City of Blinding Lights, Part II: The Finale

Well, so much for being quick to get this written.  It has been about two weeks since my Japanese voyage ended, however I needed this posting to wrap it up.

Upon leaving my host family for the last time–a sad farewell–I ventured on my fourth and final Shinkansen ride of the trip–Kyoto to Tokyo.  Sadly, there were no views of Mt. Fuji due to it being nighttime, but the ride was enjoyable all the same.  It all came to an end in the electrical neon storm of Tokyo and my zebra-striped tiny hotel room.

A nice meeting with a friend of my parents and a train trip later, I am sitting in Narita Airport waiting to go home.  I ended it just about the best way I could; I have contact information for my wonderful host family and many of my long list of new friends.  I could not have asked for a greater time with so many amazing people and with so many incredible experiences and fun places to visit.  Everyday was something new and a learning experience, I and I could not have asked for anything more.  I encourage everyone to study abroad whenever and wherever possible.  It is an amazing opportunity and can really open one’s eyes to the world.


The Dementors Converge

Sorry for the massive gap between postings, but I have been incredibly busy recently.  First off, I went on a trip to Taiwan.  Taipei was very rainy, with lots of surrounding mountains and also the world’s ex-tallest building, Taipei 101.  I had a great time there, and took a rather death-defying hike up a mountain in the rain that I will never forget.

While Taiwan was a nice calm before the storm, the storm did come and it came extremely hard.  Not only was a Japanese final looming down on me, but also two large essays that threatened to suck out my soul.  After some pretty terrible nights, I am done with everything.  My time as a Japanese study abroad student is over.

However, for the time being, I am still in Japan, and I have one more mini-trip on the agenda.  The last few days have been riddled with sad partings and goodbyes.  And while I don’t have much of anything new to say about Japan, I will say that goodbyes are hard in all languages.  I have made so many amazing friends here, and I hope one day to see some of them again.  I’m sure it will happen.

Anyway, look for one if not too more posts in the near future.  I will try to wrap this up in the most clean, affecting way possible.


The Unforgettable Fire, Part III

Okay, for the record, I initially had no intention of making this thing into a trilogy.  It just so happened that I had an opportunity to make it a trilogy, and let’s face it, everything is cooler in threes.  So I pulled a Peter Jackson.  This would not have been possible had I not gone to Nagasaki.

First of all, Japan has a holiday weekend called Golden Week, many families take time off of work to go on vacations to various parts of Japan.  Tokyo, Kyushu, and Okinawa are common destinations.  Kyushu is where I went, taking a few totally worth it days of off school to experience what turned out to be my favorite Japanese island.  The itinerary included the cities of Fukuoka, Nagasaki, and Kagoshima, as well as the active volcano, Mt. Aso.  First off, Mt. Aso decided to be a little temperamental both days I was there.  Large volcanic gas emissions prevented a visit to the top of the caldera.  The second time we even made it to the ropeway station, before turning right around!  Luckily the park was beautiful and my friend and I had some great views and hikes.  Fukuoka was more or less just a big city, although it had some great food, a large observation tower, and a Hard Rock Cafe!

Continuing the volcanic theme is Kagoshima, the southernmost major city on the main islands.  Sakurajima–also active and constantly smoking–literally rises over the entire bay.  Sakurajima was thrilling to explore, I was able to take a tour bus around the peninsula.  Apparently it has had four major eruptions in recorded history, and luckily it didn’t erupt while I was there!  Kagoshima had a very open and almost tropical feel to it, and the people were very nice.  Actually in all of Kyushu the people were very kind, with the exception of the one guy who literally stole my bed in a hostel one night, causing me to return casually and wake him up.

If two smoking volcanoes wasn’t enough, my favorite city on the trip was Nagasaki.  Like Hiroshima, Nagasaki suffers from being known as an atomic bomb city.  But unlike Hiroshima, Nagasaki doesn’t dwell on the past quite so much.  Much like Hiroshima, Nagasaki has a Peace Park and Museum.  The park is in my opinion better than Hiroshima’s, as it fits the terrain better and overall feels more like a park.  But overall, one can forget about Nagasaki’s WWII past because there’s so much else to do!  Western and Chinese culture are everywhere here, and I had a great time exploring the famous Western houses of the Glover Garden, situated on a hillside overlooking the harbor.  It is because of the city’s amazing setting and international feel that Nagasaki is now my favorite Japanese city.

As written above, the Kyushu people seem extremely nice.  We seemed to always get lost, yet convenience store workers were always great at helping us find where we needed to go. The hostels and hotels were all excellent, with incredibly nice rooms and friendly staff.  Finally, the transportation between cities was flawless.  Just goes to show how easy it is to travel in Japan, even with very basic language skills.

Well, there you have it, that’s my trilogy.  Can’t have a much more epic final installment than a bombing and two active volcanoes, can you?  They are truly unforgettable fires.  Maybe I can score more Oscars than Return of the King?

Random Trivia Questions:

1.  The Enola Gay is famous for dropping the Hiroshima bomb.  What was the name of the Nagasaki plane?

2.  Nagasaki was the second choice city to be bombed on August 9th.  Heavy cloud cover caused the primary target to be abandoned and after three circles over the city the plane left and flew to Nagasaki.  What was the initial target for that day that ended up barely avoiding disaster?

Many Meetings

The Japanese students returned to campus a few weeks ago, the first time they have been on campus all semester.  They have a long winter break, which is similar to summer vacation in the U.S.  Anyway, the campus is now extremely packed.  I guess I got used to deserted hallways and no line at McDonald’s (it now runs out the door)!

This is actually a very good thing to happen, as it results in me getting to know many more Japanese students.  They often just come up to me while I am reading/doing homework/sitting/sleeping and ask to talk.  They are very polite, often shy, but very excited to practice English.  I have made MANY new friends over the past few weeks, my Facebook has received the greatest adrenaline shot ever with numerous friend requests.

There are also many organized opportunities to speak and meet with Japanese students.  I have gone to two “Language Cafes” where foreign students meet with Japanese, and today I attended a Japanese classroom, helping students with English.  Overall, I have a very good time talking with them and I am glad to have them finally on campus.

A Day at the Beach

Long time between posts, I know.  I have been very busy and I still am, but this was long overdue.

The second half of my Spring Break had me visiting beautiful Okinawa.  Because the first thing I used to think of when I heard Okinawa was kamikazes, I think a little Okinawan history would help a lot.

Okinawa was originally the centerpiece of the Ryukyu kingdom, which had much success trading with Korea, Japan, and China.  However, as time went on, the Ryukyu kingdom became sort of tributaries of both China and Japan.  While China was content to leave the Ryukan islands alone for the most part, Japan continued to restrict the islands.  Eventually in 1872, Japan took over Okinawa, ending the Ryukyu kingdom.

Okinawa had a hard time with Japan.  The Japanese wanted Okinawa to be more like Japan, while the Okinawans wanted to preserve their old customs.  However, after Japan became very successful in several wars, the Okinawans desired to become more Japanese.  Unfortunately, the Japanese never regarded the Okinawans as Japanese anyway, and the Okinawans were seen as inferior and somehow separate from the “real” Japan.

This came to a climax in the WW2 Battle of Okinawa.  The island was left with a skeleton force to defend it, with the Japanese officials already anticipating Japan’s defeat in the battle and already preparing for the Americans’ inevitable (so they thought) invasion of the main island of Kyushu.  The goal of the military on Okinawa was to endure the Americans and hold off defeat for as long as possible.  The battle ended up having the greatest number of of civilian deaths in the war, as civilians were often included–willingly or not–in the fighting.

In the end, Okinawa went to the U.S., who had it for twenty years before giving it back to Japan.  Okinawa still has about 70% of all Japan’s American military bases, and they take up about 20% of the island’s area.

So, Okinawa has been taken in many different directions over the years.  The U.S. influence can be seen in many places.  The military bases aren’t hard to find and the island even has A&W restaurants while the rest of Japan does not.  But Okinawa’s Ryukan roots can be seen as well.  I visited Shurijo Castle, the former castle of the Ryukan kingdom, as well as the Cultural Museum, which went into detail about Okinawa’s history.

I did not see any resentment towards Americans.  Some people told me that the Okinawans have a lesser opinion of Americans due to the great number of bases in the area.  From what I saw, they were just as nice and willing to help as all other Japanese.

In the end, I went to the beach.  I happened to find an incredible tidal area filled with coral, which was amazing to swim in.  Overall, I ended up loving Okinawa and only wish I had had more time to spend there.



City of Blinding Lights

Tokyo is what I expected most of Japan to be like–a gigantic, thriving metropolis.  Osaka failed to meet my expectations, as it is unfortunately 86 square miles and 18 million people of nothing interesting except Universal Studios.  Kyoto–while always interesting to visit–just never seems like a big city, maybe due to its strict zoning laws banning tall buildings.

Tokyo met every expectation I had of it.

The biggest city in the world, Tokyo is gigantic.  35 million people live in the Tokyo metro area, and you can tell.  People are everywhere, making Osaka look like a baby in comparison.  The train system–both subway and above-ground–I believe sets a record for being the most extensive  in the world.

Speaking of trains, I finally had a “crushing” experience on one of them!  I’m not sure if any of you have seen the photos of train officials pushing people into a packed train, but those people exist!  I got on the train only to be pushed (and pushed and pushed) into some guy who was himself smashed against a wall.  I tried to move my feet but couldn’t.  Luckily, I was so crammed in there that I couldn’t possibly fall over if I tried!  The instant a seat opened up I took it, but standing up was certainly…an experience.

Japan has this incredible thing called a capsule hotel.  They are like little cells in the wall that have a mattress and a TV.  The TV is extra money, so the bed is it.  The capsules are stacked two levels up, and line most of the walls.  Curtains cover the opening when you are sleeping.  Overall, it is a very cheap and surprisingly comfortable place to sleep.

Tokyo is a bit lacking in historical or religious places.  The Meiji Jinju Shrine and the Sensoji Temple are the only two really major temples in the city, although both are excellent.  The Imperial Palace was surrounded by beautiful cherry blossom trees, making the area even more beautiful than usual.  The Imperial Palace East Gardens and the Shinjuku Gyoen are both incredibly beautiful gardens.  Tokyo also has the largest fish market in the world–the Tsukiji Fish Market.  I visited all of these places and more.

In terms of amusement parks, Tokyo DisneySea is the most immersive, well-themed park I’ve been to and the rides were excellent.  Tokyo also has the world’s only looping, launched spinning coaster–which was amazingly disorienting.

Shinjuku and Ginza light up at night, hence the title this post.  It’s really incredible with all the lit-up billboards and neon signs.  I want to go back already.ImageImage


On February 8th I wrote that I would comment on the Japanese bullet trains once I got a chance to ride one.  So, finally, here is my report.  I got to ride the Shinkansen from Osaka to Hiroshima.  The journey took about 1 hour 45 minutes to cover roughly 150 miles.  It was not the very fastest Shinkansen, it was a Hikari rather than a Nozomi, so it had more stops, but the top speed was the same at about 180 mph at points.

Overall, I was very pleased with the ride.  Despite moving incredibly fast, it really did not seem too fast as it was so smooth.  I almost wish it was an open-air train because that would be exhilarating!  But maybe too much of my rollercoaster obsession is shining through.  The train went through countless mountain tunnels and had some cool views of the mountains and occasionally the coast.  It was certainly an experience and was much more convenient than waiting in an airport for a plane or taking a bus.