Thursday, February 21, 2008

Saturday 2/16/08 Pacific Culture Club

Saturday 2/16/08 a small group of us went to a traditional Japanese estate house on the edge of Tokyo for another Temple University Japan Campus sponsored event. Somehow, somewhere TUJ met these women who like to share traditional Japanese culture and religion with foreigners and young people.
A pair of kotos sitting against the wall. We were unannounced, somewhere there was an issue with communication, so the PCC wasn't sure we when or where we were arriving, so they weren't ready for us.

This is a very nice Japanese lady. She is very good with the Koto, and she taught me how to play a simple song on the Koto, it wasn't easy, but it was fun! It was the most challenging music lesson I've ever had, because we didn't speak the sam language, and I couldn't read the numbers. 

This is a household shinto shrine. We prayed to it and they were quite eager to share the benefits of their religion with us. It seems pretty cool, that there is a being above us and that we should give it our respect and thanks.

This is the lady who talked to us, she was pretty good with English. She was also accomplished in koto, calligraphy and other things I'm sure. Those little things on her fingers are the picks you wear to play the koto.

Jeremy's playing the koto! It was pretty cool that they were willing to work with us and be patient and teach us their arts.

That's the character for "love" it sounds like "ai." It's pretty complicated. She wrote it for Peter to copy. I'm sure Peter's didn't turn out so beautifully.

Me and my calligraphy, it means flower.

Before the tea ceremony three of us girls got to be dressed in kimonos, I got the fancy black one because it went best with my skin tone.

The pattern on the kimono and on the obi belt were both cranes, which mean good luck. This would be a really formal kimono that you could wear to a wedding or another formal situation.

Kelly is being dressed in a peach colored semi-formal kimono. The belt was very very long, and it was folded in half and cardboard and other things were stuck inside to make sure that it was kept in place.

The lady is explaining my kimono to the group. She said that the white dots on each of my shoulders is the house crest, and that there are five of them total.

Me, Jamie, and Kelly wearing borrowed kimonos for the tea ceremony. I wish I had one, but they're so expensive. When you wear it you can feel the centuries of culture just wrapping you up and helping your posture as you kneel.

Tuesday 2/12/08 -Hakone trip day 2

The second day of the Hakone trip was also a very busy day. Our first stop was to Hakone Checkpoint, then we went to Odawara Castle, then we went to Saijo temple before heading home to Tokyo. The day was very rainy and cold, so it was a little less than ideal.

There wasn't much to see at Hakone Checkpoint. It was a museum, with all the exhibits in Japanese. The tour guide explained that it used to be the place where Edo, which is what Tokyo used to be called, was protected from possible invaders. You needed a permit to cross the Haokone area and there were certain conditions you had to meet to cross the area. One of them was that you couldn't be female. And how they, reportedly, checked was by examining each strand of hair. 

At Odawara castle they had a couple of animal exhibits, and the elephant didn't have enough space. It made me sad.

Odawara castle is apparently one of the older and taller castles remaining in Japan.

Inside the castle was a museum. The insides weren't old and cool, they were wooden but not original.

This would be the garden where they would dress you in a kimono and take your photo.... if it wasn't raining.

In the museum you weren't allowed to take photos, I found out later, but I really wanted to have a picture of a samurai sword.

The rooftop was very pretty.

Spring is coming! Those are plum blossoms.

After the Odawara Castle we went to Saijo Temple, which is a large Buddhist temple complex outside of Hakone. There were lots of stairs leading to the temple itself, and the staircase was lined with these stones.

I don't know what it says, nor do I know what it is for, but they must be important.

Also, they're very old.

These little stone hut things lined the stairs.

The water and the ladles you use to purify your hands before you enter the temple grounds.
It was so foggy that day, you could barely see a few feet in front of your face. The fog lent an air of mystery around the place.

There were lots of cool places to take pictures, bridges, water, trees, stones, buildings. Very cool.

The temple was very unique, and I would like to go to another one. While we were at the temple we were invited in to observe a prayer ceremony. Pictures were strictly not allowed, so I'm going to describe it the best I can. I apologize for the length of it.

The best part of the day, and possibly of my trip to Japan so far, was when a Buddhist monk invited some of us into the temple itself to observe a prayer ceremony. I don't know what it was really called, but the tour guide explained that it was a ceremony that they conduct infrequently and that it was a prayer to the "god" of the temple similar to the way that they pray when someone has died, but I don't think it was actually a funeral prayer ceremony.

 I was simply excited just to see the interior of the temple and the monks. It was a unique experience I hear, apparently it doesn't happen very often, and if it weren't for our very nice bus driver we wouldn't have gotten in because almost none of us speak more than survival Japanese. 

It was just as cold inside as it was outside, except it wasn't raining inside, and it wasn't windy either. We walked up the stairs to the temple, turned right, then shortly turned left, and entered the prayer room and sat facing the way we entered. The room we entered was very large; it was about 40 or 50' on each side of the room. There was a small room at the head of the room (directly to our right) with many golden statues inside it and curtains on the outside.

 The building itself, on the interior was a nice dark hardwood, the ceiling was graduated, it wasn't flat, and at the edge of a part where it would get lower, they had a ridge with a carved design in it. There was a simple block pattern and a more ornate curled flower pattern in the wood as well. The underside of all the designs was painted white.

 Overall, however, the interior of the building was very ornate, even opulent. It was adorned with 4 gold bell looking decorations hanging from the ceiling, each probably 8 feet long and 1-2 feet in diameter. At the center there was another golden bell-sort of decoration, only wider in diameter and shorter in length. It had lots of decorations hanging from the edges of it and at the top were several golden squirrel sort of decorations with green ears and a red body. They might have been birds with open mouths, however. I couldn't tell. There were hundreds of bell decorations hanging off the giant bells.

 The floor was a plain tatami mat floor (straw-like reed mat). Beyond the prayer area was a room with lots of ornate golden decorations. There were two very large ceramic urns colored black at the two edges of the room, in the center was a weird lotus/lilly pad flower sculpture made out of what seemed to be gold, it was enormous, probably 10-12 feet wide on its own with several flowers on it. I couldn't count because I couldn't mov to check it out. There was also a small golden incense pot in the front and I'm sure there were other decorations, but the curtains, reddish in color, and very thick, hid my view of the room. The main room, where I sat, also had a giant barrel in the corner, it looked like it contained some kind of liquid inside because there was a tap on the side. The barrel was across from me and to my left as I sat. There was a large drum and two men, one who would later beat on it, and the other who remained seated.

 There were 9 monks who prayed in the center, and I know there were at least two behind me and the two at the drum across from me. One monk wore a red outer robe over his black robe, two monks wore a mustard colored robe over their black robe. The ceremony began when they entered the prayer room, we had arrived and were seated before they came in. They filed in, the monk in the red in the lead with a spade-shaped decorated wooden thing between his hands which were held in the Christian prayer way, palms together, fingers pointing up. Behind him were the 6 black-clad monks and the 2 mustard-and-black-clad monks. Three of them wore modern eyeglasses with thin gold-colored frames. Except for the lead monk and his spade, none of them seemed to be carrying anything.

 When they filed in the red monk stood before the cushion in the center of the room, under the largest hanging golden decoration. The cushion was red and had a thin sort of lectern (the stand on which the speaker's notes are placed) that was only a curved pole and a small platform with a lipped bottom edge in front of it, facing the large room with the golden flower sculptures inside. It was more similar to a simple wooden music stand (except with a smaller top part) than to a lectern.

 The monks filed in. There was two rows of three monks on either side of the cushion. There was one monk on each side of the rows in the place where a second row might begin. The red clad monk was in the center near the cushion, and the mustard-clad monks were one in the rear right location and one in the front leftmost row. They first stood and bowed then they withdrew a piece of fabric with a white Buddhist cross (looks like the plus sign) in white on it. The majority of the fabric was the same color as their outer robes, so six were black, two were mustard, and one was reddish.

 They folded the fabric and knelt on it and began to kowtow toward the room with the golden flower statue. They would kowtow, then stand, then kowtow again, and stand. I didn't count how many times. When they finished kowtowing they knelt, facing the pillow (with the red-clad monk facing the room to my right with the golden statues) and withdrew a folded sheet covered in wood with, what I'm presuming to be their chants, inscribed on it, they held it like a thin book right in front of their face and chanted for what must have been at least 15, probably 20 minutes. It was cold enough that you could see their breath puffing out as they chanted. It was like a little bit of the mist, fog, and mystery of the outside had come inside. I didn't know what they were saying, but the chants sounded repetitive, I knew they said “Japan” a few times, and that they were counting for a while, but other than that I’m not sure. The man in the mustard robe that was closest to the man in the red robe was a special chanter, he had a different line than the other ones, and at the end of the chanting, after the red-clad man stood and light the incense in the room with the golden flower, he was the only one who chanted.

 During the chanting every once in a while a bell was rang. Probably at the end of a sentence or a paragraph, I don't know though, and incense was lit throughout the ceremony making the air smell sweet and floral. I wish I could've identified it. I'm bad at identifying strange things as it were. After the changing was concluded, and when they were all standing while the red monk was lighting the incense the two men across from me by the drum beat it slowly.

 Then they filed out in the same order that they filed in and we were told to stand and were led out of the building. There was no exploring, and no asking questions of the monks. I think we were lucky just to be in there. I didn't understand anything that was going on, and it may only be in part to the language barrier. I'm not sure that they were even speaking Japanese, they might have been chanting something else. We had to kneel through the whole half hour ceremony, and I couldn't even feel my legs when I stood up. It was pretty painful, actually, but worth the experience.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Monday 2/11/08 Hakone Trip, Day 1

On February 11th and February 12th I had a mini vacation! I went to the popular tourist resort town Hakone and stayed the night on a school-sponsored and organized trip. We hit some cool places like Hakone Open Air Museum and Saijo Temple.

One of my first views of Mt. Fuji on the way to Hakone. It was a perfectly clear and beautiful day. I snapped this photo from the bus on the highway.

Milk at the rest stop, such odd containers. I guess it's for large bottles to stay cold on the road?

The town was pretty small, most of it was situated around a lake. It had snowed recently, so there was lots on the ground, as you can see, but the weather itself was pretty nice, probably mid 40's to 50's.

Swan-shaped pedal boats. There's an ad on the train for these things, I don't know what the ad is for really, but it features these boats.

Some plants in the snow. We were told how there's these great big fields of golden-colored tall grass plants in Hakone but they burn them down every August and replant them again.

Fuji-san from where we stopped to look at sulfur springs.
Mt. Fuji is actually a dormant volcano, and all of Japan is on a fault line, so the steam coming out of the ground is created by the hot magma which is created by the friction between the Teutonic plates below the surface of the Earth. The whole area around here smelled like rotten eggs, because there was a lot of sulfur in the water.
Steam, snow, and sunshine.

It was surprising how beautiful and huge Mt. Fuji was. This is as close as we got, I wish we could've gotten closer, but that wasn't in this trip.

All the kids who went to Hakone! I know most of the names. Back row: Mike, Brendon, Jack, ?, Me, Lauren. Middle: Brittany, Sam, ?, ?, Peter, Lauren. Front row: Mya, Lisa, Danielle, and Jamie.
I think all mountains are beautiful, but that's probably because I never see them at home.

Where we stopped they sold eggs that were cooked in the hot sulfur water. A chemical reaction between the sulfur water and the eggshell made the eggshell turn black. The inside was normal and it tasted just like a plain old hard boiled egg.

Me and Fuji!
It is too beautiful to stop taking pictures of.

This is Kanji for "big." Every year they clear the area by burning out the inside, where the white is. It's a big festival and it's very popular.

The Hakone Open Air Museum was probably the most fun museum I've ever been too. It featured many interactive exhibits, one of them was this maze. 

Another was this fish feeding pond with a sculpture in it.

And this bridge. If you notice there are black footprints on the right of the bridge, they went all throughout the museum and gave you a nice tour of the place.

Another was these sculptures that looked like sunny-side up eggs, and you could jump on the yolks! So much fun. This is Lauren jumping, and Jen getting ready to jump.

Me and Jack jumping on the egg.

This museum would've been amazing if you were a child, they had two separate exhibits for kids to climb around in, my favorite was this rope sculpture that looked like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.

And then there was a hot foot bath for you to relax in.

And a stained-glass tower. If you climbed to the top you could see nearly all of the museum grounds.

After the museum we went to a shrine in the woods. At the shrine they had a hiking trail in the back. It was really hard to traverse in normal walking shoes because the snow was very slippery.

Shrine-side snowball fight!! Harish is in the back and Lauren is in the front.

The shrine itself.

As the stories go the god who is enshrined here was once a man and he fought and killed a bear with an axe.

The Hakone Kogen Hotel was a traditional ryokan hotel with tatami mat floors, futon beds, and a table for kneeling at.

Our group was too big to be fed in our rooms, so we took our dinner in the banquet hall. It was quite large. We had to cook the meat, and it also came with fugu (better known as blowfish), octopus, sashimi, stew, rice, soup, salad and dessert.

The hotel gave us "kimonos" to lounge in. We went down to the onsen in these. An onesen is a hot bath where you go to relax and to "gain health benefits." It's a hot spring where you relax naked for a while, and then you wash off. Ryokans usually don't have private showers, so you have to bathe in the onsen area. It's not so bad being nude around people, once you get over the American squeamishness.

Left to Right: Lauren, Lisa, Jen, Me, Jamie