The start of our second week marked the temporary end to our stay in Tokyo and the start of our stay in Osaka. But before we could go to Osaka, we had the opportunity to meet with our fellow Spartans at the annual MSU Alumni Lunch at a nice little venue whose name I forget. I’ll be honest and say that my shyness once again stood in the way of making any friends/contacts, and that I also forget the names of the speakers. Overall, it was fun talking (or for the most part, in my case, listening) to the the other MSU students and speakers about their experiences at MSU and about their lives. While our group was mostly CAS students, we still had a more diverse group of students than the other groups. My favorite part of the experience? Well let’s put it this way: I always find it fun to be in a room full of fellow Spartans when “Go GREEN” is yelled, because I always find it fun to respond “Go WHITE”! There were talks about hanging out with the other students, from the business group I think, but those plans fell through and we never saw them again the rest of our stay there. Too bad, would have been cool to make new friends from MSU, but while in another country.

Advertisements

The process at work

Before our final group dinner, I had never heard of Shabu Shabu. It is simply the boiling of meat, vegetables, and noodles at a temperature so high, it cookes completely immediately. The meat was very good with the tartar sauce, which I had never tasted before. It was decent with the soy sauce as well, but was better with the tartar sauce. I preferred the beef to the pork because the pork still had fat on it, but both were still very good. Of course, the rice was good as well.

Cultural story of the night: I asked the waiter for water in Japanese and his response was “Water” in a tone that made me feel like he responded “Hey, I KNOW HOW TO SPEAK ENGLISH!” It was hilarious. Not my fault he didn’t make it clear he spoke English. The restaurant itself was the perfect setting, especially at night.

Beautiful isn't it?

Our first Saturday in Japan was very exciting. Our travels that day brought us to a large shrine area in Asakasa. Everything here was so elaborate, and the crowd was very animated, not to mention packed!! It was like a giant festival. What was being celebrated I’m not sure but just being at the entrance built great anticipation on what was inside! On the road leading up to the main shrine were countless shops filled with a variety of things. The one that caught my eye the most was a shop that sold Japanese blades: katanas, short swords, shuriken and the like. I really wanted to buy one but decided to postpone until the end of the trip and see what my budget was then. I still could have bought it but in the end I was better off not getting it. Maybe next time. My favorite experience at this place was watching the parades of men and women carrying golden shrines around. I should have inquired into who/what they were worshiping/celebrating, but it was very entertaining to watch. Closer to the main temple, there were what seemed like a billion shops selling food. The variety seemed endless. I was tempted to buy something, but still hadn’t gotten over my fear of undercooked food (something I never got over during the length of the trip).

Inside the main shrine

Inside the actual temple, I was able to see the praying and blessing rituals, such as donating money for a blessing, for the first time. I also donated to receive a fortune. I’m usually not superstitious but it was scary to receive a bad fortune that told me not to travel, not to start a relationship, and a bunch of other things. I also missed the fact that I could tie up bad fortunes to be let go later. I’ll admit I sort of freaked out but it was all good in the end. Another thing to note is that we ran into a couple CMU students. Small world, huh?

Parfaits

My final meal in Japan was Pizza from a pasta place in the Aoyama-Itchome subway station. I know, I know, pizza in Japan, especially as my last meal, isn’t very adventurous. When we got there, there it was full, and we sort of had a little trouble communicating with the hostess. But we were able to let her know we were willing to wait for a table to open up and she seated us pretty quickly afterward. ANYWAY, I wish I had known about this place before. There was so much on the menu I wanted to try. But I settled for pizza and a beer. The pizza itself was really good. My favorite part of it had to be the sauce, which I felt was very rich. Had I known it was a thin crust (as Vida put it: “paper thin”), I would have gotten a larger size. Regardless, it was good. Dessert was just as good. The restaurant had three flavors of parfaits: Chocolate Banana, Strawberry, and Caramel. So Vida, Bryce, and I all chose different flavors. Everything was well worth it and I’m glad I was able to enjoy my last meal in Japan. Couldn’t have picked a better place.

Group Photo!!

Twice during our final week, we visited Waseda University, the Princeton of Japan. Our first contact was an American professor who attended UofM. He made getting around and getting set up with his students less complicated. That doesn’t mean, however, that communicating with the Japanese students was easy. It was actually pretty hard. While all of the students knew some English (they were English classes afterall), it was hard for us all to understand each other. Sometimes they didn’t know what I was saying and sometimes I couldn’t understand what they were saying.

Inter-group mingling!!!

Another challenge was shyness. I don’t usually start conversations with strangers right off the bat so this was different for me. I also noticed that out of all the students I talked to, I was the one to initiate the conversation, except when I was with classmates, then my classmates were the ones to initiate the conversation, but none of the students I talked to initiated the conversation. This was very different from the Keio University students (who are their rivals might I add). However, I did have a few good conversations with some of the students. A sidenote would be to mention that these students helped us in our research projects by taking the surveys used to gather research for said projects. We met with at least 4 groups of students over a 2 day period and I’m sure the data collected from them will be very beneficial to our project.

Group picture with some of the Keio students!

At the end of our first week, we visited Keio University. It was a small, but impressive looking campus. Almost immediately we were taken to meet the class in which two of our students were to present in front of. First, one of their students presented on the use of Twitter in Japan. It was well presented and you could tell a lot of hard work and research went into it. It also helped that the presenter spoke English fluently as she had studied in the United States before. Afterwards, Nicholas presented and his presentation was equally impressive as he worked hard on it. If he was nervous, it didn’t show. Our class was all spread apart and mixed in with the Keio students. For me at least, it was easy to make conversation with the students at our table. They were very friendly and curious to know more about us and there were at least three students in our group who spoke fluent or near-fluent English.

I was very grateful to the students who helped us order food in the cafeteria as well. It was fun getting to know them and letting them get to know us during, and after lunch. Overall, it was fun to meet students from another country, in their own country. They were all very friendly and if it was possible, I wouldn’t have mind hanging out with them outside of class.

One of the most negative points of my trip include the “businessmen” who stand at street corners waiting to prey on tourists and passerby’s. “Come to my club”, “Going shopping?”, “Hey ladies/fellas” are a few of the phrases I’ve heard out of their mouths. Quite frankly, it aggravated me the way they invaded my personal space the moment I made eye contact. Which is why I made a point not to let them know I acknowledge their existence. Regardless, they approached me anyway. The other night, one guy was less than an arm’s length away from me trying to find out where I was going. It was irritating, but I got a sense of satisfaction by denying his existence. It’s weird how there are signs every few feet in Roppongi telling people that it’s illegal for them to do what they do, but it’s not enforced, even by the cops I see walking down the street.