Japan | Day Trips


One of the best things about Kyoto is that its right in the middle of the Kansai region, with easy access to many of Japans most notable landmarks. While there are countless things to do in Kyoto, its exciting to explore the different cities of Japan. Here are a few of my favorite day trips that Ive taken so far: 

  1. Osaka 

Only 45 minutes away from central Kyoto by train, Osaka is a huge city with countless things to do. Immediately upon my arrival in Osaka, all I could think of is New York City. There are stores everywhere you look, incredible street food, and neon lights on every sign. Additionally, Osaka has loads of fun activities, including the Kaiyukan aquarium, which is one of the best in the world, its own baseball team, and Osaka Castle! Osaka is also widely known for its food scene, and I can confirm, its worth trying. Osaka okonomiyaki changed my life, but that may just be because I waited over an hour in line to get it. 

  1. Kobe 

While Kobe, which is about an hour and a half away from Kyoto, is most famous for its wagyu beef, theres plenty of other things to do in the big city. As Kobe is a port town, many foreign merchants set up their homes throughout Kobe. From Chinatown to Kitano-cho, which is known for its American and European-style homes, you can travel all over the world without even leaving Kansai. My favorite Kobe activity is the Kobe Animal Center, which has tons of animals you can get up close to, and sometimes even pet and feed! Finally, you cant leave Kobe without trying the famous beef. If you go at lunchtime, you can get a nice set meal for a very affordable price: between 1000 and 2500 yen. Trust me, its worth it. 

  1. Hikone and Nagahama 

Also an hour and a half away, Hikone Castle is one of the few original castles remaining in Japan and definitely worth seeing. Included in the admittance ticket is the Hikone Castle Museum, which was surprisingly incredible. The museum included a recreation of the lords living quarters, as well as housing numerous Edo period artifacts. As silly as it sounds, the museum really brought the castle alive and made me wonder about what the castle must have been like during the Edo period as I walked through its corridors.

Only twenty minutes away, Nagahama is a charming town with lovely architecture. If you plan on visiting this area, try to make it for the incredible hikiyama festival of childrens kabuki. Boys ages 5-13 are treated like celebrities for the weekend, performing professional-level kabuki plays atop marvelous floats. 

  1. Nara 

Before arriving in Japan, visiting Nara was at the top of my to-do list. In fact, I gathered a group together and went the very first weekend! And let me tell you, it totally lived up to the hype. There were adorable deer wandering around everywhere, and theyve even learned to bow and beg for food. Aside from the deer, though, Nara is home to some of Japans most incredible shrines and temples. The Daibatsu Buddha at Tōdai-ji literally took my breath away, and there are gorgeous sakura trees in and around Nara Park if you visit during the spring. As you walk around town, make sure not to miss the fresh mochi shop! You can watch mochi being pounded on the spot, and eat it while its still warm and fresh. Only 45 minutes away from Kyoto, Nara is well worth the short journey. 

  1. Uji 

Technically part of Kyoto, Uji is under thirty minutes away from Kyoto Station by train, making it a very easy day trip. Uji is known for its green tea: everywhere you look, there are tea shops, matcha ice cream, matcha noodles, and even matcha gyoza. Aside from matcha, Uji is also famous for being the home of Byodoin, or Phoenix Hall, as well as being the setting for the last 10 chapters of The Tale of Genji. For literature nerds like me, the Tale of Genji museum is a must-visit. In addition to full-scale representations of scenes from Genji, I really enjoyed being able to get a closer look at the dramatic plot of the story and seeing some of the settings for myself. 

Mackenzie Lorkis studied in Kyoto, Japan in the Language & Culture, Doshisha Univ. Program – Spring 2018

Japan | Classes at Doshisha University


Class registration is very different at Doshisha University than the UC system, and can be very confusing. Let’s start with the basic setup of the Doshisha class schedule. There are 6 potential periods in a day, spanning from 9am to 8am (excluding a lunch break). Each period is 1.5 hours long, so all classes are the same amount of time no matter what you take.

As a UC student, you will mainly part of the Language and Culture program, usually called Nichibun. So, your focus will be on classes relating to these topic; your language classes alone will be 15 UC quarter units, leaving you with There are several types of courses you can take:

  1. Center for Japanese Language and Culture (CJLC): As Nichi-bun, you will mainly be taking CJLC classes. These classes are taught exclusively in Japanese, but vary in difficult depending on your Japanese level. Every Nichi-bun student takes Japanese classes for their first two periods every day, from 9am-12:15pm. CJLC also offers language seminars and Japanese culture classes that are optional, and vary by level.
  2. Center for Global Education (CGE): Another program Doshisha offers for exchange students is CGE, which is focused on studying Japan’s place in the world as a whole. These courses are taught in English to a class of mixed Japanese and exchange students in order to encourage a multicultural perspective on global topics. These classes are competitive, and UC students can only take them if they are chosen in a lottery system which I will explain below.
  3. Institute for the Liberal Arts (ILA): Finally, UC students are allowed to take special ILA classes. Not all Nichi-bun students are allowed to take these, so it’s a huge privilege that we can! ILA is taught in English and is open to all international students at Doshisha, not just exchange students. These courses are focused on Japanese culture as well, but have more expansive topics than the previous two course types.

Now that you know what kinds of classes you can take, I’ll explain how registration works. On the first day of orientation at Doshisha, you’ll take a written placement test, followed by an oral interview the next day. This will place you at a certain Japanese level, ranging from 1a (no Japanese experience) to 9 (essentially fluent). From level 5 and beyond, you can take courses in Japanese, so many students who have previous Japanese experience study hard to test into this level.

Registration begins with Advanced Registration, where you can enroll for the CGE class lottery. Advanced registration doesn’t ensure your spot, but allows you to enter the lottery. After two days, that closes and general registration opens. You’ll automatically be signed up for your CJLC classes, so you don’t have to worry about that. The Doshisha staff will also be readily available to help you with this part of the process.

For ILA, you have to go to the office and get a form signed on one of two designated days. Then, when you go to the first day of class, the teacher will sign off on it, and you turn it back in to the office. Then you’ll be registered and ready to learn!

Essentially, the main difference between UC registration and Doshisha registration is that registration goes on right before (and during) the start of the school year. You can continue to add and drop classes for the first month or so of school, but be careful: if you don’t go to class, the professor may assume you just dropped it. While this is fine in the Japanese school system, it looks like an ‘F’ on the UC transcript!

The Doshisha registration system may seem a little complicated, but as long as you pay attention to deadlines, it’ll be easy!

Mackenzie Lorkis studied in Kyoto, Japan in the Language & Culture, Doshisha Univ. Program – Spring 2018

Japan | Getting Around Japan


Before coming to Japan, I was really worried about how I would get around. Coming from the Los Angeles area, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve taken public transportation. Not being used to riding the subway, plus potentially not being able to read any of the stops, made me pretty nervous. However, while it may seem intimidating at first, it’s actually pretty easy to get around in Kyoto.

1. Bicycle

Kyoto is one of the most bike-friendly cities in all of Asia. Almost everyone here rides a bike; you can often see parents with two or three small children strapped into the same bike, somehow balancing perfectly while riding down the street. Many Doshisha students who live in Kyoto bike to campus, so the university has gone to great lengths to make bicycle parking as easy and well-maintained as possible. All you have to do is get a free parking sticker from Doshisha, and you are able to park in any lot on campus.

You can buy a used bike for around ¥5,000-¥8,000, but after that initial cost, parking is usually free or very cheap. Personally, I think biking is the best way to get around Kyoto because it’s cheap, convenient, good exercise, and a fun way to see the city. I was lucky enough to receive my bike from a Japanese friend who was about to throw it away anyway, so you may not even have to buy a bike at all.

2. Subway

The other most common way to get around Kyoto is buy subway. The Kyoto subway system is actually very easy to navigate, especially compared to larger metropolitan areas such as Tokyo. There are only two lines, the Karasuma Line and the Tozai Line, so you rarely will have to transfer. While the subway is more convenient that Tokyo’s, it is more expensive. Fares start at ¥210 and go up every few stops. However, you can buy a day pass for ¥600, which pays for itself in only 2 rides.

For students who want to commute to campus using the subway, a discounted commuter pass is available. The stops covered by the pass, and the cost of the pass, vary by dorm location and how many stops are necessary.

3. Walking

Kyoto is a very walkable city. There are few hills, and it is relaxing to walk around the suburban areas, and exciting to stroll by crowded shopping and tourist areas. Furthermore, Kyoto is extremely safe, so there’s no feeling like you constantly need to be looking over your shoulder as you walk. I enjoy walking because, even though it is slower, it allows you to explore a little bit and see more of Kyoto than you would by subway or bicycle.

From my dorm, Casa Kitayama, Doshisha University is about 40 minutes away on foot. From the boys’ only dorm, Kamogawa, it is about a 15 minute walk. Almost all of the students at Dorm Kamogawa walk to campus. Finally, the furthest (and only co-ed) dorm, Maison Iwakuni, is about an hour on foot.

4. Buses

Finally, Kyoto also has a bus system, but I tend to avoid it because it’s a little more confusing than the subway system. Normally, I will take the Karasuma Line and walk to wherever I need to go. However, I know many other students who use buses and have no problem with them. They usually have a flat rate of ¥230 and will take you to locations not accessible by subway, like Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion), or Kurama, a mountain area located about 40 minutes from central Kyoto. I don’t recommend using the bus to get to Doshisha, but there is a stop near campus if necessary.

Mackenzie Lorkis studied in Kyoto, Japan in the Language & Culture, Doshisha Univ. Program – Spring 2018

Japan | Tokyo Disney


During my stay in Japan, I had the chance to visit Tokyo DisneySea! While there are many Disney theme parks around the world, DisneySea exists only in Japan so it was definitely a place I had to visit. Tokyo Disneyland is located adjacent to DisneySea, and shares some of the same rides as Anaheim’s Disneyland such as Space and Splash Mountain. 

It was a 2-hour journey in order to get to DisneySea, which consisted of taking 3 different trains and walking through the entirety of Tokyo Station, one of Japan’s biggest train stations. After getting off at Disney’s Maihama Station, we took the Disney Resort Liner monorail, which took us past Tokyo Disneyland and the resort hotels of DisneySea (which is actually in Chiba Prefecture, not Tokyo!).  

To my surprise, DisneySea was a lot cheaper than any other Disney parks I had been to, with a one-day pass costing only 7400 yen, or about $70 USD. The food was generally cheaper too. Despite going on a Thursday, the park was still very crowded. We waited 100 minutes for Journey to the Center of the Earth, DisneySea’s most well-known ride where guests go on a rollercoaster adventure into the iconic volcano that looms over the park. 

Although we went to the park in mid-November, the park itself was decked out in Christmas decorations and merchandise since Japan does not celebrate Thanksgiving (obviously) or any other holiday in November. It was really cute to see the Christmas performances, and could still feel the “magic” as I walked through the park as Christmas music blasted over the speakers.  

One of my favorite things about DisneySea was seeing how many people dressed up! I saw many parkgoers dressed up as various Disney characters, couples who wore matching outfits (apparently it’s a thing!), and many group costumes too that made me wish I had come coordinated with my friends. However, one thing I DID NOT like was the Nemo & Friends Searider. Disclaimer: If you have suffer from any sort of motion sickness DO NOT get on this ride at all costs. All the riders are put into a moving capsule where you “swim” with Nemo (a video is projected in front of you), and are catapulted through the ocean. This was probably the worst 2 and a half minutes of my life, but besides this ride I had a great time at the park.  

Japan | Omakase & World Trade Center


During the last week of my study abroad experience I had the opportunity to eat at Sushi Kanesaka, a 2 start Michelin restaurant next to Tokyo Station. I had my fair share of sushi during my stay, but I really wanted that “wow experience” before going back to the states. I went with my friend Duke and we made lunch reservations a week in advance.  

The restaurant is located inside the lovely and modern Palace Hotel on the 6th floor with 12 seats atop a wooden counterThe atmosphere was great. It’s warmly lit with cool square spotlights that aren’t too bright and definitely set the mood. It was a nice mix of locals coming in from work and a group of friends traveling from Thailand celebrating a birthday. We ordered the omakase (roughly translates to “I trust you” from Japanese), which essentially gives the chef the freedom to serve us whatever he sees fit. We were served tuna, yellowtail, octopus, squid, and abalone – to name a few. This was without a doubt the best sushi I have had in my entire life. The courses flowed together in perfect harmony and I loved anticipation/excitement in between every dish. The service was hospitable and polished but not overly formal. Prices start at ¥6500 for lunch, and I recommend coming for lunch to save you from paying the premium of a dinner menu. A 10/10 experience. 

After lunch, I visited the observatory on the 40th floor of the World Trade Center Building. The ¥600 fee to the top is extremely worth it, and the WTC’s prime location next to Hamamatsucho Station make it easily accessible as well. The panoramic views are completely surreal, and I felt as though I was looking at a painting. Off into the distance you can see Mt. Fuji, Skytree, Tokyo Tower, many – many skyscrapers, and Tokyo Bay. My friend left right after to take a final, but with the help of strategically places chairs and a self-timer on my Canon camera – I managed to get a few good photos.  

Despite never visiting the World Trade Center, it was a very nostalgic experience. Every corner I turned, I could look out into the distance and a memory from the past immediately popped into my head. On one end I could see the Odaiba Ferris wheel where I visited teamLab borderless and Tokyo DisneySeawhile on the other I saw Chiba prefecture where I played countless tennis matches with Footloose and made so many amazing memories. What an experience. What a day.  

Japan | Food Heaven


The last article I talked about Tokyo nightlife and all the fun things to do, but now I’m going to talk about the real reason you came to Tokyo: THE FOOD. There is no question that Japanese cuisine ranks supreme above the rest and you ultimately can’t go wrong when you’re in Tokyo. There’s a lot to do and see but the main attractions are the restaurants and the main activity is eating. Most restaurants in Tokyo aren’t open until 11 AM or afternoon time, except of course Tsukiji fish market so plan ahead. Once you’re at the restaurant, there are a few things you should know. One, do not stick your chopsticks straight into any of your food – especially rice. Also, don’t pass food chopstick to chopstick. Both of these are extremely disrespectful and should be actively avoided. Credit cards are accepted in more restaurants now, but make sure to always have cash with you as Japan is still considered a “cash society.” After you have finished your meal, DO NOT tip.  

Now I can get onto the good stuff: the food. Pictured above are fluffy pancakes from Happy Pancake and matcha/milk tea ice cream from Saryo Itoen in Haneda Airport. I ordered the traditional pancake, what Happy Pancake is known for and was absolutely blown away by the texture. The pancake is very eggy in nature, which allows for the pancake to be so airy and fluffy. I’ve had my fair share of matcha flavored food in Japan, but I never had a matcha – milk tea swirl. This was my last dessert in Japan, and a pleasant way to bid farewell.  

Featured above is a heavenly dish from Matsuya known as the “Barbecued Marinated Beef Set Meal.” Let me start by saying I ate here soooo much throughout my stay in Tokyo. Matsuya is a chain establishment and is considered “fast food” even though it looks nothing like fast food in AmericaSuch good food for such an even better price. 11/10. 

These next two photos are from a gem I didn’t quite discover until halfway through the quarter. To the left we have #11 from Gutara Ramen, and to the right we have the chashu bowl with rice and grilled onions. Unfortunately, the restaurant was occasionally closed due to unforeseen circumstances, but we won’t talk about that.  

Finally, the two photos on the left are actually not Japanese food, but from a Korean district. On top are side dishes from a Korean Barbecue restaurant, and below that is a hot dog with traditional Korean toppings. On the right is tempura udon from a restaurant next to campus that makes their noodles from scratch daily. The pictures do all the talking.   

Japan | Bye Tokyo

By Deran Chan

This quarter studying abroad was hands down one of the best quarters of my college career. As cliché as it sounds, I never imagined myself studying abroad because I didn’t want to miss out at UCLA, but I’m so thankful I did. After 3 months, I finally felt that I was getting into the groove of Japanese life and could successfully navigate myself around the city without taking the wrong train. However, right when I started to feel comfortable – it was time to leave! Leaving and moving were tabooed topics in our dorm since we never wanted to talk about the inevitable. Alas, we had to face reality and decided to make a calendar in our dorm study lounge with everyone’s name, along with specific dates with when each person was heading home so we could say our final goodbyes.

Moving out was rough. Packing all of my belongings into my suitcases and seeing nothing but a bare room was surreal. Before leaving, I had to get signatures from my supervisors and resident directors to make sure that they had record of me leaving both the university and the dormitory. On top of all of the school procedures, I was required to go to Mitaka City Hall to officially change my address and declare that I was no longer a Japanese resident, SO SAD.

On November 22 the dreaded day had arrived – I was leaving Japan. My flight was at 7 P.M. so I left ICU at around afternoon and said goodbye to all my fellow exchange students. I took the 91 bus from the school to Musashi-Sakai Station for the last time. Above are photos from my university – the left photo is the main entrance to our school and the ones are the right are from my EXTREMELY spacious dorm room.

This next photo is from the main courtyard of the university. Since I went to a Christian school, there was a church in the center of campus, and this is where our matriculation ceremony was held.

Members from Footloose were so nice and went with me to Haneda airport and I’m so grateful to have made friends so genuine and caring. Since we left the university so early, I had a bunch of time before my flight, so we had the opportunity to take photos and explore Haneda. The airport is really cool, there’s an observatory overlooking the entire airport where you can see planes taking off and landing. Saying goodbye was hard, but I am so appreciative of all the people I met and experiences I had. I also want to thank you (the reader) for taking the time to read through my blog posts, and I hope you have the chance to visit Japan one day.

Japan | TeamLab


I have been to many art museums around the world but teamLab Borderless is unlike anything I have ever seen before. The light museum is located in the Mori Building Digital Art Museum in Odaiba, Tokyo, one of my favorite cities in Japan. The museum has five distinct zones, Borderless World, Athletics Forest, Future Park, Forest of Lamps, and EN Tea House. While I don’t want to give away too much about the many exhibits, I have a few tips so you can make the most out of your trip.

First, I would advise visiting teamLab after 4pm. Since the museum has had so much success, lots of people come right when it opens. Our group made the mistake of coming 2 hours before it closed (which you would think is enough time), but we could’ve certainly been there for another 2. In addition, the art around the museum is interactive, so I highly recommend wearing white/light colored clothing to make your experience more immersive. Light colored clothing will allow the light to float across your body, while dark colors will absorb most of the light. Trust me, if you’re an Instagram snob like me, your pictures will be that much better. However, when it comes to shoes make sure the ones you are wearing are extremely comfortable – some exhibits include trampolines, climbing through a jungle of swings, hills, and even slides!

Most museums are notorious for their “Do Not Touch” signs but not teamLab. Touch ANYTHING you want. Lots of the installations will change and react to your movements, making each visit unique it its own way. The museum definitely has a futuristic tone enhanced by Japanese music and effects, which adds to the “borderless” component of the whole experience. My favorite space was the endless rice field that was filled with lotus leaf pods, floating dandelions, and fireflies. For all of the high-tech equipment and modern décor, I appreciate how the artwork remained true to Japanese culture and aesthetics (cherry blossoms, rice fields, and calligraphic strokes).

The exhibits are set in real-time which you can imagine leads to a pretty pricey electricity bill, which is evident in the ticket prices. That being said, the entire museum is mind blowing to see the least, and without question worth the visit. There really are no words to describe what I saw, you just have to experience it for yourself.

Deran Chan studied abroad in Tokyo, Japan in 2018: http://eap.ucop.edu/OurPrograms/japan/Pages/international_christian_univ.aspx

Tokyo | Tokyo & Rakuten Open

By Deran Chan

Over the past few weeks, I had the opportunity to attend both the Rakuten and Tokyo Open tennis championships. I’m a huge tennis fan and I was super excited to attend a professional tennis tournament outside of the United States. The last few months of the year constitutes the “Asian Swing” of the tennis calendar and first stop: Tachikawa. The Tokyo Toray Pan Pacific Open is held by the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) and is the largest international women’s tennis tournament in Japan. Headlining the tournament was Japanese superstar Naomi Osaka. After her recent triumph at the U.S. Open over Serena Williams, Osaka became an overnight sensation and Japan’s first grand slam champion. The event was held about an hour from my university, and I successfully made the trek with my brief knowledge of Japanese transportation! The venue was held indoors, and a general admission ticket gave me access to all of the matches.

I went on the first Saturday of the tournament and watched former World #7 Eugenie Bouchard (Canada) play local favorite Moyuka Uchijima. I managed to sneak to the front row, and as you can see, had the best seat in the house. After her win, Genie was kind of enough to take a photo with me and I definitely didn’t freak out. On the way home from the tournament, one of the most exciting things happened. I was across the street from Tachikawa Station, and I thought I recognized a familiar face. Standing in front of a 711 was World #1 and Grand Slam Champion – Caroline Wozniacki. Starstruck, I asked for a picture and asked her how she liked Tokyo (while trying to keep it together of course) and wished her luck throughout the tournament. What an experience.

A couple weeks later I went to the Rakuten Open, the first Asian tournament of the year hosted by the ATP men’s tour. Walking up towards the main stadium, fans were greeted by tents showcasing traditional Japanese food, oversized tennis rackets, and popular sportswear. It was raining out but that didn’t stop waves of Japanese locals and tourists alike from watching their favorite players. A sold-out crowd packed the Musashino Forest Sports Plaza, but somehow my friends and  I managed to sit together. We witnessed Japanese player Kei Nishikori win on home soil with the help of an electrifying crowd – to reach his 3rd final at this tournament.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures with the players this time but the immaculate tennis stadium and modern architecture definitely made up for it. There is no doubt that fans are awaiting next year’s Rakuten Open which will return to Ariake Coliseum, a newly renovated stadium undergoing preparations for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.