ICU Sai, Okinawa Trip, and More!

Erika Tsutsumi '14

It's been a while since I made a blog post- I meant to after the ICU festival at the beginning of November, forgot, told myself I'd do one after finals, forgot, and then told myself it would have to happen after I got back from my trip to Okinawa with ICU's scuba club. Again, I forgot. So here I am, a month later, huddled next to a space heater at my grandmother's house 2 hours west of Tokyo in rural Niigata-shi, where I'm staying for two weeks before I go back to the states.


So the first thing I meant to share a little about was ICU sai, ICU's annual cultural festival. "Bunkasai", as these festivals are called, are a huge deal in Japan. Every school has one, and everyone works overtime to prepare for it. I personally didn't really lose any sleep over ICU sai preparation, but I did chop vegetables for several hours. I was in a few clubs, including ICU's scuba club, called ORCA, which was selling these delicious hot steamed buns called "rafutenman." Everyone in the club helped prepare the ingredients, and we cooked them to order on the day of the festival. Or, rather, we received orders and then proceeded to cook them as fast as we could. It started early in the morning, and stayed pretty busy until after lunchtime. The other exchange students and I helped out with the booth for the majority of the time, and then went and explored the festival after. Here's a picture of the booth:

ORCA Booth.jpg

ORCA Booth 2.jpg

Photo Credit : Eriko Mikome

One thing I was surprised about though, was exactly how much people cared about making ICU sai perfect. My experience with ORCA was a lot of fun, but I was in another club (which will remain nameless) that did not go nearly as well. This other club was performing in ICU sai, and, at the last minute, kicked me out, along with the other exchange student. We were told, or actually, the other freshmen were told (while we were also listening) that we (the exchange students) did not look similar enough and that it wasn't good. Granted, we were not necessarily ready to give the greatest performance, and had we been told we weren't ready from the beginning that would have been perfectly ok. However, we'd been told we could participate regardless. Try as I might, I can find no explanation for this kind of treatment other than racism. (It should be noted that the individual who said the most offensive things may or may not have been in the club- I'm still not sure if it was a club member, former member, or someone else.)


Anyway, after ICU sai it seemed like finals came and went in a flash- I slept for some period of time every night of finals week, which is one of my prouder achievements in life. And then fall break started and the ORCA trip to Okinawa!

Last Olin semester, spring of 2012, I got scuba certified as a passionate pursuit - part of the first group of Oliners to do so as part of the Olin Scuba Club. Because we got passionate pursuit funding, Olin gave us $200 towards the cost of the class. =) I'm really glad Olin does this- as long as your proposed activity has some academic value or serious cool factor* Olin will subsidize it. So last May, 4 or 5 of us drove out to Cape Cod at 5 in the morning to get certified at Hathaway's Pond. I think I've only been that cold 1 other time in my life- getting lifeguard certified at an outdoor pool in December (seriously, don't do this). Anyway, I didn't end up going diving at all last summer- so I jumped at the chance to do my first ocean dives in Okinawa when I heard about the trip at the beginning of this semester.

20 people went on the trip- 3 exchange students, and 17 Japanese students. It turns out that doing potentially dangerous activities with people you can only kind of communicate with is excellent language practice. And great bonding experience. This is a really long blog post, so I'm going to let the pictures tell the rest.


before first dive Okinawa.jpg

Photo Credit: Chihiro Hirakawa

About to go on our very first dive! The weather was great for this one, unfortunately the next day (when we were doing boat dives) was not so great. I'm in blue.  


third day first dive Okinawa.jpg

Photo Credit : Chihiro Hirakawa 

We're on a boat! It was really windy and rainy, but right here we're ready to go



Photo Credit : Chihiro Hirakawa


During a dive! A bunch of us trying to make a pyramid. This is harder than it looks, because if there's any current whatsoever you kind of just drift around.



about half the group - at Okinawa Churaumi Aquarium, the 2nd largest aquarium in the world!



everyone Okinawa day 1.jpg

 Photo Credit : Chihiro Hirakawa

Here's everyone who went on the trip. This was after the first dive we did- a shore dive on the very first day. The weather was awesome, and the dive was too. I'm on the top right.


This trip was one of my favorite parts of the semester. I made new friends, got to know some people better, saw some awesome coral reefs, practiced Japanese, learned that a lot of fish have really stupid names in English, chickened out of sampling traditional Okinawan sake with a snake in it, saw the second-biggest aquarium in the world and spent a bit more money than I'd meant to on souvenirs.


And now I honestly can't wait for Olin to start again. I hate to say good bye to all the people I've met here, and I'm not all too homesick for the suburban US, where stores close at 5pm and convenient public transportation is a nice thought. But I miss my Olin friends, and the Olin dorms, and having interesting classes and projects, and having a dining hall, where food magically appears at 5 pm and empty dishes magically disappear on a conveyor belt. I spent the last semester "cooking" for myself- dining hall food never seemed so awesome.


*serious cool factor is not actually what the administration calls it.  

Posted in: Class of 2014