The Kawarago Beach Community

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.

My Family and I at Kawarago Beach on a cold day in late November

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.

Bonji and I in Bonji’s shop

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.

Everyone hard at work

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.

Some of the demo boards

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.

From Omika to Seoul

By Brandon Guzman

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

Some delicious Takkarubi in Hongdae

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!

The Fluffiest Pancakes in Japan

By Sabrina Glowacki

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.

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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.

Mito Location: https://www.cafe-gram.com/en/sp/shop/shop_detail/mitoopa.html

Team Lab Borderless

By Sabrina Glowacki

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!

On the train

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.

Website: https://www.teamlab.art/

Snake Café

By GraceAnne Stokes, Summer 2019 Intern

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.

One of the cat cafés I visited!

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!

The snake I selected for my table, Hitomi

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.

One of the snakes I held!

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!

Visiting Japanese Onsen as a Foreigner

By Lana Katai, DCE Intern, Summer 2019

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.*

Tattoos in Japan

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. 

The View of Mount Fuji from Kamakura

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:

Lake Kawaguchiko

Hakone

Kamakura

Fuji Shibazakura Festival

Iyashi no Sato

Gotemba

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:

Beaches

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.   

A closer view of Mount Fuji.

I hope you have enjoyed this post and will consider Kamakura when you decide to view Mount Fuji or as a weekend getaway.

An ode to the students of IC

The students of Ibaraki Christian University are a truly remarkable bunch. Their love, kindness and hospitality made living and teaching, over the course of these 3-months, in Japan an unforgettable and rewarding experience. They have made me feel so at home, that Ibaraki became my second home.

And as I leave IC and finish my internship, I have a written a poem to express my sincere gratitude to all the IC students who have touched me so dearly:

As I gaze deep into the night sky

From the window of this plane

I cannot help but remember

Remember those first few steps I took

Through the doors of 5100

Imagining a room full of little saplings

Eager to practice their English

To which I could help nurture

But instead you saw a little sapling within myself

Whom you showered with warmth and joy

Nurturing me and helping me to grow

And as these months passed by

I basked and grew from this love

And for this I will be forever grateful

And I eagerly await the day when we can meet again.

Oh students of 5100.

Thank you to all the students at IC for making this internship a truly rewarding experience.

Joy From Soy: The Guide to Kikkoman Milk

Before coming to Japan, I was sure that soy-milk could only come in five flavours; unflavoured, vanilla, chocolate, coffee and, if you’re lucky, strawberry. But oh boy I was wrong. 

Kikkoman (yes, the brand that makes soy sauce) is not just a condiment creator. The manufacturer also makes a variety of soy-milk flavours. So, over the last three months, my mission was to find the good, the bad and the down-right-dirty flavours and give you the scoop hereImage result for kikkoman soy milk

17. Yomogi (Mugwort): This is just not enjoyable. Nope. Bitter and grassy tasting in soy-milk – it is no wonder that the herb is typically used in beauty products.

16. Mixed Fruits: I have no idea what fruits they were thinking about when making this flavour, but the taste is incredibly ambiguous. The fruit flavour was somewhat overshadowed by the soy-milk flavour.

15. Red Bean Soup: Slightly salty, slightly sweet, this flavour is probably best enjoyed in the summer. It really is a liquid version of the real thing!

14. Amazake: This is probably the one flavour that doesn’t really need to exist; Amazake is a Japanese rice drink, so this is literally a milk trying to be a different ‘milk’!

13. Strawberry/Melon/Black Sesame Seed: These were all delicious, but to me they ranked at roughly the same level. Their consistencies felt a little watery, but the taste was true to the label each time.

12. Chocolate/Green Tea: These two cartoons are probably the most easily found, and also tasted as one may expect. However, I must say Alpro (the UK’s leading soy-milk brand), does a better job with producing a chocolate beverage.

11. Cherry Blossom : This variety is based on preserved cherry blossoms, rather than the fresh sort. The sweet and salty combination can only be compared to pickled plums, but somehow works better than some of the other slightly savoury soy milks on this list.

10. Malted Coffee: It is not as clean cut tasting as coffee itself, but offers a nice change!

9. Annin-tofu (Chinese-style almond jelly)/Black Tea: These two types of soy-milk tasted really similar, but not bad! Although I have never had annin-tofu, I definitely want to try it now!

8. Mango: After the disappointing mixed fruits experience, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the mango taste is like a less thick mango lassi, an Indian drink.

7. Chestnut: As a lover of chestnuts, this flavour was a bit of a disappointment. It is better described as “sugar with a hint of chestnut”, but it is saved by the lingering chestnut aftertaste. Yummy, yummy, chestnut.

6. Banana: A delightful, banana-y flavour that isn’t as overpowering as I initially anticipated.

5. Coffee: I must confess, my favourite drink is coffee. Ever. The only reason this isn’t higher on the list is because of the noticeable lack of caffeine.

4. Cinnamon: This is a flavour which was released this winter, so I was very lucky to be able to try it! This would immediately get the number one place if it was piping hot.

3. Sweet Potato: Cinnamon is followed by another seasonal (but less festive) flavour which is only available during the autumn season. Sweet potatoes are often used in Japanese confectionary, and not without good reason – they are delicious!

2. Vanilla Ice Cream/Almond: These are only a hair’s length behind my number one flavour due to their excessive sweetness. Plus, the Vanilla cartoon is a wicked, intense blue colour!

1. Coconut: This flavour is simply phenomenal. The level of sweetness is just right; the coconut taste is soft yet present, but it is thick and creamy. Nothing short of sheer bliss. This is absolutely something I wish existed in the UK. Maybe I will have to write a letter to Alpro in England…

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By Amy Furney