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Land of the Rising Sun

Journey with UTSA senior, Lauren Hicks, as she studies abroad, exploring the wonders of Japan and Japanese culture!
Jun 2 '13

Dinner with the Nishimura’s

[March 10, 2013]

After returning home from Kyoto, we were all getting pretty hungry. Originally we were going to eat at a more traditional Japanese restaurant; however, that restaurant was incredibly busy. Therefore, we settled on a more Korean-style establishment. 

While at the dinner, I had the opportunity to meet Aya’s younger sister! She was very quiet, but still kind. Per request of the family, I did not include people while having dinner. But I didn’t mind my picture being taken:

Instead this is the food we dined on! To begin, this is a restaurant where you cook your meal yourself. So, here’s the cook-pit!

This is the assortment of food. With the exception of the salad, everything else needed cooking.

So, light up the fire, and away we cooked. I let the Nishimura’s do the cooking, since I have no idea how long this food needs cooking. 

Well, I had been put in charge of the onions, but they burned a little. I gave up my cooking rites from then on. (^^ゞ

There were all sorts of meats (I honestly don’t know the names of anything that wasn’t beef). Here, the white things on the left were bizarre. Tasty, but it surprised me that they were kind of crunchy. I want to say it was a soft bone, but again, I’m not sure!

What dinner is complete without dessert?! I had strawberries and I dipped them in the sweet sauce. And of course, a cup of tea to accompany everything!

When they first brought the food to the table, I honestly thought there was no way that would feed all 5 of us. I left the restaurant pleasantly full and most pleased! It was delicious!

Tomorrow, I am allowed to check-in at my housing in the International House at NUFS. I’m excited and nervous, and ultimately so blessed and thankful that I’ve had such an amazing family host me in my first days here in Japan.

((—>Next up: I-House & NUFS))

Tags: food
Jun 2 '13

下鴨神社 (Shimogamo Shrine)

[10 March 2013] 

As the picture says, “This shrine is one of the oldest shrines in Kyoto, and goes back to the days even before the capital was transferred to Kyoto in 794. It was registered in the UNESCO’s World Heritage List in 1994.”

This overall view of the place may become a useful reference when I start talking about various places within this shrine:

I found this shrine to be quite different than Sanzen-in. It’s really simple as to why, actually—one is a shrine whereas the other is a temple and the two are not interchangeable. A shrine is used for the practice of Shinto religion and a temple is used for practicing Buddhism. When entering a shrine, one usually goes through red “gates” called とりい (“toh-ree”) and cleanses oneself (mouth and hands) at a purification fountain before prayer.

Some much needed helpful instructions (A little blurry, sorry!):

Here I am going through the purification process and I’ll tell you… that water was FREEZING, especially since the weather was already drizzly.  (Pictures thanks to Aya’s dad.)

This is a little shrine just before entering the grand shrine. It’s dedicated to love—whether that’s finding your love or praying for stability in a relationship or marriage. I’m in a strong and stable relationship, so I just offered up a prayer to give thanks for my good fortune!

These are sake barrels for Shinto rites and festivals, though these are likely empty. The significance is that sake brings people and the Gods together. It’s spiritually significant, as the pouring of sake is symbolic of the pour of one’s soul.

And this is the entrance. Rather grandiose, eh?

Immediately inside there is this dance floor for festivities. You’ll notice the snake banner in the center. That’s from the change into the New Year—The Year of the Snake.

Behind it is a shrine dedicated to each of the 12 animals of the zodiac (two are represented at a time).

And of course, being the Year of the Snake, the Snake’s shrine is being featured.

We went on a self-guided tour of the grounds.

Hey, the back of my hair looks pretty good! ()!!

These are a little blurry, my apologies.

One of the houses/building contained tools and treasures from years past.

This is the hearth:

I wouldn’t mind being such an important person that I was carried around on this: (○ω○)

Spiffy, old car!

This was the only picture I was allowed to take of the National Treasures that were being housed here. I think the only reason we got to see this closed up house was because Aya’s dad talked to a worker and told him that I was here in Japan for the first time!!

We weren’t the only tourists in Kyoto. Despite their outfits, these girls are not from Kyoto. They said they just wanted to dress for traditional purposes. Fine by me, but I was a little jealous…! I wanted to dress up too!!

Alas, as we finished up at this shrine, we stopped in at a little shop that made しるこ (shiruko, “she-roo-koh”) which is a sweet red-bean soup.

Azuki beans are boiled and crushed, served in a bowl with mochi (the white balls here in the soup). The particular style we ate is called “ぜんざい” (“zenzai”).

I really enjoyed it, especially because the day was so drizzly and cool; it was perfect!

This was Kyoto for me! I had a lovely time and I was so grateful to go so early in my adventures here in Japan! I would love to come back to Kyoto and explore more of this incredible city!!!

((—>Next up: Dinner with the Nishimura’s))

Apr 7 '13

三千院 (Sanzen-in Temple)

[10 March 2013]

Sitting in the car, my mind is racing!! I’m on my way to the city I’ve most idolized about in Japan… Kyoto! (●⌒∇⌒●) I’ve only been in Japan for TWO days and I’m already on my way there with Aya and her parents!!


I don’t particularly know why, but I’ve always held a special place in my heart for Kyoto. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always thought of Kyoto as “old Japan”, a cultural place that still practices the “old ways” of Japan. I guess now it is time I put those thoughts to the test! Meanwhile, the weather today is threatening showers. The sky is dark and gray, but I’ve seen the sun appear a couple of times. Perhaps the day will clear off?? (・_・?)

Our first destination is Sanzen-in Temple, actually located in a rural town called Ohara, about an hour north of central Kyoto.


The area of Sanzen-in Temple has large temple grounds and a variety of buildings, gardens, and walking paths.


There are businesses that line the road approaching the main gate to the temple. This is an inn:

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The pathway:

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As the sign tells us, this temple is one of the Tendai sect temples of Buddhism, built and founded by an imperial family member, Saicho, around the late 8th/early 9th century. _〆(。。) *wise nod*


Here’s the front entrance to the gate!


Once inside, I had to remove my shoes. I will say this dreary day really could have been a LOT warmer, in my opinion! ( ̄~ ̄;) It was still very nifty to see the various rooms!

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There is a beautiful garden! (Sorry for the blurriness!)image image image image image

And koi:


I wasn’t particularly allowed to take pictures from up close, but inside there is a national treasure called the Amitabha Trinity. From my brochure, “the Ohara area has been known as Gyozan for more than a thousand years. Sanzen-in Temple was originally established as a hermitage by Saicho (767-822). The temple…is one of the five Tendai Monzeki temples.” This is the Amitabha Trinity:


From a distance, this is the structure, called “Ojo-Gokuraku-in”:


Continuing our tour of the Temple, we saw the “Warabe-jizo” statues (Sorry, no, I don’t know what this is (^~^;)ゞ )

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I captured a really nice view of "Ojo-Gokuraku-in": <( ̄︶ ̄)>


We came up to a resting spot that was serving this special kind of tea—with gold in it. I tried the two types being offered: a golden tea and a green tea.

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The green tea was artificially sweetened, but my reaction to the other tea:


Honestly, I did not like it. It was too bitter and I couldn’t stomach it. (≦;;)

The “Konjiki Fudo-do Hall” was immediately to our left stepping out of our warm haven. Oh, have I got a story for you!! Ha ha!! I went inside with Aya and her parents. Her dad insisted I take a moment to experience praying at a Buddhist temple, which of course I obliged! He handed me a stick of incense and told me to watch as he lit his own and gracefully put out the flame, while keeping the smoke tip. He motioned me to do the same, but I mistakenly blew my flame out. Everyone who was near me looked horrified and I was quickly admonished for blowing out my incense stick. I was supposed to wave the still back and forth to put out the flame. Whoops. (°×°)ゞ I placed my incense in the correct placement and prayed that I do well in school this semester and that I don’t make such a fool of myself!! Lesson learned!


This basically sums up my adventures at the Sanzen-in Temple, so please enjoy the pictures from around the grounds. image image image  image image image image image image image image image

Aya’s dad took a few pictures as well:

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Aya looks a bit fed up with pictures!


Group shot! (Pictured below: Aya, her mother, me, her father)


Before we left, however, I had to check out the souvenir shop!
                      ☆.。.:*・°  ヾ(*⌒ヮ⌒*)ゞ °*:..
I had heard that it’s customary to buy おまもり (pronounced: oh-mah-more-ree, “charm/amulet”) when visiting shrines and temples as a means of good luck in that year. They aren’t all the same, however. Some represent good fortune; some are for good luck in school, others for finding work/job, etc. So, I bought a couple different ones!


And what I like is that they have on them from which place you obtained your charm!! Front and back, respectively:

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Walking back to the car, we met a very kind and obedient dog named Hana! She was so sweet and came out of her warm bed to see us!

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It’s almost that time!! The sakura are barely starting to bloom!!



((—>Next up: Shimogamo Shrine))

Mar 16 '13

大須観音 (Ōsu Kannon)

I apologize these are delayed posts. I didn’t have internet until after the first meeting of orientation. Alas, continuing from the last post…

[09 March 2013]

I originally woke up about 6:30am, but I went back to sleep until about 8~8:30am. We got up and had breakfast—broccoli, lettuce salad, thick bread with apple jam, and eggs with tiny sausage weenies…! We got dressed and ready and then went to the subway. It wasn’t really difficult figuring out the subway system, although I would prefer to be accompanied by someone rather than figuring it out completely on my on…. lol!

Anyways, we rode the subway train for a short while and then got off to go to the market area at Ōsu Kannon. This was the first thing I saw:


Ōsu Kannon is within the city of Nagoya and it’s a temple that was originally built in the early 14th century. Although it’s got some history behind it (flooded, fire, moved, rebuilt…), here it stands today:


The main hall has a very large, red lantern hanging from the ceiling where worshippers can tie small paper notes with wishes to the holding wires:


On the side of the staircase leading to the temple was this:


Ōsu Kannon (a suburb of Nagoya?) has lots of little shops and food places!




I only bought this t-shirt today! I thought it was interesting that each city mentioned shows what it’s known for (i.e. Nagoya has it’s castle, Tokyo has the tower, Kyoto has its shrines, etc).


Aya and I ate たこ焼き (pronounced: taco-ya-key) takoyaki (soup with dumplings stuffed with octopus; and a dry dumpling thing also with octopus and a seasoned sauce on top) for lunch!




As you can see, we enjoyed our lunch!


Afterwards, we went to a sweet shop for たい焼き (pronounced: tie-ya-key) taiyaki (a fish-shaped pastry stuffed with sweet beans; mine was sakura flavoured beans!)… Yum yum!!


The store was cute and offered more than just the fish pastry:



The following pictures for just from around the Ōsu Kannon area:


This was a “very small shrine” with no particular special purpose:


I like the とりい (pronounced: toe-ree), or the red pillars:


This was just on the side of a building:


Street shot:


Alas, as we made our way back to the apartment through the subway again, we stopped at a convenience store for water bottles and I got candies and gum! Afterwards, Aya took me to a book/cd/movie shop! They had a gazillon manga!!!!! For those of you who know me at all, I really like manga (Japanese comic books). It was AMAZING!! But, you’ll be surprised to know that I did NOT buy any manga…. Not today at least. (-o⌒)/ I did, however, buy 3 cds of Ayumi Hamasaki!!


On a side note, the さくら (pronounced: sah-koo-rah, “cherry blossom”) trees are beginning to bloom. I honestly can’t wait to see the season in full bloom!!



We got back to the apartment to eat the おこのみやき (pronounced: oh-koh-no-me-ya-key) that Aya’s dad was preparing!


Okonomiyaki is a pancake containing layers of batter, cabbage, pork, and noodles; and it’s covered in a particular sauce. Really tasty!! Although, I realized that I am terrible with はし (pronounced: ha-she, “chopsticks”)… Embarrassingly so. I can’t seem to cut with them…. (⊙﹏⊙);;


((—>Next up: Sanzen-in Temple))

Mar 16 '13

日本へようこそ!(Welcome to Japan!)

[Written 09 March 2013]

I boarded my flight from Houston (IAH) to Los Angeles on 07 March 2013. This was a simple flight, where I tried to sleep mostly the entire way (except when food and drinks were brought by!!)

Los Angeles to Tokyo. This was a nightmare connecting flight. I was delayed leaving by a little more than two hours, making my layover in Tokyo to Nagoya from almost 3 hours to just under 1 hour. Yep, I was a bit panicked that I would miss my connecting flight because I knew I still had to go through Japanese immigration and customs. In addition, I didn’t have any form of communication to my friend, Aya, who was picking me up from the Nagoya airport with her father… (-’๏๏’-)

Thankfully that flight, while in the air, wasn’t too terrible. HOWEVER, I did a rather terrible job selecting my seat though… (¬_¬)  It was right in front of the lavatory (convenient for use of the restroom but I could hear anytime someone flushed the toilet) and my seat space was TINY. Granted, I only had me and one other seat in my row. Unfortunately, my row was full… for that matter, my whole section was packed full. Sprawling out was out of the question. (╯︵╰,) The person who sat next to me (a Japanese student from NUFS of all places) slept almost the entire way. She didn’t talk to me or much at all for that matter (she was with 4-5 other girls).

Anyways, I was awake during that entire flight, so I watched four movies during the LA —> Tokyo flight: Skyfall, Breaking Dawn: Pt. 2, Rise of the Guardians, and Wreck-It Ralph. I also watched an episode of Big Bang Theory. I wanted to knit and study, but there was no way for me to get to my carry-on bag. My textbooks/Japanese workbooks were in there, as well as my camera… not that there was much to take picture of (although plane shots to the outside can be really nifty!)… *sadness for no in-flight pictures* ()

Anyways, I made it to Tokyo with about 1 hour to get to my next flight. Going through immigration wasn’t too difficult; it was just a matter of finding where to go. 【・_・?】Then I had to claim my luggage (I probably looked ridiculous maneuvering 3 bags of luggage: 2 checked bags, 1 carry-on) and get it re-checked in for a “domestic” flight. ヾ(´・ ・`。)ノ”  While I checked my bag, I got my boarding pass (finally) and ran to get to my flight. Come to find out, I still had to go back through security checks. They kept rescanning my bag and my purse (like 4 times on the purse for whatever reason *nothing in it*). 【・ヘ・?】 I got done there and caught the bus/tram to my flight.

Followers!!! Oh My Goodness!!! (⊙0⊙)!!! This Japan Airlines plane was SPIFFY!!! It was called “Premium Economy”. It was like the business class without the blocking barriers between the seats. Super nice!!! I wish all flights were that nice!!! Especially those long, over large bodies of waters flights!!! (* o *)!! o(^^o)

I went to baggage claim after touching down in Nagoya (I crossed the International Date Line, so it was now 08 March 2013). My bags took a little while, but they were together… then I had the three of them again… But Aya was there to greet me right away. We went to the parking lot where her dad picked us up and took us back to her apartment.

Aya warned me that her apartment was small. It’s small for sure, but “convenient”. I wasn’t concerned, despite her being distraught about the subject.  Everything is easily accessible, says her dad.

Anyways, I ate a very small bite (rice and curry, I think) that her mom had made for dinner. There was also a salad made of avocado and tomatoes. The drink in the yellow cup is “iced” tea and the other cup is hot, green tea. Isn’t it cute?? Her mom wanted me to feel comfortable, so she made sure my food had a little USA flag! ( ・ω・)


And one more picture from my very first night in Japan!! I am on the left (in the UTSA shirt!), Aya is on the right. I was exhausted, but I don’t look too terrible considering I had been on the plane for the last (IAH—>LA=4 hrs + LA—>Tokyo=12 hrs + Tokyo—>Nagoya=1 hr) ~17 hrs, not counting layovers…


I took my turn in the shower and I also jumped into the bath just to see what it was like. Now, this bath was compact, but deep, almost like a personal jacuzzi without the bubbles/jets and the water was SUPER HOT!! I really liked it, but I decided to get out because I was getting dizzy from the steam! (∩_∩);; Lolololol, it does happen! I went to bed shortly after that! I was soooo very tired. I slept on a futon that Aya set up for me on the floor in her room. I was so thankful and so darn tired that I really didn’t mind. 

((—>Next up: Ōsu Kannon))

Tags: Food
Mar 16 '13

A Snippet Blurb

(Actual date of post: March 5, 2013)

As the last couple of weeks dwindle down before departure, I have the need to take a moment to reflect on everything at the moment. Sometimes it’s very difficult to understand how much effort and time is given up for a particular event, especially when everything seems to run smoothly.

My name is Lauren Hicks. As the abstract blub suggests, I am a senior at UTSA and I am Japan-bound for this Spring 2013 semester. Here’s a little snippet about myself and some of the things I am looking forward to experiencing:

  • I am double majoring in Political Science and Modern Language Studies. I’m also obtaining a minor in Linguistics.

  • I enjoy studying and learning languages.  I’m usually okay with making mistakes… I get really embarrassed, but it means I’m still trying!

  • I like immersing myself into cultures that differ from my own. I sincerely look forward to “old” Japan – tea ceremony, kabuki, shrines, etc.

  • I’m not a dancer… nope, nope, nope. But I enjoy various genres of music!! Karaoke should be quite an experience!!

  • I enjoy food. I like trying a variety of foods, just don’t tell me what I’m eating or what is in my dish until after I’ve tried it. If I want to know what it is, I’ll ask then! I can’t wait to eat actual Japanese sushi! I want to eat at a noodle house (like you see in Naruto!! Ha ha)! In general, I want to try the different local cuisines!!

There are many more activities I would like to experience, but those are the first that come to mind.

I find myself almost at a loss; everything is in place and I’m pretty much set for my adventure abroad. All the effort that has gone into making this trip happen is…exhausted. From getting pre-approved from my school, to being accepted at my foreign institution, to obtaining my college visa, to buying my airplane tickets, to applying to and being awarded a scholarship, to registering all my information with the ISOS, to finalizing my abroad trip with my school’s study abroad office, to participating in pre-departure counseling, to resigning at my job, to moving out of my apartment and returning home, to packing my luggage… and soon I will be saying my good-byes to family and friends in the States and boarding my flight.

It’s been crazy busy, but at the same time, everything has run smoothly together. I feel my world is in the calm of a storm—everything is almost eerie. I haven’t gotten butterflies in my stomach, I’m not nervous, I don’t think I’ve registered that this is actually happening.

I have been abroad once before; last Spring (2012), I ventured to Italy where I studied in a town called Urbino. That experience left a rather sour taste for my traveling endeavors for a number of reasons. I pray that this experience is much better. So far, everything is going according to plan (I can’t seem to emphasize that enough)!!!

Jan 29 '13

This blog is currently under construction!

Check back later for more pre-departure updates!