Welcome to my blog! I’ll update nearly every day while we’re in Japan, so check for my thoughts, experiences, and everything else!
Fin August 1st, 2010
Well, we’ve been back in the States for a few days now, so this is my final, wrap-it-all-up blog entry.
Looking back on the time in Japan, I think I did learn quite a bit, it just didn’t necessarily seem like it at that time. It does help to speak with other people about what I saw and experienced in order to put the whole thing into perspective. I’m glad that I learned quite a bit more, not only about religions but also about Japan in general. There’s a scene in Monsters, Inc. where Mike takes his girlfriend to a Japanese restaurant, and every time a patron enters, all of the wait staff and chefs say hello, welcome, or whatever their customary welcome is in Japanese. This is common in Japan in every restaurant, and I had never noticed that this happened in Monsters, Inc. until after we were back, so that was a fun way to see some of the knowledge I gained abroad.
The culture shock was definitely something that I struggled quite a lot, at least more than I realized struggling with in Jamaica. I definitely did not fit into the Japanese society and could feel myself sticking out like a sore thumb whenever there weren’t other tourists around. There is pretty much absolutely no way I could ever find a way to blend in with the Japanese, and that was probably one of the more difficult realizations for me, as an anthropologist, because while you will always remain a bit of an outsider of a culture, you’d still like to be able to blend in enough to participate, and there’s no way that I would be able to. I’m just not the Japanese blending-in type. Jamaican, sure; Japanese, not at all. But, that was just one thing to learn about myself that was pretty necessary.
The biggest returning culture shock to deal with is the food. I’ll be honest, most of the food in the U.S. is pretty bad. At least the fast food. I mean, where’s a good restaurant to go to when I want some udon or ramen? Nowhere, or at least nowhere where I live. It was difficult to even look at food after I got back, because none of it seemed appetizing. Plus, I’ve really been wanting some good, old-fashioned white rice, but none of it here tastes as good as it did in Japan. Maybe it’s because I’m here and not there. That’s pretty much all I can come up with.
I’ve been trying to gather thoughts for students who may take this, or any, abroad trip in the future, and I guess the main one is be prepared for anything. That sounds kind of cliche, but it’s extremely true. I don’t think I was prepared for anything, and it kind of bit me. I mean, things will happen that will catch you by surprise, but a lot of things caught me by surprise that probably shouldn’t have, like the food and culture shock. I wasn’t prepared for those things to affect me like they did, but they really should have, because those are two major parts of traveling abroad. Unfortunately, you can’t always be prepared for anything, especially on your first time abroad. But keeping an open mind is your greatest weapon in all of this. I’d also say to get involved, ask questions, take part in the experience. Don’t just hang back . Be part of what you are doing, individually and as a group. I think there would be nothing worse than getting back to the States and regretting not participating in something or not asking a question when you had the perfect opportunity to do so. Asking questions in the field is a major part of why someone studies abroad or does research in the field, and it’s important to take part. After two trips abroad, it’s those times when I was active in the experiences that I look back on and appreciate the most. You’ll never get those opportunities again, so get them while you can. My final piece of advice is not to worry if things aren’t peachy-keen or perfect. You will get pissed off at times. It’s a given. There will be points during the trip where you will get homesick, where Japan, or wherever, will be the last place you want to be on the entire Earth. I experienced this in both Japan and Jamaica. You will also have times when you will want nothing more than a little free time to yourself, away from your group members. That’s one thing that you experience on group trips like this or like the London and Australia Centers that you won’t necessarily experience with a host family or alone at a university. At these times, it may be appropriate to take a bath, ultimate and relaxing alone time, or go out with only one or two people from your group. Or, you can always hope and pray that you end up on the plane back to the U.S. by yourself, away from anyone else. This was when I had most of my alone time, and I have to say that it was quite wonderful. Things will definitely not be perfect. If they are, you honestly may not be experiencing the trip abroad completely, because you should experience those times. One of the points of studying abroad is to gain better knowledge of yourself and experience things that push you out of your comfort zone and show you aspects of other peoples’ lives. That uncomfortable feeling is only too natural and is a given part of studying abroad. Sometimes, you’ll find yourself to be an even better person due to these experiences, and it can be these that make you appreciate your life back home or the lives of people in other places. That’s pretty much all of the advice I have to give. There’s always a lot more, but those are the ones that can really never be said enough. If you will be participating in this trip or any other in the future, good luck and just have fun with it, as much as you can.
Well, that’s it for me from Japan and the after-effects of returning. Thanks for reading my blog, and I hope it’s been as enjoyable to read as it has been therapeutic for me to write. Stay classy, San Diego.
Aaaaaaaand We’re Back July 28th, 2010
Where did the 27th go? We got back to the States in the early morning of July 27th without our luggage. We barely made it onto our plane in LA and none of our bags did. Thankfully, they arrived at my mom’s house later in the day, so I was able to get all of my gifts out and make sure they were okay. Of course, I’m checking everything over on the 28th because I literally slept 20 hours and missed the 27th. I don’t think I’m going to have any jet lag from here on out, which was the main goal of sleeping for so long.
Our last day in Japan was rather fun. We went to the oldest shrine (I believe) in Japan and one of the oldest temples. At the shrine, we met a priest who had been at Yasaka Shrine in Kyoto and was moved to the shrine in Osaka. Dr. Roemer had interviewed him 15 years ago, and he was old then, so you can only imagine how old he is no. He was still very active and quite adorable, if I may say so. I enjoyed the discussion we had with him and looking around the shrine complex. The temple was excellent because we were able to go inside the pagoda, which was extremely hot at the top. The unfortunate part was that we weren’t able to get to the gift stand so that I could buy some stuff. So, I bought some prayer beads at a nearby shop, which are very pretty. Overall, our final day in Japan was a good one.
The trip back was pretty horrid, considering that we were traveling for nearly 20 hours, 15 of which were on a plane…at least. Getting back was way more of a hassle, especially with the drama in LA. But, we made it, and now it’s time to settle back into life in the U.S. and at Ball State.
Are We There Yet? July 25th, 2010
Well, it’s our last day in Japan. It’s strange that it’s already over. It was an extremely fast two weeks, but then again, we never really got any breaks. I’m not looking forward to the super long flights, but that’s life.
Yesterday was pretty fun. We attended the Tenjin Matsuri, whichI have to say I found more interesting than Gion. I preferred the music at Tenjin, and there seemed to be a bit more action. At the end of the night, we got to watch fireworks, which were interesting. They had 5000 fireworks and let them off about every 5 minutes, which was probably the most boring part of the day, waiting for them to let them off. The finale was awesome, though. It was more what I expected with a lot of fireworks going off at once. Then we got to fight our way to a train to get back to the hotel, which was not nearly as horrible as it seemed like it could have been. I’ve found that it helps being a foreigner, because the Japanese are much less likely to get near me, giving me more space when I would normally think they would all push into me. Overall, the experience at Tenjin Matsuri was very enjoyable, and I’m very interested in learning more of its history.
Well, this is it for our time in Japan. Look for more once we’re back in the States in our progress with the rest of the class.
All Roads Lead to Rome (If Rome is Filled with Omamori, Prayer Beads and Incense) July 23rd, 2010
I have apparently really enjoyed buying things here. At least more than in Jamaica. I have gotten a few gifts for family and friends, but most of it has been for myself, and I am not afraid to admit that. Most of it is really awesome, so the money I’ve spent has been worth it, in my opinion. I’ll probably pick up a few more things before we leave, mostly at Buddhist temples, so I should be quite loaded by the time we get back.
We saw two really nifty temples today. One was the Golden Pavilion. It is a wooden structure with the two top levels covered in gold. It really is gold, and it’s quite beautiful. Of course, it was originally a summer house for a rich person who then donated it to become a Zen temple. The second was Sanjusangen-do, which has 1,001 statues of Kannon, a bodhisattva. Each of the statues is once again wooden but painted bronze this time. They were really cool, even though there were technically only 998 statues, as three were on loan. But who’s counting. Each statue is slightly different because different artists sculpted them, so it was interesting to see how those we could see were similar and different. Before all this, we went to a different Zen temple in order to learn some Zen meditation with a priest who had spent some time in America. We meditated for two rounds of 15 minutes, although the second round felt like 10 minutes. It was nice to just sit, relax, and just live in that moment, instead of worrying or thinking about everything else that’s going on. At the end of the day, we went to see the largest torii in Japan, or at least it looked like it was, and attended another matsuri, one to heal the feet, specifically, for Mindy. I enjoyed the matsuri, even though it was much smaller than Gion and Tenjin, which we will attend in Osaka. Today was an extremely busy day with lots of temple (and shrines on temple grounds) hopping. It was probably one of the most enjoyable in terms of seeing all sorts of religious buildings.
At the foot festival, as I like to call it, I used a traditional Japanese toilet. When I say traditional, I mean it is literally a hole in the ground that one must squat (could there be a less attractive word) over to use. It was quite an experience, considering that I’ve only ever used a Western-style toilet, and I think I’d prefer to stick with Western toilets from here on out. It was still something that I felt was best to experience, and I think I have finally gotten my share of adventures in using restroom facilities.
So, even with the Zen meditation, I’m thinking ahead to this next year and am ready to head back to the U.S. This is going to be an extremely busy year for me, on many fronts, and I’m ready to start focusing on and preparing for those. My mind was pretty much set, but lately, my plans have been shaken up a little bit, so I’ll have to refocus and decide what I want and what’s best for me. Being out of Japan, with the support and thoughts of friends and family will help make this process much easier. But for now, being in Japan is somewhat hindering my ability to make decisions about this coming year because I don’t have all of the opinions that I value so much. There have been parts of this I have enjoyed and other parts that I haven’t, but it’s definitely time to get back and begin preparations for my last year at Ball State.
On a side note, we had a very nice lunch at Doshisha University, a private Christian university in Kyoto, a few days ago, and what I ordered had Indian curry on it. Now, for those who don’t know, I’ve always considered myself a spice weeny, so I’ve never eaten curry. I ate the whole dish and thought it was delicious, without realizing it was curry, until I was finished and Dr. Roemer looked at me and informed me that it was curry that I had eaten. I felt betrayed because I was duped into eating it. At least this trip has had a lot of firsts for me, and it was a good meal, so I’m not too bitter about being tricked.
Culture Shock, Part Deux July 22nd, 2010
Yesterday was a pretty exhausting day. We went to quite a few places, met a few cool people, and got back to the hotel late. With all of that, some of us were able to sleep in late, which was much needed. I like to have time off, time to myself a bit, so it was nice that we finally got some of that. It’s nice to step back every once in a while and think about all of the opportunities we’ve had on this trip and how so few people can experience them. We met one of the foremost scholars of Shinto, who gave us a tour of a very unique shrine that has the bones of its founder buried underneath it, making it the only shrine with that. Then we went to meet a Buddhist priest who Dr. Roemer has interviewed before and attended a Buddhist Q&A session. Then today, we got to tour Yasaka Shrine here in Kyoto, the main shrine behind the Gion Matsuri. It was hot in the shrine, but we got a tour and saw much more of the shrine than we probably ever would normally. We also had a really nice meal with the Yoshida family, more friends of Dr. Roemer’s. Their youngest son was super adorable and reminds me of my youngest nephew. It was all very nice and great experiences for us.
So, as great as all of that was, I’m still really struggling with some of the cultural customs of Japan. I’m loud, not quiet. I’m extremely independent, I don’t like people pouring my drinks for me when I have two perfectly good hands that operate as they should. Those are probably two of the hardest things I’ve had to confront because it makes me realize more about myself than I previously knew. It makes me more aware of my own culture, of the things that make me different from others, and it’s not an experience that I’ve had so forcefully or have noticed so well. I mean, every person you meet introduces a different part of yourself to you, but I don’t remember it being so obvious. Or at least I don’t remember having to be told that I had to change myself in order to fit the other culture’s standard. I guess that’s what I should do as an anthropologist, but I’m not a cultural anthropologist, so it takes more for me to subscribe to that. I don’t want to offend people here, but the fact that people are so quiet all of the time and even our speaking to each other is too loud is a little much for me. I take pride in the fact that I am me and don’t change on a whim simply because another person wants me to so readily, and that’s pretty much most of what I’ve had to experience. Growing up here, I would have no problem following the customs, but I hate having to constantly think about every little thing I am doing, because most of the Japanese customs I struggle with are those that are more subtle. And subtlety is not one of my strong points. I also think I’m getting some homesickness, finally, so that doesn’t help. Some things have just been so much more of a struggle than I originally thought they would be, although I didn’t think being completely immersed in Japan would be easy, and it’s been a different experience than I had originally hoped for. Jamaica was nothing like this, pretty much completely opposite of everything that Japan has been, and in Jamaica, things seemed right, and it was a culture and place I could easily fit into, even though it was different, and became somewhat of a home for me. Japan hasn’t been like that at all, so we’ll have to wait and see what it has been after we get back to the U.S.
No Photo July 20th, 2010
Just so everyone knows, I will not have any pictures from Japan. The one thing I forgot in Muncie was my memory card, which is sitting on my desk at my apartment. But, everyone else is taking all kinds of pictures, so those will be available and most definitely much better than any I could take. I’m terrible at taking pictures, so I figure everyone else’s would be worth it more than mine.
Today was an exhausting but amazing day. We met Dr. Roemer’s host mother from when he stayed in Japan as an undergrad, and she was amazing. She bought us adorable little fans with Gion Matsuri-themed images and allowed everyone to take pictures and video of her practicing household rituals at the kamidana and butsudan. I’m not sure how to explain those, so it may just be best to look them up and see pictures of them. There will definitely be pictures in the Media section. I loved watching her perform the ritual at the butsudan (the ancestor alter) as she honored her parents, who died some years ago. She had the Buddhist prayer memorized, and I was falling into a sort of trance watching her, even as fire trucks drove right by her house blaring their sirens. She said that the Buddha means more to her than the kami, which I honestly did not expect, considering that it seems rare for most Japanese to subscribe to one thing over another, or at least to admit they do. And when she performed both rituals, it seemed that the butsudan ritual was a little more practiced and preferred, but that’s just from my perspective from the outside. It was nice to just sit and visit, have some snacks and practice English with her. She was very kind to us and seemed just as interested in meeting us as we were in meeting her. Or at least as interested as I was.
After we left Dr. Roemer’s host mother’s home, we headed to Nara, Japan. It was a short, few hour trip in order to see one of the largest Buddha statues in the world at the Todai-ji Temple. This Buddha is huge. My head was pointed completely straight toward the ceiling because the Buddha was that tall. I’m pretty sure that my head could not have gone back any more without leaning my entire body back. It was really quite breathtaking and beautiful. One of the things that made it so amazing is that the temple, which is also very large, and statue were reconstructed in the 1700s. The original temple was built in the 700s, and they didn’t use cranes then. Imagine a giant building with a huge bronze statue being built before any of the technology we currently use. I can only relate it to the Great Pyramids, and I think that it has the same awe-inspiring affect as those, and even more so for me. I’m pretty sure I didn’t stop saying how amazing and beautiful it was the entire time we were there. As a Buddhist, this was probably one of the most moving experiences I have had, since there is nothing remotely like this in the U.S. Of course, I was so impressed, I had to buy things from the little vendors that were set-up. I bought some gifts for family members, a prayer book (which contains a Buddhist prayer used in meditation), prayer beads, and a small version of the Nara Buddha in order to remember the experience. Obviously, the small (tiny, really) version is nothing like the original, but at least it’s some sort of reminder. All of these items are placed in front of the Buddha as an offering and are then sold to patrons, giving them a blessing before they are sold. I loved the entire experience and would not mind returning.
On our walk to and from the main temple with the large Buddha, we fed some of the deer that live on the grounds. Nara is known for the deer, and a deer park is located near the temple. Deer roam up into temple grounds, so that was definitely an unusual experience. They were adorable but quite feisty toward our group members who were trying to feed them some special little cookie/cracker deal. Some videos should be up eventually, which are quite hilarious, I might say. The deer will headbutt you, nudge you, sometimes even kick you to get the food, and as long as it isn’t happening to you, it’s pretty entertaining. I did not feed them because I wasn’t in the mood to be surrounded by deer as much as some people were. At one point, various people had about 5 or 6 deer around them trying to get the food. It was very similar to the experience of feeding pigeons, at least in the way the animals went after the food. I laughed a lot and enjoyed all of it quite a bit. Today was probably one of my most favorite days so far, which makes me look forward to the days ahead. Tomorrow will be an extremely busy day, so we’ll see how I feel after that. At least we’ll continue to have very interesting, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities and activities that make this entire trip worth it.
Culture Shock July 19th, 2010
Now that I’ve settled into life in Japan, I’ve realized how much culture shock I experienced my first few days here. Even in Jamaica, it was nothing like this. I don’t remember ever feeling quite so lost, confused, and helpless as I did here right after we landed. It has gotten much easier, though, as I’ve learned more of the language and cultural customs. I’m still learning these things every day, which is nice, but makes me feel self-conscious because I’m used to knowing a lot. The experience of having no control and learning things on the fly is indeed very helpful and is actually somewhat exciting after getting used to communicating and somewhat working my way around a country where I don’t speak the language or know many customs. It was also quite a shock being in Tokyo, which is perhaps the largest, most populated city I’ve ever been in. With all of the people and the size of the city, I was caught off-guard and was very uncomfortable. But now that we are in Kyoto, I’m used to making my way around (with a group, of course) and feel better about being here. I’m sure that once I really get settled in and ready to stay, it’ll be time to leave.
So, we’re in Kyoto for the longest amount of time, about 4 days from today. Our first day, we attended the Gion Matsuri. The smaller matsuri we attended in Tokyo at the small community Buddhist temple was very simple with only a few vendors and community members dancing traditional dances. It was a very neat experience that did not prepare us at all for Gion Matsuri. The Gion Festival is one of the three largest festivals in Japan, and it definitely did not disappoint. We were often surrounded by a mass of people, being forced to move at the pace of the people behind us. That was actually quite a fun experience and made it obvious how popular and large the festival really is. The festival itself, on the 17th, was awesome. While it was crowded, watching the large hoko and yama, which are float carts that represent each of the neighborhoods that are represented in the festival, come down the streets was great. The hoko are so large, it takes around 5 minutes or so to turn them, because they are stationed on large wooden wheels that do not turn. The whole process has to be done with bamboo, water, and quite a bit of pulling. The yama can be lifted, and it’s also fun to watch the men just pick them straight up and turn them. Pictures of all of these things are either in the Media section or will be, so you can get an idea of what they actually look like. Even seeing pictures of these things in classes before did not really prepare me for how large the carts are and what it’s like seeing them close. The hoko, especially, are very large and tall, making them seem impossible to move. Later that night, we attended the removal from the shrine and parade of the mikoshi, which are three large…I can’t even necessarily describe them, but pictures will definitely be up of them. They house the three kami that are enshrined at Yasaka Shrine here in Kyoto, and these are brought out to the streets to be among the people and to be entertained. Each of these mikoshi weigh around 2 tons or so, and they are carried by various men through the streets of Kyoto before being placed on one of the main roads to stay for a week. The process of carrying this giant kami holder is visibly painful and pretty amazing. A video and pictures will be posted in the Media section. I really enjoyed the Gion Matsuri and look forward to the Tenjin Matsuri we will be attending in Osaka before we head back to the States.
We visited Ise on a day trip and went to Ise Grand Shrine, a very important shrine for the Japanese. We went to both the outer and inner shrines, and although the inner shrine houses the main kami, Amaterasu, I enjoyed the outer shrine the most. It was calm and quiet with fewer people walking around. The inner shrine, however, was clearly a tourist destination, with many people from many different places paying a visit to Amaterasu and the large shrine. We weren’t actually able to see the main shrine that houses Amaterasu itself, as it is placed behind other entrances and buildings to block a person’s direct view, but what we did see was beautiful. All of the Ise shrines are rebuilt every 20 years, and what we saw was the end life of the buildings, so they were older looking with moss growing all over the reed roofs and weathered wood making up the entire shrine structure. The bridge leading into the outer shrine had already been rebuilt, and after seeing that, I can only imagine how beautiful the shrine will look completely finished. Ise was a nice place to stay, and I enjoyed our activities for the day. I would like to return one day, not too long after they’ve rebuilt the temples, to see how different it all looks brand new.
Today, we visited a Buddhist temple, and that was great. We were able to feed some of the pigeons who were there (because pigeons are Buddhist, in case you didn’t know) and to meditate in the temple. The temple was very large and very beautiful. It was also very relaxing and had great energy. We are visiting at least one more temple while we are in Kyoto, and I still can’t wait to see these.
We’re shopping soon, which I’m really excited about, because I’m ready to get some souvenirs and other momentos of our time here. There are some really beautiful items that I hope to get and can’t wait to look for and find them. Unfortunately, one product of doing so much since we’ve been here is a lack of time for postcards. I was supposed to send postcards, but we’ve been here a week now, and I still haven’t had time to look for, purchase, and send postcards, so those won’t be going out at all. So, if you were expecting a postcard, I’m sorry that they won’t be able to get to you. We have wonderful internet in the new hotel, which is amazing and makes me feel out of place, so I should be able to update every day or every other day until we head to Osaka. Look for more thoughts and discussion in the coming days!
Green Means Go, Even in Japan July 17th, 2010
Well, I’m finally updating my blog. Yay! The internet at the hotel in Tokyo would not work with my computer at all, and I’m not sure why. Probably because it’s too new. But we are able to get internet here in Kyoto, so I can finally update.
Tokyo is HUGE. It is a giant city with tons of people. Everyone knows that about Tokyo, but it doesn’t really hit until you are finally there, and it hit with a full vengeance. It was definitely an interesting experience while we were there. We visited quite a few Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples, all of which were beautiful. My favorite shrine from Tokyo would probably have to be Yasakuni Shrine, which is the most controversial shrine in all of Japan. Possibly even the world. It commemorates all war dead from Japan, even war criminals, which is the reason for its controversy. The thing is, though, it is absolutely beautiful. The torii, which is the gateway to every shrine (and even some temples), was gigantic. No kidding. When I first saw it, I thought of the smoke stacks on the Titanic. It may have been even larger than those. It was unusual because it has a cylindrical bar on top instead of a square bar, distinguishing it as a shrine for a war kami. There was the beginnings of a matsuri (festival) happening, so there were many people and many vendors selling all sorts of things. For me, this took away some of the beauty, but once we were up at the actual shrine-well, as far as we could get to the shrine-it was beautiful. After we went to the shrine, we stopped by the war museum that is on shrine grounds. That was probably one of my favorite activities from Tokyo, since my interest in history lies primarily in war history. It was very cool seeing how Japan interprets all of the wars it has been in, which was much more than I thought it was. Plus, we got to see really cool samurai armor and weapons and all sorts of neat things that actual Japanese wore and used in various wars.
The Meiji Shrine, another we visited in Tokyo, definitely rivals Yasakuni. We were there on a day with no festival, so it was very calm, serene, and beautiful. The shrine itself lies within a park area, and beautiful trees and landscape welcomed us to the shrine. Very little activity was going on, so we were able to just relax and enjoy what was around us on shrine grounds, which was a wonderful experience for us, since we had been taking very little time off as soon as we stepped off the plane. Meiji was one of my favorite places since we’ve been in Japan so far.
We did visit one temple, although I can’t remember its name. It was closed when we got there, and they were doing renovations, so the roof was blocked by a curtain-like hanging that is used for construction. This meant, unfortunately, that we could not see the entire temple, but what we did see was really magnificent. I mean, all of these larger religious buildings are large and beautiful. The architecture is really something, and there is often amazing artwork. I am extremely excited to see more temples. That is definitely one of the things I am looking forward to the most over the rest of this trip.
We also visited quite a few other places that were unique and interesting. We visited a small community temple while it held a matsuri, but I’ll talk more about that later when I talk about Gion Matsuri, our primary reason for being in Kyoto. We went to a Buddhist bar, run by a Buddhist priest in Tokyo, which was a very cool experience. The bar was started because the priest was hoping to connect more with other Buddhists and people in Tokyo in general. It was tiny, but I enjoyed hanging out and hearing about the priest and why it was started. We also met a Buddhist priest who hip hops, named Mr. Happiness. That was an amazing experience. He answered all of our questions and let us get a peak at the inside of his temple, which is a smaller community temple. He was just really nice and made the entire experience a very pleasant one. He didn’t do any hip hop while we were there, but he gave us a dvd of one of his concerts, which I am looking forward to seeing.
I’ve decided that if I ever pursue a career in fashion, Tokyo would be where I would focus. All of the people dress so nicely. Men, women, it doesn’t matter. They all wear very fashionable clothing. It’s a little bit of something to aspire to.
I’m sure there’s more, but it’s late, so it’s off to bed after a long day at Gion Matsuri. Updates for this will be whenever I get internet access next, within a day or two hopefully.