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5 posts categorized "Ria Jagasia"

07/06/2016

Tanabata and Yukata!

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Vega and Altair on their meeting day (source)

Around this time of the year, many Japanese people get together to celebrate Tanabata matsuri (festival). This festival commemorates a Romeo and Juliet-esque story of two lovers, Vega and Altair, who were separated across the Milky Way and were only allowed to meet on the evening of Tanabata (July 7th). To celebrate, my friend's host mom set up an event with her English language elderly students to have a sort of cultural and language exchange. I was very excited to not only meet everyone, but to wear a yukata for the first time! I headed over to my friend's homestay earlier in the day in order to get properly dressed. There were several beautiful pieces to choose from, and I choose a white and pink floral pattern. The first part of the yukata is a long robe piece that is tied across by the obi (belt) pretty tightly. The yukata is made for the hot summer days as it has a opening from the sleeves that allows for much needed ventilation! The last part of the outfit is a flower hair pin for the girls and fitted geta (wooden slippers). 

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My friends and I all dressed up! (source)

The event itself was quite fun and we began the day by writing our Tanabata wishes onto thin, long, decorated paper slips and tying it to the bamboo tree as is customary for this festival. Following that, we were treated with a special finger flute performance by two of the elderly men who attended the event. Having never seen a finger flute performance (or even having heard of it), it was quite the treat and very entertaining. The two men played both American and Japanese songs! One of them has been training in the finger flute for over two decades and definitely proved his talent.

Next, we proceeded to the crafts and games part of the day, beginning with origami. While I have done origami several times before, I definitely did not remember all the steps. Luckily, the group at my table was able to show me how to make a cute paper crane! In the spirit of Tanabata, we also made "ama no gawa" decorations which are made to look like the Milky Way. It was great learning how to make some new origami, hopefully I will remember it when I get home! :)

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Milky Way origami (source)

Lastly, we rounded out the day by playing some Japanese games including Karuta. The version we played started off with three stacks of cards in the middle of the table. On the cards are either a picture of regular man, princess, or monk and depending on which one you pick you either gain or lose cards. The players take turns going around the table and drawing from the deck. Drawing a card with the regular man lets you keep your card, a monk makes you lose all of your cards, and a princess lets you take the cards lost by other players or draw from the main pile. The goal is to end up with the most cards in your hand when the piles are empty. I was not lucky enough to win this time, but it was definitely a fun game!

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Karuta cards (source)

I had a great time at the event and enjoyed wearing yukata with all of my friends, old and new! :)

06/27/2016

Meeting Takao-San

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Tennessee or Tokyo? (source)

Climbing Mt. Takao had been on my list of things to do while in Japan and I finally got to check it off! Takao-san, as it is called in Japanese, is located about an hour outside of central Tokyo. My friends and I met up at Takaosanguchi station (literally the entrance to Takao san) and proceeded towards the trails. There are six trails in total providing the range of difficulty and each passes through different parts of the mountain. We wanted to go up trail 6, but because a tree had fallen down on the path, we were re-routed to the main trail, or trail 1. This trail was paved and you would think that would make things easier but it was a bit like hell for the first half. :P The path was completely on an incline and we all had to take a break after what felt like every 5 or 10 minutes. It didn't help to see kids and grandmothers pass us at faster speeds but we kept on keeping on and finally reached the halfway point. At the halfway point, there are chair lifts and cable cars that run from the bottom of Takao-san to the halfway point and back around. The view was already amazing and that gave us the extra push to make it through the second half of the hike which was thankfully much less steep. The last leg takes you through several Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples which are perched at various points along the trail. Each one was unique and provided a good change in scenery as we made our way to the top. 

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One of the temples on our trail (source)

One of my favorite temples was quite Indian-inspired and included stone-carved images of women in saris. While it serves as a reminder of Buddhism's origins, it is interesting to see how the religion has manifested itself in different countries.

We finally reached the summit after what seemed like forever and were rewarded with a spectacular view. From the top of Takao, you can see all of Tokyo and even areas past it like Yokohama. On good days, it is possible to see Mt. Fuji, unfortunately we could not really see it due to the clouds. The view reminded me a lot of the mountains back home and the view of the Blue Ridge mountains from North Carolina. Of course, we took the token group photos with the view before moving through the tourist-filled crowds to start the descent back down.

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Seeing Tokyo from above (source)

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Dango made the uphill hike so worth it! (source)

The way back down led us past several little food stalls filled with Takao-san's famous foods like the fresh dango. Dango is practically a larger size mochi and the shops at Takao put a handful on a skewer and layer them with a sweet soy sauce glaze. At the stall I stopped at there were both black and gold sesame dango, I opted for the black sesame and did not regret it at all! Along with dango, soba noodles are a specialty of the place and are very refreshing after a long, sweaty hike. Instead of hiking all the way back down, we opted to take the chair lifts down the last half and it came with an amazing view. With no seat belts, the chair lift literally has you hanging right over the edge of the mountain which is quite the experience. Hiking Takao with friends is definitely worth the hour commute and is a great day-trip getaway from the city. 

06/10/2016

Staying Active in Tokyo: exploring Tokyo’s parks

Between the variety of foods that Tokyo has to offer and the (too) convenient options of stopping by Lawson or Seven-Eleven on the way to or from school, it can be hard to stay active in a new, foreign environment. Even though the morning commute can sometimes feel like a marathon, I have found a new (and much more fun) way of exploring the city and getting a couple of miles in: parks! Tokyo has an abundance of green spaces, many of which are designed for those who want to get some exercise. While I haven’t been to a majority of them by any means, I have some favorites.

My first is Shin-Yokohama Park which is located right by the Nissan Stadium in Yokohama. This park has a long walking path that stretches down the lake in the center. I visited on a weekend morning and there were several families with their small children and pets that had come to enjoy the weather. The walking path is pretty flat but if you go down far enough you can get to some of the slopes that encircle Nissan Stadium. There happened to be a game the day I went and I could hear the loud cheers from outside the stadium! Yokohama itself is right by the ocean and the pier is another great location to walk as it has the best scenery.

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Shin Yokohama Park (source)

My next recommendation is the Komazawa Olympic Park which I actually haven’t been to yet but plan on going to soon. As is evident by the name, this park was used for the 1964 Summer Olympics and the facilities are still in use for a variety of events. Along with a jogging path, the facilities boast a tennis court, gymnasium, and Japanese archery range. The park also lets visitors rent bikes to use which is something I haven’t seen in other parks. As it is an Olympic venue, there is a lot of information (in English) on the official park website which makes it easier for tourists to access. I am looking forward to checking out what the park has to offer!

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Komazawa Olympic Park (source)

Lastly, if you are living in more residential areas in Tokyo, there will most likely be a small park nearby. The one by my house is super nice and has a lake in the middle that is filled turtles, koi, and, on the weekend, rowboats! While it doesn’t have an extensive walking path as it is pretty small, it is a nice place to catch a breather after coming back from class and it is very relaxing. I have found that getting out into Tokyo’s parks is not only a great way to stay active, but to see the community you are living in and the people outside of your dorm/homestay. In my area there are a lot of families who bring their young children and elderly with their pets, making for a lively environment. I hope to visit many more parks before I finish this semester!

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The park near my homestay (source)

05/26/2016

A Busy Weekend

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This past weekend was filled with new experiences and enjoying time with my host family. On Saturday, my host mom took me to her nephew’s school for their field day, which in Japanese is called 運動会 (undokai). I remembered the field days I had in middle school where advisories would compete in all these events and, of course, in the big tug of war battle at the end which was always the highlight. Japanese field days, especially the one I went to since it was just 1st through 6th graders, are set up quite differently. 

Each grade had a running race split up in heats of 5 girls and boys which were signaled by a pistol shot up into the air. Parents of all the children gathered around and cheered on their son or daughter, creating a very lively atmosphere despite the summer heat. Between running events, each class put on a dance performance. My favorites were the younger grades who danced to a minions version of YMCA and a medley of Big Bang songs! The kids were so adorable! >.< (See @jochijourneys on instagram for videos!)

 

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lunch time! (source)

After cheering on the kids and watching the cute dance performances, we headed to the outer area of the school to enjoy a nice picnic lunch. My host mom and her son’s family brought so much delicious food and so did the many other families that lined the grassy areas around the building. The events continued after that and my host mom’s nephew got first place in his event! She, being the best grandmother, bought him whatever he wanted from Bic Camera (a tech store in Japan) which I am sure he loved.

Sunday brought about my first time trying Iaido, a modern Japanese martial art that uses swords. The movements of this art mimic those used by warriors to kill their opponents in ancient Japan. My host mom and her friends attend monthly sessions with an Iaido sensei to learn this form and she wanted to take us along so we could learn a bit of it ourselves. The sensei taught us a very basic set of moves with a wooden sword (the real swords are actually quite dangerous, I did get to hold one though!) and it was a really unique experience. 

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Sensei showing the moves we learned (source)

Watching the class practice made me realize how different forms of meditation and dance all tie into each other as they require focus and concentration on the task at hand, whether it be a specific yoga pose or a sword movement. Each move was clean and precise and it reminded me of my dance teacher correcting my every move and making sure the whole piece was perfectly done. My host mom, during the session, was explaining to me how before class they pray to the kami (gods) which I told her was exactly what we do in Indian dance. Even though the two forms may seem completely separate, there are so many aspects of it that tie them together. I really enjoyed learning about this new art form and experiencing a part of Japanese culture that pulls from the days of the samurai.

05/10/2016

A Day in Harajuku

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Takeshita Street (source)

A few weeks ago, my friends and I decided to take on Harajuku and spend our Monday off exploring Japan’s fashion central. Harajuku is known for its colorful, lolita fashion and its trendy shops that line the streets. The day started by making the trek from my homestay to the nearest station (which I could probably do blindfolded by now…). The line that always take to Tokyo, Keihin Tohoku, took me to Shinagawa where I transferred to the Yamanote line to complete the trip to Harajuku station.

As soon as I exited Harajuku station, it was very apparent that I was in a very different area from my school. I was facing the entrance to Takeshita street, one of the more touristy spots in Harajuku because of its crepe stands and cute boutiques. There was a woman singing very loudly and dressed quite colorfully right by the entrance to Takeshita street which was quite a sight. Once everyone had arrived we proceeded to Takeshita street and entered the mass of people that were flooding through the various shops. You can find just about any type of fashion here, from cutesy/girly to more trendy street wear in Harajuku which draws in a large variety of people. The group found a Lotteria (common McDonalds-like joint in Asia) for lunch and after we decided to explore the famous Meiji Jinja, or Meiji Shrine.

Like many places in Tokyo, shrines (Shinto) or temples (Buddhist) are near even the busiest shopping areas. The shrine was less than a 10 minute walk from Takeshita street and was free to enter. The shrine was absolutely beautiful and reminded me of walks in the park back home. At the entrance of shrines, there is a torii, or a gate marking the beginning of the shrine complex. Once you pass the torii, the road lined with the most majestic looking trees leads to the shrine itself. Meiji Shrine is named after Emperor Meiji who is enshrined there along with his consort Empress Shoken (more info here).

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Torii at Meiji Jinja (source)

It was very relaxing as we walked through the forested area and it makes you appreciate the nature more after being surrounded by skyscrapers in the city. The main shrine was filled with people coming to pray and watch the monks in the inner shrine quarters perform their rituals and activities. Many people also come to write their wishes on small wooden plaques and hang them up to ensure that their prayers will be answered (I am planning on doing this probably in Kamakura). We spent quite a bit of time roaming around the shrine grounds and then decided to head back towards the main streets, specifically Ometesando.

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Omotesando – window shopping at its finest (source)

This street and surrounding buildings are known the high end shops (more internationally well-known brands like Chanel, All Saints, Opening Ceremony) and big Western retailers like H&M and F21. There are also a handful of shops that are second hand retailers of expensive brands (Goodwill 5.0), like Ragtag Harajuku, which we briefly stopped in to take a look. The prices are marked down (still expensive…) but with very minimal wear n’ tear if any. The group split ways soon after and we headed back to station to take the trains home. Harajuku was amazing and is definitely worth multiple trips!