The first day in port started out rather shaky. We arrived later than expected due to being rerouted in the captain’s avoidance of poor weather and high seas along the trip. Customs then took much longer than expected, so all members of the ship weren’t able to step off until well into the afternoon. This put a bit of a fork in our plans. I wanted to go to Hiroshima when we arrived, but because it was over two hours away from the ship and I had a field class the next day, we had to come up with a new plan.
My friends and I ended up in Osaka. After taking the train over, while of course getting lost in the station, we explored the area immediately around the station. The highlight of that day was visiting the Yodobashi-Umeda store. It’s said to be the largest camera store in the world, and I was able to pick up a new camera lens (with great zoom functionality).
This trip has really sparked my interest in photography. I originally planned on just taking pictures on my phone, but my mom (as usual) guided me in a better direction towards getting a real camera to capture my experiences. Photography is unique, in my opinion, because it helps fill in the gaps that words may leave in a story, and vice versa. Some say “a picture is worth a thousand words.” I tweak that a bit—a picture is worth five hundred words and the other five hundred (real) words offer the picture depth and meaning.
I spent the day after Osaka on a field class in the port city, Kobe. Field classes are a requirement for each academic course (sans Global Studies) and are basically opportunities for experiential learning, in country, related to the course content. My Interpersonal Communication field class was extensive. We walked over 10 miles around the city. Starting at a Temple, we were introduced to some Japanese cultural practices on deference to deities. Our tour guide was phenomenal—she carried around a flag all day to ensure no one was lost or left behind. From there we visited Chinatown. Chinatown in Japan was a slightly strange concept for me to grasp, but it was a beautiful community. My class enjoyed a traditional family style meal in the city, and then roamed around for a bit until we moved to our next location on the pier. Out of all the awesome sites that followed—harbor land, the Earthquake Memorial, and others—my favorite portion of the day was visiting the University of Kobe and speaking with current Japanese students. The students we interacted with were all studying in the local communications program. To my excitement, one student, who sat at my table, will be studying abroad at the University of Michigan in April. Maybe I’ll get to see her again.
Then came the real fun—Tokyo. The next morning my friends and I woke up bright and early to head to the Kobe airport. Joined by the RDs (resident directors) Phil and Claribel, we maneuvered through the tiny airport and flew to the much bigger Tokyo international. I was amazed by how easy it was to get from the door to the gate. We walked through a simple metal director with minimal hassle, and were kindly directed to our plane. The ease of travel fell short there, though, as initially navigating public transit in Tokyo was a struggle. Making several wrong moves and turns on the subway system, we eventually made it to lunch at a restaurant called “Soul Food House.” Soul Food House was owned and operated by a Black couple originally from Atlanta, GA. Japan seemed rather aesthetically homogenous to me, at least from a very American-oriented conception of race, so it was comforting to see someone who not only spoke English but also looked like me. The crew and I talked a bit with the owners about life as a Black citizen in Japan and enjoyed a delicious meal of chicken and waffles.
A long day of travel mixed with the fullness of lunch left me beat, so my friends and I said our goodbyes to the RDs and made way to our hotel in Shirajuku. I couldn’t resist; I had to take a nap. Fortunately, I didn’t hold my friends back and they explored the immediate areas around the Ibis Hotel. My inspiring slumber gave me a lot of energy, so we headed out for the night towards Shibuya. Shibuya was amazing. Amazing. It offered the bright lights and bustle typically associated with city life. My friends and I hit up the usual spots, including a karaoke bar, before heading in after a long day and late night.
On our last day in Tokyo, we set out to explore many of the city’s cultural sites and highlights. Starting early in the morning we visited the Tsijiku Fish Market. I love seafood, so I really enjoyed the abundance of fresh fish available, even though much of it was raw and I had no way to prepare it myself. Some stands did sell cooked food; I ended up picking up some grilled scallops and sea urchins on a stick. Delicious. My friend Renee and I also split some minced fish wrapped in bacon. Yum.
Moving forward in our cultural excursions, we headed to Asakara and visited the Senso Ji temple before heading to lunch and grabbing some prawn and scallop tempura. Yum again. Post-lunch we hopped on the subway and made are way to Harajuku, where we caught the end of the day show at the Meiji Jingu Shrine. Lastly, we took a long ride to Yokohama, finishing up our day at the Ramen Museum.