Hiking at Mt. Takao(日記#36)

Howzit!

Today’s post is gonna be super short! I just wanted to share about my experience hiking Mt. Takao with my friend on February 19th. One of the things on my Japan checklist was hiking Takao-san and even though I missed going during the autumn season, which is supposed to be super nice, it was still really beautiful!

It was a bit of a trek to get there with a train ride of about 1.5~2 hours, but it was so worth it. Once I arrive at the station I met with my friend who is from Norway and we were off! By the way, one of the perks of studying abroad in Japan that I never could have predicted before arriving was the amount of friends I would make here who aren’t even from Japan.

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Once we started the hike I realized just how out of shape I was and it was a bit of struggle but one we made it to the top it was so worth it. We were lucky and it was a clear enough day that we could see Mount Fuji. After multiple attempts to get a self with Mt. Fuji we decided to eat some soba. I don’t know what it is about eating soba after a hike but it was just so good. I also had soba in Ashikaga after hiking up the many steps to the Orihime Jinja shrine. I didn’t even used to like soba before coming to Japan but just like tea, it has now become one of my favorites.

After we ate our soba we began the much more leisurely journey back downhill, stopping on the way down to get the famous manju ( I believe) which is in the shape of the tengu (demon creature with the long nose). Since I don’t eat anko or red bean paste, I instead got an ice cream bar, to the amused looks of the Japanese people who were like “isn’t it too cold for ice cream??”

Once we reached the bottom we weren’t quite ready to head back yet so we went to this sketchy looking cafe that was actually really cute on the inside. It was called Mariposa and had a lot of different butterfly themed artwork as well as a little shop selling craft goods in the entrance.

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It was a cute little family-owned shop that wasn’t busy at all. Perfect way to pass the time and a great way to end the day. After hopping back on the train then parting ways with my friend the adventure to Mount Takao day was officially over. I wouldn’t mind going back there someday, hopefully during Autumn or cherry blossom season.

If you read this, thank you! I hope to have the next post be about my trip to Korea!

Take care!

❤ Kira

ESS Winter “Training” Camp(日記#35)

Hi everyone!

Today I wanna travel back in time back to January in hopes of eventually catching back up to May’s happenings. On the weekend of January 14-15th I went to a famous onsen town called Kusatsu in Gunma prefecture for the English club’s winter camp. I didn’t really know what to expect and in terms of planned activities it was pretty disappointing (because there were none), it was still the most snow I have even seen in my life so it was great.

The day started off with having my own amazing race moment because one club member was late to the meeting time and then we couldn’t find the bus stop when we were already late. The other members weren’t picking up their phone either so we ran in circles in the bus area just to find out that it was in  a completely different area. After riding in the bus for over two hours with a rest stop break midway, we arrived in Kusatsu!

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Even just arriving in the parking lot made me realize I had underestimated the amount of snow that we would be dealing with. The whole first day when we arrived I really wanted to go outside and play in the snow but I think everyone else wasn’t that impressed by it and just wanted to laze around inside. However on the second day I got lucky when we ventured out of the hotel to try and go see the famous onsen. According to what I may or may not have understood, the area that we went to see what the origin of the hot spring.

On our way there in the bus the traffic got so backed up that we ended up hopping off the bus and walking the rest of the way. I was definitely not wearing the right attire for walking in heavy snow (regular Nike athletic shoes and jeans) but it was still fun.

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Walking/sliding down the sloped roads was also exciting but also pretty scary. Eventually we made it to the little onsen town area and it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. The little cottage like buildings covered in snow made it seem like we were in a different country and even though the heavy snow had covered a majority of the onsen and we couldn’t see anything with the snow falling so heavily, it was still amazing.

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Even though my hands were freezing since I had to take off my gloves to be able to take pictures, it was so worth it to have these photos as memories of that trip. After everyone was done and ready to head back we started our slow trek back to the hotel in the snow. I don’t know exactly how long it took but I want to say it was around 30-40 minutes. We had broken off into little groups as everyone had their own strategies to try to walk to avoid falling. At one point some of the members even had to help push a car that had gotten stuck. I remember thinking that I don’t know how people can live in the snow. I wouldn’t be able to deal with having to shovel my car out of the snow each time I wanted to go out. I would be even more scared that the car would go sliding backwards down the sloping roads since it’s in the mountains.

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Luckily we made it back to the hotel safely–albeit a little red-faced and frozen. From that point on it was back to lazing around until it was time to get on the bus to head back towards Kawagoe.

Overall, although I kind of had regrets in terms of what I expected of a club camp, the trip was worth it in order to experience all of that snow with my friends. This is definitely going to remain one of my favorite memories of my time in Japan!

Thanks for reading~

❤ Kira

Life Update!!! 2 months left in Japan :-(

Hello everyone!

It has been over 2 months since I published my last post about my share house experience in Japan. Since then I moved back to Kawagoe and began attending Tokyo International University again for my second and final semester of the Japan Studies Program (JSP). I can’t believe that it’s been two months since I last posted. I am somewhat disappointed in myself for not keeping up the posts when I had gotten so close to catching up to real time, but it’s been a pretty busy past two months and when I had time I didn’t have energy or the motivation to want to write a blog post. However, in the past couple of weeks I have written and given a speech, spoken with my professors/advisors from Willamette who were visiting Japan, and also written a couple letters to my future self that all forced me to stop for a second and reflect. Now I think I’m finally back in the blog post writing mood so I am going to see how many I can crank out today before I lose it again! (It could also be because I am procrastinating on studying for my oral midterm exam that is tomorrow).

Anyways, this post is just gonna be a short one to update everyone on where I am at now without going into too much detail since I hope to write a detailed post later. I just want to say that I am alive and doing well. Busy with school since I am taking about 6 classes, still in the English Speaking club, and been doing a couple of extra things here and there like the speech that I mentioned as well as visiting the middle school where my host mom works. Besides that I have been trying to find another time to volunteer before I leave Japan but looking at my schedule just makes me panic realizing how my time is running out.

At this point I want to meet up with people I know that I may not ever see again after leaving Japan but it is difficult when I want to give 100% at school and they are all busy with their part time jobs. I also have the Japanese Language Proficiency Test coming up on July 2nd. This is my first time taking the real exam and I am trying for the N2 Level (second to highest). I took a practice exam yesterday for that level and I am not feeling too confident. Very grateful that TIU offers the mock test because it was really a wake up call.

Recently I’ve also been thinking about my future plans and what I want to do, then I realize that I still don’t really have a clue of what I want to do and then I just go crazy. I already know that in my immediate future I want to apply to the JET Program to teach English at a school in Japan. If my dreams are crushed and I don’t get accepted then I plan to find alternate ways to be able to work in Japan in the immediate future. During that time I hope to either find a career that I can see myself doing for a while or even consider returning back to school to get a Masters degree so I can become a teacher. Whether that graduate school would be in Japan or in the U.S, I definitely haven’t thought that far into the future yet. Honestly I always thought that I would live in Japan for 3-5 years after graduating from Willamette and then return back to Hawaii to find a job and live there for the rest of my life. Buuuuut now that I think about how long I’ll be living in Japan for and how I plan to study to get N1 certification it almost seems like a waste if I learn so much Japanese just to return back to Hawaii and then lose it all. At this point in time it doesn’t seem like a great investment so now I am back to the drawing board to see how I can possibly turn my interests into a career without having to waste efforts I’ve made thus far or giving up too many of the things I want to do.

For the time being I want to nurture the meaningful relationships that I have now while I can. I can already predict that I am going to have a hard time transitioning back to live in the U.S and perhaps I’ll even have reverse culture shock and realize that Japan is where I want to live forever. Who knows? I sure don’t.

Well! Sorry this was just a rambling post with no point. I have to get back into the practice of writing things that make sense to the people reading it. If you are reading this and have been following my blog this whole time I just want to say thank you for caring about what’s going on with me. I hope to have more interesting experiences to share with you in the near future!

Take care!

❤ Kira

Tokyo Living: Share House Life (日記#34)

Hi everyone!

I am sure I’ve mentioned it quite a bit in past posts but today I wanted to write a post dedicated to talking about how I found the place where I would be living in Tokyo for 3 months while attending language school. I’ll start from the very beginning of the process. It’s going to be a pretty long post so I will include headers in case you want to skim only to the parts you think might be interesting to you.

Housing Selection Process

Back in October or November when I made the decision to attend a Japanese language school during my long break between semesters for JSP, I had to begin searching for a place to live. Originally I considered going through a company called Leo Palace which is a company that provides consulting to help me find an apartment to live in. I even went to the office for a consulting appointment and that went really well. You can tell them the area you want to live in and your budget and they can search their database for possible options. It would have been perfect except that I realized that living in an apartment for only 3 months probably wasn’t the best idea since I would have to buy bedding, cooking ware, and other furnishings. After I thought it through I figured that my best option was to look for a share house.

After switching tactics I began to scour all of the different share house companies online that I could find. I’ll include a list with links to all of those companies at the end of this post in case anyone is interested. But after searching through all of the different houses, rooms, location, etc. I brought it down to two potential places. One was a co-ed share house in Ikebukuro and another one was an all-girls share house in Nippori. If you know where I am living now you will know that I went with the second option.

When I narrowed down my search I made arrangements to visit what I thought was my first choice, the share house in Ikebukuro. As I made my way there I had to cross this ridiculous multi-directional crosswalk and I already knew that this place was not going to work for me. I had made an appointment to meet with the share house manager though so I couldn’t just leave. When I got to the dingy looking building above a post office I was shown in. This was the only other share house that I have ever seen but if that is what most of them look like then it is pretty bad I am not going to lie. It didn’t really feel like a home at all. The rooms were for 4 people and you were basically given a shelf to live in. You wouldn’t even be able to stand up in your “room.” There was a shared common area with a kitchen and even a vending machine which I thought was really strange.

I knew right away that this place was not going to work for me and I was both disappointed and kind of disgusted. I was feeling so overwhelmed at that time that I decided to contact the manager of the Nippori share house to see if I could view the place last minute since I was already in Tokyo. Luckily they said that yes I could come and view the share house even though I wouldn’t be able to see any of the rooms because they were all occupied. I was met by one of the English-speaking staff members at Nippori Station and they walked me over to the house. The area seemed pretty sketchy but I was pleasantly surprised when we walked up the the apartment building which actually looked really nice. The front door is accessible only if you have a key and it was clean looking. So far so good at that moment.

After we entered the staff took me up to the sixth floor where their company Common Share has 2 apartments with 7 rooms each. When we entered the apartment I was happy to see that it pretty much looked exactly like the photos that were posted online. Although there was no real common area, the bathroom, shower, and kitchen all looked really clean. I was informed that all of the residents are given their own shelf in the shoe cabinet, a container in the fridge and nearby shelf, and a basket in the bathroom for shower supplies. There is also a system where you write the time you want to use the shower or washing machine so that there is no conflict or guess work involved. I was super impressed and I already knew that I wanted to live there.

After going through a lot of negotiations with the share house manager over which room I could rent since every time I said “I want this room,” I was told that it was just filled and offered another option. But eventually I was able to secure my own room and my mom helped me with the international wire transfer to do my deposit. With that taken care of and my move in date chosen, all I had to do was wait until the time came.

Moving into the Share House

Come January 4, 2017, and it was move in day. The manager of the share house who I had been corresponding with for a couple of months met me at the station and I was walked to the share house. He explained to me about the general rules of the share house and told me that the owners were pretty strict. The two major rules were no guests and no smoking. If you broke these rules you would be asked to move out on the same day. I was actually happy to hear about the strictness of the share house because I knew it was a legit place. On the walk over he also pointed out the nearest super market which is conveniently located on the  pretty much straightaway 15 minute walk to and from the station or from my language school.

When we got into the house we didn’t run into any of the other residents, which I was told is pretty common. It would almost feel like I was living alone and that wasn’t a problem for me, actually it was a bonus. After I was given the information book and I signed the contract, the manager left. My luggage was scheduled to be delivered so while I was waiting around for that delivery window of time to arrive I went to the grocery store to stock up on things I thought I would need. My luggage was delivered and I had to buzz the mail person up so they could be allowed into the building, I unpacked, and then started to plan for this new period of my time in Japan.

Share House

My Room

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Now onto my actual room. I was in room number 7. Since I had only seen the pictures online I wasn’t sure what to expect when the manager opened the door but I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was almost exactly like it was shown online in the pictures. My room is currently not listed as available on the website so you can’t compare it directly, but there are other images of the share house which are exactly how it looked when I moved in.

Link to the share house website with my share house information.

I was also happy to see that it came with a little table that had a foldable chair and also some pegs to hang clothes. I also did a bedding rental so I didn’t have to worry about buying blankets or anything.

Facilities

Above are pictures of the entryway, the door that leads to the balcony where you can hang clothes to try, and the shared kitchen. Other things provided are a rice cooker, hot water kettle, fridge, freezer, pots, pans, utensils, dish-ware, toilet paper, dish soap, hand soap, trash bags so I didn’t have to worry about any of that although I did end up buying my own plate, bowl, and cup so I wouldn’t have to worry about returning it right away after using it. Overall the whole place was really nice and most importantly felt safe.

Share House Mates

I should probably mention that this share house was probably so good because most of the residents were Japanese. This was not a place that was advertised exclusively to foreigners and I think that really made a difference. 4/7 of the residents here were Japanese women probably in their 30’s. The other 3 were 2 American college students (including myself) and a Chinese girl probably around the same age as well.

Neighborly Issues

In the share house my room is located right next to the entryway. I have one person living across the hallway from me and one person living to my side. The person who is living across the hallway is a really nice lady who actually used to live in the room that I am currently in before she moved to that bigger room. The person to the next to me would turn out to be the only thing that made this share house experience into a negative. Within the first week a note was left by her, I am assuming it was addressed to me, to say “I am sorry that I keep hitting the wall and making noise.” But having been in Japan for a while and after confirming my suspicions with other Japanese people, it seems that she was not in fact apologizing for herself being loud but indirectly telling me that I was being loud.

I was already really nervous about moving into the share house and living with other people where I could possibly get kicked out so I was trying to take extra care. Even when I was trying my best I got that note from my neighbor within one week and I pretty much freaked out. My bed is located right next to the wall next to her room and even though I tried to move my bed away from the wall my room is so small that I can’t really help it.

That wasn’t the last incident either. A couple weeks later I received an email from the share house manager saying that another resident reported that I had a guest and that I should “confirm” this. Now this just made me angry since this would have been something I could get kicked out over. I only have two neighbors and the lady across the hall was always really nice to me so that only left my neighbor. I was still being really careful. I hadn’t video chatted with anyone or talked on the phone and if I did I would have been using earphones. I was rarely in the house too as I spent about 3-5 hours every day after school at the library trying to catch up to my class. So of course I responded to the share house manager saying that I have never had guests.

As time went on and I talked with both the lady across the hall from me and the other American girl living in the share house, I found out that the lady in the room next to me had caused some other issues for the other residents as well. She had reported the other girl to the share house manager for forgetting to lock the door of the share house once when she first moved in. She also gave her grief for leaving the door to her own room slightly open. I have heard from my neighbor across the hall-way who I started to think of as “share house mom”because she always seemed to know everything that was going on for some reason. She told me that my neighbor seemed to do strange things. She also said that she has no right to really complain when a majority of her belongings were taking up a lot of space in the fridge and other storage places. I was relieved to have some back up in case she ended up complaining about anything else.

Anyways, things didn’t get better but they didn’t get worse either and that I was grateful for. Luckily, she ended up moving out of the place a couple of weeks ago so I could finally breathe easier. I wonder if I had any role in her move but if I did then I took one for the team because I think the other people in the share house didn’t really care for her either.

Overall Impression

On March 31st I move out of this share house and move in with my new host family and I will be sad to move out to be honest. This little tiny box of a room became pretty comfortable to me and I enjoyed living on my own schedule and time. As for the share house experience, I am grateful that I found this place. It felt safe, it was nice, the people were nice minus my neighbor, the communication with the company was smooth, and it was only a 10-15 minute walk to school with a grocery store 7-8 minutes walk away. I had a good 3 months here!

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My First New Years In Japan(日記#33)

Hello again! Hope you are doing well. I can’t believe that the third month of 2017 is already coming to an end. 2017 is passing by quicker than I expected it would. At this rate I will blink and find myself back in America without even realizing it. In order to not freak out I’ll go back in the past to New Year’s so I can pretend my time in Japan isn’t running out and write about how I spent my first new years away from home.

Part of the reason that I wanted to stay in Japan for a full school year was so that I could experience all 4 season and all of the many holidays and celebrations that come along with it. The major one in Japan being new years. A time of literally throwing out the old and bringing in the new for the most part, new years in Japan is something I have always wanted to experience and now I finally did.

I spent the new years with my relatives in Tochigi and even though it was quiet and fairly uneventful, I still got to check many things off of my “Japanese New Year Checklist” including eating toshikoshi soba meant to symbolize long life, watch all of the new years specials on TV, and do hatsumode the first shrine visit of the year.

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Of course I missed by family and it was hard to be away for both Christmas and New Years for the first time ever, but I think it was appropriate that I started the second decade of my life with new experiences. If anything being away just made my appreciate and love for my family and friends back home grow even more. As cliche as it is, distance does make the heart grow fonder I think.

Since it was a really low0key and quiet passing from 2016 to 2017 I don’t really have much else to say except that I am really grateful that my relatives welcoming me into their home and letting me join in greeting the near year.

If you read this, thank you very much! In my next post I am going to talk about the share house in Tokyo that has been my home for that past 3 months.

Take care!

❤ Kira

Winter Break Sightseeing In Ashikaga (日記#32)

Hello everyone! Hope you have all been doing well 🙂

Today I’ll talk about the excursion I took on December 29, 2016 with a friend. On a side note–I am almost finished with writing blog posts for all of the events that happened in 2016! This is the 32nd post and although not all of them were about adventures  I had, a majority of them were and I just want to say how grateful I am to have been able to experience every single one of them. I’m not taking this year of studying abroad for granted because I know it’s a huge privilege, not just a huge expense and good life experience. I just want to make the most out of this chance I’ve been given so that I can leave Japan with no regrets.

Anyways, back to the story!

After I moved out of my host family’s house on December 27th, they saw me off at the train station as I made my way to my relatives house in Oyama City, Tochigi Prefecture. I would be staying for about a week and I only really made plans for one day. The main event of the day would be to go to Ashikaga Flower Park to view the Christmas lights, called illuminations in Japan, but that wouldn’t be until after it got dark so we went to view a couple of other places first.IMG_2145.JPG I was told that Oyama was really inaka or country-side but I didn’t really realize it until we took the train. Usually the train doors open and close automatically, however on the local trains in the area there is a panel with buttons to open and close the door. If you don’t press the button when you want to be let off then the door won’t open and you’ll be continuing your ride. Another friend who lives in the inaka once said that her friends called her hometown a different country just because they needed to press buttons to open the train doors. I guess it’s a big deal if you live in the city and have never had to press a button to open your train door in your life 😂

Besides the button to open and close the door the local train platforms and ticket gates are different. Most stations don’t really even have a gate. There’s the ticket machine for you to swipe your PASMO to pay, but there’s no actual gate to stop you from just walking through if you don’t pay. If there is a station attendant (most likely there is not), they end their work shift early anyways so there is nothing but the honor system to ensure a person is paying their fare.

The last major thing that signaled that I had in fact reached the country-side was that the train schedule was displayed on a sign in the train station, with most trains coming at a frequency of twice an hour. To take things into perspective, in Tokyo on the Yamanote Line loop, a train comes every 2-7 minutes so you really don’t have to wait long if you miss the most recent train. However, if you just miss the incoming train then you have to wait 20 to 30 minutes for the next one when you’re in the inaka. Of course I don’t assume that my 1 day of exploring the inaka made me an expert on life in the Japanese country-side but I can guess that it’s pretty much like that with the trains most places you go.

In Tokyo and other big cities you can live your whole life without even having a thought that you might need a car but in the country-side a car is really a necessity. Most likely the nearest shopping mall and grocery store, is not close at all so in order to live you would need a car.

Anyways, I got really distracted. Back to the sight-seeing. Once we arrived at the train station whose name I don’t remember we took a 10-15 minute walk to go and visit Orihime Jinja or Orihime Shrine. I didn’t know anything about what this shrine was dedicated to but according to the sight-seeing website for Tochigi Prefecture:

Orihime Jinja Shrine boasts nearly 1200 years of history and tradition as a shrine dedicated to protecting Ashikaga industry and marriage.

What really stands out about this shrine is that it’s at the top of what seemed like a thousand fairly steep steps. Luckily, the steps are all numbered so you know exactly how many are left before you reach the top. Once we reached the top and my breathing went back to normal, I could appreciate the beautiful view.

On the shrine grounds there is also a soba shop so we stopped there for lunch. It was a beautiful shop with large windows around the perimeter offering  a great view of the surrounding areas on the nice clear day. I ended up getting a normal hot soba and my friend ordered a cold dipping soba with a yuzu  or citrus sauce. Soba tastes especially good after doing a hike or a little exercise for some reason. IMG_2143.JPGAfter we finished eating lunch we went back down all of the stairs on wobbly-legs and headed to do some more sight-seeing. Unfortunately, most of the shops and temples we wanted to visit were closed because it was a holiday so we ended up having way too much free time. We wandered around the area in circles for a while and then spent most of the time in a bookstore.

After killing over 2 hours of free time we headed back to the train station where we had to wait for the next train to stop by. Once it did we were on our way to Ashikaga Flower Park. When we arrived it was still light out so we didn’t want to walk around quite yet. I was also tempted by the food stalls so I ended up buying karaage and my friend got a taiyaki which is like a fish-shaped waffle usually filled with red bean paste but also sometimes chocolate and other flavors.

When the sun finally went down then we walked around the different areas of the large park. Although it was December 29th already the Christmas themed lights were still available for viewing and it was really impressive. From here we just walked around all of the areas randomly as there wasn’t a clear path or flow of the park. Since nothing much really happened after that I can talk about, I’ll just wrap up the blabber and then insert some pictures of the park.

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After we saw everything then we just walked back to the train station taking a shortcut through the campus of my friend’s old high school. It was dark and creepy but I figured that it’s Japan and it’s safe (right?). Anyhow, we got back to the train station and then had to wait around for a bit for our train. It was an older style train where the seats are in pairs of two facing inwards so that you could talk to the people across from you if you wanted to. After we made it back to Oyama Station I said goodbye to my friend and then had to figure out how to get a taxi in Japan for the first time by myself.

After getting a bit lost I eventually made it back to my family’s house and then my one adventure planned for my week in Tochigi was over. It was really fun and I am glad I got to see some of the area while I was there.

If you read this post or have been following my blog for a while I just want to say thank you. I think that this is the last post talking about 2016 and the next one will be about experiencing my first new years in Japan.

Thank you again and take care!

❤ Kira

 

How McDonalds Became My Safe Place in Japan

 

In Japan I became That American Foreigner who always goes to McDonalds even though I am in Japan. I never predicted that I would end up loving McDonalds so much, especially not in Japan. A couple of years ago my new year’s resolution was to not eat McDonalds and I succeeded. I didn’t eat McDs for that whole year and maybe another half until my dad brought home an ice cream cone forgetting that I gave up McDs for over a year.

The reason I started to go to McDs more was because I started to live alone and there was a store on the way back home from my language school. The reason I began to go so often was that I realized that it was the perfect place to eat if you were alone and just needed food. It’s a combination of the salty comfort food, the convenience, the speed, price, and availability of single seats, that made me end up going there so often.

Whenever I needed to grab a quick lunch before heading off to volunteer or take trips to the immigration office, McDs never failed me. I could usually get in and out within 25 minutes and I always found an open seat alongside the dozen other single diners. That was the main appeal. It was somewhere where I could eat alone and not have the fear of looking strange. I’ve eaten at many other restaurants alone but typically the only other single diners are middle-aged or elderly men.

I also tend to go out to explore different places but when it comes to finding a place to eat I get lost. There are so many different places to eat in Japan that it seems almost impossible to choose. I usually end up wandering around for a long time before I get so tired and frustrated that I usually just end up going home to eat even if it means cutting my day short. However, for those times that I was so hungry or hangry and tired and I was a bit further away from home, usually McDs came to my rescue. No matter how crowded it is there always seems to be an open seat and many other people of all different ages eating by themselves.

It might seem kind of pitiful and lonely but actually it is very common in Japan for people to walk around, travel, and eat alone. Most people on the trains are by themselves. If they are not then it is common that the members of the group will all get off at different stops. Transforming from a talkative group to the remaining single person who no longer has someone to talk to and goes from standing out to blending back into the group of silent solo riders.

In most cafes that you go to there will be an area of bar stool type seating where you will often find a line of people sitting alone, a single chair left between them if it’s not a busy day. This is all completely normal and something that I have come to love about Japan. It is a stark contrast to the feeling of alienness I felt in the US when I would have to avoid eating alone at all costs just to avoid feeling like I was being judged by others. Here in Japan I would give almost no second-thought to eating alone at any type of restaurant because I could be assured of one of two things; that there were other single diners there or that even if I was the only one people wouldn’t think anything of it because it is such a common thing to do in Japan.

Since coming to Japan I have become used to being alone often and have even come to become comfortable having nothing but my own company. Of course it is still nice to meet with friends but there is something nice about not just being able to enjoy being alone but also feeling satisfied and not like I’m missing something. This is definitely something I am going to miss about Japan and probably even struggle with when I return to the US come August.

If you read this post and you read my other posts you might have noticed that it was kind of different than what I usually write about, it’s not quite a journal and it’s definitely not an informative article for the most part. As my time left in Japan is coming closer to its end I think I want to do more of these posts reflecting on the things I’ve noticed both about myself and about Japan. Hopefully you will find them interesting as well.

Thank you!

❤ Kira

 

My First Japanese Christmas(日記#31)

Hi again everyone!

Today I’m going to talk about how I spent Christmas of 2016 in Japan with most host family. Japanese Christmas is nothing like Christmas in America or in Hawaii. First of all, the whole holiday is mostly for couples and the gift exchanging thing is not big at all. Second, the main attractions of Christmas in Japan are the Christmas light displays that pop up everywhere in every major mall, called “illuminations,” the KFC chicken, and Christmas cake. For some reason when Christmas was brought over into Japan they somehow got it in their minds that KFC and cake were Christmas must-haves. I’m sure KFC and cake companies had something to do with it. Anyways, it’s all good because then I got to experience something different.

This was the first time in my 20 years of being alive that I was not spending Christmas at home with my family. Honestly it was really tough to be away from home at this time but thanks to technology and the time difference, I got to experience Christmas twice with both my host family and my own family back in Hawaii.

I learned a lot of different things about the Japanese way of Christmas through spending it with my host family. In America we usually leave all of our presents under our American-sized Christmas trees. In Japan, not only will they usually not have a tree but also they don’t seem to leave the gifts underneath the tree. I can’t say for all families but for my host family the children only received one gift each from Santa and not anything from their parents. Japanese Santa then leaves this present on their beds near their feet for them to find when they wake up. My mom and grandma also sent gifts from home so my host family really got to experience either a Hawaii Christmas or  a Hayashi Family christmas. IMG_1806.JPG

Since I was spending Christmas with them I shared with them about how we usually do Christmas back home. I left my gifts for them under the tree, and got them to leave out a cookie and milk for Santa. It was really funny because my host mom actually asked me how much of the treats does Santa eat. Our Santa in Hawaii just took a few bites and a few sips to leave some evidence, but upon second thought I realized that Japanese Santa probably wouldn’t waste food so probably nothing would be left. For us at home we would leave our notes to Santa and then the next morning we would have a response. My host parents also did that for their kids, going so far as to google how to write in cursive. The only thing was that the kids couldn’t read cursive so they quickly lost interest. Poor parents.

Since Christmas isn’t that big of a thing in Japan, it was not strange at all that on the same day there was a mochitsuki–mochi pounding event for the new years on the same day. So after the kids opened their presents and then we ate breakfast, we headed downstairs to take part in the new year’s tradition of pounding mochi. Ironically, I think that if you compared Hawaii with Tokyo, there would be a higher percentage of families who are doing real mochi pounding in Hawaii. In Japan most people wouldn’t have the space for the usu (mortar) and kine (the thing used to pound the mochigome). It is also probably something too expensive to have for a small one-generation family especially when it’s only used once a year. I believe that those families that want to eat mochi will either buy store made ones, or they would will buy an electric mochi maker. It kind of looks like a rice cooker but it makes mochi.

After the kids got tired of being outside then we went back to the house. The kids just played around with their gifts from Santa and I continued packing since I would be leaving my host family after 2 more days. When it got closer to the evening my host mom’s sister’s family came over for dinner. They have 2 children as well, a girl and a boy. Their last name is also Hayashi which was a coincidence but not surprising since Hayashi is such a common name.

After dinner was all prepared and ready we sat down and began to eat. I thought it was funny that we were eating KFC and pizza on Christmas but I was there to experience a Japanese Christmas so I didn’t say anything. I was really grateful that my host family allowed me to stay at their house longer than was specified by the study abroad program and for letting me join their family Christmas get together. I had a great time and I really appreciated that I still got to spend Christmas with family.

As always, thanks for reading! My next post will be about sightseeing in Oyama after I left my host family’s house and began my one-week stay at my relatives place in Tochigi.

❤ Kira

 

Enoshima Christmas (日記#30)

Hello everyone!

Today I’m back to share my day trip I took with my friend on December 24, 2016. This trip was to Enoshima, on the Shonan Coast of Kanagawa Prefecture. At this time I was still living with my host family in Saitama so the whole trip probably took over 2 hours, with the return being even longer. However, it was a super fun excursion and something special to do the day before Christmas, which is a notorious couples holiday in Japan.

When we finally arrived at Enoshima via the Enoden train, we were greeted by beautiful blue skies and great weather. It was already lunch time when we got there so our first stop was to find a place to eat  lunch. I didn’t know beforehand, but they really try to create like a “Hawaii” vibe in Enoshima. There were many different “Hawaiian” themed restaurants and little souvenir shops with all sorts of Hawaii-related goods.

The place where we ended up eating lunch was called Aloha Table Waikiki. My friend also loves Hawaii so it was a win-win for both of us. I got something that reminded me of home and she got to reminisce about her Hawaii trip. She ended up ordering an acai bowl and I got karaage. We also got a bucket of garlic shrimp to share. The shrimp was actually a bad choice. Nothing like the garlic shrimp of home, they were tiny and fried to a crisp. We actually had to ask the waitress but yes–you’re supposed to just eat the whole thing as is, head and all. I didn’t want to waste it so I took the head off and choked down the pokey shrimp. I miss the garlic shrimp from the North Shore or basically just “real” Hawaii food.

After we satisfied our hanger we headed to the main attraction, the beach. For some reason both of us didn’t think about that fact that we would be going to the beach and both wore shoes/boots. Of course the beach doesn’t compare to the one back home, but it was still really beautiful. It was actually pretty warm for December and so we just sat on the stairs near the sand and enjoyed the view for a while.

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After we had our fill of the ocean view we went to the nearby Enoshima Aquarium. This was one of the aquariums I had researched about while doing a Japanese class project last semester so I was extremely stoked to be able to go there. I really love the ocean and sea and therefore I also like aquariums, but I also sometimes feel like it’s bad because some of these animals probably shouldn’t be in captivity. I feel a moral conflict between whether or not an aquarium can realistically provide an environment that is suitable for the needs of the animal or not. I also don’t know how I feel about teaching animals how to perform on command, or rather forcing or bribing them to learn and perform multiple times a day. It’s definitely something that requires me to do more research about.

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Once we were done at the aquarium we went to dinner at Red Lobster, where I proceeded to order way too much food just because I could. I didn’t even order a meal I ordered a bunch of things off of the side menu. As you can see, they are mostly all carbs. It was perfect for me. Unfortunately for my friend, she got sick. She failed to let me know ahead of time that she has a weak stomach and eating seafood makes her sick. So after she ate she got a really bad stomachache. This led to us cutting our trip a little big short to head home.

Overall, it was a really great trip for me. I can’t speak for my friend in case that seafood thing ruined the whole day for her, but I think that minus that the rest of the day was perfect. Since it was winter it wasn’t too crowded in Enoshima, which tends to become crazy during the summer seasons but we lucked out with some unusually warm weather.

If you read this, thank you! The next post will be about my first Japanese-style Christmas complete with KFC and cake 🙂

❤ Kira

JSP Fall 2016 Closing Ceremony :(日記#29)

Hello everyone!

This post is going to be about the JSP closing ceremony for the fall semester which took place on December 17, 2016. I think that enough time has passed that I can finally write about it without getting overwhelmed haha. It really was a sad day. It was the last time I would probably ever see some of the friends and people I met during JSP since everyone came from different states or even countries. IMG_1034.JPG

As expected of a Japanese ceremony it was fairly formal. We even had to practice how we would go up to the stage, bow, and receive our certificates. As expected of a majority of the Americans, you can’t expect them to do that kind of stuff and there was a little tension between the students who wanted to be able to dab and the school staff member who wanted to make sure that this would be a respectable event.

For the ceremony there were a few different speeches done by people involved in the program. Besides the University staff there were also speeches done by two of the host families and two of the JSP students. One of the host families had a lot of kids and it was so cute because they all had their little note cards with things they wanted to say. They were the host families of two of the JSP students since they hosted them in different semesters and it was really cute. The other host family was just a mother, but it sounded like she really had a great experience. The JSP student’s mom even came to Japan towards the end and they had gone around sightseeing together. I think that’s super great and one of the whole points of a homestay program.

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For the JSP speeches it was really great to be able to see my friend speak in Japanese in a way that could make the audience laugh or maybe even cry. When she came to Japan she didn’t speak any Japanese beyond the basics but by the time she left she had learned enough Japanese to get through daily life, create a good relationship with her host family, and also make a lot of friends. That’s something that I am still working on so it’s definitely motivational to see that it is possible to get better at Japanese if you just use it with no fear.

Man, writing this post is making me miss them again since I haven’t seen them for over 2 months. But continuing on. After the speeches, handing out of certificates, and formal part of the ceremony was over we all took pictures and then said our goodbyes. On one hand it wasn’t as sad for me since I knew I wasn’t saying goodbye to everyone on top of saying goodbye to Japan, but it was still sad to know that I might never see these people that I got so close with over the 3 months I was friends with them.

Fall semester definitely had it’s ups and downs but as a whole it was great. I am not sure that the upcoming Spring semester can top it to be honest but that’s not going to stop me from trying.

If you read this long blabbering post, thank you! Next post will be about my Christmas Eve trip with my friend to go to Enoshima.

Take care!

❤ Kira