Krystal in Japan – post #4

The End.

All good things must come to an end, but at least the memories of that good thing will last forever.  Here I’ve compiled a few paragraphs of things that I keep thinking about since returning:


I must admit it was a sad day leaving Japan.  Suddenly, I was going to be separated from the people I’d spent every waking moment with for the past twelve days indefinitely.  It got even more emotional due to my roommate situation.  On the first day, I’d gone into my room and found someone’s bags on the bed next to mine.  I had no idea who it belonged to.  When I finally met my roommate, we exchanged some words and a little laughter, but we were quiet for most of the night.  Throughout the twelve days, we’d moved around a lot and slept in many different buildings, cities and islands.  Everyone was constantly shuffled, but somehow she and I always ended up in the same place or in the same room.  We also got really close to one of the guys that just happened to be teamed with us everywhere we went too.   The night before we left Japan, we’d had dinner together, walked around the city, went dancing and stayed up past three am talking.  It was truly incredible how comfortable we’d become in such a short space of time.  I honestly miss those two so much and I hope that whatever they end up doing in the future they are successful in it.


Having icecream before we head out for the day.


Heading to the grocery store for lunch.


Day one in Osaki Kamijima.

Food/Free day

We didn’t have too much free time as we had a schedule to follow and a lot to do.  However, there were a few free moments given to us.  To be honest, the three free moments we had could have been three of the biggest disasters I could have been apart of, but somehow, they turned out alright.  The first happened when we got to go out for a quick lunch in Hiroshima.  Because we all headed out so fast, I didn’t think about grabbing my bag and or anything really.  I ended up at a restaurant with two other people where all the food was cooked on one hotplate in front of customers.  Needless to say, I didn’t have cellphone connection, my EpiPen, or my note translated into Japanese that specifies my allergies.  I ate the food anyway and it was some of the best Okonomiyaki I ever had- tasted even better after realizing I had no allergic reaction and wasn’t going to die. The second incident was when we took an unscheduled trip during our free time to Miyajima.  Long story short here is that we lost one of the girls; we had all her money, phone and identification documents and we left her on the island by accident and took a fairy to Hiroshima.  That was crazy, but a situation like that really shows you how resourceful you can be and how well you work with others. Especially when it comes to rescuing a friend in danger.  The last situation comes back to food again.  We picked a random restaurant to go out for dinner and ended up at this place that had no English menus, no pictures and the staff didn’t speak English.  We’d already sat down and got drinks so we felt it would be rude to leave.  After some debating on what we should do with the three other girls I was with, we decided to point to a random thing on the menu and hope for the best.  The food wasn’t the greatest, but the conversation that went on at that table during that moment of panic was something special and I will never forget it.


The random food we picked.



When we got to Miyajima


After visiting the shrine.


Bracelet Collection

Like I said in my first blog, I have a bracelet collection going for every country I travel to.  While in Japan I went to this tiny Island called Teshima with five other people for a few days.  There wasn’t much of anything there.  One afternoon after dinner we went exploring and found a shop on a corner we’d never noticed before.  There were a lot of food items there and like 5 bracelets which was so random.  I ended up buying one.  The travel home ended up being really hectic- we had one late flight, missed the second flight, ran through the airport as if we were in a movie, and ended up having a layover in Montreal instead of Calgary.  I think I must have dropped my bracelet at some point during all that.  It’s kind of sad, but I guess this just means I get to travel to Japan again for a second bracelet.


Having fun at the airport before we realized we were about to miss a flight and run the Olympics to catch another one.



There are many other things we did that was amazing.  Some of them are: playing End zone with a group of children we’d met that day, playing volleyball with the college students, playing traditional drums at the high school, going to an onsen for the first time, eating dinner at the house in Osaki Kamijima with everyone, hearing a story from a Hiroshima A bomb survivor, spending the night with my host family, experiencing a traditional Japanese tea ceremony, making salt, seeing a wild boar and a few of the biggest spiders I’d ever seen in my life, meditating at a temple and so much more.


Chilli Fires and Red Riding Hood Team!


All of us with our host families.


The day we learned the drums.


After our lecture.


After our meditation session.


When I got back, I’d gotten so used to using chopsticks for every single meal that it felt weird to eat with anything else.  I have Chinese housemates and I happily used their chopsticks for a few meals within the first two weeks of returning.

Also, it was hard to stay awake- the jetlag kicked my butt.  I took four naps in one day just to get through it and get work done.

My biggest take away:

In the end, I am truly grateful for this experience.  I will carry with me the history lessons, experiences and skills that I gathered on this trip forever.  Before this trip, I was always concerned about the fact that there were people out there who spoke a different language that me and I wouldn’t be able to communicate with them and hear their stories.  However, my time in Osaki Kamijima really opened my eyes to the vast amount of ways there are to communicate without the use of words and that light bulb moment is something that will stick with me forever.




They made these for us.


Walking back to the house one evening.


Katie, Emily and I before heading to the beach one evenimg.

Krystal in Japan – post #3


Before this trip, I had never heard about this Island before.  Now I know so much that I’m having a hard time trying to figure out where to start.  When we got to the Island, we met Ishi-san and Kishimoto-sensei; they would be our guides for the entirety of our stay on Teshima.  From them we learned all about Teshima’s rich history and strong sense of community.  I will try my best to summarise the 44+ years of history we learned in 3 days.

Here’s a snippet of what I learned i.e the parts that peaked my interest the most.


Teshima is one of over 3000 islands located in the Seto Inland Sea.  Once, thousands of years ago, the islands in the Seto Inland Sea and Japan were connected to China.  However, after the ice age, melting ice and increasing seal level, the land was covered with water creating the formations we see today.  Teshima has a size of 400 square miles and is home to just over 500 people.  Over half of this population is over 65.  The community is aging which is one of the many problems they have to deal with.  Because it is such a small tight knit community, everyone seems to know and support each other. From the peak of Teshima, you can see five other prefectures. Also, this is random, but it took my third trip around the island to realize there are no street light here.  It’s so small that my group did and Island tour on foot.

The Illegal Industrial Waste Dumping Site:

This island has been through a 44-year battle to protect itself from the effects of the illegal industrial waste dumping.  From my understanding, a businessman by the name of Mr. Matsura began the business of selling soil and sand from Teshima.  He ran this business until there was nothing left to sell at the site that he chose.  From there, he seemed desperate to find other ways to make money off the land.  His bright idea was to bring waste here and store it in concrete in the area that he’s dug out the soil and sand from.  This was illegal for several reasons. For one, Mr. Matsura didn’t have permission to dump waste on Teshima Island.  Secondly, this was a national park area and so it is illegal to dump waste in it.  Thirdly, the permit he was granted was solely for the business of selling soil and sand and so he had no business doing otherwise.  So, on December 18th 1975, the people of Teshima began a long tiring fight to protect their island.  The story is a long and complicated one with many twists and turns.  We learned of all the protests the people held and the way they united together to protect themselves when the Kagawa Prefecture Neglected.  We learned how the burning of the industrial waste made the air so toxic that birds would fall out of the sky.  People were 10 times more likely to die from an asthma attack and there were 10 times more students in schools suffering from asthma.  It is believed that people outside of Teshima never understood the full scope of the issue because they weren’t living in it.

After years of dealing with this issue, the people were able to bring about change in Teshima.  The dumping site is now owned by the community and they make the final decisions about everything that goes on there. All the waste – over 80 meters- has been cleared and some of the materials were cleaned and recycled.  Currently there is a clean up project taking place at the dumping site to remove the toxins from the earth and water.

The dumping of industrial waste in Teshima is Japan’s biggest industrial waste controversy today.

I learned so much more about the history of this island from the introduction of the art festival to the creation of the old folks’ home, mental institutes and rebuilding of schools by the community.  However, it is impossible to cover so many years of history in one blog post.

The highlight of my trip so far was getting to work on the salt farm and make my very own bag of salt.  I was there for the whole process.  I saw the water get pumped from the ocean into a contraption that uses wind to dry the water and increase the salt concentration.  The sea water has a 3% concentration of salt, but once it passes through this contraption a few times it increases to 10%.  Then it is put into a heated shed (60 degrees) where the salt is crystalized over either a month (summer salt) or two months (winter salt).  I was able to dry, clean and package the salt with bags I made myself.  During this whole process we were able to jump into the ocean a few times when we got too overheated.

So far this has been an amazing experience.  It is a healthy balance of work and relaxation.  I find it fascinating that I spent so much time learning about human centered design thinking with my Enactus club and this way of thinking just seems to come naturally to people of Teshima.  They are able to empathise with each and work collaboratively to maintain their lively hood.  This is something I will always remember and try to intertwine it with my everyday life.

The food has been an experience and deserves a whole blog itself!

Dumping site
July 21st – this is what the illegal dumping site looks like now. The giant wall in the picture extends over 80 meters into the earth. This is to help stop the contamination of the water.
rice fields
June 21st – We visited the rice fields an did a mini island tour. They have a vertical irrigation system for their rice fields. It was quite interesting to learn about.

June 22nd– Julia and I working in the field and cleaning the salt after collecting and drying it.

salt bag
June 22nd- this is my personal bag of salt that I made
salt delivery
Delivering the salt we spent the day making to a restaurant. Our group had split into three for field work. Two of us made salt, two went rock carving and one went to work at a restaurant. In this picture the salt group (myself and Julia) are delivering to the restaurant group (Frederick and Mako the TA).

Krystal in Japan – post #2

Arrival and Trip to Teshima

The past four days have been packed with information- almost too much to fully digest in the short amount of time that is available to us.  Originally, I was going to write four blogs, but I honestly think I need to do more in order for me to fully process everything that is going on around me.  I’ve started typing up paragraphs based on certain points in the day so the topics might change drastically throughout the blog.

Day One:

We arrived at the Narita airport right on time and honestly everything was smooth sailing from there.  I thought that after over 16 hours of traveling and being in a country with a foreign language, things would be more difficult.  We made our way through the air port easily and found the bus stop without any hiccups.  While waiting for the shuttle we met 2 girls and a guy that were also apart of the HELIO program and we quickly became friends.  Honestly, it was so easy to tell the people who were there for the program from the people who had been to Japan before apart.  We were all so awkward and it seemed like we were doing things in slow motion.

lunch with friends
June 19th- Eating our first lunch with our friends from the airport.

The hotel rooms were small, the 2 beds were really close together and mattresses were super tough.  The showers were different to say the least.  It took 15 minutes of tinkering before I gave up and asked my roommate for help. Then it was another 10 minutes before we got any water from the shower head.  It was such a struggle and the solution seemed so obvious once we figured it out.  The sink and the shower use the same tap.  I have yet to figure out how to use the toilets though; I kind of just hope for the best every time I go in.

June 20th Walking to Uno Port on the way to the Ferry

After settling in, we took a bus back to the airport where on the 4th and 5th floors they have restaurants and shops.  It was so cool.  I almost thought I was at the mall until I walked out onto a balcony and saw planes taking off.  I had to search for a long time because I was nervous about eating the food, but eventually I found some really good chicken and even went back for seconds.  Katie and Steven ate sushi together and Ishaan, Anita, Wenchao and I at a Thai place.  We all sat together and got to know each other very well.  I also found a little station dedicated to One Piece which made me happy.  It was a really great way to start the trip.

There was an orientation meeting on the first night where we were given info about the program.  We may be the last group of HELIO students.  We are apart of a prototype program to see how students will receive this new form of interactive learning and how japan will receive the students.

The impossible controls I can’t seem to decipher!

Day 2:

The saddest part of the trip (for me) so far was having to come to terms with the fact that I would be separated from not only my school mates, but the new friends I’d just made. We were split into the Fukishima group and the Teshima group.  I was apart of the Teshima group which is made up of 5 people a teacher and a TA- everyone else went to Fukishima.

June 20th- On the ferry on our way to Teshima

It literally took an entire day to travel from Narita to Teshima.  We took three trains and a ferry to get there.  I was fascinated with everything around me on the first train so I had no clue how long it took to get to Tokyo.  It felt like a short time, but it must have been at least an hour.  Then we took another train that I also have no clue how long that it took.  It felt like we were going forever.  We even took bathroom breaks- there are toilets between the train cars!  That took us to another station where I realized I lost my train ticket for the last train to the port.  That wasn’t much of a crisis, but I did feel bad for causing trouble since I didn’t know anyone I was with.  From there we took the train to Uno Port- stopped for an amazing lunch- and then took the ferry past several islands until we go to Teshima.

Man is Japan different from anything I’ve experienced.  Everything is so organized and everyone is so respectful, proper and punctual.  The public spaces are quiet.  The most you hear are the sounds of nature or trains and cars going by.  On the escalators, its just understood that you stand on the left and you walk on the right.  Also, these are some of the cleanest streets I’ve ever seen in my life.  To the point where, on the rare occasion, when I see garbage I feel compelled to pick it up and take it with me to maintain the cleanliness.

June 20th- The Lunch we had at a small restaurant in Uno Port

I saw the craziest thing while on the train.  In certain locations the houses were slanted along the hills.  Instead of cutting a proper foundation into the land the houses were build to move with the land- that’s the best way I can describe it.  I’m desperate to know what the inside of these houses looked like and if an egg can sit comfortable on any table top in there.

That’s pretty much what I wanted to talk about for the first two days.  I’m excited to see what’s coming next.  We spend three and a half days on Teshima before meeting everyone else again.  The teachers and TA’s haven’t given us a schedule.  They just ask that we remain open minded and flexible.

Krystal in Japan – post #1


The days leading up to this trip has been filled with assignments and chapter long to do lists.  To be honest it’s a bit overwhelming trying to ensure I’ve covered every little detail of everything before I leave.  It’s s nerve racking flying to the other side of the world with people you don’t know to spend 12 days working together. I’m not exactly sure what activities we’ll be doing or what exactly is expected of me.  I only know where I’m going and for how long.  Also, for the first time I’m going to have to be actively aware of my shell-food allergy 24/7 – that’s a bit scary.  So, in summary, I’m anxious. However, Japan has been #1 on my list of places I absolutely need to travel to so no matter what happens I’m excited to experience it.  I’m honestly already thinking about what I want to do if I ever get to go back (I haven’t even been there yet! haha!).  I feel truly blessed that my first time there is not as a tourist but as a student because I get to have the full educational experience and see parts of Japan for what it is and not what the tourism industry has put forth for me to see.

I think my fascination with Japan stems from the fact that many things about the culture is so opposite to my own. Even the most mundane common everyday things that I hear about are intriguing.  I’m enthralled by their media and entertainment. It’s the strangest thing I’ve ever come across in my life, but it’s also the first bit of media that I’ve encountered that accurately depicts how my mind works. I love storytelling and writing and I must admit that a lot of my writing is heavily influence by Japanese drama, anime and manga.

I’m excited to experience the culture firsthand, meet new people, try new food and cross another country off my list.  I’ve been collecting bracelets for places I’ve travelled to- I’ll attach a picture below.  I can’t wait to add a new one to my collection.

necklaceThis bracelet is the first one I ever got- it’s from Cancun 2015.  A guy had set up a booth inside the resort I was staying in and was carving personal designs in coins and attaching them to handmade bracelets.  I decided to share this picture because of the symbol I requested to be carved.  It’s the logo of One Piece.  One Piece is a Shonen manga created by the mangaka, Eiichiro Oda.  The manga follows a group of pirates travelling the world, conquering their fears, and following their dreams.  It is my biggest inspiration and I hope to get a copy of the manga in the original language when I travel to Japan.