A lot has happened since my first day in Japan, so I’m going to try to summarize the Fulbright Japan orientation process and my second day in Tokyo in this post. Tomorrow I leave for Kyoto via Shinkansen and will be busy setting up my apartment, so I’m not sure if I will have much time in the coming days to post.
Day 2 in Tokyo I was still by myself exploring the city. I had the chance to see more touristy things in Ueno, Asakusa, and Harajuku (which I’ll talk about in a later post). Ueno Park (上野公園）is home to the Ueno Zoo, where they often conduct quite amusing emergency drills for the possibility of an animal escaping (e.g. see here). The park is also home to several national museums and a five-story pagoda with neighboring Toshogu Shrine, which was commissioned as a death wish of Tokugawa Ieyasu. There are large lanterns along the path leading up to the shrine – the idea being that in the past the lords of each domain in Japan (daimyo) would pay tribute to the enshrined shogun by visiting the shrine and lighting one of the 50 lanterns. Also in the park is the lesser-known Bentendo Temple, built on a large man-made pond.
Later I visited the Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. The gate to the temple is iconic, and the outside path leading up to the temple grounds was packed with tourists. Unfortunately, I noticed several Americans visiting the gate just to take a picture and then leaving without exploring any further. The neighboring Sky Tower can be seen from the grounds, which provides a nice contrast between the temple itself (constructed in the year 628) and the trappings of a modern Japan.
For lack of a better phrase, Fulbright Japan orientation was very laissez-faire. This is good in that we are given virtually complete freedom to structure our own programs and find housing, but everything in Japan seems to require a process, or better yet, a prelude to a process. Day 1 of orientation was comprised of lectures about the education system in Japan and how recent reforms have been taking place to make university education in Japan more globalized and reduce stress on students preparing for entrance examinations. For instance, more and more middle schools and high schools in Japan are combining, so that students only need to take one entrance exam in middle school to be set until university admissions. At the end of day 1 we were given a grant payment that amount to almost $4,000 in cash. I feel like a gangster…
We were then invited to attend a reception for all the Fulbright Japan grantees in Akasaka hosted by the Charge D’affaires of the U.S. Embassy in Japan. In addition to meeting several alumni of the program, I had the opportunity to speak with a former mayor of Tokyo and a chairman of Toyota, who told me to “break all the rules” in Japan because I am a foreigner and can get away with it, haha. From what he relayed to me, apparently Kyotoites can be quite formal and are very proud of the fact that their city was the Imperial capital of Japan for over 1,000 years. The rooftop garden complete with koi pond and zen garden-esque landscaping was unlike any backyard I’ve ever visited.
Day 2 was a free-form discussion in which myself and the other 7 Fulbright Fellows had a chance to voice our concerns about living in Japan and navigating the complex processes associated with getting an apartment, opening a bank account and buying a cell phone. We also enjoyed a traditional shabu-shabu lunch with the interim Fulbright Japan director. Today (day 3) was our last day, and we have just finished exit interviews with the Fulbright staff before the 8 of us go to our respective locations across Japan. Fortunately all the Fellows are extremely interesting people this year, and we plan to visit each other frequently as an excuse to travel across Japan.
Oh P.S. – for those who don’t know, a shrine is a religious site linked to Shinto, and a temple is a religious site linked to Buddhism. A place that ends in “ji” (時）is a Buddhist temple, and a place that ends in “gu” （宮) or “jinja” (神社） is a shrine.