Sara Mercuro ’12

Because of the disaster, I’ve had to make many decisions about what I will do for the semester. It was too late to go back to Holy Cross, but since I have enough credits to skip a semester, I am doing so. I got my old job back and things are returning to normal here. I continue to watch the news, and facebook, for updates on the situation in Japan.

Holy Cross has reimbursed me next semester’s tuition, and promises that housing will come. They also made a few allowances, letting me apply to the Rome Maymester program late. Fortunately, I was accepted and will be going to Italy on May 22nd. The program looks incredible…now I just have to relearn four years of high school italian.

As for my things, I have made arrangements with my friends to bring back the things that are more important to me: jewelry, certain books, mementos and such. I am so lucky that I have people willing to do this for me.

Though I have great things ahead of me, I am still sad for what has been lost. A large part of me wishes I was still over there, and able to help. I know this is not realistic. All I can do is my best from over here in Boston. If I manage to get the fundraiser I’m planning together, I will tell you all about it.

For those of you thinking about studying abroad, it may sound cheesy, but Holy Cross has got your back even in the worst of times. Don’t let anything stop you from going where you want to go. Despite what has happened, I would not trade my experiences in Japan for anything in the world.

The news reports look worse and worse for Nihon. With news of the third nuclear power plant explosion, hundreds of after shocks, another quake with the epicenter in Tokyo bay and hundreds of thousands of bodies still missing, the devastation report climbs by the day. Things are getting worse and not better.

The study abroad office sent me an email that Sophia University will not be an option for my second semester. I am not sure what I will do now, except perhaps join a relief effort. If you can find it in your hearts to donate, even a small amount, to help the people of Japan through these troubling times, please do so.

I was in my bed at home when disaster struck. By home, I mean America. My plane was supposed to fly out from Logan Airport at 6am that morning. I was packed and ready to go.

A text message woke up my fitful sleep (who can sleep well when they know they’ll be on a long, long journey the next morning) saying that disaster had struck Japan. Around four in the morning, I opened my laptop and stared dumbstruck at the headlines. 8.9 magnetite quake hits Japan, accompanied by massive tsunami that extinguished hundreds of lives and took out tens of thousands homes. Thousands of people remain missing and presumed dead. The threat of nuclear meltdown is imminent.

As I continued to stare in horror at the news, my father immediately changed my flight to the 24th. I’ve been watching the news, and facebook, anxiously for news of my friends. Fortunately, they all seem to be accounted for.

This catastrophe is still too much for me to think about rationally. More from me later. In the meantime, anyone who is interested in helping out can donate here: http://american.redcross.org/site/PageServer?pagename=ntld_main&s_src=RSG000000000&s_subsrc=RCO_FrontPagePanel

Where am I now?

I am at the Holy Cross Library! For the last two weeks, I’ve been sitting at home, eating, spending time with family, eating and experiencing America again. Which means eating. Japan almost feels like a dream, except for the fact that I’ll be on a plane 16 hours next week to return there.

My way home had been rather turbulent, to say the least. From my dormitory, the airport takes three hours to reach by train. Upon my arrival, I found out that my flight was delayed another eight hours. I very quickly exhausted things to do. When I finally got on the plane, I rode for 12 hours to Chicago and another 2 back home.

And the first words I heard from my grandparents were: “Do you have a Chinese boyfriend?” I laughed (because I’m in Japan, not China) and my grandmother cooked me a giant lasagna. All is well with the world.

I love having my adventures in Japan, but sometimes it’s great to be home.

Hisashiburi da ne! (It’s been awhile)

Right after I returned from Okinawa, I had to get into finals mode. Those were difficult and painful, but the hardest thing has been saying goodbye to some of the friends I’ve made here that are only staying one semester. Going to Nikko with SISEC cheered me up tons, and I know now more than ever that the friends I’ve made here will last a lifetime. Between skype, facebook and instant messaging, it’s easier than ever for this big world to become more closely knit.

I fly home tomorrow for three weeks to visit my family in Boston. When I get to that downtime, I’ll post tons of pictures of Okinawa and Nikko — and tell you all about it. For now, I have to pack and clean…

And say more goodbyes.

Matta! I’ve got a long flight ahead of me.

Tokyo, nigh uncontested, contains some of the world’s best nightlife: clubs, karaoke, izakaya (bars), illuminations and, of course, everywhere you go there are tons and tons of people. Friday and Saturday nights in Shibuya are crazy, rife with all kinds meeting by the Hachiko statue to meet up for a good time. This weekend, I could definitely say I had too much fun.

Friday night, one of my friends rented out an izakaya in Shinjuku for his birthday. For a reasonable flat fare, we all got nomihoudai (all you can drink) for three hours, with the typical izakaya food: shrimp chips, salad, fries, and takoyaki (batter fried squid). Around 11:30 or so, there is a decision that must be made, since the trains stop at 12am.

All nighter, or no all nighter? That is the question.

Some people went clubbing, but Friday was not an all nighter for me, because I dearly needed the sleep. And I had Aikido practice in the morning.

Saturday, however, was another story. A few friends and I had a girls night out, opting for an all night karaoke session. It’s actually reasonably priced for such a long period of time: 12am-5am 1700 yen (Maybe 20 US dollars).

The next day I had a SISEC activity: picture scavenger hunt. We went around Tokyo taking pictures with various things that a tourist might be looking for. Examples: cosplayers, weird burgers at McDonalds, Shrines, Policemen…etc. We had one task to get a hug from a stranger. Fortunately, on the Harajuku bridge, we ran into a line of people offering free hugs.

I hugged them all! =D Though, the last guy went a little crazy, picked me up and swung me around. That was mildly frightening.

And now I return to the reality of schoolwork. Fortunately, Okinawa awaits me this weekend.

Ja, matta!

Happy New Year!

Japan is an amazing place to be for the holidays. Though I missed my family tons, there was plenty in Kansai to distract me from the fact that my whole family would be gathered under the tree except for me.

Travel in Snapshots:
Day 1: Leave Tokyo on a night bus around 12am. We reached Osaka around 7am and dropped our things off at the hostel. Saw the most famous temple in Osaka and enjoyed the Namba (downtown area) lights by night.


The famous Pocky Glico man!

Day 2: Hopped on a train and went to Kobe! It was a pretty short ride, maybe forty minutes (less than my commute to school). Kobe is a scenic little port town surrounded by mountains with the most amazing beef. I tried it, but gosh was it expensive…but it was the first very good beef that I’ve had in Japan. It’s really hard to eat beef when you’re used to American steak. Kobe beef sated my meat lust, fortunately. One of my friend’s has a friend that lives in Kobe, so she showed us around and took us to a nice wine bar, and a ramen shop after that.

Kobe Pictures:


Nunobiki Waterfall at the end of a hiking trail.


View of Kobe Port.

Day Three: Christmas! We did plan to go to Himeji Castle, the most famous and scenic castle in all Japan…but the manager of the hostel informed us it would be under construction for the next four years! So instead, we headed toward the Osaka Aquarium for Christmas. In Japan, Christmas is a holiday for couples to spend together, so of course it was so full of pairs that I thought we were going into Noah’s Ark instead. At night, we went to KFC for “Special Christmas Chicken.” Oddly enough, the Japanese interpret KFC as American culture, so they flock to it come Thanksgiving and Christmas.


Penguins!


The Christmas Chicken!

Day Four: Osaka Tour Day! On the 26th we bought special passes for free subway and entry into all the special tour places. We toured Osaka Castle, the palace gardens…which were rather deserted in winter (but it snowed!), and the Osaka History Museum. Then, we went on a cruise through the city river, observed the city at night from the Sky Tree and rode on the giant Hep 5 ferris wheel looming over Osaka. We finished off the night with Okonomiyaki, typical Osakan cuisine. Wayyy better than in Tokyo, and cheaper.


Osaka Castle.


View of Osaka from the Sky Garden. Unfortunately, my camera is awful at night.

Day Five: Since some of us wanted to go to Kyoto and others wanted to go to Universal Studios Japan, the group split in two. I went to Kyoto and enjoyed Kikakuji (the Golden Temple) and Inari Taisha (long rows of Torii — or gates). We tried to make it to more sights, but the Kyoto buses didn’t exactly cooperate; it did not help that all the temples close by 4pm.


The magnificent golden temple.


Fushimi Inari Taisha.

Day Six: We went to Nara! We saw a giant Buddha and more deer than I thought I would ever see in my life. They come right up to you and demand attention, which was cute…until one of them tried to make off with my purse!


This particular deer was enjoying my friend’s map. Tasty.


Beware of Violent deer. Seriously. That or don’t withhold food.


Big Buddha

Day Six: We got back from Nara the previous day somewhat late and checked into a CAPSULE HOTEL around 11pm. For those of you who don’t know what that is…it’s exactly what it sounds like. You sleep in a capsule about this big:

It was surprisingly comfortable. We spent the majority of that early morning enjoying their hot tub (which was nice enough to make up for the restricted area) and took it easy for the rest of day six. That night, we boarded another night bus and arrived home on day seven.

For New Years, my friends and I went to Zojoji temple, close enough for a great view of Tokyo Tower, for a countdown. We wrote our wishes on balloons and released them into the sky on the stroke of midnight.

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYONE!

-So, somehow, without my knowledge, Christmas break starts next week. Unfortunately, I am no longer going to Hokkaido; group consensus moved our trip to Kansai! When it comes to traveling, there really are no bad options. There is so much to do! In Kansai, there is one of the biggest cities in Japan, Osaka, as well as Nara (the first capital of Japan) and Kobe (MEAT). We will probably also spend a day or so in Kyoto, as it is also in Kansai. Though I’ve already been, I would love to go back.

We’ve booked our stay in a hostel for the first five nights, and for the last, a capsule hotel. A capsule hotel is exactly what it sounds like: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capsule_hotel

-In January, I get to go to Okinawa for a long weekend!!! SO EXCITING! The have stunning beaches, a culture like nowhere else and best of all…it’s a tropical island. You really can’t beat that. :)

-In February, I am going to Nikko with SISEC! It has been described to me as “The Monkey Onsen.” We will see how that turns out. (P.S. An onsen is a hot spring [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onsen). Later in February, I am also cheating and going home for three weeks or so to check up on my family. They just miss me too much. ;)

Though I really shouldn’t be thinking about all of these vacations when I have so much to do for the five remaining days left of school before break. Ganbarimasu! [I will do my best]

Ja matta,

Sara

At the foreign student’s Christmas Party, one of the directors made a rather stirring speech. He spoke of his time in America, and how he felt like an infant who could do nothing for himself. In this new country, I understand his feelings. However, like him, I believe this is important to experience. No matter where you are in the world, there will be people that will help and support you. By yourself, nothing can be accomplished. You can’t know anything in this world without being informed of it by someone else. I’m not sure if this is a comforting thought or a frightening one. I suppose that changes depending on the mood.

Everyone I meet helps me in some way. I am learning so much from the Aikido team, as they all work so hard. The kouhai respect and learn from the senpai who teach and protect them. During the large gathering this weekend, everyone cheered on the people in the demonstration. I watched and cheered as well. Much like school football games at home, it brings the amazing feeling of being larger than you really are: representing your school is fun like that.

Thanksgiving with SISEC was a huge success. The Japanese students were hilarious; they were all taking pictures of the turkey, as most of them had never eaten it before. Everything came out amazing and we all went out for karaoke afterward. I sang a Japanese song (with much difficulty)!

The people in my dormitory are amazing too. I learn from them every day, and I’m planning a trip to Kansai with my friends over Christmas break. We were going to go to Hokkaido, but February is better for that because of the festival.

Today, since I’m doing my first english tutoring session…perhaps someone will learn from me.

Thank you for your support,

Sara Mercuro

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Though I have a great many things to be thankful for, it still makes me a little bit sad that I didn’t get to have turkey yesterday. The kitchen in my dormitory doesn’t even have a oven. The closest thing to turkey available is KFC…

HOWEVER, one of my clubs (SISEC) is having a Thanksgiving gathering on Sunday, so I will feast on turkey then! We all put money into renting out a party room with ovens, space to eat and everything.

Midterms just finished and I have a super busy weekend ahead of me.
Tonight: Cooking with friends and partying afterward :)
Saturday: Aikido demonstration — I get to see the very best martial artists from different schools perform!
Sunday: Thanksgiving party!

…And somewhere in that crazy weekend I have to write a paper and go on a job interview. Ganbarimasu! (I will try my best!)

Ja matta,

Sara