Aug 31, 2014

Goodbye Japan

At Tokyo SkyTree Observatory
I spent my last weekend in Japan in Tokyo with Clarissa, and it was magical! Aside from gorging ourselves on cheap Indian curry and pizza, we hit up the Ikebukuro neighborhood.

Clarissa took me to one of her favorite places: a theme park in the back of an underground mall called Namja Town. Neither of us cared if it was meant for younger kids, we had a blast! We scared ourselves silly at a heart-stopping haunted house, then tried some of the weirdest flavors at an ice cream stand, including "shark fin noodle" and "cassis orange" (an alcohol mixer).

Wasabi, eel, and other ice cream flavors.
Afterwards, we came back up to the surface of Tokyo to watch Godzilla on the big screen (I did find him after all) and look down on the city from the Tokyo SkyTree observatory. Before we said our last goodbyes at the bus station, we had fun doing one last purikura.

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Rainbow Bridge from Odaiba
Tokyo after sunset

On April 12, 2013, I woke up in Tokyo to the bright red sunrise.


On August 3, 2014, I watched my last Tokyo sunset from Odaiba.




The people make the place. This has been the best time of my life so far, thanks to everyone I met in Japan. Thank you - see you again!



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Aug 28, 2014

Day Trip to Kozan-ji and Jingo-ji

Looking back on the trip to Kyoto, my fondest memory is the day spent in Ukyo-ku visiting the temples Kozan-ji and Jinjo-ji.

What brought us to Kozan-ji was the choju-jinbutsu-giga, a series of ink scrolls from the 12th century that depict frogs, rabbits, and other animals as people; having fights, wearing monk's robes, and conducting ceremonies.

I'd been very excited to point out how I'd studied the scrolls for a Japanese art history class at university, and the opportunity to see them with my own eyes was worth the hour's trip outside of Kyoto. Now, doing research for this blog post, I've discovered they are reproductions, with the originals safely harbored at the Tokyo and Kyoto National Museums.

I am even more grateful then, for not knowing, and taking the trip so I could see those reproductions and walk the peaceful grounds of Kozan-ji, feeling the deep hum of silence of the old forest temple.

鳥獣人物戯画
chōjū-jinbutsu-giga

Reflecting at Kozan-ji.

Buddha stands in your footprints.

Once we had walked the entire grounds, we took the bus to a turn in the road where a curry restaurant stood beside an open yawning mouth of downward stairs. There was no temple to be seen at the stop, though our guidebook reference said there was so. The old lady at the curry restaurant assured us of what we'd guessed: the temple lay at the end of the path leading down that throat of stairs.

At some point during the trek I realized there would probably be no "exit" path from the temple except the way we were coming. I felt tired thinking of having to walk all the way back again. I downed two bottles of water on the way, marching down the clunky stone steps while little lizards darted into cracks between them.

There was a bridge over the beautiful Kiyotaki stream with lanterns strung along the bank. Little closed shops had names that referred to autumn foliage. I've no doubt it's breathlessly beautiful here during autumn. It must bring in a lot of seasonal tourists. For now, in high summer, we trudged along in the sun alone.

After the bridge, the steps change direction from downhill to uphill. Once we finally made it to the top, the larger-than-life rōmon (tower gate) welcomed us through to Jingo-ji, another Shingon Buddhist temple founded by Kukai.

Here we admired the old architecture and prayed to the ancient-looking statues. At a cliff edge, a little one-woman shop sold tiny clay dishes that granted you a wish when you threw them into the valley below.
Making a wish at Jinjo-ji.

(A few of) the steps of Jingo-ji.

When it came time to take the stairs back to the river and up again, wasn't as tiring as I'd thought. The curry restaurant was waiting at the end of the journey, with a hot meal to replenish our strength. We finished eating just in time for the next bus. It bore us back to Kyoto as I fell asleep, just like on the train back to Nanao the next morning.


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Aug 25, 2014

MEMENTOS: Kyoto

The thousands of red torii gates at Fushimi Inari-Taisha. I've wanted to come here ever since seeing these gates in the movie Memoirs of a Geisha. They led all the way up Inari Mountain and back again, some dating from the late 1880s.

One of the hundreds of shrines in the Fushimi Inari-Taisha complex we passed on the way up Inari Mountain. It was unique to see real rice lining the entrance, instead of the symbolic folded white paper hangings.

In Kyoto's Gion district, it's near impossible to spot a geisha. They are out of sight and kept that way. The woman above is a maiko, an apprentic geisha. In a show where masters performed traditional Japanese arts (from tea ceremony to Heian Era comedies), the maiko danced to the song of the four seasons (did you know Japan has four seasons? It's citizens will be proud to tell you so).

Kiyomizu-dera, a temple dating back to 798 with its current buildings constructed in 1633 (that's Shakespeare's lifetime, guys, and it's still standing). People are using their umbrellas to shelter them from the intense sunlight on this 38ºC day. It was so hot I actually had salt dry on my face from all the sweat! The name kiyomizu means "pure water" after the three-streamed waterfall inside the temple complex. No swimming in the holy water allowed, though.

Osamu Tezuka's Hi no Tori (Phoenix) at Kyoto's International Manga Museum. Here you could peruse shelf after shelf stacked high with Japanese manga translated into different languages. In one exhibit, manga was divided by the year it was written. Even just looking at the images, you could get a sense of the change in drawing style and story content from the 1900s to 1990s (especially the 1940s). The whole place made my manga-devouring teenage heart delighted.




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Aug 23, 2014

500 DAYS

Today marks 500 days since I moved to Nanao. I remember being terrified just before I left, even though I had dreamed, prayed, and planned to go for years with fixed intensity.

I never could have imagined how much joy, frustration, triumph, and endurance would line the road of my adventure; amazing friends, delayed culture shock, the mountains we climbed, and the community we served. The people, places, experiences, and memories were time well spent.

Now, with my contract in Japan finished, I'm preparing for my first round-the-world trip. And I'm terrified - so I must be on the right track.

Cheers to the next 500!



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Aug 21, 2014

MEMENTOS: The Goodbyes

A fancy sushi dinner (Nat's stellar recommendation) where you order by how many pieces you want. By far the best sushi I've ever had in my life. I may have griped about the food at times, but Nanao's fresh fish is second to none!

The Noto Writer's Group, Plotters & Scribblers, held it's last get together at an all-you-can-eat yakiniku before going out for purikura and karaoke. I'm going to miss meeting up on Wednesday nights with this talented group of ladies.

My last day at my favorite elementary school. We went crawfish hunting, played "London Bridge," and ate cucumber snacks together. During the last period they held a Goodbye Ceremony for me, and I choked up during my goodbye speech because I saw the other teachers crying. Then, at everyone's request, I sang Let It Go in English, finishing off with the line 少しも寒くないは. ALL THE FEELS.

Goodbye little pokéball, you served me well (even after I couldn't drive you anymore). Yousuke, you have such an adventurous spirit, I hope to meet you again around the world!

The infamous math teacher and I at Asahi JHS's Soubetsukai (goodbye party). This guy made my workdays so much better. We would swap a dictionary back and forth to communicate, and draw pictures on scrap paper that he would collect in his "important file." We shared so many laughs. As a goodbye present, he gave me a Baby-G watch. When I look at it, I remember those times.

Every single staff member at Asahi Junior High School had an impact on my life. I cannot express my thanks enough to them. They are great teachers, and extraordinary human beings to succeed in the high-stress environment of Japanese work culture. Sharing a final dinner party with them made it all too real: this was goodbye... until next time.



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