On my first weekend here in Ibaraki me and another intern went to Mito. One of the most interesting sights there was the Kōdōkan, which was formerly the location of the Mito Clan School, and is now a museum that tells of its history. It costs ￥400 to get in and it closes at 4:30pm.
On the outside, there were lots of flowering trees. We went there in January, so the only the camellias were in bloom, but it would definitely be very beautiful in spring.
Afterwards, we went to the nearby
Kashima Jinja (not to be confused with Kashima Jingū) and Hakke-dō
and the attendant at the shrine kindly talked to us about the history of the two
We had lunch at a ramen restaurant
in Mito station, and then also saw Lake Semba. Unfortunately, we didn’t have
time to see the garden called Kairakuen, which is on the opposite side of the lake
from Mito station, but other interns may want to check it out.
Japan has an abundance of accessible coast line which can be a huge draw to spending time there for anyone who enjoys being in and around the ocean. I personally enjoy surfing, and although I just said there was an abundance of coast line I spent a majority of time at one spot, Kawarago Beach. Kawarago Beach was just a 25 minute bike ride from the school and even shorter trip from my homestay family’s house. It was at this beach that I spend a majority of my free time, it did not feel like a proper weekend if I did not spend at least a couple of hours at Kawarago Beach.
At Kawarago Beach there was a small surf shop just next to the parking lot, it is called “Mizuki Surf”. The shop is owned by a man named Bonji who is there almost every day. Bonji is an incredibly friendly and welcoming man. It was through Bonji I was able to meet a whole community of surfers who would frequent Kawarago Beach, not only to surf, but also spend time with each other. Whether they were all relaxing in their beach chairs set up in the parking lot or an actual organized event, Kawarago beach was always busy on the weekends.
The most common organized event was a beach cleanup and board demo. This event would happen about once every three weeks and became less frequent as the weather become colder in late November and December. On the beach cleanup days, many people would come to Kawarago Beach right after breakfast. Many would come to surf, but also many people brought their entire families who would come to also catch up with their friends and then all participate in the cleanup which would always be right around lunch time. It seemed to be ran by Bonji and a few of his friends as they would gather the crowd and pass out a variety of tools and bags to make the cleanup a little bit easier.
As nice as it was to participate in the cleanup and help keep the beach clean, my favorite part of these days is that Bonji’s friend Yuta would usually make his monthly trip to Kawarago. Yuta worked for a surfboard shaper out of Chiba. Because the beach cleanup would always draw quite a crowd, Yuta would make the multi hour drive in his van and bring a variety of beautifully hand shaped boards. He would then let friends or friends of Bonji demo these boards for free in hopes that some might fall in love with a board and purchase it. These boards were easily the nicest boards I had ever ridden and if I had the money to buy one I would have without a single regret.
Although a majority of people in this small surf community did not speak much English, they were all very friendly and always tried to make me feel as welcomed as possible. Being able to join in these special events and practice the little Japanese I knew added a lot of value to my time in Ibaraki and will always be a one of the most positive memories of my internship.
Before I started this internship, I had never even tried surfing. During my time as an intern, another intern who was a keen surfer and offered to teach me. We found a surf shop named ‘Mizuke Surf Shop’, which is on Kawarago Beach. To get to the surf shop from Omika Station, you must travel one stop on the train to Hitachitaga Station. From there it is a 20 minute walk to the beach. You will know you are near the beach when you see the burger shop named ‘Beach Burger 9’, take a left and you will arrive at the surf shop.
The surf shop is a unique place which is owned by an even more unique person named Bonji. If you are not very confident with Japanese, he will be able to speak enough English to you in order to understand what you need. I was able to rent a surfboard from him for only 10,000 yen for three months – which is a very good price. Especially as it allowed me to use a beginner board and when I became more confident I was able to upgrade to a slightly harder to use longboard, saving me a lot of money.
The waves on the beach are consistently good and the sun rises early in the morning so the beach is the perfect place to go to watch the sunrise (if you live in the apartments or with Sagawasan which are both close to the beach), while in the summer you would be able to go after school!
When it comes to learning, the method you use is up to you. You can learn for free from a friend or from a YouTube video – or you can pay Bonji for lessons (although I am not sure how much this would cost). If you were to get involved with the surfing down at the beach there is a great community to get involved with which would greatly supplement your internship.
I’m sure some people while in Japan would love to go to South Korea, so here’s a little guide/ what I did while I was here in ICU.
First off, flights to Seoul are extremely cheap and I would try my hand at Expedia to look for cheap flights. I found mine for less than $200 and I’m sure they’d be even cheaper ahead of time. My flight departed from Narita but there are several that depart from Haneda as well. ( Keep in mind that it does take around 3 hours to get to both airports so plan your flight accordingly ).
Now some may not be as fortunate as I, having a twin brother studying abroad at Yonsei University, but here are some recommendations. Firstly, a nice and relatively cheap hostel that my friend and I stayed at is the Seoul Grand Hostel EWHA Univ, which is conveniently located next to a train station and Yonsei. Secondly, I highly recommend buying the Korean equivalent of the SUICA card, the T card -which can be bought at any train station, used on buses, and fortunately the train system is much cheaper than Japan. Next, if you speak absolutely no Korean, English should get you by just fine and if anything, learn the basics of Korean I.e. thank you, this/that please, I can’t Korean, etc.
Now Google could help with food recommendations but my top recommendations are of course:
떡볶이 – toppoki
닭갈비 – takkarubi
산낙지 – live octopus
호떡 – hottok (Korean desert)
비빔밥 – bibimbap
불고기 – bulgogi
Sorry if my romanizations are horrible off and I’m 80% sure the Korean is right
Lastly, I did most of my shopping/ sightseeing in Hongdae which has many shops, great food, and nice free-entrance clubs for dancing and the like.
I hope this helps, enjoy your time in Japan and if you get the chance, Seoul!
My favorite thing to eat is sweets. Japan has some of the most amazing sweets in the world in my opinion. One of the most trendy sweets in Japan is fluffy or souffle pancakes. These pancakes are known for being extremely giggly and delicious. Naturally, I had to try these pancakes.
If you come to Ibaraki prefecture, you must go to Mito city. Mito city has lots of fun things to do. Mito has a movie theater, game center, and many good restaurants. However, the reason I went there one weekend was for the cafe called Gram.
Gram Cafe & Pancake is known for having some of the fluffiest pancakes in Japan. The premium pancakes are only served three times a day, so you must go at one of these times. They are served at 11:00, 2:00, and 6:00. During these times, they only serve 20 plates of the premium pancakes, so get there on time!
The pancakes were well worth the wait! They literally were melting in my mouth. They were also super fluffy and giggly just like I had heard. The pancakes are very very filling, so make sure you don’t eat anything before going.
Even if you don’t get the premium pancakes, there are many other delicious things on the menu! If you love sweets, you must go to Gram. There are also a few locations in Tokyo.
The Team Lab Museum is a digital art museum with two branches one named Borderless and the another named Planets. If you come to Japan I highly recommend that you visit one of these when you are in Tokyo. Not only are they great for Instagram worthy pictures, but they are also incredibly interactive. The Borderless museum in Odaiba is especially popular, so you should reserve your tickets online before you go. The ticket is about 3,200 yen but it is well worth it!
I went to Team Lab Borderless in Odaiba with some friends. Getting to the museum is very easy and scenic, you just have to take a few trains. The last train you will take has some amazing views of the city!
The museum is made up of a lot of different rooms with different digital art exhibits. There is no map of the museum because the creators wanted people to just wander around and discover the different art. All of the different digital art pieces are absolutely stunning. I easily spent four hours in the museum.
There are interactive parts to the museum as well. My friends and I were able to draw different fish templates. A museum employee then scanned in our drawing so they appeared on the wall. It was a lot of fun!
Tip: If you are a girl don’t wear a short skirt or dress to the museum. Many of the rooms have mirrors on the floor. If you do wear a skirt or dress you will probably have to put on a black cover that the museum provides.
One of my favorite weekend activities is visiting animal cafés. There is a cat café in nearby Mito, located very conveniently inside Mito Station. If you go to Tokyo, there is an overwhelming number of animal cafés—I have seen signs for hedgehog, shiba inu, owl, and even a penguin café.
My favorite café I went to, however, was the snake café, the Tokyo Snake Center, located in Omotesando in Tokyo. It’s conveniently located right near Harajuku station, although, as it’s on the eighth floor of a random building, you have to keep an eye out for the sign!
A lot of people are scared by snakes, but the snakes in this café were all very friendly (and sometimes too friendly—I watched one wind its way into a girl’s ponytail!). The staff was very kind, and one of the women who worked there spoke very good English. It was also much cheaper than other animal cafés, probably because not as many people are interested in snakes as they are in cats. The cover charge to enter, which included one drink, was about 500 or 600 yen. With entrance, you can also select a snake from beside the register to sit with you on your table. You are welcome to switch the snake out for another whenever you want!
There is an additional charge to handle the snakes. For two of the smaller snakes, it was about another 500 yen for fifteen minutes, and the handlers are happy to take your photo! They will also place one of the snakes around your neck and help you handle them. To handle one of the larger snakes is a little more expensive, maybe around 1000-1500 yen. The snakes are not scary—I saw a girl around 10 years old handling them with her father, and she was not concerned at all. It was also a great topic to talk about with students—they were always surprised when I told them that I had gone to a snake café! When I sent my mother pictures of my experience, she insisted that she didn’t know how we were related.
All the animal cafés are a lot of fun, but in Tokyo, there
are definitely a lot more options for different types of cafés. I thoroughly
enjoyed the snake café, but please take the time to explore other animal cafés,
in Tokyo and elsewhere!
Before even arriving in Japan for my internship at Ibaraki Christian, I had a bucket list of things I wanted to do during my summer here. On that list included visiting Tokyo, going to the Ghibli Museum, venturing out to Kyoto, and of course: trying out an onsen. There are no onsen in America. Just the concept of public bathhouses is pretty surprising to those hailing from the states. I was definitely no exception to this. However, upon visiting the onsen, I was pleasantly surprised and left wishing America had onsens too!
My host family invited me to go to the onsen with them on a cool Sunday morning. We drove out to the onsen sight, which was conveniently located right on the coast. The first thing I noticed about the place was how clean, calm and quiet it was. The wooden floors of the building were smooth and shiny. The staff were kind and smiley, and not invasive(like how resort staff can sometimes be in America). They let us go about our business and enter the bathhouse.
The bathhouses were gender-divided. I’d heard that some onsen were gender-inclusive, where men and women bathed together. I was already a bit nervous in general about being completely naked in front of strangers, so I was thankful that this onsen was gender-divided. My host mom assured me that no one cares about my nudity, because it’s a bathhouse and everybody is naked. The point is to bathe and relax, not stare at other people. I was probably the only oddly uncomfortable person in the building, but I couldn’t help it! The experience was so new to me. Though, once I got into the bathhouse, I calmed down and was able to relax and enjoy the different baths.
The onsen was divided into different baths with varying temperatures and purposes. Some were bubbling, others were calmer with water flowing from taps. I enjoyed trying out the various indoor baths before venturing to the ones outside. Because the onsen was located right on the coast, the outdoor baths had a wonderful view overlooking the ocean. I loved the outdoor baths the most because the cool breeze was a nice relief from the bath’s heat. I tried just about every bath in the bathhouse, but the outdoor one was definitely my favourite.
After enjoying the baths for a bit over an hour, we left and enjoyed some kakigori(a shaved ice dessert) in the lobby. My host family told me more about Japanese onsen and how frequently some people visit them. By the end of our visit, we were all feeling so relaxed.
Visiting the onsen has been one of my favourite things that I’ve done in Japan thus far. The ambiance is the most relaxing environment. If you’re a foreigner considering visiting an onsen, I highly recommend it! Push your nudity nerves aside and enjoy the naturally heated baths. Onsen is an experience you can only have in Japan, so I suggest you make the most of it and enjoy one whilst you’re here. I definitely plan to visit more onsen during my summer here!
*Note: All pictures included in this article are not mine. Naturally, pictures were prohibited, so the above images are from Google Images.*
I am a heavily tattooed woman, at least in the eyes of the Japanese culture. I have a half sleeve on my right arm, tattoos on my thighs, shoulders, wrist, and much more. Within the United States, it’s normal to be heavily tattooed especially within my generation. You can get jobs, you can be successful students, and live a normal life. There’s no discrimination against people who are heavily tattooed. I don’t have to worry about a career or being seen as professional when you work and live in United States. It’s just a different culture.
Before heading to Japan, I heard stories of how Westerners with tattoos wouldn’t be able to go certain places, get stared at, get kicked out of places, what have you. Which terrified me, especially when I heard the job market will be next to nothing if I ever wanted a full career in Japan. Unless, I wanted to cover myself up entirely to keep people from seeing my skin. However, Japan gets incredibly hot in the summer, and I’m not about to sweat to death.
During my entire stay in Japan I was never kicked out of any place, but people definitely did stare, and my students did a lot of touching. Which, I didn’t mind! I was accustomed to my students and comfortable with them, and their curiosity was very cute to me. So, I let them indulge in how my skin didn’t feel any differently, and answered as many questions as I coud. I had to be a little bit more precautious when volunteering outside of the school, because I didn’t want to offend anyone. Which was ultimately my biggest drawback. It wasn’t that anyone made me feel unwelcomed, it was that in my mind I was scared that I was going to offend anyone. I didn’t want to go to bathhouses, even if I knew they were okay with foreigners with tattoos, because in my mind I thought I would make the other bathers uncomfortable. I wanted to be as reclusive as possible and not bring any attention to myself. So, I avoided bathhouses, gyms, and any place where I could make people in a close vicinity uncomfortable.
That was really stupid of me! If you are a tattooed Westerner coming to Japan, don’t be scared. Indulge in your experiences, enjoy you time there. Within bigger cities, like Tokyo and Osaka, you’re fine to enjoy your time. However, please be conscientious of your surroundings and the environment around you. Don’t limit yourself and your experiences, but still be respectful and aware of the people around you.
I have always been enamoured by mountains since an early age, and it has been a dream of mine to see as many mountains as I can. So, as I embarked on my journey to Japan, I knew I had to see Mount Fuji. But a problem arose when I tried to decide at which spot to see Mount Fuji, as there were over 8 spots to choose from, which include:
Fuji Shibazakura Festival
Iyashi no Sato
Fuji Q Highlands
Tokyo Sky Tree
Choosing from these 8 spots wasn’t easy but I finally chose to see Mount Fuji from Kamakura. I am glad I did and would wholeheartedly recommend it, if you have not already seen Mount Fuji. Here’s why:
Kamakura boasts some spectacular beaches, where you can relax, indulge in some beachfront or waterfront activities, or enjoy a picnic while adoring the view of Mount Fuji.
Shrines and Temples
Kamakura is blessed with a rich and long history due to it being the political capital, alongside Nara and Kyoto, of medieval Japan. As such, there are many shrines and temples, for example: Hase dera temple, Meigetsu-in temple etc., of that era that one can indulge in as a break from viewing Mount Fuji.
View of Mount Fuji
Finally, the view of Mount Fuji from Kamakura is truly spectacular and a sight to behold. And the aromatic ocean breeze just enhances the experience.
I hope you have enjoyed this post and will consider Kamakura when you decide to view Mount Fuji or as a weekend getaway.