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4 posts from July 2011


Hopping into the Hot Springs- An Unforgettable Encounter

                If you had asked me a few weeks or even a few days ago whether I’d be willing to bathe naked with a bunch of vacationing Japanese and some of my fellow classmates in an onsen (Japanese hot spring), I would have looked at you, laughed hysterically, and said “NO!”. Funny, how things and people and attitudes change- sometimes with no forethought or very quickly.

                On our way to Takayama, when our tour guide was explaining the concept of onsen and the complicated etiquette that goes with them, I was one of the few who gave a vehement “NO WAY!” when asked if I would take advantage of this possibly once in a lifetime chance to take a dip in one of the most beautiful and prestigious onsen. In fact, I was almost in tears at the very thought of it!

                But as soon as we were given a tour and got to see the hotel and the onsen for ourselves, my mind was immediately changed.  The area was so supremely gorgeous- surrounded by mountains on either side and rolling countryside. It was quiet and peaceful- like stepping into a dream. The onsen itself was crafted in much the same way- very natural and peaceful- or, as the Japanese say “yuumei mitai”. The steam billowed up like soft, invisible fluffy clouds and imbued a sweet and relaxing moisture into everything it touched. The room was lit by the most natural light possible, and the sound of waterfalls filled the interior.

                Separated by a glass wall, was the outdoor open-air springs. It, too, was ethereal in quality, with rough stones lining the edges as walls that looked like the craggy mountainside surrounding the hotel and city. Greenery tumbled down in folds and rivulets from planters, and clung to the walls. There were sweet smelling flowers as well as a bubbling waterfall and statuary. A wood partition separated the men’s onsen from the women’s, and looked to be made of dried bamboo.

                Stepping into those waters was like stepping into liquid Nirvana. Heat seemed to seep into my very bones, relaxing me to my core. Leaning against the marble sides and gazing up at the nighttime sky and scenery was amazing- words cannot properly describe it. The moment you stepped into those waters and sat down, you could forget all the things that might have held you back, such as shyness and modesty. There was no being naked- there was just a pure sense of being.

                It is one of the most amazing and breathtaking experiences I have ever had, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Had I not forgone my initial shyness and modesty, I know I would have regretted never stepping foot inside that remarkable and peaceful onsen. That night, as I lay on my futon, I slipped into one of the most restful and relaxed sleeps that I have had in years. As an insomniac, that’s definitely saying something.

~Amanda Barnett

An Introduction to Japan

For me, it was the roads.

I've wanted to go to Japan for years, ever since I became interested in anime and manga.  I'd planned to study abroad from the time I entered college--one of my qualifications for picking a school was a good study abroad program--and I've been taking Japanese language classes since high school.  Japan was most definitely where I wanted to study abroad.  I'd structured my college schedule, restructured it when it became apparent that I was going to graduate a semester earlier than I'd planned, saved money, and took out far too many loans--and I was going to Japan.

The problem was, I didn't quite feel like I'd gone anywhere.

Traveling by airplane is always a disorienting experience.  For other forms of travel, you have reference points to tell you that you're moving.  In planes, there's nothing besides the clouds and the occasional scrap of some unfamiliar land below.  I arrived in Japan at 4 pm on a Friday night; my body was convinced that it was some ungodly hour of the morning on Thursday, and I had been desperately flipping through textbooks for the past few hours, attempting to remind myself of the kanji I'd forgotten during my year off from Japanese class.

In short, I was not in the best condition.

All I remember of my first evening in Japan was wandering around the Aeon Narita mall in a daze, with people who mercifully didn't seem to hate me on sight, trying to get it through my mind that I was in Japan.  The entire experience was very surreal.  I was surrounded by Japanese people, with Japanese words fluttering around me like so many small butterflies...and yet, the mall was a mall.  I might as well have been back home in Minnesota.  We stayed in a hotel by the Narita airport the first night.  I came back from the mall at 10 pm and collapsed onto the bed.  I've never fallen asleep so early in my life.

We left for Takayama the next morning, which involved a seven-hour bus ride.  Initially, I figured I could use the time to read, write, or study some more.  I'd forgotten that I seem to be incapable of doing anything on a bus ride besides staring out the window and thinking.

Japan.  I was in Japan.

The roads were narrow, winding through the mountains with sometimes terrifyingly short distances between the road and the sheer drop down.  They were the sort I'd seen in the movies of Hayao Miyazaki, and had always assumed he was exaggerating for dramatic effect.  Nope.  Those are the roads.  The twisty, mad, treacherous roads from Spirited Away and Ponyo actually existed.  I was on them.

And looking out at the mountains, I finally felt like I had reached Japan.

-Kendra Leigh Speedling


A Brief Jikoshoukai

                Ohayou gozaimasu from Japan! Although, by this time, it will probably be the evening for everyone in the States. As of right now, this is the marker for my first week in Japan! I’m so excited to be here- everything is so wonderful, different, and amazing- as it should be, since I went through so much to actually be here!

                For those who don’t know me yet, I am Amanda. I’m a senior in college at Purdue University in Indiana- a long, long way away from Japan and any really big city. I grew up on a very rural farm on the banks of the river that cuts through my home state, the Wabash. Growing up, I was always fascinated with anything and everything Japanese- but admittedly, anime is what got me started on everything. I devoured anything anime-related that I could find, which turned out to be quite difficult since it hadn’t yet become popular and wide-spread in my town at that point.

                It wasn’t until I was in high school that I was able to take official Japanese classes. Before that, I had learned tidbits here and there on my own in preparation for what would become the highlight of my life. Even at such an early age, I knew that studying Japanese was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It resonated within me in a way that nothing had before, and gave me a reason to exist in some of the darkest parts of my life.

                After I left high school and was accepted into the college of my dreams, it seemed only natural to continue making Japanese a priority. After I talked to a guidance counselor I also decided to add on East Asian Studies to further my career options and enhance my Japanese education. My third major, Women’s Studies, followed a month or so after classes began, after my first couple of women’s studies classes.

                Through my first three years of college, studying abroad didn’t seem like an option: I was poor and scared of stepping out of my comfort zone. However, after some careful prodding from a couple of my best friends and my sisters, I decided to attend the annual study abroad fair. Once there, I armed myself with information to combat both my financial and emotional setbacks. For the first time, studying abroad seemed possible: Japan (because, without question, that is where I wanted to go) was within reach.

                Four months later, I was on a plane to Narita, Japan. Since then, I’ve had so many wonderful and amazing experiences and adventures- I can’t wait to write about them! For me, this chance has been a dream come true: I keep expecting to wake up in my apartment in Indiana and find out it was all an amazingly wonderful dream. It’s a little hard to keep myself from floating up and taking up a permanent residence on Cloud 9- but that’s ok, too. For me, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I intend to float breezily upon the clouds and absorb everything I can.



2011 Summer Program

July is finally here and the CIEE Study Center in Tokyo is busy gearing up for another exciting summer program. This year, we look forward to welcoming students from 17 colleges and universities.
Before beginning summer session classes at Sophia University, CIEE students will join a week-long comprehensive orientation program. This year we have planned a 3-day excursion to central Japan, with the cities of Takayama, Shirakawa-go and Matsumoto on our itinerary. After returning to Tokyo, we will take a trip to the Ghibli Museum to explore the anime of Studio Ghibli, and have a few days to get settled in before the start of the intensive academic program.
We will update our blog again once the 2011 CIEE Summer Program is underway, but in the meantime here are a few photos submitted by students for last summer's photo contest. Enjoy!
Shannon Quinn
Summer Program Director