Every day is an adventure here in Tokyo. While that sounds incredibly cheesy, it’s the truth. Tokyo is a gigantic city with an endless amount of things to do. Not only is there something for everyone, but there is so much to do here that there are even places you probably never even considered visiting. Like a place where you can make paper, for instance. That’s something I did last week. I’m not kidding. It sounds kind of weird at first and you’re probably rereading what I just typed because there’s no way I could have actually said I made paper. But yes friends, I did. And it was great.
As my official one month arrival anniversary is coming up this week (tomorrow, actually), I wanted to take a look back at the activities I have participated in so far and share my experiences!
Kamakura was my first excursion and it was a solo trip (by solo, I mean I was not in a group with the CIEE college students. It was just Rina, the tour guide, and me). Getting down to Kamakura from my home in Chiba was (luckily) not too complicated. I was a bit worried though, since in the past I have been known to get a little lost whilst traveling to a station I have never been to before. But I made it there on time and with no problems, so that in itself is something worth mentioning.
In the morning, we visited Tsurugaoka Hachimangū and learned a lot about its history! In the afternoon after lunch, we visited Kōtoku-in (the big buddha statue in Kamakura) and then Hasedera Temple where we had a beautiful view of the water. Fun fact: Obama also visited these sites a couple years ago. Stores in the area have pictures of him there hung up and I honestly love that.
2. Walking Tour of the area around Sophia University
I don’t know if there was really an official name for this activity, so I’m just rolling with “walking tour”. This activity, as with the activities following it, were done with the college students (see: the group picture). Basically, the afternoon was spent walking around checking out landmarks like the Parliamentary Museum, the Diet Building, and the land around where the imperial palace is. Fun fact: Yotsuya station’s Tokyo Metro line is above ground because it was built in the area that once was part of the large moat around the imperial palace’s lands. Now it is filled in, obviously, but since the land is still low in that area, the subway is actually above the JR line railroad tracks. How neat!
3. Ikebukuro Safety Training
This was the first (and only?) weekend activity we have had. In the beginning I must admit that I was not into the idea of having a required activity on a Saturday but boy, I was WRONG. It was a LOT of fun. Let me explain- we went to an interactive center where we learned how to deal with potentially dangerous situations and safely navigate them. We learned how to use fire extinguishers. Fun fact: the number one cause of fires in Tokyo is arson! Remember to put your trash out on the specifically designated days, everyone. In addition to learning how to extinguish a fire, there was an activity where we learned how to escape a building if there is a fire. The way that situation was simulated was through an interactive maze. The floor was slippery from the “smoke” that was put into the room during the scenario, and while we were all focused on making sure our mouths and noses were covered and not standing up, we definitely forgot that talking is a big NO. The kids watching us from the outside definitely roasted us (pun intended) about that one because there’s an acronym they teach kids here about how to escape fires. The last situation we experienced at this safety training center was what to do during an earthquake. There was an earthquake simulator that shook the ground up to the highest earthquake magnitude. Honestly, this simulation was pretty scary, so that’s one thing I hope I don’t experience while here. All in all though, this activity was a lot more fun than I was expecting.
3.5: Yosakoi Festival
This was not a CIEE activity, but I’m mentioning it anyway because it was great. After the safety training course, our group continued hanging out together. We were planning on finding somewhere to have lunch, but were thoroughly intrigued by all of the people we kept seeing on the streets in flashy costumes. Of course, we wanted to figure out what was going on. After following the trails of colorful groups, we found ourselves surrounded by food stands and watching a dance competition. We found out later that it was a celebration for the Yosakoi Festival. I loved watching the performances. Personally, I really loved watching the dances because I liked the music and the chants that went along with them.
4. Tea Ceremony
“If you’re only drinking one cup of tea, why does the tea ceremony last so long?” was the big question that afternoon. The answer: because a tea ceremony is about so much more than just the cup of tea. There is preparation and thought put into everything. From the bowls we used to drink the tea out of, to the decoration on the confectionary we had during the ceremony, everything was planned to go along with a certain motif. The theme for our tea ceremony was to embody the feeling of autumn. There is an order to the way things happen during the ceremony, as well. Everyone gets their tea at different times, as there is only one person making it. After every cup of tea is made, careful attention is given to each instrument used to make sure nothing is broken so the ceremony can continue with the next cup. Once finished with drinking the tea, everything is cleaned up and restored back to its original state (this is really important!!!). The bowls were passed around with the matcha (green tea) and spoon so we could see the designs and how delicate everything is. We were told to have the mentality of taking everything in as much as possible because that moment was once in a lifetime. Never again will it be that day with those same exact people doing the same thing. It’s an intense train of thought but I think it helped immerse us into the experience , and step out of real life for a little and appreciate that moment.
5. Washi Paper Making
Ah yes, the aforementioned paper making makes its resurgence at long last. Prior to showing up at this activity, I was under the impression we were going to make origami or something. I guess it didn’t register with me that “paper making” actually meant making paper. Go figure. Now, this isn’t your average paper. This is washi paper and it requires several steps for its creation. You have to dip the wooden box into the calpis*-looking water at a certain angle to get the right base for your paper, vigorously shaking the water in several directions. Its easy to mess up (if you’re an amateur, hah can’t relate since I did mine perfectly on my first try ;) )if you aren’t careful, so it took almost everyone a couple tries to get their paper without any ~designs~ (aka mistakes). After shaking the water, a paper layer forms, which you then flip it over “like a ninja” (that’s a real quote from the guy who taught us how to do this, by the way) onto another table where it is then taken off of the base it was on so it can be brought over to the dryer. After being dried by the vacuum table, the paper is then carefully removed and then placed on a heated metal stand. Several minutes later, the paper is complete. I have never been so proud of a piece of paper in my life.
*Calpis is a drink here in Japan. It is one of my recommended drinks and you can get it at any convenience store.