Friday, July 4, 2014

#100happydays Challenge

As most of you know, I have just finished the #100happydays challenge. I started seeing this challenge on Instagram a few months ago. When one of my favorite blogs made a post about it, I decided to check out what it was all about. For those who don't know, this challenge wants you to post, via Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, about something that made you happy that day. It is supposed to help you see all the things in your life that you have and should be thankful for. I decided, after reading up on the challenge that it would be a fun and easy thing for me do to. I consider myself a generally happy person, so I thought it would be super easy to take a picture of something each day that had made me happy. Below are some of my realizations after completing this challenge. 

100 days is a long time! When I first started the challenge I don't think I really processed how long I would be doing this. Maybe I am just really bad at math (truth), but it wasn't until about 1 month into the challenge that I realized that I wasn't even halfway through! I feel like when people give up partway through the challenge, it's not due to happiness lacking in their lives, it's simply that this challenge takes so long to complete! I assume many people just decide partway through that they don't care enough to keep going.

Being a "happy" person is hard to define. There were some days when getting my picture for the day was about the hardest thing to do. When I think about myself in general terms I say I am a happy person. I tend to gloss over the days when I am far from happy. I want to always paint myself in a positive light so I ignore the days when I am not happy. This challenge really made me confront myself and how I handle my shifting moods. On the days when I just laid in bed, eating chocolate, and feeling bad about myself, I knew I still had to take my picture that day. These days really challenged me to find something about my life that, even though at that moment I could only think about how sad I was, made me happy in the bigger picture of my life. At the same time, taking a picture on these days really helped me understand my emotions. I don't consider being sad a bad thing. I like to let my emotions run their course, and some days this means I just let myself wallow in sadness and self pity. However, doing this challenge really helped me keep perspective on these days. While I let myself be upset, I also knew in the more logical part of my brain, that things were not as bad as I was making them. I have realized that saying a person is "happy" or "sad" is pretty inaccurate. Yes, most of the time I am content with my life. Nevertheless, my mood shifts almost every day. Some days I am ecstatic beyond reason and 2 days later I might be super melancholy. I don't think we can say that a person has 1 mood that defines them at all points. Emotions are always shifting, and instead of being annoyed at a person for their shifting moods we should accept it and help them deal with however they are feeling that day.

Sometimes happiness isn't a tangible item. The other times that taking my picture for the day was really hard was when my happiness couldn't be symbolized by an object. Some days I wasn't overly happy, I was simply content. I was content with my life in Japan and I felt like everything was working out for me. However, it was really hard for me to find a picture that would show that. How do you take a picture of a feeling? My contentedness was not contained in a box of chocolate or a sunny day or a delicious lunch. I know for the people who followed me doing this challenge, some of my days seemed happier than others. Some of my pictures seemed lame, like I hadn't tried that day. However, sometimes it was not so easy to define why I was happy, I just was. 

So there you have it! My ramblings about the #100happydays challenge.

For anyone who is thinking about doing this challenge, I would highly recommend it. I don't think it makes you happier with your life, but I do think it helps you see the beauty that is in your life. Sometimes it helps to look for the good things in your life, because you cannot always see them on your own. 

P.S. The tea of the day is jasmine tea ^_^

P.P.S. Since I am coming to the end of my time here in Japan, if there is anything you are curious about or would like me to write about, leave a comment and I will try to blog about them!

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Hiroshima

Last weekend I took a trip by myself and went to Hiroshima. Ever since deciding that I was going to spend this year in Japan, I knew Hiroshima was one of the places that I simply had to visit. There is so much history in the city and I wanted to get another perspective on what happened there during the war. Since finals are coming up I knew I couldn't spend too much time in Hiroshima, so I decided to spend only 1 day. I took the night bus on Friday, spent the day on Saturday exploring, and came home on the night bus on Saturday. It was a full day, but I definitely felt that I was able to see everything that I wanted to see on this trip. 

My first stop was the Peace Memorial Park and the museums commemorating the Atomic Bombing. 


This is a building that was partially destroyed during the bombing and has been left in it's destroyed condition as a memorial.



I really liked these little mural things. My assumption is that they commemorate the work all the civilians put in for the war effort.


Children's Peace Memorial



I knew that going through the Museum was going to be a very emotional experience. However, I don't think I expected it to hit me quite like it did. After wandering through the park and taking a bunch of pictures of all the statues and memorials I went through the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. After that I went to the Hiroshima National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. The way this second building is set up is amazing. You walk in and go down a sloping, counter-clockwise pathway, to symbolize going back in time. At the end of the pathway you come to the Hall of Remembrance. The walls in this room are painted to look like Hiroshima before it was bombed. In the center of the room is a fountain shaped like a clock stopped at 8:15. Around the room are small benches where you can sit and just reflect. Sitting in this quiet room looking through my brochures and listening to the fountain, suddenly it hit me. I felt overwhelmed with emotion, and the only coherent thought I had was how nice the woman at the front desk had been when she gave me 2 small paper cranes as a souvenir. I felt overpowered by the utter horror that the people in Hiroshima had witnessed and survived. After this powerful experience I was glad I had gone to Hiroshima by myself; it gave me plenty of time to absorb what I had seen.

My next stop was out to Itsukushima Shrine, commonly known as Miyajima Shrine. 










Depending on where the tide is, the big, red torii gate can either be submerged about 1/3 of the way up in water or it can be completely uncovered like in my photos. I loved that I went at a time when it was not submerged. I was able to walk right up to this incredible structure and stand directly underneath it. If I ever return to Hiroshima however, I would love to see it partially submerged in water. 

My last stop was to Hiroshima Castle. The original castle was destroyed, but they rebuilt it and it still looks wonderful.






I am so glad that I finally took the opportunity to go to Hiroshima. It has definitely become my favorite place in Japan, and I would love to go back and see more of the city. 

P.S. the tea of the day is the nameless, delicious tea that I received as a present ^_^

Monday, June 30, 2014

6 Things I Have Learned Being Abroad

Maintaining old relationships is extremely difficult
     This is one of the things that I have really struggled with. I knew that coming to Japan would be hard. I knew that I was distancing myself from everyone and everything I had ever known. However, in this age of technology, distance doesn't really matter, right? WRONG. Facebook, Skype, and LINE, are all wonderful apps. I can talk to everyone in the US basically instantly. However, having a conversation like this is completely different from having it face to face. No matter how hard I try to type my emotions to people, they can't see me, they can't hear me, and they can't truly understand what I am saying. I have really struggled this year with feeling like some of the people back home don't really care. I know this isn't true, we are living completely different lives and it is hard to remember to keep in touch with someone who is 6,000 miles and 13 hours apart from you. However, it is still difficult to keep the same level of closeness when you aren't with a person physically. I'm not saying it is impossible. I am still close to everyone in the US, I know we will all be friends and have fantastic times when I return. However, I cannot delude myself anymore that my return will be easy. It will be difficult to reconnect at first, but we are fundamentally still the same people so I know we will get through it. 

Little things don't really matter
     For those who know me well, it will come as no surprise that I don't put much stock in my appearance. I have always had an iffy relationship with makeup. In middle school when most girls were discovering makeup and learning how to get it "just right" I was the tomboy with my hair pulled back and gym shorts on every day. Later I became more concerned with my appearance and started doing my makeup every day, but I didn't care enough to really get into it. You would think coming to Japan, where people put a lot of effort into their daily appearance, I would become very invested in how I look. However, it was exactly the opposite. Living out of 2 suitcases this year had a very humbling effect on me. At first I was extremely worried. Coming to Japan with limited clothing options, 6 pairs of shoes, and a small bag of makeup, I thought I would feel the need to go shopping immediately. I realized very quickly though, no one cares. I go almost every day without makeup, unless I feel like getting "all dressed up". I wear basically the same thing every day. Rotating between the few dresses I have or a combo of my jeans/shorts and one ofabout 10 shirts I have for each season.  Sure, I like looking nice and I put some effort into my appearance everyday. However, I have realized that putting effort in does not need to equal 3 hours of my time and hundreds of dollars out of my wallet. If I think I look good, everyone else will too. Plus, who is really going to notice that I have worn the same jean shorts all week? I would rather spend my time reading a good book or studying Japanese than spending hours on my appearance.

Reconciling old and new beliefs is one of the hardest things you can do
     This has definitely been the most difficult thing for me this year. I have experienced so much this year. I am not talking about eating new foods or travelling to new places.  There is something about living alone in a foreign country for a year that changes you. I have always considered myself an independent person, but I really had to mature and change when I found myself in a place where I barely spoke the language and did not have any existing friends. If I made a mistake, I couldn't just call my parents and ask them what to do. They don't know either, so I just had to figure something out myself. While doing that, somewhere along the way I realized that I had changed. The things that I believed in seem different. I would try to defend a point and realize I didn't have the same opinion on the issue as I used to. When I realized this it really scared me. I no longer knew what was "right". I knew what my parents believed about certain things and what some of my friends believed, but I also knew that I did not agree with them anymore. Somewhere along the way I realized that I was making choices I never would have made before, because now they seem right. When this happened to me I had a really hard time. I couldn't really explain to my close friends here in Japan why I was so upset, but I had the twisting feeling in my gut like I had just ruined my life. In retrospect, I realize I was being silly. Everyone grows and changes in their lives, but at the time it was extremely scary. However, no matter how scary it was at the time, I would not exchange my emotional roller coaster that this year was for anything in the world. I am much more confident in my opinions and I know that even if I make a wrong decision, I will definitely learn something from it.

Money isn't really that important
     About three weeks ago when booking some tickets for Hiroshima, I looked at my bank account and my heart stopped. Was it possible that I had spent THAT MUCH money this year?! After my heart restarted and I thought for a second I relaxed. Yes, I have spent a ridiculous (for me) amount of money this year. However, looking back, what did that get me? It gave me trips around Japan, an amazing trip to Singapore and Thailand, all my textbooks to learn Japanese, gifts for all the people I am close to back in the US, many trinkets for myself to remember my time here, and most of all, countless irreplaceable memories. Yes, I have spent a lot of money. Does that really matter? I will return to the US and get a job. I will make back my money. So no, I'm not going to spend all my money without a care, but I am also not going to count every penny I have and stay in for the rest of my life. I can always make more money, but I might never be able to spend a year studying in a foreign country again in my life. 

Experiencing new things with friends makes amazing memories but experiencing them alone can provide a deeper understanding
     During my time in Japan I have become incredibly close to two girls, Elena and Siobhan. People here associate us with each other. If they don't see all three of us together for a while they ask if anything happened. Elena and I live next door to each other in the dorm so we are together even more than all three of us. People have started calling us "Team USA" and most people know that if they want to tell both of us something it is really only necessary to tell one. Whenever I go anywhere, these two are the first ones I turn to as travel buddies. I have experienced so many things with them, and it is fantastic because then we can talk about it and we have so many stories to tell other people. However, I have also done my fair share of things by myself. I have always been a person who does not mind being on their own. I realized this year though, there is a quiet beauty in doing things by yourself. Whether it is going to the museum, or taking a trip, going on my own often gave me a deeper understanding of what I was seeing and how I felt about it. Without having to explain to anyone, I could simply absorb. I could wander where I wanted without worrying about what other people wanted to do. I would never give up travelling with my friends, but I know now that doing so on my own can be just as fun. 

You need to be present to make lasting memories
     When I think about how I used to act in the US I just want to laugh. I was (and still am) addicted to my phone. I love taking pictures and texting people. I upload to Instagram constantly. However, I have learned a valuable lesson this year about when to put my phone down. In the US there were many times when I would be talking to a friend but texting someone else at the same time. I'm sure we had a great conversation, but it would have been so much better if I would have just put the phone down. In Japan, I still am on my phone a lot, but in contrast I don't text very much if you are talking to me. If I want to get a picture I say so, and then put my phone away to upload the picture later. This has led me to have so many lasting memories. There are so many nights that I will never forget, and you know what? I barely used my phone those nights. I was simply there. I talked, laughed, and had fun, without feeling the need to constantly tell another person about what I was doing. The feeling was so great, I almost forgot that I had a phone until I sat down on the train and realized I had 6 unread messages and 3 pictures I had taken that I wanted to upload. It was easy for me to make excuses to always use my phone when I first got here. My friends were in the US, they were the ones I really wanted to talk to. However, when I put my phone down I realized that my friends will always be on the other end of the phone, but the group that I am with at this moment might not be. 

Thanks for reading until the end! 

Have any of you studied abroad? What are some of the things you learned?

P.S. the tea of the day is chamomile and orange ^_^

Thursday, June 12, 2014

A Day in the Life

Now that June has started I have really begun thinking about how little time I have left here in Japan. I was thinking about the blogs I have posted, and what things I still want to write about in my time left, when I realized I never wrote a post sharing what my daily life is like here. My daily life in Japan is very similar to my daily life back in the US, but just in case anyone had unrealistic expectations about what I have been doing most days I am here to prove you wrong! 


My day starts out with breakfast in the dorm. They switch between serving a Western meal and a Japanese meal during the week. This day was Japanese, so we had miso soup, rice, some stir fried veggies and some seaweed. On days with a Western meal we typically have bread, eggs, salad, and soup. 


Ready to go to school! I only have morning class a few days a week, but luckily my morning classes are at Hiyoshi campus, which is only 1 train station away from where I live, so I don't have a long morning commute.


Walking from the station to campus. If you get to campus early the crosswalk is pretty empty, like this day. However, if you get to campus right before classes start the crosswalk is packed and it is super hard to move. You are basically herded along by all the people until you reach the other side. 


Waiting for class to start.



Since most of my days I have either a morning class and an afternoon class, or only afternoon class, I typically return home and do a short workout before I head back to class. This gives me a nice break in my day, and I don't have to exercise at around 8 P.M. when I return home. 


After exercising I usually find food at the conbini (short for convenience store). My dorm serves me breakfast and dinner, so I don't stock much food in my room. The conbini has relatively healthy and cheap options for lunch. 


Studying hard on the train! My afternoon classes are all at Mita campus, which is about 45 minutes away by train. Most days I spend the time studying for classes or reading a book. 



Waiting for my afternoon class to start. 


My afternoon classes end at 6 P.M. so after class I return home and eat dinner. When I get back to my room, usually around 8 P.M., I spend some time just talking to friends on Facebook, reading my blogs, or relaxing somehow. 


Some final studying before bed! 

So there you have it, my typical weekday in Japan! I wish my normal day was more exciting, but since I am here for school, I spend most of my time doing everything I do at uni in the US. 

P.S. the tea of the day is jasmine tea ^_^


Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Imperial Palace!

Last Thursday I was finally able to make it to the Imperial Palace and the Palace garden. This is something I have been wanting to do since I came to Japan. I tried to go when my family was here in December, but since they came around New Year's it was closed so we were not able to. It was absolutely gorgeous and I am so glad I finally had a chance to go! Here are some snaps from around the Palace and garden!









I apologize for my posts being so sporadic. Lately I have not had much energy to do anything other than spend time with my friends. Writing my last post about going home and realizing how short of I time I have left here really made me just want to spend time with the people I have met. Thus, I have not been doing much other than going to class, exercising, and going out with all my new friends. I am finishing up some plans for my few final small trips around Japan right now, so keep your eyes open for some more exciting posts in the next few months!

P.S. I don't actually know what the flavor of tea I'm drinking is. I got a bunch of it in a birthday package, and I love it! To me it smells and tastes like cinnamon, vanilla, and cozy nights by the fire. Why that is so appealing to me in June, I could not say, but I'm on my third cup today ^_^




Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Going Home

Recently I have been thinking about going home a lot. I only have about 2 months left here in Japan and that means that the school I am attending has been making sure we know all the procedures for moving out and making our transition back to our homes as smooth as possible. When I think about going back to the US a lot of emotions run through me. The first thing that I always feel is fear. Fear that I have not seen enough or learned enough while I have been here. I have experienced so much while living in Japan these past months, but sometimes it still feels like I just walked off the plane and am fumbling my way through trying to order a sandwich and count out the right amount of money for the cashier. 

Once I get past the immediate fear, I feel denial. Denial that I will have to go back to where I came from. In these few months my small room in Tsunashima has become my home. After a long day in class or travelling around, my small neighborhood and dorm is a welcome sight. Even if my room is incredibly tiny, I will definitely miss it when I leave. It is hard to believe that in just a few short months I will leave and maybe never see some of the people in the dorm and at school again. The biggest denial is that I won't live by Elena and Siobhan anymore. During my time in Japan I have mentioned these 2 a lot in my blogs. They quickly became my best friends in Japan. We talk about everything together and they always listen to me when I need to talk to someone. They were my lifesavers on more than one occasion and I know that we will be friends forever. One of the hardest things about leaving Japan will be not seeing these girls on a daily basis. Siobhan will be back in the UK and Elena will be in Pennsylvania. Even if I can't see them very often, I know that we will stay connected and visit each other as often as we can. 

The final emotion that goes through me is utter excitement. After thinking about all the things I will be losing, I remember all the things that I will be returning to. I will be back with my family, and a few weeks after that I will be with my friends who I have not seen for about 1 year now. I will be back at my home university, living with one of my best friends in the whole world, Amy. I lived with her last year and I absolutely cannot wait to do it again! Additionally, I am excited for the food. Don't get me wrong, I love Japanese food. However, for about a year and a half before coming to Japan I was a pescetarian off and on (I ate fish and animal products, just not meat). When I came to Japan I gave this up in order to be able to try new foods and not limit my experience. However, after eating meat this whole year, I realize how much I enjoyed the pescetarian diet. Living in the US and being able to cook my own meals is going to be such an exciting part of my life. Finally, I can't wait for my life to continue. Being in Japan I have found it extremely difficult to plan my future life. I do not have the most freedom to research my options or talk to people about what I am thinking about doing after graduation, since I have to do everything over email. It will be fantastic to be able to have face-to-face meetings and really figure out what I am going to do when I graduate next spring. Overall, after the immediate fear and sadness of leaving I realize how much I am gaining. Going back home I will have amazing friends and memories to take with me, but I will also be able to return to a more normal state of life. 

Wow, this turned into a very long post! Thank you if you kept reading through the whole thing!

P.S. the tea of the day is strawberry champagne ^_^

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Golden Week Trip: Kawagoe

The next trip I went on during Golden Week was to Kawagoe. During the Edo period Kawagoe was a main military base for the capital, Edo. Today is has retained many aspects of it's strong traditional history. There are many old style buildings and traditional items you can buy, a perfect place to buy souvenirs!

On our way to the main shopping street in Kawagoe we passed this little street performance




Washing our money. Apparently if you do this your money will double. I really hope it comes true!


Siobhan and I tried to throw hoops onto pegs representing things you wanted out of life. Of course we missed every single time...


Here is a small taste of what Kawagoe looks like. The streets were so full it was really hard to even move, much less take pictures!

After attempting to explore the shopping street and absolutely failing due to the amount of people who were there on holiday we went to explore some temples and a castle. This is one of the little gardens in Kawagoe Castle.


Goofing off by the pagoda ^^

Kawagoe was really fun, but I feel like we missed a lot since there were so many people there. I hope to go again and take some more pictures of the cool buildings and buy more souvenirs!

P.S. the tea of the day is lemon tea ^_^