Saturday, April 21, 2012

Today is my last day in Hikone. Tomorrow morning I have to leave JCMU. These past two weeks have been very busy with presentations, exams, and packing, but now it is all over. It’s a very weird feeling knowing that I won’t be living here anymore, but I know I will be back to Japan soon, so I’m not too worried. I’m so glad that I got come here and travel so much.

I’m also glad that before I left the weather finally got nice and it felt like a real spring! And in Japan, spring means cherry blossoms! The cherry blossom trees are a very important symbol for the Japanese people, and they are very popular. Every year many Japanese people participate in hanami or flower viewing. They have picnics under the cherry blossom trees and enjoy viewing them while spending time with friends and family. This year I got to do hanami twice, once with my friends from school and once with my conversation partner.

We went to Hikone Castle, and it was packed! Hanami is very popular, and Hikone Castle is well known for its cherry blossoms. The city even shut down a few roads surrounding the castle because there was so much pedestrian traffic! I had a fun time, the cherry blossoms are beautiful, and I got to eat lots of good Japanese food!

Last night I got to go out with some friends to karaoke as our last hurrah in Hikone. We ended up staying and singing until 3 in the morning when the karaoke place closed. It was a good way to end my time here with my friends. Just a few more days and I will be back in America visiting all the friends I have been missing over the past 4 months.

Sunday, April 1, 2012


This week for our Friday project we did an interview activity. Local people came in to talk with us so we could practice our Japanese and they could practice their English. The whole thing took about forty minutes, but we switched partners a few times, so I got to talk to four different people. It was very interesting getting to meet different Japanese people and learning about them.

One man told me he was grateful to America for their help after the disaster last March, and also told me he was glad that the U.S. had bases in Okinawa because they can protect the Japanese people if something bad happens. I found this very interesting because in my Japanese politics class we learned that many people do not like the bases in Okinawa because they are located right in the middle of some cities and are quite loud, among other things. This is just an example of one controversy in Japan right now.

We discussed other topics such as movies, food, and our families during this conversation activity. We had to use formal Japanese (called keigo) during this activity, which is somewhat difficult. Everyone was very understanding when I made mistakes though, so I was glad.

One thing I have learned here is to not be afraid of making mistakes. My Japanese is not perfect, and it is going to take a long time before it gets anywhere near there. However, if I want to stand any chance of communicating with someone here, and improving my Japanese, I have to be willing to just try my best to speak it. Miscommunications will happen, and I just have to try my best to correct them.

For example, tonight while eating at a restaurant one of my friends tried to tell the waitress that we would be ordering separate so we could get separate checks. She misunderstood and thought he was saying that he was the only one ordering, so after taking his order she left the table without my other friend and I getting a chance to order any food! We had to call her back to clear up the understanding, though I think she was more embarrassed about it than we were!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Typical Day

Wow. I can’t believe that my time here is almost over already. Just one more month and I will be headed back to America. It still feels like I just arrived here!

So far I have blogged a lot about traveling, so I thought this time I would cover a little bit of the day to day here in Hikone. Monday through Thursday I have Japanese class from 8:50am until 11:40am. This class is held here at the Japan Center for Michigan Universities. On Fridays we have a test at 8:50 that lasts about an hour, and afterwards we have an optional “Friday Project” which is a special Japanese culture seminar. Some of these included tea ceremony, playing taiko drums, various martial arts, and trying on kimono.

On Thursday afternoons I have my Japanese politics class once. This class is held at Shiga University, which takes about 15 minutes to bike to from here. This class is very interesting, I feel like I have learned a lot from it. Right now we are starting to prepare our end of the semester projects; my group is covering Junichiro Koizumi who was Japan’s Prime Minister from 2001 to 2005.

Once Japanese language class is over I usually get some lunch. If I’m cooking for myself I usually make instant ramen, yaki-soba, or some rice and vegetables. A difference between Japan and America is that Japanese people go grocery shopping almost every day. I usually go about twice a week, which is much more frequent than I do in America. Japanese food tends to expire quickly though, so there is no other choice. Some of my favorite places to go out to eat are Coco’s, a family style restaurant, Sapna, an Indian restaurant, and Kaiten Sushi, a rotating sushi bar.

For entertainment I usually hang out with people in the dorms and watch movies or tv shows. Sometimes I’ll go jogging or take walks with friends; there is a lot of great scenery around here to look at. If I feel like going out, karaoke is always a popular choice. Karaoke in Japan is a bit different from in the U.S. Here you rent out a room, so it is just you and your friends taking turns singing, instead of performing in front of a huge crowd like in the U.S. If I take the train one stop to South Hikone there is a big shopping mall with a movie theater and arcade, so that is a good way to spend time (and money) too.

Today was pretty normal. Went to class, came back to my dorm and skyped a bit, watched some tv, got dinner at the sushi bar with a bunch of friends, and then came home and did homework. All in all a good day.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hello everyone! I have been very busy these past couple weeks traveling around to Tokyo and Kyoto! While I was in Tokyo I got to try the unique experience of going to a cat café. Now when I say cat café I don’t mean a café decorated with images of cats. A cat café is a place where, for a fee of roughly ten dollars an hour you can gain entrance into a small café full of living, breathing felines! All while enjoying the beverage of your choice of course (which you are forced to buy at least one of on top of your entrance fee).

Now for someone like me, a student who is studying abroad and misses spending time with her pet cats, a cat café is the perfect concept. Spending an hour with some cute cuddly kitties was definitely a good way to help ward off homesickness! However, homesick study abroad students are not exactly their target audience. So who is? Although to foreigners a cat café might seem like a weird concept which probably has a niche audience of only the most cat-obsessed, the cat cafes patrons are actually just your average Japanese citizen.

Tokyo is a large city with a lot of people, but not a lot of space. This means most people end up living in small apartments, where they either do not have space to keep a pet, or they are banned outright by their landlords. And thus, the popularity of the cat cafes. It’s for those people who want to own a pet, but don’t have the means too. And business is booming! We had to wait a half hour in order to gain entrance to the café since they were full when we arrived. They have a book with all the cats’ names so people can get to know them and feel a connection with them. This way they can feel as if the cats are their own pets. I have heard that these cafes get a lot of regulars! And considering they don’t have to pay for the cats’ food and vet bills, or change their kitty litter, these people may actually be getting a pretty good deal.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Japan Update!

Hey everyone! Sorry for the long wait between posts! I have been very busy here! Two weekends ago we took a class trip to Todaji in Nara. Todaji is the largest wooden building in the world, and very famous throughout Japan! I'll let this sign explain to you a little more about it!

Me in front of Todaiji. It is huge!

Large Buddha statue inside of Todaji. Also huge.

Nara is also very famous for something else... its deer! These little guys are everywhere, and they are hungry! Tourists can buy snacks to feed them, but at the risk of being mobbed! My coat and scarf both got munched on, and people lost tickets, maps, bags, etc to the deer! They were very cute and fun to pet though.

Classmate Ethan being mobbed by hungry deer!

This past weekend I was supposed to do a weekend homestay with a family in Shiga. Unfortunately, the family's daughter came down the the flu, and it had to be canceled at the last minute. I ended up helping out with a "Cooking in English" program at the local high school instead. They brought volunteers from the Michigan Center to practice speaking English with the high school students who are studying it. Of course what better way is there to spend time with each other than while making cookies? It was a lot of fun (and the cookies were delicious)! I was very impressed with the high school students' English abilities.

Finally, today's adventure! Tried out a new restaurant with some friends. It is an Indian restaurant about 15 minutes away from our school. It was delicious! I got vegetable curry and nan, and I was so full afterwords! Definitely going there again.
When we got back from the restaurant we had a party to welcome the new students. JCMU is hosting some Japanese students who are taking a short English course here for the next few weeks. It was fun meeting and talking to the Japanese university students. One of the students I met is actually going to America and visiting Grand Rapids next month! I'm glad I am getting the chance to meet and talk to more Japanese people!

To wrap this up, I leave you with a photo I snapped of Hikone Castle yesterday!

Friday, February 10, 2012

No more snow!

The past two weeks it has been very snowy here! It was so bad that our politics class had to be canceled twice since it is about a 20 minute bike ride away. They do not plow the sidewalks here, so riding your bike is nearly impossible in the snow, as it was well over a foot in some places. Of course this did not stop some of the more daring (or maybe not so smart...) students (such as myself) from braving the snow to go shopping over the weekend. It just involved a lot of riding your bike in the roads which had been plowed, or walking it through the snowier spots.

They use bulldozers to clear the snow.

Fixing downed power lines

The snow finally started to clear up this week, and I was able to go to politics class yesterday! I am also finally able to go running again! The back roads which run along the edge of the lake are perfect for jogging as there is little traffic and the view is amazing! I took a few pictures during my jog!

Tomorrow we are having a class trip to Nara! It should be a lot of fun! Look forward to details and pictures in my next post!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012


On Sunday Kat and I took a trip to Kyoto! Kyoto was the capital of Japan until the late 1800's when it was switched to Tokyo. Needless to say it is an old, large city with a lot of history! Kyoto is only about an hour away from Hikone by train, so it is very easy to access!

Once we got to Kyoto our first stop was Kiyomizu Temple (Clear Water Temple in English). True to our nature Kat and I ended up finding a way to get ourselves a bit lost. We made it to Kyoto fine, but when taking the bus to Kiyomizu we accidentally got off a stop early. It ended up being a good experience though, because we happened to get off right near a delicious smelling restaurant, where we decided to eat. Of course the food was just as good as it smelled, so we were grateful for the mishap. We also got a good walk in since we opted to walk the rest of the way to Kiyomizu rather than pay the bus fare again.

Kiyomizu temple was amazing. It is over 1,000 years old. There were many different buildings to visit, we were there for about an hour and didn't even get to see everything.

After we left Kiyomizu we explored the city and did some shopping. We went to a part of Kyoto called Kawaramachi that was very lively! It was a good shopping district, tons of different kinds of shops! And I am proud to say we made it there (taking 2 different subways!) without getting lost. Once we were done shopping we got some dinner and headed home. We definitely want to go back to Kyoto though! There are so many more great sites that we haven't seen yet!