Original Post Date: Friday, July 4, 2014

When you prepare to go abroad they tell you that it will be a “once in a lifetime experience”, that you’ll make amazing friends from all over the world and that you will have a “life changing adventure”. To be honest, I vastly underestimated the change I would face and up until a few months ago I don’t think I really tried to put it all into “perspective” of everything that I have gone through while living abroad. But, after a year in Tokyo I realize I have a long list of new understandings and (since its almost obligatory) I thought that before I left my beautiful new home I should do my best to convey them to you. Even though it’s impossible to put the “living abroad experience” into a single post, I wanted to try and help my friends and family catch a glimpse of the person I am now and let them see how I’ve transformed over the past year.

1. The world is bigger than you think.

I realize that the world is a big place, bigger than the mid-west, the U.S.A, and Europe. No one group of people is the “center” of the Earth and every society and culture holds its own specialness. It can be hard to remember that there’s a world full of interesting, creative and intelligent people out there just waiting to be explored. Even though having a home is important, we should also strive to see and absorb what we can from other parts of the world and allow ourselves the beautiful opportunity to learn from the unknown.

2. People will always be people.

I realize that the world doesn’t have a single race and that race doesn’t do much to change people. I have seen Japanese boys act exactly like their American counterparts and it took a while for me to understand that people are people no matter where you go in the world. Although all of our experiences are unique, we draw from our emotions similarly. Even though the names and traditions change, big ideas like belief, hope, fear, and greed are universal and we connect ourselves through them.

3. An open mind is a beautiful thing.

I realize that culture (and experience) shapes us and that it can be the deciding factor in trying to understand someone. Many times over the past few months I’ve been in situations with new friends that I found hard to understand – why would someone have that reaction? Why would they choose to respond that way? It’s times like that where I had to remember that my background has shaped me into the person I am and not everyone can share my world views. Rather than fighting against people with different opinions its easier to try and look at things from their perspective. While there are pieces to peoples’ behaviors that we may never fully understand, we shouldn’t close ourselves off to them. An open mind is the only true cure for ignorance and prejudice – so don’t be part of the problem, be a part of the solution.

4. Change is always happening and it is our choice to accept it or not.

Even though our past can often define our perspective, we hold the power to change ourselves for the future. My opinion is that we should embrace that change, but I realize it’s not a bad thing to want to hold on to the familiar so long as we don’t use the longing for “contentment” as a crutch and refuse to explore the possibilities of the new. History and my own life has taught me that change often marks the start of a brighter beginning, which are easy words to say and a hard truth to accept. Change is natural and expected and we should allow ourselves to accept that change. Because of the nature of my personality I know that I change much more quickly than others but even in my transformations there are pieces of me that stay constant and unending.

5. You alone can define your own feelings.

I realize that love and happiness are neither straightforward nor simple. I realize that you can be happy and still not feel fulfilled but that you can also feel fulfilled and still not be happy because emotions are not like the movies and you alone have the power to define your own feelings. We don’t always have a say in what happens to us, or to our heart, but we do have a voice in how we react to our circumstances. Yes, everyone will have their ups and downs, but after a certain point its up to you to find the cure to your own sickness, your own demons, your own sadness. You are in control, so prove it to yourself and take control.

6. Life is a special gift, don’t let it go to waste.

I realize that I’m a small and insignificant part of a vast ocean of lives. Lives that are short and fleeting and we can never quite know when they will end. It is in the face of this realization that I came to understand the meaning of “once in a lifetime”. Our whole existence is “once in a lifetime” – as much as we may believe, as beautiful as life after death may be… I discovered that I never want to waste my few years left in depression and loneliness when I can find joy and passion in living. Because if you think about the limited amount of time you may (or may not have) left on this beautiful world, isn’t it about time to start living for yourself and making every moment count? Take life in your own hands and make it mean something – you may not have a tomorrow.

7. True friendships are more valuable than anything else.

I realize that friendships can outlast silence and misunderstanding but only if you keep trying and that   the best friendships can come from the most surprising of people. I realize that caring, open minded and respectful friends are more valuable than any other kind. I realize that everyone needs those kinds of people in their life or we go insane.

Beginning to end,

the change which grips us

takes us & moves us

may be the only thing

that stays the same.


Elena Nicole


Song for this post:

“A Thousand Years (Piano/Cello Cover)” – by The Piano Guys

Me circa September 2013 - Headed to the airport.
Me circa September 2013 – Headed to the airport.
Me circa July 2014.
Me circa July 2014.

Enjoying the High Life

Original Post Date: Friday, May 30, 2014

Well my dear family and friends, it’s been quite some time since I last updated you on my life here in Japan and as I currently have less than 2 months left in my new homeland I thought I would let you know what I’ve been up to!

On May 11th (Sunday) I headed south to Enoshima for the annual Ebashi beach tournament! I had an amazing time and (despite the killer workout of running in the sand for the disc) managed to catch the winning point in our second game with an awesome lay out! Since I’ve been quite busy working on the weekends it was a nice (and welcome!) break from lessons and school to be able to spend time with my frisbee family. I think everyone had a really, really good time and it was the perfect day for a tournament!

Why yes, that is Mt. Fuji.
Group photo of our team (I'm the cute boy in the back row).
Group photo of our team (I’m the cute boy in the back row).
The best part was running into the ocean at the end and swimming around!
The best part was running into the ocean at the end and swimming around!

Other than playing frisbee in amazing locations I’ve also been spending time with my friends. I have a group of guy friends who are in most of my classes this semester (as well as last semester): Toshi (Japan), Bob (Netherlands), Francisco (Dominican Republic), Sebastian (Sweden), and Ambroise (France). All of us have the same Monday night class so the past few weeks we’ve been going out and getting a beer (or two) afterwards to just hang out and relax. While I’m often teased as the only girl in the group I love spending time with them and they never fail to make me feel like I have a group of big brothers who would do anything for me. 

The "Monday Night Crew" (Left to right: Seb, Franny, Bob, Ambroise) - taken on May 26th.
The “Monday Night Crew” (Left to right: Seb, Franny, Bob, Ambroise) – taken on May 26th.
Toshi and I with the rest of the crew - May 12th.
Toshi and I with the rest of the crew – May 12th.

Of course aside from all of my pressing social engagements (which really aren’t all that pressing since my life is much less exciting than it might seem), I’m also a full time student at Keio. I’ve been enjoying my classes so far this semester although, similar to last semester, they don’t require as much effort as I might like. However, I’m sure that in the next month or so things will start to pick up since I have several papers and presentations that will be due near the end of June.

Recently on May 22nd (Thursday), I had my kanji mid-term! Since I know many of you won’t quite understand the true terror of the words “kanji exam”, I’ll explain what it entails. Not only do you have to memorize the hiragana for over 100 different kanji characters but you also need to be able to write them out. Confused about the difference between hiragana and kanji? Well it’s rather straightforward!

Japanese as a written language has 3 different character alphabets.

1. Hiragana – Like the roman alphabet, hiragana characters assign a specific sound to each character. It is made up of a total of 47 characters and is fairly easy to memorize. The basic alphabet looks like this (I put the roman letters for the first two sets of characters):(あいうえお – a-i-u-e-o、かきくけこ – ka-ki-ku-ke-ko、さしすせそ、たちつてと、まみむめも、なにぬねの、はひふへほ、らりるれろ、やゆよ、を)

2. Katakana – Very similar to Hiragana, Katakana characters cover the exact same sounds (aiueo, kakikukeko, etc) as Hiragana but the characters a slightly different. The two alphabets evolved differently as hiragana took only a part of the kanji character to create its letters while katakana simplified the whole kanji character. Nowadays katakana is usually used for western words like アイス (ai-su), which means ice or ice cream. The basic alphabet is also made up of 47 characters and looks like this:(アイウエオ – a-i-u-e-o、カキクケコ – ka-ki-ku-ke-ko、サシスセソ、タチツテト、マミムメモ、ナニヌネノ、ハヒフヘホ、ラリルレロ、ヤユヨ、ヲ)

3. Kanji – Kanji is more difficult because it assigns both meaning and sounds to different characters. One character can have several different sounds, which modify themselves when paired with different hiragana or other kanji. When writing kanji you also have to memorize the correct stroke order and how each line should be written (whether it stops, flicks or jumps).(日本 – にほん-nihon – Japan、大学 – university、肉 – meat、新聞 – newspaper、友達 – friend)

So, for my exam not only did I have to know the hiragana for each character but I also had to be able to write them from memory. Which, when you have over 100 to learn, is not a small feat! However, on the whole I really enjoy learning kanji since it’s very systematic and beautiful and sometimes they can be quite fun to write! I think I did really well on the exam and there were only a couple small things that I couldn’t remember.

Studying the night before!
Studying the night before!
About to take my exam in my favorite polka dot skirt with my double shot latte!
About to take my exam in my favorite polka dot skirt with my double shot latte!

But let’s not forget that on top of being a student I’m also a teacher! The past month I’ve taught 6 classes regularly per week and for the most part they’ve all gone really well and I’ve had a lot of fun. I never thought that I would enjoy teaching young children but lately I’ve realized that I’m always happier after I teach and my kids constantly brighten my day. Something about the infectious energy and ridiculousness of children just warms my heart and makes me feel better about life when I teach.

Takafumi-kun's homework. The drawings were so weird that I had to take a picture!
Takafumi-kun’s homework. The drawings were so weird that I had to take a picture!
My Tuesday night class (left to right - Takafumi, Kanon, Haruto)
My Tuesday night class (left to right – Takafumi, Kanon, Haruto)
Haru and Taka decided to jump on top of sensei for the 2nd picture! Kanon is holding up her practice homework.
Haru and Taka decided to jump on top of sensei for the 2nd picture! Kanon is holding up her practice homework.

On the whole it’s been a really great month although I wish I could stop the time – everything seems to be happening so fast. Even though I miss my home, family and partner I still can’t really think about leaving this beautiful country that I’ve fallen in love with over the past few months!

I’ll do my best to keep you guys updated on my adventures as they happen! More to come soon!

Time doesn’t stop
life continues-
don’t ever stop running
and living in the moment.

– Elena

ps. Song for this blog post was: Latika’s Theme – A.R. Rahman (Slumdog Millionaire Soundtrack)

Golden Week: Trip to Kamakura

Original Post Date: Sunday, May 11, 2014

Greetings Family and Friends!

The past 2-ish weeks or so have been a part of a special holiday in Japan called “Golden Week” where there are several holidays in a row so that many students (and workers) take the time off to go and travel with family and friends. While I am baffled at why the Japanese they have a “spring break” period only a month into the semester it was nice to have a couple of days off of classes and work so that I could rest and relax since I usually have something to do every day of the week.

Even though I took most of the time off just to myself I did end up taking a short day trip with some of my friends to Kamakura, which is about an hour south of Tokyo. The group that ended up coming along was: Will (Australia), Emi (U.S./Japan), Siobhan (U.K.), Taylor (U.S.), and Abby (U.S.), and I think that all of us ended up having a really great time!

Taylor and I taking the obligatory “jump” picture.

We left at around 9AM from Hiyoshi and headed south on the Tokyo & JR Yokosuka train lines to arrive at Kamakura Station a little after 10 AM. The first thing that we did was head to the beach and while Will was thoroughly unimpressed (being spoiled by Australian beaches for far too long) the rest of us thought it a nice beach and had some fun taking pictures of ourselves being silly.

Afterwards we headed to one of the many temples in Kamakura and made ourselves busy looking around and seeing all of the interesting (and beautiful) temple-related things that there were to see. Probably one of my favorite parts of this temple, Hase-dera, was that since it was located on a mountainside I was able to hike up a path and get some beautiful shots of the beach/city below. It was especially nice since the day was so beautiful!

Main temple building.

Some background information on the temple itself:

Hase-dera (長谷寺) (commonly called the Hase-kannon (長谷観音) is one of the great Buddhist temples in the city of Kamakura, famous for housing a massive wooden statue of Kannon. The temple is the fourth of the 33 stations of the Bandō Sanjūsankosho pilgrimage dedicated to the goddess Benzaiten.

After visiting Hase-dera we got some lunch together and then visited Kamakura’s most famous attraction, the Daibutsu (big Buddha) at Kōtoku-in Temple.

DSC01514Some background information on the temple:

Kōtoku-in (高徳院) is a Buddhist temple of the Jōdo-shū sect in the city of Kamakura in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.

The temple is renowned for its “Great Buddha” (大仏 Daibutsu), a monumental outdoor bronze statue of Amida Buddha, which is one of the most famous icons of Japan. The bronze statue probably dates from 1252, in the Kamakura period, according to temple records. The statue is approximately 43.8 feet (13.35 meters) tall including the base and weighs approximately 267,000 lbs. (121 tones). – Wikipedia

It was really cool to see and even though the Buddha is hollow and you can go inside and look around the line was so long that we decided not to wait for it. Instead we met up with the others (we had separated over lunch) and went off on our hike in the mountains around the city for a couple hours.

DSC01538While we were hiking we came across another temple, although it was much smaller than Hase-dera, and spent some time looking around. The lighting was spectacular so I took a lot of pictures although I’m not sure what the name of the exact temple was.

After all that hiking we were all pretty tired so we headed back to the train station and went home for the day. My legs were so tired from the miles of walking that I was almost too sore to move the day after!

Overall I really loved the city and was really happy to finally visit (since it’s one of the most popular day trips outside of Tokyo). Even though I didn’t go anywhere else over Golden Week it was a nice little vacation for me and I’m happy (and rejuvenated) to continue my lessons and classwork over the next few months.



(Give it your best!

– Po chan)

ps. Music for this post was “One Summer’s Day” – Joe Hisaishi, Spirited Away Soundtrack:

and “Merry-Go Round of Life” – Joe Hisaishi, Howl’s Moving Castle Soundtrack:

Time for a Change!

Original Post Date: Monday, May 5, 2014

Well, as very few people know I went to get my hair cut yesterday. And when I say cut I really mean I got it cut…


I realize that many people won’t like what I did with my hair but I just want to make it perfectly clear that I didn’t cut my hair because I thought it would look more attractive or anything like that. To be frank, the real reason that I decided on so dramatic a change was because I felt that over the course of the past few months I’ve changed quite a bit as a person. In in-explicable ways I’ve grown and developed and transformed. I don’t know exactly what the change has been, it’s a little too intangible to put into actual words, but I feel different as a person and I wanted my hair to reflect that change.

Heading out for drinks with Taylor!

I loved my long hair and will always love it but I was ready to do something different and show off the internal change that’s been processing inside me ever since I came to Japan. And in being completely honest I have to say that I absolutely love my new hair. I feel beautiful, sexy, confident and smart and I love that. I really think it matches my personality better than every before and that makes me really, really, REALLY happy.

So, hopefully you guys like my new look but even if you don’t just know that I love it and am really happy that I made a great style choice for me. (And if anyone’s curious I did ask Eric if it was okay to do this beforehand and he agreed. He likes it so far although I know he’ll always miss my long hair.)

To changing ourselves

inside and out.

– Elena Nicole Potts

ps. Song for this post was “All of Me” – John Legend, Love in the Future

Just Your Average Day at Keio

Original Post Date: Saturday, April 26, 2014

Making silly faces on the train.

Curious about what I did this Friday? Well, here’s a basic run down of everything that happened!

I started the day as I usually do by waking up around 7:30, showering and getting ready and then heading down to breakfast around 8:00AM or so. The weather has been getting steadily warmer and nicer so I was happy that I could finally wear a short-sleeved shirt and no jacket on Friday. It was a beautiful day! Sunny and bright with no clouds and a temperature of about 70 F (20 C) plus a light breeze! I was happy to leave the dorm around 9:20AM and head towards Mita campus.

In case you forgot, Mita campus is actually quite far from where I live. It takes about 40 minutes by train to get there (not including the ~20 minutes of walking to get to and from the train stations) so I didn’t arrive until around 10:00AM. I had a lot of work to get done before my 13:00PM class so I grabbed a small snack at the combini on my way to campus, printed off all of my reading materials and made myself comfortable in a sunny, quiet area on my campus and got to work.

A view of Tokyo Tower from the middle of the street. (My school's entrance is on this street.)
A view of Tokyo Tower from the middle of the street. (My school’s entrance is on this street.)

I mostly had reading to do for my 3rd period Intro to Japanese History class so I focused on that while enjoying the day.

Friday’s are always very long days for me because I have 3 classes all in a row (90 minute long classes mind you) and so I am in-class from 13:00pm until 18:00pm every Friday. It is extremely tiring especially since my Professors seem to degenerate throughout the afternoon. My 1st professor for my Intro to Japanese History class is exceptionally smart and good at lecture and allows ample time for discuss and questions in his class so I really enjoy it.

After my 3rd period history class I move downstairs to my 4th period class which is about Japan as a First Developing Country. While I really love the professor (he’s an extremely smart, older Japanese guy with an excellent sense of sarcasm and dry humor), his lecture is extremely abstract for the most part so I don’t take quite as much enjoyment in the class because we are focus on a larger historical perspective rather than looking/learning about the small details. Being a history major I’m most interested in hearing about the details rather than the general trends of industrial production in the 20th century… but it’s still an interesting class. 

My favorite spot to study on nice days at Mita.

The only problem is that being 1 out of 3 total natives from the U.S. any time there’s a question about U.S. history I am inevitably called upon to know the answer. (No matter how insignificant the detail is!) Taylor, who’s also taking the class, doesn’t like speaking and neither does our other U.S. friend Rachel so I’m always the go-to when it comes to answering his questions. This particular class he started asking me about sports teams in Philadelphia – he was very surprised when I told him I had no interest in sports and did not know what he was talking about. BUT despite this it was still a good class.

Sitting in the sunshine and working on my class materials at 11:00AM (Mita Campus).

Afterwards I have to drag myself (after already sitting through 3 hours of lecture) to my final 5th period class, which unfortunately happens to be with my least favorite professor this semester. Even though I was really looking forward to learning about Gender, Culture and Modernity in Japan, the professor has a very old and flat style of teaching (involving note cards, scribbling on the blackboard and zero student-interaction). Of course I don’t mind lectures but he also happens to be very bad at lecturing and often jumps in and out of different subjects without explaining them fully or even transitioning between them. This week I was too tired to ask questions and just took fastidious notes to keep myself awake (it’s usually harder to fall asleep when you’re writing). I was happy when after 90 minutes the bell finally rang and I could go home at last. 

I met Taylor after class and we headed home on the train together. Too tired to talk. We got dinner when we finally reached the dorm (it was quite tasty but I don’t remember exactly what it was) and I spent the rest of the evening in my room relaxing. I ended up working on my writing and wrote about 4 pages in my notebook before reading a little of my Cultures of War book and heading to bed around 11:00PM. All in all it was a really nice day albeit a busy one.

Picture I took from one of the balconies at Mita showing the downtown skyline.

But this is mostly what my Friday’s are like every week and since I took so many pictures I thought I should share them with you guys so you could see what I’m up to. 3 weeks in and I’m really enjoying my semester so far although tonight I really wish I was home so that I could celebrate with my brother in his graduation ceremony. I’m so very proud of him and I wish I could give him a big hug and see him to let him know that.

To those who search for challenges

not contentment

and find adventure waiting.

– Elena Nicole Potts

Ps. Music while writing this blog “True Strength” by John Dreamer (Becoming a Legend)

Living in Passion

Original Post Date: Tuesday, April 22, 2014

WhitmanIf living in Japan has taught me anything over the past several months it’s that you can never wait for it to be the “right time” to try something new. In waiting for adventure we will forever be attacked by the new and unexpected and in our need for comfortability we turn open opportunities away in the vague hope of finding le moment juste to begin. But the truth about adventure and the joyous passions of living is that they occur at the most inopportune of times and are often shadowed by difficulties and fear.

There was never going to be a perfect time for me to leave my family, friends and partner for a year – this year alone I have missed so much. With my advisors leaving, my brother graduating, my partner unable to accompany me abroad, and the many changes that my family and friends have undergone in my time abroad… I have been away for far more than I expected I would be.

But even in being apart from those I love and miss, I have undertaken a great and fantastic journey. I have learned far more about myself than I imagined possible in my time away and I have finally begun to understand what it means to “follow what makes you come alive”. Yes, living and learning, growth and experience, can and will happen no matter where you are in the world – but there is something truly unique and spectacular about taking your dreams and turning them into a reality. It’s intangible in a way, there are no words for the beauty and exhilaration that it evokes but I find it in my heart. This great, beating truth of my passions and dreams for living a legacy and following my heart and passions so that they may become my life.

There’s still so much left that I want to do and accomplish in this world – so much that I know I will never be able to finish it all. But in trying and struggling to live out my passions at the very least I know I will have done what God put my unique soul on this great Earth to do. I will have lived and not waited, experienced and not planned, and hopefully I will leave this place knowing that in my own way I have done what no one else could have done – been my true, individual self.

And it is that which gives me strength and hope for the future.

Brilliantly alive,
Elena Nicole Potts

ps. My music while writing this:
Farewell (Instrumental) – Alan Menken – Pocahontas Soundtrack

First Week of School + General Updates

Original Post Date: Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Greetings Friends and Family,

I hope that you`re all doing well this week! I`m sure that anyone back in the States is probably surprised but classes for Keio University just started this week! Which means that instead of teaching I`m finally back to learning in the classroom! And I`m so excited!

This semester I`ll be taking 9 classes. I`m still up in the air about decided whether to do an independent study course or not but more on that later. I know that many of members of my family (particularly my grandparents) are interested in what I take each semester and when I take my classes so that they can follow my day to day activities and know what I`m up to on a weekly basis. So, without further ado, here`s my tentative class schedule for this semester: (I even included a list of the regular English lessons I teach.)

9:00AM – Japanese Grammar 2
16:30PM – Modern History of Diplomatic and Cultural Relations between Japan and the World

9:00AM – Japanese Listening and Speaking 2
16:30 – Teaching Lesson at Machida
18:00 – Teaching Lesson at Machida

13:00PM – Modern Japanese Literature “The Awakening”
16:30PM – Nationalism: From Inception to Southeast Asia

9:00AM – Reading and Writing 1
16:30 – Teaching Lesson at Yokohama

13:00 – Introduction to Japanese History
14:45 – Japan as the First Developing Country
16:30 – Gender, Culture and Modernity in Interwar Japan

11:30 – Teaching Lesson at Machida
13:15 – Teaching Lesson at Machida

So, on a weekly basis this is where you can expect to find me at certain hours of the day. I think the class I am currently most excited about is my Wednesday class on Nationalism. It`s taught by one of my favorite professors (Elizabeth Chandra) from last semester and Taylor (my best friend) is also taking the class so I`m looking forward to it. Chandra`s class on Human Trafficking in Southeast Asia last semester was definitely the most challenging class that I took so I`m really excited about having another class with her that will make me think a lot.

As I mentioned before I may or may not be taking an independent study and doing research on my own. Probably around the subject of gender studies and history (I`m thinking about looking at the way the American occupation changed conditions for Japanese women politically and domestically) but that really all depends on if I can find an advisor for it. I`ll be sure to keep you guys updated on my studies and let you know how I`m doing over the course of the semester. You have to admit I`ve been doing a much better job at updating my blog recently!

Also, I`m really sad today because I found out that BOTH of my academic advisors will be gone next year back at Allegheny. While I have known that Professor Treckel will be retiring at the end of this year I heard from Professor Bulman that he is going on a year-long sabbatical next year and will also be unavailable. Just my luck. I pick two of the best and brightest faculty members at Allegheny and they both decide to leave at the same time! I’ve already chosen a replacement advisor for History but now it looks like I`ll have to find a substitute for my English major as well.

Nothing makes me regret Japan more

than hearing about my advisors leaving.

– Elena P.

photo (1)ps. I have been reading John Dower`s historical nonfiction, Cultures of War, recently and absolutely loving it! You know you should be a professor when you start buying historical non-fictions on your own and reading them for fun.

Hanami – 花見客

Original Post Date: Saturday, March 29, 2014

It’s springtime in Tokyo, which means that it is time for hanami or “observing cherry blossoms” in the park!

Here’s some background information on what hanami actually is:

I enjoyed the sakura blooms with some friends in Yoyogi park in late March.

Hanami – “(lit. “flower viewing”) is the Japanese traditional custom of enjoying the transient beauty of flowers, “flower” in this case almost always meaning cherry blossoms (“sakura”) or (less often) plum blossoms (“ume”). From the end of March to early May, sakura bloom all over Japan, and around the first of February on the island of Okinawa. The blossom forecast (桜前線 sakura-zensen, literally cherry blossom front) is announced each year by the weather bureau, and is watched carefully by those planning hanami as the blossoms only last a week or two. In modern-day Japan, hanami mostly consists of having an outdoor party beneath the sakura during daytime or at night.” – Wikipedia

A picture of a sakura tree in full bloom (not my photo).

Right now all of the parks are full of Japanese people (and foreigners too!) gathering beneath the spring blossoms in order to watch the flowers and have a fun time with friends. While there is a great deal of history and culture in hanami, it is a very casual affair for most Japanese. Many people will bring alcohol and food when they go and just spend a couple hours eating and drinking in the warm sun.

A sakura tree in downtown Tokyo (which I took a picture of yesterday).

Here’s an interesting tidbit of history that I found: In the United States, hanami has also become very popular. In 1912, Japan gave 3,000 sakura trees as a gift to the United States to celebrate the nations’ friendship. These trees were planted in Washington, D.C., and another 3,800 trees were donated in 1965. These sakura trees continue to be a popular tourist attraction, and every year, the “National Cherry Blossom Festival” takes place when they bloom in early spring.

Even though I haven’t gone yet I believe my friend Hajime and I will be having a hanami party next week so I’ll be sure to let everyone know how it goes!

Not everyday is happy or beautiful,

But that just makes those that are more special.


Southeast Asia Trip!

Over Winter break my best friend Taylor and I took a 14 day trip around Asia and visited Singapore, Phuket Thailand, and Chiangmai Thailand respectively for a couple days each. Since I never posted a full detailed blog about all of our adventures in Thailand, I thought that I’d just provide everyone with some representative photos of my amazing time in each city so that you could get an idea of what a fantastic experience it was!

Hopefully these snapshots will let you see how much fun I had with Taylor! While I enjoyed every place that we visited I have to say that Chiangmai was by far my favorite because it was so cultural and calm compared to the other cities we saw (which were more tourist-y and fast paced). I can’t wait to travel more around Asia and discover even more amazing places in the future!

World traveler & adventurer extraordinaire!

– Elena P.

Singapore Gallery

Phuket Thailand Gallery (southern Thailand)

Chiangmai Thailand, (northern Thailand)

Fitness in Japan?

Original Post Date: Saturday, March 22, 2014

View from the bridge I was on about 1/2 through my run.
View from the bridge I was on about 1/2 through my run.

For the first semester I was in Japan I didn’t really work out, other than at frisbee practice, which really bothered me and started to get me down after a while. At Allegheny I make sure to go to the gym 4-5 times a week (with the exception of exam week) and I had started to do cross fit, which was really exciting and engaging for me. So, going from working out a lot to not working out was a very difficult transition for me. Not having a student gym was one of the most difficult things for me to adjust to in Japan… But about 2 months ago I decided that even though I don’t belong to a gym here (mostly because they’re all quite small and I don’t particularly want to pay for only exercise machines), I still wanted to be as healthy as I could possibly be!

The river behind me is the one that goes right by where I live so I usually run next to it!
The river behind me is the one that goes right by where I live so I usually run next to it!

So I’ve been running around the neighborhood and doing cross fit in my room. For the first month or so I would run one day and then do cross fit the next and have Sunday be my rest day. But this week I just started a new 30 day cross fit challenge that I’m really excited about! I’m only on day 6 but it’s nice to have a daily challenge to do. Today since the weather was so nice (yay springtime!) I also decided to go on a 30 minute run!

The faster you run, the faster you’re done!

– Elena P.