Adventure in Japan: Enoshima

Visited: April 23, 2016

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I had just gotten used to Japan at this point. Saturday morning, the students that went through the American program had to meet up at the school. We were about to embark on a weekend trip to Kamakura and Enoshima.

The students gathered in a classroom while the English-speaking staff gave us some pamphlets of the place we were going, and told us about the Ryokan (Japanese Style Inn) we would be spending the night in. As I listened to the staff talk about this place I felt myself getting more and more excited. the teachers had reserved four rooms for us at this place so they had us choose our roommates. There were 20 students and 3 staff total going on this trip. Our tuition covered the tickets the staff got for us for the trains we were going to take.

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We took a train to Fujisawa station of which we transferred to the Enoden, which was a mix of a train and a street car. It was cool to see the scenery of this place we found ourselves in, I was amazed at how close this Enoden looked to the buildings.

 

We got off the Enoden at Enoshima-Katase, it was around lunch time by this point so everyone was hungry. As I looked around I felt energized in a way, this was a seaside town something that I had never really experienced. You could hear the waves and the birds flying overhead, it was also warm that day. I remember just stopping in my tracks to look around just amazed at where I was. It was amazing.

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We had to walk across a pedestrian bridge before finding ourselves in a tourist area full of shops and restaurants. That was when we split up into groups depending who wanted to eat what and were told to meet in front of First Kitchen in about an hour. I was with a group of 6 who wanted to eat Ramen so we walked down one of the side streets looking for an affordable Ramen place. The first two we found were a bit pricy for our taste but that was when we came to Hareruya.

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This ramen restaurant was cool, the atmosphere felt very homey and warm like you were just eating in your family’s kitchen. They had tables that seated four each as well as a counter surrounding the open kitchen area. To get the ramen, you had to get a meal ticket from the machine at the front of the store, I went for a basic Ramen that cost maybe 800 yen (about $8). I found a seat at the counter and gave my ticket to the hostess who proceeded to give it to the chef. It was busy that day but it was really cool to be able to watch the chefs at work catering to the customers.

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When the chef brought me my food, I couldn’t believe the size of the bowl. It was huge and I already knew that I wouldn’t be able to finish it. It was really tasty all the flavors mixed in my mouth perfectly, it wasn’t until I was almost finished that I remembered I never took a picture of it.

After lunch, my group headed back to the meeting point and the students were on their way to Enoshima.

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Enoshima is an Island, the island has a couple shrines, some restaurants, some parks, an observation tower and a few other tourist attractions. We ended up getting there by taking a tunnel path, which came out and turned into a couple bridges next to each other, one bridge was for pedestrians and the other for vehicles, love how they made it so no one would get hurt.

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Walking across the bridge, seeing artists selling their stuff and some playing music they wore towels on their heads. There were also palm trees lining the way, as someone who comes from a city where you rarely see palm trees, that alone was amazing. It was so mesmerizing I took so many pictures.

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Coming up to Enoshima, there was a road with all these stores and shops along it and a small seating area right off of the bridge. The road had an incline, I could feel the sense of walking up a hill the further I went down it, we then stopped at a Shinto srine, as we proceeded we found ourselves at Enoshima Temple.

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I find Japanese shrines and temples so pretty, they look like each other but each temple has its own feel. This one I felt like I had stepped into another world. The main part was called Hetsunomiya and there was a grass wheel sculpture called a Chinowa that is told to purify you if you walk through it, which we all did. I actually could feel the energies surrounding me walking around this place.

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There was so much more to explore and experience. During this trip, the teachers also taught us how to correctly worship at the shrine. They let us choose if we wanted to do so, of course I did.

The first thing you do is throw a coin into the offertory box; the coin could be anything from a 5-yen coin to a 500 yen coin depending on what you believe you should offer. I think I ended up using a 10-yen coin.

Next you will bow twice and then clap twice.

Once you have done that you will recite your wish or prayer in your mind. I believe mine was simple; to enjoy my time in Japan, explore as much as I can, and gain many amazing memories that I can share with others. Memories that I will fondly tell about for years to come. I have to say though, based on all of my Japan experiences this wish / prayer has indeed come true.

Once you have finished reciting the prayer, you will bow once more and be on your way.

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We continued walking and came across a flower garden and even a platform where you can stand and look down to see how high you were from where you started. There were also fountains and sculptures and so much more. There were even some ruins that we were able to explore, now that was really cool!

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We soon found ourselves at the Enoshima Sea Candle, which was the name of the observatory. Everyone received their tickets to go to the observatory and up we went. The staircases were kind of narrow and I did feel nervous about going up further but I gathered my courage and followed my classmates up to the top. I remember that there was one student who was so nervous she just couldn’t go up with the rest of us, so one of the teachers stayed with her until someone else came down. I have to say though, the views I had from that observatory, seeing everything surrounding it, it was absolutely stunning. I could see so far!

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I’m not sure how long we spent in that observatory before the teachers asked us to gather up so we could proceed. We were toured through the rest of that area where we saw more sculptures and other parts of the shrine. There was actually one part that had a turtle pained on the top of a gazebo (I guess) looking down, the coolest thing about this turtle was that any place you stood the turtle was looking at you, it was an optical illusion.

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We started to go down hill from there, but every centimeter of this place had something amazing to see. There was a bridge that went over the stone pathway we were walking down and my first words when I saw it was: “That is very Japanese, it’s awesome!”.

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It was getting late and the area was about to close so everyone had to proceed back to the road with all of the stores on either side. Once we got there we split off into groups again some students decided to go shopping some wanted to get a bite to eat, as for me W and Z, we decided just to stop for ice cream which they were selling near the seating area. I ended up getting one that was a chocolate and sakura flavored soft cream twist and that was very tasty. We sat on the benches and waited for the shoppers to return.

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Once everyone was gathered up again, we headed toward Enoshima station to catch the Enoden again, our next stop would be our Ryokan (Japanese Style Inn), I’ll save that for another article.

Thank you for reading. Until next time, keep adventuring!

Hareruya (晴れる屋) 

1 Chome-8-33

Katasekaigan, Fujisawa-shi, Kanagawa-ken

〒251-0035, Japan

Enoshima (江の島)

Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture

〒251-0036, Japan

Enoshima Sky Candle

2 Chome−3−3番地28

Enoshima, Fujisawa-shi, Kanagawa-ken,

〒251-0036 , Japan

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Adventure In Japan: Hanami and Cat Cafe

Visited: April 20, 2016

Hanami Location: Shinjuku Park

Cat Café: Calico Cat Café

 

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At this point in my adventure, I had been attending school for almost two weeks. As someone who considers themselves as more of an introvert, I hadn’t really bonded as fast with my classmates compared to others; that has usually taken longer for me. When we did partner work I would be the one who would work with the only other person who didn’t chose a partner. I usually found myself with this girl from Beijing (who I’ll call M) who became one of my closer friends. She was a sweetheart. M gave me a little teddy bear one day when I had an anxiety attack over a test I bombed, I still have it.

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In Japan, April is the season of Cherry Blossom (also known as Sakura) blooming. Cherry blossoms, for you who don’t know, are a pink or white flower. There are several different types of Cherry blossoms, many have five petals there are some that have up to twenty petals on one flower. Japanese people will gather up family and friends and have a picnic under these cherry blossom trees, they call this Hanami.

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Hanami when written in Japanese is 花見. It uses the Japanese characters for “flower” and “to see” so it’s literal meaning is “Flower Seeing” (Flower Viewing). So, people will appreciate the beauty of the cherry blossoms surrounding them. The thing about cherry blossoms though, their blooming season is very short only about one or two weeks so you should catch them quickly. Once their season is over, the petals will fall off the trees. You also should never pick a flower right from the tree, although catching a petal while it flutters in the air is ok. I had fun trying to catch a petal in the air, it took time but it was so worth it.

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One of the things I love about Japan, is how much importance they put on just appreciating nature. They celebrate every single season as well as each part of the season, there are festivals for almost everything. Japan also has parks everywhere; play parks, nature parks and even river parks. As someone who grew up spending the days playing outside, in parks, and going camping, I learned to appreciate nature (and how to survive in it, that’s a different story). Seeing a country that celebrates it like Japan, was refreshing compared to the litter I see in parks where I’m from. Where I’m from, you mention that you are going to a festival that celebrates the Cherry Blossoms and some people will look at you and say “What? Why?” while others would complement how pretty they look when they are in bloom. At least that was my experience in my home city when the History Museum first introduced their own Hanami (four years ago).

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Anyways, so the teachers in my school took their classes on a trip to Shinjuku Park. We met up at the entrance of the park and everyone had to pay about 200 yen (about $2) to go into the park for the Cherry Blossoms. Then they all had us sit down behind our teacher in two rows and one of the other teachers started us off with some games.

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We played the one where you put your head on the top of a baseball bat and spin around until you get dizzy then proceed to run to the other end and back. I participated in this one and it was so much fun! There were some other games: the egg on a spoon game, and a mini version of a “pass the baton” game. I’m sure there were more, those are just the ones I remember. I also recall that they wouldn’t let the same person do more than one game at a time because they wanted the whole class to participate. It was funny it was me, another American W, a Malaysian J and a Korean D who were the four who wanted to participate in all the games. They only allowed us to participate in one or two, so everyone in the class got a chance.

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After the games the teachers would take their classes and find a place where they could sit under the cherry blossoms. My teacher had brought us a bunch of inexpensive snacks from the convenience store. Some of the snacks she had enough for everyone to have one while others we shared. This was the first time I was introduced to the awesome 10-yen snack ($0.10) Umaibo (うまいぼ).

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Umaibo is pretty much a six-inch-long cheese puff, it also comes in a variety of other flavors but the cheese flavor is my favorite. These snacks are one of a variety snacks dubbed as “Dagashi”, which are a Japanese version of Penny Candy. These snacks and candies come in a variety of textures with fun and colorful packaging. Other Dagashi snacks include: Fruit No Mori (fruit gummies), and Whistle Ramune (looks like a lifesaver but if you blow through the center it makes a whistling sound, flavored like the Japanese soda Ramune), Tirol Choco (bite sized chocolate pieces), Sakura Daikon (a type of pickle piece that’s pink), Choco Bat (chocolate version of Umaibo), Kyabetsu Taro (corn ball snack flavored with seaweed and okonomiyaki sauce), and Baby Star Ramen (fried noodle snack) among others.

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So, we ate snacks, took pictures, and my classmates chatted amongst themselves some in their own languages. I spent more time taking pictures of the cherry blossoms and exploring the park. Shinjuku park was huge and it would take much longer to explore every single trail. I met up with some of the other Americans (who were in other classes) and we hung out for a little bit.

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By the end of the day (it was the park’s closing time), the teachers gathered their classes up again, did a head count and lead us out of the park. Then once we exited she did one more headcount and then let us be on our ways. I ran into some of the students from the other classes some of them wanted to go for food while some of them wanted to go to a Cat Café. Both groups ended up asking me to join them, but I decided to go to the Cat Café.

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Tokyo itself has a lot of different themed cafes from Maid Cafes to Cat Cafes to Robot Cafes and many others. These types of Cafes can be expensive depending on the type (I have heard that some maid cafes charge you for just sitting at a table, haven’t been to one yet though). They are fun though and Cat Cafes are common.

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The cat café we went to was pretty cool, it in Shinjuku and it took up the 5th and 6th floors of a building. We entered in on the 6th floor, but the 5th floor had a wall of Manga as well as a little eating area. We had to remove our outdoor shoes and put on slippers to go into the Cat Café, it made it feel homier. In Japan everyone takes off their outdoor shoes before entering their houses and sometimes public places such as certain restaurants (I went to a Japanese Style restaurant were I had to do this) and Cat Cafes.

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I tried getting some of the cats to play with me but I guess they were just sick of humans by that point (it was almost closing time). I did have one that kept following me around but when I turned my attention to him, he walked away HAHA. I have to admit I was nervous about entering this place full of cats because, In the past, I have had reactions to cat dander, surprisingly though, I was fine here.

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So that was that day, I had a blast at the Hanami. I remember that I picked Spring Semester because I wanted to see the Japanese Cherry blossoms. I’m glad I chose this as my first Japan trip. Until next time, keep adventuring.

 

Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden (新宿御苑)

11 Naitomachi, Shinjuku, Tokyo

〒160-0014 Japan

 

Calico Cat Café (きゃりこ猫カフェ)

1 Chome-6-2 6F

Kabukicho, Shinjuku, Tokyo

〒160-0021, Japan

Adventure in Japan: Pokémon Center

Visited: April 16, 2016

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Pokémon, such a big part of my childhood. I was in Elementary School when they first came about in the United States. I played the games on Gameboy. My siblings and I only had one Gameboy between the four of us, so there were arguments to who could play. I think my mom would give us an hour each on it. As I got older it was just me who would collect the games.

I remember spending a lot of money on the card packs and base decks of the trading card game. I would play the trading card game with my siblings and my neighborhood friends, always in good fun. I had a couple friends at school who played The Trading Card game so we would often show our cards to each other and have battles on our breaks at school. Well there was me and three other guys, the rest of our class thought we were weird. I have grown out of the card game since then, maybe it was because I could never “Collect Them All”. I still have my old cards though, they are stored away in a box.

Even though I have grown up, Pokémon still has me reminiscent of childhood.

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I always knew that Japan had a few Pokémon Centers; and when I first made the decision to study abroad, the Pokémon Center was one of those “must visit” places.

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It was the Saturday after our first week of classes, me and one of my dormmates decided to go to one of the Pokémon Centers together, located in a mall called Sunshine City. It was about a 45-minute train ride (including one transfer) from our dorm building.

When we got off the train, we noticed that Higashi Ikebukuro Station had an underground walkway that connected the station to Sunshine City, so that was a plus!

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Being our first time navigating the place on our own, it was challenging we both took a picture of the map right before Sunshine City. We just had to follow the signs that pointed us in the direction of the Pokémon Mega Center.

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Stepping foot into the place we noticed it was a bit crowded, not surprising on a Saturday though. We were surrounded by so much merchandise that we weren’t quite sure where to go first. The two of us decided to go counter clockwise just to explore and see what they had and where things were. I took so many pictures because it was just so exciting.

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As A and I walked around I started picking things up off the shelf, trying to figure out what I was getting for my siblings and me. I was also shopping for a Canadian friend of mine who’s birthday was coming up. I picked up a few things for my siblings and friend.

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After we finished up with the Pokémon Center, A and I decided to explore Sunshine City a bit more, just to see what other stores they had. A ended up stopping in a lot of the clothing stores and I just held things for her and helped her decide what she should get. I stopped in a Stationary store to find a card for my Canadian friend.

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A was getting tired so we decided just to head back to our dorm after a few hours of exploring. We each bought a few more things from the Mall so it was a successful trip. I actually did want to go back to Sunshine City to explore it a bit more but I didn’t get a chance to (there were just too many other places I wanted to explore while I was in Japan).

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サンシャインシティ/ SunShine City

Japan, 〒170-0013 Tokyo, Toshima, Higashiikebukuro, 3 Chome−1−2

Adventure in Japan: My Adventure Bag

Japan is a safer country than where I live in The United States; the public transportation system in Japan is more convenient than where I’m from as well. Those two factors at hand and my love for exploring and adventures has made places around Japan accessible for me. I don’t have a driver’s license so I must depend on a friend or public transport to take me places. In Japan, not having a license isn’t a bad thing because of convenient trains, subways and buses.

I grew up in a home where I was always taught to prepare for anything from making sure I had all my school supplies to a zombie apocalypse (don’t ask, it’s my dad). With all my experience in mind, I came up with a general “adventure bag” while I went on my adventures in Japan. Obviously, depending how long I would be away and where I was going, things might change. I found myself on day trips rather than weekend adventures (I only was on two of those) often.

Many people just bring their wallet and a phone when they go places which are both extremely important. So of course, I bring those with me, but I always carry a backpack so I put things inside of that. So, let’s continue shall we.

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Wallet (includes money, and ID)

Cellphone and portable charger as well as regular cellphone charger (some places have charging stations while others don’t)

Pasmo card (a refillable card that is used in Japan to pay for public transport as well as buying things from vending machines, my best investment ever!)

Portable Wifi and charger (I bought one to use with my cellphone so I don’t use up my data while checking my Google maps every 5 minutes)

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The ‘Kit’ (includes a travel medi kit with bandaids, antibiotic ointment and alcohol wipes, Tums, Advil, Dramamine, Eve A, fever patches, salonpas, tissues, hair bands, a headband and bobby pins that can also be used for other things, a comb, feminine products, and bug bite gel since bugs seem to like me)

My glasses and contact lens supplies (since I switch up depending how I feel)

A sweatshirt (technically not in the bag, if I’m not using it, it gets tied around my waist)

A small umbrella (hard to see, it’s black but it’s there)

A notebook (to write down my adventures when I have the chance)

Writing supplies (in the Ziploc bag: two pens, two mechanical pencils, two highlighters, an eraser and extra lead for the pencils)

A Japanese Phrasebook (Yes I understand some Japanese but I’m far from fluent, the phrasebook helps me out when I need it.)

Baby wipes (good for cleaning things up, work better than napkins)

A hand towel (Not all public bathrooms in Japan have paper towels)

A book (not pictured, but I always must carry one)

Some quick portable snacks (not pictured, they change each time though because I love my snacks)

Some type of drink (not pictured, sometimes I have two depending on the weather, hydration is important)

A plastic bag (not pictured, used for trash, usually comes with my snacks and drinks)

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It seems a bit excessive for some people but I wanted to always be prepared. My friends sometimes tease me about it because I always carry this and my one buddy, I’ll call “W”, has started calling it a ‘Survival Kit’.  I find that hilarious since that is pretty much what it is, I just call it “Adventure Bag” instead. But I have had friends ask me for something if they needed it; I remember giving one friend medicine for their headache and another one was eating and got it all over their hands so I gave them some of the baby wipes.

Even with all of that in one bag I still make sure I have room for things I may buy when I get to my destination, such as souvenirs if it’s a tourist attraction. Or if I’m with a friend who didn’t bring a bag and needed something to be stashed away until we get back home.

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If there is a case where I would be gone longer than a day, such as a weekend trip somewhere, my small bag will be traded out for my bigger bag. The bigger one will include the list, a small blanket folded up, toothbrush and toothpaste and one or two “Skivvy Rolls”. (Note: these rolls have been called a variety of things such as clothes pack, clothes tube and army rolls.)

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A Skivvy roll is when you roll up a t-shirt, extra underwear and extra socks into a compact roll sometimes these rolls can include a pair of shorts or pants. This roll can be stashed in a bag and doesn’t take up much room. Usually people who are in the military or scouts will learn how to make these, they are quite simple and easy. Skivvy rolls are good for camping or weekend trips. You can find videos on Youtube about how to make one if you aren’t sure.

So that is what I have in my adventure bag, now I’m ready for my next adventure!

Adventure in Japan: My Dorm

Lived there: April 7, 2016 to June 24, 2016

First, instead of pictures, I have a video I made my second night in Japan.

 

When I applied to KCP International through their website, I was given a few options: Pay for the semester and find own accommodations, pay for the semester and a dorm room, and pay for the school and homestay.

As someone who had never been to Japan before, I didn’t want to have to find my own accommodations mostly because I wasn’t sure how to rent an apartment and having a room in a hostel made me too nervous as it was, so, I decided that this time, finding my own place wasn’t the best idea.

The idea of homestay was interesting but it was also the most expensive option and it would mean I wouldn’t have as much freedom to do the exploring I really wanted to do. I thought that maybe homestay might be fun for a weekend, but, I didn’t want to spend a whole semester in someone else’s home.

That left the last option, dorming. I decided for this first time to Japan, the dorm would be my best bet. I originally opted for a dorm that had a meal plan to save myself some food costs, but a dorm with a meal plan wasn’t available for this semester. I was a little disappointed but when they told me what the dorm they were putting me in consisted of, I was a bit happier.

The dorm didn’t have a meal plan but I had my own private bathroom and a balcony, those two things made up for it. I could make my own food, no problem. The building was a five minute walk from Kasai Station in Edogawa which helped my commute time to school. The area I was living in was very nice within a few blocks I could reach a 7 Eleven, a grocery store, a 100 yen store, a hospital and some restaurants. There was also a shrine not too far away so it was quite nice.

I didn’t have to search out the place myself, one of the KCP staff members I met with at the airport took me and two other students on a bus and at the bus stop the owner of the building picked us up and drove us there. The owner was a cheery and nice Ojiisan, he showed us what to do with our trash and then brought us to each of our rooms. He gave us two keys, one to get in the building and the other to get in our room. The fact that he treated us like adults made me happy. I was worried about how the dorm would be. I ended up loving it.

It had the necessities: a bed, a closet/dresser, some other storage spaces, a desk, a single burner, a kitchen sink, a mini fridge, toilet, bathroom sink and a shower/tub combo. I later added a small table and a coffee maker.

Because I was in Japan, most days I would just use my dorm to eat and sleep and spend the rest of my time exploring. A small place like this was good for a single person with an adventurous spirit. Of course, there were a few days I just wanted to relax so I spent it there. I didn’t have a TV, but I had my laptop and wifi so I was able to find a website that played Japanese TV shows live. It did make it a challenge for those times I wanted to multitask but I managed.

There were times when I would lie in my bed and just listen to the sounds outside. The first thing I noticed was Japanese crows sound so much different than American ones, so do ambulance sirens. I wasn’t living on a busy street but there was one a few blocks away much like my parents’ house in the United States. Just listening to these sounds while I was in Japan made me feel, excited that feeling you get when you just know.

“Yes, I’m supposed to be here”

I knew I only had a few months in Japan and I wanted to make the best of it. Explore as much as I could. This semester studying abroad would be the determining factor, if I decided I wanted to live here for longer at some point. Thinking back to those days, I know I would like to live in Japan again, I just need to save up more money to do so.

Adventure In Japan: My School

Attended for One Semester: April 11, 2016 to June 23, 2016

When I went to Japan the first time, I decided to study abroad for a semester. It was a challenge to find a school that would accept someone who already graduated college until an ad for this school came up while I was researching study abroad options.

KCP International was the school. It was an intensive Japanese study program. The classes were all in Japanese, they had tests almost every day on different aspects of the language, and there was always homework. I went through the American program where I paid the school for the tuition, my dorm and my schoolbooks out of pocket.

I had spent years saving up money because it was my dream to go to Japan and I didn’t want to take out more loans. I already had enough to pay off as it was. This study abroad option seemed like my best option for my first time in Japan. It was longer than two weeks (the average amount of time for someone to visit), but I also didn’t have to worry about working for a year and had a chance to study, explore, make friends, and enjoy myself.

My Transfer station Otemachi

I remember the first few days we started taking the trains to school we had a senior student (who lived in our area) help us navigate the train system. He met us at Kasai station and we hopped on the Tozai line (the only line at that station) and waited until the Otemachi station stop. Now Otemachi station was pretty big and was a maze to navigate but the senior student (or “Sempai” as they are called in Japanese) helped us through it. I still remember I got lost at that station twice during my first few weeks going to school on my own. We had to get on the Marunouchi line and ride that until Shinjukugyoen-Mae station which was the stop closest to school. From there, we walked about 6 minutes down a side street until we got to the block the school was on

English speaking Orientation, yes I was the one who drew 3 out of 4 of the pictures on the board. The Sensei drew the last one.

English speaking students had orientation the weekend after the students had arrived (Most of us arrived on April 7th, 2016). We were given a run down on what the school was, what they did and we had a tour of the school and were introduced to our English-speaking advisers; who were very nice.

KCP International was about 7 floors tall and the building was squished between two other buildings (normal in Tokyo). The first floor was the entrance and the teacher’s office, the second floor was the library, the lounge and a classroom off of the lounge.

This was my birthday party in the school lounge. I didn’t expect them to do this for me, but it was awesome!

The lounge itself was pretty big, it had several tables and chairs for eating lunch a table alongside the wall that had a few computers on it, and four vending machines: one was an ice cream vending machine, the second was different snacks and foods such as onigiri and sandwiches, the third and fourth were both for drinks: tea, water, sodapop, one machine actually had a row that was heated and had small cans of coffee and when you bought them the coffee came out warm, INGENEOUS! The third, fourth, and fifth floors were full of classrooms along a narrow hallway. The sixth floor was the assembly room (and I think two classrooms) the seventh floor was one big Japanese style room was used for Tea Ceremony and Koto (Japanese harp). The building also had a basement with the health room, an art room, and a dance room along with two more drinks vending machines. As well as a bicycle parking area for students who had them.

The Auditorium during Spring 2016 Orientation

Orientation lead into the Japanese Level test so they could figure out which class to put us in (levels 1-7), it was timed and once time was up they collected the tests and the teachers all looked them over and then we were called in for interviews. On my test my reading and writing were at level 3, but my listening skills were level 1. These scores likely resulted from me self-teaching myself Japanese, because I learned from books and taking notes, my reading and writing was a higher level. The downside of self-teaching was not having someone to listen or practice with which makes sense with my low listening level.

The interviewer bounced between putting me in level 2 or level 1, in the end I decided that it would be best for me to work on my listening skills so I chose to start at level 1. In the end, I was glad that I chose level 1 because my classmates turned into some of the most awesome people I knew.

My Classmates (two are missing from the picture, one was sick the day this was taken, and the other wasn’t ever in class anyway)

Anyways we started classes the following Monday, that morning I decided to stop by both of my schoolmates dorm rooms so we could all go to school together, since we were still learning how to navigate Tokyo’s Metro system. As the days went on, the three of us started just going to school on our own.

My class started at 1:30pm and ended at 4:45pm every day I was in school, which left my mornings open to do what I needed to do.

I always woke up around 8:30 am so I could Skype my mom and sister every morning (it was 7:30pm in New York). We would talk anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour, this was my connection to them. After that, I would usually eat some breakfast, straighten my dorm up, change, brush my teeth, finish any unfinished homework from the night before and go shopping if I needed to. If I had time I would play around on my computer. Usually by 11 to 11:30am I would hop on the train to go to school. I usually found myself studying or sleeping on the train. I would eat lunch and study more in the lounge until about 1:15pm when I would go up to the 4th floor and sit in my classroom.

Waiting for class to start.

Classes would start promptly at 1:30pm (Japanese are known for their punctuality). We would greet the sensei (“Teacher” in Japanese), and then she or he would have us recite the day, date and time in Japanese then we would proceed to organize our desks in a U shape (usually four desks would stay in the middle because the classroom was small). Although if we were having a test or quiz we would keep the desks in their four rows. Quizzes and tests were usually on a time limit of 15 to 20 minutes, which for me was a challenge because when I was in American school I would often need more time on tests and quizzes (I have ADHD and Anxiety), it was something to get used to. Anyways, usually the desks being put into U shape was followed by a review from the last class, and then we would go into the next lesson in our books. When May came around we started our Kanji books and would usually do two pages of Kanji as well. Then the rest of the class was a mix of group work and working by ourselves. If we did workbook pages, we would always go over the answers in class right after we finished up the pages; sometimes we would write on the board and other times we would just repeat it out loud if we were wrong the Sensei and fellow classmates would correct us. This was quite helpful. We would always get a 15-minute break around 3pm, where we would eat or start our homework before going back at 3:15pm.

The lessons always depended on which Sensei you had that day. We had three different Senseis with differing teaching styles.

The first Sensei, who was also the Tan’nin of my class A1-3 (“teacher in charge”, think of this Sensei as the “homeroom teacher” that’s what I ended up doing), was the one my class had on Mondays and Wednesdays. She was such a sweetheart and I loved having her as a teacher, she had such a fun and cute personality. Me and my classmate Z ran into her one day while out and about and I said “Konbanwa, Kudou-Sensei!” (Good Evening Kudou Teacher!). And she turned around and replied with “Ah! Konbanwa!” she proceeded to ask what me and Z were doing, so we answered her and then we went our separate ways.

The second Sensei was a guy, he was cool and was always telling jokes and coming up with games for us to do. He was a lot of fun, I distinctly remember talking about Anime with him because he was into Anime and Manga which my whole class quickly learned. He was the Sensei we had on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The third Sensei was another woman, we had her on Fridays and yes she was nice but was more straightforward with teaching and was a lot stricter than the other two Sensei. This sensei wasn’t popular with my class, one of my classmates used to disagree with her a lot. But, this Sensei did help me and another classmate out with our speaking and listening before school on Wednesdays, since that was our weakness. I did appreciate the extra help. She also got me through one of my stress meltdowns after school one day.

In the end, I couldn’t choose a favorite Sensei, I liked all three of them.

When we first introduced ourselves to the class, I was nervous. In the past making friends wasn’t my strong point, I’m an introvert to be honest. So I kept my distance for the most part. Half my class were from South Korea, the other half were from China and then there was a girl from Singapore, a guy from Taiwan, two students from Malaysia and then me and one other American. Most of the class didn’t speak English, one of the students from Malaysia (also spoke Chinese), the girl from Singapore (also spoke Chinese), one of the girls from China (also spoke Chinese) and then me and the other American were the only ones in the class. At first we were often drawn to working with each other (as were the Korean speakers with Korean speakers and Chinese speakers with Chinese speakers). Then our teachers started mixing us up which was good since we were forced to speak Japanese to each other. My other classmates seemed to bond pretty quickly over the first few weeks of school, I took a little longer because well, me.

I noticed that spending 5 days a week and 3 hours a day with these people as well as being a team when the school had sports days and field trips, I started feeling like I was in an Anime School Story. Which is one of the things that I was looking foreword to, because in American school (well in my case), I never really had that type of bond with my classmates that I always saw characters have in Anime. And experiencing that was an amazing thing. I loved the feeling of my classmates clapping when a student finally understood something that they had a problem with.

GO RED TEAM! This was my relay tag for Sports Day.

The cheers during sports days when they would say:

“GANBATTE CHRIS-SAN!” (Good luck Chris! / Do your best Chris!)

When I was chosen for the relay part of the School Sports day (and then I got a lot of complements about how fast I was, which made me feel empowered). On top of that, we would sometimes visit places together.

This kind of stuff was the first time I experienced the Anime School bond is a real thing in Japan and not just part of the storyline for the show. Japan is also known for their stress on working as a team and it showed a lot during my time there with my classmates.

Dance Club! The girl in front in the Navy Blue dress and white boots was also in my class, she was out sick the day we took the class picture.

During the second or third week of school we were allowed to sign up for club activities. I wanted to do something that I hadn’t really done much of before but have always wanted to, so I joined Dance club. The girl who was the president was a 5th level student who also spoke English and Chinese. I ended up joining the club with my classmate Z, I also ran into two other American students I had met before. Along with that there were a couple of other students that I met through the club.

I had a blast in dance club, I have always liked dancing for fun but I had never been all that coordinated when it came to it. Doing this one day a week every week helped that coordination. We put on a performance the last week of classes as well which was a lot of fun!

Overall, I did enjoy my semester at KCP International, I wish I could have been there longer than one semester. Unfortunately, as I was trying not to take out more loans, I could only afford one [Semester] out of pocket.

Empty classroom after everyone left.

Adventure in Japan: Communicating with Family

I love my family even if they can be crazy and frustrating sometimes. I am the oldest child of four, my parents have been together since before I was born. I consider myself lucky. My parents always made sure to be there for us and I can talk about anything with my mom (and I mean anything). My siblings and I are close in age as well; the range between me and my youngest sibling is almost 5 years (4 years 11 months 17 days if you want exact). We always played together and got along for the most part. Today, we still get along, although there are always those frustrating moments that anyone with a sibling could relate.

So communicating with my family was important to me. I had researched prices and ways I could do that while being halfway across the world. There were a few options: I could get a Japanese phone. I could also look into an international plan from my phone provider. The last option was to roam and use WiFi, but that last option was too expensive.

I remember when I went to my phone provider to ask about the international plan; the options they gave me weren’t enough, that was when customer service suggested that I should buy a Japanese sim card instead.

So I decided to do some research on international data cards. I discovered that, if you have an unlocked phone you can easily switch out your old sim card for an international card. The cell phone I had just bought, had come unlocked out of the box. So I decided that it would be my best option.

I went to amazon.com and found a 90-day Japanese Travel Sim card under the name Yokoso and it was almost $40.00. So I ordered it off of Amazon and received it a week later.

It was a data only Sim card. This meant I could only use applications such as Internet, Skype, Facebook and WhatsApp. As long as I could communicate with my family, that was all I needed.

When I arrived at Narita Airport that day in April, and met up with the people from my school that was when I decided to switch out my sim card. I remember being nervous at first because I couldn’t find the Nano sim and I had thought I had bought the wrong one. I did find the correct sim card, and was finally able to switch the card out. The pack the card came in also included activation instructions that were quite easy to follow. My new phone provider was now DoCoMo.

Before I left for Japan, my mom and I had talked about the best time to Skype each other. The time difference between my hometown and Tokyo was 13 hours, half a day, during spring and summer (fall and winter it changes to 14 hours). The time we agreed on was 8:30 am – 9 am Tokyo time, which meant it would be 7:30 to 8 pm in my hometown.

I called my mom most mornings, but once in a while one of us was too busy so we didn’t get the chance. Along with my mom, my sister sometimes joined us for video chat. I would use the WhatsApp Instant messaging program for any other time I wanted to talk to them. Although it was quite a challenge, I was happy that I could keep in touch.

It was my first time actually being so far away from my family, surprising right? I went to New York City for a weekend in high school but this time I was 6,485 miles away and I would be away for three months. I remember on the plane I started missing them so I was quite happy when I finally got to talk to my mom.

The first few weeks were tough and kind of lonely at times. I did do my best to communicate with my classmates and the students in my dorm so I wouldn’t feel as lonely. As the days went on being away from my mom, dad, siblings and dog I started to get used to it but I always looked forward to any time I was able to talk to them.

 

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