River Card

25 04 2009

Flowers 1, Kyoto, 4/22/2009

For our last group class event before our “graduation” ceremony, most of KCJS took a boat down Hozugawa and into Arashiyama. The weather was perfect Spring weather, neither too hot or cold, and occasionally interrupted by an errant cool breeze. A trip down the Hozugawa is hardly a white-knuckle experience, but there was the occasional rapid straight and quick drop off to break up the two hour trip. And to top it all off, KCJS paid the 4,000 yen fee that otherwise would have been a non-starter for me. It was nice, but it wasn’t that nice.

Along the way, we passed a huge field, slightly odd site in an area of the country where space is at a premium. Horticulture is not my specialty, so all I can add is “sure looks pretty, huh?”

Flowers 2Flowers 3

After a brief wait we set out in several boats down river, into the heart of darkness. Or back into Kyoto. You know, whatever.

River 1, Kyoto, 4/22/2009River 2, Kyoto, 4/22/2009

We also passed a wide variety of the local fauna on the way down, from cranes to fish to turtles. We saw two turtles (who I unfortunately couldn’t photograph in time) stacked on top of each other. I’m not sure whether they were having wild turtle sex or that’s just something turtles do in their free time, but it looked difficult.

Crane, Kyoto, 4/22/2009

As the river entered a valley…

River 2, Kyoto, 4/22/2009

…we passed a number of landmarks, from temples to oddly named rocks, such as “Lion Rock” and “Pole in Hole Rock” (which, sadly, I also missed).

River Temple, Kyoto, 4/22/2009

Supposedly the forest in the background is supposed to look like a smiley face. It's hard to see anything, but to all of us it looked much more like a skull.

Supposedly the forest in the background is supposed to look like a smiley face. It's hard to see anything, but to all of us it looked much more like a skull.

Bridge, Kyoto, 4/22/2009

We passed under the same bridge (and maybe same train) we used to get upriver.

We passed under the same bridge (and maybe same train) we used to get upriver.

After four months here, Japan still has plenty left to surprise me. Towards the end of our trip, we saw several boats upriver. Obviously, I was initially concerned about overly ambitious Somali pirates, but it turned out to be overly ambitious Japanese merchants. The boats were in fact mobile, on-river convenience stores, selling everything from cold beer to whole squids. They pulled along side our boat and started hocking their wares.

Merchant 1, Kyoto, 4/22/2009Merchant 2, Kyoto, 4/22/2009

Finally, we reached the end of the river. And found out that KCJS wasn’t paying for our trip back. Ah, well, you can’t have everything, I suppose. This is my last post from Kyoto, my home since January, and one of my last posts in Japan. I have to leave my apartment on Monday, and on May 5th I leave Japan and, thanks to timezone differences, arrive an hour earlier on the same day in L.A., and from there I go to Denver to meet my sister. All of my classes turned out fine, so I’m leaving Kyoto with a relatively clean conscience and even more cleaned out bank account. From here, I’m going to Nara, Osaka, Ise, Nagoya, Mt. Fuji, and Tokyo, taking pictures all the while. Hopefully I’ll be in a situation to make at least a few more posts before I head back to the U.S. To everyone whose taken the time to read this, thank you very much. I really appreciated all the comments, and the knowledge that someone (even if the audience was rather small) wanted to read this kept me going when all I wanted to do was listen to music. I appreciate you spending your time here.

Arashiyama, home of Monkey Mountain. I'm pretty much monkeyed out after Miyajima, however.

Arashiyama, home of Monkey Mountain. I'm pretty much monkeyed out after Miyajima, however.

Music I’m Listening to Now: A.C. Newman, “Submarines of Stockholm”.

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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





Forget The Flowers

9 04 2009

Hanami, Kyoto, 4/8/2009

I imagine you’re all sick of sakura by now, but the cherry blossom season is a major part of the year in Japan. One of the most common activities is hanami, or flower viewing. Basically you take a meal and a bit of alcohol and sit around, admiring the trees and realizing that the blossoms will soon be gone, taken by birds and the wind, pondering the transience of existence. This all makes much more sense after you’ve been drinking.

The temperature jumped up about fifteen degrees over the weekend.

The temperature jumped up about fifteen degrees over the weekend.

I’m nearly done with the KCJS program, and now I’m beginning to reflect on the program, prompted in part by a letter I received from a former Japanese teacher asking me to recount my experiences in Japan. My main dilemma is that it’s hard for me to separate the program from being in Japan; did I have fun here because or in spite of KCJS? I’m not entirely sure, but I did appreciate the many efforts KCJS made to try and get people involved and give us all something to do. Some of their attempts (such as the community invovlement project) were annoying as hell, but I came to appreciate them over time. Unfortunately, the classes outside of those for Japanese language are a mixed bag. I really enjoyed my translation course, but Japanese religion was nightmarishly boring. It was like some seperate, hellish dimension where every hour in the real world was an enternity for everyone listening for the umpteenth time about how religion was “domesticated” in the Tokugawa era. Seriously, we had like forty goddamn classes on that topic.

And now, music. The new Neko Case, Middle Cyclone, continues to be awesome. Here’s a video for “People Got a Lotta Nerve”.

Japanese game shows continue to amaze me, especially this one. Don’t they have laws against this sort of thing?

Music I’m Listening to Now: “Rosewood, Wax, Voltz + Glitter”, Red Red Meat. I actually payed for this cd on iTunes  (thanks for the gift certificate, Molly and Chris). The former band Tim Rutili, of Califone fame, has a much more emphasis an distorted guitars and dirty blues, but you can definitely see the roots of Califone’s gothic Americana, especially in the ballads, such as closing track “There’s Always Tomorrow”. Here’s one of the highlights of the record, “Chain, Chain, Chain”:





Spring Hall Convert

5 04 2009

Street outside Kyodai and Yoshida Jinja, Kyoto, 4/1/2009

After my last post discussing the virtues of Kyoto in Spring, the city has had several weeks of alternately cold and rainy weather, with the occasional sunny, warm day only a brief respite. With April, however, it seems that Spring is finally settling in. The temperature is rising, the sun is shining late into the day, and the sakura are practically exploding off their branches, turning even mundane streets into picturesque locales. Above is the street I take everyday to get to my apartment.

The beginning of April also marks the start of the new school year in Japan, and with it comes club recruitment. Clubs are highly important in Japanese schools, often providing the main source of socialization during a student’s school years, and are especially central in Japanese colleges, where the work load is much smaller compared to previous levels of education. It’s not unusual to find students who devote much more of their time and effort to their club than to their scholastic pursuits, and consequently club recruitment is a large and important process. The variety of clubs offered is staggering, with options stretching from cheerleading to kendo to tennis to anime to basketball. When all are out making their pitch, you get some interesting mixes…

Club Recruitment 1, Kyoto, 4/1/2009

Cheerleading and cosplay, together at last.

Cheerleading and cosplay, together at last.

Club Recruitment 3, Kyoto, 4/1/2009

I recently went on a field trip to Eiga Mura, or Movie Village, with my translation class. Eiga Mura is a theme park devoted to Japanese movies, specifically period pieces chronicling the adventures of various samurai, geisha, and ninjas; essentially a Japanese Universal Studios. It’s a bit of a tourist trap, but it was pretty entertaining when I didn’t have to pay for it. We saw a new translation machine that some engineers are working on in conjunction with Eiga Mura. When you speak into the machine it checks a database based on information taken from the internet and returns an appropriate response. Or should. While I was impressed with it’s ability to handle set phrases and simple sentences, the machine has some big problems with consonants and longer phrases and words. When I tried saying “extraordinary” it translated it as an “l” with a period after it. Not quite. It also has no ability to handle slang, and accents are a challenge. For it’s purported objective (an aid for tourists) it’s probably sufficient, but anyone who wants to have an actual conversation is going to have to stick with learning the language for now.

I didn’t take too many pictures as our time was limited, but I had a pretty good time, and saw a rather entertaining show based on a  spell-casting warrior and his incompetent assistant versus and evil lord and his wife. It was as expected over-the-top and goofy, but done with such heart it’s impossible not to enjoy it. The sentai exhibit (sentai is basically a genre for masked fighters for justice) was a powerful blast of nostalgia for anyone who ever watched Power Rangers.

A few villains from the various series.

A few villains from the various series.

Every red ranger...

Every red ranger...

...ever. There was a couple dozen more after this too.

...ever. There was a couple dozen more after this too.

The best thing about these sorts of shows and the many others they inspired, from mecha shows to magical girl anime are the many hilarious lines they have about courage, including “The Earth doesn’t need your mechanization! What it needs is OUR BURNING COURAGE!”, “Have you forgotten, Mamoru? Victory goes to…THOSE WITH COURAGE!”, “If I’m the devil, then I’ll use hell’s ways to make you listen”, “I’ll make the impossible possible”, and “You don’t need probability when you’ve got guts!” Awesome.

Music I’m Listening to Now: “Herring Bone”, Department of Eagles





Not For The Season

19 03 2009

Sakura, Kyoto, 3/17/2009

Spring has finally begun in Kyoto, and unlike the weekend of warm weather that served as an all-to-short break from the constant rain and chill of the last few months, it seems here to stay. I’ve honestly been a little bored at night, so I’ve been doing a lot of translation and taking late night bike rides. Late night bicycle rides are a pleasure in Kyoto, as in contrast to my native land, my chances of being run over or stabbed actually go down, instead of skyrocketing. One thing I noticed is that there’s cats everywhere. The alley I use to get out from my apartment complex is apparently full of them, as I discovered when I looked up and noticed there were at least three or four in a small niche formed between a wall and a overhanging roof. I opted not to photograph them- I wouldn’t be entirely enthusiastic about having a flash in my face that late at night either.

While Kyoto and Japan in general has as much crime in a year as the average American Denny’s does in a month, the city is not entirely law-abiding. I had the rare opportunity to see the results of some actual political activism on the side of a building located near our special gaijin class/leper colony located on the Kyoto University campus.

Kyodai graffiti, Kyoto, 3/12/09The graffiti is demanding an end to "5-year firing". I'm not particularly well versed in Kyoto University's personnel practices, so I'm not entirely sure what this means.

The graffiti is demanding an end to “5-year firing”. I’m not particularly well versed in Kyoto University’s personnel practices, so I’m not entirely sure what this means.

We’ve hardly gotten back to class from Spring Break and we’re already going on a number of excursions. Next week is our class trip to Hiroshima (and once again [for me, at least] to Miyajima) and this week we went to a Museum of Ethnology in Osaka. It’s mascot: apparently a giant, angry stone face.

Stone Face, Osaka, 3/16/09

This is about half my Japanese class.

This is about half my Japanese class.

I think this sign speaks for itself.

I think this sign speaks for itself.

The museum was slightly disappointing, primarily because it seemed our main objective in going there was to have a box recite a story to us in several Japanese dialects that only further reinforced that I have a long way to go before I understand even standard Japanese. Dialects in Japan are unlike American dialects in that it’s possible for two people to be speaking “Japanese” and still not understand each other. The dialects associated with different regions, such as Kansai and Hokkaido, resemble foreign languages more than, say, an American Southern accent. The museum did have some nice displays, however.

Ethnology Museum Display 1, Osaka, 3/16/2009Ethnology Museum, Osaka, 3/16/2009

On our way back we saw a now closed amusement park whose name, Expo Land, rather clearly highlights it’s place on the timeline.

Expo Land, Osaka, 3/16/2009

I’ll post next week on my class trip to Hiroshima, and possibly Miyajima again. Everybody loves seeing the same pictures of someones vacation, right?

Music I’m Listening to Now: Grizzly Bear, “Cheerleader”.





Open All Night

28 02 2009

A full moon in Kyoto. And a streetlight.

A full moon in Kyoto. And a streetlight.

Here’s that convenience store post I promised. Convenience stores, called “conbini” in Japan, are quite similar to stores usually found connected to gas stations in America, except your chances of being shot are much lower. Conbini’s also usually include a fuller selection of items you might actually be able to eat for dinner and not feel ashamed, such as servings of sushi instead of powdered donuts. They usually have those too, though. Much like the ubiquitous Japanese vending machine, conbini are everywhere, in almost every mildly populated area. There are a few major chains pictured below, but there are also a number of privately owned ones that have a similar function.

There may or may not be an actual "Lawson".

According to Wikipedia, there is an actual "Lawson", and the chain originated in Ohio.

The most common chain in Kyoto is probably Lawson, which also has a number of permutations, such as Lawson Plus…

Lawson Plus, Osaka, 2/3/2009

The writing below the sign and the anthropomorphic can is actually a pun. "Genki ni narou" is Japanese for "let's get healthy", but in this case the "narou" is ending with a Katakana "son", so it becomes "narouson", similar to the pronunciation of Lawson in Japanese, "Ro-sun". Badum-pssh!

and the special one hundred yen Lawsons…

which I realized I don’t have a picture of. I’ll try and remedy that eventually. There’s also many of the same chains found in America, from 7-11…

Wikipedia also says that 7-11 is the largest convenience store chain in Japan. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Wikipedia also says that 7-11 is the largest convenience store chain in Japan. U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

and Circle K.

Circle K, Kyoto, ??/??/2009

Another large player in the area is Family Mart, the Kwik-E-Mart of the far East. Or not.

Family Mart, Kyoto, ??/??/2009

Other establishments include the Daily Yamazaki

Daily Yamazaki, Kyoto, ??/??/2009

and AM/PM.

AM/PM, Kyoto, ??/??/2009

There’s also this chain, which I’ve only seen in one place.

Coco!, Kyoto, ??/??/2009

Bonus: Can you tell the difference between these two pictures?

Boss Coffee Machine, Kyoto, ??/??/2009Tommy Lee Jones Boss Machine, Kyoto, ??/??/2009

Answer: only one of them is smoking a pipe. This is an example of the many weird forms of advertising American celebrities do in Japan to make a quick buck promoting items they would widely be mocked for using back in the States. Tommy Lee Jones representing Suntory Boss Coffee is a surprisingly good match, however.

Music I’m Listening to Now: Neko Case, “I’m an Animal”. This song is like two minutes long, and I’ve just been looping it while writing this post. It’s still catchy.





Buckets of Rain

14 02 2009

Kamogawa, Kyoto, 2/11/2009

Sorry for the lack of original content lately. I’m sure you’re sick of hearing this, but I’ve been really busy. Work isn’t the intense struggle it was last semester, but I have my fingers in a lot of pies lately, so sometimes I feel a little strained. Luckily, it’s been getting warmer lately, though that hasn’t stopped the rain, unfortunately, which has also contributed to the lack of photos. No matter how long I live in places like Philadelphia and Kyoto, I can’t get used to it raining all day.

I'm getting used to coming home soaked, even with an umbrella.

I'm getting used to coming home soaked, even with an umbrella.

When the rain occasionally lets up, I’ve been going on a lot of bike rides. You need fast reflexes here, but it usually get nice and relaxed at night. Also, night is when the animals comes out, as evinced by these pictures. This is for you, Mom.

Cats at Teramachi, Kyoto, 2/12/2009

There's actually four cats in both of these photos; can you see the fourth one?

There's actually four cats in both of these photos; can you see the fourth one?

Today is Valentine’s Day in Japan. The holiday works a little differently here- on Valentine’s Day proper, only women give chocolate, and they give it to many different people, including family members and people they’re socially obligated to (i.e., superiors) as well as romantic interests and in recent times female friends. On White Day, exactly one month later on March 14th, people who received chocolate (traditionally men) are supposed to pay back the giver with something sweet. I’ve honestly learned far more than I wanted to know about the damn thing due to a project I have for my Japanese class, but what can you do. It’s good practice- I do feel like I’m hearing speech a little better these days. I’m also throwing myself into translating, and I’m doing something right now that has a tough combination of being slightly above my level and having some hard-to-read kanji that only serves to further complicate matters.

Here's a random picture from the Kyodai campus. The banner is protesting the recent Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Here's a random picture from the Kyodai campus. The banner is protesting the recent Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip.

Also, check out my friend David’s blog (it’s the first entry in my blogroll to the right). David’s in Prague right now and is taking some beautiful pictures of the incredible architecture there. Though the tower covered in babies still scares me.

Music I’m Listening to Now: “Bring It On Home To Me”, originally Sam Cooke, cover by Spoon. An excellent example of what Spoon does best (rhythmic, catchy songs without a ounce of fat on them), and a great song.