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I've hit the 8 month mark here. And I have 4-5 months left here.

It officially turned spring just a few days ago, so I changed the journal theme accordingly. But it's still cold, and there were even some snowflakes today. Sigh, it's going to take a while to warm up...

So in December, me and a couple of my friends traveled to Tokyo.

A rest stop. We took it was an 8~9 hour trip, and we took a night bus there. I can't sleep on them at all, though.

Our arrival after my sleepless night.

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The Remainder of Fall Semester

A lot happened - here it is in a photographic nutshell.

People in Japan go to view the leaves in autumn, and we did just that.

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Happo-Cho Program

At our university, there's a monthly international exchange program where students can go to the small town of Happo-Cho, where we visit a school and allow schoolchildren to practice speaking English with us, and they get to learn more about other cultures. After visiting the schools, the town usually hosts some cultural activities for us.

I had just went last weekend, but here are photos from my first time way back in October. We visited an elementary school, and this time it was an overnight trip, and it they had us do so much - it was exhausting but a lot of fun. We made a famous Akita dish called kiritanpo, had an amazing dinner, tried taiko drumming, saw a musical performance, enjoyed onsen and hiked in the amazing Shirakami forest.

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AIU Fest (Mid-October)

My friends in crossdressing contest!!

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Class Field Trip to Sakata

In my Japanese Society course, we studied Buddhists who went through a self-mummification process that took years of what would seem like torture. The method used for self-preservation was pretty sophisticated, which included consuming pine tree bark (because of its preserving properties for which it was used in lacquer) and arsenic, to rid the body of any bacteria that would decompose the internal organs. This was done in order to stay completely intact after death. Well, that's the basic of it, if my memory is correct... here's an article if you want to know more - it's really fascinating!

A description of the ones we visited:

Having successfully attained Buddahood, the mummies were usually taken to a particular temple, where generations of monks such as Ato-san tended for them. In the hilltop Kaikoji Temple in Sakata, Yamagata Prefecture, we found two very well preserved sokushinbutsu, Chukai and Enmyokai, who are enshrined side by side in their quiet suburban temple. The two gods today sit in the same position in which they were lowered into the ground to die, in 1755 and 1822 respectively, and face the three holy mountains of Dewa Sanzan where they undertook their rites.
(From http://cjmathews.com/sokushinbutsu.html)

Here's photos of the temple, however, there was no photography of the mummies allowed (but there's a video here).

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Beginning of AIU Fall Semester

Slowly catching up!

I moved into a new room, and I can see everyone walking to/from classes from here. I like it.

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The last few days of my vacation I spent checking out the temples and shrines of Nikko, which is one of Japan's World Heritage sites. I didn't have much time there and it was really rainy (really refreshing after all the Tokyo summer heat), so I just went to the most famous one, Tosho-Gu (東照宮). It's also home of the famous speak no evil see no evil hear no evil monkeys!!

This is from the night before I went to Nikko - I stayed nearby in Utsunomiya, and in downtown they have a cool area with a lot of small food booths. I ate at one place and attempted Japanese conversation, and the salaryman I talked to paid for my tab!

And now for the Nikko and Tosho-Gu photos - this is outside the entrance.

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The rest of my time in Tokyo

First, my friend Rory and I took a two-day trip to Hakone, which is an hour or two outside Tokyo. We stayed the night in Odawara and went to a castle there.

The following day we actually went to Hakone. From there we took a train and hopped the Hakone Tozan cable car funicular that you see here. We took this further up the mountain - the whole thing has a slanted design due to the fact it runs directly up and down a mountainside. This is the end of the line in Souzan. It's on a pretty big slope, but you probably can't tell from this photo.

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This time the shinkansen we caught had pokemon all over it!

Our first night was spent in a hostel in Asakusa, the 3-story Khaosan Annex. Since I didn't book any places far enough in advance, I was constantly moving around and I came back here again later on.

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I have tons and tons of photos from my summer vacation in August (I probably already mentioned that). And I also have some from school trips and events after school started. This Sunday and Monday we had a huge event on campus, the yearly AIU Festival. Everyone gets heavily involved to make it a success, with food booths and entertainment and various awesome things, which many Akita residents come to enjoy.

This is just a teeny post covering the first day of my summer trip, when we took a 2 hour trip from Akita by shinkansen (bullet train).

On the shinkansen - the "Akita Bijin" (beautiful woman), because they're supposedly in Akita.

We took this bus that takes you around some neat sights in Sendai. Although I didn't take photos of anything that interesting... long story short, we just went to a Natural History Museum.

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Our lodging for our night in Sendai. I love ryokans (japanese inns)! They had a really nice Japanese style hot bath, which was my first time using one. They are soo relaxing.