I live, I learn, I travel, I write.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The last few weeks and Tokyo

After Nara, I didn't do much travelling for a two reasons. The first being that I was trying to save my money for going to Tokyo the last four days of my trip. The second being it was VERY hot all day, every day. Generally, it was around 90-95 degrees, heat index of 105-110, and like upwards of 80% humidity. So yeah, walking around in crowded cities wasn't entirely appealing when it wasn't necessary.

Then the last two weeks hit. I had to write an essay entirely in Japanese, and then deliver a four-minute presentation on the topic about which my essay was written, also entirely in Japanese. It was really nerve-wrecking, but I managed, and got a high grade. Then the last week came, and it was crunch time for final exams. So I got through the first few days, took my exam, and got to relax. That night we all went to dinner at a kaiten-zushi restaurant (rotating sushi bar), and then headed back to JCMU to drink.

Friday was the closing ceremony, where I got to say bye to my teachers and get my final grade for the term. I received a really good grade, which was a definite relief.

After playing with Jackie's host family for what seemed like hours, Jackie and I hopped on the train bound for Shizuoka. Well, we took a train to Maibara, then Ogaki, then Toyohashi, then Hamamatsu, and THEN Shizuoka... but still, we got there. After staying the night in Mishima, we headed back to Shizuoka to meet Niki and Tisch. There, we saw a life-size GUNDAM. Even though I'm not really that into anime anymore, it was really impressive.

Then we headed to Tokyo. We got there a little late, so we dropped our stuff at the hotel, and went to Yoshinoya to grab some cheap donburi. Then we got further acquainted with our somewhat unusual sleeping arrangements...

...because we stayed in a capsule hotel! It was nice. I slept really well, and it wasn't really all that cramped or claustrophobic at all.

The next day, we headed to Otemachi so that I could use an ATM (there was a Citibank there, and my ATM card wouldn't work at anything except post office ATMs , or Citibank), and then went to the Imperial Palace area to be tourists. We ran into these college students that showed us around for free. They told us that they usually wait around for Americans or other English-speaking tourists to come, then they give them a free "tour" so that they can practice their English. It amazes me the lengths that foreigners go to to learn English, but Americans tend to speak English, and don't understand the value of learning a foreign language. It just gives me a little perspective.

But back to Tokyo. They showed us around. It was really a beautiful place, even if we didn't get to see the Palace.

Afterwards, we went to Akihabara. For those who don't know, Akihabara is a Japan nerd's heaven. I mean, we went to a GUNDAM CAFE. And that's just start of it.

There were six-story arcades, costume shops, etc. I bought a My Neighbor Totoro bento box. I like it.

After Akihabara, we headed back to Asakusa to switch to our new hotel, which was in Ueno. It was... a hotel. Nothing special, but definitely sleep-able. We all showered and called it a night early (ish).

The next day, which was our last day in Tokyo (and Japan really, for that matter), we started with lunch in Harajuku. We went to this place called Sweets Paradise, which was ridiculous. For 90 minutes, it was all-you-can-eat sweets and other odd things like curry and spaghetti. It was dangerous, but so, so good. After wanting to die, Tisch and I walked around Harajuku while Niki and Jackie freaked out about the four-story Forever 21 that they had found. We eventually found a random English-style pub and grabbed a beer, then found the girls again.

And then we made our way over to Roppongi to go to Tokyo Tower. I went to Tokyo Tower the last time I was in Japan, but I didn't remember it being as impressive as it was. I can't really put into words how cool it was to look out onto one of the biggest cities in the world.

Then we headed back to our hotel, showered and cleaned up, and headed out for karaoke. We got back to our hotel around 4 in the morning, and since Tisch and I had to leave Ueno around 7 to catch our shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagoya, I decided to just... not go to sleep.

So we got to Tokyo station, hopped on a shinkansen, and arrived in Nagoya a few hours later. Then we took the Nagoya meisetsu (just another subway/train line) to the airport, and did the typical pre-flight business. Then we took our 12 hour flight back to Detroit, during which I only managed to sleep for about two hours.

It's weird being back.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Nagahama, Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara

So, I think I misjudged the amount of free time I would have while in Japan. I don't know why I didn't realize it, but fitting all of the things I wanted to do while in Japan on top of class and schoolwork proved to be nearly impossible in ten weeks. I will quickly recap my adventures in Japan right now...

June was my first month in Hikone. I didn't do much traveling aside from a brief (and failed) afternoon excursion to Otsu and Kyoto. I spent most of the month adjusting to the differences between Japan and the United States, exploring Hikone, and going to class/studying. I made some new friends, Japanese and American both. Oh, and drinking. There was some of that too.

July was slightly more eventful, though I don't mean to express that in a way that makes June seem like it was boring, because that wasn't the case at all. Back to July. I went to a few places, made some more new friends, and studied a lot. Let's see... At the beginning, there was the Tanabata Festival in Hikone at Shiga University. That was fun, even if it was a bit small. It was cool seeing everyone--both Japanese and foreigners--in traditional dress for the festival.

I went to Nagahama with Tisch, Jackie, Sang Yun, and Heather, and we met Kailey there (she was doing a homestay in Nagahama) the first weekend of the month. We hung around the festival there, did some shopping, and went to kaiten-zushi (a revolving sushi bar in which plates of sushi are distributed on a conveyor belt to the masses). There was some drama during that day as well, but I'll withhold that from a public setting.

I also went to Osaka with Niki, Sang Yun, and Tomoyo. Honestly, that might have been the most fun I had up to that point in Japan. Osaka is such a wonderful city. When people think of Japan, they tend to think of Tokyo and Okinawa... but Osaka doesn't get the credit it deserves. I can't judge Okinawa because I've never been, but I like Osaka a lot more than Tokyo. Anyway, we shopped around Namba,

went to Takatsuki for okonomiyaki,

went to a karaoke bar,

and got back to Hikone really late. It was so much fun! I wish I could have gotten back to Osaka one more time before I left JCMU.

I also went to Kyoto for the Gion Matsuri (Gion Festival) with Jackie, Heather, Tamika, Masa, and Yohei. Well, we tried to go anyway. By the time we actually got to Kyoto, the festival had already ended. But we made do... we went to the River, walked around the shopping district, etc. It was SO hot outside, but it didn't even matter because the day was so fun.

The next day, I went to Nara with Tisch and Kailey. We ran into our friend Katie at the train station, so we convinced her to join us. It took us a while to get to Nara and meet with Jackie and her friend Yuri due to some unforeseen conflicts, but we made it! We went to Todaiji (a large temple in Nara), which is famous for the Daibutsu (the largest bronze statue of Buddha in the world!).

We also just walked around the town, fed some deer (more on that shortly), and did some shopping. Once again, it was incredibly hot outside all day, but was a great day nonetheless. Okay, so, the deer. In Nara and Hiroshima, there are deer EVERYWHERE. And they just walk around freely, unafraid of people. If you have food in your hand, they aren't shy to just snatch it from you. It's so bizarre.

I feel like this is going to come in two parts. More later!