study abroad

Tokyo view from Mori Tower by Japanexperterna

Tokyo Adventures Part 1

Some classmates and I decided to venture to Tokyo for a weekend. Because I was heading home immediately after the program ends, this was my only opportunity to see the capital. Together we were able to figure out getting plane and bus tickets, and I was able to use my insider connection (Masanori, a boy who was an exchange student back in California and who lives in Tokyo) to get help finding a decent hotel. He even called the hotel to book us while he was still in America.

Tokyo skyscrapers

Tokyo buildings are big

Our first challenge was in locating our bus to take us from school to the airport. The station above APU’s campus is fairly large, and we weren’t sure which parking lot the bus would take. One of my classmates tried asking a bus driver for directions. I watched the exchange from a short distance, noticing how confused my classmate looked as the driver impatiently repeated his directions. Everyone except I in our Tokyo-bound group was first-level Japanese students. I didn’t know much either, so it felt strange to be the group’s speaking representative. I hurried over to save my classmate. The bus driver repeated his story to me, and I was able to make out that our bus would be coming to the upper parking lot; if we hadn’t asked, we would have missed it. It pays to know a little bit of the language, or at least carry a traveler’s handbook with you.

The plane ride to Tokyo was pleasant; everyone is so polite and helpful at Japanese airports. After we arrived, the boys headed off to find their own place to stay. As for us three girls, we couldn’t have found our hotel without the help of Masanori. Like a trail of lost ducks behind the leader, we followed him through the train stations and streets until coming to the high-rise hotel in Shinjuku. Because it was dark, my first impression of Tokyo was a sea of colored lights filled with people regardless of the late hour.

I was interested in the way you had to slide your hotel key in the elevator to go to different floors, for security. The room was crowded so tightly by the three beds that there was barely walking space between them. None of it was as fancy as our Best Western hotel in Nagasaki, but as a compromise between luxury and cost, it was perfect for our short stay.

Cat saying "whew"Step one—getting there without missing buses, planes or trains—was a success. In retrospect I am amazed at how easily everything could have gone wrong; if we hadn’t asked the bus driver or understood his directions, missing the bus would have led to missing the plane, which would have led to missing the check-in hours at the hotel. None of the employees of any of the services we used knew much English, so we were really yolo-ing it until Masanori took over. The trip was nerve-wracking and fun, and I’m glad I did it.

 

Because WordPress doesn’t show title/caption/alt text/descriptions on cover images, I’m placing the credit for the cover image here: Tokyo View from Mori Tower.
Japanexperterna [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Visit the photographer’s gorgeous site:

www.japanexperterna.se

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Malicious Mushroom

shiitake mushroom photo from wikipedia

Shiitake mushroom growing on wood. By frankenstoen from Portland, Oregon

Watch out for allergies when studying abroad. Make sure to bring all necessary medications, with a Yakkan Shoumei if need be (certificate that allows you to bring more than one month’s supply of prescription medication into Japan). Finding information on how to acquire a medicine certificate was difficult, and in the end, no one ever checked it at customs. Still, I felt safer being prepared. Note that stimulants, such as those containing Methamphetamine or Amphetamine (found in ADHD medications) are banned in Japan. Narcotics are also banned.

A Q&A pdf can be found here: http://www.mhlw.go.jp/english/policy/health-medical/pharmaceuticals/dl/qa1.pdf

More information on importing medications here: http://japan.usembassy.gov/e/acs/tacs-medimport.html

Studying abroad is not the best time to discover you have an allergy you never knew existed. Early in the program, our group went out to eat at a Korean barbeque place in downtown Beppu. It was a big, fancy restaurant with long tables and zabuton pillows to sit on. I’ve been to yakiniku (BBQ) places in Sacramento where you fry your own food at the table, so I had an idea of what to expect. These places fill up with steam and smoke, so if you are sensitive to stuffy air, you probably want to avoid yakiniku. With this many people, it was difficult to share the table grill. The main point was to provide a comfortable setting to be social and get to know the group. To be honest, my experience in Sacramento was by far more pleasant and delicious.

grill at yakiniku restaurant

The grill placed onto our table at the yakiniku restaurant.

I love mushrooms. My favorite is Portabella, ever since having a Portabella sandwich at UC Davis in California. I would never gather and eat wild mushrooms, because I’m afraid I’d pick poisonous ones by mistake. Death caps look an awful lot like other, edible mushrooms. I’d had mushroom dishes of various varieties before my trip to Japan, and enjoyed them all.

I had no idea why I had a rash a day or so after eating out. It quickly grew worse, until I had itchy bumps all over my body. Alarmed, I went to the health clinic to get answers. The nurses there referred me to a skin doctor. I was very glad that I had a Japanese friend escort me (thanks Anri!). The clinic was tiny, with only two or three examination rooms. None of the staff spoke any English. Not the women at the front desk, nor the doctor. If you visit a health clinic off-campus, be prepared for a language barrier or take someone with you to interpret.

The doctor only had to look once at the rash before recognizing it as shiitake mushroom poisoning. The rash appears in distinct lines, as though the skin has been clawed by an animal. I found out later that shiitake allergy is rare. A reaction can happen when the mushroom is not thoroughly cooked. That mushroom I had taken off the grill at the yakiniku place hadn’t been cooked free of all its toxins. In fact, it had probably been mostly raw.

For the following week I was a miserable, red and itchy mess. The salve and medicine the doctor gave me helped clear it up, but wearing clothing and doing anything that chafed skin still hurt for quite a while.

Yakiniku Restaurant

Yakiniku Restaurant – Korean barbecue.

Wikipedia only has a brief mention of the allergy: “Rarely, consumption of raw or slightly cooked shiitake mushrooms may evoke signs of allergy, including “an erythematous, micro-papular, streaky, extremely pruriginous rash” that occurs all over the body including face and scalp, appearing about 48 hours after consumption and disappearing after several days. This effect, presumably caused by the polysaccharide lentinan, is known in Asia but is unfamiliar to Europeans. Although it may occur in roughly 2% of the population, thorough cooking may eliminate allergenicity.”[1]

Now that I know I’m allergic to shiitake, I try to avoid it. Since coming back from Japan I’ve only had one light reaction after eating at a Chinese restaurant. Fortunately, the rash’s “claw marks” were faint because the mushrooms had been cooked better.

I’m happy and grateful that I had support when I got sick. I can’t imagine how frightening it would be to break out in an unknown rash when alone in a foreign country. When you travel anywhere, always have a plan for sudden sickness or injury, because the unexpected will happen.

[1] Wikipedia contributors. “Shiitake.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 26 Oct. 2014. Web. 16 Nov. 2014.

Summer in Beppu: An Introduction

Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University


Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu, Japan

The first time I traveled outside my home state of California wasn’t to another U.S. state (not counting an hour spent inside the Hawaiian airport), but five thousand miles west to Japan. At 22 years old, it was my first plane ride and my first time traveling alone. For two months I stayed at Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Beppu, Kyushu. I wanted to witness for myself the magical wackiness and beauty of Japan, the country that so many Americans have fallen in love with as an epicenter of creative pop culture.

There are probably millions of blogs that show off interesting and wonderfully weird aspects of Japan: anime, manga, and cosplay; maid, butler and cat cafes; Hello Kitty, alpaca and capybara toys; flashy bars, love hotels and restaurants; black squid-ink hamburgers; and of course, the famously ubiquitous vending machines. Even if you’re not a Japanophile, you’ve heard of some of these things.

At Stray Cats and Onsen, I’m going to focus on my personal experiences and impressions about my two-month stay. Although the majority of my visit was in Kyushu, I stopped by Tokyo for a couple days for a fast-paced walk-through of some famous locations. That one weekend alone gave me plenty to think about.