Student Reflections

We apologize for the delay in posting this student work.  We’ve been experiencing intermittent wifi access.

Students in the 2000 level of the course wrote blogs this week.  Here’s a sampling:


Arianna’s Drawing

Arianna Guirola

Meiji Shrine is located in the central Tokyo in a town called Shibuya. It is interesting that it’s the largest shrine and a lot of people visit the shrine. Mostly people go to the New Year’s festival. Meiji is named after the Emperor Meiji, who died in 1912. I was very excited to go to Meiji shrine and it was my second time to go there. When we arrived at the Shinto shrine gateway that is called torii. I loved how the torii looked. The Torii is tall, archlike, and placed at the entrance to a Shinto shrine. It’s two slanting upright and two crossed-pieces and it is made of wood. Also it has three gold flowers that are called chrysanthemums. The flower represents the imperial seal of Japan. I also realized when I was about to enter the torii, I had to walk in diagonally not in a straight line. It took us 5 minutes to get to Meiji Shrine from the first torii. One interesting part of visiting the shrine was the ritual of washing your hands before entering the shrine. You first wash your right hand and then switch and wash your left hand and then wash out your mouth if necessary. Finally, arriving at the Meiji shrine brought me good memories of seeing it with my family and some friends in 2013. I’m glad that I came back to see the Meiji Shrine again.


Katie Godowski Photographs

Please visit her flickr page to see some more gorgeous pictures. Click on the photo.

Ben Winick

This is the first time I’ve visited Japan in just over 3 years. Not so coincidentally, I’ve neither studied nor spoken the language for approximately the same amount of time. While we are in Tokyo, we are staying at a youth hostel called the National Olympic Memorial Youth Center. (The hostel is operated on the former site of the Olympic Village for the 1962 Tokyo Olympic Games.) When we checked in – on our first full day in Japan – things hit a snag almost immediately. Ruth discovered that the hostel required that we submit a full daily schedule for our program in Japanese, in addition to all of the documents we had already submitted. Though Ruth’s ability to speak and read Japanese was still at a fairly high level, she was less confident in her writing skills. As I was the only other student who had identified themselves as having studied Japanese before coming on this trip, she asked me to help her render our itinerary into the required daily schedule. Hesitantly, I accepted, and over the following hour or so, we put our heads together to decipher kanji on maps, find approximate translations for phrases we did not remember, and so on. I surprised myself with how much I was able to remember how to write – and was disappointed by how little I understood of the conversation between Ruth and the office worker from the hostel when we submitted the schedule! Even as my limited conversational abilities have improved with more days of immersion, I continue to surprise myself with how much I remember reading and writing – translating the names of train stations while traveling has been a special treat – and continue to struggle to try and speak correctly when it’s needed. However, I’ve been learning how to leverage what skills I have effectively to navigate Tokyo on my own. (I was able to make my way to Sunshine City in Ikebukuro with only a vague idea of where I was going thanks to Google Maps!)

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Eli Moore: Connecting the Askusa Shrine and Senso-Ji Temple
Today I visited the Asakusa Shrine and the Sensoji Temple. Shinto shrines are built to be dedicated to kami, or spirits of nature. In 628 CE, two brothers found a floating bodhisattva statuette in their fishing net. A local landlord taught the brothers about the statue and together the three men built the Sensoji Temple. The Asakusa shrine is dedicated to the three men that founded Sensoji Temple and Ebisu, the kami of fishermen and luck, for helping the brothers find the statuette. The towering wooden gateway called the torii is decorated with shime-nawa, a sacred rope of twisted straw. The statue is a koma-inu, a sacred beast that wards off evil spirits from the shrine. The Sensoji Temple had many stores located on its sando ̅, the road approaching a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple. There were food vendors, trinket shops, fan and umbrella stores, chopstick shops, and a variety of other shops. I even picked up my own pair of chopsticks while I was there.


Isaac Alam on Viewing a Shinto Wedding

At the Meji Shrine it was an amazing experience to get to be inside such a historical part of Japanese history. To witness something that is very important to history and has such a positive effect on many people is a great thing to experience. What intrigued me the most at the Meiji Shrine is when I saw a Japanese wedding for the first time in my life. It’s a very powerful thing watching two people from a different culture and country come together. Watching how two people make an agreement to love each other forever is a beautiful thing, but to watch it in Japan at the Meiji Shrine and watch how people in a different country do it, is something I will never forget. I paid attention to the format of the wedding and what the bride and the groom both were wearing. The bride was wearing a traditional white kimono that is called Shiromuku and the groom was wearing a montsuki which is formal and black and everyone also had on black. I learned that traditional wedding ceremonies are held at shrines which is very amazing to me. The style of the wedding is very rich in feeling and emotion to me and the way they dress is something I have never seen before. I am very blessed to have some type of part of the wedding.

Acadia Stevens

Today, June 16, we went to see a Shinto temple. The temple, while not elaborate, had this quiet, beauty, and elegance about it. Even though there was a sizable crowd the temple had this sort of hushed quiet about it was as though everyone was speaking in whispers. This appreciation for the beauty in simplicity is not a concept that we, as westerners have any sort of familiarity with. It is however a concept that is quite prevalent in Japan, one need only to walk down the street to see examples of it in just about every window they pass.

Acadia Meiji

Will Grant

Though Japan has been both modernized and westernized to a degree, the highly formalized and choreographed elements of their culture that stem back thousands of years are still apparent even today wandering around Tokyo. In our first class we discussed the elements and core tenets of Japanese social interaction—namely the concepts of amae, enryo, and interpersonal harmony. In even the more minor social interactions in Shinjuku, Harajuku or wherever we as a group have travelled these ideals have been prevalent and apparent. When I rudely interrupted a salesperson in a high end clothing store she apologized to me, assuming that she had made some mistake or gaffe in conversation that had prompted me to do so. The cashiers and service people all offer the highly formalized greeting of “ohio gozai mass” and a bow to indicate respect and appreciation, with at least an effort at sincerity and grace. This stands in stark and refreshing contrast to the soulless and hollow “have a nice day” we receive reluctantly from the cashier in our local American grocer. This concept also ties into Japanese concerns over aesthetic, another topic we covered in class and which permeates all facets of their life. Down to the more minute of details, the Japanese are concerned with presentation and the visceral experience being satisfactory and pleasing. Even what we might consider a menial task of making a crepe with ice cream is handled with the care, delicacy and focus of an artist wielding his brush or a brain surgeon handling his tools. This may seem like extreme hyperbole, but it isn’t as far off as you would imagine. All of these details and formalized aspects of life in Japan add up to create a sense of harmony, tranquility and visceral pleasantness that is quite altogether other from our expected and monotonous routine in America. There is a zest and care that is infused into even the more mundane actions and aspects of life—the street cleaner does not hesitate to flash a bright smile and most likely believes that his role is important in the grand scheme of society. This harkens back to another concept of the vertical hierarchical society in Japan, where all know their place and act accordingly with respect to superiors. Whereas Americans are very concerned with individualistic ideals and personal achievement (often at the expense of others) the Japanese are more interested in promoting this sense of harmony and collective advancement. Thus, even a worker at the low end of the totem pole sees himself as an important and invaluable cog in the wheel of society and understands that his role is important and no to be underestimated.

Clark Gegler

So far this trip has been amazing. It seems so cliche to say it but I am really enjoying my time here. The people are so kind and welcoming. As a non-Japanese speaker they always try and meet me half way with gestures and partial English. The shrines we visited were so cool, I am a huge fan of their architecture; unfortunately my camera died before I could document them, but I did get great photos of the Saki barrels and rope. Everyone on this trip is great with all different personalities and I am looking forward to spending more time to get to know every one better.


Ben Garrett

Today we went to the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan, the Asakusa/Senso-Ji temple. It was something else. Leading all the way to it were all these trinkets and pastry shops with these conveyor belts that cooked and dished out chocolates. As we got to the temple’s Sanmon, the main gate of the temple, rain began to pour down, hard. A lot of people got cover from the rain. I found cover at the te-mizuya, were you pour water on each of your hands and then bring it to your mouth so you can enter the temple, pure. Inside the temple was a ceremony of monks chanting to their golden shrine and people giving prayers and blessings. After I gave my prayer, I left the temple towards the koro-ya, a roofed pot with incense burning to fan onto yourself. All in all it was an experience, and was glad to be able to see this temple.

Emily Motter: The Buddhist Temple

Today was a really rainy day here in Tokyo! We made it through the maze that is the subway and train system. I am from New York City and have seen my fair share of public transportation but Tokyo is by far the most complex I’ve ever seen.  After three trains, we made it to the Asakusa Temple, which is a Buddhist temple in the Asakusa district. It is known for being the most traditional of Japanese architecture as not much was left after World War II so this was as close as we will get to traditional Japanese architecture in Tokyo. The Hondo is the main building of the temple which was my favorite. Since it was raining, many people were huddled under the gohai (the part of the roof that flares out at the sides). There is a large lantern hanging in the entrance as you walk up the stairs into the center of the building where prayer takes place. Inside people get their fortunes on pieces of paper, o-mikuji, and tie them to metal wires strung up around the temple if it was bad luck. This reminded me of yesterday when we went to the Shinto Meiji Shrine where I wrote a prayer on an o-fuda, a wooden tablet, and hung it on a structure built around a tree. The weather was not the best, but it made for some interesting footage! Check it out.

Ray Lounsbury

Today I spent the day with Kantaro Hargarawa who I met at boarding school about 4 years ago. Back in the United States, Kantaro would stay at our home during many U.S holidays when he could not go back to Japan. My family and I had him for Christmas and Thanksgiving about three times. Staying in our home and experiencing holidays gave him the full experience of American culture. Today is the first time I have seen him since Graduation of spring 2014. It was a thrill for both of us to be finding our way around Tokyo. We took the subway and walked around town ending up at the Tokyo sky tree. We were able to travel to the top and experience the fantastic view. For dinner, I ate with him and his best friend at an authentic Japanese restaurant where I learned allot about Kantaro’s life in Japan and that he would like to be a teacher for his future career. This is very impressive because being a teacher is highly respected in Japan. It was really exciting to share this cross-cultural experience.

ray raydinner


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