Project Runway… or Nah?

By Zoe Pham

Forget Project Runway or the overwhelming flash of the American catwalk; we stood in silence for 10 minutes watching a kimono fashion show. 

I was excited to see any fashion, however traditional, in Japan. Although the kimonos would look nothing like the glamorous fashion of the Harajuku district, the kimono as a template allowed for elegant, yet simple designs. 

The textile factory we visited created traditional Japanese kimonos using manually operated looms. We fawned over the shops on the second level filled with artisanal souvenirs and trinkets, and impressive kimonos of various gorgeous colors, patterns, and materials. But on the third level, we all met up to a room half-filled with milling shoppers and a stage filled with lights to watch the kimono fashion show.
Each model had their own theme, with colored lights and music to match. The models would walk out to the front and sides of the stage, pose, and turn around. The one male model didn’t pose or smile like the women; he just swaggered along the stage with a weirdly neutral expression and an almost smile. Maybe he was in pain from being forced to do this? Maybe he was trying to keep his cool, or he somehow got talked into doing it, or that’s just how male models are taught to walk in Japan. 

My favorite part was how one model in platform sandals slowly turned to show off her pink, wave-patterned kimono and flowered bow along to a samba version of “Smells like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. Our whole group kind of looked at each other, thinking “this sounds very familiar…” and I almost laughed when I realized where the song came from. 

The whole time, the audience took pictures and videos in silence. In the end, no one made a sound. I don’t know if everyone felt awkward or unsure if they should clap, or if it was a cultural thing. Ms. Chapman and Ms. Newton both liked the black kimono, adorned with a peacock that shone silver in the light. My personal favorite was the “gaudiest” of them all, a sparkling kimono with green and white swirls, accessorized with a bright white flower in the model’s hair. 

It was cool to see how different this fashion show was from the televised flashy catwalks from the U.S., and the most interesting part was that no one clapped at the end.


Fushimi Imari Shrine

By Arlenn Maldonado 

Yesterday, we went to the Fushimi Inari Shrine. It is a place that has many Tori gates that are said to be for the perching of birds. The Tori gates, which consist of two vertical red beams and two horizontal red beams, are given by donors to the shrine. They do this so that they will have good luck with the gods. There is a game that is called omukaruishi in the shrine. For this game, you must choose one of two stone to lift up, if the stone is heavier that you thought it would be, then your dream will take longer to come true, but it will come true nevertheless. If the stone is lighter than you thought it would be, your dream will come true faster.

Like in many shrines, there is a place to purify tour hands. Since I did this yesterday, I had no trouble purifying my hands at Fushimi Inari. I think that I am getting really good at it. I also did the omukaruishi game. The stone was about how heavy I thought it would be, so I guess that my dreams are going to come true soon. I also prayed to the gods for my friend’s and mine’s health and happiness. The atmosphere was very calming and relaxing, despite the harsh cold weather. I will most definitely go back some day again, and I will bring my friends along with me. 

Bamboo Forest and Monkey Park

By Sarah Birenbaum

March 14 2017, our Japanese adventure took us to the bamboo forest and monkey park.

The bamboo forest was absolutely spectacular. As we walked through the forest, we could feel a real connection to nature. The way the bamboo shot up so perfectly straight, made for some pretty aesthetic photos. The wind rushed through the bamboo shoots, and made a booming sound that one would not expect from something that appeared to be so gentle. The only thing that was not amazing was the freezing cold and rain that made our fingers and noses numb. As we raised our phones to take artsy pictures, our hands shook from the cold (I didn’t wear a jacket, sorry mom). But even in the cold, the bamboo forest was spectacular.  

Walking up the mountain to get to the monkey park was… a struggle. As said before it was very cold and a 20 minute uphill climb was the last thing any of us wanted to do. But, we must admit it was worth it. The view of the city alone was stunning but the monkeys were why we came. The monkeys got so close to us and we even got the chance to feed the monkeys. They were pretty small (for monkeys at least) and their little hands were adorable! They were puffy, silly, and overall an amazing experience.

The Golden Pavilion 

By Ashlyn Martin

The Golden Temple was very beautiful. The temple was very well-structured and it was an amazing sight to see. Also, the Golden Temple had an amazing history. The history was very deeper than I thought it was. It is a Buddhist hall containing relics of beautiful Buddha statues. It was formerly named Rokuon-ji buildings ATemple, but the name changed as time flew. The garden and are buildings are symbolized to represent the Pure Land of Buddha. It is also recognized as a guesthouse for many people. 

Nijo Castle

By Andrew Abdallah

Yesterday, on our first real day in Japan, we visited the Nijo-jo Castle, built by the first shogun. The first I noticed was the architecture. Unlike the typical castle one would think of with stone walls and high towers, the building was much more intricate. Every part of the castle had so much detail. Overall it was really cool looking and had a lot of history within it.

One thing I found very interesting was how each room had a different painting according to the meaning the Shogun wanted to express to his visitors. Rooms with pine trees would represent strength with empowerment over the subordinates in attempt to intimidate them. Within his personal rooms, where only him and his “concubines” were permitted, there would be much calmer paintings, giving a more relaxing feel.

Another thing that was really interesting was the Nightingale floors. Even without shoes, which we visited the castle without shoes, the floors would squeak loudly. It was used as a defense system for the shogun. If there was an intruder in the castle he would know from the weirdly relaxing squeaks.

It was really cool to see how the shogun would live and his feelings towards other people. 


By Justin Hu

            During our expedition to Nara, we came upon many deer and the largest Buddha statue. As we walked through the massive gates, it seemed as if there was a strong spiritual and holy aura around the site.

When we entered the temple, our group was greeted by the large looming statue in front of us. Our tour guide told us that multiple parts of the statue were rebuilt or renovated over time. I could tell the difference in the color and tone of the bronze on the chest compared with the head. On each side of the Great Buddha were 2 other, more golden ones that were substantially smaller in size.

As we slowly left the deer park, many of us took the time to pet the deer. I believe that the deer have a deep connection with the people of Japan, and provide a positive image of Japan. They were extremely amiable and calm in nature, as I even saw the deer bowing to the visitors of the park. Next in the Nara Park, we visited the Great Shinto Shrine, which was decorated with many stone lanterns that illuminated during the night. Our class learned that each lantern cost 2.5 million yen to donate! The shrine was a place for prayer and respect, and was an important place for Japanese culture and tradition.

All in all, Nara Park was an unforgettable experience for me and surely the class had a great time there as well. I was impressed in how quaint and peaceful the whole place was and awed by the unique architecture of the temples and shrines.

Crossing the Threshold 

By Zak Pham
Today, I took a total of about 15 hours of flight time, changing from Houston to San Francisco then to Osaka, where we traveled by bus to the city of Kyoto. After the exhausting plane ride, I was truly ready to experience the exciting new culture and overall design/look of Kyoto and the results were not exactly up to my expectations. I, myself have traveled abroad many times, in and out of the country, but customs were a bit different when I was presented with a fingerprint scan while checking my passport for entry.  
Outside the airport, we took a tour bus passing throughout the city, the airport was really the only place that showed vibrant colors and interesting differences from America. Overall, the city looks most like Houston itself though with some exceptions with design and population size. It is more realistic in how much industry there is in the city than what we expect yet the city nightlife is beautiful. The small shops and buildings lighting up during the night really helps you appreciate where we actually are and how far we’ve gone.
It was then time for dinner once we got acquainted in our hotel, where we experienced our first bento box in Japan, which was presented to us with different meats, flavors, types of food, utensils, and etiquette. After dinner, we went to a 7/11 near the hotel. What we found was an unexpected surprise of a convenience store. Unlike an American convenience store, there was actual quality food and meals prepared along with different flavors/snacks or variations of the foods we have here in Houston. An example of what we saw, was packaged octopus, Melon Fanta, and green tea Pocky.

T-Minus 6 Hours 

Ms. Chapman here! In just a few short hours, we’ll be on our way to the Land of the Rising Sun!

If you have taken English with me, you know that Everything is About the Odyssey, and I’m sure this journey will prove the rule. It’s only eight short days, but we won’t be entirely the same people when we return, as our experiences will have changed us and our challenges will have proven us worthy.

Over the course of our trip, students will take turns sharing their reflections on what we’re seeing and doing, and I hope you’ll follow along to participate in our adventure vicariously.

On a personal note, this trip feels very special to me because thirteen years ago I left the United States for the first time to spend the summer attending school in Japan. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but that experience shaped my identity as a traveler. In the years since, I’ve studied in Mexico, Canada, Germany, the Czech Republic, and India, I’ve taught in Spain, France, and Vietnam, and I’ve vacationed in various other exciting locales. Traveling has not only been a deep source of satisfaction for me, but also changed me into a better person – I think I’m more curious and open-minded, as well as kinder as a result of my experiences meeting people internationally. Now I hope that this trip might be a similar point of departure for my own students!