Monday, June 06, 2005

IT finally happened...

You’ll find out what finally happened a little further down, please bear with me.

I’ve got a business card! Yoshi presented them to me as I was having a wonderful Bento lunch on Friday at the office... most if it’s in Japanese but here it is one side with my name and info, the other with what my responsibilities are at AEON.

Now, yesterday, I had the wonderful opportunity to join Stacy and Takashi to go visit a town nearby called Mashiko which is famous for its pottery. Stacy also wanted to go visit a nearby temple while we were there. First of all, just the chance to start visiting Japan is amazing enough... getting around by car is one up from that... and then the thing that totally blow this out of the water is that this Buddhist temple is one of the oldest in eastern Japan AND that Takashi is a trained\training (not quite sure) Buddhist priest! How amazing is that... kind of like getting a tour of Microsoft guided by Bill Gates... so here are the day's happenings along with some shots I took. Please forgive the relatively poor picture quality as the weather didn't cooperate...

So first of all, this was my first time in a Japanese car... why is this a big deal you ask? Well I must remind you that the Japanese (like the Brits) drive on the left side of the road, which means the steering wheel is on the right side of the car. This means that multiple times through the day I would attempt to get into the driver's side door of the car... to Stacy and Takashi's amusement I'm sure. Not only that, but the experience of being a front seat passenger in a car zooming through a foreign country's countryside on narrow roads AND on the wrong side of these roads made for a rather trippy experience... though much fun. Here's a quick shot I took from the car once I realized it was my first time in a car in Japan, notice the oncoming car on the RIGHT...

As I said, Mashiko is very famous for it's pottery artisans who craft some truly beautiful pieces of pottery... some of which are worth more than I make in a month... a few of which are worth more than I make in a few months.... but as you arrive in Mashiko, and park in this wonderful lot, you get a glance of this odd animal, a Tanuki. Now they had one of these at the Japanese Village which always freaked Sherry out... thank god she didn't see this multiple story effigy... oh yeah, and he's not riding a broom and those aren't his feet....

Essentially from what I understand the Tanuki is an animal which signifies or brings wealth and prosperity to people\towns\etc??? And the bigger lower carvings of the statue, the more prosperity is brought. Now, by comparing the size of THAT and the price of some of the pottery in the stores, I'd have to say it works... After our arrival, we walked on down the main street of Mashiko.

Here's a quick shot of a very nice pottery gallery\shop. I'm sad I didn't get many shots of some of the pottery but I felt odd taking pictures of stuff and not buying anything... lol

This is a place called Indigo, which dies wool using traditional methods, ash of some kind I think. Notice the roof, very old building...

The wool is placed in the pot things on the floor which is filled with die and somehow heated??? Things were bubbling interestingly left and right.

Some of the hanging wool.

These were just some huge heels I just had to take a shot of... they were like 30cm high, I have no idea how she was walking in them... and also, the fact that she would wear these shoes to come and hand paint some pottery at a little tourist place makes me wonder...

A wall-o-pottery with a little wishing pond of some kind and line with Buddhist (I think) statues.

Little guy with reflections in a Pond.

Here are some of the largest wood-fired kilns which I don't think have been used wince WWII.

The pottery would be placed inside and I'm assuming the doors would be sealed and then they would be baked until dry and hard.

THIS is where IT happened. I was kind of waiting for it... wondering when it would happen. This whole come-to-Japan has been such a long process and I guess I knew what to expect due to the research I had done and such so I wasn't excited\nervous\anxious when I left Canada to come here. I'm pretty sure it hit some of the guys during training week, walking down the streets of Omiya and not seeing\hearing any English. For some IT happens when they get settled into their apartments, as Stacy predicted would happen to me. For me, I think all of those things came to a head after the drive into the mountains near Mashiko as I stood at the bottom of these steps and looked up at a Temple which was hundreds of years old.

I am in Japan.

Kind of took me a few moments to shake the feeling of awe I felt as I looked up into the trees at this structure looming in the distance. The picture cannot grasp the moment but it was just perfect. We were under a canopy of trees shielding us from the drizzling which had kind of started and everything was so quiet. Then taking my first look up at Saimyoji Temple, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Here I am, halfway across the planet looking up at steps which have been climbed by countless people since the year 737 A.D. more than one THOUSAND years before Canada came to be. It was quite the moment.

Halfway up the stairs, another view of the gate... again, the climb up the stairs was absolutely quiet with practically no sounds and no wind.

The gate, protected on either side from intrusion by two rather frightful statues of guardians of some kind. They're protected behind those slats of wood. As we stepped up to this level, after the relative quiet of the climb... we were hit with a pretty good wind... kind of like a welcome or a warning or something... kind of spooky considering that in this temple is enshrined some kind of hell-demon....

One of the buildings on the Temple grounds. As we were starting to look around, it started to rain...

Shot of the outer buildings from the Temple. I didn't feel quite right taking any pictures of the Temple itself... not sure why since I'm sure Takashi would have told me if it wasn't respectful to do so... but I felt odd so I didn't... Maybe some of it had to do with the fact that we were essentially confined to the porch around the temple by the heavy rains which hard started coming down.

I had another mini-transcending moment when I left Takashi and Stacy at the front of the Temple and walked down the porch to the rear of it where I came face to face with this statue... poking out of the woods in the pouring rain...

So we waited a bit for the rain to die down and eventually dashed down the 100+ steps trying not to slip and headed in for some tea at the bottom a nice end to my first temple visit. THANK YOU TAKASHI AND STACY!!!!

So once we'd fought our way back into to city and said our thanks\goodbye to Takashi, Stacy took me on a little bike tour of the city, pointing out various important stores and points of interest... great to have a personal tour guide. Afterwards, we headed to Modern (of which I need to get pictures) and met up with Scott, Yoshi and one of my students for a great dinner and some drinks... In true Japanese style, we ate one small dish at a time over the span of 5 hours or so... ate and drank like kings for the modest sum of 4000 Yen per person. A truly great way to end a great day.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow Mitch! Those pictures are gorgeous! You brought tears to my eyes with the way you describe everything!
I am so happy for you, you cant even imagine!

Miss you!

1:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And yes, that THING is scary as all hell! I had no idea the winkies and such meant something like that! I wonder why the one at the Japanese Village here doesnt have one! I will be sure to ask the server next time I am there :D

1:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michel - This is the first chance I've had to visit your blog. I sure picked the right day to tour through -- your photos and descriptorials are awesome. Mary Lou

2:41 PM  

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