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Tips on How to Keep Safe While Studying Abroad

  • Posted by:
  • March 20, 2017

Japan is ranked as one of the safest countries in the world. The country has an incredibly low crime rate. A 2014 Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development study ranked Japan as “the safest country in the world.” Japan also reports “the second-lowest homicide rate after Iceland and the second-lowest assault rate after Canada.”

Japan is proud of being such a safe place that children can walk home and even go to shopping malls without any adult supervision, women can walk dark back alleys and empty streets alone, people can leave their bags unattended without fear of their things being stolen, and cars can be left running without fear of them being driven away.

Passport. |  Tim Sackton

Japan’s crime rate may be one of the lowest in the world, but it still isn’t 100% safe. It is still best to exercise caution especially when you are a foreigner in a new country.

Here are some tips on keeping safe while abroad:

Sign up for U.S. Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.

This government sponsored program gives you the automatic updates and information on the latest travel warnings and alerts from the Bureau of Consular Affairs about the country you’re in. It also comes in handy if you lose your passport.

Keep a low profile.

Being a foreigner in another country, it’s always advisable to not stick out like a sore thumb. Always dress appropriately, try to observe local customs and traditions and know beforehand the do’s and don’ts when in Japan.

S15 Kamakura trip. | KCP Flickr

Research about your host country.

Learn about the local customs and laws of Japan. It would also be helpful to know the proper person to contact in case of emergency as well as where the US embassy offices are located closest to the area where you’re staying.

Get travel and health insurance.

Even if you are in perfect health and have no health issues, it’s best to come prepared. Get full medical examinations prior to your departure and all the necessary vaccinations. Know where the nearest hospitals and clinics are in the area where you’ll be staying and if there are any medications that are prohibited to bring into Japan.

Don’t feel too comfortable.

Even if Japan is considered safe, and after spending some time in the country, you start to drop your guard and being too comfortable becomes a habit. One day you may still find yourself caught in a predicament. Always remember to be on your guard, and as the saying goes… “It’s always better to be safe than sorry.”

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The Enchanting Iya Valley

  • Posted by:
  • March 16, 2017

Iya Valley is considered one of the last vestiges of Japan’s old world.

Historically, the remote Iya Valley (祖谷渓, Iyakei) served as a sanctuary for the members of the Taira Clan or the Heike, who took refuge in the region after losing the Genpei War (1180-1185), during the end of the Heian Period. Descendants of the Heike can still be found in the area hundreds of years later around the Iya valley.

Iya Valley. |Christian Kaden

Tourism is popular in the western area of the valley, Nishi-Iya, which draws a number of visitors because of its historic vine bridge (kazurabashi) and hot spring baths. The eastern area, Higashi-Iya or Oku-Iya, can still be relatively difficult to reach, making its natural beauty even more undisturbed. Thirteen vine bridges once spanned the area; in early times, those bridges were the only method for crossing rivers.

History is not clear on the origins of the vine bridges, but legends tell us that they were built either by Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon Sect of Japanese Buddhism, or by the  Heike refugees. Only three vine bridges survive today and are maintained.

Iya Kazurabashi  (祖谷かずら橋)

Iya Kazurabashi is the largest and most popular of the three remaining bridges. It stretches 45 meters at the center of the valley across the Iya River. The vine bridge gives visitors a majestic view of the river, 14 meters below. The bridge is rebuilt every three years and is anchored to gigantic cedar trees on both ends. It is reinforced by modern steel cables hidden within the vines for extra safety.

Iya Valley. |Sarah Marchildon

Oku-Iya Kazurabashi (奥祖谷二重かずら橋) or couples bridges

The larger of the two bridges is Husband Bridge (Otto no Hashi). It stretches 44 meters across the Iya River beside a small waterfall. Slightly below Otto no Hashi is Wife Bridge (Tsuma no Hashi) which spans 22 meters upstream. The bridges contain steel cables hidden within vines that are replaced every three years.

Iya Valley. |Christian Kaden

The bridges are connected with each other using a network of paved hiking trails that lead to camping grounds along the far side of the river.

Wild Monkey Bridge is found right next to Tsuma no Hashi. This is a type of bridge that is made of a wooden cart suspended on a rope over the main bridge. It was used to transport goods and people and was reconstructed for visitors to try out by pulling themselves across the river.

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National Museum of Western Art Makes UNESCO World Heritage List

  • Posted by:
  • March 13, 2017
On July 17, 2016, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) committee recognized buildings in seven countries for their innovation and influence in laying the foundation for modern architecture. The National Museum of Western Art in Ueno Park, Tokyo, and 16 other buildings designed by the Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier have been added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

National Museum of Western Art. | 663highland

The National Museum of Western Art in Japan (NMWA) is the only structure in the country designed by the renowned architect. The museum is the premier public art gallery in the country specializing in art from Western traditions. The museum also houses the core art collection of Matsukata Kojiro (a Japanese businessman who devoted his life and fortune to amassing a collection of Western art). The NMWA was completed in 1959 and dedicated as a symbol of the resumed diplomatic ties between japan and France after World War II.

Le Corbusier or more formally known as Charles-Édouard  Jeanneret (October 6, 1887 – August 27, 1965), was an architect, writer, painter, designer, and urban planner, and is considered one of the pioneers of modern architecture. He was born in Switzerland and became a French citizen in 1930. During his five-decade-long career, he constructed buildings in Europe, India, North and South America, and Japan.

Le Corbusier was an avid urban planner whose vision was dedicated to providing better living conditions for residents of crowded cities. He was a founding member of Congrès International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM), a series of events and congresses arranged across Europe by the most prominent architects of the time. Its objective was to spread the principles of the Modern Movement focusing in all the main domains of architecture (such as landscape, urbanism, industrial design, and many others).

Le Corbusier.

Le Corbusier described the city of the future as consisting of large apartment buildings isolated in a park-like setting on piers, “Cities in the Sky.” His theories were adopted by the builders of public housing in Europe and the United States. In Great Britain, Le Corbusier’s ideas were thought of as a cheaper method of providing public housing from the late 1950s.

The National Museum of Western Art will be the 20th World Heritage site in Japan and the first in central Tokyo.

Open Interior of the “Maison Blanche” (1912).| Eveline Perroud

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Japanese Superstitions and O-mikuji

  • Posted by:
  • March 9, 2017

Japanese superstitions are deeply rooted in the history and culture of the people. These beliefs are meant to serve as lessons and practical advice for everyday life.

Some common superstitions in Japan have been adapted for Japanese culture from other countries. Japan shares many superstitious beliefs with other Asian countries, especially the Chinese, with whom they share close historical ties. Common superstitions are related to numbers and objects that may hold various symbolic meanings. Pagan and animist culture is also a large part of Japan’s ancient superstitious beliefs: animals are depicted as bringers of good or bad fortunes.

6821619159_24da69f42a_zThe Japanese are also religious, and many lucky charms (engimono) represent wishes for good luck in harvest, business, health, love, and the like. Many engimono have been passed down over the years. Engimono make popular souvenirs or gift items from a particular area of Japan. One such lucky charm is O-mikuji.

O-mikuji  are paper fortunes sold at most Japanese temples and shrines. About half of the o-mikuji predict bad fortune. It is customary to leave the fortune behind by tying it at a designated spot at the temple or shrine. If you receive a good luck paper fortune, you should keep it.

O-mikuji tied up.  | Laura Tomàs Avellana

O-mikuji has nearly a thousand-year-old history. It began in ancient times when people drew lots to receive divine messages about everyday concerns such as predicting a particular political outcome. O-mukuji has evolved into a means for predicting the fortunes of people and their love life, education, travel, business, work, and health.

18276351736_a37a58cf96_zO-mikuji costs about 100 to 200 yen and is available in several languages. To receive o-mikuji, you use a cylindrical or square pillar box plus long thin sticks (Mikuji-bo) to shake and draw the paper fortunes. Vending machines that dispense o-mikuji are fast becoming very popular as well.

O-mikuji. | Gaëtan Tessier

Whatever fortune awaits you, o-mikuji is a wonderful way to experience Japanese culture and traditions.

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The Holy Trail of Kumano Kodō

  • Posted by:
  • March 6, 2017

The sacred trails of Kumano Kodō (熊野古道) are a series of ancient trails used for the pilgrimage to the sacred site Kumano Sanzan, the Three Grand Shrines of Kumano. The Kumano Kodō and Kumano Sanzan, along with Koyasan and Yoshino and Omine, are part of UNESCO’s designated World Heritage Sacred Sites and Pilgrimage Routes in the Kii Mountain Range of Japan.

The Kodo (“old ways”), have been used by people who go on pilgrimage for more than a thousand years. The Kumano Kodō  and the Camino de Santiago are the only pilgrimage routes to be designated world heritage sites.

Kumano Kodo Trail. |David Gallagher

The pilgrimage routes were developed as a means for people to move between the sacred areas on the Kii Peninsula. By the 12 century, the popularity of the Kumano Sanzan  made the trails more than just a path to the Three Grand Shrines; they also became a religious experience with the pathways being difficult and quite dangerous mountain terrains.

The Kumano Kodō pilgrimage trails leading to Kumano are Kiji, Kohechi and Iseji. The Kiji  route runs along the city of Tanabe, by way of the west coast of the peninsula where it divides into a fork, Nakahechi and Ohechi.

Kumano Kodō mountans. | rurinoshima

The Nakahechi route progresses into the rugged depths of the mountains leading to Kumano Hongū Taisha while Ohechi moves southwards along the coast. The Nakahechi route is the most popular for pilrimages from Kyoto, the former ancient capital of Japan. The Kohechi route links Koyasan to the Kumano Sanzan. While the Iseji” route links Ise Jingū (Ise Grand Shrine) with the Kumano Sanzan.

Kumano Kodo trail. | rurinoshima

The earliest records of the routes can be traced back to the early 10th century. Many pilgrims with many different beliefs use the trails. This has led to mixed symbolism for many when going through the stages of the pilgrimage. Anyone can enjoy the beauty and solemnity of walking the course. Who knows what you may find along the way, you may even discover yourself.

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Must Try Ramen Spots in Tokyo!

  • Posted by:
  • March 2, 2017

Ramen (ラーメン) is synonymous with Japan and has caught the attention of people from all across the globe, even those with the most discriminating palates. Ramen is a delicious steaming hot bowl of Japanese soup made with Chinese-style wheat noodles. A good ramen consists of a tasty broth that takes hours to make, topped with an assortment of ingredients that vary depending on the type of ramen.

Michi Ramen. | by kerinin

Tokyo has many shops that serve some of the best ramen in the country.  Here are some of the best ramen places to try according to Japan Restaurant Award 2016:

Motenashi Kuroki, 2-15 Kanda-Izumicho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo

This unassuming ramen is born from the creative talents, gastronomic training, and home grown tastes of Motenashi Kuroki. Kuroki is a trained chef born and raised in Tokyo. His creation of a supposedly simple bowl of noodle soup comes to life in your mouth and delights all the senses.   The shio ramen is offered in two ways, a light version and a hearty version. Chasu (or char siu) pork is simmered for two days for the umami flavour and garnishes are considered to be the most creative.  It’s surely worth a try!

Tsukemen Michi , 5-28-17 Kameari Katsushika, Tokyo

This ramen shop opened only fairly recently in 2009 but has already gained  a reputation as one of the popular ramen restaurants in Tokyo. Their tsukemen ramen is their most popular for its tonkotsu-based (pork bone) soup. Michi serves their ramen in a unique way by separating the chasu, eggs, menma, and onions on a separate dish. The rich, tasty broth has loyal customers coming back for more!

Menya Itto, 1-4-17 Higashishinkoiwa, Katsushika, Tokyo

Menya Itto’s specialty is the Seafood Tsukemen. The broth is a rich and hearty seafood soup that can be refilled for free. They also have a variety of meat ramen that are just as delicious. Their chasu is delicate and thinly sliced and the ingredients that go into their soup base are so well balanced it’s worth the wait.

Yakumo Ramen, 2F, 1-7-2, Ohashi, Meguro-ku, Tokyo

Yakumo Ramen is discreetly located at the 2nd floor of a building in a residential neighborhood. They are known for their meat wonton noodles in white broth, but they have several ramen options to choose from that won’t disappoint. Each ingredient that goes into each bowl of ramen is meticulously prepared, it’s simply worth looking for the obscure ramen shop.

Yakumo Ramen. | by Hidetsugu Tonomura

Koukaibou, Nick Haimu building. 2-13-10 Fukagawa, Koto-ku, Tokyo

Koukaibou’s Tonkotsu Gyokai ramen is the most popular. The pork bone broth is a perfect medley with all the other ingredients such as the bonito fish flakes. They also offer other types of ramen that are also worth trying.

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Timeless Beppu Bamboo Crafts

  • Posted by:
  • February 27, 2017

Beppu is a city in Ōita Prefecture on the island of Kyushu in Japan. It is strategically nestled between the sea and mountains making it a popular spot for its hot springs, or onsen.

Beppu has eight geothermal hot spots (Earth’s internal heat), also known as “eight hells of Beppu”.  Beppu is not only known for their amazing hot springs, but for their bamboo crafts as well.

Beppu hot springs. | かがみ~

The Nihon-shoki (the oldest chronicles of Japan) tell us that  during the twelfth Emperor of Japan’s reign, Emperor Keiko, his private chef discovered slender bamboo ideal for basket making at Beppu while on a visit. During the Muromachi Period, a type of basket was produced in Beppu for vendors on foot, to hold their wares.

The Edo Period (1603-1867), saw in influx of visitors to Beppu from all over the country. They frequented the city to  stay at the popular hot springs to relax and enjoy the many healing benefits of the natural waters rich with minerals.  These visitors needed  bamboo mesh baskets for preparing food as well as for storing their rice which the local craftsmen made. The simple craft that was derived from necessity soon became a local craft industry.

Sagano Bamboo Forest. | Alex Chen

The bamboo used for Beppu handicrafts is mandake bamboo that principally grows in Ōita. This type of bamboo is perfect for basket making. Other varieties of bamboo such as gomadake, henon and black bamboo are also used.

There are eight fundamental techniques used in the creation of the vast range of bamboo goods from Beppu. The bamboo craft of Beppu remains to be a popular souvenir and an important local craft up until today.

Japanese bamboo baskets. |cava_cavien

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Must See Places in Tokyo!

  • Posted by:
  • February 23, 2017

Tokyo is the bustling capital of Japan. It embodies the rich history, culture, and traditions and the awe inspiring progress of Japan and its people throughout the centuries.  If you’re only there for a short visit or when you are trying to squeeze in some relaxation in your busy schedule and Tokyo is your only destination, here are a few must see things to do, see and try on your visit:

Tokyo cityscape. | KCP Flickr

Meiji Jingu Shrine, Shibuya

The Meiji Jingu Shrine is one of the most popular temples in Japan. It was built to commemorate Emperor Meiji and Empress Shōken, who both had greatly contributed to the modernization of Japan through the Meiji Restoration. A well-loved feature of Meiji shrine is the huge forest (700,000 sq.m.) that surrounds it.  The shrine is a wonderful contrast to the busy and hectic city life of Tokyo.

Shibuya Ward, Shibuya

Shibuya is considered to be the most famous district in Tokyo. It’s said to be the street that never sleeps and the shopping mecca of Japan’s capital. The streets of Shibuya started many of Japan’s fashion and entertainment trends. There are over a dozen major department stores around the area and it’s a good place to ogle at the busy lifestyle of the corporate world.

Asakusa. | KCP Flickr

Tokyo Skytree, Asakusa, and Central Tokyo

The Tokyo Skytree stands at a height of 634 meters (2080 feet). Visitors can admire a 360 degree panoramic view of Tokyo, top view. It’s a classic must see spot for any Tokyo tourist. Tokyo Skytree is a broadcasting tower that also has a restaurant, a shopping mall, and two observation decks that showcase breathtaking sights of the great metropolis.

East Gardens of the Imperial Palace, Chiyoda-ku

The East Garden  was opened to the public in 1968. It is about 210,000 square meters and features little bridges, grassy knolls, ponds, and flowering trees. Its gorgeous landscape reflects Japanese aesthetics.

Imperial Palace. | KCP Flickr

Most of the Palace’s administrative offices are located here, including the Imperial Tokagakudo Music Hall, the Archives, Mausolea Department Imperial Household Agency, and the Museum of the Imperial Collections.

Senso-ji Temple and Nakamise-dōri, Asakusa

Sensō-ji (金龍山浅草寺 Kinryū-zan Sensō-ji), founded in 645 AD, is Tokyo’s oldest temple. It was formerly associated with the Tendai sect of Buddhism but became independent after World War II. A visit to Sensō-ji  is a wonderful way to experience Japan’s unique culture and history.

Nakamise-dōri street has all the signs of old world Japan: strolling down it is a great way to experience the Japanese culture and way of life. It is one of the oldest shopping streets in Japan. A warlord named Tokugawa Ieyasu once ruled over Japan during the Sengoku Period (1493-1590).

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Tips on Emphasizing Your KCP Experience in Your Resume

  • Posted by:
  • February 20, 2017

Your Japanese language immersion experience with KCP is an impressive element of your resume. It’s not just the Japanese language that you may have learned while in Japan. Living in another country can give you a wealth of worldliness. You can come back home bringing with you newfound insights, you may see things from a different point of view and, perhaps even possess a clarity you could never have gained without your travel experience. After creating such beautiful memories, making new friends, and gaining the wisdom of another culture and language, it’s time to use these to further your success.

Here are some tips on how to use your KCP experience in your resume:

Keep it simple.

There will be a number of applicants applying for your dream job. Keep your resume simple and straight to the point. People who screen resumes won’t have the time to read through flowery, long introductions. Just focus on what’s important. Gather your experience and condense them into keywords to use to highlight and use to your advantage.

KCP Fall 2016, Yamanashi. |KCP Flickr

Explain the skills gained abroad.

Studying in another country demands much from a student. It takes having an open mind, decision making skills, meticulous planning, and speaking a whole new different language. You can highlight any of these are accomplishments in your professional resume.

The workplace is becoming more and more global. Your Japanese language skills can only be a plus on your resume. The ability to communicate in and understand Japanese, as well as have the know-how of different cultures and customs, is a valuable attribute.

Use impressive bullet points in key areas of your resume.

For anyone looking through a resume, whatever information you put is read from top to bottom. When creating your resume, imagine being the person skimming through it and doing the hiring. What will make you stand out from all the other applicants? Structure your proficiencies to give you more clout and be a cut above the rest by highlighting the most impressive details about your training. Do not however, give away everything about what you’ve learned. Always remember whatever you put in your resume will result in questions that may involve what you have gained from your experience. Be ready to expand on what you have learned. You may want to talk about other new and exciting information.

Relate your experiences to the job you’re applying for.

Use the keywords you’ve gathered and make them relevant to the position you are applying for such as “possess problem solving skills”, “the ability to adapt”, “a team player”, and “language skills in Japanese”. Use a short description of what you’ve learned and can apply in the workplace.

See more tips on getting around Tokyo on a student’s budget and cheap eats in Tokyo for a student’s budget. Visit our blog site for more highlights on Japan.

KCP S2016 completion ceremony. | KCP Flickr

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Wrapping with Fukusa

  • Posted by:
  • February 16, 2017

Giving gifts is a common Japanese custom.  Different types of gifts are given depending on the occasion. A lot of attention is also given to the wrapping of presents. Fukusa is a Japanese textile used for gift-wrapping and also used in Japanese tea ceremony.

Fukusa in a Japanese tea ceremony can refer to several types of silk cloth such as tsukai fukusa which are usually squares of silk used to ritually purify tea utensils during tea-making, ko-bukusa which are small squares of brocaded silk used by hosts and guests to handle tea bowls, and dashi fukusa which are larger squares of silk also used for handling tea bowls.

Fukusa cloth. |Christian Kaden

In Japan, gifts were traditionally placed in a wooden box or lacquer tray, and a fukusa was draped over it. The design of the fukusa was chosen depending on the occasion. This was an important part of the Japanese gift-giving ritual. Using a fukusa became a widespread practice during the Edo or Tokugawa period (1615-1867).

The motif or scene depicted on a fukusa indicates the occasion, and the more elaborate the design the wealthier the giver. After the wrappings are admired by the recipient, the fukusa along with the box and tray, are returned to the giver. When the gift is presented to a high official, the fukusa is not always returned. This was a means to subtly control the wealth of lords and samurai.

During the 18th century, the art of the fukusa reflected the aristocratic minority of Japan such as the daimyo and samurai. The designs of the cloth held very subtle cultural references that were recognized only by the educated members of society. The members of these classes usually resided within the cities of Edo (Tokyo) and Kyoto as well as the surrounding areas.

Fukusa. |Christian Kaden

During the 19th century, the merchant class moved up the social ladder and began following the same customs of the aristocracy, including the use of fukusa. Family crests were added to the lining of the gift covers and tassels were placed at each corner so the gift cover can be picked up without touching the fabric.

Artists were commissioned to design textiles for fukusa and each work was an original creation. Satin silk was the fabric preferred for embroidery with gold-and-silver-wrapped thread as well as yuzen (dyed cloth), chirimen (crepe silk), and Tsuzure-ori (nail weaving).

Nowadays, fukusa are rarely used, and when they are, it is mostly within Tokyo and Kyoto for presents for couples getting married.

Take a look at this YouTube video by usagiicecream on how to fold the fukusa in a tea ceremony:

Click image or here: https://youtu.be/Yyj_brd3OgA

*Furoshiki is another type of cloth used for gift giving in Japan. It comes in all kinds of sizes, fabrics, and designs.

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