I can’t believe I’ve only been in Tokyo for a little over a week now. So much has happened and the days are so long that it already feels like it’s been at least three weeks. Not that I’m complaining, I love being able to see and do a lot both in Chiba and Tokyo. Makuhari, the city where the university is located, is amazing. It’s really new and modern and is better planned out than most other places in the surrounding area so it’s pretty easy to navigate. The rest of Tokyo can be a little difficult because there aren’t that many easy-to-read street signs and the roads are confusing. For example, the walk from our dorm to the train station is only about 5-7 minutes or so and we still sometimes get lost when going there.
Here are some of the other things I’ve experienced over the past week:
1. We do a ton of walking. More than I could have ever imagined or prepared for. We also usually end up standing on the trains (because finding an open seat is a rare occurrence), which can put a lot of strain on the legs and feet. By the end of the day all I want to do is fall into bed because I’m dead tired.
2. VENDING MACHINES ARE EVERYWHERE. At this point I wouldn’t even blink if I saw one in the middle of rural Japan. There are vending machines in train stations, on random streets, in the dorms, and even on the inside of a water bus we took in Tokyo. Let me repeat that, THERE WAS A VENDING MACHINE ON A BOAT. Crazy, but awesome.
3. There are no benches anywhere. I found only one when I wandered around the city where my dorm is for about 30 minutes. They don’t really encourage loitering that much in Japan, which is also why you won’t find any benches usually in train stations. Instead, you might see some people squatting (but never fully sitting down on the ground) if they are tired.
4. Hanami, which is the viewing of cherry blossoms, is fantastic but short lived. Unfortunately, the sakura only bloom for a very short period of time, about one to two weeks I think. After that all the flowers fall off and are replaced by leaves. But while the trees are blooming, it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. I can see why they've inspired centuries of poems and artwork. And sometimes the pathways with a lot of cherry blossom trees are also lit up by pink lanterns that have wishes written on them. The whole experience is absolutely unforgettable.
5. Wandering around aimlessly can really pay off. It doesn’t matter where you are, sometimes not having a destination is the best. I can’t even count the number of times so far that I’ve been with a group of friends and we’ve been like “Let’s just go this direction and see what happens”. For example, a few days ago I was wandering around Harajuku with my ePal and we decided to go into a Shinto shrine that we came across. While we were at the shrine, a traditional Japanese wedding was taking place and we got to see the wedding party (complete with ritual musicians and shrine maidens) walk through. It was amazing and we were really, really lucky to have the chance to see that.
Overall I’m having a fantastic time in Tokyo/Chiba so far and I can’t wait for the next week or so when classes finally start!
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<p>Mikaela is a junior at Indiana University majoring in International Studies and East Asian Languages & Cultures. Originally from the suburbs of Chicago, she has spent the past few years enjoying life as a Hoosier while dreaming of the day she finally got to go abroad. Traveling is one of her greatest passions and she looks forward to exploring not only Tokyo but as much of Japan as possible during her semester abroad. She is actively involved in both her sorority and International Studies Honor Society, and enjoys reading, hiking, and drinking tea in her free time. She is so excited for the adventure that lies ahead and can’t wait to share it with everyone!</p>