Category: Japan (page 1 of 3)

The Small Coastal Town of Iwami: One of Japan’s Hidden Treasures

Author: Kate Mitchell

Location: Iwami, Iwami-Gun, Tottori, Japan

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

I had never heard of Iwami until my friend, Katie, mentioned it to me. It was a small town in Tottori prefecture along the coastline. It was near a place I’ve always wanted to visit, Hokuei, but now close enough for me to know about. She wanted to visit the small town because it inspired the setting of one of her favorite anime, Free! For her, the trip was a pilgrimage through the locations in the anime. I had never seen it, so I felt like I had no reason to go, but then she told me that Iwami was also home to beaches, hidden shrines and a national geopark. Suddenly, my interest was peaked and decided that I wanted to tag along and go to the little town of Iwami. When I say little, I’m not exaggerating either. Japan is facing a depopulation problem and in Iwami, you can tell. Most people we passed by were elderly and we only saw a handful of young people during our day and a half stay there. There are only a few convenience stores which for Japan was extremely weird. I’m used to having three different convenience store chains in every direction I turn. Iwami was a very different place from where I lived in Hirakata.

When studying abroad, it’s important to go out and explore not just the culture you’re living in, but also the environment. Iwami contains a UNESCO geopark which means it has protected areas of rocky cliffs and beaches which you can walk along for miles. Rocks jutted from the ocean, forming small islands for birds to relax on. Some of the rocks formed tall, craggy cliffs that I probably shouldn’t have stood as close to as I did. The waves crashed across the rocks, creating some of the most picturesque photos I’d ever taken. Some areas of the geopark allowed you to walk along the beach and the rocks, which required a whole lot of stairs down to the beach. Katie and I climbed along the rocks into the sea to catch a glimpse of the fantastic view and hopefully some fish. While I didn’t get to see any fish, the sights were stunning and we took plenty of pictures. However, I did cut my hand on the climb back, so when you’re going exploring while studying abroad, always make sure to bring some band-aids and always go with a buddy. If something does happen, you want someone to be there in case you need help.

Over the course of the entire day, we walked 10 miles through rice fields, mountains and more. Another big tip I have for studying abroad is to bring a good pair of shoes. You’ll find yourself doing a lot of walking because you can’t stop exploring or you’re too cheap to pay for transportation if you can walk instead. I fall into both of these categories, so I definitely get my exercise in every day. A good pair of shoes (and socks too) will keep your feet and body from hurting and help you get through the day. I recommend buying them before going abroad, so you can guarantee you get a pair that’s the right size and style for your feet. Preparing little quality of life things like a good pair of shoes before you study abroad can really help the experience be a lot smoother, so you can spend more time having fun and less time with sore feet!

Hokuei: The Home of Japan’s Favorite Little Detective

Author: Kate Mitchell

Location: Hokuei, Tohaku-Gun, Tottori, Japan

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

When you’re studying abroad, it’s important to do something really memorable. Something you thought you’d never be able to do or see, but now you can. For me, that was visiting Hokuei (also known as Detective Conan town) in Tottori Prefecture. I bet you probably have never heard of the town or Detective Conan, so here’s a bit of background. Detective Conan, also known in America as Case Closed, is a Japanese mystery anime and manga series that’s been running for over 25 years. The series is a Japanese cultural icon and a personal favorite of mine. The town, Hokuei, is Detective Conan’s author, Gosho Aoyama, hometown. The town is decked out in Detective Conan buildings, shops and merchandise. I’ve wanted to visit it for the past five years, but never thought I would have the chance. But a friend and I decided to make a weekend trip visting the town and other places in Tottori prefecture where the town is located. So let me take you on a tour of the town that was a dream come true!

My friend, Katie, and I arrived at the station around noon and I couldn’t contain my smiles when I saw it. The entire station was Detective Conan themed, complete with the theme song and everything. Outside the station was a statue of the titular character, Conan, who I immediately took a picture with. Statues of other characters from the show lead us down the street and towards a beautiful bridge. The bridge crossed over a stunning river. Most rivers in Japan are absolutely breathtaking and well-taken care of and this river was no exception. On the other side were a group of buildings all dedicated to Conan. One was a gift shop and another a delicious gelato store! There was also a café and restaurant all named after places in the series. The little details put into the buildings really made me happy.

My favorite part of the trip was the Gosho Aoyama Manga Factory. It was a museum dedicated to the series with lots of fun mystery solving games, character statues and a nice gift shop. We were able to try out detective tricks from the series and play with some of Conan’s gadgets. The best part was the section on how manga is made. It’s a long process that requires tons of drawing, editing, and drawing again. I never realized how much work went into creating my favorite manga. The museum ended up being the perfect spot for a Detective Conan nerd like me. And even Katie, who had never read or watched Detective Conan, found the place super cool. Before we left, we wrote on some post-it notes and stuck them on a board filled with them to leave our mark. We were some of the few English speakers that had come to the museum that year, so our notes were extra special!

After the first day in my three-day trip, I was exhausted. We did tons of walking, had taken plenty of pictures, and spent probably a little too much money. But we had to hop on the train to our next location, Iwami, located along the coast of Japan. Weekend trips like this are always super fun, but it’s important not to forget that while studying abroad, you still have your responsibilities as a student. The Tuesday after I would get back, I had a midterm exam for one of my classes. To prepare, I bought a ring of flashcards and wrote everything I needed to know for my exam on them. Since my notes were in a neat and rather small place, they were easy to bring on my trip to study on the go. I was able to study on the train and before bed. Don’t let studying stop you from exploring while studying abroad. There are lots of clever ways to do both at the same time!

Celebrating Setsubun at Iwashimizu Hachimangū in Japan

Author: Kate Mitchell

Location: Yawata, Kyoto, Japan

Pronouns: She/Her/Hers

On February 3rd, some friends and I traveled to Iwashimizu Hachimangū shrine located in Yawata city in Kyoto prefecture. The shrine is located at the top of a small mountain and to get there, you can either walk up the mountain or take a cable car run by the regional train company. We opted for the cable car and rode into the mountains while listening to the magical music and history of the shrine played during the ride. Once we reached the top of the mountain, we followed a path through a bamboo forest to discover a restaurant and several food trucks waiting for us before the shrine’s entrance. The entire day I had been craving a Japanese crepe and right in front of me was a pink food truck selling exactly that. I decided on a caramel banana crepe which was topped with whipped crème and a small jelly pawprint, the logo of the crepe company. It was a delicious treat to start the day!

Although the food was a pleasant surprise, we had actually come to Iwashimizu Hachimangū to celebrate Setsubun. I didn’t know anything about this holiday before coming to Japan, so I did some research before going to the shrine to learn all about it. Setsubun is about getting rid of bad luck and gaining good luck. The shrine’s priest pretended to shoot an arrow from a giant bow in this year’s unlucky directions to send out the bad luck. Shrine visitors could buy their own arrows and have them blessed by the local priestess for good luck. Another way to get rid of bad luck is for people to throw roasted soybeans at people dressed as demons to send the demons away. At Iwashimizu Hachimangū, the shrine’s priests and priestesses threw beans at a group of demons, sending them tumbling down the shrine’s steps in a silly fashion. From the side of the shrine, I could see a group of young priestesses watching the ceremony eagerly like schoolgirls. It was super cute! Once the demons were gone, the shrine threw bags of roasted soybeans into the crowd. Those who caught a bag are supposed to eat the beans for good luck. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to catch a bag, but I still think I have some good luck.

Later after the ceremony, my friends and I were approached by an elderly man and woman who were training to be English tour guides at Iwashimizu Hachimangū. They recognized us as foreigners and offered to give us a free tour of the shrine as training practice. We decided to take a tour with them around the shrine and its surrounding area. The shrine was surrounded by other small shrines all dedicated to different Shintō gods or kami although the main kami of Iwashimizu Hachimangū is Hachiman. The shrine is over a thousand years old and Japan’s three most important historical figures, Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu all contributed to building different parts of the shrine throughout history. We also saw a surprising American face! There was a memorial dedicated to Thomas Edison since he used bamboo filaments taken from the bamboo at Iwashimizu Hachimangū in his light bulb.

With most of the festivities finished, we decided to take a break and watch my friend, Katie, do one last Setsubun ritual. You’re supposed to eat a long maki roll in the year’s lucky direction all in one bite. While you eat it, everyone around you has to be silent. But the roll was so big Katie couldn’t finish it all in one bite and the rest of us couldn’t stop ourselves from laughing while she ate it. So she fed the rest of her roll to a cat who snuck up behind us. We got to play with the cat for a little bit before it disappeared into the bushes with its food to hide from the coming rain. We decided to do the same and take the train home before we got soaked!

For Incoming International Students

Author: Olivia Dausch

Location: Japan

Pronouns: They/Them

I had a lot of ideas for my final blog post. I decided on listing things I think would be beneficial for incoming international students. Some of these are things I wish I knew, and others are things I learned.

– Get a Speaking Partner

I was reluctant to get one at first, but having a speaking partner is definitely one of the best decisions I’ve made here. I was able to practice speaking Japanese regularly and I eventually got more confident in what I knew.

– Sign up for an Experience Japan event

Another fortunate decision I made early on was signing up for one of these events. The events might be different in the spring semester, but they should also be very enjoyable. You get to meet local and international students and have a fun day with them.

– Budget appropriately

One thing that definitely would have helped in the long run was budgeting my money. Since Valpo has an agreement with Kansai Gaidai, you are given around $2,000. Set aside whatever money you think you need for your whole trip and commit to using it only for groceries. That will still leave a lot for doing any travelling you would need. A lot of my friends were able to take trips to Tokyo and are still fine money-wise.

Also, one thing to be aware of is ATMs. If you want to take money out of your American bank account, unless you go to Aeon Mall, you will have to take out your money in $100 increments. At Aeon, it’s only $10 increments. Also, if you have Chase, there is a $5 fee for using a non-Chase ATM, as well as a conversion rate fee, which is usually less than a dollar. I don’t know if this applies for other banks but be careful.

– Carry cash

Japan is primarily a cash-based society. There are a lot of places that flat-out don’t accept card. Make it a habit to carry cash and you’ll be fine. Coins are substantial here, too. It will be a bit difficult to adjust, since America’s largest common coin is a quarter. The largest coin here is equivalent to $5, and the first bill starts at $10. Try to avoid spending bills first.

– Dress appropriately

Not only is there a different social standard for dress, as would be expected, but the weather is considerably warmer than at Valpo. It is the middle of December now and it has only gone below 40 degrees once or twice. Don’t hesitate to go shopping for clothes while you’re here, too. Be mindful of sizes, but most places have fitting rooms so you can see what works best for you. Generally, avoid low- cut shirts and dresses and you’ll be fine.

A lot of people here wear layers, regardless of the weather. Seeing someone, regardless of gender, wearing a cardigan, long sleeve shirt, beanie, and jeans is incredibly common, especially now that it’s colder. Keep an eye out for clothes you like. It’s hard to find something similar in America.

– Try new things

You’re in another country, so try to take it in as much as you can. You wouldn’t go to Italy for burgers and fries, right? Japan has a lot of foods that America simply doesn’t, so indulge in it. I was hesitant to try the different kinds of onigiri, and I usually picked either salmon or beef, which are on the more expensive side. I tried tuna mayonnaise on a whim, and it was honestly a surprisingly good choice. Mayonnaise is different here in Japan, so give it a try.

Also, convenience store food is definitely the best choice when you’re in a rush. Nothing is more than $5, and it’s usually not hard to find a favorite. It’s easy to pick up onigiri or bread up before class but be careful not to walk and eat. It’s generally frowned upon here.

– Lunch Break

Lunch break here is like Chapel Break at Valpo. The only difference is that everyone is free for an hour, so trying to get food is going to take a lot longer than usual no matter where you go. Avoid the cafeterias on both campuses, since everything is extremely crowded, and you might have to eat outside. Try getting your food before or after break or cook in the kitchen in the dorm.

– Go to class

I think this should be obvious but go to class. Kansai Gaidai has a lot of different classes than Valpo and it’s definitely worth it to see what they have in store. Classes here are 90 minutes long, but it goes fast if you’re interested in the topic. There are a lot of fun classes here, so it’s a bit hard to completely be bored.

Also, all Japanese classes are held in first period(9:00am) or second period (10:45) three days out of the week. I’m in 4a now, so my class is at 9:00 on Mondays and Fridays and at 10:45 on Tuesdays. Usually, none of the other classes are held during those times, but there are exceptions.

Classes are generally a lot easier here. I’m taking four classes (around 14 credits) and I only regularly have homework in one. For two, I write a response to whatever we read or watch, and the other is just readings. If you’re going to stay for two semesters, grades are especially important. If you fail a class, you won’t be able to stay for the second semester.

– Learn what you want

When learning a foreign language, one of the best ways to learn is to find something you want to say and learn how to say it. You will learn vocabulary, grammar, and sentence structure while doing it, and you’re able to say what you want. There’s almost no downside and it works for any language.

– Download LINE

LINE is a messenger app that’s really popular here. If people ask for your contact info, they usually ask for Facebook, Instagram, or LINE. It’s not a necessity, but I recommend it.

– Be prepared to walk (or bike) everywhere

In Japan, it’s usually not necessary to own a car. The station is about 15 minutes away walking and Nakamiya is about the same. There are a lot of rules around riding bikes, so I prefer walking. Either one you choose, be prepared to walk a lot.

– Be a little more outgoing

Especially if you’re a more reserved person, step out of your shell a bit. Take the chance to meet international friends. It’s going to be disappointing coming back to America and not being able to talk to anyone you met abroad.

Orientation week is the best time to form a group of friends, so take advantage of it. Once local students start classes and you start attending events, it will definitely be difficult to leave without at least one friend.

– Get an IC card

IC cards are basically train passes. They can be used all over Japan. If you’ve been in Chicago, it’s basically the same as the train passes there. It’s a reloadable card that functions as a train ticket. In Japan, these cards are used for even more as well. Some restaurants take them as payment and even some vending machines take them. They’re incredibly useful.

– Go wherever you can, but be safe

You’re not going to have a lot of fun if you just stick around Hirakata your whole time here. It’s incredibly easy to travel in Japan, so take advantage of it. Through the school alone, I was able to go to Kyoto, Nara, and Osaka. There are so many cool places a train ride away. You can even take a trip to another country. One of my classmates went to Thailand early in the semester.

Whatever you decide to do, be safe about it. Try to travel with someone. Japan may be one of the safest countries in the world, but things can still happen. Even if you just get lost, it’s easier to be lost with someone else. When my friend and I got lost in Osaka trying to find a music store, it was a lot easier to find our way with a barely-functioning Google Maps together than it would have alone. And, if nothing happens, you were able to hang out with a friend.

Going to Japan is going to be an amazing experience for you. Make the most of it and have a great time. Don’t forget to check in sometimes, but don’t worry about doing it constantly. Also, don’t forget to take pictures. There’s no better way to remember all the fun you had.

Living in Hirakata

Author: Olivia Dausch

Location: Hirakata, Japan

Pronouns: They/Them

In my first blog post, I said I wanted to explore more of Hirakata to see everything it has in store. I can definitely say that I learned a lot about this little city. It has a lot to offer, even though it doesn’t seem like much at first.

Hirakata has a lot of train stations, the largest one being Hirakata Station. It mostly gets express trains during the day, and local trains closer to midnight. Closer to campus, there is Gotenyama Station. It’s smaller and only has local trains, but it will get you where you need to go. Halfway between campus and Hirakata Station is Makino Station. It’s also a smaller station. All three are on the Keihan line, which can get you just about anywhere in the Kansai Region. If you transfer to a different line, getting anywhere in Japan is possible, but also very expensive.

My favorite route to travel is from Hirakata Station to Kyobashi, the connecting stop for the Osaka Loop Line. The loop can get you to a lot of amazing places in Osaka, like Osaka Castle, Tsuruhashi, and even Tennoji.

As for things to do in Hirakata, there are a lot of cool stores to go to. Just past Lawson, there is a road branching to the right, leading to an entrance to a grocery store. That street has a few cool stores, but my favorite is down an alley to the left. There is a tiny secondhand store selling really cool items for almost pennies. I was able to get a pack of Pokemon cards for my nephew for less than $1.50. There is a lot of cool things in that store, I recommend checking it out at least once.

The second store I’d recommend is Aeon Mall. It’s where my friend and I do most of out grocery shopping, especially since there is an ATM that allows us to take out money from our international accounts in less than $100 increments. There’s also an arcade on the 4th floor, as well as a dollar store that has a lot of cool stuff. There are clothing stores, grocery stores, and art stores in this mall. If you head down to the station, it’s definitely worth finding Aeon Mall.

Finally, for really cheap groceries in bulk, there’s a grocery store on the way to the station called Gyomu Super (業務スーパー). It sells a lot of groceries in bulk, including things that are generally difficult to find in Japan, like cheese.

If you want to eat out, there are quite a few options. On the way to Hirakata Station, there’s a fork in the road. Right before Gyomu Super, there’s a little curry shop. I haven’t been in it yet, but it always smells amazing when I pass it.

Similarly, there’s CoCo Ichibanya. If you turn left at the light on the way to the station, it’s on the left. I talked about it in my last post, so there’s not much else to say about it. The price varies greatly, but it will most often be less than $10.

Finally, there’s a little Ramen shop next to Lawson called Ramen Kurawanka that’s amazing. I’ve been there a couple times and I was always satisfied. If you show your student ID, you can get a size up for free. The average price there is about $8. I definitely recommend getting the Aji-tama (seasoned soft-boiled egg) with it. It makes any ramen dish so much better.

Favorite Memories

Author: Olivia Dausch

Location: Osaka, Japan

Pronouns: They/them

Being anywhere for a few months is bound to make a person form amazing memories, especially in a foreign country. Even if they’re small, I’m going to treasure them

  1. Incheon Airport/The flight to Japan

My trip to Japan marks the first time I’ve been in a plane since I was a baby. I was proud of myself for being able to find my way around an airport on my own, especially with the threat of a typhoon on the other end of the trip.

Landing in Korea was stressful. Since there was a chance the flight from Incheon to Kansai would be cancelled, O’Hare only gave me the ticket to Korea. Fortunately, there were others heading to Kansai Gaidai in the same boat, so we were all able to get our tickets and relax.

We walked through the airport together, as we waited for our delayed flight.

I was fortunate enough to get a window seat, so I was able to see the ocean and Japan eventually coming into view. The second flight was much more enjoyable than the first, which was at midnight. While the flight into Japan was early, it was still easier to get through. While looking out the window, the thought hit me that some people saw the view over the ocean so often, it lost its wonder. It made me a bit sad, but I knew I would never forget how I felt that entire flight.

       2. Opening Ceremony

One of the last events of orientation week was the Opening Ceremony. All of the international students met in the library on Nakamiya Campus, where we were welcomed by the faculty of the Asian Studies Program. I was surprised by how emotional I felt. It came almost out of nowhere and for no reason. Seeing everyone’s flags on the wall and the realization that I was actually there really struck me in that moment.



3. Typhoon Jebi

The second day of classes, Typhoon Jebi struck Japan. Classes were cancelled, and we were all told to stay in the dorm. Since the area around the hallways was completely glass, I was a bit worried, especially because the trees in the courtyard were bending. The power went out a few times, but it turned out mostly alright. None of the buildings on campus had any damage, but there were some trees that fell. Fortunately, that was the extent of the damage on either campus. There were some buildings around the city that needed repairs, but they were fixed quickly.

       4. Tsuruhashi and CoCo Ichibanya

One of my favorite places to go in Osaka was one my friend showed me. Tsuruhashi, known as Korea Town, is a very interesting place. Once you step out of the station, you are thrown into an alley full of shops, some selling clothes, others selling food. It’s like a maze. Once you get out, the main street is lined with restaurants. My friend and I always went to a more remote part of the area. It was still just as crowded, since the stores on that side of town sold K-Pop merchandise, usually a bit cheaper than they can be found in other places.

Our first time there, once we were done, we went to a restaurant that quickly became our favorite. About halfway between the shops and the station, there was a little restaurant called CoCo Ichibanya. It’s a mildly famous curry restaurant that’s wildly customizable. You control the level of spice, the amount of rice, the toppings, and anything extra you put on it. Usually, I get curry with the standard amount of rice, regular spice, and topped with fried fish. My friend always got the standard amount of rice, mild spice, with chicken on top.

Once we found out there was one in Hirakata, we had to fight to keep from going there on our limited budgets.

There are a lot more memories I’d like to talk about, but some of them are too long to explain, or I’ve talked about in previous posts, like Osaka Castle, Arashiyama, and Nara. I would like to stay a bit longer (if only to find more places to make memories) but I’m satisfied with what memories I have.

 

City Analysis- Osaka

Author: Olivia Dausch

Location: Osaka, Japan

Pronouns: They/them

Osaka is definitely the city I’ve visited the most since I’ve been here. I haven’t necessarily done all of the tourist things I’ve wanted to yet, but I’ve been around the Osaka Loop a few times.

Osaka is known as “Japan’s Kitchen”, as it’s home to several famous restaurants and birthplace of popular foods. You would be hard-pressed to find somewhere in Osaka that doesn’t sell okonomiyaki or takoyaki.

Osaka-style okonomiyaki

Takoyaki topped with bonito flakes

One of the places in Osaka my friends and I go to a lot is Tsuruhashi, Korea Town. There are a lot of K-pop stores selling both official and fan merchandise.  We’ve gone a few times and we’ve never come out empty handed.

Picture showing the web of stores outside Tsuruhashi Station

All the albums and loose photo cards I received over my time in Japan

Another place we like to go is Tower Records. Japan has a booming music industry, mostly due to the fact that most music is sold as physical CDs. There are two Tower Records around Osaka Station, one in front, and on behind. Both are equally impressive and have a wide variety of local and foreign music.

The one place I regrettably haven’t been to is Dotonbori, the food street. I heard it has a wide variety of food choices and delicacies that I would love to try while I’m here.

Dotonbori Canal

Going around Osaka immediately reminded me of Chicago. There are small suburban areas like Tsuruhashi much like Chicago’s Andersonville and Boy’s Town. There are small restaurants and stores lining the street leading to the station, as well as restaurants within the station.

View of Osaka from Osaka Castle

Osaka is definitely within the realm of what would be comfortable to American tourists, especially if you’re only staying for a few days. It has a lot of great food to offer if you’re willing to try it.

 

City Analysis- Nara

Author: Olivia Dausch

Location: Nara, Japan

Pronouns: They/them

Nara is one of the cities I’ve had the least experience with. I went with a group of international students and high school students. We went to a couple different places and got to experience the Heian era first hand.

Nara was also a capital of Japan, long before Kyoto. Now, it’s well known for its deer park in front of Toudaiji, which houses one of Japan’s largest Buddha statues. The deer are in integral part of Nara’s culture and history, and now they boost tourism as well. The deer are famous enough to become Nara’s mascot.

A keychain of Nara’s mascot

Deer eating the deer crackers

During my trip, my group went to a historical museum dedicated to the Heian era. We got to dress in traditional robes and explore the grounds freely. There was also a museum on the grounds that we were able to explore. We saw the grounds as it was during the Heian period, foods and music, and even how buildings were structured at the time. It was all very impressive.

A picture of me in Heian era clothes

The Toori gate on the grounds

A model of the grounds

Statues of two nobles eating

After that, we went to Toudaiji, one of Japan’s most famous Buddhist temples. In front of the temple gates was the deer park. The deer are fairly docile, until they see you have shika senbei, the deer crackers. They are relentless, even after you give them all of the senbei. They calm down after a little bit to find the next person with food.

The temple itself is very impressive. The sheer size of the temple is awe-inspiring. Once inside, you’re greeted by one of the largest Buddha statues in Japan. The crowd pushes you clockwise around the statues, showing off other statues and relics, and miniature models of the temple through the years. At the very end, near the exit, there is a line of gift shops, selling fortunes, deer statues, and keychains.

Todaiji

An octagonal lantern outside the main temple

The Daibutsu

Statue of Tamonten

A model of the Great Buddha Hall

The view from the exit of the Great Buddha Hall

Again, I don’t think Nara has an equivalent in America either. There really isn’t a place where wild animals freely interact with humans like in the deer park. It’s a city with a rich history based on the deer surrounding the temple. I would love to see other parts of the city as well.

 

City Analysis- Kyoto

Author: Olivia Dausch

Location: Kyoto, Japan

Pronouns: They/Them

It took me a while to decide what I wanted to write about for these blog posts. I’ve decided to start simply by describing the cities I have easy access to. The first, and one of the most well-known, is Kyoto.

Kyoto was Japan’s capital city before Tokyo. It is a city steeped in history, and it’s easy to see in everyday life. It’s not uncommon to see people walking around in yukata even in the most modern parts of the city.

I’ve been to Kyoto twice, both as school trips. The first time was during orientation week. It was used as a chance to show us Hirakatashi Station and how trains worked. My group went to a mall for lunch first. After that, we went to a large temple not too far from the mall. We spent a lot of time wandering around the city and finding different shops, including a dessert shop that only sold matcha flavored treats and a little souvenir shop with handcrafted figures and coin purses.

A coin purse modeled after a boar

The urban side of Kyoto

Kamo River running through Gion

Yasaka Shrine entrance

Hokanji Temple Pagoda

The second time was for my Zen Buddhism class. We went to meditate at Tenryuuji. It was an interesting trip there, as we had to get on a small two way train from beginning to end. The last stop was Arashiyama, where the temple sat at the base of the mountain. We meditated there for about an hour, and then we were able to roam around the garden and the area around the station as we pleased. There was another handcraft store there, as well as several food stands in front of the trains.

Lego model of Arashiyama Station and the shops outside

View leading up to Arashiyama

Lake in Tenryuji Garden

View from the path above the temple

Bamboo forest behind temple

Statue of Bodhi Sattva Kannon

    Kyoto doesn’t really have an American parallel, in my opinion. It’s easy to compare Tokyo to New York, or Osaka to Chicago, but Kyoto doesn’t have that kind of parallel. It is a place that perfectly combines past and present, creating a feeling that can’t be experienced anywhere else. I would like to go again, especially with the leaves changing soon.

Experience in Japan

Author: Olivia Dausch

Location: Japan

Pronouns: They/Them

I’ve lived in Japan for about a month now. I’ve had a blast every second, but I’ve also noticed some glaring differences compared to America. One of the most important cultural identities of Japan comes from the seasons. Japan is beautiful during every season, and they know it. There are seasonal
foods, snacks, and drinks, more than in America.

Since the seasons are changing now, there are many new seasonal drinks and snacks releasing in convenience stores across the nation. In America, there are themed packaging, but the product mostly remains the same. The only seasonal food I can think of is the spooky cereal brands that show up every year. However, in Japan, there are new flavors released all season long for every season. In my local drug store, I saw Halloween candies and snacks on the shelves half-way through September. In 7-Eleven, there was a new flavor of Fanta available (Blood Orange flavor), as well as a new flavor of water (Japanese Pear flavor). Since the season officially changed today, I can’t wait to see what else becomes available.

Another important part of Japanese culture is festivals. A few days after I arrived, there was a small, local festival held near city hall. There were children’s games, food stalls, and a concert. One of the first things I bought there was a staple of Japanese summer: Kakigori (shaved ice with sweetened condensed milk). It is sold everywhere during summer and is usually made apparent by the blue flag with the red kanji for ice. Another popular street food is kushi (skewers). They either have cooked meat or deep-fried meat and vegetables, depending on where you go. At the festival, I bought a grilled beef skewer (gyu-kushi), which was amazingly tender and flavorful, even though they only put salt and pepper on it. I saw both again when I went to a temple in Kyoto.

Since Kansai Gaidai University is next to a station, students have access to three major cities, all about an hour away: Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara. There are several festivals hosted in these cities throughout the year, especially in Kyoto and Nara. Since both were Japan’s capitals before, there are a
lot of cultural and historical events available.

Among these events includes both flower and leaf viewing festivals in April and October, respectively. One of the events the local students planned this semester includes going to Kyoto to see the red leaves. Another event local students plan is the University Festival, held in late October or early November. It kicks of fall break, one of the only breaks we have this semester. Since the schedule for exchange students is intentionally easy, with a minimum of 4 classes being highly recommended by staff, this break fits in as a well-needed break.

Speaking of classes, since I couldn’t find anything about it before I came here, I’d like to mention how classes are structured here. Classes are divided into five blocks. Each class is an hour and a half long, fitting into these blocks. The first two blocks start at 9 am and 10:45 am, respectively, on Monday, Tuesday, and Friday are set aside for Japanese classes since there are four sections per level. After block two, there is an hour for lunch that is very reminiscent of Valpo’s chapel break. The next block starts at 1:15 pm, and then there are two more blocks after that, ending at 6:10 pm. Since Japanese has to be before lunch, and there are probably no more than four other classes to fill the other spots, it is fairly easy to find free time.

That free time can be used to go around the city. Hirakata is a unique city since it is the meeting point among three major cities. Even on the walk to Nakamiya campus, there are a lot of interesting shops. There is a traditional Japanese sweets shop, a grocery store, several hair salons, and even more doctors offices. Closer to the station, there is an entire mall. I have only been there once, but I plan to go again soon. It has books, CDs, movies, and clothes, all things great for gifts. There are a lot of places nearby that I haven’t been to yet. Once I get settled into my schedule here, I’ll definitely become more adventurous.

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