From the mind of LaCole

Travel

The Aftermath – Returning Home

Who knew that two and a half weeks would pass by so soon? I love Japan, everything about it. This was definitely an item on the bucket list and an experience of a lifetime. I love how the program was structure and how many cities and places we visited. If money wasn’t an issue I would have loved to stay a little longer. I feel if I had visited Japan on my own I would not have seen or experience all that I have in two weeks. I also made great new friends, without this program I would have probably never met this people and they all attend MSU.

My trip home was smooth as ever, other than me having to forfeit my tripod (tear). Customs was easy and polite and the flight seem a less in time than going. Landing back in America, reality had set in, I’m home. While glad to be home, I was already missing Japan. Landing in Detroit Metro Airport I felt this wave of different vibe than the Japanese gave off. It was quite sad; going through customs the workers looked depressed and uninterested in serving you. We then had a layover from Detroit to Lansing and I notice other things too.  Like how overweight the country is and how much we eat here and America but don’t exercise. Also the levels of happiness seem lower.

From Tokyo to Osaka and back, Japan has taught me so much about their culture, technology, and lifestyles. It put American in a light I had never seen before, because I had never be out of the country and only heard stories. Japan has to be one of the best countries there is to visit, and I haven’t even traveled the world yet, but hopeful I will after college. But honestly, I don’t think any other international trip will compare with Japan. I had so much love for Japan even before landing on its land, and every day the love grew stronger, that I know one day I will be back.

I really do miss Japan.


Green and Frothy? (Japanese Tea Ceremony)

On the last day of the program we attended a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Located on the 65th floor of the Yokohama Landmark Tower, the view from the window was amazing. When we first arrived we were lead down a small hallway filled with small rocks and there were bigger stones placed to walk on. We were lead to a room to put down our bags and then lead to the tea ceremony room. Before entering there was a window view of the city, it was an amazing view. Our ceremony host told us on a clear day you can see Mt. Fuji. We all took a few pictures and then took off our shoes and headed to the room. To start the ceremony our host brought out sugar treats, one shaped like a flower and the other shaped like a leaf. She told us depend on the time of the year they serve different shapes. Seconded she brought out a rose shaped sweet filled with a red bean paste. We were to eat these before the tea was made. They were the sweetest item I have ever eaten, the first sugar shapes were easy, like a piece of candy, but the rose was hard to eat. But I finished it, out of respect for the ceremony and our host. After serving the sweets the tea making part of the ceremony began. Since I was the closet to her I was served first. The green tea is made from hot water and a green powder. When making the tea, the host performs a very detailed movements and gestures. Once the water is added to the powder it is whisked the make a green frothy liquid mixture. When the tea is made she sits the bowl in front of you. You first bow, pick up the bowl with you right hand and rest the bowl of your left. You bow once more and then turn the bowl a quarter of the way counter-clockwise (so that the design of the bowl shows). After that you bow once more and take your first sip, the host ask you if it taste fine, you answer, and then continue to take sips until the tea is finished. Honestly, green tea taste like 90% water and 10% green. When everyone has been served, she finished up the ceremony by performing clean-up movements and gestures. She then bows and the ceremony ends. It was so cute at the end because you giggle and told us she was very nervous to serve us. We then took a group photo and I got a single photo with the host and she presented us with origami cranes. As we went back to get our bags, the host gave Dr. C a chance to make some green tea and the host had honors of drinking it. Very glad I got to experience a Japanese tradition, now I can say they I have had some high-class Japanese green tea.


You won’t know what steak is until you visit Kobe, Japan

If you want the best steak you’ll ever have in life, it’s time to book a flight to Kobe, Japan. I am a steak lover so it would be unheard of if I didn’t try the world’s famous Kobe beef steak. As part of our visit to Kobe City University and our Kobe city tour, the Kobe beef dinner was optional. But to Dr. C’s surprise, everyone in the group was willing to dish out money and try the steak. My excitement to try it was through the roof, while my wallet was probably crying.

As said from the Wikipedia website, “Kobe beef refers to cuts of beef from the black Tajima-ushi breed of Wagyu cattle, raised according to strict tradition in Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan. The meat is generally considered to be a delicacy, renowned for its flavour, tenderness, and fatty, well-marbled texture. Kobe beef can be prepared as steak, sukiyaki, shabu shabu, sashimi, teppanyaki and more.” It is said that farmers higher workers to massage the cows backsides to improve the meat quality. If that’s not high-class then I don’t know what is.

They cook the steaks on these metal plates and covered with onions. They place the metal plates on a grill and cook on an open fire, while the chef sprays a liquid to increase the fire for cooking. When they serve the meal it is so hot and spewing oils, so they give you a full body bib for safety.

Usually when eating steak, you expect for there to be a fork and a steak knife. Not here, all you need are CHOPSTICKS. Yes, chopsticks, the meat is so juicy, so tender, that you can cut and eat with chopsticks. When I tell you that it was the BEST STEAK OF MY LIFE, I mean it (and it was cooked medium well). No extra seasoning, no A1 sauce, no nothing it was fine just the way it was, and that’s how a steak should be. And worth every cent of yen I spent.

Now in America, I’ve had my share of not so expensive steak to top tier expensive steaks, and none have compared. Either they need seasonings, or A1 sauce, or the meat was too tough to chew. I honestly can say that when visiting again (in the future), I will have another bite or three.


Living in the Harajuku District for the night

Check out from the program was May 26th, but I was not leaving until May 27th. Meaning I needed a place to sleep for the night that didn’t put a deeper hole in my pocket. My solution? A comic and internet café in the Harajuku district.

The plan was for my friend Allan and I was to check out of the hotel of the 26th, leave our bag at the hotel and explore Tokyo one last time before out flight the next morning. After our day of adventures in Asakusa, Shinjuku, Ginza and Ikebukuro we headed back to the Harajuku district for the night.

Comic and internet café we stayed in was called Alpha Harajuku Comic and Internet Café. In the heart Harajuku we were close to the JR and shops all around, we even had a 24 hour McDonalds below us if we ever got hungry. They have a full menu or rooms and amenities to choose from (some free, some for a price).

There are three different rooms to choose from; a reclining seat room, a flat sheet room, or a pair seat couch room. All rooms come with a tower PC and a PS2. Outside of the rooms there is a counter to prepare food (like noodles) and a drink vending machine with cold and hot drinks. Aside from the rooms and the food section they have a HUGE variety of manga to read. In this section there are chairs placed around so you can sit and enjoy. I have never seen so many manga books in one place other than the stores that sell them.

As for the pricing, you can do 30 minutes for 290 yen to 12 hours for 2980 yen. They also have overnight specials. For 5 hours you can rent a room for 1280 yen and for 12 hours it is 2400 yen. That is the option we chose (per person).

Other amenities are showers, for a price, games to rent, movies to rent, game controllers, blankets, pillows, and a lot more.

After we ate at McDonalds we settle into our mini room and watch an anime called “Soul Eater” After that is was time for bed since we had to be up and out of the room at 8am. Sleeping on a couch was comfortable for me but uncomfortable for Allan. Overall, I think we should have chosen the flat-style room.

Overall, it was an interesting over night stay. Would I do it again? Yes, but a different room style and maybe try a gaming café instead where there is more game selection and less manga.


Take me out to the ball game! (Japanese Style)

Back in America I would never get excited to go to a baseball game, but in Japan I was. Dr. C made it sound like it was way better than the baseball at home. This would be my first baseball game I’ve ever been to, go figure it’s in another country. I don’t know what it is like to be at an American baseball game so it is hard to compare, but I had a great time in Japan.

It was the home team, Tokyo Giants against the underdogs, Orix Buffalos playing in the Tokyo Dome. Dr. C told us that he expected this to be a blow out game with the Giants winning with far more points than the Buffalos. We had really good seat in between home and first plate and very close. We were seated by the older crowd and they didn’t cheer as much. The game started off slow with Giants having a run in the first inning and Buffalos didn’t get their first point till the fourth inning. Both teams’ crowds cheering sections were live the whole game. They didn’t stop cheering the whole time, they even had special chants, I wish we learned at least one. The Giants section even brought out a huge sign with pictures of star Giant players.

They even had beer girls walking around serving the many types of beer in Japan. And something the Americans do have it cheerleaders! Yes the Tokyo Giants have a team of cheerleaders to cheer them on.

As the game progress, the Buffalos out of nowhere in the ninth inning start scoring run after run and the underdogs win the game! The final score was Tokyo Giants 1 to Orix Buffalos 4. I had a very fun time at the game and after this; I am willing to go catch a game at Tigers Stadium to see what American baseball is all about.


Mo Mo Pasmo!… Transportation in Japan

Walk? Bike? Car? Subway? Which way would you move around Japan? The clear winner is: Subway! Throughout all my travels in Japan I rode the subways for most of it. Everywhere we traveled the subway took us there, company visits, malls, restaurants, clubs, we were everywhere.

When first arriving and taking the trains I was a little confused and lost, but after the fourth day, I was riding the subway like I lived there my whole life. The subway is like an underground city. Once you walk down the stairs it’s a place of its own. There are shops, fast food, restaurants, and businesses.

When traveling on the subway we use little cards (credit card size) to enter and exit the trains. Japan Rail (JR) is the owner of all trains in Japan and each section holds their own cards. In Tokyo they are called “Mo Mo Pasmo” or “Suica” cards. While in Osaka we used “ICOCA” cards.

It made things much faster and much easier, all you had to do is scan the card at the ticket gate on the way in to the trains, and scan on the way out of the trains. You could even scan the card while still in your wallet. There’s no fuss with money and tickets, or losing them. When low on balance the ticket gate will tell you and there are designated areas for refilling your card. You can even use them for buses and above ground trains.

From sun up to sun down we were either riding a bus or a train to travel, I became so use to it, and it was like a way of life. But I did miss my car back in America and driving. Being in another country and using their main use of transportation made me see how different it is for Japanese and Americans. When Japanese need to be places they will take the subway, but if I needed somewhere to be I would get in my car and go. The other subway I have used was in Washington D.C. and the volume of people will never amount to the number of people in Japan.

I would never in Detroit, Pontiac or in East Lansing take public transportation, unless it was extreme emergencies. But in Japan, I wouldn’t own a car; I would ride the subway or ride a bike.


O-ko-no-mi-what?… Okonomiyaki, the Japanese Pancake

While in Japan there is a new culture, new language, new people and new food. And In Japan I was open to try just about anything once because it’s an experience of a lifetime. While in Hiroshima, Dr. C. explained to us we would be trying something called a “Japanese Pancake.” I was hungry, and excited to try something new.

We walked up to a small restaurant with bar-style seating, with just enough to fit the whole crew. You sit facing the cook and a huge iron table, and you watch him make your meal.

The correct term for the meal is Okonomiyaki (O-ko-no-mi-ya-ki). From readings, there are two main cities to make the dish, Osaka and Hiroshima. And these two cities make the dish in different ways, we had the Hiroshima way.

We sat down and they gave us a menu; the menu from what I remember serves only the pancake, but it comes in different varieties.  You can have the plain pancake with the usual, or you can add items like cheese, squid or shrimp, maybe even octopus.

Most of the student ordered the regular okonomiyaki, which consist of the pancake, chopped cabbage, yakisoba noodles, thinly-sliced pork, an egg and the special okonomiyaki sauce.  I ordered one of their specials which added squid and green onions to the meal, I would have tried the shrimp also, but it cost a little more.

To make the dish they start by cooking the “pancake”, and then add of a heaping pile of shredded cabbage.

Third, they put on the layers of meat depending on what you ordered.  Aside from the pancake and cabbage, the chef begins to cook the yakisoba noodles.

Next, he cracks a egg and fries it on the iron table. After the egg is cooked the pancake and cabbage are flipped over and placed on top of the egg.

Last, it receives a spread of okonomiyaki sauce (like a Worcestershire sauce and barbeque sauce together) with seasonings and mine was topped with green onions.

Hands down, the best and my favorite meal in Japan, I cannot wait to visit and eat this again and try the Osaka version.


Forgot a tie?… Don’t worry this vending machine has one.

On every corner, in every city, and by every shop, there just about everywhere. They even have a few located at the shrines. I have never seen so many vending machines as I have when I visited Japan.

The main type of vending machines are the drinks, I favored a drink called “C.C. Lemon.” It tasted like lemonade with heavy carbonation, but good none the less. They even had a sport drink called “Pocari Sweat” (who would want to drink that?). Next most seen were the cigarette machines, and in order to get cigarettes you needed to swipe an ID to purchase. They had coffee machines, cup of noodle machines (which I used), ice cream, and even beer was in the machines. The beer was a part of the drink machines and I don’t think you even needed ID to purchase. The most far-out machine I saw was in Kyoto. It had items like flashlight, disposable cameras, batteries, vacuum bags and ties.

There were even vending machines in restaurants. Before you sat down at the bar-style seating you would first pick your meal and drink at the vending machine. Every button had a picture with the items you could pick. After you picked and paid you give you ticket to the waitress and they took it to the cook to make your meal. I visited two places with this feature. I found it very easy to use and if I didn’t like what I saw I could walk out without taking up space at the table.

I even heard there are vending machines with womens’ panties (used and unused),  and machines with live crab.

The one major difference I notice about American vending machines and Japan’s vending machines was the variety and types.  Japanese have choices galore on things to get. But in America we have very few machines and they only consist of drink and snack items like chips, candy or gum. I found it odd that with so many machines in Japan; I could not find one that was a snack-like machine with chips, candy or gum.


A nice day for a swim?… Or culture shock of a lifetime?

Having a free day in the program is a great thing. It gives us time to explore Japan on our own, find things were curious about and go places we’ve never seen. Good thing our free day was sunny and hot, a nice cool pool to swim in is just what the group and I had in mind.

A few days ago Allan and Zach went on a search for a pool, so that we could swim and relax on our free days and nights. They found the Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. The group and I were so excited we’d found a pool to finally swim in, so we thought. The gymnasium was only one stop away on the train from our hotel so the trip was short and we would have two hours to spend there for only 600 yen.

When we first arrived we had a little problem in that with a group of nine we thought we needed reservations, but everything worked out we purchased out tickets and were one step away from pool and fun. After entering, like usual there’s a side for men and women to change, that’s when culture shock set in.

In American gyms and locker rooms while still sectioned off, males and females still keep to themselves and cover up their bodies. Not in Japan, the women and children walked around naked so freely through the locker room, showers and bathhouses. The girls and I tried to get in the hot bath when an old lady told us we can’t be in there, unless we strip down. After that, we knew it was time to go. I even felt bad for the boys and what they went through on the other side.

 Apart from the locker room show, we never got to swim, because it’s a MUST to have goggles and a swim cap in the pool. Also, because it was not a leisure pool, but all laps (something I don’t do). So the day was a fail, but it turned out neutral for the fact they gave us a refund without us even asking. For the Japanese culture being so conservative, I didn’t expect what we witnesses at the gymnasium; I would actually expect Americans to be more open to being fully naked in the lockers rooms.


Deer, Shrines, and Stairs oh my! (Miyajima Island)

On day 6 we took a little boat ride over to the island of Miyajima. The main purpose was to see the famous “floating” Torii Gate, but there was so much more to love. This day had to be one of my best days in Japan.

From the boat we could see the island, full of lush green scenery and hills upon hills, some of which we probably climbed. When arriving we were greeted by the domesticated-like deer. They were very friendly; they even let us take pictures with them. But beware, don’t leave any papers out or they will snatch and eat them, a few students learned this lesson.

After fun times with the deer we made our way to main part of the island where there were shops and shrine galore. Of course we had to stop in front of the Torii to get a few picture in front, because how many people can say, “I’ve been there.” After that, it was shrine time. To get to the start of the shrine we first had to make our way up a steep street and dodge the cars coming and going by.

Finally after about a 2-3 minute walk, we arrive at the Itsukushima shrine. And I when tell you there are stairs to climb, I mean it. Being the photographer I am, I had to stop and take pictures of anything and everything.  Then time to move up the stairs, and honestly for it being a hot day, they stairs weren’t all that bad. There was even stairs to the left filled with statues going up.

We made it to the top to where the actual housing of the shrine was. Looking around it was all statues, incense to burn, and lighting on the ceiling (in particular order). Around the building were statues of Buddha with bibs around there necks, it happened to be Buddha’s birthday! There was so much Japanese money around, people are very thankful. After exploring the rest of the shrine we headed back down to the bottom.

After returning to the base we saw that the tide had receded and that you could actually walk up to the Torii gate. I was too excited to get close to it and take pictures. Spending about 20-30 minutes out by the Torri we headed to the shopping area. I bought a few souvenirs and it was time to head to Hiroshima. I REALLY enjoyed my time on Miyajima Island; I would encourage any visitors of Japan to make sure this is on their list of things to do.

For more pictures of Miyajima Island click here