Missives from Japan

Karina Dundurs will participate in EF College Study Tours’ 11-day professors’ tour of Japan through Tokyo, Hakone, Kyoto, Hiroshima, and Osaka where she will visit Himeji Castle, Miyajima Park, Itsukushima and Inari Taisha Shrines, the Peace Memorial Park and Museum, and various other significant locations that mark Japan as a microcosm of civilization. Her aim is to prepare, during June, for leading her own Business and Culture study tour of Japan during summer 2018.

This blog entry was composed, and the pictures were taken by, Karina Dundurs.

Picture1Japan is an amazing country full of customs and values. It is a very clean country and the people are friendly. We started our trip by meeting everyone at SFO and taking off to Tokyo where we transferred to Osaka, which is a very industrial and commercial center of western Japan. The next day, we toured the largest castle in Japan, built in 1333, with its magnificent white exterior and ancient defensive systems. I noticed through this study abroad trip that the tour directors were very knowledgeable on a variety of topics, and that they provided information beyond the “normal” amount. The tour directors often pointed out interesting bits of information connecting to popular culture. For example, when we were at the castle she told the story of how a James Bond movie, You Only Live Twice, was filmed there, and how castle was used as the Ninja Castle.

Picture2Next, we went to Hiroshima, located on Honshu, the largest of the Japanese islands. While there, our guide was a survivor of the blast. This is the only structure left after the blast.

Picture3We went on to Miyajima Park, known as the “Sacred Island” with its famous “floating” tori guarding the entrance to the Itsukushima Shrine. It is a custom to wash your hands before entering any shrines or temples. This is done by washing left, right, left and slurping some water to spit out.

Picture6At the shrine we witnessed a wedding taking place. The White headgear represents the “Hiding of the Horns” which is a Japanese tradition representing the horns of the new bride. One horn is for her ruling the house and the other is her ruling the finances. This is a very OLD custom that is gradually disappearing.

Then we went to Kyoto by Shinkansen (the bullet train). It is really fast and very clean!



Kyoto is a combination of the past and present, so we were able to observe and learn about more traditions. It is the only city where kimonos are still worn. People will come to Kyoto for the weekend to rent kimonos and be part of the scene.

Picture9In Kyoto we visited the Kinkaku-Ji Temple, also known as the Golden Temple. What struck me most was how being there we could have an in-depth discussion about many disciplines: obviously we discussed history, but there was also architecture, art design, fashion design, humanities, and social sciences, just to name a few.

Picture10One other site we visited also made an impression: the Fushimi Inari Temple with its 3,000 Torri gates on Inaki Mountain were donated by Japanese businesses that hoped their worldly success would be honored and blessed.

Picture11While visiting the Arayashima Bamboo Grove I learned that Japan practices sustainability very faithfully. For example, the Grove provides food for pandas, and bamboo to make baskets, cups, and boxes.

The next amazing visit was to Nara, one of Japan’s ancient capitals. This is the location of the Todai-ji Temple that houses the Daibutsu, the world’s largest bronze Buddha. We walked through Nara Park, also known as Deer Park which houses deer. These deer are not like American deer, because they come up to you to pet them… and to actually feed them. And there’s no fear, because Japan has no Lyme disease! They quarantine every animal that comes into the country.


Participants in the group experiencing Japanese traditions.

That night was spent in total Japanese tradition. We stayed at a hotel where we slept on futons (but beds were provided on demand), ate a seven-course meal, and wore kimonos. I think this was one of my favorite adventures during the trip. It truly gave you a feeling of the culture and customs of the country. The studentsenjoyed that very much. They talked about it for days afterwards.

In Saratoga, California, where West Valley College is located, there is a beautiful Japanese garden called Hakone Garden. That garden is modeled after the city of Hakone in Japan and we visited it. While in Hakone, we also visited the Owakudani volcanic hot spring, “The Great Boiling Valley,” and the home of the Kuro-tamago (black eggs). The eggs get their black color by being boiled in the sulfur and iron hot springs.

Picture14Kamakura was amazing. That’s where the Great Buddha and the Hachimangu Shrine are located. This Buddha is carved out in the middle, so that you can walk through it and look up to see its giant head from inside.

Lastly, we went to Tokyo! I have traveled quite a bit, but I must say that this is one of my favorite cities in the world. It has such energy, culture, technology and fashion. Anything goes when it comes to fashion, from business men in suits to girls in anime clothing. In Akihabara, known as the anime district, there is every type of electronic contraption you might want to purchase.

Picture15Due to the fact that Tokyo has such an efficient Metro subway system, travel is easy between districts. Shibuya is the shopping district known for people crossing the street in all directions at once, including diagonally. There are a lot of people in Tokyo!

We had the rare opportunity to visit the Tokyo Stock Exchange and to attend Kabuki Theatre. Students enjoyed seeing the famous stock exchange and trying to understand the lyrics sung in Japanese (translation headphones could be purchased). At the stock exchange we saw a lot of modern technology, but Kabuki theater was all about traditions.


Tokyo at night is breathtaking and mesmerizing.

This was a most interesting and fulfilling opportunity for students. They spent time exchanging ideas with Japanese students, learning about the history and culture of Japan, and making new friends. The students came from a variety of academic disciplines and backgrounds. We found in our discussions that everything we experienced on the trip crossed over in some form into topics they studied, and that visiting all of those palaces opened their eyes, and helped them to be understanding about global cultures and their values. As a faculty member, I enjoyed the fact that this was a diverse program that provided exposure to many areas.




One thought on “Missives from Japan

  1. Wow what an amazing experience this must have been! Thank you for your wonderfully detailed recount, the kimono night with a seven course meal sounds like it was a phenomenal experience. I look forward to applying to get the scholarship for the next business and culture study abroad trip to Japan. I always drive past Hakone Garden on my way to school, now I cant wait to go visit there to prepare for the trip!

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