Monthly Archives: March 2013

Kyoto – Part III: In a Different Light

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Kyoto – Part II: Enter The Buddha (and by “Buddha” I mean “Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara”)

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We spent our second day in Kyoto exploring the area of Gion on our hostel’s side of the river. Starting at Yasaka Shrine, we trekked to Ryozen Kannon, Kiyomizudera and finally Ginkaku-ji. Not sure what that means? No big deal, that’s what I’m here for! Follooow meeeeee!

Early morning departures can be fun! Look at those smiling faces!

Early morning departures can be fun! Look at those smiling faces!

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Yasaka Shrine was only about a seven minute walk from our hostel and is where our day of sightseeing began.

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Maruyama Park

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When we arrived to the Ryōzen Kannon, it began to rain. Fitting and beautiful. The concrete statue of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara commemorates the Japanese soldiers that died in WWII.

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A monk saw us wander through in the rain, and approached us. He spoke in Japanese but used the English word “present” and returned with umbrellas for Katie and me, who had been caught unprepared for the rain. It was really kind. Then we struggled to maintain a conversation with him. He admired my camera and asked about why we were in Japan and where we were from, using some English but mostly Japanese. Then he informed us that we were welcome to enter the bodhisattva statue.

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Pictures taken inside the statue, above and below.

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Also located on site is a memorial hall in honor of the unknown soldier.

The engraving seen in the photo above, left, reads:

“IN MEMORIAM THE WORLD’S UNKNOWN SOLDIER KILLED IN WORLD WAR II
“All honor to him, friend or foe, / Who fought and died for his country!
“May the tragedy of his supreme / Sacrifice bring to us, the living, / Enlightenment and inspiration; / Fill us with ever-mounting zeal / For the all-compelling quest of peace, / World peace and universal brotherhood.”

The sign above the filing cabinet in the above photo, right, reads: “Individual Names of Allied Personnel Who Perished in Territory under Japanese Jurisdiction during World War II”

The sign in the photo below, right, reads  “SOIL OR SAND DEDICATED FROM THE MILITARY CEMETERIES ALL OVER THE WORLD.”

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When we’d finished at the Ryozen Kannon, we pushed through the wind, rain and cold towards our next destination and along the way, found some warmth and shelter at a small vendor of sweet buns. We shared warm sakura (cherry blossom) filled buns. Then, later in our trek, as we approached Kiyomizu-dera, we found ourselves amidst many souvenir shops. Fortunately for us, many of them provide free samples of Japanese sweets, and sometimes tea as well! Usually vendors were outside offering samples of yatsuhashi, a famous souvenir sweet of Kyoto.

IMG_6846resized On our journey through the wind and rain, we sough shelter in a small shop and warmed up by sharing some warm sakura buns. IMG_6847 IMG_6855resized

This silly little sign was disregarded by every single visitor, of course.

This silly little sign was disregarded by every single visitor, of course.

This is the entrance to Kiyomizu-dera, a truly gorgeous Buddhist temple.

This is the entrance to Kiyomizu-dera, a truly gorgeous Buddhist temple.

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Red plum blossom sighting!

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The view from Kiyomizu-dera temple overlooks an orange pagoda resting in the mountains.

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Below Kyomizu-dera is a waterfall called Otowa-no-taki. Visitors catch the water and drink it “for health, longevity, and success in studies” – wikipedia
View of Kiyomizu-dera

View of Kiyomizu-dera

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After taking in the sights at Kiyomizu-dera, we hopped on a bus and headed to Ginkokuji. After that, we headed back to the hostel for some recuperation from our epic day journey. IMG_6962resized

Ginkaku-ji, "Temple of the Silver Pavillion"

Ginkaku-ji, “Temple of the Silver Pavillion”

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St. Patrick’s Day and Other Western Things

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Last weekend was St. Patrick’s Day, a holiday that I have always looked forward to but kind of forgot existed once I came to Japan. It wasn’t until a week or so before the holiday that I remembered that it was coming up, as, surprisingly enough, I began to see holiday specials advertised in some restaurants and bars throughout Tokyo. I was more surprised as I should have been, as I should have remembered Japan’s tendency to adopt many aspects of Western culture. I think it’s safe to say that St. Patrick’s Day is a pretty Western holiday. That being said, there was a large parade held in Harajuku, so some friends and I decided to check it out. The street the parade took place on was packed, making it kind of difficult to see the parade. Regardless, I thought the amount of people in attendance was interesting enough on its own.

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There were a large amount of foreigners, and an even larger amount of Japanese (which makes sense total once considering the population of Tokyo but a lot of my foreign friends find this surprising). Furthermore, I was probably the only one in the crowd not wearing green. It ended up being a very tiresome day, just as it probably would have been in the West, and I was relieved to return to the smaller town of Machida.

St. Patrick’s Day is a good example of how Japan likes to adopt Western traditions. Before I came to Japan, a lot of people commented on how different they thought the country was going to be compared to America. But I have to say that there are enough similarities that sometimes it takes me a minute to remember that I’m on the opposite side of the world. Many people pick up a lot of recognizable American subcultures and wear a large amount of American brands. There are stores here dedicated to American brands that I’ve yet to see in America, such as Coca-Cola, and different flavors of Western chocolate, such as Kit-Kats. You can find restaurants of many Western cuisines, including American, and eat at many American chain restaurants, such as McDonalds, Burger King, and KFC.

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Kind of expensive, but if you’re a Kit-Kat fan I totally recommend these.

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The avocado burger I got at a Hawaiian restaurant.

The only difference really is that they refer to French fries as “fried potato” and won’t know what you’re talking about if you say “fries.” Clothing stores also play a lot of American music, from The Beatles to Ke$ha, and a lot of clothing advertises Western cities or landmarks. It’s actually pretty difficult to go anywhere without running into something American, so the celebration of Western holidays is really no different.

Belated Birthday Post

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A few weeks ago, it was my birthday. This was a big milestone for me, in a kind of sad way, because this was the first birthday I’ve ever spent away from my sister. Backstory: I’m a triplet i.e. I share my birthday with my sister and one of my brothers. No my brother is not identical to me. He’s a boy and I’m a girl. That would be impossible. Yes, my sister does look like me. We’re identical. The simple explanation for this biological occurrence is that there were originally two eggs (which is what results in fraternal twins) and then one egg split (which is what results in identical twins). Yes, I suppose my brother and I look alike. We’re both tall and stuff. My sister and are both film majors. We both go to Temple. We have a lot of the same friends. We get along well. Sometimes we bicker and people become alarmed but that’s because they don’t understand our sisterly bond. Anyway. That answers all stereotypical gut reaction “omg you’re a triplet?” questions. And now you know why it is significant for me to be away on my birthday. Too much love for my siblings.

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In the morning, I had drawing class. We met at Tamachi Station and drew quick sketches of passersby during class. Usually we are in the studio and drawing models so it was fun to get out for a change of pace. It’s challenging to draw people as they move by so quickly.

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After drawing, I had a lunch break. I got burritos with friends and then had my moving image class, during which I worked on the illustrations of some images I was using for an animation. Afterwards, I met up with friends for a sushi dinner!

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An older Japanese man sitting at a nearby table with his wife asked us if he could take our picture. I don’t know why. We allowed it, for some reason. He took a bunch of pictures of us on his fancy camera, then we got him to take a picture for us on my camera. He didn’t understand how to use the manual settings on my camera, and I didn’t understand how to explain it to him in Japanese. Much laughter and confusion ensued at the whole scenario.

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Top left is my meal, and the other two are beauty shots of friends’ meals. Bottom right is a close up of crab miso soup. For some reason, the crab in this soup was exceedingly hairy. I was not properly prepared for this. My food was delicious, but this situation was something else.

After dinner, some of us went and sang karaoke. It was a lot of fun. I didn’t take pictures there though because the room is dark and it is more fun to spend the time struggling to sing than to struggle to take pictures in terribly low light.

When I got back to Kitazono, I was pleasantly surprised to find a package waiting for me. My mom and dad had sent me a bunch of homemade cookies, a birthday card, and a homemade birthday cake, which they had express shipped to me to arrive that day. It was complete with birthday candles, plates, napkins, and party favors. Adorable. It was so nice and really exciting. The cake is one that my family makes on special occasions like birthdays and Christmas and is my favorite cake ever.

I shared this treasure with some lovely friends at our usual meeting spot in a lounge on campus during a break from classes. I’m really happy that I got to share a birthday tradition from home with friends I’ve made so many miles away from home.

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These lovely people helped decorate my cake with candles, sang me happy birthday, and then partook in euphoric cake devouring.

More Live Shows

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More Live Shows

Since coming to Japan I have been going to a church in Roppongi called “Jesus Life House.” The church’s pastors are originally from Australia and services are in English and Japanese simultaneously. There are a lot of people from all around the world that go to this church, however I heard that around 80% is Japanese. This is kind of exciting because only 1% of Japan is Christian. This church is different from the majority of churches in Japan too, because it is really focused on a younger community. (In my experience churches are usually really traditional in Japan.) Many of my Japanese friends say that it reminds them of a club cause of the lights and live music. All in all though it is a lot of fun and a great community. Since coming to Japan I feel like I have really gained a family through my church.
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One thing that I have been apart of every week since I started coming is “Street Live.” Street Live is Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday in Shibuya. I usually go to Monday Night Street Live. At Street Live we just set up an amp and have singing and guitar, we dance around, and meet different people who pass by. We also give “free English lessons” to those who pass wanting to practice their English. It is crazy fun. I have met so many amazing people in the streets of Shibuya from it. I met a girl named Ayumi who is studying to be a beautician and was able to let her practice the next week with a foreigner’s hair (mine). I have met a girl from Thailand who is studying in Fukouka right now and was traveling around Japan on her vacation. She was shocked that I had watched Thai films, and we became friends very quickly!

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Also last week we met a girl from Canada who is living in Spain, she has invited all of us to visit her. She taught us Flamenco. Some of the people we meet do come to church to hang out with us too. Also my church has free English classes offered for a half hour on Sundays and Mondays. It is really exciting to be apart of a community that is so much fun and so active in reaching out to people. This is not a fire and brimstone kind of thing, but instead like a party… all the time. And so many have really changed there lives from finding the church. There are so many amazing stories of coming from broken families or just bad situations and finding the love they were looking for. Literally not only God but so many people are getting married in my church!
I also have become really close to the people from my church that are apart of Monday Night Street Lives.
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One girl that I have become really close to is Alisa. She was planning on going to Temple before, but plans fell through. Right now she works for an idol agency from Okinawa (where she was born). So she is apart of a small girls group and is just starting to do promotions in Tokyo. Her group is called Lucky Color. This last weekend another girl and I went to see her perform at a shopping center. It was so much fun! She was so adorable! They were promoting a farm/ice cream shop. It was kind of disturbing to see all the old men though that were there as fans. I felt really protective of Alisa. The men though were looking at my friend and I (we had made fans and were going crazy for Alisa) like we had come from another world. Which considering we were both Americans and the only girls present as fans… we were. Anyway it was a lot of fun and another crazy adventure in Japan.
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Kusatsu Onsens

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We had a few days off this week from school due to various holidays, and in their stead the OSS planned a trip to Kusatsu. On our way there, we stopped in Nagano to look at some snow monkeys, which you might recognize for bathing in onsens. For those that don’t know what onsens are, they are natural hot springs that are relatively high in acidity. They serve many purposes, and are very good for your skin and circulation. Though there wasn’t much snow left in Nagano where we visited the monkeys, some of them still sought out the onsens for warmth. They were surprisingly accustomed to tourists; they comfortably walked very close around us and even held a few peoples’ hands. Personally, I’m not really a big fan of monkeys, but some of them were pretty cute and they were interesting to watch.

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After we had hung out with the monkeys for some time, we made our way to Kusatsu, which is a town famous for its onsens. The town was actually created around its popular, natural onsens and is home to the largest onsen in Japan, which I had the opportunity to bathe in. People have visited Kusatsu for hundreds of years, and the center of the town makes sure to boast some of the more famous figures that have done so. The center features what I understand to be the largest spring in Kusatsu. You quickly become accustomed to the smell of sulfur throughout the town (for, if I understand correctly, it is one of the minerals in the onsens), but at first it’s pretty strong.

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Bathing in onsens is a significant part of Japanese culture, so it comes with its own customs. Only within the past 100 years were their separate onsens for men and women – before that time, men and women all bathed in the same one – which happened as a result of Westernization. You do not wear clothes or bathing suits, so as everyone is naked guests with tattoos are occasionally not permitted to enter. I, having a small tattoo, did not run into any issues in the ones that I went to but did receive some looks from some older women as tattoos are sometimes considered a taboo in Japan. Furthermore, it is expected that one completely wash before bathing, so there are either showers to wash in or water to rinse off with before entering an onsen. From there, the temperature of the water can be very hot, but very enjoyable at the same time. It’s an interesting, fun experience and a must-do for anyone who visits Japan. After the long bus rides, the onsens were extremely relaxing and often left me really sleepy afterwards.

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Snow and over 60-degrees

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Japan never ceases to amaze me. On Sunday, March 11th, Toyosu (where I live) had a festival of sorts. They had a truck that was a huge snow-maker. Yes, the truck made snow. They set up the snow in an area that they fenced in, and also filled a ramp with snow making a slide for sleds. Children and their parents were allowed to enter and make little snowmen and sculptures out of the snow. The children were given snow boots and gloves before entering, along with buckets and shovels you would play in the snow with. It was just like playing in the sand actually. Sunday was beautiful and sunny 60-degree weather. So the snow was more like ice, and was really easy to sculpt with the help of the buckets as molds. The girls and I made these towers of sorts, and Kokoro and Sakura also played on the sled ramp too. I think they had a lot of fun. It is weird though to think about never really playing in snow growing up. I guess it was something I took for granted from my childhood.

We made snow towers :)

We made snow towers 🙂

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They also made this mound like shapes of snow that you could enter into. They were really cute. At night they put candles in the mounds. It was really beautiful. You could have your picture taken too, but I opted out of that, cause I was without my host family at that time. I usually am okay, but I had a language-loss-moment.
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During the day they also had a kite area, where you could fly kites or make kites. At night they had telescoped set up and you could do some star watching. All in all it was a really cool set up.

Also this past week I went to Disney Sea. There was a discount for students, and I had some friends who were graduating from their schools celebrating by going to Disney. I couldn’t go until after work. So I went when there was a night discount. It was a lot of fun. I had met these friends when they came to my university for a month exchange term. I hadn’t been able to hang out with them since coming to Japan. Disney Sea was really pretty at night. With it being dark when I got there and everything lit up, it really did feel like a dreamland. I almost never want to go back so that I can keep this image forever. I know if I went during they day everything would look more fake. I loved my time there though!
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Speaking of work , I work for a lady who gives small group lessons of English in her apartment. It is a really small job twice a week for about an hour and a half each time. I love it though! The students are so much fun to work with. I love teaching English, and spending time goofing off with kids. It is the best job I have ever had!

For White day one of my students gave me a gift!

For White day one of my students gave me a gift!

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My class!

My class!

Tea Ceremony and K-Town

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Sakura preparing to enter to start her tea making.

Sakura preparing to enter to start her tea making.

In addition to traditional Japanese dance my host family also takes tea ceremony classes. I was able to watch and participate this past Saturday! It was amazing! In tea ceremony every movement you make is important. For example when you open the door, you open first with your left hand until it is right in front of you. Then you switch hands. This way you are never reaching across yourself. You also have to use a very formal Japanese speech. Most Japanese would not understand what is being said; nor would most Japanese know how to respond correctly.  What really intrigued me was the way they used a handkerchief throughout. They fold it in a very specific way. It looks simple; however it took me several times to do. You have to hold the handkerchief very specifically.

The Sensei is helping fold the handkerchief correctly.

The Sensei is helping fold the handkerchief correctly.

Kokoro practicing, and the delicious Japanese sweets!

Kokoro practicing, and the delicious Japanese sweets!

It is really beautiful. I now understand why the tea ceremony is described as an art, because like a dance it is preformed. Plus I got to eat Japanese sweets too. I love Japanese sweets.

The teacher also gave me a gift! It is a traditional teacup with Sakura painted on it. This is not like a traditional English teacup. It looks like a bowl actually.  It is beautiful! I am at a loss for words to have received such a gift. What an amazing way to commemorate the experience I had.

My Tea Cup!

My Tea Cup!

Later that day my church was having a special service at a different location than where usually is. I actually got a little lost getting there. But arrived safe and sound. After the service everyone was planning on going out for dinner. I had told Aya-san that I would be home for dinner, but had plenty of time to look around for myself. I was in fact in Korean Town. I really had fun looking around. I loved K-town in NYC, but this was so much larger, and much more fun. K-town in NYC is restaurants, a grocery, around 3 bakeries, a beauty shop, and a bookstore. K-town in Shinjuku is K-pop mania, in addition to lots of restaurants, venders, beauty product stores, etc. There were so many people looking around too. It was really high spirited and fun to walk around in. Also there were posters everywhere of famous Korean movie stars and K-pop idols. Even large screens showing music videos on the street. I did get a little something to eat. I couldn’t resist. It was like a doughnut/roll filled with anko (sweet red bean), which is fried in front of you. It was amazing. Also, I confess I am a Big Bang fan. This is a K-pop boy band, for those who don’t know. And for some reason Big Bang products did not have that large of a selection. This is really odd since they are a really popular group. However I did find a GD folder. I am more of a TOP fan, in the sense of my guy preference. GD is more an inspiration as a fashion icon. GD’s folder was a better picture though compared to TOP’s. So I bought the GD one.  I am blissfully excited to use this folder. My Japanese homework is already occupying it. Sorry for the fan girling, but I am so excited.

I asked if I could take this picture... so the guy was kinda posing for me. Hence the reason he seems serious in his flipping whatever these heaven on earth deliciousness' are called.

I asked if I could take this picture… so the guy was kinda posing for me. Hence the reason he seems serious in his flipping whatever these heaven on earth deliciousness’ are called.

the bottom image is on the folder I bought

This shows a little bit what K-town was like. Sorry for the tree photo bombing this image.

This shows a little bit what K-town was like. Sorry for the tree photo bombing this image.

Way of Flowers

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TUJ OSS coordinated an ikebana workshop to be run by our residence hall. This was held in our Kitazono’s own traditional Japanese room.

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Our instructor (left) is a really sweet woman that really just let us go ahead and dive right in. She only speaks Japanese so communicating with her is fun for me because there winds up being a lot of pointing, smiling, nodding and uncertainty. Others that know some Japanese wind up being able to translate pretty decently.

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Laura (center) completed her arrangement in record time, while Jess (right) took her time. Everyone was welcome to work at their own pace. Then our instructor would come around when each student was done and make alterations to improve the look of the arrangement.

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This student was working in a separate room to create a really gorgeous arrangement. Her name is Saori and she is very friendly and huggy and later we went to get crepes but the crepe truck we wanted to go to was not there, so instead we shared macha ice cream bars that Jess treated us to because Jess is awesome.

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Having some fresh flowers on display really brightened up my desk and boosted my spirits when I was stuck in my room working that following week, At home, my mom always has tons of flowers out so this gave me a small sense of home.

My residence hall held a second ikebana workshop, and a few of us were able to attend that one as well. The instructor had these snacks waiting for us on our desks when we arrived, which was so sweet of her.

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The flowers were selected to reflect springtime and we were given the challenge to try and work in a diagonal shape or direction with this arrangement.

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Maddie and Jess were giddy at the prospect of welcoming spring in this way.

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Flowers were arranged and friendships were made!

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There are other girls that have more experience with ikebana that also meet during our workshop time. They’re really nice and friendly. This is an arrangement one of them made. The idea is that all of these individual branches are arranged in such a way that looking from the front, they look like they stem from one branch.