A Final Note from Christie and Ruth

Study abroad in Japan isn’t just an individual experience and requires that students learn to manage themselves with an awareness of the impact of their behavior on the group as whole. One of the things we both appreciated was the way this group of students worked so well together. A major theme throughout the three weeks was learning to be patient with each other as we faced various challenges individually as well as a group. We often navigated as a large group through some of the busiest train stations and intersections in the world! We would give the group high marks in this area, and were amazed by how well we all got around in the last days of the trip together.
For the final class meeting Christie asked students to reflect not only on what they had learned about the intersection of art and culture of Japan but also what they had learned about themselves. Many students said that they:

• Became more patient with others and realized how important that skill is

• Learned to be more outgoing, to be more social

• Became more independent and able to navigate on their own in an unfamiliar place,

• Became more adventurous and stepped out of their comfort zone, including trying new foods

• Learned to appreciate what they considered to be the important experiences, rather than the ones that they had so long anticipated would be important.

Thanks to all of you who have read our blog this year. We’ve appreciated your comments.

Photo taken as we left the Olympic Village Saturday morning -Ruth 

Student Blog Post #15 Fushimi Inari Shrine and a Selection of Photos

Jacob Korbin describes his visit to Fushimi-no- Inari shrine in Kyoto while Abigail Straus shares some of the many photos she’s taken during our three weeks in Japan. 

One place that we visited that I really liked was Fushimi Inari, a Shinto shrine in Kyoto. Shinto is a religion native to Japan that focuses on worship of spirits that live in everything found in nature known as kami. The shrines serve as a place for the kami to live in addition to functioning as a place to pray to the kami. Fushimi Inari is most famous for its gates known as torii, of which there is said to be approximately ten thousand. In and around Fushimi Inari there are many statues of foxes, called kitsune in Japanese. The foxes are associated with Inari, a Shinto deity of rice, for whom the shrine was built.

The torii gates

Fox statue

And now some interesting photos by Abigail Straus. 

“Home for a night”.  Ryokan-traditional Japanese inn in Kyoto.

Mesmerizing Architecture of National Olympic Youth Center

Incredible meal I had early in the morning at Tsukiji Fish Market. King Crab and a soft boiled egg over rice.

Stunning old tree behind a hidden Shinto Shrine in Kyoto.

Befriending a deer in Nara

Little sketch of small waterfall at Fushimi Inari

View from walkway in Kyoto

Panoramic view of bridge above Ueno Station

Panoramic view of a main street in Kyoto

Student Blog Post #14 Traveling Independently and Japanese Gardens

As we wait at Narita Airport to return home I’ll post some of our last student blogs by Madison Pryer and Elizabeth Bellingham. 

Madison Pryer describes an experience many students have had as they’ve gained the confidence to travel independently in Tokyo. 

​A few days ago for the first time on this trip I went somewhere by myself. I really wanted to go to the ¥100 (dollar) store that is located on Harajuku’s Takeshita Street here in Japan but no one else was interested in going. At first I was unsure how to get there. Once I got directions and talked it through I realized I did know how to get there despite only being there one time. I walked through Yoyogi Park to get there. The park is gorgeous and walking through there was so relaxing. It was quiet other than the crowing of the birds and the sound of bicyclists peddling past. Once I left the park and found the street it was bustling with tons of people, tourists and locals alike. It was around 4PM when I got there and it was amazing to see it at that time of day. The first place I stopped was the ¥100 store called Daiso. I bought a few things and then continued on. I walked down the whole street, stopped at some more shops, grabbed some bubble tea and then headed back. I really enjoyed independently traveling there. I had never navigated a city on my own before. But now that I’ve done it I feel like I could do it again, no problem.            

Yoyogi Park

Takeshita Street                

Elizabeth Bellingham has a special interest in Japanese gardens and visited a special garden in Kyoto during out “free” day. 

If one were to experience a quiet walk through one of the many Japanese gardens, he or she would notice a sense of ease, beauty and wonder. The Japanese have designed and contrasted many different kinds of gardens ranging from rocks gardens, landscape, and tea gardens. Although they may vary in appearance, the gardens have many similar characteristics influenced by Japanese culture. From sitting in front of a garden, or taking a stroll around outside, to sipping macha in a tea house he or she would notice that all of the locations offer sanctuary for reflection. This derives from Buddhism and Shintoism where one is not only taking time to appreciate a particular space and time, but also appreciating the role which nature plays in daily life. The atmosphere creates one of harmony where even the architecture of the surrounding buildings melts into the scenery of lush green plants. There are no clear boundaries. This can be seen by the use of walkways, or bridges connecting a space between shelter and nature. It can be seen by the use of open spaces and sliding doors and ceiling to floor length windows that allow for one to connect with the world outside. The use of space in the gardens are tactful and deliberate yet instead of illustrating a defiance over nature – one controlling nature – it illustrates harmony – one with nature. Without a doubt, these gardens are meticulously designed where there is not only attention to detail, but the use of negative space. In both art and culture, the Japanese have an appreciation for what is seen, as well as what it not seen. Refer to the image below. One will notice the connection between manmade structures and nature where the two seem to melt into each other. Also, one will notice empty space used to create an atmosphere that has room for one to see the world around them and thus give the mind space for reflection. 

The following photo was taken at Korai-ji, a garden in Kyoto, and was a place of sanctuary for a wife who had gathered many fine artists and architects to construct a place where her husband could be remembered. Many gardens may be symbolic or representational of something in life, which again adds to the Zen atmosphere.

Student Blog Post #13 The Bullet Train

Final student presentations and packing for the trip home occupy our time today, Friday. Meanwhile Tommy Silva shares his trip on the Shinkansen or Bullet Train. 

The bullet train was an interesting experience. It is the fastest train in Japan and I would have to say it’s faster than any train in America. The fastest that the bullet train gets up to is 230km. That is 375 mph which is nearly as fast as an airplane. Before we had to get on the train, there were cleaners that only had 7 minutes to clean all the carts. It was cool to see how fast they cleaned it. It had that airplane type of feeling to it because of the seats and tray tables. There were even food carts. On the ride back from Kyoto we saw Mount Fuji. Even though we could only see the top of Mount Fuji it was still interesting seeing a volcano that has been active for 100 years now.

Christie shares a picture of the ‘pink’ cleaners. 


The group waiting at Kyoto station. The author, Tommy, faces the camera ( photo by Ruth.)


Finally Ruth shares this video of the train coming into Kyoto station. 

Student Blog Post #12 A Trip to a Pottery Village and an Unexpected Chance to Play the Japanese Game of Go

As we anticipate our last class on Friday we have a blog post from Alex Milliken And Jenny Beller. Alex shares the day trip that half the students took to Shigaraki when we were in Kyoto. Shigaraki is known as one of the six ancient kiln sites, and is known for its wood-fired, porcelain ware.

My personal favorite experience while visiting Kyoto was our one day trip to the “ceramic” village and cultural center in the small mountain town of Shigaraki. Our trip started off negotiating the Kyoto train station  to start our trip by train. As the trip progressed into the countryside, we had to keep changing into smaller and smaller trains until the final mountain climbing train that was only two cars long. While on the train we could look out the window to see aspects of local rural life that was very traditional in comparison to the busy streets of Tokyo or Kyoto. There were rice paddies and farms that looked as if they had not changed much over the past century. Finally we made it to our destination and got to experience first hand the beautifully imperfect and rustic works of art that have been being made in Shigaraki for nearly one thousand years.


Christie Herbert, Academic Director, adds a few photos she took during the trip to Shigaraki. 


Next we hear from Jenny Beller who had an unexpected experience in Kyoto she will never forget. 

Last Thursday in Kyoto I had the time of my life. I had the amazing opportunity to play Go, a very old, abstract strategy board game popular in Japan. I walked into a café near the Kyoto Station, ordered a snack, and sat down. Stunned and excited, I noticed several people playing Go at the table next to me! With a little nudge from Will, I went up to them and before I knew it, I was playing a game. There were three people: a lady, and younger gentleman, and an older gentleman. Despite the language barriers and communication difficulties, they were very inclusive and nice about making conversation. They asked me how I learned to play Go, and I said my dad taught me, and they asked why I was in Japan, and I explained about studying abroad to learn about Japanese culture and art. When I said I was from America, the older gentleman explained that he has an American friend who teaches at Cornell University and plays Go. Small world, I thought! Smiling and completely in the moment, this was truly an exciting and extraordinary experience. The younger gentleman was a very strong player, and despite having lost to him, I still relished in every moment. It was a night I will never forget.



Student Blog Post #11 Japanese Transportation Runs on Time

Today our blog post is by Andrew Swift who shares his observations of Japan. 

The Japanese schedules are very precise; trains and busses run right on time. Today I went to the train station in Akihabara to return to the Olympic Village. The schedule said the train was going to leave at 16 minutes past. I looked at my watch and it was 13 minutes past. We waited a few minutes then the train left exactly 3 minutes later. Another time we were waiting for a bus right in front of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. There was a schedule that told us when the bus would come and it came right on time. In addition to the busses I have also noticed that the food gets served faster than it does in the U.S. Most of the restaurants I have been to here are small and they need to get people in and out. Since we’re in one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the world it makes sense for schedules to be maintained and organized. I’d like to suggest that some American cities like Los Angeles would be better if they had more on time transportation systems.


This is the bus we can catch in front of the Olympic Village to get to Shibuya. The cost is about the same as 2 US dollars and we can use the same transportation debit card to ride  trains, subways and busses all over the country including Tokyo and Kyoto. 

Student Blog Post #10 A Look at Flowers in Japanese Culture

Today we hear from Will Sutton who explores the significance of flowers in Japanese culture. 

One thing that I have noticed on just about every one of our trips is the significance of flowers. There have been three particular flowers that have popped up consistently; the lotus, hydrangea and chrysanthemum.

The lotus has ties to Buddhism in that it is the namesake of the Lotus Sutra, a Buddhist scripture teaching of emptiness on ones way to enlightenment. I had the great pleasure of seeing the great Buddha statue in Nara and he is seated around lotus petals. The Japanese particularly love that the lotus blooms from dirty water into something beautiful and the transformation is seen as a form of enlightenment. The lotus also has the ability to look beautiful even as it is dying which is a form of mono-no-aware, a Japanese term meaning beauty is found in dying things.  


Hydrangeas have the unique ability to go through seven different transformations before they reach their final color and usually bloom from June to late July. The Japanese love hydrangeas for their ability to have such a long blooming period because of their interest in suggestion, meaning their ability to visualize what the flower will look like next during its blooming phases or even just as the buds begin to show. 


 Lastly, chrysanthemums are the imperial symbol of Japan and have represented the family of the emperor beginning in the Nara period from 710 to 793. The chrysanthemum is also seen as a symbol of rejuvenation and longevity. 


 One of the most fascinating features of all these flowers is that they represent the changing of seasons, (the lotus and hydrangea are summer and the chrysanthemum is fall), which the Japanese hold dear and leads to their love of both perishability and wabi-sabi, a term meaning rustic and withered elegance. In essence, the Japanese appreciate beauty in flowers at the beginning and end of their lives often more than when they are at full bloom.