Wednesday, September 23, 2009
So we just had a five day break from work called Silver Week. A good time to get out and explore. So a few of us went to Kyoto. My good friend Eric made his way there from Kyushu and we met up for a good few days of sightseeing. It was really great, though in the moment it can be hard to appreciate what you are seeing due to the restrictions. See, I'm not really one for tourism, and Eric isn't either, so we found enclaves and such wherever we could, but for the most part we were stuck in 'cattle-tourism'. This kind of stuff really frustrates me because its hard to get a good experience and a calm one when its just a bunch of tourists around, and since it was silver week the city was packed with foreigners and Japanese tourists. Needless to say this isn't my preferred method of sightseeing, but its definitely a great opportunity and you see things however you can. The temples and shrines are the main attractions, but there are some other things you can find as well. The temples were very beautiful and we were lucky enough to catch some of a Jodo ceremony at Chouin-in. We saw the big tourist attractions such as Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavillion) and Gion (The Geisha district). Unfortunately, catching sight of a Geisha is not so easy, and we didn't catch a glimpse of a single maiko or geisha. Aside from seeing the famed structures where everyone goes we managed to have fun seeing a side of the town that not too many people seemed interested in. Pontocho is the other Geisha district and known to be a little less 'snobish' than Gion. This area was really enchanting, though incredibly exclusive and impossible within which to find a place to eat. I read of a favorite coffee/tea house of one of the most beloved Japanese authors, Tanizaki Junichiro. Naturally I searched it out. It was really one of the highlights for me to sit down and have a drink in the favorite haunt of a famous literary figure and see where he did some of his writing. There was also a fantastic monkey park that I got to see where I enjoyed feeding the macaca fuscata, while one of the youngsters took an interest in grooming my leg (hence the above photo). Overall Kyoto was littered with things and places to see, and impossible to get a real feel of in a short 4 day period. Nevertheless, it was a grand old time.
Saturday, September 12, 2009
I'm not sure why, but for the last two days I've been feeling rather depressed. I've hit a roadblock and feel like there is nothing of significance I have done thus far in my life. Regrouping and looking back on things I just don't feel that I've accomplished much of anything in 23 years and I certainly haven't lived up to the potential that other people have helped give me. In fewer words I just feel like a bit of a failure with most things at this point. This isn't an entry seeking pity or complaining, I just felt that writing out how I feel might help. Since I am not seeking any affirmation from other people that my life hasn't been a failure up till now, please do not comment on this entry. I just need to find something that gives me a sense of satisfaction, and up until now I haven't felt satisfied with the work I've put out into the world. And I think focusing on that has made me feel as though I can't do anything right or successfully at this point from cooking a meal to exercising to playing my guitar. I don't know what's causing me to feel like this right now, nothing adverse has happened, I just woke up a couple days ago and felt this way. Anyways sometimes getting things written out puts them in a clearer light, so hopefully that's the case here.
Monday, September 7, 2009
So, I'll skip going into detail about work and the school children and such. Since I've only been teaching for a week I have very few impressions so my thoughts on all of that will just have to wait. So, this entry will be all about my weekend. Saturday: Saturday was the sports festival day at both of my junior high schools. This is a big deal here and the schools take it pretty seriously. The students are split into anywhere from two to four teams depending on the size of the school; my school being relatively small had two teams, the blue team and the red team. Its a whole big event, nothing like a field day back home. The students line up and enter very formally. Opening ceremonies are carried out, which involves a lot of formalities and seemingly long winded speeches. Then activities begin and last all day, for about eight hours. All kinds of events take place from chicken fighting to tug of war to relay races, just a lot of games essentially. The day is long and hot, very hot, by the end I was sunburned and very tired. Afterwards the teachers traditionally have an enkai or teachers' party. Naturally I accepted to the party since I was told we'd be going out for drinks. Well, what they forgot to inform me was that we were all going to an onsen. So that was a rather intersting experience; the onsens are very relaxing, like hot springs that are fed from nearby volcanic vents. Japanese people though all jump into these public hot springs naked. So its common for all co-workers to share a naked hot spring after a long days work. I think that was the first really big cultural difference I experienced here, something that you just don't hear about happening back home. Afterwards everyone dries off and enjoys dinner and drinks together in the restaurant area of the onsen facilities, this of course happens in clothing haha. The enkai was really a welcome party for me, which I had to regretfully leave early because I had prior commitments. Which takes me to my next point of address. After I left the enkai I headed to the local village festival which I had agreed to play music in. So I got up on stage (something that I love to do as you all know) and played for a while. Naturally at both the enkai and the local festival people don't let you stop drinking, so I ended up very tired and developed a system of pretending to drink and just taking small sips to avoid getting overly intoxicated, especially since the following morning I had agreed to be in the festival activities for that day. So next, Sunday's festival: The local 'matsuri' or festival, was lots of fun, even though by the end I was exhausted and sick of being given drinks. The drinking started at 9am and continued through the day. My neighbors goet me some traditional garb so I was looking the part. During the day each neighborhood had a local shrine that they carry around and chant 'wasui!' or any mantra that equates to 'let's go' or 'let's celebrate', 'here we go', something of the kind. Mind you these shrines are heeaavvy, and since I am the new foreigner they wouldn't allow me to not be carrying it...each time I'd rotate out someone would say, 'Kevin jump in over here!!'. So for a good 6 or 7 hours I helped carry a large shrine around and chanted the same word! Every so often the parade stops in front of a local establishment for refreshments, naturally, being in Japan water is not an option lol, only sake or beer. So you get more and more intoxicated while getting more and more tired. The parade also stopped by the local shrine to take in some shinto prayer and traditional dancing and festival stands. By the end of the day I was very very tired. I didn't realize how tired I was until Monday, which thankfully due to Saturday's sports festival I had off from work. Monday I had plans with another JET to travel to Nagano and get our 're-entry' permits from the immigration bureau. Foreigners need these so they can leave Japan and reenter multiple times. Upon waking up I realized I was incredibly, sore, haha still am while I write this. My back and shoulders were in a world of hurt from carrying the shrine all day Sunday and I spent the day moving like an 80 year old man. We made short work of the immigration bureau thing and got to spend a couple hours touring Zenkoji temple! This is a very famous Buddhist temple founded in the 7th century and was said to house the first Buddhist image brought to Japan! The image has remained sealed away from eyes for three hundred years, and has only been seen by a single priest once within the last 1000 years. The priest only saw it upon an order from the shogun to inspect whether or not the image was real and not just legend. Naturally, as a history and Buddhism enthusiast this is the kind of stuff that thrills me. Another very neat aspect about the temple is that it is not claimed by any single Buddhist sect. Since the temple was founded prior to the split of Buddhism within Japan, the temple is run by monks of various different schools of Buddhism and thus the temple welcomes all practitioners, and of course all tourists, Japanese Buddhism is very commercial and aimed at attracting finance. This is the case for most sects such as the Jodo or Pureland sect. I think it holds far less true for sects such as Zen, but that is one thing I am very curious to study while here. But now I am rambling on as if I was giving a school report or a trivia lesson. So to hit the point the Temple visit was the highlight of my weekend amidst a full and fun weekend. I got some pics of the temple grounds, but inside photography is not allowed, which is a tragedy because the ornate decorations are incredibly beautiful, though I did manage to sneak a pic that I really wanted to get of people praying to the bodhisattva of healing, it was near the entry so it was easy to snap prior to going further into the temple. Anyways, I'll call it quits there and give your eyes a rest.