Monday, June 20, 2011

Kyoto Trip

This past weekend, the group went on a 3 day 2 night trip to Kyoto/Nara. We took the Shinkansen from Mishima to Kyoto which took about 2 hours and 45 minutes. It was a rather long train ride, so I just slept most of the way. Once we arrived in Kyoto, it was off the Karasuma Kyoto Hotel to drop off our luggage. I was in heaven when I saw a Starbucks right next to the hotel :) Little did I know how expensive Japanese Starbucks was compared to American Starbucks. We were allowed free time, but in the end Takahashi-sensei went with the whole group to the 1000 Tori Gates. We didn't have the time to count, but I'm pretty sure there's more than 1000.
Start of the 1000 Tori gates path
After we found a place that was famous for their unagi (eel) and start down to eat lunch. I got an unagi don which was delicious :) After lunch, we were given free time, but in the end sensei ended up coming with the whole group to Toei Movie Land. We got lost at first but eventually we found our way there after asking numerous residents who all gave different directions.
Toei Movie Land looks like a scene from the Edo period. Staff are dressed in kimonos and samurai outfits. There was even a Ninja Theater Show.

Toei Movie Land also had a cartoon museum, where I found life size models of all the Power Rangers series. Even a display of all the red rangers lined up.

After we returned to Kyoto Station, we were free to roam around. The group being only 9 members stuck together and all went to eat yakitori, which was pretty expensive. After we roamed to try to find Kamo River. Success after taking the railway two stops from Kyoto Station.
Kyoto Tower right in front of Kyoto Station

After all the walking, we were exhausted and decided to go back to the hotel, where I got some midnight snack at Starbucks and chilled in the room with Claire.

Second Day:
The second day was to Nara. We took the train to Nara and visited Kofukuji, a 5 tier tower. Unfortunately it was raining that day, so visibility in my pictures isn't the best.
Right next door was Nara Park, home to many shika (deers), all hungry for your food. Having gone to Nara Park once before, I had the same fear I had the first time. So I was hesitant to feed any.

we saw baby deers too!

I summoned up the courage to feed one

Senbei, the cracker Nara deers love
We had lunch nearby a souvenir shopping street and I got oyakodon which I am kind of obsessed with right now. I had it 2 times in the past three days already.
After lunch, we visited Kasugataisha and Todaiji.
Inside there is a huge Buddha, I can't even explain the size of that Buddha. Just that my head hurts from looking up at it.

Many of us did souvineir shopping and returned back to Kyoto. It was free time again, so three classmates and I went to eat and shop around Kyoto Station.

very good deal for this set of delicious food
After dinner, we roamed around Kamo River again, and this time walked to the other end and found many Japanese people just standing around and drinking.
Third day:
The last day we had a bus tour which started at 8am. The tour guide amused me because he carried around a pole with a fish flag attached to it. The first stop on the tour was Nishihonganji.

It was the largest wooden Buddhist temple in the world. Inside we saw apprentice monks praying.
Next we went to Nijojo, a flatland castle which didn't permit pictures or video inside. But basically it used to be home to a shogun. Inside we saw displays of the rooms in the shogun's home. The floors of the castle was specifically constructed so that when someone walks on it, the sounds of the nightingale creak. This was used for security purposes.

Finally we arrived at Kinkakuji. The original Kinkakuji was apparently burned down by a monk for unknown reasons. This newly built one isn't as ancient, but still magnificent to look out.
After a lunch buffet at the Kyoto Handicrafts store, where I bought a kimono I plan to wear to the farewell party, we got on another bus to head for the afternoon tour.
The first stop was Heianjingu, having one of the largest Tori gate.

After we went to Sanjusangendo, Buddhist temple with thousand kanon statues inside. It is said that if you find your face among the kanon statues, then you will go to heaven.

The last place of the tour was Kiyomizudera, another Buddhist temple in Kyoto. Before you reach Kiyomizudera, which is on the top of the hill, there are a bunch of souvenir shops down below, which I couldn't resist. I also got a delicious crepe at the crepe shop


We returned to Karasuma Kyoto Hotel to retrieve our luggage and heading to Kyoto Station, where we grabbed dinner before taking the Shinkansen back to Mishima.
The group got back to Mishima around 10:45, my whole host family was there to pick me up, which surprised me since my host brother usually sleeps by 9.
Luckily, sensei was nice enough to post pone class the next day to 10:00am, than the usual 8:30am.
This marks the halfway point of this study abroad program and I'm already dreading going back home. I love it here too much!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

End of Week 1

It's the end of the week 1, and I have so much to tell. First I'll start from the beginning, we arrived on Saturday June 4th, and immediately took the Narita Express and Shinkansen(Bullet Train) to Mishima. The flight itself was decent, although the lady next to me kept leaning towards me as she fell asleep. I didn't expect much from the airplane food either. Most of us slept during the ride to Mishima, and once we arrived, we met up with Nagase-sensei and went to Toyoko Inn. The Inn was pretty cool, considering each room was a single room. We each got our own room and ventured out to 7-11 for our first meal in Japan. I completely pigged out
I had udon as well, but I ate it before I took this picture

The next day we got up around 7am for the continental breakfast. Japanese hotel breakfast is so different than American hotel's. We were served many kinds of onigiri (rice balls) along with miso soup and green tea. After eating we walked to Nihon University to meet up with our host family.
My host family missing my host brother Rin.
 As expected, I was really nervous before I met my host family, but once I met them, all the nerves went away. Their English was better than I expected, but I made an effort to speak in Japanese. I guess that surprised them because they told me that out of all the exchange students they've hosted for, I'm the only one to speak so much Japanese. I'm always being complimented by them about my Japanese, but personally I still need a lot of work. Remember vocabulary words is so hard.
So all the host families and us had a little party with delicious Japanese food :) Nishigami family and I were the first to leave and they took me to a Japanese supermarket first and asked me what I wanted to eat :)
When I arrived at their condo, I was given my host brother's room and I took a 4 hour nap only to meet my host brother in a half asleep state. We had omurice that evening, which was delicious.

First day of school: My host dad came with me to show me how to get to Nihon University from Ooka station. We met up in the morning to meet Dean Sato, who was extremely nice.
The first day was pretty chill, we met TAs (who are extremely shy at first) and had lessons. Then we were given a campus tour and got introduced to the school's cafeteria which has the best foods for a reasonable price. The katsu curry I had was delicious :)
After school that day, the group decided to find that game center in Numazu, which took a while to find, but once we found it, it was heaven! I took purikura with Claire, while the boys all got into the Gundam PODs

Second day: The second day, we always have class in the morning as usual, and went to Rakujuen Park and explored an ancient Japanese home. There was also a mini zoo in the Park with the cutest red panda ever. It kept going around in circles. Also the guys were having too much fun with the chalk board in the Park. After that, we wandered around and eventually went to the cake shop. The first bite of their strawberry shortcake, I was in heaven. Japanese cakes have such soft creams.
That night I tried nattou for the first time. Nattou is fermented soy beans and most foreigners cannot stand the smell of it. While I also couldn't stand the smell of it, the taste wasn't so bad. It was just really sticky.
Third Day: Class in the morning and the emergency drill in the morning. Went to Mos Burger for lunch and had a teriyaki burger. so much healthier than the burgers back home.  The field trip after school was to Mishima Taisha, a beautiful Shinto Shrine in Mishima. We took the route along a river. When we arrived, we saw a hoard of pigeons, which gave me a scare. I got a fortune that read Normal Luck. I asked Nagase-sensei to translate it for me, what amused me was that for my Love Life/Marriage, it said a divorce and remarriage with the same person is the best and that this season is HOT for my love life. :P

We went to Mister Donuts which has so many varieties of donut flavors, I wanted to try them all!

Day Four: Class in the morning like usual and Zen Meditation followed by Onsen. The hard part about the Zen meditation was that you had to sit in half indian pose for 20 minutes with your posture straight and not move. During that procedure, I almost fell asleep because how quiet it was. After we went to a Onsen, which was so relaxing, especially since it was followed by Karaoke in the room we were provided. I think we were all having so much fun we didn't want to leave.
Day 5: For lunch some of us wanted to try the cake buffet place (Ginza Fujiyara) in South Mishima. While the first bite was delicious, by the end of my 4th, I couldn't finish it. Knowing me with a small stomach, I shouldn't have attempted, but it was a good experience.

Afterschool, Takahashi-sensei took us to a super market where I stocked up on snacks. We attended the tea ceremony club around 5pm. My feet were dying sitting the proper position, but the whole tea ceremony procedure was so intricate and relaxing. We learned how to properly make the tea and serve and receive it.
First Weekend: My host family took me to Tokyo this weekend. My host dad drove us early morning to Tokyo, we first stopped at Shibuya and shopped at Shibuya 109, an extremely tall building with floors and floors of shops. Japanese fashion is so cute, I wanted to buy a lot, but it was also expensive.
After I was able to see the famous Shibuya scramble, So many people! And I thought Times Square was crowded. I also took a picture with Hachiko in front of the Shibuya station. So many foreigners were there to take a picture too. After we took the train to Harajuku, and walked along the street where most of the shopping takes place. I did see around 3 people dressed in cosplay, but then again I wasn't in main Harajuku. Later we took the train to Chiba, to my host dad's house. We had takoyaki for dinner, and I met my host grandmother for the first time. She was extremely polite despite my intrusion ><

Sunday: Today we went to Sanja-sama (A shinto shrine in Tokyo) and the New Tokyo Tower. I got another fortune again at the shrine and this time I got Best Fortune! Score! We had okonomiyaki and manjayaki for lunch, both of which were new to me. But it was a delicious experience. We went back to the house in Chiba and chilled for a while before they took me to the cemetery to visit my host grandfather. I was surprised they were so willing to take me, an outsider, to visit something so personal to them. Although I felt pretty awkward standing in front of the grave, I was happy to help out in any way. After the visit to the cemetery, we had dinner: I tried kamameshi for the first time (I tried so many new foods today)

Now I'm tired since we got back around 8pm. Time to sleep!