All Good Things Must Come To An End
The 2011 LSA+ in Japan is officially over, and I am sadder than I thought I’d be. It’s been an absolutely awesome summer and it definitely doesn’t feel like it’s been a full term since I was helping Dorsey-sensei pick the students up at the airport.
Instead of a short update about how great everything was, I’m going to let the students speak for themselves about their experiences in Japan. Below are various guest blog posts written by the students. Hope you enjoy them (also, sorry for how long this post it).
While I was in Japan I wanted to do two things, first off take photos, and second do kendo (Japanese fencing). So from the time I got here I have been taking photos. That in itself has been quite fun, ive been able to get photos from various places, see some different things, and meet some interesting people. Places… hmm what are some fun ones? I spent a good amount of time at fushimi Inari shrine which was fun. Over my different times there I met a few photographers from around Japan, as well as getting some good photos of the torii that they have there (about 10,000 in all). When our LSA headed to Nara we spent the day doing the usual site seeing, and at night there was a lantern festival. At the festival I got a few shots, I came back the next day and got some more fun photos. As well as talk with a group of photographers after we were all kind of annoyed for being kicked out of the festival area for using tripods when we weren’t allowed to, aka I was set up next to a “no tripod” sign. But hey, in photography it’s better to take the chance, get your shot, and then ask for forgiveness. It helps when you’re a foreigner haha.
That leads me to the next point though. The fact that we are all foreigners here is something that is almost impossible to escape. When people realize that you are a foreigner either by appearance or in my case inability to properly speak Japanese you are treated differently. You feel like a child who isn’t given complete freedom, or at least not the respect that you desire. Note I said ‘almost impossible to escape’ the reason for that is the second thing I had wanted to do in Japan, practice kendo. The most obvious side effect of doing this was that I was able to regain the skills I had lost while at Dartmouth, aka Dartmouth does not have a kendo club and I am tired of that so I want to start one in the fall, wish me luck. The second thing that happened when I joined my kendo dojo was not something I expected. At first when I joined the dojo, between not practicing and the hot humid Kyoto weather I really just died… no one really have me any attention and I was still just that foreigner who practiced kendo with everyone else. As I readjusted and my skills returned (they came back pretty fast… Japan’s kendo is rigorous ;P). I remember after the first three or so weeks a group of newer students who had just started wearing armor came and bowed to me after class, nothing out of ordinary, but after they thanked me for practice, two of them asked me to train them next class, and a third commented that I had a very strong swordsman spirit during my matches and that she wanted me to help her develop her own. Of course I happily agreed to train all of them. As I rode my bike home I was the happiest I had been in a long time. What made me so happy here was that when they referred to me as 杉村先輩(すぎむらせんぱい) senpai being a term individuals refer to their seniors with。Around the same time the sensei’s allowed me to help teach when they were shorthanded, and members who were 2nd or 3rd degree black belts who never gave me much attention when I first arrived started to ask me for matches. It didn’t matter anymore that I am from Hawaii, or that I can’t speak Japanese fluently. To them I was defined by the thousands of hours of work I put into becoming a better kendoist. I know it’s strange to say, but after three months of basically being treated as an oddity having a place where Japanese people treat me as an equal and more importantly they treat me as their friend. So I know that once I leave, one of the things that I will miss the most will be all of my friends from kendo. I will always remember how they treated me as a friend, I think that that aspect made my stay in Japan a great experience. It taught me that no matter what cultural and or language barriers people can still become friends and that if you are sincere people will accept you for who you are.
Hey all! This is a flash-news-update-guest-blog-post by yours truly, Ezra Toback. On this wonderful tumblr site, I have decided to speak of two of the greatest things that have ever happened to me (both of which were on this trip): 1. Gion Matsuri (Festival) and, 2. Riko-chan! (a person). I would love to attach my own personal photos to this post, but unfortunately the chord which connects my camera to my computer is malfunctioning to the Nth degree…however! Gion Matsuri is more famous than Lady Gaga (I really hope that’s a true statement because if it’s not then that’s just depressing), so there are loads of pictures on the internet which I will include in this post.
Rather than explain this festival from the historical perspective, I’m just going to describe it exactly how I experienced it. So, one Saturday, I was walking down the street. Saw a manga shop. Saw a dude with blue hair. Walked a bit more. Got stared at by a 5 year old kid. Turned a corner, and saw one of the many floats of the Gion Matsuri. These floats are absolutely MASSIVE, and are made entirely of wood and rope. That is to say, there are no nails or metal within the structure of the float to keep it up. But even more incredible than these floats were the stands…
Almost anything you can think of were sold at these stands, from food to kimonos to toy guns to goldfish to statues of elephants. I would even go so far as to say that exploring all of these stands and seeing the random things they sold may have been the greatest experience of my entire LSA.
On that Saturday night, myself and several of my LSA comrades ventured back out to the festival section of the city after having taken a break for a shot amount of time. And I swear, I have NEVER seen that many people in one place at the same time. In fact, I didn’t even know that kind of human-density was possible! However, it speaks to the wonder of the festival, and its incredible fame, that so many people traveled to Kyoto from around the country to experience it.
The next day was the official parade of the festival, where those massive floats moved through the city along a designated, pedestrian free/car free route. However, we cannot forget that these massive floats don’t exactly have “engines.”
They’re guys in white DRAGGING them. Huge lines of men wearing traditional clothes for the event literally drag these incredibly heavy floats all throughout the city. Overall, it was an incredible experience.
Unfortunately, I can’t provide any pictures of Riko-chan, but I can explain some things about her! She is the seven-year-old granddaughter of the homestay family, and is a wonderful being. However, I want to recall one specific event. On the second day after I had moved in with the homestay family, Riko-chan came up to my room and said something to me in Japanese that I understood not in the least bit. It turned out she was saying Kakurenbo, which is the Japanese equivalent of “hide-and-seek.” I spent the next two hours playing hide-and-seek, which in itself was fun, but I also learned the wordkakureru, the verb for “to hide” or “to conceal.” I was then able to use that word the following week on a test to answer a question that I ABSOLUTELY otherwise wouldn’t have been able to answer otherwise. The point of this anecdote is that though you learn a great deal in class on the LSA, you really gain more than you can imagine just from daily existence. It allows you to learn the language and the culture in a way that simply can’t be achieved in class.
Well, that got a bit too sentimental for me there. Anyway, those were my best experiences on the LSA! This is your friendly neighborhood spiderman, signing off.
Food easily ranks highest among most enjoyable aspects of the trip. During this LSA+ we have eaten a lot of great food, but rather than focus on describing the joy of eating cold shaved ice topped with green tea ice cream and red beans on a sweltering Kyoto day, or the juiciness and sweetness of fresh oysters grilled at a roadside store, I’m instead going to recount three memorable food adventures that we’ve had.
First on the list: the ramen found at a particular shop called Tenkaippin (天下一品).Tenkaippin happens to be a popular Kyoto chain store with one location conveniently located just down the block from our school. Somewhere around the second week of the term, Professor Dorsey treated a number of us there for lunch after school. Ramen usually comes in a number of different types of broths such as shoyu (soy sauce), shio(salt). The type offered here happens to be tonkotsu, a pork based broth. This one in particular, happens to be so rich that the class has collectively dubbed it “the gravy ramen.” The fatty pork broth and noodles were delicious while slurping them down but immediately after standing up you can feel the fat just oozing back up your throat and through your arteries. Nevertheless it’s truly delicious and worth mentioning to represent all the ramen the class has eaten.
Sometime during the middle of the term, a typhoon struck Kyoto and class was canceled, however in order to make up the last day, we came to school on Saturday to take our final exam for Japanese 21. To make it up to us though, Professor Dorsey treated the whole class to kaiten-zushi (conveyor-belt sushi) for lunch. Together, the class ate 208 plates, costing around 28,500 yen according to my calculations, or around $350 dollars. This was probably one of Professor Dorsey’s big mistakes on this trip.
More recently, three of us did a gyoza (fried pot-stickers) speed eating challenge at a local restaurant. Originally we thought the challenge was to eat 28 gyoza in three minutes, but once we arrived it turned out that the challenge was to eat 48 gyoza in six and a half minutes, or one gyoza every eight seconds. The gyoza arrived still sizzling after just coming off the stove and despite our attempts to stall the waiter so that the gyoza could cool down a little, the waiter started the clock almost immediately. The gyoza were so hot that they burned the roof of our mouths upon contact, were so big they had to be eaten in halves, and numbered so many that they were served in two separate large platters to each of us. Needless to say, even after having our classmates help us pour water and sauce nonstop, no one managed to finish, and we had to pay 1,600 yen for our disappointing defeat.
Today was an experience. Right now I’m sitting on a bus going home. It’s almost six and there are a lot of Japanese school girls sitting in the rows behind me. They’re pretty funny. I went to the Japanese doctor today! It was amazing! The difference between the American medical system and the Japanese one is crazy. Dorsey-sensei and I walked to the place, which was like ten minutes from the school. We got in, signed in, and were seen in about ten minutes. I did my own height and weight and temperature (in my armpit…?). Oh, and blood pressure. Then I recorded it, and waited five minutes before the doctor saw me. I don’t have Japanese insurance and the price of the visit was the equivalent of $44.75!!!!!! Then I got three different types of common cold medication after waiting only fifteen-twenty minutes: one for sinus/fever, one for cough, and one for…. I forgot.
But that cost was only around $22…WITHOUT INSURANCE. Whaaaattttt… I was so amazed. The Japanese really have it figured out. And every single person in the palce told us as we were leaving “o daiji ni” or “ki wo tsukete” which means take care. I also learned the phrase “yukkuri yasunde” which is literally “slowly rest” but acutally means relax. Also the entire medical facility was absolutely spotless. Not that I was surprised about that… haha. So anyway, I got my meds and went back to the school, talked to one of the office people for about forty minutes, and now here I am, on my hour long bus ride home, sitting next to this lady who probably thinks it’s weird that I’m typing on a bus. I was lucky enough to have caught the 204 bus almost right after I got to the bus stop.
Now it’s the weekend!!!! Tomorrow I’m going by bicycle (everyone here rides them and it’s rather dangerous. You have to be pretty skilled to maneuver the streets. It’s going to be….. interesting.) to a panya or bread store/bakery. Japanese bread is SO GREAT!!!! More on that later. Then Sunday a bunch of us are going to Jing’s host family’s house for a party. Should be delightful. But it’s farrrr away. So I have to go to Kyoto Eki (Kyoto Station) and take a train to wherever it is.. I have yet to figure that out bahaha. So if you don’t hear back from me.., I’m lost in Japan, no big deal.
Japan really is great. The people are nice. It’s really safe. Things aren’t that cheap, but I mean nowadays what is haha. Right across the street from school, however, is a Hyaku En store or 100 yen. just about everything in there is 100 yen, or around a dollar. I had onigiri (rice ball!) and some weird veggie potato snack things that Juliana bought. It’s impolite to drink or eat food while walking or in public places. Also, I find that almost no one talks on public transportation, and when they do, they cover their mouths so it’s even more difficult to understand. Coincidentally, I ran into my homestay mom on one of the busses yesterday. I was so surprised! Bikurishita!! Today I learned words for cold (catching a cold), liver, to put on (sauces), buy something that’s new, and rare. Well that’s all for now!
Jojo (Joseph) Miller
I Zumba with my Host Mother
Just in case you thought I deceitfully concocted an attention-grabbing title to lure you into an actually drab entry, I shall honestly restate: I Zumba with my Host Mother. On the off chance that you are not up-to-date on this variety of intensified aerobic exercise, Zumba is a newly trending dance fitness program that combines jazzercise and Latin/Bollywood dance
I knew that the moment that my Host Mom invited me to go Zumba with her (the day after we had first met, no less), the benevolence of the universe graced me with the perfect host family. Since, I have gone to Zumba at least once every week.
I actually Zumba with my Host Mom.
Previous to this LSA, I have had no experience with any kind of dance aerobics exercise (or Latin dance for that matter), save for watching the Jane Fonda videos that my (real) older sister exercised to when I was a lad. Zumba-ing in Japan,I have found just how white I am as my ‘hips don’t lie’ about not being able to swing and gyrate properly. My Host Mom regularly tells me to “properly rotate my bottom” every time the “Livin’ da vi da Loca” segment comes on. Nevertheless, Zumba is always a reliable highlight of every week.
Every week I ride my bike alongside my Host Mom through our hometown of Umahori (a few mountains and rivers West Kyoto city) to Zumba. Every week we bike on the main road that divides the local supermarkets and charming cafés to our left and the pastures of rice paddies that glimmer with the warm –oh, SO very warm– sunsets to our right. Every week, we line-up outside the dance studio for the most popular class offered at the gym, along with the twenty-or-so other regulars (none of which are younger than 45, except for the instructor).
I have made friends with the instructor, Mie, and many of the Zumba-goers, who all know me by “gaijin-boy” – literally “outsider boy.” But they greet me as they do their native friends, sharing with me the latest gossip and discussing the intricate dynamics of the newest spicy dance of which we can’t seem to grasp (our instructor, who studied dance in New York, choreographs dances even Shakira would discover as challenges. That’s right – not just Zumba, but EXTREME Zumba).
Not only have I discovered a newfound passion, but going to Zumba every week provides an excitingly fantastic and fantastically lovely experience; I get to bond with my Host Mom, befriend the local grandmothers and grandfathers, I get to gossip about the town drama, and I get enjoy the dance of life here in Japan. Every week I ride home after dancing – and profusely sweating – away the stresses both bodily and not. I am fortunate enough to practice Japanese and learn of Japan through dance, whilst filling my heart with friendships and akarui (bright) memories. Going to Zumba with my Host Mom embodies the heart of this LSA, and I cannot help but surrender to daylong smiles as I’m having the best of times here in Japan.
Beat THAT, Rosetta.
On one of the Saturdays we went on a trip to Nara. Deer wondering all around the city are the main attraction there. We went to a deer park, bought some bread and tried feeding them. They immediately started following us around, big deer bullying the small ones and trying to eat everything, including my skirt and handbag. Well, it wasn’t the only time something tried to eat me in Japan. At the Jigoku Hot Springs at Beppu a llama started chewing on my hair when I was taking a picture with her. Good times. Kirk decided to provide some additional entertainment and tried to deceive the deer in various ways, like putting pieces of food on deer’s backs, so that they have to make an effort to reach it, or putting the food on me and Gabby to make the deer attack us. For a while it seemed like I was back in kindergarten. It was fun, though.
Another fun thing in Nara was a visit to the oldest wooden temple in Japan, with a big Buddha statue. We crawled through Buddha’s nostril there, which is supposed to bring good luck. When I saw the Buddha statue, for a moment I honestly thought that we would climb the statue and crawl through the actual nostril. I don’t know what I was thinking… Buddha’s nostril turned out to be a wooden pillar with a narrow hole that you are supposed to squeeze through. We all did, so we should be lucky this year, I guess! J
I’m really happy that I came to Japan. I made some great memories here. One of my favorite moments was when in one of the temples a group of Japanese schoolgirls said that I look like a hime-sama (a princess). Then they asked me to take pictures with them and that totally made my day.
First of all let me say, if not a bit awkwardly, that as a child I fantasized about going to Japan for years. I followed the common thread of Japanese enthusiasts; I grew up watching anime and reading manga (both in English, of course), listening to horror stories about whowore what at that particular Cosplay convention, and crying over particularly sad episodes of Sailor Moon. Not the most impressive childhood, and certainly not well learned when it came to Japanese culture, but I digress.
I remember the morning that I woke up ridiculously early to catch my flight. I was excited, nervous, and suitably hopped up on gummy bears and honey-roasted cashews. In the natural order of things, airsickness would follow me for the majority of my fourteen-hour direct flight, but even that wasn’t enough to dampen my mood! I was prepared and ready to enter into Japan, that mystical land where I, the female protagonist, would somehow get lost in a forest and find my very own Totoro to guide me on my way. I blame the nausea for my bizarre thoughts, but in a real sense, I honestly had all of my Japanese stereotypes lined up, waiting to be fulfilled. But then, karmic justice did me one better and flipped my perceptions of Japan on its head.
For one, I expected to be overwhelmed by the foreignness of it all. I thought that everything would be different somehow, that everything would be strange and skewed and not at all like I’d been used to. But as it turns out, Narita Airport felt like any other airport I’d been to. Kyoto city wasn’t foreign to me in the least; I’d felt the same as I have in any other city in the United States. Japan felt natural, like home. I quickly deflated.
What’s more, though, was the opposing fact that although nothing seemed foreign to me, to many of the citizens of Kyoto, I was the likes of something they had only seen on tv. And being black in a sea of predominantly Japanese people, I can honestly see that. But with the first incident that very day, in which two girls stopped dead in their tracks and stared at me, mouth-agape, I enjoyed the first of many face palms.
For a while, things only got worse. The staring made me exceedingly self-conscious and, as my Japanese improved, I began to understand more and more of what they were saying about me – if they bothered to speak to me at all, of course. I hated going out alone, and even when I went out with my friends, I always talked and laughed loudly, or played with my phone; anything to block out the sound of gossip.
Although, now that I think about it, the self-induced paranoia didn’t help things along much either.
But I remember, one day early on in the trip I got really angry. The Japanese couple standing next to me at the Gion Matsuri (parade) were – surprise! – talking about me in Japanese, and I remember thinking, what right do they have to judge me? They were perfect strangers; we knew nothing about each other, so why did they think that it was okay to talk about me right in front of my face? It was always stereotype after stereotype, and I was sick of it, and I was ready to start arguing in Japanese when I realized – oh.
Didn’t I do the same thing before I came to Japan? Not to any people, but hadn’t I taken the country of Japan and equivocated it to a max of two or three things? Even with all of my classes and studies and lessons in Japan’s history and culture, I saw Japan and thought of something dreadfully stereotypical like “sushi”. It wasn’t fair on any front. After realizing this, I began to have a lot of fun. The stares didn’t stop, but it was okay because I began to smile in response. I asked strangers for directions in Japanese (even if I didn’t need them), because it opened up the gateway for Japanese conversation. I went out to more places, did more activities, and even ended up making a few Japanese friends.
And it was fun! All in all, beyond what I’ve learned and what I wish I’d done, I’ve truly enjoyed my time here. I’ve met some amazing people, seen some amazing things, and done more than I ever could have hoped for.
Itte kimasu, Japan.
The obi tightens around my waist straightening my slouched posture. The wooden slippers pinch my wide feet. It’s too hot to be wearing long sleeve and I could complain a bit more, but my excitement begins to bubble and the discomfort simply vanishes.
I blush. I know you aren’t supposed to take in compliments in Japan but… thank you thank you. I kind of agree myself. It’s July 16th, the night before the Gion Matsuri Parade. My home stay sister offered to take me and a few of my friends around downtown. We are all wearing yukatas, (summer kimonos), carrying a mini bag, and holding a fan. All of us look beautiful and before we head out, we smile and take photos for our future recollection of the night.
Gion Matsuri, one of the biggest summer festivals in Japan, is an annual celebration that takes place in Kyoto throughout the entire month of July. It originated as a purification ritual to pacify the gods who created natural disasters, such as fire, floods, and earthquakes. The night before the parade is the busiest. That night is tonight.
The streets are crowded with various people. Groups of teenagers, couple holding hands, families, gaijins (foreigners)…they are all here. We walk around to view the floats and lanterns. People are playing the taiko drums inside some tall floats. We pass a group of people holding “Free Hugs” signs and give them quick hugs.
Even from a distance, the food stands sends an aura of yakitori and other cultural delicacies.
After walking around for a while, we sit down at a restaurant for a late dinner. Oishii oishii. Yum yum. Sometimes I don’t even know what I am eating and it’s difficult to remember the names of dishes, but I can definitely recall the delectable taste. (By experiencing life in Japan, I think I was actually eating Japan. What a delicious country.) We share a conversation with our limited Japanese and many made-up katakana words. Afterward, we shop for a bit and head back home.
I think that night was one of my favorites during the LSA. There has definitely been A LOT. Coming to Japan was actually a really hard decision for me especially due to the Fukushima catastrophe but I am so thankful that I had this experience! Go go Japan 11x ^^*
Title: A Birthday in Toyosato
I woke up at 9:30 knowing that I had to catch the 10:07 train to make it on time. After a rush out of the door with toast in my mouth, I made it. An hour and a half later, I remembered that the trains didn’t actually go to my destination. I made a short transfer onto a one-car electric tram before being dropped off in the middle of rural Japan ten minutes away from my destination. After a short trek, I was there: Toyosato Elementary School.
Quite possibly the largest tourist attraction within a thirty minute radius, Toyosato Elementary School was swarming with people. And not only with the expected middle-aged Japanese men, but also with a handful of couples, families, and me!
Toyosato Elementary School became a tourist attraction after the animation studio behind K-on! (Kyoto Animation) used the small school as the base for the school in the anime. An anime popular enough for me to see merchandise for it in every other conbini. One thing led to another, and the school probably became responsible for 90% of the visitors to the town.
After snapping various pictures of scenic areas featured in the anime, I went to the main attraction of the day. August 21st fell on a Sunday, making it convenient, but it was also the birthday of the buchou of the club (and one of five main characters), Ritsu Tainaka. Posters advertising special events on the birthdays of the anime characters were plentiful in the one-room unmanned train station.
Despite the fact that Ritsu is generally considered the least popular main character, the birthday celebrations were extravagant. Ritsu “recieved” hundreds of dollars in K-on merchandise in her likeness as “presents”. The most memorable experience of the day was a Japan Post deliverywomen coming to drop off a present from someone on a business trip abroad, complete with an overly formal letter to the anime character in question. I wonder what the city does with the “presents” every “birthday” and I wonder what would happen during the birthday of the most popular character.
After a few hours, I left to go home again, with a new perspective on yet another great aspect of Japan.
Hajimemashite! My name is Laura Wu, I’m a ‘13 from Boston, Econ modified with Math major, and I want to share a bit about why I decided to go on the LSA+ this summer, despite having to miss sophomore summer at Dartmouth.
First off, I decided to take Japanese sophomore fall, really just on a whim. I’d always liked studying languages, grew up speaking Chinese at home, Latin background in high school, and a bit of French. I wanted to pick up another, non-Romance language, looking for a challenge, and one of my other classes conflicted with Russian, so… Japanese it was. Initially, I was just planning on taking a few terms of it, but quickly changed my mind after a couple of weeks of classes. I was absolutely hooked. The quality of the Japanese classes offered at Dartmouth are excellent, the sensei are amazing, and there was just a sense of community among the students learning (and perhaps commiserating?) together that hasn’t been matched at any other class I’ve taken.
And so, I found myself having to make the tough decision of staying on campus for sophomore summer, or going on the LSA+ to Japan. There’s this conception, I think, that sophomore summer is something of a rite of passage for your class at Dartmouth to experience together. It re-unites a lot of friends who have been separated for a few terms due to D-Plan incompatibility. And, my friends who decided to stay on campus have all been having a blast, but, for me, it really came down to where I wanted to be: Hanover… or JAPAN. I picked Japan. And this really has been an unforgettable experience, as much of a rite of passage for me and my intellectual development at Dartmouth as staying on campus for sophomore summer would have been. Actually, probably more so.
If I started trying to make a list of everything in Japan that I’m going to miss, I would be up all night (which would be bad because I’m supposed to be working on my final project for Prof. Dorsey’s Japn 11 class). I suspect, though, that the list would include a lot of smaller, perhaps less obvious things I will now forever associate with Japan. The quality of the eggs here compared to the states (the yolks are orange, not yellow); the detailed written instructions on the backs of onigiri wrappers teaching you the “proper” way to open it so the seaweed doesn’t get soggy; the bus driver who apologized profusely every time he drove over a bump in the road during rush hour one afternoon; eating daikon pickle and homegrown cucumbers every night with dinner with my host family.
But, somewhat paradoxically, one of the most important things I have learned while in Japan is a true appreciation of being an American. I’ve lived in America for most of my life, been a naturalized citizen for the past 4, but it’s just never really been something I’ve given much thought to until now. Things that I realize I’ve taken for granted, from ethnic diversity to Colgate toothpaste to juicy backyard burgers on the 4th of July, that they just don’t have in Japan. I have loved my experience living in Japan, and definitely hope to come back some day, but I’m also looking forward to returning home to the USA, which I’ve never felt this acutely while traveling abroad before. I think it took experiencing another culture with its quirks and oddities and general good times to really step back and look at my own.
So, Sayonara, Japan. Hope to be back soon.
The day we all went to Miyajima was a pretty memorable experience for me.
This was during our excursion so we woke up and had breakfast at the hotel in Hiroshima. It was on the twelfth floor, a buffet style with Western and Japanese foods. There was bacon and eggs and tofu and best of all, a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains. The day before had been cloudy but in the morning light you could make out every peak. It might be a product of coming from Iowa but even in Kyoto I would occasionally perk up just to gaze at the mountain range.
After a train ride, we hopped on a ferry that took us to the island of Miyajima, famously known for its torii gate constructed in the bay. We braved the tourist crowds and headed straight for the neighboring temple. The view was marginally better from the bright red platforms supported by posts in the sand. The gate was indeed very beautiful. But I felt nothing past that appearance.
Afterwards, a group of us split off to track down the poorly mapped temple, Daisho-in. After a few twists and turns up the mountain, we found ourselves at a large but tidy temple. It had been constructed in the 12th century as a Shingon Buddhist temple. We walked the grounds, taking in the belfry and 500 statues of Shaka Nyorai’s disciples. There were koi hiding in the shade of the stones lining octagonal halls. Drumming came from the main prayer hall where monks still practiced. Underneath the base of a pavilion, there was an entrance to Henjyokutsu Cave, a room where 88 Buddhist icons are arranged under the dim light of hundreds of hanging lanterns.
I sat down on a bench near the entrance, felt the coolness of the air and thought of what a shame it was that there were so many people straining themselves for a photo of the torii below.
It is far too difficult to elaborate on a specific experience because I feel like everything has been utterly amazing this trip. This is something so unreal, yet thrilling about being able to be here in Japan.
Of course, it is very intimidating being surrounded by a language you barely understand. However, the experience is very necessary because it exponentially improves your ability to understand the language. When you’re surrounded by a language, you end up soaking it up whether you like it or not. Personally, my brain ached for a few nights because I had to concentrate to understand what my host family said. Yet, within the first week, I felt my hearing ability improve substantially. Even if I still couldn’t understand a word, I could now at least hear the word to look it up later.
Asides from obvious academic gains, I felt like being in Japan really broadened my view of the world. And I do not just mean breaking stereotypes, but there is definitely something liberating about being able to live in a place with a language you do not completely comprehend. When you’re learning a learn language and experience a new culture, you learn things about your own language and culture as well. For example, why do we say “it went well”? It’s a strange statement in terms of diction, but in Japanese, it is the same. It does not sound like anything significant, but every small discovery brings a strange sense of joy.
And of course, this program has been a real confidence booster. It always seems like a simple task to ask someone a question, but without the proper vocabulary, I felt humbled back into being a child. I felt both terrified and thrilled every single time I had to ask a native speaker for something, but every time I did it, I gained a huge boost of confidence. Eventually, some of my fellow LSAers and I even ended up joining a Japanese drumming club.
After this LSA, I feel confident enough that if dropped in the middle of Japan, I would be manage to communicate. Of course, my vocabulary is nowhere near a native speaker’s, but this experience has given me confidence. It has been a wonderful trip, and I hope I can share this experience with other students.
2011 Summer Fashion in Kyoto, Kansai
Japanese people are obsessed with fashion. If Tokyo catwalk and street fashions are becoming more and more famous around the world, people shouldn’t forget that Japan is made of 47 prefectures and each of them has its very own flavour. Thanks to this year’s LSA+ in Kyoto, I am now able tell what Kansai fashion is about.
The Kansai region, which is basically the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto area, is the complete opposite of Kanto (Tokyo region). While Tokyoites are rushed, over-polite people who seem obsessed with anything hip and trendy, from new technology to gourmet food, Kansai-jin (people from Kansai) are easy-going, friendly and direct with a much more down-to-earth mind. And not only does it reflect in their lifestyle and personalities but it also affects their fashion. Randomly picking up a fashion magazine in a Conbini, be it “Vivi” or “Mina”, you will easily notice the difference of style in the streets shots of girls in Kanto and Kansai.
Nature and simplicity seem to be the keywords for this summer’s fashion in Kyoto. We can see lots of soft-coloured clothes (white, off-white, beige, light blue), often paired with a darker item like blue denims or black leggings. Flower prints are also a season’s favourite as they blossom on many tops and dresses. Still in a natural spirit, I also have noticed a lot of brown shoes, especially high-heeled clogs. Denims and denim overalls seem to be very popular too, probably due to their casual nature and high versatility.
If we had to highlight one trend from these street snap shots, it would be the supremacy of layered outfits. Almost every look shown in the magazine is made of several layers of clothes, be it a large white T-shirt with shorts and leggings, a light Chinese tunic and dark pants, a flower-printed smocked dress with blue denims, a pleated tunic and leggings or a see-through tunic over a striped tank top and denims.
As a fashion fanatic, I am really relieved to find out that Kyoto, being a city famous for its ancient temples and shrines, still owns a vibrant fashion scene, especially in districts around Shijo Kawaramachi and Shijo Karasuma. Although not all streams of Japanese fashion are worth emulation, Kyoto or Kansai fashion is definitely something you, who is as crazy about fashion as I am, should check out.