Week 3 in Tokyo

I purchased my first bicycle from Suginami Green Cycle this week. The shop only sells refurbished bicycles for as cheap as 6,500 yen on certain days of the month. In Japan, since there are so many people ride bicycles, there are designed parking areas for bicycles. The government takes bicycles that were illegal parked and sells them through shops such as the one I went to. Mine cost 8,000 yen, or around 80 dollars and is equipped with a basket.

I spent my first morning in Japan riding a bike along with my friend. However he laughed at me because I did not know how to ride a bike.  My father never taught me how to ride one when I was little. What makes that irony is that my father was good at riding and fixing bikes. Right after I bought my bike, I used it to get to my school campus in Nakano. I ended up lost several times and ultimately late to class. The trip would have taken 30-40 minutes if I did not get lost. But I was proud of myself because I can ride a bike well enough by then. I stopped using my bike to get to school because I did not want to pay for parking every time(100 yen each time can add up really fast, and I had a commuter pass anyways).

Since I did not pack enough clothes, I took the opportunity to buy new and more stylist clothing here. For anything related to fashion in Tokyo, Harajuku and Shibuya are the places to go. Just walking down the streets in those areas, you will see tons of unique styles that you cannot even find in New York City. They are also affordable, though some shopping districts like the Ginza(which I have been to) are really meant for upper class people.

I have decided to take one more class in Japanese on Saturdays because my campus-mate persuaded me into it.  Now my commuter pass will be even more worth it since I need to go to school everyday of the week besides Sunday. In comparison to my Comparative Culture class, this professor speaks more clearly and has a great sense of humor. Since his class is “East Asian studies,” he allows his students to write in English, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean. This means that he can also speak and understand all those languages. I am really impressed by him~

I really am enjoying my life here. Although though I have been here a little less than a month, I already do not want to leave here. Tokyo has become a 4th home for me. America is my first home (where I was born), Vietnam is my second home (where my family originated from), and Australia is my third home (where most of my mom’s side of the family now live). If I ever lose one of them, I will always have another one to return to. Perhaps, it is because I had to start my life from scratch here that I feel so strongly about Tokyo.

Even though I dormed at New Paltz, I still felt somewhat trapped. I was literally trapped too because I could not go anywhere without a car. Although having a roommate was a good experience for me, I would rather have my own room. Living with a roommate means that you have to adapt to their lifestyle in order to have a healthy relationship with them. Not having a roommate allows you to develop your own lifestyle and thrive in it.

The high cost of living in Tokyo encouraged me to cook most of my meals. The food in Japanese restaurants tastes so good, but the serving size is usually not enough to make me feel full. Meanwhile at New Paltz, it was impractical to cook most of my meals because everyone in the building shared the same kitchen in addition to having a meal plan. I had to go into “wasteful mode” in order to finish it all my dinning dollars by the end of the semester. This means that I spent even more money than I had to by cooking.

Do not misunderstand me because I still love New Paltz and the people there. What I am trying to say is that everyone should at study abroad for at least semester and see what it would be like if you lived in completely different. environment. Living a different lifestyle helps you discover yourself.

Week 2 in Japan

The pace of life in Tokyo is even faster than New York City. I used to complain to myself about how crowded the trains are during rush hour. By the time I return to NYC, I’d think that the trains are not crowded at all. Trains in Tokyo are about are similar to European train stations; going into one of them makes you feel like you are at an airport.

I finally obtained my commuter pass, which will let me use the train lines between Nakano station (where my school’s newly opened campus is located), and Meidaimai station. The total cost would be around 200 dollars for 4 months. Although it is restricted to only the route I need to take for school and back, it will make fares going to other stations cheaper as well. Plus, I can use points in the card to buy drinks at the vending machine or even pay for merchandises within Tokyo!

My Commuter Pass from dorm to school~
My Commuter Pass from dorm to school~

Classes began on April 10th at Meiji University! A period of class is an hour and thirty minutes long. Every class meets once a week too! That is half the work we do at New Paltz! I would not mind studying here for four years since I would have a lot more free time to focus on other extracurricular activities. However, this also means more independent studying is required for students here. Luckily my classes do not require me to buy a lot of textbooks. The cost of living is higher in Tokyo than New York City, so I need to budget myself.


my school campus!

I am taking three different Japanese classes that each focus on a different area of the language, which are reading, writing, and speaking. Unfortunately they are beginner level classes because I did not do well on my Japanese placement exam. Looking back, I should have guessed the remaining 30+ questions that I did not complete. There would be a 20% chance of me getting enough points to be placed in intermediate level.  However even in these beginner level classes, I still learn new things and see what I was doing wrong before.

My remaining classes are Comparative Culture, Language and Culture, Modern Japanese History, and Physical Education. Out of these, one of the classes will be conducted in Japanese only! I attended the first class and found myself being unable to understand a lot of the vocabulary the professor used. The same day, I went out to buy my Denshi Jisho, or electric-powered dictionary. It costed around 100 dollars! I never imagined myself going this far to learn a language.

My campus-mate is a Vietnamese girl who I known about through the students from Meiji University last semester. Since I am also Vietnamese, I find relief in being able to speak my native language in a foreign country. Not to mention that she is a really, how can I say, a person who can put a smile on other people’s faces. Although she teases me all the time, I can see her good intentions. She is my senpai, or senior since she is a junior at Meiji University. Almost everyone I know here so far are my senpais, with the exception of a few international students who plan to study here for four years. They would be considered my kohai, or junior.

So far I have seen a couple of my friends who studied at New Paltz, from last year and last semester. It is more difficult to meet up with my friends from last year because they are seniors now. They are busy job hunting, which is highly competitive in Japan. I wish them the best of luck~their experiences abroad will surely make them stand out among the bunch.


First Week in Tokyo

I am so glad that my friend picked me up from the airport. By staying overnight at his house in Kawagoe, I got to know what life was like in a Japanese family as well as the countryside area of Japan.

Souvenir from Kawagoe

Souvenir from Kawagoe that my friend’s mom gave me. Sweets from Bakery

The following day I checked into Izumi International House. Living here is comfortable and has been a good experience. Not only do I get my own room, bathroom, and balcony, there is an well equipped kitchen and small laundry room in the common room of every suite here. However, I also have to prepay for my electricity, and water. This system will surely change me for the better.

In my suite, there are 4 people total. Two of them come from Korea and the other one is from Canada. After our orientations, we have all finally gotten along well together.

Being an international student at Meiji has allowed me to understand what life is like for international students at New Paltz. For example. although international students cannot understand everything we native English speakers say sometimes, they really listen and try to make the most of what they understood. Because my Japanese is terrible I would say, I am trying my best to improve every single day here like they did in America. Also, since there are only a few American students here, I get to interact with many other international students from countries more so than as a native student at New Paltz.

So more about Japan:

There are many more variety shows here as well as more colorful commercials. I really enjoy Japanese television.

Sakura flowers had just recently bloomed, but will disappear soon. That is why around this time, people attend “flower viewing” sessions to appreciate its beauty while they are still can.

At Shinjuku Gyoen, or National Park
At Shinjuku Gyoen, or National Park

Inkan or seals are needed for legal documents because they act like signatures. I just made mine yesterday!

Tokyo is well connected by subway lines. You pay for your ticket by the distance. You also have to adjust your ticket fare if you need to transfer trains at a station. However, you can reduce the trouble by using either Pasmon or Suica cards which are similar to Metro Cards in NYC. Pasmon’s usefulness is limited to within Tokyo while Suica can be used to access the greater Tokyo area. With a Suica card, you can even use it as a debit card to buy merchandises if you have enough points!

Similar to a monthly Metro Card in NYC, there are commuter passes in Tokyo. To obtain one, you would need a student ID, as well as document from the school stating where you live and the school’s nearby station. However, unlike a month Metro Card where you can go wherever you want in NYC, you are limited to only using the commuter pass to stations in between your route to school.

I still have 2 weeks before school starts!


I can’t believe that I’ve been living in Japan for five months already! Things here for me are so normal and  I feel so at home that I don’t really pay attention to time passing. At the moment I’m on Spring Break and my first semester finished around the 2nd week of February. I am relieved to be on break since the end of the semester work was slightly challenging. The only problem I’ve been facing lately is quite honestly, boredom.

All of the international students that live in my building feel the same way, for the most part. We try to organize parties every now and then with Japanese students, and go out with Japanese students, but recently things have been quiet. Since I’ll be out of classes for about 2 months, I figured this would be the perfect time to travel. Many of the other students in the International House have the same idea, so at the moment it’s quiet in my building. Some students returned home for good, others just for the vacation, and some are traveling around Japan and other countries in Asia.

I was fortunate enough to go to Korea last weekend for my birthday. I had a blast! While I was back in SUNY New Paltz I was good friends with a Korean student named Yun Hee, who was at the time an international student at SUNY New Paltz. Before she returned to Korea I promised her that some time in the future I would visit her, and to her surprise I did! She was so happy to take care of me for 4 days, as I don’t speak any Korean (YET!).

The first day I stayed at her home in Cheonan, and her family were extremely kind to be, considering they didn’t speak a word of English. Her mom was a fantastic cook and I am utterly in love with Korean food. The next 3 days Yun Hee and I went to Seoul, only 40 minutes away by subway, and we stayed at a youth hostel. As we walked around sightseeing and shopping in Seoul, Yun Hee translated everything that was going on around me into English. Her English is really good and I was so relieved to be in her company. Although she became sick for some time during my trip, my birthday was still a lot of fun. I plan on visiting her again in the future if I can!

This weekend I’m going to Osaka with three other international students, then doing some sightseeing in Kyoto since it’s very close to Osaka. Hopefully I can do much more traveling during this break!

Yun Hee and I at a Korean coffee shop

Ohi Pottery

Taking the Experiences in Japanese Culture was seriously the best choice I made. All of my best pictures/ experiences seem to come from this class,  which I guess is the point. So today was the first class of 2010 and we began our work on Ohi Pottery. Last class, which was in the end of December, we visited The Ohi Museum to learn the history of Ohi Pottery.

To briefly sum up the history: The Ohi family has been making pottery in Kanazawa since the very first generation came over in 1666. Since then, generations upon generations of Ohi pottery has been created by the Ohi family, and my class has been lucky enough to work with the 10th generation, a man known as Ohi Toshihiro. He makes both traditional pottery in the Ohi style as well as contemporary work, and he has traveled all over the world using his talents for university teaching, lectures, exhibitions, and contest judging, as well as being the esteemed winner of countless awards.

Traditional Ohi pottery is made very carefully, and in today’s class we learned this process. One must only use his or her hands and no tools to form and shape the bowl (our class specifically made Japanese tea bowls). Since we are going to meet in Toshihiro’s studio three more times to complete our bowls, today we only formed and shaped bowls.


Pupil and Toshihiro, demonstrating how to form the bowl.

Pupil and Toshihiro, demonstrating how to form the bowl.

I will admit that forming a fully-functioning bowl was not as easy as it looked. One of Toshihiro’s pupils demonstrated for the class first and we were to follow what he did. Toshihiro told us that explaining the process is not how one must learn, but watching and learning is the best way to learn. While we worked, he also made many bowls and if we were not sure about how to proceed we walked to his workstation and simply observed his techniques, then copied them on our work. It was an interesting way of learning compared to just listening to directions.

We were allowed to make 3 bowls, and even a fourth one if we really did not like any of the first three. The first bowl I made wasn’t that great, but I noticed that the more I did it the better I became. The second bowl was definitely an improvement. Here is a  pictures of the bowls I made:

Center three are my bowls.

The bowl on the bottom left was a freestyle bowl that we were allowed to design ourselves.

All of the bowls my class made.

There were so many!

Next week’s class we will carve the bowls using tools. More pictures to come soon!

Tamahime Temple

There are hundreds of temples in Japan. I’m sure I’ll be visiting many during my stay, but here are some pictures of Tamahime Temple. My Japanese friend Mina took me and my friend Chris to the temple, where we watched a traditional doll performance illustrating the story of the Tamahime Princess. I was not able to take pictures inside the temple, but I can confidently say that I have never been blown away by the extravagance of a temple before visiting Tamahime Temple. It was absolutely magnificent. There were statues of prominent religious figures that towered over me, the sweet scent of incense filling my nostrils, and traditional Japanese chanting of prayers playing in the background. The environment was stunning and I couldn’t help but think, ” This is why I came here. To experience what I’ve read about in textbooks firsthand.” It was truly a moving experience for me. The pictures I have here are mostly of the exterior of the temple.

Mina, me, and Chris in front of the Japanese dolls used in the Princess Tamahime performance. (The only inside picture that was permitted.)


Purikura is photo booth photos taken to the most extreme level! In Japan purikura is a teenage girl’s dream. Not only can you take pictures with all of your friends using the most hi-tech photo editing tools such as skin color alteration and eye widening tools, but after the pictures are taken you can move into a smaller both and spend time decorating the pictures with hundreds of decorations, drawings, etc. You can then print the pictures out and distribute them or put them on your cell phone or send the pictures directly to your cell phone and share them online. Naturally, I completely fell in love with purikura and try to do it with my friends as much as possible! Here are a couple purikura pictures of me and some other international students in my program here at Kanazawa University.

My cellphone with some purikura pictures! I had a lot more before but they all fell off..

Japanese Noh Theater Performance

My friend Chris, another student here with me from SUNY New Paltz, is an English tutor for a Japanese man in Kanazawa. This man also happens to be a Noh Theater performer. Noh Theater has been treasured by the Japanese for many years as a musical form of theater, where the actors were very intricate costumes and perform scenes  with masks, the men playing male and female roles. Chris received two tickets to a tea ceremony and a Noh performance in Kanazawa, so we went together. Here are some pictures from that day:

This was right outside the tea room. This small garden was so serene and beautiful.

Next to the tea room that we all had tea in there was a traditional tea room from many many years ago. This room is still intact but is only used for viewing purposes. The room was extremely small and had to be entered by kneeling and people inside usually sit on there ankles and do not stand.

More views of the traditional tea room.

The room where we actually drank tea.

These ropes are put on many trees in Japan to stop the snow from breaking their branches. I think that it adds a special something to the tree itself.

Before the performance, the man that Chris tutors demonstrated the complicated process of dressing a Noh performer.

The audience was consisted mostly of older Japanese men and women, the women dressed in kimono.

The actor was being dressed for the part of the God for the performance.

The musicians are on the left, both women, playing the taiko drum and the Japanese bamboo flute.

This group of men sing during the Noh Performance. The style of singing was nothing like I have ever heard before. I can describe it as a cross between chanting and wailing, each syllable and note conveying the emotion being performed by the actor in costume on the stage. The singing in combination with the taiko drum and the Japanese flute is, in my opinion, the exemplifies the essence of traditional Japanese culture.

And finally, the performance began…

The actor entered from the far left, walking down a long corridor in very slow, specific steps that synced with the music and singing of the chorus.

Japanese Culture Class: Gold Leaf

Another exciting day in my Experiences in Japanese Culture class! We went to the Gold Leaf museum in Kanazawa. Kanazawa is famous in Japan for it’s gold leaf lacquer and other goods adorned with gold leaf. Learning about the process that goes into making gold leaf goods was really interesting. In the museum there were also really beautiful pottery pieces decorated with gold leaf. My class had the opportunity to decorate various pieces. I chose a jewelry box. Here are some pictures:

The jewelry box before I started, with a border of tape.

Next, created the design with thin tape. Then, I applied glue to the top cover.

With the glue on top, I took a sheet of gold and also silver leaf, crumpled it, and dabbed it on the top repeatedly in different places for effect. Then more glue was applied to the top.

After the glue dried I removed the tape and this is the finishing product: a beautiful gold leaf jewelry box!

I really enjoyed decorating my jewelry box, which I now use everyday. Here are some other pictures from the Gold Leaf Museum:

Hideki Matsui, New York Yankees MVP 2009 and from the Kanazawa area!

Flower Arranging and Tea Ceremony… the best class ever

I’m taking a class called Experiences in Japanese Culture, where the students go on excursions and participate in Japanese cultural events. It is such a fun class! Today we did Ikebana, which is the Japanese art of flower arranging. We went into the mountain and collected materials (branches, berries, flowers, etc.) and brought them back to arrange them into beautiful pieces. Here is my creation:

My Ikebana

My Ikebana

I’m not sure if I captured the essence of true beauty in Ikebana, but I had a great time trying!

In the previous class we experienced tea ceremony. It is a very intricate event in which people quietly sit in a traditional Japanese style tea room on their shins and politely offer each other tea and sweets. There is a rule for every single movement during the process, from the way in which you hold the sweets on a special type of napkin, to the way you drink the tea. The tea has a bitter taste that slightly shocks the senses but cleanses the soul and the sweets, or wagashi, have a delicious taste.

One phrase that I used often during tea ceremony was “Osaki ni,” which means “I’m going before you,” and it’s used when you are about to drink the tea. There are also other phrases used to show respect to the tea maker, the people sitting with you, and the tea itself. If you ever plan on visiting Japan you absolutely need to experience tea ceremony. It is one of the many beautiful aspects of Japanese culture. Here are various pictures from that day:

The beautiful tearoom

The beautiful tearoom

Napkins for the sweets

Napkins for the sweets

Pot where tea is made

Pot where tea is made

Small courtyard in tea house

Small courtyard in tea house

Another Courtyard

Another Courtyard

Wagashi (Japanese tea sweet)

Wagashi (Japanese tea sweet)

Unfortunately, I do not have any pictures of the tea itself but if you’ve ever seen wasabi that’s served with sushi, it resembles that green color. Truly an interesting experience.