Sunday, August 31, 2014

Coming Home

It has been almost a month since I returned home from my time studying abroad in Japan. Before I left Japan I was extremely worried about coming back. I thought that it would be so difficult and that I would hate it. While I'm not saying that the transition has been easy, it has definitely not been as difficult as I was anticipating. Coming back to the states, staying with my family for a few weeks and then returning to my home university, it all seems strangely normal. Everything looks the same, peoples habits are all the same, and it is so easy for me to fall into my old routines. At the same time I feel like everything is different. I compare everything to the way it was in Japan and it is hard for me to connect to the conversations people are having. The normalcy of my life here in the US is very disarming. Everything about my life in Japan, although I can remember it so clearly, seems so far away. The people I met in Japan and I are all in different time zones now and when I see posts of what they are doing in whatever countries they are from it seems so bizarre. I have no connection to this life that they have back home, so if I want to talk to them about things it is hard to find the time and what to say. Going to Japan was really easy because I knew that I would see everyone again. There was a fixed timeline of how long I would be away, so even if we drifted apart a little bit, I knew everything would be normal once I returned home. With my friends I made in Japan there isn't that certainty. I don't see myself going back to Asia or taking a tour of Europe any time in my immediate future, and I know everyone's schedules are just as busy as mine. Even though it's scary to think that some of the people I met I might never see again, I know that it will be fine. I will find a way to see the people I became closest with again, even if it takes a few years for that to happen. Thus, while it is strange being back in the US it feels nice getting back to a more normal place for my last year in uni. My year in Japan really gave me a lot of direction for my future, so for now I am happy to be here. There are a lot of things I need to do before I can travel extensively again. I know the memories I have of Japan and everything I learned will be exceedingly helpful in my future endeavors. 

Now that I am home I won't be doing any travel blogs for a while. I hope to still update my blog frequently though, so keep an eye out for more posts. I'm not positive what I will write about but it will be an adventure for everyone as I figure that out. 

P.S. the tea of the day is strawberry grapefruit green tea ^_^

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Kyoto Day 3

Our first stop on the last day in Kyoto was Sanjusangen Temple. The actual name of this temple is Rengeo Temple, but everyone just calls it Sanjusangen. This Buddhist temple did not seem very well known by anyone other than Japanese, but it is definitely the best temple I have ever visited in Japan. This temple is dedicated to the Bodhisattva Kannon. You are not allowed to take pictures on the inside of the hall, but I stole a picture off the internet so you could see! The main attraction of the temple is a huge Kannon statue covered in gold leaf. In the room that she sits are also 1,000 other small Kannon statues, also covered in gold leaf. In front of these statues are other Buddhist deities set to protect all the Kannon's. This temple was so amazing due to the sheer amount of statues in the building. I would definitely recommend anyone going to Kyoto to definitely take a trip to this temple.




The next stop Siobhan and I made was to Ginkaku Temple, or the Silver Pavilion. This zen temple is a sister to Kinkaku Temple, the Golden Pavilion, which we visited on our second day. The pavilion isn't actually covered with silver foil, and no one is positive where the temple got its name. Possibly it is just to contrast with the Golden Pavilion since they are in a straight line on opposite sides of Kyoto or maybe it was just never finished. Despite the fact that it is not actually silver, I still found it really beautiful. There is a route through the temple grounds which is very secluded. I felt like were were out in the wilderness, but once you leave the temple grounds you are automatically in the town again. 





Our last stop of the day was to Shimogamo Shrine. This is one of the oldest shrines in Japan. The day that we went there was a festival happening so we didn't get to see too much of the shrine. However, I could see how it would be a really good tourist stop on a less busy day. After seeing as much of the shrine as we could, we bought some festival food and went down to the river area to snack and rest before we made our way to Kyoto station and back to Tokyo. 





That's all for our Kyoto trip! I loved Kyoto and I would love to go back and see more aspects of the city that aren't so touristy. 

I am currently writing this from the cafeteria in my dorm. I have been kicked out of my room and am stealing the ethernet port down in our cafeteria ^^ I'm flying out of Japan tomorrow and heading to Singapore for a little vacation before I go back to the US! I've had an amazing time here in Japan and I really appreciate everyone who read my blogs! I hope that you will continue to read even though I am not taking you around Japan with me anymore ^_^

P.S. the tea of the night is apple tea ^_^

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Kyoto Day 2

Our first stop on the second day in Kyoto was to Kinkaku Temple to see the Golden Pavilion. Kinkaku Temple is a Zen Buddhism temple which is famous for the pavilion that is completely covered in gold leaf. This was one of the places I was most excited to visit in Kyoto, as it is very famous and I had seen so many pictures from other people visiting. I absolutely loved it and I kept wishing I could be a monk in the 16th Century or something so I could live here!





Our second stop of the day was also a zen temple, called Ryoan Temple. This is the home of the most famous zen rock garden in Japan. While the rock garden didn't impress me that much, I thought it looked rather barren and not necessarily pretty, it was still a cool temple to visit! 





Our final stop of the day was to yet another zen temple, Tenryu Temple. This temple is in the Arashiyama district of Kyoto, and has the cutest station ever. I would recommend going to see this temple purely so you can see the station and walk around the shops! Don't get me wrong though, the temple is also worth seeing! It is the home of an absolutely gorgeous dragon painting and a beautiful zen garden. I liked this zen garden since it did not look barren at all. I thought there was much more life to this garden compared to the rock garden at Ryoan Temple. The final must see if you are at Tenryu Temple is the bamboo grove. I had never been to a bamboo grove and I was amazed by this one! The bamboo is so tall, and it is much harder than I thought it would be. Walking through the grove made me wish I could go to a bigger grove and weave my way through the trees.





That is all we did on our second day in Kyoto! I have one more post coming for you guys, hopefully I will post that later today or tomorrow!

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

Monday, July 28, 2014

Kyoto Day 1

This past weekend I spent 3 days exploring Kyoto with my friend Siobhan. This was our last adventure together in Japan and I have to say, it was the best!

Our first stop on Friday was to Fushimi Inari Shrine. Inari is the god of rice in the Japanese Shinto religion and this is one of the most important shrines dedicated to the god. The shrine is by Mount Inari, so the main thing to do is walk up the mountain. The path is marked by thousands of torii gates (the big, red gates) and there are multiple shrines on the way up the mountain. Siobhan and I didn't walk all the way up, but we probably got halfway before we decided to head back down. This shrine is amazing, and the farther up the mountain you climb the quieter it gets. It seemed to me like only Japanese people intent on making a pilgrimage to the top shrine continued to the top. Most foreign tourists turn back after the first or second shrine. At the base of the mountain where the main shrine stands, the streets are lined with small restaurants and souvenir shops. It was here that I discovered one of my favorite parts about Kyoto. All the Japanese people seemed so impressed by how well we could speak Japanese, and they really seemed to appreciate it. Siobhan and I received a few free gifts during our trip simply because of the fact that we spoke as much Japanese as we possibly could.













Our next stop was to Kiyomizu Temple. This Buddhist temple is dedicated to the Bodhisattva Kannon. It is one of the main pilgrimage temples for Kannon worshipers all over Japan. This temple is also on a mountain, the same as Fushimi Inari Shrine, so we definitely got our exercise in! At the temple they had a wishing stone in a little basement part of one of the temple buildings. You have to take off your shoes and then walk along a completely black passage, guided only by a railing. When you reach the stone, a small light is shining on it, and after you make your wish you proceed along the railing until you reach the stairs to take you back to ground level. This was definitely one of the coolest yet scariest things I have ever done at a temple! 






Our last sightseeing stop of the day was to Gion. Gion is the most famous Geisha district in Kyoto. The streets are lined with restaurants, small shrines, cafes, and little shops. We had a great time wandering the streets and looking at all the Geisha inspired cosmetics that are sold. I didn't even know that there was a need for half the things we saw! Our final stop in Gion was a small Okonomiyaki shop. The walls were covered with hilarious drawings and they had mannequins sitting at some of the tables! This restaurant was definitely the quirkiest place I have ever eaten at.




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

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 ^_^