sechan19: (anne)
The days following the nomikai were to continue the fast pace that had been set by the first half of the program, and Team Ise was well up for the challenge.

We began the first day of the rest of the trip (a Thursday) with a series of morning lectures on Ise's early economic history, including the industries that sprang up around the ceremonial rebuilding of the shrines at Ise (and around the pilgrimages to Ise that eventually began to take place in the medieval period) and the agricultural industries of the region: in particular the salt, alcohol, and fishing industries—all of which remain vital sources of Ise agribusiness today.

Following our morning lectures, we headed out for an extensive walking tour of the Kawasaki (Rivershore) and Furuichi (Old City) areas of Ise. We were led by Chieda-sensei, who had taken T. and I on our weekend tour of the old Ise pilgrimage routes and sūtra burial sites. Chieda-sensei is one of Kogakkan's most personable professors (which is saying quite a lot, as Kogakkan University is blessed with many personable professors)—an educator whose knowledge of the layout of Ise City is truly remarkable. I think his knowledge of the city is honestly only exceeded by his desire to share that knowledge with others. Needless to say, I was beyond delighted to take another walking tour under his guidance.

Our ramble led us first through Kawasaki, where we had the opportunity to view several Edo (1615-1868) period buildings from the outside and in. Gracious shopkeepers allowed us to roam through backrooms, busy craftsmen made time to give us demonstrations of their work, and small local history museums provided intensive guided tours. Then we traveled to Furuichi, where more classic architecture awaited us—this time accompanied by spectacular views of the surrounding landscape. (Furuichi is located on a hill, overlooking the river valley below and providing a line of sight straight to the surrounding mountain ranges that encompass the valley.) In Furuichi we were able to tour the interior of an old Japanese house—including the kitchens and old storage areas, which were absolutely fascinating.

We finished up our tour with a visit to the Ito Shoha Museum—an museum dedicated to the art of local nihonga artist Ito Shoha (1877-1968), whose paintings were evocative of traditional Japan and its continued importance to modern art practice, and then we had a very refreshing walk home in the afternoon sun.

Friday saw us spend a relatively quiet day preparing for our weekend trip to Nara and Kyoto with extensive lectures on the cultural and political relationship between Ise and the ancient capitals of Heijō-kyō (present-day Nara) and Heian-kyō (present-day Kyoto). Our lecturers included the president of the university and a member of the university's board of directors—learned scholars with specialized knowledge of Ise during the Nara (710-794) and Heian (794-1185) periods who took time out of their extremely busy schedules to offer us their insight into Ise's history. I took copious notes and then went back to the dormitory for an early night; we had an early start planned for our weekend trip—which, with multiple stops planned in both Nara and Kyoto, was set to be an intense (though rewarding) experience.
sechan19: (anne)
Nomikai!

The Japanese nomikai (drinking party) is the social event to end all social events. It's the place where people who are colleagues, mentors/mentees, or plain old acquaintances become friends. This is because the hierarchical rules for interaction that apply in all other social situations are suspended during the nomikai. It is fundamentally understood that everyone is drinking and therefore no one need bother with the standard rules of behavior that require distance and deference in daily personal interactions.

Having spent the rather rainy day out and about, it was a delight to pile into taxis and head for the Kadoya Brewing Company—where the nomikai was to be held. In addition to being a brewer, Kadoya features a restaurant that specializes in seafood dishes. Their oyster dishes are particularly well-known and with good reason. Over the course of our meal, which was all-you-can-eat to complement the all-you-can-drink beer menu, we ate fried oysters, fresh oysters, and oysters in stir-fry and on pizza! We also had extremely respectable German sausage (the German participants vouched for its authenticity of flavor) and a variety of delicious Chinese dishes and salads brought to us.

Kadoya had about twenty beers on tap, ranging from lagers to pale ales to ambers to stouts, and I made it my mission to attempt a tasting of all of them. I begin my series of orders with a tasting flight that allowed me to sample six of their beers and then settled in for the long haul.

Everything was so scrumptious, and the conversation was so much fun. I was seated at a table with a bunch of the student volunteers, and we spent a lot of time talking about linguistics and idiomatic expressions—when we weren't laughing hysterically over the never-ending quantities of food, taking silly pictures, and toasting one anothers' very good health. At one point it was discovered that one of the students, Takahara, and I shared a mutual love of rock-n-roll, and we spent a large portion of the evening talking about bands (he himself is in one), concerts, and what it's been like for me having a roadie for a dad (short version: incredibly awesome).

As the evening wore on, people began to detach themselves from their tables and wander freely—chatting, laughing, toasting, drinking, silly photo-taking. Several of the teachers, normally quite reserved, expressed their hopes that we would all remain close friends of them, of Kogakkan University, and of Ise.

Eventually it was time for last calls, and then suddenly it was time to go. I had ordered a just-in-case glass at last call, as I wasn't sure how much longer we'd be staying, and I hadn't gotten around to finishing it. So, in that time honored tradition of preventing alcohol abuse, I chugged it. In one tremendous, scene-stealing gulp. And everyone erupted into drunken cheers and clapping. It was an extremely proud moment for me. I had drank six flights, four (five?) glasses, and one pint of beer (not to mention various sips from other people's orders) in about a span of two hours, and I was still on my feet and essentially coherent.

I was very, very happy about life, the universe, and everything, but I was coherent in my happiness.

We caught taxis back home to the dormitory. My friend T. and I shared a taxi with the program coordinators, and during the drive back we gave ourselves over to an effusion of "I-love-you-man!" declarations. They were apparently so profuse that they got Tamada-san laughing at their cuteness. But we didn't mind. We were just so happy to be where we were, doing what we were doing.

Back home and in bed, I drifted off to sleep with gratifying rapidity, and I woke up refreshed and ready for the next half of the program to commence. The buzz had faded, but the sense of camaraderie was still very much evident—as it would continue to be for the rest of the trip.

Nomikai. You just can't beat it.
sechan19: (anne)
Since Wednesday feels like two separate days—pre-nomikai Wednesday and-post nomikai Wednesday—I'm going to split them up into two separate entries.

We started Wednesday off with a morning lecture on the Toyouke Shrine—often referred to as the Outer Shrine. When thinking about the inner (naikū) and outer shrines (gekū) of Ise, it's easy to imagine that they lie close together, when the reality is that they are actually situated quite distant from one another. The Inner Shrine (also known as the Grand Shrine) is located in a part of the city known as Uji, while the Outer Shrine is in Yamada. In pre-modern times, the Ise pilgrimage involved stops at the Outer and Inner Shrine, as well as time spent in Yamada no machi and a visit to Kongōshōji. Pilgrims first visited the Outer Shrine, then visited the Inner Shrine, and then made their way to Kongōshōji before returning home. They would spend two-to-three days just in the Ise area alone to do this. (And at certain points in Ise history, the Inner and Outer shrines did not get along with each other, and they sometimes fought battles because the Outer shrine—as the first stop—had better control over transit pathways to the Inner shrine and could [and did] restrict people's access!) Anyway, today it is not uncommon for visitors on pilgrimage to Ise to recreate this pilgrimage route and spend the same amount of time on it—even though they now come by car, bus, or train.

It was a pretty intensely rainy day, and cold with it, which limited our mobility. Our trip to Kongōshōji was misty and chill, but somehow the weather for the Outer Shrine trip was a bit more oppressive. Fortunately, however, we have a special return visit scheduled for next week, and I hope for better weather (or that I remember to wear my thick socks) then. We did spend a good amount of time in the Sengū—the museum dedicated to the shrines' history, which contained lots of valuable information about the building techniques and ritual process involved in the rebuilding of the shrines (which takes place every twenty years at both the Inner and Outer shrine complexes). T. and I latched onto Sano-sensei—an Ise shrine expert—early on in the tour and spent the time peppering him with questions, which he kindly and diligently answered.

After the tour, we had about two hours to kill until dinner at the craft brewer and Tamada-san (our program coordinator) mentioned an akafukumochi place nearby, so T., our friend M., and I—along with Kogakkan students Suzuki, Haruki, and Saki—made our way there for tea, mochi, and conversation. It was warm, and the tea and sweets were delicious and fortifying, and we had a lot of fun chatting about language, and interests, and whatnot. And, in that time-honored tradition of friendship, we made fun of each other for various and sundry things. And we laughed a lot. With the little bit of time left over before we had to meet back up again for the taxi ride, the Kogakkan students took us over to a small bookshop, where I was able to find a copy of a book on Ise that I had been coveting—a book chock-full of excellent photographs and articles that will be a material help to me in future teaching projects. There were exactly two copies of the book, which was awesome because it meant that both T. and I were able to buy one. (Bookstore win!)

Our purchases made, we powered back to the meeting point—pausing to take a few silly pictures along the way—and then it was time to say goodbye to the students, who sadly had decided not to join us for dinner, and make our way to the restaurant for delicious food, excellent beer, and more scrumptious conversation.

But that's another story, and shall be told another time. Stay tuned...
sechan19: (anne)
I'm definitely starting to get behind on these, and so I'm going to take the liberty of consolidating Monday and Tuesday's adventures into a single post.

Monday began with a lecture on the geography of the area outside the city, followed by an hour of study time—which was greatly appreciated. I was lucky enough to be able to check some very interesting books out of the Kogakkan Library last week, and it was wonderful to have the chance to sit down with them and make some notes for future reference. In the last six months or so, I've begun thinking about life after dissertation, and this trip to Ise has provided a lot of food for thought about where to go next with my research interests.

After lunch, we all piled onto our bus and headed off for Futami, site of the seaside shrine to the kami Okitami-no-ōmikami and the famed meota iwa—the wedded rocks. Our trip to Futami took the form of a lengthy walking tour of the village, with various stops dotted along our route to the Futami Okitami Shrine.

We began our tour at the Futami Study Center, which currently had an exhibition of dolls for the Hinamatsuri (Festival of the Dolls, or Girl's Day Festival)—an annual holiday in celebration of girls that is held on the 3rd of March. During the Hinamatsuri, families that have daughters decorate their homes with a dolls' set that is traditionally arranged in a predetermined manner. The dolls are laid out on five or seven shelves, with dolls of the emperor and empress on the top tier and assorted ladies-in-waiting, courtiers, servants, musicians, and accoutrements laid out on the shelves below. The Futami Study Center had a plethora of dolls on display in honor of this holiday, and everywhere we went in the town we saw signs of the celebration. Futami apparently takes the holiday very seriously and holds a month-long series of related events in honor of the special day. This year marked their tenth such month-long Girls' Day festival, and it was a sight to see.

After leaving the study center, we made our way to the scenic road that led to the Futami Okitami Shrine. This road lay alongside Ise Bay and was windy but beautiful. The day was bright and clear, and it was possible to see Mount Fuji across the water and distant land that lies opposite the Mie Prefecture shore. We were on a tight schedule as usual but managed to linger at the water for a while in spite of that.

We then made a stop at the Hinjitsukan, a late 19th century rest house for important visitors to the Futami Okitami Shrine. There we toured the exquisite building, finding traditional tatami rooms, displays of art objects and historical court attire, and yet more doll tableaux. Several of the arrangements in the Hinjitsukan were quite inventive. I particularly enjoyed the doll chorus with their black-robed conductor, and the dolls climbing a mock-Mount-Fuji were amusing as well. I also had a chance to photograph a full set of robes used to create the jūni hitoe (twelve-layer) court dress style, and that was pretty awesome too.

The Futami Okitami Shrine was very beautiful and wind-drenched. I bought some souvenirs for loved ones and made a small offering to Okitami-no-ōmikami, who is a god of the sea (and is thought to dwell within a set of rocks that lie beneath the water on the other side of the wedded rocks). I've always felt a certain tenuous emotional kinship with the ocean, and I like to propitiate its gods when I have the chance.

With the shrine visit behind us, we made our way to the plaza where our bus was waiting to take us back to the Kogakkan dormitory. I was still pretty tired after my massive Sunday tour of Ise City, so I took the opportunity to catch a twenty-minute catnap on the way back.

Tuesday, by contrast, was much more subdued. We started the day off with a morning study session, which was again appreciated (I had a great conversation with a colleague and got a lot done to boot), and then we had a series of fascinating lectures on religion, mythology, and bushidō. The lecture on mythology was particularly interesting to me, and I was delighted to hear about the professor's theories on vision and taboo, sin and shame, and the parallels between Japanese and Greek mythological tales. The quieter day was extremely well-timed, as I really needed the chance to cool down after the whirlwind pace that had been set by week one. Week two was off to a great start.
sechan19: (anne)
Sunday was a free day for the members of Team Ise, and so we broke into various small groups for assorted adventures in different areas. Some people went to Nagoya; some went to Nara; some stayed home; and some spent the day touring Ise. I spent the day with my friend T., who's studying Ise sankei mandara (Ise pilgrimage mandalas), Chieda-sensei, a Kogakkan professor who seems to know everything there is to know about Ise City and its history, and Kirita-kun, one of Chieda-sensei's students (who was super serious, to the point that we couldn't believe he was only nineteen; that boy will become an academic one day... mark our words).

And when I say we spent the day, I mean we spent the day. Chieda-sensei picked us up at 9am for a driving/walking/hiking tour of various spots related to Ise sankei mandara, as well as stops at a number of sūtra burial sites, the Ise City Library, the Ise Shrine museums of art, history, and agriculture, and a wonderful little used book shop. We also had lunch and dinner together, at two delightful and delicious restaurants—the first a washoku (Japanese cuisine) place in Okagemachi (the portion of the Oharaimachi area that is built to recreate the Edo period aesthetic of the city) and the second a little hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant that was run by a friend of Chieda-sensei's. As you can imagine, we had amazing meals and fascinating conversations in both places. And we both found some awesome books in the bookstore.

Throughout the course of the day, as we rambled here and there, we discussed art and history both relevant and irrelevant to our dissertation projects. And of course we talked about our likes and dislikes, varied personal experiences, and travels, and we laughed a whole lot.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable "day off."
sechan19: (anne)
Though there had been some talk of taking us all to Iga Prefecture—a locale famous for its ninjas—on the weekend, we actually wound up touring the museums related to the ruins of the Saikū, the palace complex of the Ise Priestess (saiō). This was intensely preferable. I enjoy ninjas as much as the next girl, but I would much rather learn about the various cultural traditions of Heian (794-1185) period Ise. (Nerd power!)

Learning about the Saikū, and the tradition of sending a daughter of the Emperor (tennō) to it in order to act as the court's liaison to the kami of Ise, was a perfect use of time in my book. I had been peripherally aware of the practice from reading The Tale of Genji (where the selection of the next Ise Priestess is a major plot point during one part of the book), but I hadn't ever really taken time to consider what was involved in the practice: the selection methods, the travel involved, the rituals invoked before, during, and after a priestess's tenure. I was absolutely fascinated by this aspect of Heian history, and I hope to have a chance to learn more about it in the future. As you can imagine, I bought several books related to the site in the museum shops, and someday—when I achieve that legendary semblance of "free time" that people sometimes talk about—I'll turn my attention to it and see what I can make of it all.

The role of the Ise Priestess in ritual practices at the shrines of Ise is very interesting, both in and of itself and because of the priestess's duty as a representative of the court. Japanese emperors since Meiji have made pilgrimage trips to the shrines at Ise, but emperors before that time did not—a factoid that adds an interesting dimension to the formation of State Shinto and the redeployment of the shrines at Ise as the heart of that new religious practice after the Meiji Restoration. This is yet another point where taught lectures on these shrines can sometimes be quite vague, so I'm glad to have this information to factor into future classes.

After a morning at the Saikū, we made our way to a famous kamaboko (fish cake) shop, where we were treated to a hands-on class on how to make kamaboko! Of course, we weren't provided with recipes, but we were able to smoosh, mix, flatten, scrape, press, and sculpt our very own fish cake rolls, which was a lot of fun. (Although, man do I have serious respect for people who make fish cakes for a living—all that smooshing, and mixing, and flattening, and scraping, and pressing, and sculpting is HARD!) Once we were finished, they took our rolls for quick steaming in the cooker, and then let us fashion hand-shaped kamaboko for grilling and eating on the spot. I made my kamaboko look like a fish. (I named him Peko, and he was delicious.) At the end of the class, we were all presented with special kamaboko pilgrimage tokens—available only to those who have taken the kamaboko challenge. We also got to keep our steamed fish cakes.

One of my favorite things about traveling in Japan is that it's always an awesome food tour, and Ise is no different. I've eaten so many good things since I got here that I think I'm going to be entirely spoiled by the time I get back to Tokyo.
sechan19: (anne)
Friday afternoon found the members of Team Ise participating in an extensive and complex tea ceremony, but once again I'm a little ahead of myself.

The tea ceremony was preceded by a lengthy lecture on the history of tea and tea usage in Japan, and it included a ton of useful information on present-day tea terminology and practice. Additionally, the tea master had selected a number of exquisitely beautiful tea objects for us to view during the lecture break. These included a hand-painted lacquerware water box, a gold-embossed lacquer tea caddy, and several beautiful tea bowls. Most of the objects featured imagery related to the famous sights of Ise—the Grand Shrine in Uji no Machi, the Toyouke Shrine in Yamada no Machi, and the Wedded Rocks located near the Futami Okitama Shrine. In terms of their quality, these tea objects were extremely luxurious and valuable, but in terms of their appropriateness to the season and location, they were without price. It was really lovely of the tea master to share these objects with us, to allow us to photograph them and hold them in our hands.

The tea ceremony itself was, as it often is, a grueling affair. I've learned shortened versions of the tea ceremony before, but never have I learned such a complicated version. This was not a tea ceremony lecture for beginners, and I felt rather like I had graduated. The extensive practice we did before the actual ceremony extended the amount of time we spent sitting in seiza (on the soles of the feet), but I appreciated that the master did not dumb the ceremony down for us. I felt it as a mark of respect. And I somewhat enjoy sitting in seiza, even when it becomes painful. There is something profound about pushing yourself beyond the physical sensations to fully savor the totality of the experience.

The tea, which was as excellent as expected, was served with a delicious sweet potato wagashi (Japanese-style sweet)—yet another Ise meibutsu (famous product) from the delicious food tour of Ise—that was chosen especially for us. The sweet was fashioned into a the shape of an ume (plum blossom), which is sometimes known by the more poetic name of harutsugekusa (lit. the blossom that announces the spring), another deeply appropriate choice for the season.

The tea ceremony is always a wonderful experience, and this particular tea ceremony—with its abundance of explanation and example—was no exception.
sechan19: (anne)
Today found Team Ise exploring the precincts of the Kongōshōji—a temple located on Mount Asama (not the one that's a volcano), just above the city of Ise. It was a rainy day that started off at a drizzle but ultimately developed into a bit of a downpour, but for all that it was another wonderful trip.

Rainy days can be annoying when you want to be out and about, but I've often thought there's no better way to see a temple or shrine (and particularly one located in the mountains) than when it's cold, and misty, and atmospheric. Kongōshōji, with its majestic gates and gardens and graves, really delivered on the otherworldly atmosphere, and though I spent the hike huddled under my umbrella, I couldn't help being struck by the pure, unadulterated drama of the scenery. A sunny day, though easier in terms of comfort, simply would not have been the same. Sometimes you have to suffer for beauty.

Our tour begun with a thorough lecture on the treasures of the temple and their role in the syncretic fusion of Shinto and Buddhism. Kongōshōji is famed for being an alternate dwelling of the sun goddess, Amaterasu-o-mi-kami, who dwells primarily at the Inner Shrine of Ise's Grand Shrine complex, and there are a number of objects housed there that are related to her presence there. In particular, Kongōshōji holds a number of bronze sutra burial canisters, dating from the Heian period, which were unearthed after a typhoon leveled several buildings in the City of Ise. These canisters were actually buried by the priests associated with the Inner Shrine rather than Buddhist priests, and are important artifacts of Shinto and Buddhism's early syncretic ties.

After the lecture, we were privileged to be invited into the inner sanctum of the main temple building to stand before the primary object of veneration, a hibutsu (hidden Buddha) of the bodhisattva Kokūzō (Ākāśagarbha) who represents the great void and the boundless knowledge contained within that void, and to pay our respects. Behind the altar, was the shrine to Amaterasu-o-mi-kami, which we were also allowed to approach and pay our respects to. Generally, casual visitors are not allowed to pass beyond the public space into the inner sanctum of a temple building, and it was a great honor to be allowed to do so at Kongōshōji.

We took a walk along the cremation grounds of the temple, which lay on the other side of the Gokuraku-mon (the Gate to Paradise), to the Oku-no-in, a temple dedicated to the souls of the dead. The cremation grounds were lined with sotoba (wooden memorial tablets that symbolize the stupa) of varying sizes that had been made in honor of deceased loved ones. In many cases, the tributes were accompanied by the placement of personal or comfort items, and cans of beer dotted the ground—as common as flowers. The Oku-no-in was dominated by a sotoba-filled open-space that featured a collection of statues of the bodhisattva Jizō (Ksitigarbha), who is particularly revered as a savior of children. It was another beautiful sight, but one tinged with sadness, as I knew that the sotoba there were memorials to dead, beloved children—left in the care of Jizō by their bereaved parents.

With the visit to the Oku-no-in completed, we made our way back to the bus and wound our way back down a mist-covered mountain to the city below. I think there were plans on the drawing board to go to a scenic view spot, but the rain's increasing ferocity made such plans impractical. Still, I didn't feel as if I had missed out on anything. The day was beautiful in its way, and I wouldn't have traded it for the world.
sechan19: (anne)
The Grand Shrine at Ise!

One of the strongest (though certainly not the only) motivating factors for me in joining this study program was the desire to learn more about the shrines that are located here in Ise—most especially the Grand Shrine (Kōtai Jingū)—which I have taught about in my Intro to Asian Art course but never before visited.

The trip (paired with morning lectures on the layout of the shrine and its proximity to other sacred spaces in and around Ise City) really brought into sharp relief how much the story of the shrine is simplified in the intro course—simplified almost to the point of nonsensicality. So now I'm totally rethinking how I may want to teach this material (in intro and other courses) going forward. The intro classes are fast-paced and somewhat akin to greatest hits albums, but there has to be a way to get more of the history of this space—its changing relationships to Buddhism, to the court government, to the Outer Shrine of Toyouke Jingū in nearby Yamada, Ise—into the lecture because it's completely fascinating.

We left the Momofune (Kogakkan's name for their International Exchange Office) about 11:40 to catch the bus down to the area of Ise known as Uji. The Grand Shrine, site of the Naikū (inner shrine) that is the dwelling place of the sun goddess Amaterasu-o-mi-kami, is located there. You approach it along a stretch of shops that are collected in an area known as Oharaimachi. Our first stop was lunch at a shop in Oharaimachi, where we had an absolutely amazing meal. Seriously, I just cannot stop talking about how delicious it was. We were served Ise Udon (thick udon noodles drizzled with a strong soy sauce and soup stock broth and mixed up with bonito flakes and green onions) and Tekone-zushi (tuna sashimi over rice, garnished with nori, shiso, and ginger). The Ise area—located on the coast of Ise Bay—is famous for its seafood, and the tuna was some of the freshest and most mouth-watering I've ever tasted.

After lunch, we made our way to the Uji Bridge, the entrance to the Grand Shrine, where we were met by a film crew from Local 7 News. Our visit to the shrine was schedule to be filmed for a short interest piece airing as part of the evening's 5:40pm News Broadcast. (More on that in a bit.) Being constantly filmed was definitely different, but I just put the cameraman out of my mind and concentrated on the experience. Fully two-thirds of the Grand Shrine is wooded, and the scenery was achingly beautiful. Even though there were many, many people present, it was possible to feel isolated and deeply grounded within the self, simply through the overwhelming presence of nature on all sides.

Entering the Inner Shrine was a particularly moving experience for me. We were especially lucky to be there in the first few months after the most recent building reconstruction and transfer of the goddess to her new dwelling space. (A number of buildings at the Grand Shrine are reconstructed every twenty years as part of an elaborate ritual process.) The buildings from the previous (1993) reconstruction were still standing, and because of a difference in the elevation between the two adjacent spaces it was possible to catch a glimpse of the previous shrine and really see the effect that twenty years of entropy had had on the earlier structures. It wasn't possible to take pictures within the Inner Shrine precincts, but I was extremely glad to have the chance to take a good long look at the two spaces together. It was completely eye-opening. As an art historian, these are the moments you live for. This is why you do it. And I was absolutely over the moon. After paying our respects to Amaterasu, we wended our way back to the entrance of the shrine, passing a number of minor shrines along the way. (The Grand Shrine is less a single entity and more a collection of smaller individual entities sharing a complex.)

Once finished at the Grand Shrine, the program coordinator took us for tea and akafukumochi (red-bean-paste smothered rice cakes) at the Akafuku Honten. I'm extremely delighted to say that this trip was added to the day's schedule because of my post to Facebook about how much I wanted to try this Ise meibutsu. Our program coordinator is really doing us proud. I don't think I've ever been so well looked after (read: spoiled) in a study program before, and that's the truth. The akafukumochi was unbelievably yummy, with the lovely lightly sweetened flavor of red bean paste and the chewy, chewy, chewiness of mochi. We all sat on tatami mat flooring, gazing out at the tea house garden, and giggling over our respective chewy faces as we pondered the day's activities. It was a lovely way to close out the afternoon.

With the day's outing officially over, we all broke into small groups, and I spent some time wandering the shopping street in Oharaimachi with T. and M.—another participant in the program. We took pictures of the architecture, bought some Ise-only beer (but of course!), and then got soft serve ice cream and tai-yaki for the trip home. At T.'s suggestion, we decided to walk back to the dormitory, which was only about a half-hour's distance on foot, rather than take a bus back. Along the way, we found a number of awesome sights that we would not have seen otherwise.

Back at the dorm, T. and I had enough time for a quick beer and discussion before the 5:40 news broadcast. Everyone piled into the common room on the second floor to watch. And before you ask, yes I was featured, and yes the broadcast was copied. Sort of. One of the girls in the program shot a clandestine video of it on her camera. I believer she's going to send us all copies of it when she has a chance to upload. When she does, I'll post it (with commentary). That's a promise.

Lots more to come, but for now, it's time to settle in for the night. I'm bushed!
sechan19: (anne)
Lectures and more lectures, and I actually had the courage to ask a question about something I learned today in lecture. (This question was delivered clearly enough to elicit an informative response, and I'm feeling better about my ability to speak and understand Japanese than I have in months.) I'm hoping to compile a more scholarly-style essay about some of the things I've learned and post it at a later date, so stay tuned...

We spent most of the day learning about the history of Ise Shrine, and the Shinto rituals associated with it, in preparation for our trip to the Inner Shrine tomorrow. (We will visit the Outer Shrine at a later date.) After our lectures, we made our way to the Assembly Hall for a discussion of ritual and a hands-on demonstration of Heian period clothing and social class. And by hands-on I mean all thirteen of us being fitted and tied into traditional dress. I volunteered to wear the attire of the highest-standing woman in the room, mainly because I wanted to get a sense of what was involved in the dressing of a court woman.

And let me tell you, a lot is involved. I was not attired in jūni hitoe (twelve-layer robes), but I did have three robes and hakama pants to slip into, and they took a tremendous amount of work. In fact, I (and everyone, really) had to have help getting into the clothes. Actually, we needed a bit of help making sure we stayed in them, too. At one point, I spent about five minutes with my arms held aloft (good exercise considering the weight of the garments), while Kimura-sensei fussed and fiddled with the robes, their sleeves, and the sash. Thank goodness I don't have Heian-style floor-length hair to contend with. When the robes were properly fitted, there was a headress and accessories to be considered as well.

We were all giggling and taking photos and enjoying the moment, watching in turn as cohort was turned into processional. In the end, we all lined up (students, teachers, and assistants) for a massive photo op. There were at least ten cameras, and more pics than I can shake a stick at were taken. I'll post some to FB eventually, I suspect.

Tomorrow we'll be learning about sacred space and syncretism and touring the Inner Shrine of Ise—a place I've taught about but never visited until now. Very excited!!
sechan19: (anne)
So, for those not in the know, I applied (and was accepted) to participate in the first annual Ise-Japan Study Program. The three-week program, which is sponsored by the city of Ise and hosted by Kogakkan University, began today with a morning orientation, campus tour, pair of lectures on the history of the city, and a lively welcome party. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself, I think.

I came down yesterday afternoon with my friend, T., who—like me—is studying at Gakushuin with Sano-sensei, and it was a good start to the trip. It's always nice to share an experience with someone else, and the program really sent us in style. The people we encountered along the way were all extremely kind, too. One woman on the train from Nagoya to Ise even gave us one of her mikan (Japanese mandarin) to try. (It was super yummy, and it inspired T. to buy a bag at the local supermarket after we'd gotten settled.)

Things got moving at a pretty fast pace after we arrived, and they've continued to be fast paced. I mean, the above list is no exaggeration: we did all of those things—sometimes rushing from one place to another and occasionally stumbling upon something unexpected.

Our post-orientation tour was a good example of that, actually. Even before we'd gotten ten paces from the International Center Office door, we found a group of Kogakkan University students practicing a traditional/modern dance number. When they saw us watching, they treated us to a full performance—which was extremely cool. The dance style seemed to be a blend of gagaku dance and modern cheerleading, and it carried a truly unique flavor.

We split the walking tour into two sections: pre- and post-lunch. Over lunch at the cafeteria (I had a chicken rice bowl, tofu, and salad), we had a chance to start getting to know the student volunteers, many of whom are learning English and all of whom are very friendly and engaging. I bonded with a number of them over a variety of things: love of baseball, desire to become a teacher, mutual shortness, etc. Almost any point of commonality would do, it seemed.

After the walking tours, which included stops in the campus museum of Shinto art and history, the library, and a nearby shrine, we headed back to the classroom for the first of what promises to be a series of very interesting lectures. Today's topics were city history, and while I admit that I found the early history more engaging than the modern history (sorry modernist friends; I'm just an ancient history fan...) both contained a lot of really useful information that I look forward to one day putting into practice as a teacher.

When class was over, myself and a couple of others walked back to our dormitory, which is about fifteen minutes away from campus. We weren't exactly certain of the return directions, having only walked it once before that morning, but we were able to reverse engineer the trip by means of following the landmarks. I was pretty proud of us, actually, and it'll be nice to feel like I know where I'm going. One of the most important factors for me in feeling settled in somewhere is knowing how to get places by heart. As long as I can make a successful return trip to campus tomorrow morning, I'll probably start feeling pretty at home here.

There's lots more to tell—about the students, and the profs, and the staff—but I'm fairly tired after a twelve-hour day of work, so I'm going to pack it in for now. Suffice it to say, everyone has been pretty awesome. The other participants (who come from Australia, Russia, Germany, Poland, Belgium, and Portugal!) are a good bunch, the teachers and staff are enthusiastic about this program and about us as the inaugural participants, and the university students are both interesting and interested.

I think it's going to be a good three weeks.
sechan19: (butterfly)
About a month or so back, I was invited to attend a research session (chōsa) at the Kōsanji Temple Museum in Hiroshima Prefecture with my Japanese cohort. (I didn't blog about it at the time, although I should have. Sorry!) During this session, I spent a lot of time doing odd jobs for the group—helping to hold the folding screens (byōbu) flat for photography, recording measurements of the objects, and even taking photographs for the cohort's image archives. I was pretty nervous about playing photographer; the camera I was using was expensive, belonged to my professor, and seemed a lot smarter than me. I carried on, though, and shot somewhere in the vicinity of one-hundred pics (both close details and distance shots that captured the entirety of the works). At the end of the session, I was heartily thanked for my contribution.

Flash forward to today. We had our first day of seminar after the New Year holidays, and there were a lot of announcements to be made. The professor handed out free tickets to museum exhibitions that she had received and mentioned that we'd be discussing plans for upcoming research sessions at next week's meeting. When class broke up, after three interesting presentations, we all milled about—as per tradition—making small (and large) talk.

I was about to pack up and leave when I heard the professor calling me.

"Teva, come and look at your photo!"

It turns out that the professor had used one of my shots from the Kōsanji trip for an article she recently published on Genji-e, and she wanted me to see it in all its glory. Myself and two other students had a look at the glossy shot, while the professor praised my photographic skills to within an inch of their life. It was apparently an incredibly well-detailed photo, perfectly suited to the specifications of what she wanted to illustrate, and she was exceedingly happy with it.

Admittedly, this was all a little embarrassing. I consider myself an indifferent photographer at best. When I do remember to take pictures of things with a camera, I typically point, shoot, and hope for the best. But I'm very happy that she was pleased with my shots, and it was incredibly kind of her to make such a big deal of what was a actually very small contribution on my part—even if it did cause me to blush profusely in front of my colleagues. The journal issue itself, which is entirely dedicated to Genji-e, looks very, very interesting. I'll have to see if I can get a copy of it...
sechan19: (butterfly)
In Japan, the coming of the new year (Shōgatsu) is far and away the most important holiday of record. (Other major holidays include Setsubun [the bean throwing festival], Tanabata [the star festival], and Obon.) In contrast to the anything-goes party aesthetic that often attends the "western" new year, Shōgatsu is a family holiday. Many people return to their hometown in order to spend the first week of the year with their parents and, rather than partying 'til dawn on the last night/first day, visit their local shrine at midnight and local temple in the next week to pray for a prosperous twelvemonth. Of course, that doesn't mean that the party 'til dawn approach to new year's isn't savored by the denizens of the city, and the beauty of living in Tokyo is that you often get the best of both worlds.

I was fortunate this year to have the opportunity to do just that... )

All in all, this was one of the best New Year's I've ever spent, and I've spent some damn good ones over the course of my life. Here's hoping that yours was just as lovely and the coming year of the horse lovely to match...

A Good Day

Oct. 14th, 2013 04:27 am
sechan19: (butterfly)
So it looks like the apartment is definitely happening. K. and I go into the realtor's office on Wednesday to sign the contracts and then we'll be able to pick up the keys and relevant paperwork (this is the day for burnable trash pickup, this is the day for non-burnable trash pickup, this is the day for recycling pickup, etc.) on Friday and move in on Saturday. Needless to say, K. and I are super excited.

We met up this afternoon in Takadanobaba, which is a neighborhood adjacent to our neighborhood, and wandered around seeing the important sights (100-yen shop, Don Quijote store, best ramen in Takadanobaba, super shady Curry joint, awesome little hippie outfitter, and so on) and considering what our first steps should be after M-Day. We walked the streets around our apartment, which is so awesomely situated it's almost unreal. There's a well-stocked and extremely reasonably-priced supermarket, a 24-hour convenience store, an extensive drug store, a cheap hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant, and a Parisian-style bakery all within a stone's throw. And apparently, there's what appears to be a decently outfitted liquor store nearby as well. Makes me almost feel like the universe knew I was coming and planned accordingly.

The apartment is also conveniently close to the hub of Waseda University's college town, but it's in an area of the ward that's located across the Kanda River (which is more like a stream) from the more boisterous areas. The result is that though a lively central hub is within an easy walking distance, the place where our apartment is feels like a little slice of quiet, small-town domesticity. It's really, really perfect, and I can't wait to get moved in—even though I know a collection of horrible experiences await me once moving begins. I will have to transport my things from where I'm staying in Chiba into Tokyo (most likely on the subway, which won't be pleasant), and I will have to jump through whatever bureaucratic hoops the Japanese government has lined up for me to change my residence and get my insurance and banking information switched over accordingly.

But I'm happy now, and I went on a delightful little shopping spree today in honor of the happiness. With K.'s encouragement I bought a hanko (a name stamp that is substituted for a signature on most official documents), a case to hold the hanko and a little ink pad, a sleek little pen case, a knitted winter cap with a bear face on it (no, really!), and a box of giant lightsaber pocky sticks (no, REALLY!). Shit just got real, y'all.

More to come.
sechan19: (anne)
My first week went by in something of a blur. Multiple meetings with school administrators, my professor, and the realtor; piles and piles of paperwork; lectures, seminars, and workshop presentations; get-togethers with friends old and new. It's been great/busy/frustrating/scary/exhilarating/exhausting. Even though there's still so much to do (I've started learning hentaigana and kuzushiji for real, which is a massive brain-strain, and I've got a presentation coming up in the first week of November that's closer than anyone thinks), I know that sometimes you just have to take a break.

And so, I found myself at Kasai Rinkai Park on Sunday, taking in the day's spectacles with my friend Eunja and her son, Son'eu. I've talked about Eunja many times on this blog, but for those who are new a little bit of introduction is probably in order.

I met Eunja five years ago on a plane from San Francisco to Tokyo. Eunja, who is Korean and living in Tokyo with her husband, Kim, was returning from a visit with a friend; I was on my way to Japan for an additional round of language classes at KCP International. In the last quarter of the flight, we struck up a conversation (in Japanese as I don't speak Korean and she doesn't speak English), exchanged contact info, and vowed to meet up in Tokyo to hang out. Five years later, Eunja and I are the best of friends. She's been an amazing support to me in my travels in Japan, providing me with language assistance, accommodation assistance, and general moral support in everything I've done here. A year and a half ago, she and her husband had their first child, Son'eu, who is a complete delight: energetic, bright, and enthusiastic. I love hanging out with Eunja and her family, and I try to meet up with them at least once a week for a meal and conversation.

This week's excursion took us to Kasai Rinkai Park, a massive waterfront park in Tokyo's Edogawa Ward. The space boasts a giant ferris wheel, freshwater and seawater ponds, vast expanses for bird watching, barbecue stations for picnicking, observation towers, and an aquarium complete with penguins. Naturally, we did not even begin to see everything the park had to offer. But we did get ourselves some festival food (yakisoba, yaki onigiri, and sausages on a stick) and had lunch on the grass, while Son'eu rambled about the fields—seeming to be equally interested in running as far away from us as Eunja would allow and trying to figure out how to operate my parasol.

When Son'eu tired, we put him in his stroller and made for the Tokyo Sea Life Park, an aquarium dedicated to the recreation of the world's various marine habitats. There were tanks for the Great Barrier Reef, and the Caribbean, and the Pacific Northwest, and the Ivory Coast, and everywhere else in between. They even had a penguin habitat, which caused me to reassess the incorrect perception I'd held up to that point that penguins only live in cold climates. Apparently, plenty of species of penguins live in temperate zones. You learn something new everyday.

And another thing about penguins; they are noisy. And they sound kind of like donkeys. Or geese. Or donkey-geese. (Do we even have donkey-geese? We really should. They could be the most fearsome antagonists of an awful made-for-SciFi-movie. They wanted to create the single most ornery animal known to mankind; now they'll wish they hadn't...)

The trip to the aquarium eventually put Son'eu to sleep, although he fought it for a long time because fish are strangely mesmerizing and children always have to fight sleep on principle. But once he'd drifted off, Eunja and I sat down by the gift shop and chatted for a little while over sodas and ice cream. And then it was time to head back "home." I had emails to reply to and the week's schedule to draw up and lots of hentaigana practice waiting for me.

But it was a lovely day, and I can't wait for our next outing.
sechan19: (anne)
I'm currently in the throes of house-hunting with my future roommate, K. Or, well, sort of. As it stands right now, we've hunted the house and are now waiting on documents. At least, I am. I'm pretty sure that K. has everything sewn up at this point. I've currently got two out of four required items, and I hope to have all of them by week's end. Fingers crossed for that.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to me during this process was the cultural prejudices that revealed themselves. Everybody knows that it can be hard to find a house as a foreigner. Many landlords won't even consider a foreign renter; no ifs, ands, or buts. However, what we didn't realize is that many landlords are also leery of renting to a pair of girls who are not related to one another. The reasoning being that girls fight over petty things, and two girls living together might get into a fight over something petty and suddenly not want to live together anymore. Furthermore, they're less likely to be able to manage their finances well.

The fact that K. and I have prestigious scholarships to study at Japanese universities seems to have gone a little ways towards ameliorating this fear. (And I also have the impression that the fact that we are not from the same country also helped somehow. Much was made of the fact that I'm American and K. is British. Two American girls would probably have been verboten...) Nevertheless, we were still asked to provide proof that our families would support us if we got into financial difficulties here, in addition to the standard request for a Japanese guarantor.

Now, I planned for a lot of hoop-jumping in my Japanese apartment search, but I have to admit that I never imagined I'd need to prove that my parents love me. Good thing they actually do, huh?
sechan19: (anne)
After a long and tumultuous flight across North America and the Pacific, I touched down in Narita Airport's Terminal 2 and began the process of getting home. I was seated in the back of the plane, which made take off really interesting because you can truly see the incline of the aircraft as it climbs to its cruising altitude—something I had never paid attention to before—from that position but also resulted in me being last for nearly everything: deplaning, immigration, baggage retrieval, customs. None of those things were problematic, however, and I was treated to an amusing Big-Brother-ish experience at immigration. Apparently, they make your foreign registration card on arrival now (instead of requiring people to go to their Ward Office to receive it), and they use the photographs that you supply in your Visa application—giving the impression that they knew I was coming and were waiting patiently for me.

Customs was a non-issue; I had nothing to declare, and I breezed through the checkpoint with barely a pause. My friend T. was waiting for me in the arrivals lounge. He took command of my largest piece of luggage and waited patiently while I withdrew money, purchased a new prepaid cellphone card, and reactivated my phone account. Then we made for the train station and went back to his place, where I struggled to stay awake for a few more hours to inform people that I'd made it safely before collapsing in exhaustion at 8pm.

The next day it was up and at 'em. My friend K. had set up an appointment for us to view a potentially desirable apartment at 11am, and T. needed to go into his office to do some work.

On the way to the station, which is a brisk twenty-minute walk from T.'s place, we chatted about various subjects before T. asked me to explain a concept he'd heard me mention once before in passing: Mercury Retrograde. Retrogrades are astrological phenomena (yes, I'm into astrology, deal with it) wherein a planet, by virtue of its position relative to the earth, appears to move backward along its orbital plane. When this happens, the planet is said to be retrograde and the elements of daily life that it influences are often stymied. Retrogrades occur at different intervals, depending on the length of the planet in question's revolution around the sun. Mercury goes retrograde 3-4 times a year, and—as it is the planet of communication—conversations, email exchanges, reservations, and so forth are likely to go subtly awry during these periods. For example, if you send an email message during Mercury Retrograde that never gets a reply, it's probably a good idea to send it again.

T. was fascinated by this explanation, his fascination due in no small part to the fact that it was nothing like what he expected it to be. T. thought that Mercury Retrograde was a term used to explain why we (in general, as Americans, I guess) are so fucked up—namely, that we absorbed too much mercury during our childhood (from thermometers or whatever) and that made us into low-functioning emotional idiots of some kind. He liked my explanation better, though, which is nice considering that it's accurate, and has decided to use Mercury Retrograde as his new excuse for everything. Forgot to respond to an email: Mercury was retrograde. Drank too much wine with dinner last night: Mercury was retrograde. Couldn't remember that Obi Wan Kenobi died in the original Star Wars: Mercury was retrograde.

As excuses go, it's not bad. Except for the part where Mercury is not actually retrograde at the moment. But in Japan, as elsewhere, it's best not to sweat the small stuff.
sechan19: (butterfly)
I'm the type of person who doesn't really feel hungry after I wake up. It usually takes me several hours after waking up to feel hungry, and for that reason I've never been much of a breakfast eater.

The last few days I've been staying with my friend Eunja and her family in Tokyo. Eunja lives with her husband, her son, and her mother-in-law. They've been feeding me extremely well at breakfast, although I've eaten sparingly in return. (I've been out most of the time the last couple of days for a conference, so I haven't had lunch or dinner with the family.) This morning, Eunja cut some fresh peaches for me and brewed a cup of tea, and I sat down to take care of some email and long-overdue reading—the usual drill—while I drank the tea and nibbled at the peaches.

As I worked, breakfast began to take shape around me. Rice was steamed, Korean vegetables, tofu dishes, and soups were brought out. Then Hamni (grandmother) and Eunja both began to ask me if I was going to eat. "Are you going to have some rice?" asked Hamni. I declined. She looked at Eunja in consternation. Eunja offered me yogurt, and I declined. She offered me cereal, and I declined. I explained that I never felt very hungry just after waking up, and the fruit was more than ample for me.

"I thought Americans eat lots and lots of food!" said Hamni.

"Oh, I suppose I'm not a very American American," I replied.

"Well, you have eat well to live well," said Hamni, and she went back to setting up the breakfast table, adding as she did: "I would have thought Americans need to eat lots and lots of food."

I returned to my work, and Eunja set about the task of spooning up bowls of rice. When she had two bowls prepared, Hamni broke in again: "Are you going to have some rice?" she asked me.

I looked at Eunja. Eunja looked at me.

"Maybe if I just have a small portion of rice?" I said.

Eunja immediately grabbed a bowl and spooned a half portion of rice into it. "Like this?" she asked.

"Yes, that's good," I said.

I took my bowl of rice to the table and sat down. Hamni ladled up a bowl of cold onion soup and gave me a dish of Korean daikon radishes. "You have to eat well to live well," she told me.

"Yes, that's true," I said and ate my breakfast.
sechan19: (butterfly)
1) A middle-aged couple from Yamaguchi Prefecture ask if you're going to the Kyushu National Museum, and when you say that you are they suggest that you share their $20 taxi ride (in exchange for nothing but your apparently charming company) out of the goodness of their hearts.

2) You stumble across an amateur sumo competition on the grounds of the Tenman Shrine and determine that the right to wear nothing but a loincloth is extremely enviable.

3) You try plum soft serve ice cream for the first time and consider it one of the single best things to ever happen to your taste buds.
sechan19: Photo of me in a Spider-man crop trop. (Default)
The Infinity Burial Project "proposes alternatives for the postmortem body that promote and facilitate an individual engagement with the process of decomposition." Be sure to check out their mushroom death suit.

The architecture of stunt work is as-yet unrealized, but well-worth pursuing. The idea of constructing architecture around so-called "narratives" of daily (or not-so daily) life can often result in impractical or overly-whimsical patterns, but then again it can result in some seriously awesome stuff. And the world needs stunt schools.

The University of the Michigan's Center for Japanese Studies Electronic Publications has a bunch of old book available online. Subject matter is varied, but you never know when something's going to come in handy, and hey, free!

A Tae Bo class in Korea, working out in perfect resonant frequencies, caused a 39-story skyscraper to shake. No joke.

This just in: Al Franken is still a badass. This time he's stumping for the repeal of DOMA. I love that guy.

Orchestra culture appears to be as jaded and dumbed down as anything else in America. Ho hum.

May 2014

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