SaS: Sushi and Stuff

Four months of travels and adventures in Tokyo, Japan.

At Last: A Cat Cafe!!

Before actually going on the Kansai Trip, after classes on Thursday my friends and I finally decided to go to a cat cafe. There was this one that a few of my friends had been to before in Ikebukuro and they said it was pretty good.

It was basically like a small little apartment or office type space full of cats.

There were bean bag chairs, a huge tv, and a table full of snacks. There was also a drink vending machine in the back where we could get as many drinks as we wanted for free. The cost was about $10 for an hour, which I would say was a good price.

The cats were a little anti-social, but I guess that’s what you get when they’re being pet and played with by so many people each day. Some of them were very friendly though. This one in particular even liked laying on people’s backs.

This particular cat cafe was really cute because it had binders with the biographies of each cat and even superlatives. Each cat was voted “best fur”, “prettiest eyes” etc. etc.

Some of my favorite cats:

This was Sugar. He was a giant maine coon cat and my favorite!

He took up the whole chair!

Obviously I loved him but he didn’t even want to give me the time of day :(

Fluffy cat:

I forgot his name but this cat was incredibly derpy and I loved him.

Probably one of the cutest things at the cat cafe was this guy who was there for a very long time. He would play with the cats for a little bit and then go to look at the biographies in the binder. Now, while this might sound odd, it was totally obvious that his true intention was to try and talk to one the pretty girls who worked at the cat cafe. There were only two workers, one girl and one guy. This particular guy was totally at the cafe trying to get to know the girl worker and it was so cute!

High Schoolers and Simon Says

Over the month of November I started getting the hang out going to Kudan High School and having the “English Shower” Lessons in the morning. I was starting to understand what level of English each grade was at and their personalities. The first years were too new at English, so they were shy but tried hard. The Second year students were a little better at English and always excited to play games or learn something. The Third years were a hit or miss. They could either be really awesome or really annoying. The fourth years were always brats and never wanted to listen. Then the fifth years, who were in a different building, would play games, but preferred just talking. I loved the second years and fifth years the most. The second years were the most fun to play with, but I got to know the fifth years a lot more personally. For the fifth years I would just sit down with them and ask them their interests and other stuff about themselves.

One day I came in and decided to play simon says with my second year class. The kids loved it. Everyone energetically participated and they never chose something boring. One girl even said, “simon says dance like a monkey, BUT ONLY THE BOYS.” Another time, a student made us run around our desks three times. It was chaotic but fun. The teachers were standing outside of the room the whole time probably wondering why I was making their kids do such idiotic things.

I have to say that I had a really great time doing English Shower, except for the time when the kids were brats and unresponsive. Thank god it was only for 20 minutes three times a week.

Kansai Trip Part 3: Castles and Aquariums

Sunday morning of our trip my friends and I woke up and headed downstairs to meet up with our school group. It was supposed to be our “free day” where we could be on our own and choose where to go. Two of my friends decided to head to Osaka’s giant Pokemon center and shop around there for the morning while my other friend and I decided to go to Osaka Castle.

Finding Osaka Castle wasn’t too difficult after we got off of the subway and plenty of police officers were willing to help us. A number of the students from our group said that Osaka Castle was just “okay”…But I personally loved it. The Castle grounds were beautiful and everyone there was so friendly. There were volunteer workers who would be on the side to tell you the history and random stories about different parts of the castle grounds, and a lot of the Japanese people we met there wanted to talk with us and have random conversations.

There was this one older Japanese man who had to be in his 80s who just all of the sudden ran up to my friend and I and was like, “WHERE ARE YOU FROM??” He didn’t speak much english so we spoke to him in Japanese for about 5 minutes. He was really funny and cute. Before leaving he was like, “both so cute, very hollywood like, SO CUTE.” Right as he was saying this one of the security guards was walking past us and just laughed. Personally guys, Osaka was my favorite city. Everything felt so light and happy and the people felt warmer, in a sense.

Anyways.

The Moat Surrounding the castle grounds:

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Walking up to the Castle!! (Some parts were under construction)

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Entering the Castle grounds

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Peeking through a little peephole at the outer walls

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The Castle!! There are 8 floors inside the castle which you can choose to either take the elevator or walk up the stairs. Regarding the extremely long elevator line out the door, my friend and I opted to walk up all 8 flights of stairs in once, and then walk down floor by floor.

Inside the building is basically a big museum where each floor tells you different parts of the castle’s history. Only about $5 to get in and it was all pretty interesting. I learned so much!

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Looking over the castle grounds from the top of the castle!

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Some of the walls around the castle grounds had different stories that followed them. This stone in particular (told to me by one of the volunteers) is an original wall from the meiji restoration. The marks in the wall are from the fire that took place from the rebellion during the restoration. So it’s a straight up original castle wall.

After Osaka Castle, my friend and I hopped back on the subway towards the Osaka Aquarium to meet up with our friends. The Aquarium was huge!! There was so much in it! It was awesome! There were so many different kinds of animals! Here are some pictures to give you all an idea:

Otters sleeping together:

Seals:

Capybara 

In the middle of the aquarium was this huge tank and there were these two scuba divers swimming with the fish in it. One of them was dressed as santa and he had a microphone connected to him. He was answering questions for little kids as he was inside the tank.

One point while I was at the aquarium looking at some animal or fish, I got so excited that I started tapping my friend’s shoulder next to me saying, “LOOK!LOOK!!!” I then turned and realized that it wasn’t my friend, but a random Japanese guy who was staring at me surprised and confused like he wanted to say something but didn’t know anything. I just quickly said, “Oh, you’re not my friend,” and ran away from embarrassment.

By the time my friends and I got through the aquarium it was getting late and we had to head back to Kyoto to meet with our school group. One the train back to Kyoto, my friends and I encountered this extremely drunk younger man who was eyeing us drunk sexily (?) while almost falling on his face. Someone ended up giving him their seat, where he just passed out for the rest of the ride. Poor guy.

Our school group took the Shinkansen (bullet train) back to Tokyo where my housemate and I finally got back to our host family and clocked out for the night.

Kansai Trip Part 2: Nara and Osaka.

Saturday morning of the trip everyone woke up, got dressed, and our coordinators took us on a bus to a train station in Nara. From there, we went to the middle of the city (which wasn’t a really big city) to begin our day. 

After telling us what we could do, giving us maps, and letting us go, there was something all of us noticed immediately. There were deer everywhere in this town.

When I mean everywhere, I mean EVERYWHERE. They’re wild deer that take up as much of the town as humans do. The deer are basically everywhere you go. In the parks, crossing the streets, in the temples. It’s really cool. There are signs everywhere telling you to be careful of them:

But for the most part they’re pretty friendly and there are little carts everywhere to buy treats for them so you can feed them.

After our infatuation with the deer, my friends and I headed to Todaji temple up the street, which is a Buddhist Temple known for its giant wooden architecture and Buddha statue. The Temple was burned down in the past, so the rebuilt wooden temple (finished in 1709) is actually 30% smaller than the original building built back in 745. 

The Front Gates:

Some nature inside the gates:

Inside Gates:

The main Temple:

The Giant Wooden buddha statue:

Metal lotus petals that were detailed and surrounded the Buddha

Bodhisattvas that surrounded the Buddha:

After the Temple, our coordinators took us back on another train towards Osaka. A few years ago there was a Japanese comedian from Osaka who went to Tokyo and would go to random people, make his hand in the shape of a gun, and go “BANG”. Most people from Tokyo would just stare at him strangely and then walk away. Then he went to Osaka and did the same thing. Most of the reactions he got in Osaka were people dramatically pretending as though they’ve been shot. So, my friends and I wanted to test this theory. As soon as we got out of the station, we had the urge to try it. As we looked over our shoulders, two hosts were walking towards us with flyers. As soon as they approached us, I turned around quickly and went, “BANG”. The first one, the curly haired one, looked kind of confused, and then quickly keeled over acting as though I had just shot him. It was the greatest thing ever. Afterwards, we talked to them for a little bit and they handed us flyers for a party going on at their club for the club’s anniversary. We never went, but I did get this picture with them.

After all of the, my friends and I headed down a main street in look for Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki, two of Osaka’s most popular dishes. We found a restaurant that looked good and ordered a meal of shared okonomiyaki and takoyaki.

Lunch ended and my friends and I headed to another train station to look for places to spend the rest of our day. We were on the look out for the “Floating sky garden” and the “Hep Ferris Wheel”. What we found was a German-styled christmas festival type of thing.

Here is the nativity scene at the festival. Coins were tossed to the baby Jesus.

Christmas tree:

Some of the little food shops that sold German food and sweets:

Conveniently, the floating sky garden was located directly over the German festival, so my friend and I headed up to the top of the towers where the Garden was located. We were expecting an actual Garden, but instead it was an area at the top of these two giant buildings where we could look over the whole city of Osaka. The view was amazing and absolutely breathtaking, even if it was cloudy.

There was an area in side where couples could buy engraved locks, and then they took their locks to this area where they could basically “lock their love”. I loved the idea. I thought it was really cute.

We even saw a wedding party at the top of the floating sky garden taking pictures. Both the bride and the groom were beautiful. But it was also incredibly cold at the top and neither of them were wearing jackets.

When we got down from the Floating Sky Garden, our objective was to get to the “Hep” Ferris Wheel, which is famous in Osaka city. On our way we saw these two performers:

I didn’t get any pictures from the Ferris Wheel, but it was pretty awesome. Overall, I loved Osaka. The people were very warm and friendly, and there were couples everywhere! much more PDA then you would see in Tokyo.

After a long day, my friends and I met back up with our coordinators where they took us to a “ryokan”, or a traditional Japanese hotel for the night. This is what my friends and my room looked like:

There was an onsen at the ryokan along with yukatas that you could put on after the onsen. We all had a traditional Japanese dinner with some crazy karaoke right afterwards. After dinner and karaoke, my friends and I came back to our room to find everything put away and our futons pulled out and set up. We hit the onsen one more time and then came back and collapsed on our futons for the night.

Final Exams have come

I promise all of you that I will update my life and adventures as soon as I’m done with finals on Wednesday

Kansai Trip Part 1: Kyoto

Last weekend I went on a school planned trip around the Kansai region. We spent three days traveling around Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara exploring everything. 

Abi and I woke up 4am Friday morning to catch a 5:30 train to Shinagawa station where we met up with the group. From there we took the Shinkansen (which was AWESOME) to Kyoto station. I would have liked to enjoy the Shinkansen a little more, but I fell asleep as soon as I hit the seat. Although I could say that it was a really smooth ride and rather nice to sleep on. Anyways. we got to Kyoto about 9:30 in the morning and started our day. 

We first hit Nijo Castle, which was home to the Tokugawa Shoguns. During the Tokugawa Shogunate, Edo (Tokyo) was the capital, but Kyoto continued to be the home of the Imperial Court and also the vacation place for the Shoguns.

I couldn’t take any pictures inside the building, but the walls and ceiling were decorated with beautiful painted artwork. I got to walk through the different rooms where the Shogun would hold his meetings, where the Shogun slept, where the guests slept, etc. The floors in the rooms were all tatami mats, but the hall ways were wood. The floors in the hall way squeaked with every step you took. Our coordinators told us that the squeaking floors were used to detect assassins or enemies that would try to sneak into the castle at night. 

Some of the gardens around the castle:

Looking over the castle grounds:

The moat of the castle:

After Nijo Castle, our group was taken through the streets of Kyoto for some quick sightseeing before lunch.

The river the runs through Kyoto:

After lunch the group met up at Yasaka Shrine:

We were kind of behind on time, so we just powered through the shrine without taking any pictures or seeing anything significant. 

Walking through the back streets of Kyoto:

I didn’t get to see any real Geisha in Kyoto, but Japanese tourists like to come to Kyoto and pay to dress up as Geisha or Samurai. So I saw many of those types of people. Here are two women dressed up as maiko (Geisha apprentice) being pulled by these guys with carts.

After a long walk, we got to this small street crowded with all kinds of people. The street was full of little souvenir shops with traditional Japanese types of goods. Our coordinators told us to walk to the top of the street where we would find Kiyomizudera Temple:

Kiyomizudera is a very popular Buddhist Temple. It’s especially known for it’s wooden architecture and it’s surrounding view. I was actually reading the other day how it was petitioned to be one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, but disappointingly rejected.

View of the temple from one of the walk ways. In the Fall it’s known for the color of the trees that surround the Temple. In the Spring all the trees are pink from the cherry blossoms.

View of the trees any Kyoto city in the back:

It was an awesome temple but I couldn’t really appreciate it too much because of the mass number of people and the little amount of time our coordinators gave us to explore.

Our Next stop was Sanjusangendo Temple:

This Temple is famously known for the 1000 gold plated Bodhisattva statues inside. The statues were really quite remarkable. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take pictures inside the temple, so I couldn’t get any pictures of the statues.

Last but not least, our coordinators took us to the incredibly famous Inari Shrine.

The shrine is known for it’s thousands of orange Tori gates that make its way all the way up the mountain. 

We got to the shrine just as the sun was setting, so I wasn’t able to get any spectacular shots of the gates.

Heading in! 

Heading up the mountain through the gates:

At a small resting area:

Surrounding the gates were little trails that you could take to smaller shrine areas. My friends and I ventured away to one of them for a while, but it was starting to get dark and misty and the small shrine began to look like something from a creepy Japanese ghost movie. So we headed back to the main trail with the Tori gates.

Because of time shortage, my friends and I only made it about half way up the mountain. A few of our friends made it to the top of the mountain, but they were quicker and left earlier than us. Next time I’m in Kyoto I’m definitely going for the top.

After our long day of running around to various shrines and temples, we hopped on a bus that took us to Nara prefecture where we stayed at a Youth Hostel for the night.

I can finally calm down a bit until next week

I finished my last Japanese essay and chapter test, I finished my oral exam, and I turned in my essay for Japanese culture. All I have left is my final essay for my psychology class and then three finals. I can do this!!

Frijoles

Coming from San Diego, I love my Mexican food. BUT, working in a Mexican restaurant all summer, I was sure that I was done with mexican food for a long time and wanted nothing with it. That was, until I got a craving for burritos. There is only one place in Tokyo (as far as I know, correct me if I’m wrong) that you can buy burritos, and that’s Frijoles. Frijoles is more like a chipotle than anything. But, it’s not like someone comes to Japan for burritos, so I wasn’t complaining.

My half eaten burrito:

The place itself is rather small, but the burritos are huge, a little pricey, but it’s only around 1000 yen if you stick with the basics. The most interesting thing I found was the use of Jasmine rice in the burrito. Definitely a change. Like I said, I’m not complaining. The burrito was not the best, but it was a pretty fantastic find for Japan. A good way to keep my mexican food craving at bay.

Odaiba, Pancakes, Ikebukuro, and more Onsen

Friday of the same four day weekend, I was completely unmotivated to do anything. However, because it’s only a few weeks left before I have to return to America, I didn’t want to waste a day doing nothing. I want to make sure I see as much as I can. So, after sleeping in and slowly getting ready, Abi and I headed to Odaiba. We heard about it so much but we never got the chance to go. I honestly have to say that Odaiba is one of my favorite places out here. However, it also felt a lot like San Diego (to me personally). I’m kind of turned away by the idea that I like it because it felt more western. BUT, regardless, it was an awesome place. The train ride over the bay was gorgeous! When we got to Odaiba, there was a man made beach (too cold to go to), tons of shops, cafes, and christmas lights. The view from across Tokyo Bay to the other side of Tokyo (where we came from) was awesome as well. After walking around a bit, Abi and I found a cafe where we could look over the bay at the Tokyo skyline while we studied. After a few hours of studying, I left to go back home while Abi met up with one of our friends from school for a date.

Cool view on the train:

view of the city from Odaiba:

Lady Liberty?

Stairs to Fuji TV headquarters:

The rest of the weekend I spent with friends exploring different parts of Tokyo that I hadn’t been to before. I was exhausted but I felt like I had to keep going in order to get everything in and enjoy my last month as much as I can.

On Saturday I met up with a friend from Japanese class and we went to Shimokitazawa for some lunch and shopping. Afterwards, she took me to this pancake cafe where we shared sweet and savory pancakes for dinner. 

On Sunday I met up with some of my friends from Bryn Mawr and Haverford who are also studying abroad in Japan this semester. We met up in Ikebukuro, which is supposed to be the anime/idol district for girl consumers. Mostly our day ended up in some shopping, a lot of sightseeing, and cafe breaks. One time, in the Ikebukuro station mall, I was following my friends and we somehow ended up in the back of the mall where it was cold and concrete with some sketchy looking elevators. For some reason we decided to take the elevators up to see what was on the different floors. The elevator was (I assume) a service elevator and we ended up in some concrete storage area. When we pushed the button to go back down, a new elevator opened to show three somewhat sketchy looking workers. Instead of waiting for another elevator, we all crammed into the elevator with these Bosozoku (gangster) looking workers. No one said anything and everyone looked as uncomfortable as they could be. Finally the elevator got to the floor where we came from, thus ending the most awkward elevator ride of my life.

When I got home later on Sunday night, my host parents insisted that we go to the onsen since it was a good time for both Abi and I. Regardless of feeling a little sick and the need to study for my Japanese exam the next day, I went. It was a great decision. We spent an hour and a half just sitting in the onsen relaxing our stresses away. I even felt a little better after being able to have some down time. I didn’t get much studying done that night, but it was a good way to end the weekend.