Monday, November 14, 2011

Kyoto Lights

Saturday night we went to Kyoto to see the lights. During the fall some of the temples and shrines light up their grounds to show off their foliage. The event is every night in November, begins at sunset and ends at 10pm. The shops and restaurants also stay open which is so weird now that we've gotten used to everything closing by 6pm. We were a little early, the leaves weren't quite changed yet, but the weather was perfect and the evening was very moody. Apparently the word moody has been adopted by Japanese people but means romantic when they use it. We went to the same temple we visited this summer, Kiyomizudera. This is the place where there is water you can drink that is supposed to bring good health. I took lots of pictures but didn't bring my tripod – big mistake. Since there was such low light the shutter remained open for a fairly long time and let's just say I could never be a surgeon. Here are the least blurry photos I took with my shaky hands.

Nov 11 Pocky Day

November 11 is a very lucky day in Japan. It's because to Japanese people 11/11 looks like いい, which means "good". In order to celebrate the 11th people eat Pocky, delicious chocolate covered candy, which also look like the number 1. You can find them in the US too (or so we've been told).

Because this was November 11, 2011 people were very excited about Pocky. One of my classmates brought some in and here is a picture with us enjoying our Pocky. The class technically has 20 people in it, but, as you can see, many of them missed out on some delicious Pocky. The Japanese woman on the left is our sensei. Standing next to her is an Australian and then a man from India. You should recognize the woman in orange. Next to me is a woman from England, then another American, and then a Korean woman.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Cultural Day November 3

Last Thursday was Cultural Appreciation Day, yet another day off for Craig. The day is in celebration of the announcement of the Japanese constitution after WWII. We were expecting cultural events and looked at English webpages but couldn't find any. Some museums have discounted tickets but we've been to most of them in town so we decided to go to Osaka instead. In Osaka is Osaka Jo (castle). The castle was originally built in the early 1600's and has been destroyed numerous times. The last reconstruction was right before WWII.

Next to a modern skyscraper the castle looks pretty small but the two moats and walls are imposing.

I really should wear my glasses since I totally thought these were real. I'm not the only one, a little boy ran up and grabbed one of the birds and, I think, was a bit surprised he manged to catch it.

Instructions on how to use a western style toilet were posted in the public restrooms.

The park around the castle is beautiful. Since it was a day off there were a lot of people picnicking, playing badminton (a major thing here), fishing in the moat, and soaking in the culture. One thing Japanese people seem to love to do on holidays is have mini-parades with floats that people wearing matching outfits either carry or pull. Before the parade there was lots of traditional (I'm guessing) dancing. People even danced on top of the floats.

Two famous foods in Osaka are okonomiyaki and takoyaki. We had some delicious okonomiyaki for lunch and then some takoyaki for a snack while circumambulating the park. Craig takes his takoyaki very seriously.
The outside of the museum was built to look as accurate as they could make it based on historical records but the inside is a modern museum. It was totally not worth it. Going to the park and seeing the castle was great but the museum was lacking. There was about 5 facts that were repeated over 8 stories.

Kyoto with Sakamoto-sensei

In Kobe there is the Kobe International Community Center. One of the services they provide is free weekly one-on-one Japanese lessons. Craig and I have both been going there. My tutor is named Sakamoto-sensei. She is really great. Craig's tutor doesn't speak English so all they do is study from a book, but Sakamoto-sensei speaks English and is happy to answer my questions. She is the person who explained the mystery of whether we were eating animal or vegetable, she translated some English into Japanese for me so I can make fliers advertising my English tutoring skills, and she even recommended a good Japanese shampoo.
A while ago I brought her a flier that had something to do with an exhibit of works by impressionists and post-impressionists that came from the Washington D.C. National Gallery. She explained to me where and when the exhibit was happening and, also being a lover of the arts, volunteered to go with me to Kyoto to see the exhibit. We went on a beautiful Thursday in October. It was so nice to go with someone who could read all the signs and understand all the announcements. Craig and I get along just fine but I think we both suspect we're never doing anything in the most straight forward way.

Here we are outside the museum. It was actually a pretty small collection but all were quite beautiful and, because I couldn't read the info on the sides of the paintings, I really did just study the paintings. Sakamoto-sensei has traveled a lot and has been to France a number of times. She pointed out the places she had been that had also inspired various paintings.
After the museum we went to lunch. She had done some research and had discovered a famous Japanese buffet restaurant. I teased that the owners would see an American walk in and panic I'd eat all their profit margin. The food was what she described as "Japanese mama cooking." It was all really good. No sushi and there wasn't much that was fried. The dishes had lots of veggies and some fish. A lot of it I would describe as salads. There were foot long pieces of gobo (burdock root) that was battered and fried (I think the only fried food there). I had no idea if you were supposed to use chop sticks to eat it but Sakamoto-sensei used her fingers so I knew that was the proper way to do it.

After lunch she showed me around some of the shrines and temples in Kyoto. Craig and I had been there before but it was nice going with someone who knew more about the area. For instance, on the walk up to one temple there are a bunch of sweet shops that Craig and I had ignored. Turns out they give out crazy amounts of free samples so I got to try banana flavored mochi with azuki paste and regular mochi with chocolate - I preferred the chocolate. In one of the temples there was an exhibit of paper cutting art that was amazing. The artist created these really complicated scenes that would include details like whiskers on cats or steam rising from a bowl of soup all by cutting up a single piece of paper. After all the walking around we decided we deserved some dessert for our dinners (we had each told our husbands they were on their own for dinner that night). Afterwards we caught a train back to Kobe.

I know I've said it before but I'm going to keep saying - I owe a lot to people like Sakamoto-sensei who are willing to volunteer their time to teach or simply answer my questions and I totally have to pay-it-forward and volunteer myself when we get back to the states.