Monday, February 13, 2017

My Time So Far in Japan

Hello, everyone!! It's me, Renee!

I've been in Japan since January 17th. Ever since then, I've been going nonstop. Since I'm a little behind on my blogs, I'm going to catch you guys up on what I've been doing! Later on, I plan to do separate blog posts on Kyoto, Osaka, and Kansai Gaidai, my university.

Well, let's jump into it!

Week 1

My first week here was dedicated solely to orientation. It covered things like where you should ride a bike on the road, what to do during an earthquake, and how to create a bank account.

Before I did any of this though, I had to do the most important thing- figure out where my college is. After all, orientation took place at Kansai Gaidai. I also figured it would be good to know where it is so I could attend classes. It seemed like a good idea. So I joined a couple of people armed with Google maps. After a 30 minute walk, we found the campus!

That bank account was the hardest part of orientation. There were eight different forms that had to be filled out perfectly. And I mean perfectly. This means not letting the ink bleed in the paper. Your letters must look like they were typed. It took two hours to fill out all the forms. I had to redo one form eight different times. The Japanese don't mess around with their forms! Also, it normally takes six months to get a bank account in Japan. With the help of Kansai Gaidai, I can get it at the end of February!

Yay food money!

The ultimate highlight of Orientation Week, though, was undoubtedly the optional trip to Kyoto. Hirakata City sits right in the middle of three major traditional Japanese cities- Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara. This means day trips to these cities are common and cheap. With two Japanese guides, my group makes are way to the train station where we learn how to buy a ticket or card for multiple trips, the train and bus schedule, and proper train edietquite. Since Kyoto is known for its numerous temples, each group went towards a different temple to experience traditional Japan.

When we arrive in snowy Kyoto, we make our way towards Kiyomizu-dera Temple. Most temples in Japan are either Shinto or Buddhist. Kiyomizu-dera is a Buddhist temple for couples- from matchmaking, to easy childbirth. Many of the rituals that can be done there are related to ensuring a strong relationship or healthy marriage. It was beautiful seeing all of Kyoto from the top of this temple. I imagine it’s even prettier in the spring.

Week 2

Week 2 kicked off with our first week of classes. Since all the Asian Program Studies courses are in English, most of the classes are in the CIE (Center for International Education) Building. Classes last for ninety minutes, with the first class starting at 9 am and the last class ending at 6:10 pm. Needless to say, it can be a long day depending on your schedule.

That weekend, a group of friends I made decided to go to Osaka for some much needed shopping. Our first stop? The Pokemon Center. The Pokemon Center encompasses half of a floor in the Osaka Train Station Shopping Center. Statues of the Legendaries from the newest game can be seen here, along with all the merchandise you can imagine! They even have the Pokemon Go Plus devices here, which are sold out in America. I'm personally not the biggest fan of Pokemon, so I used this moment to pick up some souvenirs for my friends.

Next stop, the Disney Store! Despite having a Disney Store in the Knoxville Mall, going to the Disney Store in Japan is a must if you're in your 20's and love Disney. Disney's popularity in Japan rivals that of America. Young adults, specifically women, love Disney here. As a result, the stores here cater to people our age, instead of the young’uns back home. There's not a Disney costume to be seen. Instead phone cases, dishes, jewelry, and the all-beloved Tsum Tsums fill up the store. Tsum Tsums are cylinder Disney characters that you can stack, either in plastic or plush form. My goal here was to buy some Japan exclusive Tsum Tsums. I succeed. My debt card paid dearly that day.

After this, our group of friend split ways. My friend Jenny and I made our ways to another mall. The highlight of this mall was the giant ferris wheel on top. For 500 yen, or $5, you could ride the ferris wheel and see all of Osaka, including Osaka Castle. All in all, it was a fantastic and very successful shopping day.

Week 3

The highlight of Week 3 was no other than Toei Movie Studio! Never heard of it? That's ok. I didn't either. At Kansai Gaidai, Japanese students make field trips of the international students to go and experience Japan. Jenny and I chose the Toei Movie Studio field trip! We expected it to be a replica of Edo Japan where we could dress up. Though this was sort of true, it's not really that. Instead, it's like Kyoto's version of Hollywood Studios. The whole place is a permanent set filled with restaurants, plays, stores, ninjas, ninjas, and did I mention ninjas?? At Toei, you could be a ninja for a day. From throwing shuriken (ninja stars) to figuring out how to escape ninjas via secret passageways, there is something for everyone here! We even got to see how a classic Japanese ninja movie is made.

This was the first place where English wasn't ever present. Sure, safety rules and menus were in English, but demonstrations, mini history lessons, and plays were strictly in Japanese. This made using context clues, such as actions and vocal cues, to figure out what was going on. For example, for the play we saw, it was all in Japanese, but I could still understand the humor due to the actors’ expressions and actions despite not knowing the words.

Overall, I highly recommend coming here if you ever make it to Kyoto!

Week 4

Instead of going on another field trip, a group of my friends and I went on our own adventure. This week the Osaka Aquarium! We were very smart and decided to go on a weekend that so happened to also a be a national holiday! It wasn't crowed at all!!

That was sarcasm.

This was the first time I experienced true Asian crowds. Sure trains were crowded, but it was mostly find a place and stay there. Here, everyone was fighting to get to the front to see the different animals and creatures. I literally, and I mean that literally, had to push my way to the front. Luckily, us Americans (and Norwegian and Hollander) would switch spots with each other so we could all see.

The aquarium here is one of the largest in the world, holding massive tanks dedicated to seals, dolphins, and the biggest otter I've ever seen. They focus on creatures and animals from the Ring of Fire, also called the Ring of Life in the aquarium due to the diversity present there. The biggest attraction, however, is the Pacific Ocean Tank. Here, they have two whale sharks, the largest fish in the world. They’re massive! Thankfully, they eat via filters and won't harm humans. It's definitely a site to behold.

Afterwards, we rode another Ferris Wheel. Here, we saw the Osaka skyline and Universal Studios Japan. And for some reason, they also have a replica of the Santa Maria, one of Christopher Columbus' ships. It was overall, a great day!

(I’m still confused on the presence of the Santa Maria by the way.)

The Present

Well, now you're all caught up!! Hopefully I'll start making weekly blog posts after this one! Now, I'm just writing this post, procrastinating on studying for my Japanese test.

I really am missing everyone back home. Plus, American food. The absence of Chickfila is starting to get to me. But I'm making the most of it! I’m eating so many different Japanese foods! I'm having a great time and can't wait to tell you guys more of it! And hopefully I'll be able to upload pictures next time!!

I miss you all and hope you guys are having a great time back home!! Love ya'll! See you the next post!!