After an eventful week in Tokyo, students felt a sense of sadness as they departed their hotel. However, this feeling did not last very long as students boarded a charter bus, looking forward to riding the shinkansen (bullet train) to Kyoto.

Many students were excited to go to Kyoto to see a more traditional side of Japan, but the thought of packing left a few of them feeling anxious.

One of the biggest concerns was whether they had forgotten something at the hotel, so students double-checked their luggage to ensure nothing was left behind. Tobi Jaiyeoba, international studies senior, was feeling the heat as the minutes drew closer to departure.

“Packing this morning was hectic,” Jaiyeoba said. “I felt like I didn’t have enough time to pack and be ready to go. I couldn’t find my wallet this morning so that added another level of stress. It didn’t help that the room was very small. Having two people packed in a very small space was hectic because we kept running into each other while also making sure that each person had enough space to move around.”

As students seated themselves on the charter bus, many looked exhausted as they prepared for their next step in their journey. One could see the toll that packing their bags took on them. The 45-minute-long bus ride was a welcome break.

The highlight of the journey for many students was the ride on the shinkansen. The ride spanned a total distance of 279 miles between Tokyo and Kyoto. Normally, the trip would take five-and-a-half hours by car, but with the shinkansen traveling at a speed of 180 mph, the trip took only two hours.

It is common practice to purchase a bento box meal prior to boarding the bullet train. Students bought a variety of bento box meals, containing fried fish and rice, sushi or even some noodles. Needless to say, the entire class, including faculty, were eating well on the train ride to Kyoto. 

In preparation for the two-hour ride, the class and faculty settled into the shinkansen and worked on assignments, took naps or graded assignments, respectively. This train ride provided some much needed down time for both students and faculty.

Once the bullet train came to a stop, the trek to Kyoto did not end there.

The path to get out of the station proved to be difficult for students that had heavy suitcases as the elevators were out of service. The hardest part to say the least was the seemingly endless staircases between the train and the hotel.

Audible groans can be heard as students made their way up the staircase one after the other in hope of it being the last set. One could argue that the stairs near Alkek Library on the Texas State campus had played a big part in preparing SJMC Japan students for this expedition.

Jaiyeoba said she powered through as best as she could.

 “I’m about ready to let my suitcase go down the stairs,” Jaiyeoba said, as she hauled her luggage up and down the stairs. “I’m just going to abandon my suitcase.”

It wasn’t until we reached the top of the stairs that SJMC Japan Academic Program Director Gilbert D. Martinez was able to break the tension with a joke to make our experience a bit more cheerful.

“If you guys didn’t know, not only will you get six credit hours for this trip, but you will also be given one physical education credit,” Martinez said. The entire class giggled and enjoyed the professor’s joke as it was a good way to take our minds off the excruciating and unexpected workout.

Prior to the bullet train ride, SJMC students had the opportunity to visit Unseen Japan, an online news organization that covers current events, history and the culture of Japan. It’s made up of a collective of writers, some of whom have a degree in Japan studies.  

The meeting with Jay Allen, co-founder and chief writer for Unseen Japan, was eye-opening as he gave us a glimpse into both his professional and personal life. He shared with us the company’s history and how the idea of building a news outlet went from just an idea to a small company with over 124,000 followers on X, formerly Twitter. Having grown up in New York and spent time in Seattle, he said watching Japanese anime inspired him to move to Japan, which occurred in January.

“For me, it was really just that life-long love for Japan,” Allen said about the inspiration behind Unseen Japan. He also added that Unseen Japan endeavors to cover important social issues, such as the LGBT community and indigenous people in Japan, that aren’t often written about in mainstream media.

Laura Restrepo Posada, a junior in digital media innovation, asked Allen about challenges he faced when writing about controversial topics.

“Death threats, harassment,” Allen answered. “Back when Unseen Japan was small, with about 5,000 followers, I took a picture of a racy anime character that was on display. I asked, ‘Oh, I don’t know if this is appropriate to be displayed in public during a blood drive,’ and later on non-English speaking, non-Japanese, anime and manga fans descended upon the account like a ton of bricks. On the plus side, the account doubled in size overnight, and we just rode out the hateful wave,” Allen said.

It was easy to see just how interested the students were to meet up with Allen as students used the available time left to get in their questions. Students left the visit feeling inspired after such an informational and fun interaction. His professionalism sprinkled with humor inspired students to reach for their goals and set their own rules.

While the time with Allen was much appreciated, many were ready to call it a day. Our arrival at the Sotetsu Fresa Inn, provided everyone a nice reprieve from the hot and humid air of Kyoto. Everyone sat down to catch their breaths after the unexpected workout as they waited for room keys. Some planned to stay at the hotel while others made a dash to drop off their luggage and hit the streets of Kyoto.

Still, there were some students like Lauren Reid, an advertising junior, made the most of their free afternoon. While others, including faculty, took advantage of the combination washer/dryer in the hotel to clean their clothes.

“I went to dinner at the supermarket,” Reid said by text. “It wasn’t busy, and they had a ready-made meal section. I chose some sweet and sour chicken, cabbage salad and a cup of noodles to make a meal. I then went to a drug store where I bought some bath salts for sore muscles, laundry detergent, and a 2L bottle of water. I forgot to pack any utensils so I had to eat my food with two disposable toothbrushes as chopsticks.”

Tomorrow will be the official start of the second week of our Japan program, and students are looking forward to what Kyoto has to offer. Stay tuned as we share the details of our visits to Kiyomizu-dera Temple, the Yasaka Shrine and the Gion district renowned for geisha.

Additionally, students have an appointment for a tea ceremony in Kyoto. We can’t wait!

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