Thursday, July 27, 2006
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Well, I should have known it would have been a fantastic weekend when I saw that the lotus were blooming. I do love lotus flowers very much, and also I love the Buddhist symbolism behind the flower, so perhaps it was a sign of the serendipitous weekend ahead. After arriving in Kyoto I headed to Toji, known for many things since its founding in 794, and also home to the tallest pagoda in Japan. Here I came across a temple market, held only monthly! What good fortune! I also spent some time exploring the temple grounds. After spending some time and money at Toji, I headed over to the hostel where I stayed for the weekend to drop off my stuff. In the evening I wandered Gion (Kyoto's entertainment district) with a fellow American staying at the hostel, having some dinner and a few beers, and some Japanese conversation with people we met. :)
My Saturday in Kyoto started at Kinkakuji (Golden Temple). This structure was built originally in the 14th century, but was burnt down in the 1950s, and rebuilt soon thereafter.
Nearby I stopped at Ryoanji, famous for its Zen garden. The temple grounds also had beautiful moss gardens, and a large pond with many lotus flowers (in bloom in July!) and water lillies.
In the afternoon I went to Kiyomizudera, a temple complex originally dating from 798, but with structures dating from the 17th century. This temple was interesting for peoplewatching- there were hordes of domestic and foreign tourists tromping around the temple grounds on a very muggy and hot day. A highlight of visiting the temple is the shopping lane that leads up to it and drinking the sacred water that one waits in a 15 minute line for. But- now I should have a long and healthy life, and the water did taste fantastic after standing out in the hot sun (bottom picture). Definitely an interesting place to observe religion, tourism, and commerce meet.
In the evening I visited the Fushimi Inari shrine, where there was a lantern festival! It was great fun to wander the shrine grounds, which are known for the many hundreds of torii (gates) by the light of what seemed like thousands of lanterns. There was traditional music, many street vendors selling delicious food, and many people wearing beautiful yukata (summer kimono). :)
On Sunday I started my day at Sanjusangendo, a 13th century temple. The 'sanjusan' (the number 33) refers to the 33 bays of the building, which houses 1,000 sculptures of Kannon, a popular bodhisattva. Each sculpture is close to life size, and at the center is a large Kannon (1,001). In the photo below the sculptures are visible in the background, and in the exterior shot only half of the building is visible. There are also many other guardian sculptures housed at the temple. It was quite a treat to visit!
Across the street from the temple is the Kyoto National Museum, where I was able to see the vast permanent collection, as well as a special exhibition celebrating the 110th year of the museum.
After the museum I headed to Uji, about half an hour outside of Kyoto. Here I visited the Byodoin, and its famous Hoodo, or phoenix hall, dating from 1053. This structure also houses a very wonderful Amida Buddha sculpture, half of which (the base and mandorla) was out for conservation- I was quite pleased to find that the main image was just returned though! So I was able to see a freshly treated image in a beautiful, if rainy setting. After purchasing some tea, which Uji is known for, and visiting the Byodoin treasure hall (museum) I headed back home via Shinkansen and regular train. :)
Monday, July 24, 2006
Well, I had a fantastic weekend in Kyoto, saw many amazing sites, went to a shrine festival, shopped at a temple market, spoke lots of Japanese, and lost my camera on the train coming home. Argh! *But* it was found last night! Yae! It is currently about an hour away from here, and will be mailed to me by the end of the week. So, no Kyoto pictures for now, but horray for the honesty of Japanese culture!
Thursday, July 20, 2006
Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Sunday, July 16, 2006
Some things in Japan are vastly different than in America. Take for example the Mini-stop. This is the convienience store that is in front of the dorm. While on the outside it may look just like any American covienie, it is not. The products that are offered are similar, but with the expected cultural differences, a wide range of beverages, snack food, magaznies, toilitries, etc., except there is far more green tea, they sell hot mustard flavored rice chips (my favorite!) and instead of hot dogs and burgers they sell sushi and soba noodles. The main difference here though, is customer service. Once when I asked if they had a certain product the clerk actually ran over to the section and apologized profusely when she discovered they were out for the day. Another time when purchasing coffee in the morning I left my sunglasses on the counter and the clerk came after me apologizing, and offered up my sunglasses with both hands in a very respectful way. I can only imagine how this situation would play out at a 7-11 in America. This is not limited to the Mini-stop, everywhere one goes in Japan sales clerks and others in the service industry are curteous and eager to please. While I do appreciate the American ability to be straightforward and honest with others, I am left with a little cultural envy over customer service like this, and will defnitely miss it upon returning home. :)
Saturday, July 15, 2006
Last night we headed out for a sampling of nightlife in Nagoya. We first went to Club id, which was pretty cool. There were 3 floors- one hip-hop, one with a lounge area, and another with a mix of pop/dance music. The hip-hop was the best music, and the most crowded floor as well. It was a great time to be out dancing! Now, while I am in awe of the Japanese public transportation system, it's one flaw is that trains do not run between midnight and about 6 am. So what are a bunch of Yamasa students to do when their train has turned into a pumpkin? Why, go to karaoke of course! Interestingly, karaoke bars are open until 6 am just for this purpose. We went to a karaoke place that had 9 floors of rooms- it was huge! It was a blast to sing along to the large selection of music until the early morning hours, and facinating to see the amount of people that poured out of karaoke at 6 am- the streets were full of people of all ages going to catch the first train. :)
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
This past weekend I took an overnight trip down to Ise. After a beautiful sunset while on the train, I had dinner in town and spent the night at the Hoshide-kan Ryokan, which had a very pleasant little garden, a hot bath, was super quiet, and had a good breakfast in the morning. I started my sightseeing day walking the Kawasaki Kaiwai, a street lined with old merchant houses near the ryokan. I then headed over to Ise Jinjya (shrine), one of the largest and most important Shinto shrines in Japan. Ise is divided into two parts, the outer and inner shrines. I first went to the outer shrine, which dates from the 5th century. It was quite pleasant to walk through the ancient forest and see the structures, which are frequently rebuilt to maintain purity. Each of the buildings has an empty plot of land next to it where the next round of building will be done. The shrines were quite crowded with people, including pilgrims at the outer shrine. I took a bus to the inner shrine, which is the more sacred of the two, housing the sun goddess Amaterasu, who is the ancestor of the imperial family, and dates from around the 3rd century. The site here was quite large, and the grounds were beautiful, including a river where the pilgrims purify before visiting the shrine. As with all shrines, one can not enter the buildings or even the area inside the fences, which at Ise is reserved for select priests and the imperial family. Interestingly, just outside of the shrine was a huge and bustling commercial street selling food and all sorts of tourist trinkets. After taking the bus back to the station, I went to Futami, where I visited the Meoto-iwa, or Wedded Rocks, another Shinto site of two rocks considered to be male and female and joined by sacred ropes that are renewed each year. This was also a great excuse to stand on the other side of the Pacific, or at least close to it, and see some water. :)