Monthly Archives: June 2019

Goodbye Japan, Hello China!

I am now finally settled in at Hangzhou, but I want to retroactively comment on the blur of activities we have had in the past couple weeks.

The end of our Japan trip consisted of a day trip to Nikko, spending time at night with some local friends, and one night in Tokyo. Although I had been to Nikko on my last visit to Japan last year, there were some new experiences added in, as well as a different group of people, which made it feel brand new. For new experiences, we drove and hiked up to the top of a nearby mountain and later went out on a boat. I got a bit carsick on the bus ride up and down, but once we were there it was beautiful. The boat ride was similarly blissful. We became friends with several locals while we were on the program. One of them named Abdul (originally Saudia Arabian, has lived in Japan for 6 years) invited us over to his house one night. Some of us went there along with Seishirou and Mitsuaki, two of our Japanese friends. We got to experience a young Japanese person’s household, although Seishirou and Mitsu assured us this was far bigger than usual. By the end of the night, we had grown a lot closer to each other. Before we knew it, the Sayonara Party had passed and we were waving goodbye to our hosts at Ashikaga and heading to Tokyo. Unfortunately, we only had the one night to explore this exciting city. We ended up going out to a lovely little alley filled with bright lights and izakaya restaurants. The place was packed, but we managed to find one with open space. We had some drinks and I ate chicken gizzard (!) which tastes as unusual as it sounds. Honestly, it was all pretty good though. I do wish I could have spent more time in Tokyo, but we had a wonderful time all the same.

The flight from Tokyo to Beijing trip was (thankfully) much shorter than our flight to Japan had been. The time change was only one hour this time. Upon arrival, we met the students from UIUC and UIC and took a bus to our Beijing hotel. The hotel was in a very good location to serve as home base for our forays out to Beijing’s many landmarks. The big highlights for me were Tienanmen Square, The Great Wall, and the Summer Palace. Tienanmen Square was massive and thus seemed empty even though a pretty large amount of people were present. The section of the Great Wall that we visited had so, so many stairs to climb to reach the top. Add in that we were climbing it on possibly the hottest day of the year (over 100 degrees F) and the trek was extremely arduous. Still, I doubted I would get another chance to climb the Great Wall anytime soon, so I resolved to ignore my screaming legs and go all the way up. The Summer Palace was simply beautiful. The architecture of the “marble boat” was exquisite, and lily pad ponds and long galleys added to the lovely atmosphere.

Wetland: Weekend Edition

On Saturday, me and 2 other UIS students walked to the Xixi Wetlands and explored it by ourselves. It was a decision I don’t regret! Once we walked there, we just started down and followed random paths, and as it got closer to lunch time, we were getting concerned about missing lunch due to the length of the walk. But we needed to venture deeper into the wetlands — so I pressed onward. To our amazement, we eventually emerged from the wetlands a mere 5 minutes from the hotel. We had unintentionally walked from one of the main entrances to a small, unmarked entrance/exit that is significantly closer to the hotel. It was hilarious, and knowing the new exit, we actually had a spare hour or two, so we went back in to enjoy it some more before lunch.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful until dinner, where I was invited to a student ambassador’s dorm room to play League of Legends (a 5v5 MOBA video game in which you have to push 3 lanes to get to the enemy’s base and destroy it). I was a bit surprised by the dorm rooms — when you walk into the dorm room, there’s a bathroom and shower on the left, and a closet on the right. Immediately past the bathroom and closet are 4 bunkbeds (2 per side) with desks/cubbies/shelves beneath and mosquito-netted beds on top. Past all the beds at the end of the room is a balcony for them to air-dry their clothes. As for the video game, the student ambassador, Bruce, is ranked as a Challenger, which is the best you can be before you are a professional League of Legends player. So of course, I had to watch him play a game, and he let me play a few also xD

As for today (Sunday), I spent the morning walking through rain (45 minutes one way) to get the mall to buy a new pair of shoes (R.I.P. my shoes from like 3 years ago). But the new shoes are just as colorful and vibrant as my others, albeit the size is a bit wonky. They don’t really sell adult athletic shoes that vary by width – they just seem to vary by length. So my old shoes are wrecked (laces torn, thoroughly soaked, holes on sides and the bottoms, etc.), but the new ones are neat!

I played some basketball in my new kicks shortly after lunch, and I’m playing some more after dinner. The student ambassadors are pretty good!

Beijing Bikini

Beijing Bikini

[bāˈjiNG biˈkēnē]


Definition: A popular mode of dress worn by Chinese men. A shirt’s bottom hem is risen above the individual’s stomach to reveal cooling fresh air upon their sweaty gut.

Market Alleyways

Old men wearing Beijing bikinis huddle in packs to smoke cigarettes in some of Hangzhou’s many market alleyways. Ladies cheerfully play card games; you often hear them before you see them in these alleyways. Young kids scoot past you on scooters and stray dogs scavenge the streets for morsels of food to eat. Barbershops, restaurants, produce stands, and more barbershops clutter the alleyways. How many barbershops are there in Hangzhou? I found myself trekking through many of these alleyways the other day. The experience was unforgettable, but so was the smell. The stench of raw meat was in the air… so I followed it. I witnessed foods I had never seen before. Aquariums of exotic fish and turtle. Meat lay unrefrigerated in the open air; only an oscillating fan was used to deter the pests away from the raw meat. I had so many questions after visiting my first meat market in Hangzhou: does any of the meat end up being refrigerated at the end of the day and is it safe to eat?

After a long inquisitive hike throughout Hangzhou’s market alleyways, I found myself seated in a Uyghur restaurant. Uyghur people reside in the far northwestern reaches of China and are of Turkish descent. Uyghur-Chinese food is not the type of Chinese food one thinks of back in the United States. The food is halal and has middle-eastern flairs to it. I absolutely loved it. I ordered a fried flatbread stuffed with steak and cilantro. The sandwich bread reminded me of Taco Bell’s chalupa shells. Yes… I said it… Uyghur food reminded me of Taco Bell! The hunger was real, though, so I also order a pickled beef noodle soup. DEAR LORD WAS IT GOOD. I loaded the food with lajiao, otherwise known as Chinese pepper paste, and I was in hog heaven. The spice, heat, and humidity eventually got to me that day and I must confess… I partook in wearing the Beijing bikini. What a satisfying experience and all that food for only 20 RMB.

First Free Day in Hangzhou!

After a week full of tours of Beijing, welcome parties at Wanxiang Polytechnic, and the first of our seminars, we finally had our first free day yesterday! (And our second free day today!)

Saturday started with our first discussion meeting, where we talked about two articles we had read. One on environmental history in China, and the other about environmental health in China and the progress (or… not progress?) being made to improve air and water quality.

After our meeting, Nicole Morris, Caleb Froidcoeur, and I decided to explore Xixi National Wetland Park. We had visited the park’s museum the day prior, but wanted to walk around the wetland itself. The Wetland Park is in fact right across the street from our hotel! Only about a five minute walk or so to get onto the trails!

The park has lots of ponds, creeks, and just general swampy areas. At one point on our walk, I saw one of my favorite birds, an egret! They are just the most beautiful, graceful birds I think I have ever seen, (besides flamingos of course)! We also came across a crab that had been stepped on, but it was still very… eerie looking… And of course we stumbled upon a pond with the most beautiful flowers, which I assume to have been lotus, growing. The Xixi wetlands is one of my new favorite places and I feel so privileged to be living so close to them for the next few weeks.

As far as cuisine goes, a few nights ago some of the student ambassadors from the university were kind enough to take us out to have hot pot. I tried all sorts of different foods, my favorite being the beef strips, shrimp balls, and lotus root. I also tried duck blood, which was very tasty, especially when cooked in the spicy “side” of the hot pot. I made my hot pot sauce with a bunch of garlic, red peppers, green onions, oyster sauce, vinegar, and soy sauce. Overall, it was an incredible meal, and one that I don’t think you could get in the States unless you perhaps visited a China Town in a large city.

Currently I am in my hotel room with the windows open and it is raining… so very relaxing… Maybe I will take a nap? <3

Saturday in Hangzhou

Today is my first free day in Hangzhou, and although it started pretty boring — just eating and doing laundry — I’m planning to rent a bicycle and explore the city after we have our homework discussion.

In other news, after talking with some people, I came to the realization that although all 3 U of I campuses are part of the same system, there are certainly some stereotypes and preconceived notions about the students from each of the campuses. For instance, since there was a rigorous application process for UIC and UIUC, some people seem to think the students from UIS are not as smart and/or prestigious as the students from the other campuses. But if we’re being honest, those ideas existed long before this trip, considering how UIS is more affordable and it is not a really competitive school to get in to. I’m just surprised that even though we are all attending this trip together, and we are constantly interacting with each other, these thoughts and ideas remain prevalent in a small number of people.

Laundry’s done! Have a good day, and I’ll hit you up with another blog tomorrow!

Hangzhou: Initial Impressions

So we got to Hangzhou just a few days ago, and I must say that I’m pretty impressed by the living situation, the campus, the food, and the people here. Within just the past few days, I’ve made several friends with the “student ambassadors” here, and they all seem incredibly interested in us and America as a whole, which is honestly more than I had expected.

Aside from the students, I’ve already began indulging in various kinda of food — most of which are delicious. Just last night, we ate at a restaurant that uses hot pots embedded in the tables to cook the food. So they would serve us raw food, and then we would cook and season the food right there. Since we were served raw food, and we are college kids, of course someone would joke about daring me to eat a meatball raw; and being the wise college kid that I am, of course I had to oblige. I turned a profit of 10 RMB from the whole ordeal — not sick yet! 😀

The Juyong Pass

The United States is young, as we all know. So while standing on the Great Wall of China I contemplated the life of the person who stood in the same spot hundreds of years ago. Staring out from The Wall I can see the ivory gate where Genghis Kan entered China with his soldiers. Knowing that a man so powerful once stood where I now stand is humbling.

The Wall was built as protection against forgein invaders, posing an even more formidable opponent than the neighboring mountains. Many have tried to conquer the wall, but few ever did. Even the Huns who invaded and dominated China could not overcome the obstacle. Instead they were let into the nation. This demonstrated to me the role that loyalty has in protecting a nation. Without soldiers or citizens that are invested in their country, the nation is weak.

Wanxiang Fellows’ Guide to Night Life

In the city there does not seem to be many bars nor clubs. However, the town is littered with small children playing late into the night. Some of them will even permit you a small test ride of their skateboard, our friend Lee can attest. The ability to have a beer on the street at 10pm was almost as fun as watching the 5 year olds play on their toy scooters, not quite old enough for metal ones yet.

The people on the street were selling things ranging from clothes to fruit, sometimes in the same small store front. Elton John and Queen rings through the passage as I press play on the only downloaded music I have. Some how Fat Bottom Girls makes a Wild Goose Chase for a Bar all the merrier. Tired and worn out from our futile quest, us adventurers traveled home; now we are ready to strike out again tomorrow with the same cause. Perhaps we should wear the lucky color red.

No Combines

The transitional separation of Chinese agriculture seems quite blatant. Millet in the north, rice in the south. During my southerly travel from Beijing to Hangzhou, I scanned the landscapes outside my train window. Vast open lands were dedicated to agriculture – somewhat similar to the United States. Much of the land in northern China is dedicated towards cultivating millet and wheat. There was a certain separating feature, however, when wheat fields transitioned solely into rice paddies – a large river. I am not sure whether this river is blatantly used as a separation line for all agriculture or just some strange observation. Perhaps this river provides better irrigation for rice paddies in the south rather than the north.

Instead of John Deere combines or International pickup trucks hauling grain, I noticed that grains were hauled by scooter and wagon in China. What a stark difference compared to the United States. Some fields had dozens of laborers kneeling down, fidgetily working in the fields. I can only assume they were picking weeds by hand. Some laborers had umbrellas, beach towels, and tea kettles stationed in the center of their fields. Nothing like a warm cup of tea on an extremely hot, humid day…

During my travel from Beijing to Hangzhou, I believe I witnessed China’s afforestation program in practice. I saw hundreds if not thousands of newly planted trees everywhere – in the mountains and in the agricultural fields. Long rows of trees have been planted, yet I cannot help but notice that most are the same species and planted no more than five feet away from each other. I was expecting a bit more diversity. My first thought when witnessing this large monoculture of trees was Dutch Elm Disease!

First Night in Hangzhou!

Hello Friends!

Last night was my first night in Hangzhou after traveling by train from Beijing. My WiFi reception was not my friend when I was staying in Beijing so this is officially my first blog post! Our train ride lasted about 5 hours, traveling at 302km/m which converts to 187 miles per hour! The ride was a lot smoother than I expected it to be. Once we arrived at the station we were welcomed by the students from the Wanxiang Fellows Program. Everyone was very friendly and escorted us to the KFC in the station. The hotel is beautiful with a good mixture of inside and outdoor environments. I noticed right away that I could breathe a bit better here than in Beijing. The rain last night was so peaceful and put me right to sleep. I am excited for what the rest of the day has in store for us!

Quick Update Upon Arrival To Hangzhou

Beijing was incredible! We visited palaces, temples, and the Great Wall. The city was crazy busy, traffic laws seemed optional (actually, most rules seemed optional), but it was still a great experience to have. One night we ate Peking duck, which was delicious! (And one of my new favorite dishes!)

Yesterday, we took the bullet train from Beijing to Hangzhou, my first bullet train ride, which was roughly five hours at approximately 305 km/hr!

Now, in Hangzhou, we’re in the process of settling in. Luckily the wifi seems significantly more reliable, so more frequent posts to come! Air quality readings should be easier to take more frequently as well with our new accomodations, which is perfect!

As I am writing this we are about to begin our first official day with the Wanxiang Fellows Program, the ambassadors of which gave us an incredibly warm welcome last night, with welcome signs for the U of I system at our hotel included! Thank you all for being patient with my sporadic updates as I have been getting used to figuring out internet! Much love from Hangzhou, China!


NPR is not censored by China’s firewall! I am still able to enjoy WUIS’s broadcast of Bluegrass Breakdown. Yee-yaw!

Speaking of impenetrable walls, I also hiked up a small portion of the Great Wall. And it was such a beauty of a day. Clear skies, fresh air, and a cool mountain breeze. Sadly, I did not get an air quality reading atop the mountain fortress, however, Doctor Ruez and I did obtain one at the foot of the wall. The Great Wall is a spectacular edifice. Our guide told us it spans from North Korea to Azerbaijan – thousands of kilometers in length. It is a marvel that ancient civilizations were capable of accomplishing such tasks. I can’t help but wonder about the lives of the people that built this monumental wall.

Great Wall, and a Greater Dragon Lady

Hi everybody!

Stairs. Lots and lots of stairs today. We went to the Great Wall of China, and we learned a bunch about the history, but my favorite part was climbing to the top. On the way, I made a friend and we climbed the last 100 or so steps together. Today we also drove past the Olympics buildings from years ago, and admittedly, I was a little disappointed that our tour guide was super excited about them. From what I’ve read, hosting the Olympics is a great honor and such, but it can really hurt a city. For instance, Beijing pumped tons of money into a few buildings that aren’t used for much anymore, it also drastically changes the local economy, and anyone living in the area is forced to live through a nightmare of tourists, traffic, price gouging, and general frustrations leading up to, during, and even a few days after the Olympics. 

We also learned about Dragon Lady, who was honestly a pretty cool woman. Essentially, she was an Emperor’s prostitute, and she bore his only son, which made her very important. Once the Emperor died, the kid was too young to understand how to rule China, so she ruled China by telling the kid what to do. The kid emperor died young, with no children, so Dragon Lady was able to choose a new Emperor who was young enough for her to continue ruling China the way she wants. She was really selfish and didn’t care about the well-being of China, but honestly, considering the way women were/are treated, it pretty cool she was able to pull it off.

The Capitol of China

Rotten eggs. That is the smell outside our hotel. The exact origin of this odor is unknown… could it be coming from the nearby garbage cans or maybe is it emitted from the thousands of car exhaust pipes? I am not sure. My air quality meters cannot detect the source of this smelly aroma, yet they can detect the amount of particulate matter in the air. Data from the first day in Beijing reveals bad air quality. Visually, there is a grey smog in the air. Physically, my eyes burn and I feel congested.

The city of Beijing is immensely huge. 22 million people I want to say? Large superblock apartment buildings scatter the city landscape. A mix of timeworn and newly-built structures configure an interesting architectural dichotomy. The streets are filled with people and cars, some not obeying the traffic laws. It almost seems lawless, yet police officers are situated on every block. I am sometimes reminded of the fictional settings in Judge Dredd or Bladerunner as I pass some of Beijing’s cityscapes. It is achingly mesmerizing. Has science fiction come to life?

Tian’anmen Square is maybe twice as large as my hometown if not bigger. And then there is the Forbidden Palace, an entirely separate area which is just as enormous. I was in awe of the beauty and splendor yet ached from the opaque blanket of grey smog in the air. I talked with a woman who studied in Beijing in the 90’s and she said the air quality was almost darkening in those days. It seems to her that China is making much progress in regard to enhancing air quality, however, I believe much is still needed to improve upon. I am confident of future improvement.


Hi everyone!

Last night, our flight arrived in Beijing. So far, China is pretty cool – we begin tours and whatnot around 0730 today, so I don’t have much to talk about yet. The airport was massive – they use shuttle trains to transport people in a way similar to Disney World. However, I must note that the outside air here is close to what I expected. During an 8-minute walk to get food, my eyes had begun to burn (I had to remove my contact lenses), the air tasted like a vehicle emissions pipe (at least, what I imagine a vehicle emissions pipe would taste like), and my throat had issues as well. 

Today, we toured Beijing, and to be honest, I’m pretty surprised by how highly the residents seem to view China, particularly Beijing. Our tour guide last night was talking about how “safe” it is, even for women to be walking around at night. Today, our other tour guide said, “In June, Beijing is safest in whole world,” which also threw me for quite a loop. I guess when people like the Chinese don’t have access to uncensored information, weird opinions can be formed. That’s it from me tonight. See you later!

Oh Yeah, …

Tokyo has lights! And narrow alleys with flaming winds of soy and teriyaki just recirculating the stale air between restaurants less than a meter apart and rarely seating more than ~10 people. Fortunately, you can sometimes get to an upstairs room where there is also no AC and a cover charge. OK, this photo is before that dark time in that … “restaurant”?

Soy Sauce – Gunma Style

Salt + wheat + soybeans + mold + 3 years = soy sauce at the only place in Gunma Prefecture that produces it.

As I lay my hand on a 100+ year old vessel that can hold 6,000 liters of soy sauce, please allow my earlier tribute at the Shinto shrine turn this into sake.

Takatsudo Valley

I almost chuckled to hear Mr. Sasaki talk about the public backlash regarding the construction of the Takatsudo Dam. The valley had to be restructured, and aquatic life both in the reservoir and downstream changed. Well, although hydroelectric plants produce large amounts of energy, create reservoirs for municipal water use and recreation, and are (generally) low maintenance, there is inevitable environmental damage from multiple perspectives. Some of that research has just come out in the past few weeks – so I’ll leave that to the Blue Lions to discover.

Takatsudo valley downstream from dam. This is the Watarase River, which flows through Ashikaga, directly in front of our hotel. Until a couple hundred years ago it emptied eventually into Tokyo Bay.

UIS students exploring the spillway.
Silent thought: “I can SO make this jump to that wet rock.”


A couple days ago I visited Ashikaga University’s Wind & Solar Park. This park showcases an assortment of different technologies that capture renewable energy. There are many different types of wind turbines built to capture wind energy – some turbine propellers built to only spin at high wind speeds and others built to spin at low wind speeds. The propeller’s axis, shape, size, and weight all influence the efficiency and output of energy. I asked an Ashikaga graduate student which turbine design is most efficient and he explained that the three-propeller design is most energy efficient. This also happens to be the most common turbine design in the United States. The three-propeller design outputs the most kilowatts compared to low wind speed. While the three-propeller design’s weight is not the lightest turbine to be built, it can safely harness energy from low and high wind speeds. A concern from the lighter one propeller and two propeller turbine designs is that it requires faster and more dangerous winds to capture energy.

Another amazing yet more simple technology I witnessed was the solar cooker. Using material such as glass or metal to reflect sunlight into a concentrated area, one is able to cook food using concentrated solar energy. Depending on cloud cover, one could possibly cook a whole chicken in a solar oven faster than an ordinary oven if the days were clear and sunny. These solar oven technologies are being gifted to undeveloped areas across the globe by non-profits; areas which do not have enough wood, coal, or gas to cook their meals. These solar ovens have influenced me to experiment making a solar powered pizza oven when I arrive back into the United States! I have already started some experimental drafts.

I’ve come to realize the omnipotent power of the sun while in Ashikaga. Most renewable energies (besides geothermal) depend upon the sun. Heat from the sun influences temperatures in the air which cause pressure differences to swirl from latitude to latitude. These pressure differences or Hadley cells circulate winds that provide energy to be captured by turbines. The water cycle is also dependent upon the sun; the evaporated water, precipitation, and melted ice all influence streaming rivers which provide energy to be harnessed by hydroelectrical technology. And even fossil fuels were influenced by the sun’s energy. Long ago, plants captured solar energy and animals ate those plants. Past organic life that relied on the sun’s energy became compacted under the earth over millennia and have formed into fossil fuels. The sun is omnipotent, so why not attempt to use renewable energy as our number one fuel source?

Yesterday, I visited the town of Nikko. It was a phenomenal place. The town reminded me of Crater Lake National Park as the town is situated beside a large lake in the mountains. The nature and landscape of Nikko was astoundingly beautiful. I think I could have stayed there a little bit longer… maybe a couple more days. Please read Doctor Ruez’s blog post about Lake Chuzenji as he explained the geology and formation of this beautiful area.

I have spent the past couple days doing many things: visiting Tokyo, hiking in the mountains, visiting volcanic hot springs, and even rooming with a Japanese family for 3 nights. If anyone has any questions, I would be glad to answer them.

Flight, Arrival, and First Days

Dennis and I arrived at the O’Hare airport bright and early at 2am.  Having been to Japan last summer and loved it, I was incredibly excited to return, but much less excited for the two long flights ahead of us. However, I had no reason to be worried – check-in and security went fine, and before we knew it we were above cloud level on our way to Vancouver. The Vancouver airport is lovely. There were totems that appeared to be of Native tribe design and an aquarium in the central area. Seeing the wide array of nationalities, including Canadian, Chinese, and Japanese, made it really click for me that I was about to embark on an adventure in foreign lands. The second flight was much longer, about 9 hours, but there were no disturbances. Upon arrival, I was quickly reminded that the 2020 Olympics would be hosted in Japan. Of course, in that trademarked Japanese cutesy style, they proudly displayed two adorable mascots in the Narita airport. Dennis, Nicole, and I were absolutely drained when we landed, but seeing Sasaki-san, a funny and wonderful Japanese teacher I had met last year, brightened the moment. He drove us to Ashikaga. Jet-lagged as we were, the rest of the night was mostly a blur, but I remember eating pizza and learning some beginner Chinese from Sasaki-san.

Despite some restless sleep, I felt surprisingly alert Monday morning. We went to Ashikaga University where we met the other students, who had just returned from their homestays. I was happy to meet my homestay mother from last year, Ayako-san. We caught up with each other, and I learned that her son had a baby recently, making her a new grandmother! I was again struck by how lovely Ashikaga is, full of greenery and pleasant residents. In a weird way, I felt like I’d arrived at my second home! That night we had karaoke which was crazy fun, and I met a nice Japanese student our age named Seishirou. Melissa, Francesca, and I had some drinks with him down by the river near our hotel later that night. We learned that Seishirou is coming to our college in Springfield later this year, and agreed to hang out when he does.

Tuesday, we had a language class. We learned a lot of new things, but unfortunately my memory of hiragana and katakana (Japanese phonetic alphabets) was abysmal. We went to Kyudo, traditional Japanese archery, and had an absolute blast. The Kyudo masters there were very old, but had an experienced and wise aura about them. One obstacle for me was that I am left-handed, but Kyudo tradition requires everyone to shoot right-handed and with very particular form. It took a bit to get the hang of it, but in my last shot I was actually able to hit the target! I definitely just got lucky, but I’ll certainly take it. Later that night we had Mexican food, which was better than expected given how far we are from Mexico. All in all, these first three days in Japan were a wonderful start to our East Asian exploration.

P.S. This is missing pictures, I still need to figure that out. Once I do I will edit them in.

Whirlwind Trip in Ashikaga!

The past two weeks have certainly been a wild whirlwind of a crash course in Japanese culture, language, and visits to a multitude of famous sites in and around Ashikaga.

This past weekend was spent with my host family, the Tajimas. They were so very kind and giving, and graciously welcomed me into their home right away as if I was family. The very first night I spent with them they took me out for my first true Japanese sushi experience. I tried everything I could, and was NOT disappointed. (One evening with my host family I even tried horse sashimi… yes, you read that right! Horse! It was not awful, but I do not see myself trying it again. “When in Rome”, though!) They seemed to be very taken aback by how much wasabi I liked to eat! On Sunday we went to Hitachi Seaside Park, an amusement park near… you guessed it, the Pacific! I had never seen the Pacific Ocean before, so what better way to see it for the first time than in a clear, plexiglass cart on a massive Ferriss wheel? It truly put Six Flags to shame!

My last night with my host family they dressed me up in a traditional summer festival dress called “yukata”. They made me feel so beautiful, but most importantly, they allowed me to partake in a very important part of their culture, especially for females. After they dressed me, to my surprise, they wanted to take me out to dinner wearing yukata. I was so scared I would get funny looks for being an American dressed in traditional garb, but my experience was in fact the exact opposite! Strangers would come to our table, ask for pictures with me, and buy me food and drinks. I learned from my host sister that many people here very much appreciate when foreigners respectfully take part in traditions, so my fears of being gawked at or feeling uncomfortable were completely unwarranted! This, among many other of my experiences here in Japan, have shown me how truly hospitable and open the locals are to foreigners, and especially the gratitude they have for those who take an interest in learning and participating in their cultural practices.

Yesterday we visited Nikko, a city in Tochigi prefecture which is home to the mausoleum of a great shogun. In the areas surrounding the mausoleum there are two famous wood carvings which were some of my favorites. One was of the three monkeys that “hear no evil, speak no evil, and see no evil”, and the other is of small sleeping cat, which I believe is meant to act as a kind of “guardian” to the Shinto shrine. We also took a boat tour of Lake Chuzenji, a massive and gorgeous lake surrounded by mountains, and finally, we got to see the connected waterfall, Kegon Falls. The waterfall was probably my favorite site on this particular daytrip. Not only were the falls themselves breathtaking, but so were the rock formations around them.

I have done so much these past two weeks, and will be sad to leave Japan soon, but am also anxious to arrive in China to begin air quality testing. Last night we received our equipment, which seems as if it should be easy to use! Thank you to all the new friends I have made here in Japan who may be reading this, and a HUGE thank you to my host family! Japan, you are truly incredible!

PS: Sorry for the lack of images, I am still learning how to work out the kinks with uploading! I promise pictures soon!

Lake Chūzenji

This high altitude lake was formed about 20,000 from the damming by a volcanic eruption. Humans started building shrines in the area about 1200 years ago. The main volcano (Mt. Nantai) is still considered active – and it was odd to look around and see so many volcanic craters surrounding us during the boat ride around the lake. I could also see the paths of recent lahars, and geomorphic contours clearly indicated locations of the next constructions to succumb to gravity.

Home Stay

Hi everyone! Sorry it’s been a while since my last blog post — I’m really enjoying everything we’re doing here. In this post, I’m going to talk about my home stay though, which was from Friday night to Monday morning.

First of all, my family consisted of a mom and dad and a daughter (19 years old) who is studying Spanish in Tokyo, and thus, was unable to come home while I was there. However, me and my parents still hit it off pretty well! We dealt with a language barrier most of the time, but with the help of google translate, we were able to make it work.

The first night (Friday), my parents were working, so a different family picked me up and took care of me until my parents could pick me up later that night.

Saturday, my mom had to take someone to the hospital in the morning, so my dad and I took a walk around town, eventually hiking up Mt. Fuji-san 2 (as he called it). He told me it’s just a fun name for a hill that isn’t even close to the size of Mt. Fuji. Regardless, the view over the city was great. After the hike, dad had to go work, so mom and I went to hang out with some of the other homestay families and play games. There was great food, everyone was super fun to hang out with, and we all got to know each other a bit. After hanging out with everyone, mom and I took a short walk through a nearby flower garden, which was nice.

Sunday, my mom and dad took me cherry picking in a town I can’t remember. There were a ton of trees with an assortment of 10 different types of cherries, all of which were delicious (we were able to pick them off the trees and eat them right there). Then we went to Mt. Haruna, and took some pictures at the lake before we went up to the top of the mountain to visit the shrine and enjoy a phenomenal view. After Mt. Haruna, we visited 2 more shrines on the way back. Both of them required climbing a lot of stairs, but they came with amazing views, a lot of nature, and really cool history lessons.

Monday was pretty uneventful — my family had work, so I was dropped off at another homestay family’s house, and we were taken to Ashikaga University before 9am.

Overall, it was pretty neat 😀

A little bit of archery never…

OK, I got a blood blister doing this. I somehow neglected to put on the glove. At some point later it was pointed out that I was wearing it on my shoulder. Oberservational…skills…dying. But then six others in our group tried to walk off wearing their gear. I could seriously get into this art.

Time Travel

So I woke up on a Friday morning and apparently arrived somewhere a few days / hours / countries later. Chicago to Vancouver wasn’t a bad trip. I think I slept for about half of it. Missing my midflight cookies was disappointing; can’t they just balance them on my head so I can get them when my slumping head wakes me up. But the Vancouver airport woke me up. Clean, new, beautiful…let’s say it wasn’t O’Hare.

Narita airport was a bit unexpected. Clean, but plain. And empty. Silent. I swear I entered the restroom and when I came out the flood of humanity confined to the same steel flying tube had disappeared. For what seemed like kilometers three of us moved along the only path available. A path we hoped would lead us to a quick drive to the hotel…even we knew that was not to be. No, it was not to be.

Actually, I was anticipating a 3-hour ride from Tokyo to Ashikaga. It was only about two hours. Sweet! An extra hour of sleep. However, our kind driver wanted us to have dinner before the hotel. We three Americans all said we really weren’t hungry, but we stopped at a chain Italian restaurant. We ordered pasta, which apparently came with a salad bar and slices of pizza coming at you every couple minutes. We three Americans barely touched our pasta.

Sleep deprived, we checked in to the hotel. I couldn’t recognize numbers and couldn’t open my hotel room door. A few hours later a magnitude 4.9 earthquake started shaking my 8th floor room. Am I still jet lagged? (Well, yes.) Dehydrated? (Well, yes.) Just not all there upstairs? (Please don’t leave a comment.) It did actually take about 5 seconds before I realized it was an earthquake. Welcome to Japan. Bring on Godzilla.

Day 3 in Ashikaga: HERE’S MY CARD

The research being performed at Ashikaga University focuses mostly on environmental technology such as figuring out renewable energy sources, weather forecasting technology, & radioactive-waste disposal. After talking with the many professors yesterday, I learned that the university sometimes works in conjunction with private businesses such as construction companies by testing concrete quality and providing large concrete forms for bridge building components. All the research being performed was extremely impressive and has certainly influenced me to learn more about these environmental technologies.

As I will be interning for the Environmental Protection Agency’s office of site evaluation, I found much of the construction technology at Ashikaga University fascinating and probably asked too many questions! Ashikaga’s division of engineering attempts to ensure safe building practices and safe disposal of hazardous wastes. And yesterday, I was extremely grateful because I received a business card from one of the professors who is performing influential research somewhat related to what I will be investigating at the Environmental Protection Agency. Thank you, Dr. Tomoyoshi Nishimura, I look forward to reading your research. While my investigations will focus on mostly ferrous soils, I think I could learn a lot from Dr. Nishimura’s research dedicated to radioactivity and porous stones.

A couple other impressive works happening at Ashikaga include renewable energy storage using hydrogen storage alloy to reduce CO2 emissions, using water as a driving force to power machines by using the special alloy martensite, bio-fuel made from organic waste, and lighting rod telemetry to better forecast thunderstorms in Japan.

Martensite is memory metal. Once exposed to a certain temperature, it reforms back into its shape via contracting molecules. Hot water and cool air are perfect for martensite’s molecular deformation. Cooling deforms the martensite memory wire and heating the alloy stiffly contracts it. This martensite wire was connected to a pully mechanism half submerged in toy car chassis and water fueled the energy for the toy car move.

Ashikaga University also performs research on biofuel. Currently they have created pucks of wood shavings, old newspapers, and used coffee grounds to be burnt in furnaces. Doctor Jonathan Goldbergbelle explained to me that cornhusks in the United States would be a great resource to be burned as biofuel. I have thought about the possibility of coconut husks as well. I am curious whether any of my peers have any other ideas for resources to be used as biofuel?

Ashikaga Day 2: Walking Tour!

The walking tour of Ashikaga showed us even more of the city’s fascinating features. First, we took a short hike up to the “boys’ shrine” and the “girls’ shrine”, where the first week of May every year the locals take their infants and write their names, along with “wishes” for them. I believe the most common of these “wishes” are for good health for their children. Both the shrines and the views from them were incredibly beautiful!

Next, we visited the Ashikaga history museum, which featured a lot of awesome miniatures of what the city had looked like at points throughout its history, which was probably my favorite part of the museum. I also learned that Ashikaga’s original industry was focused around textiles, which I thought were gorgeous!

After the museum we stopped for lunch where I had my first true Japanese ramen experience. I was surprised to find that the ramen here is even saltier than the instant ramen back home in the States! It was still delicious, and I can’t wait to try more varieties while I’m here.

From lunch, we headed to the Ashikaga Textile museum, where I got to see even more of those gorgeous fabrics I had mentioned before. It is so impressive to know that such complex fabrics were done on looms by hand before machines came around. The amount of time, effort, and attention to detail these fabrics must have taken to create I truly astounding!

Finally, we went to a Buddhist temple, where we met the priest who tends to the grounds and the adjacent cemetery. He and his wife were incredibly welcoming, and he showed the most beautiful print of “Buddha’s death” (which I learned is very important in Buddhism, as he then ascended to Nirvana). He and his wife even sat down and had tea with us, where we got to meet their cute little dog “Hime”, which is Japanese for “princess”, and she was most certainly treated like a little princess! I could tell the priest and his wife doted on the precious little dog. Once again, I was incredibly impressed by the amazing graciousness and hospitality of our hosts! This aspect of Japanese culture will never cease to amaze me!

Day 2 in Ashikaga: WILD BOARS

I am not sure whether I have a case of jet lag or excitement to wake up early and relish in the atmospheric culture of Japan. I am starting to find myself waking up early and reading about the things I witnessed the previous day; I am also starting to realize that many of my questions during the guided tours revolve around Japan’s local wildlife and environmental history. Yesterday Professor Shimizu of Ashikaga University guided us to Ashikaga’s Hogen Temple & Fuji Shrine. While witnessing these beautiful sites of divinity and worship, I began talking to Professor Shimizu about nature as the many shrines we visit are found upon forested hills away from human development. He explained to me how many festivities and traditions occur during Spring time – the boy and girl temples we went to yesterday are used to celebrate the birth and health of newborn children which rightfully coincides with Spring time, a time when plants and animals flourish. The intimacy of nature and tradition in Japan is beginning to become quite apparent in most aspects of Japanese life.

As my peers and I have been tirelessly hiking through the city of Ashikaga, we have noticed many signs, bulletins, and maps across the city. These signs have made our lives so much easier as they provide warnings, instructions, or directions. One sign in particular, however, caught my eye. It had an illustration of a wild boar on it. I asked Professor Shimizu about this sign and it uncovered a lengthy lesson about pest management, conservation, & Japan’s declining population.

I learned that wild boars are becoming quite a menace around Japan. It appears as Japanese population declines, wild boar populations increase. Many current Japanese youth are beginning to move away from the countryside and into large southern Japanese cities. This trend has left elderly Japanese farmers to fend for themselves. As the youth move into the cities and elderly Japanese farmers pass away from old age, rice paddies and other agricultural fields either become mishandled or entirely forgotten. In response to this trend, wild boar populations are surging as more land and food become available to wildlife. The effect of this population upsurge has damaged the yields of remaining agricultural fields.

In the state of Illinois, farmers are allowed to manage feral pig populations via hunting or trapping without the need for a permit as long as it is hunted on their land. It appears that Japanese bureaucracy has provided a difficult time for farmers to manage pests on their farmlands. It is a difficult and lengthy process to obtain a gun license in Japan and a trapping permit in Japan is also a lengthy process as one must take a semester of college work in order to obtain one. It appears for the time being that Japan’s wild boar problem will remain challenging. Wild boar populations are continually increasing and also migrating into new territories. As climate change is occurring (2018), wild boars are moving farther and farther into northern Japanese latitudes (Oda, 2018). The reproduction rate of wild boar is also concerning as they can have as many as 5 to 8 piglets in one litter – capable of breeding twice in one year. I can’t help but wonder how the Japanese people could resolve this problem. One idea is that since the Japanese are prolific fisherman and have a taste for wild-caught meat, why not open a market for wild-caught boar meat and ease the bureaucratic process of obtaining a live trapping permit.

Not only are these wild boar populations effecting rural agricultural areas, but they are also encroaching into urban developments. There is a long list of concerns in regard to wild boar in Japan. If anyone one has questions, please comment below my blog post!

Ashikaga Day 1: Bus Tour!

My first day in Ashikaga, Japan was incredible! I saw so many new things that I had never expected to see in my life. The day was spent mainly as a bus tour of the city, where we made multiple stops at some of the city’s hallmark locations. First, we went to Ashikaga University, which seemed at first glance quite similar to American universities! From there we went to Ashikaga Gakko, the oldest school in Japan, which had at one point suffered some fire damage but was still absolutely gorgeous, and the architecture was truly something to behold; a testament to Japan’s long legacy of the emphasis on the importance of education, knowledge, and wisdom. One of the most interesting buildings I noticed there was what was once a dormitory where students would sit and copy books by hand. Such a stark contrast to today when we can download our textbooks online in a matter of minutes!

After visiting Ashikaga Gakko, we then went to a shrine, which consisted of walking 200 some steps to get to the top, but the view was absolutely breathtaking! My favorite part of the day, however, was visiting the Ashikaga Flower Park. The park is most famous for its wisteria trees, some of which are over 100 years old, with their branches supported by massive wire frames that create incredible canopies overhead. I saw many flowers I was not familiar with, as well as some lizards and fish in the park’s many ponds.

The language barrier here can be tough to get through at times, but the people are so understanding and incredibly helpful, even when there are translation issues. I have traveled abroad in the past, but I have never before felt so welcomed in a country that is not my own. I am so much looking forward to what the rest of my stay here will bring me!

Floating garden at Ashikaga Flower Park: So incredibly peaceful and serene! Almost dreamlike!
One of the many flowers at the flower park I mentioned I was not familiar with! These might have been my favorites, although it is so hard to pick just one!

Ashikaga Day 1 (Caleb)

Hi everyone! So today, we visited a few places, but I started out the day with a fellow student named Lee. We went to a shrine and honestly I was amazed and humbled by the opportunity to experience something that was so important to them.

During the tour for the day, we visited Ashikaga Gardens, which was phenomenal. We saw a few Wisteria trees, which were simply amazing. In full bloom, they become a sea or purples and pinks. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see them in full bloom, so they were just a sea of green, but it was still pretty awesome.

This is just one Wisteria tree!

That’s all I’ve got for now. If I had to recommend anything, I would say if you are ever in Ashikaga, I would highly suggest seeing the garden.

Day 1 in Ashikaga: RESOURCEFULNESS

I awoke at three in the morning today. I presume because of jet lag, however, the first day in Ashikaga was nonstop hiking and at the end of the day I crashed from exhaustion around 8 o’clock at night. The day prior was spent touring the city of Ashikaga. The tour consisted of visiting Ashikaga University, the world-renowned Ashikaga Flower Park, a 19th century shrine atop a large hill that overlooks the city, & the oldest university in Japan.

Ashikaga Gakko, the oldest university in Japan, is a national historic site for Japanese heritage. The exact date this university was erected was lost in translation when I asked one of our guides, but the tour pamphlet mentioned Ashikaga having been a central hub for learning as far back as 1487. The only learning performed in Ashikaga Gakko today, however, is done through guided tours – not via tuition. The architecture and landscaping of Ashikaga Gakko was immediately impressive. The building’s woodwork was intricately crafted. I noticed that the gables, beams, and anything wooden were held together by impressive mortis and tenon. Rather than using nails or screws to fasten the wood together, special angular cuts and notches were used to create tight joints that held all building materials together. Looking at Ashikaga Gakko through an environmental construction lens, the university’s roof was quite a resourceful piece of construction. The roof was made from reeds found along local water sources. These slick plants provide a perfect, yet antiquated water-proof roof design. Bundles of reeds were used to thatch the roof, and the thatching’s thickness had to have been around 3 feet in thickness. The fast growth and abundance of reeds provide an excellent, sustainable resource for thatching… however, all this dry plant-based material suffers from one grave problem – its propensity to catch on fire! And that is exactly what happened a couple hundred years ago. Today, the historic university has been restored and carefully maintained as an important heritage site for the Japanese people – it has been the most insightful part of my international studies so far.

While touring these destinations, I felt a great sense of collective care and passion by the Japanese people. Ashikaga is a beautifully maintained city and extremely clean. It appears that many people living here in Ashikaga are respectful not just to each other, but also towards the environment. I cannot list the exact amount of city gardens I witnessed yesterday, but it is an impressive amount. The amount of greenery and landscaping is also impressive. While many homes do not have yards like we do in the United States, the green spaces residential people do have are full of beautifully potted plants and flowers.           

Overall, yesterday was an amazingly terrific experience. My first day in Japan was excellently guided by the international department of Ashikaga University. The deputy of international studies at Ashikaga University, Mister Sasaki, really made me feel welcomed. He introduced me to some Chinese students also touring the city and gave me an opportunity to practice my Chinese speaking skills. I am so thankful to be given such an opportunity and I cannot wait for the experiences to come these next following weeks.

The cleanliness of Ashikaga is widespread. This receptacle caught my eye, it appears people remove bottle caps before disposing their trash.
Fellow researcher Caleb Froidcoeur and I took an early morning walk to a shinto shrine our first morning in Ashikaga. We paid our respects to this beautiful site.

Meters in prep

Some of the equipment to be taken to Japan and China being calibrated on campus.


What is the one thing you will pack for a long trip that you really don’t need?

Departing soon!

In a few days four of our UIS Wanxiang Fellows (Illinois Blue Lions) depart for Japan, where I and two other UIS students will meet them a week later. Then we travel to Beijing to meet the Illinois Red Lions (UIC) and Illinois Orange Lions (UIUC). I’m already tired…