I’m not sure when my fascination with Japanese Culture emerged, but over the past few years it really has developed. Maybe it was all the Super Mario as a kid, or later the many other Japanese RPG’s and what we’d call anime. All I really know now is that my road is winding it’s way through a few airports and etc. and I’ll actually be in Japan. Who know’s what’ll happen, but check back often for updates.
____Tuesday 13th_July 2010_______________________________________
Made it to Japan! Greetings from Shinjuku!
For those of you who are curious about my first plane ride ever…. I wont dwell on it, because it’s all totally worth it. It actually wasn’t that bad. I had a great primer though with the however-many-hour long bus ride with the Debate Team to South Carolina. I got to see the Alaskan mountains and I’m pretty sure that Doc. Roemer got video of that. By the time I got to the window all I got to see was a muddy looking river, but I got video of it anyway.
Now on to happier things… Tokyo.
It was (as I’m told) unusually cool outside when we got out of the Narita (the airport) and that was fine with me. It was a nice refreshing breeze and what is noticeably different from the moment you step off the plane is the smell. It really does smell different here and not in a bad way at all. But, I’d always wondered about what other places smelled like and if there were noticeable differences. Well, my hypothesis still stands…
Next, was the hour-or-so long train ride into the Shinjuku that we all took (or almost all, Jade and Andrew stole seats from the poor expecting mothers and Japanese elderly) standing up! It was alright though. My big conclusion on the train though was about just how massive Tokyo must be. Trains, trains, trains and more trains. We took several and a subway and eventually made it to the N.U.T.S. (our hotel… that has an amazing bathroom).
BUT! Not before walking around Shinjuku a little bit and going to eat at… Actually I didn’t catch the name of this restaurant, but it was really good. I’d totally go back on my next visit. For those curious about what I ate, because I know many of you have your doubts about my stomach on this trip, I got katsudon. It was yummy, and the complementary tea was nice too! Also, I got complements on my chopstick skills from Doc Roemer. All the Cheerio practice and strawberry daiquiris paid off, thanks Franky! Love you.
The streets here are amazing, and of course magical in color and all that… but what I think I liked the most was 1) all the different levels (ups and down stairs and from the restaurant you could see a bunch of tiny little shops and a fitness gym on the second floor of some building… weird little things like that) and 2) the roads and how they twist and turn and our so peculiar and you see all these tiny shops (many I have no idea what for) in what looks like alleyways (but are really just narrow streets) and then BAM! there is our hotel. It’s so bizarre, but truly awe-inspiring.
I’m getting sleepy now since it’s almost 1 o’clock in the morning here and minus a few naps I’ve been up since 6 a.m. USA time yesterday. The time thing is a major headache still.
Anyway, tomorrow is the first day of real adventure. Wish me luck!
p.s. Video coming soon! The internet is slow here… and I didn’t start my vid upload soon enough.
____Thursday 15th_July 2010_______________________________________
I didn’t get a chance to blog last night… and now I don’t even know where to begin.
Yesterday, was a very busy day. We started out going to a Japanese grocery store to get our breakfast which was an experience, but everything has been good so far. In Japan juice actually tastes like fruit and there doesn’t seem to be much extra sugar in it. But yes it was very yummy. Afterward on our way to the bank to exchange money, we found a local neighborhood temple. It actually put into context some of the literature for class. In Satsuki Kawano’s book she talked heavily about a local festivals and rituals based around these neighborhood temples/shrines, and the place we had found was a living example of that.
Later that night we ended up coming back for an actual neighborhood festival. It was actually quite cool to see what the temple grounds looked like when it was decorated and lit up at night. It was also interesting to see how the neighborhood had come together for this event. I especially loved the story of the dancers at the festival and some of them had trained for the ritual dance and were maybe slightly more educated about the moves, while others seemed to hop in and out of the dancing action. Furthermore some of the dancers you’d expected to know the moves, the ones dressed up for the festival, sometimes didn’t know what they where doing, but just moving with the rest of the crowd. It was an embodiment of what we had been hearing all along; how people can seem to be practicing religious rituals, but in actuality they are only partaking in a community event.
After finishing at the bank, we all then went to Yasukuni shrine. A controversial shrine for the Japanese war dead and one of the only Shinto shrines related to death. The complex of Yasukuni shrine was enormous and there also happened to be a festival going on. The long stretch of walkway was full of booths and vendors running along the sides. One of the many cool things about Yasukuni shrine was it’s giant metal torii gates. They were just giant and tall. Also, we got to see a bit of a kendo demonstration before moving on further into the shrine area. The shrine itself was pretty beautiful. The chrysanthemum symbol was everywhere on this shrine, signifying it’s ties to the Imperial Family. Yasukuni was a lot more segregated shrine compared to the one that we went to today (I’ll get to it later) you couldn’t really see to far into the shrine, but you could see the different levels of people who were receiving services at the shrine from priests. Which was actually quite cool to see the difference in the status of the people coming to the shrine, Dr. Roemer said he thinks he actually got video of the priest waving his purification “wand” and that will be something to look forward to watching, because I don’t think I actually got to see it.
Then we went to Asakusa. Another giant complex but this one was a Buddhist temple. It was pretty spectacular. The temple had a lot more flare in the architecture department. I’m leaving out a lot of details about this place because I’m tired and think I’m going to bed.
One thing that I haven’t really got to talk about a whole lot is the little piece of heaven that is the Japanese bathroom and more importantly the shower/bath. I wish I had our hotel’s bathroom back at home. It’s supernice!
But anyway, yesterday was a busy day filled with so much stuff. The first thing that we did was go to Studio Ghibli. It was pretty cool place to visit and I particularly enjoyed the rooms that were recreations of Miyazaki’s study/drawing rooms. It was fully of concept sketches and person belongings and it allowed me to relate to him on a more personal level. The whole museum was actually fantastic and was full of whimsy. At the end of our time there we watched a short animation about a puppy that ran away from and his journey back and it got me thinking about how I miss all my puppies back at home.
The next stop that we had was actually in Harajuku. It was a very crowded, but definitely something I would go back and see again. (The day was filled with a lot of places I’d gladly go back for a second time) We unfortunately didn’t go on the right day to Harajuku, and while we did actually see fashionable people and two lolita, we didn’t get to see the main event that takes place usually on Sundays. The shops of these streets though were pretty cool and full of all different kinds of fashion. It was one of the places I had originally wanted to see and was very glad that I had the chance to.
The unexpected thing about Harajuku was it’s close proximity to Meiji Shrine. Meiji Shrine so far has been one of the more meaningful and favorite of the places we have visited. First it’s just beautiful. A long walk through the park like complex under all the giant wooden torii was breathtaking. The shrine itself is also very beautiful and it was there that I wrote down a prayer and gave offering to be taken up and presented to the kami (Meiji) at the shrine. I got a little emotional then and am truly hopeful the kami will considerate. Meiji Shrine is the place I probably wont ever forget.
After Meiji shrine we then traveled to Akihabara a giant electrical city that sells all type of gadgets and electronics. It was intensely packed full of everything anyone could ever need electronic wise. It was also in Akihabara that I tried sushi for the first time… and yes I enjoyed it. I got cucumber rolls and couple of octopus ones. It really was pretty good and I was surprised.
When dinner was finished all of us and the friend we met in Akihabara went back into Shinjuku to a Buddhist bar. Two monks actually started this bar to get more people interested in Buddhism. At first it was a bit hard to find being down several streets and being as small as it was, but once there it was a great experience. I had a bloody marry that was pretty damn good. The people there and the monks were all very friendly and it was an experience to be had. As I said earlier if I thought I could find the place again, if I ever came back to Tokyo it would be one of the places I’d like to revisit.
I’m out of time to blog. I have so many more stories to share, but hopefully this will feed everyone’s appetites for information on what I have been up to.
____Saturday 17th_July 2010_______________________________________
Today is Gion Festival.
Here is a video update… I have a youtube account under the name tbcoxjapan. Check out my latest video!
____Sunday 18th_July 2010_______________________________________
As I said, yesterday was Gion Matsuri (“festival”) and these were the crowds that I had expected all along. I thought all of Tokyo would be crowded like Gion was, but it wasn’t anything compared to the amount of people there trying to fit into that small amount of space. Intense. I don’t think the rest of the class is as appreciative as I am about it though; even Doc Roemer said it was more crowded than he had remembered, which could be do to Gion Matsuri falling on the weekend. I really loved the crowds. It was like nothing I have ever experienced back in the States. The constant ebb and flow of the people and just the ebb and constant pressure from the lack of flow is powerful. One of the coolest things is the three feet tall old Japanese women that somehow have an expressway through the crowds. They zoom right past and were the most aggressive people in the crowds. It makes me think of my Mammy… I don’t think you’d like Gion Festival very much.
The float carts that are famous in this “parade” that is the Gion Matsuri are indeed quite impressive and elaborate. They are huge structures that are road on by kami and men. Every year boys are selected to take part on the festival and one lucky little boy gets to become a kami, and he’s so cute! But, in the parade he’s also very intimidating and believable. The whole festival parade is a precession after him, and it just sets him up to be …. godlike. It was very interesting to see this little boy kami.
That’s all I have time for today. I posted a new video up on my youtube channel! GO WATCH!
____Thursday 22nd_July 2010_______________________________________
So much has happened over the last few days. It’s hard to think about where to start with this blog.
I’ll start with what I did yesterday and work my way backwards. Yesterday was a fun and inspiring day. I really loved one of the shrines that we went to. We went to a campus and met with a Japanese professor there as well, and the was quiet fascinating. It started opening the doors in my head on how I’m going to get back here someday, which is important to my story later. The Professor (who’s name escapes me) took us on a guided tour and took us to a fancy French restaurant. It’s places like the fancy restaurant that make you feel human again. It’s an intellectual thing that requires you to think about good etiquette and which utensil to use. I felt refreshed getting away from the constant use of chopsticks and the stuffing of one’s face that has been prevalent while here in Japan. Also, lets not forget, there was no food on a stick.
After our tour and lunch the group made its way to the “Foot Shrine” to heal Mindy-Senpai’s feet. It was a nice shrine that at one point was associated with an Imperial Princess and thus had beautiful omamori. Mindy-Senpai couldn’t get her feet healed though. The special river was damned up while they prepared for the actual foot healing ritual to take place tomorrow night.
The next stop was Yoshida Shrine, where we also met up with Dr. Breen. The man was amazing, a brilliant glistening star of information on Shinto, and quiet enchanting. He wowed me with his arcane and somewhat perverse knowledge of Yoshida Shrine. One of the only shrines with a dead body buried under a shrine, a fact so controversial to Shinto that they would deny it. Yoshida Shrine was on the side of a mountain with stone paths wondering in every direction around trees and shrines. I couldn’t help but think about home… it reminded me so much of the numerous paths winding through our wooded acres down to the river. Grandma and Mom would die to see this place. Japan is so much like America in the way that there are places here that I could see those two loving (the nature parts) and others they’d hate (the city and crowds).
With Dr. Breen at our side dazzling us with his know-how and the earlier tour of campus; I started to think about the future while walking to have drinks and a small meal with Dr. Breen at Kyoto University. I really want to come back to this place someday. (On a side note, I need to read Dr. Breen’s book.) Now that I know this I want to take steps to ensure further study of Japanese culture after this course and even after undergraduate study. Rather that be a through a change of majors or preparing and working toward the J.E.T. program, I haven’t decided yet. But, it’s definitely something I’ve considered before now and maybe now it’s time to actually start moving in that direction.
____Friday 23rd_July 2010_______________________________________
Yesterday was really kind of a cool day. Mindy, Doc Roemer and I decided to get up earlier than everyone else and go to a buddhist temple on the side of this mountain in Kyoto. It was a very pretty site and very intriguing structurally with its intricate system of stilts that the temple sits on. The place also houses a natural spring (and a shrine worthy of Las Vegas) that spews forth purified water. It’s been somewhat of an obsession of mine to buy a little something at each of the places we’ve visited and at this particular temple I bought a sealed bottle of the water from the spring.
Then we had a nice traditional Japanese dinner… two fancy dinners, two days in a row.
Afterward we then met with a Shinto priest and got a tour inside a shrine at Yasaka. He also gave us a fan and a bunch of postcards and other things the man was super awesome. I’m going to have to figure out how to display all the stuff I am collecting on this trip at home though, and maybe hopefully one day when I save up I can get a real butsudan and kamidana for home! That’d be pretty awesome.
____Monday 9th_August 2010_______________________________________
Well it’s been nearly two weeks since I’ve been back in the States now. The experiences that I experienced while in the Magical Land of the Rising Sun & Fairies, a place formerly known as Japan, have finally begun to sink in. I feel now it’s time for an honest heartfelt review…
First and foremost I would just like to point out that part of the trips challenge was getting along with people that you may not agree with 100% of the time. But, despite these issues with a certain people on this trip, it was still pretty amazing. Part of traveling abroad in a group of diverse people is finding ways to have fun regardless (or in-spite of) the people around you. Before leaving home for this trip my mom told me that no matter what, that even if the Magical Land of The Rising Sun & Fairies sucked, that I needed to have fun. That’s exactly what I had set out to accomplish on this trip and I think I was successful.
A list of fun things I did in Japan:
- Spent a lot of money, and could’ve spent a ton more!
- Ate Japanese Curry like…. 6 times.
- Took random video’s of Japanese Dogs
- Got all emotional at Meiji Shrine while praying to (who else) Meiji
- Had a lot of laughs over some crazy stuff with friends from the trip
- Recreated Memoirs of a Geisha at Fushimi Inari
- Went to Higashi Honganji a 2nd time, even though I was supposed to wait in the hotel lobby! REBELS!
- Got up at 6 in the morning everyday to take in as much Magical Land of the Rising Sun & Fairies that I could
There is probably a crap ton more… but that’s a little list. My experiences are my own and the experiences anyone else has or will have or have ever had in the Magical Land of the Rising Sun & Fairies will probably be really different. I don’t think the Magical Land of the Rising Sun & Fairies was that hard for me, probably because I grew up with the culture (as all people do), and it felt good to reconnect with my people. So, to all my people out there who are like me, I totally recommend that you make a visit. Thank you. The End!