Travelling Home

When I first landed in Japan, I was very happy, but also very confused. I went through the cycle of culture shock. It was not intense, as the culture of Japan was not too shocking. But I also had to deal with the effects of leaving Italy’s culture, and it all left me feeling out of place and hopeless. But before I knew it, I was adapting to my life in Japan. I was thriving, creating new relationships and having the time of my life. And then, all of a sudden, it was time to go.

Days before it was time for Nathan and I to leave, it was time for the artists of group 3 to depart. So, essentially, there was a week of goodbyes-parties, final dinners, and farewell tears. It was emotionally hard for me, and I definitely broke down and cried a couple times before it was time to leave.

For our flight, Nathan and I decided to take a last trip to Tokyo. We thought it would be a good way to say farewell to the country we have called home to go up to the top of the Tokyo SkyTree and see the city from above.

In our day in Tokyo, we first went to Asakusa, one last shrine to hit before heading home. Then, we ascended the Tokyo Skytree. There is always a debate between which tower in Tokyo to ascend-Tokyo Tower offers a view in a red, Eiffel-tower like structure in the middle of Tokyo. The Government Building is a tempting, free option, that we considered. But, we ended up going with Skytree because it is supposedly the tallest tower in the world, and it really makes the other two seems small in comparison.

We decided to go up before the sunset and watch the sunset over Tokyo. It was a hazy day, so there was not a clear view, but it was gorgeous. It was especially exciting to watch all the lights go on one at a time when the city got dark.

If you look close in the dark picture, you can see the Tokyo Tower, the lit up spike in the top left. We grabbed some last soft cream (mango flavored!) And headed to the floor that allows you to look all the way to the ground!







The next morning, it was time to go to the airport and say goodbye. It was sad, as I had spent every waking moment with Nathan in the last two months. But I was reassured that I would see him again at school in two and a half weeks.

TOKYO 2020

Two flights later, and I was home. I am lucky, living in Seattle, that my plane was not as long as Nathan’s (10 hours versus 13), so I was home. And it was…weird? I was so happy to see my family, friends, and dog. But I also kept making mistakes!

I would go to the bathroom and walk outside to wash my hands (all of the sinks in Japan were outside of the toilet room). My parents asked if I wanted more napkins and I was confused, because there aren’t many napkins at restaurants. The first time I went to a restaurant, I almost said ‘konnichiwa’ and ‘arigatou gozaimasu’. I called my brother Nathan by accident once.

The re-entry to the USA had begun. And, in many ways, I felt like I was having a cultural re-entry for both Japan and Italy. I was so happy to see different types of cheeses again, like in Italy, and annoyed about the usage of spoons for eating pasta…but I was home!

Hello, Seattle. <3

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Becoming an Artist

Nathan and I went on a trip to Tokyo, where we were able to meet up with friends and have a nice break from daily working life. During our time out, however, we also missed an meeting about the exhibition and where the artists wanted to exhibit their work. When we returned, we were shocked to find out that our boss volunteered us to exhibit art as well!!! Incredible!!

One problem:
Nathan and I are not artists.

Last exhibition, Kjell and both of our coworkers, Ryota and Kurumi were able to exhibit their work. Kjell and Ryota are ceramic artists, while Kurumi is an animator. This time, both Ryota and Kjell didn’t have as much time to create works with the music festival. So, instead, there was room for Nathan and I to exhibit, should we want.

For me, it was simpler. I could sing! I decided it was a good idea to sing a couple songs before the artist talks. However, I also knew that I wanted to do something to honor the people of Onishi. I had a wonderful time while I was in Japan, and it was mainly to do with the people in Onishi. Every time I walked into a place to eat in Onishi, I was greeted by someone who had only met me in passing. Or a restaurant gifted Nathan and I a quarter of a watermelon, just because! Our neighbors Ken and Aya took us out to multiple dinners out of town. Friends Tim and Kimiko took us on a drive through the mountains! Endless memories were formed in this small town hidden in the mountains, and I felt it was necessary to thank the community.

So I suggested to Nathan that we do a project together, and compile the pictures we had taken/were taken of us. He agreed, and all of a sudden we were in the exhibition!

Nathan is very good at Japanese, so we thought it would be fun to arrange the pictures into the form of the kanji for Onishi. This was symbolic because what makes Onishi special is the people that make up the town, and the art piece shows the people that make up the kanji of Onishi.

Another important part of our time in Onishi was the music festival. We never missed a practice, and the taiko family seemed very close knit. We decided it would be fun to include a corner in our exhibition space to talk about the festival, so we set up a tire with some mallets. People were invited to go practice as they wish!

The third element of our exhibition was a Kanna river that we painted and Nathan wrote the kanji. This river was so important when the temperature got so hot-it provided a place of sanctuary, where we could go and escape. The artists went to swim in the river twice a day! We also wanted the community to be a part of our exhibition, so we included markers for people to draw on the river. We hoped they would draw elements of Onishi that they, too, cherish.

We also included our uchiwas that were beautifully calligraphied with our names, and our kites (his had Oogie Boogie from Nightmare Before Christmas, mine had an orca) because to be honest, we would put up anything that passed as art.







So, between setting up for the exhibition, cleaning, and office work, Nathan and I found moments to put the exhibition together.

Opening day of the exhibition, I was personally a bit worried about how our “art piece” would be received. But it seemed to be liked! It was especially a kid favorite-kids seemed to love drawing and practicing taiko. It was so fun to hear adults and kids practicing the taiko patterns in our room!

When the artist talks approached on Saturday, I started to prep my songs. I had 3 songs prepared, with a 4th for the party. When I performed, I started with Perche’ dal tuo Seno by Rossini, then Moonlight by Quilter. I finished with Giusto Ciel by Paisiello. The response I received after the performance was incredible. Shiro Oni does a great job of bringing art to the residents of Onishi, which otherwise there would not be exposure to as many forms of art. It is an incredible opportunity to have exposure to creativity and different cultures from a very early age. However, Shiro Oni does not often have a musician. So my ability to sing opera here brought some new music to a smaller area of Japan that would not otherwise have had the exposure. Everyone who approached me after was incredibly grateful, and I felt so blessed to get to share my gift with them. Next, I sang again at the party, this time Fair Robin I Love by Kirke Mechem, for even more people. And then I sang finally for Ryota’s final dinner, where even more community members got to hear. The dinner was called “Takarazushi Opera” and the entire sushi restaurant came out to hear me. (Which sounds fancy but there were maybe 10 people in all hahah)

I feel so grateful that my boss, Kjell, pushed Nathan and I to contribute something to the exhibition. If he had not encouraged me, I would not have shared my voice with the town, or shared the exhibition with Nathan. I hope Onishi feels adequately thanked, because I am so happy to have lived there.

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Going to Japan, my family was a bit worried about me because I have been known to be a bit picky. However, when abroad I take a new attitude and try to eat foods that I would not normally choose and make a point to try the local cuisine. I was also a bit concerned, as I thought Japanese food was Sushi and Ramen exclusively. But that is not the case!! Japanese food turned out to be quite varied and very delicious.

I wanted to talk a bit about the different types of food I encountered and which were my favorite.










-Sushi: Obviously sushi is a part of the Japanese diet. But one thing I found different than the sushi in the US is that in Japan, it is not a bunch of fancy sushi rolls with toppings. Rather, nigiri and sashimi is more popular. Raw fish here is safer and food standards higher.

-Ramen: Yes! There is ramen. But it isn’t just some microwavable ramen, even though that is an option. Rather, ramen becomes a cheap dinner or lunch option where one can usually customize their bowl. At the ramen restaurant I went to, you bought the ramen from a machine to get the receipt and then wrote on a pad of paper the amount of spice, garlic, meat etc. you wanted.

-Soba noodle dishes: noodle dishes with noodles made with buckwheat flour. Many small noodle shops make their own noodles. You can get noodles in cold or hot dishes, cold noodles where the noodles are washed after boiling. Cold noodles served plain with sauce to dip it into or with other toppings. Hot noodles can have different meats, vegetables, or tempura on top, although pork is the most popular.

-Udon noodle dishes: Most noodle shops have the same noodle dishes, and you get to choose the noodle! Udon is the thicker noodle of the two.

-Tempura: Fried seafood and fish, and tempura flakes are popular additions to soups or noodles, kind of akin to breadcrumbs.

-Katsu: Fried meats, most popularly ton (pork) or karage (chicken).

-Omurice: Fried rice topped with egg and ketchup. I find this to be an odd combo, but Nathan loved it.

-Okonomiyaki: These are cabbage pancakes, which sounds odd, but in reality is DELICIOUS. A normal okonomiyaki might have shrimp in it, but there are also specific okonomiyaki restaurants. At these restaurants, you can have okonomiyaki with cheese, tomato and ham, or beef and onion, the options are endless. I was lucky enough to go to an okonomiyaki restaurant with Nozomi, a former IWU abroad student, and Nathan, where we met Taka, future IWU abroad student.

-Japanese curry: Kare can go on top of just rice or also katsu with rice. It is delicious, and not spicy at all compared to other country curries, so suitable to everyone.

-Yakisoba: fried noodles! There is also a bread form…yes, yakisoba in bread. Which is not as good.

-Gyoza: dumplings!! Would eat every day.

-Soups: there are tons of soups, like corn soup, but the most popular soup is miso soup. It is common to get a soup and rice as side dishes to your main dish.

Sukiyki is a soup/hot pot type dish with noodles.

-Don dishes! Don dishes are dishes that are served over rice. Oyakodon is chicken and egg over rice, or gyudon is beef and onions over rice. With don dishes, you can also put raw egg over them. Raw eggs are safe in Japan, so the egg is poured over the meat and the rice and mixes well together.









Street Foods:

-Takoyaki: little balls of octopus and batter. This is a must try in Japan!!

-Taiyaki: A personal favorite of mine. These are little fish shaped waffles with fillings inside, like custard or red bean.










-Yakitori: chicken skewers.

-Mochi: This might not be a street food, but rather an every time food. Mochi is rice that is pounded into a paste/cake format. It can be flavored or filled and colored, which means Mochi is available in many beautiful formats.

Snoopy Mochi

Green Alien mochi!










-Onigiri: Rice balls that can be filled with meats or fruits and wrapped in seaweed. A beautiful option for a quick breakfast or snack. Or a couple for lunch!

Special food:

-Yakiniku: A dining experience where you can cook your own food at your table. There are options to have unlimited food for an hour, so go with your friends when you are hungriest, and grill up all of the fanciest meats and side dishes you can think of! An expensive outing, but wonderful when sharing with friends.

-Shabu-Shabu. I did not get to have this experience. but heard good things of at your tbale hotpot cooking.

-Steakhouses: In Japan, hamburgers are generally eaten with a knife and fork. At the steakhouse I went to, you received your steak as well as a hot rock that you cooked it on if you wanted it more well done! For larger steaks, you were given a small grill. Ours also had a salad bar, complete with soup and curry!


-Senbei: rice crackers, a good snack!!

-Melon pan: This is NOT a bread that tastes like melon, like one would expect, but rather a bread shaped like a melon. It is usually butter flavored, but can be nut flavored.

-ice cream: ice cream in Japan is acceptable at any hour. You can get pretty decent ice creams from vending machines. Here, soft cream is preferred, but there are Baskin Robins stores (known there as 31 flavors) as a hard ice cream option. They have way better flavors than in the states, and you can get free dry ice to take your ice cream home. And 7-11’s selection is always incredible. 7-11 in Japan is ALWAYS a good option for where to get food.
-omiyage: omiyage means souvenir, and omiyage are very popular in Japan. Each prefecture seems to have a different sweet that they specialize in, so omiyage are sold in prepackaged boxes for you to take home. In Tokyo, you can get Tokyo bananas, little baked goods that look like bananas and can have fun patterns on them.

-cute desserts: Desserts are all incredible here. But one Japanese rule seems to be that everything be adorable.

Cheese tart!


Long story short, Japan’s food is worth travelling for on its own. When you add on top of that the sights, culture, and kind people, Japan is a must visit location.

Categories: Internship, IWU Freeman Asia, Japan, Study Abroad | 1 Comment

Sunny Summer Festival

The 14-15th was Onishi’s big Summer Festival, which is an annual music festival that brings together the 5 communities in town as they all perform taiko and haul a shrine around town. I was told going in that the festival included pulling the shrine in intense humidity all day only to stay up late at parties at night. But I was not prepared.

Naturally, this weekend had unusually hot weather for the area, with each day reaching 100 degrees with 80% humidity and no shade in sight. But that did not stop the giant shrine from being pulled at one of the hottest times of day, 2pm.

I went in with a basic understanding of what was going to happen: I was going to show up to the community center before two in my uniform so that I could help the shrine get out into the street as we take it on a predetermined route. Every time we pass another community center, there would be snacks or water waiting for us. That sounded like a pretty good deal to me.

I was able to wear one of the official uniform that was borrowed from a town member. And then we all got to tying out obi belts…even the Japanese staff members alone could not help the 13 of us clueless Westerners. Thankfully, a local woman Kiyomi walked in right that moment to gift us a tart she had baked. She was an obi expert, and was able to help us look official, at least for the first day.

All of the artists arrived at the community center at 2 and help pull the shrine out onto the street. It is on wheels, but people are already playing on it and it is very heavy. We went down a hill first, which was doable. And then we turned around and ascended the hill. This is where the pulling gets more intense, and the heat begins to hit me. I am not accustomed to heat like this, and if I have been somewhere hot, it was never this humid. Finally, we crest the hill to the next community center and are immediately gifted with water and ramune (soda)-flavored popsicles.

Next, a group of us move on to help with a kid’s shrine, which is a mini version of the shrine where no one plays, but it is decorated by the kids, so they too can pull something around town and feel useful. But, this year, one of the schools couldn’t make it and they asked the artists to help. We thought ‘aw, yay! Playing with kids!’. This was false, we essentially had the second float all to ourselves to pull around! It was quite a sight, a procession of the kids and foreigners floats.

Most of this time, I was going back and forth between helping and taking pictures, which meant I also had a camera around my neck. I thought we weren’t allowed to wear hats, but I was told to keep my water bottle and wallet in my back, held up by the obi belt. I was drinking water, yet I still felt faint. I found out very soon how important it was, especially when walking for hours in direct sunlight in the middle of the day, to take breaks. As soon as we broke for lunch, I took the coldest shower I could to take my body temperature down. Throughout the rest of the festival, I kept taking short 5-10 minute breaks when I needed to. Which at first, made me feel bad, because why do I need to take breaks when other people don’t? But it turned out to be a good idea, as there was one person who did faint and another who got heat exhaustion, and I did not want to be added to that list. The important thing was to listen to my body. Too hot? Yes, get some water or get IN some water! Find the 7-11 and stand in it for a couple minutes! This can help so much.


After the break for lunch, we met back up at 5 for the nighttime portion. With the sun setting, things got easier as the route got longer. Every time we approached a community center or a shrine, we would bow and clap to honor it. Then, around eight, all of the shrines gathered and faced each other. If shrines pass each other during the day on their routes, they may stop and ‘battle’, aka just play the best they can at each other and smile before moving on. At night, they all meet up for people to gather and watch. This is when myself and the artists get to get up on the shrine and play–thankfully not when it is moving!!

It was such a joy to play with Nathan and our coworker Kurumi. Before we knew it, we were tapped out and able to grab some festival food before bringing the shrine back to the community center for the night. Both nights of the festival, lunch and dinner were kindly provided by the community center, so we went afterwards to enjoy a platter of Japanese food and talk of a job well done.


But then, SUNDAY. And the festival ACTUALLY starts. For some reason, the festival officially starts at the opening ceremony around 4:30 on the Sunday. The Saturday and section before that on Sunday are…extra festival? I thought that was fake, but when the shrine came up to the crowd on Sunday night versus Saturday, there was barely room to move around, which was a striking difference.

Sunday was pretty similar to Saturday, with a few exceptions. We had a longer break ‘battling’ a shrine on Sunday, which allowed us to dance with fans to the ‘sore’ song, and some of us were invited up by the heads of our group to lead the dance with the lanterns! By going to practice every day, Nathan and I had built up a strong image with the leaders of the Aioicho taiko community. I think especially because they noticed our dedication, they let us do some special things like this that might usually be left out.

‘sore’ fan dance

Also, when playing with the five shrines together at night on Sunday, the playing was met with fireworks! 

Monday, we all got up to help clean, which went a lot faster with many people. And then we had the final party Monday night at the noodle shop, Tenguya. This was special because it is when the taiko leadership reflects on the things that went well this year and what can be improved, as well as electing new leadership. To be invited into this dinner/meeting was quite an honor. It became apparent how welcome we were when all of the bosses (Music head, Lantern dancing head, Children head, etc.) were going around, and my boss Kjell was announced as the Artist head.

The taiko practices in Japan are rooted in tradition. Some are falling apart, but in Onishi and many small towns, the traditions are alive and well. I am really thankful for Aioicho because it provided a unique space where 15 people who are not from the city can learn and play on the shrine in two weeks. Some other communities might make room for a couple, but for there to be unanimous room for everyone, even if they cannot play the entire pattern, was incredible. On top of that, the women in the community are so strong. At the final meeting, one of them gave a speech and said something along the lines of “thank you for supporting the loud-mouthed women even if we might say rude things to you sometimes”. Which, in a tradition that seems built mainly on the male lineage and parties that are very male heavy, is a breath of fresh air.

I am endlessly grateful for this opportunity and know I will always have a space at Aioicho should I choose to return.


‘sore’ lanterns


Categories: Internship, IWU Freeman Asia, Japan, Study Abroad | Leave a comment

Teaching Taiko

In the past two weeks, the artists arrived and went straight into creating art. However, there is an added level of complication, as they also can partake in the annual Onishi music festival, which takes place a mere two weeks after their arrival.

Before coming to the residency, most of the artists chose to come during this session partially because of the festival and the opportunity it provided. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn to taiko drum and wear an official taiko costume on top of a neighborhood shrine during an annual festival. This is not an opportunity that is often open to people outside of the city, let alone people outside of the country. But my boss, Kjell, has such a good connection with the local community, that one of the neighborhoods, Aioicho, allows all of the artists that want to take part to help out however much they would like.

For some artists, that means diving in 100%: learning the drum pattern, pulling the shrine, and going to all of the parties. But this is first and foremost an art residency, so if the festival is going to distract from an artist creating the best work they could in this environment, they might opt to participate a little less. They can still come to all of the parties, learn a simpler part of the drum pattern or just help pull the shrine. There are also many opportunities to help, whether that be clean the shrine before or help clean up after.

The music festival is composed of five different neighborhoods that each have a shrine and slightly different taiko patterns, although some are the same. The five neighborhoods are aioicho, naka machi, kami machi, moto machi, and misugicho. Onishi is a very small city already, so each neighborhood includes all of the people in the houses surrounding it, as well as all of the businesses. Aioicho has lucked out because our location means we have Tenguya and Takarazushi in our neighborhood, the local noodle and sushi restaurants. Needless to say, the free meals and parties have incredible food.

So as soon as the artists arrived, we talked to them about the festival and how much they wanted to participate. Day one, most people wanted to participate as much as possible…and then we started practicing. We, luckily, only have one of the songs to learn.

As I have stated before, taiko is not something I consider easy to learn, especially if you are raised with a structured musical routine of sheet music or repetition. The hand movements are extremely specific, and after the beat, you have to raise your hands up to have your sticks cross (ideally). Knowing this going in, the artists started off going slowly and learning only the simple part of the song. But then, day 2, the rest of the song was taught, and a teacher from aioicho came to help them learn. However, he does not speak the best of English and the teaching methods for taiko seem to be straightforward. You repeat the pattern until eventually you get it right. There is no breaking it down or explaining WHAT is wrong or HOW to do it better, there is just an endless repetition until eventually you get it.

For most of the artists, this worked. All of the artists went to official practice at the community center that night, however, and it was a lot to take in. To ease the transition into learning, Kjell had created the ‘sheet music’ that I was talking about. But no one at the community center uses it. So they ask the artists to get up on the drums to play, and most of them play with their faces plastered to the sheet or just end up confused the entire time. Because it is day ONE! There is no way they were going to have this memorized or perfect.

To be clear, the community members also do not expect the pattern to be perfect. They know who comes to practices, and if it is your first time, you can make as many mistakes as you want. It is about having fun. But for most of the artists, who are also dealing with adjusting to a new culture and the fact that in the community center everyone will talk to them in Japanese, they were pretty down after the first practice.

The second practice is when I decided to help out some members that I saw were struggling a little more than the rest. I could see them getting visibly frustrated, and my goal was to keep as many artists interested in the festival as possible. So I did a couple individual taiko lessons for two members. They were good at taiko!! But the method of repetition until suddenly it clicks was not an effective method, and I completely understand that. By sitting down one on one, we were able to go slower than the rest of the group and figure out where the trouble spots were and diagnose WHY there was a problem. For example, when there were groups of three in the music, they were both understandably making them into triplets. But in the pattern, the first note is twice as long, about equivalent to a quarter and two eighth notes. Or they were using the left hand instead of the right. Slowly but surely, we were able to build the confidence back up to where they could join the group and feel that they could keep up.

I felt quite honored to be able to teach taiko. I was still learning and perfecting taiko myself, so every day was a bit of a team learning situation. But it was nice to step back into the music side of things and get back to what I feel good at, music.

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Sick abroad?

Many college students will recall the fateful time after starting college when most of the freshman class gets a cold. It is brutal. You are alone, with new people, and not entirely sure how to take care of yourself more than simply functioning. But when you are sick, you have to sleep more, drink more, and eat consciously if you want to get better faster, which is rather hard stressing at school on a meal plan.

Getting sick abroad, however, is a whole different ballgame.

I boast the immune system of a toddler and am very good at getting sick, despite the hand sanitizer that is always on me and all the precautions I take. So I have been lucky enough to get sick abroad 3!! times, in the last 6 months.

I got sick pretty soon after arriving in Italy, which I partially chalk up to my body adjusting to a new environment. And then I got sick again. Naturally, it was right before a concert. Here, in Japan, I woke up surprised to find myself with a cold. It felt especially ironic considering it’s been mid-90s with humidity. But, surprise!

Now, after 3 goes, I consider myself an expert on self care while sick Abroad and would like to share my wisdom.

Just a happy rock pic to break things up

On my packing list, I strongly recommended bringing American medicine with you in case you got sick. Thank goodness I did, as I was immediately able to take a DayQuil and go to work with some of my symptoms managed. Another element I carry with me is Airborne, a tablet that dissolves in water to help prevent or speed up the cure of sickness. Sometimes at school I will take this daily. But when Abroad, I take these only when I am a. Traveling (extra susceptible to germs!) and b. Starting to worry I might be getting sick, even if it’s just a little allergy tickle. I’ll take one just to be safe. But when I am actually sick, I amp up to 2 Airbornes a day, one in the morning and one at night. You can feel free to skip this altogether, but it helps me feel like I am getting the vitamins I need. I know other people who rely less on over the counter medicine and prefer natural methods. For that, I’d suggest packing ginger and throat coat teas!

On top of Airborne, I go on the lookout for vitamin c. At school, it was easy to get an orange in the cafeteria or orange juice. In Italy, I was lucky to have fresh oranges on offer in my homestay and would increase my orange intake. Or I would swap it out for orange juice. Here, in Japan, fruit is rather expensive, but I am finding the juice to fill that void.

I am in the right corner helping with the shrine

Next, I assess how sick I am. I was lucky enough to only contract colds each time, and never was contagious enough that other people got sick. But if you are feeling contagious, it is worth weighing the option of staying home, as you do not want to infect others. Contact your school or boss and let them know, and they will advise you. I know for my work and my school, a cold would not be sufficient to skip. It was not preventing me from working, so I went to both. However, my second cold in Italy was worse than my first and has been going for about a week and I had lost my voice. Knowing I had a concert in a couple days, I contacted the school nurse to see what they advised. Turns out it was a bit more severe than a cold, so they were able to give me medicine and advised I stay home the next day. This allowed me to heal faster for the concert. Had my host Mom not pushed me to go to the doctor, I would not have gotten medicine and probably would have had no voice for the performance. If you think you might have a more severe illness than a common cold, go to a doctor! Your program should have medical insurance that will help cover some or all of the costs. My medication was about $7 I believe. Going to a doctor will prove to the employer or teacher that you are not slacking off but indeed in need of some rest. This is also important because some cultures view sickness in different lights. In Italy, it would be completely unheard of for someone to NOT go to work if they had a cold, where as in the US that is pretty common. In Japan, cleanliness is paramount and if you are infectious you should not be around other people, or wear a mask.

Once you’ve assessed how you will progress with the illness, you unfortunately need to take a step back with your plans for the week. This is where things begin to get sad, because it is best if you rest, first and foremost. Sleep will help cure you. But that requires cancelling or saying no to activities in your week, which at the time feels really bad. When I got sick in Japan, it was the day of Pizza and Mario Kart and I was PUMPED for some pizza after so long and Mario Kart after years. But I had to decline because I needed to sleep. It ended up being a good call, as I got to sleep for about 11 hours. If you allow yourself more time to sleep at the beginning of your sickness and say no to things, the faster you can get better and get back out to having fun.

photoshoot for the flyer

If you don’t already have a water bottle, buy one, even if it’s a single use water bottle that you refill. Drinking water when you are sick is important to keep you hydrated, allow your body to fight the disease, and keep you from getting sicker. This might be a bit of a problem when abroad, as in Europe there are no free bathrooms, or where I am in Japan you are going to have to use squatter toilets. But you cannot risk getting dehydrated, especially when sick. And if it is hot out, like it is here right now, you need even more water. The struggles in the mean time will be worth it in the end when you are feeling back to normal.

But most importantly, don’t let this sickness define you! Find a way to make the best out of your situation. I might’ve had to stay in instead of going out for pizza, but I got to babysit my neighbors dog instead! In Italy, I had to stay in from school, but it allowed me to practice more Italian with my host family and catch up on my work. If you are lucky enough to be abroad, this sickness too shall pass.

Of course, if you can go abroad and NOT get sick, all the better. Would highly recommend.

Categories: Internship, IWU Freeman Asia, Japan, Study Abroad | Leave a comment

Music in Japan

I write this blog post as a cacophony of taiko drumming surrounds me. The local music festival in Onishi runs from July 14-15th, and everyone is in preparation. There are different groups and towns that learn different taiko patterns for playing in shrines, while flautists play behind them and dancers dance on top of the shrine. It is a wonderfully grand event, and this year I will be adding my taiko skills to the mix.

‘Taiko skills?’ you ask, ‘I thought you were a singer!’. That is correct. So far, I am…less than ideal at taiko. But according to my boss and the taiko teachers, I am doing remarkably well. I think that is a lie.

But first, let’s step back and talk about the music I have experienced so far in Japan in general. In Italy, I was shocked that most of the music I ended up hearing was just American pop music and the occasional Italian hit. But then, on the streets there were tons of classical street performers, as classical music is revered in Italy. In Japan, I was not sure what to expect.

In Tokyo at the busiest places, specifically around train stations, there are tons of street performers, even a handful in a row! People would stop and watch/listen to them, but the main genre I noted was Japanese pop music. But step into the local 7-Eleven in Onishi, and I bet you cannot make a visit without hearing a saxophone rendition of Ariana Grande’s Problem. I have been graced with the song every visit so far.

If you take the JR railways through Tokyo, or subway in Kyoto, you might notice that each stop plays a song. I find this quite interesting, as each stop is unique. This does not appear to be the case for every city, but there are songs or more melodic warning messages everywhere. In Kyoto, I noticed that the warning message, used if a car is coming or an escalator is ending, is a descending major third. Bus stops in Kyoto are do-re-te, or +M2 -M3. In the United States, everything warning is extremely harsh and blaring. But here in Tokyo, pleasing intervals are used, the repetition keeping the meaning the same throughout.

subway sounds

There was also an interesting discovery when I was in the car with Nathan’s host family. His youngest host sister was singing along to the credits song of Castle in the Sky. Soon I was humming along too, it was quite catchy! She was not singing the words, but rather the solfege! And modulating when it became easier to sing in another key! She had the entire song memorized on solfege…the exact same solfege I use when I sight sing, except instead of ti, it was shi, which makes sense for the Japanese alphabet. Nathan later told me that that is how Japanese children (or at least the small subset we have been in contact with) learn to sing songs. I found this incredible, and wished that I, at nine years old, could have easily solfeged my way through songs.

The host sisters also learned how to play recorder at school. I learned how to play recorder at school! We quickly bonded over finding ‘Let it Go’ in the sheet music for recorder as I sang in English and she sang in Japanese. It was refreshing to see that music education in Japan seemed to be strong.


Ok, back to Taiko.

Four days ago, my boss came up to Nathan and I and said: “It is time to learn taiko!”. I knew this day was coming. Christina, my intern counterpart from last year, had told me about it, and rumor has it she was really good. But I am a classically trained musician, and this was definitely not going to be like the music rehearsals I was used to. It would be good for me.

The first thing he hands us is the ‘sheet music’. It was created for the artists and residency, because the people of the town have grown up playing. Kids play in the shrine (with easier parts) from a very young age. The pattern is just memorized or felt/heard and then learned. The pattern is not like a pattern of music I am accustomed to seeing, with quarter notes and rests and so forth. The ‘sheet music’ had circles and dots and dashes that represented different articulations of the drum. Which in some cases did not equal the rhythm.

the sheet music


Nathan, the drummer, got to it and learned it by rote. I was like wait, what??? And when I got back to the office immediately tried to translate the ‘sheet music’ into actual sheet music with durations and rests…only to find that Christina had also tried last year and given up. I would soon follow suit. For example, the rhythm might be ‘ten teke ten’ and in one case it would be quarter, 2 8ths, quarter, with hands right, right left right. But in another case it would be quarter, quarter rest, quarter quarter half, with hands right left right left. The best way to learn taiko was how it has been learned for centuries: by rote and repetition.

Three days later, we went to our first official taiko rehearsal with the other people. Meaning we would be practicing on actual drums or tires instead of pillows, and with drumsticks instead of cut up pieces of bamboo. A step up! But it was also scary, because I felt wholly unprepared for this as I was still messing up the pattern. And I definitely could not make it through the song without having my eyes glued to the paper, which no one else has.

The first iteration of the song goes well! I am in the back corner, playing on a tire, so I can learn, but if I mess up, no one can hear. It is ideal. And then, my boss says “your turn to go play on the drums!”. Oh, good, is it?? So we go to play on the drums, only within two seconds, the nice lady next to me playing the flute decides I need help. She probably is not wrong. She stops playing the flute and starts shouting the articulation names at me (it is extremely loud in the room, shouting is the only way). This act of kindness, however, is NOT helpful. I can now no longer look at my paper as I make eye contact with her and try to get it down. The second round is better as I choose to look back at the paper. I have to focus on my own part, because there are also other bigger drums playing a contrasting part! So it helps me to have something to ground me. At the end of the second song, I am finally done with my time on the drum. My nice helper friend says “very good job!”. Another lie about my taiko skills. But hey, it is my first official practice.

Through the 15th, you can find me frantically practicing taiko. I’ll get it, it will just take time. The most important thing in this festival, as is stressed over and over again, is to have fun. I will try my best!

Categories: Internship, IWU Freeman Asia, Japan, Study Abroad | 2 Comments

Kyoto and Friends

After a fast paced 2 weeks helping artists get their artwork ready for exhibition and then helping them leave the residency, it was finally time for a few days off. As Shiro Oni is not a normal workplace, vacation days here are scheduled around when the artists are on site and when you would like a break.

One of the places I knew I HAD to go to in Japan was Kyoto – it is truly a beautiful city. One moment you are walking around a bamboo forest, the next surrounded by centuries old shrines and temples. Needless to say, Kyoto did not disappoint.

Upon arriving in Kyoto, the first stop was the Fushimi Inari-Taisha shrine, the most visited shrine in Kyoto. You might recognize it, as everyone who has visited Kyoto has to get a picture with the iconic red arches. The arches are common in other shrines too, but what makes Fushimi Inari special is the sheer number of them, there are more than 10,000! They are perched up the side of a small mountain, and many hike up through them. If you plan to go, I would highly recommend hiking through the entire thing. There are maps along the route that seem questionably to scale, so it makes the top look forever away. But in reality, it is not. Plus, if you go all the way to the top, you can stop at the lookout points, and there are less and less people as you ascend. However, make sure to bring your own water or buy some before getting there, the prices at the top of the mountain are very high!

Kyoto city lookout Fushimi Inari

Lookout from Fushimi Inari-Taisha

Fushimi Inari Shrine cat

Shrine cat!

Fushimi Inari Shrine

Fushimi Inari-Taisha Shrine











As many of the artists were travelling after the exhibition, it was a wonderful opportunity to meet up with some new friends in Kyoto! How fun is it to watch a toddler have fun in a cat café? And then go out and get all you can eat yakiniku, where you grill your own meat of your choice! Kyoto treats a food lover well. There are little food shops at every corner, with amazing ramen or a quick red bean taiyaki (little fish waffles! One of my favorites.) Or you can try the local sweets, nama yatsuhashi, doughy candies with different fillings.

The other two must do’s in Kyoto are: the bamboo forest and visiting as many temples or shrines as you can. The bamboo forest was humbling and centering. The morning is definitely the time to go, as you can get there before the crowds and have some peace. Visiting shrines and temples can get a little expensive, as many shrines have entrance fees of $5-6. But if you do your research, they are very worth it! We got our recommendations from the artists who had been before, and visited Ryoan-ji, the temple with a rock garden, which we were surprised to find had a large plot of land! We also visited Daigo-ji, a temple that was not frequented tourists, but had a beautiful pagoda as well as a museum!











After Kyoto, the rest of the trip was visiting with Nathan’s host family and friends. Nathan studied abroad in Nagoya last semester, which is a short drive from Kyoto. So we decided to hit Nagoya on the way back and catch up. First, we went into Nagoya and visited Nagoya castle, which was stunning. Then we went to visit his homestay family, who welcomed me into their home with open arms despite never meeting me before that day! They were truly the nicest family even as I did my best but clearly could not speak Japanese. They took us on a cormorant fishing trip, which included a boat ride while eating a giant bento box, and then an after sunset cormorant fishing spectacular. It was quite a fascinating experience. The next day, we visited Nanzan University, where I met the sweetest people who bought me bread, gave me sweets, and took pictures with me despite only meeting me 15 minutes prior. This experience is accurate for almost everyone I have met in Japan so far. I completely fumble my way through Japanese or just end up smiling and say ‘sumimasen’ because I do not understand, and then everyone is so incredibly sweet back! Kindness here is contagious.

The first trip is in the books, I cannot wait to see other parts of Japan! Thanks for welcoming me.

Nagoya Castle

Cormorant fishing










Thank you <3

Yay to new Nanzan friends










Categories: Internship, IWU Freeman Asia, Japan, Study Abroad | 1 Comment

Bikes, bugs, and bumps

I am a person who likes to plan. Before going abroad, I read every article I could, so the shock would be diminished. Yet nothing can be entirely planned for, and every time I go to a new place, I make many new mistakes and learn from them. In Italy, I locked myself in my homestay bathroom and mt host mother had to go through the window to unlock it. In Japan, I struggled with biking, bugs, and bumps.

I guess the phrase ‘just like riding a bike’ does not apply to me. I can ride the bike ok, but everything about biking here was different than I am accustomed to, and riding bikes with trucks and cars is still a bit scary for me. So the next day at work, a problem arises and there are not enough bikes. I gladly volunteer my bike, knowing that I will get a new bike in a week.

The bugs problem was less of a problem and more of a funny happenstance. My room in the residency has a beautiful view of the surrounding hills.

I opened the window to find a little friend (spider) on the window screen. Nathan helped me get the spider by flinging it off of the window. We then discovered that it was bug day, a holiday where you are supposed to honor and respect bugs more than normal. Whoops!

Every new workplace has bumps along the path to success. In this case, there were also daily literal head bumps on the doorways (doorways are much shorter here in Japan). But most of my silly mistakes were small. I was laminating posters for the exhibition coming up, but that lamination machine seemed to be eating my paper. My site superviser, Kjell, starts laughing and taking pictures of me
as my coworkers help me get the poster out of the laminator. Apparently, last year the intern Christina
did the EXACT same thing, which is supposedly hard to do.

But all of these bumps are small on the long journey. On the same day, I was able to help an artist,
Colin, assemble his artwork for the exhibition. I had no idea what the final product was going to be,
and it was incredible to watch his idea take shape as I also heard the inner meanings behind why he
chose to pursue this path for his artwork.


I am excited to call Onishi my home for the next 7 weeks. There will be more bumps along the road, surely, but the community here is so caring. All of the artists are incredible people (I am not sure how niceness was screened for in applications, but it must have been). The local town is very welcoming to everyone, even though I do not speak Japanese well. I am learning new things, like photography! (See the photo taken on a manual camera below) There are cats, dogs, young children, and freshly baked cookies. Onishi will surely, with time, begin to feel like home.



Categories: Internship, IWU Freeman Asia, Japan, Study Abroad | 1 Comment


Hi. I am Elisabeth, a rising Junior at Illinois Wesleyan University, majoring in vocal performance with a minor in Italian Studies. Last semester, I was abroad in Milan, Italy with IES – Music: Tradition and Innovation. For the last four months, I was living with a wonderful Italian host family and practicing Italian while working on my musical craft and Italian grammar at school.

Just last week, I returned back to the US. However, I will be leaving for abroad again soon, as I have the opportunity to intern as part of the IWU Freeman Asia Internship Program at Shiro Oni Studios in Japan. As smart packing is important for studying abroad, I began to reflect on elements of my packing from last semester that worked and would do again. This blog post will be a look into what I would suggest for packing for a semester or two months abroad.


Important things to consider:

-How conservative is the general dress? (For instance, some places it is necessary to cover your knees or shoulders, or at least have something conservative if you plan on entering churches)

-What is the weather going to be like? (Regardless if it going to be warm, it is important to bring a sweater and a rain jacket!)

-How often can you do laundry? How can you do laundry?

-What are the plugs necessary to charge things? (You need BOTH converters and adaptors. Adaptors alone will work for most computers and phones, but most everything else will need a converter. Consider also countries you might travel to.)

-How many bags can you take for free on your flight? How heavy?

But where to start?

Personally, I start with the bags I can take. Then I know how much space I have. And if any of the bags can expand, I would take them unexpanded so you can bring back souvenirs. I went abroad with two medium-sized suitcases. I know people that took large suitcases, and you can. But the smaller ones are sometimes better because you can move them easier and will almost surely be underweight. There is more maneuvering through customs and to the place of living than you might expect. Practice walking with your suitcases.

Next, use a list like this one to pack for abroad. As for how many outfits to bring, I brought 9 outfits and tried to wash clothes one time a week. This worked out well for me except for spring break, when I was travelling for longer, but just needed to wash things on the go. For a semester abroad, make sure to bring a fancy change of clothes. For an internship abroad, make sure you have clothes that are office ready.

-Bring more underwear, 10-11 pairs.

-If you are staying in hostels, make sure to bring flip flops as shower shoes. Also a travel towel is very useful! Packs small, and you can also take it as a blanket to sit on the grass. Locks are sometimes also necessary in hostels.

-bring small, travel size toiletries that can last you for a few days, and you can also refill the bottles if you go on trips. For normal toiletries, it is not necessary bring them, they are heavy. You can buy shampoo and toothpaste when there.

-Do not forget textbooks! As for school supplies, it might be easier and cheaper to bring some. Be aware that some countries abroad have different paper sizes and binders. For instance, Italy and most of europe does not have 8.5 x 11 paper, but rather in millimeters, so 210mm x 297mm.

-What I missed in Europe was: hand sanitizer and USA medications. Even though Italy has equivalents of Dayquil and Advil, it was really nice that I took a couple along for emergencies and I did not have to go to the store, sick, and try to figure it out. I also brought some Benadryl along in my first aid kit, and it was necessary on occasion.     I would highly recommend carrying around a small first aid kit also with bandages.

How to pack?

-I am a strong believer in rolling clothes. You can fit them into smaller spaces, and also fit things into purses or shoes.

If you know you are going to need some items before you can unpack, make sure they are near the top. If you are living out of the suitcase for a while, make sure items of clothes are together in sections. Otherwise, pack for space and worry about organization upon unpacking.

IMPORTANT: Make sure to have at least three days worth of clothes in your carry on luggage. If your luggage gets lost, you need to have enough clothes to make it to when your bag can (ideally) be located. This is, unfortunately, quite common, and when this happened to me, splitting my clothes in 2 was key. Make sure to also have any medications and daily necessities in the carry on.


Most importantly, on the day of travel, check that you have your passport and visa/study abroad papers that are necessary! You are going to have a great time, and packing intelligently will help ease your transition abroad.


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