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4 posts categorized "Ryan Tanski "


Hiroshima: Exploring the Peace Museum and Peace Park

    CIEE took us on a great excursion to Hiroshima. I knew this trip was going to be fun, but I had no idea what to expect when we arrived in the city. As the world knows, this city was the first to see the aftermath of a nuclear attack and the story it holds is one everyone needs to hear.


    To get to Hiroshima, CIEE booked us on a Shinkasen, or “bullet train.” We rode the Nozomi, which is the fastest model in Japan, reaching speeds of 186 mph (300km/h)! It was a very comfy and fast ride; an experience that was fun to have! Upon our arrival that night in Hiroshima, I was pleasantly surprised. The progress this city has made in the past seventy years was absolutely amazing to see and really impressed me. You would have never even known that the city had such a tragedy befall it just by looking at it. Truly awe inspiring. Since we went in December, the city’s streets were illuminated by Christmas lights and we all thoroughly enjoyed them as we made our way to the hotel to retire for the night.


    The next morning was probably one of the most eye opening experiences I have had. After we all met in the lobby, we made out way over to the Peace Memorial Museum. We first walked through the exhibits simply showing what Hiroshima went through when it was bombed. It was very moving. At first I was interested in just the historical facts. As I went further and further in, though, my mindset began to change. I don’t want to give anything away for those of you whom may visit this museum, but they do not pull any punches. They serve what they have to you raw and I’m very glad that they do. It was wave after wave of emotion as I walked down the halls; as an American, I felt both sympathy and sadness.  The museum is a great reminder for all of us of what man is capable of- both the good and the bad.


    When you finish walking through all the exhibits, right before the exit, you are greeted by some notebooks. There is a sign that asks you to stop and read them along with adding your personal thoughts about everything you just soaked in. It was a privilege to be able to contribute to them, and being able to go back and read other people’s thoughts was a treat. It was amazing to see the responses and I’m glad the museum set out books like these to keep track of visitors’ emotions. It really helped me to further reflect on what I just saw.


    The rest of the day we had the opportunity to listen to an A-bomb survivor, listen to a presentation about what exactly nuclear weapons are and where they come from, and had a guided tour around Peace Park. It was an amazing time for reflection, and the park is a beautiful place to do a bit of soul searching as well. I highly recommend making time for Hiroshima if you ever visit Japan. The city inspires me and shows me that with hope, anything can be rebuilt and strengthened. 


Sushi Making with CIEE

Sushi Making with CIEE


            Sushi is one of my all time favorite foods. It is delicious and healthy, a great combo! CIEE always has great events planned for us, and the most recent one was sushi making. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance to learn how to make authentic Japanese sushi!


            I think its safe to say that almost everyone coming to japan knows what sushi is, but there are always a few outliers. Sushi in Japan is considered an art and is treated like one, and, boy, is it a delicious art! We made three types of sushi: hand rolls, regular rolls, and nigiri. If you want to make sushi at home, be sure to buy a bamboo roller/mat for rolling the sushi, all the ingredients, some nori (seaweed), and be sure you know how to make the special rice used for sushi.


            I’ll start with my all-time favorite: nigiri, specifically salmon nigiri. Nigiri consist of rice, the fish of choice (in my case salmon), and wasabi. The rice acts like the support, the fish is like the roof and the wasabi acts like the mortar holding the two together. First, you take a decent amount of rice into your hand and mold it into an oval. Next, take the fish and wasabi. On the under side of the fish, place some wasabi so it will help the fish stick to the rice. If you like wasabi and can handle the heat, feel free to add as much as you can take. They may be the easiest to make compared to the hand roll and regular roll, but nigiri is the most satisfying in my opinion.


            Next on our list will be the hand roll. The hand roll is just as its name implies: you use your hand to roll it. It’s pretty straight forward, right? So, take the nori and place it in your hand. Next, spread around the rice, but only by the area closest to your thumb and be sure to only spread it into a small square. After this, feel free to put the filling in. It can be whatever you like. After you have added the filling it’s time for the actual rolling. Take the bottom, left hand corner and fold it in a way that the corner meets the top of the nori, making a triangle-like shape. Then, simply role it and you should end up with a cone shape and then you’re finished.


            The regular roll can be a little difficult. This is when you use the bamboo mat to roll the sushi. Place the nori on the mat and apply the rice and the filling ingredients. Then, while using the tatami mat, tightly fold the nori in half over your ingredients, applying pleasure. Then, fold it in half again, applying more pressure. The last step is to cut the roll and to eat!


            If it weren’t for CIEE I would have never been able to partake in a very rich vein of the Japanese culture. The events that they plan are always very culturally immersing and I would highly recommend attending them. You will see a different facet of Japanese culture through each event that you participate in, a view that you couldn’t get without their help.  Even though you may be busy with other things, I would still urge you to make time for these events. The staff takes time and effort to prepare them and they are wonderfully beneficial. 




            When I first found out I was going to Japan, I was so excited. It was a long awaited dream come true and I was on cloud nine. As my departure date got closer and closer, I got more and more excited, but with this excitement there were a few doubts sprinkled in with it. I doubted my ability to speak Japanese well enough to communicate, and I doubted my ability to navigate the vast Tokyo metropolis. I’m sure some of you who are reading this may also have these doubts, so allow me to try and help settle your fears with this post.

            For starters, the Japanese people are some of the most helpful people I have come across. They genuinely pay attention to your questions and are very sympathetic with the fact that, since you are a foreigner, you can easily get lost, in conversation or on the road. I have never been snarled at, or looked down upon like a nuisance by any of my Japanese friends, host mom or even complete strangers when I ask them a question. Even though my Japanese is lacking and often very broken, they still try to work with me and help me with the task at hand, whether it be getting from one station to the next, or simply needing help translating a phrase.


            I had only studied Japanese for two semesters before coming over here, so I was worried about the language barrier and I had no idea what to expect. I didn’t know how I would be received given my low language ability. As time went on, I began to become more comfortable and my Japanese friends have been such a great help in my Japanese improvement.

            I was also worried about finding my way through the big city. Before coming to Tokyo, I had never ridden a train or  subway before. I had never even been in a train or subway station! I was even further intimidated when I received a map of all of Tokyo’s train and subway lines. It was a huge colorful spider web that I thought I was going to be tangled in. But after a little bit of studying, this spider web becomes much less threatening. You begin to navigate effortlessly and it starts to become more and more familiar as time goes on. So much, in fact, I wonder why I was even nervous about it in the first place.


            The best way to get over your fear and doubt is to just put yourself in the open and talk to people. Don’t rely on your smartphone to translate and try not to use Google maps to find your way around. Only break out these tools when it is absolutely necessary to do so, or they can, in my opinion, severely cripple your abroad experience. It is one of the most rewarding feelings to be able to move through the city without being overly dependent on technology. It is very satisfying to know that your language is improving along with your knowledge of the city. To illustrate this, I’d like to share a personal story about how I overcame my fear of speaking Japanese and my fear of traveling the city alone. 


            I was heading home from Shibuya by myself. I broke off from the group I was with because I needed to be home in time for dinner with my host family. It was the first time traveling by myself. It was a little nerve wracking not knowing if I was on the right train or if I was at the correct platform. I made it to my connecting station by sheer luck and I started to make my way to the next platform for my train home. I had no idea what I was doing. I made it to the platform that I thought was the right one, but I was very unsure about it. So, I decided to ask if I was in the right place. I summoned up my courage and went and asked a girl who was standing close to me for help. It was pretty rough, but she understood me well enough and told me that I was indeed in the correct place. She also told me the number of stops that I needed to go. Now of course simply asking for directions wouldn’t be a big deal for me in my own country, but at that moment I felt like I was on top of the world.  It was so satisfying to be able to use my Japanese to find my way home. The experience really helped me get over the fears I had before coming to Japan and gave me more confidence in myself. 

            So my advice is to just get out there and talk to people! Don’t let fear constrict you or hold you back from experiencing everything this country has to offer. There is so much to see and so much to do, so who has time to be afraid?


During one of our long-weekend vacations, a group of my friends and I decided to stay at a traditional Japanese inn called a ryokan (りょかん) that was right by Mt. Fuji.

            On that Friday, my friends and I all grouped together to come up with a game plan. The city we set our sights on was called Kawaguchiko (河口湖), and it’s almost right at the base of Mt. Fuji, boasting a beautiful lake to boot. Our stay was going to be two days and one night. We made and packed some of our own food for a picnic, and to save on cost we split the grocery bill. By that night, we were all packed and ready to explore and we couldn’t have been more excited. When we met in the morning, we made our way to Shinjuku Station because there is a line that goes straight to our destination. Somehow we got totally lost, and what should have been an hour and a half train turned into an almost four hour escapade. We didn’t mind, though, seeing how the connecting trains we ended up riding were chockfull of stunning landscape and beautiful foliage.


            We finally made it to Kawaguchiko by midafternoon. Since we had been sitting for quite sometime we decided to walk around the city and find a spot by the lake to have our picnic. We ended up finding a great place right by the water and it was a great experience.  Once we finished, we finally checked into our inn. When you arrive at a ryokan, they do not allow outside shoes inside the building; instead, they supply you slippers to wear for the duration of your stay. I was surprised to find that the slippers didn’t fit my feet whatsoever! I asked the host if they had any larger sizes and in response he said, “No, I’m sorry. Its because these were made for the Japanese.” My friends all proceeded to laugh at his joke seeing how they are all constantly cracking jokes about my size (I’m 6’3” and 195 pounds). After we all got our laughs in, we made our way upstairs to explore our room. The floor was made up of tatami mats and the doors were traditional sliding doors, so the feel of the room was fantastic. The rooms also came equipped with huge futons, and traditional Japanese robes called yukata[d1] .

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            That night, we all had such a great time! It was a lot of fun being able to wear traditional Japanese yukata and sleep in futons. We played cards, told ghost stories, went to a traditional onsen (Japanese public bath/hot spring) and just enjoyed the entire atmosphere that we were in. It was great being able to bond with the people I have grown to love while also enjoying a slice of the culture from the country that I have grown to love as well.


Blog post photo

            The next morning, we were greeted with and amazing view of Mt. Fuji that was right outside our window. It was a great way to start the day. After breakfast, we split into two groups. Some of us went hiking to see the colors of the changing leaves and to experience the outdoors, and some of us went to an amusement park call Fuji Q Highlands. I was in the hiking group and got some amazing photos, so I was very happy with my choice. We finished the day with omiyage (souvenirs) shopping to take home to our families and slowly made our way back to Tokyo. All in all, it was an amazing experience that I will keep with me for the rest of my life. Getting up close and personal with the traditional Japanese ways was, in my opinion, extra satisfying due to the fact that we were away from the city and, more or less, in nature.

            When you come to Tokyo, I highly recommend traveling other areas of this beautiful country. It is a fun and engaging way to interact with the culture and to have experiences that, otherwise, might not happen in Tokyo. I love the city and it has so much to offer but, personally, I felt at times it was great to get away from the crowds and hit the reset button with a trip to the countryside. While you’re here, try and see all that you can see, and hear all that you can hear. Fully immerse yourself in the culture and history and, I think, your appreciation for this country will grow significantly.

 [d1] The word is yukata, although there is no plural form in Japanese so we don’t write it with an “s” at the end.