Thursday, January 30, 2014

Spring Break Adventures

So yesterday was my first official day of spring break. I haven't had class for a while, but yesterday was the day I turned in my last papers and finally tasted the freedom that is a break from school. On my way home from turning everything in, I decided that I should do something fun. I had the whole day in front of me and no plans. I debated whether or not to call a friend, but then I realized something. I had my iPod, my camera, and my train card. What more did I need to have a wonderful little adventure all on my own? I got off at Meguro Station and just wandered around the area for a while. Here are some snaps I took while wandering around. 

Yes, it is January. Yes, flowers are still in full bloom.

Random little park area

This was the cutest little antique store that I just stumbled upon

I mean really, what an adorable coffee shop!

It was so calming and freeing to just put away my phone, put in my music, and simply walk. This spring break feels like my legs burning from climbing that giant hill and the cool wind blowing through my hair, it smells like flowers still blooming in January, and it looks like small details in random places that I discover on my own. If the rest of my spring break is as good as this day was, I will be one happy camper!

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

P.P.S. The vlog my friend made has inspired me to branch out and try my hand at vlogging. What would you guys like to see when I try it?

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Difference Between American and Japanese Finals

Reading the title of this post you may be thinking "Taylor, you're crazy. A final exam is a final exam! How can the Japanese ones be that much different?!" While it is true that I am a tad bit crazy, looking back on my exam period (now that it is FINALLY over) I can say that there were actually a number of differences. Not with the actual tests exactly, but more with the format of the test taking period. 

The first big difference in finals is just the number of tests and papers that I had due. At my school in America we are only allowed to take 4 classes. If you have a good reason and get permission from teachers, you maybe can take 5 classes, but most people just take 4. So for most people this translates to 4 final exams. Here in Japan, I am part of the Keio International Program. In my program we have to take a minimum of 7 classes. I decided to be overachieving and I took 10 courses this semester. For most of term this was fine. I had a little more work than my friends, but it was no big deal. But let me tell you, when it came to finals 10 courses was NOT a fun thing. Only 1 of my classes did not have a final exam. This meant that I had 4 final exams and 6 final papers (one of my teachers was mean and gave us 2 papers due for finals). You can imagine, for a girl used to having maximum 4 tests, this was a big change. I am usually not a complaining type of person, but I definitely found myself complaining about finals way more this year. I apologize to those who had to deal with my whining. 

The second big difference that I found between America and Japan is the time period when testing took place. In the States finals take place during 1 set week. My school has what is called reading day (some schools have reading week) and this is a day, usually Monday before tests start, that there are no classes and everyone crams in last minute studying. Then for about a week following that day all classes have their exams or papers due. Here in Japan, I basically had finals for the whole month of January. My classes were officially over on January 20th, but some of my classes had tests before this date so my classes kept ending at different times. Additionally, a few of my papers were due after classes had ended, the last ones being due today, January 29th. This was nice because my tests and papers were spaced out, so I could work on a few at once instead of having to do them all at one time. However, this also led to a prolonged period of stress. Instead of one hard week of tests, I had a month. I think this is the part where I am also supposed to thank my dad. My dad has been the biggest lifesaver this month. I said before I had 6 papers due for finals. My dad edited ALL of them for me! Even if I sent it to him a few days before the deadline, he would still do it as quick as he could and send the paper back filled with comments to help me out. Yeah, he's pretty awesome. So thank you; you can rest for a few months now until the next finals period comes up ^_^

The last big difference that I found was I had a lot more papers compared to exams. Usually my tests back home will be short answer or essay, so I still do writing, but it is timed and you are expected to write a lot less. I maybe have 1 or 2 big final papers to do. Here in Japan I had 4 tests; 2 of these were my Japanese tests, 1 was an essay test, and the last was multiple choice. On top of this I had 6 full blown papers, the shortest of which was a minimum of 1500 words. This was a lot more writing than I am used to! I hope that my essay writing got better after this semester! 

These are just a few differences that I found between finals. There also might be differences between the actual programs that are offered here at Keio since there are 3 different types of students. There are the Keio International Program students, Japanese Language Program students, and then the regular Japanese students. I think there are some differences in finals between these students as well, so if anyone is interested just let me know and I can ask around and make a blog post about that!

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

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Ice Cream Time with Taylor

So the other day my friend introduced me to the Laci Green channel on YouTube. She has a series called Sex+ where she talks about anything and everything related to women. She talks about having sex, masturbating, body image, etc. I've spent most of my time watching her videos since then. I came across one this morning called "Thispiration" (watch it here) where she addressed this mentality that has appeared on the internet. Curious, I decided to look into it. I'd never heard the term before and her attitude towards it made me want to see what was up. What I saw disturbed me so much I spent the next few hours in a type of self-induced torture unable to look away from the images at the same time that I was freaking out to my friends and planning what I wanted to say in this blog post. For those who don't know thinspiration, or thinspo, is a tag where girls post images, mainly on Tumblr, of severely skinny girls and use it as a weight loss inspiration. There are even whole blogs dedicated to thinspo. What concerns me most is how ambiguous these posts and blogs dedicated to thinspo are. You can have a fit girl who obviously works out a lot next to a girl who looks like she will break if you push her into a wall. Having these two images next to each other is extremely confusing. On one side you have a girl who is in a healthy state and has muscle. On the other you have a girl who looks like she never eats. There is a huge difference between a skinny girl and a physically fit girl. A physically fit girl will gain muscle and lose fat. Even if she gets skinnier, she will still have a lot of meat on her from the work that she is doing. I feel like a lot of people have this misconception that if you workout you will just become skinny. They forget the part that you will gain muscle and get stronger. If you work out a lot that does not mean you will become super skinny. 
This is super skinny           This is fit

I don't know about you guys but I know which one I find more sexy and attractive. (It's the second one!)

I have no problem with girls who want to get fit and lose weight by exercising. Hell, I just wrote a blog about exercising (read it here). However, it concerns me that so many people are using 'exercise' and 'healthy eating' to achieve unhealthy and unrealistic ideals. Which brings me to my next point. The thigh gap. I've been hearing about the thigh gap for a while now and at first I didn't know how I felt about it. I mean sure, it would be nice if I didn't wear the thigh part out on every single pair of jeans I own due to the fact that when I walk my thighs rub together. But when I thought about how much weight I would have to lose in order to have a thigh gap my first thought was "that is way too much work" and my second was "is that even healthy?" For most girls getting a thigh gap isn't physically possible unless they reach an unhealthy weight. Why is something that isn't physically possible for most people our new standard of beauty? 

The final thing that concerns me about thinspiration is the amount of images of sex that crop up. This illustrates that these women are only trying to look good for a guy. That the only way you can get a boyfriend is if you are incredibly skinny. This is bullshit. First of all, if you want to be skinnier or get into better shape don't do it for anyone but yourself. You are the owner of your body and you are the one who lives in it every day. So love yourself and if you want to exercise to feel good, just make sure you are doing it for the right reasons. Second, guys don't just want a girl who is incredibly skinny. I am by no means the skinniest person ever. My thighs rub together, when I sit down I get rolls, parts of me jiggle when I move. And you know what? I love it. I love my body and I have gotten plenty of guy attention the way I am. I have never once had a guy critique my body. Because if a guy is into you, truly interested in you, he's not going to insult you. I know girls of all different body shapes and they get attention from guys, girls, and whatever other gender identity you may like. 

So, that turned a bit long towards the end but what I want to get across is this. Everyone has a different body shape. I am 5'11", a B cup, with no ass, and I weigh about 155 pounds. I have friends who have the flattest stomachs I have ever seen and A cup boobs. I have friends who have DD cup or bigger boobs and killer curves that I am so jealous of. So why should we all try to look the same? I love all those girls bodies just the way they are because it is part of who they are. How boring would it be if we all had the same body shape? So, if you read this whole post and take anything away from it it's this: LOVE YOUR BODY. You are the one who has to live in it. Don't hate it. Take care of it and love it! 

P.S. I feel like I should explain the title of this post. I had a minor freak out looking at thinspo (obviously) so I decided to forgo the tea while writing this post and instead ate 3 ice cream bars. It might become a thing if I write more body image posts. Because, ice cream makes everything better, you know?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

2014 Fitness Goals

So I realize that it is almost the end of January and I am just finding a New Year's resolution (more just a life resolution). It's not my fault that finals started and I was finding it hard even to shower before leaving my dorm. Anyhow, I decided that this year, instead of simply talking about my fitness goals, I am going to write them down. I am absolutely that person who has high hopes for themselves, and after a week or two of intense exercising and healthy eating I am back on the couch eating a pint of Ben & Jerry's in one sitting. So I decided that this year I would put my goals up on the interwebs and maybe the fact that my friends, family, and random strangers are reading this would actually motivate me to keep up with the goals. My goals for myself aren't that strict. I was talking to my friend the other day about body image, exercising, etc and she commented on how just from being around me she can tell that I am very comfortable in my body. I have no qualms about randomly stretching in public so my shirt lifts up really high or wearing tight yoga pants around in public. While that is relatively true, in order to stay comfortable and be even more proud of myself I want to change a few things about my habits. 

1. I want to work out twice a day. When I say workout I don't mean go on two long runs or anything like that. As most people know I have gotten very interested in yoga. So, one of my workouts would most likely be a morning yoga stretching workout just to get ready for the day, while the other would be a more intense run, pilates, or yoga workout where I really push my limits. I'm sure there will be days when I don't work out twice. I can get pretty busy, but if I always do a workout in the morning I will always have at least 1 workout done for the day. 

2. Control my eating. Sometimes my friends and I get into really bad binge eating stretches. It usually includes eating multiple packages of Japanese sweets in one sitting. While it tastes really good at the time, it never (no, never) feels good later. So I want to try to control this, if only to save myself from future stomachaches. 

3. Drink at least 1 water bottle a day. I drink a lot of tea, which is basically just water, but I still want to drink more plain water. I find plain, cool water extremely refreshing, and it is so good for your body. I need to get better at drinking more each day. 

So there you have it, my three goals for hopefully the rest of my life. I feel like if I can stick to these I will be able to be even more comfortable with and proud of my body. Not to mention that I will become an overall healthier person! 

P.S. the tea of the day is chamomile and orange!

P.P.S. My friend wrote this really impressive and informative blog post about the differences between Japanese and American people/cultures so check it out here if you are interested!

P.P.P.S. I'm thinking about changing the look of my blog, so keep your eyes open for that!

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Family Adventure Day 5

On the fam's last day in Japan we had a much more relaxed (comparatively) day than the ones before. We had been planning to go to the Imperial Palace, but since it was still New Years time we heard that it would be closed. We decided to still go and check to see if maybe even just a small part of the whole area was open. It was a good thing we did! It turns out that on that day the Emperor was making appearances to wave and give a small speech to the people. We got into the long line, which actually moved pretty quickly, and got up into the main palace area (I think). We had to stand around for about an hour jammed together with tons of other people, but it was definitely worth it. Everyone was so excited when the Emperor and rest of the family appeared and the mood was definitely catching. I am glad we went and had what was absolutely a once in a lifetime experience. When will I next be in Japan to see the Emperor and family wave to me?!

A park by the Imperial Palace

Going into the Imperial Palace

Tokyo Station

Next we headed over to the Tokyo Dome area because my brother wanted to go check out the baseball gear. It was definitely a fun place. They have a huge stadium, a small amusement park, and a big mall. We just walked around for a little bit, but I definitely want to go back on a game day. I think that it would be incredibly fun, even if I am not that into sports!

For our final stop we went back to the Asakusa area. The big shopping street by Senso-ji Temple was closed when we went on New Year's Eve, so we went back to get souvenirs for people. We had fun wandering in and out of the different shops, and the family was able to find a little something for everyone. I also spent some time shopping, but it was mostly just for myself again ^_^ I really need to get better at buying souvenirs for people other than myself. Finally we stopped for dinner. We went to a more traditional Tempura restaurant. It was super fun sitting on the little chairs on the tatami floored room. Plus, the food was super delicious! A perfect end to the fam's vacation!

That's it for the adventures of the Sharp family! I am so glad that they were able to come visit me. I had a lot of fun guiding them through Japan and showing them all the things that I like to do and eat here. It's going to be strange not having any more visits to look forward to, but I am always open to more people coming ^^ If anyone wants to come over here, I would love to show you around! 

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

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Family Adventure Days 3-4

The next day the family was here was New Year's Eve. I had been planning to take them to Senso-ji Temple at night so we had a whole morning empty. Since some of the things I wanted to do were closed for New Year's we decided to go over to 荻窪 (Ogikubo) and check out one of the parks there. However, when we got there it was also closed. Who knew they even closed parks for New Year's! We decided just to wander around Ogikubo and see what the area had to offer. We went through a more residential area and everyone was surprised by how narrow the streets are! Most people don't drive around the city, so unless it is a major road, the streets are all narrow. Maybe 1-2 cars can fit down at a time. When we got back to the station area we went into one of the big department stores connected to Ogikubo station. We wandered some of the floors and looked at the adorable things for sale. My dad was a little bummed that almost all of the stores only sell items for girls. There are only a few stores in big malls that have items for girls and boys or boys exclusively. Otherwise it is all stuff for girls ^_^ After a little lunch we were ready to head over to 浅草 (Asakusa). Our first stop was to see 隅田川 (Sumida River). There is a nice walk and park area along the river and it offers some good views. 

The Asahi Beer building

Tokyo Skytree

New Year's Lanterns

After seeing the river we got some dinner and wandered around Asakusa a little bit more. We had some time before we were going to meet my friend Elena and her family, so we decided to try to do some souvenir shopping. Finally it was time to head to the temple!

Cool dragon fountain

We drew our fortunes and Ian was sad because his fortune was "bad fortune"

The temple area was pretty crowded with people but we got there a little earlier so it wasn't too bad. A lot of people go closer to midnight, but we decided to beat the rush. We had lots of fun looking at the temple, eating delicious food from the stalls, and chatting with Elena and her family. I am used to seeing her every day since we live in the same dorm, so it was great to see her after about a week apart! When we got home we just hung out until it was midnight, then we had a little champagne toast to bring in the New Year. Everyone was pretty tired though, so we just went to bed right after that. Overall I think it was the most memorable New Year's Eve I have had!

The next day was another busy day. We headed over to Meiji Shrine in the morning. I didn't really think it would be that busy, but it was PACKED!

The gate all done up for New Year's

Meiji is one of my favorite places here in Tokyo, so I was super excited to bring my family there. However, it was so busy you couldn't see the shrine properly, and it was hard to get a look at the charms that were for sale. If you are just going for sightseeing, New Year's Day is not the best time to head to Meiji since it is so busy. However, it was still a cool experience seeing what all the Japanese people do on New Year's and it was fun being at one of the biggest shrines on such a popular day. (For a more in depth look at the shrine I wrote a blog about it here) Our next stop was right around the corner to 代々木公園 (Yoyogi Park). It is one of the biggest parks in Tokyo. It was pretty busy with people spending time with family and friends on their day off. It was also full of crows, which kind of creeped me out. They would come right up to you and squawk! 

The next stop was Takeshita St, a big shopping area in Harajuku. It was as busy as always, and it was fun walking down the street and seeing some of the strange things that they have for sale. We stopped and ate some crepes, which everyone thought were very tasty ^^ I got sidetracked in the K-pop store, but didn't end up buying anything because I couldn't decide what I wanted and I felt like I was taking a lot of time. So, if anyone is in the Tokyo area and wants to go to the K-pop store in Harajuku just let me know! I definitely want to go back. The last stop on our list was Shibuya. We just wandered the streets and looked in at some of the shops. My dad was shocked at all the flashing neon lights, and kept wondering about how big the electricity bill for the area must be. I made sure to take them through the Shibuya scramble, a big crossing where all the walk lights turn green at the same time and you have to push through people to get to the other side before the light changes again. They all thought it was pretty crazy but fun! Finally, we saw Hachiko at the station on our way out. Hachiko was a dog who would wait for his owner at a certain exit of the station every day, but one day the owner died and thus did not return to the station. However, Hachiko would still wait for him every day, just in case he came back. I'm pretty sure my mom almost cried when I told her the story ^_^ It was another busy day, but everyone really enjoyed it! 

I have one more post coming soon about our last day together in Japan! 

P.S. The tea of the day is rosehip-hibiscus!