Thursday, July 23, 2009
★ Something extremely strange happened to me this week. My bike was stolen on Monday... but then I went to meet Ian at the Tobu station today... and someone had miraculously returned it. Only in Japan would someone return a bike after stealing it. I found the bike just sitting there outside the station while I was waiting... the light was broken and there were chu-hi cans in the basket, but I got my bike back!
★ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I think if I hadn't watched them as a child I wouldn't have even known that Japan existed. I'm serious. I don't think I would have appreciated Art History as much as I do now, either. Thanks TMNT.
★ Seeing a Square Watermelon in real life for the first time ever. Does anyone remember the commercial we made for Mr. Manear's class? I still have it. On VHS.
★ Tokyo at 6 in the morning is the most surreal place you will ever see in your life. Tokyo in general is an unreal city, but when there is no one around... it is absolutely amazing and eerily beautiful in a post-modern apocolyptic sort of way.
★ Hanging out with the teachers from school. They are just cool people in general, and I was lucky enough to get to go to Yokohama with them last weekend. I will have a post up about it tomorrow, hopefully.
★ This year's UT collection from Uniqlo. They are absolutely amazing. Taryn and I both bought this shirt with epic wolves eating pianos on it. I don't know where else I can buy such original designs without paying an arm and a leg for them. At least now I can be absolutely sure that nobody at home will have the same shirts as me!!
★ Jake and Amir....make me laugh so much. Straight up.
★ Rainbows over Shinjuku. Enough said.
BTWs.. I know it says Friday... but it's still Thursday somewhere. Apologies for my lateness.
Monday, July 20, 2009
Not this past weekend, but the weekend before, my friend and I went to Kamakura. I have to say the entire day was really a success, my friend had planned it all out down to the last detail, which was really a relief for me, since I didn't have the time to do much research on the area before I decided to go. I didn't write about it right away because I wasn't entirely sure of some of the names of the places I had visited nor was I 100% sure of their historical or cultural significance. Personally, I like to know a little about a particular place before I go, so I can appreciate& experience things for what they are while I'm there. I have a feeling that I will be going back to Kamakura at some point, so there will be plenty of time for me to do just that in the future. We visited quite a few places (I'm still amazed that we did all of it in one day and still made it back to Tochigi), and this entry should give you a basic idea about each one of them.
So our first stop upon arrival in Kamakura was 鶴岡八幡宮 (Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu), which is the main shrine in Kamakura. Hachiman, the diety to which the shrine was dedicated, was the guardian of the Minamoto clan, who ruled Japan from Kamakura during the (aptly named) Kamakura period. We were lucky in that we stumbled upon a wedding in progress at the shrine. I am quite sure that some weddings at some shrines (like Meiji shrine in Tokyo or at Heian shrine in Kyoto) are completely staged affairs for tourists. This wedding seemed pretty authentic to me, though. Complete with family members and wedding photographers.
Next, we walked to 建長寺 (Kencho-ji) which is the first-ranked of the five great Zen temples in Kamakura. According to the pamphlet it is the oldest Zen training monastery in Japan. One thing that I found particularly interesting about Kencho-ji is that quite a few of the structures had been relocated to Kamakura from Kyoto. The Somon as well as the Hojo had been moved from different temples in Kyoto. You can actually participate in a special 'zazen for foreigners' session that you have to apply for... you can do so on the official website. At the temple, there is also a garden of juniper trees in front of the Butsuden that are said to have grown from seeds brought from China & planted over 700 years ago. They are really wild looking. My photographs do not do them justice.
On a hill behind Kencho-ji is 半僧坊大権現 (Hansobo Daigongen) which is the shrine to the guardian diety of Kencho-ji. The scenery on the way to the Hansobo is absolutely gorgeous; bamboo, moss, rocks, just amazing stuff. On the hill up to the shrine are rock ledges with statues of Karasu-tengu that are pretty effing fierce. Really really cool looking. On a clear day you're supposed to be able to see Fuji-san from where the shrine sits, but the mountain remained elusive in the haze of the rainy season that particular saturday.
After leaving the fairly vast precincts of Kencho-ji, we went to the next temple, 浄智寺, Jochi-ji. The main objects of worship at Kencho-ji are three Nyorai statues of Amida, Shaka and Miroku who represent past, present and future. Notably, the statue of Shaka (present) is placed at a higher elevation than Amida and Miroku. The Experience of the present moment is a very important concept in Zen (I feel like I oversimplified that explanation), which would explain the placing of the statue as such.
From Jochi-ji, we went along the Daibutsu Hiking Course. It was an amazing hike through the woods of Kamakura. Absolutely beautiful. I kind of had a hard time getting my footing on some of the roots which bind the well-worn footpath, but I think I did all right overall. On the way, we stopped at another shrine called 銭洗弁財天, which is probably one of the more unusual shrines that I've ever been to. First, you go through a cave, which leads to the actual shrine itself. There is another, smaller cave where visitors take thier money to a spring and wash it in the hope that it will bring... well... good fortune!! We each washed an 一万 bill in a small basket given to you at the little pavillion. I had a dollar hiding in my wallet, so I washed that, too. You never know, maybe it will work :D
After the (quite literal) money laundering, we were back on the Daibutsu Hiking Course and on our way to the most famous temple in Kamakura, 高徳院 (Kotoku-in), which is the location of the 大仏 (Daibutsu), or Great Buddha. The Daibutsu is the most famous sight in Kamakura, and is, of course, designated as a national treasure. While not as big as the one in Nara, the Kamakura Daibutsu is 13.35 meters high and weighs about 93 tons! You can even go inside him and see how the bronze was originally cast in multiple layers. He was originally inside of a temple, but it washed away in a tsunami in 1498. They have done some restoration and earthquake-protection measures on the Daibutsu to protect him from wear and tear, and I think he looks pretty good for being 700 years old, don't you?
After visiting Daibutsu-sama, we took the electric railway to the beach! After hiking around Kamakura all day it was really peaceful to relax at the beach and listen to the waves roll around for a couple of hours. Definitely not swimming kind of weather, though. You can see the island of Enoshima & its lighthouse from the beach at Fujisawa. After that we headed back and stopped in Yokohama Chinatown for dinner. It was really amazing day and I'm so glad that I got to go to all of these interesting new places.
As per the usual, more photos are on the facebook.
Thursday, July 16, 2009
Shakey's Pizza ★ Google Reader ★ New headphones! ★ Awesome dresses from Honey's ★ Wearing black leggings with everything ★ lotus blossoms ★ hiking through the hills in Japan ★ getting homegrown cucumbers and cherry tomatoes from the teachers at school ★ having two weeks worth of of the next semester's lessons planned already ★ a clean apartment ★ chats with my 校長先生 ★ home-made umeboshi from Aoba's groundskeeper ★ wearing yukata for the first time ★ going to the beach ★ the view from Mori Tower sky deck ★ the beginning of summer vacation ★ talking to my teachers about complex concepts like 'context' in our meetings after school ★ having everything I own be the color purple ★ Lindt intense orange dark chocolate bars ★ drawing my own flash cards ★ my お守り from 織姫神社 ★ the end of the rainy season ★ being able to leave my laundry out all day and not have anyone steal it ★ unexpected fireworks in Ashikaga ★ air conditioned 職員室 ★ balmy summer evenings ★ being able to speak intelligble Japanese★ little lizards hanging out right outside my door ★ the green bridge & the view from it ★ going to shrines that seem like they are out of the way and hard to get to ★
Friday, July 10, 2009
I'm sorry I haven't had much time to give you a decent update. I've been busy working on a story book for my 4th grade semester review. It's called "Beatrice goes to the Museum" It's about a little girl who goes to the Metropolitan Museum on a rainy day. I had to forego the Things I Love Thursday post this week. Work comes first. However, to keep you entertained, here are some photos of the view of Ashikaga I took from a friend's apartment a couple of months ago & forgot to post. Enjoy. I'll be back from this hiatus next week. I promise.
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
The Tanabata festival at Orihime shrine! I think this is my favorite, just because the story and the imagery of the stars is so darn... cute.
Legend has it that Orihime (princess Ori), the daughter of the Sky King (or just the universe, it depends on who's telling the story) wove beautiful clothing by the banks of the milky way (or, the heavenly river). She was really sad that because she was so busy making awesome clothes all day, she had no time to meet anyone and fall in love. The Sky King was concerned for his daughter's happiness, so he arranged for Orihime to meet with Hikoboshi who lived and worked in the fields on the other side of the milky way. Naturally, they both fell madly in love with one another and got married ASAP. However, once they were married, they spent ALL their time with each other and Orihime totally neglected her awesome clothes making and Hikoboshi let his cows wander all about the heaven. The Sky King was once again concerned about this, because he didn't want his daughter's talents to go to waste and neither did he want to chase after loose cows all over the universe. So, he separated Orihime and Hikoboshi across the milky way and forbade them to meet one another. Orihime was totally devastated and she cried and cried. The Sky King was really just looking after his daughter's best interests, so he cut a deal with her. He told her if she was good and finished her clothes making, she could go hang out with Hikoboshi on the 7th day of the 7th month. Once 7/7 rolled around, Orihime had finished all of her work and it was time for her to go meet with Hikoboshi, but there was no bridge to cross the milky way with. So she got upset and cried and cried, until a flock of birds came. The birds made a bridge with their wings so that Orihime could cross the river to see her man.
Tonight was my first Tanabata ever, which was really exciting. I first learned about it in my Japanese textbook when I was a freshman in college. We had a concert today at school. All the kids sang and played the recorder. They all did a really good job!! The sixth grade sang a really pretty song called "Can I please have wings?" It almost made me cry.
Then, we had awesome Tanabata jelly for lunch.. which was like.. Jelly with star-shaped peaches. A win for kyushoku!
So this evening I hit up the Orihime shrine to check out the festivities... as it is obvious that a shrine named Orihime would have some kind of festival for Tanabata. Sure enough, they did. They lined the steps with luminaries made from recycled PET bottles and there were some drummers, a guitarist (who was kind of bimyo) and an awesome sinobue (bamboo flute) player.
I ran into quite a few of my students at the shrine, too. They were so surprised to see me out of school, and were unusually shy (meanwhile, I can't get them to shut up at school). Their parents were super nice though!! One of my third graders was up near the main shrine building and he showed me these little green frogs that were hopping around the rain gutters and making a racket.. he grabbed my hand and pulled me over and said: "BRIDGET SENSEI! LOOK, FROG!!" Oh my goodness it was so adorable.
It was too cloudy to see the stars, so we all actually totally missed out on when the two stars, Vega (Orihime) and Altair (Hikoboshi) actually meet. So much for stargazing.
I had a good time, met some really awesome people, got my O-mamori, and got a little dose of culture on a Tuesday night. As always, more photos are on the facebook.
Sunday, July 5, 2009
Thursday, July 2, 2009
★ My friends. Honestly, I don't know what I'd do without my friends here in Japan. Probably go crazy. I really do love and appreciate my friends and all they do for me and my sanity. Especially all of the ones back home in the states. I miss them all so much. It makes me so happy to see that I can still affect their lives from such a distance, too. For example: my BFF Breann got inspired from my 'Things I Love Thursday' posts and decided to do her own. Which is awesome. I personally think it's important to appreciate the things in life you love - mostly because they're what make you happy - and being happy is what really counts, right? I wouldn't be happy without any friends!! In addition to this, my other BFF, Jim, whose life right now, from the sound of his blog, is really super hectic, made the decision to do some feature posts on his blog, too. Yay! I can't wait to read them! I really love that I've inspired some of the people that I care the most about.
★ Haagen-Dazs Creme Brulee ice cream. It is simply fantastic. It has the dark caramelized sugar topping and a hard vanilla candy coating beneath it so it cracks just like real creme brulee. The custard-flavored ice cream even has little black vanilla flecks in it. It not only tastes like creme brulee, it mimics it to a T. Absolutely incredible.
★ Ferris wheels with a view. Like this one in the park by the bay in Kasai, which happens to be the tallest in Japan. I was on it this past weekend with Taryn and Take. I only wish it had been a nicer day. Or even night time, which would have been awesome, too.
★ Pepsi in bottles in Japan. Pop that comes in bottles just plain tastes better than pop that comes from a can or an automatic dispenser. The fact that pop in Japan is sweetened with cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup quite literally sweetens the deal for me. At home, most pop is sweetened with high fructose corn syrup. Since massive corn farms are subsidized by the U.S. government, it makes it so much cheaper just to use corn syrup instead of real sugar to sweeten things like soda pop, ice cream and what have you. It's actually much healthier to have regular sugar instead of that processed corn nonsense that is just plain bad for you. Pepsi in Japan is pretty rare, too. Bonus points for that!
★ The Japan Times is a pretty entertaining newspaper, especially for me, as a foreigner living in Japan. I started reading it mostly because Japanese newspapers are difficult even for Japanese people to read. I really enjoy reading newspapers in general, so I decided to subscribe to JT for the free trial week. It was great while it lasted, but I wish I had enough time to read the paper every day. I'm considering getting the weekly instead of the daily newspaper. You can apply for a free trial subscription here, if you're interested. You need to have a Japanese address & a phone number, though, and your local newspaper distribution center WILL call you do verify your address, and you WILL need to speak Japanese to them in order to do so. Nevertheless, I still love the Japan Times.
★ Also, I am most happy to mention that my blogger friend, Homestay Mama, gave me the Honest Scrap award! She is such a wonderful human being. Sometimes I wish my homestay mom would have been more like her! Ever since I did one, I've been really interested in the dynamics of the whole host student experience, mostly because it is so unique and different for each individual who does one. It really is amazing, let me tell you. I really enjoy reading her blog because it gives me a different perspective on doing a homestay (a homestay parent versus that of a student). She has hosted students from all over the world, and you can read about them & all of the cool stuff that they do (like playing guitar, arm wrestling, eating awesome foods & more!!) on her blog, Home to the World, which I love reading. Thanks again, homestay mama!!
Anyway, I need to get to work on a big storybook I'm making for one of my classes for an end-of-the-semester review. I'll post some photos later.
These are some things I love! How about you? What do YOU love?