Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Second Week of the Program and Goodbyes

Well, the last few days have been a flurry! Thursday was the last day of the program. It has only been 10 days, but they have been great. It seems that with so little time, every minute of my days have been packed with fun and enjoyment. It is only now that I have time to sit down and ponder everything over, yet I am supposed to be checking out from this hotel in about 7 hours so even now I am still on a time crunch!

Tuesday July 26th
On this day, our class and some Tokyo University faculty went on a study trip. We visited the Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan, a former all girl's school, and the Sasaki House, a house from the Dojunkai Egota Housing Project of the 1930s. These are not typical tourist destinations, yet historically significant and beautiful nonetheless. The girl's school was a building designed from Frank Llloyd Wright in the 1930s. The second is an example of typical middle class housing of that period. I really enjoyed getting a view of Tokyo that is not so typical and touristy. I especially loved the tour of Sasaki House. The grandaughter of the owner actually show the house to us. We were free to walk around and explore. It was incredible!
After the Study Visit, Professor Kimura took us to fireworks. It was in a distant part of western Tokyo, but I enjoyed it because JAPANESE FIREWORKS ARE INCREDIBLE! Fireworks are a popular Japanese summer pastime.  I found this fireworks show to be far more impressive than the Fourth of July fireworks show I attended in Berkeley, actually... After the fireworks show, Professor Kimura returned with the entire class to Shibuya and took us all out for dinner! I was taken aback by how friendly he is with his students. I can't believe he actually wanted to hang out with us outside lecture when some professors at Berkeley don't even want to talk to students at office hours.

Wednesday July 27th
On this day, we heard two particularly interesting lectures. The first lecturer was Hiroko Takeda. She spoke about an incident in which Japanese citizens in Great Britain contacted the Japaenese embassy when a British comedy show featured a joke about the dropping of the atomic bombs in Japan. The complaints created a great media frenzy and outrage in Japan. She explored as to why these people complained to the embassy instead of BCC or the producers of the show. Robert Campbell was the second lecturer. He is an expert in Japanese literature, and he is very famous in Japan! He speaks "better Japanese than a Japanese person", apparently. He spoke about a book club he started in a town that is housing refugees from the Tohoku earthquake.
After class, a new friend took a few of us to this awesome sushi restaurant in Mark City at Shibuya Station. It was an excellent restaurant! Thank you so much Alden, if you are reading this.
After dinner, some of the girls and I went to see Harry Potter in 3D. It was incredible to watch, though I don't think the Harry Potter movies themselves are that good. Still, I got shivers just watching the opening scene.

Thursday July 28th
The bittersweet last day of the program ended with a discussion followed by a banquet. Though the topics of each lecture has been fairly scattered, they have been a good base for interesting discussions. We have had many, many excellent and thought-provoking discussions throughout the course, and have easily conversed about controversial topics. Even during the closing banquet when we were eating lunch, the coversation was very intelligent. However, it's not just in lecture that my classmates are so brilliant. Even conversations at late night hang outs have turned philosophical or political at times. I'm proud to been part of such a bright, diverse group of students. The discussions I've had with other students have been very smart and interesting. I am so sad to say goodbye to many of these people. We are scattered all around the world, and who knows if we will see each other again soon. Still, now I have a great reason to travel the world! I definitely would like to see my new friends again, and I hope they will come visit me too.
In the evening, everyone in class went out to dinner and karaoke together. We ate at an Italian restaurant, oddly enough. It was my first time going to karaoke, and I was not disappointed! It was very fun, and I definitely plan on going again, whether it's in Berkeley or Japan.

As for now, I need to get packing! I will be in Japan for three more weeks traveling with my boyfriend. He is flying in to Tokyo tomorrow. I am so excited that I will see him again! Sorry again, no pictures this time... But my next post will have many!

One last thing: I am so glad that I had the opportunity to come to Tokyo University, and I want to thank everyone who made this experience possible! Friends of Todai, Inc., IARU, UC Berkeley, Tokyo University, my parents, my relatives in Tokyo... there are countless individuals, and I know must have forgotten many. Still, it should be known that I am eternally grateful!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Weekend

This weekend, I planned on doing lots and lots of site seeing with the other students. Things didn't quite turn out how I expected...

Site Seeing
On Saturday, a group of us students went to Asakusa, rode the Sumida River Boat, and walked around the Hamarikyu Gardens. I enjoyed the trip! Asakusa is like the "old town" of Tokyo. It's not so crowded and modern, with fewer highrise buildings and department stores and more small shops. The Sumida River boat was all right. It was not the most scenic ride, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. It's a nice change from the trains I've been taking all the time (not that I don't love trains in Japan!) The Hamarikyu Gardens were awesome! Everything was gorgeous and green, though I found the miniature mountains in the garden to be odd... Each miniature mountain even had a name!
During the entire trip, I was sneezing nonstop. Big loud sneezes! I thought I was having allergies or something. The group split around 3 PM. Half of us went to Ginza to look at the Sony Building, while the other half headed back towards Shibuya for siteseeing there. I decided to head back to Shibuya, but once in Shibuya, I realized I did not feel well and returned to the hotel. I had planned dinner with family that evening anyways, and decided a quick nap would be good.

Getting Sick
My nap took much longer than expected and I woke up at 5 PM, which was when I told my family I would be at their house! I scrambled out the door with a bag and headed to the train station. About 45 minutes later, I was at my family's home. I was glad to see my family, but I did not feel so well. I was no longer sneezing but my nose was running and I felt feverish. My grandma took my temperature, and it was a bit high at 37.7 degrees, so she decided I should spend the night. I was kind of bummed, as a group of us had planned a day trip to Kamakura the next morning and I would have to miss it. But, it was good I spent the night at my family's place instead. I did not feel well at all. It was a relief curling up on the futon with a nice squishy pillow in the guestroom upstairs (especially since I find the hard hotel mattress and bean bag pillow to be quite uncomfortable).
My aunt gave me some cold medicine called Shinruru (新ルル). It's different from the American cold medicine I'm used to, which you take every 4-6 hours. I took three small Shinruru pills after a meal. I also received a gargling medicine for sore throats. In Japan, it seems that gargling is an important health practice, not just for dental health but for overall health too.
But then on Monday, I woke up feeling dizzy. I had no appetite either. I stopped taking the  medications, since maybe this was a side effect, and I went to the nurse's station on the Tokyo University Komaba Campus. I managed to fill out the forms and tell the nurse what was wrong in simple Japanese, and I received some medications. The visit and medication costed 520 yen, which was great. It's much cheaper than healthcare back at home.
Since I got sick, I have been doing much better. I missed out on a lot of site seeing and hanging out with the other students, which bums me out a little. The course is only two weeks, and ends on Friday! I don't want to miss anything else, and I want to make the most of my remaining time in this course.

More About Class
From my Japanese professors at UC Berkeley, I heard that while high schools and even middle schools in Japan are very competitive and their work loads heavy, the work load at universities is considerably lighter.... basically, university is easy! Even top universities, such as University of Tokyo.
I'm finding this to be very true. The assignments here are not hard at all. Every other day, we have a two page report due. Professor Kimura told us we could write about anything topic covered in lecture. We can pretty much use whatever font, margin, or spacing size we want! We don't even need to include a works cited page, which I find baffling because plagiarism can get us kicked out of school back in the United States. The pressure is less here. However, I am actually not sure how I am doing in the course. Though I am not taking it for credit, I would like to know if my reports are up to standard. Basically, some feedback on my work would be nice.
I must say though, Professor Kimura is such an awesome professor! He took us out to a fireworks show last night, and dinner afterwards. It was so much fun. He really made an effort to hang out with us. I don't know many professors at Berkeley who even want to interact with students at office hours, so this was surprising for me.

No pictures for now, but I have plenty to share! Until next time. :)

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The First Week of Classes

It's already Friday, the end of the week! We've had three days of class now and later I will go attend the fourth the of classes. I have some spare time, so I'd better write about what I've been up to. We have two classes every day, from around 1 PM to 4:15 PM every day. Topics so far have included an introduction to human security, Japan's Overseas Development Assistance, a comparison East Asian business systems, and the Confucian Restoration in China. Many of these topics are new to me, and I find them fascinating. It's a small class (only ten people), so discussions where everyone gets to participate are manageable. The other students are a friendly bunch of people from around the world: Beijing, Copenhagen, Zurich, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, and USA too... It's great being with people from all over the world! I've had interesting, thoughtful conversations with many of them. Not all of them can speak or read Japanese at all, and I find it admirable to come to a country where you cannot understand or read the language of that country. It must be quite a shock.

Though I have not done much site-seeing in Tokyo, I have explored the local neighborhood around the hotel a bit. Shibuya is very trendy! Even around 10 at night, the streets are quite crowded. It's fun walking around with my classmates. On Tuesday, we went out for soba. And on Wednesday, we ate at an Okinawan restaurant. I have never tried Okinawa cuisine before, and I enjoyed it very much! It's been much cooler lately, due to an approaching typhoon, so going out is much more bearable. In fact, the weather is quite cool. It reminds me of Berkeley!

As I mentioned before, the streets here are very strange. Away from the main roads, the streets are narrow and winding. I almost always get lost somehow. Getting lost is not always bad. Sometimes I make a wrong turn and realize my mistake right away. This happens most often when I am trying to get back to the hotel from the train station. It can be must worse, though. Last night, my classmate Jessie and I were walking back from the shops in Shibuya around 9 PM but we could not seem to find out way back to the hotel. We had decided to cut through the smaller shops instead of taking the main road. I mistakenly thought it would be a faster back to the hotel. We ended up in a quiet residential neighborhood, near the Jordan and New Zealand Embassies, which is almost a mile from the hotel. Somehow, we made it back to a main road where I finally saw building I recognized. From there, we were able to get back to the hotel. But now I know, from now on it is not a good idea to take a "shortcut" through these crazy, narrow, winding streets in Tokyo. However, the smaller streets are pleasant if you want a less crowded stroll through the city.

Another problem I am having is that the local mosquito population seems to love me. I even went out and bought some bug repellant but regardless, the mosquitoes find me absolutely irresistible. In particular, they seem to be favoring my right leg and foot. My leg is so itchy, it makes wearing certain shoes and clothes uncomfortable. -___- So today, I plan on being more diligent with my bug spray.

And now... Here are some photos!

The delicious Okinawan restaurant we went to. It is somewhere in Shibuya... I unfortunately don't recall a name.

Takeshita Dori in Harajuku. I came here a lot last time I was in Japan. It's a center of youth fashion! Insanely crowded on the weekends, of course. I visited with my classmate, Jessie.

The view of Harajuku Station from a bridge. Harajuku is to the right, Meiji Jingu is to the left.
We also visited Meiji Jingu, a shrine for the late Emperor Meiji!

It was cool and shady here. Very gorgeous!

Typical train crossing in Tokyo.
Everything in Japan is cute!

The narrow streets of Tokyo. This is was not so hard to navigate, because it was a straight street.
This is Shimokitazawa, off the Inokashira Train Line. I came to look at street art. See how that bridge is painted? Yeah!

More street art in Shimokitazawa.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Day Before Class Begins

“Japan in Today’s World” starts tomorrow, and I’m so excited!
Also, Japan won the Women’s World Cup! 日本、おめでとうございます!Congratulations!

What I’ve Been Up To So Far
I have been in Tokyo for several days. To be honest… I have not been up to much at all! I have been staying with my aunt, uncle, and grandmother at their home in a suburb of Tokyo. It was awesome to visit them, as I only get to visit them every few years or so. While staying at their place, I did not go out much so that I could catch up with them at home. It was hot during the day so I didn’t feel like going out much anyways. (I have gotten too used to the mild summers of Berkeley!) I mostly stayed at home, watching Japanese TV with my grandma or drawing cats in my sketchbook with crayon. A few times, I did venture out of the house. Some days, I went to local shops with my aunt or uncle. And on Sunday, my aunt and I made a trip to the nearby city of Yokohama and visited Chinatown. Now that I have left them, I am a bit sad… They have been so kind to me, and I miss them already! But, I am really, really excited for “Japan in Today’s World” to begin. I can’t wait to meet the other students! (I wonder how many of them have checked into the hotel already… I have not met anyone yet.) Anyways, when the course ends, I will visit my family again. They live too close to the campus of Tokyo University where I am studying for me not to do so.

The Hotel
As of right now, I am at the hotel where I will be staying at for the duration of the GSP course. I checked in few hours ago. My aunt kindly accompanied me here, which was nice because while I understand the train lines, I definitely would have gotten lost on the short walk from the train station to the hotel. (The streets here are narrow, winding, and very confusing.) My aunt also helped me settle into my room. It’s quite a place! The room is a bit small (which is to be expected of Japanese hotels) but the facilities are excellent. In addition to the standard bed, desk, TV, closet, and bathroom, there is a kitchen area! It includes a stove, microwave, miniature sink, and fridge. In a cabinet, there are bowls, cups, utensils, pots, a kettle, dish soap, and a sponge. There is even a washing machine and dryer in the room, which I am excited about because… I LOVE DOING LAUNDRY! (But only my own laundry… sorry, I won’t do yours.) I’m amazed! This is going to be such a nice place to stay.

Conveniently across the street from the hotel is a 24-hour supermarket. My aunt and I walked there to see what was available. It’s small, but there is so much food! Fruits, vegetables, bread, meat, cheese, milk, candy, snacks… the store sells everything! The best part? The ready-to-eat food items! They looked especially delicious and the aroma was irresistible. The ready-to-eat food items included all sorts of Japanese foods... noodles, Japanese croquettes, salads, sushi, katsu…. Aaaah, it all looked so delicious! I definitely won’t go hungry.

Anyways, it’s about 10:00 p.m., so I should probably be getting ready for bed so I can get up early tomorrow. Last thing, here are some pictures I have taken since arriving in Japan…. Enjoy!

These were taken while staying at my family's home in a suburb of Tokyo.
The sun was still setting, but you could see the full moon!

I love cats! I cannot walk by one without saying hello and snapping a picture.

My new favorite medium... children's crayons! Children's crayon in Japan seem different from America. They are softer, more like pastels though not quite so soft.

Here are some pictures of my hotel room.

My beloved washer/dryer!

The awesome kitchentte!

I love tea, so the kettle is great!

The rest of the room... look at that nice TV!

There is a balcony behind the seating area, though the view is nothing special... just a wall of 20 story building next door. When I went to check out the view, I forgot that I am quite afraid of heights. Eeeek!

The room came with slippers and... what is this garment, anyways?
The bathroom! The tub is quite deep, though the room for some reason reminds me of the bathroom in an airplane.

Awesome electronic Japanese toilet. Try pressing a button for surprise.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Journey to Japan: From San Francisco to Hawaii to Tokyo

Late last night, I arrived in Tokyo. It was a long, exhausting journey. At times, I panicked. There were even a few tears. But mostly, I slept or watched a movie. Now that I have slept one night here and had a good meal, I feel great! I am so glad to be here.
When I bought my ticket to Japan, I decided to take a flight that stops in Hawaii. From Hawaii, I would get onto a connecting flight to Japan. The trip takes a lot longer than flying straight to Japan, but I wanted to see Hawaii, even if I only got to see it's airport. And oh my, the view of Hawaii from above was amazing! The water was so clear, I wanted to jump out of that plane and swim in it. And when I rode the Wiki Wiki airport shuttle, I saw the gorgeous mountains nearby. Yeah, it was just the aiport. But Hawaii was so gorgeous!
After I got off the plane in Honolulu, I ran into a bit of trouble. I ended up at the gate for my connecting flight to Tokyo and realized... I didn't even have a ticket to board the plane! I panicked quite a bit, but it ended up being all right. Two hours later, I was back at that gate with my boarding pass and also two boxes of chocolate macadamia nuts, a gift for my family in Japan. There was another problem, though: I was tired, thirsty, and extremely hungry. All I had eaten that day was some cereal before heading to SFO and a bag of Chex Mix on the five hour plane ride to Honolulu. I figured I would eat on the eight hour plane ride to Japan, since dinner was going to be served.
And when dinner was served on the plane, though it was just airplane food, I was so excited! Food at last! But then I realized... oh no, I was beginning to feel sick. Still, I was hungry and determined to eat. I tried a few bites of the curry katsu rice, but my stomach protested so instead I nibbled on a bread roll. The bread made me feel better, but I ate so slowly that when the flight attendant came to collect everyone's empty trays, I was not even close to half done. My efforts at eating were a waste anyways, because everything ended up in a barf bag. After that, I decided I wasn't hungry anymore and stuck with carbonated beverages. I finally had a good meal at home after my aunt picked me up form the airport. We rode the Keio bus from Haneda Airport to the Keio Chofu train station, and took a taxi from there to the house. It was midnight when we got home, but I was so hungry that I could not go to bed without eating.
My flight from Honolulu to Japan made me feel like I was already in Japan, because almost everyone on the flight was Japanese. I ended up taking to the flight attendants in Japanese too because at times they had difficulty understanding my English. I am so used to speaking English all the time. Even at home when I talk to my mother in Japanese, I liberally sprinkle in English words and sentences. But since arriving in Tokyo I haven't uttered a full sentence in English. This is such a change, and I'm sure my Japanese will improve for the better because of it.
My course at Tokyo University begins in less than a week, but until next Monday I will be relaxing in Tokyo at my family's house. It's so good to be here at last, and I am so happy to see my family!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Japan, here I come!

I leave for Japan tomorrow, and I’m glad to say that by now, I’m done packing! What a relief it is to have my bags packed and ready to go by the front door.

The main thing I kept in mind while packing is that summertime in Tokyo is HOT and HUMID. At the moment, it is a stifling 90°F in Tokyo! Okay, so maybe 90°F doesn't seem that hot, but once you consider the intense humidity of Japan... it's not comfortable weather at all. Shorts, tank tops, sunscreen, and my favorite sunglasses were the first items tossed into my suitcase. It’s especially important to pack clothes to keep cool in because Tokyo is experiencing power shortages caused by tsunami damages to the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant. Usually, the city conquers the heat by blasting the air conditioners all day long, but this summer more energy efficient solutions are being sought. That means less air conditioning, and lighter clothes.

Aside from packing, I've spent the entire week preparing in various other ways. I booked hotels and hostels, made numerous trips to the bank, gathered important travel documents, called my airline to sort out some confusion, searched my parents house for any spare yen, and so on. Unrelated to my trip, the toilet in my apartment flooded today and I had to clean up the huge mess. Yuck! Definitely not how I wanted to my spent my last day in the States. The one thing I did not get to do that I wanted to do is say goodbye to most of my friends. :( Oh well. That means I must make up to them when I get back! But wait, it's too soon to be thinking about what I'll do when I get back from Japan. I'm not even there yet!

Anyways, I'm so excited for this trip. I should get some rest, as it's late. Goodnight!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Hello there!

My name is Lisa. I'm a third year Sociology major and Japanese Language and Culture minor at UC Berkeley. In a little over a week, I will be heading across the Pacific Ocean to the big bustling city of Tokyo. That’s right, I’m going to Japan!

I'll be attending a course through a program run by the International Alliance of Research Universities (IARU). The IARU is made up of UC Berkeley and nine other research universities around the world. Each summer, the IARU holds the Global Summer Program (GSP), a program in which member universities offer classes that students from IARU universities can attend. This year, I was accepted into a GSP course at Tokyo University called “Japan in Today’s World”. In this course, I will learn about Japan's involvement in the international realm. I was even fortunate enough to have received a scholarship from the Friends of Todai, Inc. to help pay for program expenses. All in all, the rest of my summer is going to be awesome.

Here’s a little more about me:
- I am half Japanese. I can speak a little Japanese, but of course I am always striving to improve and learn as much as I can. - I have an identical twin sister. She also goes to UC Berkeley, and we spend a lot of time together.
- I named my blog after UC Berkeley’s mascot, the golden bear.
- I love cats, even though I am allergic to them. The best cats are large and fluffy because they are nice to hug.

That's all for now. Until next time!