Photo Essay: CET Japan

Photos by Rina Lindenmayer, (Soka University of America) Student Correspondent CET Japan, Fall 2017

Kyoto aerial view

A friend and I took a long walk through Kyoto up to Kiyomizu-dera, a famous temple that is part of the Historic Monuments of Ancient Kyoto UNESCO World Heritage site. The main hall is currently completely covered due to renovation, but visitors are still allowed to walk through and admire the view, and the sight from the top is definitely worth the small entrance fee of 300 yen! During the kouyou (“autumn colors”) season, the mountainside is dyed in rich reds, yellows, and oranges. You can even appreciate its beauty at night during the “Light Up,” where the trees fencing the pathway leading down from the temple are illuminated, making it seem as though the leaves are glowing!


Dining in a temple

A group of CET students and Japanese roommates to a trip to Koya-san (Koya Mountain) for shukubo, temple lodgings that allow guests to experience shrine/temple culture. We were able to dine on vegetarian-friendly meals, relax in the outdoor onsen, and sleep in futons in washitsu (traditional Japanese-style rooms). Many of us woke up to observe the morning rituals/prayers of the monks in the temple, and then ate breakfast together in the dining room!


Koya-san is also home to a large amount of towering, ancient trees; the natural setting shrouding the temples and town adds to the peaceful atmosphere. When you catch sight of one, you can’t help but want to show some love!



Some members of our sharehouse got together for some dinner and fun at a nearby Aeon, a mall that has everything you need, from food to clothes to even a game center! We ate shabu shabu, a Japanese hotpot dish, and played around in the game center before the mall closed for the night. We especially had fun with “Taiko no Tatsujin,” a Japanese rhythm game that’s based on the traditional Japanese drum, the taiko. Singing and dancing to jpop and anime songs as we cheered on the players was a great way to relieve our stress amid the end-of-the-year exams.


Japanese Chinatown

Nankin-machi is known as the Chinatown of Kobe, about a 40-minute train ride from Osaka (pro tip: it’s a lot less expensive to the the Hankyu line rather than the JR). The small neighborhood is stuffed with shops, restaurants, and merchants mostly selling delicious, easy-to-eat finger food! Enjoy your night walk while you eat a warm meat bun and search for your next meal.



Kobe in December is famous for its Luminarie, a light show which commemorates the Great Hanshin earthquake of 1995. The streets are closed every evening for a couple weeks as crowds of people walk through buildings decorated in colorful light-fixtures, the designs of which are changed every year! It takes a while to get to the actual buildings because it’s such a popular tourist attraction, so be ready to walk and dress warmly.


For our last class field trip, we visited a Nohbutai, a theater in which Noh (a traditional Japanese play in which performers wear masks and act out stories that usually relate to the supernatural, accompanied by singing and instruments) take place.We learned about each feature of the stage and its meaning, the different parts that make up a Noh, and were even able to try singing a Noh song. One of us was given the opportunity to try on a full costume of a Noh performer—that person being myself, actually. It was amazing to feel what it was like to be a Noh performer, even if I just practiced suri-ashi (sliding your feet across the floor as you walk while keeping your upper body still) as I carefully walked around the stage. With the extreme restriction of your sight due to the mask, the heaviness of costume, and suri-ashi, I was able to fully understand just how hard it is to act in a Nohbutai and could appreciate the art form even more than before.


A few students who were in nihon-buyo, a traditional Japanese dance, showed the CET students, roommates, and teachers what they learned throughout the semester with an end-of-the-year performance. Nihon-buyo requires a still, expression-less face and elegant, unwavering movements; we could see how much they practiced, despite their busy schedules, through their amazing performance!


Universal Japan

My roommate and I went to Universal Studios Japan to celebrate the end of the CET program! Despite how cold and windy it was, the amusement park was packed with visitors to see the christmas decorations, parade, and huge christmas tree, which holds a World Guiness Record as “The World’s Most Illuminated Tree!” The Hollywood Dream rollercoaster was definitely my favorite ride—the sheer amount of fear I felt as we went down that first drop cannot be explained in words.


Tenryuji temple

As a final trip before leaving Osaka, I went on a solo adventure to Arashiyama, a popular sight-seeing district in Kyoto. Pictured above is the Tenryuji temple, registered as a UNESCO world heritage site. Visitors can choose to walk through the garden or inside the temple, or both. A ticket is necessary upon entry, so I just went with a stroll through the expansive garden, which costs 500 yen. The huge pond, filled with surprsingly large koi fish, is the main attraction—especially during the fall when the leaves are changing color. There are many paths you can take around the garden, though exploring them can take a bit of time (the stairs are killer). Though the garden was still beautiful, definitely try to visit while the plants are thriving instead of in the middle of winter.


Bamboo Garden

Exit the North Gate of the Tenryuji temple garden, turn left, you you are immediately greeted by gently swaying bamboo trees in Arashiyama’s famous Bamboo Grove. There were many visitors posing to take photos and chatting in groups, which, to be honest, sort of ruined the atmosphere. But, when I looked up and away from the tourists and towards the sky, I could almost physically feel how small I was compared to the towering bamboo. During the Arashiyama Hanatouro illuminations, the grove is lit up at night, adding to their surreal beauty. However, this only happens in mid-December for a period of about 10 days, so be sure to plan beforehand when to go!