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6 posts categorized "Nidah Hussain"


Ikebana – arranging nature

Bloggers! So glad you could join me again :D

Today’s post topic is Ikebana.  It’s the Japanese art of arranging flowers and leaves in an aesthetically pleasing way, and tends to have a lot of symbolism and meaning behind the arrangements. I was fortunate enough to attend a session provided by the Ichiyo school of Ikebana. The Iemoto (headmaster) himself was there to give us a demonstration, and his English was pretty good.

Ikebana (28)

I have to say, I was pretty impressed with Katsuya-san. It was fascinating to watch the various combinations he put together (some of them I’d never think possible, like the one above where he arranged Nandina (or nanten) branches and roses together). Every one of them turned out beautiful and eye catching, even without knowing all the meaning behind the combinations.

   Each arrangement was made in a different Ikebana style (upright, low, wide, and varying with the container) but the same textbook principles of the Ichiyo school were being applied in the way the flowers were cut and the basic placement of them. He pieced together 7 arrangements while we all looked on in appreciation of how to place the Kenza (stand supporting the flowers) for summer (in the back, to see the water in the container) versus winter (in the front, to hide the water in the container), and the meaning of each of the plants used to convey the seasons, etc.

Ikebana (234)
Ikebana (235)

   Katsuya-san’s son was there as back up, and also has inherited his father’s Ikebana occupation, but has his own style. He later walked us through doing our own Ikebana, which was both fun and humbling. It really made me realize how much thought and effort goes into ikebana. It’s not just tossing flowers in a vase and making sure the colors match.

I also found it very relaxing and peaceful to work through how to place the flowers. It becomes a sort of game almost, like a contest against yourself to see how creative you can be within the stringent basic three rules an Ikebana-ka (practitioner of Ikebana) must adhere to.

Ikebana (182)

;p Almost looks like a rocket science diagram, doesn’t it? You have to not only have artsy taste, but also be pretty smart to practice Ikebana. The more modern style was shown to us in the demonstration, and we were informed that each Ikebana school has its own approach to the art, although three basic ground rules (as shown on the board in the picture) remain the same among all practitioners of flower arranging.

But to call it simply ‘flower arranging’ doesn’t do it justice. Ikebana is much more than that. Like the tea ceremony, this art and all the other arts that thrive in Japanese tradition, are ways to further perfect yourself through practicing them. It is beautiful and poetic, really.

After this demonstration, I’m pretty sure I’ve found me a new hobby (^,^)

Till next time, bloggers! Hope to post soon!

Ja ne!




Sado – Japanese Tea Ceremony

Hello, blog readers!

I have a double whammy I’d like to share with everyone. I recently got to experience a tea ceremony demonstration from my host mother and sister at home, then followed up with another one from Sophia University as an optional event. It’s the difference between the two that I’d like to share with you, sorta’ to see the two sides of the approaches to the same traditional event.

Let’s begin with the tea ceremony I experienced at home.

It was pretty straightforward. Okaasan showed me the different tools used to prepare the tea, such as the chasaji, or “mini spoon” made of bamboo used to scoop the tea, the chasen, or whisk you mix the powdered tea with, and the chawan, or tea bowl, which you drink the tea in.


Macha is the specific Japanese powdered green tea that has a slightly bitter tang. It’s delicious, really. So Okaasan took out her tea tools, but she let my Imoto-chan take the lead and show me how it’s done. I was informed that the tea ceremony is a class you take in Jr. High school, while my host sister Imoto-chan took me step-by-step through the motions.

Firstly, using the chasaji, only two scoops of macha are used to make roughly 1/3 of the chawan’s capacity in tea. You then pour hot water onto the macha, and use the chasen you vigorously mix the contents until it’s an even darker green. Then, you lift the bowl by placing it on your left palm and using your right hand to turn the bowl clockwise twice.

Okaasan explained that this is done to appreciate the design and pattern on the bowl, or the shape of the bowl (chawan) you are about to sip tea from. Then you drink while your hands are held the same way. After being dubbed nekko-jita by Okaasan for being unable to drink my macha that hot (and lolled at a little—don’t worry, I can eat spicy food which leaves my host family in awe, so I got a laugh, too) I was shown how to wipe the portion you sipped from and then rotate counterclockwise in the same method. It ended just as abruptly, and was pretty informal.

   While Okaasan had me at the dinner table with Imoto-chan, and a fascinated Otooto-kun watched along, the demonstration at school didn’t really involve me as much, nor did it get into the motions of the tea ceremony so much. Rather, it was all an explanation about the aesthetics of the tea ceremony and the psychology behind it. A faux tatami room was set up to add to the mood.

TeaCeremony (30)

We observed the making of the tea from scratch, using very traditional methods, all the while the movements of the oba-san making the were constrained and deliberate, all radiating discipline. We had an announcer giving us the play-by-play of what she was doing. I kept mentally comparing it to Okaasan’s pouring hot water out of a hot water heater, and the four of us just sitting and laughing around the table, (me attempting to drink super hot tea), to what I was watching now. Although the aesthetics that were explained to us said that this ceremony was supposed to be one of relaxed airs and easy communication between the teishu (host) and the kyaku (guests), it was a far cry from Okaasan’s kitchen table.

TeaCeremony (45)

We watched the wrap up with the guest thanking everything (not just the host, but the tea growers, the tea, the tea cup, the displayed wall scroll and the ikebana) and I didn’t get the same explanation for why to rotate the tea cup, to my surprise. Then the oba-san cleaned up everything on the spot in a very traditional way, and we all got to taste the macha they’d made behind the screen, along with a famous tea sweet called Momoyama from the Yamanashi Prefecture popular for such tiny cakes.

I liked this ceremony as well, but I feel like what we were shown was more of how it was done, old school. I guess the way Okaasan showed me would be more of the modern spin on a very, very old tradition. It still kept the idea and purpose behind the tea ceremony—to relax and enjoy one’s company and scenery—but it was done with less rigidity and more silliness.

TeaCeremony (80)

Those cakes were so darn cute! I learned that you eat the sweet before you drink the tea, to equalize the bitterness. And it didn’t hurt that an adorable little kid was shuffling about serving them on a tray. Kawaii desu ne?

TeaCeremony (76)

Thanks for dropping by, bloggers! Until my next omoshiroi event, Ja matta ne!





Tai-ko: the Great Drum

Bloggers! Long time no read :D

Let’s talk Taiko, traditional drums of Japan. This blog’s subject will surround one totally fantabulous instance: my visit to the Taiko Labs.

Anybody who’s interested in music, this is absolutely the place for you to visit. You don’t just have to be a drummer to check this out—heck, I’m only a violinist and this was Ah-May-Zing! It’s not only awesome music and a jaw-dropping demo, but you get to play a taiko drum and feel what the drummer does. This drum is pretty big, and pretty tough to hit. If you’re not careful, those bachi you play it with will recoil and pop you right back!

Like any other aspect of the Japanese culture, this requires a good bit of discipline. Honestly, not just anyone can be a Taiko drummer. And man, it really is an art form as much as exciting music.

The first sight I laid eyes on when entering the sound-proof studio was a small river of large taiko drums.

TaikoLab (4)

We had a nice instructor who took us through the motions of playing a simple pattern, then adding complications with having only half of us play, then half the room play one chorus while the other half played the second part, then switch off. We even had a moment where some of us drumming next to each other had to switch to each others’ drums between beats, then hurry and switch back. It was fantastic, and a ton of fun. I loved the energy that our instructor brought into the room, and the sound of the drum vibrating thorough everyone was exhilarating. It made you want to play and be a part of the fun. The shouts in particular added to the mood. We chanted “So-re, so-re, so-re!” periodically through playing, in time with the beat.

The closest possible thing to that kind of thrill that I’ve ever experienced is, like, being in the student section of a college football game, while your team is winning. It’s that kind of rush that keeps you all moving and shouting together. It actually brings a strong sense of unity, playing together like that.

Then our instructors came out to give a demonstration.

And basically, playtime was over.

TaikoLab (36)

Watching them perform left me speechless. I could only stay behind that camera of mine and stare. In particular, the man in the center of the above picture, Tanaka Masayoshi. He wrote two of the three songs performed. And seriously, this guy is unbelievable. If there’s anyone out there who truly loves what they do in life, and is as serious about it as they like it, it’s Masayoshi-san.

…Your entire world narrowing and to the skin of that drum face… How much of his life went into loving, understanding, and working with that instrument, though it’s just a drum?… The force with which they were beating those taiko left me with baited breath, waiting for when it would finally break… I thought of the meiji shrine and the large statues of fuujin, god of wind, and raijin, the god of thunder. The way that he played, making the room shake—I could feel the vibration through me, if that makes any sense. Kinda’ like standing next to a bass speaker and feeling vibrations hit you. That was incredible and powerful in a way that’s tough to describe. I do know one thing, though. The three of them out there?

Tonight, they were the gods of thunder.



Sensoji Temple, Asakusa—Oldest Temple in Tokyo

Saikiin doudesu ka, blog readers?

I got to drop into Sensoji Temple on my escapade through Tokyo, and I’ve brought some of my experience to share with you. Hopefully you’ll benefit from it—maybe learn something or two? For starters, it's a temple, which means it's based around buddhism, not shintoism. Shinto has shrines. Buddhism has temples. Got it?

Good, on with the show.

Sensoji Temple (36)

The most famous feature of this temple is the trademark giant choji or joji (paper lantern), right inside the Kaminarimon gate and always a bright read, though the name on it may change depending on the sponsor who donated the lantern. Across from the main temple building is the ablution pavilion and a large (and I mean, large) basin filled with sand that has something curious smoking out of it. If you observe the locals who actually know what they’re doing, you’ll spy them wafting smoke onto themselves. This smoke is thought to cleanse your impurities and help you towards perfecting yourself.

Things to see/do:

TempleAttempt ablution (watch the locals who know what they’re doing)

TempleThe beautiful paintings on the ceiling of the main shrine building/architecture

TempleStroll through the many stalls/vendors

Ideal souvenirs: Charms from the shrine for good luck and money, and being more beautiful, etc. These are unique to this shrine, and range anywhere from 500 yen to 1000+ yen. Inside each of these is a little kami which will help you’re wish come true, allegedly (if you believe in this sorta’ thing), and you can find daruma dolls, joji, tenugui, maneki-neko, samurai swords (fake, people! They’re fakes!), sensu, uchiwa, fuurin, yukata and their other accessories, both for men and women—you name a traditional souvenir, they’ve got it here! It’s a one stop shop for those things that are classical and authentic to Japan which people will love back home.

   A major tip as you shop: you will need at least a good two hours here, and that’s if you’re a speed shopper. I recommend visiting all of the stalls, or at least as many as you can, before you make a purchase of anything. A lot of times, the stall across the way or even down a few feet will have what you want in a better selection, or more than 200 yen cheaper. It’s a good way to find what you want without paying a hiked price for it.

   It’s also very interesting to see how religion and capitalism mesh together here in Sensoji. You have the shrine and the holy stuff, then you have street vendors with their various wares. The people here are very nice too.

   On the way back out I got a better look at the two famous gods that protect the temple. One is fuujin, god of the wind, and the other is raijin, god of thunder (shown below, respectively):

Sensoji Temple (106)

Sensoji Temple (107)

They’re pretty fierce looking statues, aren’t they?

Hope you get to visit this place. It’s flavored with old Japan, and definitely worth what it takes to get here and spend the day. I give it four stars! Until my next post, ja ne~ bloggers,


Hanabi Matsuri--These aren't your Gramma's fireworks

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Genki datta, bloggers?!

   I'm here to share my experience at the Natsuo Hanabi Festival near Asakusa with my host family. This was some time in late July, which is, of course, the month made for fireworks :3

   Otoosan was there to pick me up after school activities were done, and then our Odyssey began. Between the two of us, my knowing little Japanese and he knowing about as much English, it was an interesting start through the busy streets.

   For starters, we stopped by a combini (convenience store) to stock up on drinks before we decided to tackle the train ride to the area around Asakusa and the Sumida river. My fellow blog readers, if there is even one bit of advice you garner from me, please let it be this ancient Japanese wisedom:

「Always buy drinks from Convienience Store」

  Because seriously, when we actually got there and the hawkers were on the street sides selling, they were charging pretty high just for water, never mind soda and alcohol--all of which you can get from your local combini (with better selection and more variety) for MUCH cheaper!

   But I digress. So we stocked up on drinks (I love the macha green tea they sell) and we dove through this THICK crowd of people all headed for a spot to watch fireworks. It was too easy to get lost in that sea of people on the street, then bottle-necking to the station, then being a thick crowd in the metro too, which seemed to carry over into the trains themselves.

   Think of sardines, neatly layered together in a small tin can...


   ...Now give those sardines yukata and bags and brief cases, and give that tin can wheels while you set it on a track. There you have the Japanese Metro system at peak time. Otoosan was generous and stood in the way so that I had a seat and not some weird stranger looming over me, while he was in front. We tried to make small talk, and he told me an anecdote about my younger host sister, (whom I will call Imoto-chan) who used to be deathly afraid of fireworks and cried on her first Hanabi because of the loud sounds. We also discussed the finer points of footwear (geta vs zori) and how to properly wear yukata plus accessories; all in our part English, part Japanese, part some form of wordless/sign-language communication. It was actually a lot of fun.

   Once we reached our station (bear with me, getting there was really half the adventure) his back became my beacon as we literally squeezed through this oceanic mass of color and noise and cameras. The Omowari-san (police) were standing on small taiko-drum-tower like stands, calling out with mega phones and, even at one point, forming a human chain with linked arms to assure people weren't going to flatten them.

   Finally, after we got to the section of the Sumida river where my host family saved themselves the best view of the fireworks out of the barges from the river. We were up front and center, and I could even see the new Tokyo Sky Tree. Okaasan was there with my younger host bro, whom I'll call Otouto-kun. We ate bento Okaasan made for us while sitting on a picnic blanket right by the river.

It was fantastic! These fireworks were truely a spectacle. I mean, we think the 4th of July is cool in the states. Even Carowinds couldn't pull off something like this.

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I truly believe I wouldn’t have been able to experience Hanabi Matsuri the way I did, with as much fun and in such a unique and VIP location, had I not been with my host family. Because of them, I had one of the best nights of my stay in Tokyo so far. I got to experience the fireworks the way a Japanese family would, and this insider ticket made the night even more special for me. The langauge barrier didn't matter--awe is universal. We laughed and ooh-ed and aah-ed at the different displays, ate delicious bento (I now have a deep love of pickled plums) and snapped pictures of each other in turns.

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It was a night to remember. I couldn’t have done it any other way. If you’re ever in Japan in the summer, make SURE you go to Tokyo, and if you have any local family or friend you can tag along with, so much the better. Make certain you go see the fireworks during the Hanabi Matsuri festival!

Those fireworks are worth the experience. Of course, then it was back into the subways… 


Till next time, bloggers! Ja matta ne~



Waking up in Tokyo

Hello fellow blog readers! :3

Atashi wa Nidah Hussain desu. Douzo yoroshku! From the University of South Carolina, and as a Biomedical Engineering major, I hail from South Carolina, in the US of A; but i'm currently in Dochida, Nerima-ku, Tokyo.

I'm studying abroad with the CIEE Summer Japanese Studies Program in league with Sophia University. Why the big jump around the world, you ask? Not only does studying abroad look great on a resume, but it's one of the best ways to really get to know a country. The daily grind of student life takes away the sparkly facade put up before tourists, and allows you to meet real people and make real relationships that will last for the long run. Studying abroad broadens your horizons and opens your eyes to a different side of the world that we may not necessarily be exposed to far off in our corner of the western hemisphere. It teaches you to be more tolerant and aware of different opinions and views of similar things.

And all that is only the tip of the iceberg. I chose Japan in particular, however, because I happen to be in love with the culture. Japan holds my respect for many reasons, but one of the main fascinations I have with the country is how Japan has been able to maintain its old traditions while advancing into the future (being among the forefront of technology and science). In being able to preserve the old so well while also keeping up with the new, Japan has created a strong and unique identity for itself which cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. I see it as a lesson to myself, actually, to be able to maintain my identity as a first generation American, while also being exposed to the fantastic and new and different. As an engineer hoping to become a part of Engineers Without Borders, I intend to better understand the culture and approach to science of my fellow-engineers, to strengthen the globalized network through successful partnerships.

But all that heavy stuff aside, I'd like to introduce my first blog with something more fun. :D

CIEE began our program with a fast-paced tour d' Tokyo, guiding us through the more distant, mountainous regions of Tokyo-proper. Among our top hits were Takayama, Matsumoto, and Kichijoji. Below you'll find the highlights of each of these lovely places, ALL of which I encourage you to visit, at least once in this lifetime :)


 This place was simply beautiful. The mist on the mountains was continuous, the temperature was mild with a constant cool breeze…nothing like hot HOT Tokyo city. For those who study landscapes, this place with be your muse. The road trip was at least 8 hours, but it was well worth it, and our wonderful guide kept us entertained the whole way with interesting facts and a Kanji quiz.

We made it to the Takayama Green Hotel in Nishino isshiki machi, Takayama-shi Gifu. It’s a ryo-kan, or traditional style Japanese inn. The rooms were tatami, so no shoes. We were all lent yukata unique to the green hotel, along with slippers to be worn inside the hotel—but NOT on the tatami.

The hotel itself is nestled in the mountains and offered a ‘hotaru’ tour (a boat to the nearby river where you could see fireflies at night) as well as hot springs and a spa and a foot bath.

The gift shop in the back sold local candies and sweets and sake, along with charms and a variety of adorable and cool souvenirs. Owls seemed to be a big theme there.

We were treated to a yakiniku style dinner with all the trimmings, like sashimi with various other seafood dishes, grape sake (though I don’t drink), tofu and miso soup, and delicious peach ice cream for dessert.

Things to see/do:

Yama2Onsen, or hot springs 

Yama2Asa-ichi, or morning market/city tour

Yama2Hida Takayama Matsuri no Mori, or the old government building the shogun ruled from in the area

Yama2Try the peach or macha (Japanese green tea) ice cream

Ideal souvenirs: Tenugui, or unique cotton towels about 90 cm long which can be used for anything; Saru-bobo charm or themed cookies (he is the local ‘baby monkey’ charm unique to ONLY the Hida region).


Our next stop on our fabulous tour was Shirakawa-go. This place is famous for its Gassho-zukuri (or ‘hands folded in prayer’) style houses.

 Shirakawago mill

These are samurai/feudal era-setting village houses, and are a treasure from out of Japanese history. The architecture is surprisingly engineered to ideally suit the lifestyle of the farmers/villagers that lived in them during their time.

Things to see/do:

Mura2The houses themselves

Mura2The suspension bridge near the entrance

Mura2The lookout point which has the most picturesque view 


The following day we went to one of the main touristy sites in Tokyo: the Matsumoto castle.

 Feeding the gigantic koi in the moat around the castle was almost as entertaining as observing the castle itself. The grounds and trees around it are lovely and perfect to take a stroll in. In the castle itself, the stairs were incredibly steep, but the climb to the top was worth it. A tiny shrine to the god of weather is up there in the top-most tower, hidden in the ceiling. See if you can spot it on your way up ;p  A man with unsharpened katana (fake ones, mind you) was out there allowing us to take pictures with the samurai swords with the castle in the background. There was also a man dressed like a samurai who arrived later that day for photo ops.

Things to see/do:

Shiro2The castle itself

Shiro2A picture with either the katana, the samurai, or both! :D

Ideal souvenirs: the gift shop has a variety of wonderful and cute things you can get, themed for Matsumoto castle. Anything from key-chains to mini kabuto, or samurai helmets, with shiruken (ninja stars) and everything in between.


After the castle, we left Matsumoto city proper to see the Daio Wasabi Farm. Many people have found they either adore or dread this infamous vegetable, but very few have actually seen it in its natural state and observed how much trouble you really have to do through in order to cultivate the stuff.


Under these dark netted cloth sheets, bunches of wasabi grow, shielded from the sun. This plant is actually very sensitive to bright light, which is why it naturally grows in the thick dense foliage of the Japanese mountains. Because the regions of Takayama and Matsumoto are famous for the purity of their water, they are the ideal regions to grow rice for sake and wasabi, both of which need incredibly pure and clean water in order to thrive.

While we were at the farm, we had a taste of various wasabi dishes for lunch, and even—yes, dare I admit it—dessert! You can try it out for yourself too. Wasabi ice cream doesn’t taste nearly as weird or bad as it sounds. I promise ^,<

Things to see/do:

WasabikanjiThe wasabi fields themselves

WasabikanjiThe pure, clean river water

WasabikanjiTry that wasabi ice cream!

Ideal souvenirs: in that gift shop on site, they have wasabi flavored everything, so bringing back something strange and interesting is one thing but, and let’s all admit it; the fact that it’ll be wasabi flavored is the cherry on top.



The last stop on our wondrous tour, and before class began and we had to get serious. Though we were now in city-Tokyo, there was a whole ‘nother set of awesome to discover. Mainly in part, the Ghibli Museum. Hayao Miyazaki, director of My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, Howl’s Moving Castle, Ponyo, The Secret of Arrietty, and MANY MORE absolutely AMAZING animated films has a museum dedicated to his works here in Kichijoji. I heavily recommend going.

Because of copyright laws, however, taking pictures in the museum itself is strictly forbidden. That goes for video, etc, as well. Therefore, all I may offer you is this adorable picture of me with my friend Liza at the main entrance:


Things to see/do:

Totoro2The museum, duh (and the hidden giant on the highest tower’s roof)

Totoro2The park around the museum is also a nature reserve

Ideal souvenirs: ANYTHING in the gift shop, because it’s awesome. But be warned, everything is insanely expensive there. However, it is the best place to get the merchandise, and if it’s a once in a lifetime thing, just budget about 7000 yen and go all out. You really can’t find the exact same things anywhere else. I’ve looked.


So, how’s that for a first time post? :)

Please continue to follow me through my adventure in Tokyo! I’m finally over my jet lag and I’ll be up to no good all the time, so stay posted to this blog for more on what I’ll explore here.