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Real Last Day at Airinkan, and Nara

Today was a pretty full day, where I actually did quite a lot, for once. I got up early to meet Sam to go to the day center, to give this guy a mix CD I had made for him as a thank-you for the two CDs of classic rock he had given me, as well as to pick up my shoes which I had forgotten, and to just show Sam around and introduce him to everyone. It was nice seeing everyone again, and it felt almost like I had never left. I may not miss it that much now, but I think I will someday.

After that we met up with Noah, got some really good ramen in this part of Kyoto Station I had never even been to before, and then took a train to Nara. It really made me realize that I had barely scratched the surface of what Kyoto has to offer in my month here, and I sort of feel like I wasted it doing nothing. But at least I did get to see the major sights, and go to Nara today.

Anyway, after a relatively long train ride, we made it to Nara, which is beautiful, by the way. The main attraction, though, is the hordes of deer that inhabit the area. We bought some crackers specially made for them and fed them to the deer, which were pretty aggressive. These deer are pretty different from the deer I’m used to on the East Coast–their fur is darker and seems more wild, and they aren’t really afraid of humans at all, they just come right up to you expecting food. I almost got into some kind of dangerous situations, what with them surrounding me and bumping me and nipping at my legs, but it was all really fun. In fact I kind of wanted to do it again haha, but Noah and Sam were kind of over it. I think I sort of became a scene, as the gaijin (foreigner) being attacked by deer, so a bunch of people took pictures of me haha.

Then we went onward to the Daibutsu, which is similar to the one in Kamakura, but inside a huge temple. And when I say huge, I mean huge. This was definitely the biggest temple I’ve ever seen. The Daibutsu is apparently bigger than the one in Kamakura, too. Needless to say, pretty awesome. I definitely want to go back to Nara, maybe on my trip with Vageesha and Jon.

We had to sort of rush back because Noah was going to meet up with Kayla and their friend to have dinner, so Sam and I went to this place called Donguri near the station, which is a chain of okonomiyaki places. Okonomiyaki is this sort of egg-like thing with sauce and vegetables mixed into it, really really good. We were amazed by how nice the place was. To get to the tables, you walk across this floor of glass, underneath which are these nice-looking white stones, and then you get your own little room closed off from the other diners. Really really nice, and good food for the prices. Personally I prefer when you aren’t in a closed-off room–I like drunkenly talking to the groups next to me–but it was really good talking to Sam, which I had really never done before then. Truthfully, during the trip today it was a lot of Noah and Sam talking, sounding pretty intelligent, and me feeling not-very-smart and not wanting to embarrass myself. But when I talked to Sam, it was perfectly natural and fun. Well, maybe that was because of the great beer, but still.

Anyway, that’s all for today. Enjoy some photos and music.

I’ve been into The Field lately–they have a lot of long, chill songs. This one’s a cover of a Beck song that I love.

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Kinkakuji

I’m feeling a bit better now, so I promise no more sad stuff on this blog! My time in Kyoto is coming to a close soon, and I’m kinda disappointed in myself for not visiting more shrines and temples. There are apparently over 2,000 in total, and I’ve seen maybe three, though they were definitely three big ones. The third one is Kinkakuji (The Temple of the Golden Pavilion) which I saw a few days ago with Noah. After reading Yukio Mishima’s The Temple of the Golden Pavilion, a classic Japanese novel about the monk who burned down the temple in 1950, I was excited to follow in the main character’s footsteps and see with my own eyes the beautiful temple that he raved about. When I actually saw it, though, it was kind of a letdown. First off, it’s not that big. And maybe it was because it was cloudy that day, but it wasn’t as pretty as I expected it to be. Only the top two floors were golden, actually–I guess they were redone after the tragic burning–but for some reason the bottom floor was kinda bad-looking. It looked good in the pictures I took, though haha. There wasn’t much else to do–you see the temple and then you leave–so Noah and I went to a nearby area with a bunch of old shrines, hoping to find this famous Zen rock garden. We didn’t find it, but we did go into a couple of the shrines, which weren’t all that interesting to be honest. But we topped it off with kaiten-zushi, which made up for it haha.

Sam, the other foreign exchange student in our program who is doing the same Kyoto program that me and Kayla have been doing the past month, but starting in a few days, just got to Kyoto. We met up with him at Starbucks and told him a bit about the two places he’ll be working at. We also planned out some stuff to do tomorrow: Sam and I are gonna go to the day center, so I can get my shoes that I forgot and give this guy a mix CD, and also to show Sam around. Then afterwards we’re gonna meet up with Noah and go to Nara, and probably get attacked by deer haha.

That’s all for today. Here are some pictures from Kinkakuji:

Here’s the second single off Coldplay’s upcoming album, another very low-key song. I’m liking this direction.

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Fushimi Inari-taisha

Sorry for not posting for a while. A lot of serious stuff’s been going on that I’d rather not talk about here, so I haven’t exactly felt like writing lately. But it might do me some good to write. I haven’t really been going out much, except to do groceries or go to work, so there’s not a whole lot to talk about, but I did go alone to Fushimi Inari-taisha, which is this huge shrine on a mountain with paths of gates that you go through. I had gone thinking it would do me some good to clear my head in such a peaceful place, plus Erika had recommended it to me. I thought maybe I would have some kind of epiphany or something, but nope. Took some good pictures though.

Work has been fine. Sometimes it’s busy, but usually it’s not, so I can just relax in the back. New people I haven’t seen before come every day, which keeps things interesting. I stopped trying to remember their names, though. They’re all pretty nice people, but probably not the kind of people I would hang out with after work. Well, maybe if I were working there longer I could get to know them better, but I’m only there for two more days so I doubt it. It sucks not to have friends here, especially now, but I’ve been talking to my friends online which helps. But I guess it’s also a good time for self-reflection. It sounds stupid or cliche but I’ve sorta been struggling with figuring out who I am and what I want. Oh well, I go back to Tokyo in six days so I’ll have my support system again soon.

Anyway, sorry to bore you with my sad talk. Enjoy the pictures I took. I plan on going to Kinkakuji tomorrow with Noah so I’m excited for that. Also we might see The Hobbit, which I’ve been wanting to see for a while now.

Here’s Coldplay’s new single, Midnight. The video sucks but I really like the song. Of course all the melancholy stuff comes when I’m sad.

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Goodbye Airinkan, Hello Bazaar Café

The past few days have been rather busy, with ending my old job and starting my new one. On Thursday, my day off, Tsuya-san (a co-worker), two of her friends, Noah (Kayla’s boyfriend) and I went to Sanjo to do some shopping and eating. I felt kind of bad for Noah since he doesn’t speak any Japanese, but I was able to translate a little and one of Tsuya-san’s friends spoke some English. Tsuya-san is in this all-girls punk rock band, and the two friends were her bandmates. Pretty crazy, not-at-all ordinary Japanese, to say the least haha. They’re really into manga and otaku stuff, so we went to the Kyoto Manga Museum, which is more just a library with pretty much all manga ever made where people can browse and read them there. There was also this student exhibition going on from this special manga university, where students showed off their work. There was one collection of a ton of monster trading cards that I thought was Digimon at first, and was impressed when I learned it was a student’s work. I got a free card out of it, which was cool.

After that we did some shopping, but didn’t actually buy anything. I failed to find a Hatsune Miku poster, unfortunately haha. They also showed us the venue that their band played at, which was owned by one of the band member’s husbands. After that they took us to their friend’s tattoo parlor. The guy was completely covered in tattoos. I was really surprised since tattoos are pretty taboo in Japan. People tend to think you’re yakuza, so you’re not usually allowed into public baths and onsen.

My last day at the Airinkan (the name of the day care center) was pretty nice. Tsuya-san arranged this whole sending-off thing, where everyone drew or wrote something in this notebook and then gave it to me. We also listened to some Kyary Pamyu Pamyu songs of my choosing, which I was very happy about. It was a really nice gesture, especially since I’d only been there for a couple weeks. It made me kind of sad to be leaving. But I was excited about having much more free time with my next job.

Speaking of, my first day at the Bazaar Café went pretty smoothly. The staff is made up of me, a third-year high school student named Kazuki, the owner (I think?) whose name I can’t remember, a middle-aged woman named Reika-san, and a twenty-something girl named Fukki, I think. From what Kayla had told me, it sounded like it was going to be a very slow job. Their main customers are college students from the nearby university, but right now since it’s spring break, business is slow. But my first day was surprisingly busy. Quite a few customers came in, and I busily tried to figure out what to do and how things worked, which I think I more or less managed to do. The staff is pretty nice. Kazuki is kind of weird though, doesn’t really talk at all unless someone talks to him, and even then he doesn’t really say much. He also didn’t really help out that much. But by the end of the day I managed to hold a conversation about video games with him, which was fun.

I also got dragged by one of the customers to his table, where he introduced me to his friends and asked me a bunch of questions, which somehow led to arm wrestling haha. That was pretty interesting, though there was clearly something off about them.

Anyway, all-in-all pretty good time in Kyoto so far. Well, not entirely. Erika and I had a very serious talk about our relationship, and are taking some time to think about how to proceed. We’ll see what happens.

Here’s a song off Phantogram’s new album. Thanks for reading.

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Sports Center and Kiyomizu-dera

The past few days have been pretty great. On Saturday, in a break with what I usually do at work, I went with this other group called Yurin that takes mentally handicapped children to do fun things. They meet every Saturday, and they’re in the building right next to the Day Center, but I never knew about them. It’s too bad because yesterday was the first and last time I would be with them. They’re quite an entertaining bunch. Mori-san, from the Day Center, came with me, so I had at least one person I knew. There’s one guy in Yurin that has a pink mohawk and is the singer in a Japanese hardcore punk band called Warhead. Definitely the most interesting person I’ve met in a while. They’re coming to Tokyo in April so I said I would try and see them live. It’s so crazy that a guy like that also volunteers to play with mentally handicapped children in his spare time. There were also two guys and a girl around the same age was me, which was a nice change from all the old (well, adults) people that work at the Day Center.

We went to this sports center where they have a bunch of rooms, each one outfitted for different activities, like swimming, basketball, and ping-pong. We had a room with a floor covered in mats, an air trampoline, a ball pit, and a bunch of big bouncy balls. If you don’t know this about me, I’m pretty much five years old at heart, so needless to say, I was in heaven. It was great being able to enjoy myself and have fun with people without having to communicate much. There were only about four children with us, so most of the time I was just playing by myself or with the other staff. It was so much fun, but by the end of the day I was pretty exhausted. Getting up at 6 in the morning every day is a pain.

Today was a day off, and after several hours of procrastinating and loafing around, I finally went to Kiyomizu Temple. It’s about a 35-minute walk from my apartment, and very easy, only a couple turns. I took a ton of pictures, which I’ll post below. Everyone who was there was with other people, whether they were friends, couples, or part of a tour group, so it was kind of weird being alone, but I didn’t care after a while. I’m actually pretty surprised how okay I am with being alone in public. For so long I was scared to go out to eat alone or do stuff on my own.

Anyway, to get to the temple I walked up this hill lined with cute (but overpriced) cafés and omiyage shops. I went into a couple of the shrines, and watched how people would pray in front of them. I also did this thing where you shake a box until a stick comes out through a little hole, which has a number on it, which corresponds to a certain fortune, ranked by varying degrees of luck. Somehow I managed to get dai-kichi, which is the best luck you can get. I don’t understand, usually I’m the unluckiest person ever, literally never won anything luck-related in my life. I also did this thing where you hold out a cup attached to a long rod to catch the water sprinkling down from above, then wash your hands and drink some of it. I guess for good luck?

The rest of the temple was super pretty. Since it’s on the top of a hill, you can look out over all of Kyoto. Lots of shrines, and shops selling various good luck charms. Didn’t buy any, though–I’m not exactly the superstitious type.

On my way back I stopped at this café where almost everything was matcha-flavored. I’m not really a fan of matcha so I just got regular coffee, but it was right next to a Studio Ghibli shop, which I LOVE, so I went there immediately after. I kept thinking how Erika would love it–matcha and Ghibli are two of her favorite things. I also got this shirt that says omotenashi on it, which I think I explained in an earlier post.

Anyway, that’s all for now. See ya next time.

Here’s a song off Bombay Bicycle Club’s new album.

Bombay Bicycle Club – Home By Now

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Kyoto, Day 7

Well, I’ve been living in Kyoto for almost a week now, and I think I’m already starting to get used to it. Getting up at 6 in the morning for the day care center is hard, but it’s also nice to have time in the morning to sip coffee at Starbucks and do some Japanese studying. Even though the first day I felt pretty useless and wasn’t sure if I’d like the day care center, the next few days I felt much better about it. They’ve started to ask me to do more, so I feel more involved. The work is pretty easy–most of the time I’m just talking or playing with the patients. I think some of the female patients have fallen for me which is adorable haha.

I’ve begun to develop a sort of rapport with my co-workers, too. They’re incredibly nice, and try to make me feel included. They put on this game where the patients threw a ball (or had staff throw a ball) to each other while music played in the background, and when the music stopped, the patient with the ball had to ask me a question (or, one of the staff made up a question and asked for the patient). Stuff like what music I liked, my favorite Japanese food. It was a lot of fun.

Tuesday was a Japanese holiday called National Foundation Day (Kenkoku Kinen no Hi), which celebrates the ascension of Japan’s first emperor, Emperor Jimmu. (Thanks, Wikipedia!) Although for some reason, on that day everyone talks about leprosy, which is known as Hansen’s Disease in Japan. I guess it was a really huge problem before, not just in Japan but all over the world, although I’m not sure why they choose this day to talk about it. Anyway, everyone gathered in the building next door, where we sang songs and stuff loosely Christian-related. That’s when I realized that these people are probably all members of a church, and volunteer here as part of that community. Apparently the café is the same way. Well, it’s not like they make me go to church, so I have no problem with it. Some guy from outside of Kyoto came and gave a pretty long presentation about the history of leprosy. The parts that I understood were pretty interesting, though I stopped listening about halfway through.

Afterwards I was invited with some of the staff to go to Fushimi with this sensei who had come to talk about leprosy. We visited a couple of museums that he wanted to see, and we were all surprised when the other staff, Kyoto natives, had never been to them before. The first museum, Teradaya, was an inn where some delegates from the government at the time met with some radicals planning a coup detat to try to dissuade them, which failed–the radicals pulled swords on them and killed several of the delegates. The second museum, the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum, was all about the history of the sake company, Gekkeikan. Fushimi is a traditional sake-brewing district, so there’s sake everywhere. I’ll post pictures of both museums below.

After that we went to this little street that made up of Fushimi’s only shopping area, which made me kinda miss Tokyo. Sensei bought some omiyage for his family, and I almost bought a t-shirt that said “Omotenashi” which means “hospitality,” but is relevant now because it’s the word the Japanese representative used in Japan’s acceptance of Tokyo as the location of the 2020 Olympic Games. It’s sort of a running joke among Japanese now, so here’s the video to show you. (It’s from 0:15-0:22.)

Anyways, after that we went to an Okinawa-cuisine restaurant. Okinawa cuisine really isn’t that great, so I’m not sure why people always make a big deal out of it…Still, it was a lot of fun and I was ecstatic to already have been invited out by them. Even though I couldn’t contribute much to the conversation, or follow what they were saying, at least I got a free meal out of it. (And slightly intoxicated haha.)

Yesterday a new guy came from India, although he wasn’t exactly new. I hadn’t seen him before since he’d been taking a brief break, but he’d apparently been working at the center for several years. He speaks fluent English and very good Japanese, so we had a few conversations. He told me about how he married a Japanese woman and, even though he didn’t want to live in Japan, it ended up working out that way once they had a daughter. He’s lived in Japan for like 25 years now, and his daughter is a college student who wants to take this year to travel around the world. Pretty interesting guy to say the least.

That night I was invited to eat dinner at Kayla’s place, and she and her boyfriend Noah made me stir-fry. It was so nice of them, and we had great talks about how our work had been going.

Today was another day off that I sort of wasted doing nothing, but I don’t really care. I’ll try to visit a temple on Sunday, but I feel like I have time to just take it easy. I’m really enjoying my time so far and I’m looking forward to what else Kyoto has in store for me.

Here’s a song by the great side-project of lead singer of The Shins, Broken Bells.

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