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6 posts categorized "Evelyn Cooke"


This isn't goodbye, just a "see you later"

As this program comes to an end, I am forced to reflect on all the emotional blabber that has effected me and changed my mindset since I have been here.

Only 1 month and I already feel so connected to Japan as if it were my first home.  The culture and way of life is completely different from America yet I still find so many similarities.  I have gotten to speak directly to natives about life here, both the good and bad and have learned much more than what can be found in a travel brochure.

This entire experience is one I would reccomend that anyone take full advantage of.  Yeah school gets hard and in the way but there is really tons of time to really dive into the life and culture.

Here, I would like to offer my top 10 spots to visit in Japan (in no specific order) and for those who are like me, you may fall in love at first sight.

1) Matsumoto Castle - part of our excursion                                                                              











2)Wasabi Farm - Try the ice cream! - another excursion stop









3) Ghibli Museum - final excursion stop, near the hotel  -->3




4)  Tsunahachi Tempura - Shinjuku - try the ice cream! ---->










5) Don Ki - Ultimate store for crazy random items for cheap (also, see the 100- Yen store and 390 Yen stores in Harajuku for souveniers and clothes)





6)  Government Building - This is part of the Sophia Tour of Tokyo.  We went to the observation deck  -->






7) Mount Takao - Easy to get to, tiring to climb, but its baby fuji and you can see all the mountains from its peak.





8) Disney Sea - Just, AMAZING.  Make sure you stay for the firework show at 7! -->


9) Narukawa Art Museum - A bit far, out in Odawara by the Odakyu somewhere but if you can, GO! --> Famous piece of Japanese Art





10)  Mt. Fuji - need I say more?


Do's and Don'ts of Shrines

As you may know, or not.. Shrines are a big deal in Japan.  It ties into the foundation of their society and culture which is the belief in Shintoism.

Shintoism, or "Kami no Michi" from what I have gathered is defined as the indigenous spirituality of Japan and the people of Japan. It is a set of practices, to be carried out diligently, to establish a connection between present day Japan and its ancient past.

This belief is not so much of a religion in the way we think of it, but as more of a cultural awareness and tradition.  In this tradition, there are many Kami which are things, places, and beings which are honored and seen as gods.  For each of these gods, there is a shine built for people to pray to that specific god for what they are most remembered for if known.

In my short time here, I have seen tons of shrines both big and small, famous and unknown so here is a quick guide for them.

1) How to spot a shrine

Every Shinto shrine has either a Torii gate


Or a Shimenawa


2) Don't drink the water!  The water is meant to purify your hands before praying at the shrine, not to drink though there may be some designated drinking fountains.  Simply use the ladle to pour water over your hands and your done.

3) Try and do research before going.  Shines may become very boring to an outsider if there is no story behind it.  The fact is, every shrine has a story and a reason why it was built.  Find these out and it will make it much more appealing



Ex:  On Mt. Takao, I learned that the monster-like figures at the shrine there were supposed to be a representation of the first Americans to venture to Japan!  They were foreign and scary, so the shrine was built for protection and strength.





4) Be respectful!  Weather you are on a guided tour, or just roaming around, please be mindful of areas you can and cannot take pictures of!  Remember, while you may be there for fun, others are there for serious matters and are actually praying so please show respect!

Hidden Shrine in Matsumoto Castle **  Shirne

The Fireworks! July 31st

For one of the biggest firework shows during the summer, I decided that it would be best if I went and viewed with my host family.

This show was held on July 31st at 7pm but of course, we had to get there much earlier in order to get a good enough spot amongst the thousands of people that would be going to see the show.

To prepare, my host mother offered to loan me on of her sister’s Yukatas from when they were children.  She knew that I had always wanted to try one on and was more than happy to assist me in the fine art of tying.  


Unfortunately, “Yukata is not made for those with such nice curves” according to my host mother lol so, after putting on the dress and before tying the bow, we had to make some adjustments.  It took 3 rolled towels, a piece of cardboard, and a few bandages before I was able to flatten out my sides to make for a pretty bow.  This however made it very hot to wear along with it already being hard to walk in.  Still I wanted to fully commit to the occasion.



After we were all finally dolled up and ready to go, we took a cool cab to the train station.  This cab’s doors open automatically for you before you enter.  I felt like such a tourist staring at the door in awe. 

Then we joined the hundreds of people on the trains to the Showa Kinen National Memorial Park.

These were by far the biggest and best fireworks I had ever seen.  Each had its own presenter who named the awards that each showcase had won in competition.  I was amazed.  It was much bigger than the rinky-dink shows thrown together in New York for the 4th of July.

Fw1 Fw2









There were so many different designs and shapes from bows, to sunflowers.  Some that glittered and some that popped.  It kept us entertained.



















Festivals and fireworks are a huge part of the summer culture in Japan, so whenever you can, be sure to venture out to one and experience it yourself!

















Again, it is simply amazing! So do it!

Conquering Fujisan (Mt. Fuji)

Since I arrived in Tokyo, set free to travel and do everything my heart desires, I have been living by the best piece of advice our advisor Shannon has given us.  She basically told us that if there is something on our bucket list or “things to do in Japan” list that some people might not be interested in, still does it!  Wee may regret it if we don't. 

This quickly started my list of things I want to do before I leave Japan.  At the top of this list was the ambitious goal of climbing Mount Fuji.

(For those who may not know, Mount Fuji is the highest mountain in all of Japan at a whopping 3,776.24 m tall.)


We had been told that a few of the spring students climbed so I knew I could do it, just needed to figure out with whom, when, and how.  Here is the dramatic story of how I conquered the mountain.

The Plan 

As time passed and people lost interest in climbing with me, I finally decided to go during my last weekend in Tokyo.  I would have to start making my way to the mountain after class on Saturday to see the Sunday morning sunrise and make it back down in time to rest for class on Monday (or so I thought) Of COURSE this was not only during climbing season of the summer, but the peak day of Obon week which is a holiday time dedicated to ancestors which pushes many Japanese people to venture home and to climb Mt. Fuji!  Yet still, I will climb.

I asked a few of the students that have climbed before to get the details on what I would need for a night climb and it came down to this which I barely had to spend money for 


-       Hiking Boots! (An expensive necessity even though I saw some natives hiking in Nike’s and Vans O.O)

-       Thick socks (or multiple layers) for the cold

-       Food (Onigiri is best since it is a great source of energy)

-       WATER!  (Went through so many bottles on the mountain)

-       Flashlight/head lamp

-       Rain jacket/poncho

-       Regular Jacket, sweaters, layers of clothing

-       CASH MONEY!  Bring as much as you can!  No cards are accepted.

Most of these items I borrowed from friends and my host parents so I was good to go.  Now I just needed someone to go with.  Day of the trip, I found out that none of the people I planned on climbing with wanted to go but luckily one student volunteered to go with me.

Were Off!.. I think

We get to the Shinjuku bus station and to my surprise; the ticket booth does not accept cards!  I mean, its in Shinjuku, was I wrong for thinking they were somewhat advanced?  Well there went most of my spending cash for the mountain.  Since they only sell tickets One-way, the person I was climbing with agreed to pay for my return ticket since I wouldn't have enough cash and I would repay him once we found an ATM.


So, we get to the 5th station of the mountain by bus and what now?  Its starts raining!  We asked everyone what this meant and no one could give us an answer.  It would be dangerous to climb but at the same time, it was evening (8 pm) and all bus ticket booths were closed.  Since there was no guarantee of a safe trip up the mountain, or of seeing sunrise, the guy I came with decided it was best that we just figure out a way home by train.  It was the logical choice but I guess I am not the most logical person.  Still, I climbed.

 The Climb Up

I quickly found an Australian couple that was more than happy to climb with me which meant I could still fulfill my dream of conquering this mountain.  Luckily, they also had extra water and rain gear that I could borrow since I forgot to pack it.

From the mountain as we started, we could see the final fireworks of the summer going off in the distance.  It was a great way to kick things off but quickly, our excitement wore off as the first few steps afterwards seemed like the toughest steps I’ve taken, on such a steep incline.  Here we weren’t even at the start of the Yoshida trail yet.  We could foresee that Mt. Fuji would be something we would have to earn with unbelievable amounts of energy, motivation, and bravery.

At night, the trail is beautiful since all you can see is what your flashlight shows, and the trail of headlights and stations all of the way up the mountain.  These lights were our motivation.  Lights ahead were our goal, and lights behind were our past accomplishments.  All of which played a part in the mental struggle it took to make it to the top.  We were demanding that our bodys endure thin-air, and hard excersice of every muscle which was a shock but we did it.  Still, we climbed.

Luckily, there were many people, from all over the world there to support us.  After many hours, breaks, naps on rocks, rain showers, and more breaks, we finally made it to the 8th station (final station before the summit).  Here is where we were able to watch a great sunrise, which came and went quickly as clouds apparently wanted to see the sunrise too and blocked our view. 


Now, we had to muster up the strength to go back down. 

The Climb Down 

By about 12pm, we finally made it back to the 5th station which you think would mark the end of this story but nope, not for this lucky girl! 

I had completely forgotten about the aforementioned deal with my friend that he would pay for my ticket back down.  So there I was, with 600 yen to my name and a 2,600-yen bus ready to leave without me.

After playing charades with the ticket booth women, I finally spoke with an English-speaking teen who told me that I could take a bus to Kawaguchigo station, which would be about 2 hours, and use an ATM there to pay for the bus I would have to take to get there and also for trains to get home.  Easy enough?

Kawaguchigo Station

Well of course, we finally get there and they show me a Japanese bank, which obviously won’t accept American cards! So, this determined bus worker walked me 4 blocks away to a 7-11.  Mind you, I JUST climbed Mt. Fuji, so every extra step is like another mountain.  Here, I found that the minimum amount of money you can take out at a time is 20,000 yen, which are roughly $200 and more than what I have in my bank account.  Still, this woman is looking for me to find a way to pay for the bus.

We walk back to the station to the tourist center where I can speak with an English-speaking woman about my case and she can offer no help except to tell me that they can’t let me go until I pay for the bus (not like I had money or directions to go very far anyway).

Luckily, the couple I had climbed the mountain with appeared at the station like a gift from heaven.  I was then able to use their phone to call the CIEE advisors for help.  Wakana Okamoto, our assistant advisor picked up quickly and started brainstorming ways to help.  We couldn’t transfer money because it would take 2 days, and couldn’t use my sluice because we were in the middle of nowhere and I didn’t have enough on it.  So, Wakana being the most amazing person she is, along with her husband, DROVE 3 hours to the Kawaguchigo Station to pick me up and drop me off home.  It was the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.  I was rescued!

I finally made it home around 8pm extremely exhausted.  Dinner was waiting for me at the table and the rest of the night is now a blur.  All I do know is that I made it safely, and I conquered Mt. Fuji.

Moral of this story, DON'T give up on your goals, DO bring tons of cash wherever you go and ALWAYS know that when you need it most, there are great advisors that can and will help you in any emergency, not out of duty, but because they care.


My host family - Risk gone right

Hello again all!  Now that you know a bit about me, I can tell al about my challenges and great experiences I have had here in Tokyo. 

When I first came to Tokyo, I was very nervous because very few people chose to do homestays.  My line of thought when applying was that I would be able to get the full effect of Japanese life by living in a Japanese home.  After hearing of horror stories from past CIEE students of curfews, miscommunications, and just bad matches, I began to get worried.

The Meeting:

We didn’t find out information about our families till we got here.  Even though I read over our package explaining our host family members’ names, likes, and hobbies about a million times, I couldn't help to be nervous.  Meeting with my host mother for the first time in the CIEE office felt as if I were an orphan, getting adopted by a new family.  The night before, I had bought a whole new outfit just for the occasion so I could make a good first impression.

When walking in the room and seeing my host mother, all I could think is “wow, she looks so nice!”  And she was!  I then went on to gain a host uncle, aunt, father, and 2 year-old little sister named Haruka.  They made my beef stew, out of a can because they wanted me to feel comfortable with American food, which I thought was the sweetest thing!

After that, all the American ways of living were out of the window lol 


Daily Life:

I have a room that is way bigger than the one I have in the US and sleep on a futon on top of a shag rug, which is pretty comfortable.  Every morning, we get up at 6:30 for breakfast and to see my Otoosan (father) off to work.  Literally, we stand by the door and wave as he walks out like a cute little family.  If I am around, naptime is from 2-4 and then there’s snack time (which I love! Lol).  Dinner is at 7:30 and is always something new and delicious.  If I am not going to make it for dinner, I can just call ahead and let my mother know and its okay so no worries. 

The bond grows strong:


 Family time!

The first outing we had together as a family came very quickly.  We went to Tsunahachi Tempura, which is a famous restaurant known for the best Tempura around (Tempura (天ぷら or 天麩羅 tenpura) is a Japanese dish of seafood or vegetables that have been battered and deep fried.)  They even paid for me to try the dessert, which was Tempura ice cream with a strawberry sauce.  The BEST thing I have ever tasted!  Here is where I realized that my parents are awesome!  They are so funny and I can talk to them about anything.  We went around Shinjuku and shopped for a while before coming home, and from then on I knew


Since my host parents now brag about me to the entire family about how hard working and nice I am, the whole family wants to meet me.  I had the great honor to go with my host family to Odawara and to meet my host father’s parents.  I felt very lucky to have gotten such a good deal, having been really accepted into this family.  My grandmother owns her own shop where she sells jewelry, bags, antiques, and random trinkets she collects from around the world.  This shop is connected to her home, which is just as beautifully decorated with exotic pieces.

After lunch, we took a trip to the same Shinto shrine that my host parents got married in.  Since it was the day of the dog (the dog symbolized productivity and is plays a major role in delivery preparation), I got to whiteness first-hand a ritual prayer for easy-birth for my unborn host little brother.  It was great to be part of such a meaningful ceremony.

Then, we went to the most amazing Narukawa Art Museum which from its café, you can view Mt. Fuji and a lake full of ships and swan boats.  It was amazing and the art was astonishing.  I recommend this place to anyone brave enough to venture that far out. 


More food!

We made a few more stops and finally went back to the pretty house.  Here we had a sushi dinner. This would be my first time eating real Sushi and I was excited!  My host family didn’t think I would be able to eat it all and like everything but when I did, I was offered a permanent place in the family lol. They all stared and simultaneously said, “You know you don’t have to go back to America right?”  It was great.  As a bonus, my host mother let me choose any Italian bag or bow she had in her shop, which brought me to tears.  Blog2_dinner

 Couldnt have dreamed it better

Since I have been here, my host family has taken me to see the best fireworks I have every seen, shopping around, and have provided more than what they have to for me.  I never imagined I would see these “strangers” as a real family.  I love them dearly and know I will come back soon to stay with them again.  Deciding to take this great leap of faith to live with them has been one of the best choices I have made and I cannot thank CIEE enough for finding such a perfect match!



Before I Jump In, A bit about Me エヴリーン (Evelyn)


Hajimemashite!  My name is Evelyn Cooke, a rising sophomore marketing major at Howard University in Washington, D.C.  I am only 18 years old, which makes me the youngest in the CIEE group (luckily I have met one 17 year-old in the summer session at Sophia University that understands my struggle) so I have a pretty unique experience.  I live in Staten Island, New York so moving to Tokyo didn’t seem like it would be too much of a culture shock as I am accustomed to the hustle and bustle of big city life.  That's what I THOUGHT.


You may be thinking, wow a rising sophomore studying abroad already?  (or not lol)  So, I would like to start by explaining why I decided to buy a $1,700 plane ticket to go halfway across the world.


            As the youngest child of mostly males, I learned early on to appreciate the entertainment choices of my brothers.  This led me to finding much appreciation for Japanese anime, games and toys.  Continuing this interest, I began to volunteer at an annual Japan Day event held at Central Park in Manhattan which introduced me to the real culture.  Here is where the dream of one day seeing this beautiful country first-hand was created. 


            During my first year at Howard, I decided to fulfill my language requirements by studying Japanese, (my older sister had taken Chinese and my inner child strayed away from wanting to be a “copy-cat” even though I admired her choice) It was during this class that a recruiter from a popular game company, Namco Bandai (responsible for things like Soul Caliber, Tekken and Pac-man for you gamers) came and told the class about summer marketing internships right here in Tokyo.  Unfortunately, to apply, you need to know more than how to count and introduce yourself in Japanese.  So, to prepare myself for applying in the near future, I decided that covering myself in the culture and language was the best solution.


            While my school doesn’t make studying abroad very easy to do, in the long run, taking classes at Sophia University will help me to continue to learn Japanese.  I have come to realize that language courses I have taken move at a much slower pace than what I need to become comfortable with the language any time soon.  Taking not only language courses, but a business course as well will provide me with credits and everything I need to know to get around Tokyo at a basic level.

CIEE was the only choice for me!

I chose more specifically to come through the CIEE program because I had the option to stay with a Japanese family which would allow me to learn the structures and manners of the culture first-hand.  Also, this program seemed to be the freest in terms of allowing for time to explore and see whatever it is that interests me about Japan.


I am here to have fun, put aside my American ways, and enjoy all that this country has to offer.  I was nervous at first but to those interested out there that sound like me, hopefully my story will give you all you need/want to know.  


This is my first time blogging so I hope I don't put you to sleep, I will try not to ramble on about myself anymore lol

In case you were wondering:

List of other Namco Bandai games -