creative solutions to these issues.


In the 8 weeks that I have been here the biggest release that I’ve been able to utilize is my friends. I know it sounds cliché but seriously it works. Sometimes I just want to vent and be validated and finding a friend to do that with has been the difference between an awful experience and an awesome one.


Another way I’ve been able to combat my feelings of depression, loneliness and homesickness is by getting plugged into the nearest church. Faith is a big part of my life and I personally believe that without God I wouldn’t have been able to come on this trip. At first I was worried because Japan’s Christian population is less that 5% but after doing some research and talking to previous CIEE students I found the resources I needed. Currently I attend LifeHouse church in Roppongi with my friend Shelah (she’s a CIEE blogger too!) every Sunday. Shelah and I love Sundays because it’s our time to get “recharged” in our faith and have “one on one” adventures in Tokyo.


The last and probably most pivotal way I lift my spirits is by communicating “E.T.” style and phoning home. But home doesn’t always have to be my actual home. I tend to stay away from calling my family too much because its counterproductive and makes me even more homesick. So sometimes I call random professors from my university and talk about whatever’s on my mind at the time. I was once on the phone with this random administrative assistant for the Registrar’s office and I remember crying tears of happiness when I heard her voice and I was so appreciative of her genuine interest in my trip. Honestly, those have been some of the best conversations I’ve had on this trip. It's good to hear a familiar voice and escape back home temporarily.


I want to close this blog by again saying: Having bad feelings are completely natural and if my issues ever seemed too big for me to handle I know I can always TELL (Tokyo English Life Line), a free, anonymous, and confidential telephone counseling service that is available every day from 9am to 11pm. ( or see the on campus counselor free of charge.


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


Japanese Festivals: Celebrating Culture and Community

Japan has a lot of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines throughout almost every city. Besides famous temples and shrines in Kamakura, Harujuku, Nara, etc., you may inadvertently walk by one of the smaller local shrines or temples while you're out exploring. If you do, you can stop to draw your fortune or ring the bell. They are great places to spend a quiet afternoon reading or meditating, and they often have beautiful parks or gardens where people come to relax.  

Exploring a temple near campus in Asakusa with a fellow CIEE student

Also, since Japan has many holidays, you may run in to a festival at your local shrine or temple. Some of the festivals include ceremonies in which members of the community carry portable shrines (called mikoshi), or push or pull large festival cartsthroughout the surrounding area. You may see one of these ceremonies while out and about; I've seen it in Harujuku, Shibuya, and by my homestay. If you run into a full-blown festival, though, take the time to stop and look around. It some-what resembles a county fair in America with the various food stands, music performances, and massive crowds of people, but it definitely has a very unique feel that you should experience at least once. 

Festival Cart at the Chichibu Winter Festival

I have accidentally run into several festivals in the three months I've been here. One day I was walking home from the train station and heard loud rock music a few blocks away from my homestay apartment. Later that night my host dad invited me to go to the festival with him. "What festival?" I asked. It turned out the loud rock music I heard on my way home was actually a festival held annually by the local temple. There were stands with great food, games for the kids, and a stage where a famous retired rock guitarist was playing. They even had enormous heaters around the seating area to keep people warm. It was a really fun surprise just down the street.

Just a few weeks ago a Japanese friend invited another CIEE student and I to go see fireworks somewhere down the Seibu subway line. We weren't really sure about the details, but we decided to go. It turned out to be the Chichibu Winter Festival, which is a famous festival that people from all over Japan will travel to see each year. It happens on December 3, and for 3 hours there is on-and-off fireworks, great street food, lots of people, and 6 massive festival carts that different groups of local men pull throughout the city. It's like an American county fair mixed with a parade mixed with the 4th of July. It was a great surprise to be there, and both my CIEE friend and I really enjoyed it. It was really cold out that night, but the warm street food like local style udon and fried beef on a stick helped a lot. It was also really fun to spend the night practicing Japanese with our friend and feeling like a local as we blended with the crowd.

Fireworks at the Chichibu Winter Festival

Festivals are a great way to mix with locals and to enjoy local food and culture. While you're here in Japan, I recommend visiting many of the different shrines and temples you find in Tokyo and elsewhere, and try to attend a festival at least once! They happen often, and you might just run into one, so join in and have fun! 


Homeless Ministry in Yoyogi Park

Hello all :)

This will be a short post because I have one very specific thing on my heart that I want to share! I've been blessed with the opportunity to join an amazing group of people on Saturday mornings who have a heart and put together bags of food and pour coffee for the homeless in Japan: a group of people whose size has growing as the economy declines. The ministry takes place in Yoyogi Park (代々木公園), a large green right next to Harajuku Station(原宿駅)on Saturdays at 7 AM.

AdmittedーI don't go nearly as often as I'd like to. Things like getting sick and not being in Tokyo over the weekend have stopped me. much as I'd hate to admit it...the snooze button on my alarm has stopped me on at least one occasion. And yesterday (June 2nd) morning, as I jolted awake and realized that I had inadvertently been hitting "snooze," I was tempted to go back to sleep instead of throwing on my clothes and bolting out within the 10 minutes I had to get out the door. But I didn't go back to sleep, and I have absolutely no regrets because God is cool and it was an amazing day! :)

The food varies from day to day. This particular Saturday we had different kinds of bread to work with.

A group of YWAM (Youth With a Mission) students from the States come faithfully to the ministry to help serve food to and encourage the homeless who come weekly.

Around 8 AM, we're just about set up and people start coming in. The first time I went to this ministry, I remember being amazed by the gratitude and humility the people we were serving showed and was really surprised by how organized everything was and how well everyone worked together.


Photo(34)Because the number of people who come is so large, we break everyone up into small groups in which we can serve them coffee and give them food. During this time, different group leaders share some encouraging words with the people there from the Bible, pray with them, and all talk and get to know each other.


It was a wonderful day in which I was blessed to get to know some of these people better. Even though we had over 100 people there, the women's group was composed of only 3 people besides the ones there serving, and it made it easy to get to know them and engage in conversation. We talked about everything from prayer requests to the meaning of their names in Kanji and Japan's low birth rate. One of the coolest things from this day, however, was when a Japanese girl passing by asked what we were doing and decided to join and help us.


Our new friend helping organizing the bags of food.


The young woman had actually come by Yoyogi Park for a very unpleasant reasonーshe had her wallet stolen from her by a foreigner! She was searching the area in which she knew she had been robbed from, but when she looked at us we sparked her curiosity and she came over to see what we were doing. Upon the invitation to join us, she brightened up and dove right in.
    "I'm almost glad my wallet my wallet was stolen," She told us with a smile. "Otherwise I wouldn't have gotten to meet all of you!"

After we finished for the morning, a group of us walked to a nearby Starbucks and got coffee together. She joined us, and we treated her to a drink. :) I pray that her missing wallet turns up soon! But God is good with taking an awful situation and making something good out of itーI'm very, very thankful for my adorable new friend!



Getting to know each other over coffee after ministryーcan't think of a better way to spend a morning! <3


My oh my how time flies

Please don't remind me that we're over a third of the way through the semester. Please.

Golden Week is coming to a close, and classes will start again tomorrow, and then time will just hop on by. 




Vegetable udon in Nikko

The first day of Golden week, I went to Nikko with three of my friends to hike. 

And to see the monkeys. Everyone I've asked says there are monkeys in Nikko, but we didn't see any. They must have been on vacation.

Or maybe we were just in the wrong part of Nikko. 

We walked towards Toshogu Nikko, one of UNESCO's "Shrines and Temples of Nikko," which was built in 1617 by Tokugawa Hidetada for his father, Tokugawa Ieyasu. We had to keep stopping and asking people where to see the monkeys. One person said they would be right up the road, in the shrine, so to the shrine we went. It wasn't until we got to the gate that I remembered, I've been here before, 3 years ago with my parents. The monkeys at Toshogu aren't real monkeys, they're carved into the wood, saying "hear no evil, "see no evil," and "speak no evil." 

Let's call this a learning experience.


Buy all the monkey souvenirs. We stopped in here on the way for monkey souvenirs, and, needless to say, I'll have enough souvenirs to last me a few years.




Hanging up her wish at the shrine. It will be burned at the end of the day and carried on the smoke to the gods.

Sunday we spent in Harajuku, at the Tokyo Rainbow Pride parade, a small parade around the hub of Harajuku, one of the cheaper shopping districts in west Tokyo. It wasn't as big as a parade in, say, Los Angeles or San Francisco, but I wonder if queer issues are featured less in Japanese politics than in American politics. My friend explained to me that, though LGBTQ people in Japan don't have as many rights as they do in the States, it also isn't as hot a topic. LGBTQ life is tacitly accepted, not condemned, so they must not feel the need to fight as hard or as loudly for equal recognition. 



The Nyan-cat car!

A break from excitement was needed after that weekend, so I decided to take it easy on Monday. We met up near campus and went to Ginza together, to find the candy store in Tokyo Station that sells an array of kit-kats in various flavors, and then out of the station for Kimuraya, the first shop in Japan to sell an-pan (red bean paste buns). 


I was told before coming to Japan that I needed to find the kit-kats and ice cream, and I've since discovered that, not only do they have as many flavors of kit-kats as one can imagine, as well as of ice cream, they also love soft cream (a softer version of ice cream.) We each planned out how many we'd buy, and started a small kit-kat trading circle. But they were better than trading cards. We had red bean paste, molasses, blueberry cheesecake, strawberry cheesecake, wasabi, red pepper, strawberry, orange, and cherry blossom/green tea. 

And then we had an-pan from Kimuraya. 

Inspired by our sweet-filled evening, I decided I wanted to do a weekly pastry tour of the city, trying one new place each week, so I created a Facebook group called Tokyo Sweets, where I create an event each week for a new destination. Last Wednesday was Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi, the basement of which has a whole floor of famous patisseries, and this week I'm going to Namjatown in Ikebukuro for the tens of flavors of ice cream they have.

If you look hard enough, you can find anything. 


Because we hadn't made any plans to go out of Tokyo for our vacation, we decided this week was the best time to go to Tokyo Disney. I've only ever been to Florida Disney (Disney World), because I live in North Carolina and go down to Florida occasionally. Though I go to school in Los Angeles, I still haven't been to the California Disneyland (shame.) We went to Disney Sea, right next to Disneyland, with some water-themed attractions, and organized into geographic regions. 

It was pouring, but we powered through, making our way around "New York," "Cape Cod," the wilderness, Ariel's underwater palace, and Agrabbah, while grabbing the oddly-flavored popcorn at each stop. They had strawberry, curry, milk tea, and others. Curry popcorn is something I need to do often. 


The koma-tora of Agrabbah; Shinto shrines are marked by "koma-inu," guardian dogs flanking the entrance. In this case, there are tigers, "tora." You can tell the koma-inu by their mouths: the one on the right is voicing the Sanskrit syllable "ah," and the one on the left, "m," together saying "om," the primordial syllable, from which creation springs. 


Slightly distressed by how much money I spent during orientation and the first few weeks of school on food, and my lack of non-food cultural experiences, I decided to do my own weekly tours of Tokyo, choosing a new theme each week. I started with Shinto shrines (and also visited a Buddhist monument), and then moved onto parks. This week will be art galleries and museums. 

Unforunately, the weather was just slightly more than detestable the day I wanted to go to the parks, and I woke up late because my clock was an hour off (I blame gremlins), so I only went to two of the four locations I had planned: Shinjuku Gyoen and 21_21 Design Sight, an art gallery on top of Tokyo Midtown (I'd planned on going to two parks in Roppongi, but decided to stay close to Midtown and went to the gallery instead.) 

Shinjuku Gyoen was created as a garden for the Tokugawa shogun family, in the middle of Shinjuku. It consists of 3 sections: the Formal French section, the British section, and the Japanese Traditional section. The greenhouse was under construction, so I walked around the first part, which I assume was the British section based on the looks. And on my way back to the station, I discovered a curry restaurant.


The point of my explorations is to force myself to see things I hadn't heard of or thought to see, and to go away from the train stations. On my way to each location, I might get lost and discover a whole side to the district I'd never seen, or I might go to a district I hadn't yet visited. When you're abroad, you should take the initiative to see what's around, and go out of your way to discover something new. Also, you should do things you might not have imagined yourself doing (like eating octopus-flavored ice cream, or riding a rollercoaster in pouring rain.)


21_21 Design Sight is a design museum that focuses on reimaginations of everyday ideas and objects, and is located on top of the Roppongi Metro, and luckily you can walk underground all the way up to the front door. The current exhibit, which will end after our program in August, is called "Tema Hima: The Foods of Tohoku," and is about food and crafts from Tohoku. The exhibit follows one on clothes by Issey Miyake, one of Japan's greatest fashion designers, and pays homage to the area affected by the earthquake last year. Entrance to the museum is 800 yen, but I highly recommend the price, as being inside is a more calming experience than perhaps any monastery can show you.


I've finally figured out how to balance my time between my CIEE friends, studying, exploring on my own, getting to know my family, and engaging in extra curriculars. I wouldn't say my schedule is consistent, but I always enjoy the surprises I find each week, and welcome any challenge to try something new.