Winter Vacation (Pt. 1): Kyoto

Leading up to winter vacation, I hadn’t really planned much of anything. However, as the time drew closer, I decided to take some of my nenkyū (paid holiday days) to extend my otherwise short break and do a bit of sightseeing. I ended up planning a rather last-minute trip to Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara, and I’m really glad I did—I got to see a bunch of really neat things, eat delicious food, and pamper myself for almost a full week before coming back and getting back into the swing of things with a new semester.

As I was going through all of my pictures, I quickly realized the necessity of letting Kyoto have a post all to itself. I also realized that, although it would be easy just to talk about things in the order I saw them, that would be incredibly boring—both for me to write and for you to read. On the other hand, I really, really like lists. Like, really like them.

So, without further ado: the ten things I saw during my three days in Kyoto, ranked from cool to awesome. 🙂


10. A temple whose name I don’t know

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When I first saw this temple, I thought it was pretty awesome because I came across it by accident. I had just finished lunch after arriving in Kyoto, and I was walking toward my first destination when I saw this and decided to pop in. It was only my second time visiting a Buddhist temple, so at the time it was fairly interesting. It’s pretty big, and the prayer rooms are set up nicely. Looking back, however, I realize that it’s rather unremarkable for a temple, especially in light of the other things I saw.

[Note: I don’t know the name of this temple because 1) I found it by accident, 2) it’s only in Kanji on Google Maps, and 3) their website is less than helpful.]


9. Shōsei-en Garden

From the unnamed temple of #10, I went to Shōsei-en because there were signs that were like, “Hey, while you’re here, you should go check out this garden!” So I did.

It was actually quite pretty, and there were still some colorful leaves and plants, even though it was the end of December. I enjoyed walking around for a while and taking nature pictures. There was a big pond there, and as soon as I walked closer to check it out, I was greeted with this sight:

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Obviously they get fed there a lot, because they all started swarming to the shore as soon as they saw me. I guess they expected me to do the same. (Sorry, guys.)


8. Heian Shrine

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From what I understand, this is a pretty big-deal shrine in the Kyoto area. The shrine itself is fairly large compared to other shrines I’ve seen, the grounds are quite expansive. There was a huge garden around and behind the shrine that was beautiful, even though it’s winter and most things are dead (though I’m sure it’s gorgeous in the spring).

My favorite part was this bridge:

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I’m kind of obsessed with it. I could stare at this thing for hours.


7. Arashiyama (“Storm Mountain”)

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Arashiyama can be described in one word: bamboo. Everywhere. It’s pretty neat cause you get to walk through a bamboo forest that’s cool and quiet and peaceful, and it also happened to be snowing the day I went, so that really added to the experience.

Unfortunately, my knees were really hurting and giving me lots of trouble that day, so I didn’t get to go to the monkey park or do any of the other really cool things this area has to offer. If I had, I’m sure Arashiyama would have ranked higher on the list. 🙂


6. Renge
ō-in / Sanjūsangen-dō

This place was really cool. It’s a temple that has this super long hall filled with one thousand statues of Kannon (“Goddess of Mercy” – incredibly popular and widely worshiped in Japan). They’re set pretty close together and in multiple rows, and they just keep going and going and going. There are also 28 guardian deities, but they weren’t as interesting to look at. 🙂

(Unfortunately, pictures were forbidden here, and they reserve the right to check cameras as you leave in order to enforce this rule. You can see some official pictures if you do a Google search, though.)


5. Kinkaku-ji

This is one of the most popular tourist spots in Kyoto, and I can certainly see why as Kinkaku-ji (“Temple of the Golden Pavilion”) is literally covered in gold. There were swarms and swarms of people all trying to take pictures and selfies at the same time, but I managed to snag a few people-free pictures.

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As you’re leaving after walking through the whole area, vendors sell special souvenirs that you can only get inside the temple. My favorite was a bottle of sake (Japanese alcohol made from rice) with small flakes of gold floating inside. I kind of regretted not getting one just for the fun of it.

(Although, now that I think about it, maybe that’s a good thing. The vendor told me that it would “make [me] into a gold man.” I’m quite happy in my non-gold, non-male body. ;))


4. Fushimi Inari Taisha

Inari is this really cool shrine set at the base of a small mountain. It actually continues all the way up the mountain, and the path  (~4km total) is lined with thousands of shrine gates, and there are hundreds of smaller shrines set up along the path.

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I went toward the end of the day, so I got to see it both in daylight and in darkness. I also started talking to another tourist on the way up and we had some cool conversations, so that made the experience really fun. Also, we saw this cat hanging out on one of the shrines on our way down:

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3. Kiyomizu-dera

To start, this temple was beautiful.

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Also, it had several really fun parts that made it quite an enjoyable experience. First, for the bargain price of 100 yen, I was able to walk through a curving pitch black tunnel using only a beaded handrail to guide me to a glowing stone thing where, if I touched it and made one and only one wish, Buddha was guaranteed to grant it. I’m not sure why I thought this would be a fun experience given my claustrophobia, but I managed to make it through without panicking (and without the much louder, much faster group of guys behind me running over me).

Back in the nice, open outside world, I saw this Love Fortune Telling Rock, where you would close your eyes and walk from Rock #1 (pictured) to Rock #2 (not pictured but almost identical to Rock #1):

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(It was really fun watching people try to do that.)


2. Kennin-ji

This was a Zen Buddhist temple with multiple rooms all connected by small bridge things that you could explore as long as you were wearing socks (but not shoes). Many of the rooms had very intricately paneled doors, and the amount of detail on them amazed me.

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The highlight, though, was in the building across from the main section (you have to put on special slippers so you can walk across the way). On the ceiling is a painting of twin dragons commemorating the 800th anniversary of Kennin-ji’s founding:

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(Sorry for the crappy lighting. The ones taken without the flash are much better in terms of color, but some spots are blurry cause I had to try to hold the camera still for too long.)

 

1. Ginkaku-ji

Last but certainly not least is Ginkaku-ji (“Temple of the Silver Pavilion”), which is by far my favorite spot in Kyoto. This was another Zen Buddhist temple, but unlike the previous one, this temple was pretty much exclusively outside and had a gorgeous garden (including Zen sand designs) that you could explore.

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When I went, it was early enough to where there weren’t many tourists until about the time I was leaving, so it was really quiet and peaceful, and it had been raining before I got there, which really added to the peaceful atmosphere. I got lots of pictures of colorful flowers and bamboo rails with raindrops.

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I also (of course) got some pictures of the Silver Pavilion for which the temple is named:

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I really like this place, and I really hope I can go back someday. I don’t think it will ever get old.

***

All in all, this was a really awesome first part of my trip, and I saw so many amazing things. I really enjoyed being able to go by myself and just escape for a little while while exploring Japan. If you ever get the chance to go to Kyoto, I’d highly recommend it. 🙂

(Fun note: When I got back home and told the teachers at my school that I prefer Ginkaku-ji to Kinkaku-ji, they were really surprised, because most foreigners usually prefer Kinkaku-ji. I explained that I like how quiet and peaceful and meditative this place is, and they agreed and told me that, in this regard, I’m very Japanese. So that was a fun bonus. :))

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Happy New Year!

I’m back! After 4.5 weeks of being sick and about 2 months of severe anxiety due to culture shock, I’m finally on the upswing! Although I’m still working on getting my life put back together (cleaning, self-care, etc.), things are starting to improve, so I figure now is as good a time as any to return to my blog. 🙂

After much deliberation–and many failed attempts to make myself sit down and write–I’ve decided not to go back in time and describe my mini adventures in detail. It’s too daunting a task for this period in my life (thanks, anxiety); besides, I’m starting to have real adventures, and I’d rather talk about those instead of trying to remember every little detail about something that happened four months ago.

So, instead, I will be posting all of the pictures from the last several months on Facebook. You can access it via the link below (even if you aren’t on Facebook or my friend on Facebook :)).

I’ll be back early next week to tell you about my travels during winter vacation!

Facebook album: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10208244928217181.1073741830.1122067854&type=1&l=3cc817e600

 

Coming Soon…

Hey all!

I realize it’s been forever since I’ve posted anything. Things have been a little hectic around here. The end of September and beginning of October were filled with culture shock, a leaky apartment that started growing mold, apartment repairs, and getting my internet set up. Then, November brought an incredibly busy season with hardly any time to think (much less write) and more culture-shock-induced anxiety. But, I am on the mend, and I hope to come back to this a bit more frequently.

My plan is to go back in time to about September and pick up where I left off, detailing the things that happened between the last time I was on here and the present. Then, I shall continue documenting the things that are currently happening. 🙂

So, keep your eyes peeled for new things. Something might be posted this weekend, depending on how things go. 🙂

A Japanese Play (As Retold by a Non-Japanese Speaker)

***

Okay, so, there’s this guy and some important Japanese dude. The guy is bowing a lot. And…he just pulled a string or something and a box fell open and revealed a girl. Now she’s dancing for the important Japanese dude. Oh, he’s touching her. She must be that kind of girl. Wait, now she’s running away.

[Scene change]

Wait, who are these people dancing around, and what on earth are they wearing? Are they clowns? What’s going on here?

Oh! I think that’s the girl from before! She seems to kinda want to be with them, but she also seems really scared of them…. WHY DOES SHE KEEP CRYING?!?!

There’s still a lot of singing and dancing…. These people are really weird. I still don’t know what they’re wearing, but okay.

Ooh, it seems like the girl and the guy they keep calling “sensei” are falling in love. That’s cute. I understand this part.

Oh no! That’s the guy that made the box fall open! She seems terrified!

[Scene change]

We’re back at the…palace?… now. The girl seems really scared, and her hands are tied up. She and the guy are bowing lots. …And now the important Japanese dude is letting her go. Cool, I guess?

[Scene change]

Now we’re back with the clown people. The girl and the sensei dude are obviously in love. I think they’re setting up their lives together and all seems to be marital bliss. I think he’s giving her rose water or something as a gift. Lots of flowers.

Wait, now a bunch of people are charging in and pulling down the laundry! Girl and sensei dude are really scared.

[Time/memory lapse]

Now there’s this other girl in a red kimono. She just joined the girl and the sensei dude. She seems really scared, like she’s running from something. Now an argument between random guys and the girl and the sensei dude, presumably about the red kimono girl. Now the first girl is being taken away and red kimono girl is left behind. Sensei dude seems really sad.

Sensei dude is angry now. He seems to be going around talking to a lot of people, but I think he’s yelling at most of them.

Ooh, now there’s a girl being paraded around a pretty Japanese garden! Wait, is that the girl from before? It kinda looks like her.

Sensei dude just entered the garden. He’s trying to talk with her, but the two guys parading her around are trying to protect her from him. I guess they’re allowed a couple minutes, though.

…That conversation ended quickly. Now the two guys are taking her away. Sensei dude seems really upset and angry.

And now more angry conversations between sensei dude and random people.

Wait! They just found a pretty pink flower on the balcony. It seems really important, and sensei dude is reeeaaalllllyyyyyy happy.

Now the girl is back, and they’re hugging and kissing! And the clown people are dancing and celebrating… Everyone seems happy, so I guess that’s good.

[The End]

***

So, just when I thought my life was boring, that happened. Yesterday, I had the opportunity to go to a play with my colleagues and students at the theater about 10 minutes away by car. I was both excited (about seeing a Japanese play) and nervous (cause, well, I don’t speak Japanese).

Sure enough, it was quite confusing, and I was lost for most of it. Thankfully, I was sitting next to my supervisor, so when it was quieter or there was a break, she would lean over and give me a quick rundown of what had happened. Still, it was very difficult for me.

Overall, I’d highly recommend the experience of seeing a Japanese play/musical. There are certainly some similarities to the plays/musicals I’ve seen in America, but there are also some differences that can’t really be described. So it’s a cool learning experience. That being said, I would definitely recommend knowing Japanese before you go so you can understand the actual story rather than interpreting your own. 😀

Just Floatin’ Along

Hello everyone!

I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, but that’s because not much has happened recently. I mean, I sang karaoke for the first time and started teaching classes yesterday and there’s a typhoon hitting tomorrow, but those are such everyday occurrences, you know? 🙂

Those things aside, there really hasn’t been much going on. I’ve kinda fallen into my routine of wake up, coffee, Bible reading, getting ready for school, school, walking, dinner, studying Japanese, and coloring/anime/reading. It’s the same pretty much every day, which is both a blessing and a curse. After all, I function MUCH better when I have a set routine, but I’m wondering if it’s become TOO set—so much so that I sometimes forget to get out and do things.

Oh well. I’ll take opportunities to get out as they come (and seek some occasionally, since not everything will come my way automatically). There are a couple of events and festivals coming up in the next month-ish, and I have a bunch of daikyuu (compensatory time off after I work overtime) coming up soon, so I’m hoping to take a trip to somewhere with the 3-4 day weekend I’ll have. If so, you’ll see lots of pictures and hear about great things. 🙂

Until then, know I’m doing well and I haven’t died. Well…maybe I should wait until after the typhoon hits tomorrow to say that. Just kidding! 😉

What an Onsen Taught Me About Body Image

This weekend, I went to a tiny little town in the middle of the inaka (countryside) to visit a friend of mine from Tokyo Orientation. We had some great food, awesome conversations, and amazing experiences (including walking the world’s longest wooden pedestrian bridge!). My absolute favorite part of this adventure, however, was our trip to the onsen.

“Onsen” is a word that describes Japanese hot springs/bathing areas. The water is absolutely heavenly and has the ability to completely melt away stress you didn’t even know existed while allowing you to soak up a bunch of super beneficial minerals. And the best part about it is you do all of this while completely naked.

(Note: Almost all onsen either have separate bathing areas for men and women or have alternating male/female bathing hours so that the genders don’t mix. Additionally, they’re quite sanitary as you’re required to bathe – and I mean thoroughly bathe – both before and after you enjoy the hot springs.)

Now, for those of you who, like me, are not used to going around completely nude, your first trip to an onsen can be a bit uncomfortable, at least initially. I was definitely feeling pretty self-conscious as my friend and I prepared to enter the bath area, and it felt a bit awkward when I walked into a room of naked ladies sitting on stools while soaping up and showering like it was the most normal thing on the planet earth.

Quickly, my friend and I headed over to the showers and began the process ourselves. After thoroughly scrubbing and making sure every soap bubble had disappeared from our bodies, we walked into the actual bath (with me, at the very least, still self-conscious and afraid everyone was watching).

To my surprise, all of my self-consciousness faded away within minutes. Weirdly enough, the thing that had made me the most uncomfortable (a bunch of naked ladies acting like it was completely normal to be walking around naked) was the thing that ended up making me super comfortable and relaxed. Everyone was just doing her own thing with practically no thought as to what anyone else was doing. I was free to just be me and enjoy my time without having to worry about what people thought because, honestly, none of them were paying any attention to me.

It was almost a revolutionary experience for me. I’ve always been super self-conscious about my body (shape, size, appearance, etc.). Clothes (though extremely appreciated for their function of keeping me from being naked) have, to a large extent, made me more self-conscious by allowing me to hide the worst parts of myself like a secret – only I knew what was truly beneath the fabric.

In the onsen, however, I was able to exist freely, just me and my body, in the company of women who were doing the same. Being surrounded by such a variety of bodies – skinny, fat, short, tall, pale, dark, young, and old – allowed me to realize that there is beauty in diversity and that there is nothing bad or wrong about my body. It may not look exactly like anyone else’s, but God made it to look just as beautiful as everyone else’s. For the first time in my life, I felt truly comfortable in my own skin.

So, for those of you who may be tempted to skip an excursion to the onsen for fear of being surrounded by naked strangers, don’t. You’ll miss out on what I can only describe as a magical experience. 🙂

The Timely End of Kumo-san*

Herein follows a tale of the brave Keito-sensei** and her confrontation with the dastardly beast:

 

About a week ago, I spotted a giant*** spider lurking in the stairwell of my apartment. In this past week, I’ve noticed it on several occasions, and it always freaks me out. However, as the creature usually kept to the 1st or 2nd floor of the apartment complex (I live on the 3rd floor), it wasn’t too big a deal, and we were able to come to an unspoken agreement: It would stay on the 1st floor and let me go up/down the stairs without bothering me, and I would let it live. (This was my attempt to convince myself that it was as afraid of me as I was of it.)

This went well for about a week, but last night, it broke the agreement.

I had been slightly worried it was considering leaving its assigned habitat because I hadn’t seen it in about two days (I was secretly hoping it had decided to find a new home, but I knew that wasn’t realistic). Sure enough, as I was coming back from shopping last night, I walked up the stairs and THERE IT WAS IN THE CORNER BY MY DOOR. I stood there a minute contemplating what to do. I want to kill the spider, I thought to myself, but I have all these groceries. I need to put them inside, but what if it runs into my apartment when I open the door?

I decided to try, because I really did not want to confront the spider with my hands full of groceries.

Slowly, I unlocked my door. It didn’t move. Even more slowly, I reached for the handle and began pulling the door open. It still didn’t flinch. Slowly, oh so slowly, I was able to get the door open. I could see its giant, creepy legs sticking out from under the door. I ran inside and let the door slam shut.

Once inside, I took a moment to compose myself and consider my options:

Option 1: I had a can of spider/bug poison stuff. I could just spray it on the beast and wait for it to die.

Con: It takes a while even for small spiders to die that way. There was no telling how much poison it would take to kill this thing. I might only cause some kind of deformity, and, worse, it might run at me after I spray it.

Option 2: I have a male neighbor who is also on the JET Program who might be willing to kill it for me.

Con: I have to run past the spider to get to said neighbor.

Option 3: There’s a concrete brick sitting just outside my door. I could grab it and squash the spider with it.

Con: The hole in the brick might be a house for baby spiders. Plus, what if I missed the spider? Then I’d just have an angry spider running after me.

After summoning the courage to face the beast, I grabbed my cell phone (equipped with a flashlight) and slowly opened the door…

 

…and didn’t see the spider.

 

I started to panic. I used my flashlight to investigate the area before cautiously stepping outside and closing the door. After looking around, I realized it had merely moved about an inch away from its original position—just far enough away so that I couldn’t see its legs under the door.

I scooted past it and knocked on my neighbor’s door. No answer. I was on my own for this one.

I slowly glanced around, still considering my options. I didn’t really like them, but I liked the spider even less, so I decided to try for the brick. I used my flashlight to glance inside (it wouldn’t do to pick up a spider while trying to kill a spider). It was safe.

I picked it up and slowly moved toward the creature. My heart was pounding and my brain was overwhelmed trying to consider what I would do if I missed and it started running at me.

Meanwhile, I continued my approach, slowly and silently moving the brick closer to the giant. When it appeared to be in prime squashing position, I let it drop. I paused. Nothing. No movement. It was either dead or hiding. I cautiously glanced over the brick and saw the gooey remains of a very dead spider. My endeavor had been a success.

I breathed a sigh of relief and went back inside, knowing I’d be able to sleep peacefully that night without the fear of Kumo-san creeping into my apartment.

 

(All theatrics aside, it was really big and really gross, and I’m REALLLYYYY glad it’s dead.)

 

* Kumo = spider.  -san is an honorific attached to people’s names (except in this story) that is equivalent to Mr., Mrs., or Ms.

** Keito is the Japanese translation of Kate, which is what people call me here.  -sensei means teacher.

*** By giant, I mean about 4 inches in length—much bigger than the “big” spiders I used to complain about back home.