Take the leap

We leave in a week. Its hard to believe I’m going at all. It doesn’t really set in fully before you go, like some part of your mind is waiting for you to wake up, like its some trick your brain decided to play. But as you pack your bags you realize its no joke, you’re going. You’re going far.

Its an exciting thought to be living on the opposite side of the world. All it takes is a little paperwork. It seems much harder than it is, everything so far especially the visa has been straightforward. I’ve made the journey before, all 14 hours of it. Its not as bad as you’d think, and it is completely worth the result. Japan is one of the most unique places you can visit and I can’t wait to return for this experience of a lifetime. So if you’re reading this and trying to decide if you should go, take the leap, it’ll be well worth it.

Follow this trip on instagram! @gallivanting_globetrotter

Reflection of Myself

IMG_2005So I have returned to America, wow, it is really weird to be back after being in Japan for a third of a year. Until recently, I was used to getting out of my bed, opening up my mini-fridge to get my breakfast and walking down three flights of stairs to eat it in the dining room, now I just roll out of bed and walk to the kitchen, knowing that something will be waiting for me. I loved Japan, but it is really good to be back in my home with my parents, its peaceful here and that`s how I like it best! My mom of course, was so happy to see me and marvel at not just my slimmer physique, thank you low-fat Japanese food, but the astonishing amount of things that I miraculously got home and through customs, nothing weird, just a lot of over-stuffed bags. My mom bought me everything that I asked for, so I will probably put on some weight, though going swimming will counter that. My dad and I went to the county fair, this weekend, it was really great to spend time together and catch up, he is a very reserved personality, but I could tell he was really happy to be with me in person.

I am just so happy to see my car again, she, yes I refer to my car as a her, is one of my most precious possessions and it really gives me a sense of freedom to be able to drive wherever I want, rather than be limited by the rail lines as I was in Japan. Walking is great and healthy, but man is it nice to sit on a cushioned seat with A.C. and just go for a drive. Its so nice, to get back to the roads of America, though I have to build up my driving skills again like when I had my learners permit due to not being behind the wheel of a car in months!

There is definitely a major shift in my worldview, Japanese media is focus on Japan by itself, while American is focused on our relations and interactions with other countries. Japan is a literal island and that mindset is a staple of their culture because of most of it having limited outside influence and achieving success like Anime, they take a lot of pride in it. While its culture was focused on itself, it was really interesting to see a music culture, dominated primarily by domestic groups. I actual feel that American media is much more globally focused, I used my same news sources while I was in Japan, and really did not get much from Japan, I know that sounds odd, but it definitely gave me a very different perspective on the world.

It was amazing to live in a nation that is very focused on progression, the trains will arrive exactly at this time, the location is exactly X amount of kilometers from where you are standing, the cherry blossoms are in full bloom today only, so everyone will go to see them. there is a very precise way that Japan moves and that is how I have to move in order to be part of it. Japanese society is very homogeneous, all office workers wear grey or black suits only, students wear a specific uniform depending on the season and school, everyone moves together as one and it is fascinating to watch. As well, the Liberal Democratic Party, which has been dominant in Japan for 60 years, is the only major political party in Japan, so politics flows in an easy to predict direction here, in contrast to the various parties of influence in America.

Because of the population being over 90 percent ethnically Japanese, everyone has the same religion, Shinto-Buddhism, a unique blend of two entirely different religions. Everyone has a protection charm, talisman, statue, necklace or another object on them and in their house, they sold at almost every temple, it is an abnormality not to have a charm of sorts, even I carried a few, with one in my wallet right now with a good luck paper next to it, and gave one to each of my parents, who carry them with them as well. Despite obviously not having the same faith, I never felt out of place or stared at, when I went to any of the countless temples or shrines that I visited.

My best friend has been really happy to see me again, he was there at the airport to welcome me back, we have missed each other a lot, and plan to make up for lost time. The hug we exchanged at the airport was so strong, that I thought he snapped my spine, cause it definitely cracked. Fortunately, he has vacation this week from work, so we will be doing all kinds of fun things, video games, movies, Anime and just enjoying the rest of the summer. The look on his face, when I gave him all his souvenirs was priceless, I bought him two birthday presents, a bunch of knickknacks, good luck charm, matching t-shirts, key-chains and health charms, and even a holiday present because I found the perfect gift. Seriously, you will find the most awesome presents imaginable in Japan especially in pop culture stores! Despite the distance and the time, we caught up in mere hours and our bond only grew stronger over the time. Its as if I never left and we have been spending every minute together doing what we love and me telling him all kinds of crazy stories and memories from my adventures.

It was definitely worth going to Japan, though I left my life completely in America and will now have to catch up to everything, still it was an exciting way to finish my last semester of college. I learned so much about myself, my passions and a nation unlike any other in the world. I learned that I have the ability to live on my own in a foreign nation and prosper with great success. I will return here one day, when I do not know, but I will and intend to bring my best friend or maybe even my own children here, so that they can learn to love this nation as I have, some day in the future. Certainly international experience, will be a really great point on any resume that will give me an advantage at job interviews. Many people that I have met, told me that they wished they had done what I did and studied abroad, so I really feel that this was a great experience and I will never forget it. I have told you countless times, what I have done, but one lets go over it as a whole, I climbed mountains, I conquered castles, I rode bullet trains, I met famous warlords, I ate a variety a bizarre food, Purple Sweet Potato ice cream was good, I met all sorts of wonderful people, traveled to at less 50 different places of worship, each with their own centuries long history, watched baseball, played amazing arcade games, observed Sumo in person, celebrated festivals, took literally thousands of photos and all around never lost my enthusiasm to go out and do something, no matter the weather, the time or the place, I did it ALL!!!! As I have said so many times before, if you really want a once in a lifetime chance to go beyond any boundaries you have ever encountered, study abroad, find a nation that fascinates you, learn about it, look into study programs, there are so many offered not just at New Paltz, but through the SUNY system as a whole, go talk to an adviser, they are all really nice, trust me I have been in that office so often asking about programs, that I am on a first name basis with the secretary. If you think that studying abroad is too far, hard or expensive, ask about scholarships or grants, talk to those who went including me, seriously ask me anything and I will answer, it can be a lot easier than you would ever imagine. If you think that a semester is to long to be away, try a two week summer program and view it like an educational vacation, I did that and liked it so much that I returned to Japan! As my parents always told me, you are young with no commitments or obligations to weigh you down, go, go as far away as you can and explore this amazing world, learn, laugh, grow become the person that you always dreamed of being!

And So the Ring Nears Completion

IMG_1962IMG_1973IMG_1983IMG_1999IMG_2004It seems like a lifetime since I was in America, so much has happened. I still remember the faces of my loved ones, the layout of my house, the area where I live, almost like a dream, I remember all of these details, yet I feel like its a dream. Okay, maybe I am getting a bit too sentimental and what not, but when your life dream of living in a nation with such an astonishing culture, history and society as Japan, where arcades are filled with all sorts of fascinating machines and historic sites centuries older than my country, it is pretty bittersweet to be leaving. Still, I made so many incredible memories and friends. I also invited a lot of these Japanese friends to visit me in New York as many are coming to America to study abroad and glamorize NYC as this amazing metropolis. Honestly, I am happy to be going home soon as while I loved, really loved the country, living here, the standards of Japanese society are a bit rough, nothing too major, just that my bed was a little small, I am 5`11, which is above average, still I slept well and the other major topic being that while Japanese and Chinese food are great, I really want some pizza and tacos! Also, I miss my car, the trains are really easy to navigate and use, but I like being able to go wherever I want, whenever I want. I mean I could adapt to living without these things, probably could make my own pizza and tacos, but America is my homeland and that is the culture that I am used to. I am positive that others, who study abroad feel the same. What really brings me back to America is my friends and family, I love them and if they lived here, then I would have no major reason to not consider living in Japan. I definitely will return, probably for the Olympics in 2020, but hopefully sooner, I really like the arcades here, I know that sounds petty, but they are so much fun, also there are a lot of places that I want to visit when I return that I did not have the chance to, did a ton of traveling, but it is impossible to see all of a nation as rich as Japan.

I know that I am suppose to focus on the point of my leaving Japan and my emotions, but really I knew that it was always the last part of my trip and I have been preparing to leave before I even got here. Not that I felt that I would not like Japan, but because I am a very pragmatic person, something that I definitely advise anyone studying abroad to be. I bought a ridiculous amount of stuff, which I have described in detail in previous posts. I have had to buy a second suitcase and fill my duffel bag to get everything home, fortunately my airline, ANA (All Nippon Airways) allows a second suitcase and a large carry-on for no addition charge, if you`re coming to Japan, ANA is your best opinion. Not that the other airlines do not have these accommodations, but the flight on a Japanese airline, definitely helps hype you up for Japan and the service is great!

I feel that it is important to be able to give some useful advise to those considering doing it. First of all, it is kind of intimidating to decide whether or not to leave everything and everyone, you have ever known and live in a foreign country. But, it really is a great opportunity that you may never have again and you can not let your fear hold you back. I was pretty intimidated by it at first, but my parents supported me and told me that I have nothing to hold me down like a family or job; and that I have to take this opportunity to grow as a person. The best way to think of it is just like living in a college dorm in a different part of the country, same amount of personal space and amenities, just as long, and you know that you are far from home, but with modern technology like Skype, you can feel like you are there. My cousins who have graduated from college have told me that their only regret was not leaving their comfort zone and studying abroad, something that they give me credit for. If you are a very pragmatic person, than what I would suggest is try a short 2-week or so Summer study abroad program and see if you like it, that`s what I did and it definitely helped incline me to go for the whole semester.

I definitely feel that thanks to studying abroad, that I am more confident in myself and that when I am given an opportunity, I will go for it with no fear. I went on a lot trips, both alone and with others, from mountain climbing to festivals, I seized every day to its fullest and felt that no day was wasted. It was exhausting beyond belief, I know that sounds rough, but honestly you have to make the most of an experience that you will never have again. A lot of people give me a huge amount of credit for being so brave and adventurous, that praise definitely gave strength to keep going even, when I missed home. Whenever I encounter an issue or something intimidating in my life, I just think to myself that I went to a foreign country and prospered, there is nothing that I can not do and I know that I can adapt to any situation.

One area that is absolutely vital to mention is interactions and relations with others. When I first go here, me and all of the other new residents were always hanging out, going on adventures and I believed that we would spend a lot time over the coming semester together. But, as school started and people committed to their studies and made new friends at school, we all went our separate ways. Of course this happens in college in America too, but as it seemed like everyone lost interest in exploring Japan within a few weeks, while I still had my enthusiasm, this kind of bummed me out, but I preserved and continued to go everywhere I could. While going by oneself may seem kind of lonely, I definitely encourage you to go everywhere you want to because not going due to being by yourself is wasting a great opportunity. I did make friends that went on adventures with me, but I always acknowledged that not everyone would be interested in going everywhere I wanted to and I should not let that hold me back.

Like I have done since the start of my time in Japan, its time for stories of my adventures and all of the amazing things to see and do in Japan! After passing it twice on my other Bullet train trips, I went to the central Japanese city of Nagoya for a day trip. Its a smaller city than Tokyo and has a lot less history than Kyoto, but still it did have some pretty cool places. The first place that I went to was called Atsuta Shrine, which according to Japanese mythology a legendary sword is believed to be there enshrined behind closed doors where not even the Priests are allowed to see it. The sword is properly called Kusanagi-no-Tsurugi and according to myth, it was acquired by the God of Sea and Storms, Susanoo, in the belly of a legendary eight headed dragon that he had defeated. With a story like that, I had to go to the shrine and while Kusanagi is not on display, they do have other swords including one that was easily 9 feet long, but photography was prohibited. It was a really amazing shrine that had a very spiritual feel to it as the area around it has remained untouched for nearly two thousand years, yeah Shintoism has a long history.

After that, I went to Nagoya Castle, which belonged to the legendary, yeah there`s a lot of legendary Daimyos, Oda Nobunaga. Unfortunately, the original castle was destroyed during the war, so it is a reconstruction, but that actually makes it easier to explore as it is built for tourists and you do not take off your shoes, something that is required at real castles. It was a pretty cool place with lots of artifacts and a really good view of the city from the top. Overall it was a fun day trip and certainly worth taking!

Then last Sunday, my friends, who are part of a dance troupe, invited me to see them at a dance festival competition. The type of dancing they perform is called Yosakoi, which is free-style traditional Japanese group dancing, that permits the groups to choose their moves, music and costumes allowing for every group to develop their own distinct style that stands out. There were over 80 groups made up of everyone from small children to the elderly with group sizes varying from 20 members to some that easily had over 50, it was incredible to see so many people taking part in the competition and their beautiful costumes. My friends` group did really well and placed in 4th, which they were very happy about, they gave a great performance and I am glad that they were praised for it.

So this is my final post in Japan and I am both happy and a bit sad. I will return to America, see my friends and family, sleep in my bed again, get prepared for graduating, getting an internship and just getting used to America again. These are things that I very much am looking forward to. At the same time, I will miss the bright neon streets of Tokyo, the arcades with their amazing games, the different festivals and of course, the awesome friends that I made here. I always obviously knew that I would only get to know these people for a few months and they knew it too, but I believe that we will meet again when one of us goes to visit the others country, probably when they come to New York, so that is something to look forward to! Still social media makes it pretty easy to stay in touch with others, so the gap, won`t feel that big. Really, that is all that I am feeling, obviously everyone has their own way that they will react to leaving, its really tough, but change is part of growing up and the earlier you adapt to it, the better. I still have finals to take care of, so I have to dedicate to studying, but after that, I will enjoy my last days here by just relaxing, going to the arcade and fireworks, I have done plenty of huge adventures, so I think relaxing and preparing to go home will be best. Talk to you again, once I return!   



Enlightened Pilgrimage

IMG_1950IMG_1954IMG_1952IMG_1955IMG_1959Though it has seemed like a long time, I have only been in Japan for a bit over three months and have less than one more until I am to return. Am I kind of bummed that I will be going home soon with no idea when or if ever I will return to this incredible land?. Yeah a bit, but I looking forward to returning to my homeland as well as the obvious fact that I have seen more of Japan than the Japanese have according to them, and I know that I will return some time in the future, possibly for the 2020 Olympics, it will be very fascinating to see what Tokyo looks like for the World to see. Still, there there are a few more tasks on my list to complete first, two more places to visit, the city of Nagoya known for a legendary Daimyo, a shrine dedicated to a mythological sword and a nearby original castle; as well, there is the mausoleums of Nikko, which I might go visit with a friend, who recently moved near there. Of course, seeing the new Godzilla movie before I leave, maybe Disneyland, though it has been getting really hot and the special Studio Ghibli exhibition going on downtown, are also on my list.

As usual, I spent the last two weeks are more adventures, both locally and farther away. I went up to Sendai, which is an hour and a half from Tokyo by Bullet train on a Friday instead of my usual Saturday due to having to make up a class as the the professor was going to be away for a conference. It was a pretty smooth ride, but there were significant less tickets available to buy, but I was lucky enough to get one of the last two tickets. Though the weather was cloudy, it was not raining, so I was able to go all over the city without any issues. I started by taking a taxi to Zuihoden, which is the mausoleum of the Daimyo, who founded the city, Date Masamune. Though he has been dead for nearly 400 years, he is still well-known throughout Japan and highly revered by the people of Sendai. He is best known for his boisterous personality, distinct armor topped with a 2 foot long golden headpiece on his helmet and , hence his nickname, the One-eyed Dragon. While he was only a minor lord, he has the second most impressive mausoleum, only topped by the Shoguns own, making Masamune stand out even in death. It was a really cool place and certainly worth going to see. After that, I went to the Sendai City Museum, which had an extensive collection of artifacts of the area including their centerpiece, the armor of Date Masamune. I also went to 2 shrines, one built in honor of Masamune and other built by him. He is Sendai`s greatest hero and still loved by people, much like how Spider man is to New York, except that Masamune was real. On my way back, I went to buy my return ticket, but the next available train was not for an hour and because it was so booked I had to stand, the next one with available seats was not for a few hours. It is very ironic, that in New York, it is illegal for someone to ride a bus going across state lines standing, but it is perfectly legal and `safe` for someone to ride a bullet train going 200 miles an hour standing, well its Japan, so it must be safe. Fortunately, there was an available seat, it was a smooth trip and I even had this really cool meal, that I pulled a string and it cooked itself in 5 minutes! As a result of this trip, I decided to think about buying a round-trip ticket to avoid this problem from happening again.

I said that I was going to go to Nagoya afterwards, but last weekend was so hot that I decided to go back to Kamakura, which was much cooler that day, and see the last of the great temples, though this was my third trip there, Kamakura has so many famous temples, that it took me three times to see all the major ones. While I was familiar with Kamakura from my previous trips, this time, I was in a much different part that was a lot more rural despite being only one station from the bustling center of the city. As usual, I went to a quintessential temple on top of a hill with a great big wooden gate, though I have seen even larger ones, this ones lack of ornate design or paint gives it a much more earthly and honorable appearance to it. Originally the temple had 40 buildings, but due to the Kanto earthquake of 1923, which destroyed significant amounts of the Tokyo region, there are only 17 remaining, but it is still the largest temple in Kamakura and has many impressive artifacts and buildings in it. The most famous artifact that the temple had was 715 year old iron bell, that was on top of another hill with a really cool view of the area visible. After that temple, I went to another nearby, that was also pretty impressive, but a lot smaller, though it did had a small open house, where you could mediate, which definitely makes it a unique experience. I could have gone to more smaller temples, but due to the heat, I just stuck to the big ones. I am positive that I seen enough of Kamakura as I can not think of any more temples that I have to see.

I also took a trip back to the mountains, this time to Nagano, a city known for a mighty temple, gorgeous mountain views and the so much natural beauty. Once again, I took a bullet train to get there, this one was called the Kagayaki, which is translate to shine, probably emphasizing how it shines in the sun as it whooshes past onlookers. Bullet train tickets are honestly astronomically expensive, just look them up with google maps, but my parents are paying for them as they understand it is the only real way to see a lot of the most amazing parts of Japan and want me to have no regrets about missing anything. They know how much I wanted to do Japan and are very proud of my bravery in going through with it, I really love them and can not wait to see them, when I return, welcoming me home with fresh New York bread, Japanese bread is good, but NY has the world`s best. The first thing that I did in Nagano was go to Zenko-ji, which is this huge temple with all these impressive buildings focused around it. I have been to bigger ones, but this one was still among the best and I always like to see the famous ones with have their own unique style to them. After that, I headed to Kawanakajima, which was the site of a famous series of battles between the legendary Daimyos, Takeda Shingen and Uesugi Kenshin. It is located in what is now a small park, but there are all these cool monuments to it including life sized statues of the Daimyo fighting one-on-one, which actual happened. A nice day, though there was enough in the city to rationalize staying a night.

While I am down to my last month, I still have plenty left to do, though I am quite satisfied with all I have been able to do. One of my friends at my dorm, who has been here for 2 years, told me, he was impressed with my dedication and passion for Japan and seeing as much of it as possible. He said among the several groups, who have come for a semester since he got here, that no one ever really went all out in seeing Japan like I had, I even went places he had not, so I know that I seized this once in a lifetime opportunity to its fullest. Aside from my solo plans, I am meeting with a friend on Saturday to go to the Tokyo Zoo, which I have not been to yet. I hear they have Pandas, which will be pretty cool to see. Still I plan to play it by ear on what I will be doing. Even though Finals are coming, the workload is pretty light, so I still have plenty of time to enjoy myself, though I do need to commit to my papers at night.


Takeda of Kofu, Mikasa of Yokosuka and Byodo-in of Uji

IMG_1910IMG_1918IMG_1930IMG_1937 IMG_1943Once again, I find myself writing about the various places that I have been to since last I wrote. Every weekend including Friday as I have that off too, I plan another exciting trip and then I charge at it with all my energy and passion. Most people including even myself a bit, thought that I would grow tired of Japan within a month or be so bogged by school that I would not have time to really get out of the Greater Tokyo Metropolitan area and truly see Japan, but fortune smiled upon me and I have been able to give it my all. Of course, it is incredibly exhausting, which I have mentioned before, but the experience is once in a lifetime and I don`t know when I will ever be able to return to Japan again. I have literally gone to places that my Japanese friends have never gone to, despite living here, showing just how extensive my travels have been!

So, where have I been that has been so exotic to even the Japanese? Well, as I said that I would, I went to Kofu in the mountains of Yamanashi prefecture, I took the same route as I had for Matsumoto, but the trip was at least an hour shorter. As well, for some reason the line to Kofu actually starts very close to my dorm, so it was an easy trip to get on the train. It was a beautiful day in Kofu and I arrived early in the morning giving me plenty of time to see all that Kofu has for the day. The city is most famous as the stronghold of the famous Daimyo, Warlord, Takeda Shingen. He is a legendary Daimyo that is frequently in works set during the Medieval period in Japan and most recognizable for his personal helmet having a long white mane to it. As each Daimyo wanted to show off their wealth and skill of their craftsmen, the helmets of Daimyos are well-known to have distinct, fascinating and even bizarre, one of the most impressive being an entire set of deer antlers mounted on a helmet. Like usual, when I arrive in a new city, there is something to greet me, instead of a sign or a banner, there was instead a Takeda Shingen mascot there to greet and take pictures with anyone, who asked including myself. Mascots are just like in America, a person in a big cartoon costume and they are very popular in Japan with all major cities, prefectures, companies and even smaller areas having a few, varying from a black bear with rosy cheeks to a peach fairy, who goes nuts in the costume, seriously look it up, the mascot is Funyassi and he is awesome!

After leaving the train station, I could see the surrounding the mountains, which were really beautiful as well as the forests in the distance, it reminded me a lot of New York, which is also filled with mountains and forests. I took a taxi to Kai-Zenko-ji temple, the largest wooden building in Eastern Japan, it was a really nice temple and had a very unique appearance. Unlike most of the countless temples that I have been to, this was at least 50 feet tall and that really gave it an impressive appearance. After that, I wandered around the city and saw there huge bronze statue of Takeda Shingen, showing even 400+ years since his death, he is stilled highly regarded and respected by the people of his prefecture. I also, visited the Takeda shrine/museum built to him that houses many artifacts of his clan including an impressive centuries old katana, still in pristine condition. The shrine was only in 1919 because the Emperor really liked Takeda and thought that he deserved a cool shrine, where he is enshrined as a deity. In Japan according to Shintoism, if someone was a really great person, victorious general, very wise scholar, great social contributor, they can have a shrine built to them when they die and people will pray at the shrine for this great person to bestow a gift upon them. Shinto shrines are a really amazing concept as Japan is the only country to have Shintoism and it has a very unique culture to it.

The very next day after sleeping in after such an exhausting day, I decided to take another train trip, though this one was a lot closer. I went to Yokosuka, which is a harbor city in Tokyo bay, famous for being where Commodore Matthew Perry and his fleet entered in 1853 to convince, with warships, Japan to open its harbors. It was about an hour south of my dorm, but no transfers, so pretty easy to go to. It is also well known for being where both the United States 7th Fleet is stationed with its super-carrier and as well, Japan has its Maritime Defense Force stationed there. I didn`t see any US ships, but as soon as we pulled into Yokosuka station, I saw the JS Izumo, aircraft carrier, very close by, so much so that I could see the sailors leaving the ship.

Despite how impressive the modern vessels were, I was there to see a far older ship, the Mikasa, the flagship, under Admiral Togo, of Japan during their successful war against Russia in 1904-5, which is credited as making Japan recognized as a world power. It is the only Japanese warship turned into a museum, so it has a special place in Japan and among its citizens. There`s a park attached to it, so there was an event going on with lots of kids, stands and people next to the ship. It was a cool experience as the ship is pretty interactive and has a ton of artifacts from its service. I even got to put on an old Naval uniform and get my picture taken, so it was a lot of fun. I had never seen a ship this old before, so I was very fascinated by its design. When I was a kid, I had spent a night on the USS Massachusetts, which is a WW2 battleship, but this ship was far older and smaller, making its historic contribution much more impressive. As well, Admiral Chester Nimitz was a big fan of Togo and had meet him after the war, years later when the ship was in disrepair, Nimitz had spearheaded the successful efforts to save the ship, so the Japanese are very grateful to America for its help in saving the ship.

Though both of these locations have a great deal of history, the city of Uji, which I visited last week has far more than both combined. Uji is an ancient city located near Kyoto, which itself was capital of Japan for over a thousand years, and is well-known for being the Tea capital of Japan and the location of the World`s first novel, The Tale of Genji. It is also, the home of Byodo-in, a 950 year old original Buddhist temple, that is a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its age. Its better known as the Phoenix hall as it is painted in a bright red and located in the center of a pond to appear like a Phoenix in flight. Truly, it was an incredible place to visit and not hard to get to from the train station on foot and was not crowded at all. Its also on the 10 cent coin here, so it was pretty cool to see the actual place and compare it to the coin.

My plan for this week is to go to Sendai, a city in Northern Japan, which was the stronghold of another famous Daimyo, Date Masamune. It will be the most north that I have been in Japan and I will be riding a different bullet train than before. This one is called the Hayabusa, which means Peregrine Falcon, and has a very sleek design in a distinct bright Turquoise color. The week after that is probably going to be Nagoya, Japan`s third largest city located in the center of the country and home of the shrine of one of Japan`s Imperial Regalia, a legendary sword of myth as well as a large collection of other blades; and yet another Daimyo, Oda Nobunaga, the legendary Demon Lord, known for his ruthless nature and well-known by all Japanese for his might. as well, one of friends here, had lived near Nagoya, in a small city called Inuyama, which has one of the only five original castles in Japan as well as being a national treasure, it is not as larger as my previous ones, but it is one the same level of national value. Still, there are even more places to go if possible, but I am taking it one week at a time.

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!