Saturday, May 29, 2010

Take a bow, play the part of a lonely heart, say goodbye to the world you thought you lived in, say goodbye

Whoops. Meant to update a long while ago, but this week has been full of friends and family as I prepare to leave for Mongolia.

As I promised, some photographs I took from my last day in Japan- the Osaka Aquarium! It was RAINY, but it was very fitting. First day it rained (so memorable, and one of my favorite days) and the last. Because it was a Sunday, it was pretty crowded, but we got there right when it opened so it wasn't nearly as bad as when we left (lines out the DOOR!).

Rolling otters!

Feeding seals!

PENGUINS! What more could you ask for?

GASP! Turtles!

Freaking awesome jellyfish!

Pretty much yeah. Plane ride back was semi uneventful, minus people missing from the shinkansen (found them, no problem), people being searched up and down (including me, but no problem) and one person not being able to get on a flight back (yeah, a problem, but she's back!). Pretty tired this whole week really, but I have to make the most of it. Going to print out some of my Japanese photographs for my mom today, and stick them around the house. :)

ALSO. New tattoo yesterday :) Ichi-go, ichi-e. 

I haven't even starting packing (barely unpacked, actually!), and tomorrow and monday are my going-away open houses... so much to do!! So peace out my friends for a short while. I will be back.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Kyoto by day, Kyoto by night

Leaving Japan in a few hours... :( It has really been a great trip.

By the way, love skype. Using it as a cell phone = brilliant. Totally using this for Mongolia!

I want to put a few pictures that I already put up on Flickr, but hasn't talked about already. On Friday after class, I went to Kyoto again, because I reaaaally wanted to see a geisha and the Fushimi shrine. This time I was alone, which I sometimes prefer because I can really do what I want and I don't have to wait for anyone.

Anyway, it only takes 20 minutes on the shinkansen, and I took another train down to the Fushimi Shrine. Have you ever seen Memoirs of a Geisha? (Book was better, but anyway) There's a scene with her as a young girl running through the red gates... and these are it!

(this one is my favorite) :)

I then took a trip down the Philosopher's Walk, which turned out to be hella long (once I actually found where it was!), so I only did half of it before heading down the the Gion district for dinner and geisha spotting. Lemme just say now I didn't see a geisha :( Or at least, I think I maybe saw the back of one. Oh well.

Yeah, NOW I see all the cats on my last weekend!

As I mentioned, I went down to the Gion district, but I walked around some more after dinner to one of the bridges near the canal that the lovers hang out on:
There was a dude doing drums down there, too, but I kinda cut him off for the sake of the picture :)

On Saturday, I spent the day shopping after finishing putting together my book and getting locked out of the room. :) I actually did not take a single picture that day (whoops, sorry Don!), so I have nothing to show! Ok, maybe I lie. I did take a couple cell phone pictures later in the day- we had a final group dinner at this really cool tofu restaurant. It was a 6 or 7 course meal, with tofu in each one... tofu soup, tempura tofu, tofu with a tomato on it, dessert tofu, etc etc, you get the idea! It was really tasty, once you get past the texture of it. We all had lots of drinks (loooove Japanese beer, why didn't I have it before?) and lots of fun. :) I'm going to miss them all! 

Next... Osaka aquarium (probably after I get back!) and final notes...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Attack of the Killer Deers!

Another quicky for now... there's so much I want to write about, but not enough time!

Oh, one thing before I get started- squat toilets. I'm getting so good at using them, and I find easier almost than the western toilets! I think that's going to be a good skill when I get to Mongolia. And speaking of such, it's only like 2 weeks away. Ack. I'm going to miss everyone terribly, I can already tell.

OK SO. After the Peace Park at Hiroshima, we took a train and a ferry to Miyojima Island, which that day was pretty foggy, but it added to the mystery. The first thing we saw was the famous shrine:

Pretty cool stuff! That photograph was actually taken at the end of the day, but I digress. We shopped around and some interesting things happened, like Melissa getting attacked by deer:

Also, bonus kitty that was begging for oysters:

Then we went to the summit of the tallest point on the island, which sadly didn't have any monkeys there at the time, and also was pretty foggy:

Photograph of our fearless sensei, Don:

That's kind of it for now... later today after our class dinner, I'll write about my adventures in Kyoto. Peace!

Friday, May 21, 2010

I fly like paper, get high like cranes

Semi-quicky blog today. On Wednesday we went to Nagahama, which is a small town a few stops away from Hikone. I bought a bunch of stuff for people (it's so easy to shop for other people than myself, because I want everything but can't have it, haha), and met up with the group to have a dinner at a German-style brewery, which specializes in making their own ale, pilsner, etc. Reaaaally good, and the dinner was amazing! I have some pictures from that on my phone that I'll have to get on here at some point. It was raining, so the beer was a good end to a lazy-ish day.

Hiroshima was yesterday. We first went to Peace Park, which is where all the memorials are, and also where the hypocenter ("ground zero," or the spot where the atomic bomb hit) is located. There is a large building called the A-Bomb Dome which is the only remaining structure from before August 6th, 1945. It was very close to where the hypocenter was, and somehow was saved from absolute destruction like most of the buildings were. The memorial museum was very powerful as well, and it really made me (to be frank) quite embarrassed and ashamed of our country. I know it wasn't us, who were there, that did that terrible act but it was like I could feel the stares by the Japanese people more strongly than before.

"Black rain"- after the bomb hit, ash pored from the sky like rain, and this wall (in the museum) had the marks still, and some trace of radiation still in them.

This tree still has the marks of the atomic bomb.

Near Memorial Mound, where many of the bodies were cremated and buried.

End with something uplifting:

More about Hiroshima later, and also adventures on Miyajima Island! Kyoto again today on my own :)

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"This is shrine to gambling. I think life is gamble... everything you do."

This lovely quote from the rickshaw driver that I was taking a ride with. I don't care that it is pretty much a tourist trap! I got to see the other side of the city and I had time to kill before my train arrived. The guy was really informative though, and there was a lot of historical shrines/houses around that area.

Yesterday we traveled to the lovely Nara, Japan. The only thing I ever heard about Nara was that there are deer everywhere that you can feed and pet and stuff. And holy moly, they weren't kidding. Those things are freaking everywhere, and they are SMART (they cross at crosswalks! How awesome is that??). You can get a stack of deer crackers for 150 yen, and they will follow you around begging for them.

I had a wonderful time hanging out with deer. The only times I'm ever that close to deer at home are when they're dead on the side of the road. Those ones aren't too much fun. As modern as Japanese are, it shows a deep connection between the old and the new. It was so thrilling to walk around this centuries-old city and think that even the samurai were feeding the ancestors of these very deer. Speaking of old, we were in Nara for a very important anniversary- the 1300th anniversary since Nara was made the capital of Japan. I know, I know, it isn't anymore (it was Kyoto after that, then Tokyo), but that is pretty sweet that in 710 they were celebrating. That's like 34982734 times as old as our country... I never said I was good at math. Anyway, here are some more deer awesomeness:

We also went as a group to Todaiji, which is a huge Buddhist temple (ji means temple), with the Great Buddha inside. That thing is MASSIVE. Something like 54 ft tall. Yeah. Huge. I read in my guide book that when it gets dusted, 4-5 monks can stand inside the upturned palm. 

That really doesn't show the perspective, but take my word for it. Really.

This last one was taken farther south at the Wakamiya Shrine (I think... I just kept walking and I'm not too sure which shrine I was near). I adore this photograph for the color contrast of the orange and green.

Beautiful day. I hope at some point I upload my camera phone photos... I've been keeping track of some engrish on t-shirts and signs (Japanese phrases translated into English = hilarious). It's because literally translated, it sounds wacky, but it makes total sense in the Japanese language. It's English that's the messed up one, really. My absolute favorite that I've seen is a t-shirt that Erin took a picture of in Tokyo: "SMOOTH TROOPER LOVERS YO MAMMAS FLAPJACKS," multi-colored with a Storm Trooper doing kind of a Michael Jackson move by holding his junk and giving the devil horns. Yeah. Classy. If I was there, I totally would have gotten that shirt for Luke.

We have a free afternoon after class today, so I think the gang and I are going to Nagahama to see some glassblowing and have dinner at a microbrewery thats there. THEN I will work on my portfolio :) Hiroshima tomorrow! 

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

"You bring me up there, but there's no party."

 I know Chris is recording the Don quotes, but I found that one particularly hilarious.

Temple Flowers, originally uploaded by Nurse Kate.

Anyway, after class we did more touring of Hikone. We went to a small street that we were told was reminiscent to the "old Japan," with small stores specializing in different things, like the barber, fish and meat stores, and a traditional inn. We had a special tour of the street by the dean (?) of JCMU and one of the shop owners!

Afterwards, we headed to the Buddhist temple that isn't too far away from JCMU. It was a beautiful place, full of neatly kept gardens (including a zen garden with the raked sand) and historical items mixed in with different kinds of shrines. The gardens were so relaxing, that I didn't really want to take many photographs. I sat down for a while on one of the wood porches to reflect on my journey so far, and it really renewed my energy for the day! I took this photograph as we were leaving- I'm not a huge fan of flower pictures in general, but the lighting was perfect that day.

After a short break, a couple of us headed up to another temple where you can get a spectacular view of Biwako and the sunset that day. I'm still working on processing those into panoramas and HDR photographs, so stay tuned for that!

Today is Nara. =D Get ready for the deer and the Great Buddha!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Bright Lights, Big City

Tokyo, Tokyo, Tokyo. Where do you start with this city? Um, in a word, amazing.

Or in a phrase:
Concrete jungle?
This was taken at the VERY top of the Tokyo Tower. It was quite amazing... you can see Mt. Fuji from there. If nothing else, the amusement of the Japanese people coming off the elevator was my favorite: "eeeEEEHHHH!!"

Although Tokyo and Kyoto, and actually, most of the cities, are a vast majority of concrete jungle, they always find ways to have wildlife smack in the middle of everything. And you know, it has the strangest smell. I can't really put my finger on it, but it's leaves but with a slight musty smell that is harsh to the nose. Back on the first day in Kyoto, going up that mountain was a major sensory experience with all the smells, bamboo, stone walkways, and crazy bullfrogs and ravens.

Saturday morning most of us headed off to Kyoto for the Aoi Matsuri (Hollylock Festival), which is a large procession (511 people!) full of traditional clothing. We tried catching it during the first leg of the procession, but we sadly couldn't see much due to the crowds. My group decided to split off for the day, and we had lunch at a wonderful soba/ramen restaurant (ok, really, all the food is wonderful here, and I haven't had a bad meal yet!). Just around the corner we found the place we wanted to stake out, which was to have the parade of people curve around towards us.

 After the Aoi Matsuri, we hopped an early shinkansen to Tokyo. I got the total New York sense when we stepped off of the subway onto the street. Now, I've never been to New York, but I can imagine it would have been the same feeling with the neon lights and myriad of taxis. We found our hotel not too far from the Tokyo station, and headed off to dinner.

Yeah, what a dinner.

It was next to the train station, on one of the top floors. We really wanted a sushi boat, but we settled on a spread of various sushi... and loud drunk business men. They were hilarious. The moment we sat down, the man closest to Bethany started talking to us about where we were from, etc (really good english!). Let's just say a couple of beers and sake shots later, we were feeling pretty good about being in Tokyo. ;)

We took our happiness to the streets, however, and set up our tripods for some night shots:

Even after we were pooped out from walking, train-riding, and photographing, we found the energy to do a quick trip to a karaoke bar. :D Imagine a HUGE 8 story building with nothing but private rooms for karaoke. The one in Ann Arbor is no match for this place! Of course, we did Domo Arigato Mr Roboto... yep, we're the gaijin in Japan alright. I did some Beatles and Lady Gaga (she is popular as all get-out here), and yeah, my voice is shaaaaarp. But I felt a lot better after hearing the drunk Japanese man in the hallway trying to sing... or wail, his song.

Sunday morning was spent that a temple on the east side of Tokyo, which according to one of the business men last night, there was another matsuri going on! We got there just in time to see the procession go by, which was much smaller and much more rowdy than the one in Kyoto. The path leading up to the temple was lined with shops and food stalls, and ended at a huge gate with statues on each side (not sure of what they were, however).

I decided to veer off of the group after the temple and spend some quality time with my Japan. I took the subway to Harujuku, one of the most fashionable streets in Tokyo. It's streets full of unusually dressed people, making their own fashion statements.

During my time on this street, I probably saw more Americans (and a few Australians!) there than any other place. Ooohhh and they had Starbucks. I caved in to my chai tea latte over ice. Mmm.

Tokyo Tower was next. Taller than the Eiffel Tower, but based off the same, the highest observation deck is 250m in the sky! Reaaally great views of all of Tokyo.

Got back to Hikone yesterday night. We're doing more of Hikone today, and Nara tomorrow! I WANT TO FEED THE DEER :D

Saturday, May 15, 2010

That's Just What We Needed

Click to see bigger!

Hikone Skyline, originally uploaded by Nurse Kate.
This photograph makes me really excited. I've never really gotten a panorama to work before. This is Hikone, with Biwa-ko to the left... and you can see my house from here! On the left-ish side there is a tall white hotel building, and we're staying at the large green-roofed place next to that.

Yesterday we were able to get to Hikone Castle, and the weather was brilliant for us! Biking was wonderful as usual, and the hike up to the castle was peaceful and beautiful to say the least.

Robin, Bethany and I had an excellent meal at a small place near the train station. My Japanese is incredibly lacking, but everyone is so accommodating to try and communicate with us! For example, there were no pictures in the menu, so we took the waiter outside and pointed to what meal we wanted (there were plastic examples out front).

The best part of the day, however, was going to a traditional Japanese bath, or Sento. This particular place had a natural hot spring that they pumped up to the top floor of the hotel! The baths are separated, women and men, and you get undressed in a room (yes, you go around bare ass naked, which is really less awkward than you would think), then walk out to the spring, where there are many small stools you sit on. You then wash yourself (kind of like washing yourself off before going into a pool) then you go and soak in a large hot-tub kind of thing, sans jets. Holy crap, it was wonderful. We were sore and cold from the day, and it was perfect. And hot. Super super hot. For only 800 yen, I might have to take a trip back. I got lucky, though... we had the place to ourselves, and I was worried about my tattoo! They sometimes don't let in people with them, because you can be associated with the yakuza (Japanese mafia).

Today we're going to Kyoto to see a traditional procession, and then we're right off to Tokyo for the night and tomorrow. So I'll probably not be posting again until Sunday night/ Monday morning. And we have to leave in 15 minutes, so I leave you with some photographs:

Hikone Castle

Walking up the stairs to the top, long exposure time... the person on the right is Don, our teacher (sensei)!

Part of the Hikone Castle museum.

Peace out, my peoples!

Friday, May 14, 2010

Focus on this play, this moment!!

Ichi-go, ichi-e!

Let's Eat Ham!, originally uploaded by Nurse Kate.
Yesterday was our day in Osaka, which is about a hour and a half train ride (non-shinkansen) from Hikone. I felt like we weren't that far away from home, since we were going to a Tiger's game (Hanshin, not Detroit). That day, they were playing the "Ham Beaters". Seriously, no joke. This photograph was taking outside of the stadium, outside of some sort of bus thing. Besides the picture itself cracking me up, it says, "Kyou wa, hamu tabecha(su?)" or "Today, let's eat ham." With "he he he" at the bottom. Oh Japan.

I have hands down never enjoyed myself more at a baseball game in my life. Japanese people, for all their reservedness (is that a word?) just go batshit (ha! pun!) crazy and let themselves go totally. The best way that I heard it described to me was that it's like a high school football game. Actually, it made me feel young again. All the people chanting (constantly, actually), with drums and trumpets and huge flags. You get caught up in it so easily; I found myself clapping along soon enough.

This is a photograph from in-between innings. All the Japanese children were decked out in Tigers gear, and were as excited as the adults were about the game. Just behind the stands were a ton of food stands, with awesome Japanese food... no peanuts here! I had okinamiyaki, which was pretty much my favorite so far. It's kind of like a pizza, but with egg instead of dough and it has beef and Japanese food that I have no idea what it is, so... yeah, it's not really like pizza I suppose. That plus Japanese beer = a wonderful afternoon at the game.

These stands didn't just have food, it had a smoking room! Wait, wait, wait. It wasn't a smoking room, it was a smoking fishbowl. Imagine a bunch of people chain smoking, staring up at the television screen and reacting to every play that was occurring. This guy really intrigued me, and I loved the way the light hit his face and jersey as the smoke wafted from his mouth. His concentration was unbroken as I was taking shots of him, whereas the guy behind him just wanted another puff. I feel the blurred arm and reflection add to the "caged tiger" look (I'm full of it today!).

Finally, there was the Seventh Inning Stretch. Hold on to your bento box, because this is unlike ANY kind of stretch you've seen. At the beginning of the seventh inning, you start to see these large balloons (which were pretty phallic shaped actually) rise among the rafters. By the middle of the inning, everybody stands up and starts chanting/singing... and then they release the balloons! They make the most hilarious sound, but besides that, it creates the most wonderful display of colors against the stark black sky.

Today we're going to Hikone Castle, because it was too rainy for us to go on Tuesday. We're then going to have dinner in Nagahama and perhaps go to a Sento (traditional bathhouse!). Then this weekend, I'm planning for Kyoto again (there's going to be a procession with traditional dress! plus I need to see a geisha), and Tokyo on sunday. I'm so geeked. I love this country.