Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Temple, Temple, Geisha; Temple, Temple, Monkey

I have returned from Kyoto! I'm totally exhausted! However, I'm blogging now anyway! Why? Because otherwise I will procrastinate and it'll get done in late January or something.

As the title of this post suggests, Kyoto has a LOT of temples. Seriously, I saw so many that I feel I never need to see a temple or shrine again....

Anyway, our trip began at Tokyo Station where Rachel and I managed to get on our night bus with only minor hiccups. We got to Kyoto Saturday morning at about 7am but couldn't check in to the hostel until 3:30 so we dumped our luggage in a coin locker and headed for Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavilion).

Beautiful isn't it? That's real gold decorating it. At this point the sun was peeking out, so actually looking directly at the Kinkakuji was actually kind of hard it was so shiny. The area is really pretty too. Anyway, Rachel and I bought "dreams come true" charms and got our fortunes out of a vending machine before moving on. In this area we went to Ryoan-ji, home of a famous zen rock garden and Ninna-ji another beautiful temple. As we walked we also saw some other points of interest...

This was a closed storefront that Rachel and I loved. The words in the top corner say "Hobby Adviser". Japan and English can be incredibly entertaining.

Anyway, after this temple excursion we made our way back to Kyoto Station to pick up our things so we could go check into our hostel and meet up with my friends Rachel and Brian Pitt who are in Japan because Rachel's in the JET program. (I apologize that there are two Rachels. You'll just have to deal with that.) We briefly explored the area that evening before having an early dinner because Rachel Leppert and I were completely exhausted from the not sleeping much on the bus and all of our walking (seriously, we crashed around 7:30pm).

Sunday we all four headed up a path with a bajillion temples and shrines and all the shops that cater to the tourists that visit. We visited Daikoku-ji which is home to a HUGE statue of Kannon.

Kannon is an important figure in Pure Land Buddhism. He's the Boddhisatva that is sort of like Amida Buddha's right hand man and helps lead the faithful to the Pure Land. Another stop we made on this huge temple pilgrimage was Kiyomizu-dera (pure water temple). It has a wonderful view of the city and a large swath of mountains as well as water that is believed to have healing properties (I didn't drink any because it cost money and there was a big line, but Rachel Pitt and her husband did...unfortunately, the next day Rachel caught a cold).

This is the healing water viewed from higher up in the temple. By the time we got there, the line was much longer. Withing Kiyomizu-dera was a shrine whose name is eluding me at the moment (I'll look it up and stick it in later). It's the home of the famous love stones.

You rub the first stone while thinking of the one you love, then close your eyes and try to walk in a straight line to the second stone. If you hit the second stone, you're destined to be together. Help is allowed as it means you'll have assisstance on the road to love. We also saw something really awesome in the are that was NOT a temple or shrine: a geisha!

Sorry the photo isn't rotated correctly. Blogger's being annoying. We ended up seeing three geisha on our trip. This one saw us looking at her and getting cameras out so she stopped so we could get photos.

After all of this temple hopping, we were very tired (temples in the area lined a road going up the mountain so there was much uphill walking that was very tiring. However, we couldn't go back to the hostel yet so we ate some ramen and tried to go to the zoo but found it was closed until after New Years (we actually had several cases of bad luck with this kind of thing). So we found a place to sit and sat because we were super tired. That night we tried to go get gyoza at a famous gyoza place only to find it's closed on Sundays. We ate elsewhere.

On Monday we split up as Rachel and Brian (the Pitts) wanted to see Kinkakuji which Rachel Leppert and I had already done. We were really exhausted so we took it kind of easy and got some shopping done while taking frequent breaks for snacks (like a matcha cream puff--excellent by the way). We also stopped at a park where a bunch of children were feeding pigeons (what do you get? Fat pigeons!) and getting mobbed by said birds for their trouble, which was pretty funny. However, the cool thing was this guy:

I don't know if you can quite see, but he's got a cool beard thing. Anyway, he stood there and posed for pictures for a while before flying off. Though we came back later in the evening and he was in the park again in a different spot. He must like it there. That night we finally got our gyoza which was definitely worth it.

And then our last day in Kyoto rolled around. Rachel and Brian left by Shinkansen in the morning, but Rachel Leppert and I had to amuse ourselves from 9am (the hostel's check out time) until 11pm when we could board our bus home. A daunting task, but we managed to do quite well. First we wandered around the Kyoto station area and found another temple (not sure what it was though).

This is the fountain where you purify your hands and mouth. I liked the dragon a lot. After lunch we headed over to the area of Kyoto called Arashiyama which was my favorite part of the day if not the entire trip. In Arashiyama is a monkey park. Now at this monkey park you don't just get to see monkey's from a distance no. You hang with the monkeys and feed them and stuff. They were everywhere! And very cute! Of course at first it's a bit freaky because you are warned not to look them in the eye or they might attack, but you get used to them very quickly.

Sorry once again for the lack of correct rotation on the photo. iPhoto and Blogger are conspiring against me.

After the monkeys we explored the other areas of Arashiyama. We skipped going to Tenryu-ji as we were thoroughly templed out by this point. We did go to the huge bamboo grove right next to Tenryu-ji though. Apparently it's where they filmed that part of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon where they fight in the tops of the bamboo... We kind of got lost on our way there though so we actually only discovered it by accident. On the part of the excursion where we didn't know where we were going we met a really sweet cat that didn't want to get off of my lap. Seriously I pushed her off and she just turned around and crawled back on before I had time to get up.

As it got dark we eventually got cold and headed back to the station where we treated ourselves to ridiculously gorgeous cake. I've included the picture of mine.

We then visited the Skyway of the station before finally getting our stuff out of the coin lockers so we could get on the night bus. And now here I am, back in Tokyo. Sleep deprived but mostly happy (though my iPhoto is flipping out so I can't put any videos in...sorry).

Thursday, December 25, 2008

メリー クリスマス!

Thought I ought to make a Christmas post here. Merry Christmas everyone! If you're curious as to what the title says, it's really easy. It says merii kurisumasu, which is Merry Christmas Japanized.

So Monday was my last day of classes before my winter break. It's not the end of the semester yet. I've still got January and the tiniest bit of February to go. Anyway, I made it through the too many tests I had, did a little Christmas shopping in Shinjuku, then went home.

Tuesday was a national holiday (the emperor's birthday actually) so I stayed home and hung out with the host family as a kind of pseudo Christmas. We all made gyoza which is a stuffed pasta thing rather like raviolis so that was actually really nice. We ate so much of them that when dinner rolled around we weren't actually that hungry. Except for cake. We all walked to a nearby hotel where there's both a cake shop and a giant Christmas tree with lots of lights. Then we brought the cake home to eat (there was strawberry shortcake--my favorite, a very large cream puff, and mont blanc which is a cake made with chestnuts). Then there was a movie on tv that we all decided to watch (except Su-chan who was by this time asleep), but it turned out to be a French movie with Japanese subtitles so while I have some grasp of both those languages, the combination of the two was a bit two much for my English speaking brain to handle and I gave up and went to bed.

Christmas Eve I headed over to Rachel's neighborhood because we wanted to get our hair cut. Yup, I now have a Japanese haircut. And it's short--for me anyway. None of my hair actually manages to make it to my shoulders anymore, close, but not quite. I managed to make it through getting my hair cut without too many language hiccups which made me feel very good about myself.

Christmas day. Not my best as I was a bit lonely (though I did Skype my dad and Melissa for a good couple of hours). Both my host parents went to work today. It was okay though since I got some time to just relax and do nothing without feeling guilty about it. I opened my presents from Dad as he sent them wrapped so I got presents.

Tomorrow's the exciting bit though. I'm off to Kyoto on the night bus for a little bit with Rachel (and I'm meeting up with my friend Rachel--a different one--when we get there). So look forward to some pictures from the former imperial capital. We come back on New Years Eve which should be interesting as well.

Anyway, Merry Christmas everyone! I miss you all now more than ever as Christmas really is a time of friends and family. However, I am making friends and even a kind of family here for myself so while I'm a little sad, I'm very happy as well. Merry Christmas and God bless.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Sooooooo tired today...

This is another picture free post. My life can't be all glamour!

Last week wasn't very exciting. The one momentous thing that happened was we found out about which practicum we're doing during spring break. Unlike American spring breaks, ours falls between the semesters so it's actually about 2 months long. During a month of that time, the Japan Study program sends us off to various parts of rural Japan to do some kind of internship. There's a daycare, an herbal medicine company, a Buddhist temple, a ski resort, and more. I'm going to a place called Minakami where I'll be staying in what we might call in English a lodge (the word doesn't translate well...) and helping the family that runs it. So I'll be helping do cleaning and cooking (*cue my mother jumping for joy*) and other odd jobs like that. So far, sounds kind of meh I know. The exciting part is the area I'll be in. Minakami is mountainous and has a lot of natural hot springs so there are a lot of onsen around. There's also a craft village where I'll be able to learn how to do some traditional Japanese crafts like making noodles. I'm very excited about this even though during that time I'll be cut off from my friends. Only two other Japan Study people are going to Minakami and we'll all be busy so I doubt we'll see much of each other. I see this as an opportunity to greatly improve my Japanese.

Anyway, I thought you all might be interested in that development. I'm pretty excited though it's still a month and a half away.

Really, my life other than that has been studying (with the exception of last night). I had a debate in my Japanese politics class today (against my professor--and I won--not that anyone's really that surprised). Thursday, I have both a presentation and an exam (Social and International Relations of Japan and Asian Religions respectively) while I have a huge verb test and a Japanese politics exam on next Monday. You'd think it was finals, but it's not. Those don't start until the end of January.

Anyway, it's kind of late (not really) and I was up doing karaoke last night and had class all today so I'm going to bed. Good night!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ok, now you can have pictures

I really should be working on my research for my panel presentation, but whatever. I've got a pretty good start so I'll post some pictures for you guys.

This is a picture of a model at the Edo-Tokyo Museum where I met up with the Japan Term students. There were lots of cool things to look at there though to be honest, I was paying more attention to my friends who I had not seen in six months. Also, a lot of places you weren't allowed to take pictures. After the museum, I tagged along with Ashley's group to Roppongi where they had to find certain landmarks and take pictures. They were happy to have my Japanese experience though you really don't need to speak Japanese in Roppongi (it's where all the foreigners hang out).

This is a picture of our table at the Waseda-Japan Term faculty free dinner. Sooooo much food! They just kept bringing it out! This was obviously taken before we started eating. That was a really fun night though it also kind of sucked because it was on Wednesday night and I had to get up the next morning to go to class and take a kanji quiz.......

Friday, I once again met up with some of the Japan Term group and accompanied them to Yokohama. Here they are in front of some roses at a garden around a preserved diplomats house. For those of you who don't know, Yokohama is a port so many Westerners lived there after Japan was opened to the world by Commodor Perry. There are still a lot of Westerners there (as can be seen by the many international schools and the more European feel to many of the businesses).

This was also taken in Yokohama. It says that children are not allowed to enter, but I thought it was an entertaining picture.

And look! Food! After returning to Tokyo, I took Ashley and Jessa with me to Shinjuku to meet up with my friend Lydia and a couple people she knows at Waseda. We decided on okonomiyaki for dinner. It's like a pancake with veggies and meat and stuff in it. As you can see, you generally cook it yourself at the table. They just give you a bowl of the ingredients which you stir then pour on the griddle. It's super delicious.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Oh right, I have a blog.

It's been a while. Sorry about that. I'm a very bad blogger apparently. No pictures today. Not because I don't have any, but because I don't feel like messing with it at the moment. Instead, you get to read.

Last week was not that special. I had class, taught English, and went to a party (though it was more of a "gathering" really except there was no brie--5 points to the first one to get that reference). I can't actually remember doing anything over the weekend which probably means I was pretty much a total bum.

This week I also had class. On Tuesday, I had a really awesome Japanese class, in fact, where we took a field trip to Toraya, a traditional Japanese confectioners. A very tasty experience. The only downside was the commute. In order to get to school, I go to Hanzomon station where I get on the Hanzomon line for one stop to Kudanshita. There I transfer to the Tozai line and get off three stops later at Waseda. I met my class at Waseda then we returned to the Waseda station and took the Tozai line to Kudanshita and transferred to the Hanzomon line for two stops to Nagatacho--that's ONE STOP away from where I live. It was pretty annoying really. It's a good thing I got sweets out of it.

The most exciting thing about this week though is that the Japan Term students arrived. They got here Monday, but I didn't meet up with them until Wednesday because of that little thing called class. I did get to spend all of Wednesday and Friday with them though. Unfortunately, they've now moved on to Kyoto so I won't see them again until next weekend. I'll talk more about what we did when I get my pictures up.

Anyway, that's pretty much it right now. Later!