One of my favorite parts of the trip was how much free time we were given after class to explore the city on our own! Tokyo is a huge city with a lot to offer and there are also surrounding cities which are equally compelling. I bonded the most with my classmates when we went on independent trips together. During independent trips, you have the space to explore places and participate in activities that particularly interest you and your friends.
The first independent excursion I went on was to Kawagoe. There are streets in Kawagoe that are preserved from the Edo period (the period spanned from 1603 and 1868). I knew very little about the different places in Tokyo (aside from a few specific places mentioned in the books we read in my winter class) going into my study abroad trip and probably would have never thought to even set foot in Kawagoe. However, I was lucky that one of my classmates had heard of the place and wanted to explore the city.
We also went to Tokyo Dome City. Some of my classmates watched a baseball game there but since I have no interest in baseball, a few other classmates and I rode the ferris wheel and the rollercoaster instead. The ferris wheel provided an amazing aerial view of Tokyo and I’m always up for roller coaster rides!
I had originally wanted to plan a trip to Mt. Fuji but that proved to be too long of a trip no matter which we route we thought about taking. However, I was also able to hike Mt. Takao with a few classmates and catch a glimpse of Mt. Fuji from the top of Mt. Takao! It was great to take a small break from the hustle and bustle of the city for a little while. The hike was also very different from other mountain hikes I’ve been on before. There were beautiful temples along the way. We also stopped at a monkey park along the way.
We also visited Shinjuku Gyoen, which was a gorgeous national park. The park had many different kinds of gardens including Japanese, Thai, French and English. I’m more interested in historic and natural sites, which is why those are the ones I’ve gone into detail about. That being said, I also went shopping in Akihabara and Shibuya. Shibuya had so many shopping outlets it felt as though I needed a few days (I probably did) to get through all of them!
All of my side trips revealed for me different aspects of Japanese culture and society. Of course I was in Japan for a very brief time and those three weeks are in no way sufficient for me to understand the complexity and the nuances of the nation but I really enjoyed being able to explore on my own. It was also great to do all of this exploring while in Tokyo with my classmates and my professor because I could discuss my observations with them and subsequently learn from their knowledge and experiences.
For more information on the GCC Japan program, visit the CGIS website.