Yasaka Shrine

京都 (Kyoto)



A glimpse of the lush gardens surrounding Ryouan-ji.
A glimpse of the lush gardens surrounding Ryouan-ji.

We boarded the ひかり (Hikari) shinkansen again to head for the historic and cultural heart of Japan: Kyoto. Upon our arrival, we immediately went to 龍安寺 (りょうあんじ/Ryouan-ji), a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and saw its famous Japanese Zen garden. This particular garden is considered the finest example of 枯山水 (かれさんすい/”dry landscape” gardening). These type of gardens are designed to imitate the essence of nature and serve as an aid to meditation. I’ve always pictured this particular garden as small islands among a vast sea. The surrounding temple grounds were just as gorgeous.

Zen Garden
The famous Zen garden at Ryouan-ji.

Nearby was also 金閣寺 (きんかくじ), or the Golden Pavilion. This is probably one of the most famous sites in Japan. For me, it is definitely one of the first that comes to mind when I think of Kyoto. The building itself is three stories, with the top two covered in pure gold leaf.

The beautiful surroundings of Kinkakuji a.k.a the Golden Pavilion.
Black Sesame Ice Cream
ソフトクリーム!This is black sesame flavor. Found at Kinkakuji!

For the Pokémon fans out there, like myself, it is interesting to known that this is the home of ホウオウ(Ho-Oh). Ecruteak City is representative of Kyoto in the Pokémon world.  The Golden Pavilion also has a Pokémon equivalent. The Bell Tower/Tin Tower, where Ho-Oh can be found and captured.

I guess it would be safe to assume that 銀閣寺(ぎんかくじ), the Silver Pavilion, served as the basis for the Burned Tower in the Pokémon series. However, in reality, it was the Golden Pavilion which burned to the ground in 1950 by a monk. The Golden Pavilion as we known it today is the reconstruction of it from 1955. Very symbolic of a phoenix who is reborn from ashes.


The following day was a special one. As part of our printmaking class and service learning project, when went to visit Richard Steiner, a professional woodblock printmaker.  Originally from America, he’s been living in Japan and studying woodblock printing since 1970.

Steiner showing us carving techniques.
Steiner showing us carving techniques.

He studied under woodblock print master, Masahiko Tokumitsu. Originally imitating the representational black-and-white style of his teacher, Steiner has since adopted colorful abstract themes into his work.  After years of study, Richard Steiner was given an artistic license and the artistic name of Tosai. Today, Steiner also teaches at 京都精華大学 (きょうとせかいだいがく/Kyoto Seika University. He also heads the Kyoto International Woodprint Association (KIWA).

His quaint studio is located in central Kyoto in a 町や (まちや/townhouse) with 畳 (tatami) floors and sliding 障子 (しょうじ/shouji) doors. Within this space, he covered a brief history about 木版画 (もくはんが/woodblock prints) and shared with us techniques used in the woodblock printing process. However, since his space was too small to accommodate the entire class, it was necessary for us to break up in groups. Therefore, a good part of the day was spent exploring the surrounding neighborhood of 中京区 (なかぎょうく/Nakagyou-ku).


Nijou Castle
二条城 二の丸御殿” by taka under CC BY-SA 2.1 JP.

The following day we went to 二条城 (にじょうじょう/Nijou Castle), another UNESCO World Heritage Site, in the morning. On the way there, I had a “Justin Beiber” moment, when I waved to some passerby school girls and then they all unanimously squealed. That was a little surreal.

The castle itself is similar to Nagoya Castle, although, a little smaller. The architecture lends itself very well to the social hierarchy of the Edo period. Therefore, there was many informative displays showcasing this.

Nijou Castle Grounds
One of the beautiful views from with the grounds of Nijou Castle.
Kyoto Imperial Park
This is one of the roads within Kyoto Imperial Park leading to the palace.

After Nijou Castle, we headed for the 京都御所 (きょうとごしょ/Kyoto Imperial Palace). It was the former residence of the Emperor and his family in Kyoto until 1868 when they moved to Tokyo. The palace that exists today is the reconstruction of it in 1855 after it had burned down. Situated within 京都御苑 (きょうとぎょえん/Kyoto Imperial Park), the palace grounds are enormous. I can’t stress how huge this place is.

Within the Kyoto Imperial Palace, the class went on a guided tour. We learned a lot about the castle architecture and daily lives of the royal family. For example, the roof is created using a special bark from a Japanese cypress called 檜 (Hinoki) and the color vermilion is used in 神道 (しんとう/Shinto) to ward off bad spirits. Something I found particularly interesting is that a notch is created in the northeast corner of the palace walls to prevent bad spirits from entering the palace grounds. This is because the northeast is believed to be where they originate from. Also, red tatami is used for lower social status, while white tatami is used for higher class.

Kyoto Imperial Palace
Kyoto Imperial Palace” by OZinOH under CC BY-NC 2.0.

That night, the class headed to 祇園 (ぎおん/Gion), a district formed in front of the 八坂神社 (やさかじんじゃ/Yasaka Shrine). Gion is well-known for the 芸者(geisha) and their apprentices, the 舞子 (maiko), who walk its streets at night. I was lucky enough to see three maiko walking down the streets. Seeing them in person is actually a pretty awe-inspiring experience.

Yasaka Shrine
Yasaka Shrine” by Hardo under CC BY-SA 2.0.

I loved being in Gion. Kyoto for the most part has a quiet a night life in comparison to Tokyo and Nagoya. However, Gion is where Kyoto comes to life at night. I would love to return to Gion in the future.

In Gion, I’ve experienced プリクラ (purikura), a photo sticker booth. Such flawless skin and big eyes. Probably my most popular photo from the trip.


Kyoto Seika University, the school Richard Steiner teaches at, is another college we got to tour during our stay in Japan. I was happy I got the opportunity to visit some colleges since I’m exploring options for the MEXT Scholarship. Something which I may or may not apply for in the near future.

Kyoto Seika University
Kyoto Seika University Campus” by Daniel Goffin under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Kyoto Seika University was particularly interesting since it offered many fields of study within new media: animation, manga, photography, etc. Of course, printmaking as well, which got some of the study abroad students very excited. It really seemed like a school out of ハチミツとクローバー (Honey and Clover). While visiting, there was a group of high school students learning to make 和紙 (washi) paper. As アメリカ人(アメリカじん/Americans), we were quite popular among the high school students.

Later that evening, I was determined to see 任天堂株式会社 (にんてんどうかぶしきがいしゃ/Nintendo Co., Ltd.), headquartered in Kyoto. With a little research, I discovered that Nintendo was located not far from the hotel. Two friends joined me on my quest. It was surprisingly easy to find! There was two buildings. One was obviously an older building, while the other, Nintendo Research and Development, looked much newer.


With the sun setting in the background and through the rose-tinted glasses of a fan, the cubical, white buildings probably looked more amazing than in reality. The locals obviously knew what we were up to, since they were all grinning from ear to ear as they walked past. There was even a little old woman giggling as she was walking her dog.


きつね (fox) statues are everywhere at the Fushimi Inari Shrine. This one was cute.

On our last day in Kyoto, once again the familiar band of adventurers assembled and we head for the 伏見稲荷大社 (ふしみいなりたいしゃ/Fushimi Inari Shrine)。This is the head shrine for the fox diety known as Inari, who also apparently loves fried tofu.  いなり寿司 (いなりずし/Inari sushi) is sushi rice in fried tofu. きつねうどん (literally “fox udon” ) is udon noodles with fried tofu. As the god of rice, it is no wonder the Japanese people love him so much.

The Fushimi Inari Shrine isn’t far from Nintendo headquarters actually. In fact, Shigeru Miyamoto said that the shrine helped with the conception of Star Fox and the series’ main character Fox McCloud.

Running through all these torii will make you think you're being transported to another world!
Running through all these torii will make you think you’re being transported to another world!

Aside from foxes, this shrine has lots and lots of 鳥居 (とりい), traditional Japanese gates. There is apparently over 10,000 of them, each one donated from a company or organization. Walking through a tunnel of vermilion-colored gates is not only beautiful, but also other-worldly. There truly is no other place like it. I’m proud that I was able to make it all the way to the top of the hill and see as much of the shrine as I could. I may return to enjoy it more when I return to Kyoto this July.


Sunshine Sakae and its giant Ferris wheel, Sky-Boat.

名古屋 (Nagoya)



This is Nagoya Castle.
This is Nagoya Castle. The flicker of gold on top of the roof is one of the golden dolphins.

I rode the 新幹線 (しんかんせん/bullet train) for the first time to get to Nagoya, which was a lot of fun. The ride is very smooth and it was a beautiful day so I got to see a lot of the countryside and 富士山 (ふじさん/Mt. Fuji)!

When the class arrived in Nagoya, we headed straight to 名古屋城 (なごやじょう/Nagoya Castle). This is one of the many famous feudal castles in Japan. This one is the first of a few I get see in Japan. However, Nagoya Castle was destroyed during the bombings of World War II, so the castle I saw was not the original but a reconstruction of it. The architecture of Nagoya Castle is quite spectacular and it offered an amazing view of Nagoya from the top.

This is the view from on top of Nagoya Castle.
名古屋城の金の鯱(雌)” by Gnsin under CC BY-SA 3.0.

The 金鯱 (きんしゃち/golden dolphins) that adorn the roof of the castle are seen all over the city as the city’s mascot! They’re based off of a mythical creature from Japanese folklore with the head of a tiger and the body of a carp. It is believed that these creatures could summon rain, so they are put on the castle roof as protection from fire. Also, while I was at Nagoya Castle, I got to try green tea ソフトクリーム (soft-serve ice cream) for the first time. おいしっかたです!In Japan, soft-serve ice cream is a common treat and it comes in a variety of unique flavors. Being the adventurous eater I am, I’m tempted to try them all!

There were many bonsai on display near Nagoya Castle. I love bonsai!
There were many bonsai on display near Nagoya Castle. I love bonsai!

Later that night, the merry band of adventurers assembled and we went exploring around 栄 (さかえ/Sakae) district. We had dinner at a curry shop called 金沢ロイヤルカレー創 (Kanazawa Royal Curry Sou) that had some really great オムカレー. Close to our hotel was サンシャインサカエ (Sunshine Sakae) where I found and bought the PS3 version of テイルズ オブ ヴェスペリア (Tales of Vesperia) released only in Japan. Then we rode its giant 観覧車 (かんらんしゃ/Ferris wheel) called Sky-Boat (スカイボート)which provided a great view of Sakae’s night life.

Sunshine Sakae
Sunshine Sakae” by Théo under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.


The next day in Nagoya, the class met some students from 中京大学 (ちゅきょうだいがく/Chukyo University) and traveled with them to the トヨタテクノミュージアム産業技術記念館 (Toyota Commemorative Museum of Industry and Technology). I had a great time talking with and getting to know each of the students: Sonoka, Kyoka, Shodai, and Rinko. At the Toyota Museum I learned that originally the company specialized creating automatic looms and later evolved into the automobile company is known as today.

Toyota Museum
Inside of the Toyota Museum.

After the museum, we went to 大須 (おおす/Ōsu), home to the Buddhist temple 大須観音 (おおすかんのん/Ōsu Kannon) and the shopping district which surrounds it. I spent most of my time exploring this area with Shodai and two other students Alex and Jason.

Osu Kannon
Osu Kannon Panorama” by Gyffindor under CC BY-SA 3.0.

The real fun began after the day’s itinerary was over and we had free time. Along with some other students, we traveled back to Sakae and went nearby shopping center called オアシス21(Oasis 21). I remembered seeing this place on a YouTube channel I follow, “Rachel & Jun,” so I was quite happy to see it in person.

Nagoya TV Tower
Nagoya TV Tower as seen from on top of Oasis 21.

While we were there, we checked out a store dedicated to Studio Ghibli goods and we ate at a 回転寿司 (かいてんずし/conveyor-belt sushi) place. After dinner, we visited Oasis 21’s unique “Water Spaceship” roof and had a wonderful view of Nagoya TV Tower. Since the night was young, myself, Alex, Shodai, plus other students: Danielle, Janelle, and José, decided to  go out for some カラオケ(karaoke). I’ve been out for karaoke before, but I this was honestly the best karaoke I’ve ever experienced. I had so MUCH fun! すごく楽しかった!


Inside of Chukyo
Inside one of the buildings at Chukyo University.

The following day we went to visit Chukyo University. We attended a class designed to help Japanese students to think logically about situations presented to them in English. I thought the scenarios presented them was a bit challenging, especially since it was a freshman course. One pair of students attempted to tell me the story of Momotaro in English. Luckily, I am familiar with the story, so I was able to help them along pretty well. It was a big challenge not to speak to them in Japanese though!

After a tour of the campus, we were treated to a curry lunch where we were also reunited with Shodai, Sonoka, and Kyoka. It was great seeing them again! Then we all went to Dibble-sensei’s printmaking class, where we work together with Japanese students. Afterwords, we said our sad farewells to Shodai, Sonoka, and Kyoka. I apparently gained the reputation of being ladies man. I’m not sure about that, but it’s an amusing thought.

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For our last night in Nagoya, I showed my friends the wonders of ユニクロ(Uniqlo), a Japanese clothing store I’ve come to love when I was in San Francisco for GDC. I bought myself two pairs of jeans and even got them hemmed (complimentary) to my size! They’re made of “powder-soft” denim and they feel great! Plus, I got coupons for a future sale, so I’ll probably buy more Uniqlo clothes in the near future.

I’ve been told before that Nagoya is a boring place, but I found that far from the truth. I loved my time in Nagoya. I’m sure my time with the Chukyo University students made a huge difference. I’m actually a bit sad to leave this city, but Kyoto, our next destination, is bound to be lots of fun too.

Nagoya really proved to me that years of Japanese language study has been paying off. It has been especially useful on this trip. I’ve often been designated the impromptu translator for the other students. While I’m far from perfect, it inspires me to learn more and more. もっと日本語を勉強したいです!I can’t wait for the CLS program this summer, where there is an emphasis on Japanese language study!



東京 (Tokyo)



I saw a lot of places in Tokyo. On the first day I went to 原宿 (はらじゅく/Harajuku) and the Ukiyo-e Ōta Memorial Museum of Art. The museum had many of the original woodblock prints from Hokusai and Hiroshige on display. It was very interesting to learn about the techniques the used to create their works of art and to see the detail put into the woodblock printing process. I also learned about how the color of the ink greatly influenced ukiyo-e, particularly a color known as “Berlin blue.”

Harajuku Station
This is Harajuku Station. It is right across the street from Takeshita Street.

Harajuku itself was an interesting locale, full of shops and unique fashions. The class spent all of its time at 竹下通り (たけしたどおり a.k.a. Takeshita Street). There wasn’t many people dressed up in the unique fashions often associated with Harajuku, but they may have been because we didn’t visit on a Sunday. There were, however, lots and lots of middle school and high school students. They were everywhere we went. Harajuku doesn’t really cater to my interests, but I’m glad to have at least seen it.

Takeshita Street
The entrance to Takeshita Street.

Afterwards I briefly stopped by 六本木 (Roppongi) via 地下鉄 (ちかてつ/subway) with friends in a failed attempt to pick up a rental phone from Softbank and then we found our way to 秋葉原 (あきはばら/Akihabara). Although, by the time we arrived, many of the shops were already closed down for the day. Most shops in Japan seem to open at around 10:00am and close at 8:00pm. We still managed to find some places open though: game centers and shops full of anime goods and figures.


Meiji Shrine
Inside of the Meiji Shrine.
The rare and most successful selfie from the entire trip. In front of the entrance to Meiji Shrine.

The next day, the class went to the 明治神宮 (めいじじんぐう/Meiji Shrine), which I absolutely loved. It’s across from Harajuku, but surround by a forest consisting of trees donated from around the world in remembrance of Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken. It is very beautiful. The natural setting of the Meiji Shrine makes it seem like a whole different world in comparison to Harajuku. The Meiji Shrine felt almost otherworldly. It’s hard to believe they are so close to each other. While at the Meiji Shrine, the class was fortunate enough to see a traditional Japanese wedding take place while we were there and caused quite the spectacle. I have to say, the Meiji Shrine is probably one of my favorite places in Tokyo yet.

Barrels of sake, known as Nihonshu, donated to the Meiji Shrine.
Barrels of sake, known as Nihonshu, donated to the Meiji Shrine.

That same day, we visited Yanaka, a historic district which survived both the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake and the bombings from World War II. As such, it still retains the atmosphere of old Tokyo. Yanaka was a very beautiful town with many Buddhist cemeteries and small shops selling local goods. 

Yanaka Shrine
A shrine located in the heart of quiet Yanaka.

Then we were whisked away to アメヤ横丁(アメヤよこちょう/Ameyayokochou) or アメ横 (アメよこ/Ameyoko), a large market located near Ueno Station. This place definitely appealed to those who had money to burn. I don’t fall under that category, so I mostly just enjoyed being in and observing the environment. Once the itinerary for the day was over, I joined my small band of adventurers and traveled to 渋谷 (しぶや/Shibuya) where we crossed the famous crossing and stopped by the Starbucks which overlooked it.

This is Ameyoko!


On the third day, everyone was off to 浅草 (あさくさ/Asakusa) to see the 三社祭 (さんじゃまつり/Sanja Matsuri). I saw the 雷門 (かみなりもん/Thunder Gate), 浅草寺 (せんそうじ/Sensou Temple), and 浅草神社 (あさくさじんじゃ/Asakusa Shrine). Sanja Matsuri is a Shinto festival, so it is actually for the Asakusa Shrine and not its neighbor the Sensou Temple (which is Buddhist). While visiting, I decided to get a おみくじ (omikuji) which is a slip of paper telling you your fortune. My fortune was good! やった!

Sanja Matsuri
Part of the Sanja Matsuri with the Sensou Temple to the left.

Here I also tried kakigori (ramune flavor) for the first time and loved it! I also tried some festival food: takoyaki (although I hear Osaka’s takoyaki is particularly good), yakisoba, and some sort of buttered potato. でも、まだポテトがあまり好きじゃないです。Before we left the festival, the class was able to see a rare Binzasara Dance and a parade which I believe was the 大行列 (だいぎょうれつ).

Sumida River
This is 隅田川 (すみだかわ/Sumida River) located in Asakusa.

Once again, in the evening my merry band of adventurers assembled and we did some more sightseeing in Asakusa thanks to our guide, Mai-san, before we headed off to 池袋 (いけぶくろ/Ikebukuro) for sightseeing and ramen. Before the night ended, we revisited Shibuya to see  ハチ公 (はちこう/Hachiko), a famous statue of a dog who loyally waited for his owner everyday (even after the owner’s death) at the train station.

Shibuya is home to the Hachiko statue and its famous scramble crossing!

I am very impressed with how convenient the Japanese way of life is. Vending machines are everywhere providing access to inexpensive cold and hot drinks. Around every corner is a コンビニ (convenience store) that are much more welcoming (and convenient) than those in America. Plus, the public transit is truly spectacular. In Japan, the morning rush hour is everyone walking to school work and packing themselves into trains. Quite the contrary to Atlanta’s car-congested  streets.

I also found food surprisingly affordable. As someone who was raised on and loves Japanese food, I was absolutely in heaven. I could live off of 丼 (どんぶり), a rice bowl topped with seasoned meat. Pictured below is a particular dish called 牛丼 (ぎゅうどん/beef rice bowl). So delicious and so affordable! I really don’t miss American food at all. Although, I imagine eventually I might crave for some Mexican food.

I could live off of donburi, a rice bowl topped with seasoned meat. So delicious and so affordable!
吉野家の牛丼” by jetalone under CC BY 2.0.

Surprisingly, I find myself adjusting to life here in Japan going very smoothly. I’m not sure if it is because I’m going through a phase of excitement or if it is because I exposed myself to so much of Japan’s culture back in America. However, at least in this moment, I’m truly enjoying myself and it makes me much more comfortable about decisions I’m making for the near future. 日本が大好きです!


Game Localization Writer Protégé