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: (tormenta)
I am a notable wuss when it comes to spicy food.  I'm the person in the Indian restaurant crying "spicy" while everyone in the near vicinity sniggers at my lameness.  Consequently, I was very keen - over the course of my recent short visit - to come up with a method of determining whether any particular Korean dish was spicy or not.  I came up with the following system:

If your Korean friend says...
...(straightforwardly) It's not spicy.

They mean...
...It's not spicy.

If your Korean friend says...
...(scoffing) It's not spicy.

They mean...
...It's a little spicy.

If your Korean friend says...
...(in a matter of fact tone) It's spicy.

They mean...
...It's fairly spicy.

If your Korean friend says...
...(under their breath) Spicy!

They mean...
...It's extremely spicy.

If your Korean friend says...
...(after a sudden gasp) It's... a little spicy.

They mean...
...You are about to take your life into your hands.


My lips went numb at one point.  But I soldiered on.  Heh.

More details about my trip will be forthcoming shortly.
sechan19: (lin fengmian)
Day-by-day descriptions cut for length. )

Overall, the trip to Kansai was really wonderful. We saw many fantastic sights, met several charming people, and ate well of the regional (and seasonal) foods. The cherry blossoms weren't blooming yet, but the plums were still out, and when there's cherry blossom ice cream to be had the blossoms themselves become kind of superfluous for me. ;>

I did note, however, that there were several instances of really unpleasant exchanges - which I cannot but attribute to racism. I was rather shocked by them, as I can think of only one instance where such a thing happened in Kanto and I've spent way more time there than I have in Kansai. In terms of politeness/kindness, many visitors compare folks in Kansai in an overly favorable light to those in Kanto, but I just don't see it myself. (Although, for anyone out there about to have a knee-jerk reaction to what I just said: I recognize that the people I encountered do not represent the sum total of people in the region. But the tendency of discrimination there seemed much more pronounced to me than in other areas of the country I've visited.) I keep trying to like Kyoto and its environs wholeheartedly, but every time I go there I seem to have a real mixed-bag type of experience. I really hope I can figure out a way to station myself in Tokyo for my dissertation work...
sechan19: (morisot)
Extremely fed-up middle-aged husband: It's cold.
Chirpy middle-aged wife: I think it's freezing!
Extremely fed-up middle-aged husband: That's the same thing.

--

A rundown of our trip to the Kansai region will follow shortly (whatever that means).
sechan19: Photo of me in a Spider-man crop trop. (Default)
This trip to Kanazawa was made possible by a grant from the Awesome Mom Corporation, and by the moral support of viewers like you...

Thank you!
sechan19: (butterfly)
So, it was a little after 10pm in the guesthouse. I had finished up my travel logs (though only posted a few as of that moment), and I was thinking about packing it in for the evening. I'd walked quite a bit that day after all, I was thinking, and had another full day in the works.

And then Kayoh-san (the girl from Tokyo) came in and asked if there was any alcohol to be had. Makoto-san, who had been chatting with Toku-san and Take-san - a couple also from Tokyo - explained that he didn't have anything, and that Kayoh-san should have bought something if she wanted to drink.

"Oh, but everyone would be sleeping, I thought," she explained. (I'm not sure what the reasoning behind this statement was, honestly.) "But if you're up, is it alright if I drink? I can drink by myself if it's a problem."

"By yourself," I broke in. "That sounds lonely... like you're drinking all alone in the genkan (foyer) or something."

The idea of drinking in the genkan put everyone into a fit of laughter for some reason.

"Well, if people want to join me, why don't you give me five-hundred yen, and I'll go to the store and buy things for everybody."

And that was pretty much it for us. It occurred to me very quickly that this was an opportunity absolutely not to be missed. I asked if I could join in, handed over my money, and begin introducing myself to the other members of the nomikai (drinking party) that I hadn't yet met.

When Kayoh-san returned, she had a bottle of red wine, five big cans of beer, and some izakaya-style snacks (nuts and dried fish, etc.). Makoto-san added in some tempura treats and we were set.

The conversation veered all over the place. We talked about English idiomatic phrases, the latest digital camera technology, differences in Japanese and American beer, chopsticks etiquette, travel and travelers, the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and other things that I couldn't possibly remember. We also played a batsu game, took lots of goofy pictures, and went for a second beer run.

At about 2am, a British traveler named Richard came in from his evening out and joined us. He didn't speak any Japanese, though, so I began translating the difficult passages for everyone and running a series of conversations in tandem. Conversation topics expanded to include the difference between American and British English, what I planned to do with my graduate degree, football (soccer), and more.

We finally packed it in around 3. I gave everyone a copy of my cell number and email address, and invited them to contact me when back in the Tokyo area. Then we all stumbled off for bed, and I, for one, slept the sleep of the just. (But I suspect my compatriots did as well.)
sechan19: (anne)
The weather forecast stated that the chance of rain was gobu gobu (fifty-fifty), and though my walk down the main drag was warm and partially sunny, I saw the dark clouds on the horizon and decided that my walking tour of the castle and Kenroku park would have to wait.

I decided to knock all of my museums out in one shot. I hit the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of History, The Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of Art, the Nakamura Museum of Art, and the Yasue Gold Leaf Museum of Kanazawa. Impressive, no?

Read the full, and I do mean full, story here. )
sechan19: (morisot)
On my first full day in Kanazawa I decided that I fancied doria for lunch, and with the unending downpour of rain I didn't want to hunt for it. So I made for a nearby shopping center and looked for their restaurant road. In a shop delightfully located on the eighth floor and boasting a gorgeous view of the surrounding autumn colors, I sat myself down by the window and waited for the waiter.

He arrived quickly, if furtively, with a glass of ice water, and an apologetic smile. "This menu's only in Japanese," he murmured (perhaps to himself).

"Oh, that's quite alright," I told him.

"My goodness, you speak Japanese!" he exclaimed. "Oh, I'm so sorry. That was terribly rude of me!"

I assured him that it was quite alright. It was a safe enough assumption to make, after all. Although it was an assumption and therefore dangerous. (As I discovered myself quite recently.) I appreciated his apology, though. It was sweet of him.

He took very good care of me throughout the meal, and when I was finished and went to pay we had another brief exchange.

I asked if it was alright to pay with a 10,000 yen note (the equivalent of about $100... well, not right now, but you get the idea).

"Of course, it's fine," he said. "Boy, you sure surprised me earlier. Your Japanese is so good!"

"Not at all," I declined. But then, mindful of Tomono-sensei's previous shock, I tacked on a brief "but thank you very much for saying so."

Playing against type sure is turning out to be a lot of fun.

Full accounts of my travels in Kanazawa to follow. Stay tuned...
sechan19: (lin fengmian)
An amusing exchange took place between myself and a gaggle of middle-school boys at the Ishikawa Prefectural Museum of History today.

As I walked past the group, thinking to myself that it was time to hightail it out of the building now that the school groups were starting to show up, I overhead a voice say, "Hey there."

I turned around and found myself looking back at a pack of fourteen-year-old males, who were all grinning and shuffling and punching one another on the shoulder. The boy who presumably had called to me sketched a little salute and said, "Hello." I sketched one back, saying "Hello" as I did. This put them all into a little frenzy of excitement.

So I decided to be evil.

I walked straight up to the boy who'd called me, saying (in Japanese) "Do you speak English?"

"Oh my god, she's fluent!" one of the boys standing next to him exclaimed. (He used the same tone of voice one might employ to express the realization that someone was radioactive.)

"Uh, one more time please," the first boy asked, somewhat sheepishly.

I repeated my question.

"No, I don't speak English," he said.

"Oh," I said. "Your pronunciation of 'hello' was very good, so I thought you did."

This set off another frenzy. "Oh my god, she just praised him! What's he gonna do now?"

The boy expressed his thanks, then noted that it was strange to be complimented by me. I relented then and apologized.

"You boys have fun now," I admonished.

"We will," they chorused back to me, as I headed for the exit. (Because it's best to make a quick escape after teasing the wildlife. ;>) I suspect they'll all be talking about it for days.
sechan19: (kusama)
After my adventures on the JR trains, I got into Kanazawa at about 3:15 and headed straight for the guest house (with a brief and profitable stop at the station tourist information center).

It was raining heavily, but even the gray skies couldn't marr the splendor of the Kanazawa Station's East Exit. The entire plaza is overhung by a vast, and stunningly modern, canopy of glass and steel. A network of escalators connects the ground floor with the underground plaza, surrounded by a two-storey water fountain.

I'm not sure what I expected of the station, but that wasn't it. I was impressed.

Finding the guest house was easy, and it was mercifully close to the station. Even still, I got soaked. I was warmly welcomed by the proprietor, Makoto-san, who gave me the tour, let me settle in, and then checked me in when I was ready.

I checked some email and things, made a little plan for the following day, and then decided to find some dinner.

I didn't want to wander around aimlessly in search of food, so I went back to the station. Large train stations in Japan almost invariably have restaurants, and Kanazawa didn't disappoint. (And really, after that East Exit how could it have?)

I had unagi-don (grilled eel over rice) and a tall glass of beer, both of which just hit the spot. I took my time over the meal, which included miso and sunomono, and finished up with a leisurely cup of tea.

Back at the guesthouse, I worked on homework and then joined in a nice hour of Japanese conversation with Makoto-san and a couple of the other guests (a girl from Dusseldorf and a girl from Tokyo). Then it was bedtime, and a comfy-cosy futon awaited. I snuggled in and fell right asleep.

Note: This entry has been backdated to preserve continuity.
sechan19: (butterfly)
I often think that I have a talent for trouble.

I departed early this morning to ensure that I wouldn't miss the train I'd selected for my little holiday excursion. When I arrived at the station, I realized that I was in enough time to take an earlier train. So I decided to make the switch. So far, so good. I went to the ticketing window, got myself sorted, and then headed for the train platform.

Then I made a mistake.

Because my first choice train departed at 10:12 and my backup train departed at 11:12, I assumed that the 9:12 departure was the train I wanted. And I further complicated matters for myself by not listening carefully to the pre-departure announcements, during which time I'm sure it was mentioned that the train I was on did not stop at my transfer point.

Although, to be fair, I showed my ticket to an attendant at the train door and asked if I was in the right place, and she said yes. So it wasn't just me. (Not that it's other people's responsibility to ensure that I'm not behaving like a dork.)

I realized the problem about a minute after departure, and - of course - that was too late. Once the train starts, it doesn't stop. My exclamation of sudden realization caught the attention of the woman sitting next to me, so I explained what had happened. We had a good laugh about it.

"Well, there's nothing for it," I told her. "I guess I'll just enjoy the ride!"

She thought that was very funny. (And indeed, my sense of humor has always been there to carry me through the various blunders of my life.)

When the conductor came through the train, she stopped him on my behalf and explained the situation in more succinct terms than I could probably have used. (I haven't really had any problems making myself understood in a rather long time now, but I still stumble over things sometimes when I'm trying to speak.) The conductor very kindly took the time to consult his timetable and write out an itinerary for me that would get me to my final destination as quickly as possible.

And he was worried enough about me to find me after arrival and tell me which platform to go to.

I got a lot of mileage out of the phrases gomendou okake itashimashite doumo sumimasen and otesuu okake itashimashite doumo sumimasen (which both basically mean, "I've troubled you quite a bit, please excuse me") today.

So, in the end, I lost two hours in travel. But I got to see some beautiful countryside, and I had yet another opportunity to experience the general awesomeness of other people. I mean, sometimes you do meet up with a lemon, but for the most part people are pretty darn decent.

And it's not like a I dropped another cellphone down the toilet, or anything.
sechan19: (butterfly)
I had my first shodo (calligraphy) class today. Already, I can tell that this class is going to try my patience, but in a good way. My great life lesson this time around is patience, so I'm always on the lookout for new aspects of that lesson. Shodo will most likely focus on the area I need the most work in - patience with myself - and I'm excited to see how well I progress in the coming months (both in terms of calligraphy and in terms of patience).

I'm not sure why I'm okay with shodo when I was not okay with ikebana. I had an brief introduction to the art form last Friday during a class outing at the Sankeien, and I hated every single minute of it. But I got to keep the flowers when I was done, and I pulled the ugly arrangement (that I had been forced to make) apart with a quickness once I got home. I made some things that I liked with the materials instead. I'm sure they'd be severely criticized, but I don't give a hoot.

Clearly, I'm somewhat lacking in the aesthetic department.

I took a trip up to Nasushiobara this past long weekend, and it was wonderful but brief. Seeing P. & T. (and Y.) was a lot of fun, and I'll try to write a bit more fully about our adventures tomorrow - or another day (no promises). Of note was that P. commented that I'd gotten even skinnier than the last time he saw me, and T. agreed with that assessment, going so far as to give me a clay pot for cooking nabe (Japanese stew). She says that when I was first taking lessons from her (which was almost five years ago to the day), I was pretty roly-poly. (And I was.) Now, however, I've apparently reached the point where she needs to fatten me up! I was treated to more than one multiple-hour feast during my short stay.

My "fat" fluctuation is a pretty funny thing. I always gain weight in California and lose it in Japan. (And I pretty much just maintain whatever weight I'm at in New City.) This time, though, I may have gone a little overboard; none of my pants really fit anymore. Still, that's kind of what happens when the dollar is down to the point where you begin to begrudge spending money on food and transportation and start eating sparingly and walking in the neighborhood of three miles a day.

As the Japanese love to say: shikata ga nai (it can't be helped). ;>
sechan19: (butterfly)
It took me a while to get around to typing this up. Apologies.

The Final Day. )
sechan19: Photo of me in a Spider-man crop trop. (Default)
I was up early again to catch the 8:36 train to Nara. It put me into the JR Nara station just little after nine-thirty.

Read on. )

PS - For all of the fans of [livejournal.com profile] life_of_spork, you'll be happy to hear that he's been enjoying the trip immensely. Oddly enough, he enjoys all the perplexed looks from strangers, and he's developed quite a thing for these twin chopsticks he met at the Kyoto hostel. Such a Mac Daddy...
sechan19: (lin fengmian)
Despite a late night (under my courageous leadership seven individuals broke curfew the night before to stay up watching Nakata Hideo's Ringu), I was up early for my trip to nearby Mount Hiei - the so-called birthplace of Japanese Buddhism and center of the Tendai Buddhist sect.

Departure from my hostel at a quarter after eight put me on the summit of Mount Hiei at just a little bit before ten. (The trip included a walk, a subway ride, an electric train ride, a cable car ride, and a ropeway ride. Weee!) From there, I began the trek down through the gloriously verdant and deliciously cool mountains. I quickly went off the beaten track onto the trails and wound my way down rocky mountain pathways until I reached the entrance of Enryakuji, Mount Hiei's main temple complex, which is divided into three parts - the Toto, Saito, and Yokawa. (Literally: eastern pagoda, western pagoda, and nearby river, respectively.)

I explored the Toto first - rambling past the numerous halls and belfries until I reached the Treasure Hall. There I went inside and examined some of the gems of Tendai Buddhist art. Like many other temples in the Kyoto area, they have a very fine collection of Buddhist statues.

I ate lunch in a quick stop udon shop located nearby and then continued on. I visited the main hall of the Toto, where I lit incense for my Uncle John, and betook myself off to the Saito. The halls of the Saito - which include a Shaka Hall that will live in infamy (at least for me) - were located quite a bit further down the mountain, so I hiked my way down there and wandered around a bit more. I purchased an amulet against illness for a very close friend of the family, and spoke with the Buddhist nun there about the situation. She was a very kind and close listener.

After my adventure at the Shaka Hall (see previous entry), I hiked around a bit more and then made my way around to the Lake Biwa side of the mountain. The views from the cable car down were spectacular. Supposedly, the Sakamoto Cable Car on Mount Hiei is the longest in all of Japan.

At the bottom of the hill, I followed the signs for the JR station - which turned out to be huge mistake as they were apparently pointed in the wrong direction. I quickly found myself lost, so I ducked into a pharmacy and asked the way. (Big progress for me, really. Ten years ago I would have wandered around getting more and more lost and upset rather than just ask somewhere where I was.) The people in the pharmacy were extremely helpful; they sat me down, gave me a glass of water, and printed out a map for me. And it was another chance for me to practice my survival Japanese.

When I got back to the hostel, I made arrangements for a new phone and then packed it in early. I was beat. I still am beat, so I'm going to save the recap of today's events for another time. And I apologize for the dryness of this post. Doing big walking tours back to back is a bad idea.
sechan19: (butterfly)
Because I was feeling way more frustrated than I would generally care to admit about my continued lack of painted handscrolls in Kyoto, I decided to get out of the city for the day and go to nearby Nagoya for some museum hopping. I had it in mind to visit the Tokugawa Museum of Art (a place that had been on my hit list for years) as well as the Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts (mainly because I'd read a fair bit about the space and was curious to see it in practice).

I jumped on a shinkansen HIKARI Super-express and reached Nagoya in half-an-hour. Then I made a quick change to the JR Chuo line, and found myself at the Tokugawa museum before 11am. (At the Ozone Station, I stopped to ask directions from one of the JR attendants, and I'm really happy to report that the directions were accurate, complex, and completely understood by yours truly. I really am getting better at this Japanese stuff, and it is unbelievably convenient to speak the language.)

My visit to the Tokugawa Museum of Art was an epic win. Not only were there all kinds of cool early, medieval, and early-modern artifacts (intelligently arranged to present a view of daimyo life), but there were great paintings - including a personal favorite: the Hyakki yakou emaki (Picture Scroll of the Night March of One-Hundred Demons). I've always loved this scroll, and having a chance to see a large portion of it up close and personal was so cool.

And it got the old wheels turning, too. See, part of what I've been doing out here is search for examples of grotesque imagery. I'm really trying to think about horror motifs and their connection to the politics and social structure of various periods. But I've really been having trouble with how to conceptualize a project of that nature. Looking at the Hyakki yakou emaki (and some other images in the exhibition on Nobunaga, Hideyoshi, and Ieyasu that was currently showing) really helped me to fine tune some of my thinking.

Über score, yo.

The Nagoya/Boston Museum of Fine Arts wasn't nearly as interesting. Handicapped by the lack of actual collection of their own, they're kind of stuck with whatever the MFA sends them to show. This time there was an exhibit on the representation of Venus from the early Greeks to the contemporary era (of no real interest to me... sorry! If I were on a vacation, I'd be happy to look them over, but on a research trip... not so much) and a presentation of Noritake porcelains and fine china (undoubtedly beautiful, but of little academic interest to me personally).

Still it was an interesting space; kind of an auxiliary depot of the MFA. Lots of MFA-themed merchandise to buy and so-forth. I realize that the function of this museum is to provide more people with the opportunity to see masterworks from the MFA collection, which is awesome, but the cynic in me cannot help but wonder how much revenue this venue nets them. There were quite a lot of people there on a Tuesday afternoon. (A fact which makes perfect sense, really. It's nonsense to think that Japanese people only ever want to see Japanese art.)

I didn't do much else in Nagoya. I had considered going to the castle, but I decided that I didn't feel like tramping around a replica - particularly as I didn't want to lose the painting-headspace I was in at the time. I've seen castles a plenty, and I'll see more in the future.

I returned to Kyoto just a little after 4pm, and decided to head back and make an easy evening of it. My body is still a bit fatigued from all of the walking (exacerbated today by the acquisition of several heavy books at the Tokugawa Museum of Art), and I have plans to do walking tours of Nara and Mount Hiei later this week. I'll be more ready for those expeditions if I go a little easy.

After all, it's not like I've been lazy bum thus far.
sechan19: (tormenta)
And on the seventh day, she did not rest. In fact, she went the opposite direction and really took it just a wee bit too far.

But enough of that third-person shit.

I put Nijo Castle, Kitano Tenmangu, Kinkakuji, and Ryouanji on the same ambitious day schedule. And I managed to keep to that schedule, too. And though I took the train out to Nijo, I pretty much walked from there on out. (And it's, like, two-and-half miles from Nijo to Kinkakuji, yo. In the rain.) It seemed like a good idea at the time...

It rained on and off throughout the day, and for the most part I was outdoors. Really the only indoor part of my trip was in the Ninomaru Palace of Nijo Castle. But I'm getting ahead of myself, so let's back up a bit.

Read on. )
sechan19: (morisot)
On the agenda for the day were visits to Sanjusangendo, the Kyoto National Museum, and - if I had time - Kiyomizudera. The area that these places are located in is known as Southern Higashiyama, and its a reasonable walk from my hostel so I elected to hoof it rather than take a bus. (Kyoto has a very efficient bus system, but it doesn't seem to be much of a subway town. I'm having a bit of a time adjusting to that after Tokyo... I generally prefer trains to buses.) At any rate, I really enjoyed the walk - which took me across the Kamo River and up into the surrounding hills (Higashiyama literally means "eastern mountains.")

Read the whole story here. )
sechan19: (lin fengmian)
I was up early in the morning (what else is new) to prep for my rail trip to Kyoto. I took care of my internet stuff (like weather forecasts), and then finished packing and beat a path for the shinkansen lines at Tokyo Station. I arrived in time to take the 8:33 HIKARI Super-Express (as it is proclaimed in English) and arrived at Kyoto Station at about 11:15am. Despite my best efforts, I could not convince anyone to give me a portable map of the city rail systems. I'm not sure what that was about.

I made my way to the hostel with little difficulty and dumped my bags. (Kyoto is a grid city, and even though the streets aren't any better posted here than they are in Tokyo it's still really hard to get lost on a grid.) After I was free of the ginormous backpack, I went on a short walking tour of the surrounding area - specifically the temples Nishi Honganji and Higashi Honganji. Given that Nishi Honganji is slightly older, I visited that one first.

It began to rain fairly steadily as I arrived at the main gate, so I wandered into an enclosed seating space where there were teas and vending machines and bathrooms for the visitors. I politely asked the caretaker there if it was alright to eat a box lunch, and he gave me the go ahead so I sat myself down and had a really delicious lunch of the sushi that Eunja's friend Megumi had given me the night before. It. Was. So. Good. (Even a day later.)

Belly full and refreshed, I began walking the grounds. I went first to the hondo (main hall) and adjoining daishido (great master's hall). The painted carvings and smooth, strong doors, walls, and pillars were all very, very wonderful. The steadily falling rain gave a sense of enveloping quietude and peace. (The rains have actually been extremely problematic here of late.)

As I was sitting in the hondo, Tenjin-sama welcomed me to his city with a resounding crash of thunder that shook the timber-framed hall to its foundations. I couldn't help but feel as if I were in exactly the right place at exactly the right time. Shortly thereafter, the temple priests performed an afternoon ritual for gathered believers and I sat in on that as well, although it must be admitted that my legs didn't hold out. When the ritual began I was seated in the Japanese fashion, but about a minute before it ended I had to shift my weight. I am getting more acclimated to it, though.

I walked through the open areas of the grounds, spending a particular amount of time by the Karamon, a Chinese-style gate that has been designated a National Treasure for its elaborate and beautifully painted carvings. I took many pictures of the Karamon in order to compare it with the Karamon of Kitano Tenmangu, which was built around the same time. Then I walked back to the exit and made my way over to Higashi Honganji.

Higashi Honganji was far, far more crowded with visitors, and I - frankly - had a really hard time figuring out why. It was neither as beautiful, nor (at this particular moment) as accessible as Nishi Honganji. And they prohibited photographing in all indoor spaces, which made me all pouty.

It would actually probably have been impossible for me to like Higashi Honganji more than Nishi Honganji. Originally, there was only one Honganji - the one now known as Nishi (West) Honganji. It was built on the current site through a land grant from Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1591. Some ten years later, in 1602, the second site of Higashi (East) Honganji was established by a breakaway sect through the influence of the first Tokugawa shogun, Ieyasu. Supposedly, he did this to break the power of the Jodo Shinshu Sect, but I suspect that a desire to trump the Toyotomi family also factored into his decision as well.

The upshot of all this is that Nishi Honganji is the underdog temple, and we all know how I love an underdog. (And also... for some reason, I find Tokugawa Ieyasu rather dissatisfying as the founder of a dynasty. I don't completely approve of him, really.)

At any rate, I did quite like Higashi Honganji's tagline for the celebration of the 750th death anniversary of Shinran (the founder of the Jodo Shinshu Sect): Ima, inochi ga anata wo ikiteiru. "Right now, life is living you."

It was nearly time for check-in, so I walked the streets until I found a conbi to stock up in. I picked up some things for dinner and a snack and then made my way back to the hostel. I got checked in, made my bed and put my things away, discovered the joys of wifi, and have been since sitting in the common room - having on-and-off conversations with the other guests. There's a girl from France, from England, and from Germany. They all, of course, speak English. The English girl also speaks French, and part of the early conversation was in French. Since I understand French (although I really can't speak it anymore), and I can report that the French girl also speaks Japanese and Chinese.

Wow, do I feel outclassed.

Lots to do on the morrow, so it's planning and an early night for me.

May 2014

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