The Mie Prefecture Trip

This past weekend I went to the Mie prefecture with my entire study abroad program. We first visited the famous Ise JinJya. This shrine is the most sacred shrine in all of Japan because inside the Inner shrine is a sacred mirror known as one of the nation’s three most sacred treasures. Amaterasu’s Mirror is so sacred that not even the Emperor himself can go inside the Inner shrine and gaze upon it with mortal eyes. The Inner and Outer shrines are apart by about 5 kilometers. We took a bus at 7:30AM in the morning and got to the shrine a litter earlier than expected.

There were a surprising amount of people at both parts of the shrine. I took a lot of pictures of both the visitors and my classmates. After we visited the inner shrine, we left for Ise Bay. Ise Bay has the famous rock shrine of Japan, which comprises of two huge stones floating in the middle of ocean tied together by a rope. The shrine represents the origin of Japan where the two founding gods, Izanami and Izanagi, had met. The rope represents the deities’ marriage. Near the shrine was our Ryokan, or Japanese Inn. I had a room with my Japanese roommate and another person in my program. We ate a really delicious and traditional japanese meal for dinner. I had not eaten much that day, so I was really happy we got a vast variety of tasty food to eat. After dinner, a lot of people went to the convenient store to buy small fireworks so that we could set them off at the beach. The lights set off were fantastic and in a variety of sizes. Then we started a sumo wrestling competition on the beach. Almost everyone participated so it was a lot of fun.

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The next day we left early in the morning to go to an authentic Ninja house. At the ninja house, the entertainers demonstrated what kinds of traps ninjas used to incorporate within their house. I found it to be very cool because the ninjas constructed their house to look simple, when it actuality the house itself is a giant warehouse for weapons. After the demonstration was finished, I walked into the museum of ninja history. I learned about the famous ninja masters of Japan and how they survived during turbulent warring periods. We left after watching a pretty humorous show and then headed back to Osaka for the evening.

Finally, on following Monday me and a couple of people from my dorm went on a separate road trip to the Gifu prefecture. There, we saw one of the biggest battlefields of Japan during the Sengoku period. Sekigahara senjo was a place where Tokugawa Ieyasu, a famous shogun, won a decisive battle to unite the entire nation of Japan. Nowadays, the battlefield was mostly replaced by the town of Gifu, but I could smell the history in the air. I took some more pictures of the battlefield with some people dressed up as samurai. Overall, I was glad I decided to go to the Mie prefecture trip even though I was still recovering from a cold.

Hiroshima and Miya Jima Island

This past weekend I decided to go on a self-imposed adventure. I had been putting this adventure off for a while, but last week I finally made myself buy a Shinkansen ticket to go to Hiroshima. I wanted to go see the Atomic Dome in downtown Hiroshima and take a ferry to Miyajima island. As an American and World War 2 history buff, I knew that going to Hiroshima while studying abroad in Japan was mandatory.

I took the bullet train from Shin Osaka station to Hiroshima station. The trip itself took about 90 minutes. I found the Shinkansen ride to be very relaxing and cool. Once I arrived to Hiroshima station, I went to check in at my hotel. I decided to take it easy that night and stay inside the hotel for dinner. I ate the Hotel’s restaurant. There I met Hirada-san. He was my personal sushi chef because no one else was eating at the bar. I spoke with him in Japanese. He was so impressed that I could speak his mother language so well that he gave me a couple free sushi rolls. I really appreciated this gesture because I was pretty hungry that evening.

The next day I got up really early to get ready and left for the Genbaku dome mae (Atomic Dome building). I took a street car there and that took around 25 minutes. When I had arrived, I saw the last remaining building from the Atomic bomb dropping. I was in shock how that building was still somewhat intact. It was very close to the blast zone yet, it still  was standing as a piece of history.

Genbaku dome-mae

Genbaku dome-mae

This picture I took really gives off a sinister aura. A lot of people were nearby visiting Hiroshima Peace Park (Hewa Koen). I went into the Atomic victims museum to look at more artifacts from the bombing. I saw a lot of horrifying pictures from the aftermath. It made me really sad to see so much suffering. On the Cenograph in the middle of the park there was a quote inscribed in it: “May all the souls here rest in peace for we shall not repeat this evil.

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After seeing the museum I headed toward the river. Once I got to the river docks, I bought a ticket and boarding the river ferry to Miya Jima island. The boat ride took about 40 minutes. Once I arrived, I got off the boat and saw many tourist and deer around the shore. The deer were so friendly. They allowed little kids to pet them. However, they were always chasing people who had food in there hands.

After seeing the local shops I arrived at the large red Torii of the island. This torii is very special to Miyajima island and to Japan because repels all bad spirits away from the island. It is one of the 3 greatest sceneries of the nation. After taking a couple of photos of the torii, I decided to hike up Mt. Misen. It said the hike up to the observatory peak was about 1.6 km. I felt like it was a lot longer becasue it took me over an hour and a half to get up to the summit. Once I arrived to the top of the peak, I saw a beautiful panoramic view of the island. It was also very quiet up there. A peaceful quiet that I have not heard in a long time. I really enjoyed my trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima. I definitely recommend people should check out both locations if you find yourself in western Japan. It was well worth the wait!

Ryobu Torii

Ryobu Torii

 

Kishibe-Sai Shenanigans

It was 10AM on a bright Saturday morning. Not a single cloud in the sky and it was at least 75 degrees outside. I was ready to perform live at the Kishibe Sai Festival! I knew that I was not going to fail.

Now here is what actually happened. I woke up late, which resulted in making my roommate angry because I was late for my shift. I was feeling so nervous about performing, that it took me while to get enthusiastic about the show. On top of everything, I was really hungry and I could not eat any food until after I performed. I thought it could not get any worse.

Kishibe sai is the biggest school festival of the year. Basically everyone in the surrounding neighborhoods are welcome to come and take part in the merriment of school extracurricular activities. All after school clubs had to set up booths and sell a “product.” My study abroad program’s booth was selling bacon filled pancakes. Not sure why that happened, because there were plenty of other delicious options around the school yard that I noticed people heading towards and buying.

Around 2PM, I heading backstage to practice a run through of the set list one more time with my band mates. We were harmonized. It sounded great. However, I was still getting nervous. “What if I mess up, people will notice.” My friend Bobby came up to me and slapped me hard right on the back. He said, “Francesco do not worry, we got this.” The seething pain from that slap surprisingly helped calm me down. If Bobby was determined to see this through, I thought I ought to be as well.

We walked up on stage. All my friends from school were there out on the crowd cheering my name. This really got me excited to perform our first song “What does the Fox Say.” I was amazed at how many people loved our set. We kept playing for the next thirty minutes and the crowd was absolutely loving it.

After the show people we praising me with comments. I felt so proud that I was able to face my fear and preform on stage in front of all my friends at the biggest venue possible. I decided to treat myself to some bacon pancakess.  The next day we performed again and this time I wasn’t nervous. It just goes to show that anything is possible after a slap on the back and telling yourself “you got this!”

Survey Syndrome

The other day, my teacher, Isomi sensei, wanted me to get some more practice utilizing the Japanese I had learned so far in class.  I decided to walk around Osaka to find strangers and have them answer the questions in my school project. My project consisted of survey questions that asks Japanese strangers about the current state of global affairs. Little did I know that this was no simple task. I had the hardest time getting strangers to fill out my survey.

The minute I start talking to someone I got rejected. The Japanese people are renowned for not liking the feeling of being burdened by something small. The rejections kept on happening to me for the next hour until one nice businessman accepted. However, some of the questions on the survey he did not understand. When I tried to explain them to him, he had a difficult time understanding what I wanted him to comprehend. So he tried to fill the survey out as best he could. At the end of two hours of surveying people, I only came back to school with 3 signed sheets. This was very demoralizing because I started out with 30 empty surveys.

I decided to make my next survey easier before I continuing to further develop my project. That night another strange thing happened while I was at dinner. I was eating at a sushi restaurant in Umeda when a Japanese couple approached. This Japanese couple offered me some of their meal. Now normally I would never take food from strangers or offer food to any random person in a restaurant, but  they  were doing some sort of eating challenge and they wanted to see if I would eat their dish. I decided to consume their crab dish and immediately loved it. They were so happy that I ate it that they bought me drinks and more food.

Then, one of their friends joined the table and wanted to get to know me. We talked about where each person was from and the career path each is on. At the end of our conversation, the friend really wanted to introduce me to her daughter. This was another unorthodox offer because I have never had a mother so insistent on having me meet her daughter before. Since the group bought me both great meal and strong drinks, I agreed to meet her daughter. Her name was Haruka. I was surprised by how well she spoke English. It turns out that she studied at Oxford University for a full year 2 years ago and is now pursuing her Master’s at Kyoto University.

In a single day I witnessed two types of stubbornness coming from a Japanese person. The first being not wanting to take a small survey or answer any interview questions. The other was playing matchmaker and insisting that I try new food even if it did not look that appetizing.  I was shocked at  both situations because the outcome was similar. I had no control. I really hope in the future that I will continue to make conversations with new Japanese strangers.

 

 

Kyoto, The Old Capital

This past weekend I went to Kyoto with my Dad. Kyoto is one of the few cities that the U.S.A did not attack during WW2. I went there back in 2007 and it was just as I remembered it, the city atmosphere breathed ancient history. Kyoto used to be the capital of Japan around the 10th century. The Emperor used to live in the Old Imperial palace. There are lots of temples around the city and historical sites that many people from around the world come to see.

I visited the Kyoto National Museum, which was outside my father’s hotel. I saw beautiful artifacts dating back to 554 A.D. That night, I invited my roommate to join us for dinner at a teppanyaki restaurant. It was Ryu’s first time ever in Kyoto. Ryu was very surprised when he met my father. He thought my dad was so cool and was very appreciative that I invited him to come out with us. After dinner we walked around the city for another two hours. There were alley ways that felt so antiquated with many decorations and objects. One of the shops had Yukatas and Kimonos on display. Each piece of clothing was carefully woven to make an incredibly fashionable design. I am excited to go back to Kyoto this coming weekend with my entire class. We plan to visit the famous “Kinkakuji” or Golden Pavilion on the lake.

I have now officially lived in Japan for about a little over a month. Although it does feel like I have lived here for a longer period of time. I am definitely looking forward to the other cities that I will be visiting in the upcoming weeks. Also, my Japanese has improved immensely now that I live here. The Japanese students have their first day of Fall semester classes tomorrow. I am excited to see what my campus looks like with an entire student body present.

Kobe Ni Ikimasu (Let’s go to Kobe)

On a Tuesday afternoon, my Roommate and I decided to take a spontaneous trip to a town next to Osaka called Kobe. Kobe is another port town that was destroyed during the Great Earthquake of 1995. However, now a days it is a bustling town filled with both immigrants and Japanese people. We walked round Merikan Park, which is near the Kobe Harbor. While we were at the park we saws group of Japanese guys doing really cool tricks on BMX bikes. (See Below)

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We then visited the National Maritime Museum and the Kobe Port Tower. Fantastic exhibits on modern technology and efficient advances in certain companies were what I found most interesting. The Kobe Port Tower gave a 360 panoramic view of the city. (See Below).

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We ended up getting kobe beef burgers in the China town of Kobe. However, since I gave up red meat recently, I only went for a fried sesame ball.

That’s all for now. Be good people… Be good.

 

Class Schedule

After three weeks of studying the Japanese intensely language, I am finally able to add two elective classes to my daily schedule. I am planning to take Intro to Japanese Business Culture and Eastern Psychotherapy on top of my Intro to Japanese Language class. So far I am really enjoying them.

The Intro to Japanese Business Culture talks a lot about the “Kaisha” or company culture in Japan. The Japanese people have a different way of interviewing potential candidates and hunting for jobs. For example, unlike the USA, Japanese companies can practice employment discrimination against a potential applicant based on gender, sexual orientation, marital status, physical appearance, age and immigration status. Although these are sore subject areas in terms of the new hiring process, the Japanese companies find it very important to know every part of an individual before they extend an offer to work in an office. They also pay associates higher salaries based on their fluency of English. Usually, most of the big companies work with the top schools in the country to gain a favorable access point to the students. As an outsider, I found this sort of manipulation in the job hunting process very fascinating.

As for the Eastern psychotherapies class, my professor taught the class about the principles of Naikan. Naikan stems from Zen Bhuddism. Naikan is  about meditating and performing heavy self-introspection. Naikan examines three very important questions:

1. What did person x (usually a parent) do for you?

2. What have you given them in return?

3. What problems have you caused them?

After answering these questions, I remembered a lot from my childhood, especially memories with my parents. You sort of feel very relaxed and vulnerable with nostalgia after meditating so long. Emotions and flashbacks of the past resurface. I would definitely recommend this exercise for anyone who wishes to do self- psycho analysis.

This weekend I am planning to tour the Asahi beer factory with my Japanese room mate. To top it off, I am plan to practice playing golf with one of my other housemates. Utsu-san is the 7th best golfer in the nation! I hope some of his training rubs off on me so that I can enter the Cornell Hotel Society’s annual Kansai Golf Tournament in the middle of November and win a grand prize.

 

 

A Tokyo Tale

Loneliness.

At least that is what my friend Shinya said that described what it was like living in Tokyo as a a working analyst for a huge corporation. I recently went on a weekend trip to visit my friend  in Tokyo and I was amazed at what I witnessed. This city is considered the financial capital of Asia. People call it the New York or London of the Far East. Millions of people walking on the street, taking the subways, and passing each other as if they do not even acknowledge the existence of the other human beings within their environment.

In Osaka, I was the center of attention to the Japanese people. People who are from Osaka are generally friendly and want to strike up a conversation with you given if they know basic English. I remember a time when I ate at a small sushi restaurant where a Japanese family was also dining at. Imagine my surprise when an 85 year old Japanese woman wanted to know what I think of her country in broken English. They like learning about American culture and other perspectives. This was not the case in Tokyo. In Tokyo, I felt like I was the cog in a municipal machine. No one even said “Sumimasen” or “excuse me.” Everyone just seemed like they were in a rush to get somewhere.

This feeling of being lonely in a huge city where almost no one speaks my language is something new for me. Tokyo itself was impressive, but I felt so small navigating through the streets and subway lines. The subway lines connect to every neighborhood within Tokyo. Although they were efficient, they were dirtier that the train stations in Osaka. If it were not for my friend who graciously hosted me in his tiny apartment or for the members of the Cornell Club in Japan that was hosting a summer get together event for alumni in the area, I would have felt worse about my trip.

Another amazing experience that I witnessed was being at the Tsujiki Fist Market at dawn. I have never seen so many people get so emotional over a piece of fish. This market has about 50,000 tons of different species of fish and shell fish come in every Monday-Saturday. Restaurant owners and chefs wait in line for open wholesale (which starts at 8AM) at around 3:30AM almost every day. All the fish are either sold or cut up by 9AM. In a matter of 60 minutes, there was not even a single piece of tuna meat left on the stands. This was incredible to witness. The market reeked of that briny ocean flavor that you get at a shipping yard or boating dock. You see the workers furiously moving all over the warehouse, transporting cases and boxes of fish to the right stand or buyer.

I am eager to go back and explore Tokyo some more. I hope to meet other foreign students living in Tokyo the next time go so that I can get their different prospectives to compare to my recent visit.

Week One of Living in Osaka

What an incredible first week in Japan it has been! It feels like I have been doing a month’s worth of activities even though I arrived in Osaka last Wednesday afternoon. I am very happy that now my jet lag has passed on and I am accumulated to the current timezone.

Osaka is the third largest city in Japan for a good reason. The other day I was walking around the Dotonburi, Amerika-mura and Shinsaibashi wards of Osaka with my roommate Ryunosuke. Ryu is a freshman at Osaka Gakuin University and his dream is to become a soccer player in the Barclay’s premier league after mastering English as his major. He speaks English relatively well compared to the other Japanese roommates in my house. He is also a hysterical human being. He always is smiling and knows how to make any person laugh. I am very fortunate to not only have a great roommate like Ryu, but also he is someone who I can practice speaking Japanese to after my morning classes.

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In Dotonburi we saw a lot of takoyaki carts, okonomiyaki shops and ramen izakayas. Like other parts of Japan, Osaka is filled with rules and regulations pertaining to gaijins (foreigners). My entire CET class had to go down to city hall to get registered in the city’s database. What amazed me is how many papers and pamphlets they gave out because each pamphlet gave in great detail what to do in Osaka if a natural disaster strikes the city. I live in California and I have never heard of the government giving out “what to do when a 8.0 earthquake hits your town” pamphlets being passed around for regular citizens.

Interestingly enough, I noticed that the Japanese students at OGU love practicing their English (Eigo) and Japanese (Nihongo) with the international students (ryugakusee). I feel so embarrassed that I am not nearly as fluent as some of my other classmates. However, I am amazed that I have been able to pick up certain phrases rather quickly in the passed few days. My teacher, Isomi-sensei, is very impressed how much hiragana I have been able to retain in just the past two days. I am confident that by the time this semester ends I will be able to read, write, and say both hiragana and katakana.

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This weekend I am planning to go to Tokyo to visit some friends and to explore the famous Edo museum. I am happy that this study abroad experience is already off to a wonderful start.

 

 

Getting Ready to go Abroad

I do not feel ready to go abroad to Japan, but I am very excited to start my journey. I cannot believe I am finally realizing my dream coming to life!

I have no prior knowledge or formal education in Japanese. I wanted to really test and see if I could immerse myself in a different culture without any background or expertise in the matter. I do not recommend this route for the inexperienced traveler. I hope to come out from this study abroad experience a better and more cosmopolitan student.

I believe that the Japanese culture has a lot that it could teach me. I hope that my experience will not only help my entrepreneurial business one day, but also allow me to make new friends in a different part of the world. As I continue on this journey and see many different sights, do keep in mind that I have set these 10 goals before my fall semester at Osaka Gakuin University comes to an end:

1. Eat at Sukiyabshi Jiro

2. Become conversational in Japanese

3. Visit both Hiroshima and Nagasaki

4. Take a tour of the Sapporo or Kirin Ichiban factory

5. Sing my heart out at a random karaoke club

6. Take the Shinkansen to some random Japanese town and get lost for the day

7. Be able to watch a baseball or soccer game at a Japanese stadium

8. Try Kendo

9. Soak in an Onsen

10. Stay a night at either a minshuku or ryokan

I am looking forward to these next four months. Stay tuned for more stories.

Sayonara USA and Ohayo Gozaimasu Nippon!