hanami at ueno park: subtemples, shrines, bells, kabuto, and jubilant japanese folks {walking tour 9: part 2}   5 comments

Sunday, April 2:  As I leave Ameyoko Shopping street and prepare to enter Ueno Park, I brace myself to penetrate the crowds I can already see near the south entrance.  I wrote in my previous blog post that the cherry blossoms were just past their peak, but now I’ve been told otherwise.  They are actually expected to peak next weekend, the 8th and 9th. Sadly, rain is forecast for the upcoming weekend.  So what I’m seeing today are sakura before their peak, and this may be my only chance to see them.

Entrance to Ueno Park

Entering Ueno Park

Once inside the park, I make my way slowly to the “main” entrance, where I find an 1898 bronze statue of Takamori Saigo (1827-1873), dubbed the “last true samurai.”  He was instrumental in bringing the new Meji government to power and in later defeating Tokugawa shogun loyalists who, despite reaching a peaceful agreement for the turnover of power, attacked the incoming government at Ueno; though the loyalists were defeated, they set fire to Kan’ei-ji, the protector temple of the city, and nearly a thousand other houses.  Though the statue should have been erected at the Imperial Palace, it was erected here because Takamori, angered by the new government’s abolishing of samurai privileges, led an abortive coup against the very government he helped bring to power.  He ended his own life in a ceremonial suicide.

The government was conflicted because they wanted to honor him but didn’t know how to recognize him because of his treasonous act.  So they placed the statue in Ueno Park, the site of his victory over the Tokugawa loyalists.  However, they clothed him in traditional kimono with his hunting dog at his side rather than in his Meji general’s uniform.  Neither the statue’s placement nor his garb pleased his wife, however.

bronze statue of Takamori Saigo

Leaving the statue, I stroll under a canopy of cherry blossoms and make my way to Kiyomizu Kannon-do, a sub temple established in 1631 by Tenkai Sojo (a High Buddhist priest), following the pattern of Kiymizu-dera Temple in Kyoto.

sakura

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Many people come here to pray to the Kosodate Kannon in hopes of conceiving a child.

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Kiyomizu Kannon-do

Ema at Kiyomizu Kannon-do

At Japanese shrines, I see ema of various types hanging on metal racks. Ema are small wooden plaques on which Shinto worshippers write their prayers or wishes; they then hang them at the shrine. There, the kami (spirits or gods) are believed to receive them. They bear various pictures, often of animals or other Shinto imagery, and many have the word gan’i, meaning “wish”, written along the side.

Ema are sold for various wishes, and help support the shrine financially. Common reasons for buying a plaque are for success in work or on exams, marital bliss, conception of children, and health. Some shrines specialize in certain types of these plaques, and the larger shrines may offer more than one.

In addition, I see O-mikuji, random fortunes written on strips of paper at Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples. These are usually received by making a small offering (generally a five-yen coin as it is considered good luck) and randomly choosing one from a box, hoping for the resulting fortune to be good.  The o-mikuji is scrolled up or folded, and unrolling the piece of paper reveals the fortune written on it.

I attempt to make my way to the Benten-do, an island built in the middle of Shinobazu Pond for the shrine to the Shinto goddess Benten, one of the Seven Gods of Good Luck.  In 1670, a causeway was built from the shore to the island.  However, the crowds are so thick going over the causeway that I decide against going, and instead walk along the less crowded southern part of the pond.

Heading to the Benten-do

Below is a photo of the Benten-do from the southern shore of Shinobazu Pond, which means “The Pond Without Patience.”

Shinobazu Pond from the other side

Walking uphill from Shinobazu Pond, I come to Gojo Tenjin Shrine, dedicated to the gods of medicine and learning.

Gojo Tenjin Shrine

The ema at Gojo Tenjin Shrine are quite elaborate.

Adjacent to Gojo Tenjin Shrine is Hanazono Inari Shrine. From the latter, a tunnel of vermillion torii leads uphill, eventually to the 1666 Toki-no-kane bell.

Hanazono Inari Shrine

Hanazono Inari Shrine

I meet the growling fox guardian at the gate.  His little red bib detracts a bit from his ferocity.

bibbed fox guardian at Hanazono Inari Shrine

Hanazono Inari Shrine

Hanazono Inari Shrine

torii gates from Hanazono Inari Shrine

Uphill, I find a woman selling French fries in a tall paper cup, which I buy because I’m starving. I don’t know where on earth I would sit, so I munch on them while walking.  I come across the 1666 Toki-no-kane bell, which once sounded the hours for the temple monks.

statue at 1666 Toki-no-kane bell

At the top of the little hill, I find this intriguing Buddha face.

Buddha at 1666 Toki-no-kane bell

The ema here have the blue-tinted Buddha face.

Ema at 1666 Toki-no-kane bell

On the far side of the bell, a melody is wafting through the air, and I find a peaceful spot where I can sit on a bench and listen to to the music.  It’s called “Kabuto Music and Manners” by Dr. Manners.

I sit on the bench and cross my legs, placing my French fries beside me. A gentle man wearing a navy blue haori, a traditional Japanese sort of hip-length kimono-like jacket, comes over and gently nudges my knees, indicating I should not cross my legs.  He says, “It’s the Japanese way.”  He then offers me a flower-shaped sugar cube on a piece of tissue paper with calligraphy on it.  I’m so amicably welcomed here.  Each time he comes over, he is so gentle and kind, I can’t help but bow to him and say “arigato.” He then offers me a bowl of green tea, which I drink slowly, enjoying the music and the tranquil surroundings.  As I’m drinking the tea, he comes over again and nudges my knees apart, which I’ve accidentally crossed without thinking, and he offers me another sugar cube, which I eat. I feel at one with the universe as I sit and listen to the transporting music.  It’s a lovely respite from the crowds and the chaotic energy swirling around us on all sides.

a kind soul at 1666 Toki-no-kane bell

A lovely lady wearing kimono sits on a platform preparing the green tea and sugar cubes; she graciously poses for a picture. The whole experience turns out to be the most memorable and enjoyable experience of the day.

geisha (?) at 1666 Toki-no-kane bell

The musician is shown below; I’m not sure if he is Dr. Manners, but a nice lady convinces me to buy his CD, which says “Kabuto Music and Manners Sound by Dr. Manners.”  Possibly he is playing a type of music created by Dr. Manners, or possibly he is Dr. Manners himself.  I really don’t know, but I buy the CD, which costs me 2,000 yen (nearly $20), and add it to the bulkiness of my pack.  I guess I could have just listened to it on YouTube, but at least I was happy to support the musician.

Kabuto musician

1666 Toki-no-kane bell

After my peaceful time at the bell, I walk through a long row of food vendors toward Tosho-gu Shrine.  Some of the food, especially the corn on the cob, looks enticing, but now I’m full from the French fries, sugar cubes and green tea.

Tosho-gu Shrine is the final resting place of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868.

The lavishly decorated shrine complex consists of more than a dozen buildings set amidst a small forest. Countless wood carvings and large amounts of gold leaf were used to decorate the buildings in a way not seen elsewhere in Japan, where simplicity has been traditionally stressed in shrine architecture. The shrine contains both Buddhist and Shinto elements; this was common until the Meji period, when Shinto was separated from Buddhism.

Tosho-gu Shrine

Below are some of the ema at Tosho-gu Shrine.

A double row of 50 bronze lanterns stands near the entry to  Tosho-gu Shrine.  They were not meant for illumination but were used to purify the sacred fire for important religious ceremonies.

bronze lanterns at Tosho-gu Shrine

bronze lanterns at Tosho-gu Shrine

bronze lanterns at Tosho-gu Shrine

The Sukibei Wall which surrounds the shrine building was completed in 1651.  The upper part of the wall is decorated with land creatures, while the lower part is adorned with sea and river creatures. Real world wild animals such as birds, fish, shellfish, frogs, catfish, and butterflies can be found here, as well as mythical creatures.

gate at Tosho-gu Shrine

A sacred camphor tree on the grounds of the shrine is over 600 years old.  It was here before the shrine was built and has been continuously cared for by the shrine’s guardians.

Sacred tree at Tosho-gu Shrine

The shrine, built in 1651, is in the kongen-zukuri ornate style favored by early Tokugawa shoguns.  The main shrine building, the Konjiki-den, or Golden Hall, is in the ornate Momoyama style. The pillars and doors are covered in gold foil and the ceilings are decorated with lacquer and colorful carvings.

Tosho-gu Shrine

Tosho-gu Shrine

tree on the grounds of Tosho-gu Shrine

Tosho-gu Shrine

A Karamon (Chinese Gate) at the front of the building, built in 1651, is in the elaborate “Chinese” style with gold foil as well as hand-carved flowers, birds, fish and other animals and shells.

Chinese gate at Tosho-gu Shrine

The carvings on the gate are colorful, elaborate and mythical.

Tosho-gu Shrine

A kagura stage used for religious dances sits at the approach to the shrine.  It also has a roofed bell unit.  Today, some musicians are playing melodies on the stage.

musicians at Tosho-gu Shrine

This huge stone garden lantern was offered as a gift from Sakuma Daizennosuke Katsuyuki to the Tosho-gu Shrine in 1631. It is said to be one of the three great stone lanterns in Japan together with those in Nanzen-ji temple of Kyoto and in Atsuta Jingu Shrine. The 6-meter height of the lantern is impressive, as well as the 3.6 meter perimeter of the capping stone.  Because of its great size, people commonly call it “Monster Lantern.”

Monster lantern

I get caught up in the huge crowds walking a northerly path through the park.  The crowd is moving at melting candle wax pace, and it’s so crowded I can barely move.  It reminds me of the crowds I encountered in Shanghai on China’s International Labor Day: riding the human tide along the bund to cloud 9 & pudong.

I escape the human tide heading north and stop to walk around the statue of the Imperial Prince Komatsunomiya Akihito, the first president of the Japanese Red Cross Society.

Statue of the Imperial Prince Komatsunomiya Akihito

Then I’m back on the path, being carried along with the hordes of people.  This group of young people playing a festive game with oversized cards makes me smile.  They seem to be enjoying themselves immensely. 🙂

a lively card game

I see there is a path to the west, so I make my escape from the main path, ending up near the Ueno Zoo.  Turning north, I’m on a parallel path to the crowded one, and I have this one nearly to myself.  I bypass the sprawling Tokyo National Museum Complex and head northeast quite a distance to Kan’ei-ji Temple; after visiting this out-of-the-way temple, I’ll head southwest outside of Ueno Park to visit some quiet, hidden gems.

As there is no daylight savings time in Japan and it gets dark at about 6:00, I can already tell there is no way I will have time to finish this overly ambitious walk in one day.  Maybe if I had gotten an earlier start… 🙂

 

hanami: shinobazu pond, house of taikan yokoyama, ameyoko shopping street {walking tour 9, part 1}   2 comments

Sunday, April 2:  I’ve still not adjusted to Japan time, so I am awake a couple of hours in the middle of the night.  Because of that, I sleep in till 8:00.  It feels so good once I go back to sleep, I don’t want to climb out from under my cozy futon.

When I finally get up, I make myself some fried eggs, a bit difficult without a spatula.  I use a fork, and it is a mess. I also have a carton of cold milk tea from 7-11 which I heat up, but I resolve not to drink tea again.  I’m a coffee person, through and through.

I have been undecided about doing a big outing today because the weather forecast is cloudy and cold. We also have off Monday, and the forecast is better for Monday.  However, the skies have hints of blue this morning, so I rethink my plans. Today is supposed to be the peak of cherry blossoms in Tokyo and I’ve been told THE place to see them is Ueno Park. Cherry-blossom viewing is called hanami in Japanese, and as it’s Sunday and peak time, I expect there will be huge crowds.  Still, I guess that’s what hanami is all about – the whole festive atmosphere and mingling with millions of Japanese all at once.  Walking Tour 9 in my book, Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City, covers Ueno, so I figure I’ll do that. Ueno Park has a bunch of museums within it, and since they all seem to be closed on Mondays, I’ll be limited in my choices if I wait till Monday. Also, for my first solo outing negotiating the Tokyo metro, it won’t be too intimidating as it’s the exact route I took yesterday for our orientation.

All this figuring and rethinking leads me to a very late start, which I’ll come to regret later.

I debate whether to ride my bicycle to metro (a 20-minute walk) because I hadn’t seen a bicycle parking area.  If I rode my bike all the way there and couldn’t find a place to park, I’d have to ride back home and then walk.  I ask a couple of Japanese people along the way, including the bicycle shop man and his mother, but no one understands me.  Finally, a young Japanese woman points me to the left of the station, a couple of blocks down.  I see people disappearing into a garage opening pushing their bikes, so, voila, I follow them.  There are steps bordered by ramps leading to a second level and I’ve found the bicycle parking lot. I find a less crowded area toward the back, so I park there, but when I ask a man in business attire if I need to pay, he tells me in his limited English that the back area is for yearly pass holders.  He says because it’s Sunday, I don’t have to pay, but I would have to pay Monday-Friday.  At first he tells me 1,000 yen, and when I look shocked, he corrects himself and says 100 yen.  He motions that I should park near the front of the parking lot.

After the long metro ride, which I won’t cover in detail as it’s the same one I took yesterday, I arrive at Yushima Station and walk toward Ueno Park, right past our ramen shop where we had lunch yesterday.  A long line of about 10 people stands outside.  I follow the path to the left of Shinobazu Pond, using my Walk 9 as my guide.

First view of cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

The cherry blossoms seem a little past their prime, but that doesn’t stop the hordes of people who have come for hanami.  Every inch of grass is covered by groups of Japanese picnicking and laughing and talking.  The path is packed with people as well.

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

cherry blossoms along Shinobazu Pond

The second portion of the pond is full of people skittering about in swan-shaped pink paddle boats and row boats. At this point, I’m to cross Shinobazu-dori and visit the House of Taikan Yokoyama.

paddle boats on Shinobazu Pond

sculpture at Shinobazu Pond

I debate whether to enter the House of Taikan Yokoyama as no photos are allowed inside and it cost 800 yen. After walking away once, I decide to go in anyway, and I’m glad I do.  The artist’s traditional wooden house is in the sukiya style found often in Kyoto. I’m allowed to take pictures in the entry area, shown below.

Stone lantern at House of Taikan Yokoyama

Entryway to House of Taikan Yokoyama

House of Taikan Yokoyama

House of Taikan Yokoyama

After removing my shoes, I go inside the house to see the tea room, with 15 windows looking out upon the artist’s garden, and a brazier in the middle of the floor with a teapot hanging over it.  The adjacent studio workroom contains the artist’s working tools.  I go into the upstairs bedroom, which also has a view of the garden.

Since I can’t take pictures of the house, I buy a postcard showing a view of the house from the back of the garden, shown below.  The garden is lovely, with its little stream, rocks, carp in the pond, and stone lanterns.

Taikan Yokoyama (1868-1958) spent much of his life in this house, painting in the traditional Japanese Nihonga style, but adding Western approaches to painting later.

postcard of house of Taikan Yokoyama

I also buy some postcards of the artist’s work.  I pick out three, plus the one above picturing the house, and the clerk holds up five fingers, but I’m not sure what she means.  Finally, she gets her co-worker to explain to me in English that I should buy 5 for 500 yen.  Once the woman finds out I am a teacher in a university, she loads me up with 4 booklets about the museum to hand out to fellow teachers, which I now have to carry around the rest of the day!

postcard of Taikan Yokoyama’s art

Below are more postcards of Taikan Yokoyama’s art.  Click on any of the photos for a full-sized slide show.

I follow the walk back down Shinobazu-dori to the metro stop where I started, and take a left at Kasuga-dori, and go down a ways until I make another left onto Ameyoko Shopping Street.  More than 500 shops crowd this quarter-mile bazaar under the elevated rail line for the Ueno rail station.

Ameyoko Shopping Street

The name Ameyoko combines two words, Ameya Yokocho, or “Confectioner’s Alley.”  After the Korean War, a pun evolved from the contraction of American Market, since the area sold black market goods from American military Post Exchanges during those years.

Ameyoko Shopping Street

The small shops here now continue the tradition of the Shitamachi, in which small-scale vendors have always operated, selling a wide variety of goods.

Food sign on Ameyoko Shopping Street

Ameyoko Shopping Street

Ameyoko Shopping Street

After this, I continue back into the main part of Ueno Park, where the real fun begins!

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. 🙂

from bwi to sagamihara: settling in on the other side of the world (& moving into the future)   12 comments

Monday, March 27, 2017:  It’s an odd thing to consider how time marches on, whether you’re ready for what’s to come or not.  Preparing to live and work abroad for the fourth time, this time to Japan, I knew the things I had to do.  I made lists.  I did the things on the list and checked them off.  Each day passed, bringing me one day closer to when I had to leave.  Sometimes, during the preparation time, it seemed the day would never come.  And then it did.

So, at 3:30 a.m. on Monday morning, my alarm went off and I got up and got ready.  Mike drove me an hour to Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) Airport.  Although Dulles Airport is only 20 minutes from my home, it was a lot cheaper to fly from BWI.  Westgate only reimburses $1,200 for a round trip ticket, so I opted to fly for $1,328 from BWI rather than for $1,800 from Dulles. At least I’m only out-of-pocket by a little over $100.

At the airport, I checked my two bags, one large and one medium.  I packed only warm weather clothes, with a few light layers.  After all, I’ll be in Japan for spring and summer.  I didn’t want to bring a heavy winter coat and then have to deal with bringing it home later. I brought a carry-on bag and my personal item. Mike took a picture of me and said goodbye.  I was on my way.

Me at BWI on Monday morning – the journey begins

My American Airlines flight took off at 7:59 a.m. for Chicago O’Hare.  On that 2-hour flight, I talked nonstop with a woman from Iowa.  We shared stories of our children.  She told me her son is doing well, married with children; he has a decent job and a strong work ethic as a pool painter.  However, as an early teen, he had many emotional struggles, including two suicide attempts that luckily failed (once he drank lighter fluid and another time he took an overdose of Tylenol). She teaches at a Christian school and is delighted with the elementary age children. She wonders if both her son and husband are bipolar, but they’ve never been diagnosed or medicated.  Her husband is a homebody and loves nothing better than to sit in front of the TV with a drink in his hand, while she says she’s adventurous and loves to travel to visit her grandchildren.  Of course, I shared some of the struggles with my children as well; my followers know something about these.

A 32-year-old young man in the row ahead overheard me talking about going to teach in Japan and he turned around and asked if I would be teaching with Westgate.  I said yes, and he said he would be too; this would be his first time in Asia.  He has taught in Central and South America.  He said his parents want him to get a permanent job so he doesn’t keep ending up back at home between gigs.  Ah, the life of the vagabond EFL teacher.

I had a two-hour layover at Chicago O’Hare, at which time I bought the book Silence by Shūsaku Endō. It has been made into a movie which I have yet to see — about two Portuguese Jesuit priests who travel to Japan, a country hostile to their religion.

We boarded on time and took off at 12:55 p.m. for the long flight (13 hours) from Chicago to Narita.  On the plane, I alternatively ate, slept, and watched movies. One was a Japanese movie with subtitles called After the Storm, about a former prize-winning novelist, Ryota Shinoda, who now works as a private detective; he wastes all his money gambling such that he can’t pay child support to his ex-wife.  He tries to sponge off his aging mother and her pension. He still loves his ex-wife, who he finds, during “off-duty” private detective work, is dating a wealthy Telecom executive.  He still sees himself as a great novelist, although the only writing he seems to do is jotting one liners from his friends on post-it notes, which he places on a bulletin board in his shabby apartment.  Some of those lines are: “Don’t envy the future.” “It’s not so easy being the man you wanted to be.”  When he tries to bond with his young son, Shingo, during a typhoon, shored up in a pink playground cave, his son asks Shinoda if he is now what he wanted to be when he was young.  Shinoda replies, “What matters is to live my life trying to become what I want to be.”  I love that line. 🙂

I also watched Jackie, about Jackie Kennedy’s attempts to preserve her dignity and her husband’s legacy after his assassination.  The movie wasn’t that compelling to me.  Toward the end of the flight, I began Bridget Jones’s Baby, which I was actually enjoying, but I didn’t get to finish it because we landed. 🙂

Tuesday, March 28: I arrive at Narita Airport at nearly 4:00 p.m. on Tuesday.  Somewhere along the way, I’ve lost a half a day.  I check my two large bags at GPA, a baggage delivery service, in Terminal 2, then take a bus to Terminal 1.  At the counter, GPA has a stack of forms provided by Westgate with our names and addresses.  I tell them who I am, hand over my bags, and take off for Terminal 1, where I’m to meet with the Westgate staff.  The baggage is to be delivered Wednesday, March 29, between 6:00-8:00 p.m. at my apartment. What a great service!

We then wait around in a lounge area until 5:55, when a Westgate employee escorts three of us teachers to the Narita Express to Yokohama at 6:15, arriving in Yokohama at 7:47 (1 hour and 32 minutes).  This train has bathrooms on it, much to my delight.  I was a little worried about the long commute to our apartment with no bathroom breaks!  At Yokohama, we get on the JR Kehin Tohoku line at 8:13, switching to the JR Yokohama Line at Higashi Kanagawa, arriving at our station, Fuchinobe, at 8:54 p.m. There, Satoko, our Program Coordinator (PC) at the university, meets us and takes us by taxi to our Leopalace GUILIANO apartment building in Samagihara City.  I’m so glad she gets a taxi because the walk is 20 minutes from the station and I would have been super exhausted (and freezing in my light layers) if we’d had to walk after that long day(s) of travel.

Below is my apartment, #201, as seen upon my arrival at around 9:30 p.m. I discover there are no towels in my apartment, and I didn’t bring any.  There are no cups from which to drink water, and of course, I have no water and no food.  I have a tiny desk with a TV, a small table, two very uncomfortable chairs, a closet, a ladder to a sleeping loft (where I don’t intend to sleep), and a tiny bathroom and kitchen area.  We also have a fancy heating/fan system to dry our clothes in the bathroom. I’m provided with a futon, sheets and a cover quilt, and a tiny pillow filled with some kind of seeds.

Our PC has set up our wi-fi, and I catch up on emails briefly, and then suddenly my wi-fi network disappears.  I try to send a text message to Satoko about it, but I can’t figure out how on earth to send a message on the Westgate-provided phone, so I end up calling her about it.  In the end, I have to wait until tomorrow.  In the meantime, I get on with Verizon and set up international data for $40 a month for 100 messages and 100 MG of data (that doesn’t go far). This is just so I can keep connected until I get the wi-fi properly set up.  I text back and forth with Mike and then try to got to sleep, but as it’s essentially 10:00 a.m. Eastern Standard time, I have a hard time falling asleep, despite being exhausted.

I try to read, but with only one overhead bulbous light, it’s hard to see the pages properly.  Also, just as I get sleepy, I have to get up to turn off the light.  Getting a bedside lamp of some kind is one of my first priorities.

Wednesday, March 29:  Luckily there is a Seven & i Holdings (7-11) on the corner a block from our apartment and I walk down in the morning to get coffee, breakfast (some egg-filled sushi rolls), paper towels and toilet paper.  As I didn’t pack a towel and there isn’t one in my apartment, I have to dry off with paper towels.  I mistakenly use a converter with my hair dryer, and the electricity burns out the converter.  It now seems I need to go in search of a hair dryer.

At 10:00 a.m.,  I meet three other teachers from our building, and we walk 20 minutes to City Hall to meet Yukari to register our address with the municipal authorities and get our national health insurance card.  It’s funny, this is the first place I’ve lived abroad where I actually have an address!  We’re told to return at 3:00 to complete the registration.  We have a lot of time to kill, so Yukari walks back with us to our apartments (another 20 minutes) because apparently everyone’s wi-fi networks have disappeared. One of my fellow teachers, Tobias, and Yukari and I grab lunch (steamed dumplings and spicy cucumbers for me) at the 7-11 and eat on the floor of my apartment, while Yukari helps us sort our wi-fi out.  Finally, I’m connected. Hallelujah!

I take off back toward the train station, another 20 minute walk, and cross over train tracks to the 100-yen store.  In the middle of my shopping spree, Yukari phones me to return to City Hall, where we get our residence cards and national health insurance cards.  Then we head to the post office to open our bank accounts, which takes some time.  Cool stamps beckon, so I’ll have to return to buy some.

I return to the 100-yen store to do my shopping, buying towels, sponges, a trash can, clothes hangers and miscellaneous stuff. Before crossing the tracks again, I buy a prepared package of sushi, along with several cartons of juice, which I take home for dinner.

I think I’ll be doing a lot of walking here in Japan as our apartment is in a neighborhood far away from everything except the 7-11.  It takes 20 minutes to walk to the train station and it may be a 30-minute walk to the university every day.  We’re not allowed to ride a bicycle to work; the walk will be nice until it gets hot and humid. 🙂

All in all, I walk 21,510 steps today (9.12 miles)!

Between 6:00-8:00 p.m. this evening, I have two deliveries. One includes my two suitcases, which I start unpacking immediately.  The other is a “living essentials” box from Westgate.  It has in it a small frying pan, a saucepan, 2 plastic bowls, a fork and a spoon, a cutting knife and a package of toilet paper.

Slowly, slowly, my apartment is becoming a home. 🙂

Thursday, March 30:  I have a leisurely morning, as we have no obligations until Friday.  I buy a can of cold coffee (I am confused as to which cans are hot and which are cold), and then a hot one, from the vending machine in our parking lot (110 yen).  I drink the hot one and put the cold one in the refrigerator to heat in the microwave tomorrow morning.  I eat a breadstick and pomelo yogurt from the 7-11 for breakfast.  I have a long talk with Mike on Skype where he fills me in on what’s going on with the kids and I tell him about the settling in process here.

I take a shower but don’t wash my hair because I still haven’t found a hair dryer.  After my shower, I decide to try my hair dryer without the converter, and find that, alas, it works without it.  So I take another shower, this time washing my hair and drying it.

I walk to the Fuchinobe Station and buy a Suica card for 500 yen, adding 3,500 yen for transport.  I take the metro two stops to Machida.  Here, I find a lot of big department stores.  I go into one, which is 8 stories, and head to the basement where I grab some small tempura shrimp and vegetable items for lunch.  They’re too heavy, so I only eat half and carry the other half home.  I also go to the floor with Tokyu Hands, where I buy a nice towel, an insulated coffee mug, an umbrella and a nice hot pink laundry basket.  These were expensive, 6,156 yen (~$55!).  Heading back on metro, I see the university out the window, with its mustard-colored buildings and small chapel.

Since I’m near the station, I drop into the 100-yen store to buy some clothes hangers so I can hang up the rest of my clothes.

Lugging my heavy bags back to the apartment, I pass the bicycle shop and I can’t resist buying a bicycle for 11,015 yen (~$99).  Even though I won’t be allowed to ride it to work, I can still ride it just to run errands as we live so far from everything. I figure that gives me transportation for $25 a month, even if I have to dispose of it for nothing at the end.

The owner of the bicycle shop is a 40-something Japanese man with a shiny blue jacket and curly longish hair.  His mother, wearing a brown plaid jacket and pink rubber slippers, is better able to communicate with me despite not knowing any English and me not knowing any Japanese.  She understands my intentions.  They tell me they’ll have the bike ready for me in a half-hour, as they must strip off the cardboard and styrofoam packing and adjust the seat and handlebars, so I walk back to my apartment to drop my purchases, hang up my clothes, relax a bit and then walk back to get the bicycle.  I love it!

buying a bicycle

On my new bicycle, I ride around town randomly, and then go in search of the university. I find it, and try to zip right through the gate, but two uniformed guards stop me.  I guess I’m either not allowed to take my bicycle on campus, or maybe I’m not allowed to go on at all since it’s out of session. In an attempt to explain the situation to me, one of the guards speaks into an app on his phone, which translates (awkwardly) what the problem is.  It’s something about going to the East gate to drop my bicycle.  It all sounds too complex and I’m not sure I am really allowed to go in, so I say never mind, I’ll return another time.  The guard speaking into his phone seems to find communicating with a foreigner quite humorous, and is lighthearted about it all.

After all this running around, and walking 15,157 steps (6.42 miles), I am exhausted. I return to my apartment, eat the leftovers I bought from the department store, accompanied by a Sapporo beer, and write in my journal.  I’m asleep before 8:00 p.m.! Tomorrow we have an early day; we will leave by 6 a.m. to head to an all-day orientation near Kudanshita Station in Tokyo.

preparing for a japanese adventure   15 comments

Thursday, March 23:  In late February, I was offered a job teaching EFL to Japanese university students in Japan beginning on March 28 (the term actually begins April 7 and ends August 1).  I’ve opted to extend my stay for one week, until August 8, so I can travel around Japan for a week.

I’ll be living in Sagamihara City in Kanagawa Prefecture.  This is part of the greater Tokyo metropolitan area.  The capital of Kanagawa is Yokohama.  Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan by population (3.7 million), lies on Tokyo Bay, south of Tokyo, in the Kantō region of the main island of Honshu, and is today one of Japan’s major ports.

I leave on Monday morning, March 27, and will arrive at Narita Airport in Tokyo on Tuesday, March 28 at 3:55 p.m.

I found this long video (24 minutes) about an apartment for Westgate teachers in Sagamihara City.  It’s possible this will be my apartment building!

I’ve been reading a number of practical books to get ready for my time in Japan.  Here’s my PRACTICAL reading list:

Living Abroad in Japan by Ruth Kanagy (Moon Handbooks)

Etiquette Guide to Japan: Know the rules that make the difference! by Boyé Lafayette De Mente

These are books I’m taking along on my trip:

Japanese phrase book & dictionary by Berlitz Publishing Co.

Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City by John H. Martin and Phyllis G. Martin

Lonely Planet: Japan

I always love to read novels and travelogues set in a country to which I’m traveling.  Over the years, and in the month prior to my upcoming trip, I’ve read the following novels and memoirs.  If I wrote a review on Goodreads, I’ve included it here.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Hiroshima by John Hersey

Crawling at Night.  Though this novel takes place in New York City, it tells the story of a Japanese sushi chef. It was written by a friend of mine, Nani Power.

When the Emperor was Divine by Juli Otsuka

The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto by Pico Iyer

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki: I enjoyed this book about Ruth, a “stuck” author, who cannot seem to finish the memoir of her mother’s death. Instead, she happens upon a diary that has washed up on the shore of the island where she lives with her husband. The diary is written by 16-year-old Nao, a Japanese girl who grew up in Sunnyvale, CA but had to move back to Tokyo when her father lost his job after the dot.com bubble burst. In Tokyo, she is subjected to harassment by her classmates; in addition, she has to deal with her father’s multiple failed suicide attempts. Nao is writing the diary to tell her great-grandmother Jiko’s story, but she ends up not really completing that mission, as the diary is mostly focused on her own life. Jiko, a Buddhist nun, has lived to the ripe age of 104 and has a strong influence on Nao’s life. Ruth, the author who finds the diary, gets caught up in Nao’s story and worries she might have been killed in the 2011 tsunami. There are interesting twists with time and quantum physics and multiple & parallel worlds toward the end, which makes the story even more fascinating. I learned a little something about quantum physics, which seems way out of my league, but the author made the subject accessible. I enjoyed the book immensely.

The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd: I enjoyed this book which is written as journal entries and letters. A young Scotswoman, Mary Mackenzie, sails to China in 1903 to marry a military attache in Peking; her marriage is unsatisfying, and when she has a love affair with a Japanese nobleman, her daughter is taken from her and she becomes an outcast from the European expat community. Two years after arriving in China, she ends up in Japan, where she lives for 37 years, only sporadically seeing her married Japanese lover, yet having a son by him. She is open about her struggles and her status as a “fallen woman,” yet she still can never resist her lover, despite his taking her Japanese-looking son from her. If the child had looked white and European, the child would have been able to stay with his mother. Since he looks Japanese, he is sent off to be raised by a Japanese family, as the lover is already married with his own family. This is a story about a woman’s survival, resilience, and enduring love, both for a man and for a country.  I found this line, written in 1942, to be particularly resonant: “There is nothing like living in a country as an enemy alien to really thin down the roster of your friends.”

Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto: I enjoyed this quiet book about Yocchan, a young woman trying to create a life for herself after her much-loved musician father is found dead in a suicide pact with an unknown woman. She moves into a small apartment across the street from a bistro where she works in Shimokitazawa, in an attempt to establish some independence for herself, when her bereaved mother asks to move in with her. Though living with her mother is not exactly what Yocchan has in mind, she can’t turn her mother down. Yocchan’s daily life is like a meditation: she revels in her repetitive tasks in the bistro, walks in the neighborhood, and engagement with the local shopkeepers. She comes to fully appreciate her mom and her now-deceased father. She derives pleasure from watching people and how they eat; she believes a person’s relationship with food reveals nuances of character. The title of the book, Moshi Moshi, is “hello” in Japanese when talking on the phone; it reflects Yocchan’s obsession with her father’s phone, which he inadvertently left behind on the day he died. She has recurring dreams that her father is trying to reach her by phone, as if he has some unfinished business with Yocchan and her mother, some last message he wants to impart. The book is like a Buddhist meditation on life – quiet yet revealing and, ultimately, satisfying.

Here are books I’ve read about the shameful period in U.S. history when we put the Japanese into internment camps during WWII.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford: How ironic that I’ve been reading this book as the Donald Trump campaign is raging here in America. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is first and foremost a story about love and family, but it is set in 1942 Seattle during the unsettling time after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Japanese-American families were rounded up and put into internment camps because Americans feared there were spies among them. Though told they were being imprisoned “for their own safety,” they were in fact treated just as Trump today would have all minorities treated: walled-off, separated and denied rights. Although the Japanese were not methodically murdered or used in horrific scientific experiments as the Jews were under Hitler, their homes and belongings were taken from them and they were forced to live in camps under armed guard for the duration of the war.

The protagonist, Henry, is a Chinese-American whose father is consumed by the Japanese atrocities in China. His father’s obsession with the Japanese as enemies, and the fear that Henry might be misidentified as Japanese, leads his father to insist on Henry wearing an “I am Chinese” button. Henry attends an all-white school on scholarship and is continually bullied by the white students for being different. When Keiko, a Japanese-American girl, appears at school, Henry and Keiko strike up a friendship that is strained not only by Henry’s family’s fears, but by the unsettling historic events around them. I found the book disturbing but also redeeming. While living through our current unsettling political times, I can only hope that we won’t repeat this dishonorable period in U.S. history.

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende: This book seemed so promising, but in the end, I felt it just didn’t deliver. I’d say my star rating is more of a 3.5 than a 3. This story of a love affair between a Japanese man, Ichimei, who spent much of WWII in a Japanese internment camp in the USA, and a Jewish woman, Alma, whose parents perished in WWII, just skimmed the surface. For such a love affair, one that Alma supposedly counted as the love of her life, she couldn’t make the leap to give up her wealth and her station in life to marry a Japanese man. The parallel story of Irina, a care worker at Lark House nursing home, and Seth, Alma’s grandson, isn’t all that intriguing either. I agree with another reviewer who said the story seemed to be hurriedly written. There was more telling than showing, and not much dialogue, and it just seemed generally without structure or deep feeling. I expected more from Isabel Allende; overall I found it disappointing.

Finally, I’ve read a number of books about Zen Buddhism.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice by Shunryu Suzuki

Discover Zen: A Practical Guide to Personal Serenity by David Fontana

The Beginner’s Guide to Zen Buddhism by Jean Smith

I’ve put quite a few books on my Kindle and I’m also bringing along the following novels to read while I’m in Japan:

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton

Snow Country by Yusanari Kawabata

Kokoro by Natsume Sōseki

A Separation by Katie Kitamura

The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto

Beauty and Sadness by Yasunari Kawabata

How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

I traveled to Kyoto, Japan in February, 2011, and found the short trip delightful.  I loved the Buddhist temples, the ubiquitous vending machines, Japanese food, the cleanliness and efficiency of everything. You can read about my trip to Kyoto in earlier posts on this blog.

I’m excited about meeting my Japanese university students.  I’m looking forward to exploring the Tokyo area (using my 29 Walks book), eating a lot of Japanese food, and hopefully finding time to visit Hiroshima at some point.  I’m sure other expats in Japan will be able to advise me on other good places to visit.  As I’ll be working 9-hour days during the weeks, I’m not sure how much time I’ll have to wander, but I look forward to exploring as much as I can over the next four months. 🙂

 

cbbh photo challenge: repetition   2 comments

Sunday, September 30:  Marianne of East of Málaga offered up a photo challenge for September, and I’m just getting in on the tail end of it.  Her challenge is REPETITION.   She writes: In everyday life, repetition can often seem tedious.   However, with creative use in photographs, repetition can give an image a real impact.   Evidence of repetition can be found all around us, not only in nature, but more often in man-made objects too.

I couldn’t help but think of Kyoto, Japan, when I had to come up with photos for this challenge.  The Japanese are very orderly people, and I found a lot of repetition in their sand gardens, their architecture, and even their good luck blessings.  Here are some photos of repetition in Kyoto.

wishes or fortunes on pieces of wood ~ found in many Buddhist temples

sand carefully raked into repetitious patterns by the Buddhist monks

my favorite repetition of all time ~ at a temple in Kyoto

more fortunes

pretty little things for sale

and finally, infinite torii gates

In the end, I’m supposed to mention two other blogs where I have made comments.

I follow a lot of blogs, but my favorite blogs have to do with travel.  One of my very favorites is Sylvia, who mentioned my Oman blog (a nomad in the land of nizwa) in this same photo competition, but I must mention her here because I follow her most religiously.  Her blog is Another Day in Paradise.  She loves to travel and spends much of her time in South Africa and Florida.  She writes of herself: I love to write about anything and everything. I enjoy travel, and do so frequently, so sometimes i may be blogging from South Africa, sometimes from West Palm Beach in Florida. the possibilities are endless. I have close family and friends on three continents, I play the piano, go to the gym, love to read and sometimes even find the time to watch TV. I have a son, a daughter and five gorgeous grandchildren, and I have been happily married to the same wonderful man for umpteen years.

Another one of my favorite bloggers is On the Go with Lynne.  It seems Lynne and I have been to many of the same places, so I love being reminded of my own travels by reading about hers.   She writes of herself: Traveler. Writer. Retired Educator.Traveling on and off the beaten path with my photographer husband. Volunteering locally as well as in Haiti and Tanzania, an enriching and humbling experience. A sun lover! Shelling, boating, fishing and watching sunsets. Growing mango, banana, key lime,and pineapple.Making smoothies and chutneys. Enjoying family and friends! Savoring each new day!

Both of these bloggers have active, adventurous and interesting lives.  I’m happy to have discovered them and to follow their life journeys!

Posted September 30, 2012 by catbird in japan in Japan, Kyoto

looking back at japan’s earthquake & tsunami disaster ~ one year later   6 comments

March 6, 2012:  One year ago this month, on March 11, 2011, Japan was hit by a 9.0 magnitude earthquake that triggered a deadly 23-foot tsunami in the country’s north. The giant waves deluged cities and rural areas alike, sweeping away cars, homes, buildings, a train, and boats, leaving a path of death and devastation in its wake.  According to the official toll, the disasters left 15,839 dead and 3,647 missing.

As a result of the earthquake, cooling systems in one of the reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station in the Fukushima prefecture on the east coast of Japan failed shortly after the earthquake, causing a nuclear crisis.

I had just visited Kyoto, well south of the tsunami, in February 2011, just one month prior.  In March, during the time of the disaster, I had left Korea for good and was traveling in India.

I had fallen in love with the country and its people.  My heart went out to Japan, a culture that values order and cleanliness, as they had to recover from a disaster of such proportions.  A sad time for a lovely culture.

Peace be with you, Japan, on the one year anniversary of this horrible disaster.

Posted March 6, 2012 by catbird in japan in Earthquake, Japan, Kyoto, Tsunami

%d bloggers like this: