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07/28/2012

From the Beginning: The Journey from Narita to Tokyo

Hello! My name is Jenn and I am here in Tokyo attending Sophia University through CIEE's Summer Japanese Studies program. Before I tell you about everything that has been happening in the program, let me give you a little bit of background information on me. I am a soon to be junior in the W. P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University working towards my B. S. in Marketing, Certificate in International Business, and Minor in Dance.  I took 4 years of Japanese languages classes in high school and had my first trip to Japan in the summer of 2007. I studied abroad for an 8 week  summer program in Osaka, Japan during high school, and have been to tokyo but never for more than 4 days. Now that you know who I am, let's move on to what you really want to know... how has this trip been going?!

Day1

On the first day I arrived in Narita we were all trickling into the airport at different times. After getting through customs and picking up my rental phone, I easily found the CIEE staff members waiting in the airport. Shortly, several of us took a short bus ride to the hotel where we met up with the program coordinator to pick up itineraries and drop our stuff off in our hotel rooms. 


Since there were no planned activities for the night, many of us met downstairs to take the bus to AEON Mall for some dinner. We accidentally took a regular bus instead of the free shuttle and wound up turning a 5min trip to the mall into a 1 hour scenic tour of all the hotels in Narita! We did finally make it to the mall for a DELICIOUS tempura dinner. It was a great way for everyone to start getting to know each other. Somehow we managed to take the long route again on the way back to the hotel; but all that maters is that we wound up having a fantastic first night in Japan. 

Day 2
There is no way to describe the trip to Takayama without the words “epic journey” being involved.  We left our Narita hotel around 8:30 inside a nice coach bus. At first we weren’t sure all of us would fit, because there were SO many of us, and nobody had seen the entire group until basically that very moment. Even breakfast had been spread out over 2 hours,  successfully concealing the groups actual size.
So this bus ride… 8 HOURS! Yes, you read that correctly. 8 hours driving out of Narita, through Tokyo, through several towns and prefectures and FINALLY into Takayama.  We stopped a few times along the way, but trouble started around 2 hours in at our first stop. Everyone had gotten out of the bus for snacks and drinks, with the instructions to be back in 20 minutes. At the end of those 20 minutes, of course the bus left. Problem? 1 student never made it back to the bus. We had to drive about 20 minutes before we found a highway exit to turn around and pick him up! Luckily everything was okay, but this was definitely an unexpected kink in the days plans.
We drove on and on, stopping again but never leaving anyone behind again. The bus ride was a fun combination of talking with newly acquired friends, hearing fun facts from our tour guide, and hearing bits of important CIEE information from our tour director.
Even though 8 hours may seem like an eternity, the whole thing flew by in a massive blur of beautiful scenery. It seemed as if hardly any time had passed when we finally arrived at the Takayama Green Hotel.  This ryokan is fabulous! No wonder the royal family has stayed here. 

Everyone changed into the provided yukatas (well, okay, I changed into the one that I had brought) and proceeded to check out the hotel.  Our tour guide was familiar with the building and showed us all around. It was amazing to go see the Japanese garden outside, such beautiful Koi!

As is to be expected at a traditional Japanese hotel, dinner consisted of a variety of traditional Japanese dishes. Most of us have no idea what most of what we ate even was; all we know is that it was fabulously delicious andorth every bite. CIMG8323

Immediately after dinner I did what any tired traveler would do; I ordered a 40 minute shiatsu massage of course!  It was absolutely amazing, my muscles were finally able to relax after a super long airplane ride and bus trip.
The post-massage I made an even better decision: ONSEN TIME!!!! I cannot possibly describe how much I love the onsen. The hot water is the most relaxing place you could possibly be. Ever. Hands down. No arguments will even be glorified with a rebuttal.
By the time I had gotten back to the room the futons hadbeen layed out and it was time for a much needed nights rest.
Day 3
Today I definitely started out in the best possible way. "How is that?" you may ask. Well, immediately after waking up, one of my roommates and I re-tightened our yukatas and ran straight down to the onsen. Best. Decision. Ever.  We started out in the outdoor rock one, then moved on to the outdoor jacuzzi jet style one, and then to the indoor one. I have never started the day in a better mood. It was positively glorious and breakfast hadn't even started! On the way out of the onsens, I stopped by the tanabata tree in the lobby and made my wish. It's now tied up with the others to wait until it comes true :-)

Of course breakfast happened, then some room packing, and obviously some taking stuff down to the lobby-ing. Before leaving the hotel, my roommates and I all went to the outdoor footbath at the hotel entrance. None of us expected that it would be cold, but it was surprisingly refreshing. Next we left the hotel to check out the 'Asa-ichi" morning market. In all my trips to Japan, I had yet to have a fresh peach; today was the day I was determined to remedy that. THEY ARE SO FANTASTIC HERE AT THE MARKETS! The flavor is so light and refreshing, it almost literally makes your tastebuds dance. 
After exploring the markets for awhile, it came time to venture on towards our next destination: "Hida Takayama Matsuri no Mori". This was a museum holds enormous festival floats, with entertaining anamatronic shows to entertain visitors. It is also home to the worlds largest Taiko drum (which of course I beat senselessly). Here we were served a delicious traditional style lunch. 
The intention of our next stop was to explore a beautiful outdoor "museum" (more like preserved city, it's BEAUTIFUL). Unfortunately the weather had another idea. Just as we arrived it started pouring rain! We still had fun exploring, and even taking a few pictures, but the weather did reach a point where we all ran for cover and changed from exploring to just talking. Luckily that was still fun, so nobody was disapointed.
Eventually it was time to get back into the bus and begin the drive out of Takayama and into Matsumoto. This bus trip was much shorter than yesterdays, only an hour and a half (also in a beneficial direction because our drive back to Tokyo will be much shorter from here). This will be our last night with shared rooms, and once again I have been fortunate in being placed with a great roommate. This beginning of trip excursion has been a great way to get to know the entire group of students. As of now I have just returned from a late multi-course dinner. I lost count of how many, but everything was delicious and we ended with a nice peach sherbet and coffee.
Day 4
Todays first adventure was visiting Matsumoto Castle. This wasn't very far from our hotel we had just checked out of, so everything started pretty quickly. The Castles outward aesthetics reminded me quite a bit of Osaka Castle, but I knew this was far different from my general favorite as soon as I walked inside. Have you ever walked up stairs with a 60% incline? I have. going up isn't so bad. Going down you can't see the next stair below you and you feel like you will probably die. The view from the top was incredible, you just couldn't think about the fact that you were about to walk back down the 6 raging staircases of death. There is a large moat visible from the top floor of the castle. Between the outer gardens and the water feature, this castles views were superb. You could even take part in a tea ceremony out in the courtyard for a small fee.
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Next was an hour drive to the Daioh Wasabi Farm.  Many of the plants were covered to prevent scorching in the summer heat, but you could still see them in certain places and the rest of the farm contained beautiful scenery and a fantastic stream in the midst of which were many beautiful fish. At the top of the hill was an overlook of the farm, as well as a shop selling some very unconventional Wasabi infused foodstuffs and drinks. Quite a few CIEE students tried the Wasabi ice cream. I would have, but to be quite honest Wasabi isn't one of my favorite flavors. I opted to wait and pick up a blueberry ice cream on the ride to Tokyo.
The ride to Tokyo was around 4 1/2 hours. Not because we were THAT far from Tokyo so much as because we ran into the infamous Tokyo rush hour traffic. It really is crazy! Fortunately for you, I'm not going to sit here and complain about traffic. I'm going to focus on awesomeness. I am in the hotel I will be staying at for the remainder of the trip and it is both very nice AND in an extremely convenient location.  As soon as we arrived (around 5:30pm) we received our room keys, breakfast tickets, and Suica Card for the JR Trains. 
After settling in, I met up with several other girls in the lobby and we headed out to find something for dinner. After walking down the street for a little while to explore, we chose a small ramen shop. It was beyond delicious! Places like this are the reason I can't eat instant ramen anymore; I've been too spoiled by perfection of flavor.
We also visited a little grocery store that is literally across the street from our hotel (well... the street under the train station that's across from our hotel). I only bought a couple of drinks and some little grapes to put in my mini fridge. I need to settle in further before I determine what sorts of foods to really keep around. We were all so excited, you would think we had never seen food before!
Sorry this was a little lengthy, but I had to get you all caught up on the pre-Tokyo fun! The next entry might be a little long too, because I still have to catch you up on what's happened in Tokyo thus far. Trust me though, it's been so amazing; definitely worth reading all the way through it! 

 

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NIce post, I did not know anyone made a blog about the trip.

-Jonathan Blackman, CIEE SUmmer 2012

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