Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Big Wrap-up

It has been three weeks since I left Japan. It's taken me that long to get over my jet lag and back onto a regular sleep schedule. Now, 24 days later I can wrap up the trip, add some tips or opinions on what you should or shouldn't bring to Japan, and bring to a close a blog that, though sparse, will help serve as a memoir of a truly wonderful experience.

I did not have the proper time to give Kyoto a full review, so I intend to do so here. Kyoto was a truly special city, being the previous capital of Japan and steeped in popular history. The trip began quite early, at 5:30 in the morning when I woke up, preparing to be at the Shinkansen, bullet train, in Mishima by 6:30. Nakayama-san, my host mother, took me to Mishima station. Looking back, I was really lucky to have gotten her for my host mother. She gave me lunch for myself, Joe, and Frederick, two of my group-mates. We arrived in Kyoto at 9:15-30. The Shinkansen is interesting but I was busy reading and napping and talking to people, so I didn't spend much time looking out the window.. I was excited and there was much to see in Kyoto. From the train-station we took a chartered bus. On the way to our first site, Ryoanji temple, in the large mountainside visible in the distance, somehow the kanji 大 ("dai" or "Great, Big") was etched into the mountainside, either through burning or till-work, I can't be sure.

Ryoanji was a beautiful temple. We had to ascend quite a few feet to get to the temple proper but along the way were quite a number of sites, trees and foliage, plants, all well kept in their respective areas. There was a large pond, or lake, as well but the walk was filled with other sights and as well we had to help our friend Joe up the steps. When we reached the temple proper, removed our shoes as per norm, and entered the first thing we saw was a wall length, large, multi-sectioned screen of paper that was old, very old according to Frederick, who is well versed in Chinese history as far as I can tell. I stood for a few minutes, admiring the long history in the wooden floor and the wall-sized writing before moving on. The very next area was even more admirable. It was a Zen garden, well kept and combed. Nagase-sensei said that, at least for her, the purpose was to empty ones mind when looking at it. You can be the judge of that, but as for myself, I am inclined to agree with her. That is the same experience I had, looking at what seemed to be as uniform as the sea, as of being nowhere in particular. In a way the experience was moving, and in a way there was nothing to be moved, if anyone can make sense of that. There were other sights in Ryoanji temple, a vast tatami room that served as a reception or entertainment area, even a few grave-stones I saw on the way out but for Ryoanji, the most interesting sight was the Zen garden shown in the small photo on the right. We has to leave Ryoanji, however, because the bus we chartered ran only for a certain amount of time and we needed to go to a lot of places still. Our next stop was Kinkakuji, the golden pavilion.

The Golden Pavilion was a sight to see. It was pretty massive, as can be seen by the photograph below. Coincidentally, after that picture was taken, a security officer came and told us we couldn't photograph there, so we were lucky to even get a picture in. There were a few winding paths but we only stayed around half an hour at Kinkakuji before we had to depart. Our next experience was quite an experience indeed. Even though we also only stayed at this destination roughly half an hour or more, Sanjusangendo was a lasting impression. I purchased a framed kanji script: "Nichi nichi kore koujitsu" which translates to 'Every day is a good day.' We weren't allowed to pictures inside the temple, but there were 1000 golden statues of various faces of Buddha. There were also other artifacts. I burned an incense stick with a prayer for a deceased relative and moved on. I was awed by the entire room, and a few in our group were even brought to tears. Coincidentally the temple hosts an archery contest every January.. I hope to one day see or even enter it. I purchased a Kyoto T-Shirt that has Sanjusangendo on it. S'a great place to see. After finishing up at San-ju-san-gen-do, we headed to Chionin temple. Inside the main gate of Chionin are these large steps you may recognize from movies filmed in Japan, like The Last Samurai. Sufficed to say, they were both large and plentiful. In Chionin there were many separate shrines, some to Buddha, some Shinto shrines, and I had the fortune of listening to a pair of Buddhist monks reciting their mantras. We saw many other shrines this day as well, but as the day drew on, we began to wear and get tired. We'd found what food we could along the way, but once we had the opportunity, we ate lunch. We're only human, of course. I picked up a few shirts along the way, inexpensive but well worth their make. Finally, we had to give up the bus and make it on foot to the Kyoto station. We had roughly two hours, and the train-station wasn't so far away. During the walk we crossed a bridge, and both Fred and I went down to the water below; some people sat along the shore of the river the bridge crossed. We found a place to eat dinner, the seven or so of us that stuck together after the group dispersed, after we left our last temple location. It was a pleasant walk altogether, but as it was, we didn't get back to Mishima until 10:30PM or so. I miss Kyoto.

After Kyoto it was back to the regular routine of waking and walking and seeing the cap of Fujisan, of spending a great time eating breakfast with my host family, being energized by their personalities and food, of taking the time to study so I could volunteer for the next days Japanese lesson, and taking time to be with friends and meet new people. I met so many new people in Japan and in many ways I miss them. I will see two of them this August, for the entire month, and then they will head back to Japan but I hope to return to Japan in the future. Maybe I will be posted to Susono or Mishima when I'm fortunate enough to get into JET. It wasn't long before we'd be heading back for The United States of America, and I wasn't all too anxious to come back. Don't get me wrong, I just really enjoyed staying in Japan. The people I met and the family I stood with were really nice to me, and they showed me a lot of things, shared their culture with me. On top of that Japan has so many other wonders, especially Onsen and foot Onsen, the Onsen being a hot spring. I'll just give out a warning.. they are really hot. So just don't be too surprised when you dip your feet. Also, don't get me wrong: there were many things to do after Kyoto. I got to take a lesson in Koto, the long Japanese harp. I took to it quickly, if I do say so myself. I had the opportunity to ask someone to the movies, so some of us went and saw a movie called "Flowers" in complete Japanese. I was glad I could understand most of what was going on and a decent deal of what was being said, though I've still much to learn. I even did calligraphy, though like the Harp, I only had about an hours time before I had to go. I was trying to manage my week efficiently, and so some leeway had to be cut in favor of the precense of other people. It seemed that the end of the trip came too soon, and many of us, I am sure, feel too little time was spent in Japan but that just leaves room for a future visit.

And now an addendum:

The time that I was in Japan, the month of June, was supposed to be the rainy season, or in it, but to be honest it did not rain a lot. However when it did rain, it rained hard so make sure to bring an umbrella and a pair of crocs if you have them. Coincidentally, its still hot out after a rain and the water can feel good on the feet, rather than soaked in a now-wasted sock. Or just bring boots, either choice will do. Also, I recommend you bring a good amount of money. While the food is inexpensive, most of the tourist spots are expensive, merchandise-wise. And clothing, as in all places, is expensive. 7-11's in Japan also sell inexpensive foods, that are pretty good, but if you eat often, expect to spend a lot on food, especially because of how good it is. Japanese foods are all delicious, even Natou if you can stomach it. And there are a lot of places you can find good prices on merchandise, and so would want to buy a lot. I spent roughly a grand in total on everything. Karaoke and Izakaya are expensive, so I recommend only doing them a few times. Japan is quite a safe place to be, so long as it's a place like Mishima, or Susono. Tokyo is a little different, you should beware pickpockets. Also, bring tylenol gel-capsules! Because the medicine there is weak and they don't sell them anywhere but stores that I suppose have permits, so no 7-11 has any kind of pain medication, headache, cramp or otherwise. Finally, don't be afraid to ask questions. I'll leave you with a story:

My group-mate Susan and I were somewhat lost. Not so much lost as we couldn't read or understand how he signs worked for the trains, so we asked someone.. a random girl. And it turned out that, while we could get a little across, she too didn't really understand the train, but it so happened her cousin came up to her and spoke to her and to me a little. She could speak no english and understand very little of it but I managed. He was easier, he could understand and that was much better. They were junior-highschool students. Well, it so happened that, since Susan and I are on the same train-line, they accompanied both Susan and I to our respective stops, and then promptly turned around and took the next train back to Numazu station. Mind you it is 20 minutes to Susono from Numazu. I wish I could contact these two to say thanks, but maybe one day they will read this. I must thank all the people on this trip, even ones who just didn't seem to get along with a lot of us; I could take them all. Especially I want to thank Nagase-sensei and all the Japanese TAs who helped me gain another foot in understanding and speaking the Japanese language. Please, if you read the above advice, take it. And take care.

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