Gardens, Koalas, and One Really Handsome Gorilla

So the other day I went to the Higashiyama Zoo.  It’s about a 40 minute subway ride from the Nanzan dormitories, and can be found at Higashiyama Koen Station.

In most regards, its a relatively average zoo, by which I mean that it has the regular lineup of animals you’d expect to see at any zoo (giraffes and elephants and lions and such).

Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with the average assortment of zoo animals (I loved playing with the goats in the petting zoo).   It’s just that the Higashiyama Zoo also happens to have a very unique attraction that drew me to it

The Higashiyama Zoo is famous for being home to Shabani, the Ikemen (イケメン) Gorilla.  Ikemen is a Japanese word used to refer to handsome men, and Shabani is genuinely a very good looking gorilla, even by human standards.   There are currently tons of articles circling the web about Shabani (including a Buzzfeed article), and I knew I had to see him for myself while I was in Nagoya.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to get a great shot of him since the area surrounding his cage was incredibly crowded. I’ve included below a much better shot of him used in a BBC article so you can get a better idea of what he actually looks like.

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The Higashiyama Zoo advertises their handsome gorilla shamelessly, and there are tons of Shabani souvenirs for sale at the zoo shops.  Looking at all of the イケメンゴリラ themed snacks and goods was almost more fun than actually seeing the gorilla.  Because Japan has a culture so strongly rooted in the ways of souvenir giving, almost any tourist attraction you go to will have specialized sweets or stationary or charms for sale, leading to some very interesting products.

There was a staggering assortment of Shabani cookies, Shabani Coffee, and Shabani Lollipops available in all of the zoo gift shops.  However, the Shabani fandom spread past just sweets and beverages.  There were Shabani folders, notebooks, and even a DVD featuring the handsome gorilla himself.

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My favorite souvenir was a Shabani photo book, complete with inspirational quotes.

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The bottom quote says “Don’t forget to love yourself.”  I have to admit, the Shabani fandom was a bit over the top, but I had a ton of fun with it.

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Other than the イケメンゴリラ, the Higashiyama Zoo also had a few other unique features that I loved. First, these adorable Koala ice cream cones that were almost too cute to eat (almost).

Next, the Higashiyama Zoo also has a botanical garden, which is quite beautiful.  There are tons of flowers, including azaleas and roses, and in the spring time there are cherry blossom trees as well.

There was also a Japanese-style garden, complete with Koi fish and an old-fashioned bridge.

The zoo itself was tons of fun, but after the huge crowds and screaming children, getting away to the botanical garden was a welcome relief.  There were hardly any people there when I went, despite it being a Saturday afternoon, and it was extremely peaceful.  The botanical garden may have been my favorite part of the day :D.

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Tea Ceremonies and Japanese Sweets

As part of the Nanzan Summer Program, I’ve been taking a tea ceremony class every Friday for the past 3 weeks.  Although I’ve only had a crash course in this ancient art, I’ve really been enjoying these weekly classes, and I think that tea ceremony is an absolutely beautiful tradition.

The Japanese word for tea ceremony, 茶道 (sadou), literally translates into “the path/way of tea.”  The “way of tea” centers around self-awareness, spiritual awakening, satisfaction with one’s life, respect for others, and a peaceful mind.

Nanzan University has a traditional Japanese-style tea room right on campus that it uses for special occasions and classes like the one I’m taking.

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In the tea ceremony room, the first thing you notice is a scroll posted on the back wall.  On the scroll, there is usually a short phrase or saying meant to represent the theme of the tea ceremony.  This particular scroll reads 和敬清寂 (wakeiseijyaku), roughly translating into “peace, respect, purity, and calmness.”

Before entering the room, you must get down on your knees and place an unopened 扇子(sensu), or folding fan, in front of yourself.  The fan is meant to represent the drawing of a clear line between the guest and the host of the tea ceremony.

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After bowing, you pick up the fan again, acknowledging that you are entering into the host’s domain and will be under the care of the host from here on out.

Once you have entered the room, you immediately walk to the back of the room to appreciate the wall scroll and flowers that have been placed there.  The flowers are specially selected for the season, so it is important for the guest to appreciate the hard work the host has put into preparing them.

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After appreciating the decorations, you may take your seat.  The host then passes around a plate of 和菓子(wagashi), or Japanese snacks.  There is always only one type of snack offered so as not to inspire desire or greed among the guests.

On a slight side note, as part of the summer program, we also had the opportunity to make our own wagashi.  These traditional Japanese sweets are made from rice flour and stuffed with sweet bean paste.  In the pictures below, you can see me attempting to twist the sweets into flower shapes.

And here are my finished wagashi.  They’re not great, but they tasted good. Like the flowers placed in the tea room, the wagashi served during tea ceremony are also supposed to match the current season.

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To get back to the tea ceremony, once the wagashi have been passed around and everyone has had a snack, the host will begin serving tea.

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First, the host tries to decide how strong the guests will like their tea, and scoops the appropriate amount of green tea powder into the tea bowl.  It is the sign of a good host to be able to tell how strong a guest will want their tea without asking.

Then, you use a wooden ladle to pour boiling water from the pot.

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Next, you mix the tea together using a special wooden whisk.  You are supposed to whisk “delicately,” and the mixing itself is a particular type of art I have yet to master.

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Finally, you serve the tea to your guests with a deep bow.

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And here you can see the final product!

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Before drinking, the guest must turn the bowl two times in their hands to appreciate the beauty of the pottery.  They must then place the more attractive side (usually the side with a design) facing outwards.  This is because placing the more attractive side of the bowl towards yourself is considered to be haughty, since you are hogging the prettier side for yourself.

When drinking, you are supposed to finish off the tea in 3 or 4 large sips.

 

Sitting traditional “seiza” style as pictured above is extremely painful.  I could only sit like that for maybe 5 minutes at a time before my ankles started to hurt.

To wrap up, the professor let me try on a kimono at the end of class.

 

Typically, kimonos worn at tea ceremony are a bit on the plain side.  Like with the wagashi, this is so as not to inspire desire or jealousy in any of the other guests.

Everything in tea ceremony, from the bowls to the food to the clothing, is meant to be plain and simple so that one can concentrate on enjoying the tea and relaxing rather than on worldly possessions.  I found the whole process to be extremely relaxing.  This is just the absolute basics of tea ceremony, but I’m really happy to have had the opportunity to take this class.

Nagoya Port Aquarium

For today’s post, I just wanted to give a quick update on another item I’ve managed to cross of my Nagoya Bucket List. Since the weather has been holding strong, my roommates and I decided to take a day trip down to Nagoya Port.  The port can be found at Nagoyako Station, only about 30 minutes from campus.

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There’s a beautiful boardwalk leading the way to the aquarium, and with the salty sea air,  this outing felt like my first real taste of summer.

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The Nagoya Aquarium is pretty famous from what I’ve gathered, and I can totally see why.  As soon as I walked in, I was greeted by huge tanks filled with killer whales and dolphins.

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It felt like I was actually underwater.  There’s soft blue lighting and even holograms that make the entire room feel like it’s rocking with the current.

We decided to take a break from wandering around the tanks and catch a dolphin show.  But first, we needed to grab some kakigori (similar to a snow cone) for the stands.

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The show was great (and free).  I thought it was really funny, because the trainers sincerely apologized in the most Japanese of fashions when a dolphin was unable to properly catch a Frisbee in its mouth.

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After the show, we went back to exploring.  The aquarium was huge, so we spent a few hours getting lost among all the sea creatures.

My favorites were the beluga whales.  They just seem like happy creatures.

So in conclusion, I love aquariums, and this is probably one of the coolest ones I’ve ever been to.  The entrance fee was a bit pricey at 2,000 yen (about 20 dollars) but I think it was worth it.  All the shows are free, and there’s a ton to see.  I highly recommend stopping by if you happen to be in Nagoya 🙂

 

Red Miso, Tebasaki, and Shrimp Onigiri: A Taste of Nagoya

As I have mentioned before, Nagoya is home to a multitude of specialty dishes, or “meibutsu.”  Since I’ve arrived here, every time I’ve brought up the subject of food, I have been met with a hurricane of suggestions for new dishes to try. Whenever I am told about a new dish, I always follow up by asking for recommendations on where I should go to get said dish.  No matter who I ask, the same name keeps popping up– Yama-chan. Nanzan students swear by it, and I have consistently been told that Yama-chan is the best place to get a number of Nagoya’s many specialty dishes.

This past Thursday, I finally decided to see what all the hype was about, and asked an old friend to take me to this fabled Yama-chan.  There are branches of Yama-chan throughout the city, but I went to one a couple of blocks from Nagoya Station.

The restaurant itself was not at all what I had been expecting, and had a giant half-man, half-chicken posted on the front of it, illuminating the streets.  It honestly looked a bit out of place, nestled between plain looking building.

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After I entered the building, I soon realized that the chicken-man was Yama-chan’s mascot (The Japanese loves assigning mascots to everything).  He was on the soy sauce bottles and napkins as well.

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After being presented with an extensive sake menu, my Japanese guide informed me that Yama-chan is not actually a restaurant, but an izakaya (pub).  Most of the food there was served in small portions, so we ordered a ton of dishes and I was able to get a nice sample platter of the Yama-chan menu.

We started with a simple red miso soup.  Red miso is huge staple in Nagoyan cuisine, and most of its specialty dishes incorporate the ingredient somehow. The red miso gives the soup a bit of a saltier taste, and has a strong flavor I cannot quite describe.  I’ve often heard people use the word “umami” to describe red miso, and I suppose that might be the only word to describe it.  Either way, it’s fantastic.

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Next, we ordered a small plate of doteni, which is mixture of beef and konnyaku served in a red miso soup.  The konnyaku absorbs the red miso really well, and although I don’t usually like konnyaku too much, it tasted fantastic in this dish.

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This was followed by an order of nankotsu, which is simply deep-fried chicken cartilage sprinkled with lemon juice. Nankotsu isn’t necessarily a Nagoyan specialty, but my guide recommenced it, saying that Yama-chan makes it really well.  She was right.  The chicken cartilage was a bit tough and chewy, but the salt and lime made it taste pretty awesome.

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Next on the menu was tenmusu.  This one I honestly found a bit odd; It’s simply shrimp tempura wrapped up in a rice ball.  However, this unusual way of serving rice balls is distinctly Nagoyan.

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We decided to finish our meal with Yama-chan’s most famous dish– deep fried chicken wingtips, or tebasaki.  Tebasaki has a strong peppery kick to it, and Yama-chan serves it sprinkled in worcestershire sauce.  Usually, chicken wings are dipped in batter, then deep fried. With tebasaki, no batter is used and the wingtips are seasoned before being fried.  It reminded me of a cross between buffalo chicken wings and KFC.

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There’s apparently a special way to eat these wings. You’re supposed to snap the wing in half, then consume an entire half in one bite, cartilage and all.  Below, you can see our chicken-man friend giving a demonstration on the proper way to eat tebasaki.

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The food was relatively inexpensive (albeit served in small portions since it’s a pub).  Overall, the entire bill was about 3,000 yen (30 US dollars) for two people.  I totally see why all of my friends love this place so much, and I’m really happy I was able to cross a ton of food items off my Nagoya bucket list.

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A Day in Osu

This past Sunday, a few Japanese friends from Nanzan University volunteered to take me and some of the other foreign exchange students to Osu– a hugely popular shopping district.  Osu is only about 20 minutes from campus, and is right next to the Osu Kannon subway station.  The area is famous for its outdoor malls, and boasts over 1,200 shops and restaurants.

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Wandering the streets of the Osu, there are tons of interesting, unique, and downright strange shops to be found.  My personal favorite was a small used video game store with the fantastic name of “Super Potato.”

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Another favorite was a teeny tiny Alice in Wonderland themed shop.  What blew me and the other exchange students away was that the shop had an extremely small door that you had to crouch down to get through, just like in the movie.

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The inside was equally small, but filled with tons of cute knick knacks from the story.

After a morning of exploring the overwhelming number of shops in the area, we decided to pick up some street food for lunch. There were tons of options, including taiyaki, takoyaki, ramen, curry, etc.   I decided on karaage topped with yuzu, which is pretty similar to fried chicken.

We also paid a visit to the Osu Kannon Temple, which lies right outside the maze of shops and restaurants.

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The temple is dedicated to Kannon, the goddess of mercy.  We all paid our respects by offering a 5 yen coin at the altar. In the top photo, you can see my friend praying for good fortune.  In the bottom photo, you can see me ringing the dong to let the deity know I am present.

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Afterwards, we decided to go to the nearby ice rink.  Something I had not realized before is that Nagoya is famous for its figure skaters, and is home to superstars like Miki Ando, Mao Asada, and Kanako Murakami.  The rink we went to happened to be the rink frequented by both Mao Asada and Kanako Murakami.  As someone who spent 7 years of her life as a competitive figure skater, this was ridiculously exciting.

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The rink even had figure skates signed by the superstars themselves. I was over the moon.

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After I was done squealing at all the figure skating displays,  we spent a few hours playing around on the ice.

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We ended the day by warming up at a kissaten, or Japanese cafe.  Cafes are extremely popular in Japan, and there are tons of kissaten to be found in Osu.  Because my birthday recently passed, we all shared a small cream-filled cake topped with ice cream and berries.  A perfect end to an awesome day.

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A Hands-on Experience with Japanese Culture

Today, I had the opportunity to bring home a unique, one-of-a-kind omiyage.  Not too far from Nagoya lies Seto, home to one of the six “Nihon Rokkoyo” (a term used to refer to the oldest pottery centers in Japan).  In fact, Seto is so famous for its pottery that the Japanese word for ceramics is “setomono,” literally translating into “thing of seto.”  Today, the participants in my summer program took a field trip to the Seto Ceramic Craft Studio, where we got to spend the day playing at the potters wheel.

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Before jumping into it, we were given a quick crash course on how to work with the clay, spin the wheel, and use the various tools.

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After our demonstration, we were given a block of clay and told to go to town.  The teacher made it look so easy that I sat down at my own wheel feeling quite optimistic.

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I started off trying to make a vase, but soon realized that something so tall was a bit too ambitious for me.  It certainly was not as easy as the teacher had made it appear.  After messing around with the clay for a long time, I finally decided that the blob I had spinning at my wheel most resembled a cup, so I decided to go with that.  The staff members were super helpful, and kept coming over to give me tips on how to make my cup look more like a cup.  We were allowed free time at the wheel for about an hour and a half, and allowed to make as many ceramic works as we could with the clay we had been given.   I spent the entire time trying to perfect my cup, but many of the other participants made 2 or 3 different works.

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And here, you can see my masterpiece.  It kind of resembles a cup, and I’m pretty proud of it.  It’ll take about 2 and a half weeks to get it back, since they stain it and fire it for you at the studio. After an exhausting first week of classes, it was nice to get a break and spend a few hours getting messy with the clay.  I can’t wait to get my finished cup back so I can start using it.IMG_1348[1]

 

First Day of Classes

Today marked the official start of the Intensive Japanese Program.  After about a week of relaxing and exploring Japan, the idea of jumping back into the world of classes and studying was a bit difficult for me, but I ended up having a fantastic first day.

The weather has been holding up nicely since I arrived here, despite the fact that the rainy season is almost upon us.  The main entrance gate to Nanzan’s campus looked particularly beautiful this morning.

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After appreciating the view for a bit, I made my way to R building, where all of the Japanese summer program classes are held.

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My schedule starts off every morning with 3 hours of Japanese studies broken up into two different blocks — Grammar & Vocabulary followed by Reading & Writing.  Although it was only the first day of classes, I had to take 2 quizzes, as well as write a short essay in class.  I also have homework due tomorrow and a quiz to study for.  They weren’t kidding when they said that this was an intensive program.  Here are my many workbooks for class. They were all written and illustrated by my summer Japanese teachers, which I thought was pretty cool.

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After my 3 hours of Japanese class, I headed over to the cafeteria for lunch, where I got oyakodon (chicken and egg served over white rice).  There are several different cafeterias on campus, including one that serves just freshly baked bread and one that specializes in pasta dishes.  There are also 2 different convenience stores on campus where you can buy rice balls and obento lunch boxes.  The cafeteria I went to today specializes in Japanese food, such as ramen, curry, and tonkatsu (fried pork cutlets).  The prices are also pretty great, I got my lunch of oyakodon and miso soup for 360 yen (about $3.50).

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I washed it down with a drink from one of the many vending machines on campus.  For those of you who don’t know, Japan is packed with vending machines.  They can be found on almost every street corner here, even in the most random of locations.  There are probably over 15 just on campus.  IMG_1330[1]

After lunch, I decided to explore the campus for a bit.  It’s a beautiful campus, with a ton of green space.  The main courtyard is especially nice to walk around, with a big fountain right in the center.

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Finally, I headed over to the Japan Plaza, which the summer program employees had told me about.  The Japan Plaza is a room on campus set aside for foreigners to practice their Japanese. There’s a Japanese TA there to practice speaking with, and a steady stream of Japanese students who come to meet the exchange students.  I spent about 3 hours there, talking to the Japanese students, practicing tongue twisters, folding origami, and playing with ken damas (a toy similar to America’s “ball in a cup”).

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I’d say it was a pretty awesome first day. I’m eager to head back to the Japan Plaza tomorrow to practice some more Japanese.  For now, it’s off to do some studying for the quiz I have tomorrow…

Pork Paradise

When I told my Japanese friends I would be going to Nagoya, all of them responded with the same advice– “You must try the misokatsu.”  For those who don’t know, misokatsu is a breaded and deep-fried pork cutlet slathered in a rich bean paste sauce.  It also happens to be one of Nagoya’s many specialty dishes.

So today, I set off on a quest to find the best misokatsu in Nagoya.  After a bit of asking around, I was repeatedly assured that the best misokatsu can be found at Misokatsu Yabaton, a chain restaurant that specializes in the dish.  Lucky for me, there’s  a Misokatsu Yabaton branch located at LACHIC Mall, right next to Sakae station (only about a 15 minute subway ride from Nanzan’s Yagoto Nisseki station).

When I arrived at Misokatsu Yabaton, I was greeted by their jolly pig mascot in the display window, as well a large selection of the different misokatsu dishes being served.

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The store is quite proud of their specialty dish, and images of their pig mascot can be found plastered all over the restaurant, including on the chairs and on the lighting fixtures.

After a great deal of deliberation as to which of the numerous misokatsu dishes I should indulge in, I decided upon a basic misokatsudon (misokatsu pork served over a bed of white rice).  I have attached below a video of the awesome experience that is watching the waiter drench the pork cutlets in miso sauce.

And below you can see a few shots of the (delicious) final product.

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The miso sauce isn’t overwhelmingly strong as one might expect, and has a fantastic flavor that is both sweet and salty.  Even though I didn’t have too much of an appetite, I downed the dish within minutes.  I’m sure I’ll be going back there many times before this trip is over!

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Welcome to Nanzan

Greetings! My name is Chieko Quigley, and I’m here to tell you all about my adventures at Nanzan University as I participate in their intensive summer Japanese language program.

Before I jump right into it, I’d like to give a quick backstory as to how I got here.  In November of 2015, I participated in J.Live Talk,  a Japanese language speech competition hosted by The George Washington University.  To give everyone a clearer picture of this competition, it was a bit like a TED talk (emphasizing audio-visual materials as well as audience interaction,) only in Japanese.  For my presentation, I spoke about Japan’s possible role in the Syrian refugee crisis, and was lucky enough to receive the Special Judges Recognition Award.  As a result of this, I was given a full scholarship to attend Nanzan University’s summer program.  Additionally, thanks to the help of some wonderful staff within GWU’s Japanese Department and Language Center, I was also reimbursed for my air travel to and from Japan. You can find the official website of J.Live Talk here if you’d like to find out more!

So here I am, shaking with excitement as I think about the adventures that lie ahead of me here in Nagoya.  I thought it would be a good idea for my first post to do a quick tour of my dormitory.  I live in Nagoya Koryu Kaikan, an all girls dormitory right across the street from Nanzan.

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Here’s the hallway leading up to my room!

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When you first enter my suite, there’s a small genkan entrance to leave your shoes and umbrellas.

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I share a living space with 3 other roommates (2 foreign exchange students such as myself, and 1 Japanese resident to help us get around).  It has a kitchen, small dining area, and a television.

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And finally, here’s my bedroom.  It came equipped with a bed, desk, and dresser.  The room is pretty spacious, which was a huge surprise to me.  When I studied abroad in Tokyo, my dorm room was about the size of a closet. Here, I have plenty of room to dance around if I feel the need to.

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The best part of my room, though, is the little balcony! It came with a clothesline for hanging my laundry, which I hope to try out soon.  Here’s the view from my balcony.  The weather has been beautiful in Nagoya since I arrived here.

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So there we have a quick tour of my dorm.  I think it’s pretty fantastic, and I’m excited to explore the surrounding area.  My classes start next week, so I’ll be sure to update as I progress through the program!