Archive for the ‘Japanese food’ Category

southwest of nara: toshodaiji & yakushiji temples   4 comments

Friday, August 4:  This morning, my second day in Nara, I take bus #70 for 20 minutes to two temples south of Nara proper: Toshodaiji Temple and Yakushiji Temple.

Toshodaiji Temple is the headquarters of the Ritsu Sect of Buddhism. It was established in 759 when the Chinese priest Ganjin Wajo (688 to 763), a high Buddhist priest of the Tang Dynasty, opened what was originally called Toritsushodai-ji Temple to help people learn the Buddhist precepts. He was invited by Japanese Buddhists studying in China to teach the Imperial Court about Buddhism. In 753, overcoming the hardship of losing his eyesight, he arrived in Japan during his sixth attempt to cross the ocean.

Toshodaiji Temple

The Kondo (Golden Hall or Main Hall) houses the principal seated Rushana Buddha, the standing Yakushi Tathagata statue and the standing Thousand Armed Avalokiteshwara National Treasure.

Kondo (Golden Hall or Main Hall) at Toshodaiji Temple

Thousand Armed Avalokiteshwara National Treasure

Photography isn’t allowed inside the halls, but below are three postcards of the Buddhas at Toshodaiji Temple.   Click on any image for a full-sized slide show.

The Kondo, from the 8th century (Nara era) at Toshodaiji Temple is simple, but elegant, as are most Japanese temples.

Kondo (Golden Hall or Main Hall)

The Koro (Multi-storied building) from the 13th century (Kamakura era) is also called “Shariden (reliquary hall) because Buddha’s ashes brought by Ganjin Wajo were enshrined here. In the Zushi (miniature shrine) within the building, the Kinki (golden tortoise) is enshrined. This is also a National Treasure.

Toshodaiji Temple

The Rye-do (Chapel), from the 13th century, was originally the sleeping quarters for monks and is an important cultural property.

Rye-do (Chapel)

The Kodo (Lecture Hall) is from the Nara era.  It is a building removed from the Heijo Palace and reconstructed, where the principal seated Maitreya Tathagata statue (important cultural property), the standing Jikoku-ten statue, and the standing Zojo-ten statue are enshrined.  It’s another national treasure. I don’t have any pictures of these magnificent statues, sadly, as photography is not allowed.

Kodo (Lecture Hall)

A path leads through Toshodaiji Temple to another leafy path.

walkway at Toshodaiji Temple

It’s a welcome relief to find some shade on this hot and sultry day.

path at Toshodaiji Temple

At the end of the path, I find a lovely moss garden with dapples and shadows.

moss garden at Toshodaiji Temple

At the far end of the moss garden is the Kaizan Gubyo, or the Grave of Ganjin, the Founder of Toshodaiji Temple.

Grave of Ganjin, the Founder of Toshodaiji Temple

Toshodaiji Temple is far from Nara proper and its crowds, so it is quite serene here.

Toshodaiji Temple

the Kondo of Toshodaiji Temple

On the way to the Kaidan (ordination platform), a garden of lotus blossoms beckons.

Toshodaiji Temple

Toshodaiji Temple has a few beautiful lotus blossoms, even in the heat of the day.

lotus at Toshodaiji Temple

lotus at Toshodaiji Temple

In looking at my map of these two temples, which are close to each other, I decide instead of taking the bus, I’ll walk to Yakushiji Temple.  Though the map says it’s only a half kilometer, it seems longer than that, especially in this heat.

Yakushiji  is the headquarters of the Hosso sect of Japanese Buddhism.  The actual founder of the Hosso sect is Jion Daishi, but much of the Hosso Sect descends from the “Yugayuishiki” (Yogacara) teachings of Hsuan Tsang (600-664), a famous priest in the T’ang era in China. He studied Buddhism for 17 years in India.  After returning to China, he translated 1,335 volumes of important Buddhist writings, and then taught them as well.

Yakushiji was planned around 680 by Emperor Temmu to pray for the recovery of his Empress from a serious illness. During the long construction period, Temmu died and his Empress acceded to the throne and was called Jito.  The dedication ceremony for enshrining the chief Buddha, Yakushi Nyorai (the Buddha of Healing or Medicine Buddha) was held in 697.  The entire compound was completed in 698 in the south part of Nara, in the Fujiwara Capital. Ten years later, the Capital was moved to the north of Nara (in 710) and Yakushiji was moved to its present site in 718.  It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Yakushiji Temple

Yakushiji was burnt down and destroyed by fires, wars, or natural disasters several times.  The most damage was caused by the civil war in 1528.  Today only the Yakushiji Triad in the Kondo, the Sho-Kannon in the Toindo and the East Pagoda recall the grandeur of its original features.

Today, sadly, some major parts of the compound are under construction.

Kodo, or Great Lecture Hall, at Yakushiji Temple

Kondo, or Golden Hall, at Yakushiji Temple

Sadly, because no photography is allowed of the famous Buddha statues, I purchase a couple of postcards of the images.  Neither the postcards, nor any photos, could do them justice, as they are imposing and sit within the beautiful Kondo, or Golden Hall. Between the Buddha statues at Toshodaiji Temple and here, at Yakushiji Temple, I’m in awe.  These are truly magnificent pieces of art.

Postcards from Yakushiji Temple show the famous Yakushi Triad: the Yakushi Nyorai flanked by the Bodhisattvas of the sun and moon.  These are arguably some of the most beautiful statues in all of Japan.

The postcard on the left shows Yakushi Nyorai, a bronze statue (225 cm, or 7.4 feet tall) that is a National Treasure from the Hakuho Period (645-710); he is the Buddha of Healing and the Lord of the Emerald Pure Land in the East, who vowed to cure diseases of the mind and body.  He was already popular in Japan before the 7th century. He is also worshiped in order to achieve longevity. Though Yakushi Nyorai usually has a medicine pot in his left hand, this one does not.

The postcard to the right shows one of two Bodhisattvas – Nikko Bosatsu, who attends Yakushi Nyorai on the right side.  Gakko Bosatsu (not pictured), stands on the left side. Both are about 320 cm, or 10.5 feet tall. Nikko means the sunlight and Gakko means the moonlight.  They are impressive because of their twisted bodies, their graceful features, and the free flow of their robes.

Yakushi Nyorai is similar to the doctor of mind and body and Nikko and Gakko Bosatsu are the nurses.

“Pagoda” means grave in Pali, the ancient Indian language, and it was called “stupa” in Sanskrit.  Pagoda means the grave of Buddha.  Yakushiji is the first temple that had twin pagodas on its grounds.

Unfortunately, the original West Pagoda at Yakushiji Temple was burned down in 1528.  After the reconstruction of the Kondo, the West Pagoda was rebuilt in 1980.  The East Pagoda (not pictured), which miraculously survived the fire that destroyed Yakushiji in 1528, is the only surviving architecture of the Hakuho Period in Japan. Unfortunately for me, the East Pagoda is under renovation and is covered in scaffolding today.

West Pagoda at Yakushiji Temple

Buddha image at Yakushiji Temple

The Middle Gate stands between the South Gate and the Kondo, or Golden Hall.  You can see a hot wind is blowing.

Middle Gate at Yakushiji Temple

The Golden Hall at Yakushiji Temple is truly magnificent, especially with those spectacular Buddha statues inside.

Golden Hall at Yakushiji Temple

West Pagoda

Buddha at Yakushiji Temple

After my visit to both of these fabulous temples and their resplendent Buddha images, I catch bus #70 to return to Nara.  Back at the train and bus station, I search inside a big supermarket for kakinoha-zushi, which translates as “persimmon leaf sushi.”  The Nara region is famous for this delicacy.  I am able to show the name in Japanese to one of the supermarket employees, who points out the package.

Kakinoha is individual pieces of sushi wrapped in persimmon leaf, shown below.  You’re not supposed to eat the persimmon leaves. I sit outside on the front stoop of the supermarket with a bunch of other people enjoying this treat, although it’s a little awkward opening up the persimmon leaves and eating them while holding them on my lap.

kaki-no-ha

After I finish eating, I’m on my way by another bus to Kasuga Taisha Shrine, Wakamiya Jinja Shrine, and Kofuku-ji. 🙂

miyajima: daishō-in temple & return to hiroshima   13 comments

Wednesday, August 2:  After visiting the O-torii Gate at Itsukushima Shinto Shrine at somewhat low tide, I take a break to walk uphill toward Daishō-in, a historic Japanese temple complex on Mount Misen, the holy mountain on Miyajima.  Including Mt. Misen, Daishō-in is within the World Heritage area of Itsukushima Shrine.

Mt. Misen sits in the middle of Miyajima Island.  The mountain was opened as an ascetic holy mountain site by Kobo Daishi in the autumn of 806 when he underwent ascetic practice for 100 days in the mountain. The fire lit by Kobo Daishi is said to have been burning for 1200 years.  The fire was used to light the Flame of Peace in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park.

Daishō-in Temple is one of the most prestigious Shingon Temples in the western part of Japan. The Shingon, or “True Word,” branch of esoteric Buddhism, was introduced to Japan from China in the 9th century. Shingon involves trying to reach the eternal wisdom of the Buddha that wasn’t expressed in his public teaching. The sect believes that this wisdom may be realized through rituals using body, speech, and mind, such as the use of symbolic gestures (mudras), mystical syllables (dharani), and mental concentration (yoga). The whole is intended to arouse a sense of the pervading spiritual presence of the Buddha that resides in all living things, according to Encyclopedia Britannica: Shingon.

In the 12th century, Emperor Toba founded his prayer hall in Daishō-in. The temple had close links with the Imperial Family until the 19th century. Emperor Meiji stayed in the temple in 1885 (Welcome to Miyajima: Daishō-in).

Though I love the bright vermilion of many Japanese temples, I have a fondness for the wooden structures that look ancient and weathered and seem to blend in with nature.

The Niomon Gate serves as the official gateway into the temple. A pair of guardian king statues stand by the gate. Nio kings are believed to ward off evil, and are determined to preserve Buddhist philosophy on earth.

Niomon Gate of Daishō-in

Kukai, posthumously known as Kobo Daishi, is the founder of the Shingon sect. In 804, at age 31, he went to Tang, China, where he mastered profound esoteric teachings.  He is also well-known as one of the three greatest calligraphers in Japan.

Niomon Gate

lantern at Daishō-in

Lining the steps to the temple are the statues of 500 Rakan statues.  These represent Shaka Nyorai’s disciples. These images all have unique facial expressions. Besides the Rakan statues listed on the map below, there are other statues spread sporadically throughout the temple complex.

map of Rakan statues at Daishō-in

 

There are so many interesting things to see at this temple complex, even if I don’t know what many of them are.

water pavilion at Daishō-in

Daishō-in

Shimo Daishi-do Hall at Daishō-in

Along the temple steps is a row of spinning metal wheels that are inscribed with sutra (Buddhist scriptures). Turning the inscriptions as one walks up is believed to have the same effect as reading them. So, without any knowledge of Japanese, a visitor can be blessed with enormous fortune by turning the wheels (japan-guide.com: Daishō-in).

stairs and prayer wheels

The bell in the belfry was once rung to tell the time in the morning, afternoon and evening in the past. Now it is rung to start the time for worship.

Belfry

Kannon-do Hall was established  to enshrine the image of Kannon Bosatsu, the Deity of Mercy.

Kannon-do Hall

A mandala using colored sand depicts the divine figure of Kannon Bosatsu, the symbol of mercy. The mandala was made by Buddhist priests from Tibet.

Kannon-do Hall

Bosatsu, or Bodhisattvas, are the ones who are undergoing ascetic training to attain enlightenment; they are committed to NOT becoming Nyorai (the highest deities of Buddhism who have attained enlightenment) unless all sufferers on earth are saved.  To show their determination, Bosatsu images hold various objects.

Kannon-do Hall

Maniden Hall is the main prayer hall where Sanki Daigongen, or the Three Awesome Deities of Mt. Misen, are enshrined.

steps to Maniden Hall

Worshipers pray at Maniden Hall for good health, longevity, and contentment in their daily lives.

Maniden Hall

Commemorating the current (77th) head priest’s succession, 1,000 Fudo myo-o, or Immovable King, images were donated by worshipers.

one thousand Fudo myo-o, or Immovable King, images

figures at Daishō-in

In the dimly lit Henjokutsu Cave are the sand and the principal Buddhist icons of the 88 temples of the prestigious pilgrimage route on Shikoku. Worshipers believe that they are given the same blessings as people who make the pilgrimage to all the temples on the route (Welcome to Miyajima: Daishō-in).

It is my dream to one day do the Pilgrimage to the 88 Sacred Places of Shikoku.

representations of 88 temples of Shikoku in Henjokutsu Cave

pond at Daishō-in

figure at Daishō-in

After leaving Daishō-in, I visit Itsukushima Shinto Shrine and the O-torii Gate once again, as I make my way back to the ferry.  This time the tide is higher (miyajima: itsukushima-jinja & the floating o-torii gate).  Then I return by ferry and train to Hiroshima.  At my hotel, I ask for a recommendation for a good okonomiyaki restaurant.  Hiroshima is famous for oysters and okonomiyaki (savory pancakes: batter, cabbage, vegetables and seafood or meat cooked on a griddle).  The local version, Hiroshima-yaki, features individual layers, and noodles as the key ingredient (Lonely Planet Japan).

The place recommended by the hotel is open air with no air-conditioning.  It is much too hot for me to eat in there.  I’ve been sweating all day and look forward to cooling off during dinner.  So I walk back up the same street and find the perfect (air-conditioned) restaurant.

diner for Hiroshima-yaki

Here I’m greeted by a very friendly waitress who speaks some English.  A baseball game is on the TV in the background, and she keeps cheering for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp, the local baseball team.

diner for Hiroshima-yaki

It’s quite a process watching the chef whip up the Hiroshima-yaki.  I’m able to order mine with just shrimp.  I never want squid in these pancakes, even though squid seems to be the most common ingredient.

I have to say this pancake is one of the most delectable things I’ve eaten in Japan. Even though it’s huge, and filling, I have to eat every last bite. 🙂

After dinner, I stroll along the river in Hiroshima.

I see one last view of the Hiroshima A-bomb dome.

Hiroshima A-bomb dome

Hiroshima A-bomb dome

paper cranes for peace

Tomorrow morning, I’ll leave for Nara, where I’ll spend two nights. 🙂

Total steps today: 21,442 (9.09 miles)

 

miyajima: the five-storied pagoda & senjokaku pavilion   5 comments

Wednesday, August 2:  From the Motoyasu Bridge Pier bordering Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, I take a 50-minute ferry ride to the island of Miyajima for 2,000 yen (~$18). The ride is quite pretty, with islands jutting up in green mounds out of the choppy Hiroshima Bay.

Hiroshima Bay from the ferry

on the way to Miyajima

Hiroshima Bay from the ferry

Boat from Motoyasu Bridge Pier to Miyajima

I checked the tidal information before I came, as it’s recommended to come around high tide to see the best view of the O-torii Gate at Itsukushima Shrine.  I’ve arrived at the island at 12:47 pm, and high tide isn’t until 18:42, slightly less than 6 hours from my arrival time.   I know there is no way I will stay that late as I must return by ferry to Hiroshima.  Maybe I will be able to see the tide rise high enough during the day to get some decent photos of the famous floating torii.

I had read you could rent bicycles on Miyajima, but I’m told by someone at Tourist Information that it’s impossible.  Apparently, the island is easily walkable, so I promptly set off on foot.

Today’s tidal information

I’ve heard all about Nara’s famous deer, but I’m surprised to find deer wandering the streets of Miyajima.  The deer here are wild, but we’re warned they may eat paper and cloth, especially tickets and souvenirs.

deer in Miyajima

I walk along the main street of the town, but turn inward to enter Omotesando Shopping Arcade.  As it’s after lunchtime, I’m hungry, so I keep my eye out for a restaurant.  I’ve heard that Miyajima is famous for its broiled or grilled oysters, so I’d like to find some of those.

beginning of Omotesando Shopping Arcade

Some of the deer seem to be looking for dining spots as well.

shopping deer

The arcade is shaded, luckily, as it’s extremely hot and humid.   I don’t know how I’m going to last very long in the heat today.  At least I hope to find air conditioning in a restaurant.

Omotesando Shopping Arcade

There are so many cute things I’m tempted to buy in the shopping arcade, but buying anything means I’ll have to carry whatever it is around for the rest of my week of travels.  As I only have a carry-on bag with me, and it’s already packed, I have to pass on everything.

I love the Japanese traditional Kokeshi Dolls, but luckily I already bought a small one at Hanazono-jinja’s flea market in Shinjuku.  It’s already in a box on its way back to Virginia.

Japanese Traditional Kokeshi Dolls

I decide to eat at this restaurant graced by a smiling deer.  The plastic foods on display show broiled oysters.

restaurant for grilled oysters

I enjoy my meal of Kaki-no-sugata Yaki, or broiled oysters in the shells, but I must admit the meal doesn’t fill me up.  Oh well, I’m planning to eat Okonomiyaki, Hiroshima’s famous dish, tonight, so I’m okay not to eat too much.  Besides, it’s too hot outdoors to walk around on a full stomach.

Kaki-no-sugata Yaki

I don’t really know where I’m going in this town, but I follow the road to the conspicuous Five-storied Pagoda and Senjokaku, also called Toyokuni Shrine.

The Five-storied Pagoda, built in 1407, enshrined Yakushi Nyorai Zazo, the Buddha of Medicine, as well as Fugen Bosatsu (Mercy Buddha) and Monju Bosatsu (Wisdom Buddha).

Yakushi Nyorai Zazo, the Buddha of Medicine, is said to have been made by Kūkai, also known posthumously as Kōbō-Daishi, 774–835.  He was a Japanese Buddhist monk, civil servant, scholar, poet, and artist who founded the Shingon or “True Word” school of Buddhism (Wikipedia: Kūkai).

upstairs to the Five-Storied Pagoda

From the hilltop where the Five-storied Pagoda sits, I can see the mainland and the town of Hatsukaichi.

view from Senjokaku pavilion

Senjokaku (literally “Pavilion of 1000 mats”), also called Toyokuni Shrine, is the largest structure at Miyajima Island. It’s basically an open-air hall that has ancient paintings hanging from its rafters.  Today many Japanese folks find respite from the searing sun on the pavilion’s cool and smooth floors.

Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a preeminent daimyō (powerful feudal lord), warrior, general, samurai, and politician of the Sengoku period, started construction of Senjokaku as a Buddhist library where people could chant Senbu-kyo sutras for fallen soldiers.

Hideyoshi is regarded as Japan’s second “great unifier,” bringing an end to the Warring States period (c. 1467 – c. 1603).  He died in 1598 and the building was never fully completed. Originally, Amida Buddha and two subordinate Buddhist saints, Anan and Kasho-sonja, were enshrined in the structure until the Meiji reformation, when the structure was converted into a Shinto shrine dedicated to Toyotomi Hideyoshi.

Senjo-kaku pavilion

Five-Storied Pagoda

From the hilltop, I can see some of Miyajima’s many shrines, most notably Itsukushima Shrine, home of the floating torii.

view from paintings at Senjokaku pavilion

Numerous votive picture tablets that had been hanging in the Itsukushima Shrine buildings until the Meiji era hang today on the walls inside Senjokaku.

paintings at Senjokaku pavilion

paintings at Senjokaku pavilion

Senjokaku pavilion

I love the airy feel of Senjokaku pavilion. I wander around here for some time, enjoying the shaded area with a bit of a breeze whispering through.  The multitudes of ancient paintings create an atmosphere heavy with history.

Senjokaku pavilion

Five-Storied Pagoda

Finally, I leave the pavilion and head downhill in search of the famous O-torii Gate.  On the way, I pass more friendly deer. It’s only 2:14, so the tide won’t be high enough yet to make the torii gate picturesque.

deer in Miyajima

I continue on to the beach, where I find people wading out in the water around the O-torii Gate.  At least it’s not sitting in mud at this point!

two orientations in tokyo … and little kindnesses   11 comments

Friday, March 31:  We have a full day orientation in Tokyo today, so two of my colleagues and I leave our apartment building at 6 a.m. to negotiate the Yokohama and Tokyo metro system.  We walk 20 minutes to Fuchinobe, where we take the JR Yokohama line (local) and get off at Nagatsuta.  We then switch to the Tokyo Denentoshi Line (Semi-Express) for Minami Kurihashi, getting off at Shibuya, Tokyo’s busiest station.  However, we don’t leave the station, as we switch to the Tokyo Metro Hanzoumon (Express) line, getting off finally at Kudanshita.  All of this takes 2 hours, door-to-door. Much of the time, the trains are packed, with standing room only.  We figured this would be the case on a Friday morning, and we were right.

The Tokyo metro is like nothing I’ve ever seen.  Below is a photo of the map.  We are on the outskirts, indicated by the circle around Fuchinobe on the lower left quadrant of the map.  Yokohama is further south and to the right on the lower left quadrant.

One thing I love so far about the Tokyo metro is that every station has a restroom!  I wish the Washington, D.C. metro had the same.  It is so civilized!  It’s always a relief to know I can stop if I need to.

We don’t see this on the Yokohama line, but on the Tokyo line, white-gloved uniformed conductors with hats stand evenly spaced on the platform edge; they whistle and wave yellow cloths or red plastic batons to signal the platform is clear and the doors can be closed. It’s a delight to watch.

The Tokyo Metro system

At Kudanshita’s Exit 5, we’re to turn left at the Starbucks on the left and go straight to Bellesalle Kudan, a large building, possibly a conference center.  Since we’re an hour early for orientation, which begins at 9:00, we get coffee at a McDonald’s near the metro instead.

The morning session is for new teachers to Westgate.  In the afternoon, the returning teachers join us.  All of us are teaching in the accredited program.  Westgate’s other university program is called the extra-curricular program.  I believe that starts later in the month.  There are nine teachers at our university in Westgate’s accredited program.

At lunchtime, I go with two of my colleagues to an Indian restaurant and have an impressive airplane-shaped naan, dal curry and a mango lassi.  Some of us wish it wasn’t lunchtime so we could enjoy a beer.

After orientation ends at 5:00, and we are back on metro, we’re on the lookout for the Nagatsuta stop. We think we are going in the right direction but we’re not certain. A tall thin Japanese man with gleaming brown Oxfords, longish straight black hair and glasses which give him a nerdy-smart look, overhears us discussing this conundrum.  I notice him inclining his ear toward us and then checking the metro map and counting stops on his fingers. I say to my colleagues “He’s helping us,” and he turns to us and tells us we have four more stops, saying Nagatsuta and putting up 4 fingers.  When we get to the station, he says, “Here.”  He is so kind to help us out without speaking any English and without us asking.  I say “arigato” and bow to him.

It is rainy and cold as we leave the station and the guys are walking so fast I am practically running to keep up with them.  Tobias doesn’t have an umbrella and wonders whether he should go out of his way to the big pink superstore to buy one.  He decides against it, and on one long stretch on the way home, a man suddenly appears and offers a bright green umbrella to him.  Two kindnesses in one day.  I say, “All we need is a little kindness in the world.”  I feel especially happy for these gifts, and relieved to be far away from the U.S.A., where kindness is becoming increasingly difficult to find.

Joe and I go to the 7-11 for a few things.  Suddenly, Tobias, who had gone straight back to his apartment, comes to the 7-11 to warn us that the guy selling television subscriptions is hanging around the apartment building.  I don’t want to pay for using the television in my apartment as I never watch it.  Everything on it is in Japanese, except maybe a couple of stations, and I watch everything I need on my computer.  We have been advised not to answer the door to this guy.  Later, he returns, close to 8:30 p.m., knocking and ringing the doorbell, but I pretend I’m not home and don’t answer the door.

Today’s dictionary word of the day is Weltschmerz (Velt-shmerts), which is German.  It means: sorrow that one feels and accepts as one’s necessary portion in life; sentimental pessimism.  The word makes me think of the Japanese man on the train, who seemed a little sad and resigned, and Mary MacKenzie’s complicated and doomed love affair with a Japanese nobleman in The Ginger Tree, and the line from the novel: “There is nothing like living in a country as an enemy alien to really thin down the roster of your friends.”

I was happy to get home to my warm apartment (well, it took a while to warm it up after such a cold and rainy day), especially after the long walk in the rain in my flimsy clothes.  I enjoyed a prepared dinner from 7-11 of tiny mussels with veggies on rice, spicy cucumbers, and an Asahi beer.

Saturday, April 1:  Luckily we don’t have to go into Tokyo for our campus-specific orientation until 10:00, so I have a bit of a leisurely morning.  I prepare my first breakfast in my tiny frying pan: scrambled eggs with grape tomatoes – except without a spatula. Another thing to add to my list. Now that I’ve bought a few things and my suitcases have been unpacked, my apartment is starting to look a little cozier.

I meet my colleagues by the vending machine at 10:00 a.m. and we’re on our way to a different location in Tokyo, the Westgate Corporation office.  This time we walk 20 minutes, take the Yokohama Line to Machida (7 min), then get on the Odakyu Line Rapid Express for Shinjuku (26 min), which is standing room only.  At Yoyogi-Uehara we transfer to the Tokyo-Metro Chiyoda Line (23 minutes).  We get off this line at Yushima.  All told it’s about an hour and 20 minutes.

As soon as we exit the Yushima Station, we go in search of a ramen restaurant.  One of my colleagues has lived off and on in Japan for eight years, so he knows exactly what to look for.  We find a cozy little spot where we order from a machine covered in pictures.  I have no idea what I am going to get, but the picture looks enticing and a young man informs me that it has baby shrimp in it (always a selling point!), as well as some minced pork.  We sit at the bar and soon the waitress brings three steaming bowls.  I have ordered #2 spicy (out of 5), and it is perfect.  I could have eaten a bottomless bowl of this soup.  This is the best meal I’ve eaten in Japan so far.  I guess since most of my meals have come from 7-11, that’s not surprising!

ramen noodles with pork and shrimp and #2 spicy broth

During lunch, I talk with a young Japanese man who works in quality control at a machine parts factory.  He is heading to work after lunch. He’s very friendly and I really appreciate him for making an effort to speak English with us despite it being a struggle for him.

It turns out the Westgate office looks somewhat like an apartment made into office space.  It’s a warm and inviting place for a small group meeting.  Reiko, CDT (Curriculum Development and Training), is very organized and has a laid-back demeanor. We get our schedule and it looks like I’ll be teaching three classes a day on M, Th, and F, 90 minutes each, around 20 students in each class.  Each of the three classes will be the same lesson, much like what I had in China, except I had four of the same class in China. That means one prepared lesson plan per day.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, I’ll also be teaching the three classes, but spread over two days.  It’s good, because it looks like we have planning time built into the schedule.  I will also have an English Camp class to lead, which is conversation where students can just drop in.  It seems I’ll be teaching until 6:30 three nights at week on M, Th and F.  As a morning person, that isn’t ideal.

After our orientation, we backtrack to Fuchinobe by metro, and I peel off to visit the pink superstore, where I buy a bedside lamp (it’s really a desk lamp, but it works), a 3-drawer plastic container for my jewelry, and more hangers.  When I return home, I hang up the rest of my clothes and store my suitcases in the loft.  I’m feeling pretty organized. 🙂

For dinner, since I had a big lunch and am tired from our day and from lugging stuff home, I eat half of a shrimp and pasta dish I got, again from my trusty 7-11, accompanied by a slice of bread and an Asahi beer.

We have the next two days off, so I plan tomorrow to take the same metro route I took today, and visit Ueno Park to see the cherry blossoms; the peak is supposed to be this weekend. I’m using Walk #9 from my Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City book.  The main problem with this book is that it doesn’t tell you the distance or the time.  The walk looks pretty exhaustive.  We’ll see how that goes. 🙂

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