Bullies and their insecurities

Everyone has that one person. You know who it is. The one who is always there to offer a mumbled-under-breath comment questioning your ability to do something. Why is it that we allow them to have so much power over us?

    First year

My person and I have had a mucky, bumpy past. She started out as someone who I thought was so far above me in rowing ability that I would never be able to call her a peer. I wasn’t even sure that she was in my year. She only spoke to those of similar athletic ability and intensity. My fellow novices and I dreamt of the day we would call her a friend. It was an unspoken challenge to spend the most time with her. At first, I couldn’t even imagine myself in the running for that “prize.”

    Sophomore year

I was finally fast. I was getting better and gaining the attention of the fastest rowers on the team. Before I knew it, I was inviting her to meals and spending quality time with someone who I began to call my friend. As soon as it started, it was over. A senior who had it out for me convinced her to hate me. She did little to object, and the bullying began.

    Junior year

I lost speed. Everything seemed at its worst in my third year at Smith. My closest friends were going abroad for a whole semester, leaving me with few to fall back on. She found herself an eager and aggressive first year to latch onto. Like a parasite looking for a host of negativity, she found strength in this union. This first year taught her new ways to put people down, and she did a great job making people like me feel bad about themselves.

    Senior year

I’m a captain, and she’s not. I have power and people listen to me. She is quiet which people assume is indicative of strength. Whether overtly or not, she is constantly trying to undermine my authority. I analyze her with my friends fairly regularly. She has no reason to be treating me this way, and she has made it clear she has no intention of changing. All of this time I spend complaining, investigating, and venting? It is time of my life I will never get back.


Power, power. I will never understand the way I let you hold it over me. Power, power. I let you have it too long, yes you had it too long.

“Power,” Bastille

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My First Time (Running a Half Marathon)

A small Everest: the 1st Annual Cambridge Half Marathon Cambridge, MA

Approaching the training for my first half marathon was tricky. I was in season which meant that I had 6-8 workouts a week that were dictated for me, and any kind of distance running would be completely auxiliary to my current training plan. While in season, we are given Sundays off. This seemed to be the best and only time in which I could fit in a long run.

I was not alone in my running. Not only would my boyfriend would occasionally join me for my runs, but also my best friend who is also on my team would tag along for the Sunday distances. It was nice to have someone else to run with who was already fatigued and overworked from our more-than-daily crew practices. We agreed as a cohort that our 8-mile+ runs would be done at a leisurely, can-kinda-talk-while-running pace. We followed no formal training plan; our goal was to wake up and run the 13.1 miles as fast and as well as we could.

As soon as our season ended, it was race day. I made my personal goal to finish in under two hours which seems like a lofty one at the time. Additionally, I had my period. This fun surprise was paired with the decision to run with my diva cup in which had the potential to be highly problematic. I had been using it for only half a year and running with it in the past was not always comfortable or doable. I took the chance and wound up with no period-related issues. As soon as the race began, I realized that I was able to sustain a pace that was faster than I thought possible. I maintained my 8:20 pace for the first 9 miles which was a significant drop from the 9:30s we had been doing in practice. Perhaps it was the high volume of training I had with the running being supplementary to an already difficult regiment. When I finished, my legs felt like they were on fire, but I was so proud of what my body accomplished.

I’m not the fastest runner, but I really love to run. Though not mandatory, I run the 2.25 miles to practice every morning in lieu of taking the vans. If I had to choose a preferred form of exercise, it would definitely be running. Luckily, running was the only thing I could actually do for a large chunk of this past summer. Without any kind of pacing or focused training, I signed up for an end-of-summer half marathon.

One good thing to come out of last November

Another small Everest: Run to the Rock Half Marathon Plymouth, MA

In the two weeks I had back in Massachusetts before my second half marathon, I took two intentional training runs: one 7-mile and one 10-mile. Simultaneously, I had to teach myself how to have power on the erg before practice started, but that’s a different story. The 7-mile run went perfectly fine, though much slower than I anticipated. The 10-mile one ended with me nearly passing out from not eating enough beforehand. Let’s say that I did not feel prepared for the 13.1 miles ahead of me.

Unfortunately, we had to drive the 2.5 hours to Plymouth the morning of the race, so my last minutes of sleep with in a car. It was unseasonably cool which was perfect running weather. I ate my Clif bar and became afraid of how this run would make my body ache. I had run in the 10k at this same race the year before, so I had certain expectations despite the different course. Boy, was I mistaken.

The 2-hours-and-3-minutes went by very slowly. Though I was pretty disappointed with my time, the course was almost entirely uphill. It was the most unforgiving course I had ever seen. It was also littered with those people. You know those people? The ones who run really fast, then walk up the hills, but still somehow manage to stay ahead of you. It was miserable, and I think I had to pee the entire time. It took everything in me to not pee as I drank the bottle of water they handed me at the finish line. The instant soreness also increased my worries for the 5k erg test I had two days later, but I like to live life on the edge.

No matter how many complaints I have about the course, I have to admit that this is one of the best-run races I have experienced. They are well-organized, and make directions very clear. They also give nicer shirts than the Cambridge Half. (I donated mine already; it was tight in the arms and the most dreadful fabric.) Although I have vowed never to run this again, I’m fairly certain I will forget the pain and sign up again next year.

A beautiful view for the finish line party

Next small Everest: Colt State Park Half Marathon Bristol, RI

I would love to do the Cambridge Half again because of its interesting course and bougie freebies, but it is scheduled for a weekend that I will be out of the country. Alas, I found this Rhode Island beauty. The course claims to be relatively flat and is surrounded by bodies of water. (I love water.) I already have two people signed up to go with me, so I’m excited for another family adventure. It is the weekend after my season ends, so this might mean some complications in the realm of training, but I’m excited either way.

Labor Day Weekend in Bar Harbor

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Constantly posing

I first visited Acadia National Park last October for one day, but it was not nearly enough time. It was a rainy, windy autumn day, and I didn’t get to see the ocean side of the park at all. An extended trip to Acadia was very necessary. Having a free weekend after I moved into my apartment for the semester, but before classes started, I decided to book a campsite in the park for two nights for maximal hiking and sight-seeing.

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My mother would not approve of this part of my adventures

I prematurely booked the trip without considering who would be available to accompany me. While I have no fear of traveling alone, I am pretty skeptical of hiking and camping by myself. My boyfriend and best-outdoors-loving-friend ended up being unavailable, so I turned to my Maine-friends. At last, my friend, Anna, agreed to go on this adventure with me!

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Anna is a gr9 photographer

We arrived on Saturday afternoon and decided to walk along Ocean Path and take in the views of Sandy Beach, Otter Cliffs, and Otter Point. Our campground was very close to the coast and easy to navigate from. We went to bed early (it might have been before 8pm) to get up the next morning to hike before the inevitable afternoon downpour.

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We live that high-vis life

Our plan was to hike Precipice trail which is supposed to be the most strenuous path in Acadia. After, we were going to return to the car and head to the Beehive, for a shorter hike. As we descended Precipice, it became obvious that all of the paths were somewhat connected, and we managed to find our way to the Beehive. By this point, the trails were packed, and it was like waiting in line at Disneyworld to ascend the short route. Beehive ended up disappointing us; it was basically a shorter, easier Precipice. The view on both, however, were breathtaking.

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La Mer!

As the clouds started rolling in, we headed to Jordan Pond House for some of the famous popovers. They were warm, delightful, filled with air, and very overpriced. As the rain fell, we bummed around Bar Harbor in our un-showered state before dinner. We had ice cream twice and went into what felt like every single souvenir shop (without buying anything might I add). We had a decent dinner at Lompoc Cafe, a nice alternative to the peanut butter sandwiches we’d been eating. We nestled back into our tent for another early bedtime (I don’t think it was quite 8pm, but definitely before 9).

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We took literally over 300 pictures this weekend; repping those Smith Pioneers

After we packed up our camp on our final day, we headed toward the summit of Cadillac Mountain (not a very tall mountain). Anna tried to convince me to hike it, but I had had enough for one weekend, so we drove to the windy top. Though my hair was a greasy mess, the views were incredible. I love the ocean and wouldn’t stop excitedly yelling “La Mer” all weekend. We grabbed bagels before we left and headed back to Anna’s hometown of Portland.

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Anna started what she called “transition shots”

Anna was an excellent partner-in-crime and made me very excited to head back to Smith and to our rowing team for the Fall. Acadia National was my first National Park less than a year ago and was definitely a contributing factor into my current obsession with this country’s public lands. I’ve seen so little of the beauty Maine has to offer, but I’m enthusiastic to return!

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Love ME

Thoughts on my Japanese Home-Stays

I had very few expectations for my host families. Having never had that kind of experience sent me into a whirlwind of confusion. Before arriving in Tokyo, the concept of host families alone was worrisome, but I soon realized how much of a complication the language barrier would be.

Upon meeting my first host family, I realized how difficult communication would be. I was a sweaty mess in the hot swamp of Tokyo, and my host mother and sister seemed very nervous to meet me. The hour-long train ride home was filled with silences and google translate. The doubts flew through my mind, but I was in too deep. We shared an awkward dinner and began our week together.

I learned a lot by observing my family and our struggles to communicate. So much of our communication was done through body language and hand motions, with the words serving to connect the dots. We bonded quickly, and I know that I’ve made a permanent connection with this family. By the end of the week, we were all in tears saying goodbye, and they told me I always had a home in Tokyo.

The next two weeks I had no hosts which was disappointing, but I stayed with a school’s vice principal for a weekend. She was so generous and excited to take us literally everywhere in her hometown of Otaru. She was ready and willing to give us her home and all amenities imaginable.

My final week in Tokyo, I had a host family the entire week. By the time I met them, I was so ready to be back having a host that I was practically fangirling at Kyodo station where we met. They had a special welcome party dinner for me and were very interested in documenting everything we did together. My host sister and I went everywhere together and were best friends by the end of the week. She was so cute and talkative which made it easy to connect quickly. We said goodbye in tears again.

I was so surprised by how generous everyone I met was. Not only did they provide me with food and shelter, but they gave me extra gifts and experiences to ensure I was making the most of my time in Japan. They were generous to the point of thanking ME for staying with them when in reality, I should have been the one profusely thanking them for everything they did for me. My host families gave me countless memories and homes in Tokyo. The pre-host fam nerves were totally worth the payoff, and I wouldn’t change a thing about my amazing time with my two new forever families.

#minimalism

A little over a year ago, I met a boy who shared with me all sorts of funny ideas. He gushed about the quality of American-made items and raved about a lifestyle called minimalism. I thought he was crazy.

Flash forward to this past semester.

The floor of my dorm room is layered with clothing and accessories that I never considered wearing once throughout the past year. With mounds of “stuff” I had accumulated throughout a lifetime of consumerism, I became stressed out by what I owned. Oh, retail therapy. I would buy a Lilly Pulitzer item in every pattern I considered decent that season. I, too often, purchased basic tops because they were on sale. All of that “stuff” accumulated faster than I could have imagined.

It’s incredible to realize that one’s own possessions could possess them so much. I picked up the remote and watched the Minimalism documentary on Netflix and made a change. I have started so, terribly slowly, but I plan to get rid of two-thirds of my belongings by the end of the year. This might sound extreme to some, but when we sit down and consider the things we actually touch on a weekly basis, two-thirds is probably not enough for most.

As a more extreme version of de-cluttering, minimalism also encourages us to really appreciate and utilize the things we have. If we only hold onto what really brings us joy, there is little chance that our possessions can cause us any stress. Our time is not spent organizing and reorganizing our belongings, and the thought of paying money for a space to house only our things never enters our minds. The concept of minimalism can extend into other aspects of our lives, too. Which friends really add value to my life? What does one person do with three bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths?

At it’s root, it’s about not being wasteful of any resources, but especially our own. Our time and money is better spent on experiences that enrich us. I would so much rather pay for a ticket to a Bastille concert than buy a shirt with their name across the front.

This is not a strict set of guidelines on how to live one’s life, but more a set of ideals which could be employed at one’s will. It is important that we do what feels right for ourselves. However, rather than falling for our advertisement culture, I consider purchases more carefully and only buy when it is necessary. In the long run, this will save me time and money better than any semi-annual sale would.

Sapporo City

When I received my itinerary for Japan, I was mildly disappointed that I was to be spending three of my four weeks in Tokyo. In the middle, I would be spending my third week in Sapporo City, Hokkaido. I had no idea where or what Sapporo was, but I was excited to find out.

I quickly was told by everyone I spoke with that there exists a popular beer that comes from Sapporo. That was where my knowledge of Hokkaido began and ended.

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Sapporo at dusk

When I arrived in Japan and started talking to other students in my program, I quickly discovered that very few of us got the chance to go to Sapporo, and it seemed to be a coveted destination. Even still, the only additional information I learned was that Hokkaido is the northern-most island of Japan and is famous for many things including seafood, corn, glass, wood carvings, soft serve, milk, and cookies.

I was surprised to find out that I would be flying between Tokyo and Sapporo because it seemed like a high price for this program to spend on me, an individual who paid nothing to be in Japan. We flew out of Haneda and into Chitose, and I discovered that Japan’s airports seem totally safe without the annoying security measures.  

In Sapporo, I was greeted with a broken suitcase handle and the announcement that I wouldn’t have a host family all week. My first sixteen hours were pretty sad, but I perked up once I spent time with the students the next morning. 

Sapporo was a lovely place to run and had many parks with significantly less humidity. Rather than sulking in the fact that my peers were staying with host families and receiving far better insight into Japanese culture, I decided to stay positive and make the most of my time. After school, I went out with other group leaders and students. Since my hotel room was empty and lonely, I tried to spend a lot of time out and about with people I wouldn’t otherwise hang out with. I ended up having fun in ways I didn’t expect, and having interesting experiences in the many malls in and around Sapporo station and Odori park.

My other hotel peer and I both happened to also have broken suitcases, so one day after school, one of the staff members took us to Don Quixote to buy us new ones with the program’s money (they were rolling in it apparently). I got a sever upgrade and purchased a beautiful red, hard-shell four-wheeler. What made it even funnier was that a few days later, I received an email from a program administrator who told me they wouldn’t be able to replace my suitcase after they already had. The wonderful staff member who took us that day also drove us around the city to do some sight-seeing. We saw the ski jump from when the Olympics were in Sapporo, a temple, the clock tower, and the University of Hokkaido. We were very appreciative of his kindness and generosity.

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Sapporo’s old state building

After our last day of school, my hotel friend and I finally had a host – the vice principal of the school. She had a lot planned for us, and immediately after school she took us to a mountain view of Sapporo with a statue of an Amherst graduate that said “Boys, be ambitious.” We were very hungry, so we went to a fancy hotel restaurant for a small portion of tempura and matcha ice cream. Our final stop was the top of the JR building before going to her apartment and discovering that I would be sleeping on a futon mat on the floor for the first time.

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We expressed our displeasure

The next morning, we had a long agenda despite the constant pouring rain. We went to Otaru and did so many things. We went to an old house/museum, a pull-off with a great view of the ocean, a fancy hotel for tea, the Otaru aquarium, a very fancy sushi restaurant for lunch, the Otaru canal, and the white chocolate cookie factory. After our long day, we ordered the world’s smallest shrimp-and-corn pizza, and ate our store-bought desserts before our authentic homemade matcha.

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From the top of the JR building

Though my time in Sapporo was brief, it was amazing to spend time outside of Tokyo. Hokkaido is not the kind of place most tourists have the opportunity to experience, so I feel lucky to have had this chance.

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The Sea of Japan in the pouring rain

Hakone

When I met my last host family, they asked me what I had already seen in Tokyo. I listed every major tourist attraction, and they all looked at each other uneasily. They had not realized they would be receiving someone who had already spent two weeks in Tokyo and were worried about how they would make my time feel special. Our one full free day was that Saturday, so they asked me what I wanted to see. I told them that since I had already seen the concrete parts of Tokyo, I would like to see something more natural that Japan has to offer. After a few days of brainstorming and deliberation, they invited me on an overnight trip to Hakone.

After school that Friday, my host mother, sister, and I hopped on a train with our Hakone free passes. We went straight to the hotel and shared many laughs over a dinner with strange sushi and odd gelatinous shapes. Before an early bedtime, my host mother and I spent twenty minutes acting out showering because we had difficulty communicating the rules of the hotel’s onsen.

The next morning, we woke up early and spent some time in the hot baths. It is really strange to witness people who seem so conservative in daily life being so comfortable being naked in front of strangers. The first time I witnessed this kind of nudity was in the pre-pool showers in Reykjavik. Women of all ages and body types stripped down and showered in front of their peers with no apparent discomfort. Perhaps this is yet another deficiency in “American culture,” but it would be nice for nudity in a private setting to not seem so out of place to me.

After we had breakfast (their breakfast potatoes were french fries), we headed to a place I only just found out is called Owakudani. Before five minutes ago, I had referred to it as “that place with the eggs.” It is a sulphur mine/volcano thing and it smells like eggs. They also sell black eggs (only the shell is black), and there are fifty different animated characters paired with the black eggs throughout the scenic area. The only way to get to this particular tourist destination is by cable car (another thing I had to look up the name of), so we enjoyed a scenic overlook of the valley in both directions.

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The sulphuric valley filled with black eggs
I really had no idea what anything was called, so I apologize for my vagueness. We then ventured to a restaurant in which I was dissed by the waitstaff. After I ordered soba noodles with a side of edamame, the waitress told my hosts that foreigners always order edamame, but what she doesn’t realize is that it was the only non-meat source of protein on the menu.

This final area in which we spent time was surrounding a large lake. After finding out that I’m a rower, they were insistent upon taking me for a boat ride. Little did I know that they meant a ride in a small row boat of which I was the sole driver. Aside from being able to turn and dock the boat like a champion, I had no more qualifications than they did to row that thing. We petted and took snapchats of the dock cat, then headed to the train station to get back to Tokyo. There were torrential downpours in the city, so we were unable to use our prepaid tickets to get home. However, this gave me the opportunity to take my first Shinkansen which brought us back to Shinjuku speedily.

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Natural beauty from our tiny row boat
I very much appreciated the thoughtfulness of my hosts to take me to such a unique and natural place. It also provided a wonderful bonding platform for the three of us, and we were dancing and laughing about everything by the end. Hakone gave me a taste of what natural beauties lie outside of Tokyo, and I can’t wait to return to experience some more.

Conquering Fujisan (and Other Small Everests)

A week before I left Japan, I heard some of my group members talking about climbing Mt Fuji. One of them was going over details trying to convince others to go. I had not done any research on how long or intense the hike was, so I was interested in hearing it from someone who was planning to do it. She said it would be 6-8 hours up and about half of that down. There was a bus or a series of trains to take from Tokyo which would bring you right to the start of the route. I still had a week left before my couple of free days, so I had time to consider.

A few days later, she sent our group the pictures and went over some of the details and the issues she ran into. It seemed like a massive undertaking, but doable with the time we had. Unfortunately, I had to work fast to make a decision. The bus ticket (the cheaper and faster option) would have to be reserved ASAP in order to guarantee the perfect amount of time to acclimate to the altitude. I spoke to a few others from my group who were considering joining me, but I went ahead and bought my bus ticket. Luckily, I was successful in talking three other people to go with me, so I finally wasn’t alone!

To prepare, I read all of the major Google results when you search things like “how difficult is it to climb Mt Fuji” and “how long does it take to climb Mt Fuji” and “what do I need to climb Mt Fuji.” I decided I needed to acquire a rain jacket, a rain cover for my backpack, a head lamp, and pants. The only pants I had brought with me were business casual pants, no leggings of any kind. I made the necessary purchases and borrowed what I could. I began to mentally prepare.

For two days before, I became extremely nervous. I’m a very fit person, but what if this is really something that I can’t handle. We would be bullet-hiking which meant that we would start our hike at 10pm and hike all night and the next morning. I don’t usually do well with late nights, so I feared that would be the aspect that could take me down. I also developed a cold just in time. Suddenly, I was concerned about getting enough Oxygen to my brain if I was already having a hard time breathing. At that point, I couldn’t wait for it to be over. Though I have dreams of climbing Mt Everest, Mt Fuji became my Everest for the moment.

Sunday morning, I woke up as late as I could and prepared. After we checked into our hotel, we purchased enough food and water for the whole night. It seemed like it was too much and not enough at the same time. Two ice creams later, we were on the bus trying to take a nap before our sleepless night. It was dark and colder than I expected when we arrived at the Fuji-Subaru 5th Station. Most of the fear turned into excitement as we clothed ourselves and located the trailhead.

There were few other people starting at this time which surprised me because of the large amount of information about bullet hiking available online. There were many tall men who passed us and other groups with which we caught up, but there were no long lines that I was told were the norm at this point in the high season.

The first few stations were easy to reach compared to what was in store for us, but we took breaks at each of the stations and listened to our bodies. As the hills got steeper and the rocky parts got rockier, each challenge immediately in front of us became a small Everest. We made these little goals for ourselves: getting past this hill or reaching the next station or bathroom. For me, I made personal rewards like blowing my nose or taking a sip of water. I’m not the type of person to stop when something gets difficult which sounds cool, but is not always the safest. I preach the importance of listening to one’s body, but I don’t usually practice this.

I had a lot of food with me and it got to the point that onigiris were absolutely unappealing, but I ate them to lessen the weight in my backpack. I rationed my water too much and ended up with almost a full nalgene when I reached the bottom. I was wearing a light pair of cheap Forever 21 leggings (I hate fast fashion, but I was desperate), a borrowed hoodie, and a Daiso disposable rain jacket. I was cold and my cold was flaring up and I was not feeling my best.

We always seemed so close yet so far from the summit. We reached the point of the gate with all of the 1 yen coins when I realized how truly terrible I felt. There exists a horrible picture of me where I look like I’m ready to give up on life. I made it one hill past the gate and sat down for a break. Once I got up, I took five steps and turned around. One of my group-mates asked, “Are you okay?” I turned my head and puked to the side of the trail. Almost immediately, a man who looked far more prepared than I was handed me a pill and told me to drink water. This is probably the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done, but I took that pill without having a clue what it was.

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Worth every minute I felt like death

Since my system cleared itself, I felt a little better, but I was close to crashing. The sleep deprivation and lack of quality nutrients in my systems were catching up to me. I made it to the summit and took some pictures of the incredible view, but I wanted to get down immediately. As soon as I put my camera away, I abandoned my group and began my descent. The lower I got, the more alive I felt. I stopped feeling tired in anyway and was deeply appreciative of how warm and close the sun felt. I slowly started stripping off my excess layers and took in the beautiful view. Pictures, nor words, could do it justice. As I think about it, I am reliving those moments and I can see it so clearly. It is something that everyone should experience.

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Nothing does this sea of clouds justice.

The way down was monotonous and I was alone, but it seemed to go by so much quicker. I made some calls using my pocket wifi (this mountain was a little too connected), and spent some good time with myself. I made it to the bottom and bought the matcha ice cream and bottled green tea I had promised myself. It was so good, and I could cry now that those things are not readily available to me. I bought some souvenirs and waited for the rest of my group to return before we caught the bus back to Tokyo.

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My handy North Face backpack and my beloved Asics

No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t sleep that whole day. I also made the decision to make the most of my last night in Tokyo and stay out all night. I was running on adrenaline and could barely even nap during my flight home. This was perhaps the greatest and most rewarding few days of my life.

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It took everything in my power to force that smile

Running through Tokyo

As an active person and a dedicated member of my crew team, it is necessary for me to be able to train over the summer. With my circumstances in Japan, the most effective training I could do was going on longer runs in the mornings. Since I was in Tokyo and Sapporo, it was most convenient to run in the early mornings before there were too many cars on the road or people out-and-about.

My first run in Tokyo was near the hotel, and it took me to Tokyo Tower. I was without wifi, but with a glance at a map, I had a relatively painless (my foot hurt) time finding my way around. I love getting out into cities during my runs because I can go places people don’t usually want to go to on foot, and it gives me a head start in exploring.

Tokyo Tower

My first week, I had the nicest venue on which I held my runs. My host’s home was only five minutes away from the Sumida River which has a nice path along its banks. This provided me with a decent distance in one direction with the potential to do loops if I wanted. Regardless of my route, the view was beautiful. I look back on Iceland as having the nicest running path along the ocean, but this river path takes a solid second. After it rained, there would be little crabs peeking out from the grass (they scared me at first because I assumed they were giant spiders). Depending on the haziness of the day, the Tokyo Skytree could be seen across the Sumida.

Sweaty selfie with the Skytree

My second week consisted of dirty runs through Shibuya. My hotel was in a less-populated Shibuya area, but the easiest path was to run toward the scramble and the advertisements that didn’t look as grand in the light of day. There were many smells from piles of garbage set out for the morning pick up. This was definitely not an ideal running situation, especially with having to dodge the morning rush of subway-goers. However, by familiarizing myself with the tourist traps of Shibuya when few people were around, it proved to be easier to navigate during the crowded times of day.

My week in Sapporo was interesting because I was still in a city, but it was a much smaller city. I never really saw a time of day that was crowded compared to the madness of Tokyo. My morning runs were really good because I found a park that I could run around.

One of the many beer gardens sprinkled throughout Odori Park, around which I ran laps

In addition to the ease of navigation I had, the weather was so much nicer. Though we had a couple of rainy mornings, the temperature was so much more tolerable and the low humidity allowed me to breathe again. My runs this week were some of the most productive.

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The TV Tower, another fixture of Odori Park

My last week in Tokyo was in a far less populated part of the city. Once I ran out of the residential area, the early hours of my runs allowed me to avoid running past open doors and commuters. I like running in the morning because I can get a feel of how a space actually feels in the absence of others. My last run was kind of emotional as I was realizing that my amazing month was coming to an end and that I had to say goodbye to so many great people.

One of the many temples on my final Tokyo route

One if by Disneyland; two if by Disneysea

I remember considering how much effort it would take to go to Disney before I left. It seemed like a lot of work: an hour-long train ride and an expensive ticket that my host families would most likely not want to deal with. What I didn’t expect was that every single person who lives in Tokyo and 75% of Japan’s total population has been to Disney.

Tokyo Disney offers amazing deals I have not found in the American Disney parks. The price-per-day is already cheaper, but they also offer special pricing for evening passes. On the weekends after 3pm, passes work out to be around 50 USD, and weekday passes after 5pm come out to about 40 USD.

Because no one is ever interested in joining me until after the fact, I visited both of Tokyo’s Disney parks by myself. Since I was without a host family my second week in Tokyo, I hopped on a train to Maihama station without giving it too much thought. I had just received my pocket wifi, and it was my security measure for taking the correct trains home. After a bit of confusion (I might have taken an express train when I needed to take the local), I made it to the gates of Tokyo Disneysea, the most unique of the world’s Disney Parks. Immediately, I was blown away by how intricately-designed the scenery was. First, there was the globe, and then there was the large central volcano sculpture. Every corner of this park was thoughtfully laid-out and detailed. Except for not knowing how to get out once I entered the Journey to the Center of the Earth volcano, it was easy to navigate.


The first ride I rode was the Tower of Terror which had a long wait, but it was the ride I was most invested in experiencing. I don’t know why it came as a shock to me, but the whole ride was in Japanese, so I had little context to understand the whole Harrison Hightower story. There were single rider lines available for Indiana Jones and Raging Spirits (one of my students that week claimed to have seen me in line at Raging Spirits, but I have my doubts). However, the Indiana Jones single rider queue started past the entrance for Fast Passes, and I came upon it at a time that this line was wildly crowded. Once it died down, I had a short wait, but it was annoying that there wasn’t a separate single rider entrance. After getting on some rides more easily, I realized I had to make a big decision about the new Nemo Searider ride. I had to make sure it was my final stop because the wait time was not going down, and I wouldn’t have had time to do anything else. I went for it and waited slightly less long than was quoted. The ride was very cute and worth it, and I felt like I understood everything despite it being narrated in a language of which I have no comprehension.


These were my first moments set loose in Tokyo responsible for feeding myself, so naturally I first ordered a kawaii Minnie popsicle and a churro. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the big food item in the Tokyo parks was popcorn. I love popcorn! And not just any popcorn, but flavored popcorn! I first tried the tomato herb and felt right at home. I’m a big popcorn-eater, so I was thrilled for my dinner to consist of my favorite snack foods. Next, I tried the curry flavor which was amazing and better than the one I make at home, though I hate to admit it. There are moments when one can sit in the shade and eat some good popcorn or ice cream and recognize that Disney is actually a magical place.

The next day right after school, I hopped on another train to Maihama, but headed to Tokyo Disneyland this time. I had two fewer hours in this park since my ticket started at 5pm, but it was the more traditional Disneyland/Magic Kingdom-type of park that I’ve seen a lot of. With only five hours, I was struggling to devise a plan to ride everything I wanted. I grabbed a cone of ice cream and got moving. With a box of soy sauce and butter popcorn in the middle, I rode all of my favorites (Haunted Mansion and the tea cups) along with the more unique-to-Tokyo attractions. While reading an ebook on my phone, I was handed a surprise Fast Pass from a kind woman in line for Space Mountain which cut my wait time down tremendously. I waited for the super-cute Monsters, Inc. ride, and saw the underrated Stitch-invaded Tiki Room show. I had to sacrifice Big Thunder Mountain, but I covered a lot of ground in the short time I had.


By the time I got home, I was Disney-ed out and my feet hurt from all the fast-walking. In making plans for my time in Japan, I had assumed that Disney was something I could skip since it’s so available in the US, but I failed to realize how big Disney is to the world of the kids I would be working with. Disney offered me a discussion topic with my students and gave us some common ground to build relationships upon. Apart from the kawaii culture that I witnessed, I could see that Disney carries a lot of meaning to so many people in Tokyo. Additionally, I did not run into anyone who rolled their eyes over the subject of Disney, something that is common in the US. Even novelties can be given deep meaning if the effects of their existence can bring people closer together.