Collin

Yo!  The name is Collin and I’m a third year student at BSU.  Working toward a major in Creative Writing and a minor in Theater Studies I might seem a might out of place among my peers.  Regardless, my interest in Japan and the religions therein have  been incubating in my mind since junior high.  During that period in my life  I met several exchange students from Tokyo.  I could neither make heads nor tails of the lingo and found their explanation for rituals fascinating.  Since then I’ve been clawing at a chance to visit Japan and experience the culture, so this is just where I want to be.  A friend of mine offered advice on my major, affirming that studying writing is not enough.  One must experience life in all its facets in order to recreate the experience for readers.  I hope you all enjoy the site and, like me, look beyond the surface definitions of Japanese Religion and into the depths of the culture and spirituality within

First day in Japan:  Beyond the Western Front

An entire day of plane travel is a cross between a trial in patience and the practice of sleep sitting up.  Wedged in with Kendra, Jade, and Tayln, the somewhat frigid thirteen hour flight to Japan was a mixed experience for me.  Conversation among my peers and watching subbed Spirited Away proved a delightful distraction from the monotony of actual flying.  Although I must say that all the things people say about the annoying screaming child ALWAYS within one row of you…is completely true.

That kid had stamina.

Rattling turbulence, pseudo-sleep, and a few Alaskan Mountains later we were making our final descent into Tokyo-Narita.  Despite Dr. Roemer’s warning at the length of going through customs, the biggest hold up we had was when Andrew wrote his entry forms in pencil.  Not quite how long it might have taken to go with U.S customs.

On the ground I could already feel a barrier preventing me from fully experiencing Japan.  Language.  I imagine this wall will shadow me through the entirety of the trip.  Despite Dr. Roemer’s authority with translation, there is a certain aspect missing from understanding what is around me.  I cannot read or speak Japanese and that fact will be most impairing as I delve deeper into this project.  Regardless I press on.

Subway after subway lugging suitcase and backpack was an ordeal best left to be described by the more awake.  I recall being interested in the massive array of routes and trains at first.

But that night was a bit much.

Observationally, most of the Japanese who were not already in a group tended to remain silent during the journey.  I suppose in that way they resemble things back in America.  We’re much more comfortable saying nothing then speaking to a stranger. (Not that THIS stranger would understand even IF spoken to)

The walk from the station to the hotel was peppered with pictures and dinner at a Soba shop.  Denying the name, I chose Udon noodles and Shrimp Tempura.

The meal was huge and I don’t think I finished it.

I note from the restaraunt and walking around the streets of Tokyo that everyone is far more polite then they are in America.  People greet you pleasantly when you walk into shops, apologize if they bump into you or try to move aside, and generally appear well in control of their emotions.  The latter I cannot completely vouch for, but I will be observing as the trip through Japan continues.

The hotel was called N.U.T.S…and I resisted the urge to laugh at it outright (And thus present my humor as a tad bit stained immature).  The room for Tayln, Andrew, and I only came with two beds…but we managed to work out the sleeping arrangements regardless.

A few last notes before I collapse into a catatonic heap.

-Japan commercials are plain strange

-Japanese game shows are genuinely interesting despite my inability to understand them

-A Japanese style bathing practice is not as hard or weird as I originally thought it would be

-Three pronged plugs are extinct in this hotel

Hope you enjoyed the post and I encourage you to read the experiences from my other companions.  For now, I think I’ll let myself drift into oblivion.

In the mean time, sign into Second Life and create an avatar.  We’ll be doing quite a bit of work in there when we get back from Japan so it’ll help if you can see it first hand.

Don’t shy away from Second Life, else you be referred to by Dr. Roemer’s favorite poultry themed insult “Chicken Nerd”

Good eve to you all.

A Mile in My Shoes (Or ten…)

I haven’t had a chance to update lately due to being generally exhausted when arriving back at the hotel.  Some things are still a bit foggy in my memory but I’ll do my best to relate what I remember.  Waking up yesterday brought yet another trip to the supermarket for breakfast.  As usual I ignored cultural norms left and right by eating Shrimp tempura for breakfast (without the aid of soup…gutsy eh?)  Overall I suppose I can honestly say that I’m enjoying the cuisine here in Japan.  We’ve avoided any of the Western chains which means sayonara to burgers and tacos alike.  Instead, I’ve been filling my stomach with a mixture of noodles and meat.  So far, most of the general places we’ve been seem to serve a combination of rice, noodles, fish, or meat in ever varying combinations.  Udon noodles tend to be my favorite, but I don’t know if I enjoy the easy comparison one can make of them to pale worms.  I suppose all food looks and tastes a bit different and I wonder how the transition will be from noodle dishes to burgers and deli sandwiches back home.  I fear I may eventually shred the beef into noodle strips to mimic what I’m missing…but I suppose that’s a discovery for another time.

Studio Ghibli was every bit as crowded as I assumed it would be.  The place was simply magnificent and obviously had been tailor made to embody an aspect of Miyazaki’s convoluted mind in terms of design.  I recognized many familiar characters from the movies I HAVE seen and a great deal more from movies I am GOING to see.  Toss in a Miyazaki exclusive show about a lost puppy and you have an enjoyable day beginning (Regardless of the fact I couldn’t understand the dog’s bark pronunciation…obviously a Japanese dialect)

From there we decided to people watch at Harajuku, the supposed melting pot of strangely dressed men and women.  Unfortunately our experience was mild as the wildest we had were a few girls in maid costumes, one girl decked out in gear from “Innocent World”, and a few others who looked like their hair had a mishap with an angry rainbow.  Crowded as per usual has gotten me thinking about life back home.  Indiana is all well and good, but I suppose it being so spread out doesn’t lend itself well to the overpowering crowds we had to wade through.  Concerts, festivals, and special events are the only experience I had previous to this visit and I guess I might need a bit more practice.  Juxtaposing this event with what I felt during the Gion festival today, I realize my comfort bubble is a bit more apparent then I had assumed it was before.  Unfamiliar hands brushing over my arms and sides, people pushing me forward against the backs of others, and the endless prattling of a hundred different sentences lambasting in my ear (all in a language I can’t make heads nor tails of mind you) made for a rather frazzling environment.  (You’d think after the Tokyo subway rides, I’d be used to it).  The evening was spent with a friend of Mindy’s named Miho.  Nice girl who showed us around Akihabara a bit and made reservations for us to eat at a sushi place.  First let me comment that Akihabara needed at least another full day to make the visit complete for me.  While I did not get that visit, I know where I might want to return to should I end up in the country again.

Moving right along through dinner, sushi proved to be delicious for about everyone involved.  We had a bit of trouble with the server losing our orders at first, but the food ended up arriving well and delicious all the same.  Andrew and I both swear by the Tuna, a fish commonly served raw…even back home.  In the restaurants there however, they call it Ahi tuna.  Afterward, we swung around a department store to get Mindy a new camera (her old camera apparently felt like smoking between flash shots) and then chilled in a Buddhist bar for the evening.  The place smelled of incense and I noted the Japanese there far more amiable and loud then I am used to seeing them.  As easily as blaming it on the alcohol would be, I might also like to think in a familiar location among friends…some Japanese can let themselves cut loose a little bit.  By the time we reached the hotel, a few of us were practically sleepwalking.

Morning was a pell mell of checking out, visiting a Buddhist temple, speaking with a hip hopping Mr. Happiness, and bullet train-ing to Kyoto.  The Buddhist temple proved to be more than I expected it to be.  Offered tea and to ask whatever questions we wished, I was grateful to the priest for allowing us his time despite the festival the next day.  Not altogether familiar with his specific sect of Buddhism I was no less intrigued by the ornate set-up of the shrine and the preparations made for celebration.  An explanation of demons and evil spirits had me thinking that the Buddhist version of an evil spirit seemed like a Tulpa.  The Tulpa are thought-form demons given life and power by people’s actions, beliefs, and emotions.  A well known myth in Tibetan Buddhism, I enjoyed having that sort of mythology linked during my perusement of the temple.

The Bullet train to Kyoto…was reminiscent of every road trip I had ever taken.  I’m the kind of kid who enjoys looking at the houses and communities passed on the road and wonder what daily life is like for those so close to the highway…or so far from cities.  On the train, smaller houses and towns were passed that elicited the same curiosity.  Often I find myself lost wondering what things would have been like had my life been different.  What if I was born to a family in Japan?  What would have changed?  My initial response is LOTS, but I mused during the ride to Kyoto on just WHAT would have changed.

I think the only thing I decided upon other than a decidedly different appearance was…that I needed more time to think.

More on Gion and Kyoto arrival tomorrow (Hopefully)  Till then, ya’ll stay dapper!


Gion with the Wind

And I thought I’d seen festivals before…

The apartment on the eleventh floor proved an interesting experience for the group.  No more were we segregated by sex, but all lumped into a single place together.  Tayln and Mindy got wise quickly and claimed two separate rooms with territorial authority while the rest of the gang camped out in close quarters.  I, of course, being the most inclined to slumber in relative frigid temperatures claimed a spot beneath the air conditioner.  What I failed to realize was that in Japan, air conditioners spew dirt or lint of some sort.

Waking up was like discovering mice had done a tango across my futon with dirty feet.

Opting to join the Pre-Gion festivities, we descended from our lofty roost and took to the streets.  Though our feet whined for rest, our minds (And Dr. Roemer) propelled us to march onward.  There was still much to see and unlike functions in Second Life…we couldn’t fly.

That night was my first experience as a human river.  Pushing past the Yama and Hoko (Different floats carried through the streets during Gion festival) we filtered into the alleys lined with stands for festival food.  As we approached the area, the amount of foot traffic steadily increased.  Before we knew it, we were pressed between the Japanese like sardines and moving only as far as the crowd permitted…and only in the direction the crowd was moving.  Loud noises, strange smells, and always a person within swaying distance (And closer sometimes)…all in all…the experience was pretty overwhelming.  I had beef on a stick with Andrew and Professor McShortz, further confirming our mutual appreciation of the subtle nuances in ‘beef on a stick’s’ preparation.  From the confined alleys, we strolled along the main street and took in the sights.  Gion festival music tends to err on the side of monotonous if one listens too long, but the long bell things the people on the yamas (floats) were pulling was a nice touch.  Check our media for footage on the event itself but these yama and hoko were intricately ornate.  Pulled on creaking wooden wheels and sometimes the backs of beleaguered men, I still have trouble imagining the endurance necessary to yank one of these things around during a hot summer day.

Foreigners in the crowd…besides us I mean.  We tend to regard each other in brief recognition, but overall don’t feel compelled to speak of our experiences to each other.  American or European…the festival is an event to be singularly enjoyed with culture all too varied from the kind we left at home.  I suppose some don’t want to muddy up the experience with chit chat among the other misfits in the crowded streets.

Mindy finally laid claim to a Stabucks Kyoto coffee mug, and I still go through water bottles in under five minutes (Sweating it out over the course of the next 30)   Overall an exhausting, but fun evening.

The actual procession in the morning was a test in sheer endurance.  Blistering heat, pressing crowds, small white faced children on horses (The Chigo, supposedly holding a Kami within their bodies for the festival), and the massive Hoko/Yamas  created a day both visually boggling and physically daunting.  I went through water like a fish, and nearly fainted more than a few times.  I can only imagine how hot the Japanese pulling the Floats were and how much effort it must have taken to pick them up and turn them down the streets of Kyoto.  While most of the group pushed ahead into the people waves, I secluded myself near a fountain to take a break from the chaos.

My wholesale genocide of water finally caught up to me during lunch when a wayward glass tried to kill me.  Luckily, I snapped out of my short spell without any collateral damage…but now the group seems fixated on monitoring my drinking habits.  Not that I blame their suspicion of water itself (Craft devil), I lament at their lack of faith that I will be more vigilant in quenching its rebellious attacks before they seriously affect me.

More noodles…always noodles.  When I get back to the United States I probably won’t be able to even LOOK at spaghetti for at least a week, but here they have enough flavoring and means of different presentation that I can stand similar meals at all hours.  I suppose in America we (or I) are used to having any sort of cultural fix at our fingertips.  Feeling a bit South of the Border?  Taco Bell or any number of randomly named Mexican hotspots will meet your quota nicely.  Burger joints are a dime a dozen and even far more obscure foods can find a niche in the fast lane of American consumption.  Unlike the Japanese, America finds it pertinent to sample a wide avenue of tastes even on a daily basis.  As an American myself, I can tell that this noodle thing is going to get to me eventually.  For now however…down the hatches!

Toward the evening (I may be combining nights here), We witnessed the procession of the mikoshi from temple to neighborhood.  A far less formal journey then the Yama and Hoko, the Mikoshi supposedly housed the kami for a joyride around its domain.  Chanting, laughing, and singing seemed to be the custom for this particular ritual and I was a bit reminded of carrying a football hero off the field.

Only sub out ‘football hero’ for ‘large, ornate, golden shrine’ and ‘off the field’ for ‘all over town’.  Afterwards, Andrew helped convince the group to partake in the complicated cultural dish ‘chicken on a stick’ and with a belated sigh from our resident vegetarian (Dubbed Mindy Mikoshi that night for the idea to laden her pockets with change and shake her down our own neighborhood route) conceded.

Did I just have chicken on a stick?  No!  Of course not.  How could I expect to entertain you squabbling masses without a more interesting story to spin of the Eastern Cuisine?  Vying for a little adventure and muddled from heat delirium, I ordered the parts of a chicken you don’t find in Chik Fillet.

Heart

Liver

Tail

Gizzard

And Neck.

Not bad actually…the heart was succulent and a tad soft and everything else just tasted like a variation of chicken.  The exception, of course, was that the tail was just a hunk of cartilage seasoned.  Crunchy…unappetizing, but consumed all the same.  Waste not and want not…speaking of which, when we get home I’ll have a new marketing project for Chik Fillet’s new line of fast food.  How many of you would like to try a bucket of Nugget Hearts?

That’s all for me this evening, as I’ve finally caught up to three days behind.

Look forward to my next installment!

I Say, You Say, We all pray in Ise (Eesay)

I suppose it goes without saying that I didn’t have enough time to finish this blog.  I expect to edit in the remainder of my experiences when time allows.  The trip through Japan often times did not give us enough time to update, but the experiences in lieu of down time were far worth the wait to update.  In my opinion, I would return to Japan if given another opportunity to.  The culture, the people, and the antiquity of the rich history honored in the Land of the Rising sun is something wholly different from what I have become accustomed to in the United States.  My eyes are open to how different the world can be around me.  Reading and watching from afar did not quite drive the point in deep enough to make a lasting impression, but being immersed within a culture I admired completely changed my perspective on religion as a whole.  If I were to offer up any form of advice to those who read this blog, it would be to grab the opportunities to travel when and if you can.  Throw yourself into a world you don’t understand and tumble headlong into understanding.

In my opinion, it’s one of the best ways to learn.

Here’s hoping your experiences will be the equal or greater of my own

Collin LaMothe

Advertisements

11 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Kathy
    Jul 14, 2010 @ 20:23:09

    Great blog….keep them coming. I am reading 🙂

    Reply

  2. Kathy
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 02:15:51

    I enjoy your blog and your descriptions bring me so many memories. Thanks for sharing yours. Tell me husband to let you guys get some rest sometime to remember me when he is shopping! 🙂

    Reply

  3. RedFlicker
    Jul 17, 2010 @ 08:48:34

    Love the blogs. Keep up the great work. The food talk makes me hungry. Japan sounds amazing. I wish I could be with you.

    Reply

  4. vicki
    Jul 19, 2010 @ 13:19:32

    Collin,
    Enjoying your blog.Glad you are having a good time

    Reply

    • Mimi
      Jul 19, 2010 @ 22:12:31

      Collin,

      Your Blog is great! Grandpa and I are loving it! I believe I told you how much we liked the trip we took there 4 years ago! What a wonderful experience you must be having. Did you ever see so many business people in black? We loved Kyoto, and stayed in an ancient B&B there where Kent had to sleep on a bamboo “mattress” (same thing as the floor), had to eat a prepaid Japanese dinner, and crawl, literally, up the winding stairway to our room! I believe it is called a roatan. LuvYa Mimi

      Reply

  5. Chris
    Jul 19, 2010 @ 15:52:57

    Collin,
    Love your blogging and for letting me live vicariously through you. Keep it coming. I almost feel like I am there!

    Reply

  6. julie (mom)
    Jul 19, 2010 @ 20:09:58

    collin ,
    you are a great blogger , really enjoying your trip , comments are amusing and descriptive . this will make a great story , keep journaling cant wait to see you love mom

    Reply

  7. Jim R.
    Jul 20, 2010 @ 00:13:14

    Whats up cuz?

    Sounds like you’re having a blast! I wish I had kept a blog while I was in Germany, it would have been great to look back on!

    Keep the stories coming and take it easy on the sushi! 🙂

    Reply

  8. julie -mom
    Jul 24, 2010 @ 17:29:22

    Hi Collin ,
    yeah you blogged again , loved reading esp all the water stories . what an experience . we miss you , cant believe you have been so adventursome with the cuisine .. bravo to you . keep it coming all is well here , of course we miss your smiling face … love , mom

    Reply

  9. Julie LaMothe
    Jul 24, 2010 @ 17:31:52

    Hi collin ,

    missing you loved the blog and all your funny stories , hope you are taking lots of pictures . love mom

    Reply

  10. Larry Stier
    Aug 03, 2010 @ 13:12:58

    Hey Collin,

    Sounds like you are having a great time!! I started reading your blog & felt bad about work…..I will finish reading at home. What a great opportunity! Soak in everything you can.

    Take Care,
    Larry

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: