Saturday, July 7, 2012


It's been a little over a month since I've returned to the states. I guess I've been delaying this post, perhaps because I'm still in denial that I've actually left Japan. It's an odd feeling, being back in the states. It's not reverse culture shock so much as the end of an incredibly important chapter of my life. However, I'd like to think this isn't the end of my adventures in Japan. I *know* I'll return eventually, hopefully within the next 2 years. But somehow, it will never be the same as living in Japan as a KGU student.
Looking back, I realize that through all of my struggles with living in Japan, I cherish even the mundane day-to-day moments, like cramming kanji in a house full of friends now scattered across the globe, or biking to the weekly vegetable sale at fresco supermarket. Getting lost in Makino and being pointed at by children saying 'she's cute for a gaijin'. Quiet bike rides, taking an new route in a mountain and winding up in a random area of an unfamiliar part of town. Babbling in Japanese to yanki, schoolchildren, people I hardly knew, always with that same bemused expression on their faces. Maybe i can't articulate how much I have grown to love Japan, but I can at least say I had grown accustomed to the odd life of a foreigner finding new things, exploring new places everyday. Because even though I've mainly written about sightseeing in major locations, national holidays and the like, there are so many little things that I remember from Japan, things which for the most part didn't even make it to this blog, yet which warm my heart much like hazy childhood memories. And to the people who I shared these memories with- we may have parted with teary eyes, but our memories fill me with happiness. 
I graduated KGU! And also taiko drums...

So there you have it, the truth: leaving Japan is a return to reality. Kansai Gaidai was a dream-world full of adventures with amazing people and lacking real responsibilities. Returning to America, my feelings can be summarized by two words-'now what?'. And even though I miss Japan, I'm glad to return to my family, boyfriend, and real vegetarian food. I'm ready to start my new chapter, no matter how blank the pages seem now.  何とかなるさ!

Monday, April 30, 2012


Yes, things have happened since Tokyo! And no, I do not have to look through my camera to remind myself what... The truth is I've been sooooo busy between then and now, and now that it's Golden Week, I finally have a break! If you're not sure what Golden Week is, you're not alone. I've been told countless times, but I still don't remember very well. All I know is there are a lot of national holidays this week, one of them is called midori no hi(green day), and the exchange students only have class on Tuesday and Wednesday. So naturally, everyone's skipping those pesky 2 days and traveling to Okinawa, Tokyo, Korea and the likes. Everyone but me. Oh yeah, I'm just that majime. Or I don't have the money to blow on a plane/shinkansen ticket...

So back to those things that have been happening. Let me run and get my camera.

Flower viewing is a really big deal here in Japan. Remember my posts on Kouyou in the fall? The red and orange trees in the mountains? This is basically the spring equivalent. In Japan, there are clearly defined seasons with distinct events and festivals, and in the springtime, everyone goes to Hanami. It involves sitting under a cherry blossom tree(sakura) with friends and enjoying the view, usually with booze and snacks. It's been said that, while drinking in public isn't illegal here, its only really socially acceptable during Hanami and festivals. That was said by a fellow gaijin, but I think it still applies...
Anyway, first, I went to Osakajo(Osaka castle) for a friend's birthday. For some strange reason, they had decided to sit under the dead plum trees instead of one of the many sakura, but it was fun nonetheless. We had about 3 cakes, lots of junk food, and a HUGE bottle of umeshu(plum wine) which was basically downed by one of my friends. Who I  helped home later that day.... But there were a lot of us, and I learned a very important lesson that day which is: Japan is a relatively safe place. That being said, I wouldn't recommend traveling alone as a foreign young girl. Almost every time I have done this, I have been harassed by an old man, this time one who wanted to show me all of the best places to take pictures and got mad when I told him I had to meet a friend.  Which was harmless, but it becomes tiresome when these things happen all the time.
Thanks, random Ojisan!


A few weeks later, I went to Nara, famous for its deer park and giant Buddha statue, in search of an art piece for a report. Nara is one of the oldest cities in Japan, and I think it has a nice atmosphere, especially with all the cute little deers roaming around. I actually had no plans for Hanami, and I was traveling alone, but I got really hungry and tired on the way back from the museum, so I decided to stop at what has to be the prettiest place in Nara, Ukimido. I'm still not sure what purpose it serves, but it's a pretty pavillion surrounded by water with gondola-like boats and grassy hills full of sakura. I ate a nice quiet lunch(peanut butter jelly sandwich and pretzels shipped from the states) before continuing my journey around Todaiji, the home of the big Buddha. However, I did not actually see the Buddha, as that would have cost 800 yen. Instead, I walked around the premises and found the cutest handmade accessory shop on a side road near Shosoin.
Overall, it was a successful day of soul-searching and *not* getting lost! I felt proud. And to top it all off, I was not bothered by any creepy old men!

Ukimido, Nara

Sakura 'Carpet'

The sad thing about Hanami is that it is very short-lived. Sakura come and go in a matter of weeks, and before I knew it those pretty pink petals which lined the sidewalks fell to the ground, flooded the roads, and were eventually replaced by... whatever sakura turn into. Buds? Something dull and green I think.
The moral of the story is: life is fleeting, like those delicate pink blossoms that bloom and wither in the blink of an eye, leaving us with only their memory until the coming year.  That and I have really bad allergies. Seriously. Hanami is pretty and all, but I was kinda dying.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Tokyo Part 5: Ghibli Museum(and final day!)

Everyone has a favorite Ghibli movie. Not ringing a bell? How about Miyazaki Hayao? My Neighbor Totoro? Seriously, if you haven't seen a Ghibli movie I *highly* encourage you to watch one. And since the only people who read this are my family and boyfriend, I'm talking to you, Andrew!
I think everyone on the trip was waiting for this day especially. The day when all of our childhood memories would come to the form of over-priced gift-store purchases. But no, really, the Ghibli museum was a great time! We were told you have to buy tickets way in advance(like 2 months!), but we bought them from the 7/11 2 weeks before and were fine.
Outside of Museum
Robot on the roof

First of all, the building itself is a whimsical structure in the middle of a small town(Mitaka) situated right next to a park and a tennis court. The interior is like a maze with winding stairs and rooms housing different wonders,and a big plushy cat bus for kids to play on! We even got to see an exclusive short video about a lost dog on an adventure back home. Ok to be honest it was kinda boring, but extremely cute! My favorite sections were the room housing original sketches and inspiration, the animation room(seriously amazing! I can't even describe it!), and the roof which leads to a garden with a really cool robot-statue thing. And I spent way too long in the gift store, but that's to be expected. P.S. my favorite is a toss up between Kiki's Delivery Service and Spirited Away.
The next day was our last and craziest day in Tokyo by far. We all had a list of places we hadn't seen, and we scrambled around trying to visit all of them. On my list were the Pokemon center, Ikebukuro, and Shibuya. The Pokemon center in Tokyo is sooooo much better than the one in Umeda(Osaka)!! I'm not even the biggest Pokemon fan, but they have a lot of merchandise for the original and new Pokemon, and I have to admit I bought a Jigglypuff (called purin/pudding here) phone charm. Hehe, I'm so lame...
Ikebukuro is a trip. Like, it's trippy. At least the place we went to. It's called Namja-town, and it's basically a big amusement center in the middle of a mall with a gyoza-street, ice cream town, and some weird ninja-survival-game-thing. We mainly went for the ice cream, but the creepy cat and naked mermaid statues were an added bonus(seriously, this place gave us the creeps!). They had a bunch of different ice cream flavors, and a Turkish ice cream stand, and crepes, and everything else in your wildest dreams(about ice cream). We all ate soft-serve, and chose from a host of odd flavors, including sea-salt vanilla(which I heard was delicious), wasabi(!), and kinako(soy-bean flour). I chose the kinako. It was rich and creamy, and tasted a lot like kinako.
After Ikebukuro, I rushed to meet up with Tif at Shibuya. We met at the statue of Hachiko, a dog who supposedly met his owner at a station everyday, and continued to do so even after the owner's death. It's a pretty popular meeting spot. We spent our time at Shibuya walking around and window-shopping, especially at the huge multi-storied Forever21 and H&M. Shibuya is HUGE and very similar to Harajuku, but it felt more crowded and expensive.We shopped until we were extremely tired from our busy mornings, and then headed back to get our stuff from our hostel.
Shibuya cross-section
 After picking up a shirt from the Hard Rock Cafe, going to dinner, and getting a bit lost, we left to catch our 11:45 bus at around 10:30. The train ride was about a half an hour, and we had no idea where our bus location was. We rushed around asking every bus driver, but each one gave us a different response. We were short on time and running around frantically with big suitcases, crying out to random people in desperation. Yes, it was pathetic. Finally, our bus driver called Tif, and gave us a few clues as to where it was located. We were about 10 minutes late when we boarded the bus and incredibly thankful they hadn't left us. We spent a long time sleeping until we arrived and Kyoto, where we took another train and were finally greeted with heavy rain and ice-cold temperatures back to Hirakata.

Tokyo Tower!

Tokyo, Midday
Tokyo, Night

Ok, so this technically happened on day 3, but I completely forgot to mention it. We went to Tokyo Tower and saw a wonderful view of Tokyo! We went around midday and stayed until night, so we could see the view gradually get darker with shiny lights. Tokyo Tower is definitely a must-see for every Tokyo traveler, and I actually saw a lot of people from my school there. Hehe, Japan is a small country. Really. 
Tower, Midday
Tower, Night

It's embarrassing to say, but I first learned of Tokyo Tower from watching Sailor Moon.
From the elevator that flashes neon colors, to the snazzy jazz cafe, it was a fun time. I only wish I had been there with my bf, since it's such a great date place! Up next: Studio Ghibli Museum. 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Tokyo Part 4: Imperial Palace and Odaiba

Imperial Palace
Since Tuesday was our 'free day' we didn't have anything planned, so some of us decided to go to the Imperial Palace. It's right outside Tokyo station(which has bagels! and paninis! and awesome-ness...) and the walk to the palace is gorgeous! It was a sunny day, and we really ought to have brought some bento's to eat in the park.
The funny thing about the imperial palace is that you can't actually go in. It looks really pretty on the outside, and you can see this from the entrance. But once you enter you're basically just walking around the palace. But there's a kofun, and a garden(which would have been nice if anything were alive), and a nice big open (dead)grassy area. We even saw sakura! On one tree. But still, it was free and pretty and a nice relaxing time.
Odaiba Shopping Center

Afterwards, we decided to hit up Odaiba, which is a man-made island with a futuristic amusement center. Everything was soooo American! It was like a mixture between California and New York. There was even a Statue of Liberty. There was a really cool view of the rainbow bridge over the beach and a teleportation center! Which turned out to be a regular old station. Hehe gotta love waseigo >_>
View from Odaiba

Friday, March 30, 2012

Tokyo Part 3: Akiba!

Soooo the day after Harajuku we went to Akihabara! We decided to progress from crazy fashion to crazy otaku. Akihabara, or Akiba for short since the name's so freakin long, is like the den-den town of Tokyo. Or, to be more accurate it's actually the other way around since Akiba is *much* larger. It was definitely one of the most crowded places we visited, probably second to Shibuya. So many electronics, a 4-story adult-entertainment store, arcades and of course--maid cafes! We were determined to find a nice maid cafe, especially since most of the people in the group had never been to one. Here I shall tell of one of the most awkward experiences I have had in Japan. We had found a small cafe tucked away down some random road, and were greeted by some of the maids who escorted us. It was small, but we figured we would try it out. Bad decision! We should have known by their lack of uniform dress, and the sketch location, but it had just opened or something because it was a total disaster. When we arrived, some lady working there yelled 'English?' and we told her Japanese was fine. The maid who waited us reading off a script and stumbling over her words, and to top it all off the food was expensive! I know this sounds harsh, but you really go to these types of cafes for the experience, and it's just not worth it if it's not perfect. But that's the hard part, see, is actually *leaving* a maid cafe. It's like they have you cornered. Maids are just standing around looking at you, and they even hang around the elevator and the entrance. So we sucked it up and Gaijin Smashed the place; just fled out avoiding any eye-contact. Pretty embarrassing, but how are we to know? We're foreigners...
So anyway, we ended up finding one of the most famous cafes in AKB, where the maids all wore cute outfits and had shriekingly high-pitched voices and even said little 'spells' before giving us our food. The catch is that you have to pay like 1000 yen just to sit there for up to 2 hours, and they make you order food or drinks twice. Since everything on the menu is about 500-1000 yen, it was pretty pricey. But I'd say it was worth it. It was crowded and smokey and I felt a bit rushed by the maids, but overall it was too cute of an experience to have passed up on! Depending on the food, the chants change, but one that stuck with me was 'oishiku nare moe moe kyu~!' which basically makes the food more delicious by making cute sounds. Yeah, everything was moe-moe rabu-rabu nyan-nyan kyuu~to!  But it was... another maid cafe experience. Must say the one in Osaka was more personable and way cheaper, but Akiba was fun nonetheless.

Also, sorry for the lack of pics! We couldn't take any with the maids(standard policy), and nothing else really caught my eye. So here's a pic of me standing next to the Bandai center, which was actually in Asakusa, but it seems to fit with the otaku vibe...

Tokyo Part 2: Harajuku!

Ok, so this was the one place in all of Tokyo I was most excited to see. Why? Because of the crazy street fashion! I've read books on Tokyo fashion and the crazy colorful, vibrant, youthful spirits that flock the streets of Harajuku decked out in the coolest outfits. Thanks to Belle and Sebastian (the song 'I'm a Cuckoo' in particular) I knew the gang gathers on Sundays, and so we planned to go on the second day of our trip. But it was a total letdown! It was cold and rainy, and I think because of this I didn't even notice any crazy fashion, besides Lolita(which is not that rare in Japan, anyway). I was bummed, but I ended up walking around the city and shopping all day with my bestie Tif. It's a pretty great place to shop, and especially cheap for Tokyo, but it was a bit reminiscent of Shinsaibashi in Osaka. That's the thing about Tokyo--besides the lack of Kansai-ben(Kansai dialect), it seems like a combination of Osaka and Kyoto.  
St. Patty's Parade
We went on the 18th, and for some odd reason there was a St. Patrick's day parade(a day late?) with a bunch of foreigners and green! It added a nice care-free vibe to the mix, but the loud drunk guys walking around with cups of beer in their hands were a bit trashy...
Also, before we went shopping we went to the Meiji Jingu shrine dedicated to Emperor Meiji.. which is apparently the most famous shrine in Japan? I didn't think it was too special, having seen a million shrines and temples in Kyoto, but the cool thing about it is it hosts a lot of weddings! I saw 2, which I actually thought was one really long wedding. Notice the mix of traditional wear and western-style suits in the picture? I felt bad for them because it was raining on their wedding day. But it was a really unique sight, and definitely the first wedding I've seen in Japan.
Best place to shop