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7 posts categorized "Jennifer Capodiferro"

08/11/2012

Adventures at the Tokyo Skytree

I shouldn't been in bed a ridiculously long time ago, so I'm going to have to make this quick.
Today was (of course) class as usual. After class, I went to a CIEE lunch with a few other students. We went to a delicious Indian restaurant near the university campus and the entire thing was quite enjoyable. After lunch, I spent a little time in BookOff buying J-pop and then headed back to the hotel. The fun story of today begins around 5pm. 

This evening several of us went to Tokyo's newest tallest tower; The Tokyo Skytree! As big as it is, you would think it would be easy to find. No. It looks close pretty much no matter where you are because of its immense scale and no matter where you look for directions it's kind of confusing. Google maps lied and took us the wrong way, but eventually we did arrive!!! 

It costs about 2000yen to go up, but we took the elevator all the way up to the 350th floor! It was definitely the right time to be in Japan. The skytree only opened back in May and the crowds are only just now becoming manageable to visit. We were only in line for tickets for around half an hour, but once you get up to the top there's even a line to take the escalator down to the 345th level to see the glass floor.
Despite the pervasive theme of "waiting" and "lines", the view was absolutely beautiful. It was definitely worth the trouble of getting there and I would recommend it to anybody visiting Tokyo. I of tried to take a few photographs of the view, but my camera definitely couldn't do it proper justice!

When I got back to the hotel I still had to do laundry, finish up round 2 of postcards to get them sent out tomorrow, and get all the stuff off my bed that had been put there when I needed to get into one of my suitcases. Suffice it to say that it is almost 1am and I still have to be awake at 6:30am tomorrow to be ready for school. Oh well, I suppose I can sleep next Friday while I'm on the plane. There won't be much opportunity before then!

Tea Ceremony and Host Siblings For Life

The day of my midterm was the day of the tea ceremony event at school! We didn't get to participate in the tea ceremony, but we learned all about them and then watched one with accompanying explanations. After we watched, everyone was given some Matcha (Japanese green tea) and a tea cake. 

Then later that same week,
                                                                     
Today is the day I got to meet my sister and her mom in Ueno!!! I hadn't seen Hiromi since she went back to Osaka at the end of her exchange, and I hadn't seen okaa-san since I first met Hiromi the summer before that, so it was a wonderful reunion! We met up in front of the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno, Tokyo. None of us had been before, so it was a new experience for everyone. We were all so happy to see each other!!!

The National Museum is a rather large establishment, and it is full of some absolutely amazing Japanese art. From samurai armor to paper fans, this place has EVERYTHING!It was fascinating and I definitely recommend it if you're ever in Tokyo. The Ueno Park Zoo is also in the area if you have a second day.
Anyways, we explored the enormous museum for what I thought was only a short while but turned out to be about 2 hours! I couldn't believe how fast it flew by! I think my favorite room was the one with all of the Ukio-e, or maybe the netsuke, or maybe the wall screens? Oh, I don't know, I can't pick a favorite, there were just too many fantastic things I saw!




                                                               After we finished looking though the National Museum, we walked through Ueno park. There is a very famous statue on the other side from where the museum was, and we decided that we wanted to go see it. Along the way, we stopped when we saw many tori gates lined up down a path. Okaa-san suggested we follow it to the shrine. It was a very short walk to the shrine and Okaa-san gave me and Hiromi each a 5yen coin (they are good luck) to make a request of the shrine. I could tell you what the shrine was for, but I that might give away our requests, and we can't have that! The walk through the park was beautiful since the weather has cooled down substantially after it rained two days ago. We did find the statue we were seeking and took a photo in front of it to commemorate the day.

 
By this time we were starting to get hungry, so we left the park in search of food. There is a shopping center very close to both the park and the station, so it was convenient for us to walk over there and find something delicious. After exploring the available options, we decided that tonight was a night for Kaiten Zushi! Kaiten Zushi is what you might be used to hearing called "conveyor belt sushi" in the states. I love these places; they're really fun and the sushi is always fresh and delicious! We had our choice of sushi from the varied assortment available, as well as miso soup with shellfish and an unlimited supply of hot Matcha (Japanese green tea). The only problem I ever have at these places is getting full before I can try everything!! I'll have to go back so that I can try even more wonderful sushi. Some of these I have seen in the states, but the vast majority I only see on my occasional trips to the Land of the Rising Sun. Maybe there's a Kaiten Zushi place near the hotel or the University, I will have to look into that!

After dinner, we explored the shopping center. It was such a fun time! We looked through many floors of the large building and had a blast talking. I am so happy that I was able to see Hiromi and Okaa-san today. I am very thankful that they were able to make the trip all the way from Osaka to visit. Eventually we had to part ways. I was sad that we had to separate, but I know that in time we will definitely see each other again.

Street Style: Hitting up Harajuku the Right Way

Okay, so you've probably all heard of Cosplay Bridge (well... you may know it as Harajuku bridge or JinguBashi); Where all of the lolitas cosplayers congregate every Sunday. People I know in Japan (including lolitas who generally participate in this weekly pageantry), the internet, Japanese magazines, pretty much everyone I've ever talked to about Harajuku has mentioned this spot and what generally takes place. So about 12 of us decided that today we would get all dressed up and make the trip to 原宿の橋 to try and get some pictures with local fashionistas. It was boiling outside, and we all had on various forms of heavy dresses, tulle under-skirting, and wig-etry making it even hotter, but we went through with it because we all really wanted to take part. Now take a second look at that picture on the top left and see if you can tell me what the problem is. 


Got it yet? Here's a hint: who do you see in the photo? That's right. Us. Not a single person outside of our CIEE group. It was kind of sad really, because we had all been looking forward to this event we had heard so much about! The funny part was, people starting coming by with their cameras and asking to take our pictures. We ended up becoming the very attraction we had come to see.  Personally, I think part of the reason nobody was there today is that it was really far to hot to be standing out in the sun. ESPECIALLY in outfits with so many hidden sources of heat. I would go again to hopefully see some people, but definitely not in the middle of August. It's far too hot and as fun as it was, a lot of the enjoyment was spoiled by the humidity and overwhelming temperature.

Now of course I couldn't let a good pair of (excruciatingly painful) new Shibuya 109 high heels go to waste, I had to do some walking around Takeshita Dori! I met up with Jamie at the train station to have some more Harajuku fun. 
We started the afternoon with some purikura, in perfect BGE tradition. It was especially fun getting to do it with my big hair on.  It's a pretty convincing style, don't you think? 
We also went to lunch in a cafe. They had some delicious fruit pancakes with ice cream. Maybe it wasn't the healthiest lunch, but it was a delicious way to cool down when it was far too crowded to push all the way down to the crepe place. I'd always heard that Sunday was the busiest day since nobody has school (and yes, school does happen on Saturdays for many students here), but WOW I didn't realize it would be so insanely packed! It was almost impossible to get anywhere. Everywhere we went had lines wrapping around to the back of the store, one even went all the way outside. We only went about 1/8 of the way down Takeshita Dori because all the people were so packed in. I have never seen such insanity! 

The Happiest Place in Japan: Tokyo disneyland

This ticket is mine. All mine! 
The trip to Disneyland finally happened today!!!!  I hate to use a cliche, but it was definitely a magical experience! Initially I wasn't sure if I wanted to go to Disneyland or DisneySea, but after today I know I made the right decision. I'll just have to come back to visit Sea another time!

Inside Disney Station! 
The entire CIEE group met at school and took the train to Disney Station together. That was where we received our tickets and split into Team Land and Team Sea for our monorail destinations, and then split up into our groups for the day. The monorail was adorable, even the little hand rails hanging from the ceiling were mickey shaped!  The ride wasn't very long and we very quickly arrived at the gates. Of course we all ran in and started the awesomeness immediately. Our first mission was to pick up fast passes for Space Mountain. Even though we arrived decently early, it was so popular that our assigned return time was past 3pm! Since there was plenty of wait time, we moved on and went on our first ride: It's a Small World!  I took a video of a short portion of it; in case you're interested in hearing what it's like in Japanese.
We also were given a handy tip about nearby Splash Mountain. No matter how large your group is (at that point we were 7) always say you're a single rider. They let you go in the fast pass line and you turn an 80 minute wait time into an 8 minute wait time. You won't be sitting with your friends, but it's totally worth it for not having to wait in that awful line!

I'm such a card! Did end up eating
dinner inside here later.
We explored every one of the souvenir shops and eventually three of us bought various forms of head ornamentation. I say it that way because we went beyond the typical mickey ears (which EVERYBODY was wearing!) for something a little more unique. My personal choice was Stitch nom noming my head. I definitely tried on quite a few before choosing, but this one seemed the most me.

Once our fastpass time arrived, I took a quick picture of us rushing through the line at Space Mountain. I couldn't believe how fast we got through everywhere! I think Tokyo Disney has a better understanding of the phrase "maximum capacity" than the US counterparts. Though perhaps it could be because (fun fact) they aren't actually owned by the Disney Corporation. They pay for the right to everything so they can have different rules! For example, if as an adult you show up to Tokyo Disney in costume, nobody cares. If you pull that in the states you'll be kicked out faster than you can say "Security".
 Cinderella's castle not only served as the main focal point of the park, but also the main event stage for their Natsu Matsuri event shows. You have to participate in a lottery to get tickets to the seated area, so we only saw part of the afternoon show, but we definitely snagged tickets to the night time main event!
Disney food was also sort of different, and yet sort of the same. Instead of Mickey shaped ice creams, they had Mickey shaped fruit pops and frozen mango. And don't hate, it's so hot and humid that ice cream would probably make most people sick while conversely the fruit based items cool you down enjoyably. There were still ice creams available, just not on the carts. Even the lunches and dinners had their own Japan twists. My lunch at pizza port was definitely a slice of Mozzerella and Crab pizza. Now THAT is unique, yet delicious!
Even though we're way too old to ride most things there, we took a detour into ToonTown. We wanted to see the Mickey Mouse fountain!






Even though this park is smaller than the Disney in California, it was the perfect size for a one day adventure.

Just past 7 it was time to go watch 'Soryo Kobu The Final'. That's the name of part 2 of the big Natsu Matsuri show up on the main stage. At this point it was just me and Lauren. Our lottery spot secured us some pretty great seats, second block center. What we didn't realize was that this show gets you WET. Not just little sprinkles of water. I mean massive cannons spread throughout the castle and stage. At one point I was trying to film a part of the performance when the cannons went off, all you can see at the end of the video is the camera dropping as you hear me scream. It was kind of hilarious. The show was really fun! The characters danced and there was a lot of audience participation! Also the water cannons felt amazing in the heat.

After that show, we met up with Liza and Andrew near the front of the park. The four of us got a spot to watch the 'Tokyo Disney Electrical Parade'. It was about a 25 minute show which I filmed all of but am not able to upload here today due to internet constraints.  That was probably the best Disney parade I've ever seen. It was just so entertaining and fun!!

When all was said and done, we left the park smiling and feeling like little kids again. I took SO MANY PICTURES! This has been the best day of the entire trip! All in all, I think I'm going to have to come back to DisneyTokyo. Though my next trip may have to be to explore the park next door; DisneySea!

 

The Road To Midterms: Balancing School Life and Tokyo Fun

Many summer session classes have field trips; some optional, some required, some in class, some afterwards. During the first full week, my class to a field trip to tour the Tokyo Stock Exchange. 

Even though it was technically after school, we still had to end class early in order for everyone to arrive by the scheduled tour time. We were perfectly allowed to take pictures, but we weren't allowed to use flash so it was difficult to get many good images. I won't know for sure what all turned out until I look at the pictures larger on the computer, so for now check out my fancy schmancy visitor badge.
CIMG8985
We had a special private tour scheduled for the class, so this is something I never would have been able to see if I had simply been in Tokyo on my own. We learned quite a bit about how the stock market works in Japan, as well as how the TSE runs on a daily basis. It was very interesting and it was a fantastic opportunity brought to us by the campus. 
The next day, I hopped on a train after school, transfered at Kanda, and went back to Akihabara to do what I had been planning since June: go to MaiDreamin. MaiDreamin is a Maid Cafe in Akihabara with multiple chains of the cafe throughout Akiba. There's like 6 of them on this one street and they're all super successful. Why? Because they are AMAZING! This isn't like the 2 other Maid Cafe's I've been to before. This was by far the most spectacular service I have had anywhere in Japan.
When I walked in, I was given my own personal maid, Mariko, and my presence was announced to the entire shop (of course, everybody applauded. It's part of the ambiance). I was referred to for the entire time as either "Princess Jennifer" or "Master". Okay, a little creepy in English, but in Japanese it was adorable. Mariko asked me about where I was from and talked to me about lots of things. Another one of the maids came around when Mariko was busy and made sure I understood everything that was going on since it has been discussed that my primary language is English. They thought my Japanese was cute! My treats were a chocolate bear parfait named kuma-chan and a white peach tea.   2012-07-31_14-07-43_658
After I got my food, all the lights were turned off and exchanged for party lights for the "Live Show". It was so adorable, the maids danced and even sang a little! They got the audience involved, clapping and joining in on a part of the dance. We also got various colored glowsticks to play along with. The whole experience was just pure sugary fun! It costs a little more than others I have been to, but honestly the quality makes it 100% worth it and I would recommend MaiDreamin to anyone planning to go to a Maid Cafe. If you ever go to one with me, we'll definitely be going to one of their branches!

The next day after classes the Sophia Summer Office sponsored a trip to the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku. I had been here before, but this time was different because we had a presentation about the shrine from some of the priests, as well as we were able to watch an official ceremony. I wish I could've taken photos during the ceremony because it was quite beautiful, but photography is strictly forbidden in that particular part of the shrine. Luckily the outdoor areas were photographable, so I was able to get some shrine photos; just not of priests or preistesses because they ask you not to.
                                                                                     

Now an especially cool fact about the Meiji Shrine is it's location. You walk outside and are literally at Cosplay Bridge. Even with it being already pretty late in the evening (just past 5pm when all was said and done) we couldn't be in Harajuku without going back down Takeshita Dori for a little mini shopping trip. 


Our next summer session activity was going to Noh. Noh is a type of masked performance play. I was a little nervous about going because I'd heard a lot of poor reviews of the art form. Things like "It's really slow", "It's boring", and "I fell asleep". But of course I try to experience everything, and I had never seen a Noh play for myself, so I was up to try it. I was so pleasantly surprised! The first few minutes I was worried, it seemed to be starting out slow; but very quickly I was drawn in and the hour and a half performance felt as if it had taken only a few minutes. The minimalist nature of the staging makes the actors have to draw you in on their own, and the whole performance really does pull you into it. My only comment on Noh is that the masks are REALLY CREEPY. I mean just downright scary. The good news is that only main characters wear them, so it's okay. We saw "Aoi no Ue" which is basically an episode from The Tale of Genji. I have never read Genji, but it is very famous and after seeing this performance I may have to read it because I would love to hear the rest of the story. I really wish I could've filmed part of the show, or at least taken pictures. Sadly photos were not allowed once the show began. At least I was able to capture a few shots of the stage.
After the show we all went in search of food. The Noh theatre was in a haute fashion district, so there wasn't much to eat in that area. Luckily for us our train transfer was in Shibuya, so we just hopped over there and looked for somewhere to eat right in the center of all the action! Once we found our way out of the ginormous station and around to the proper side, we crossed the road at Shibuya Crossing and started to check out the back areas behind Shibuya 109. There's a lot of shopping in that area, but there's also a TON of food.
Corn soup: one of my favorites
We looked around and around trying to decide what sounded right for the night. Finally, I spotted a sign that said pancakes. Pancakes have been brought up for various reasons over the past few days so I saw the sign and thought immediately "This is the place!".
My awesome pancakes of delicousness
 I pointed it out to the group and we all took the elevator up to the 8th floor where the restaurant was located. As soon as we saw the big menu setup, everyone else decided it was definitely the place. Everything was as delicious as it was adorable! Also, since their pancakes are thicker, they were extremely filling and they incorporated dessert into the dinner experience. I haven was able to have some corn soup! It's one of those silly little foods that I love in Japan but hadn't found yet this year. It wasn't a big day for pictures, so basically all I've got is food pictures. I'm sure you don't mind, they're cute! 

 

07/28/2012

The Tokyo Experience: How we spent our pre-class free days!

Day 5:
 Look right there. Do you see that?! Do you KNOW what that ticket is for?!?!?! Well, I'll tell you either way. That right there is a ticket to the Ghibli Museum. You know, that reservation only peek into the world of Miyazaki that ranges from difficult to reserve to absolutely impossible depending on the time of year. The place that only allows people to attend in 2 hour blocks due to the sheer volume of reservation requests they receive. Yup. That Ghibli Museum. And that, my friends, is where I started my day.

The Museum is only a 1.4km walk from the hotel through a cute shopping alley and a breathtaking park. Everyone met in the hotel lobby at 11:30am to begin the trip, since our ticket reservation began at 12 and nobody wanted to miss a minute. We walked through the shopping area and entered a large park by crossing a lake. As we waked across the bridge, we could see all of the fish. There was even a large water snake gliding through the water below! We passed the boat rentals (a potential activity for another day), the park zoo (yet again, something to check out), and through the parks forest path. Finally, we came to a road which we followed shortly before seeing what we had been looking for. A large gate reading 'Ghibli Museum'.

 Photos inside were strictly forbidden (as in there is literally a staff member in each room who ensures that your phone and camera remain in your bag) but certain outdoor areas were okay to photograph. The inside was absolutely amazing! It was exactly like stepping into the various worlds of Studio Ghibli. Spirited Away, Kiki's Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky, My Neighbor Totoro, Nausica and the Valley of the Wind, Princess Mononoke, Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea; you name it and it was there! Original sketches, explanations of the animation process, recreations of the room where the all the magic started, a short film theatre, and even a life sized CatBus were all included in the experience. Sadly the CatBus is exclusively for small children and the staff members think it's inappropriate to fight the kindergartners on fieldtrip for their place in line. Don't question whether or not I attempted, you may be disappointed in me when I answer. I have never been to a museum that was so much fun, or so crowded! The gift shop looked more like Walmart on Black Friday than a museum on a Monday. Wall to wall people fighting for expensive, but totally awesome, souvenirs. Good thing I had adequate Black Friday training to be prepared for the experience; I had important things to pick up! Outside in the Ghibli Cafe, they were filled to capacity, so since I couldn't get in I just grabbed a Japanese Pair Sherbet in the outdoor stand and watched all the fun around me. There was even a little girl dressed as Kiki, she was so adorable!!!

I wish I could've stayed all day, but eventually my reservation block came to an end and it was time to go back to the real world. Luckily, the real world comes with food.
8 of us walked back towards the hotel to the Kichijoji JR Station and hopped on a train to Shinjuku.

Once in Shinjuku, our first objective was to find some lunch. We walked around near the station for a bit before finding a small restaurant hidden from the main road. Between us we had all sorts of delicious foods from ramen to yakitori, all of which was thoroughly enjoyed.
With happy tummy's, we began to explore the shopping available in Shinjuku. Our first stop was an enormous Forever 21 with 4 levels of clothing! I found something I wanted, but let's just say I was having Gaijin problems. Such a shame too, for cuteness to be so wasted in not joining my clothing collection.After Forever 21, we went over to the 0101. Inside there were many shops throughout 8 floors, as well as a movie theatre on the opposite side of the building. We looked through what was playing, but today was not the day for movies. that will happen one day after class, but not today. The 0101 included a small Uniqlo (Personally, I'm looking forward to the 12 level one in Ginza). I tried on an adorable dress. The sales clerk in the dressing room started speaking English to me when he saw me, but when I responded in Japanese he went back to speaking Japanese. I was sad to have to give him back the dress, especially when I had to awkwardly explain that going up a size would not help my particular sizing problem (haha, Gaijin problems... at least my waist fitxD). I looked through all the stores on the several levels, I almost bought Japanese press-on manicure (you know like the fancy schmancy acrylics with bows and sparkles and 3D thingys glued to your nails, except for $20 instead of $200) but decided against it because, let's face it, I'd chip one in about 3 seconds.

0101 was followed by Takashimaya Time Square. In similar fashion it contained many small stores including Tiffany's,Hermes, and Gucci, Docle & Gabbanna. I'll admit I took a peek in Louis Vuitton to see if they still had my bag available, and of course I picked up some eyeliner in Tokyu Hands, but I was really only in that department store around 20 minutes before I crossed the 5th floor bridge over to the neighboring bookstore for some fun.

Eventually it was time to take the train back to Kichijoji. The station was crowded with people riding home from work, but we all packed into a train and made it safely back to our home station. Once there, our group split up between the grocery store and the hotel. I made a quick run toマクドナルド for a teriyaki burger and a fried apple pie. Don't judge me for my tacky American moment, everyone is entitled to one and mine was delicious. I couldn't resist taking a peek at the bookstore across the street I had spotted during dinner. Somehow that turned into 2 more magazines, bringing my total to 4. Not ashamed, I love me some Japanese magazines. 

 

Day 6:

In front of the main gate to Harajuku 

 Todays original plan was to spend the morning in Harajuku, the afternoon in Shibuya, and the early evening in karaoke. This plan changed, however, when Harajuku turned out to be far more fruitful than any of us had anticipated. What do I mean by that? Well, these are all of the stores I made purchases from in Harajuku: Paris Kid's, Daiso, Daichu, Margo, K-K Souther, Pet Paradise, Angelic Pretty, Innocent World, Tutu Anna, Amo's Style, Love Toxic, Bodyline, Wonder Rocket, Beam Chara, Momo, and 2 separate crepe shops. Considering I probably made a purchase at 1 in every 20 or 30 shops, you can figure it was an insanely long process even without doing the actual math of solving how many shops that implies my having searched through. 

I did purikura several times, twice with different groups of fellow CIEE students, and once with just myself (because let's be honest, those are totally just as fun). I would be posting those here, but you can only have them sent to Japanese phones. And no, my rental phone would not have made sense because getting them off of it would not have been possible. 

Some of you who know my particular Harajuku preferences may be noticing a key location missing from my purchase list. You may be thinking, "But Jenn, what about BABY THE STARS SHINE BRIGHT?" Let me tell you what happened there. I walked all the way through Takeshita Dori, down to the Laforet building where BABY is located on level B1.5 (yes, basement 1 and a half is a floor), walked into BTSSB and WAS COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY IGNORED.So I thought about it and concluded the following; "You know, it's totally fine. If they want to be rude, they just lost out on a $300 sale and it's entirely their problem." So I simply walked away and got some adorable day wear at Angelic Pretty just across the way. No hard feelings, but they'll have to wait until my next Tokyo trip for another chance. Perhaps I just became accustomed to the Osaka location. 

Everything new in bags 

Overall, the day was fabulous. I was able to enjoy a Strawberry Creme crepe for lunch, and a Strawberry Kiwi Creme crepe for an afternoon snack. We never made it to Shibuya, but we had a totally rocking time in Harajuku. I bought more clothes in 1 day than I have in the past year!

After all day in the hot and humid with essentially no air conditioning, we were all pretty exhausted upon returning to the hotel past 5pm.   We all collectively decided to relax until 7pm and then meet up for dinner. When 7pm came around, 6 of us headed out to find something delicious looking within walking distance. We found a place that was really similar to where we had lunch in Shinjuku yesterday. I went for the ramen today, always a pleasant choice. It as upon leaving this eating establishment that we found the shiny blue karaoke place. Don't ask me what it was called, but those were the colors on the sign. We headed back to the hotel with the intent to meet in the lobby at 10 for karaoke. 

Karaoke went well, it was super fun actually! We had a decently large group, a private room, and similar song tastes! We rented the room out for 2 hours, and they flew by so fast that none of us could believe it when we got our 10 minute warning! 

Tomorrow we go to Sophia University for a tour of the campus. After which we will make that trip to Shibuya (which will be far tamer than Harajuku for me. I only really plan to hit Liz Lisa). Once classes begin, there won't be much more in the way of epic shopping. In likely decending order of remaining shopping it's down to Shibuya, souvenirs, and Akihabara. Harajuku was always intended to be the biggie, and I'm happy with my new clothing. Now it's time to get down to business! (10 points if you automatically thought "to defeat the huns") 

 

Day 7:

Even though I am doing a ton of fun Tokyo type things, I am actually over here in Tokyo for the specific purpose of going to school. We all like to pretend it's for shopping, but it's definitely for going to school. Classes officially begin on Friday, but today (Wednesday. Aren't time differences trippy?) was the day that we finally were able to tour the 上智大学 チャンネル - Sophia University - campus. 
Everyone met in the lobby at 11:45 and split up into predesignated groups. Each group was assigned 1-3 current students who met us in the hotel lobby, took the train with us to Yotsuya (where the school is located), and gave us a comprehensive tour of Sophia University and the CIEE Study Center. They also answered various questions any student had over lunch in the Sophia University cafeteria. I had katsu and mango ice cream with apple juice. The campus is very pretty, and classes should be relatively simple to find. We don't have room numbers until tomorrow when we go to orientation, but we have already been told that most English language classes tend to be held in building 11. There is a large library, and two computer labs; however we did not enter either of those places because you need to swipe your student ID card and we will not have those until orientation either. 
It was super humid today,so to cool off we opted for an activity that would involve 2 great things: shopping and air conditioner. A large group of us met up at the North Gate of Sophia and took the train to the famous Shibuya for an afternoon of shopping at Shibuya 109! 


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I'll tell you from the beginning, I didn't go nearly as crazy as yesterdays Harajuku extravaganza. Although, I did buy a few things in this fabulous culmination of Tokyo fashion. 

You can find just about anything in this store, in any style: from sweet innocence to ghetto fab, to sexy hooker. This place caters to everybody and leaves nothing forgotten. 

I found an adorable pair of Japanese heels on sale that fit, so of course I had to make them mine. I also purchased a much needed pair of sunglasses, and a cute pair of shorts. My biggest purchase was the blue and white summer set special I purchased at LizLisaDoll/TraLaLa. It was both adorable and on sale to celebrate the season. I love LizLisa clothing, but they're definitely ones you have to find on sale or they can get very expensive very quickly. I was so happy that I was there during their summer sale!

 When I reached just below my allotted budget for the day, there was still around 40 minutes left before I was supposed to meet back up with the group at Hachi's statue. That may sound like a long time, but we actually had spent many hours shopping at this point. I didn't want to stay outside in the hot for that long, as you can guess from my earlier statements on the heat, so I hopped over to the Shibuya Starbucks. Their menu has evened out to be highly similar to ours, but I picked the first different item I noticed: a mango passion frappacino gel. You heard that right. Frappacino gel. They blend a sort of pudding type thing into the frappacino to give it a gel like consistency. It may sound strange, but it tasted quite delicious!  


At the end of the day after heading home, I surveyed the days purchases by laying them out on the bed. I am definitely pleased with todays finds. The bulk of my shopping is now complete and I'm on to only Akihabara and a few souvenirs/presents. I'm having a great time, my biggest challenge is dealing with that sick feeling I get when I'm overheating. Overall everything is going well though, and I'm super excited to start class in 2 days!

 

Day 8:

You can't make this up. It's really in my packet. 

First off, the serious business. This morning began with Sophia University Summer Orientation. We received our student ID cards, obtained class information along with their textbook lists, and heard valuable information about the school. For example, we now know the situations in which classes would be canceled for the day. Glad to know Godzilla is taken seriously, but only if his rampages interfears with the Yamanote train line!  For those of you who don't know, that's serious business because he would've destroyed the path to Harajuku, Shibuya, Ikebukoro, AND Akihabara. Like I said, serious business. 
We also found out where and how to sign up for the many activities Sophia University is making available to summer students. Tomorrow after class is the first activity: a tour of Tokyo including the State Guest House, Akasaka palace, the Supreme Court, the National Diet, the Imperial Palace, Akihabara, Kaminarimon and Sensouji, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building. We'll have time to stop and explore several of those areas, hopefully I'll finally be able to get my hands on some post cards! 


Of course, I didn't spend all day in orientation. In fact it probably totaled just over an hour. The real action of the day was because it just so happens that a member of our CIEE group had his 21st birthday today. So how do you properly celebrate someones 21st birthday? I'll tell you how. You take them to Akihabara and let them pick a Maid Cafe! (Any of you who said "shots", shame on you!)
Lucky for us girls, he had done his research and knew which cafe he wanted to go to; the historically themed 'Mononopu'. We starting walking down the main road towards the elusive 5th floor cafe and were lucky to quickly run into one of their maids passing out advertisement fliers. She was more than happy to walk us to the hidden entrance, up the elevator, and into the world of Feudal Japan. Well... what feudal Japan would've been like if it was hyper adorable and had maid service. Everyone ordered a drink (ice milk, melon soda, and the like) and one of the many desserts. I mentioned to our maid that a member of our party was celebrating their birthday today and she was instantly excited. they have a special promotion where patrons receive free desserts on their birthday! And trust me, that's a pretty big deal when you're already paying 500yen per hour just to be there. When his special birthday dessert arrived, all of the maids came over and made a BIG DEAL out of the fact that a customer was having a birthday today. They even sang to him and got the entire cafe clapping and singing along. It was really fun for everybody, and I'm so glad I was able to be there to take part.

Now, contrary to what certain gaijin may tell you, there is far more to Akihabara than maid cafe's. After we finished the birthday celebration, we set off for some exploring. We planned to keep today short, so the main mission was to hit only priority places while scouting out other shops for future trips. the first stop on our adventure was 'Animate'. 8 floors and a basement full of Manga and Anime. A couple of us were hoping to find some Sailor Moon merchandise for a few of our friends, and this place usually has everything. I was able to pick up some cute clearfiles from Code Geass (one of my all time favorites) and Madoka (well, if you're reading this and it's for you, you probably know who you are) but oddly enough no Sailor Moon! We'll definintely have to go back and find it SOMEWHERE. They're releasing a new Sailor Moon series next summer, I know there has to be promotional merchandise in the works. Aside from that, this store really did have pretty much everything.
We explored a few book stores, costume shops, cell phone cover shops, and places I couldn't even begin to describe. Akihabara is basically an otaku's paradise. It has a little bit of everything. You just have to be careful, because it's essentially of the internet brought to real life. 

 Towards the end of the day, we even ran into an arcade to do purikura. They really make great memories, especially the fun we all have decorating the photos! I wish they had these kinds of photo machines in Arizona. They used to, but then gamestop managed to break theirs and now the closest one is in California :(
We left around 5pm to avoid the peak of rush hours. It was much less crowded than the past few days coming home around 7:30.

I used my time coming back early to make a run to Seiyu and grab a few necessities like flip flops, laundry detergent and a pencil case. My total haul for the day is pictured here. I didn't get much in Akiba today, but I thought you still might be interested in seeing todays take home.
And finally: The first day of school
So now comes the answer to that million dollar question you've all been waiting to hear about: How was the first day of class?
The day started super early, around 6:30am, to allow time for breakfast and the train ride. I arrived on campus at 8:20, easily found my classes, and was seated perfectly on time for the start of my Japanese Popular Culture class. This class is going to be awesome! We are discussing anime, manga, fashion, food, "cute", and advertisements. It's basically what I always do in Japan, except I get a grade at the end. Our main project is a presentation accompanying a final paper about a popular culture topic of our choice. I'm not sure yet, but so far I'm leaning towards Maid Cafes. Now my trips to Harajuku, Shibuya, and Akihabara can be considered legitimate studying! 
My second class of the day is Contemporary Japanese Economics. It's definitely different than my ASU econ classes, and it will be very interesting to see what all we learn in these few weeks!


After classes ended, all of the exchange students piled onto tour busses for a tour of Tokyo. We saw the State Guest House, Akasaka Palace, the Supreme Court, the National Diet, the Imperial Palace, and Akihabara before getting off the bus at Asakusa. There, I was able to have golden kiwi flavored ice cream, finally track down some post cards, and pick u a reasonably priced UV-blocking parasol/umbrella. After that, we went to the Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building to see the view from the 45th floor lookout point. It was so beautiful!!! Even the bus ride was fun. Our tour guide Eriko from the beginning excursion was leading our bus. She made origami Samurai hats and even showed us a traditional festival dance!

The tour concluded at 6:30pm when we were dropped off back at the university. Most of us went back to the hotel via train. Rush hour is always interesting, it was SO CROWDED!



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!