春の訪れ

3/14/12   –   0:38

Sorry for the lack of postage. It’s not that interesting things haven’t been happening, it’s just that… here they are. In no particular order.

One day I was bored and wanted to bike to Kuzuha Mall and then so I texted Tina asking if she’d want to go with me. She said she was going to bike to Costco in Yawata which is basically the same thing so off we went! It wasn’t too far by bike and when we got there we concluded that “never has an ugly concrete building looked so beautiful.” Tina and I are always on the look out to save money on groceries and buying bulk is just the thing for us. That and we can get American goods here like mac and cheese. And spam. And pizza.

Unfortunately it was Saturday and also the day of ひな祭り or the Doll Festival which is apparently a big thing here. I’m not sure what it celebrates but families set up big stands with a lot of dolls in traditional clothing. Anyway, the Costco was super crowded with people who brought all their children and were cramming the already narrow aisles with their big carts and short tempers. Oh wait. That was me. I had so much road rage with my cart and I felt really awesome being able to say “I AM GOING TO FRIGGIN’ RUN YOU OVER, KID.”  without any consequences because there was probably no one familiar enough with English to successfully decipher my mumbling.

In any case, I calmed down drastically when I realized that Japanese Costcos give out about 5 times more samples than do American Costcos and Sam’s Clubs. So we got in line and had some awesome Bugolgi, maple crackers, and turmeric drink, followed by a stroll through the wine and alcohol section where there was a disproportionately large amount of wine tasting stations. In the end, I left with not only a light buzz, but two kilograms of Quaker Oats granola and a pineapple smoothie. Not a bad day.

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Going to the movie theater in Japan costs the equivalent of about USD $18 which is why I never bothered going. That is, until I found out that Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close was being released here. I wasn’t particularly drawn in by the cast, but the book itself was an amazing read and I figured that I just had to see the movie [as well as buy the book’s Japanese translation before I leave ^_^]. By the way, the Japanese title of the movie is 20 syllables long.

mo-no-su-go-ku-u-ru-sa-ku-te-a-ri-e-na-i-ho-do-chi-ka-i

The movie itself was meh, but it was worth it to see how Japanese theaters work. That is to say, they’re basically American theaters except you have to pick your seat when you buy your ticket [like in the Philippines]. That and no one gets up to leave until the credits end. That’s sort of nice. I mean, it’s polite to both enjoy the ending credit music and also acknowledge the work of the people who put the movie together. If I worked hard on a project, I wouldn’t want to be forgotten either. Kudos, Japan for respecting people.

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The weather recently has given us hints of spring. In Japanese, there’s a 四字熟語 or “four character saying” that reads 三寒四温 which describes a week where every day is alternately warm and cold. It’s annoying at times, but at least it’s not 三寒四寒 like it has been all winter. x_x

Anyway, on one of these fortunately warm days, Kansai Gaidai had their graduation ceremony. For those unfamiliar, the Japanese school year starts in April and ends sometime in January or February, I think. Such that seniors had finished classes and were just waiting for the graduation day. On that day, guys dress up in a suit and tie, seemingly dressed to be ready for their future lives in various companies. The girls however, are dressed in all sorts of gaily colored はかま [hakama]. These are like kimono except they allow for more movement and are designed differently. I might like them better than kimono, actually.

The band played for graduation so I don’t have too many pictures of the wide array of hakama being showcased all over campus, but I do have some of the band graduates. [Congratulations you gys!] My favorite is probably Hiromi because she is just so cute and petite and looks like a doll. Also, Nakaya-senpai because she exudes this air of refinement. All the time. Her traditional clothing just accentuated it.

[Warning: Tangent Approaching]

With everyone all dressed up and what-not, I couldn’t help but imagine all my friends in period clothing. What I mean by this is that I can just picture all of my friends in Edo-period clothing whether they are in hakama and kimono or wearing the daily wear of merchants in the marketplace or farmers coming in from the fields. It’s sort of weird, but sometimes I think about what kind of jobs my friends would have if they were in the 江戸時代. This isn’t completely baseless either. What with the strict class separation prior to the Meiji era I feel like certain physical traits were passed down along socioeconomic lines. Like, Kotomi would be in the aristocracy. Yuna would be in the marketplace, hair wrapped up in a 手拭い selling おにぎり. Seki-chan would be a sake-brewer. Saori would be helping with the harvest. So on and so forth. And this isn’t just Japanese people either. I imagine Carlos [from Spain] in conquistador armor all the time. And I can always picture Andreas from Denmark in 1600s(?) garb with the big white ruff collar and black top. Americans are different, though. I can never even begin to guess with them.

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This past Sunday, I decided to go to Nara because I haven’t yet and I felt like it. I love getting up and going places. Sometimes it’s even better if I’m alone. I woke up at around 10 after a night out trying to explain 音楽の存在は何と思うのか to Shotaro at an izakaya downtown. I went downstairs, packed a bento, and set out for one of Japan’s oldest capitals.

There isn’t too much to see in Nara really. I mean, I heard as much, but what there is is really impressive. There’s Todaiji, the biggest wooden structure in the world [?] housing the largest Buddha image in Japan [?]. Then there’s the Kasuga Shrine which is basically a forest of lanterns and in the middle of it all is Nara Park which has deer running around everywhere.

It’s all within walking distance from each other so I set around walking around Nara Park. It’s a very peaceful place and definitely mellowed me out a lot. The deer were nice too. They would just come up to me and nuzzle up probably wanting food. I didn’t have any but they still stuck around.

After visiting the 春日大社, I found a nice hill where I could see the mountains in the distance and I ate my lunch. The sun was out and it was warm and relaxing. Sometimes in my life I feel like it’s just necessary to have a picnic out in the mountains. So I did. Btw, I know you’re jealous of my Japanese dog breed patterned 風呂敷.

Seeing as spring was coming and the days were getting warmer, I was able to spot a few groves of plum trees. Plum blossoms are the little sister to Japan’s famous cherry blossoms. They don’t quite cause the pink storms that sakura are famous for, but they have their own elegant beauty. In fact, I feel like plum blossoms have been appreciated since all the way back in China. So maybe the plum blossoms are sakura’s older sister.

After my walk through the plum groves, I found a field where I lay down on a bench and finished reading the first book of the Hunger Games trilogy that Julia lent me and periodically stopped to watch the deer grazing. It was such a chill afternoon.

Speaking of the deer, Nara has capitalized on their existence in so many ways. To include selling dango covered in cocoa dust of sorts in order to make them look like… you guessed it. Deer droppings. They’re called 鹿踏んじゃったチョコだんご and they don’t taste half bad. They also didn’t smell. But then again, deer droppings in Nara don’t actually smell. At all. They smell like nothing. I don’t know how they do it.

Also, that thing on the right happened. Yeah.

The last thing I did in Nara was 東大寺 [Todaiji] with the aforementioned big Buddha. It was breath-taking how big this structure was. Ridiculous.

Besides the Buddha itself there were plenty of other sculptures which were probably older than America. These included some decapitated heads, a fierce looking guardian, and the Yakushi Nyorai Buddha of medicine who sits there watching everyone touch him and then the ailing part of their body seeking relief. He seems like a nice guy. I hear the words “sup bro” coming out of his mouth.

In the main Buddha image hall, they were having some sort of gathering where a whole bunch of monks where sitting in front of the statue, chanting and praying. I read the plaque on the altar and it said something along the lines of “for the eternal repose of those lost in the Great Tohoku Earthquake.” Then I realized that it had been a year since the earthquake and tsunamis rocked Japan’s northeastern prefectures. That along with the chanting made the place seem a lot more solemn.

I had also come to Todaiji in time to catch the お水取り ceremony. This is a ritual carried out at the temple complex’s Nigatsudo Hall wherein gigantic balls of flaming fragrant wood are hung over the side of the viewing platform of the hall. People gather below and those who are hit by the embers are said to be granted good luck for the coming year. Apparently it’s a ceremony that’s been carried out every year without fail since the 700s.

For some reason, I felt like it was a little counter-intuitive for monks to carry flaming spheres chucking out embers into one of the oldest wooden buildings in the world. However, I guess they know what they’re doing. I mean. They have been doing it for over a millennium. The ceremony was also dedicated to the souls of those lost during the disasters last year and there was a tearful address as a man [a representative from Tohoku?] spoke and the gathered crowd listened through speakers that were set up. The guy said that Todaiji has been the temple where people pray for the safety and protection of Japan for centuries and then he requested that the people also pray for the nation during the ceremony.

The ceremony ended and the crowd dispersed. I stuck around and snapped this photo of the deserted temple grounds. A few stars came out and I thought to myself that my 一人旅 loner adventures suit me just fine. I might actually prefer them.

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