Almost There!

There are just a couple more days until I arrive in South Korea. It’s a little surreal to think that I’ll be going there so soon. I’ve been wanting to visit for three years now and it’s finally happening! I’m not really nervous as I’ve traveled outside of the country before, but the one thing that’s different is that I’ll be traveling by myself for the first time. Just me without my mom. I guess that should get me a little scared especially since I’ll be fourteen hours away from home, but really it just makes me even more excited. I’m ready to go and discover new places by myself and really be on my own.

I’ve already written down all the places I want to visit while I’m there, looked over the map of the school and the surrounding town and I’ve exchanged some money that should last me for the first week or two before I need more.  I think I’m more than ready for this trip to start. Now it’s time to be patient.

Through the Mountains in the West

IMG_1899 IMG_1887 IMG_1884 IMG_1890 IMG_1898After such a sense of joy and amazement at seeing and exploring Himeji castle in the southern part of the main island of Japan, I wanted to go to another castle, this time Matsumoto castle located about 3 hours west of Tokyo by express train. Matsumoto is considered along with Himeji and Kumamoto castle on the southern island of Japan to be one of the great castles of Japan. While Himeji is known as the White Heron castle, Matsumoto is its foil as the Black Crow castle. It was a nice train ride as I left Tokyo and watched as the skyscrapers turned into forests and then into mountains. In Japan, the 2 most common choices people have when going on a vacation are either the Beach or the Mountains, so it was interesting to try the more relaxing option.

The mountains were truly beautiful that day as it was relatively cloudless and you could see for miles. I had gotten a window seat, so I got plenty of great photos of the countryside. After a relatively smooth 3 hours, we arrived at Matsumoto and I was so excited to go out and see the castle from the station. But, when I left the station I could not see it, I thought it would be like in Himeji, where the station is a straight line from the castle with no buildings obstructing the view. But, Matsumoto castle was a bit of walk from the station, still it was not even 12 yet, so I had plenty of time and I was used to walking to get to where I wanted. After about a 10 minute walk, I arrived at a famous local shrine to get another seal for my book, it is always awesome to have ones from exotic locations. Then after maybe a 3 minute walk, I finally got to the castle and quickly noticed it was a lot smaller than Himeji, they had taken the outer walls and fortifications out about a century ago, but the actual castle as well as its impressive moat, where still intact.

Still, it was an impressive castle without a doubt and certainly worth the trip as soon as I laid my eyes on it. Also, as soon as I could see it, a free English tour guide saw me and gave me an extensive tour of the castle and surrounding area. Free tour guides are not so much a rarity in Japan, but usually they are only at major historic sites. The outer gardens were quite lovely as we made our way to the castle entrance, where we were given a bag to put our shoes in to carry with us as they do not like people walking with their dirty shoes on the floor in the castle. Unlike Himeji, Matsumoto was filled with lots of artifacts like armor, weapons and paintings, so it was a nice walk as we progressive worked our way up the castle floors. As the castle was built for war against invaders, the steps get narrower and more steep as you climb up, so it can be a bit difficult, still it makes getting to the top, more satisfying. The view from the top of the castle was pretty amazing as you can see the city as well as the mountains for several miles.

As we made our way down to the exit, I noticed an employee of the castle dressed in period clothing and wanted to take a picture with him. While almost any kind of traditional Japanese attire would be appropriate for the castle, this guy was dressed up as a samurai and I had to get a picture with him. The picture came out really good and I thanked the samurai. Though I have a deep love of Japanese culture beyond the basics like Anime and Ninjas, I always find Samurais to be so cool with their imposing armor and their strong resolve. We then toured the city museum located on the castle grounds and saw lots of cool artifacts from the long history of the area. After that, we went to this early modern school museum in the area, that was one of the first Western-styled schools built in Japan in 1871. The museum was also pretty cool as it really gave me a feeling of seeing the education system of a nation transitioning into a modern state.

After that, I explored the castle a bit more and then said goodbye to my guide as we separated. She was a nice lady and I was really happy with my tour. For another hour or so, I just wandered back to the station and grabbed some local specialties including apple flavored kit-kats, which were region exclusive and when you opened the bag, the apple smell was so fresh, that you would think it was a fresh cut apple itself. I got some other sweets, though I have no idea what they are, but they are tasty, so I can not complain. I was able to catch a special rapid express train called the Super Azusa on my way back, which is half an hour quicker than the normal one and is this really cool looking train with a sci-fi style to it and fluorescent purple stripes. It was an exhausting day, but man was it worth it to see another awesome castle!

As a whole, this month, I have been doing a lot of traveling, now that I have gotten used to things here. I do not have any midterms to bog me down, so trips have been my most common activity. Even better, on my way back from Matsumoto, we stopped at a city called Kofu, which happens to be the home of a famous daimyo, Japanese warlord, so I know where I am going this Saturday! I also am planning now, a day trip to the Northern part of the main island in the city of Sendai, to see the mausoleum of another famous daimyo as well as several of his clan artifacts including hopefully his famous armor with the huge headpiece. Of course, I also have to go the Shogun`s mausoleum, but it is a bit more difficult to reach still I know that I can do it! Lots of traveling to do and lots of souvenirs to get so my remaining time here will be busy!


Strong as a Mountain, Quick as the Wind, Calm as Water and Fierce as Fire

IMG_1873 IMG_1880 IMG_1881 IMG_1872 IMG_1875There have been many incredible, fascinating and unique things that I have done in the two months plus since I arrive in this great land. I have climbed mountains, collected the seals of countless temples and shrines throughout the nation, traveled from the rural countryside of Chiba; all the way down to Hyogo bordering with the Sea of Japan, seen museums filled with trains, art and Samurai possessions, went to various local and national attractions and even went to the legendary grand castle of Japan, Himeji; and I still have a little over two months till I am to return! Has it been absolutely exhausting on both my mind and body? YES, it has, but it has all been worth it, I have done so many things that I did not believe that I would ever be able to and will treasure those memories and memorabilia for the rest of my life.

I have collected and came into the possession of many fascinating treasures, some common and local, while others are unique, exotic and can only be acquired from specific locations. Among these great treasures, one was a request from a friend, her request being a Shelly-May teddy bear, that can only be purchased at an Asian Disney park, so I had to go to Disney Sea to get it, but I love amusement parks especially Disney ones and would have been there even if not asked. Another friend of mine actually gave me a 150 year old hand written Japanese book from Tochigi prefecture, where apparently these kinds of books are viewed as useless as they cannot be read and can be bought at gift shops for cheap, thats just astonishing. I also bought some Anime figurines and giant robot models that you could never get directly imported outside of Japan, literally some of the models are only sold at one or two locations in the world and another was a special 7-11, yes the convenience store, robot model that was sold at the stores for a limited time a few years ago, making them highly sought after and I had to hunt one down for like the last month, but the feeling of satisfaction from getting my prize was incredible. I have came into the possession of a gigantic assortment of shirts that I have collected from all over place varying in theme from Japanese Baseball, to Disney, to Meiji University and Sumo, they are all so cool! Of course, I have gotten items with a more spiritual nature to them from the various spiritual sites that I have visited. Aside from the seals, I got a good luck keychain, a good health charm, a cat statue to draw in good fortune, a red cow statue to ward off illness and a protection charm with an adorable anime girl on it to put on my bag. The shrine I got it from made the anime girl officially a Shrine priestess and as it promotes tourism, its encouraged. Due to my family`s love of the Chinese Zodiac, I got a ceramic monkey for myself, a snake for my dad and a dragon for my mom. I also, got a Japanese summer robe called a Yukata, its pretty cool with dragons on it and I think I will find some good use for it!

As I mentioned before, I went to Himeji castle and spent the night as the trip was three hours. Of course, I traveled there by the greatest form of transportation there is in Japan by Shinkansen Bullet Train! I had always want to ride one, but they are very expensive and you have to have a trip planned out to make the most of it. How expensive, you may ask, at least a 100 dollars one way. I really enjoyed my ride on it as I got to see the magnificent Japanese countryside and many amazing cities like Nagoya, Kyoto and Osaka. It looks like something out of a sci-fi movie with a sleek polished white body shaped like a rocket and a large blue racing stripe down the middle. The train`s name was Nozomi, which means Hope in Japanese, and gives it a graceful aura to itself. With a record of 52 years in service and no fatal accidents, the Shinkansen have a safer record than even walking!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I had a three day mega week planned with Sumo, Baseball and a grand festival on the list. The Sumo tournament was great and my group had a amazing seats to watch it from. Sumo is an easy sport to understand, two men wrestle and who ever either tosses their opponenet outside the ring or makes him fall wins. When the Yokozunas, the Sumo grand champions, appeared the audience went crazy. Yokozunas are the best of the best in Sumo, with there only usually being one individual worthy of the title at a time, but currently it is a great rarity with there being three, all whom are Mongolians, though they are given Japanese Sumo names. They are revered in Japan as Divine warriors as Sumo is closely related to Shintoism, the national religion, their very aura asserts might and grandeur. Then on Saturday, I went to Tokyo Dome, where the Yomiuri Giants faced their crosstown rivals, the Yakult Swallows, the two teams are perfect Japanese equivalents to the Yankees and Mets, so it was a great match-up. The Giants won, which made me happy as I am a fan of them since I got a hat last time I came to Japan, and the cheering section was just amazing with them waving a full-sized team flag and even waving a giant banner like the ones you see at European Soccer games, the cheering section was so dedicated, that 20 minutes after the game ended, they were still cheering even though all the players left! Then I went to the Sannja Matsuri Festival at Senso-ji temple, the largest festival and temple in Tokyo, the festival was fun, but Senso-ji is always full of people, so it just felt like a very crowded day at the temple. I also went to Kamakura, which is an old coastal city, that once was the capital and has a lot of really amazing site to see!

I have my trip to Kyoto coming up soon, so that will be something to look forward to, but until then I probably will not be going on any huge trips, though there is a great black castle that would make a great day trip in Matsumoto, but we will see. I really love this country and I am still excited to see what tomorrow will bring! Of course, I am looking forward to seeing my friends, my family and my homeland again, but I really am enjoying myself here and the internet allows me to keep that distance feeling not too far. In all honest, I really am going to need a plan as to how I am going to bring all of my stuff back, I am allowed a second full-sized suitcase for free on my flight, but even that may not be enough.

The Experience of a Lifetime (on a backpack): 12 Day Countdown!

The fact that I will be going to Asia for the first time ever has been slowly sinking in, but it has not quite hit me yet. Perhaps it will all register once I board the plane to Japan and commence my overseas experience. Nevertheless, I can not wait to take off! To say that I am excited to study abroad would be an understatement; I am exhilarated. I have been dreaming of going to Asia since I was about 8 years old but never the resources or opportunity to go until now. This will be the first time I ever travel across the world (with the exception of a few trips I’ve taken to the Dominican Republic to visit family) and I plan to do it all on a backpack.

Wait.. did you say, “a backpack?!” 

That’s right. And here is the very backpack that will take me around Japan and South Korea for the next two months:


(It’s much bigger than it seems, I promise!)

I want to travel and make the most out of this learning experience, so packing light is my best bet. I’ll be staying at a hostel in Osaka, Japan for 9 nights before going over to South Korea to begin my official study abroad program. Afterwards, I will head down to Jeju island, a densely populated tropical island just south of the South Korean mainland, where I will spend 5 nights exploring the island and learning it’s history. Did I mention that I will be taking a tour of the Demilitarized Zone and Joint Security Area in North Korea?! (Nope, not a typo, refresh the page if you don’t believe me). This opportunity is offered through my host institution as a cultural immersion experience and believe it or not, I am looking forward to it. Since I want to experience as much as I possibly can in South Korea, I ended up signing up for nearly all of the cultural activities. A few of the one’s that I’m most excited about are: Making Kimchi, Temple Stay, and South Korea’s annual Mud Festival event!

So, how do I feel about all of this? Scared? Nervous? Excited? Well, to reiterate, I am ABSOLUTELY EXHILARATED. It is invigorating, yet surreal to picture myself on the other side of the world with my life in a backpack. Nonetheless, I am prepared, both physically (maps, bus routes, travel equipment, etc.) and mentally.

I will be sure to keep you all posted on my travels/experiences. If you have any questions, please feel free to leave it as a comment below!



Journey Through the Eastern Capital

IMG_1850IMG_1847IMG_1842IMG_1844IMG_1839As of now, i have been in Tokyo for 50 days exactly and of course, i have been exploring it one way or another each of those days. The thing about Tokyo is that it is like New York City, the actual city of Tokyo is made of 23 separate wards, most of which I know that I have to at least once, so it takes quite a while, just to go to all the different parts of the city and as well, just like NYC, Tokyo is a prefecture, Japanese equivalent of a state, so there is plenty more to see than just the city. Just hop on a regular train and you will find yourself in the countryside with forest, mountains and open fields. Within Tokyo there are many beautiful parks, places, museums, buildings and a very pleasing aesthetic balance to the city as a whole. Of course, I have explored the neighboring prefectures of Kanagawa, Saitama and Chiba, which just like New York`s neighbors have been absorbed under the umbrella term of the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan area, all easy to visit with the use of the Japanese rail system, which i am able to navigate better than New York`s. I was well aware of my limited time here, so I started planning my adventures months ago. Every day or time I get, i am going somewhere and there are so many amazing things to see and do in Tokyo!

As soon as I shook off the Jet lag, i was tackling every thing I could think of or had heard about. Thanks to the tour book that I bought last time, I had plenty of places to check off. Wikipedia, local friends and somethings just using Google maps to find interesting places has also given me things to do. Luckily, my Commuter pass covers probably the most interesting route in Tokyo, with 2 Baseball Stadiums, the National Sumo Stadium, the Pop-culture mecca of Akihabara, the fashionable district of Shinjuku and various connections to other amazing places being no extra charge!

My favorite kind of place to visit are Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, which are beautiful and magnificent with history and artifacts dating back centuries to over a millennium. Despite how many i have seen, each one has its own distinct theme and local influence, to the people who consider these sacred places to be a part of their culture, these places are their greatest treasure. While the places themselves are amazing, they are usually the site of various festivals, which are a blast to join in! To make my pilgrimages to these places more memorable, i got this special book at one of them, how it works is that for 300 yen (about 3 dollars), a monk or priest, depending on if its Buddhist or Shinto, will write Japanese calligraphy in it and put in a Japanese stamp seal or two, which is an awesome souvenir, as of now I think I have around 35 or so and I am on my second book, so I especially love this souvenir! Charms and Talismans are also great souvenirs though they can get pricey and as every place sells them, choosing is hard!

Aside from temples and shrines, Akihabara is where I often find myself as I have transfer there in order to get home from class. All the shops there are filled to the brim with all kinds of awesome anime & manga goods from light saber chopsticks to intricate giant robot models from series even I have never heard of and even anime figurines with prices on par with used cars. It is astonishing the variety and quality of these products and the massive clientele that this industry has! My most memorable trip was to Mt. Takao, which is about an hour west of Tokyo city, I went with a friend and we climbed it, it wasnt a very high mountain or dangerous, but it was so steep that I slept like a log that night out of exhaustion, still it was a great experience and the views were amazing. The mountain is famous for the a type of bird goblin called a Tengu, that are said to live there, though we didn`t see any, though they did have life-sized statues of them, they were really impressive and imposing. However, my most recent trip also was quite memorable as I took a train for over an hour to Saitama to see the Railway Museum, which I did not realize was closed that day, fortunately I knew of a famous nearby shrine there, so my day was enjoyable. It is dedicated to a legendary god, Susanoo, god of the sea and storms, who is the Japanese equivalent of Hercules and viewed as an epic hero. I also went really far out to the countryside to see a famous temple complex, it was so rural that we passed rice paddies and even a Dutch windmill with a Netherlands flag on it, who says the farmers aren`t as quirky as the city dwellers?

I really got to experience living in Japan, when I went to see Captain America in Shinjuku, the theater was huge and the movie was in English. To make it even more awesome, it had been released earlier in Japan and the theater had a life sized Godzilla head, which is another movie I have got to see here, when they release it in July. I also went to Disney Sea on Saturday, it was a nice, but it was not crowded, the park was really awesome, with all kinds of great rides and shows, I ended up buying a ton of souvenirs! I also have tickets to the Sumo tournament for Friday and planning to see a baseball game on Saturday, so this weekend will be great! I also booked a trip to Kyoto and Himeji, so I will be plenty busy traveling all over the place. still have over 80 days here, but I have to see as much as I can because I don`t know when I will be able to come back! CARPE DIEM!

A Western Scholar in an Eastern School

IMG_1800 IMG_1798 IMG_1795 IMG_1788 IMG_1766Despite that I have been here for over a month, this week is only my second week of classes. The education system here is a lot different than I was expecting, with me having multiple weeks of orientation only Mondays, Wednesday and sometimes Fridays, while at New Paltz, orientation is a straight week. It was nice just having only like 2 hours twice or three times a week of academic commitments and then getting the rest of the day and week off. Still, I really would have preferred it to be like the states and for classes to have started sooner, but I did take the time to see a lot of things!

Once I got to point of choosing classes, that`s when things got a bit difficult. While I have always had a love and fascination with Japan, I can not speak Japanese, so I was placed in the English language track and I figured and my advisers agreed that taking introductory Japanese in Japan would make sense. However, the starting bar for Japanese language classes even in the English track requires that I know all of Hiragana, the Japanese alphabet consisting of at its most basic form, 46 characters. I decided that Japanese was not for me, but Meiji University heavily insisted that I try it, needless to say it did not work out. So I guess that i`ll try Japanese back at New Paltz, probably easier there for an American.

Choosing my other classes went a lot smoother, the first week of classes was going to the different ones and if I liked the classes then I would hand in a sign up sheet to take them. I am taking Liberal Arts Studies, Animation Culture A, Japanese Performing Arts A, Manga Culture A, Asian Studies A and Japanese History A. Classes here are only worth 2 credits each, so I need to take 6 in order to have the minimal number necessary to be a full time student, but the classes are a lot easier with a heavier percentage of the grade coming from participation and attendance, its a pleasant experience. Classes only meet once a week for an hour and half, so the length is the same as back at New Paltz, something I am quite content with. I do not really have any homework aside from readings and answering questions based on those readings, so as soon as classes are over, I usually can explore more of Tokyo and my days off are filled with all kinds of adventures.

It pretty much is a straight shot from my local station, Shin-Koiwa, to my universitys station at Nakano, so do not have to transfer to get to school, but there is an express to Nakano that starts around halfway through my trip, so I often take that to skip 8 stops. I bought a commuter pass, so the trip is already payed for in advance for the next 3 months and as well all the stops between my station and Nakano are covered including Akihabara, pop-culture Mecca of Japan, the baseball stadiums of both of the teams in Tokyo and a bunch of other cool places, so plenty of fun to be had! Just as the expectation goes, the trains are punctual, clean and have a much nicer appearance than the ones in New York. 

My classes are pretty fun especially since they are all in English and the subject matter interests me. Of my six classes, one is taught by a Canadian and two by a British professor, so I can very easily understand them. Most of my classmates are Japanese, who are taking the English class to improve the value of their resume, when they go job hunting, they are not always very confident in their English, so many of them only talk, when asked, still I think that their English is understandable and I have offered to help them if they wanted, though they are a little shy. Among my classes, my Liberal Arts Studies class is my favorite, though the name sounds vague, it is about the history, influence and impact of American Television on American society and the world. Of course, I have a very good grasp on it from years of `research, so I am very knowledgeable on the subject and often explain elements of Television to my Japanese classmates. It is very interesting to have to analyze Television from a scholar`s perspective rather than a viewers.

Both Animation and Manga history are taught by the same professor, so they seem like companion classes. We havent gotten to more modern history yet on the subjects, but I thoroughly enjoying them and often have just as good of a grasp on the subject as the professor. Performing Arts is also interesting, learning about the different classical forms of Japanese theater arts like Kabuki and then discussing it in class as groups, who then have to present our findings to the rest of the class. Asian Studies is about Japan`s relationship with its neighbors, so it really allows me to better understand Japanese political relations better. Japanese History, despite the name actually starts in the 19th century, so I was kind of bummed about there being no samurais, though I have a much better understanding of modern Japanese history as a whole over medieval, still the first few classes involved Samurais and I impressed both the professor and my classmates with my knowledge of it.

Overall, I am enjoying my classes and I look forward to them every week. Next week is a National holiday, so I only have my Liberal Arts class, so I will take the opportunity to go on some amazing adventures outside of Tokyo. My Classes are pretty fun and my classmates are also really great. The education system here may be different, but like everything else, I am adapting to it well!


A Traveling Scholar in a Distant Land

IMG_1684 IMG_1725 IMG_1701 IMG_1692 IMG_1658As of now, I have really adjusted with my accommodations as a whole. The bed is comfortable, though I need to buy a larger pillow, my room is compact, though if I use my space correctly it is easy to work with, the bathrooms are clean and the surrounding area is pleasant. All things considered, its what you would expect for the living quarters of a college student. I am able to sleep well, so no really complaints about my room. There is only one issue, which is the fact that the dryers here don`t really work well, so I have to hang dry my laundry, but I was prepared for that as it was the same way last time. Its actually a pretty cool dorm, if you go on the roof, where there are drying racks, you can see the surrounding area for quite a distance. It really has that Japanese adventure feel to it like out of an anime about how i`m a single pebble in the colossal mountain of Tokyo.

As well, the Cherry Blossoms are in bloom and everything is a nice bright pink, thousands of graceful petals float through the air as the cover the ground. It really is soothing to the soul, now I get why the Japanese love it so much. I went to Ueno park, Tokyo equivalent of Central park, to go see the Cherry Blossoms, it was cloudy, but that only made the blossoms bright color stand out even more fantastically. Turned out that I had the Japanese mindset down well, as thousands of other people from office workers to preschoolers were all over the park taking in the Cherry Blossoms. Got a lot of beautiful shots. The blossoms were also in full beauty in Shinkoiwa, at the local park and stream, so I went for some walks in the area. It is really nice just to take in all of it and realize that you are part of it. As well, I got Cherry Blossom Pepsi, seasonal of course, Sour-cherry flavored, to bring home for my best friend, also got one for myself, it was pretty tasty.

Though I usually just go to the 7-11, down the street in the immediate area around the dorm, I do feel like I am part of the neighborhood. You often see people walking their adorable dogs in the area or the neighboring the high school students either on their way to class or playing sports in their school`s courtyard. Despite just being a small corner store, the 7-11 here is stocked with a ton of things. Lots of meals, candy, drinks and at least 30 different magazines, usually weekly ones. It really is awesome that I can get whatever, I want here 24/7 with a 2 minute walk. It is peaceful here and I really like that about the area, though you can hear the trains passing by at night, when you are in the lobby here, still you get used to it after a few nights.

Usually for some reason everyone thinks that the Japaneses love sushi and eat it all the time, but truth be told its expensive here and sushi restaurants are a rarity outside of high-end areas. Though the Japanese do love fish, its noodles that are their favorite dish to eat, but of course rice is king throughout the East and Japan is no different. There are so many noodle dishes to eat, ramen, udon, soba, regular noodles, all served hot or cold depending on what you want. There are all other kinds of foods to get here like Japanese or Indian-styled Curry served normally with chicken and rice, though Nan, Middle-eastern flat bread, is another option if you are having Indian styled. Of course there are more distinctly Japanese foods to eat like Takoyaki, which is octopus served in little fried balls, Okonomiyaki. which is pretty much a giant meat and vegetable pancake, and Dango, which are round little dumplings on a stick, covered in sweet soy sauce because yes, the Japanese have even made a soy sauce for sweets.

Speaking of sweets, I have been eating a whole lot of different ones! Green tea flavored Kit-Kats, which are amazing, chocolate mushrooms, which are just reshaped pocky, and just regular chocolate, which is pretty good here. I have also been enjoying the different flavors of ice cream here like Japanese melon and green tea, the ice cream here as a whole is awesome, though it seems more like gelato, but i`m not complaining. The drinks here are also awesome, lemon seems to be a favorite of the Japaneses and fortunately myself as well, so I have had plenty of things to enjoy as a whole.

Despite all the eating, I have shed a couple of pounds, probably because of all the walking I have to do to get around. Of course, any day I have off, I go out and explore with my camera. There`s so many amazing things to do here and I seem to keep finding even more, so I will be off exploring even more ,when I get the chance!

The Journey of Seven Thousand Miles

IMG_1643 IMG_1589 IMG_1636 IMG_1595 IMG_1593At long last, I`m back in Japan and it is as amazing as I remember! Though I was excited since August, my excitement for new experiences grows with every day, I`m here. It was quite a trip to say the least. I had the good fortune that no one was in the middle seat in my row during the flight, so I had plenty of leg room in my aisle seat. There was plenty to watch on the flight over, it really gets you in the mood for Japan, when you`re flying on a Japanese airline (ANA) and they have a ton of Japanese movies and shows. I especially enjoyed the ones by the tourism companies that show you all the amazing places to see, things to do people to meet and foods to eat. The food on the flight definitely also built up the Japanese hype with noodles, rice and fish being served with chopsticks, luckily I have a good grasp on chopsticks, so it was easy for me. Still a 14 hour flight is pretty exhausting, they did give us pillows and blankets as well as dim the lights to rest, but I spent most of the flight watching TV and walking around the plane to keep my legs from falling asleep.

Once we landed it wasn`t too difficult to navigate Narita airport, get all my necessary paperwork and find my train to where my dorm was. I had researched how to get from the airport to there and even googlemapped the directions, so once I got on the train, I knew where to go. I`m staying in the Shinkoiwa district of Katsushika ward of Tokyo, which is probably the closest part of the city to Narita. When I finally got off at my station and saw the surrounding area, I was in awe, it`s a really awesome place, there were bright signs, colorful buildings and lots of people all over the place, it really felt like Tokyo at that point! After a ten minute trek, I arrived at my dorm and I was warmly greet by the manager as well as the assistant manager, who gave me a tour of the dorm as well as explained everything to me. At first my room seemed very small, a quintessence of Japanese living arrangements, but I had thought the same of my hotel room from last time and that was plenty spacious for my needs. Once I had unloaded everything and got settled in, I saw that I had plenty of space for me. I took a short personal tour and met a few of my fellow dorm mates, there`s a lot of Europeans here, but fortunately they all speak English, so we were able to communicate easily. After washing up, I called it a night, excited for my first full day in Tokyo.

After a fulfilling night`s sleep, I woke up at like 7 in the morning and decided to explore a bit before I headed out for breakfast. Since I`ve been to Japan before, I did have a basic grasp on things here, but living here, I definitely have been adjusting with minimal difficulty to the cultural differences. I was very glad to meet another American at the dorm, which definitely gave me a feeling of no being culturally isolated from my dorm mates. I was pretty astonished to find out, this other American was from Buffalo, New York, so I really have someone, who understands my “culture”. As my dorm doesn`t have a meal plan, which is a very American concept, I decided to head to the nearby 7-11 for breakfast. Though in America, we would think of a 7-11 breakfast menu consisting of things like burritos or hash browns, the convenience stores here have an amazing meal selection, that`s both delicious and healthy. I have actually visited the 7-11 so frequently as their lunch and dinner selections is incredible, that today the cashier recognized me and asked me how much I enjoyed my favorite breakfast choice of rice stuffed bean curds, that look like little bean bags called Inari. Though I do enjoy the more Japanese foods available at the 7-11, there`s plenty of American staples like hot dogs, fried chicken and donuts, which the cashiers will happily heat up for you. The food here is all awesome and I enjoy going to 7-11 every time and seeing what catches my eye.

After eating my breakfast, student assistants from the university came by to take us to the Katsushika city office to register as residents, there was a lot important paperwork to take care of, but I got to know the other Meiji foreign exchange students better. The student assistants also, told us about a group they run for foreign students that does a lot events like Cherry Blossom viewing. The Cherry Blossoms blooming is one of the most important events of the year in Japan as it is the first sign that spring has come. After getting back to the dorm, I made more friends from countries like Australia, Germany, the Netherlands, France and Russia. Before, I left for Japan, I was worried about how I would live in a country by myself thousand of miles away from everyone I knew, so I asked a friend of mine, who was in the military and he gave me amazing advice, that everyone else in my dorm is in the same boat and that would allow us to bond very quickly and form our own group.The TV here is one of the best ways for us to bond, as sports are a universal language, right know the big high school baseball tournament, the Koushien, is on TV everyday, so there`s plenty to watch.

Though we did have early orientation at the university, we`ve been spending most of our time exploring Tokyo. Though Shinkoiwa seems like it is far from the more popular areas of Tokyo, the rail line here is part of two main lines that link to major stations like Tokyo and Shibuya as well as that the Pop culture and video game Mecca of Japan, Akihabara, is only 15 minutes away from Shinkoiwa, with no transfers. Still, Shinkoiwa itself has plenty to do, the local arcade has a ton of awesome and new games like Gundam simulation pods, Dragonball Z fighting games and anything else you can imagine. I went with some friends a few nights ago and had a blast for only like 10 dollars, we even took photos together in one of the Japanese photo booths and I carry my copy around in my wallet.

From hanging out with all these foreign students and going on all these amazing adventures, I have learned “my feet are tired” in eight different languages! I am certainly still excited about Japan, but know that I am here, I can start doing the different things that I planned instead of just thinking about it. Life here is pretty different and it will take a while for me to adjust, but I know that I will be able to do it. Tokyo is amazing and I look forward to everyday!

So the Sun Finally Begins to Rise

After what seemed like an eternity and the whole winter, which transformed magically into 80 degree summer weather, my study abroad to Japan will be starting in less than 2 weeks. At first, it kind of irritated me that while all the European and South-American students already left on their trips, I was still in the states twiddling my thumbs, but I suppose skipping the winter and staying till August, sounds pretty good. The Japanese see Spring as a new beginning, so that’s why they start the school year then. The Cherry Blossoms are also expected to bloom the day after I arrive, so this is something I am super looking forward to! I’ve already had my backpack prepared since like January and it is crammed filled with a ton of stuff ranging from electronics, guide books and some comical Japanese dictionaries that my friends gave me. Of course, they are also excited for me and for me to get them sweet souvenirs. My best friend wants a Yakult Swallows, Japanese equivalent of the Mets, Baseball Cap, his girlfriend wants a stylish tea cup and my other friend, the Disney maniac wants this female Disney teddy bear, they only sell in Asia, so plenty of quests to complete, but I enjoy souvenir shopping for myself and others.

My excitement for my trip is literally through the roof as I often start daydreaming about Japan and can’t help but grin with joy. I went to Tokyo during the summer of 2014 as part of the Cool Japan program through New Paltz, which itself was an amazing and fun trip, something that I recommend to everyone interested! I really do have to give a shoutout to Christian Wilwohl because even the hotel, that they arranged for us was really great, everyone go their own room, the hotel staff all spoke fluent English, Breakfast was included and was delicious, and the hotel was a five minute at best walk to the college and the amazing surrounding area. I swore I would return to Japan after such an amazing time and can now legitimately possess a Meiji University Pennant. Tokyo is a very unique city, the trains run like clockwork, everything is bright or shiny, and the city is unbelievably clean, literally cleaner than even the small town I live in. Though I can not fluently speak Japanese, let alone read it, everything is usually in English and I’m pretty good at body language. Also, food is incredibly cheap and delicious, so I will be enjoying my meals. I also want to go to as many shrines and temples as possible as well as participate in some festivals, I joined in one at a Buddhist temple last time and I had a blast, despite being a foreigner, I was welcomed by the Japanese people and it was an amazing experience. Despite popular belief, you will not see Giant Monsters attacking Tokyo, though I will be there for the release of the new Japanese Godzilla movie, who cares if I can’t really understand Japanese, its going to be an awesome giant monster movie and movie tickets seem to be pretty cheap.

I’ve pretty much bought everything I need for my trip and then some, I mean I’m going to be living there for over four months, so I want to have a comfortable stay. I got to start packing my suitcase, which is the largest size allowed by my Airline, wrote out my list and now I have to cram in as much stuff as possible. The dorm I’m staying at seems to be nice, I get my own room, which is great as I am an only child and like the privacy that entails, the dorm is close to the train station, so that’s a plus, it has a good amount of amenities including darts, a kitchen and a TV, because how can I enjoy Japan if I can’t watch its “distinct” programming, where else in the world will I see commercials involving Tommy Lee Jones, a talking dog and a random Japanese family fighting asteroids to advertise a bank or something?!, and there’s a 7-11 down the street, which in Japan has really good food and I have been told is actually the best bank for Americans to use, now that is a high standard! The area is called Katsushika and though its relatively quiet, Tokyo Disney isn’t too far away, so I definitely know what is in my near future. Odaiba is also nearby, the location of a site for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, formally the world’s tallest Ferris wheel and a 60 foot tall Giant Robot statue, which Japan promises they will have walking by 2019, just in time for the most awesome Olympic opening in recent memory. Of course, I intend to go all over the city, there’s 23 special wards, three major neighboring regions and a mountain, all crammed under the umbrella term of the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan area, so I’ll be plenty busy on adventures. And of course, I want to travel around the major areas of Japan like Kyoto, Osaka, Nagano and maybe Aizu, I have got to see a Japanese Castle!!!! But aside from the culture and heritage, there’s only one way to travel Japan and that’s by Shinkansen (Bullet Train)! I really wanted to travel on one the first time, but I didn’t have the chance, so I’m going to grab it this time, and as each bullet train is designed specially for their route, it means that they each offer their own unique experience.

I’m really thankful to my parents for supporting me on this journey, they told me that I am young with no commitments to weigh me down, and as I have always wanted to do this, I have to grab the opportunity, I know as they said, if I don’t take this adventure, I would regret it! It’s definitely going to an experience, just studying there and I know that after living abroad, I will definitely grow as a person. As the Vapors song goes, “I’m a stranger in a strange land”, but I know how to use chopsticks, navigate the Tokyo rail system and how to stay cool under pressure, so I’m as ready as I can be! Fortunately, I won’t be going alone, I will be accompanied by the wonderful, Miss Danielle White, who is as excited as I am about the adventure we are to undertake, so let’s do this! GET READY JAPAN CAUSE I’M COMING BACK AND THIS TIME, I’VE GOT PLENTY OF TIME TO REALLY SEE THE COUNTRY!!!

Things I Wish I Knew Before Traveling to Korea

*The information provided is solely based on my personal experience in Korea.

To any female traveling to Korea…

  1. Because you are a foreigner it’s ok to dress as you would in America, but most Korean women do not show any skin on their upper body. Short skirts, shorts, and dresses are accepted, but showing any chest, shoulder, or back is not.
  1. There are many differences about shopping in Korean stores compared to shopping in the states. One tip is that sizes run about a size smaller than the U.S. This goes for Korean and American stores. I found this out the hard way and was very disappointed when I was in the dressing room L Also, trying clothes on is not allowed in almost every Korean store. The norm is to hold something up to your body, decide if you think it will fit or not, and then either buy it or put it back on the rack. Some stores make exceptions if the item has a zipper, but this isn’t always the case.
  1. Do you like going out and having a good time? Even though I believe this is a more traditional custom I noticed that a lot of my female students turn away from the group when taking a shot of alcohol. I’m not sure why this is, but I picked up on it about two weeks into the program.
  1. This goes for men and women, but when using restrooms in Korea do not flush your toilet paper! I know this is a little gross to talk about, but it’s something I wish someone told me prior to going. There will always be a small wastebasket inside the stall to dispose your toilet paper.


General tips and facts about Korea

  1. Transportation is extremely cheap! For example, a one hour bus ride to Seoul is about 2,000 won, a 10 minute taxi ride is about 5,000 won (splitting it makes it even cheaper), the subway is about 1,500 won, and a 4 hour bus ride from Dankook to Busan is 25000-30000 won.

2. The subways in Korea are spotless compared to the subways in the states. There are also doors        blocking all travels from the area the subway will arrive at. One of my students told me this was created  after a man fell in front of an oncoming subway and ended up dying. It definitely makes traveling a lot safer, especially for young children.

  1. If you are Caucasian expect people to stare at you, especially the older generation. Because I am Korean almost everyone assumed I grew up in Korea and would try to talk to me. It was very obvious that people were more interested in the Caucasian students than the Asian students studying abroad, however once they found out we (the Asian students) were American they were just as interested in getting to know us as my Caucasian co-teachers.
  1. People are extremely nice in Korea! The level of respect everyone has is so much greater than in America. Yes, if you’re walking on a crowded street people will bump into you without saying “excuse me” or “I’m sorry”, but other than that everyone is very accepting and welcoming. Also, there are many rules when it comes to respect. For example, when eating dinner the youngest person at the table is expected to serve the silverware and pour the drinks (I believe the order of serving is oldest to youngest). I also noticed that men usually do the cooking (at most restaurants you cook your food at your table). There are also certain names you call one another depending on age. For example, if a boy is younger than a girl he will call her “Noona” and if a girl is younger than a boy she will call him “Oppa”.