Z is for 材料

Z is for zairyou, or the Japanese word for ingredients. Life in Japan can be a wonderful experience, but not everyone who comes here loves it, or understands it. Beyond the obvious language and custom barriers, there is also the physical barrier (if you look foreign, then you will always be foreign) and social barrier. Some people find it exceptionally easy to make friends and fit in, and others swear that they are unable to make any sort of lasting relationship. I personally think it’s all about what you put into it.

Japan loves subtlety. It’s in their language, in their mannerisms, and in their food. As an American living here, I often find the most traditional foods of Kyoto lack any real flavor “punch”. The beauty is in the presentation of the food; the ingredients are simple, visible.

I think on its most basic level, communications in Japan are like this. Soft, pleasant, not overpowering.

However, go to different regions, like Osaka, and all bets are off. Osaka likes its food fried and loud, with cabbage cakes (okonomiyaki) and fried octopus balls (takoyaki) being its signature dishes. The people here are boisterous and friendly, eager for a party.

I guess what I’m trying to say is: if you want to know the people, know their food!

Images hosted on Flickr.

First Snow in Kyoto

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Takaragaike Picnic

Arima-onsen, White Day

IMG_4431 Osaka with Taisuke 17

And so ends, Blogging A-Z in April 2015! Woo! What a ride! Thank you to everyone who visited me this month. Be sure to check out my Reflections post later, in May. I hope to continue seeing you all around after the event. 😌

X is for X

X is for batsu, or the Japanese word for wrong, typically written as ‘X’. As a teacher, I use “batsu” a lot. But I’m not going to use this post to talk about what was “wrong” with anything; rather, I’m going to talk about my misconception about teaching in general. When I first arrived in Japan, I was adamant that I would never get a teaching job. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it, or be good at it, and I wanted to be special, and do something truly “fascinating” with my time in this country.

Well, then Tohoku happened. As I’ve mentioned in a few blog posts, I came to Japan as a foreign exchange student. However, half a year before my program was over, the great tsunami hit. I had to find an income quickly or I would have been forced to return home early. Teaching was the only job available.

I have been working at the same school now for five years with NJ (another bonus), and I am going to miss it so much. The children, the parents, my boss. I almost cried when I gave my notice last month. It’s unreal that I’ll really be leaving. The school has become my family, and some of these children I have watched grow up from 18 months to seven years of age. I have seen the school move to a new location, and with the help of NJ, designed it from scratch with our boss to make it the best school it could be. Leaving Japan really will mean leaving a huge piece of myself behind. Necessary, but terribly hard.

Images hosted on Flickr. 

Work

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V is for 自販機

V is for jihanki, or the Japanese word for vending machine. Summers in Kyoto are quite hot, and winters are frigid. When you’re outside trying to get from place to the next, staying hydrated and warm is no easy feat. It can seem hard to justify a cafe visit or stop-in at a supermarket for a single drink. However, that doesn’t stop the locals from keeping the whistles wet. Kyoto has thousands upon thousands, maybe even a million, vending machines at their disposal.

Vending machines carry everything you can think of. Water, soda, juices, coffee (hot or cold). It can even make you mochas and cappuccinos if you’re late for work. Some machines sell soup in a can, or whole fruit, or wrapped pastries. You can even find cigarette and liquor vending machines (which won’t activate unless you swipe a valid ID card), or try Japan’s unique flavors, like “pancake au lait” or “rare cheese orange juice”. I don’t recommend the latter!

The convenience of having a vending machine always nearby has been a blessing; I never have to carry a backpack or more than my camera and my wallet. It’s going to take some getting used to, not having that anymore!

Images hosted on Flickr. 

Ichijoji 2-22-1584

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U is for 宇治

U is for Uji, one of the most famous places in Japan for green tea, and especially matcha. As I promised during my R is for ラリー post this month, I’m going to talk a bit about the green tea store we went to while we were there for the stamp rally. It was truly amazing – the shop owner there is actually the 16th generation of the family that has owned the tea shop for the last 500 years. He showed us all sorts of articles he has been in all throughout the world, and interviews for television, and explained that his shop was actually the “Champion” of Japan – that is, voted best matcha in Japan. It was really exciting to get that sort of explanation before we went back into the cafe to have a taste of his special matcha. There were machines grinding the matcha fresh in an alcove beside the cafe, and only two tables in all the shop. The shopkeeper explained to us later it was because for the last 500 years, they have only worked on refining their tea, not making their enterprise bigger…. boy, could you taste it! It was so good!

ca8f2-shapeimage_1-18After tea, the owner encouraged us to go up to the top of the shop with us, where the store’s personal historical items were on display. It was really awesome, to get a personal historical explanation from the store owner and nationwide champion for nearly twenty minutes in Japanese. He said it was because we had shown so an interest in the tea, more than he saw in most Japanese people who visited his shop. I learned all kinds of cool stuff- for instance, many famous people have drunk this shop’s tea, including the Emperor. At one point in history, the emperor had them hand carry a barrel of tea in royal procession from Uji (near Kyoto) to Edo (now Tokyo). Also, Uji has the least amount of land devoted to tea growing, and is ranked 6th in the country in terms of quality, but despite that, his own shop is #1- not just in age (it’s the oldest at 500 years), but also in taste and quality. His family’s techniques are nearly identical to the methods Sen no Rikyu used, and he teaches tea classes every so often for around $9 that let you grind your own matcha. I really want to try and do this before we leave!

Images hosted on Flickr.

Genji Monogatari Rally - Uji

Genji Monogatari Rally - Uji

Uji with Friends

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Uji with Friends

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T is for 寺

T is for tera, or the Japanese word for temple. If you can say nothing else of Kyoto, it’s that there is no shortage of temples. There are at least 1,600 in the vicinity of the city and its suburbs, serving several sects of Buddhism and Taoism. Naturally, I haven’t been to them all, but I have many favorites. I’ll share a few of the temples that are in my neighborhood; about five minutes from my house!

圓光寺 Enkōji

In 1601, this temple was erected in Fushimi as a school for samurai and poets. It was decreed that they would study Confucianism there. It was commissioned by Ieyasu Tokugawa just one year after the Battle of Sekigahara, where, after wiping out all other opposition, he had become the ruling shogun of Japan, establishing a reign that would last until the Meiji Era in 1868. It is part of the Rinzai sect of Buddhism and was first headed by San’yo Genkitsu of the Ashikaga.

The temple was moved to the Ichijoji area in 1667 by a later Tokugawa shogunate, where it has remained. It is being used as a dojo for Nanzen Temple currently, but until recently is has been a nunnery. The temple is most famous, however, for its printing practices that were imported from Korea. Some of the woodblocks they used at the time are still available, so are on display. Some of the sets are over 400 years old.

Enkouji is also highly recommended for viewing momiji (red maple leaves) in the fall. It has a lovely quiet garden that is full of maple trees, with a towering forest of bamboo in the back. It is a lovely temple, and worth a visit, though it is small. There is a small display room for their old woodblock printing press and some scroll paintings, as well a cemetery above the complex. Upon entering the garden, there is a small stone well with bamboo poles. If you put your ear to one of the poles, you can hear the water reverberating like a bell. It is called a suikinkutsu. It’s quite unique!

Images hosted on Flickr. 

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金福寺 Konpuku-ji

Konpuku-ji is part of the Rinzai sect of Japanese Buddhism. Its principal deity for worship is Aryavalokitesvara, a manifestation of Avalokiteśvara (or in Chinese, Guānyīn). It’s a bit to the south of Shisendō, and is where the great artist and poet Buson’s grave is as well. Matsuo Bashō stayed at this temple in a cottage while he was sojourning in Kyoto writing poems. Buson was a great admirer and follower of Bashō, and upon finding the old site of the cottage where Bashō stayed, he erected Bashō-an, a replica of the retreat Bashō had stayed in.

The temple was founded in 864 by a priest named Jikaku. it was the great spiritual teacher Ennin’s dying wish that Aryavalokitesvara be enshrined there. Ennin is an important figure to temples in this area, and is most well known for becoming the head monk at Enryaku-ji between the period of 854 to 864, when he died. When the temple was first built, it was actually part of the Tendai school, but fell into ruination in the 1600s. Later, the priest Tesshū revived it and it was converted into a Rinzai school for the Nanzen-ji branch of the sect. Shortly after, Tesshū’s close friend Bashō visited the temple and stayed in the small cottage that would later be the site of Bashō-an. The site was revived by Buson in 1776, under support by the then head monk of the temple, Shoso. Buson and his disciples were all put to rest on the premises, in a small graveyard to the side of Bashō-an in a grove of cedar trees.

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詩仙堂 Shisendō

Shisendō was built by a landscape architect and scholar by the name of Jōzan Ishikawa in 1641. Jōzan was a son of a samurai family in Mikawa Province, and was one of Ieyasu Tokugawa’s personal attendants for many years. After retiring from service, he moved to Kyoto and built Shisendō as a hermitage. It is named after the thirty-six classical poets he selected and displayed in the main room, whose portraits can still be seen today.

Jōzan was a master of Chinese poems and Reisho, a type of calligraphy. He also helped bring the art of Sencha to Japan, a type of green tea. Over forty years after his death, a Shingon priest was assigned to the hold the ownership of the villa, and then, in 1743, the prince Kan-in-no-Miya assigned a zen nun to the post. Every since that time, all of the head nuns or priests have all belonged to the Soto Zen group. It is actually listed as one of the temples under the head temple of Soto Zen, Eiheiji, founded by Dogen.

There is a working sōzu, the clacking bamboo fountain which serves as a Japanese scarecrow, as well as a small waterfall. The maple trees boughs hang quite low, like great red parousels in autumn.

(Sadly, I lost all of my photos from this temple when I switched computers! Instead, I’ll share a few more photos of the lovely temples in the city)

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