Explore Japan with UMSL alum Erikah Taylor-Allen

by | May 6, 2024

Taylor-Allen, who earned a bachelor’s in Japanese, has lived in Tokyo for more than a year while working as an English language teacher with Berlitz Japan.
Erika Taylor-Allen

UMSL alum Erikah Taylor-Allen has lived in Tokyo for more than a year while working as an English language teacher with Berlitz Japan. (Photo courtesy of Erika Taylor-Allen)

Although she loves St. Louis, Erikah Taylor-Allen can’t deny she feels at home in Tokyo. She’s long been intrigued by the culture of Japan, from the fashion to the history. She studied the language in high school and continued to do so at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, where she earned a bachelor’s in Japanese and a certificate in East Asian studies. She studied abroad in 2018 and again in 2019 and went on to work as a global ambassador for UMSL Global from 2020 through 2021, where she hoped to inspire UMSL students to experience all that study abroad has to offer. As a scholarship recipient, Taylor-Allen wanted students to know they didn’t have to be wealthy to participate, that there were scholarships and financial aid options available. After living in Tokyo for more than a year while working as an English language teacher with Berlitz Japan, she offers these insights and recommendations.

Where to stay

Where you want to stay depends on your interests. If you like the fast-paced city life, love technology or fashion and want to buy anime merch, the city center of Tokyo is a great place to stay. You’ll have easy access to all the major neighborhoods if you stay at a hotel near the Yamanote line. If you would like to see nature or go hiking, Yamanashi and Shizuoka are great places, as you can enjoy the views of Mount Fuji. As for tradition and history, Kyoto and Nara will be your go-to.

Must-see attractions

Well-known locations like Tokyo Skytree, Tokyo Tower, Sensō-ji in Asakusa and Meiji Jingu in Harajuku are hard to beat but can be quite crowded. For a view of the city, the Bunkyo Civic Center Observation Lounge is free and is only a short walk from Tokyo Dome City. For tradition, the Tomioka Hachimangu shrine and Fukagawa Fudō-dō temple, both in Monzen-Nakacho, will give you a glimpse into the past without the massive crowds. Kawagoe in Saitama and Kamakura in Kanagawa are perfect locations to take a day trip from Tokyo for a traditional tour.

Food to try

My favorite food is soba, especially zaru soba (cold buckwheat noodles that are dipped into cold, soy-based broth). I also recommend trying yakiniku (barbecued meat) or going anywhere with fresh fish. Famichiki (boneless fried chicken sold at the convenience store Family Mart) is a quick, juicy and tasty snack when you’re in a hurry. The viral souffle pancakes are fluffy and yummy. Traditional sweets like mochi and dango are also great. For vegetarians, salad bars and vegan spots are becoming more popular as well!

Biggest surprise about living and working in Japan

One of my biggest shocks was the attitude toward AI technology here is very different. In many parts of the world, people worry that AI will threaten many people’s positions in creative industries. However, in Japan, where the birth rate is low and the population is declining, technology like this is not only widely embraced but necessary. Many of those who work in corporate positions feel burnt out after working long hours, so many people believe that working with AI can ease their workload. Maybe this is to be expected in a country known for its advancements in robotics and technology, but it is still interesting to hear the difference in attitudes regarding this controversial topic.

Favorite thing about Japan so far

My favorite thing about Japan is the blend of modernity with tradition. Almost anywhere in Tokyo, amid skyscrapers, you can find an old shrine or temple that has been there for centuries. A short walk from the business district near Tokyo Station is the beautiful Imperial Palace. If you look out the window on the top floor of a tall building on a clear day, you might have your breath taken away by Mount Fuji. These are the moments when I feel like I’m really in Japan. One of my other favorite things is telling people here about St. Louis. Many people have never heard of the city unless they are MLB fans, so it’s always a lot of fun telling them about the city, especially the good food and free museums.

What you love most about your job

My favorite thing about working in Japan is getting to meet so many different people. We often hear how Japan is a homogenous country, but in reality, there is so much diversity here. I love getting to know my students and their motivations for learning English. I also love working with other instructors from different parts of the world and learning about all the things that we have in common.

This story was originally published in the spring 2024 issue of UMSL Magazine. If you have a story idea for UMSL Magazine, email magazine@umsl.edu.

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