This Week…

It’s been quite a busy week!

Last weekend we attended the kindergarten graduation and performed our duties as official diploma assistants (we passed the diplomas to our boss, who passed them to the children!). This week was filled with finishing term reports and attendance logs, cleaning and packing, and of course regular classes to teach.

But now it’s Sunday, and I can finally say…

This week I’m coming home!

It still doesn’t feel real to know that next weekend at this time I will be back in America, sitting at my parents’ counter, eating my dad’s world-class pancakes and bacon. I have so many mixed emotions. I am thrilled to be going home, yet unsettled wondering what this new chapter of my life will hold. And yet, more than anything, I trust that God is leading me and will continue to lead me, and because of Him I have nothing to worry about.

Today we’re headed off to an onsen hotel for an official farewell party with our employers. We’ll have a fancy meal, exchange farewell gifts, and hopefully I’ll have one more chance for a soak in an authentic Japanese hot tub. Then it will be off to the races with three more days of classes to teach, plus trying to do all the last-minute packing and moving details before getting ready to fly out at the end of the week!

This time in Japan has been absolutely amazing, and I’m so thankful that I’ve had this opportunity. Of course there have been many difficult times and drab days, just as there would be if I’d been anywhere else in the world. But one of the biggest things I’ve learned is that I can’t expect to find perfect happiness anywhere, even in my “dream” location doing my “dream” job. Life is life and it’s often hard, and the way to joy is not to search for happiness but to search for God. He is the only source of true happiness, the only thing that can really satisfy our hearts and souls. And the most amazing thing is that no matter where in the world I go, I have this Source to draw from, I have His guidance and peace and joy available to me. What a treasure!

I don’t really know what the next steps of my life hold, but I’m so thankful that for now I’m headed home, where I get to spend time with my beloved family and friends again, and where I get to enjoy the familiarity of my own culture. Thank you so much, readers, for all your support and encouragement while I’ve been gone. I’m so looking forward to seeing you all again when I have the opportunity.

Until next time!

Only in Japan 6

Here it is, folks – the last “Only in Japan” segment.

This post’s topic is upon request from my splendid mother, who was intrigued by the idea that people in my town still walk around at night in the winter sounding out a warning for people to shut off their kerosene heaters. Not sure exactly what kind of noise they’re making, but it sounds kind of like clanging a chime and tapping wooden things together. They go faithfully round this part of the neighborhood around 11 p.m. or so. During the two years that I’ve lived here, I’ve never captured them on video, but one night last week I finally sneaked out and filmed them as they walked by. Of course, being 11 o’clock at night, one can’t really see much, but hey, at least I tried.

Here you are, Mom!

And now, a bonus video!

This January, the kindergarten held its annual “mochi tsuki,” or mochi making – a traditional activity often done around the New Year’s season in Japan. Mochi are chewy rice balls, and the traditional way to make mochi is by pounding steamed rice until it forms a glutinous dough. This year, I got to help pound for a few minutes! The students are all cheering me on by shouting “Yoisho,” a phrase that Japanese people use when exerting effort for something.

Well, that’s all for this week! Stay tuned for next week’s (final?) post!

Japlish, Round Two

Hi everyone!

It’s been a loooong time since I did a Japlish post! But I have a couple of photos I’ve been wanting to share with you for a while, so here goes!

First, a photo I took in a clothing store’s dressing room one day when I was trying something on. Side note: I don’t know if all the dressing rooms here are this way, but the ones I’ve used usually have a curtain instead of a door, and you remove your shoes before stepping onto the slightly raised floor. This dressing room contained an adamant warning against “shopliters:”

At the guest house where I stayed in Kyoto, there was another placard, this time in the bathroom. It’s a little hard to read in the photo, but it provides a friendly warning to guests: “Please do NOT flash anything other than toilet paper.” It’s OK, I have no desire to flash anything while I’m here.

Here’s a sign from a local shop that I took a photo of this summer:

The Japanese motto beside it actually makes sense: “Just right for your life.” The English motto…not so much.

Last but not least, the farewell card I received from a student in my fifth-grade class last week . Many of the students had written the same line, “You are the great teacher,” so I presume their homeroom teacher had written the line on the board for them to copy. However, one was a little different:

The only question I have is, if I did eat a great teacher, would that make me great too?

Well, that’s all the Japlish for this time. Talk to you next week!

This Month…

It’s March, everyone.

It’s March.

And now I can say…

This month I’m coming home!

I still find it hard to believe. So much has happened in the past two years. I’ve learned so much, and experienced so much, and I’m the same person and yet not the same too.

One of the hardest things for me to believe is that I’m actually ready to come home. When I first arrived in Japan, I naively thought that because I loved Japan so much, and had waited so long for just the “right” opportunity, that I would be here for many years.

 

It’s still a little hard for me to let go of the idea that I’m letting go of Japan for now. It’s pride, I guess, not wanting to admit that I am ready to come home, that there are aspects of Japanese culture that are hard for me to deal with, and that I’m not “sticking it out” as long as I originally thought I would.

But that hesitant feeling plays only a small part, because over the past two years I’ve learned many things, things which perhaps I knew in my head but did not fully realize:

That life does not always go exactly how we predict it will.

That there is no one “perfect” opportunity or situation.

That the best thing we can do is release our expectations of happiness, and life, and ask God to just keep leading us, a step at a time. He knows the bigger picture much better than we do, and He’s got it all under control.

I do hope that Japan is in my future somehow, but for now, I feel drawn back to America.

And so, if all goes as planned, before the month is out, I will be on a plane headed back home. And I’m so excited. Two years ago, I never would have dreamed that I’d have the same kind of excitement about going home that I had about coming!

I know that in some ways, moving back will be hard. Right now, I’m thinking of life in America in nostalgic, romanticized terms. I know that it’s human nature to do so, and that once I return home and get back in the routine of things, reality will hit and I will view my time in Japan with the same rosy glow with which I’m now viewing America.

But for now, I am ready to leave, and I am thankful for that. I am thankful that I will get to see my family more than just twice a year, and to actually spend time with them. I’m thankful that I will get to eat American food again, to have American ingredients to cook with and a full-sized oven to bake in!  I’m thankful for the peace I feel and that God has led me this far. I trust that He will continue to lead me as I step forward into the next chapter of my life.

America, here I come!

 

 

 

Kyoto, Day 7 – The Final Day

Finally, my last day in Kyoto had arrived!!

It turned out to be a pretty low-key day, for several reasons.

First of all, it was toward the end of my trip and I didn’t want to spend much more money.

Second, I had to catch the overnight bus at the train station in the evening, so I didn’t really feel like going anywhere super far away.

And third, I had gotten to do pretty much everything I’d wanted to do while I was in Kyoto.

So, with those thoughts in mind, I decided to explore the Higashiyama district near Kiyomizudera Temple, the area I’d spent the first day of my trip, one more time.

This time, I took some videos, so you can wander the streets with me!

After re-watching this video, I was rather disappointed to discover that besides my alarming lack of mature grammatical skills, my pronunciation also still sounds sadly non-native. Something to work on, I guess!

The powder did turn out to be kinako (roasted soybean flour), which is often sweetened when used in desserts. It was so fine that I inhaled it by mistake and had to cough it out of my system. I noticed that it was happening to other people as well! Whilst I was enjoying my dango, I was joined by a nice Japanese family who had an English-speaking German girl travelling with them. Their son spoke good English and initiated the conversation, and I got to chat with the German girl as well. She had marvelous English AND Japanese skills, with Japanese fluency that made me quite envious.

After my mitarashi dango experience, I wandered some more, eventually buying some tofu donuts. These are not nearly as weird as they sound – just warm, soft, amazing mini donuts. I also got some ice cream, mostly because I really wanted to try some more of Japan’s unique ice cream flavors. They tend to have special flavors to match the region or attraction – for example, the bamboo flavored ice cream near the Arayashima bamboo grove, which I’d have gotten if I hadn’t been so full!

Unfortunately, the ice cream flavors in Kyoto weren’t all that special, at least in my opinion. The area’s food specialties are green tea and tofu, neither of which I particularly wanted in ice cream. I do enjoy green tea ice cream, but it is such a common flavor here that I can buy it in any grocery store. I eventually decided on a yuzu/shiso swirl. Yuzu is a type of citrus fruit common here, and shiso is “perilla,” a plant I’d never heard of in the States but that seems to be more well known here. Anyway, it turned out to be not that great – just a sour fruity flavor. Oh well. Next time I’ll try the bamboo!

I walked back through the Pontocho area (a place I’d already walked on my first day), enjoying the ambiance of the narrow alley lined with little hole-in-the-wall restaurants, many of them quite expensive. Of course, I also kept my eye out for geisha, but sadly did not see any. Next, I passed through the busy downtown district, stopping at a “Book-Off” (used bookstore chain) where I happily browsed for a time.

Finally, after a short stop at my guest house to pick up my luggage, which they had kindly stored for the day, I arrived back at Kyoto Station, hungry and worn out. I located my bus stop, then walked back and forth and pondered for way too long before opting for dinner at McDonald’s. I’d kind of hoped for a more exciting option, but the McDonald’s was fairly near my bus stop, and it was a place that I could park my luggage and my tired body for a while until my bus came. And besides, a good ol’ burger and fries are always an appropriate choice, right?

Oh, and here’s a video of the Christmas illumination (holiday illuminations are a big deal here!) at the station:

My bus finally rolled in a little after ten, and I boarded, on my way home at last. I’ll always cherish the memories I made in Kyoto, and I’m incredibly grateful that I got to experience so many wonderful things. Even though I wasn’t sure it would work out, I’m very happy that I was able to take a trip like this before going back to America. In a way, it made me feel like my time here in Japan has been made complete; it was a refreshing change to play the tourist and do some travelling, after spending so much time teaching and being absorbed in the work culture here. I’m not sure whether or not I’ll ever be back to Kyoto, but I’m really glad that I had the chance to visit a place I’ve been wanting to see for so long!

Goodbye for now, Kyoto!

 

 

Kyoto, Day 6 – Lesson Day!

Saturday, my sixth day in Kyoto, was my “experience day.” I’d been hoping to do some hands-on activities, not just sightseeing, while I was in Kyoto. As I mentioned previously, there are many activities available, but most of them cost a pretty penny (or yen), since they are specifically catering to tourists. However, after scouting around, I found some more inexpensive options, and decided to treat myself to two activities that I was interested in trying: sweet making and calligraphy!

On Saturday, my first destination was the sweets shop Yoshihiro, where I was to take a class for making wagashi, or traditional Japanese-style sweets. At 2000 yen, the class was still a bit on the pricey side, but was the cheapest of all the options I’d found. Besides, attendees got to take home several of the handmade goodies, which to me made it worth it!

Although the pamphlet from which I’d heard about the store was in Japanese, I’d found an English application page online. However, the store staff didn’t seem to speak much English, and I think there may have been a bit of misunderstanding about whether I’d actually applied. I hadn’t been able to really understand their reply email, since it appeared to have been run through a translation app of some sort and thus was only marginally comprehensible. However, when I showed up at the store, after a bit of communicating amongst themselves and checking with the person in charge, they accepted me, so I was grateful for that.

I joined the rest of the day’s class members – all of them Japanese – and did my best to follow the instructions about washing hands and so forth. The instructor had already prepared two ready-made sweets, and had the materials ready for us to replicate the exact same designs.

A word about wagashi: Japanese sweets are quite a bit different from American candies, one difference being that they are usually perceived to be less sweet. The kind of sweet we were making was “nama,” or raw, wagashi, and the “dough” that we worked with was soft and colorful, a lot like working with Play-Dough. We took preformed, colored balls, and following the instructor’s examples, molded the colored dough around balls of sweetened bean paste which acted as a filling. (I later learned that the colored balls were also made of sweetened bean paste which had had color added.) We blended the colors and shaped the balls just so, sometimes using a wooden pick as a tool, to create the shapes we were trying to make.

Apparently, the designs made in the classes are changed to reflect each new season. Since it was winter, we made pine (a symbol of New Year’s here) and plum blossom.

The instructor’s creations (the two on the top in the photo below) were so skillful! Mine were decidedly less so.

After the class, we were all given a cup of green tea (the real kind, whisked in a cup!), along with a small baked manjuu sweet. The instructor also demonstrated a different design for us, working the dough deftly with her hands and showing us how she used different parts of the hand to make the shape, as well as a triangular-shaped wooden tool to create a petal design. She was amazingly quick, and we were left in awe of her sweet-making skills!

After my namagashi adventure, I killed some time exploring before heading over to my next class: calligraphy! Although I’ve practiced writing kanji (Japanese characters), I know nothing about drawing them with a brush. I figured this was a great chance to learn! I’d found a bargain-priced class offered at another local guest house run by a husband and wife team; the husband offered calligraphy classes for only 1000 yen an hour.

I was received very warmly, with a cup of coffee and the wife on hand to translate as needed. The husband first wrote my name in kanji that he had picked out, which matched the sounds in my name, and tried to explain the meaning. Then he set me up with a brush and the most amazing calligraphy-writing mat, which turned dark when brushed with water, so no ink was needed. It was great for practice, and turned white again when dry, so it could be re-used!

It turns out that calligraphy was MUCH harder than I’d anticipated – I did my best, but still elicited some exasperated noises from my trainer. Apparently, calligraphy is about more than just creating straight lines with the brush, but is also about moving the brush just right to create certain brush strokes, and about invoking personality into the characters by the way one writes the strokes. Who knew!

Thanks to the couple’s hospitality, I was entertained for well over an hour. I left with an acknowledgement of my own ineptitude for calligraphy, but also with a sense of warmth from the couple’s graciousness. I was also quite pleased to receive a new calligraphy brush and one of the practice mats to keep!

Here’s a video recap of my adventures:

And, for the record, I did get a friend to share my sweets with. One of the guests from Okinawa returned that evening, and we had a great time eating sweets, drinking tea, and chatting!

See you for the final installment of my Kyoto adventures next week!

Kyoto, Day 5 – Nara

Yep, today’s “Kyoto” post is also not about Kyoto. It’s about Nara, another city which I decided to visit on a day trip from Kyoto.

Actually, I did make a stop in Kyoto on my way to Nara. I stopped at Fushimi-Inari, about which I’d heard rave reviews as a tourist attraction. It’s basically a shrine that has many many red torii gates through which one can walk.

Despite having heard that it was a fabulous tourist attraction, I didn’t spend very long at Fushimi Inari. Besides not wanting to walk long on my poor tired feet, I also didn’t care THAT much about all those orange gates. Plus, I was anxious to get onto my final destination, Nara! This is another historic city (though much smaller than Kyoto) which was actually also a former capital. It was the main goal of my day’s itinerary, so I said farewell to the gates of orange and hopped back on the train to Nara.

When I arrived in Nara, I looked at the sightseeing map and decided that I would like to see Heijo Palace. It was a 40-minute walk away, but for some reason that I can’t remember (probably that I’m just such a cheapskate), I decided to walk instead of take a bus. So I forced my weak knee into action and set out.

It was long. And cold. I first came upon one of the gates, which was picturesque against the wintery blue sky.

After scoping out the place a little, I discovered that the main palace buildings were set back a ways – yet more walking! I braved the chilly wind and plodded my way across the railroad tracks and over the fields to the audience hall. I think these buildings are all reconstructions, but they’re still interesting.

One of the tour guides spoke English, and gave me some interesting information. One thing she told me is that the orange structure in the building is where the emperor sat when taking the throne. The emperor who gets crowned next year will sit in a structure just like it, apparently.

I looked into taking public transportation back, but the subway station was far away and I didn’t know which bus to take, so I used my trusty legs again. On I went to my next stop, Todaiji Temple, which houses a giant Buddha statue. I didn’t care about the Buddha, but I wanted to see the building. It was pretty big and impressive:

Here’s Nandaimon Gate:

One of the most interesting things about Nara is the deer! There are many deer near the temple; apparently the deer are considered sacred or something, and are allowed to roam the area, which is called “Deer Park.”  Being around hordes of people everyday, they are quite tame. Here are some photos and videos:

I finished off my Nara trip by getting a bowl of ultra-thin noodles (Miwa somen, which apparently is a specialty in that area) and shrimp tempura. It was a delicious meal after wandering around in the cold!

After eating, I wandered back in the direction of the station, passing some interesting sights – including more deer!

Thus ended Day 5 of the Kyoto excursion! Only two more days to go!

In more current news, February is bumping along at normal clip. This winter has seemed quite long so far, but I’m happy to know that spring is on its way. February 3 was Setsubun, the day that people chase off devils by throwing beans at them.  I actually heard one of the neighborhood men shouting “Oni wa soto!” (“Out with the devils!”) a couple of times. Unlike last year, however, we weren’t asked to participate in the throwing-beans-at-a-fake-devil ceremony at the kindergarten, since we happened be teaching off campus that day. Which meant I didn’t have to see any children cry. Yay!

This weekend was another long weekend, and a coworker and I took a short day trip to Dake Onsen, an onsen town a couple of hours away. It was a very pleasant day, especially since we went to a place that had an outdoor bath – and it was snowing! There’s nothing quite like sitting in a hot bath while snowflakes drift down around you. It was also a day when I realized that, even after two years, I’m STILL prone to foreigner bloops, such as wearing boots into the hotel instead of the required slippers (though in my defense, most hotels and other public places do not require a shoe change). Still, it’s frustrating to still be making “stupid gaijin” mistakes. Good for keeping me humble, I suppose. 🙂

It’s off to work again tomorrow. If I buckle right down, perhaps the rest of February will fly by and we can hurtle happily into March!

 

 

Kyoto, Day 4 (Part 2) – Sea Creatures and Ferris Wheels

As promised last week, here is the post about one of my favorite places in Osaka, the Kaiyukan aquarium!

Let’s plunge right in, shall we?

Here she is!

The outside of the aquarium featured a model of a whale shark, one of the aquarium’s biggest attractions.

The building is eight stories tall, and is meant to be explored from top to bottom. I took a loooong escalator up to the top, then began walking down, meeting many sea friends along the way.

This guy looks supremely happy. I wonder what his philosophy of life is.

And this is his counterpart, the grumpiest fellow in the sea:

The biggest tank had the whale shark, along with various other deep sea creatures.

I happened to be at the aquarium (sort of on purpose) right at the time when the exhibits turned to their night-time display. Although the website had promoted this “night aquarium,” and I thought it might be interesting, in reality I just felt like it was too dark and hampered effective picture taking.

One of the last exhibits was a touch-and-feel room (I touched the top of a ray, but I think it was just annoyed), which also had a penguin exhibit. I was struck by how hilarious the little fellows were. Besides their hunched shoulders, which makes them look perpetually grumpy, the way they hop around on two feet makes them look like little bobblehead figures jumping in and out of the water.

Here’s a video; please excuse the annoying background voice giving the instructions on how to participate in the touch tank, which was in the same room.

The guy below (some sort of seal) was in a climate-controlled room. We actually got to walk through part of it and feel the cool breeze which I assume is always running for the little fella. He was just konked out on the ice, comfortable in his own blubber and as roly-poly as they come. (I think his head is facing away from us in this picture.)

And last but not least…my absolute favorite exhibit – the dolphins! I’d purposely planned my visit so that I would hit the aquarium around dolphin-feeding time – and I was I ever glad that I did! I happened to reach the dolphin tank just minutes before feeding time, so I hung out for a few minutes. At first, the dolphins were just tooling around by themselves, and the other visitors and I were getting a kick out of seeing them fly by, sometimes jumping out of the water with a splash.

Then, my hopes came true! The feeders arrived, and they actually got in the water and had the dolphins do some tricks!

Since pictures (and videos) speak louder than words, here are some of my favorite recordings!

The dolphin “show” left me feeling satisfied and like my money had been well-spent. Perhaps it’s not really a big thing, but to inexperienced me it was rather thrilling, and instantly made dolphins my new favorite animal.

After my wild adventures in the aquarium, I headed toward the Tempozan Marketplace which is right beside the aquarium. First, I got to see the aquarium and marketplace’s awesome outdoor illuminations!

Inside the marketplace, I headed toward the Naniwa food theme park, which is a bunch of food shops set up to look like a retro street from the 1960’s:

As usual, I was undecided about what I wanted to eat, and ended up simply getting kyabetsu-yaki, a pancake-type deal containing shredded “kyabetsu,” or cabbage. Kind of like the okonomiyaki idea, but I’d heard that negi-yaki (a leek pancake, thinner than okonomiyaki) was common in Osaka. I think this was a similar idea. In any case, being the okonomiyaki lover that I am, I enjoyed it!

It had been a long day, but I still had one adventure left in me. Right beside the marketplace is the Tempozan Ferris Wheel, a beautifully lit-up wheel. I had never in my life been on a Ferris wheel, and figured this was my big chance. I’d thought about going on a small one when I visited Hitachi Seaside Park in May 2017, but ended up deciding not to pay the money for it. Not this time. This one was big, it was well-known, and it had views of Osaka City. Not to mention, my discount pass gave me 100 yen off the normal 700-yen charge. I decided to go for it!

After the Ferris wheel adventure, I caught a bus to the station and made the trek back to Kyoto. It had been a long day, and I was exhausted, but I was thankful that I’d been able to do so many of the things that I had been planning on! Perhaps it will inspire the un-adventurous me to be a little more adventurous in the future!

 

 

Kyoto, Day 4 (Part 1) – Castles and More

Today’s title is actually misleading, since it’s not about Kyoto at all.

It’s about Osaka!

When planning my Kyoto trip, I’d decided to do a few day trips to some major cities in the Kansai area. Osaka was one of those cities. I’d heard it was a more modern city than Kyoto, but had some attractions that made it a fun city to visit. I made a list of the activities I wanted to do, knowing it would be an activity-packed day – and was it ever!!

On Thursday morning, my “Osaka trip” day, I got started a bit later than I would have ideally wanted, but I’d had difficulty sleeping the night before and wasn’t about to make myself get up early. From Kyoto Station, I popped onto a train that would get me to Osaka in about 30 minutes. When I landed in Osaka, I got some sightseeing pamphlets and a transportation/attractions discount pass at the station, and from there, I took the subway to the Osaka Museum of Housing and Living, where I’d heard there was a replica Edo-era village inside the building.

View of the village from an upper floor – lighted to make it look like night time!
One of the village shops.
Replica of the village bath house.
Lookout tower.
Living area set up for “dinner” – complete with a stuffed cat on the front left cushion!
In the displays portion of the museum, a model of some sort of exhibition several decades ago.

The museum was mildly interesting, but it was fairly small and not all that exciting. I spent probably less than an hour there before getting on another subway and heading to my next stop – Osaka Castle. I first saw it from the walking path across the moat, and it was an impressive sight!

Although my legs had still not recovered from all the walking I’d been doing, I pushed myself to walk up to and around the castle. My left knee hurt, which made it hard to bend when I walked up and down steps. Sometimes I just went up and down one-sided, leading with my left leg only, like a little kid who was learning to walk. Don’t judge me, other tourists. I’m here on vacation and I don’t care what my body says, I’m going to enjoy it!

View of some of the modern buildings of Osaka, in stark contrast to the historical castle opposite them.

Finally, I’d made my way back toward the main street again.  I was really excited to get to my next stop, but the Osaka Museum of History, which I’d also been interested in visiting, was close by. Should I go? I debated for awhile, wavering between my desire to save time and money and my interest in going. I’d heard it wasn’t that great, and of course I like to save a yen or two where I can. On the other hand, my pass DID give me a slight discount, and – should I go or not?

“I’ve taken all the trouble to come to Osaka, I’m (probably) only going to be here once, and the museum’s right here staring me in the face.” Using that as my deciding argument, I paid the 540-yen fee and went into the museum. As I’d suspected, it really wasn’t that special, and if I’d known ahead of time what it was like, I probably wouldn’t have gone. But I don’t know unless I try, right? I consider it an improvement that at least I’m trying to be more adventurous and risk-taking, instead of hoarding my money all the time!

The museum’s exterior.
Models in the museum.
View of the city (and castle) from an upper floor of the museum.
Die-cut display.
Model street of the mid-twentieth century.

After my historical adventures, I finally made it to the highlight of the day – the Kaiyukan, or Osaka Aquarium! I’d heard that it was a good one, and although the price tag was hefty, I was definitely not disappointed!

In fact, there’s SO much I want to show you about the aquarium that I’m going to make it into its own separate post. Be sure to check in next week to read all about my adventures with whale sharks, penguins, dolphins, and more!

 

 

 

 

Kyoto, Day 3 – Tea Ceremony!

Hello, everyone! Here’s installment #3 of my Kyoto adventures!

Compared to my other travel days, day three of my trip (Wednesday, the day after Christmas) was pretty quiet. My morning task was to switch guest houses, since (due to to my indecisive planning tendencies) I’d only booked the first one for two nights. I was kind of excited about my second guest house, because I’d heard it was an old townhouse, and I like old things that have character.

Well – it certainly was old. At first I was a little taken aback, but once I got used to it, I liked it! After all, character counts for something, right?

Here’s a little tour!

The guest house was comprised of several detached buildings, so the building I stayed in was actually around the corner and across the street from the building that the front desk was in.

The entrance area contained the kitchen area as well, all set on a rather unwelcoming cement floor.

To get to the bathroom, you had to pass through the entrance/kitchen area, then go OUTSIDE and across a little courtyard space (the bathroom door is on the left in the picture below). As it was December, you can imagine that these forays to use the “necessary” were a bit nippy. It’s a good thing Japan has heated toilet seats!

Off to the right of the entryway, there was a shared Japanese-style (tatami mat) living space, which one stepped up onto (sans shoes, of course!). Often I had this room to myself, and I really enjoyed it, because there was a kotatsu, or heated table. In cold Japanese houses, it’s wonderful to be able to sit at the table, snuggle one’s legs under the surrounding blanket, and bask in the toasty heat!

This was the bunk-bed style bedroom!

My bed was in one of the little cubbies, which I actually enjoyed. It’s very much like the capsule-hotel idea that is so prevalent here. It felt quite cozy in my cubby, though the mattress was frighteningly thin:

It was a little inconvenient to share a room, although it was a women’s-only room and most of the time there were only a couple of other guests. One of the most annoying things was that the keys we were given all had little bells on them, so whenever someone unlocked the door to our dorm room, no matter what time of day or night, those trying to repose in their cubbies were disturbed by a rather jarring jingle. Perhaps it was a safety feature so no one could sneak into the room unannounced; either that or it was a ghastly oversight on the part of the guest house owners.

On Wednesday afternoon, I hopped on a bus to another part of town, where I planned to participate in a tea ceremony. Of course, being Kyoto, there were all sorts of traditional activities for tourists to participate in, if one was willing to pay the money. Since most of them were way overpriced, I did a little digging around to discover some cheaper options, and found out that a local “international community house” was holding a tea ceremony whereby students of a tea ceremony class would be demonstrating the ceremony for free! I happily signed up to join.

It turns out that the Kyoto International Community House was located very near to some other famous attractions, such as art museums and the Kyoto Zoo. My bus stopped along the street below, right near this ginormous torii gate which marks the entrance to the Heian-jingu Shrine!

I had some time before the ceremony started, so I began walking along the street in the direction of the International Community House. The street was bordered by a canal, across which I could look and see some of the animals in the Kyoto Zoo. It made me a bit sad, since it looked like they didn’t have much space in their pens. I’d heard it wasn’t a very good zoo, so I had no desire to go.

Instead, I walked to Nanzenji Temple, which had some very large buildings.

Near the temple was an aqueduct, which was rather interesting:

The top of the aqueduct:

I also decided to go in search of something called the “philosopher’s path,” which was supposed to be a nice little walking trail. I had to walk about 20 minutes just to get there, and by the end was kind of regretting my decision, especially since I couldn’t see anything that special about the trail. I followed the path for a few minutes, then turned and went right back the way I had come. After three days of constant walking, my legs were starting to feel it, and I didn’t want to subject myself to more walking than I needed to.

Around 3 pm, I made my way back to the community house for the tea ceremony. It turned out to be a bit underwhelming. First of all, the international students who were performing the ceremony weren’t all that good at it. And they weren’t even dressed up in kimono! The whole idea of doing the very precise and deliberate tea ceremony is to portray gracefulness and elegance, so in my opinion having a tea ceremony without wearing kimono is kind of pointless. But who am I to judge?

One of the upsides of the event was that a Japanese lady explained to us in English some of the ceremony’s customs, so we were able to participate using the appropriate manners (or at least try!). The tea ceremony is highly ritualistic, and being a guest involves bowing at the right times, saying the correct phrases, holding your tea cup just so, turning it a specific number of times, wiping the rim off when you’re done, turning it back, and so on. I must say, I think I’m acquiring a bit of a taste for the “real” green tea, which, although thick and rather bitter, has a nice frothy texture due to being beaten with a tea whisk.

All in all, it was a good experience, and really, since I didn’t pay a thing other than my bus fare, how could I complain? It had been a good day, and one of my “budget” days so that I could spend more money on other days, such as the following day’s journey to the big city of…

OSAKA!

But that’s a story for next week! 🙂