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My Tokyo Story, told by the Cherry Blossoms

It has been a very long time since I’ve sat down for a blog writing session: a month, even. It’s not because I’ve had nothing to say: it’s more because Japan has been an overwhelming experience. Every day brings new challenges and excitement, and it was easy for me to get lost in all of that. I only just recently realized just how long I have been living in a dream. In the weeks I have been here, the cherry blossoms bloomed. Once-bare branches suddenly became alive, supporting a beautiful canopy of soft pink and white petals. Today, as I rushed to class at Kanda University of International Studies, I paused at the sight of the sakura trees. The iconic pink petals had mostly fallen onto the earth and brick pathways below. Vibrant green leaves took their place on the branches above.

The annual spring ritual of the cherry blossoms mirrored my own experience in Japan so far. The early weeks were days of the pink flowers: dramatic, unforgettable, and too good to last. It was like a non-stop festival, with each day an adventure showing me a new face of the world’s greatest metropolis.

One day, I traveled with a large group through Ueno’s famous Ameya-Yokocho (Ameyoko for short). I was part of a mass of students, navigating through the market’s crowded alleyways. Rain fell upon a ceiling of umbrellas, neither stopping huge crowds of people from visiting the market nor denting the resolve of the merchants, who were shouting the virtues and prices of their wares for all to hear. We struggled to find lunch, as most restaurants did not have the physical space to fit our party. In the end, we all stumbled into a soba shop, dining on the warm, thin noodles while standing up.

Another day I was in Asakusa as part of an IES Abroad tour, feeling small under the ornate gates of Tokyo’s oldest Buddhist temple, Senso-ji. I remember my epal Natsumi being unable to contain her laughter after I drew an omikuji paper fortune. The result was kyo, the worst outcome. The fortune promised that I would “experience difficulties if I try to avoid danger,” and that “misfortunes would come continuously.” Luck was certainly on my mind later that day at Tokyo Tower, as my friends dared me to jump on the observation deck’s look-down window, 500 feet above the earth.

These are just some of the faces of the Tokyo metropolitan area that I was able to experience. Then came Shinjuku and Shibuya. One of my favorites, Harajuku. Roppongi, Nihonbashi, and Akihabara. Many more memories were formed at home in Funabashi. Just as many were created at the restaurants and other places near the university, in sleek and modern Makuhari. Those early weeks were dotted with karaoke outings, drinks at the izakaya, and long conversations with my new friends.

The sakura petals fell to the earth, and the “study” portion of study abroad emerged in full force. After classes began, responsibilities began to pile up quickly. Ameyoko is now a place I stroll about on Wednesdays when I arrive a bit too early for my field placement. I defied my fate not by jumping on reinforced glass, but by taking a second placement test to earn a seat in a higher level Japanese class. My classmates voted me into the Student Council; perhaps all those conversations told them something about me. Outings still happen of course, but they are limited to special occasions or weekends.

It is clear that this stage of my Tokyo story is the period of green leaves. Perhaps these experiences are not quite as awe-inspiring as the sakura in full bloom, but they feel just as important. After all, the leaves harness the energy of the sun and nurture the trees, so that they can bloom again in the many years to come. I do not yet know what kind of person I will be after this semester is over. However, in these precious few months in the land of the rising sun, I can feel myself being reshaped by every moment. Both by dramatic and beautiful celebration, and by challenge and hard work.