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by Danni Xu, CAH-MA '24

I arrived in Tokyo before everyone else. We could only move into the dormitory Meiji had arranged in early September. Still, I came to Tokyo at the end of August, two weeks before our move-in.

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Sunset at Kiyomizu Temple in Japan
Sunset at Kiyomizu Temple.
photo by Danni Xu

Going to Japan is not a new experience; it is like returning to my home in another world. In 2023, I made three trips to Japan for different purposes. I spent the first day of 2023 in Kyoto and took a short summer program at the University of Tokyo. The exchange to Meiji finally allowed me to stay in Japan for over a month.

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A photo collage of a person wearing different clothes for a concert and anime costumes
Pictures of the author attending concerts and anime events.
photos by Danni Xu

Unlike other students who come to Japan for the first time and want to learn the Japanese language and culture, I understand Japanese culture well and can communicate in Japanese.

Why did I come to Japan at the end of August? That's because there was a concert I must go to. On the day of the concert, I had my hairstyle done and carried a bag I redesigned. It was a purely Japanese concert, and I could understand more than 90% of the content.

I enjoyed the concert and talked to some Japanese fans. In the short 5 months I stayed in Japan, I went to several concerts and anime events, enjoying a life I had only dreamed of.

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photos of a goshuin collection (Japanese characters written on cards)
Part of the author's Goshuin collection.
photos by Danni Xu

I started my Goshuin collection trip right after the concert. As a crazy anime fan, I never thought I would be so interested in traditional Japanese culture like Goshuin. My favorite Shinmeigu is Asagaya Shinmeigu. They sell a variety of seasonal embroidery Goshuin according to the month.

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Goshuin (cards with decorative images and kanji) displayed on a table
Goshuin collected by the author during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
photo by Danni Xu

Whenever they released a new Goshuin, I would go on the release day or the next day. Additionally, in the Taito-ku in Tokyo, I have a Goshuin path that I designed myself. Get off at Uguisudani JR station; four shrines are very close to each other if you walk northeast.

Because each shrine updates its Goshuin every month, I will follow the path and collect Goshuin one by one during the end of each month.

 

 

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A hand holding samples of goshuin, decorative cards with kanji lettering
Examples of Nishijin-ori.
photo by Danni Xu

Apart from the monthly Goshuin collection in Tokyo, I also traveled to other places outside Tokyo. Shrines often organize Goshuin collection events.

At the end of August, I traveled to Atami for my final Goshuin of a collection event.

As the prize, I got a cut bag made of Nishijin-ori, a traditional textile produced in Kyoto.

Although I moved into my dorm on September 4, the new semester started at the end of September. I met all of my roommates, seven girls from seven countries. In our suite, there were eight girls from eight countries, including me.

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Hands hold brightly decorated chocolate-dipped bananas on sticks at a festival in Japan
Chocolate bananas at Kumano Shrine.
photo by Danni Xu

Summer is the time for Matsuri. I went to the Matsuri of Kumano Shrine near our Meiji dormitory with my French roommate.

This was our first time attending a Matsuri in Japan and our first time eating some snacks you can only get at Matsuri.

I attended the Meiji University Gakuensai (school festival) during the beginning of November. Most Japanese universities have their school festivals during this time.

As an exchange student at Meiji University, I felt I should check out my school's school festival. Meiji University has multiple campuses, and this year's school festival happened to be at Izumi campus, next to our dormitory.

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People on a staircase and walking along a plaza by the entrance to Meiji University
The gate of Izumi campus on the first day of the school festival.
photo by Danni Xu

 

I got a free brochure for the Meiji School Festival right after I entered the campus. Not only were there students selling snacks at stalls, but volunteers were also introducing visitors to the various information available at the school. There was even a band playing at noon.

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A hand holding a colorful brochure for a school festival (in Japanese)
The free brochure.
photo by Danni Xu

Winter break at Meiji University started at Christmas. I went to Kansai with a classmate I met in a Japanese class. It was a relaxing and casual trip, so we packed our schedule sparingly. Because of my love for Goshuin, one of my purposes for this trip was to collect Goshuin in Kyoto and Osaka. On the other hand, my classmates wanted to eat some of the local specialties. So, each night before we went to bed, I decided on the sites to visit the next day, and she selected the restaurant we would go to.

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A stone obelisk carved with Japanese kanji (Fushimi Inari Taisha)
Fushimi Inari Taisha.
photo by Danni Xu
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A stone obelisk carved with Japanese kanji outside a traditional building
Osaka Tenmangu.
photo by Danni Xu

 

We spent our last day of 2023 in Kyoto, watching NHK Kōhaku Uta Gassen. And on the next day, January 1, we went to Shimogamo Shrine for Hatsumōte, the first shrine visit of the New Year. In just five days, I collected over 20 Goshuin.

Meanwhile, we ate sukiyaki and all kinds of food made of matcha, especially matcha ice cream, which I ate every day. It was very satisfying, but at the same time, my wallet was empty.

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A hand holding a goshuin (decorative card printed with Japanese kanji) outside a restaurant
Winter special Goshuin and snow Omamori from Shimogamo Shrine.
photo by Danni Xu
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A person presenting to other students in a classroom
The author shares a presentation with her classmates.
photo by Danni Xu

Although the fall semester of Meiji University ends in early February, we had to say goodbye to our classmates and teachers in mid-January because the new Duke semester had already started.

We took some pictures with our teachers and classmates.

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A group of people clusters together for a selfie
Students and an instructor in a Japanese language class (also pictured: David Zong)
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Students taking a group photo in a Japanese class
Students in a Japanese language class
photo by Danni Xu

The week before I returned to the United States, my classmates held a farewell party for me. We had dinner at a Yakitori restaurant and two hours of Karaoke. As we parted, we knew it might be the last time our class was together.

It is a rare opportunity for people from different countries and regions to spend four months together in Tokyo. We exchanged ins accounts and promised to meet again in the future.

The exchange semester at Meiji University was amazing. Because of the Coronavirus, I once lost an opportunity to study in Japan on an exchange program. However, Meiji's exchange program made up for it. I'm happy that I was able to apply for the exchange a year ago decisively. I interacted closely with Meiji professors and students during my five months in Japan. I participated in some activities at other universities, such as conferences organized by the University of Tokyo. At the same time, because I also attended some concerts and anime events, I got to know some Japanese anime fans. I would not have had the opportunity to interact with local Japanese fans in such depth if I had not applied for the Meiji exchange program.

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A person wearing a red kimono with a large floral print stands near a poster of an anime character
Photo of the author wearing a kimono with her favorite game character.
photo by Danni Xu

Back in North Carolina, I inevitably felt the difference between Tokyo and Durham. This exchange program was not only an opportunity for me to get to know Tokyo better but also made me think about what kind of environment would be ideal for my future development.

Life in Tokyo was undoubtedly fulfilling, but it also disoriented me. I still aspire to a life of fun and interest rather than serious academic research. That's not to say I'm giving up on academics, but I'm trying to balance entertainment and research. My short experience in Tokyo can be a reference to show me where the better place is for me to live.