A quick selfie under the torii

Hello everyone! You know, it's true what they say—time flies!  I can't believe I've already been in Japan for 10 months.  So far, I think the overall highlight has been getting to know all of my students here at SES.  Specifically in regards to travel though, I would have to say my time in Kyoto has been my favorite experience.



I went in August over the Obon holiday, so it was very hot and humid; even so, I still had a wonderful time! First, I went straight to Kobe and visited two very dear friends of mine from my days as a university student.  They are a married couple and have lived in Japan now for five years.  I had a great time catching up with them and reminiscing old times. After a few days in Kobe and Osaka, I was off to Kyoto!  Of course, I wanted to visit the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine! However, as we all know, this shrine is very popular and is often very crowded with tourists. So, I set my alarm to 4:00 AM in my capsule hotel bunk, which was probably much to the chagrin of others sleeping around me.  Admittedly, I may have hit the snooze button a few times before groggily crawling out of my bunk.  Nevertheless, I arrived around 5:30 AM.  



If you enjoy photography, you may know that dawn and dusk provide the perfect lighting for pictures!  There were only a few other tourists around and I was able to capture all of the images I wanted without anyone getting in the way of my shot!

  Fushimi Inari Taishi at 5:30 AM with no tourists!

I even made a new friend with a fellow solo traveler while I was there!  She was from China and her name was Chen Yang.   We lazily walked through all of the torii and traversed Mt. Inari in its entirety together.  Overall, I loved how the historical essence could still be felt in Kyoto alongside the modernity of a 21st century city.  Most of all, I loved seeing the Japanese couples in their traditional yukatas walking hand-in-hand together around the city—kawaii! 

そこで、中国から来たChen Yangさんという女性と友達になりました。


Summer yukatas at the Kyoto Imperial Palace

To see the rest of my photos from Kyoto, you'll have to visit www.instagram.com/bentravels


-Ben Powers ✌



Shaun's Christmas Break



During Christmas break I visited some family overseas. I was born and raised in America, but most of my family is British, and many of them still live in England. I stayed with my grandparents in Liverpool, England. While I was there I visited some traditional English pubs with my friends. 


My father and I took a day-trip to Wales, which is a small country to the west of England. We hiked some mountains and ate traditional Welsh food. I learned how to speak a little Welsh a few years ago, so it was fun to use the language again. All of the street-signs are in Welsh and English, so it was good practice for me. 


I flew back to Japan on New Year’s day, and it was a long and difficult flight. I do not enjoy flying, but I do enjoy watching movies for 13 hours. I'm glad to be back in Japan!




Chris' Winter Vacation


This winter vacation was very relaxing. I spent most of my time at home. At home I would watch movies and cook O-Nabe. On January 2nd I went to Oita-ken, Beppu City to enjoy the hot spring. It was very relaxing. I took the ferry from Tokuyama station and saw many mountains along the way. The hot spring was very nice, but there were many tourists there. Even though it was a boring vacation, I was able to rest and relax, so it was very enjoyable for me. Next year I plan to go on a bigger vacation, hopefully I can go to Hokkaido.





Christmas and New Year's Holidays


Jasmin here! I spent my holidays on many planes traveling around the world to see family and friends!


First stop was Dallas to visit my father's side of the family. He has five brothers and sisters who are all married and have children. When we are together there are more than 25 of us! I flew into Seattle and was able to see the beautiful Mt. Rainier from the plane's window.


Next, it was off to Istanbul. I lived in Istanbul for almost one year after graduating university. I enjoyed one of my favorite meals: a traditional Turkish breakfast. It includes eggs, sausage, fresh clotted cream, honey, fresh bread, and many cups of strong tea. I also visited some famous Turkish bazaars. 


Did you do any traveling to ring in the new Year?



Winter Vacation



Hello! I'm Allison!


I hope you all enjoyed your winter holidays!

My winter vacation was a lot of fun. I spent six days in Tokyo with some of my friends. We had a very good time sightseeing in different parts of Tokyo. Especially fun was going to Odaiba. We rode the Ferris wheel, did some shopping, and saw the Gundam statue.



I really enjoyed the Venus Fort mall. The ceiling makes it look like you are outside! It was very interesting.


After that, I spent a few days in Kobe. I tried Akashiyaki for the first time. It was very delicious!


I also visited a local shrine for New Year and made a prayer for my future hopes.

Do you have any New Year's resolutions?



An English mans prospective on the EU referendum



Hi everyone it me Matthew,


In this blog I want to talk about one of the major issues currently happening in the United Kingdom which happens to the EU referendum. But first let’s cover two important things: What is a referendum? And what is the European Union?


A referendum is basically a vote in which nearly everyone of voting age can take part and vote on an important issue. Unlike a normal election where someone has lots of different choices and candidates; in a referendum a voter is presented with a question and normally only has two options which mean "Yes" or "No". Whichever side gets more than half of all votes cast is considered to have won.


The European Union also known as the EU - is an economic and political partnership involving 28 European countries, which basically acts as if the member states were one country. It has its own currency which is used by 19 of the member countries and its own parliament which passes laws over a wide range of areas - including the environment, transport, consumer rights and even things like mobile phone charges.


So what is actually happened? After massively increased domestic pressure caused by various world events and long running issues in the United Kingdom; Prime Minister David Cameron has announced a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union that will be held on Thursday 23rd June.


The question is always important in any referendum and this one is no different. The Electoral Commission successfully proposed the wording: "Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?" The options for voters will be 'Remain a member of the European Union' and 'Leave the European Union'.


Why is the UK having a referendum on the EU? Well the last referendum on the issue of the EU was in 1975 shortly after the UK joined which was called the Common Market at the time. The country voted to stay in then but there have been growing calls from the public and politicians, for another vote because the EU has changed a lot over the past 40 years. With many more countries joining and the organisation extending its control over more aspects of daily lives the EU is very different now with what people voted on in 1975. Because of this it is also argued that anyone in the UK under the age of 60 has never really had a say on Britain’s relationship with the EU.


Why do people want to leave the EU? Lots of people believe that Britain is being held back by the EU, which they say imposes too many rules and charges billions of pounds a year in membership fees for little in return. As Britain is an island nation which historically has always felt disconnected from the main continent, many people want the country to take back full control of its borders and reduce the number of people coming to the country to work. This has always been a difficult issue as one of the main principles of EU membership is "free movement", which means you don't need to get a visa to go and live in another EU country.


Many British people also object to the idea of an "ever closer union" and any goal to create a "United States of Europe", which lots of people believe is one of the ambitions of other main powers in Europe such as Germany.


Anyway, I do hope this has been somewhat interesting for you guys. Being British myself the issue of the EU has always been an emotional topic to tackle, similarly to the Scottish independence referendum the issue of the EU splits every part of British society and opinion polls indicate that the vote could be pretty evenly split. It’s quite an interesting time at the moment.



Valentine's Day Customs in the United States



Hello, everyone!

Although Winter is still upon us, the days are gradually getting warmer and brighter as we look toward the coming of Spring.

Not only does this season bring sunny days, but also a very special holiday for couples around the world. That's right - Valentine's Day! This year, February 14th fell on a Sunday, so many people were able to spend time at home with their loved ones. Did you do anything special on Valentine's Day this year?

In Japan, I've noticed that making and giving chocolate seems to be the most popular activity. Especially for young women, it is a chance to show love and appreciation for the important men in their life. Not only couples, but also coworkers and friends share good feelings on this day.

In the United States, where I am originally from, we have very different customs for celebrating this romantic holiday. For example, it is usually a special day for couples (married or dating). Men and women, young or old, look forward to this day each year. Here are some of the popular activities American couples do on Valentine's Day.

Exchanging Gifts

Like in Japan, chocolate is a very popular gift for your Valentine's sweetheart in the U.S. But chocolate isn't the only option - women look forward to getting flowers from their boyfriend or husband, as well. A special candy, "Candy Hearts" are printed with romantic messages and sold in cute Valentine's Day packages. Most importantly, men are expected to give gifts on this day, too - if you forget, you might end up in the doghouse!*

Date Night

Many couples make the evening particularly special by going on a date together. They may make reservations at a nice restaurant, then go to see a movie. Some couples enjoy playing sports together, or simply want to relax at home with snacks and a movie. How would you like to spend a romantic evening with your special someone?

Valentine's Day at School (Children)

Although Valentine's Day is usually for couples, children also enjoy exchanging candy and messages with their friends at school. Valentine's Cards with popular characters are passed around the classroom, while teachers often bring plenty of chocolate or sweets for everyone to share.

For Single People

Of course, not everyone has a partner on Valentine's Day, so single people have recently designed their own holiday. It's called "Singles Awareness Day" (or SAD). In my opinion, though, you don't need to be in a relationship to enjoy Valentine's Day. If you are alone, then why not spend the day celebrating yourself! Get a massage, watch your favorite movies, and eat a lot of chocolate, too! (Here's a tip - Chocolate is half-price the day after Valentine's Day!!!)

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the holiday this year, and let's look forward to White Day in March!

See you soon,
Michelle <3

*"You'll end up in the doghouse" - This expression is used when a wife is so angry at her husband that she doesn't make him feel welcome in their home. He might as well be sleeping in the dog's house outside.