The Semester End Rapidly Approaching

Hello everyone, I can’t believe that there is only one month left in this semester. Where did the time go?? If I am thinking correctly, USF classes will be ending soon and that means finals are coming up. I hope everyone has been able to get all of their studying in. 皆んなさん頑張ってください。These past two weeks have been pretty challenging for me as well. Recently, I feel as if I have had a test every day. I am pretty whipped but am enjoying every moment of it.

Two weekends ago, I went to Kyoto with my friend and we walked around for a few hours before sitting at Starbucks and chatting about learning languages. Earlier in the day, we went to a shrine that was surrounded by a lot of really great scenery. I think we were pretty lucky going on this day as well because we got to watch part of a traditional Japanese wedding. At first I could not see anything because the ceremony was being held in one of the shrine’s buildings but I could hear the musicians playing very traditional Japanese music. 15 minutes later, the bride and groom dressed in traditional Japanese clothing called Kimonos, came out of the building. There were a handful of professional photographers that were taking pictures. I of course wanted to take a picture to post on my blog, so…When I walked over near the other photographers, the groom saw me he started to laugh. I smiled and took a few pictures before returning back to my friend.

One of the most exciting things that happened this week was receiving my guitar from America. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I joined a music circle at Kansai Gaidai and the members always bring guitars, basses, violins, etc. I brought my guitar to Kansai Gaidai for the first time this week. I must say that I already made a lot of new friends and have taken a fair amount of photos with people who watched me play. Today I played guitar outside of the international student building and a violinist came over and began playing next to me as well. We talked for a while and played our instruments together. After the class bell rang, all of the Japanese students and foreign exchange students were wondering around outside and we had quite the crowd of people around us watching. I even had one of the Japanese professors sit next to me and watch me play for a while. I had a blast!

A few days ago, while I was doing homework in the dinning room at my host families house, my homestay mother was practicing her painting. Wow…she is seriously amazing. She told me she has been taking painting lessons for almost 9 years now and has one lesson every two weeks. She was practicing painting a flower and a few other things. She painted 4 flowers in about 12 minutes or so. I will post the picture in this blog. There are also many of her paintings hanging in frames around the house. Maybe this week I will take some pictures of them and post them here for the next blog.

This weekend I am going to be super busy writing papers and working on a presentation. Next week I will be giving an 8 minute speech in Japanese that I need to memorize. I am pretty nervous about giving the presentation because 8 minutes is a pretty long time when speaking a different language. I find my Japanese speaking class more difficult than the writing class. Most people I have talked to at Kansai Gaidai have the opposite opinion. However, I absolutely love being in my Japanese speaking class. My professor is hilarious all of the time and makes learning Japanese very fun. He also makes good use of his PowerPoint presentations by adding a lot of interesting pictures and mini skits.

In other news, I just took a big test in my writing class and got a 46.4/50 on it. I have come to enjoy this class much more as the semester progressed because many of the grammar points and vocabulary we learn in this class are used in daily conversation.

Well, that is pretty much everything that has happened over the past two weeks on my end. From here on out, I am planning on finishing the semester off strong and continuing my studies every day. I hope everyone does well on there finals at USF.

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Florence’s Living Statues

Lining the path from the Piazza della Signoria to the Ufizzi Gallery stand living statues. They are not fully human, nor fully statue. They are something in between. Nobody really knows who the human within the statue is, but they are no different from you or I. They stand there, sometimes motionless, sometimes interacting with passersby, but always silent. They dress in shrouds that are made from cloth but have been painted with clay to look more like marble. They have baskets or cups in front of them for people to donate coins in exchange for the entertainment. Their location in between the piazza and the Ufizzi as well as their interactions with passersby bring the city’s rich art history to life in an eerie yet captivating way. The other day, I had a particularly memorable interaction with one half-man-half-statue:

It stood motionless; only its marble shrouds swayed with the wind. A calm expression was painted white on its face, and its arms were bent at its sides as if frozen in time. I wondered how he stayed so still, as if asleep. His arms must hurt from staying in that position for so long. I stood there observing as children walked by, their eyes wide open and fingers pointing upward. One little girl, perched up on her father’s shoulder, made a face of skeptical amusement, as if she didn’t quite know what make of the living statue standing before her. Some teenagers walked by without so much as a glance, while others stopped to pose for pictures. I heard one girl tell her friends, “That’s a person”, but it seemed to me like she was convincing herself more than them.

At one point, I sat down on the steps just a few feet away from the cast figure and began to write in my notebook. I wondered who the man within the statue was. Where did he live? Did he have a family? Was this his only job, and were the scant coins in his box his sole earnings for the day? Suddenly, I heard a voice from above me. I looked up and was startled to find that the statue had come to life and was smiling down at me asking for the time. I looked at my clock, laughing at the irony of it all. It was two-thirty. “How do you stay so still?” I called up to the man. He gave no answer, it was too late; the statue had already reassumed its position.

I smiled, amused by what had just happened. After a few moments I got up, searched through my bag for some coins, dropped them into his box, and began to walk away. I suppose the clanking of new coins dropping into his box once again brought the man-statue to life, because when I looked back over my shoulder he was waving goodbye to me with that same marble smile.

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Florence’s Secret Bakeries

Under the cover of darkness after the city has gone to sleep, the secret bakeries of Florence begin their nocturnal operations. From around one thirty to five o’clock in the morning, bakers go to work making the fresh pastries that fill the display cases of various cafés around the city. If you visit a secret bakery during these hours you can buy fresh pastries straight from the source, still hot from the oven. It is no secret that these bakeries exist; rather, the secret of the bakeries lies in their location. By day, the secret bakeries are nearly indistinguishable from other workshops in alleys set back from the main roads. At night, the decadent aromas coming from their ovens reveal their hiding spots. After hearing rumors of these secret bakeries for some time, I decided to seek one out myself, leaving my apartment a little after one in the morning. My roommate who had already been had pointed me in the general direction of the shop and told me to follow my nose the rest of the way. Walking along the dark cobblestone streets, I couldn’t help but feel like I was on a covert mission. The streets were quiet; the only other people out at this time were congregated outside of bars after a night of fun.

The sweet scent hit my nostrils from out of nowhere. I followed it down a dark alley and around the corner, until finally I found a group of people waiting outside of an unmarked building surrounded by graffiti. I wasn’t the only one looking for a late-night treat. It was a mixture of locals, people on their way back from a night of partying, and people like me, whose curiosity led them to this mysterious place. After waiting for some time to get to the front of the line, I used a coin to tap on the door. A man dressed in a white apron opened the door just enough to make eye contact, but not so much that I could see inside. After taking my order he shut the door, and moments later reappeared with a bag of warm chocolate and cream croissants, which I took in exchange for a few euros. I watched as one by one, hungry customers repeated this ritual in between hushes from the bakers who feared waking their neighbors, as if it was the Prohibition era and I was standing outside of New York’s most infamous speakeasy.

The croissants themselves were delicious, and well worth the wait, and the mix of locals, partiers, and the curious, along with the palpable tension of the bakers, lent a unique energy to the secret bakery. While stopping into one of the many cafés in the city may be a faster, more convenient way to get your pastry fix while in Florence, a nighttime visit to a secret bakery is a truly unique experience that allows you to see a different side of Florence nightlife and connect to the people whose hard work helps keep Florence running while the rest of the city sleeps. So if you ever find yourself in Florence in the early hours of the morning after a night out, you might be so lucky as to stumble upon one of these locations. Just let your nose lead the way!

 

 

Cherry Blossom Season in Japan

Hello everyone I hope everything is going well! I can’t believe this semester is almost over, I feel like I just started a few days ago. These past two weeks have been great for me and I will talk about some of the interesting things I done. The best thing in my opinion was knocking out all of my mid-term exams! I am so happy they are over now. My lowest mid-term grade was an 85% in my religion class and highest grade was a 93% in my Japanese writing and reading class. This is the first weekend in a long time that I don’t have to do a massive amount of homework or a studying for tests. I am sure you all don’t want to hear about busy work, you want to hear about the fun things Japan offers right?
Last week I was able to see cherry blossoms in full bloom. I have wanted to see them in person for a long time and what a magnificent site it was. I talked with my homestay mother about some of the best places in Kyoto to go and see the cherry blossoms and she delivered! The first place I went to was Maruyama kouen (Maruyama park) and at first I will say I was a little disappointed. But let me first tell you how popular this place is during the blossoming week. After arriving in Kyoto I had to take a bus from Kyoto to Gion. The line to get on the bus was unreal. I thought I was going to be standing there for hours waiting to board the bus. It took about 50 minutes or so finally to get on the bus which I will say was like a getting on a train in Tokyo at rush hour…just packed. When I arrived, I walked to the entrance of the park and there were a lot of people sitting under cherry blossoms having picnics and enjoying themselves but the pictures I saw on the internet looked absolutely nothing like what I was seeing. I was still happy though because I was finally able to see some cherry blossoms in person. After 5 minutes of walking around the park I followed a Japanese couple down a road which to my surprise led me to what I was searching for. The Sakura trees were absolutely beautiful and the day I picked to go could not have been better. There was a bright sea blue sky and the Sakura pedals danced in the breeze as they fell from the trees. There were also many food and game stands throughout the park that were always busy. The atmosphere of this park is what really made me feel at home. Everyone was so cheerful, conversations were plentiful and it was just nice to witness an event like this in person. In the middle of the park was one of the largest, if not the largest, Sakura trees in Japan. I took so many photos of the tree…I may have gone a little overboard. Around 3 in the afternoon, I met with one of my friends and we walked around the park for about an hour before I told him we should go and check out the Tetsugaku no michi (philosophers path) which is one of the most famous walking paths during the cherry blossom season. It took about 15 minutes from Gion’s bus station to the bus station right across from Tetsugaku no michi. Once again, this place was amazingly beautiful. There were also a lot of people here around 4:15 in the afternoon but it was still a wonderful experience. At this location, there is a small river with side walks on each side with cherry blossom trees creating a roof above you. There were seriously a ton of sakura trees and they were in full bloom which was amazing! After taking a ton of various angled photographs and walking around until my heart was content, I decided we should go back to Maruyama park to see the night view. Good thing I checked the bus schedule before walking around the Philosophers path for 1 hour and 45 minutes… definitely would’t want to miss the last bus…Oh look at that! We did!! This was a mistake on my part but hey, what can you do. We walked around for about 20 minutes before we found another bus stop and thankfully the bus we needed to ride was on its way. Once we got back to Maruyama park, there were even more people than in the afternoon. It was a magnificent sight walking up the path seeing the lamp posts light up the Sakura trees. The real treat was seeing the massive Sakura tree lit up and just sitting beneath the Sakura trees under a clear sky and full moon. To be completely honest, that was probably the most peaceful night of my stay in Japan thus far. It was like a dream and nothing in that moment was on your mind. Truly a great feeling. I sat in the park for almost three hours and walked around taking photos of things I found interesting. I got some amazing pictures of the Sakura trees at night with with moon partially hidden in the clouds. I will see if I can post a lot of them this time. For some reason on my last post, this site was not letting me upload photos =(. If you come to Japan to study or just come for fun, I highly recommend coming during cherry blossom season as it is something you will remember forever.
This week all of the students at Kansai Gaidai started classes so it has been packed! I absolutely love it! This past weekend on Sunday, there was an event for freshman students which I attended and had a blast! To be honest, I am not sure why almost no study abroad students showed up. I was at the event from 9 am until 4:40 pm and saw 2 foreigners throughout the day in the masses of Japanese students. This event for freshman was like a club day. All of the clubs and circles were trying to get the new students to join their club/circle. I actually joined Musicmind which is a music circle! I am really looking forward to participating in all of the upcoming meetings we will have! Not only did I join a circle, I made a plethora of new friends by just walking around and talking to random people. Don’t be shy if you come over here, all of the Japanese students want to talk to foreigners, just push yourself to talk to students you don’t know and you will be making friends right and left.
Yesterday, I was a model for the Kansai Gaidai brochure that will be used for next semster. I was quite surprised that I was picked. There were only three other foreigners besides me who participated in the photoshoot. We were taking photos in groups of 4, two Japanese students and two foreigners, at different areas of the Kansai Gaidai Campus. I had a great time talking to everyone and doing the photo shoot. If you come to Kansai Gaidai next semester be sure to check the Brochure! =)
Tonight I went out to dinner with my homestay family for my homestay brothers birthday and we went out to a very nice sushi restaurant. Some of the sushi was extremely fresh as it was swimming around in a fish tank seconds before you ordered your sushi. I avoided ordering any of the sushi when they would catch it in the fish tank. To be honest, I felt kind of bad being able to see that =( I did have some tuna and tempura shrimp. The sushi was so delicious! My homestay brother ordered part of the back portion of tuna which I had never seen on the menu before. I took some pictures so I will see if I can upload them.
It is getting late and I should go to bed soon. I have been up since 6 in the morning and am extremely tired now. I hope you all enjoyed this blog and continue to have a great semester.

Large Sakura tree

Large Sakura tree

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Sushi Restaurant

Sushi Restaurant

Tuna!

Tuna!

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Verona: The True City of Love

After visiting Verona, two of my roommates and I have decided that it is Verona, and not Paris, that is the true city of love. We went just for a daytrip, and we fell in love with the riverside city and its history and scenery. When we got to Verona, we stopped in a café to have breakfast. We had taken an early train and hadn’t had time to eat before we left. I got a chocolate croissant and cappuccino, and the two friends I was with got croissants and hot chocolate. As we ate, we wrote letters to leave at the wall of Juliet at Casa di Giulietta. It is a common touristic practice to “write letters to Juliet” and so we wanted to take part in the tradition. After our breakfast we began to walk to the wall, and found a castle called Castelvecchio, which included a bridge that looked out over the Adige River, as well as a museum. Parts of the bridge had places that you could climb to get even higher and have an even better view of the river. It was a sunny day, probably the nicest we have seen in Italy, and being near the river in the sunshine was so refreshing. After walking around Castelvecchio for a while, we continued on to Casa di Giulietta.

When we walked through the entrance we saw a black wall filled with names of couples written in bright colors. We headed towards the back where a group was congregated and there we saw a statue of Juliet, and “Juliet’s Wall”. The statue was made out bronze, and the right breast of the statue was especially polished from the tradition of touching the statue’s right breast for good luck in finding true love. The wall was covered with pieces of paper, many of which had unfortunately been stuck on with gum that had defaced parts of its façade. I tucked my letter in the nook of a tree stump that was at the base of the wall, and my friends did the same. To the left of this wall was another wall full of locks that couples had signed and locked on. Like those who leave letters at Juliet’s wall, it is believed that all who do this will stay with their partners for the rest of their lives. Couples and romantics flocked around the two walls and the courtyard taking pictures, leaving notes, locking locks, and rubbing the bronze statue for good luck.

After the Casa di Giulietta, we were hungry and found a restaurant to eat at which had outdoor seating. I got a spaghetti with oil, garlic, and red pepper, which was a little bit too spicy for me but still delicious. We all enjoyed the opportunity to eat outside in the nice weather. After lunch, we walked around the streets of Verona and went into different shops. There was also an outdoor market in a large open square. We got gelato at one of the stands and walked around the different stands looking at all of the souvenirs- every type imaginable. One stand was full of Murano glass: dishes, bowls, wine stoppers, and jewelry of every kind. We spent a good amount of time looking through the handcrafter jewelry, and I picked out a necklace and earrings set as a gift for a friend back home, while the others sorted through earrings for their family and friends. One of the girls I was with bartered with the woman running the stand, and was successful in getting a discounted price.

After we had finished shopping, we started to make our way back to the train station to catch our train back to Florence. The trip back to Florence required that we change trains, and figuring out how to navigate the train system with a 5 minute window of time was quite a challenge, but we managed to pull it off. Getting off the train, we all agreed that it had been the perfect day. There are seven of us living together in an apartment, and so usually there are at least seven of us traveling together. While it is nice to have everyone together, traveling in a group of three was much more manageable and made the day go a lot more smoothly. When traveling in large groups, it is harder to keep track of everybody and make sure that everyone is satisfied. With a smaller group, you can “go with the flow” much more easily, and have an overall more laid back experience like we had in Verona!

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Spring Break in Japan!

皆さんこんにちは!Spring break has finally arrived! This past week consisted of nothing but vigorous studying in order to pass my exams. I have already received my mid term grade from my Japanese speaking class and I was very satisfied by my grade. I am almost positive I got an A on my Japanese reading and writing class but have not heard from my Sensei yet. The hardest test I had was for one of the English classes I am taking…who would have thought? I am actually a little worried about my score on that test but I am hoping that it will be a B. But, enough of school for now, I am on spring break!
I actually arrived in Niigata last night and am planning on doing some sightseeing. Here is a picture of the sunset last night:

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I attended a friends college graduation ceremony in Kanagawa the other day and I was surprised to say the least. First off, at Japanese graduations all of the girls wear Kimonos or Hakamas which are very beautifully designed outfits. All of the men wear suits and ties. The actually ceremony lasted 1 hour and had 1,200 graduating students. However during the ceremony, we only saw about 30 students receive their diploma. I was trying to understand what the speaker was saying but he was using a lot of vocabulary I do not know and speaking very fast. From what I could understand, for each student who received their diploma, he was talking about their college achievements and the kind of student they were. When a student walks on stage, they bowed three times, first to the administrators on the right, then the left and finally the announcer. Some of the students, after receiving their diploma, took two steps back, extended their arms holding the diploma and gave another bow to the spokesman. After 55 minutes or so passed, all of the college’s professors/administrators left the ceremony hall. I was confused so I asked my friends mother what was going on and she informed me that it was over…What? What I figured out later that night is that during the college graduation they recognize the students who have had a stellar performance throughout their college life. After the ceremony, the students who were not called to the stage would attend the after party where they would receive their diploma. I found this graduation system very unusual and somehow refreshing.
Unfortunately, the cherry blossom season in Niigata starts next week so I will not be able to see them here. It is still very cold in Niigata and there is a lot of snow in the mountains. When I return to Osaka on Sunday, I am planning a trip to Kyoto to see and take a lot of photos of the cherry blossoms! Which reminds me, I still have not posted the pictures from 2 weeks ago when I went to Kyoto. I was able to visit a lot of really nice places and the 梅の木 plum blossoms were in bloom. I thought some of the temples were very beautiful. Below are some of my favorite shots from Kyoto:

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I hope everyone at USF is having a great semester as well. I will be back next week sometime with a new blog. Until then, 皆んな頑張って!

All Work and No Play

Hello everybody, I hope your semester is off to a great start! These past two weeks have been very work intensive. I wanted to go to Kyoto last weekend but I had some issues due to the weather. However, this weekend the weather is supposed to be decent and I have already booked a hotel in Kyoto for 3 days! I am really looking forward to going on this trip because right now, the Plum blossoms are blooming and it will be very beautiful. As I am sure most of you already know, Kyoto is especially famous for its Cherry blossoms. Unfortunately, they are not in bloom yet but when they bloom (according to my teacher, it should be in 2 or 3 weeks), I am planning on going up there to take a ton of pictures. But for now, I will settle for Plum blossoms ;).
These past two weeks have been a bit stressful with all of the work I have been assigned. The best news I received this week was my score for my lesson 1 & 2 test in Japanese Reading and Writing class. I managed to get a 45.7/50. I have been working very hard trying to keep up with my Level 4 class. We go over material at such a fast rate that sometimes it feels overwhelming. 頑張る!
It is hard to believe that it is almost time for mid term exams. I feel like I just got here a week or two ago. Next Friday I have the first part of my midterm exam for spoken Japanese which entails an oral interview in my professors office. He told us if we want to do well on the oral section we should be very comfortable using 敬語 (Respectful style of speech.) If you have studied Japanese, you may know some Keigo and chances are you hate it, right :D? The same goes for about 90% of the 留学生(Study Abroad Students) currently attending Kansai. Every time you mention Keigo in the student lounge, it never fails the person next you you will mutter something bad about Keigo. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, the Japanese speak to their seniors completely different from how they speak to their parents and or friends. Most Japanese people even have difficulties and or dislike using Keigo. However, it is very important to have a good grasp on Keigo because chances are you will hear it almost everyday if you buy something in a store and or walk by a store. Also, if you plan on working in Japan, you better use Keigo during your Job interview! However, if you talk to Japanese students in Keigo, they will usually tell you do not need to use Keigo toward them. The reason being is because they feel as if you are putting distance between yourself and them. When talking to a friend, I usually use casual speech and sometimes polite speech. Therefore, this weekend while I am in Kyoto I plan on practicing a lot of Keigo to prepare for my Exam! In two weeks, I have 4 midterm exams so I think after this trip to Kyoto I will be studying pretty much every waking second of the days. But do not fear! I will make sure to post a short blog with a lot of pictures by the middle of next week.
I almost forgot, four days ago my homestay family took me out to dinner! We went to 回転寿し(Kaitenzushi) which specializes in sushi. In the restaurant there are conveyer belts that have a massive selection of sushi that passes next to the tables. You have two options, if you see a sushi that sparks your interest on the conveyer belt, you can pick it up as it is going by and start snackin! Or if you want something specific that may not be on the conveyer belt, you can use the ipad on the table to place an order for the sushi you want. Your sushi will be delivered by train…what? Above the conveyer belt, there was a track which had a shinkansen that could hold up to 4 different plates of sushi. After about 3 minutes, the train would arrive at your table and you can get the sushi off. After your sushi has safely exited, the train takes its leave back to the kitchen. How cool is that!? If you have never been to a Kaitenzushi, I highly recommend it because it is cheap and you will savor every last bite.
Tonight I made yellow rice for my homestay family. They have never had it and though it was very delicious. I brought a variety of things from America for them including cookies, sweets, etc. Every time my homestay brothers ate one of the snacks they would always comment on how “American” it tasted. I always find it funny when they say that but I understand what they mean. I have had a variety of different sweets over here and can say that what Japanese consider sweet is not what I think of sweet. For example, the cakes over here have a very mild sweet taste as compared with American cakes, which recipes call for 14 cups of sugar :). I was talking to my Japanese friends today about chocolate and peanut butter fudge and they seemed really interested to try it. None of them have even heard of fudge before which came as a surprise to me. I would love to see the look on their faces as they tried fudge because I am almost positive they would about die from sweetness overload. I am planning on making some after the mid term week has passed. I will bring it to Kansai Gaidai and just let all of the Japanese students try it out. I think that would be a good idea to spark conversation with a lot of new students as well!
Well, it is almost 1am over here now and I am getting sleepy so  I am going to call it a day. Be sure to check back next week for some photos of Kyoto! 皆さん良い一日を!

ジェイク

Weekend in Barcelona

 

 

When I was trying to figure out where I wanted to study abroad, Spain was a very close second to Italy. I had studied Spanish extensively for about 5 years during middle and high school, and felt fairly confident that if I were to study abroad in Spain I could return to the States nearly fluent. Nevertheless, I chose Italy, but I still had the intention of visiting Spain during my time abroad. One of the greatest parts about studying in Europe is the ease in which you can travel to another country, even for just the weekend. So, that’s what we did. On Tuesday morning, we went to Bus2Alps, one of the many travel agencies that specialize in trips for students studying abroad, and booked our trip. On Thursday evening, we found ourselves on an overnight bus ride to Barcelona. The bus ride itself was a little bit rough. I was one of seventy plus study abroad students that were crammed into a single bus along with all of the luggage that we had brought. We tried our best to get as much sleep as possible, knowing we had a jam packed weekend ahead of us.

We arrived in Barcelona at around 9 am, and checked into a youth hostel called St. Christopher’s Inn. This was the first hostel I’ve ever stayed at, and had been unsure about what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised at how clean and comfortable it was. After dropping off our luggage we went on a walking tour with a guide who led us around the city showing us historical monuments and buildings and explaining their importance. After the tour we had time to walk around other parts of the city and visit Sagrada Familia, an enormous Roman Catholic church designed by a Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. The church has been in the process of being built in accordance to Gaudí’s plans for over a hundred years, and is estimated to be completed in 2026. When it is completed, it will be the tallest church in the world. The building is truly a work of art, and its blending of Gothic and Art Nuoveau styles makes it unlike any other architectural design in the world. After seeing the church we headed back to the hostel to shower and get ready for dinner. We asked a man at the front desk to recommend a good but inexpensive place to eat, and he was able to point us in the direction of a place just down the street from the hostel. There was about 6 of us and we each ordered seafood paella, which came out on two huge steaming platters to be shared among the table. The paella came with langostinos, which are basically mini lobsters. They came with the shells still on them, like everything else, and it was a little bit weird eating them, but delicious nonetheless. After dinner my friends went out to a few clubs, but I had been feeling a little under the weather and decided to go to bed early to get a good night’s sleep.

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A day at Fushimi Inari Shrine

皆さんおはようおございます! I hope your semester is off to a great start. It is hard to believe that I have already been at Kansai Gaidai for a month. I guess the saying, “Time flies when your having fun”, is true! However, that being said, I have come to realize that there is a lot of work requirements for my courses. Specifically my Japanese courses. As you know from my last post, I am now in level 4 Japanese reading and writing. The writing class can be very stressful at times. It is very challenging for me but that is what I was expecting when I wanted to move up to level 4. The speed we are learning Japanese is insanely fast and trying to remember the kanji writings, new vocabulary words, sentence patterns is proving to be a challenge. I am however, really enjoying my speaking class. My Sensei is very funny and he definitely knows how to interact with the students! I feel like there is not enough time in the day to do everything I want to do anymore. I am enjoying my time here tremendously and am still thrilled that I am actually in Japan studying at Kansai Gaidai.

Last weekend, I took a trip to Fushimi Inari Shrine with my religion class. Started my day off by purchasing a ticket to Temmabashi station which I quickly found out was incorrect. The ticket I should have purchased was to Tambabashi. Thanks to the station attendant, I was able to make my way there with no other snags. I arrived at the station just in time to see my class exiting the station. Once I caught up with them, it took about 3 minutes by walking to get to the shine entrance. It was really interesting listening to what our teacher had to say about the shrine and the beliefs of Japanese people regarding deities and gods. I quickly became impressed by the shrine when I saw the red tori gates. There were literally thousands of them. To reach the top of the shrine it took us about an hour and 15 minutes. Almost the whole way up the mountain, we walked through the red tori gates. After 35 minutes of climbing stone steps, my legs started getting tired. I took my coat and my sweater off because I started sweating even though it was only around 6 Celsius. My class began to move really slow after 40 minutes so I went alone to the top. It was…to say the least, not what I expected. I thought there would be a great view of the city, mountains, etc. but instead, the prayer shrine was surrounded by trees and there was a shop next to it. I offered some Yen at the shrine and prayed. After waiting for 10 minutes and my class never showed up, I decided I would descend the mountain myself. There was some really nice scenery on the way back down. Probably 20 minutes down the mountain there was another shine. Here is a short clip I took:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZO8LQBPyAI I explored for a few minutes before I decided to finish my journey down the mountain…or so I thought. Everything seemed fine as I was going down until I notice the red tori gates starting to disappear. After 10 minutes of walking and not seeing one other person (I saw about 500 people as I was walking up the mountain), I began to question if this was the right way. I had that little voice in my head saying, “just a little further and I am sure you will see someone or find a new path”. Well, I continued for another 5 minutes before coming across a really old shrine. I thought it was very neat because the whole thing was covered by moss. After I left that shrine, I was now walking on a mud path that had no foot prints and or tire tracks to be seen. I crossed a thin metal bridge over a small canal and walked for another 5 minutes before I thought, uhh…screw that. I am not sure how old this bridge was, if that’s what one would call it, that was in front of me. It looked like a log that had been decaying for a century covered in holes, moss with major portions of the side missing. Unfortunately I did not take a photo and I am very upset that I didn’t. At the time I was thinking to myself…if I try crossing this and fall into this canal that probably won’t be good. I decided to turn around and make that brutal 20 minute walk back up mountain to see if there was a different path I could have taken earlier. By the time I made it back to the right path, I saw some of my classmates so I followed them. By this time, my legs were like jelly and I was sweating but I still had about 25-30 more minutes of walking…sigh. I was able to get some good scenic photos though! In front of the shrine I purchased a small souvenir for my homestay family. I finished my day at the shrine around 2 pm and returned to my homestay house where I slept until around 7 pm. If any of you every come to Japan, I highly recommend visiting this shrine, it was a great experience.

The view from the halfway point

The view from the halfway point

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Red tori gates

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Inari

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The top!

The top!

I just liked the photo!

I just liked the photo!

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The shine I found when I got lost

The shine I found when I got lost

The shrine I found when I got lost

The shrine I found when I got lost

Inari

Inari

This week was pretty hectic. I had a report due in my religion class and 3 tests. Two of which counted for 10% of my overall grade. I mainly used what spare time I had during the week to study for those tests and do homework. I bought a Japanese mystery novel at the Kasai bookstore that I am attempting to read while I am commuting via train and bus. I also made some new Japanese friends as well! Almost every Japanese student I have met here so far is majoring in English. When I tell them that I am also majoring in English education they are always shocked and want me to teach them English in my spare time. Everyone is so kind here and I am enjoying every minute of it. Well I feel like I am rambling now so I will end here for the day.

Until next time,

Jake

Rome for Valentine’s Day

Also known as the Eternal City, Rome is a romantic city where public displays of affection are nothing out of ordinary, and musicians fill streets, restaurants, and subway stations with their music. My friends and I thought there would be no better place to spend our Valentine’s Day weekend than in Rome, and so we planned a trip. The high speed train that runs throughout Italy makes traveling much more efficient, which is especially useful since most of our trips are confined to the weekend. Though the journey itself can be nice, especially when traveling through the scenic countryside, cutting down on travel time gives you more time to enjoy your destination. Since we were traveling in a group of 6, we decided to rent an apartment that was owned by a husband and wife and would accommodate all of us. When traveling in a group of this size, an “Air B&B” is a great option, as there is not only space for everyone, but there is a kitchen, which allows you to prepare some of your own meals and spend less money on eating out.

When we got to the apartment, we were greeted by the wife who was very welcoming and showed us around the apartment. After we got settled, we went to the store that was just up the street from us to pick up a few groceries to cook dinner later on. After that, we went out to explore the city. First, we stopped into a bar (In Italy bars are where you get coffee, not alcohol) where I had a mochaccino, which is essentially a chocolate flavored cappuccino. I believe they use real cacao to make the drink, as it is not nearly as sweet as the mocha flavored drinks one would find in the States. The owner of the bar spoke some broken English, but was very funny and was having a great time making fun of us. One of my friends bought a donut covered in sugar and a hot chocolate. The hot chocolate here is much thicker than what we have in the U.S., and quite rich. She was breaking off pieces of the donut and dipping it into the hot chocolate, sort of like you would do with a churro. When she looked up she saw that the owner was watching her with an amused look on his face, and when they made eye contact he said “Weirdo”. We all laughed, including him, and she tried to explain that it was good and he should try it himself.

After our snack, we made our way to the subway station, where we tried to navigate the different lines and find the one that would take us to the Colosseum. When we finally found the right track, we made our way to the platform. Everywhere you looked there was graffiti. One the walls of the station, and on the trains themselves. I never realized how much I liked graffiti until coming to Europe, where it seems to me to be more of a form of expression than a form of destruction. When we got to the Colosseum it was closed, but we were still able to explore the ruins around it along a walking trail. The trail was beautiful, and it led us up to a church, which we entered. Inside the church was an alter of candles, and I lit one, saying a prayer for my loved ones. We made our way back down along the trail, and walked a little further past the colosseum where we saw even more remains of forums that were once used as meeting places in ancient times. Eventually we made our way back to the apartment, stopping into shops along the way. We made dinner, and spent the night in to rest up for the day ahead of us.

Our first destination was the Vatican City. When we got there, the line to get in to the city was at least four hours long. We wanted desperately to go in, but didn’t want to spend our whole day waiting in line. When we learned that you could buy online tickets, we went into a nearby cafe to use their wifi and buy tickets that would get us a reserved entrance time. Doing this cut down on so much time, and we couldn’t believe that everyone else standing in line wasn’t doing the same thing. Walking through the Vatican Museum was incredible. Some rooms were dedicated to Egyptian artwork and mummified remains, while others were filled with sculptures of Roman Gods and important figures. The ceilings were adorned with religious artwork, and the floors were made of intricate mosaic tiles. The museum leads to the Sistine Chapel, which was overwhelmingly beautiful. There was no picture taking allowed and staff shushed the crowd into reverent silence. Later on I learned that Michelangelo painted the chapel at age 70. I tried to imagine a 70 year-old man bending and craning his neck to create the images adorning the walls and ceiling of the chapel. The whole thing was truly awe-inspiring.

After the Vatican City, we went to find the Spanish steps. When we finally found them, there were people covering them eating lunch and talking. If you didn’t know that they are a historical monument, you could easily mistaken them for ordinary steps. We could tell that it was going to start raining, so we made our way back to the apartment and had dinner. After dinner, we went to a night club called Shari Vari, which looked like an old house with elaborate staircases and different rooms. We felt very underdressed as everybody was dressed very formally, and one girl was even in a full gown. There were multiple rooms and levels in the club, and each room had a different style of music. It seemed to be a melting pot of locals and study abroad students both young and old.

The next day was our last in Rome, and we had a limited amount of time before we had to catch a train back to Florence. After checking out of our apartment, we made our way towards the colosseum once again, and found a place to have breakfast. After breakfast, we waited in line to get into the colosseum. Walking inside the Colosseum was overwhelming, especially when you think about how and when it was made. We walked around the two levels that our ticket allowed us access to. From the second level you could see out over the Colosseum to some of the ruins that we had seen before. You can’t help but feel so small when standing in a place like this. Before we knew it, it was time to go, and so we made our way back to the train station. The owners of the apartment we stayed at had generously held our bags for us after we had checked out earlier that morning so that we would be free to enjoy the city until we left. When we collected our bags, they called a taxi for us and saw us off. I was so thankful for the warmth and kindness of the couple, and wondered if this kind of hospitality is just another part of Italian culture. At last, we headed back to Florence, knowing that Rome and all its treasures were just another high speed train ride away.

 

Mochaccino

Mochaccino

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Mummified remains

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ceiling inside the Vatican museum

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Metro

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Colosseum

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example of graffiti inside Metro

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Ruins

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artwork inside Museum

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altar of candles

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