Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

a second visit to the kamakura daibutsu   2 comments

Sunday, July 2: After enjoying ice cream while sitting in an air-conditioned ice cream parlor, Tobi and I continue to the Kamakura Daibutsu.  Tobi has never seen it before, but I have.  The first time I visited (daibutsu: the great buddha of kamakura), the skies were bright blue; today it’s overcast and hazy.  No matter.  It’s still a treat to see the famous Buddha again.

Kamakura Daibutsu

We take a lot of pictures.  Here, Tobi poses meditatively in front of the Daibutsu.

He also takes a couple of pictures of me with the Daibutsu.

me at the Daibutsu

Kamakura Daibutsu

me at the Daibutsu

I love the Buddha with the lotus flowers.

Daibutsu and lotus flowers

Daibutsu and lotus flowers

We decide to take the Enoden Line, packed as usual, back to Kamakura.  In Kamakura, we search for a restaurant.

Kamakura restaurant

We have no idea what we’re getting, but the picture looks good.

I find out later, from my Instagram friend Yukie, that what we ate was Chirashi Sushi, or “scattered sushi.” This kind of sushi apparently came on the scene along with Maki Sushi (rolled sushi) around the 18th century.  Another close translation for it is “sushi rice salad.”  The ingredients, or “gu,” are scattered on sushi rice with no rolling or shaping involved (All About Sushi Guide: Chirashi Sushi).

Chirashi Sushi, or “scattered sushi”

This is the first time I’ve had this in Japan, and I love it!

Chirashi Sushi, or “scattered sushi”

After lunch, we get back on the train and go to Kita-Kamakura, where we plan to visit Engakuji Temple.

hasadera’s hydrangea walk: the third time’s a charm   15 comments

Sunday, July 2: Today, I invite my colleague Tobi to come along with me to Hasedera Temple, which is about a 7-minute walk from the Daibutsu, or the Big Buddha. He’s been wanting to go to the Daibutsu for a long time, but hasn’t done it for whatever reason.  I’ve decided once more to try to do the hydrangea walk at Hasedera.  I tell him we must get an early start because I don’t want to miss the hydrangea walk for the third time.  I tried two times before, with no success.  You can read about those botched attempts here and here.

Even though we live in the same apartment building, I have a bicycle and Tobi doesn’t, so we agree to meet at Fuchinobe Station at 7:30 a.m. After meeting and having a brief coffee, we get on the train to Kamakura.  On the train, we sit across from this lady carrying a huge bouquet.  Tobi takes a great photo of her and allows me to share it.

on the Yokohama Line – photo by Tobias Manthey

Upon arriving at Kamakura Station, rather than pack ourselves like sardines into that ever-crowded Enoden Line, we hire a taxi for 800 yen to take us directly to Hasedera.  By the time we arrive, it’s nearly 10:00. We get our timed tickets for the hydrangea walk and find, much to our surprise, that the wait is only about 45 minutes!

floating iris garden at Hasedera

We check out the Benten-kutsu Cave while we wait.  It is here at this cave that Benzaiten and her followers of Sixteen Children are chiseled out of the rock walls. Benzaiten is the Goddess of water and wealth, and the only female among the Seven Japanese Gods of Fortune.

outside the Benten-kutsu Cave

inside the Benten-kutsu Cave

ema at the Benten-kutsu Cave

Benten-do Hall is next to Hojo-ike pond.   It houses the statue of Benzaiten with eight arms.

Benten-do Hall

We make our way up the hill, past the pond and iris garden.

pond and iris garden at Hasedera

About halfway up the hill, we stop at Jizo-do Hall, where Fukujyu is enshrined. Here, visitors can pray for easy childbirth and prosperity.  Surrounding the hall are thousands of little Jizo statutes standing in long rows. The statues are there to comfort the souls of miscarried and deceased children.  Jizo is a Buddhist saint who saves people and is especially believed to protect children.

Jizo statues at Jizo-do Hall

Jizo statues at Jizo-do Hall

Jizo statues at Jizo-do Hall

Jizo statues at Jizo-do Hall – Photo by Tobias Manthey

Jizo statues at Jizo-do Hall

Jizo statues at Jizo-do Hall

At the top of the hill, we find the Kannon-do Hall, which houses the fabulous statue of Hase Kannon.  Although Kannon is often described in English as “the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy,” it is, strictly speaking, neither masculine nor feminine.  Sadly, no photography is allowed.

Kannon-do Hall

incense burner at Kannon-do Hall

We stop to admire the hazy view of Yuigahama and Zaimokuza Beaches, as well as Sagami Bay, from the Observation Platform.  We can see the Zushi Marina and the Miura Peninsula in the distance.  It’s very hot and humid today.

View of Yuigahama and Zaimokuza Beaches and Sagami Bay from the Observation Platform

garden near the hydrangea walk entrance

garden near Kannon-do Hall

Buddha footprints – Photo by Tobias Manthey

Buddha footprints

The hydrangea walk begins near the Observation Platform, and now, at 10:45, we show our tickets and get into the line.  Luckily, the line is not nearly as long as it’s been the last couple of times I’ve been here.

map of the hydrangea walk

hillsides covered in hydrangea

hydrangea hills

As we walk up the hill of the hydrangea walk, sweat is pouring off of me.  It’s such miserable weather today!

view from the hydrangea walk

multi-armed statue

hydrangea

view of Sagami Bay from the hydrangea walk at Hasedera

view of Sagami Bay from the hydrangea walk at Hasedera

I’m finally able to have someone take a picture of me, and my hair looks horrible because of the straightening I had done yesterday.  It’s so flat!  I’m never allowed to wash my hair for two days after straightening, and after sleeping on it all night, it looks awful. 😦  Oh well, at least periodically, I like to prove I actually was in Japan. 🙂

 

 

We continue on the hydrangea walk, admiring the views, the plethora of hydrangeas, and the stone lanterns.

stone lantern among the hydrangeas

lantern amidst white hydrangeas

view over Sagami Bay

view over Sagami Bay

Japanese lady in yukata

hydrangea heaven

from a bygone era

hydrangea

Back at the bottom of the hill, near the exit to the hydrangea walk, I find this lineup of Buddhist deities.

Buddha statues

stone lantern

In the Kyozo (space for storing Buddhist scriptures), there is a rotary bookshelf called a Rinzo. It is believed that when you rotate the Rinzo once, you will receive the same virtue as when you recite the complete scriptures. There are also 18 prayer wheels called Mani-guruma which you can turn to receive virtue such as that from the Rinzo.

Rinzo- a rotary bookshelf

looking back up at the hillside

the hillside above

a rock garden with stone lantern

We go inside of Kannon-do, where we admire the amazing Kannon statue, at 30.1 feet (9.18 meters), one of the largest wooden Buddhist statues in Japan.  It has eleven heads in addition to its main one: three on the front, the right, the left, one at the top and another on the back.  Each face has a different expression, signifying that the Kannon listens to the wishes of all types of people and leads them away from distress. Hase Kannon holds a vase with lotus flowers in its left hand and is unique in that it holds a staff instead of prayer beads in its right. It stands on a stone-like base instead of a lotus flower like most eleven-headed Kannon statues.  It really is amazing to see, and I’m sorry that I’m not allowed to take a picture of it. 😦

The Sho-Kannon Bosatsu is one of the most beloved deities from old times in Japan. Kannon is known for its mercy and compassion such as a mother’s affection.  It is believed that Kannon will immediately appear to those who seek salvation in this realm.  Created by the late Mr. Seibou Kitamura, the statue is enshrined here as a symbol of peace.

statue of Sho-Kannon Bosatsu

Next to Kannon-do is Amida-do Hall, where the golden seated statue of Amida Nyorai, one of Kamakura’s six principal statues of Amida Buddha, is enshrined.  According to legend, in 1194, Minamoto no Yoritomo, who was the first shogun of the Kamakura Shogunate of Japan, commissioned the statue for warding off evil.  In later years, people came to believe it would expel evil spirits and offer protection against misfortune.

statue of Amida Nyorai

ema at Hasedera

ema at Hasedera

The Shoro Belfry was constructed in 1955 to house a massive bronze bell, created in 1264 and recast in 1984.  Following the Buddhist tradition, the bell is run 108 times around midnight on New Year’s Eve to dispel the 108 sufferings of humanity.

Shoro Belfry

This shrine was rebranded Inari-sha in later years, although it was originally dedicated to “Kojin” (god of the cooking stove and fire). According to the legend of the Kannon statue, the deity appeared floating on the sea, drifting ashore by the guidance of “kakigara” (oyster shells) attached to the statue.  This Inari-sha was established to enshrine the Kakigara and to receive the divine guidance of Kannon.

Inari-sha (Kakigara Inari)

“kakigara” (oyster shells)

Inari-sha (Kakigara Inari)

“kakigara” (oyster shells)

“kakigara” (oyster shells)

Near the Benten-do Hall and Benten-kutsu Cave is a pretty rock garden.

rock garden at Hasedera

The Japanese rock garden (枯山水 karesansui) or “dry landscape” garden, often called a zen garden, creates a miniature stylized landscape through carefully composed arrangements of rocks, water features, moss, pruned trees and bushes, and uses gravel or sand that is raked to represent ripples in water (Wikipedia: Japanese rock garden).

rock garden at Hasedera

rock garden at Hasedera

Near Benten-do Hall, one can pick up a fortune which appears blank; the fortune appears when placed in a concrete water bowl much like a bird bath. My friend Yukie from Instagram later translates my fortune for me:  I have moderate luck (chu-kichi).  In different categories, my fortune is such: Romantic relationships: Being kind to others will bring you happiness. Learning: Go back to your basics again! Health: You should relax with aromatherapy tonight!  Your work: Be more careful than usual.  One step at a time.

It’s funny about the work fortune, because at work, the university barely turns on any air conditioning, making the work situation unbearable. It’s miserably hot and humid in Japan, and I’m not tolerating it well.  I am about to explode over the situation, and have even seriously considered hopping on a plane and going home!  So, the admonition to “be more careful than usual. One step at a time” is an appropriate warning for me to calm down about the situation. 🙂

my fortune for today

Daikoku-do Hall houses the statue of Daikokuten.

inside Daikoku-do Hall

Daikokuten is one of the Seven Japanese Gods of Fortune. He is considered the god of wealth (or more specifically, the harvest), or of the household, particularly the kitchen. He is often prayed to for an abundant harvest, success in life and business. Recognized by his wide face and beaming smile, he is often portrayed holding a golden mallet and standing or sitting on bales of rice (Must Love Japan: Hasedera Temple).  People are allowed to touch this “Sawari Daikoku” to receive good fortune.

statue of Daikokuten

By the time Tobi and I leave Hasedera, it’s 11:40, and we walk down the street toward the Daibutsu, which I’ll now see for the second time. 🙂  We stop in one of the shops for an ice cream treat, and then we’re on our way.

(All information about Hasedera is from the temple’s tourist brochure, unless otherwise stated).

tokyo: akihabara electric town   1 comment

Saturday, July 1:  After leaving Kagurazaka, I hop on the train and ride a couple of stops to Akihabara Station.  I want to see one of Tokyo’s craziest areas before I leave Japan, although I’m not that excited about it. I’m not a big fan of noise and sensory overload, but I also think I wouldn’t be getting a full sense of Tokyo without experiencing at least some of this super hyped-up culture.

Akihabara (秋葉原) is a common name for the area around Akihabara Station in the Chiyoda ward of Tokyo.  The area was nicknamed Akihabara Electric Town (秋葉原電気街 Akihabara Denki Gai) shortly after World War II for being a major shopping center for household electronic goods and the post-war black market (Wikipedia: Akihabara).

Akihabara Electric Town

In more recent years, Akihabara has gained recognition as the center of Japan’s otaku (diehard fan) culture, and many shops and establishments devoted to anime and manga are now dispersed among the electronic stores in the district (Japan-guide.com: Akihabara).  Anime includes animated series, films and videos, while manga includes Manga, graphic novels, drawings, and related artwork. They have their origin in Japanese entertainment, but the style and culture has spread worldwide since its introduction into the West in the 1990s (Wikipedia: Anime and manga fandom).

Akihabara Electric Town

Dozens of stores specializing in anime, manga, retro video games, figurines, card games and other collectibles have filled the spaces between the electronics retailers.  In addition to shops, various other animation-related establishments have become popular in the area, particularly maid cafes where waitresses dress up and act like maids or anime characters, and manga cafes, a type of internet cafe where customers can read comics and watch DVDs in addition to having access to the internet (Japan-guide.com: Akihabara).

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

It’s incredibly noisy in this area.  I really don’t enjoy this place and have little interest in electronics except as a means to an end.  Neither do I have any interest in manga or anime.  But I do like to take colorful pictures, and there certainly is a lot of color here!

I’m sweating like there’s no tomorrow, so when I feel a cool blast of air coming from a Mister Donut, I simply must stop for an iced coffee and a donut, even though it’s almost dinnertime!  I sit here for a while until I stop sweating, only to have to go back out into the heat again.

Mister Donut treat

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

I don’t try out any of the maid cafes here in Akihabara Electric Town because I’m on my own and it wouldn’t be much fun without company.

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Crosswalk in Akihabara

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

Akihabara Electric Town

I’m happy to escape the noise and heat and to get on the train back to my quiet area of Fuchinobe.  At least I can now say I saw some of Tokyo’s craziness.  I definitely prefer the quiet temples and gardens tucked into the city’s little pockets.

Total steps today: 16,141 (6.84 miles).

 

tokyo: a japanese hair straightening and a walk through kagurazaka   Leave a comment

Saturday, July 1:  My main goal this Saturday is to get my hair straightened because, in this Tokyo-area humidity, it’s misbehaving shamelessly. Sadly, the hair salon in Machida doesn’t open until 10:00, so I can’t get an early start. I take the train to Machida and stand outside the multi-story mall, waiting for the doors to open with other Japanese consumer wannabes. We wait patiently, watching two men in standard white shirts stand at attention inside the mall doors.  I know there is no chance they’ll open the doors early because Japan is a punctual country and everything will be done just at the minute it’s supposed to be done. Of course I’m right; at exactly 10:00, the men bow in unison to the people standing outside and unlock the doors.

This is the first time I’ve entered a Japanese mall at opening time, and I find it funny that every shopkeeper is standing at attention at the entrances of their shops.  They bow politely as we walk past, and sing out their welcome message of “Irasshaimase,” or “welcome.”  I smile.  It’s all so adorable.

Up to the fourth floor I go to HAIR SALON SOCIÉ, where I meet Kei for my appointment. In his limited English, he tells me I have a nice shaped head and that my hair is difficult. I agree with him on the hair being difficult, but not on the nice-shaped head!  He begins the straightening process at about 10:30.  Normally a chemical hair straightening takes about 3 hours; by the time he’s finished today, it’s about noon, only 1 1/2 hours.  Of course it worries me that the process is considerably shorter than normal; I wonder if it will “take.” Luckily the process only costs me $115; in the U.S., hair straightening costs me $250!

At noon, I hop on the train, or rather a series of trains, for the long ride to Iidabashi Station.  Sleeping on the seat across from me is an older woman dressed like a Raggedy-Ann doll.  She’s wearing a red plaid gathered skirt and a white blouse with eyelet trim.  White eyelet ruffles bloom out from beneath the plaid skirt. Thick white tights are bunched up around her ankles above a worn pair of brown loafers. Her magenta ruffled hat is pulled down over her forehead, which keeps bobbing back and forth with the train’s movement. I don’t know if she’s just weirdly dressed like this, or if she’s wearing a costume for an unconventional job.  On the streets of Tokyo, I see many, mostly young, girls wearing silly costumes, calling out advertisements for businesses.  Maybe she’s dressed for something like this.  During the entire train ride, I never see her wake up from her slumbers.

Also, on the train, where I’m always seeing interesting people, a young lady gets on with bright turquoise helmet-head shaped hair and bright pink tennis shoes.  Oh the strange things I see in Tokyo. 🙂

Once at Iidabashi Station, I follow the crowds to the neighborhood of Kagurazaka, once famous as Japan’s premier pleasure quarter, or hanamachi (literally “flower town”), abundant with geisha houses. The geisha disappeared after World War II, but a charming atmosphere remains with its quirky shops and cozy cafes.  Kagurazaka was popular with artists and writers, including the Japanese author Soseki Natsume (1867-1916), whose face featured on the 1000 yen bill between 1984 and 2004 and whose birthplace is marked by a stone monument in Okubo, Tokyo’s most famous Korean town.

As my arrival is late and I haven’t eaten, my first goal is to find a place to eat.  I find an Italian restaurant called Trattoria Azzurri.  I know that the area is especially known for its French restaurants, but I’m afraid they’ll all be closed shortly.  It’s nearly 2:00 and I see from the sign that the last order for lunchtime is 2:00. So I pop in and sit at the bar, ordering a vegetable pasta dish.  Though colorful, it’s way too much food and not very good.

trattoria Azzurri

Feeling stuffed, I leave the restaurant at 3:00 and walk down the main street in Kagurazaka.  Red lanterns and charming shops line the road.  It’s hot and humid as usual, but at least my hair is in control. 🙂  I have to pull out my umbrella several times when the sky starts spitting rain, but it clears periodically.

Kagurazaka

Kagurazaka

Kagurazaka

I walk down the street, dipping into shops along the way, mainly to have some relief from the heat.

At one point I come to the Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple (Go Tokyo: Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple), built in 1595 by the first shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. In 1792, it was relocated from Chiyoda-ku to its current home.  Originally a Hindu god, Bishamonten was absorbed into Buddhism and evolved into a deity known to grant the people’s wishes. He is one of the Four Heavenly Kings and the protector of the north. In Japan, he is also one of the Seven Gods of Fortune.

Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple

Here I find omikuji, white paper fortunes, tied to a rack, along with a couple of ema.

wishes and ema at Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple

Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple

Bishamonten Zenkoku Temple

Back on the streets of Kagurazaka, I find some pretty hydrangeas.  The season hasn’t yet ended, giving me hope for my third and last try to do the Hasedera Hydrangea Walk tomorrow.

hydrangeas in Kagurazaka

Kagurazaka

Foods and flowers are prettily displayed along the road.  I wish I could tell you what these foods are.

Kagurazaka

Kagurazaka

French details in Kagurazaka

cafe in Kagurazaka

street art in Kagurazaka

Before leaving the neighborhood, I drop in to the historical Akagi Shrine, which was completely renewed in 2010 under the direction of renowned architect Kengo Kuma, resulting in an impressive, modern version of a Shinto holy site.  (Time Out Tokyo: Akagi Shrine)

red torri to Akagi Shrine

There are some instructions for walking through the circle of grass (?) at the shrine. Though all in Japanese, a chart demonstrates that you walk through the circle and then around to the left and back to the beginning, then through again and to the right, then again through and to the left. Repeating the three circular motions is said to bring good luck.

Akagi Shrine

ema at Akagi Shrine

The shrine is very modern, with glass walls and warm wood, unusual for shrines in Japan.

Akagi Shrine

Akagi Shrine

Akagi Shrine

Akagi Shrine

By 4:00, I’m ready to try to squeeze in one more destination for the day: Akihabara, the shopping district for video games, anime, manga, and computer goods.  Though it’s not my cup of tea, I’ve heard it’s one of those places in Tokyo you have to experience.  So, off I go!

a june cocktail hour at the family mart   5 comments

Friday, June 30:  Cheers!  Welcome to my third cocktail hour here in Japan. We’re meeting at the local Family Mart again tonight. I find it hilarious to meet here because it’s so ridiculous and unexpected.  Who would have thought of having a happy hour sitting out in front of a Family Mart (like a 7-11)?  Of course, I give credit to my Brit friend, Graham, because he’s the one who started the ritual. We always have a grand time here, so I think you’ll enjoy. 🙂

I only have three more weeks and one day of teaching, and four weeks on my contract. But… who’s counting?  After August 1, I’ll travel around Japan for one week, then I’ll head back to the USA on August 8.  If I have time for a July cocktail hour, I’ll be sure to send out an invite!

Please do tell me about your summer.  Have you traveled anywhere exciting over the summer months? Have you seen any good movies?  Watched any good TV shows or read any good books? Have you eaten fresh fruits and vegetables, or visited any pretty gardens?

June here was a long and tedious month, teaching 5 days a week with nary a break in sight.  At least in May, we had the Golden Week break, but in June, it was just work, work, work. On the weekends in June, I went to Fuji Five Lakes, Enoshima and Hasadera, Asakusa and Senso-ji, The Big Buddha in Kamakura and Hasadera again, and back to a neighborhood near Ueno.  I also went on a couple of shopping sprees because June is the rainy season and some of the weekend days were tainted by drizzle and downpours.

The biggest challenges I had to deal with at work this month were:  1) the tedious marking of 55 poorly written academic essays; 2) long and stifling days in the office because the university wouldn’t turn on the air-conditioning until after June 9, and then only when the temperature was over 28C; 3) general lack of motivation and ability of the students, 4) the infernal dust in my apartment, hard to get rid of because I have carpet and no vacuum cleaner.

Work is drudgery, not at all rewarding except in rare moments.  I feel like I have reached the end of my teaching-abroad career.  Though my teaching gigs abroad have given me many opportunities to live and travel in a country, to delve deep and to experience a culture, I simply no longer enjoy teaching non-motivated students who have little reason to learn English. As miserable as the adjunct teaching jobs in America are, at least the students want to study abroad in America and are motivated to succeed.  This is not the case for the students I teach when I’m abroad.

Monday, June 5:  Walking to work this morning, I had to take a picture of my favorite pink house with laundry hanging on the balcony.  My half-hour walks to work have generally been fine, but now that it’s getting hotter and more humid, I’m not thrilled to be dripping with sweat by the time I arrive at the office; as the office is not generally air-conditioned, I’m in misery even after I get to work.  Oh, how I hate the summer heat.  I am a cold-weather girl through and through.

laundry at the pink house

Thursday, June 8: I made my weekly stop at Kiyariya.  This time, the server presented me with a poorly translated English menu in addition to Kenji’s beautifully hand-written and changeable menu. I ordered the gyoza from the English menu. Of course I had the delectable eggplant and my draft beer. 🙂 Everything Kenji prepares is fabulous. 🙂  Not only that, but the atmosphere, the service and the music are delightful.

Gyoza at Kiyariya

As I left the restaurant this time, the server, who speaks a smattering of English, walked me to the front door and said, “See you next week!”

Tuesday, June 13: Tuesdays and Thursdays are my nights to eat out because I get off at 5:40.  On M-W-F, I get off at 6:30.  I never feel like going out on those late work nights.  This evening, I stopped again at Curry Naan and enjoyed the same meal I always have: vegetable curry and a huge piece of naan.  And of course my 100 yen beer. 🙂

I love listening to the music in both of the restaurants I frequent.  I don’t recognize most of the songs I hear at Kenji’s, but I like them very much.  Here, at Curry Naan, you won’t find Indian music of any kind.  Here it’s all classic rock, especially the Beatles. A favorite here seems to be Paul McCartney’s “Listen to What the Man Said:”

That people will find a way to go
No matter what the man said
And love is fine for all we know
For all we know, our love will grow – that’s what the man said

There’s John Lennon’s “Imagine” and “Stand by Me,”  along with his version of “Happy Xmas (War is over).” Then there’s a whistling song I’ve heard before; sadly, I don’t recall the name of it. What an interesting array of music for an Indian restaurant.

Vegetable curry at Curry Naan

Thursday, June 15:  This evening, Graham and I headed to the Family Mart for a couple of beers.  We found it hard to believe, but some Japanese guys were occupying our chairs!  We ended up going to a park on the other side of Fuchinobe Station.  I had never been there before, but it had a nice pond with three swans in it.  There was only one bench with a back, and we sat there and talked for quite a long while.  He’s of the same political beliefs as I am, so we had quite an involved political discussion – of course, it was an agreeable one. 🙂

Friday, June 16:  June has been all about the hydrangeas. I’ve made several weekend outings in search of them, and here are some I see on my way to work.

hydrangeas in the neighborhood

Sunday, June 18:  A month or so ago, I went to a Meetup in Hashimoto and met a nice Japanese lady named Reiko.  She added me on Facebook and we’ve been in touch through Facebook chat.  As we were chatting on Sunday morning, I mentioned that I planned to go shopping; after all it was forecast to rain that afternoon.  She said she’d meet me one metro stop away at Kobuchi, and she’d take me to her favorite discount stores.  We did just that, walking quite a distance to get from one place to another, and enjoying lunch together at one of the shopping malls. I had worn my favorite sandals with heels, but with all the walking, I regretted that decision.  My feet were killing me! Total steps while shopping: 10,326 (4.38 miles).  It was a fun day and I came away with too many tops and one pair of pants. 🙂

Monday, June 19:  Our lecture topic this week was Cultural Expectations in the Classroom.  To give the students a feel for American classrooms, I showed them the Key & Peele Substitute Teacher video from Comedy Central:

I reminded the students of my first days in class with them, when I couldn’t pronounce any of their names. I’m not sure the students got the humor, but I certainly enjoyed it. 🙂

Earlier I said I don’t generally go out to eat on Mon-Wed-Fri because of my late work hours.  However, this Monday, I felt like a treat so I stopped at Kiyariya.  Once again, I enjoyed the wonderful eggplant, and this time I ordered grilled fresh barracuda.  It was delicious!

my favorite eggplant dish at Kiyariya

Kiyariya

Kiyariya

Kenji’s artistic menu

Tuesday, June 20:  We continued the theme of Cultural Expectations in the Classroom, with today’s lesson focusing on discussions about the topic.  I promised the students I’d show some classroom scenes from great American movies, so I showed several episodes from The Dead Poet’s Society. After showing two preliminary videos for context, I showed my favorite scene.  My students laughed as I wiped away the tears in my eyes and told them I always cry at this scene.

Thursday, June 22: Thursday night seems to have become our night to stop at the Family Mart.  This time, Dee joined us.  You can see our cozy little spot below.

Dee and Graham at Family Mart

Friday, June 23: Today was a special Yukata day on campus.  Many of the girl and boy students wore yakuta on campus.  Yukata comes in cotton fabric and is worn during the summer season. On the contrary, a kimono comes in silk fabric. I took some photos of my rambunctious “I” class.

IMG_4996

my students from I class on yukata day

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my students from I class on yukata day

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my students from I class on yukata day

Thursday, June 29:  Today we had debates in class where the students had to prepare for opposing sides on the topic:  Single-sex schools are better than mixed-sex (co-educational) schools. I divided the class in two and gave them time to prepare.

It’s difficult to get Japanese students to speak aloud under any circumstances, but this was an exercise in futility.  For one, even though they had plenty of time to prepare, you’d think I just asked them a question on the spot, for as long as it took them to formulate and speak their arguments. Then, when they spoke, they all, without exception, spoke in katakana English; in this botched English pronunciation, they add an “o” sound to the end of words.  Even my best students, whose English pronunciation one-on-one with me is great, resorted to this botched English, which is typically spoken between Japanese students.  Sometimes, I think the good students don’t want to appear too smart or too capable of speaking English, and in a whole-class speaking session, they resort to katakana to fit in with their classmates. It drove me absolutely crazy, and I wanted to jump into the middle of the debate and call them on it right away.  I restrained myself during the debate session but resolved that I would speak to them about it the next day.

After work, Graham and I headed to the Family Mart, but again, we found our plastic chairs occupied by a couple of Japanese guys. Graham said that he has never found people occupying those seats except when he’s been with me; he said I’m jinxing our Family Mart gatherings!  Haha.  Anyway, we had no choice but to go to the park and sit on our bench.  We had a very enjoyable conversation about a variety of subjects from politics to books to relationships to everything bizarre and wonderful about Japan.  A cool front must have been moving in because it was breezy and comfortable, though still a little humid.

After one beer, I went to use the public bathroom at the end of the pond.  Japanese toilets have all kinds of flush mechanisms.  Some are buttons on the wall and others are on the back of the toilet.  There are also other buttons of unknown purpose; they are actually to call for assistance, but it’s hard to tell which is which.  Tonight I accidentally pushed the wrong button and a loud beep burst forth from the toilet stall, and it kept going and going!  As I hurriedly walked out of the stall, trying to be inconspicuous, a man from the office nearby came running toward the bathroom to see what the ruckus was about.  I bowed and said, I’m sorry!  I pushed the wrong button!!  I’m so sorry!  He probably had a good story to tell his kids that night. 🙂

Friday, June 30: When I asked a couple of my strong students why on earth they were speaking in katakana English during yesterday’s debate, they said they wanted to make sure their classmates could understand them.  I told them they are perfectly capable of speaking correct English and they should not cater to their classmates, but instead be an inspiration and a role model for correct English pronunciation. They apologized profusely.  Speaking to the whole class, I told them all to STOP with the katakana!!!  I said I’m going to be on them from now till the end of the semester because if they go on their study abroad in the fall and are speaking like that, no one will have a clue what they’re saying!

Happy July!  I hope to hear from you all soon. 🙂

tokyo: a stroll from yanaka to ueno   4 comments

Saturday, June 24: I can never resist a walk that’s all mapped out, a route just begging to be followed.  Today, I set out to explore a neighborhood I missed when I went to the Ueno area of Tokyo soon after I arrived in Japan.   The City Walk comes straight from the pages of Lonely Planet Japan: ‘Strolling Yanaka,”  and I opt to do it in reverse from the way it’s laid out in the book.

I start by going to Sendagi Station and looking for Yanaka Ginza, a mid-20th century shopping street. It’s easy to find; I simply follow the crowds. Soon, I’m walking under the archway at the street entrance.

Yanaka Ginza

At 175 meters long and 5-6 meters wide, the street is packed with 70 shops (Go Tokyo: Yanaka Ginza Shopping District).

Though compact, the district is chock-full of restaurants and shops selling yukata, souvenirs, flowers, fans, Hello Kitty paraphernalia, fruits and vegetables, flip-flops, baskets, pillows, housewares, and anything else a person could want.  Jovial folks snack and drink beer while sitting on overturned milk crates.  It’s quite a festive atmosphere.

shops in Yanaka Ginza

Yukata in Yanaka

Yanaka Ginza

produce for sale in Yanaka

produce in Yanaka

Yanaka Ginza

straw sandals

menus in Yanaka

Yanaka archway

bicycles in Yanaka

cute shop with bicycle in Yanaka

Yanaka Ginza

Yanaka Ginza

shop in Yanaka

At one point along the street, I find a small hole-in-the-wall that sells okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake containing a variety of ingredients.  I haven’t yet tried one yet, because I’ve read that most of them contain squid, which I despise. I type into my Google translate app on my phone: “Can I get one without squid?” and show it to the shopkeeper.  He shakes his head no, so I move on.  Instead, I stop at a little bakery that sells slices of pizza and get one to carry with me.  I munch on it as I walk down the road, even though I know it’s considered rude to eat while walking in Japan.  I have no choice, however, as all the milk crates are occupied. 🙂

Yanaka Ginza

exotic merchandise in Yanaka

At the far end of the street, I climb the Yuyake Dande, literally “Sunset Stairs,” until I approach Nippori Station.

Yuyake Dande, literally the “Sunset Stairs”

baskets for sale

shopfront in Yanaka

I take a sharp right at the train tracks and walk along them until I reach the entrance to Yanaka-reien, or Yanaka Cemetery. Here, the paths are well-manicured and wide, presenting a good trail for a tranquil stroll. The grave of Tokugawa Yoshinobu, the last shogun of the Edo period, is located within the cemetery, according to Japan-guide.com.

Yanaka-reien

According to Lonely Planet Japan, Yanaka-reien is “one of Tokyo’s most atmospheric and prestigious cemeteries.”

Yanaka-reien

gate at Yanaka-reien

small shrine at Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

Yanaka-reien

hydrangea in the temple area of Yanaka

I continue on my walk toward Ueno Park, taking several detours to visit some of the temples in the Yanaka area.  It’s hot and humid today, so I’m sticky with sweat and my mouth is dry.  Thank goodness for all the vending machines on street corners. I buy one of my favorite flavored waters and continue walking, dipping into the various temples along the way.

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

Yanaka temples

hydrangeas in Yanaka

temple area of Yanaka

After leaving the temple area, I cross over Kototoi-dori and continue my walk through neighborhoods on Sakura-dori until I reach Ueno Park.

pink house on the way to Ueno

I pass by the Tokyo National Museum thinking that if I have time while I’m in Japan, I really ought to visit the museum.  I also walk past Rinnoji Temple, also known as Rinno-ji Ryodaishi-do, a Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Ueno Park Tokyo; it was originally a part of the cathedral of Kaneiji Temple and was called Kaizan-do or Jigen-do, according to GoJapanGo.com.

Rinno-ji

Within minutes I’m on an overpass looking down on the extensive rail tracks converging on Ueno Station.   My goal is to get to Ueno Station and find a tapas restaurant my friend Graham has told me about.  I don’t know the name of the restaurant, so I put “tapas restaurant” into Yelp and find one called Vinuls. The app says it’s near Ueno Station, which is where Graham said it was.  I then put the name into Google Maps and let the app lead me to the restaurant.

Ueno Station

I find Vinuls Spanish Bar & Restaurant right outside Ueno Station.  It is so easy!  It’s hot, so I sit inside at the bar and order a glass of cold wine and two small plates, one with prawns and one with tomatoes topped with garlic and olive oil.

Vinul’s

Vinul’s

Vinul’s

My young Japanese waiter, who is attending high school in Tokyo, tells me in perfect English that he lived for a long while in Barcelona and so also speaks fluent Spanish.  He’s friendly and confident; I find when I encounter Japanese people with a command of English, they seem very confident; whereas those with little English ability are very shy in the face of a foreigner.

tapas at Vinul’s

Vinul’s

After enjoying my wine and tapas, I walk across the street to Uniqlo, a discount fashion store much like Zara or H&M.  This is only a small branch of the store, but the clerk tells me they have a big store at the end of the adjacent shopping street, Ameya-yokocho.  Purely by accident, I thus find one of Tokyo’s popular open-air markets. This market got its start as a black market after WWII, when American goods were sold here.

Ameya-yokocho

These days, the market is crammed with vendors selling fresh seafood and produce, Hawaiian shirts, jeans and camouflage clothing.  There are also small restaurants and watch shops.

Ameya-yokocho

I’m surprised at these small markets to find so many Hawaiian shirts being sold.  I think they are so passé, but I find many Japanese young men, and even young women, wearing them.  Even some of my students wear them to class.

Hawaiian shirts at Ameya-yokocho

seafood at Ameya-yokocho

Ameya-yokocho

fresh seafood at Ameya-yokocho

seafood for sale at Ameya-yokocho

produce at Ameya-yokocho

produce at Ameya-yokocho

At the end of the shopping street, I see the huge Uniqlo store across a major intersection, so I wait until the traffic passes and cross over.

Tokyo taxi

At Uniqlo, I get in a bit of trouble buying a couple of shirts, although they’re not very expensive, about $15 each. However, right after leaving Vinuls, I also stopped into another more expensive shop and bought two other tops.  I won’ t say how much those cost. 🙂

One thing I can say about Japan is that it’s a very consumer-driven society, and as a person who has a weakness for shopping, I have a hard time resisting the enticing goods for sale! 🙂

Total steps today: 15,754 (6.68 miles)

myōhonji: in search of the elusive mossy steps   8 comments

Saturday, June 17:  By the time I make it to Myōhonji, in the southeastern hills of Kamakura, it’s 3:40 and I realize that the chance of getting back to Hasedera by 5:00 is very slim. I seriously doubt I’ll have the energy to tackle that crowded Enoden Line to get back there; nor do I feel energetic enough to even stand in the line to see the hydrangeas.  Instead, I take my time trying to find some beautiful mossy steps that my Japanese friend Yukie posted on her Instagram feed.

Myōhonji is one of several temples of the Nichiren sect of Japanese Buddhism; it was founded by Hiki Yoshimoto in 1260 (japan-guide.com: Myohonji Temple).

gate to Myōhonji

Myōhonji

The Nichiren sect of Buddhism was founded by Nichiren in 1253. The sect was exceptional due to its intolerant stance towards other Buddhist sects. Nichiren Buddhism still has many millions of followers today, and several “new religions” are based on Nichiren’s teachings. (japan-guide.com: Buddhism)

gate at Myōhonji

Myōhonji

There is an extensive cemetery on the temple grounds and I go exploring every nook and cranny in search of the mossy steps.

cemetery at Myōhonji

cemetery at Myōhonji

I find one set of somewhat mossy steps, but they are not the ones I saw in the photographs.

somewhat mossy steps at Myōhonji

I continue to search, but, while I admire the pretty cemetery, I can’t seem to find those steps. 🙂

Coming down a path from one section of the cemetery at Myōhonji, I see this leafy path and wonder if the steps might be found here.  I wander down the path for a bit, but I don’t find them.

a leafy path

A statue of Nichiren stands to the left of the main hall on the temple grounds.

statue of Nichiren

statue of Nichiren

I walk up some other non-mossy hydrangea-lined steps to another section of the cemetery to no avail.

stairway to heaven

cemetery at Myōhonji

stairway lined with hydrangeas

cemetery at Myōhonji

cemetery at Myōhonji

Myōhonji

Myōhonji

I love the colorful carvings over the door of the gate.

gate at Myōhonji

If I can’t take pictures of mossy steps, I might as well take some fern photos.

ferns, but no moss

I follow another path, but it only leads to another small shrine.

hydrangea path at Myōhonji

bicycle in the bushes at Myōhonji

small shrine at Myōhonji

hydrangea pathway

Myōhonji

In the end, I give up.  I can’t find the mossy steps anywhere. It’s 4:20 when I finish at Myōhonji, and though it might be possible to make it back to Hasedera, it will be too much of a rush. I have a long walk back to Kamakura Station, plus I have to wait again for that frustrating Enoden Line and then climb up that hill through all the crowds at Hasedera.  I’m simply to hot, tired and exhausted after visiting Meigetsu-in, hiking the Daibutsu Hiking Course, visiting two temples along the way, seeing the Great Buddha and visiting Hasedera and Myōhonji.

At Kamakura Station, I get on the train to go back home.  After arriving at Fuchinobe, as I ride my bicycle home, I decide I’ll stop in at Curry Naan to have dinner.  I don’t feel like cooking after today, and I’m really sick of eating Bento boxes from the 7-11. I enjoy my regular vegetable curry and a huge piece of naan.  For some bizarre reason, the beer is filled to the brim with ice cubes.  I’ve never encountered that here before!  I’m paying for mostly ice and very little beer. 🙂

Vegetable curry at Curry Naan

This has been one very exhausting day!

Total steps (including Meitgetsu-in, the Daibutsu Hiking course, the Great Buddha, Hasedera, and Myōhonji): 23,379 (9.91 miles).

I’m wiped out!  Luckily it’s supposed to rain tomorrow, so I can finally have a relaxing day. 🙂

 

 

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