Monday, May 26, 2008

Friends

I've come to the realization that I no longer have former co-workers and former students in Japan, all I am left with are friends. Yesterday was a day set aside to get together with some of the people who made my time in Japan memorable, and helped me survive out here in a distant land. Whether it was lending an ear when I needed to whine about something, or packing up the car for a day trip out somewhere, us traveling teachers would be lost without this support structure.

Our first stop of the day was to have lunch with Ray and his family in Utsunomiya. It was a great afternoon and Keita enjoyed meeting everyone... though he is getting to be a bit hard to pin down for photos!


Here is Rina, Ray's youngest daughter, trying to hold on to a slippery Keita. It was quite funny how she quickly turned from being afraid of holding the little guy to not letting him go...


After a couple of hours of being tossed around, Keita started to get whiny so we put him down for a bit of a nap. I'm amazed at how he can sleep anywhere... almost nothing will wake him up once he's snoozing.


After eating for 4 hours at Ray's place, it was time to move on to dinner... ugh! We were meeting up with some folks at a nice place on O-dori called Kurofune Teppan. Here's the group before the festivities got underway.


Unfortunately, it was getting close to Keita's bed time, so he and Yoshiko had to make an early exit, leaving me to my devices with this bunch of hooligans. I must admit, I do not enjoy being limited to a 10:45 last train out of the city once I get together with these friends.

Here I am with Yasuko and Kyoko, whom I specifically remember from my welcome party, in fact, I seem to recall a very similar photo taken at the time, over three years ago now!


To the right of Kotaro, is the new foreign teaching crew in Utsunomiya. Dayne who replaced Matt, and Anthony who replaced me.


Apparently, my camera was circulating around the table for a while, the best way to get candid pics, ne?


As Kurofune was shutting down and kicking us out a little before ten, and my train wasn't until 10:45, I suggested we stop by another bar to kill a bit more time. A fantastic day in Utsunomiya. While I'd have liked to meet a bunch of other people, it gets pretty difficult to do so, especially when one's trip is segmented into travel time and family time. I'll try to do better next time! And there will of course be a next time. Yoshiko and Keita are my permanent link to Japan, and I am quite lucky to have that.

Now it's all over except the packing. We leave tomorrow afternoon for the long drive out to Narita and our 7PM flight, and then it's bye bye Japan. I will of course miss it, though my back will not miss the whole "floor living" thing... cheers!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Nara

Well, I'm back in Imaichi, after 6 days of traveling, it's nice to be staying put for a bit! The trip all in all was great, though I did find it quite tiring, especially the last couple of days.

After I blogged on Thursday, I joined an Australian couple I met at Yougendou and we headed to an Izakaya across the street for some drinks and grub. It was really nice to be able to have a normal conversation after days of limiting myself to my meager Japanese and small talk with random people who would approach me. A couple of hours later, we wound up back at Yougendou, which has a small dinner bar on top of being an AMAZING guesthouse, and closed that place out. Yougendou (www.yougendou.com) was one of the highlights of my trip. Really nice place, great breakfast, fantastic staff and the owner was great to talk to as well, being an 11 year veteran of Japan. I highly recommend it to anyone spending time in the Nara\Osaka vicinity.

Friday morning, I reluctantly checked out of Yougendou, said my goodbyes and headed to Nara station to lock up my bags (locker fees now up to 1200 Yen for the trip, not all that bad) and begin the trek around Nara Koen.

The sights in Nara are mostly concentrated in Nara Park, which is kind of a double edged sword... on the one hand, it makes for great walking, on the other after a week of walking, I'd had enough! I should have rented a bike like I'd initially planned... dumbass... anywho. I'm going to have to cut this short and do kind of a photo dump here, we have a busy day ahead of us with a trip into Utsunomiya for lunch with Ray and his family, and dinner with some other students\staff from AEON. Cheers!



The Daibbutsu-den at Todai-ji, largest wooden structure in the world.


450+ TONS of bronze went into this massive statue.




Deer roaming Nara Koen








Little mob of elementary students who significantly slowed down my walk back to the station!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Torii! Torii! Torii!

2 things, first an apology for the pun on the movie Tora! Tora! Tora! and next, please disregard my message yesterday about no longer taking photos of Torrii Gates to shrines... not like I had much choice with my destination this morning!

After checking out of my hotel and locking up my luggage at Kyoto station (JR may be giving me a discount, but the buggers got 800 yen out of me today for lockers!) I headed on down the line to Inari and the famed Fushimi Inari Taisha.


Fushimi Inari Taisha is best known for its thousands upon thousands of Torii gates, winding their way through the mountain side.


The shrine was originally established as a shrine to rice and sake I believe, but has now switched to an all encompassing business shrine, with each of these torrii being paid for by companies\individuals wishing for good fortune in business ventures. Of course, if you don't pay up, here's what happens... lol


Each gate is inscribed with the donor's name\company name and also perhaps a message or wish? I see some more elaborate carvings than others...


Now, while the path up the mountain was nice and shaded by both trees and the gates, it was still a climb up a mountain. As I sat near the peak taking a break and wondering how much further I'd be climbing up, I was immediately humbled by these gentlemen going up the hill with a log on their shoulders. Oh yeah! I guess these gates have to come up here somehow? This being Japan, I'd assumed there was some magical stair climbing machine that did all the work... apparently not.


I'd brought my mini tripod along with me today, foreseeing the need for low-lights shots in the forest... and I manged to snap a shot of myself! The first on this solo trip of mine... but not the last...


The interesting thing about walking through these gates is that they're only inscribed on the way back down hill, so on the way up, all you see is orange... but on the way down, you see all the characters.








They even had a bit of a waterfall, where I unfortunately was unable to get a good vantage point for a shot...


Now this shrine up here in the hill above Kyoto is dedicated to the fox, Inari in Japanese, which is apparently the key keeper for the rice store house... interesting. This means that every once in a while, you'll run into a statue of a fox staring out at you.


It was certainly an interesting place to walk around for the morning. After a quick train ride back to Kyoto to pick up my bag and a run down to Nara for lunch, I then decided on the spur of the moment to visit Horyiuji, which is just one stop from my hotel. This temple is home to the world's oldest building, the last reconstruction of which dates back 1300 years! This is the inner gate to the temple.


And one of the guardians within the gate, again... over a thousand years old!




According to my volunteer guide, who grabbed me on the way in, 4 of these posts were made using a single tree, which is a problem because there aren't such behemoths out here any more if something were to need replacing. The construction method used was dovetailing, which means no nails! Everything just kind of fits into place.


Here I am with my guide for the tour around the temple. This gentleman has traveled and lived abroad quite a bit, and did a great job of telling me the back story of these buildings and their cultural significance to Japan as one of the first established Buddhist temples.


One of the things I learned from my good friend is that dragons here are water guardians, and thus are used to protect buildings from fire... whoda thunk?




And finally for this evening, my view at the moment at Yougendou, an AMAZING guesthouse a couple of stops down from Nara.


And that's that! I've been invited out to dinner by an Aussie couple staying here tonight and I'll join them before grabbing a beer at the bar also run on the Yougendou grounds and turning in for the night. I've scheduled an 8AM breakfast tomorrow morning... so gotta get up early! Gnight!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

A Very Temple-ish day

Well day three of my little trip is done with and I am bushed. But the show must go on as they say, and I got to visit some pretty interesting places today, a few off the beaten path as well, which is nice in tourist heavy Kyoto.

My first stop this morning, after unsuccessfully looking for a place to have breakfast and settling on a sandwich from Lawson's, was To-ji temple, to check out the monthly market being held there today. The ground of the temple were definitely the highlight of the day, with beautiful gardens presided over by the tallest Pagoda in Japan.


And with all the action happening outside the inner temple area, I was free to roam in relative peace.


The market, while interesting to walk around in, didn't hold anything I was interested in... so after touring for a bit, I made my way back out into the streets of Kyoto.


One sight which followed me around today was this blimp flying over the city. I assume one can pay an exorbitant of money and be ferried around over the city for a while aboard the vehicle... such a nice contrast with the roofline of To-ji.


I came to the realization today that I have a new "signature" shot. I used to take many photos of Torii gates, but what I've been doing on this trip is more of these types of "roofline against the sky" kind of shots.


Now, I visited so many temples today (10? 15?) that I can't put a name to each picture, but here's a couple.


Ooh ooh! This one I have a name for... this is Eikan-do and it's mountain-side pagoda.


On the grounds of Eikan-do, I found this little waterfall nestled between a cemetary and a nursery school... go figure... I put the G9's electronic ND filter (which allows longer shutter speeds without blowing out the image with too much light) with some nice results.




These are some of the buildings at Nanzen-in, which has some quite extensive grounds, all shaded with lovely trees. A great place to take a rest.






Hidden up the mountainside behind Nanzen-in and known only to the local worshipers (and whoever has a guidebook) is Nanzen-ji Oku no-in, a small shrine built around a waterfall which worshipers pray under. On the climb up the mountain path, I encountered exactly 1 person who was coming back down... and he was still wet so I assume he was praying under the waterfall.


After puttering around the same temple area much of the afternoon, I decided to go a bit further afield and check out Ginkaku-ji, one of the more "famous" of all the famous Kyoto temples. Unfortunatly the temple itself is in the midst of a major restoration project and is thus under wraps, but it's beautifully manicured gardens were certainly worth the trip.

And that was that for temples for the day. I headed on back to the hotel to rest a bit and grab a shower before hitting up some Ramen for dinner. Tomorrow, Nijo castle, Fushimi-Inari-Taisha and then off to Nara!