Sunday, December 30, 2012


“I soon realized that no journey carries one far unless, as it extends into the world around us, it goes an equal distance into the world within.”
– Lillian Smith

Today is December 30, 2012. As we near the end of the year and home becomes more and more familiar, it's getting harder and harder to put into words what I've experienced over the last few months.

At first, when I returned home, every conversation seemed to go like this:

"How was Japan?"
"It was great! Pretty weird."
"Wow, that's great!"

Hmmmm. That seems to come up a bit short in describing my experience. Nevertheless, I got over the fact that not everyone wants to know about Japanese culture, Japanese people, or the Japanese language. Of course I could talk for hours about it. But to my fellow New Jersey residents, it's all just so foreign and they'd rather me have the special knowledge of what it really means all to myself. I'm not complaining, it's okay to be selfish sometimes.

Jet lag was horrible. For about a week I would get so tired I couldn't keep my eyes open around 6-8 pm, then I'd fall asleep and wake up at 4 am. I'm pretty much on a regular sleep schedule now, except for the fact that I've yet to wake up past 9 am this entire break. That's really not a bad thing, I just want to feel like a lazy college student again.

Overall, my time in Japan leaves me speechless. I've grown significantly as a person and learned so much about who I am, what I want to do, and where I want to do it. From the beginning I've been saying that while my friends in Europe were on vacation,  I was studying abroad (sorry, friends). To be dropped in Japan with so much uncertainty and actually not only survive, but thrive there, is an accomplishment I'm proud to say is all mine. The people I've met who made Japan what it was to me have a special place in my heart. The experiences I've documented and (mostly) the undocumented will forever remain in the back of my mind as a reminder of my amazing semester in Chiba.

The most significant question that Japan has stirred up inside of me is that of my future. Sooner than I know, my junior year will be ending. That means one year to decide what the hell to do with "the rest" of my life. For me, I think I'll take it year by year. I can't tell you where I'll live, what I'll be doing, or who I'll be doing it with. All I know is this feeling inside me, this curiosity of the unknown, will only be satisfied in one way. Needless to say, I'll see you next time in South America (or maybe a European tour, India, Malaysia, Africa, Iceland, that road trip I've always dreamed get the point).

So thank you for spending my semester abroad with me. Without the endless compliments from family and friends, I probably would have only posted once. You've been the best audience simply because I can't hear you complain about my bad grammar or grumble at the outrageous exaggerations my mom tells me I'm so famous for. Let's keep it that way. Hopefully this is the first of many blogs, travel or leisure, and I hope that in the future, you are just as welcoming and wonderful as you were this time around.

Now to make Villanova proud, I'll leave you with a fantastic quote from St. Augustine:

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” 

Sayonara, minasan. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012


"What?! It's December?!" - said me, every day of December (foreshadowing).

This is one of the most complicated posts I've tried to write thus far this semester simply because it is one of the most complicated feelings I've felt thus far in my life. My time here in Japan is quickly coming to an end. By quickly, I mean by tomorrow we'll have entered the 2 week mark and soon after that, there will be single digits. In Japanese there are grammatical patterns to show that something is disappointing or you're upset about it. In english, you just have to read my mind. On my blog, I'm just gonna tell you that December sucks a little because it means I'm going home soon.

Though it is the weirdest place I've ever been, Japan has definitely stolen a little piece of my heart. Imagine a place that is so bizarre you wake up and laugh at something every day. A place where they eat everything -- sometimes they cook it, sometimes they don't. A place where adults have cell phone charms (still gets me every time). A place the most ridiculous thing you could think of could become a norm. Welp, that's Japan.

Mind you, I haven't loved every second. It's extremely difficult to live in a country where you barely understand anyone. I'm starting to get sick of the food, I'm mad at Tokyo for being so expensive, I hate that konbinis are so damn convenient (just kidding, I love you, konbini). But, things are starting to get a little old. Sometimes it feels like a dream, like I'm just waiting to wake up and go back to America. But other times, it feels like something I won't know how to live with once I get back to America. How do I act now? I just spent 3 and a half months specifically trying not to use English...and you want me to write a paper? Of course, I'm overjoyed at the thought of coming home for Christmas and seeing all my friends and family. I guess the part I really just don't understand is how this all plays a role in the rest of my life.

At my ripe young age of 20 it seems the dreaded "What are you going to do with your life?" question is thrown in my face every day. It took me long enough to pick my major, now let me sit on that for a while. But this is my time to decide, to explore, to learn. If Japan has taught me anything it's that I'll never be satisfied if I don't travel. How else would I have found out there's a soda here named "Calpis" which, when pronounced, sounds exactly like "cow piss." I could not have died happy not knowing that. So maybe that means there will one day be a "Lost in Chile" or "Lost in Minnesota" (both of which have equally foreign cultures to me), or maybe it means a job abroad after graduation, or a year or two of service. I really just don't know. For someone who has the hardest time making decisions, this has really thrown a curveball into the whole 'my future' concept.

So, while I sit here in this very wonderful and mysterious country, I'm sad to see this semester coming to a close. But more than that, I'm excited to see what the rest of my life has in store because of the knowledge and experiences I've gained here.

日光 (Nikko)

Two weekends ago (November 22-23) we went on our second and last field trip to Nikko. You know what that means...the end is near (more on this later). But anyway, Nikko was a great little break! Our Japanese university had a 4-day long weekend because high school students were taking their entrance exams, which we all chose to ignore and call "Thanksgiving Break" instead. So we traveled on Thursday and Friday and all (okay, just some) came home and started throwing up from Friday-Sunday. WHAT A BREAK!

Before the vomit ensued, in Nikko, we visited two major areas: Toshogu Shrine and Ryou Ravine - both of which were breathtaking. The Toshogu Shrine area also encompasses another shrine and one temple, along with Ieyasu's tomb and 3 extremely famous carvings. The first is the 3 "hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil" monkeys (pictured to the right).  The second is the sleeping cat (no picture because it cost more money to go see it) which was supposed to represent how peaceful the world could be in the front - as it is sleeping - but how you always have to be prepared for attack (or something of that sort) - as his claws have sharp nails in the back. The third of the famous carvings is of elephants. The men who carved the elephants had one of the hardest tasks I've ever heard of. They had to carve elephants without ever seeing them. Now that does seem pretty dumb, yes, but it worked out mostly for the best. I guess with a little research you can do anything, right? The picture of the elephants is 100% from google, some nice man took some pretty great pictures of it and posted it to his flickr. Thanks, dude!

After Toshogu shrine we headed back to the ryokan. This time, we were in (for lack of a better word) a real ryokan. AKA there were more than 30 people who I already knew staying there. We settled in and headed down to dinner which was *drumroll please* an all you can eat buffet. For those of you who watch 30 Rock, WHAT THE WHAT?! They had STEAK. Steak, people. Steak. They also had sashimi and ice cream and tempura and crab legs and fruit and, oh yeah, a chocolate fountain. Hello, heaven. I'm not sure how dramatic I'm actually being about this buffet but I hope you all know it was just simply magnificent at that point in time.

Once we gorged ourselves full of delicacies, we headed to the onsens which were also bigger and better than in Kanazawa. They had individual stalls where you wash yourself and about 6 different baths inside, along with 4 outside, and a sauna. I really wish onsens didn't make you so hot and dizzy after about half an hour because I would love to spend all day/night there. We frolicked around naked for a while, though, and it was a very enjoyable time!

On the second day of the trip, we started with more buffet time at which I chugged all the coffee my body would allow. Our first stop was Ryou Ravine. We hiked around and walked up and down stairs and rocks and mountainside and it was absolutely beautiful. There was waterfall after waterfall and a river and bridges. Living where we do really has made me appreciate the sight of trees and water and NATURE. God, I love nature.

After that, we had a pretty complicated lunch where you had to cook for yourself. It's fun and all to cook your own meals at restaurants, but in Japan I usually have no idea how to do it. The best part of the meal was the giant paper bibs they gave us. Check out these lookers:

The last stop of the trip was a wood carving store/mini museum, where they showed us how a traditional wood carver in Nikko does his work. In short, he uses the most impractical tool you could think of and it was the worst idea ever. Okay that I know is dramatic, but I probably couldn't have been worse at it. No pictures to save what's left of my pride after this semester.

And then, God said, let there be vomit. 

Friday, November 23, 2012

The better family post

So now that I've posted the serious version of the family visit, here are a few of the greatest quotes from the week (and maybe of all time):

Fuji/Hakone Tour Guide: (talking about sexual harassment the train) "Nowadays I see men holding both overhead straps showing that he is doing no bottom pinch!"

Me: "Whatcha eatin?"
Liz: "Muffin-san"

Liz: "Alan, your shoe is untied"
Alan: "Harajuku. That means thank you."
(He proceeded to use all the Japanese words he knew frequently and shamelessly. Unfortunately, all of the Japanese words he knew were places he had been.)

Dad (choosing a lunch restaurant): "Let's go to an Italian place"

Me (first day they were here): "It's 1,000 yen"
Mom: "What's that?"

Me: "Hot dogs are American food."
Dad: That hot dog was not American."

Dad: "I'm hankering for some pizza. Don't tell Amy."
(notice all of his quotes are about food?)

Liz: "Dad, what's your favorite part of Japan been so far?"
Dad: "Well I didn't mind walking around the city until that Injuku or Harkari part. There were a bunch of weirdos there."

Liz: "I just got called a ganji...holler!"
(Gaijin (guy-jean), what she meant to say,  is a slang term for foreigners...not a good thing to be called)

Mom (talking about her visit to a Japanese doctor): "All the signs were in Chinese!"

what a gang

The Rowlands in Japan

Firstly, apologies that it's been almost a month since my last post. Time sure is flying by.

At the beginning of November my family came to visit! My dad, mom, sister Elizabeth, and her boyfriend Alan trekked all the way across the world for a week of visits and some interesting cultural experiences. I'm not exactly sure what words they would use, but I would say they got exactly what they bargained for.

After an arrival fiasco to which I came very late, the week was pretty good! We went to a lot of places previously mentioned in my posts including Harajuku, Meiji Shrine, Akihabara, Tokyo Tower, The Imperial Palace, and Asakusa. We also explored a lot of new areas that I didn't know much about like Shinjuku (where my family stayed), Odaiba, Tokyo Sky Tree, Roppongi, Tsukiji Fish Market, and Hakone. I ate more American food than I've eaten in all my time here, my mom went to see a doctor in Japan (something I have no intention of ever doing), AND the best part, no one died!

Shinjuku was an interesting place to spend a lot of time. It's the center in Tokyo for large department stores, so we went and checked one out on a rainy day. Department stores in Japan are bigger than most malls I've been to in America. Also, because of their incredible hospitality, they're famous for giving customers the ultimate shopping experience. Shinjuku station is another story, maybe a whole other world. It's huge and confusing and I'm pretty sure I'd like to stay as far away from it as possible from here on out.

Odaiba was a really unique place to go. For some reason, maybe because it was a Wednesday afternoon, there was no one there. It seemed like a ghost island. The train ride over there was especially cool, though, because we had to take a fairly new line which ran right under the rainbow bridge. The view was spectacular. Odaiba is a weird place. Of course, in true Japanese fashion, there was tons of shopping as the main attraction. We also rode the large ferris wheel there, which I've come to learn is one of about 5 in the Tokyo area (why, I just don't know). Though it was cool, it felt more for tourists and foreigners than Japanese people (luckily we were tourists and not Japanese people).

Tsukiji Fish Market is one of the biggest and most famous fish markets in Japan. You can go early in the morning to witness the tuna auction, where they only let 120 tourists enter. Or you can do what we did, and go at 9 am and walk around a while. It's a wholesale fish market so there were a ton of people, both customers and tourists. It was similar to the smaller fish market I had been to on my trip to Kanazawa. A tourist favorite, it did not disappoint. Unfortunately, I didn't get to enjoy a sushi breakfast. Just adding it to the list of things left to do!

On Saturday we took a day-long tour to the Fuji/Hakone area. It was nice to finally get to see the mountain because when I climbed it, it was the middle of the night. Hakone is a nearby area with another, smaller mountain. In Hakone, we went on a pirate boat ride around one of the five lakes, lake Ashi, and then took a gondola ride to the top where we got a great view of Mt. Fuji close to sunset. Hakone is famous for black eggs that are boiled in the natural sulfurous pools on the mountain. If you eat one, you're supposed to live 7 years longer. The leaves on the mountains were starting to change, which is a beautiful time in Japan. In Japanese, there is a word specifically used to describe the leaves changing colors: kouyou (ko-yo) . I've been told many times that the english language is so boring because of lack of words like this and others that the Japanese use so much.

One of the best new discoveries I got from my family's visit is Roppongi. In orientation, we were warned about Roppongi being a dangerous place to go alone and at night. However, just like everywhere, if you're careful you shouldn't have a problem. Foreigners flock to Roppongi. There was bar after bar with Outback Steakhouses and TGI Fridays all over. It was like a little mini New York City. We went to dinner one night in Roppongi and I vowed to revisit at least once before I go home.

While having my family here was so exciting and a great change of pace from my weekly routine, it also came with a lot of ups and downs and a lot of stress. It was hard to let go and let cultural mistakes happen. At the same time, it was so different being around people who weren't using the language and weren't learning it either. Because so much of my life is centered around Japanese, it's hard to look at Japan without Japanese. That really changes everything.

Overall, it was one giant adventure I'm sure none of us will ever forget. I've added a few new places to visit and revisit in Tokyo, and my family got to see a little of what my life here in Japan is actually like. While it was a great time, I'm sure this has been a sufficient amount of Asian travel for the Rowland family for a while.

From the 5th Station on Mount Fuji

The whole crew at dinner in Roppongi

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

2 Monthaversary!

Since it's officially the end of October (oh, my) and I've now been here for two months, I think I can finally write my post about culture shock that I've been playing around with in my head for a while.

Firstly, though, updates on my life! Things are moving more and more quickly it seems. October flew right out the window and it feels like I never saw it come or go. We had a great field trip to Kanazawa (a really new post, if you haven't seen it) and I've become oriented with my living situation, friends, and classes. I'm pretty settled, I suppose (did I really just say that?). Now is the time we start thinking that the end is approaching, though, which has turned into quite the depressing thought. If time keeps moving this quickly, I'm not sure I'll remember any of what I've done in Japan! But that's enough of that, I'll focus on what's actually going on here and now.

Before coming to Japan (or abroad in general) I was probably prepped about ten times for culture shock I was bound to experience. Everyone warned me about it. Coming here, of all places, I was really worried about not being able to adjust or completely falling victim to culture shock. That's why Japan itself is probably the only reason why I really don't know if I've experienced culture shock to this day.

My good friend Merriam Webster defines culture shock as: a sense of confusion and uncertainty sometimes with feelings of anxiety that may affect people exposed to an alien culture or environment without adequate preparation.

Based on that definition, it's hard to decide whether I feel the effects of culture shock all the time or if I've never felt them at all. Of course, everything is different and shocking. I'm confused and uncertain daily. Anxiety was definitely present in the beginning. These people seem like aliens. But, I think I had adequate preparation. I mean, coming from the United States to an Asian country isn't going to be an easy thing. I knew that. I guess what I thought culture shock would include is a breaking point. A thought in my head saying "I just want to go home." Not that I don't think that when I see pictures from homecoming weekend at Villanova or skype with my friends back home. I just don't think about it all the time. It's something I miss, then go about my daily life here. Japan has become somewhat (extra emphasis on the somewhat) normal to me. It's my temporary home.

All in all, the conclusion that I think I've come to since my first day here thinking about culture shock, is that I've had way too much of it. I'm numb to it. Oh, so if I ask someone to do something, they can't say no? Which means I shouldn't say no either? Of course. And direct statements are frowned upon? I guess I won't be speaking to anyone.

Learning to cope with a new culture is not an easy task. Again, I'm reminded of this daily. But if you know you're getting yourself in way over your head, there isn't anything to be scared of. That's something that's inspired me a whole lot while I've been here. If I can take on one culture, imagine what I could find in all the others. Yes, all the others. I think I might be addicted to the thought of the unknown. To new places and people I have yet to learn about, let alone coincide with. If anything, I'm thankful for all the differences I've been introduced to because it's helped me realize what I like and dislike about my culture, while sparking a fire within me to find everything else that is out there.

I've always fallen in love with places too quickly and too easily. After returning from a 2 day excursion to a new place, I preach for weeks about how I've found my new home. I can't tell you how many times the phrase "I'm going to live here one day," has come out of my mouth. And now, because of Japan, I think this disease has gotten much worse. So watch out world, I'm coming for you.