Azaria – Japan

May 22nd, 2024

Welcome to the United States of America

One last fifteen-hour flight and I have made it back to North Carolina. This trip was one to remember and has marked the start of international travels for me going forward. Due to Tokyo also being very metropolitan and inspired by a lot of Western architecture, I did not experience any culture shock. I advise any students who have not visited or lived in larger cities to prepare themselves for the large, sometimes overwhelming amount of people. It is paramount to have Google Maps (offline version) installed on your phone, the Japanese subway system is organized by color, making it very easy to navigate but Google Maps provides you with detailed instructions on how to get to your destination via subway, a cost-effective mode of transportation for free time.

I would like to share a few pieces of advice for any student considering a study abroad program in Japan or any other short-term faculty-led program. As someone with dietary restrictions, it was difficult to find meal options whether it was because of restrictive menus (most restaurants in Japan sell multiple versions of one item) or time constraints. I would advise anyone in a similar predicament to consult their professor or hosting program to ensure they know your restrictions to offer accommodations during scheduled group meals where the menu is usually preset. Ask for details about your itinerary as early as possible to plan out your meals ahead of time in the areas you will be in. I was able to select meal accommodations with the airlines, and the options were pretty tasty, however, my hosting program did not receive the notification of my diet ahead of time. Thankfully the field director was wonderful at contacting the restaurants to see what they could do and one of the local guides helped me find some vegetarian Udon soup! Regarding coursework, my professors assigned a daily discussion on the trip, and we will finish the other coursework throughout the summer semester. The daily discussions were easy to complete, sometimes I would start my discussion on the bus or train or use notes I jotted down throughout the day to complete the discussion when I returned to the hotel. Just like most things in life, time management is key for completing assignments abroad.

Lastly, I would advise anyone going abroad to find as many ways as possible to cherish their time there. I purchased a multitude of meaningful souvenirs for my family. One thing I wanted to do was think of ways I could bring the experience back to them. I purchased a few Japanese snacks, candies, and Matcha powder to share some of my favorite things with them and relieve the experience myself. I also kept all of my tickets, brochures, cool receipts, and good luck charms I received from the various locations and stores we visited. I plan on using these items to make a scrapbook to commemorate the experience. A physical piece of memorabilia for myself and to share my journey with others. In whatever way you choose to cherish your trip, make it unique to you and those who helped support your attendance or friends you made along the way.

A special thank you to ECU for selecting me to attend the Summer 2024 Psychology in Japan faculty-led program with Dr.Mark Bowler and Dr.Jennifer Bowler. Thank you to all of my loved ones who helped support me to attend this trip and lastly, thank you reader for taking the time to hear about my voyage!

–Azaria McDaniel

On the way home
Osaka Airport
Stuff I got

May 18th -21st, 2024

Bye-Bye Tokyo, Hello Kyoto

It’s time to wish Tokyo goodbye! May 18th – 19th were my final days in Tokyo and here is a quick run-down of seven things I did before leaving:

  1. Rented a Kimono and took pictures in Asakusa while accidentally and happily stumbling upon a festival/parade.
  2. Met up with the rest of the group in Shinjuku for a Taiko lesson, a traditional Japanese drum. These drums were historically used as a form of communication and for celebrations like the festival, I had ironically seen just an hour before.
  3. Ran around Shinjuku looking for a vegan restaurant that no longer existed due to construction in the area and instead went shopping for clothes and shoes.
  4. Enjoyed a group dinner and afterward visited teamLab Planets, an interactive, sensory-based art installation center in Tokyo.
  5. Visited the Tsukiji Fish Market and purchased Japanese strawberries, enjoyed freshly grilled King Crab legs, and a Matcha latte with soy milk.
  6. Went to a private sushi-making class with a professional chef (this was the best sushi I have ever had!)

Uniquely, my study abroad trip provided our group with a lot of free time. Our itinerary appeared to prioritize capturing multiple facets of Japanese life and culture in our planned activities. We were given additional free time after the planned itinerary was completed and two free days before leaving for Kyoto which gave me ample time to experience more of the areas previously visited. I further immersed myself in the city by relying on subway navigation and opportunities to engage with locals.

We arrived in Kyoto via a Shinkansen, popularly known as a bullet train. Kyoto is more historical which was reflected through our tourism in the area. In Kyoto, we toured the Nijo Castle, the Golden Pavilion, spent the day at Nara Park, and watched a Geisha performance at Gion Corner. Our final activity in Japan was a group dinner at a local mom-and-pop Chinese restaurant. I was served an unforgettable Tenshindon, a shrimp omelet served over rice and bathed in a savory, slightly thickened broth.

–Azaria McDaniel

Class at Nijo Castle
Golden Buddhist Temple
At the Tsukiji Fish Market
TeamLab Planets

May 17th, 2024

A Wholesome Day in Hakone

Today we took a day trip to Hakone (Spoiler Alert: this was my favorite day of the trip). Previous tours immersed us in the highly populous city of Tokyo and its various districts. For example, we participated at Shibuya Crossing, reputable as the busiest crosswalk in the world where up to three thousand people can be seen crossing at once. Another honorable mention is Nakamise-dori Street in Asakusa, a strip of shops and eateries leading to the Sensō-ji Temple packed with locals and tourists. However, today we would embark to experience a more scenic and decompressed view of Japan.

After a two-hour bus ride, we arrived at the fifth station on Mount Fiji. This area included a beautiful view of the mountain, Mount Fujiyama Komitake Shrine, photo opportunities, food, and souvenir shops. After exploring the area, we descended the mountain to ride the Hakone-Komagatake Ropeway. The cable car stopped at the top of Mount Komagatake, with accompanying views of Mount Fuji, Lake Ashi, and the Hakone Moto Tsumiya Shrine. Lastly, the trip ended at the Hakone Open-Air Museum, a gorgeous sculpture-based museum outside on top of the hills. I found a lot of the works to be diverse in format and their ability to capture other cultures. The best surprise of this day was their Picasso installation where I got to view Picasso’s original works. What more could I have asked for?

–Azaria McDaniel

at the top of Mt. Fuji
Picasso installation at Hakone Museum
View of Hakone

May 15th – 16th, 2024

Touring Tokyo

Tokyo is recognized as one of the safest countries in the world, and I can attest to that. The city is similar in appearance to most major cities with some unique features.

  1. Japan has grooves in all walkways called Tenji Blocks, a form of tactile paving for visually impaired individuals to navigate the city and subway systems.
  2. The crosswalks are very wide to accommodate the many people passing, notably, at a four-way crosswalk, generally, all pathways will be allowed to walk at once.
  3. I must mention that there are cafes EVERYWHERE (even in the New Balance store), each store is generally multiple floors and may contain numerous stores and businesses in one building.

Despite these differences being something other than what I was accustomed to I felt very comfortable navigating the city during the tours and free time. The kind nature of the Japanese people added to this experience. On our first day in Tokyo, we viewed a multitude of popular sights and visited 3 districts: Harajuku, Shibuya, and Shinjuku. I quickly encountered the challenge of finding foods that met my dietary restrictions as a self-proclaimed plant-based pescatarian to keep it simple. For the free meals I heavily relied on Onigiri and fries so I would highly recommend anyone with dietary restrictions to do extensive research on local menus. There are several vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Japan, but many of them were not local to the areas we visited.

In terms of cultural immersion, our local tour guide taught us that Japanese people generally subscribe to Shintoism or Buddhism, in many cases, they are flexible and believe in both practices. The first of many shrines we visited was Meji Shrine, a small forest located in the heart of the city. At the Imperial Plaza, we saw a beautiful view of the city at the top of the Metropolitan Government Building and glanced at the Imperial Family’s Palace.

Day two started in Ueno Park where we were given free range to tour the many museums in the park. On my list is the National Museum of Nature and Science, the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, and the Kyu-Iwasaki-tei Gardens. After the museums, we attended a traditional tea ceremony where I tried Matcha for the first time and fell in love. Followed was some time in Asakusa which contained a long strip of souvenir shops, kimono rental and for-purchase stores, and food stalls all leading to the Sensō-ji Buddhist Temple. The night ended with a visit back to Shinjuku for some shopping and my first taste of sushi in Japan (10/10 experience).

–Azaria McDaniel

Class photo at tea ceremony
Harajuku shopping district
view of Tokyo

May 14th, 2024

I have Arrived!

After fifteen hours in the air, I am relieved to be in Japan! As soon as the plane landed, I and the other participants began to share our excitement of the new adventure ahead of us. We laughed at ourselves taking in every moment and pictures of any Japan-related signage at the airport. After going through customs, immigration, and baggage claim we met our field director outside the gates. The airport offered plenty of ATMs to exchange currency, making this process a breeze. I will never forget the first breath of fresh air once we exited the airport to board the bus to the hotel. The ride to the hotel was about an hour of taking in all of my surroundings. Japan is a beautiful country, and I quickly noticed its sustainability efforts. For example, the concrete walls on the side of the highways included pockets similar to small terraces that allowed plant life to flourish. Our drive contained views of farmland and cityscapes, peaceful sights to view. Once we arrived at the hotel after our long journey, a group of us decided to grab dinner nearby and chose Denny’s. I’m sure you’re wondering why Denny’s, but Japanese Denny’s is open 24 hours and has a unique menu, serving as a convenient introduction to the country’s cuisine. After dinner, the group and I stopped by 7-Eleven, essential to any trip to Japan. With my first taste of Omurice (rice omelet) and Onigiri (filled rice ball), I had the best shower of my life, accompanied by some great rest.

–Azaria McDaniel

Welcome to Japan

May 10, 2024

Pre-departure Blog Post


Thank you for taking the time out to read my study abroad blog for my upcoming trip to Japan. My name is Azaria, I am currently in my senior year here at ECU majoring in Psychology with my minors in Human Development and Family Science and Sociology. I will be attending the Psychology and Culture in Japan program to complete my major requirements for Psychology this summer.

I have always wanted to travel outside of the United States, and since late elementary school I maintained an interest in Japanese culture. I first learned about this program by attending a study abroad fair during the Fall ’23 semester. Discovering this program felt as if it was made for me as it checked all of the boxes. Offers courses for me to complete my psychology major (Including my capstone!), check. Traveling to a country I’ve always wanted to go to, check. Cost effective, check. I mean, the list goes on. To anyone reading this who is hesitant to attend a study abroad program or feels discouraged to attend, always know there is an option for you that aligns with your academic pathway. This was always a dream of mine that I felt became dormant, but by engaging with the resources given by Global Affairs, I can now make my dream a reality.

Today marks 5 more days before I’ll be on my way to RDU airport for this exhilarating 10-day adventure. My preparation for this trip has been a mix of excitement and slight feelings of being overwhelmed. However, as each day gets closer, and I know how much I have prepared thus far. For this program, the faculty leads organized 2 group meetings to discuss culture and our trip logistics in addition to dependable communication via email and GroupMe. This communication in combination with my family’s steadfast support has been so encouraging, guiding me in each step of the process as I get closer to my departure.

I hope you enjoy this journey with me, and I look forward to sending my next post allllll the way from Japan!

–Azaria McDaniel