Friday, July 15, 2005

Gion and Nara

So, many, many things have happened since the last time I was able to post pictures. I say this before all of my entries I guess. Maybe I should do less so I have less to tell…or maybe I should slap myself for even joking about wasting this opportunity.

So, to begin, Thursday was the start of the Gion Matsuri. Now I had been told that for the Matsuri I needed several things: a Jinbei (one of the traditional costumes of men), Geta (those gigantic wooden sandals that you sometimes see in movies and Anime) and a date. All three were hard to come by. The Jinbei was the easiest. I found a store that sold them for $10. The Geta were a little more difficult. The kind I wanted were the traditional kind, but I found a pair of modern ones for $10, so I bought them. But I was not happy with them. Luckly, I asked the woman at the shoe department of AL Plaza, the local department store, and she was able to give me a pair of fantastic Geta, and a 5 minute long (and totally incomprehensible) history of the Geta. I smiled and nodded.

The most difficult part was the date thing. I have already written on this a little, so I will be brief. Basicly, I wanted to thank Yoko for taking me to Osaka, and I also wanted to ask her if she would take me to Nara. In the process of contemplating gifts, I decided she might also be a fun person to go to the festival with. Thus I assembled this multi-purpose giftpack. I have already told you about the confusion that ensued, so I will skip it and move on.

This is our classroom by the way.

And this is a guy who was in front of the Ryukoku University cafeteria. I have no idea why he is dressed like a demon.

So on Wednesday we all went on a field trip. First, we stopped by a place in Kusatsu that used to be a roadside hotel for visiting Daimyo. Fairly interesting. It was far smaller than I expected, and I was a little disappointed that the only thing we had access to was the quarters themselves. I am impressed by the elegant rooms of important people, but what I really want to see is the servants’ quarters and the other things that allow it to function on a daily basis. I discovered a very cool thing as well, I appear to be the exact height of an Edo period samurai!

And this is a fancy Edo period toilet.

After visiting this rest stop, we went to visit the preserved homes of some wealthy peddlers in Omi. These peddlers had very nice houses and very impressive gardens. Impressive to see that people could do such a good bussniess when virtually all goods are moved by humans and boats (no wheeled vehicles, and horses were not common). This is a cistern.

And these are Geta, in case you have never seen them. This house had a very impressive collection, which the curator was happy to show me.

Probably the neatest thing about the town of Omi was the fact that huge canals had been built for Koi, and the Koi could wander from house to house. I read somewhere once that Koi can live to be 70 years old. I wonder what the fish in Omi have seen.

And this is what the inside of a traditional Japanese house looks like. Notice the lack of furniture.

And that was the field trip. I had a good conversation with Professor Chang on the way back to Seta. Anyway, back to the Matsuri story. Well on Thursday after class Mary, Kari and I went to visit two of our tutors’ English class. We stayed until class started and tried to give their classmates a little practice. Then we rushed home in order to prepare for the Matsuri, and so we could leave at 4:30. We left at 6. I would have been pulling my hair out in frustration (there are few things that drive me crazy more than waiting for people to get ready to go out somewhere) if I hadn’t been peacefully dozing in the middle of the tatami mat floor. When we left I put on my Geta, and in no time I had adapted to them. They look very difficult to walk in, but once you get it down it is very comfortable. I was able to walk at close to my normal speed, which meant that (once again) I was way in the front. Everybody else in this program (except Kari, Mary, and Eric) is like a slug when it comes to walking places. Anyway, I decided it would probably be a good idea if I walked with my date, so I fell back. I got the feeling that she didn’t really want to walk with me though. She slowed down, and I decided to give her a little space, so I went off with other people for a bit. Here is me in front of a rice field with my Jinbei and Geta, possibly the most Japanese I will ever look.

Well the train ride was hard. Geta are very slippery, and you have to be careful not to step on anyone else’s toes, because if you do you might actually break their bones. The train ride was fun, but I had very little success in talking to my “date”, and I really got the feeling that she was a little uncomfortable, although it could just have been my imagination I suppose. Anyway, we got to our destination to be greeted by this scene.

So we broke into groups and started to walk. This is the only festival like thing we saw. I was actually really, really disappointed. Other people saw festival games and street vendors, but I saw the same shops I saw last week, and got to walk at a painfully slow pace as my “date” talked to somebody else.

So, I was starving. And when Yoko and Cindy decided to go into a regular store to look at clothes, I said to myself “ah, screw it” took this parting shot of them (Yoko on the left, Cindy on the right) and went off to a restaurant with a different group where I ate a lot of delicious squid. I am not disappointed by the way the date turned out. Utter failures make much better stories. I really need to learn more about Japanese dating though if I ever plan on moving here. I have a strong suspicion that I may have accidentially pressured her a little too much when I asked her. I also should have reasearched wether the tutors are allowed to date the exchange students. Oh well. She cheered up after it was clear I had given up, which I was glad to see, and later I even convinced her to take me to Nara the next day (which is what I really wanted in the first place).

The festival itself was much more disappointing to me. I had been expecting something kind of like what I saw in Kamakura. But it was the total opposite. Almost no one was drinking, 70% of the people there seemed to be young women who wanted to show off their Yukatas, the police had made two lanes for foot traffic and if you stopped to take pictures they would urge you along. I know there has to be something fun to do, but on Thursday night I could not find it. Thus, the most fun thing that I did on Thursday was walking around wearing the largest, loudest and most dangerous shoes on the block. I love my Geta. I even learned to run and ride a bicycle in them. I am the man in Getas.

So, on Friday I, indeed, went to Nara. The party consisted on Me, Mary, Eric (the core group of any successful trip), Yoko, Yumiko, Ryan, Brendan and Finella. A good group, but Mary, Eric and I could have traveled twice as fast if we had been alone. Anyway, we got to Nara, and found it to be very hot. Hotter than anywhere we have been. I was doing OK because I was wearing light clothing, a hat and had hydrated well. But some of us looked quite uncomfortable. Oh, and none of this is related to this picture, which is possibly the most unflattering photo of Nara station ever taken.

Well, Nara is known for two things. Buddhism and deer. Nara was once the capital of the then Buddhist Japanese Empire. And the deer? Well maybe they couldn’t have pidegins because they would have crapped all over the amazing buildings the Buddhists built. I also find the deer just a touch cuter.

We saw a lot of deer before in Mi-something-shima, and thus we did not think we wanted to see anymore deer. But the Nara deer were much cuter, smarter, better behaved and did not smell as bad. Despite my expectations, I was impressed by the Nara deer.

I had no idea that Todai-ji was so amazing. This is the first gate.

Handsome bucks.

The Second gate of Todai-ji.

Todai-ji itself. This photo was taken from a distance of maybe 120 meters with no zoom.

I have seen few structures that dominate their surroundings as much as Todai-ji.

It is amazing, due to an optical illusion, as you walk towards the building, if you look up, it appears that the building is growing to fill the entire universe.

And when you walk in side you realize you are looking at a Buddha that makes the one in Kamakura look like a teenager. A giant Buddha on a colossal lotus. It is dimly lit inside, and these pictures were very hard to get. This is the palm.

This is a smaller statue to the left of the Great Buddha.

And this is the Buddha itself. Think of the work it must have taken!

This is a statue on the left of the building that I thought was simply marvelously done.

So, one of the pillars of the temple has a small hole cut in it. If you can crawl through the whole it is good luck. The hole was actually almost too small for me, but I got through somehow. It is a really amazing experience to look up and think that the entire temple is resting on your chest.

Look how big these pillars are! All wood, and centuries old!

This is the whole. Look inside. The builders used an entire tree as the center of the pillar!

And outside of Todai-ji is one of the creepiest statues I have ever seen.

So, the review of Todai-ji is as follows. In you are in the area, not going would be a mistake. It is the second most awe inspireing religious structure I have ever seen, after St. Peter’s in Vatican City. I never expected it would be so amazing. I’m really glad I went.

So back to the subject of deer. The deer in Nara are intresting for another reason. They use crosswalks, generally look both ways, and mostly cross when the crosswalk sign turns green. They are very Japanese deer.

And this was at a cool pagoda we went to. No one ever told me what the name was.

But here it is again.

And again.

And here is the temple where there is that one gold coated Buddha. It seems like the building is arranged to reflect the setting sun off the gold, because I was there near sunset, and the sun was getting closer and closer to reflecting off the Buddha.

More deer.

And some more deer.

I really like this picture. See if you can discover why.

So these are Nara Pickles. They smelled kind of strange, and Yoko told me that she doesn’t like them. When I looked at the price, I decided I could forgo this one experience.

Alright, I have to run, I'm 10 minutes late for meeting to go to Kyoto again. By the way, the bikes we have suck.


Mom said...

Sounds like another successful day. Keep up the adventurous spirit. If you make it to Niko there is a temple with the hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil monkeys.

Love you,

キラ said...

Mom is a dork. shhheeesh is she ever goofy. Well I am glad to hear that your day wasn't a complete flop because your date was unsucessful. I am so jealous that you get to travel this summer. Sigh. I think about you every day. Believe it or not and miss you loads. Love you mucho and take care deary


David said...

I love that statue! It is so photogenic. It's too bad you don't find statues like that lying around here.

Click on my name for statues of an even more disturbing nature.

Bleecher Fam said...

Hello Trenton,
We have just been catching up on your blog and it looks like lots of fun. Your pictures of the orange gate were "stunning" (mom). and we got a kick out of the deer in the cross walk but couldn't believe the sushi plates! You seem to be keeping your blog fairly diligently, Oriana on the other hand rarely communicates from Peru. Her traveling companion Josh corresponds more with mom than she does. But we got a post letter from her the other day and she's having fun apparently. And Nick hasn't been heard from in a while he's in his room reading the newest harry potter. Are you coming back at the end of the summer or staying longer? Hope you continue having so much fun,
Love, The Bleechers

Trenton said...

Hey family, glad to see you have been keeping up. I am also glad to hear Oriana is OK.