Writing with the benefit of hindsight, and a little extra sleep after the end of the study abroad program brings into sharp relief how much of a once-in-a-lifetime experience it was. It was, perhaps, the single greatest twenty-five-day period that I’ve had thus far, and it is certainly the highlight of my time at UW Bothell. As I head into my final year here I believe that the lessons I learned and things I saw and felt will prove to be of incalculable benefit to my education as well as my career after I graduate.

The Tokyo Skytree—incredibly, mindbogglingly tall, so tall in fact that the observation deck is fully within the clouds on overcast days; a very kind staff member dissuaded me from paying the admissions fee to go up in this weather.

One of the greatest strengths of this program, compared to simply going on a vacation to Japan which would have been at least somewhat cheaper, was the sense of unity that came from travelling with a group of one’s peers. I am a bit of a shy person, so I felt much more comfortable going out and exploring when I knew that there was a stable base acting as an anchor. Obviously, there are numerous other benefits, especially in the opportunity of going to places and talking to people that any random person on vacation can’t visit or speak to; the five academic credits also sweetens the deal.

One course of our final group dinner together. Needless to say, it was delectable.

A Typhoon in the Ancient Capital

A curious benefit of traveling abroad is one is able to experience natural disasters which are not particularly common in the region of the world in which they live. During this trip to Japan our study abroad group has been able to experience the rage of a typhoon for the first time in many of our lives. Unfortunately, it also served to interrupt a fair amount of the middle portion of our trip. We had traveled to Hiroshima via the Shinkansen, an ultra-fast high-speed rail system while we watched the ominous arrival of Typhoon Number 21 (In Japan, typhoons are not given names but instead are numbered sequentially for each typhoon season) in the southern islands of Japan. We decided to cut our trip to Hiroshima short and stay overnight only because we learned that there was a virtual guarantee that all the train systems would be shut down the next morning in anticipation of the typhoon’s landfall. Therefore, we woke up early and attempted to catch the very last train to Kyoto, our next destination, before this happened. It was actually fairly exciting “racing” the storm to our next hotel, a race we managed to win.

The weather on the day after the typhoon left no evidence of the destruction of the day of.

The storm itself was a little bit terrifying especially when you start to hear the lashing rain and feel screaming wind shake the concrete building you’re in. We did survive it though, none worse for the wear and the next day was beautiful and tragic, as the weather was lovely but the damage from the typhoon was apparent in the trees toppled, glass shattered, roofs damaged, and shrines collapsed.

A small part of Fushimi-inari Shrine, which extends far up to the summit of a nearby mountain; unfortunately the damage from the typhoon was severe so most of the shrine was closed off because of fallen trees.

Kyoto was an amazing city to behold especially when you consider that the city, having avoided destruction by bombing raid during the Second World War, was filled with buildings which long predate the United States’ existence. Something that may seem somewhat unlikely in the United States since there is relative dominance of Christianity within American religious practices was, in Kyoto, the relative parity between numbers of Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples (two of the major religions of Japan) and the mixture of them within similar spaces. I heard a saying once that 70% of Japanese people are Buddhist and 70% of Japanese people are Shintoist, something that is born out the places of worship in Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan.

Kinkaku-ji or the Temple of the Golden Pavilion is one of the great temples of Kyoto, and a tremendously popular tourist attraction.