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6 posts from June 2012


Cramming in the Sightseeing

It's crazy, but the time is flying by and I have little over a month left here in Tokyo. I'll be back for sure, because I absolutely love this place-- it may just be my favorite city, what with all the lights and activities and people...not to the mention the food and the shopping... But things like a study abroad experience can't be relived; it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I'm trying to enjoy it to its fullest.

Looking back, I feel like I spent the first two months here moving in, getting into the swing of things, learning my way around school and the city, trying to get into a rhythm and pace of life so that I can feel comfortable calling this my home. I explored my commuter pass stops, getting to know all the cheapest stores in Shinjuku and Ikebukuro; I developed my favorite "regular" food places, like Indian on Wednesdays, weekly sushi in Ikebukuro and kebabs when in Harajuku.

Now I'm trying to venture farther out, like going to places maybe a little more expensive to get to, whether based on my guide book, random recommendations, or just pure interest in a station name. It's been a really good decision, because I feel like it's now that I'm truly starting to be able to call this city more of a home, even if it's so soon before I have to leave. No matter! I'll be back!(:

Below are some food and places I highly highly highly recommend checking out:

Indian: the naan is magnificent. Tabehodai too! (All you can eat) The workers recognize us all now!

Kebabs: too good. 500 yen is an amazing price too, for all the meat they give~

An Ajisai (Hydrangea) Festival I went to recently! When you start looking for these events, you can find them: this was advertised on the Seibu line train and we got in with a discount(:

The sculpture of the flying croissant in Ebisu! For drama fans, Ebisu is where Domyouji waits for Tsukushi in the drama "Hana Yori Dango" (Boys Over Flowers); for beer fans, it's the site of Ebisu Beer Museum!



For the middle of Shinjuku, one of the busiest districts in Tokyo, Shinjuku Gyoen is beautifully peaceful and serence. For a mere 200 yen admissions fee, the park is  a perfect place to relax and escape the urban craziness.


Tokyo Disneyland! I lucked out because I got free tickets (my grandmother holds stock), but so incredibly worth it. I had an amazing day there!!

There's a ton more places I could recommend (Shimokitazawa for vintage shopping; Ueno and Kichijochi for parks, etc.), but I can't ruin all the fun of simply exploring and adventuring(: If you have a chance to be in Tokyo though, my sole piece of advice is to get lost in the city. Let go and have fun going everywhere you absolutely can, but without an itinerary. I promise it's worth it. 


Tohoku Volunteer ー oysters, mussels, wakame, oh my!

Hello all!

As the semester here comes closer and closer to an end, it gets harder and harder to figure out what to do with what little time is left here! One thing that I was very blessed to get to do last week was go up to Tohoku(東北), the area affected by the tsunami and earthquake last year, to do some volunteer work with my church!

Hope JapanーMy wonderful volunteer team <3

We drove up to Tohoku (Ishinomaki City) on a Friday night, and then stayed over at the church photographed above. We did ministry throughout that Saturday, and then Sunday morning we drove back down to Tokyo.

We helped out at an oyster farm up in Tohokuーthe process of preparing oysters for harvest is so fascinating!

The shells that the oysters grow on securely fastened to the ropesーthey will throw these into the ocean, and the oysters will be ready to eat in about two years!

Snack time! :) The people we were helping out were so incredibly generousーeven though they lost everything only a year ago, they were so fast to stuff us with bananas, oranges, vitamin drinks, cream roll cakes, and candies! I feel like there's no way that what we did to help out could amount to how much they blessed us in return!

My new best friend <3

The kids were helping out with the work as well!

Before we left, the people we were helping out gave us a HUGE box filled with oystersーand a bag of mussels!! We were so surprised by their generosity. I hope that God was able to use us to encourage them at least half as much as they were able to encourage us!

Chowing down on the delicious, fresh seafood later :) :) :) Yum!


concert experience in tokyo

The hardest part about getting to a concert in Tokyo is buying the actual ticket.

Most concerts require a lottery of some form, and oftentimes you have to be a member of an artist's fanclub in order to enter the lottery. If tickets aren't all sold out by the initial lottery, you can usually purchase tickets online or at special machines located in convenience stores. And, if you are still unable to get a ticket- in the usual case, foreigners like myself- you may be lucky enough to find a ticket at a resale vendor.

Concert tixMy ticket!

I stumbled across a chain with three locations- Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Ueno- called Yokohama Ticket Get! that even had a convenient feature on their website that told you what tickets they had in stock, and which location you could find them at. 


It was here that I was able to purchase tickets to see Big Bang, a highly popular group from South Korea with Japanese releases. The concert was held in Saitama's Saitama Super Arena, an outlier of north Tokyo, and the show was huge and completely sold out.

Before actually entering the arena, you could purchase concert goods. Popular items for Japan were towels with the concert and band name on them, tshirts, and pen lights- basically, eletronic glow sticks used to light up the stadium during the show.

The actual concert was AMAZING. There were segments where the band talked, and each member had a solo opportunity. They responded amazingly well to the audience, and despite Japanese not being their native language, they were very well spoken. 

To get an encore, the audience sung the chorus of one of their older songs, over and over and over, until Big Bang finally came back out. Of course they sung that song immeadiatly.

I cannot recommend enough to go to a concert abroad. See someone from another country, and see how something as simple as a concert can be so different! My experience was amazing, and I would absolutely do it all over again- and I hope to, with a Japanese artist, next month!

The stadium, lit up and blurry from all the movement of people waving their pen lights!


Oedo Antique Market

I recently heard about the Oedo Antique Market. With over 250 dealers, it's known to be  Japan's largest antique fair, held every first and third Sunday in the courtyard of Tokyo International Forum in Yurakucho. Last weekend I decided to check it out!

P1070013 08-35-07

One of the many booths!


These mini perfume bottles are so cute!


Beautiful tophat in tophat-box


This silverware was absolutely beautiful.

Posing with some potential finds?


The Chairman waves his hand when wound up. 


Our finds for the day! 

Later my friends and I walked to Ginza, one subway stop away, in order to just see the high end shops and visit an amazing bakery. 


キムラヤのパン:Kimuraya Bakery! 

The bakery was super popular so we headed outside to eat on the curbside. Some random Japanese men took pictures of us eating...


But my friends have beautiful eating faces, so I'm not surprised. We then made a pit stop in Akihabara (Akiba) for some errands. It was my first time seeing all the maids advertising their cafes everywhere!



I'm so happy to be able to claim Tokyo as my home for these four months<3

The People I meet and The Person I'm Seeing in the Mirror

Shhh, it's a special relationship I have to the person in the mirror. We aren't ready to go public yet. 


I realize I haven't been able to write about the clubs I've joined, so this is a little late in coming, but still totally relevant to things that have happened recently. 

I joined two: Rakukku ("La Cook," the cooking club), and Wandervogel, a hiking club. Hardly any time commitment, very social, and great ways to learn about my area. I still can't believe I managed to get one club, let alone two. 

They say joining clubs is the best way to meet other students, and to meet other Japanese people. It's true. I enjoy my host family, and have met plenty of people on my program, but being in these university circles offers me something I can't find anywhere else. 

The hiking club has an event once a month, and so far I've only been able to attend one (I was sick for the second one), when we went to Gunma Prefecture right after Golden Week:


We left on Saturday morning from Ueno Station, and this is where I make my first mistake: it somehow doesn't occur to me to purchase my own lunch, so I am foodless until dinner time. One of the senpai offers me some food, though, so we become quick friends (more about that later...)

We spend the night in their cabin in the mountains, after a short and hardly difficult hike (that is, objectively. Subjectively, I need to work out.) The afternoon was a game of "find the stinkbug" and "is it dead yet?" We swept and vacuumed the whole cabin, our activities punctuated by shrieks of newly discovered bug bodies, and lit the wood-burning stove to warm up. Here's issue number two: something in me thought we would be staying in Ueno, as that was where we met, and camping somewhere there (though, it now occurs to me, where in Ueno would one expect to go camping?) All I had was a thin hoodie, and let me tell you, it gets cold in the mountains. You'd think I would know these things, coming from North Carolina, considering I was in Asheville less than a year ago, but nope, never crossed my mind. So we went outside to play touch football and kickball. 


Back inside for card games and guitar songs. People were talking to me, though the two senpai who had lived for a few (or many) years in the States had to translate for us (thank you, Yu and Sarah.) It was starting to feel more like a camping experience, as I found I was able to speak more comfortably to people. I knew this club was going to work out well. Unfortunately, they only have events once a month, so I think I'll only be able to see them twice more. I'll have to work up the courage to suggest karaoke to someone.


We had dinner by the campfire, but no ghost stories (I bet they would've been pretty sick, too), and then walked into the woods to see the stars. During dinner, my new friend pulled me aside and told me I reminded him of his favorite comedian. Here's how that plays out:

"I'm going to teach you something. Say 'kimi.'"


"It means, 'you.' Now, say 'kawaii ne.'"

"Uh...kawaii ne."

"Good. Now say it like this, 'kimi, kawaWEE ne!' and do fingers, too."

"Excuse me?"

"Come on, do it!"

"'Kimi, kawaWEE ne!'" 

"Good. Now go say it to the girls by the campfire."



It was quite the adventure. I honestly wouldn't have traded it for the world, and (warning: here we get touchy-feely-sentimental), all my fears of potentially being the only international student on the trip disappeared immediately (I was one of three, as it turned out.) I realized then that, as much as I promised myself I wouldn't, I'd been spending all my time with CIEE people. My friend who came to Sophia last year said she tried not to hang out with CIEE ppl too often, so she could get out and explore. I've done just the opposite, and I ended up doing what I promised I wouldn't. From this weekend on, I had the faith to become more of a presence in these clubs and talk to the people I was meeting. And everything changed.


It isn't a proper camping trip without a bonfire guitar. Adele was the favorite of the evening ("Maybe someday I'll find someone like you...")

So, being an international student:

I will always feel like I don't belong. 

I live in a house that doesn't feel like home, with a family that doesn't feel like family. And I, as a result, feel like an intruder. 

I'm in a country where I don't implicitly know how to behave or react, and without even doing anything, I stick out as a person who doesn't belong. I don't get treated poorly as a result. People are very welcoming, and often they're excited to meet someone who can speak English with them (so they can practice), or even just a foreigner who can tell them about another part of the world. My favorite is when I learn that someone in my club or family has been to the States, and to a place I recognize. 

Fun fact: Sophia University has a study abroad program with the university in my hometown (UNC-CH in Chapel Hill, NC), and someone in the cooking club was there last year (I haven't met the person yet.) 

I feel like I will always make gaijin mistakes, and I'm not satisfied playing the gaijin card. I've been here two months and have two more months, shouldn't I feel like a true resident by the time finals are over?

I feel like a tourist who is taking up someone else's space. 

I feel like a freshman again (to be expected when it's your first semester here.) 

I feel like I'll never find a consistent lifestyle, or least a lifestyle that feels stable and productive simultaneously.


I have no issue with exploring and experiencing. I feel I've done a lot, though I took as many pictures during the first month as I did during the next 6 weeks after that combined, so I should really brush the dust of my camera and take it for a go one of these days. However, it's gotten to the point where things are feeling stale. Walking around Harajuku isn't new and exciting for me anymore, so I need to find another district to explore. Buying daifuku by the armful doesn't feel like a coily guilty pleasure, it feels like spending money. 

I think I'm just in a slump and need to shake things up. 

At least I have my clubs to keep me away from my comfort zone, even if for only a few days a month. 

So I say, when the going gets tough, dull, or not going, get yourself going someplace new, even if it means leaving your desk chair when you'd rather just watch Community.


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