Saturday, May 10, 2014

Jackie in Japan: Spring in Tokyo

Hello there, everyone! This is my first time posting on the Asia on E Street blog, and I'll be doing so regularly for the rest of the summer while I study abroad at Sophia University in Tokyo, Japan.

My name is Jackie LaReau and I'm a recipient of the Estelle Sigur Grant for Japanese Language Study in Japan. I'm a current GW junior majoring in Asian Studies at the Elliott School, and I've been studying abroad in Japan since last August. I spent the fall and winter semesters studying at Akita International University (AIU) in the northern rural prefecture of Akita, and now I have transferred to the very different Sophia University in Tokyo under the CIEE exchange program. 

初めまして!どうぞよろしくお願いします!(Rough translation: Nice to meet you!)

Now although GW has just finished its spring semester and everyone is heading home for the summer, in Japan, the spring semester has only just started. On the Japanese school calendar, the spring semester goes from April all the way through the summer to August, and then they get about a 1 month summer vacation before starting school again in September. Thus, I'll continue to be here until about mid-August. Good-bye summer vacation, you will be missed... But getting the opportunity to complete my stay in Japan for a full year is definitely worth it!

Where do I start? Well, this semester I'm living with a homestay family for the first time, and it's absolutely so much fun! The family is actually sort of unorthodox, in that I only have a homestay mother and father, and they're both in their 70's. But don't be fooled! They're very active and love life, meaning that they always take me out on day trips and spoil me like their own daughter while teaching me all about the Japanese culture and language. I'm very glad I chose this housing option, because it's really given me an opportunity to interact with Japan more than I would have simply living in a dorm!

As for school, we're about a month into the semester and classes are going great. The Japanese language program at Sophia University is definitely challenging, which I'm very happy about, since it gives you the structure and tools you need to learn the language while you practice your speaking skills with Japanese friends and students outside of class. 

However, by far the coolest thing about the beginning of the spring semester is that it aligns with the peak of cherry blossom season. Here's a few shots that I took all around the Tokyo area while doing hanami (flower viewing).

And here's one of me, dressed appropriately pink for the season.

This next one is my personal favorite. CIEE's staff organized for all of the exchange students in the program to go on a day trip to Kamakura, a city about an hour away from Tokyo which was Japan's imperial capital from the years 1185-1333. It is rich with history, temples, and shrines, and is now
a beautiful tourist spot that many Tokyo locals like to visit when they're itching to escape the big city.

As you can see, one of the biggest attractions is the Daibutsu (big Buddha), which is made of bronze, considered a national treasure, and is one of the biggest Buddha statues in all of Japan. You can even go inside of it for a mere 20 yen (the equivalent of 20 cents)!

Kamakura also has some stunning hiking trails, zen gardens, and a bamboo forest, which I made sure to visit before going home.

I also went on a weekend trip to Nagoya during Golden Week, which is a city about 200 miles from Tokyo. By bullet train it would only take a couple of hours to get there, but my friends and I decided to be adventurous and take the regular trains there and back instead. After about 6 hours of trains and transfers, we arrived!

Spending a couple days in another city was great fun, and we managed to visit all the major attractions. We visited Osu-Kannon temple, Nagoya Castle, and various local shopping districts.

We also made sure to try out all the local delicacies, such as this dish called hitsumabushi, which is grilled eel served over rice with tea you pour over it. It was absolutely delicious! I definitely understand why Nagoya is so famous for it now.

Aside from traveling, I have very much settled into my life in Tokyo. I've joined a couple of intercultural exchange clubs, which like to give Japanese students and international exchange students opportunities to hang out with each other, become friends, exchange cultures, and practice each other's languages. If you're looking to get better at Japanese and hang out with some of the nicest people around, joining clubs are the best way to do it!

I think I've hit all of the most exciting points of the semester so far, but I'll make sure to update again soon with new stories, pictures, and cultural tidbits.

For now, see you next time!


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