Believe E.S.P.

13 04 2009

Statue, Ishikiri, 4/11/2009

On Saturday after a night misspent at an all you can drink/eat ramen restaurant, I got up extra early, took the train to Kyoto Station, and accompanied a portion of my Japanese religion class to Ishikiri, the fortune telling capital of Japan. Ishikiri is an excellent example of the fluid nature of religion in Japan. A famous study conducted in Japan found that more people claimed that they were followers of a religion, such as Shintoism or Buddhism, than there were people in the country by almost a factor of two. Religion in Japan is simply not a fixed entity as it is in the West; it’s entirely normal, for example, to have a Shinto birth ceremony, a Western, Christian wedding, and a Buddhist death ceremony. Also prevalent are folk religions, communal belief systems based on local values and superstitions. Fortune telling in Ishikiri is similar to it’s mysticism derived relatives in other parts of the world, but it is perhaps lent an air of authenticity by it’s propinquity to the common tradition at temples and shrines of the omikuji, a sort of fortune that comes on a piece of paper and has a wide variety of outcomes, from very good to very bad luck.

Fortune Teller, Ishikiri, 4/11/2009

Much like Japanese religious life, fortune telling can be a hodgepodge of various traditions, such as the above store, which is based equally in native Japanese nature worship, Buddhism, mysticism, and even Jewish Kabbalah. The character 占 is the character for fortune telling. There was a panoply of methods available in Ishikiri, from the obvious, such as readings by palm and crystal ball, to the more esoteric, such as tongue reading to determine your health (complete with a chart of forty different tongues to compare).

The seers of Ishikiri also do not express the slightest reservation about the commercial aspect of their services, as evinced by this chart relating price to the accuracy of their predictions. They range from 3,000 yen for a sure thing to 1,000 yen for a decent guess. Other services, such a Feng Shui techniques to adjust the directions of your home (I didn't entirely understand this) and lucky names for your future children can run into the tens of thousands of yen, or hundreds of dollars.

The seers of Ishikiri also do not express the slightest reservation about the commercial aspect of their services, as evinced by this chart relating price to the accuracy of their predictions. They range from 3,000 yen for a sure thing to 1,000 yen for a decent guess. Other services, such a Feng Shui techniques to adjust the directions of your home (I didn't entirely understand this) and lucky names for your future children can run into the tens of thousands of yen, or hundreds of dollars.

A similarly synthetic religious tradition can be found at Ishikiri Shrine, the major tourist attraction in the area. As our professor explained, the original Ishikiri Shrine burned down hundreds of years ago and all records of it’s traditions were lost. Now, all of the shrines ceremonies are of the pinchbeck variety, without the least velleity of truth to them. Ishikiri’s “tradition” is essentially a folk religion in and of itself, based on invented ceremonies that have been lent legitimacy after the fact.

Legitimate or not, Ishikiri Shrine is a popular place.

Legitimate or not, Ishikiri Shrine is a popular place.

One such tradition is based on two stones in the middle of the grounds of the shrine. “Legend” says that if you walk around the outside of the two stones one hundred times your wish will be granted. I passed on that.

Ishikiri stone, Ishikiri, 4/11/2009

Wandering around the grounds, I saw what at first I thought were some colored ropes…

Cranes, , Ishikiri, 4/11/2009

Until I realized they were thousands and thousands of paper cranes. Thinking about how long they must have all taken makes my head hurt.

Cranes 2, Ishikiri, 4/11/2009

On my way back to Kyoto, I stopped in Osaka and paid a visit to a few stores in order to find the actual comic my project for my translation class was based on. After a bit of foot work, I managed to track down and buy most of the author’s work for a pittance (Americans get killed on the price increases in importing this stuff). I have to admit it was odd to hold something I had grown so use to seeing online in my hands. I also finally saw the damn kanji I couldn’t read in the scans due to blurring and the author’s handwriting. Goddamn 普通 and 誘う.

I got back to Kyoto around nine and completely exhausted, but remembered to snap a picture of Kyoto Tower before wandering zombie-like back to my apartment.

Kyoto Tower, Kyoto, 4/11/2009

Music I’m Listening to Now: Peter, Bjorn, and John: “Last Night”.

Bonus! Sort-of Engrish:

Bag 1, Ishikiri, 4/11/2009Bag 2, Ishikiri, 4/11/2009

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Odyssey

11 01 2009

Delicious, delicious Pocari Sweat

Delicious, delicious Pocari Sweat

Well, here we go… As the about page says, I’m a junior at the University of Pennsylvania named Onesimo Sam Bustamante, currently studying at the Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies (KCJS), located, appropriately, in Kyoto, Japan. I’m using this blog as a way of sharing my experiences with friends and family and hopefully keep me motivated to get out and do stuff. My pictures, let me show you them, etc. I’m not much of a photographer or blogger, and both actions feel foreign to me right now, but I’ll do my best to keep this up.

Unfortunately, I forgot to put batteries in my camera (the only thing it seems I forgot, thankfully) so I don’t have any record of the first leg of my trip. It involved a lot of waiting around in airports and the refusal of the many, many meals that Air Singapore offered. Then there were lots of Asian people, and I was photographed and fingerprinted and sent shivering into the Tokyo cold. I’m sure you can picture it in your mind. After traveling to my hostel and setting out early the next morning on the Shinkansen, I reached sunny Kyoto lugging my baggage, which became progressively heavier the longer I walked from the station. I could have taken a shuttle, but the map I had made the distance betwixt the two locations seem minor. This was incorrect. Another thing that was incorrect was the location of the hotel in my guide (thanks, Fodors!), so aftering wandering around for an extra half hour, I was quickly set straight with some directions and reached the hotel. Orientation started the next day with a series of ice breakers and activities designed to familiarize us with Kyoto. The care was excellent, from the upscale hotel housing to the series of provided meals. The main thing that struck me, however, was how truly far I have to go with my Japanese language skills. Hearing faculty and even some of my fellow students speak in rapid-fire Japanese while I struggled to comprehend a phrase uttered several seconds ago was a humbling experience.

The view from the Kamogawa, a river running right outside my hotel and neatly bisecting much of Kyoto into western and eastern halves.

The view from the Kamogawa, a river running right outside my hotel and neatly bisecting much of Kyoto into western and eastern halves.

During orientation I also went with out with a few fellow KCJS’ers and a group of Japanese Kyoto University students. I understood about five percent of what was going on, but it was nevertheless another fun experience. Everyone here, in fact, has been extremely kind and thoughtful, especially the staff of the KCJS program. A fellow student expressed it best that after being used to years of our home universities constantly either neglecting us or trying to screw us over, it was almost odd to have someone actually concerned with your welfare.

It was actually snowing when I took this.

It was actually snowing when I took this.

Now orientation has ended and I’ve moved into my rather small, but cozy, apartment. It accomplishes the no mean feat of including a television, table set, private bathroom, and kitchen all in an area still smaller than my old dorm room. My commute time, however, makes me feel extremely lucky. I am about a five minute walk away from the Kyoto University campus and only a little more to the KCJS facilities. Most of my fellow students who chose homestay, however, have a travel time of an hour or more on average spread out over multiple buses, trains, and walking. That’ll teach them to live with other people.

Until classes start officially I’m spending my time wandering around the city alternately buying essentials for the foreign bachelor’s life freezing my ass off. While this is quite a warm winter in Kyoto, the temperature drops sharply at night. The real problem however, is the high humidity, which creates a bone-chilling cold (called sokobie) that can sneak up on you. I got back to my apartment last night and tried to change my clothes, only to find my fingers too numb to undo the button on my pants.

I took this from my bed. While it may look so cramped that my feet are about to strike the sink, it's a trick of perspective- I would have to slide easily several feet more down the bed before I could reach the faucet with my toes.

I took this from my bed. While it may look so cramped that my feet are about to strike the sink, it's a trick of perspective- I would have to slide easily several feet more down the bed before I could reach the faucet with my toes.

I’ll try and write again and give a better view of my apartment and its surroundings, including Kyoto University’s campus. Until then, I leave you with awesome Engrish:

A fine name for a clothes store.

A fine name for a clothes store.