The Sun Will Rise (Welcoming in the New Year)

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Happy New Year!  I have been a terrible writer this past year.  I have barely written at all, so first and foremost, one of my New Year’s resolutions will be to write more!  

I can’t believe 2013 has ended already.  So much in my life is changing; I’m getting transferred to Hawaii for my job and will be also working out of Okinawa.  My apartment looks like it’s been ransacked due to packing up all my belongings.  As I look back over my pictures from the year I am reminded of all the things I accomplished and was able to experience.  I did quite a bit of traveling, both locally and abroad.  I went to mainland China and Hong Kong, visited Kyoto twice, caught up with high school friends from my time in Shizuoka, ran my first sprint triathlon and first full marathon, and secured a competitive and coveted position at work.  I met a good deal of people, made some new friendships, rekindled some old, and entered into a relationship.

2013 was a year that allowed for growth; there were some truly positive moments (being selected from a large pool of candidates for a very competitive position, crossing the finish line at the Mount Fuji Marathon), and there were also some very difficult times, regarding friendships, relationships, work, and life in general.

I was skyping with my mom recently and I was talking about some of the difficulties I was dealing with in regard to certain relationships and I think the overall sentiment for the New Year will be her advice:

Do good and have faith that good things will happen to you.

So my New Year’s resolutions are as follows:

1. Write more.

2. Be a more dependable person.

3. Be better at keeping constant communication with friends and family.

***

Two years ago I found a local shrine near my home that was up a small hill; the pathway was illuminated by lanterns.  After walking past the main shrine area a bit there was an opening and I could see out across the bay to Yokosuka, Yokohama, and Tokyo.  I could see the ships sitting there, too.  The lights shimmered against the darkness of the night and I remembered the opening of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God:

“Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the same horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time.”

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I looked out on to the black ocean as a child, watching the ships sit against the horizon in the night, and I looked out on to that same darkness this night and thought of how my life has changed over the past two and a half years.  Although I am proud of the person I am continuing to grow into, I do not forget that it has taken some very difficult lessons.  

Here’s to another bountiful year!

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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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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.

Hisashiburi! (It’s been awhile!)

It has been quite some time since I’ve written.  I’ve been busy traveling for work (not in any way glamorous) , so it’s been a bit difficult to update.  The weather has also been repeatedly bad on the weekends, but we  finally got two nice days this weekend.  Today I went up to Enoshima Island, which is connected to the mainland by a bridge which you can drive or walk over.

Enoshima Bridge

Before I go, I should note that this week is “Golden Week,” which is essentially a week full of holidays.  It’s like spring break for the entire nation.  What this means for the rest of us is that transiting becomes more difficult as the volume of people traveling drastically increases; malls flood out.  It’s insane–I forgot all this as I made my way to the Enoden line out of Kamakura and was greeted by a massive crowd on the platform.

Somehow I finally get on the train, and it is by far the most packed train ride I have ever experienced while living in Japan.  The Enoden line is an older railway, and it’s electric.  On days when not packed in the three cars like sardines, travelers can enjoy the scenic ride down to Enoshima along the coast.  I reached Enoshima station and started my trek to the island, along with a throng of people.

Enoshima torii

The island is entirely dedicated to Benzaiten, also known as Saraswati in Hindu mythology.  She is goddess of knowledge and arts, representing the free flow of wisdom and consciousness.

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Enoshima

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Ring

The straw ring is called a chinowa, and shrine-goers walk through it as an act of purification.

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People offer prayers and wishes to Benzaiten to strengthen their love and relationships.  This ema has spots for literally, “boyfriend” and “girlfriend.”

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Omikuji (fortunes) offered to Benzaiten.

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Enoshima view

Enoshima also hosts botanical gardens brimming with vibrant florals.

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Wandering around, I came upon a young man performing tricks with a yo-yo and caught this shot as he caught it behind his head.

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Monkey

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Enoshima is a fantastic spot to visit for those traveling in the Kanagawa area, though without a doubt, spring and summer are the best months to go.

Revisiting Kamakura

We’ve been having a recent string of fantastic weather during the weekends, so it’s been quite conducive to travel.  The lighting has also been lovely as well–the only problem is that once the sun begins to set it turns chilly very quickly.

A local favorite spot of ours is Kamakura, which is littered with shrines and temples.  During the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), it was the former de facto capital of Japan, and the seat of the Shogunate and of the Regency.  The center of the city is the Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gu Shrine, but there are a smattering of other spiritual landmarks.  Plum blossom season is upon us here in Japan, but it’s still a bit early to see fully blossomed trees.  The buds are still in their early stages, but most likely within a few weeks we’ll see some beautiful pinks and reds filling the grounds of these complexes.

The first stop on our “Temple Tour” as we dubbed it (there was a senior citizen walking tour we inadvertently ended up joining at one point), was Egara Tenjin-sha.  One of Japan’s three famous shrines dedicated to the deified spirit of Sugawara Michizane, god of scholarship.  In 1104 legend has it that this shrine was built because a picture of the Tenjin god, or the deified spirit of Sugawara Michizane, fell to this place from the sky during a rain storm.  As a result, much like Yushima Tenjin in Tokyo, students from all around flock to pray for success on their school examinations, as hundreds of wooden ema hang with wishes inscribed on them.

Omikuji, “fortunes,” tied and offered up

 

I can’t wait until the trees are filled with these.  Following the Egara Tenjin-sha we made stop number two, at another small shrine, although I can not remember the name.  But pictures to follow:

We made our way towards Zuisen-ji Temple, which was the site we had ultimately been going to see.  Because it is so early, the plum blossoms were still just buds, so we need to come back in a few weeks, but a few flowers had already bloomed.

Our friend M. looking very thoughtful

Our final stop brought us to a temple up a considerable amount of stairs.  Again I will have to look up the name of the temple, but we had a clear view of Mount Fuji at the top.  This was yet another temple dedicated to the goddess Kannon.

The goddess, Kannon

Night photography in Kamakura and Kurihama

Just a few more days before I am off on holiday back to the states for a week and a half.  Tonight we decided to ride the train into Kamakura looking for last minute goodies for the families; naturally we made our way over to Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū (鶴岡八幡宮).  This is a large Shinto shrine (note: shrines are Shinto, temples are Buddhist), and arguably Kamakura’s most important shrine.  However, this shrine is notable because it was ORIGINALLY started as a Buddhist temple and stayed as such until 1868 when it was converted to a shrine.  In Japan Buddhism and Shinto have a very unique way of mixing together, such that if one were to visit either temple or shrine there would be elements of both in each.  There is a saying in Japan, “Born Shinto, die Buddhist,” and it truly embodies just how intertwined both are in the lives of the Japanese.  Unlike in the West, religion is not inflexible; rather, is it fluid, flowing with the harmony of society.

 

Afterwards we headed back for a well-deserved meal of hot udon, considering we couldn’t feel our hands at one point.

We made one final stop in Kurihama before heading into our nice, warm apartment.  There is a small shrine dedicated to safe birth for expecting mothers, and it has lanterns leading all the way up.