Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ryoanji (and some nuns)

I've been to Kyoto twice before so I wasn't exactly thrilled when Kristin said she wanted to go there. Although really it was my fault because I did suggest it. But we did manage to see some things I hadn't seen before (and some things I had that I wanted to see again like Fushimi Inari.) One of them being a convent! That's right, because Kristin's mom works for the Sisters of St. Joseph we were able to stay with some sisters connected to them in Kyoto. I told them early on I wasn't Catholic so I didn't get the pressure to become a nun/missionary that Kristin did but they were all lovely and took good care of us.

The other great thing was that their retreat house was right across the street from Ryoanji Temple - one of the many hundreds of temples that hadn't really made it onto my radar, but I was very happy we went. Ryoanji is famous for its Zen rock garden. There are 15 large rocks floating in a sea of gravel that is raked every morning. 15 is a perfect number but from the viewing platform you can only see 14 at a time. If you move to see the last one, another rock slips from view. Only through attaining Enlightenment can you see all 15. (No luck so far! But I did fit through Buddha's nostril at Todaiji so there's hope yet.) It might have been a very peaceful experience if there hadn't been a crowd of junior high school students also visiting at the same time.

And if you take a picture you can only get five boulders.



Besides the rock garden there is a beautiful garden.

And a nice pond!

And Sister Jeannie and Kumiko and maybe a future Sister Kristin??? ;-)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fushimi Inari

When visiting Kyoto it is important to narrow down which temples you want to see because a)there is no way to see them all and b)you want to avoid temple overload. After awhile in Japan all the temples can start looking the same. But Fushimi Inari was one temple that I was very excited to go back and visit again.

The grounds are immense and extend up to the top of the mountain. Along the trails up there are thousands of orange torii gates, at times creating a tunnel of orange. On the way up there are smaller shrines and tea houses where you can stop for refreshment (or in my case some kinako ice cream.) The view from the top offers a panorama of Kyoto.


Prayer cards shaped as foxes.

Smaller shrines dot the trails on the way up the mountain.


The view on the way up.

And heading back down.

I think you can understand why this temple is one of my favorites in Japan. It is truly stunning.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Robot Ramen

Last week I was in Nagoya with my friend Kristin, who was visiting all the way from Chicago, when we stopped at Fa-men, a restaurant where two robots make the ramen. If you think that Japan is a crazy exotic land where toilets talk to you and robots feed you ramen then you are absolutely right. And we got to experience that firsthand. It was pretty awesome. Or as the Japanese would say "SUGOI!"

And the ramen is pretty good too.

And on top of all that they are inspirational robots!

More from Kristin's visit later.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009


My students asked me if I wanted to ride unicycles with them today. I declined. Because falling on my face in the dirt in front of a bunch of elementary school kids just isn't my thing. But they look cool don't they?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Day in My Life

I'm back in Japan and since this is my last year I've decided to make sure I document not just my travels around Japan and Asia but to really showcase what day to day life in the countryside of Japan is like. Because it is different. Sometimes really different.

A while back I took photos throughout my day at school. This is a day in my life at elementary school from start to finish.

Walking to the train station.

I stop to admire the nano-hana flowers. These are a big deal here in Tahara. There is even a special nano-hana decorated train.

I buy a ticket for 130 yen.

I don't get the nano-hana train this morning. Boo!

My friends and I play a game with our tickets. The first person who can make theirs add up to 10 wins. I usually lose, but today I get lucky. 9-8=1 and 3*3=9. 9+1=10. But no one is there for me to gloat.

I walk by fields of cabbage. I hate cabbage and because it's so abundant here I get to eat it almost every day. Woohoo!

It's a five minute walk from the train station to school. Here I am!

I change into my "inside" shoes. And am immediately approached by the 2nd grade teacher who apologizes for leaving me with her class of 38 students by myself yesterday. I was traumatized at the time, but I'm over it now.

My schedule for the day. Five classes! I am going to be busy.

I quickly finish up a one point lesson for the teachers even though I have missed the morning teacher's meeting. No worries because they have their monthly meeting this afternoon so I can give it then. My art skills leave much to be desired.

First class is 3rd grade. We learn animals, the noises they make, and "I have a cat/dog/chicken" and "I don't have a cat/dog/chicken" etc.

Karuta at the board with pica-pica hammers is a big hit with the kids.

My second group of third graders get the same lesson. Here they are showing me their fish faces.

Third period and the first grade really likes Duck, Duck, Goose. Except in this case we played Cat, Cat, Dog.

Fourth period, the special ed class makes a dice with the animals on it. We bounce them around and whenever they fall on the floor they have to call out the animal it lands on...or I call out the animal and try to get them to repeat it after me. It's mildly successful.

Lunchtime with the third graders. These kids are on lunch duty today, so they get all dressed up in their protective gear and dish it out to the rest of the class.

We get some perversion of spaghetti today. I put quite a lot of mine back in the pot. Itadakimasu!

After lunch the kids brush their teeth. The teacher has a timer and they have to brush until it beeps while I sit and watch. There's also a brushing your teeth song that plays over the intercom. Sometimes I dance to it and they laugh at me.

Time for cleaning. I sit in the teacher's room and talk with the kids who pretend to clean but spend most of their time wrestling.

Then I pretend to study Japanese for awhile, but really I'm spacing out and reminding myself I only have one more class to go.

Fifth period and the fourth graders are learning weather. I'm really tired at this point and they are in some sort of lunch induced coma so none of us are very genki, but we all get through it. They might have even learned something in the process.

After class, I'm too tired to try and study so I hit the computer and check my blogroll instead.

Usually I have to stick around until 4:00 but since there is a teacher's meeting in the afternoon, I give my one-point lesson and then get out of there at 3:30.

Waiting for the train. I'm in Toshima trying to get back to Tahara.

When the train comes I realize it's a nano-hana train. Yippee! Everything is decked out in yellow, including the fans, seats, and handholds.

Walking back to the apartment. I tried getting a shot of Mount Zao in the background with it's trademark windmill, but you can't really see it in this picture.

Finally at home. Outside shoes off...

And house shoes on. This work day is over!