Triathlons, Temples, Typhoons, Oh-my!

Kamakura

Today the winds have been continuously howling from a typhoon that is offshore, and luckily for me, that translated into an extra–much-needed –day off from work.

Recently a work colleague asked if I wanted to participate in a local triathlon, and since I am training for the Fuji Marathon in November, I decided to take him up on the offer.  I am a distance runner, swimmer, but I don’t have my own road bike at the moment and so that was the one portion of the race I wasn’t sure about.  I actually have never ridden a road bike…well….ever.  Needless to say it was going to be an interesting experience!  There is actually a lot more that goes into doing a multi-event race than just a run, because there is all this extra gear and the placement of the gear.  Some people really take the time to arrange things just perfectly.  Let me tell you how that goes in reality: “Oh my god, oh my god gotta move–going so slow–oh crap is the shirt inside-out?  WHY CAN’T I GET THESE BIKE SHORTS ON?!  Okay getting on the bike…crap, wait I have to walk the bike to the course entrance point…ok run the bike there–ok on the bike.  HOW LONG HAVE I BEEN RIDING??  HOW MUCH LONGER??”  And then my personal favorite is the transition from the bike to the run, because YOUR LEGS FEEL LIKE JELLO.  I ended up hitting all the times I was aiming for, so for a first race it was successful.

Yesterday we headed up to Kamakura because a friend was visiting and we wanted to show him some of the local heritage sites.  We took the enoden from Kamakura station to Hase station and made our way to Kotoku-in, which is the temple housing the Dai-Butsu, or Great Buddha of Kamakura.

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The structure that stands today may or may not be the original, which dates back to 1252, during the Kamakura Period.  Originally, the Buddha was enclosed in a hall, but a tsunami in 1498 washed it away, and the Buddha has stood in the open air since.  The structure was also orignally gilded, but having been exposed to the elements, it has all but faded entirely.  A notice on the entrance to the grounds reads:

“Stranger, whosoever thou art and whatsoever be thy creed, when thou enterest this sanctuary remember thou treadest upon ground hallowed by the worship of ages. This is the Temple of Bhudda and the gate of the eternal, and should therefore be entered with reverence.”

Our next stop was Hasedera, a temple dedicated to Kannon.  The temple is on the side of a hill and offers some impressive views of the Kamakura shoreline.  The main structure on the grounds houses a giant wooden statue of Kannon.  The legend goes, a monk once carved two statues of Kannon from great tree.  One was enshrined in Nara, the other set adrift to find the place it had a connection with.  It washed ashore in Kamakura and was enshrined there.

ShintoYoung woman in a kimono partakes in purification before ascending the mountain to the main complex.

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Statues offered by parents mourning miscarried, stillborn, or aborted foetuses to the Buddhist deity Ksitigarbha, or “Jizo” as he is known in Japanese.

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Tsukiji Fish Market

Oh my goodness I think it’s been over a MONTH since I’ve last written! My job has kept me quite busy–not much travel since China but I do have a little to write about. I refuse to talk about work on here because it’s actually quite dreadful at times, but something of note did occur recently. I was selected among many applicants to begin pursuing a much more specialized pipeline. What that means for me is more opportunities and MORE TRAVEL! Because let’s face it, that’s what really motivates me at the end of the day.

Another item of note is that within the last few weeks I’ve drastically changed my diet. Unfortunately my worst vice is I am an avid Coke Zero drinker, and it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to kick the habit just yet, but I’ve really begun to incorporate much more tea and water into my daily routine. Green tea, Oolong tea, and Peppermint tea are my favorites. Tea is one of those things you actually can drink as much as you want of; and Green Tea actually has hydrating properties. All teas have health benefits because of their anti-oxidants, including but not limited to catalysts for weight loss, cancer prevention, and anti-aging. You can read more about the health benefits of tea here.

I’ve also been incorporating much more protein, potassium, and healthy lipids into my diet, and it’s helped me lose a few of those stubborn pounds that I’ve been trying to lose for years. For me, since I am a distance runner, I often find I am plagued with painful cramps in my calves after runs. Potassium greatly alleviates this problem. With regard to weight loss, the secret is there is no secret. A healthy diet and exercise are ultimately what it comes down to. With the emphasis placed on DIET.

Anyway, on to the travel! This weekend we made our way up to Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, which is the largest wholesale fish and seafood market in the world. The market opens up at 3 AM and products are shipped in from all over the world.

We stayed in the APA Hotel nearby, which was affordable and clean. The rooms were quite small (typical of Japanese hotels), yet convenient with comfortable beds.

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And no Japanese hotel room is complete without the attention to detail:

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We left our hotel at 3:45 AM only to find the tickets for the daily auction (starting at 5:20 AM) were already sold out by 3:15! So we took a walk by the Tsukiji Shrine, ate some fresh, early morning sushi at a nearby restaurant, and made our way back to our hotel for a few more hours of sleep before returning later that day.

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Specialized knives for cutting fish for sale in Tsukiji Market

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More adventures to follow!

Kamakura Again and Return to Shizuoka

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These past two weeks have been quite busy at work, but definitely not busy enough to stop us from enjoying the good weather and traveling a bit.  To catch up, last weekend we traveled to Kita-Kamakura to visit some famous Zen sites.  We started the day at Engaku-ji, one of the most important Zen Buddhist complexes in Japan, and ranked 2nd among Kamakura’s “Five Mountains,” or state-sponsored Zen complexes.

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This temple was founded in 1282 by a Zen priest at the request of the Regent Tokimune Hojo.  It was built to honor those killed in battles against the Mongolian Invasion between 1274 and 1281, obviously as well as to spread Zen thought.  There are 18 temples on the complex, and it is home to 2 national treasures: the Shari-den (the Reliquary Hall built in the sixteenth century Chinese style, said to house the tooth of Buddha), and the Great Bell (said to be the largest in Kamakura).  You can read more about Engaku-ji here.

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After walking around Engaku-ji we made our way over to Tokei-ji, founded in 1285 by the wife of Hojo Tokimune, who then became a nun after his death.  In memory of her husband’s death, she opened the temple, also making it a place for battered women to take refuge.  If a women stayed at Tokei-ji for 3 years, the state recognized her as officially divorced.  It is estimated that 2000 women took refuge there.

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This weekend I visited my favorite place in Japan: Shizuoka.  A few weeks ago my friend S. came up from Shizuoka to visit me.  We were classmates in Shizuoka Johoku Girls High School (now co-ed).  We met up with a few of our other friends and went to Muse Cafe, which is full of stuffed pandas, chandeliers, and American pop music playing in the background.  For 3000 yen per person you can do free time, with quite a good deal of food and unlimited drinks.  The only caveat: sorry, gentlemen, men are not allowed to enter.  I’m not completely sure why; I think it’s to provide women with an atmosphere to chat and eat together in without the noisiness of men.  In Japan, genders are more segregated than in the United States, so it isn’t that unusual.

Quite a few of our classmates are getting married; we made a video for our friend, wishing her luck and happiness.  Mostly everyone is busy working, buying apartments, and the like.  Some of our teachers are still at Johoku; we reminisced about our English teacher’s class, having to memorize idioms (they memorized the English, I memorized the Japanese).  Everyone seems to be doing well, and it was lovely being able to see them all.  I love Shizuoka City, too, walking down all the old familiar streets I used to ride my bicycle to school on.  Things have changed but somehow still remain the same.

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Ghosts of Kyoto

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This past weekend we traveled down to Kyoto.  It is an absolutely ancient place, with human civilization having been established there as far back as 10,000BC.  The prosperous city that we see today is the modern-day version of Heian-Kyo (peace and tranquility capital), seat of the Imperial Court in 794.  It is absolutely full to the brim with culture–tourists are numerous.  Kyoto is magnificent because one can truly see so many different cultural aspects converging; the city itself was built as a scale replica of the Tang Dynasty’s capital, Chang’an.  I will do more features in this blog on Japanese history and the significance of the Chinese and Japanese relationship over time, but for now, just a brushing on Kyoto.  It is very Nihon-rashii (Japanese-like), and another interesting thing is that the people in the region speak Kansai-ben.   I recognized it instantly as I heard a few older gentlemen conversing in the train station.

What in the world is Kansan-ben? you might ask.  In Japanese, many different dialects are used; with the exception of the extreme north (Aomori, Akita) and Okinawa, most dialects do not largely differ.  The standard on television and the news, of course, is the Tokyo dialect, “Tadashii Nihongo.”  Kansai-ben changes some words and emotion-enhancers, and is super noticeable to Japanese people (and for some reason, really entertaining to them).  So Here is an example of standard vs. Kansai dialect:

Standard: “Hontou ni?” (Really?)

Kansai: “Honma ni?” (Really?)

Standard: “Kyo, hontou ni samui da ne.” (Today is really cold, isn’t it?)

Kansai: “Kyo, honma samui ya ne.” (Same meaning as above)

I don’t know why, but this sounds really funny to Japanese people.  Most big comedians are from the Kansai region.

Friday evening we tooled around Gion and were able to spy a few Geisha running here and there to appointments; sadly, as I frantically tried to snap photos with my camera, I didn’t realize I had turned it off and somehow couldn’t manage to turn it on.  My friend was able to steal a lovely photo; I’m honestly surprised we saw so many (2 or 3), considering there aren’t many left.

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We sung karaoke, walked around, visited a temple in the snow (too dark for good photos), and ate at a delicious ramen spot called Ippudo.  

The next day we headed out early so we could get in as many sights as possible, starting with the famed Fushimi-Inari shrine.  

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The shrine is dedicated to the deity, Inari, who is sometimes male, sometimes female.  Merchants pray to Inari for wealth; hence the famous “thousand torii gates” (they are dedicated by businesses and merchants).

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After we left the Shrine, we made our way toward Ryoanji Temple.  Ryoanji is known for its zen rock garden, which may imply a deeper meaning behind the arrangement of the garden.  You can read more about it–> here.

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Finally, after Ryoanji, we headed up to the Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion complex.

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Kinkaku-ji originally served as a villa for a wealthy statesman, and eventually was purchased by the Ashikaga Shogunate and transformed into the complex.  It has a somewhat odd history; in the 1950s a mentally unstable novice monk burned down the pavillon and unsuccessfully attempted suicide.  The structure that stands today is from 1955 (the original was not actually gold).  The gold was added to the current temple as a physical symbol of purification from any negative thoughts toward death.

Visiting Kyoto felt like going through an old photo album; I was there in 2005 with my classmates from Johoku High School on our class trip.  At first it seemed like an unfamiliar place, and then slowly, as I went to these same places–through the streets of Gion, in front of a school for young Geisha, walking on the cool wooden floors of the Ryoanji Temple, standing before Kinkaku-ji with the sunlight illuminating its golden walls, the memories came flooding back and it was familiar once more.  There is an imprint with everything we do; these ghosts that roam the streets remind us of who we once were and how far we have come.

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Harajuku + Asakusa

Although it has been cold here, it was sunny all weekend, and so the perfect time to do a little sightseeing. To be quite honest, we’re running out of places to go in Kanagawa, so once work permits I think we’ll try and take some trips down to Western Japan.

Saturday I went up to Harajuku for a little shopping, but before that I made a stop at Meiji-Jingu. Built in 1915 to honor the Emperor Meiji and his wife, it is located in Yoyogi Park and is a pleasant break from the surrounding city.

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Just as I was about to leave the main complex a wedding procession entered:

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After leaving Meiji Jingu I headed into downtown Harajuku for some sightseeing and shopping. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Japan, Harajuku is a quite fashionable–yet highly eccentric–area in Tokyo. On Sundays (and I still have yet to go) many young men and women who are into the quirky fashions get together and hang out near the station, readily providing eager sightseers and onlookers photographs.

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Today we headed up to Asakusa to visit Kappabashi-dori, aka “Kitchen Town.” It’s an area in Tokyo where one can buy restaurant items wholesale. From the famous plastic food items found in Japanese display cases to the hanging red lanterns outside ramen shops and izakaya, if it’s for the food business, chances are you can find it on Kappabashi-dori. All over Kappabashi-dori are images and figurines of Kappa, water nymphs of Japanese folklore. Kappa are creatures which can have natures ranging from innocently mischievous to outright cruel.

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Famous plastic food found in display windows:
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Taiyaki maker
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All the ketchup and mustard bottles you could ever need!
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With the Tokyo Skytree and Asahi Beer Hall behind me
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Until next time!

Sankei-en Garden

It has FINALLY cooled down here!  In fact, the weather has been ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS!  On Monday I woke up and went for a run before heading up to Yokohama to go visit the Sankei-en Garden.  It was built in 1906 by a silk trader named Tomitaro Hara who went by the pseudonym Sankei Hara.  He purchased an extensive collection of historically significant buildings from all over Japan and brought them to his garden, which he largely designed himself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The above photo was taken inside the Former Yanohara House, a home originally from Gifu prefecture dating back to the Edo Period.  The house was HUGE!  There are a few original areas still intact–the hearth above is one of them.  It was definitely an interesting structure.

 

 

The Tomyo-ji three story pagoda was originally constructed in Kyoto in 1457 and relocated in 1916 to the garden.

 

Wooden carvings of the goddess, Kannon, on the doors of Tenzui-ji’s former Jutō Ōi-dō, built in 1591 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi as the final resting place for his mother.  He’s one of the major historical figures for Japan, playing a large role in the country’s unification.

 

The Rinshunkaku pictured above originally belonged to the Kii House of Tokugawa (the Tokugawa clan had three “branches,” Kii, Owari, and Mito).

 

 

The Chōshūkaku is another structure associated with the Tokugawa clan.

The entire garden is very Nihon-rashii, or “Japanese-like,” and even some of the Japanese tourists walking around commented, “It feels like Kyoto, doesn’t it?”  I recommend checking Sankei-en out if you’re in the area, and it’s especially great for locals who want the “Kyoto feel” but can’t necessarily devote an entire weekend traveling 4+ hours away by Shinkansen.

Hopefully as the leaves turn I’ll be able to get some more shots, maybe a Sankei-en round 2 trip is in store…

Just a few shots

The days have been incredibly long at my job, so I can not express just how relaxing it is to come home, listen to Edith Piaf, and have a cup of tea before bed.  Especially when the hours you are working look something like wake up at 5 AM and don’t return home until around 9 PM.  Staying focused has been difficult recently; we’ve been working 7 day weeks and it’s not certain when we will stop.  I’ve dug up a few shots I took awhile back that I’ve always liked, so I’ll go ahead and post them tonight.

So on a completely random note, one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to listen to more music, and now that I have a big-girl-job I can actually afford to download pretty much all the music that I want on itunes.  Recently I’ve been listening to The Who’s Tommy, which I was introduced to through my all-time favorite, Almost Famous.  It’s pretty wild, and if you’re into concept albums like myself, it’s worth a listen.  Totally bizarre.  And on the topic of music, I can’t wait for Mumford and Sons’ new album to be released.  Definitely looking forward to that one.