Monday, July 24, 2017

Japan (Full tour! - cities, countryside, town, island, homestay)

Before I start off talking about my 7 day school trip to Japan, I must say, this is the safest and cleanest country I have ever been to. No matter where we went in Japan (big city, countryside, town, island), everywhere was so safe and so clean! Japanese people are also always smiling. The hospitality and kindness you will receive is like no other. This country is really one of a kind.

Days 1-3,  Tokyo

The view from my hotel room at the Shinagawa Prince Hotel.
The hotel even has karaoke rooms in the basement, which was a blast. After my school group had done karaoke, it was surprising to see that a group of Japanese businessmen in black suits and ties were after us in line.
Random but interesting thing to mention, but all of the toilets we encountered in Japan (whether in a hotel, shopping mall, or inside of a home) had seat heaters and could play music.

Dinner at one of the hotel's (Shinagawa Prince Hotel) restaurants. The raw fish was so good, that for the first time in my life, I started eating it!
Sitting across from me is my friend Yuki. Although she is originally from Tokyo and currently lives there, we met each other while both living in Portugal during the 2014/2015 school year.

My hotel breakfast. It was the biggest open-buffet hotel breakfast I have ever experienced.

Wasabi flavored Kit Kats. Japan certainly has the most interesting flavored snacks that you can't find anywhere else. I may or may not have spent half of my Japanese Yen buying flavored Kit Kats to bring home.

Asakusa Shrine

Asakusa Shrine

Interesting foods near Asakusa Shrine.


Most Tokyo apartments look like this.

A convenience store.

Do-it-yourself candy.

Convenience stores have costumes.

Passing through Tokyo streets on our chartered bus.

Akihabara district, full of anime.

Tokyo skyline from the top of Tokyo Plaza in the Harajuku district (a must-visit).

The Harajuku district of Tokyo was my favorite, although I have the least amount of photos from it. It has a lot of shopping to do, and interesting and instagram-worthy character cafe's such as the Kawaii Monster Cafe, Pompompurin Cafe, and a Cat Cafe!

When shopping in Japan, most of the girls in my school group struggled to find clothes to buy that we liked. Fashion in Japan is definitely a bit more conservative. You will most likely not see Japanese girls wearing jean short-shorts and crop tops, or tight clothes in general. While shopping, many of the items we came across were loose fitted and covered the shoulders or went up to at least your mid-thigh.

Day 4,  Kyoto (only the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine)

We took the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto. The train only took about 2.5 hours, as opposed to the 5.5 hours it would've taken to drive. Despite how fast the train was going, it was possible to keep up with the scenery outside of the window. In fact, I spent the entire train ride gazing out to the Japanese countryside, full of scenic hills, typical Asian homes, and of course - rice fields! Rice fields everywhere.

In front of the Fushimi Inari-taisha Shrine with my Japanese friend Rie, whom I met up with on this day as she lives close to Kyoto.

   With Ryuhi and Rie.

While in Kyoto, you must try the city's traditional dessert, Yatsuhashi. It is by far my favorite dessert.

Days 5-8,  Homestay with a Japanese family in Okayama

The amount of trust and politeness that Japanese people have for each other was also fascinating to see. I noticed that the train station in the Okayama suburb I was staying in did not have a turnstile when scanning your train card to pass through. Also, no camera or security guard in sight. Despite this, everyone still scanned their train card to pass through when they could've easily entered for free.

The Japanese family that I stayed with for these 4 days consisted of a mother and a father, two daughters (named Momo and Karin) who were both my age, and an 11 year old son. This is a picture of Momo and Karin in their school uniform during the welcome party of my school group at the Crowne Plaza Okayama Hotel.

This is a picture of one of my host sisters, Momo, before going to sleep. Although I slept in a bed in their home, a lot of Japanese people prefer to sleep on thin mattress pads on the floor. It is also very common throughout the country for the mother and the father to not sleep together.

Endless interesting finds at Japanese supermarkets!

A popular sushi restaurant in Okayama with dishes that rotate to tables. According to my host family, Japanese people love these sushi restaurants as sushi is so cheap (about $1 to $2 per dish with about two pieces) and so good.

And of course ... Probably the most popular thing for Japanese teenagers ...
The Purikura photo machine! Found in almost all (if not all) arcades throughout the country, and sometimes on the street as well. My host sister, Momo, told me that it is very common for her and her friends to go to the mall afterschool to take pictures in the Purikura photo machine.

Breakfast at my host family's home. We also always had rice with every meal (including breakfast). Most times, we also had seafood for breakfast too.

Dinner at my host family's house. Notice the big grapes on the top right, you have to peel them before eating!
For dessert, red bean flavored desserts are extremely popular and very good!

While in Japan, I also learned that the mochi ice cream we have in Japanese restaurants in the U.S. is something invented by Americans. In Japan, an ice cream called mochi is completely unheard of. Mochi is just a ball made of rice!

Okayama Castle

My host sister, Momo, in the gardens of Okayama Castle, wearing her school uniform.

Day 6,  Miyajima Island and Hiroshima (UNESCO World Heritage Sites visited on this day)

Miyajima Island:

The views from our ferry as it was pulling up to Miyajima Island from Hiroshima.

This island has a lot of friendly deer wandering around.

The streets of Miyajima Island that face inland.

Always much love for Hello Kitty in this country.

Itsukushima Shinto Shrine  (UNESCO World Heritage Site)

Itsukushima Sanctuary


"Hiroshima welcomes the Nuclear Ban Treaty!"

The Peace Monument of Hiroshima  (UNESCO World Heritage Site).
It is a building that was damaged by the atomic bomb dropped on the city in 1945.

The Atomic Bomb Museum in Hiroshima. It was one of the best and most eye-opening museums I have ever been to. I highly recommend all visitors to Japan to visit Hiroshima, and of course, this museum.

Entrance to the Hiroshima Castle.

The traditional food of Hiroshima - okonomoiyaki!

The city by night.

I really enjoyed my day in Hiroshima and thought it was a beautiful city. Do not miss it if you are in Japan!

Day 7,  Kurashiki Bikan Historical Quarter

This town is known for having ninjas in the past. It is also an ideal place to rent a kimono and take pictures around the city with it.

We rented yukatas! Yukatas are the summer version of kimonos, as they are lighter.

The Japanese food in Japan is much better than any Japanese food I have had in the U.S. In Japan, the dishes are more complex and have more ingredients.

Day 8,  Japanese High School visit!

Unlike us energetic, outspoken Americans, who love to do whatever we want in class (whether it's slacking off, looking at our phones, or talking nonstop), Japanese students are very concentrated and incredibly respectful of the teacher.
It is also not allowed to bring your phone to school. Not even just leave it in your backpack during class, you are not allowed to bring it at all. If a teacher sees you on the train ride to school on your phone, even though you are not on school grounds and are on public transportation, she/he can confiscate it.
Also, immediately upon entering the school, Japanese students take off their regular outdoor shoes and put on their indoor shoes.

Japanese high schools have mandatory Judo classes.

In class, Japanese students sit in rows, in order from best to worst. However, since my school group was visiting, it was a special day and we divided the class into groups to discuss an English story with them.

And summer vacation? Only 20 days at the end of July.

Overall: Visiting Japan and being able to stay with a Japanese host family was a very eye-opening experience. Being in Asia for the first time this summer certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone. I look forward to visiting Japan again in the near future.