Saturday, July 16, 2011


Noun, plural.
1. the mental capacity or faculty of retaining and reviving facts, events, impressions, etc., or of recalling or recognizing previous experiences.
2.the length of time over which recollection extends 

Friday, July 15, 2011: Heading Home
Being bored in the Tokyo Narita airport led to wandering around taking pictures of the airport:
This is where I sat and wrote my blog entry.
There was a store with an exhibit where everything was made of origami:
A Japanese festival.
A heard of cattle or something.
I’m currently sitting in the Narita airport in front of my gate. I checked out of my hotel at 9:30am for a flight that departs at 2:55pm, with the intention of getting lost. And, in fact, I did get a little lost. I took the train to the Ueno-Okachimachi station where I had to get off and walk to the Keisei Ueno station. This is where I first got lost. I started walking in the complete opposite direction. Luckily, there are maps everywhere in Tokyo, so I found my way instantly.

My next dilemma was at the train station. There are about six different trains that can take you from the Keisei Ueno station to the Narita airport. They all vary in cost and transportation time. Since I had so much time, I decided to take the cheapest train with the longest transportation as opposed to the fastest train that I took when I arrived, which was also twice the cost. As a foreigner, it is really easy for the attendants to make you pay the most expensive option since I had no idea how to get around, but this time I didn’t want to get tricked into that option. However, the cheapest tickets were much more difficult to figure out. I met a girl from New York who was also having trouble figuring out the different train lines to the airport, so we collaborated and eventually figured it out together.

I finally arrived at the airport, still with three hours to spare so I went around to all of the little shops and spent the rest of my yen and now I am sitting here, thinking about all of the great moments I have had in Japan that I will miss dearly.

Things I will miss about Tokyo:
1.     The public transportation system- I still remember preparing for this trip, looking at all of the maps of different train lines, trying to figure out how I was going to get to my hotel on the first day. The maps just looked like a bunch of colorful lines in a tangled mess, but now it is very familiar. Getting around in Tokyo was much easier than I expected. There are trains everywhere. You can get anywhere and everywhere you want in Tokyo with their train system and you never have to wait for a train as they come every few minutes. Everybody uses the train system routinely in Tokyo. Around 6:00pm everyday after people get off work, there is not one train that is not completely packed to the limit.

2.     The people’s interest in foreigners- If you don’t look Asian in Tokyo, the people will be so interested in you as if you were a celebrity. Or at least that is what my experience was like along with the other students in my group. Everywhere I went, there would be Japanese people coming up to me with huge smiles on their faces asking where I was from, how long I was staying in Japan, what I was doing here, etc.

3.     Festivities and culture- My expectations of a Japanese festival were no where close to what the real experience is like. After visiting so many shrines and temples, I thought I had seen enough. It was all very interesting the first time, but after so many times, it was all the same. I had a few opportunities to go to a Japanese festival, but I turned down the first two as I didn’t think it would be that exciting. When I finally ended up going, I realized that I would never regret my decision. Everybody was all dressed up in kimonos, the streets were lined with walls of lanterns, there were shows going on everywhere, people were playing all kinds of games, and there was the greatest variety of food vendors. It was probably my favorite experience in Tokyo.

4.     Friendly people- From the very first day, I experienced a welcoming friendliness from Tokyo that I have never seen in any other place I have visited. When you look lost or when you look like you have any kind of questions, there is always someone that will come up to you and try to help you. The people are always cheerful and happy and they always greet each other and bow to each other politely. I never experienced or witnessed a negative interaction between any of the people while I was here.

5.     City life- I know it is not that exciting, but I have never really stayed in a huge city before. The towering buildings, the colorful lights, and the huge street crossings with tons of people really left me in awe.

6.     Tiny restaurants- Most of the quality food in Japan seemed to be at little tiny restaurants that looked like what we would call “holes in the wall” in California. They were very cute and you really got a “Japanese” feeling from them, but it was often quite a problem when traveling with a group of eight or nine. We often had to split up and go to separate restaurants. There were even several traditional Japanese restaurants that we went to where you could take your shoes off and sit on the floor and if you wanted the “real” Japanese experience, you would sit on your knees for the entire meal.

7.     Lost in translation- I was always quite amused by signs that were translated to English from Japanese, whether it was the way the words were spelled, the awkward grammar usage, or just the weird expressions that would never be used in the U.S.

8.     Vending machines everywhere- On average, about every ten steps you take, there is a vending machine, whether it is in front of a shop, a house, a classroom, or anywhere. And you can buy all kinds of things from them apparently. A lot of restaurants even use vending machines to place food orders, where you select the button for the food you want, you get a ticket receipt, and then pick up your food.

9.     Removing shoes- Before I came to Japan, I read up on some “important stuff to know when traveling to Japan.” One thing I read was that people don’t wear flip-flops because the Japanese consider your feet dirty if you wear them. There were a lot of people wearing flip-flops though, so I wore mine anyway. There were numerous times though that we were asked to remove our shoes. Most of those times were when my group went on lab tours. Out of all places, I never expected that we would be asked to remove our shoes in a lab, but I guess that’s what they do in Japan.

10. Crazy toilets- Japan’s bathrooms were quite an experience. Most bathrooms has stalls for squatting toilets and stalls for butt-washing toilets. The squatting toilets are pretty much just holes in the ground. They kind of freaked me out a bit and I never attempted to use one. So I ended up using the normal toilets that could play music and wash your butt in different ways. I usually just used them normally, but I thought I should try pressing all the buttons once, so I did. It was an interesting experience.

11. Mosquito Bites (not)- I got way too many mosquito bites while I was here and I was one of the only two people in my group that got them. It wasn’t so fun, but in order to see the beautiful gardens, parks, and lakes, I was undoubtedly going to get mosquito bites no matter what.

12. My IARU GSP group and all of our memories and inside jokes that most people reading this blog will most likely not understand- going on adventures (aka getting lost), nighttime rooftop chats, having conversations with random Japanese people, watching crazy Japanese guys fountain hopping and shouting “I am Samurai,” saying “Bibbidy bobbidy boo” in high pitched voices when taking pictures, sugar shots, thong blisters, learning phrases from the lonely planet phrase book such as “coco o sawate”

This is probably the first time goodbyes weren’t too difficult. In these last 2 weeks, I had a lot of fun with my group, but I never got too close to them partially because of my mentality that I would probably never see any of these people again since they are from countries all over the world. But we know that it won’t be too hard to stay in touch these days in the world of Facebook.

It’s been a good two weeks, Tokyo. Sayonara.

p.s. This whole blog thing is starting to grow on me.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


1. the act of closing; the state of being closed.
2. a bringing to an end; conclusion.

I just found out that I'm pretty much being paid to study nanoscience in Japan and pretty much have the best time of my life. $3,000 from the Friends of Todai organization, plus an additional 80,000 yen from the Japan Student Services Organization (JASSO) or the University of Tokyo. I am so lucky.

Day 10: July 13, 2011
Today for lunch, we went to the restaurant near our hotel where we ate yakitori for dinner one night; however, this time, they were serving Japanese hand-cut noodles. It was very tasty. They gave us bibs so that the oil from the soup would not splatter all over our clothes.

Then, we had our last day of class. Today's topic was nanotechnology, and both of the lectures had to do with semiconductors, physics, spin of electrons, and quantum mechanics. It wasn't really my favorite, but I was glad to see that I was very familiar with a lot of the material that I had just recently learned in my physics and and electrical engineering classes. I have also noticed that I have been able to understand the lectures more and more. Either the professors can speak English better or I am just learning to comprehend their Japanese accents and poor English. I can just remember the first day where I spent most of the time in class trying to figure out what the professors were saying rather than learning the actual material that they were teaching.

After class, a lot of people were just really exhausted so a bunch of people stayed at the hotel and did their own thing. However, a few of us decided to head over to a festival that was held in central Tokyo, near the Imperial Palace. My experience at the festival exceeded my expectations by a lot. I went there thinking that it would be another shrine with Japanese music and lots of people just walking around, but it turned out to be more like a huge fair, much like the San Diego County Fair that I have been to several times back at home. Based on the "Save Japan" posters that we were seeing around everywhere, the festival seemed to be some kind of fundraiser for the earthquake. When we walked in, there were walls of lit up lanterns decorating the entire area. There were also a bunch of shows going on near the temple. One show consisted of some kind of Japanese musical on a stage surrounded by a crowd of people. We saw another show setting up on the side, with boys dressed up in karate uniforms and huge drums. Unfortunately we did not get to see them perform as we waited for an hour and we were getting hungry.

"Japanese line dancing"
So we headed off towards the main area, where there was an endless road lined with tons of little shops, games, and food vendors, just like I had seen at the fair. The street was so crowded with people that you could not walk without pushing people. It was definitely a sight to see. We ended up getting Japanese-style corn on the cob, which was basically just corn on the cob seasoned with soysauce. Then we saw another vendor selling bananas on a sticks covered in chocolate and sprinkles, so we had to get one of those. We were then stopped in the middle of the street as a performance was going on on a circular stage in the center of the street. It was kind of like Japanese line dancing and all around the stage were other people in the crowd, joining in and doing the dance around the main stage. Our stomachs still weren't satisfied, so we continued on and found some really tasty okonomiyaki, which is basically like a pan fried pancake of batter and cabbage. It was a good night and our stomachs were definitely full to the max at this point, so we decided to head home.
Bananas covered in chocolate and sprinkles.
Endless food vendors.
A vendor selling masks.

Thursday, July 14, 2011 (Last Day): Study Visit to Terumo, Fujifilm, and Hakone

Today, all of the GSP students only enrolled in the Nanoscience course taken on a study visit trip. There was a total of five of us accompanied by five of the people in charge of the program. They provided a whole tour bus for the ten of us so we each got our own row of seats.

Stop #1: Terumo Medical Pranex

This place looked like one of those futuristic business buildings that you would see in a movie. It didn’t look too impressive on the outside, but it looked very modern in the inside. We were greeted two formally-dressed individuals that came through large, automatic glass sliding doors and led us to a room where we watched a presentation of the company.

We were then led on a tour of the facility by a Japanese man that claimed he did not speak English. So he provided us headsets so that another person in our group could translate for us. It was quite silly and unnecessary since there were only five of us and the man translating through the microphone was standing a foot away from us. But we looked cool with our headsets anyway.

Terumo Medical Pranex is a laboratory and training center where medical students and professionals can practice their clinical and medical treatment skills on mannequins and fake body parts. The facility consists of a “practice zone,” a “simulator zone,” a “hospital studio,” medical and human engineering laboratories, a “communications zone,” and an “exhibition zone.” Students and professionals can do everything from catheter/guide-wire handling, medical technology trials, practicing medical techniques, creating new products, studying new medical equipment and materials, and home healthcare training. The company Terumo is also a very successful biomedical device company.

On the tour, we all got to pretend to be doctors. We got to feel for the brachial artery on a fake arm, check for pulse and breathing on a mannequin whose pulse and breathing was automated through a computer, perform CPR on a mannequin hooked up to a cardiac monitor where the mannequin’s pulse returned to normal after correct CPR was performed, and practice inserting a catheter into a mannequin using a computerized x-ray of the mannequin to guide us. All of the mannequins were hooked up to computers so that the instructors could alter their medical conditions and students could practice dealing with different scenarios. The material that the mannequins were made out of was as close to real as possible so that if the student did not perform well, the real consequences would result (for example, if a catheter wasn’t inserted correctly, an artery might be punctured). I was very amazed by all of the technology that they had. It was so realistic that any real-life scenario could be imitated. This could be the future for medical schools as students can practice medicine without harming any real human being. At the facility, there was an entire fake hospital with numerous mannequins on hospital beds for students to practice working in a clinic. There was even a cardiac surgery room so that students could practice surgery on a mannequin with fake blood. It was so real that it actually made me a little queasy. There was also a fake Japanese house within the facility so that students could practice procedures for patients that stay at home since a lot of Japanese have doctors visit their homes when they are ill.

There was also a museum with all of the devices that Terumo has made, such as thermometers, syringes, needles, artificial hearts, catheters, stents, etc.

Stop #2: Fujifilm

We then stopped at Fujifilm, which was another huge building that looked very futuristic. The entire building is very exposed with windows everywhere. Thy claim they have so many windows so that researchers can see each other working and be motivated to work harder. There was no privacy anywhere.

We ate lunch in one of the meeting rooms there. We were given our lunch in little cardboard boxes that consisted of rice and a various little Japanese delicacies. Most of the food was stuff I had never seen or tasted before, but I was hungry so I ate pretty much all of it.

At Fujifilm, we watched a presentation of the company and then were taken on a tour of their facility. I learned that Fujifilm develops all kinds of products, not just products related to their well-known cameras. The company does all kinds of research from medicine and pharmaceuticals, to cosmetics, to Xerox machines and cameras.

The main surprise to me was their cosmetic products. They seem to be very proud of a new type of organic product that they developed called Astalift. Currently, it is only sold in Japan and it is “top-notch.” They even gave us free samples of Astalift whitening cream. Not like I’m going to use it or anything. Who uses whitening cream in California anyway?

Stop #3: Hakone (not much of a stop)
After leaving Fujifilm, we drove around through Hakone, enjoying the beautiful scenery through the mountains. Our GSP leader even gave us all Japanese candy on the bus ride!

Apparently there are gorillas in Hakone.
The main goal of our Hakone drive was to see Mount Fuji. Apparently, they do this trip every year and Mount Fuji is always hidden behind the clouds. We stopped at one spot near a lake, where we caught a glimpse of Mount Fuji, but half of the mountain was hidden behind the clouds. We drove around for a bit more and eventually, the clouds were blown away and we could see the whole mountain. The bus driver pulled off to the side of the road just so we could all take pictures. I took about 50 pictures of the mountain and they all look exactly the same.
Swan peddle boats!
Pirate Ship! And Mount Fuji hiding behind a patch of clouds in the distance.
Mount Fuji!
The GSP coordinators claimed that we were all very lucky because they rarely get a chance to see Mount Fuji when it’s not hidden behind the clouds.

Back to Campus
We finally got back to Hongo Campus, said our goodbyes to the GSP coordinators, and headed off to dinner. After walking around the streets for a while, we finally found a place that could seat the six of us and the food was pretty good. We even got to eat “Japanese style” by sitting on the floor! And we decided to make it even more “Japanese style” by doing origami with the napkins at the table as we waited for our food. It was quite the Japanese experience (because I’m sure that’s exactly what real Japanese people do at meals). We ended the night (and the entire two-week program) with another rooftop chat and some sake. And that was it. That was goodbye.
Our last supper. Japanese style.

Monday, July 11, 2011


1. satisfied with what one is or has; not wanting more or anything else.
2. agreeing; assenting.
We are in no rush to see things in Tokyo anymore since there is not much more to see. We now spend more of our time getting to know each other than we do with getting to know Japan. In fact, I didn't take any pictures today. I didn't even bring my camera around. It was actually kind of nice to spend a day enjoying the experience rather than spending so much time taking pictures.
Day 8: July 11, 2011
Today was a pretty laid back day. We all met up for lunch at the co-op again and then went off to class. Today, our first lecture was probably the most interesting lecture that we have had yet. The topic was Mechano-bioengineering, specifically "Computer Aided Surgery and Surgical Robots." We learned about minimally invasive surgery techniques such as endoscopic surgery and some other new and developing biomedical devices. We were shown videos of the devices performing in surgeries. It seems as though our future is leading to a life where everything can be done with robots and humans will no longer be needed.

After class and lab tours, we went on a search for dinner and decided to take the train one stop to Ueno, where there are a lot more shops and restaurants. Walking around Ueno was a bit like walking around Berkeley in the sense that there were a lot of homeless people sleeping on the sides of the road. This was the first time I saw any homeless people in Tokyo. Dinner was "the usual." We've pretty much been eating noodles and rice for every meal and that's exactly what I had for dinner. I have yet to have some good sushi. 

We decided to walk around Ueno park for a little bit before heading home. There we saw more homeless people, but it wasn't as bad as "People's Park" in Berkeley. The homeless people are a lot quieter and they won't bug you at all. But anyway, it was a nice, peaceful walk around the park and lake. It would be the perfect place to go on a night run; however, I doubt I'm ever actually going to get a chance to run while I'm here. I gave up on that idea a while ago.

We ended the night with some group bonding time on the roof of our hotel and now I'm back in my room dozing off as I write this post. 

Day 9: July 12, 2011
The first lecture we had today was pretty exciting. It pretty much convinced me to look into biomaterials. It was all about the development of high-performance structural biomaterials, how such materials can be used for bone grafting in oral and maxillofacial surgery (what my dad does!), and how 3D printing can be used to create implants out of biomaterial. We also learned about the design of tetra bone and the homogeneous structure of polymer hydrogels. After class, we went on more lab tours and we each received our own souvenir sample of hydrogel material. 

We then caught the train to Roppongi for dinner and to catch a glimpse of the Tokyo Tower. We ended up taking the train to a station in Roppongi that wasn't the main station so we got a little lost, but we went exploring on our own adventure. Our designated "leader" of the group led us in the completely opposite direction of the main part of Roppongi so we ate dinner at some random ramen place and headed back towards Roppongi. The little adventure was fun while it lasted and we definitely had some quality group bonding time.

Once we got to Roppongi, we wandered around Roppongi hills, admired the Tokyo Tower taking pictures for a good 20 minutes, and then ended the night with some crepes and shots of liquid sugar (a random dare that we decided to revisit since the first day of the program). We were all on a sugar high for the rest of the night as we made our way back to the hotel.

I'm starting to run low on money, but I'm hoping it will make me to the end of this trip. Transportation seems to add up pretty fast. Only one more day of class, a study visit, and then I'm back on the plane to California. It's time to enjoy these next couple days while they last.

Tokyo Tower

Sunday, July 10, 2011


1. an act or instance of noticing or perceiving.
2. an act or instance of regarding attentively or watching.
3. the faculty or habit of observing or noticing.
I am beginning to adjust to the culture and lifestyle here. Shrines and temples don't seem too exciting anymore. We've pretty much seen the most fascinating things in Tokyo and we can't figure out anything else to see.

Day 7: July 10, 2011

Today was probably the hottest day in Tokyo yet. We went back to Harajuku to see the famous Japanese cosplayers, only to find out that the event was canceled because it was too hot for the cosplayers. So we ended up visiting another shrine and then shopping in Harajuku for the rest of the day since air conditioning seemed to be the best alternative.

We visited another shrine and there was some kind of ceremony going on.
We found one cosplayer in the streets!
Entrance to Harajuku's little shops.

This guy was advertising an American-themed store down below.
 Japanese stores sell some of the most interesting things. One of the first clothing stores we went into only sold clothes that were "one size fits all," and I soon realized that "one size fits all" in Japan is a little too small for me since I am not nearly as small as the average Japanese woman. We also visited several other shops, many full of clothing that was dedicated to America, with clothing from boy scout and army uniforms to all kinds of clothing decorated with the American flag. I don't really understand why the Japanese love America so much. It appears they have more American pride than Japanese pride. We also enjoyed observing the many shirts with text written on them in incorrect spelling or grammar or simply just being a weird saying to have written on a shirt, such as "I like new popular things."

On another note, one of my main concerns about coming to Japan was experiencing an earthquake and/or tsunami on a level comparable to the Tsunami in March. I know, I'm a little naive. The chances of something like that happening are very rare and if it happens, it happens. A few days ago, a small 3.0 earthquake hit somewhere near this area as I sat in my hotel room. It was nothing too big. It was just like any of the earthquakes I have experienced in San Diego, CA. Today, as I was walking around Harajuku with some of my GSP friends, I got a text from my mom saying: "Earthquake scare? 7.1 we heard. Are you ok?" Apparently, there was another earthquake in northeastern Japan at 10am this morning and I didn't feel a thing. The news even described it as "massive." There were also supposedly six aftershocks (4.7-4.8 degree) throughout the rest of the day. Didn't feel those either.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


1. characterized by or showing inability to remain at rest: a restless mood.
2. never at rest; perpetually agitated or in motion: the restless sea.
3. without rest; without restful sleep: a restless night.
I am ending up having less free time than I expected I would have. I enrolled in this program assuming that I would be taking courses at the University of Tokyo and spending most of my time on campus or in my hotel doing work, but it turns out that this program is more about experience and learning during class than outside of class. So as a group, we go sightseeing in the mornings until lunch, meet up with the others for lunch, attend classes from 2:00pm-7:00pm, meet up with the others for dinner, do some more sightseeing, and then fall asleep immediately when we get back to the hotel. We seriously get the most out of every second of every day. I have gotten to see so much of Tokyo and learn so much in my course in such little time, and yet, the first week is already over.
Day 3: July 6, 2011, First Day of Classes   

This morning, I was kicked out of my room because a Japanese lady came to my room and didn't speak any English. I tried to tell her that I didn't want cleaning, but I was unsuccessful. So I ended up going on my own adventure to find a supermarket. I feel like my diet here has been largely rice and noodles, only a tiny bit of meat and vegetables, and no fruit at all. So I went out to buy some fruit. 

For lunch, I met up with the others to eat at a co-op on campus. The co-ops are pretty much like any school cafeteria, but it's all Japanese food. You also choose your meal by looking at the displays of plastic food and ordering through a vending machine. There are vending machines for pretty much everything here and they are everywhere!

During class, we learned about carbohydrate recognition and apoptosis and then we went on a tour of the professors' labs. The first professor was pretty cool. He walked into the classroom wearing a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. He claims he is different from the other professors because he worked in Texas for a short time. 

We decided to go to Ginza for dinner. We went out to find an "Alice in Wonderland"-themed restaurant, as Japan is known for it's themed restaurants. To our disappointment, the restaurant was to busy to take us so we ended up at a princess-themed restaurant called "Princess Heart." The boys in our group chose it over the vampire-themed restaurant.

After we got back, I experienced my first earthquake in Japan. It wasn't any different from those in California.
"Princess Heart" Themed Restaurant
Princess-themed creme brulee dessert

Day 4: July 7, 2011
Before class today, we decided to take a walk to see Tokyo Dome City, Kagurazaka, and the Koishikawa Korakuen Gardens.
Tokyo Dome City.
Tokyo Dome from Koishikawa Korakuen Garden

Then we headed to the University of Tokyo's Komaba II campus for class to learn about nanotechnology. They seemed to be cutting down a lot on electricity here. All of the lights and air conditioning in all of the buildings were off. It was kind of eerie and uncomfortable. We were all sweating throughout the lectures and the air outside was cooler than inside. After lecture, we got to visit the most exciting labs yet. We got to wear those full on bunny suits to go into the clean room of a semiconductor lab! I wish I had pictures, but we weren't allowed to take our cameras or anything with us.

For dinner today, we decided to go to another themed restaurant as some of the group members really wanted to see this "Alcatraz ER"-themed restaurant in Shibuya. It actually was pretty scary. The whole place was designed like a jail cell with waiters dressed in lab coats and walls marked with fake blood. People were seated inside jail cells. There was a moment before we ordered our food where they shut off all of the lights and made the sirens go off throughout the restaurant. People dressed up in monster costumes came up to our table and tried to scare us. It was actually very scary.

Shibuya Crossing
Shibuya has the largest Starbucks I have ever seen.
Day 5: July 8, 2011
Today we visited Akihabara, Japan's "Electronic town," where you could buy all kinds of electronic appliances and parts. It is also a huge place for Japanese anime, video games, and arcades.
A 5-story arcade in Akihabara. One of the numerous arcades throughout Tokyo.
You can buy pretty much any electronic part possible!
After class, we went out to dinner at a yakitori restaurant nearby where you could eat chicken hearts, necks, tails, stomach, and pretty much any other part you can name. It was interesting, but not really my type of food.

After dinner, a few of us met up with one of the GSP students' Japanese friends and went out to a nightclub in Odaiba called Ageha. Four thousand people, five dance floors, a pool on the roof, a beach area, and a ramen noodle restaurant. It was amazing. The people were all very friendly and they treated us like we were celebrities because we weren't Japanese. We danced all night until 6 in the morning (since the trains don't start running until then).

Day 6: July 9, 2011 
Today we spent all day at Odaiba. I think it is my favorite place in Tokyo yet. Odaiba is a man-made island and the scenery is beautiful. You can get a view of all of Japan's famous architecture from the beach, and even a better view from Odaiba's ferris wheel, the tallest ferris wheel in the world!

Mock Statue of Liberty.
Walking along the beach.

Fuji TV building.

Venus Fort: Odaiba's huge shopping mall.

Inside the shopping mall.

"Kiddyland" store.

An omelette stuffed with rice.
Huge arcade in Venus Fort.

We went on the tallest ferris wheel in the world!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011


1. incapable of being expressed or described in words; inexpressible.

These past few days have been a little bit of a blur. So much has happened so fast and classes have just started.

I love it here, though. Almost everywhere you go there is a huge city of bright lights leaving you in a sense of awe that is entirely ineffable.

Day 1: July 4, 2011
Today marked the first official day of the IARU Global Summer Program. We began the day with a brief orientation of the program followed by a student exchange program during which we went sightseeing around Tokyo with some of the Todai students and some other students from the IARU Global Summer Program that were enrolled in a 2 week program before us.

Our first stop was the Tsukiji fish market, the biggest fish market in Japan. We got there towards the end so there wasn't much to see, but it was still pretty interesting. The fish that they were preparing there were by far the biggest fish I have ever seen. Apparently, this place is one of the least tourist-friendly places in Tokyo. People are driving these little carts everywhere, transporting ice, fish, boxes, etc. and they expect you to get out of their way.

After Tsukiji, we went to lunch at Tsukishima. Tsukishima is known for its food called "Monja," a type of Japanese pan fried batter. The food was good, but I had no idea what I was eating. It was also one of those places where each table has it's own griddle in the middle and you get to cook your own food.
Monja in Tsukishima

Entrance to Asakusa
After that, we toured Asakusa where we got to see the Sensoji temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo. The entrance to Asakusa is marked by the Grand Kaminarimon Gate with a huge red lantern hanging from the rooftop. Once you pass the entrance, the street is lined with numerous little shops selling all kinds of things from food to toys to trinkets.
People pick up fortunes and tie them to these strings to burn so that they will improve.
People purify their hands and mouths by washing them with this sacred water

After Asakusa, we visited the Tokyo Sky Tree, which is currently still under construction. The Tokyo Sky Tree is the highest self-supporting tower with a height that is 6345 meters. On the way to our viewing spot, we also walked past some elementary school students all dressed up in their uniforms.

The activities for Day 1 eventually came to a closure with a Welcome and Farewell party on the Hongo campus, where all of the faculty for the program were introduced along with some of the Todai students. Then an official farewell was said to the IARU Global Summer Program students that had just completed their 2 weeks of studies at the university and an official welcome was said to my group. To end the night, all 18 of the IARU GSP students went to the roof of our hotel and talked about the adventures that the previous program's students had enjoyed and the adventures that our program's students would soon get to experience.

Day 2: July 5, 2011
Today we hopped on a bus and headed off for a planned "study visit" to the old historic town of Kamakura with all 18 of the GSP students. In order to get to the historic town of Kamakura, we had to drive through winding roads over the hills as Kamakura is surrounded by hills as a kind of protection for the old historic town. During this study visit, we visited the Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, the Kenchoji Temple, the Kamegayatsuzaka Pass/Kewaizaka Pass, the Zeniari Benten, the Koutokuin and the Kamakura Daibutsu (otherwise known as the "Big Buddha"), and the Hasedera Temple.

After a while, the shrines and temples all begin to look the same and it's difficult to tell the two apart. At both places, there are always people practicing a certain ritual where they thrown money into a box, bow down twice, pray, and then bow down again. Because there is a Japanese festival going on this week, the whole town is more decorated than usual with colorful papers hanging from tree branches.

My favorite part about this "study visit" was probably seeing the "Big Buddha." It was just a very cool site to see and also a very famous landmark in Tokyo. I also enjoyed visiting the Hasedera Temple, where we could climb up some stairs on a slope above the temple and see a beautiful view of the beach at Kamakura. It was seriously breathtaking.

Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine. The trees are covered in colorful papers.
Lunch. The entire table was covered in small bowls.
The whole group walking through the passes.

"Big Buddha"
The view from above the Hasedera Temple.
Practicing proper Japanese etiquette.

After returning to our hotel, a few of the people in my GSP group headed to Harajuku in search of some delicious crepes that we had heard about from the other GSP group. It didn't take too long for us to realize that we were going out at prime time rush hour. The trains going in all directions were packed, but it was an experience. Once we arrived in Harajuku, we immediately found those crepes, many filled with gelato, cake, fruit, and whipped cream. Definitely the best crepes I have ever had. After that, we continued on to explore the little shops of Harajuku and later walking along the main strip of Harajuku with multi-story department stores. It started raining hard for a little bit, but the rain felt really good after being out in the hot, humid air all day. We finished the night by getting dinner at a restaurant called "Yoshinoya," which was basically Japanese fast food--very cheap, but still very tasty--and then headed home.

Delicious crepes!
One of Harajuku's multi-story department stores.