“Apparently I’m doing what every other tourist secretly wants to…I think this tour guide I met yesterday either has a crush on me or, more likely, my itinerary”—My friend Abe, currently traveling alone through Italy.
(A little paraphrased from the actual conversation, but it went a little something like this...)
What I think I'm saying to my girlfriend in Japanese:[I do care for you and, from the day I met you, I haven't stopped caring for you. My heart and thoughts are heavy with recent events, so please try to understand. I will do the best I can, so please believe in me.]
Girlfriend, in English:...(laughing) What? Sorry, that makes no sense. Say it in English, please.
(Japanese is hard; making heartfelt conversation is harder.)
Thinking about how I imagined this summer would be a month ago, the inescapable fact of life on this Earth speaks to me from the back of my mind:
Everything is constantly changing, for better or for worse.
As I sit here in my single apartment (that would barely make “studio” status in the states), I think about how things turned out differently than I hoped for this month. Today is May 28, one month since I returned to Japan, and the past month has been a mix of things both good and bad, wonderful and near-despairing.
A good friend of mine, Andrew, wrote this entry for his professor’s blog. I think this topic is extremely interesting and, in fact, its part of what my research in Japan is about now (the effect of SES [SocioEconomic Status] of students in a public school setting). Andrew is a brilliant writer and I believe this entry will alter your (possible) belief that all Japanese are the same.
Chart 2: Proportion of Population Living on Welfare
It has been quite a while since anything went up on this page (except for that little post about something in the works, namely this current entry). Also, I apologize to all those theater buffs I offended out there by associating that scene from the prologue to the wrong song. My sincerest apologies.
Last time I left you, I was traveling through northern Japan in the (now devastated) region of Tohoku, about to head to Hokkaido…
Suddenly, nine-month hiatus. No warning, no explanation. I apologize to anyone who checked my blog from time to time, looking for a new entry. For lack of a better expression of regret, this colloquial articulation will have to do.
Samurai, Typhoons and Bears, OH MY! (A Day in Kakunodate)
There are few things more enjoyable in life than waking up late to the sound of soft rain beneath a warm down comforter. For me at least, anyway.
That was Saturday morning, waking up in my private room at Kuroyu onsen. The rain had started in the night and tapered off to a drizzle by morning. As such, the grounds were covered in mix of rain, mist and steam that swirled in the mountain air.
Steaming Hot Springs, Ice Cold Watermelon and Lukewarm Sake: Kuroyu Onsen
Friday the 13th: I was standing in front of Tazawa-ko station, waiting for the bus that would take me to the mountains.
Missed the first bus by 8 minutes, so the next one was 3 hours later. Yep, it was Friday the 13th, all right.
However, that was the extent of the bad luck I faced that day. Once the bus came and I was on my way, my anxiety and body temperature both cooled off. An hour after winding through mountain roads, the bus stopped at Nyuto Onsen, which consists of many smaller onsen, one of which being Kuroyu (Black Water) that I had a reservation for.
Oh, for those of you not Japan-saavy, onsen are another word for hot springs. Here in Japan, that word is also associated with bathing facilities, luxury inns and blissful relaxation.
Family, Clashing Cultures and a Son's Reconciliation: A Midnight Dialogue
This post is actually about a conversation I had with another man staying at my Sendai hostel.
On my last night at the hostel (before going to Hiraizumi the next morning), I stayed up till 1:00 AM writing my blog. Feeling almost ready for bed, I weaved between the chairs in the dark dining room where I was working towards the bright, buzzing florescent light of the vending machine, like a moth to a streetlamp. After buying my can of milk tea, I turned around and found myself face to face with a tall, blond man. I staggered a little in my surprise; I was not expecting anyone else to be up with me.
"Oh, hi!" I said.
"Hey!" he replied
He turned and staggered to the other vending machine, bought a bottle of water, and sat down at the nearest chair. He had obviously done a little bit of drinking that night. I sat down at my chair, a table away, and began to wrap up my blogging matters. I looked up every so often from my computer screen to see what he was doing, out of curiosity. Sitting there wearing khaki shorts, a polo t-shirt and a fedora, he was obviously not a local here, most likely from my country. Hands clasped around the water bottle, his blue eyes were focused straight ahead on a point on the far edge of the table. His face was tired and his gaze forlorn. Something was obviously up with this guy, other than his blood alcohol content.
Mountain Calderas and Microbrews: Lake Tazawa Area
August 12th was a pretty laid back day, enjoying the company of friends (who speak my native language) and sampling the good life around Tazawa-ko (Lake Tazawa) in Akita Prefecture.
After waking up late, Brenna and I started walking from our hostel towards Tazawa-ko. We both appreciated the cool mountain climate and the breeze blowing through the trees. High up in the mountains, we finally escaped the infamously stifling Japanese heat. We arrived at the lake underneath an overcast sky, though many families were still enjoying themselves at the beach.
Temples in High Places, Deep Lakes and Family Found in the Far East: Hiraizumi & Tazawa-ko
Great days always start with great breakfasts!
I left Sendai and Matsushima behind me, moving ever onwards towards my ultimate northern destination, Hokkaido. My next stop in Tohoku was the mountain village of Hiraizumi in Iwate Prefecture. After hopping on a Shinkansen heading into the mountains, I arrived there around noon.
it's nanay kumusta ka i miss u and i hope you are having a fun time!!!!!!!!!
i loved the helmet you were wearing
I’m having a great time, but I miss you guys a lot! Wish I could have brought that helmet home, but it was a little too big to carry with me. I’m in Kyoto right now, so I’ll try and check out that Filipino restaurant. I can guarantee you it won’t be as good as your cooking though!
Great posts! Just enjoyed KT Tunstall at Einsenhower Park this past weekend so I get where you're coming from. Unfortunately, the sponsors attracted a much older crowd, well, let's just say, we had our own (and only) mosh pit.
Lol, that’s funny! I appreciate mosh pits wherever they show up. If I could mosh at that age, I would!
It felt strange waking up in a new bed, in a new city, 300 kilometers north of Tokyo. I had just gotten used to the Tokyo rhythm and the pulsating life of the city. I knew that I had to continue my journey and explore many different parts of the country, even if they didn’t carry the same energy as the capital.
However, when I stepped outside of my youth hostel in Sendai at 9 AM, I didn’t realize how peaceful Japan could be.
Granted, Sendai is still a major city, a major stop on the Shinkansen bullet train routes and a gateway to Tōhoku, the Japanese name for northern Honshu. Yet, in that early morning, I felt a calmness that I hadn’t felt during my time in Tokyo. I breathed deep of the Tōhoku air, ready to continue my journey north into the rugged mountains, remote valleys and sweeping vistas of this region.
But first, I had to see one of Japan’s official three great sights (Nihon Sankei): the islands of Matsushima.
Centuries ago, the haiku poet Bashō traveled to Matsushima, despite initial misgivings about the attraction of Tōhoku. He even lamented that “I may as well be travelling to the ends of the earth.” However, upon seeing some of these 250 islands in Matsushima bay, covered in pines and shaped by wind and ceaseless surf, he was at a loss for words. He only wrote “Matsushima, ah! Matsushima! Matsushima!”
Side Note: If any readers had seen the “Broken Wear” video I circulated among some of my friends, that’s what the guy was saying on the boat; he was at Matshushima. Fun fact.
From my hostel I hopped on the Senseki line towards Matshushima Kaigan station, which took me right to the bay.
After walking 5 minutes from the station, I came to the coast and finally looked upon these famous islands.
Honestly, as far as initial impressions go, I wasn’t so awed by beauty that language failed me. The view from the concrete docks, past the moored boats and tour groups, was pretty, but not exactly “moving.”
However, I knew that I could find a better view of the islands if I moved past the masses and the commercial tour boats. I started to walk towards the first island on my list. I followed winding pathways along the coast, carved straight out of the rock and covered with moss. I felt like I was crossing into a different world, like something out of a Miyazaki movie.
I wasn’t exactly “spirited away,” but it was quite spiritual walking on those ancient paths.
Re-emerging from the twisting trails onto the coast, I was struck with the starkness of a bright red bridge connecting the island to the mainland. I felt like I was looking at a cheesy tourism photo, the red wooden bridge floating above the brown, silt-saturated water, standing out among the bright green pines beneath the clear blue sky.
However, this wasn’t an advertisement; this was real “poetry in motion,” so to speak…um, write.
Crossing the bridge was another powerful experience, partially because I have a mild fear of heights. The orange cone placed over a gaping hole in the centuries old wood did little to assuage my fears.
I got over my fears, or at least tried to for the time it took to cross the bridge, and I reached the island. Winding around the narrow stone trails, I encountered old wooden shrines, stone gates and images of deities carved into the island’s rock, both weathered by the elements over the centuries.
Visitors had meticulously placed coins on the statues as an offering, perhaps wishing for luck or blessings.
There were even coins tucked into spaces in the shrine’s roof.
In my opinion, this practice seems like a more logical way to achieve luck, compared to some things done in modern America. I mean, I think someone has a better chance of getting some sort of divine favor doing this, rather than throwing a quarter into a mall fountain.
But that’s just my opinion.
When I reached the other side of the island, I was able to view the other islands unobstructed by boats and tourists (mostly).
Finally, I began to feel the true beauty of this place. Islands, big and small, continued on into the seemingly endless blue horizon. The trees on the island followed the curvature of the rock, shaped by the ocean waves, which created something like an undulation of land. I sat on the edge of that island, looking out at those waves of green and brown among the crashing waves of blue and white.
I could feel Bashō whispering into my ear across the ages, “Told you so.”
Farther off into the distance, connecting the mainland with one of the larger islands, was a huge red bridge, at least five times the length of the one I crossed earlier. Feeling my spirit of adventure revived, I started moving towards the mainland again to find the entrance to that bridge. On the way there, I passed by some women, seemingly sweeping the beach with rakes, but probably doing something related to Matsushima’s other famous attraction, huge oysters.
Before I reached the larger island, I decided to check out the a shrine located on a smaller island right off the edge of the bay. The two bridges that connected the island with a smaller intermediary island and the mainland were stable, but intentionally built with huge gaps between the floorboards. Apparently, when crossing the bridge, one had to concentrate not to fall in between the boards so that they would reach the shrine, ready to concentrate on praying.
That idea may not have gone over well with western religions; I don’t think the pope would want to cross a rickety bridge above a huge moat every morning to reach the sanctum, if only for the sake of concentration.
The shrine was beautiful in itself, fashioned in ornately carved wood that withstood the test of time (and weather).
Feeling a little famished after all of my walking, I decided to splurge 200 yen on a grilled oyster.
Best. 200 yen. Spent. On. Shellfish. Ever.
After some briny seafoody goodness, I press onwards toward the largest island connected by bridge, Fukuura-jima. The bridge connecting the island is quite long, and is even more impressive when standing in front of it.
Even the 200 yen ticket I bought to use the bridge beckoned me onward towards the island.
I walked around the island, navigating through more winding trails that led to different vantage points. I discovered that, even though the various lookouts may be facing the same islands, the view is vastly different. Each point offered a different perspective on the same subject: yet another encounter with poetry in life.
Besides the islands, Matsushima is famous for the Zuigan-ji temple, a Zen-Buddhist temple connected with the Masamune family, specifically the famous “one-eyed dragon” Date Masamune who constructed the present buildings in 1606 to serve as the family temple.
Ok, so I’m sure this feudal lord was a little more intimidating than the chibi cartoon figure leads one to believe. In fact, he was one inspiration behind the creation of Darth Vader’s character.
The tree-lined walkway leading to the temple was quiet, comtemplative and, quite honestly, a little spooky.
However, just like many of the great buildings I’ve encountered in Japan, this one was under construction/restoration.
Despite that, I was able to see the museum and the treasure hall, where many of the Masamune family’s belongings are housed and various period artifacts are kept. I even got to see the one-eyed dragon’s armor, displayed in full glory beside the more subdued armor of family retainers. However, as the museum curators didn’t allow me to take pictures, you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Later on in the day, I hopped on a train towards Oku-Matsushima, a less tourist-frequented region of the archipelago. These area showed the unadulterated splendor of these natural formations. Sitting on the beach, listening to the surf and viewing the islands without a cruise ship in sight, I felt truly at peace.
I even found a senko-hanabi (incense firework) on the beach, a testament to that day’s good fortune.
I left Matsushima feeling refreshed as well as moved by the natural beauty of the place. Compared to the urban sprawl of Tokyo, all of this vast openness was a welcome change. It was the perfect beginning to my adventures in Tohoku.
Basho may have been at a loss for words, but I sure wasn’t. As I said to the wind that carried my voice out to the sea, “Wow, I’m not on Long Island anymore.”
Hey Kuya Tyler!
i really miss you. What was your favorite place you went to besides the concert?
Hmm, that’s a hard question. There were a lot of “favorite places,” a couple of them I haven’t even written about yet. However, I recently went to a Kodo (Taiko) drum festival called the “Earth Celebration,” which was amazing. It was on a big island off the west coast of Japan, called “Sado Island” (google it). That was amazing, and I’ll be writing about it soon (hopefully). Miss you guys!
Post Concert Monday: A Quick Tokyo Bite, Then Off to the North
So, after a packed, music-filled weekend, my Monday was short: woke up late, did some stuff, got on a train in Tokyo, arrived in Sendai (300 km to the north), got to the hostel and slept.
Thus, I can keep my post short (happily for me after that last slew of posts). Here are the highlights:
After getting back to Tokyo, I went to Ichizo’s office, gave him his Zazen Boys t-shirt, packed up my bag and worked out some trip logistics on my computer using his wifi. I was heading towards the Tohoku, the name for northern Honshu, and eventually Hokkaido, the most northern island in the Japanese archipelago (and the one with the most temperate summer climate). I departed his office with smiles and fond farewells. However, in the 5 hours before my bullet train left for Sendai, I decided to meet with my friend, Lui.
Rock in Japan Fes. 2010, Day 2: Indie Rock, Math Rock, Club Jazz, Girl Rock & Ska, Oh My! (Part 2/2)
So, children’s rides, huh.
I would be terrified of this ride as a child. What is that thing to the right, I don’t even know.
Finally making my way to the grass stage, I wait for Chatmonchy to come on stage. As I sit on the grass on the edge of the sprinkler radius, I saw three little kids running around the sprinkler. Believing this is the cutest thing I’ve ever seen in my life, I whip out my camera and record the moment for future generations to enjoy (again, video to follow).
You know, just sitting there on the grass, eating my packed bento and feeling the twilight envelop me to the sweet sounds of music, I really felt glad to be alive. I finally realized I was living out a life dream, right then and there. Everything felt so right.
Rock in Japan Fes. 2010, Day 2: Indie Rock, Math Rock, Club Jazz, Girl Rock & Ska, Oh My! (Part 1/2)
Coming into day 2 of the festival, the novelty of the new environment had settled a bit. I was ready to really enjoy the music around me, rather than allowing myself to be crushed in overcrowded mosh pits to fulfill my own fanboy fantasies (or, alternatively, gawking at the profusion of multicolored towels waving around me). After planning out my day from the artist lineup, and stocking up on food and green tea from the local convenience store, I boarded the local train back to Katsuta.
A couple stops down, I noticed a father and son get on the train together, sit down, and pull out matching Nintendo DS’s.
The family that plays together, stays together, I guess.
I walked into the park and found a good spot at the Lake Stage from which to view my first concert of the day, the band apart. Yes, their name is “the band apart,” and for good reason. Their sound is a unique (and eclectic) mix of punk, emo, bossa nova, jazz and electronica into a catchy yet sophisticated package. For this reason, they’re known as the “musician’s musicians” in the Japanese music scene, and I’ve become addicted to their riffs.
Pompodours, Mosh Pits and an Endless Sea of Waving Towels: Rock In Japan Fes. 2010, Day 1
For as long as I’ve had an interest in Japan, I’ve been interested in Japanese music. In my younger days, when everything I knew about Japan came from history class or pop culture, I loved the theme songs to my favorite anime. As I grew older, I learned that those songs were actual tracks recorded by well-known Japanese artists. It turns out that having a song used for an anime is a good way for a band to get notoriety in Japan. For example, The Pillows, one of my favorite bands, would not have made it big without their involvement in the hit anime Furi Kuri (FLCL). In my high school years, I moved away from the Japanese mainstream music scene (which itself is off the beaten track, ironically enough). I began to explore all the styles of the Japanese music world, finding incredible artists in the rock, pop, and hip-hop circuits. I even began to translate some of the songs, though the poetic style utilized in the lyrics made comprehension sometimes near-impossible.
I love Japanese rock and will probably continue to do so. Over a quarter of my ipod is filled with Japanese artists. The styles range from power-chord heavy, mainstream rock with catchy riffs to experimental electronica-rock with atonal chords and unorthodox meters. Yet, I never had a chance to hear any of these artists live in America. So I waited for the day when I could finally have a chance to hear one of these brilliant musicians in person.
Saturday was that day.
Ticket and guidebook in hand, I entered Tokyo station at 7:30 AM, grabbed 3 rice balls for the day at a nearby convenience store and boarded the “Fresh Hitachi” Express Train bound for Katsuta station, 80 minutes north of Tokyo by bullet train. Even though I got to the train relatively early, people had taken all of the unreserved seats an hour ago, so I set up camp in between the cars, next to the bathrooms (which was a more pleasant place than it sounds, given the general cleanliness of Japanese toilets). People going to the concert stood in every possible corner of the train for the entire ride.
Flying Solo in Kamakura (And How to Enjoy the Beach By Yourself)
On Friday, I went to Kamakura, a former capital of the Japanese shogunate and the location of many of Japan’s oldest Shinto and Buddhist temples. My journey was one without any companions, but the circumstances allowed me the opportunity to enjoy the tranquility of Kamakura in solitude. Despite being surrounded by other tourists, it was a lonely day, but one that was totally worth the trip.
Also, I found out that a little sun at the beach could brighten up any mood.
But let’s start at Friday morning. I departed my hostel around 8:30, took the Yokosuka line to Kamakura station, where I took my first steps in a non-Tokyo location in a week. I was greeted with a bright red torii (gate) right outside the train station.
Old Money, Fresh Fish and Frank Lloyd Wright: Ginza, Tsukiji, Tsukishima, Kagurazaka, and Ikebukuro in Perspective
Bread trucks: America needs them.
Taking the cue from the locals, I picked up some breakfast in the form of freshly baked bread. One vegetable baguette and melon-bread later, I’m on my way to check out where all the old money in Tokyo is found: Ginza.
Gardens & Godzilla: A Day at the East Imperial Gardens, Marunouchi and Harajuku
(This blog is so late, it’s not even funny. Mildly amusing, but DEFINITELY NOT FUNNY)
Wednesday started out just like any other day: woke up, brushed my teeth (using toothpaste, not a bottle of Jack…that’s just gross), ate a banana and flung myself headfirst into the swampy Tokyo humid heat.
All in all, a very normal start to a Tokyo day.
From my hostel in Asakusabashi, I made my way to the East Imperial Gardens of the Imperial Palace in Marunouchi. This garden is one of the few areas of the royal grounds that are open to the public. From the outside, one can easily spot the centuries-old gate among the high-rise buildings and modern city streets.