Friday, February 26, 2010

Seijin no hi

On the second Monday in January each year a massive horde of 20 years olds dress up in their fanciest kimono and strut around town as new adults, finally allowed to drink, smoke, and vote. It's Coming of Age Day or Seijin no hi. This year I had planned a trip to Irago and Ise on the same weekend, not knowing I was about to stumble onto one of the busiest times of the year at Ise Shrine.

The crowds almost sent me into anxiety overload but the beautiful kimonos and outrageous accessories on both girls and guys was enough to make up for hyperventilating. We took the ferry from Irago to Tobu and then caught a train to Ise. Then we tried to catch a bus to the Inner Shrine - Naikyu - but we quickly realized that we would get there faster if we got off and just walked. Everywhere was packed full of people and we weren't able to eat lunch or do much souvenir shopping. We tried to get a taxi back to the train station but had to give that up as well and ended up walking.

I've been to Ise Shrine before and I think without the crowds it's a very beautiful and peaceful place but this weekend it was just chaos. Still, I was glad we went. If you want to see some more pictures (and ones that are better than mine frankly) then check out this website.

Waiting for the train to Ise we got a preview of what was to come.

Check out the big as your head hair accessories!

Walking was much faster than the bus.

The main shopping street. I don't do well with crowds so I'm hyperventilating at this point.

At the entrance to Ise's Inner Shrine.

Even the boys had on fun kimono.

Monday, February 15, 2010

My Japanese twin

Almost since I stepped off the plane here in Japan people have told me how much I look like a popular Japanese singer, Angela Aki. I had no idea who that was so I just smiled and nodded (this is my response to almost everything here in Japan now that I think about it.) I finally looked her up on wikipedia after my students started saying "Good morning, Angela" instead of "Good morning, Jennifer."

I guess I see the resemblance but I still think it's mostly the glasses. And then last spring we sang her song Tegami in chorus. I really like the song and since it's right in my range it's one of my karaoke standards now. My Japanese friends love to hear me sing in Japanese and with enough beer in them it's almost like their own personal Angela Aki concert. ;-)

What do you think? Were Angela and I separated at birth?

Friday, February 12, 2010

Pasta for Pennies

I am so proud of my high school! When I was a senior my best friend was the president of the service organization, Key Club, and I went along to the weekly meetings too. (There were also several cute boys in the club as well.) We also both spent our study hall in the Key Club advisor's classroom where for several weeks during the fund raising campaign for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society I counted out and rolled $7,000 worth of change. Our goal that year was to beat the $700 we had raised for United Way. We not only did that but raised enough to be one of the top schools in the program.

I don't know if it was the free Olive Garden lunch for the homeroom that contributed the most or Ms. Goohs' relentless enthusiasm, or if the students and parents just feel passionate about taking care of leukemia patients, but Princeton stepped up. I graduated that year but Princeton has continued to raise money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. Many years they are the top or the second highest school in the country! Last year they raised $38,000. The year before that it was $46,000.

It's amazing to look back and think that I had a hand in starting that tradition. And I'm happy to note, and a little jealous, that the students don't have to count out the change by hand anymore. Coinstar now donates a change machine. In fact, I think most of the money doesn't come from pennies found in the couch but from corporate sponsors and proud alums, but they still do collect change and they still have homeroom competitions. Their goal this year is $42,010. Hope they can do it!

Check out the school's website if you're interested.

Or the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's website.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Winter Vacation - Beppu and Fukuoka

Our last day in Beppu we decided to hit the baths again. I'll admit my one and only goal for this trip was to take an obscene amount of baths and the rest of the itinerary was Danielle's idea. I'm glad we also went to Kumamoto, Aso, and Usuki but I was there for the baths. And on December 30th I got just that. We started the day off with a hot sand bath where we were buried in sand for fifteen minutes. Once I figured out how to breath under a mountain of hot sand I was able to relax and really enjoy it. And unlike the mud bath, this place had a nice shower and water bath to rinse off in.

A picture of how the sand bath works.

Then after some lunch we headed off to Suginoi Palace, a ryokan on top of a hilltop that boasted baths and spectacular views of the city and bay. I was a little bummed at first because the weather was not cooperating. It was cloudy and was spitting rain so we didn't have the best view, but then the sun came out and we saw a spectacular rainbow. Since we were in the bath surrounded by lots of naked women, I have no pictures so you will just have to believe me when I say it was very very nice.

We tried to stay long enough to watch the sunrise but even after getting out and having a snack and a short rest, we just couldn't make it. After almost three hours in various baths and the sauna I was cooked and ready to get back to the hostel. Turns out there is such a thing as too much bath time because I ended up with what I call an onsen hangover. All that hot water dehydrated me and I ended up with an upset stomach, a horrible headache, and the general grossness that you usually get when you've had too much to drink.

The next day we got up late and got ready to leave. We had reserved bus tickets back to Fukuoka but right before we left the guy at the front desk called the bus center and found out that our bus had been canceled. Snowy weather had closed the roads higher up in the mountains. So we had to take a later train. I was a little worried we might not get tickets since it was New Year's Eve and many Japanese people were traveling to be with their families on New Years Day. It's like Christmas Eve back home.

The line for train tickets!

We eventually made it to Fukuoka, albeit a little later than we had planned. We dropped our stuff at the hotel and ventured out to see some of the city. We visited Shofukuji Temple - Japan's first zen temple. And also Tochoji Temple which also houses a very large wooden Buddha.

Then it was on to Canal City to do some shopping. I bought some new gloves and also a fukubukuro or a New Year's grab bag. Mine was a cheaper one so I paid 525 yen for a closed bag filled with equal or greater value than what I paid. I ended up with a bunch of cute accessories. I probably won't wear most of it but it was fun and worth the small amount I paid for it. Other stores sell more expensive ones and they are very popular at New Years in Japan.

Tochoji Temple

People paid $500 to write their wishes for the coming year on these roofing tiles.

A very large wooden Buddha. (I got yelled at for taking this picture...oops.)

Japan's first Zen temple.

Canal City

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My fukubukuro

Since I was still recovering from my onsen overload from the day before, going out and doing much for New Year's didn't seem like a good idea. It's not very Japanese anyway. So we stayed in the hostel, resisted the efforts of the staff to get us to eat the traditional New Year's Eve meal of soba noodles, and went out around 11:30 to a nearby shrine. When we got there the line to pray was already incredibly long so Danielle (who is Buddhist) decided it was too cold to wait. A security guard invited us to stand near him and his kerosene heater so we chatted with him about where we were from and asked him questions about the New Years traditions. At midnight, a priest played the taiko drum and people started praying for good luck in the new year and throwing their coins.

We left soon after and headed back to the hostel. The next morning we got up late, packed slowly, and headed back to the airport for our return flight home. All in all in was a great trip!

The line to pray at the shrine. Happy New Year!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Winter Vacation - Usuki

Our second day in Beppu we decided to skip the marathon baths and take a day trip out to Usuki, a nearby town that is famous for its ancient buddha statues carved into the nearby cliffs. There are around 50 buddhas and they were only restored in the last ten years or so. I wish I had more information on them but the English explanations in the brochure were not very enlightening. We did see some fierce looking non-buddha statues that were buried up to the waist by soil after a typhoon. I believe they were protectors of a sort. Either way it was a cold but clear day and unlike some places in Beppu there were very few people about so it was worth the trip.

On the train ride there though I was accosted by an older Japanese gentlemen who wanted to show me his vacation pictures. He even gave me some of the doubles to keep. This has happened before. Erin and I left Meiji Shrine back in May with vacation pictures AND cake last May from an elderly Japanese man who talked our ear off. That guy at least spoke English. This one didn't and because of the noise from the train and his weak voice it was almost impossible to understand him so I just smiled and nodded. Danielle thought the whole thing was hilarious and was very unhelpful since in her words, "he wasn't talking to me." I promised to look more unapproachable on the train ride back to Beppu but even reading a book I still was approached by another man who wanted to know if I was from America and could he take my picture. When I go out to tourist attractions in Japan I have to be careful not to become one myself!

My new friend.

Once in Usuki, we visited the buddha statues and then grabbed lunch. I ordered the tori-ten or tempura chicken, which sounds like it would just be fried chicken but it was so so much more.







Next is our last day in Beppu and New Year's in Fukuoka.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010


JLPT results came today and it was happy happy news.

I passed!

As I suspected I did the worst on the listening and best on the vocab.

Vocab - 79%
Listening - 57%
Grammar/reading - 68%

For a total score of 68%. Woohoo! I officially have me some low intermediate Japanese skillz.