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.*

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…

Image result for soya milk meme

By Amy Furney