Big in Japan – Or “How I ended up in Asia. Again.”

Konnichiwa, fellow world explorers and those to be!

Before getting into the actual interesting part regarding my experience at the INU conference on SOGI issues held at Hiroshima University August 4th – 12th 2017, I’d just quickly like to hit you with some boring stuff and introduce myself real’ quick. My name is Leah, I am currently on my 23rd lap around the sun and I have just recently graduated from Malmö University with a Bachelor of Arts in Peace and Conflict Studies.

Born and raised in Germany and between finishing high school in 2012 and starting my journey with Malmö University, I had successfully dropped out of university in Amsterdam (it just wasn’t my thing…) but also worked and travelled my way through life. Never in my life would I have thought that Malmö University would be the place that would offer me so many possibilities to not only earn a degree but even more important: let me go. Yes, Malmö University wants their students to go. Go explore, go adventure, go learn, go see something new. In fact, I’ve only spent about 2 out of 3 years in Malmö itself. Within my program, I had the honor to be nominated twice for exchange studies and went to both, South Korea and Australia, in 2016. And the best thing about it? I didn’t have to take out a loan or sell my soul to the devil to do all these things.

Malmö U got you covered for the most part. Coming from a pretty average middle-class background I could have never gone without the bilateral agreements between my host universities and Malmö U. Between graduating from MAU and starting my Master of Science in Gender Studies at Lund University, I did not have many plans for my summer and so I’ve applied to basically all summer programs out there and seemed somewhat affordable. As soon as the deadline passed mid-May it was clear: I’d go back to Asia. Again. This would be my fourth time there and yet I was so excited to go. Again. Excited to go to Japan and participate in a conference with a topic I really cared for but it also meant that I would be able to go and see my friends I had made during my study exchange in South Korea after the conference. So there I was in May, planning a 1 1/2 month long trip from Sweden, home to Germany, to Amsterdam to see my friends from my first failed university experience, on to Japan for the conference and, finally, Korea for some reunion time.

So after catching up with my family in Germany and visiting my beloved Amsterdam, I finally got on a plane to Japan. My fist stop was Fukuoka because the flights to Hiroshima were just unaffordable at the time I had booked everything. Fukuoka is one of the major cities in the South of Japan and only about an hour away (given you are taking the Shinkansen aka bullet train) from Hiroshima. I had been to Japan before in 2014 and therefore already knew Tokyo and a couple of other cities, so I decided to go for the way cheaper option and just see Fukuoka. Traveling in Japan is easy. The trains are fast and comfortable (leg room for days!), however, quite expensive. You can also take intercity buses, however, it’s a little more complicated to figure out when and where to be with limited Japanese only.Arriving in Japan after a 13h flight, having had the whole aisle to myself on the way here #winning, my jet lag was so bad I feel asleep in the middle of a park as my hostel would not let me check in yet. It was hot and humid at an average of 38 degrees but a little breezy as well so it was alright. Japan, and East Asia in general, is very safe. I am usually more on the paranoid site of life but whenever I am in Korea or Japan I never feel unsafe. You can literally drop a $100 note on the street and be almost 100% sure that it will still be in the same place 40min later if the wind hasn’t blown it away. So if you feel a little uneasy about traveling on your own: start in Asia. I spent the next two days exploring and just trying to adapt to the climate and time zone before heading up to Hiroshima.

I got to the hotel late on the 3rd of August and didn’t really do much other than jumping on my hotel bed, taking a long, long shower and going to bed fairly early. The next day turned out to be quite mellow as well. We only got to meet everyone at a get-to-know-each-other-kinda-event on campus that night. We had lovely Japanese “finger food” (or should I say chopstick food, as eating with your hands is very much a no-no?) and it was fairly easy to get to talk to other students and participating teachers.

People were split up into tiny groups of approx. 7-9 students each who got assigned to one country that they would represent at a Model United Nations role play on the last day of the conference. I had the pleasure to be with Team Brazil. Throughout the week we attended workshops about all sorts of topics (mainly related to LGBT and SOGI topics)  in the morning (my favourite one being about how different cultures tend to communicate) and worked in our little groups in the afternoon. Before the week of workshops and group works, however, we got to spend two days exploring around Hiroshima. From climbing up to Hiroshima’s castle, visiting holy temples and shrines, seeing the infamous Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima island, trying all sorts of traditional food, trying Sake, seeing the atomic bomb dome, meeting and listening to the story of nuclear survivor Keiko Ogura, visiting the Peace Memorial watching Japan’s President Shinzo Abe holding a speech. You can check out my little video for non-conference related impressions:

  • How much does it cost? I received a travel grant from MAU over 3000SEK and the JASSO scholarship over 80,000 yen. Which comes to approximately 9000 – 10000SEK in total. The hotel was about 4000SEK for the whole stay. The flights came to about 10000SEK so you’ll have to make sure to have some money saved up at least.
  • How do I find cheap flights? You can fly directly into Hiroshima City or you check airports around the city such as Fukuoka or Okayama. Even airports further away such as Osaka or Tokyo might give you a good deal. Just be aware that taking the Shinkansen, the bullet train, can be VERY expensive from Tokyo to Hiroshima. Taking the train in Japan is one of the easiest, fastest and most comfortable ways of getting around though. If you are planning on traveling elsewhere you might want to consider getting a J-Rail pass which allows you to hop on and off trains for a certain amount of time (e.g. 3 days, 7 days, 14 days etc.)  You have to apply for the J-Rail pass BEFORE entering the country though.
  • Where is Hiroshima? Can I go to Tokyo? Hiroshima is located in the South of Japan. The distance between Tokyo and Hiroshima is about 900km. You can either fly or take the train between these two cities but most people just take the train as they go more frequently (every 10-15min) and can be booked more spontaneously.
  • Have you visited other cities than Hiroshima on this trip? I’ve been to Japan before and therefore didn’t feel the need to go up to Tokyo, Osaka or Kyoto again. I’ve flown into Fukuoka and spent a couple of days there before heading into Hiroshima. 
  • How much time should I spend in Hiroshima prior or after the conference? As you will be exploring the city with your respective group, I don’t think you actually need to spend more time in Hiroshima itself prior or after the conference. I’d much rather use the time to go to other places.
  • Is Japan safe? Japan is probably one of the best countries to go to if you have never been to Asia or far away from home. The crime rate is insanely low. The Japanese culture is very polite. Even Japanese swear words would probably still be considered polite in other languages such as English.
  • Did you meet a lot of non-Malmö U students?  Plenty! In fact, I hardly got to see anyone else from Malmö as you get divided into different groups.
  • How was the food? JAPANESE FOOD IS INCREDIBLE. Try Okonomiyaki. You can’t leave Japan before you have tried it. Hiroshima is famous for it.
  • What about insurance? The insurance was covered by the university. 
  • On a scale from 1-10, how valuable has the experience been? To be fair, I didn’t have a ‘mind blown – never heard of this before’-kinda-moment in regard to the conference topic itself, however, it was great learning so much more about the Japanese culture and just meeting and networking with so many people from all over the world. It’s something no one can ever take away from you. You’ll come home with a full heart, that’s for sure.

Feel free to contact me in case of any questions.

Sayonara,

Leah

 

Hiroshima Diaries 広島

Hello Dear Reader,

Since you’re here and reading this blog post I assume you are in one of these groups: The first group is the students who want to admit/who has been admitted to Malmö University and they would like to know more about their (future) universities opportunities. For these people, this blog post might not be helpful. First, university is more than just travelling to other countries. University is an experience that is going to affect the rest of your lives dramatically. So, if you’re deciding on which university to choose solely based on its “social” facilities, I’d recommend looking at other things. Nevertheless, Malmö University provides enough opportunities and you did/are going to make a good decision by choosing here. The second group is the academic or administrative staff who are curious what the students are writing in this blog. I’ve nothing to tell them either as no matter what I write here, they’ll probably read it until the end. The third group is the internet surfers who ended up in this website. To them, I say welcome. This blog post would be a nice way to kill time. And final group is the students who are planning to apply INU Master’s Summer School or who are already admitted to the seminar/summer school.  This post would be most useful for you.

Before I applied to this school I had so many concerns. For sure the biggest concern was money. Despite the 80,000 JPY stipend, going to Japan is not a cheap business. I’ll tell you one thing about it: I brought back quite a lot of money despite buying all the weird Japanese stuff. Travelling to and within Japan is quite expensive and it makes you miss Skånetrafiken ‍♂️ however, food is so cheap! It’s incredible how cheap the food is. To be honest, I couldn’t believe for over a week and despite knowing the exchange rate I was still trying to convert. A large lunch box costs around 40-50 SEK which is a gem.

The second concern was, as a self-declared “nerd”, if this summer school would be

Visiting Hiroshima is such a humbling experience that everyone should try at least once

useful for my future. It’s difficult to answer as it’s been just 4-5 days since the school has ended but the experience was worth it. Apart from the cliché “It’s such an intercultural experience with people from all around the world, it’s a great opportunity”, I can also say it was informative enough. Not in an academic sense -I’ve a major in political science and international relations plus now I’m studying international migration and ethnic relations, so yeah, obviously I knew what is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and how can we improve the global standards- but in a social sense.  I gained a nice network of people. Every student who joined the master’s summer school had a great academic background, the lecturers who joined the event were also an asset for me. In the end, I learnt new stuff on the rights of people with diverse sexual orientation and gender identity, Hiroshima, A-bomb attacks and Japan. Overall I give 7/10 to the summer school.

 

New friends from all around the world! This is the best thing this summer school gave to me

Many of the participants arrived in Japan a couple of day earlier to travel more. I also flew to Tokyo rather early in order not to suffer from jet-lag but I didn’t travel much. I’d recommend going to Japan at least 3-4 days earlier and going to Kyoto, Osaka or Fukuyaka. I’ve not been to any of them and I regret it so much. Japanese bullet trains (shinkansen) are cool and it doesn’t take much time to go to these cities. If you want to see Fuji you really need to spend a couple of days earlier or later for that occasion.

The pink area is Higashi Hiroshima in greater Hiroshima Prefecture

 

You’re going to Hiroshima Prefecture, not to Hiroshima. These are different things and if someone had told me this before I’d be more careful about my decisions. Think that you’re going to Stockholm metropolitan area, Stockholm is within that area but if you live in another city that’s around 40-50 min. away that means you’re going to spend most of your time in that city: It’s called Higashi-Hiroshima (literally eastern Hiroshima -they didn’t think thoroughly) and Saijo.

Saijo is known for being the sake capital of Japan. There are many breweries, take your time and visit them. They’re not very touristic so don’t expect people waiting for you at the gates, in some cases you wouldn’t even believe you’re entering to a brewery, it’s a friendly and warm experience. Saijo’s streets are narrow and people are so kind. I was sceptical about the hotel but it was just great! For around 400 SEK per night, it is just awesome! You get to use the free spa and public bath as well and the breakfast buffet is good. Ignore the fish-heads, rice and noodles that are offered for breakfast though. In comparison, I paid 500 SEK per night in a capsule hotel with shared room and bathroom in Tokyo.

 

The minute of Silence for the victims of atomic bomb attacks in Hiroshima

The most unforgettable moment for me was joining a panel with a “Hibakusha” or a survivor of the atomic bomb attack. Keiko described each detail she could remember. I’ve never thought I’d be moved by the panel that much. Travelling inside Hiroshima was an incredible experience too. Hiroshima was rebuilt after the attack and there were only a couple of buildings that survived the attack. This means the city is more or less 70 years old and I don’t think this experience can be put into the words. I’d recommend everyone to visit the city and breathe in the air. It is such a humbling experience.

 

Master’s students are divided into the US and Russian groups for the UN role-play. In

The master’s students that represented the US and Russia in role-play.

fact, most of the events you are going to do you will be divided into the country groups. In some cases, only the country groups will be present so you may not see other people from different country groups. Moreover, get ready to be called by your country group. I was in the Russian team and throughout the school, many people called me “The Russian guy” despite I’ve no connections to Russia.

 

We went to the nearby island Miyajima together with our country groups. However, it was too humid and hot for me. My phone’s battery died out of the heat and I really couldn’t enjoy the beauty of the island. Moreover, the island was very touristic and crowded, adding the heat and humidity to this meant I couldn’t enjoy it much. Prepare yourself for overly friendly deer, they eat paper! Keep your tickets safe!

Similar to the deers in Miyajima island, crows in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park can be a problem.

 

Japanese shrines are similar to each other. I’m not impressed by any of the shrines I’ve been. I assume it’s because Japanese culture refrains from showing off. Some small shrines are just wooden structures with nothing in them. However, my view is extremely subjective, many people in the group enjoyed the temples.

You’re expected to wash your hands before entering the Shinto shrines. Japan combines Shintoism with Buddhism and in most cases, it is difficult to differentiate which religion’s shrine you’re visiting.

The workshops and lectures have been great experiences as well! During the 10-days-long summer school, you’re expected to learn more about the atomic bomb attacks and Hiroshima, prepare yourself for the UN role-play and finally the real deal: present your paper and discuss another participant’s paper. The summer school was easier than I thought, however, I wished we had more days which would allow the school to be a bit looser. Almost every day, I came to my room at the hotel around 6-7 pm, very tired. After dinner and resting a bit, you don’t really have much time to do things. Therefore, if you arrive in Higashi-Hiroshima at least one day earlier, you can travel within Saijo as well. Don’t waste your time with going somewhere else if you don’t have time. Hiroshima Prefecture is a quite large area, there are so many things to do, landmarks to see. Saijo is a nice experience as well and it doesn’t take a day to visit the whole city. Japanese people cannot really speak English, it’s better to know at least the basic greetings and travel sentences. However, as I said earlier they’re very friendly and kind, they’ll do whatever they can to help you.

 

The UN Role-Play is a great way to understand how international politics function

In the final day of the summer school, the UN role-play takes place. Because I had similar experiences before my group basically crashed the debate! (Un)Fortunately, the resolution did not pass. What is unfortunate is that actually, the resolution was a great gain for the global politics and universal human rights. If the draft resolution had passed, the countries were required to decriminalize same-sex relations and put afford to fight against discrimination on the basis of SOGI. However, as we represented Russia, we did whatever we could to change the draft resolution. Consequently, the final resolution became a redundant paper. Indeed, the UN General Assembly has no binding powers but we tried hard to make the resolution as vague and as meaningless as possible. In the end, most countries voted no for the final resolution, which was a quiet victory for us, despite we worked hard to make changes, the final resolution had many articles that any Russian delegate to the UN would say no.

 

Finally, I recommend everyone to try and be part of this experience. Similar to other things, there are pros and cons, positives and negatives of this summer school as well. However, it is such an experience that will make you ignore all the negative sides.

 

 

 

Hello from Bali!

We are now on our third day of the conference and we’re busy with going to lectures, trying different traditional food activites and making a social campaign. Since the theme of the conference is “Water, Energy & Food Nexus” we all have been divided into either water, energy or food groups. So right now we are busy with walking around in Kuta and finding inspiration and scenes to shoot for our social campaigns. Between the lectures and shooting we have also tried a lot of Indonesian food! Yesterday we tried Padang food and without knowing it ate cow brain and lungs. But it was good!

Unfortunately the wifi here is really slow so we’re not able to upload any pictures right now.

Get a glimpse of Japanese culture! INU, Hiroshima

Konnichiwa!

今日は!

FALLING IN LOVE WITH TOKYO

2nd/3rd of August

Before  arriving to Hiroshima, I had an occasion to spend two wonderful days in the vibrant and dynamic city of Tokyo, staying in Nezu district with other Swedish representative- Heidi. This surrounding is perceived as  the location filled with the atmosphere of the traditional shitamachi neighborhood, informally called “good, old Tokyo”. Our cozy hotel was the first  stop in the way of getting to know inexperienced by us so far Japan.

Architecture in Tokyo

Architecture in Tokyo/ day

Architecture in Tokyo. By night

Architecture in Tokyo/ night

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tokyo crowd

Tokyo crowd

 

 

 

 

Variety keeps your mind surprised

Variety keeps your mind surprised

Japanese hospitality in the reception and in the bar, explanation of bathroom manners, experience of tiny, highly functional and compact spaces and some extra help or tips regarding sightseeing- all that we were given for a starter. Being outside, in a heartbeat  I felt stunned by the coexistence of the buildings/objects that were enormously huge or contradictory tiny -all that smartly and archly  mixed, giving me the fresh perspective on urban tissue. Two days spent in that attractive, oriental city showed me how creative human creatures and how humid the weather can be.

Nippon にっぽん

Nippon にっぽん found in one of Tokyo’s flats

JAPANESE HOSPITALITY AT  HIROSHIMA UNIVERSITY

4th of August

After two days of pure sightseeing it came the time for switching into even more international and educational environment of Hiroshima and INU Summer School. With high excitement and expectations of great adventure, we headed to the Hiroshima Prefecture, a city called Saijo, where we arrived recognizing extreme warmness and humidity with our bit tired bodies.

There we found the hotel, which was very well equipped and located close to the main station or the University, as the tour guide indicated. After quick meeting with Vesna (main coordinator in HU), and after receiving keys, we went out for the food and fun hunt! After few hours of adapting to the new surrounding, our Swedish crew joined the rest of the hotel guests and headed to the University, were our facilitators and authorities welcomed us, showing greatest wills of hospitality. The first meeting with all representatives was very exciting! We had best food served on tables and wonderful minds to discuss with. That place will definitely remain in my head as the beginning of all further good 🙂

HOW THE SPIRIT OF PEACE CAN BE SENSED IN HIROSHIMA

5th and 6th of August

These two days were absolutely moving and experiencing. First, we have visited Peace Memorial Museum, focusing on our country groups we were assigned to, making new connections and getting to know people better. What was also better known, was the story of Hiroshima and hard times it went through. And people from this city, who bravely decided to rebuild damaged places, re-creating hope and peace among inhabitants. We’ve heard personal stories from an Atomic Bomb Survivor, Keiko Ogura, who presented her point of view and shared the story of this horrible day civilians were given. From her words grief after losing some friends or family members was evident and presenting very dismal reality of that time.

trip to Miyajima

trip to Miyajima

After this meeting it was rather hard to focus on pleasurable things but all summer school participants made this time peaceful and thoughtful, enjoying rebuilt Hiroshima, all diving in sun. Lunchtime then was the perfect excuse for us for discussing and planning. That’s how we decided to have a short trip to Miyajima- heaven-like island with many deers walking freely on the streets among tourists or local people!

What we did the next day, was also extraordinary and brought us a lot of second-thoughts, as we were participating in the Peace Memorial Ceremony and a

Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima

Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima

guided tour that delivered us extra thrills as it was enriched by very meaningful stories from local people. We were also given a try of regional cookies and cup of really decent geen tea- matcha. More about green tea you can find for example here: http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2041.html

 

The evening was magical and very integrative- we were participating in the Lentern Ceremony.

 “The experience of watching the warm lights of some 10,000 lanterns as they float tranquilly down the river in the dark of night, each bearing wishes for peace from the gathered attendees, has a powerful, almost other-worldly quality. The participants in this event include not only Hiroshima locals, but also many visitors who come from far and wide.” (http://visithiroshima.net)

 

GETTING TO KNOW THE SITUATION OF INDIGENOUS PEOPLE

7th-11th of August

Those days were given over the presentations, multiple discussion panels and workshops, which were broadening our horizons in that way that we got to know the stories of Indigenous Peoples from many corners of the world. We had been given the chance to understand the differences in the way of treating Indigenous Peoples by governments of different countries. Diversity among master students participating in the whole event provided deeper insight  into the problem, expanding it into areas of more developed  and complex issues.

Part of Hiroshima University Campus

Part of Hiroshima University Campus

By reading all the papers submitted by our colleges, preparing our own presentation concerning chosen topic and by  asking questions directed to others, commenting on the strength, we were supposed to learn as much about the case as possible. Each meeting was conducted by the Master’s programme convenor, who was ensuring that everyone complies with the time limit.

My own paper work had opened the whole panel session and was based on the topic: Sustainable Development Principles as perceived by States and Indigenous Peoples; Juxtaposition or equation?

By presenting my findings and answering questions I hopefully have inspired my young friends to deal with problems of our focus in that way that they get simpler and more likely to be solved when decently discussed at the very beginning with both sides- States and Indigenous Peoples to that extent that the common content is reached and sustainable goal fulfilled along with the sustainable process. To depict the conflict situation I have used the samples from laws of opposite sites: the UN document, the concept of sustainable development, 11 descriptions and Aboriginal the Crane and Crow story containing  twelve laws altogether.

Bobby presenting his findings

Bobby presenting his findings

After presenting all the papers and analyzing it all together, as the final conclusion of the course in Hiroshima there came the time for the role-play of UN. As the master’s students, me and Sam, we were chosen to different country groups to represent them and take care of their interests, attempting to influence the positions of other students.

Final Dinner at Hiroshima University

Final Dinner at Hiroshima University

SPONTANEOUS ATTENDANCE IN SAKE FESTIVAL

12th of August

Due to my fleeting illness, I had decided to prolong a little my stay in Saijo (just one day), which turned out very well, as me and one of the newly met Japanese friends, we had spent some quality time wandering or using bikes travelling around the Saijo city. That day was topped out by the Sake festival, where the local community used to dance and sing to karaoke and celebrate the tradition of producing  Sake out of local rice.

Saijo Temple

Saijo Temple

Sake festival in Saijo

Sake festival in Saijo

That event was complete surprise for us, as we were just passing by with bikes, but lured by some very tempting, pleasant and kinda hypnotic sounds, we decided to see what’s happening and we ended up sitting among celebrating and letting the memories grow in our heads.

Unforgettable!

Regards, dear readers!

Summary of INU Student Seminar

Hej hej hallå!

Back in Sweden after 12 days in beautiful Japan! My name is Ida, I’m a political science student at Malmö University and I had the opportunity to attend the INU Student Seminar for Global Citizenship and Peace in Hiroshima this august.

The days in Japan were full of great experiences and the schedule was packed. Besides the academic part of the seminar, which included interesting workshops, lectures and a UN Role Play, we also did some cultural activities. Since the seminar took place on the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima we had the privilege to attend the Peace Memorial Ceremony. It was certainly a moving ceremony and I’m really grateful for the chance to witness it.

Throughout the whole seminar we had UN role play preparations and were divided into different country groups. My country group was Cuba and the task was to write and present an amendment to a UN Resolution on Gender, Peace and Security. There was a lot of negotiations and discussions amongst the countries to persuade the others to vote in favor on one’s own amendment.

Thus, the last day everybody was quite nervous about their amendments and the outcome of the Roleplay. But it was a lot of fun and all the countries played their parts really well and the Role Play turned out to be a very exciting event! Cuba’s amendment passed and we celebrated with our cheering ”Hasta la victoria siempre!”

After the Role Play we had a diploma ceremony with all the students and professors and later on we had a farewell dinner. The dinner was well deserved and it was great to be able to relax some after a very intense and exciting week. It was also a bit emotional and sad to know that it probably would be the last evening all of us would spend together in Japan. When you spend a lot of time together in a short period and with such great people it’s hard not to get a little bit emotional when it’s time to say good bye.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park

Miyajima Island

Miyajima Island

Presenting Cuba's amendement at the UN Role Play

Presenting Cuba’s amendment at the UN Role Play

Diploma Ceremony

Diploma Ceremony

For me, the best part of the seminar was to get to know students from all over the world, to have great discussions and get more perspectives on gender, peace and security. The INU Seminar is truly a great opportunity and I can recommend everyone to apply for next year’s Seminar. I learned so much during my time in Hiroshima and I’m so grateful for the possibility to attend. Don’t forget to apply for next year’s seminar!

Ida

En Route

4/8, 13:30 PM

I am so glad that I have discovered the chilled waiting cubicles available on most train platforms (they are obvious once you are aware of them, but poor signage lead to most tourists suffering outside). Being cool increases the convenience of waiting for trains by a mile. Kyoto, which I have just left for Hiroshima and the INU Student Seminar commencing today, is notably hotter than Tokyo. Another way of avoiding the heat is to spend time in shops equipped with air-conditioner, something I have dedicated most of my time to do whilst in Kyoto. Despite spending countless of hours exploring almost every traditional Kyoto craft shop I must admit being a tad disappointed by the offering. If its truly traditional it’s ridiculously expensive, otherwise it’s mostly cheap kitsch. Before finding this out I bought a load of bubble wrap in the Japanese equivalent of a £1 shop (JPY 100 shop), believing I was going to wrap tons of Japanese ceramics. So potteryless I am now dragging around two huge rolls of bubble wrap. Luckily they are super light and they serve a good excuse for purchasing and wrapping loads of Japanese beer and Hiroshima made sake to bring back to the UK. With neither a decent Yukata in sight, despite looking around in second hand shops, not a classic Kyoto knife (the only REAL old knife producer, unlike many other, was closed) I have left Kyoto with barely more than a few pairs of silk socks and a mini Totoro figure (an essential buy if you love the film).

Since the temple shut their door at 9 PM, in order for the guests to wake up refreshed at 5 AM and participate in the morning ceremony, there have been no social activities late at night during my stay. Instead I have enjoyed watching the monks going about their business in the temple village and the older, more religious, demographic of Japan, who prays outside the temples in the morning. This demographic is also extremely well mannered and gives everyone they meet, without exception, a good morning greeting followed by a short bow. Therefor peaceful morning walks in the temple village was pretty intensive since you have to stop every 5 seconds in order to greet. At 7 AM a vegetarian breakfast was served in the dining hall, in accordance with Buddhist teaching of not killing any living creatures. Scattered outside the temple area is many vegetarian (and a vegan Michelin starred restaurant!) to my delight. On the note of vegetarian food, the pillow I slept on during my stay in the temple was filled with rice and must have been the most uncomfortable piece of bedding ever made. I rather sleep on my bare arms than on a bag of rice, which felt like a lump of concrete after a while.

Whilst in Kyoto I had many new culinary experiences. The vendors at the Nishiki food market happily gives away their samples and after passing through what felt like hundreds of stalls I was completely stuffed. As a green tea lover I am thrilled by all green tea filled stuff and the only food item I dislike so far is the Daifuku, filled with Azuki bean paste. I suppose you get used to them as treats if you grow up eating them, but I cannot understand the Japanese joy over Azuki bean paste. However, I have enjoyed plenty of raw egg in Kyoto. Raw egg and noodles, raw egg for breakfast and raw egg, which to be fair you later cooked yourself on a mini gas stove at your table, with rice. Will do further research if this is a typical Kyoto thing.
A final note, I really appreciate the Japanese traditional Ofuro baths I have been fortunate of having every single night before going to bed. The picture below is from my Tokyo bath but I have enjoyed a similar styled one in Kyoto as well.

Sayonara!

/ Hedvig

1.Platform cubicle, 2. Temple stay, 3. Raw egg, 4. More raw egg, 5. Bath

CubicleTemple

Raw Egg

Another Raw Egg

Bath

Konichiwa

11:33 AM

Greetings from Japan,

After 3 days in Tokyo I am now on the Shinkansen train towards Kyoto and I am utterly impressed with the Japanese transportation system. The trains are remarkably clean and nearly always on time (if not, you will receive the information, including an explanation behind the delay, on the live feed available on all public transport vessels), but the best must be the music played when arriving at certain stations. The tune varies depending on the stop but its generally an upbeat bitpop jingle, which always makes me smile. The purpose of these tunes is to ensure that daydreaming travellers, or sleeping commuters, wake up and don’t miss their stop.

Despite knowing about the Japanese appreciation for neat and tidiness prior to my trip, I am thoroughly amazed by the overall cleanliness. The safety of Japan stretch from the overall low crime rate to the extreme safety measures taken when public works are carried out. They usually employ a person, whom’s sole purpose is to guard the publics’ safety. The other day I was walking across the wonderful park located to my place of stay and despite walking several meters away from the park workers, who was trimming the lawn, surrounded by warning signage and blocked off by cones, I was asked by a uniformed man to kindly walk even further away from the works, in case I was going to be hit by grass. Every roadwork usually have such a guard, who simply watches the whole in case someone would remove the blockade and step into the whole. Health and safety measures to the top!

During my stay in Tokyo I have been fortunate to know people who live here, whom have guided me around town and provided answers to all my silly questions, like why people are wearing face masks (which is not, despite what one might think, to protect themselves from polluted air or bacterias, but to protect others from the bacterias oneself carries). My friends work colleague was wearing one the other day, due to a light cold, and he explained that it would be awfully embarrassing if he was to cough in the office. Good manner is also to clean your hands everywhere you go. Disinfection agent, or sanitary towels, is provided at mosts counters, such as at the post office, shop and restaurants. One does not generally eat or drink in public, again in order to show consideration for others, whom might not want to watch you eat. I made the faux pas by eating my Onigiri in public, when I should have gone to a hidden spot or a park. This could be one of the reason behind the absence of public litter. Another reason is the general prohibition to smoke outside, which the odd naughty smoker ignores. This results in no butts on the ground! Same goes for take away cups. Despite serval Starbucks I have yet not seen a single person drinking coffee from a take away cup. This also stems from the tradition of setting time aside for food and drink, it is not meant to be consumed in a rush.

However, the absence of smokers outside does not stop them from smoking inside, in connection with a meal. Whilst dining in the Ebisu area I found most people, and kitchen staff, smoking. It appears that behind the cleanness frenzy facade lies little filthy secrets. Japan is not particularly Eco friendly with little green energy and recycling.

Another backside is of the great organisational machinery, that represents the Japanese society to well. According to some non-Japanese friends it can be very frustrating for foreigners to work in Japanese companies at time. When suggesting new ideas, they are consider to have an attitude problem according to their superior managers, since it is not their place to voice opinions. As a ordinary worker, in contrast with managers higher up in the hierarchy, one is to follow all rules to precision at all times, regardless of whether the rules are efficient or not (many are not since great value is placed on the tradition of how things is to be done, which can be most ineffective at times) and without questioning. This of course results in some very good things as well, like the impeccable service one receives, or the genuine quality of production and food. To carry out ones work with the highest precision and accuracy appears to be equally important at all levels of employment. Nothing is done on a whim.

The consideration taken of others benefits me as a visitor greatly. Everyone is astoundingly polite and possess great manners. In the company of Japanese I feel terribly clumsy and rude. I have yet to learn the difference between the numerous levels of politeness when greeting, depending on to whom you speak to. The only skill I master is Japanese table manners. Despite the difficulty eating a whole fish with chop sticks I managed to wipe all the meat of the bones, for which I received paise from a Japanese friend.

If ever visiting Tokyo, make sure you stay or visit it’s old town, Yanaka, which survived both the great fire of Tokyo in the 30s and the WWII. The neighbourhood is very quaint, with a strong community feel. Before I left my traditional Ryokan, I signed the owners petition for preserving an old local tree, currently in threat of being torn down. The locals also worry a great deal about the widespread housing development in Tokyo, where the tall buildings leaves the elderly stranded on the top floors, unable to go out and about.

In a few short hours I shall join the monks and experience some zen through the daily meditation practises. At the temple I shall abide strict rules for sleeping hours, eating habits and silence. Per request my friend telephoned and organised my stay, and since there is no English spoken or website providing any information, I am somewhat nervous about not following the procedures correctly and offending the monks by doing something wrong (like sticking your chopsticks in the rice bowl is only done at funerals). However, regardless if I do or don’t they probably won’t tell me off since it would be impolite to do so. Despite Tokyo being surprisingly still, at least in comparison to hectic London where people elbow their way forward on the tube and police sirens constantly roaring, I long for the calm of the Myoshinji temple village of Kyoto.

/ Hedvig

1. Tatami, 2. Tsukiji, 3. Yanaka Cemetary, 4. Okonomiyaki

Tatami

Scallops

Yanaka

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INU-Hiroshima 2012 avklarat!

Hej! För er som inte vet så pluggar jag till socionom på Malmö Högskola och läser nu termin 5. Jag blev beviljad att få åka på ett studentseminarium och sommarundervisning i Hiroshima tillsammans med andra länder i det som kallas universiteternas internationella nätverk. Årets tema handlade om kärnkraftens framtid eller icke-framtid i världen och berörde känsliga ämnen som klimatförändringar, internationell/nationell politik, sanktioner, preventioner, krig och sist men inte minst fred.
Utöver de intressanta ämnena vi hade som diskussionspunkter blev det även ett häftigt utbyte med andra studenter från andra delar av jorden där man kunde diskutera hur socialt arbete eller hur deras inrikespolitik fungerar. Det var inte bara politiskt intresserade som var deltagare i kursen och det var inte bara värduniversiteterna som närvarade utan även utbytesstudenter från bland annat Hiroshimas universitet som kom från länder som Haiti, Polen, Sydkorea för att bara nämna några.
Vi fick ett fint välkomnande och ett fint avslut som vi förtjänade efter hårt arbete inför sista dagen då vi simulerade ett FN-rollspel. Veckan innan rollspelet blev vi indelade i grupper i respektive land och tillslut skulle vi försöka lösa konflikter och ställa yttranden som skulle godkännas av FN länderna efter förberedelserna under veckans gång. Under vår vistelse hade värduniversitet planerat in studiebesök i bland annat Hiroshimas museum och till minnesceremonin då det var 63år sedan USA bombade staden och skapade förödelsen som människor än idag påverkas av både fysiskt och psykiskt.
Vi fick också träffa en Hibushka som är en överlevare från atombomben som berätta kring sina upplevelser från dagen. Allt detta gjorde starkt intryck på mig och har nu blivit något som sent kommer glömma i mitt liv. Jag känner mig så lyckligt lottad att ha fått ta del utav den här erfarenheten och fått nya vänner runt hela världen. Japaner visade en fantastisk gästvänlighet och en inblick i deras kultur. Efter ett avklarat INU program den 10 augusti, begav jag mig på en upptäcktsfärd för att se Kyoto och sedan Tokyo. Nu är jag i Tokyo och har en dag kvar innan jag drar på mitt nästa äventyr, Ghana, Accra.