Ryan’s Blog Post

Joe, Alex, Brooke, Lily, and I on a speedboat during our extra week in Japan.

What an absolutely crazy experience this trip was, prior to this trip I had never even been outside the united states, and now I was going all the way to the other side of the world! And something even crazier: Despite me going into this not knowing my other classmates very well, most others being graduating seniors whereas I was still a sophomore, I still somehow managed to make some absolutely incredible friends.

June 13th

Small Vinyl Store in Miyashita Park

June 13th was hands down one of the most memorable days in the trip for me, it honestly felt like a week cram packed into only 24 hours. It started with Teamlabs, an amazing art experience that we only got thanks to Yuko vouching for it to be added to the trip (Thanks Yuko!). It involved multiple walk-through rooms with water, lights, and mirrors, one room had us running around in water with fish projected on its surface, and another had us laying in a room with a dome screen and a mirrored floor. Words cannot describe how breathtaking the scenery was within these exhibits, so below is a picture that I hope captured at least a portion of that magic.

Teamlabs exhibit

After Teamlabs we visited the Tokyo fish market, and oh. my. god. I have never had such mind-meltingly good sushi in my life, and I don’t know if I ever will again. To think we almost settled for a cafeteria that was nearby is crazy, I shudder at the thought of the possibility that I almost missed out on it.


During The latter half of the day, the group all traveled to Shibuya and split off for a free rest of the day, Brooke, Lily, Joe and I went shopping around some of the streets. Shibuya definitely was one of the coolest places I visited in Tokyo, from all the incredible shopping, and the streets being so incredibly interesting to look at, I could’ve spent hours having my eyes trace over all the little details and buildings in the area.

Later that night, Joe, Lily, and I continued to explore Shibuya, and eventually, we stumbled into a mall/park, called Miyashita Park. It ended up being a really cool mall that had multiple floors finished by a giant park/rooftop complete with statues of Doraemon, a rugby field, a rock climbing area, and of course, a Starbucks.

Miyashita Park Roof

June 19th

June 19th might just have been my favorite day of the entire trip, just because of how goddamn good we looked that day. June 19th was the day Joe, Lily, Brooke, and I got dressed up in kimonos (yukata) and wandered the streets of Higashiyama, Kyoto. The day started off with us getting dressed and heading off to a tea ceremony that Joe was really excited about. It ended up being the first time I had had real matcha and it was an awesome experience.


After some more incredible exploration, a really cool lunch, and 14 bajillion photo’s later, we returned the kimonos and went on our way to find dinner. We settled on a kaiseki place, which originally turned us away because it was “reservation only” but then allowed us to eat there when we went back to ask about reservations. It was my first time eating Kaiseki for me and it was one of the most interesting, well-presented, and delicious meals I have EVER eaten.

The Flame Dish

June 22nd

June 22nd was another one of my favorite days, it started off with the group meeting up with Yuko’s Uncle’s Kimono Company, which was already an insane connection she had, we additionally also got to meet one of Japan’s oldest and best Kimono designers, and see his workshop and process through making these kimono’s.


After that, Yuko, Brooke, Lily, and I walked the philosopher’s path, a beautiful trail following a small stream with carp, stunning vegetation, and really cool shops spread around. One of these shops was an older gentleman who sold varying clothing items as a sort of unique thrift shop. We stayed in his shop for a while and he spoke to us about the location and his story/job, he shared and even let us keep some photos he had taken of the path throughout the year. HE WAS SUCH A WONDERFUL HUMAN BEING.

His absolutely stunning hand-painted jeans
Brooke, Lily, and I on the philosopher’s path

The day ended with us four getting dinner at another place we lucked out with in terms of reservations, this time another group of 4 failed to show up for their reservation so we got to slide in and take their spot :). I ended up getting Wagyu beef (for only $30!) and it was incredible, melt-on-your-tongue incredible! And it was an incredible meal to cap off an incredible day.



Those were probably my three favorite days during the entire trip, but god damn was it hard narrowing it down to only three. Every single day was unforgettable, and that is completely thanks to 4 wonderful people, Yuko, Joe, Brooke, and Lily. Major credit to Yuko, who had set up and successfully pulled off one of the most amazing trips I think anyone could possibly go on, every single thing she recommended, offered, and brought us to was incredible and felt like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I do not believe there is a single better person fit for leading this trip than Yuko. Additionally, the people I traveled with, Joe, Brooke, and Lily, who I barely knew prior to going on this trip, ended up being some of the most interesting and coolest people I have ever met. Traveling with them, and hearing their stories, interests, opinions, and idea’s made this trip worth so much more. Thank you guys!

Lily’s blog post

Me, Brooke, Ryan, and Joe in our beautiful kimonos, at our tea ceremony lesson. Free day, Kyoto.

Where to even begin! I’ve been back in the United States for two weeks now and I still am finding myself almost accidentally saying “sumimasen” to people at the supermarket. I think my experience in Japan will profoundly affect me for years to come.

In my life, I’ve been lucky to have travelled and lived many places, but I think this trip in particular was something uniquely special and extraordinary. As an experienced traveler, I know the fact that when going anywhere, and especially for a time as long as three weeks, you need to prepare yourself for things to go wrong. Nothing can be perfect and a complete walk in the park the entire time, and a good traveller needs to be able to to take the hiccups and bad moments in stride, move on, and not let them ruin their experience. However, for some magical reason, I feel like my Japan experience really WAS a perfect, walk in the park, complete dream. The worst thing that happened to me was a giant cockroach crawling on my leg at dinner one night. Even then, dinner was still pretty good. We had a big laugh about it after the chef came out and beat it to death against the wall and the whole restaurant clapped.

Across from me, moments before a huge cockroach crawled on my leg and I touched it with my hand. EW. Alex Diaz, Osaka.

I think apart from extraordinary luck, (maybe from all the maneki-neko I bought, maybe from the fortune I got at the Kanda shrine) what made this trip so significant and exceptional for me was the sheer amount of new experiences. On this trip, it seemed like my motto and most used phrase was: “might as well, when are we ever gonna be here again?”. As such, there was nothing that was put in front of me that I didn’t try, no activity that I would say no to, and unfortunately to my bank account, no expense spared. My goal was to be the first one in line for every moment, and the last one back to the hotel at night. I was determined to not let a single second go to waste. The result was a whirlwind of new memories, friends, and an intoxicated level of serotonin.

My first time eating a fish eyeball. Well, no one else wanted it, was I gonna let it go to waste? It tasted pretty good, but don’t bite down. It has a hard center. Kyoto.
After a jazz jam session we accidentally stumbled into made me get up on stage perform. “Do you sing?” I really don’t know why I said yes to this one, because I actually can’t sing at all. They didn’t seem to mind, though. I sang “Fly Me to the Moon”. Kyoto

I’ve always been a huge foodie, so something that I knew I was going to love and was even more blown away than I thought I was going to be was the amazing cuisine we had everywhere. Seriously, I think it’s impossible to find a bad meal in Japan. It makes me want to cry just thinking about how amazing every single meal we had was, and how much I miss it. Japan has such a vibrant, beautiful culinary tradition, and something I absolutely loved was how much care and expertise goes into every dish – from the ingredients, preparation, and presentation, its clear to see how much passion and love the chefs have for their craft, and how much they want you to enjoy your entire dining experience.

A course from our kaiseki-ryori meal, probably my favorite meal I had in Japan. I will never stop thinking about this soup. Ever. Kyoto

Something that surprised me about the trip is how much I enjoyed talking to so many different people I met. My Japanese language skill is definitely still beginner (at best) so I was slightly worried about this aspect before the trip. However, I was not expecting how fun it was to try to speak Japanese to locals and how excited they were to hear it, and speak back. Some people also wanted to practice their English with us. Even with the language barriers, there was ways to communicate that were just as effective and fun. At an empty sushi restaurant in Kyoto, Ryan and I had a great conversation with a young waitress who was in school to be a lawyer by googling pictures of different anime and manga and showing them to each other. Another time a bartender in Osaka gave us a whole lesson on Japanese whiskey through google translate. There were also so many friendly people around who would want to hang out for the night or have a conversation with us at their job. It was magical and so provocative.

Yi Chen from Shanghai. We met her after dinner and hung out with her for the night. She knew about some cool secret places in Kyoto!
Andy from Scotland and Alveera from France. We bumped into them on the street and sang some karaoke! Kyoto
A live jazz performance, these three talented musicians came and talked to us after their set. It turns out one of them went to school in Boston. Then we had a conversation with the owner of the club, she was this super cool eccentric older woman who had opened the club in the 70s. Unforgettable! BODY&SOUL Jazz club, Tokyo.

I could go on for probably a whole novels worth of memories and favorite moments. So to wrap up this long blog post I will just say, THANK YOU, to my amazing friends for making every experience an unforgettable one, and to Yuko for making this trip possible and being the best professor ever. I will always treasure these memories!!

We are HERE!!! First day in Japan-Tokyo

UMass Lowell and Fitchburg State students arrive at Haneda Airport inTokyo. June 10, 2023

Let’s see-where to start?  We have been in Japan for 2 days, and it feels like there are 100 things to write about already!  I am up at 6am drinking an iced coffee, jet-lagged and happy as can be.  We got here safe and sound on June 10th, 12 UMass Lowell students and 12 Fitchburg State students.  Everyone made the 2 flight journey.  We met at 3am at Logan airport, flew to Toronto and had a 5 hour layover before our 12.5 hour flight to Haneda airport!  Luckily no one missed their flight! 

UMass Lowell Students and Professor Oda arrive at National Art Museum, Tokyo, Japan

The first full day, we explored the sights near our hotel in Ueno.  Ueno is in NW Tokyo in an area I refer to as “Old Tokyo”.  First we all walked to the National Art Museum, where Japanese national treasures from the Jomon period (artifacts from 13,000 years ago) until today are exhibited. We marveled at exquisite woodblock prints, painstakingly hand carved katanas and old samurai military clothing, and intricate hand-sewn kimono silks.

We then made our way to lunch in Ameyoko-cho, an outdoor market area that feels like it has not changed since 1980’s. 

Lunch in Ameyokocho, Ueno, first day!

After lunch, we walked to Kanda Shrine, where we met up with UML alumni and professor John Traphagan, who talked to us about Japanese religion and the ways of the Japanese people.  It was fascinating to hear from an expert on Japanese anthropology. 

UML alumni, professor John Traphagan talking to students about Japanese philosophy and religion.

The students had many interesting questions for Professor Traphagan.  He taught us the difference between ritual and worship, how to properly purify ourselves with water before entering a shrine, and how to “pray” by clapping and bowing to the gods.

Finally, we had our “Welcome Dinner” where we had Japanese izakaya food together, all 28 of us, and did a “Kampai” cheers together.  I was amazed by the open-minded spirit of all of our students, who tried spicy fish roe and marinated mackerel for the first time.  Let our adventures continue!!!


Follow UMass Lowell students as they Study Abroad in Japan in Tokyo and Kyoto and a day trip in Narai hiking through the Nakasendo trail.

During the spring 2023 semester, the class met bi-weekly to discuss readings, films, visual arts, language, food, and cultural norms of Japan. Discussions dove into the psychology and way of life of the Japanese people, and students gained insight into a culture where the old and new collide. Basic language and cultural etiquette lessons help prepare students for travelling in Japan.