This July I studied abroad at Tenri University for the Summer Japanese Language Course 2016!
After spending a week in Tokyo (trip to Japan pt.1), my friend Mara and I took the shinkansen (bullet express train) from Tokyo to Kyoto. This was about a 3 hour ride, then we took the train about another hour, to Nara into Tenri. That afternoon we arrived at Tenri Station where we were to be picked up.
I was so excited to see more of Japan! Tenri is a modern yet very traditional city located in the Nara Prefecture. I love the countryside so this was the perfect combination of a small city with breathtaking scenery and mountainous views. Our school was beautiful!
We stayed in a Tsumesho (dormitory guest house), in a very traditional Japanese style tatami room. Our view was phenomenal! Waking up to the mountains outside our window, the temple bells ringing outside and the sun shining.
At school we had to get accustomed to different traditions; such as the tatami sleeping arrangements. We slept on futons on top of tatami mats. When entering the Tsumesho; proper etiquette was to remove our shoes outside. Slippers were provided to enter the Tsumesho; while a separate pair of slippers were used to enter the bathrooms. We also had to remove our slippers when entering our sleeping rooms.
The next morning we had an Opening ceremony in the University Hall. There were 7 students from my school in NYC. The exchange program included students from all over the world! (Spain, France, Korea, China, Ukraine, Taiwan, Thailand, and NY).
After Orientation a placement test was given to divide us into groups according to our level of the Japanese language.
That night, we had a dinner welcome party to get better acquainted with the other students. Some of the international students were very proficient in multiple languages! The universal language (aside from us all learning Japanese) was predominantly English. Not everyone spoke English or Japanese fluently; so it was also fun trying to communicate with so many native languages. It was exciting meeting people from all over the world, learning about each other’s customs and lifestyle, while also immersing ourselves into the Japanese culture.
The program consisted of 30 hours of Japanese language classes, field trips and activities. We were even given bicycles!! This was one of my favorite things to do, riding my bike all around town, the wind blowing, viewing the beautiful countryside, and architecture was an amazing feeling.
Everyday we would also ride through Hondori, a pedestrian arcade that is closed to traffic and lined with shops and restaurants. (Like a major hallway that runs for blocks).
The next morning classes would begin!!
After classes we had free time, where we could sign up for activities.
As my free time activities I chose the Japanese Art of Archery (Kyudo), and the Art of Weaponless self-defense (Aikido). We watched demonstrations by the university student club members before taking turns trying. I would love to try both of these difficult yet super enjoyable activities again, I really respect their craft.
We had a huge Japanese culture session on Kimonos (traditional Japanese garment) where we also learned the practice and traditions of an Ocha (tea) ceremony.
We even wore yukatas!! (A yukata is a casual summer kimono usually made of cotton or synthetic fabric, and unlined.) The ceremony demonstrates respect through grace and good etiquette. There are proper ways to sit, sip, and hold the tea cup.
During my visit I did a lot of sightseeing. Always make sure to ask if it is appropriate to take photos as most temples do not allow pictures inside. Some may also require you to remove your shoes.
On one of our trips we visited Asuka, a small Village, south of Nara City. “There are strict rules governing construction in this historic town as this land is where ancient Asuka palaces were located.” In Asuka, you can find remnants of stone monuments, archaeological excavations, and preserved burial tombs. “while artefacts and recreations are on display at museums like the Asuka Museum.”-Japan guide
One of my favorite locations was Nara Koen (park); one of the oldest parks in Japan. At Nara Park over 1,200 wild deer roam freely!! (deer: シカ or 鹿 shika) You can pet the deer and even purchase crackers to feed them!!! The deer are very well respected. You can find a bunch of shops that sell Shika souvenirs.
At the park you can find the Nara National Museum and Todai-ji Temple, which houses the Great Buddha Hall, and the biggest Buddha statue! This temple was gigantic!
We also saw Yakushi-Ji temple, one of the most famous imperial and ancient Buddhist temples in Japan.
We also took trips to another major city, Osaka which is known for its modern architecture, lively nightlife, great street food, and ports.
One of our field trips was to Universal Studios Japan in Osaka. (about an hour bus ride from Tenri)
USJ is very similar to Universal Studios Orlando, with a lot of the same rides, just a smaller park. It was very exciting to experience such favorites like Harry Potter World’s Hogwarts and Islands of Adventures Spider-Man in Japanese!
They had other classic rides such as Jaws and Terminator 3D. There were even some Japanese themed attractions such as Hello Kitty, and Dragon-ball Z. The extremely long lines and wait times were also pretty close to Universal Orlando. However, this day was a blast!!
Along with a group of students I took some free time to return to Osaka for some sightseeing. We visited Osaka Castle, one of Japan’s most famous landmarks. Osaka castle, surrounded by water offers beautiful sightseeing and cruising.
After touring the castle we took the subway around Osaka. We found it rather interesting that people in Osaka walk on the opposite side of Tokyo. Osaka is huge and there is so much to do, I have to take another trip just for Osaka. There are so many huge malls and places to visit. There is also a large population of young adults.
We also took a field trip to Kyoto where we visited numerous temples.
“Kyoto, once the capital of Japan, is a refined city on the island of Honshu with thousands of classical Buddhist temples, as well as gardens, imperial palaces, Shinto shrines and traditional wooden houses. Also known for formal traditions such as kaiseki dining, consisting of multiple courses of precise dishes, and geisha, female entertainers often found in the Gion district.”-earthnworld
We visited the famous Fushimi -Inari shrine. I found the design concept so fascinating.
We also went to Kiyomizu temple (“Pure Water Temple”), one of the most celebrated temples of Japan that was founded in 780!! This Japanese Buddhist architecture styled temple offers beautiful scenic mountain views. Hike up to the top to see the beautiful cityscape.
Wanting to experience more of Kyoto, me and a group students took the subway to attend the annual Gion Matsuri festival. It is one of the most famous festivals in Japan and goes on for the entire month of July.
Kyoto’s downtown area is reserved for pedestrians on three nights leading up to the massive parades on July 17th and July 24th. The streets are lined with food stalls selling delicious traditional Japanese cuisine and treats. You will see many girls dressed in Yukata carrying traditional purses and paper fans. Lanterns lit up the streets, as people celebrated.
For the best tonkatsu (pork cutlet bowl) in Tenri go to the famous Tonyoshi.
Katsudon (tonkatsu dish) my absolute favorite dish! is a popular Japanese food; a bowl of rice topped with a deep-fried pork cutlet, egg, vegetables, and condiments.
We had a huge BBQ celebration at Tenri. We ate all kinds of delicious foods; shaved ice and bīru (beer)!!! I got to experience Nagashi-Sōmen!!! (Flowing Sōmen)
Sōmen are very thin white Japanese noodles made of wheat flour, typically served cold. Sōmen are put in water flowing along a long bamboo gutter. Sōmen is also one of my favorite dishes, this was definitely a new experience!
I also ate Takoyaki, a ball-shaped Japanese snack made of a wheat flour-based batter, typically filled with diced octopus and cooked in a special molded pan. Soooo good!!!
On our last night we had a Closing ceremony party. We went to a big restaurant hall where we had dinner and group performances consisting of singing and dancing. This was such a fun yet emotional night as we knew we would all part ways the next morning.
I made so many new friends, and had such amazing experiences I will always cherish. My trip to Japan was exhilarating, life changing, educational, and amazing. すごい (sugoi-amazing!)
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Don’t forget to check out My Trip to Japan TOKYO with Tips for traveling to Japan!