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Colleen Flanagan

More by Colleen Flanagan

Living Japanese: An American, a German, and a Chinese Girl Walk into Kyoto


Okay, we actually didn’t walk; we took a night bus.

This past March, two of my friends and I went on a four day trip to Kyoto, Japan. Kyoto is known as the Old Capital, where many historical buildings from the days of the Samurai reside. The adventure was fantastic, tiring, expensive, and absolutely wonderful.

Let’s meet our cast of characters… There’s me--the hyper and bouncy American, there’s the German named Melanie--a queen of all things dark and cynical, and there’s the Chinese girl, Kaki--the cutest and sweetest person in the whole wide world. Melanie and I both speak English, but Kaki only speaks it a little bit. We therefore communicated in a smattering of “Japlish,” or “Engrish.”

Our adventure began late in the evening, as we boarded the night bus from Tokyo that would take us straight to Kyoto. The trip was around six hours long, and I have yet to master the Japanese art of sleeping while sitting up. I was highly uncomfortable throughout the trip, and at one point seriously considered just sleeping in the aisle of the bus. I’ve done it once before when I was younger, and I had my head stepped on. I chose not to this time.

We arrived at the buttcrack of dawn, and proceeded to get lost on our way to the youth hostel where we would be staying. Eventually we found the way, dropped off our things, then headed straight to sightseeing. While in Kyoto we were able to buy a day bus pass, but navigating the bus routes was a science that required a PhD. in cryptography. I’m also pretty sure our map was outdated. I left it to Melanie and Kaki to figure out where we were going. We often had to stop and ask for directions. Well, I say “we,” but really it was Kaki who asked since she is nearly fluent in Japanese.

Living Japanese: To Mt. Fuji


I go to a very awesome university here in Japan. Why is it awesome? They arranged a trip to go see Mt. Fuji! A group of about fifteen students, most of them fellow foreigners but a few Japanese students as well, and one faculty member went this February to go see the most famous landmark of Japan. It was a two day, one night trip, and we got there by bus. A very nice bus, by the way.

We left Thursday morning from the train station where we all met up and in about an hour, Mt. Fuji was right in front of us. And it’s not until you see in person that you realize just how beautiful and BIG it is. As we traveled further north, there was actually a tiny bit of snow on the ground. (I do say “tiny” because I’m used to my Michigan standards of waist-deep snow.) Some of my friends were overjoyed to see the snow; I was more or less indifferent. I did kind of miss walking in it, though.

We stopped at this town near the bottom of the mountain. It was probably the nadir of tourist season, since Mt. Fuji is only climbable in the summer, and there was lots of construction going on. But even in the cold, dirty February weather, the scenery was beautiful. It really makes me want to go visit during warmer weather. There were a number of lakes and springs, and they marvelous thing about them was how clean they were. It was absolutely gorgeous and breathtaking to look into a pool, eight meters deep, and be able to see all the way to the bottom.

Living Japanese: A Day in the Life


My first semester is coming to an end here in Japan, and between freaking out about final exams and wondering where the time went (I’ve checked under the bed; wasn’t there) I have been thinking about exactly how my days have gone by.

My school days weren’t massively different from the ones back home at Western Michigan University. I crawl out of bed in the morning and engage in surfing the internet before my doorbell rings. I hastily throw my clothes on and my papers in my bag before joining my friend, Melanie (from Germany) in our walk to the train station. The train station is very close to the foreign exchange student housing, and it passes right by a variety of shops, making living on a college student’s wallet easier.

One train and bus ride later, we’ll be on campus. The Daito Bunka University campus reminds me a lot of Western’s; a lot of greenery, very hilly, with big, beautiful brown buildings. A cheap breakfast is usually bought and scarfed down, while Melanie scolds me for neglecting to do my homework. I have a tendency to do my homework right before class begins, but that’s another story.

Living Japanese: Eating Japanese


I believe one of the first things people picture when they think of, “Japanese food,” is sushi.  Ramen is probably a close second. Having lived in Japan for almost four months now, I’ve had the chance to try and sample many different and delicious Japanese dishes. I’ve adopted a sort of, “life is an adventure” mentality when trying new things here. It’s served me well so far! Just yesterday I was in Akihabara and I spotted some sort of fried confection with a name that I couldn’t entirely read. All I knew was it contained chocolate and almonds. Being the eternal sweet-tooth that I am, I bought a piece and tried it. It was delicious, and I thanked my adventuring spirit once again. But I haven’t always been so lucky. I bought a sandwich once, thinking it was like grilled cheese, only to find it also contained onions. Bluh!

Before coming to Japan, I had absolutely no idea how about the massive abundance of vending machines, or jidouhanbaiki. These vending machines are everywhere and anywhere. There are even some to be found on Mt. Fuji! You never have to worry about going thirsty in this country  because all you have to do is throw a stone and you will, without a  doubt, hit at least twelve of them. Don’t ask me how; you just do, and you’ll have a wide selection of soft drinks, tea, hot and cold coffee, beer, water, etc.

Living Japanese: A Bronco Aborad


I’ve known I’ve wanted to go to Japan since I was about twelve years old. That was ten years ago, and now, I’m here! My name is Colleen Flanagan, and I’m currently studying abroad at the Daito Bunka University, located in Saitama, Japan. I’ve been here since September, 2011, and will be here until roughly August, 2012. I’m currently studying the Japanese language, with whatever forays I can make into Japanese culture.

My true relationship with Japan actually began when I was about six years old, when I started watching Japanese anime, Sailor Moon to be precise. But when I was twelve, I discovered the language and decided that I simply had to go to the Land of the Rising Sun. My love of Japanese anime had matured into an interest in Japanese language, culture, religion, etc.  Anime simply opened the door, so to speak.

I’ve been asked to write about my experiences here, and I’m more than happy to do so! I hope to provide a little insight to studying abroad (well, really just studying abroad in Japan) or to at least be a silly, interesting little column in your weekly paper. (So tell me, how is the weather in Michigan? It was a nice, balmy, 52 degrees today!)

Editor: Katelyn Kivel