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japanshin
15 July 2016 @ 12:11 am
If you've ever stayed with me in Japan, I've probably taken you to Koya-san.
We went by fast train, slow train, creaking-up-the-mountain train, and cable car.
And we didn't walk, for sure. . .

Long, long ago Kobo Daishi, posthumously referred to as Kukai, ventured into the mountains and found a peaceful area surrounded by five mountains. Five is a very auspicious number in Chinese lore, which spread to Japan as well. It represents all elements of this world: Fire, earth, water, air, and space. Kobo Daishi was the founder of Shingon Buddhism and he had erected a stupa which is said to be at the center of the earth. What more could you want in a center than a giant religious symbol surrounded by the five elements of the world? I'd certainly believe it!

The appeal of Buddhism was originally in contrast to idol-worshipping religions that came and went like fads in ancient times. I suppose if you are Japanese, you could still see the worship of kami as frivolous idol worshipping and wish instead to find peace within yourself.

One stipulation of those times was that women could not step upon religious ground. In Japan going way back to even before Shinto and Buddhism, purity and cleanliness was a holy virtue, so you can imagine their ideas about something that bleeds. So for monks meditating on Mt. Koya with Kukai, all their wives, mothers, girlfriends, and daughters had to be left behind. There is a small town at the bottom of the mountain, full of many temples of its own, where Kukai's mother lived. Once a month he hiked down the mountain to visit her, and back up again.

I couldn't imagine old-timey vegetarian monks being much good at hiking. It sounded like a fun little trail.
Y'know, if it wasn't 35 degrees celcius out with humidity at 87 percent, no wind.

This trail is marked with choishi, which are giant stone pillars. Originally they were made of wood, but wear and tear on them convinced the monks to reconstruct them with stone. The stones were taken from a quarry in Kukai's hometown in Shikoku.

http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000Choishi.jpg

Each choishi has the same shape. One of the guys in my hiking club drew a diagram of one for me. At the top is sky/space, followed by wind, fire, water is the round part, and earth is the long part. There are 180 of these and they are each numbered, with 1 being at the gates to the holy grounds.

The first part of the trail goes through a persimmon orchard. Being an orchard, the trees are cut short and spaced evenly, allowing the blistering sunlight to cut through and wear down one's ambition. This is also probably the steepest part of the trail. Halfway up, we stopped at a viewpoint where a tool shed allowed half of us to find shade. Suddenly a man lowered a large cardboard box from his back. He had lugged up two watermelons for us to eat!! The watermelons were a lifesaver and suddenly all energy was renewed!

http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000KoyaHike1.jpg

The next part of the trail went deep into the cedar forest, which sheltered us from the sun. As my body became accustomed to the climb, I found myself enjoying it immensely. Here and there I could find traces of history.. A pillar, an old piece of stone wall, a moss-covered jizo statue. . . And nature presented itself to me in all of its wonder: bugs, frogs, butterflies, caterpillars, and snakes. I had a great time.

Halfway there, we arrived at two giant stone torii, the gate that separate the secular from the sacred. Usually, one passes through gates to a shrine. But these gates stood on the face of a cliff. The sacred world beyond was the gorgeous scenery itself. Green mountains, a blue sky, houses and rice fields nestled between expanses of trees. It was just beautiful. I said my prayers to the world, then sat down nearby for lunch. People had brought all sorts of goodies to share. . . little jellos, fresh blue grapes, tomatoes and apples. One person brought coffee for three. Another woman shared around all her hot green tea until it was finished. One person actually fell asleep on a picnic bench.

http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000KoyaHike2.jpg

The rest of the hike was a bit of a pain, because when you get to the Koya area, you'd have to take a bus, a cable car, and some trains to get back. Or you can be like us and walk an additional hour and a half out of your way to get to the nearest local station. It would've been nice to stay the night at Koya, but my job doesn't allow for that.

I was in such a good mood the whole time, though. I kept finding fascinating treasures of nature. Flowers called "bags of fireflies," a moth called "The Jaguar inchworm," a tiny tiny tiny green frog, a snake with a yellow stomach, a daddy-long-legs with legs longer than my fingers, a giant orange mushroom as wide as my face. . . We even ran in to some people picking leaves. Thinking they had found something interesting and edible, my hiking buddy questioned their antics. It turns out they were finding good grasses to display their fish on at their local restaurant that night. The grass growing on the shady side of the road had very broad, green leaves.

Next year we are doing the hike again, only going backward. We'll start at the first choishi pillar and go down. I can't wait! Only I hope it's not in the middle of summer again. . . Six hours of walking in intense heat can be really draining.

Jennifer

P.S. The subject is the name of a small car dealership
 
 
japanshin
04 July 2016 @ 07:56 pm
Stories first, life update at the bottom.

May:
The Toyota City Municipal Art Museum sits on top of a hill, hidden by a grove of trees and the restored turret of a castle. The winding road that leads from it is lined by tall trees and flowers, but ends abruptly at a wide, busy street. The map to get there looked straightforward, with roads the same size criss-crossing at right angles and no hills. It seems insane that this bit of paper somehow lines up with the city sprawl in front of me. I suppose the designers of museums put a little artistic creativity in their maps as well. What's appealing to the eye isn't always practical.

I'm here to see my artwork hanging in a gallery. Well, that's the simple, narcissistic way of putting it. I'm really here to meet people, using art as a connection. I've blown 10,000 yen on round trip tickets to come here, on the idea that if I go, something will happen. I can't imagine myself sitting in a museum all day long staring at art, so I'm leaving it up to fate to entertain me. I walk in, ready and waiting for opportunity.

http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000GAM16.jpg

Hours later, when I'm in a completely different city having tea with a bronze artist in his workshop, I knew it was all worth it. Dust settles in at our feet and human forms of various sizes and positions stare about with cold metal eyes. A fire crackles, ready to flare up and soften any solid surface. I think about how I wouldn't have been here if I hadn't had that attitude that I was ready for something to happen at any moment.

You have to be ready for it.
I'm still trying hard to find words to describe that state.
But I know when I'm in it, and I can feel when I'm not there yet.
And I love it when I meet other people who know how to get there.
A state of non-judgemental equanimity, where you accept everything in the world around you, and let it get inside you and happen to you.

So I have some old-lady friends like this. They're open to life, and ready to let life come in and happen to them. One of them was walking down the street, coincidentally, where one of the schools I work at is. A TV crew from Osaka came by doing a weekly program where they find some little old people and take them out for the day. I think the idea is that these helpless oldies would never go so far away to have so much fun by themselves, and the program is doing them a favor. If that was the idea, they got it all wrong this time. They asked my friend to call up another friend or two to take on the trip. They asked her who she was calling and she's like, "My mountain friends." Mountain friends?

http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000TVFriends.jpg

In the end, three of my friends got together to go with the celebrity on the day trip. While he was waiting for them all to arrive, another random mountain lady walked passed and got invited along, too. These are all women who are super-active in the community, healthy, fit, and quick thinkers.

They took my friends to a town that's has a goldfish theme!!
That is so cool and I have to go there some day.
The first activity was to catch goldfish using paper paddles.

The celebrity's one mistake was that he wasn't opening himself up to adventure. His idea was that his funny jokes would entertain and thrill these oldies and the activities planned would be exciting. And the jokes were kinda funny, and the activities were fun, but he wasn't letting my friends tell their stories. He wasn't ready to learn about our mountain, or ask the right questions to get to know more about the amazing women he had chosen. He was more interested in trying to get everyone to like the activities and smile for the camera. I think he'd have gotten more smiles and laughter if he'd listened to THEIR jokes and let THEM run the show.

Anyway, it was really exciting to see my friends on TV!!

Yossi has been pulled over to Okayama by his company and we are now living separately for the time being. I'm trying to be open about this, let it be an adventure, and let life just happen.. but I have an edgy feeling that this isn't what I wanted. In the meantime, here's Yossi's new place:
http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000YossiNewLife.jpg
And don't worry, we spend every weekend together:
http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000EnjoyLife.jpg

Jennifer

P.S. Subject is from a purikura machine. Not sure what that has to do with taking pictures of yourself in a photobooth..
 
 
japanshin
13 May 2016 @ 11:36 am
Hello everyone.
I wrote this post for you guys a month ago, and never sent it.
There's a reason I've been busy. I'll get to that in my next post.
Subject is the name of a hair salon. . . That wouldn't fly so well in the U.S., would it. . .

Tokyo.

So let's imagine you're going to spend 2 days in Tokyo. You can kind of get an image for what you're going to do. . . You have a general idea of what kind of street you might be walking on, or what kind of food you might be eating.... You can kind of imagine what kind of things there are to do there, at least based on what you're interested in...

Okay, so let me know if any of these came in to your imagination, because they definitely were NOT on my list when I first decided on this trip.

1. Taking a drive through the mountains all the way to Gunma
2. Eating home-made Nepalese cuisine
3. Playing around at a frozen lake
4. Eating yogurt with berries for dinner
5. Going to see the Sakura in the middle of the night
6. Riding on a boat down a river with two musicians, while talking non-stop about Cambodia
7. Staying in a hotel by myself
8. Taking a 2 hour walk under the train tracks
9. Eating beans roasted over hot coals
10. Going to a shrine and drawing the worst possible luck

http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000GunmaSunish.jpg

And here's the list of things I did that weren't out of my imagination, but I certainly didn't expect to be doing them:

1. Tokyo Skytree
2. Eating in a famous sushi restaurant at the renowned fish market
3. Watching the cherry blossoms in Asakusa
4. Eating sukiyaki on a bus tour
5. Watching Kabuki
6. Taking a ferry under 10 bridges

http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000TokyoInSpring.jpg

I used to think Tokyo was just a big city full of too many people, not enough trees, lots of earthquakes, neon signs, and pollution.
Going to Tokyo with a couple friends who live there really opened my eyes. Tokyo is rich with history and fame, and everything is right there all around you. This store is the oldest . . . This building was the first. . . This place has the best. . . And when you hear those words, you know it's true, because it's Tokyo.

There are some places where you can still see how the city has grown up from layers. Places where the old is still peeking out from behind the new facade. As the Olympics draw closer, however, all the old is being torn up and rebuilt. In the eyes of many Tokyo-ites, their city is becoming more beautiful. But in other ways it is losing it's charm. I'm glad I could see some places before they're lost forever.

My Japanese teacher from the U.S. always told me she loved Tokyo because 'It's interesting.' She said it in such a way that sounded like no other city could compare. When I think of my own city, and all the things I love about Kobe, I couldn't understand her feelings. However, I'm kind of starting to see what she meant. . . When you're living on top of history, when everything you see on TV is happening right there in your own city, when every fad starts right around you, I can see how it can be addictive. I can see why some people might choose to live there. I can see why some people might not miss the mountains, or the rice fields. I can see how you could get used to the urban sprawl all around you, and find it exciting.

It's not for me, but I think I'll be going back again soon.

Jennifer
 
 
japanshin
09 March 2016 @ 08:22 am
(Before you read this, I have a guessing game. I found this written on something, I want you to guess what that something is. Clue: It is not something you can wear. Answer at the bottom:
Silk Farm Dress has a basic luxurious silky touch. Available in unique European Colors. Odorless and hygienic. Like a woman who chooses a dress in front of a mirror with keen interest, you'd be happy every time you use Silk Farm Dress.)

Tamano is a small city on the coast of Okayama prefecture. The weather is relatively dry and mild, there are some hills and some lowlands, and lots of small houses crowded together all over them. There's a ferry to take to some neighboring islands, and a shipyard nearby. This is where Yossi's company has asked him to work.

There wasn't ever really a question of whether he should go or not, just like you can't make my own life in Kobe into a question, and so we've decided to live separately for a year and see how it goes. He's excited to see where this new opportunity takes him, just as I'm excited about all the new skills I can acquire at my own job. We'll be able to see each other every weekend, and he now has a company car that he can take around anywhere. I'm a bit sad that we can't settle down together just yet, but I know that if I were in his shoes, I'd be making the same decisions.

Yossi's car: http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000Car.JPG

So the thing which we were both more worried about was our reaction of friends and family. I found that when I told most Japanese people that my husband's company was calling him to go to Okayama, their reaction was 'Oh so you're going to quit your job and move?' It bothered me that they would imply that I would just give in and follow my husband like some 1950's wife. It's not really their fault for thinking that way, but I feel that if you really are my friend, you'd have realized how much my career means to me, and you'd know how unstable Yossi's career has been, and you'd know that there is nothing at the moment that can uproot me from my home in Kobe. If it's a question of who should move, then it is obvious that Yossi should be moving with me, not me with him. But it's not a question of who should move, it's a question of the pursuit of happiness.

I actually did go to look at apartments with Yossi. I was going to keep an open mind, and if something really intrigued me, I could consider moving some time in the future. But the dry hills, the industrialized coast, the lack of public transport.. It doesn't hold any appeal for me at all. If we went to live on one of the islands, or we were moving inland to the mountains, or if we were going to start a new life in another country, I'd be a lot more willing to uproot. As of yet, Tamano is doing nothing for me. We'll see what happens in the next year.

Tamano's only point of interest: http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000FaceRock.jpg

The next obstacle was telling his family. They've lived their entire lives together in the same house, following the traditional pattern laid down by their ancestors that the man brings home the dough and the woman takes care of the kids. Yossi's mom is actually a school principal, but I know at least in the US, that school jobs are traditionally thought of as women's work. On top of this, aside from me, they have very few connections to the international world. Mostly their world is taking care of the grandkids, the garden, and make meals for the family. Yeah, Yossi's brother still takes lunch that his mommy packs to work every day.

So we went to visit them to make our announcement. Yossi said everything would go fine so long as I was there to back him up. When we arrived, at first everyone was sure I was coming to announce I was pregnant and Yossi's brother skipped a business dinner to come see us. >_< I kinda felt bad letting them down. We made our announcement and I was pleased that no one bothered Yossi about 'leaving me' and no one bothered me about not being a good wife. I thought this was the most I could ask for. We all took baths and went to bed.

The next day, Yossi went to the hot springs with his dad, and I stayed home with mom and the kids. While the kids were having a nap, my mommy in-law started asking all sorts of questions and we fell into a deep conversation about life. It turns out, she is happy that Yossi has this chance to pursue his dream. She had to stand by, doing a job she loved, while watching her husband become a robot for his office. He always had ideas about what he wanted to do, but was unable to voice his opinion at work. Yossi is in a position where he can talk easily in his office and use his ideas to gain profit for his company. His mother is proud of that. And his mom is dedicated to her school in the same way I'm dedicated to my company. She doesn't want to just sit around the house all day making sure everyone is well fed. She wants to work for as long as she can. She's a lot like my own mom who can't stand just staying home.

Hina Dolls: http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000DollFestival.jpg

Yossi's brother and his wife are really excited that Yossi will be so close now. They wanted us to actually move in with them but it's a couple hours from Yossi's office and a bit impossible. However they're happy we'll be more available to visit and showed absolutely no criticism about our decisions. So I guess the moral of the story is that you can't pigeonhole Japanese people, no matter how conservative their lives may seem on the surface.

Jennifer
P. S. Yellow and purple wet-naps
 
 
japanshin
06 February 2016 @ 09:04 am
So I haven't been writing recently and missed updating about a bunch of holidays. Holidays in Japan can be really interesting, or lonely, or a great learning experience.

I'm going to put these in backwards order.

Setsubun (2/3)

The sky above is a deep, clear blue, but the temple grounds are shaded from the sun by old, sacred trees and high stone walls. People cluster in front of a stage lined with branches of bamboo. Sticks hang from pegs, each with a round, white piece of mochi decorating the end. There are 64 small pieces of mochi representing the 64 states of Japan that existed when Nagata Shrine was first built. Then there are two larger ones representing the sun and the moon. A low whine of instruments makes itself heard. First, like a hushed whisper, but then clearer and clearer. We realize it is coming from behind and turn our heads to see a procession making its way to the stage.

The music is made by blowing through conch shells. The procession includes some men wearing loincloths on their heads. These people will transform into demons.

http://randomisgod.com/pictures/000Setsubun1.jpg

Setsubun is the most important festival at Nagata Shrine. The shrine houses carved and painted demon masks that are important cultural relics. The usual tradition is to throw beans at the demons to cast them out of our shrines, our towns, our homes, our lives, our heads. . . And then to welcome in good tidings in their stead. But at Nagata shrine, the demons wield fiery torches made of the dried stalks of harvested rice. Throwing beans would be a fire hazard.

Instead, the demons dance for us on stage to the music of conchs. It lasts well into the night.

http://randomisgod.com/pictures/000Setsubun2.jpg

And on this night, I happened to bump into a friend who's a photographer. He got me in backstage to take pictures with the demons! The red demon put his hands to my head and blessed me. Now my hair smells like ashes.


Ebisu Festival (1/10)

The usually empty street is so thick with people that you end up buying snacks and toys at whatever shop you happen to be rammed up against, instead of browsing around until you find what you really want. Every businessman in the city is here, either on the way home from work, or with his family, or in a big group of coworkers, here to pay homage to the god of fortune and monetary prosperity: Ebisu.

http://randomisgod.com/pictures/000Ebisu.jpg

Getting into the shrine is quite the ordeal, with hundreds of people around you in line to pay and pray. Some people make offerings of the household Ebisu charms made of various auspicious materials and include masks of Ebisu's jolly, pudgy face. Some of these charms are half the height of the people carrying them and get thrown clumsily into the mountain of offerings in front of the shrine. Then you're standing in front of what can only be described as a giant basket, large enough for a sumo wrestler to hide in, where you throw in your coins and ring one of the giant bells. While you pray, priestesses dance to the beat of a drum with ceremonial weapons. At the same time, drunken business men are hollering, children are crying that they want to go home, and old ladies are complaining about people in their way. It doesn't really seem ceremonial. But I love letting go of who I am and losing myself in the cacophony of this ridiculous festival.


New Year's (1/1)

My first New Year's job is to get 4 toddlers to decorate a cake together while the moms make dinner and clean up the house. My nephew does not want to even be in the same room as this red-face, long-nosed, curly-haired, green-eyed monster, so he's out of the room and off to bed. The other three crowd around me as I put the first layer on a plate and ask the kids to decorate it with strawberries. I didn't realize how picky a 5 year old can be, insisting that the strawberries all face one way, while the 3 year old has no concept that there is a "way" that a strawberry can "face" and the 1 year old just wants to eat all the strawberries. The whole ordeal turns into a lot of whimpering and I'm glad I can just take the cake away from them all and be done with it.

My second job is to get these four to paint pictures together. The 5 year old is very keen on keeping the colors separated, the 3 year old is insisting on mixing everything, no one can decide on who's turn it is to use the only brush I had in my bag. The 2 year old is scared of how his paint is running off his page and wants his sister to do something before his little world ends. The 3 year old has now covered her painting in a mound of salt. It's time for these things to be put outside to dry before their moms realize what a horrible mess I've made.

My third job is to pick kids up and throw them on the couch. The fun only ends when my arms are too tired to go up and down anymore.

When Yossi and I leave eventually, they give me a coloring book. One of those adult coloring books with flowers and Celtic designs that are going to take me years to get through.

http://randomisgod.com/pictures/000NewYears2016.jpg

Leaving all the kids behind, Yossi and I drive through the mountains and out to the shores of Tottori prefecture where there are quiet trails along the beach, no kids. We soak in the hot springs and eat out. I wonder if we should have been doing this all along, if maybe spending each New Year's at the Hina's is just getting in their way, riling the kids up, eating for free, and leaving without washing any of the sheets.

Then I get home and there's a letter waiting for me in the mail. It's from one of the kids, and she's found a new love of art. She's drawn a picture of me, a giant pink scribble with a head, two black holes for eyes, and two strands of curly hair going all the way down to my toes. I love these kids. I can't wait to do more art with them next time. My Mom-in-law has also given me some snuggley pajamas and I remember that we're family.

My Birthday and Christmas (12/31)

http://randomisgod.com/pictures/000Christmas2016.jpg

I'm watching the sunrise from the top of a hill. Part of me is watching the glorious development from black to orange to blue. Another part of me is wondering what I'm doing here, alone, on a day where everyone else must be off with their families celebrating, or sleeping in lazily, or off on some ski trip. . . I missed Christmas because of work, and tomorrow's my birthday and I don't have any plans except to have dinner with the in-laws. Yossi and I decided to take this day off to rest, but I know I'm going to spend the whole day doing just all the chores I couldn't get done during the week.

And then this woman comes up walking her dog. Her name is Yasuko and we bump into each other regularly around here. Her dog is adorable and I give him a pat while exchanging greetings. Yasuko says, 'I was hoping I'd see you today! I have something for you!' And she pulls out a hat she's knitted for me. For me! In that moment, I feel how deep down my roots go into this city, and how much the people here mean to me.

http://randomisgod.com/pictures/000TreeStars.jpg

Halloween (10/25)

It cost me 2,000 yen but I managed to find a pumpkin. A real, big, orange, Halloween-style pumpkin. The girls had never seen anything like it before. I asked them to draw a face. Most of the drawing ended up on the pumpkin, and only some of them ended up on their hands and faces, and none of the drawing ended up on anyone's clothes, which was more than I asked for. The kids were a bit squeamish about the pumpkin seeds, but oh did they want to do the cutting. We were continuously fighting to keep the knife in a safe place and to not let their hands get in the way of the cutting.

http://randomisgod.com/pictures/000HalloweenKids.jpg

Their mother was away and so it was just my Mom-in-law and a couple more distant relatives that she'd called over. The kids call me 'Jennifer' and one of the relatives told them that was rude, and to call me 'Oba-san' which means 'Woman over 30.' What do I do here? She's trying to instill etiquette in the kids, by telling them to call me something I absolutely don't want to answer to.

That was a lot of stories. Thank you for listening.

Jennifer
 
 
 
japanshin
01 November 2015 @ 08:16 pm
My 2016 calendar for sale here: http://antiretrovirus.deviantart.com/art/2016-Calendar-567772816

The first time I visited a shrine was Fushimi Inari in Kyoto.

It was a cold day in January. I was used to cold days, but I wasn't used to houses without central heating, riding on frigid trains for hours, restaurants that leave the doors open to the wind, and bringing gloves even when it isn't snowing. I felt a chill that went all the way to the bone on that cloudy day. I remember walking underneath the tunnel of gates and thinking only, why is it so cold, and why are there so many gates, and when can we all just go sit down and get something to eat.

Sure, it was pretty. I remember wishing I had a better camera and wondering what people do at shrines and what the gates mean. I remember being fascinated by large trees that keep their leaves in the winter. But all of that was sort of dulled by the cold, and walking around with so many people in a slow manner that doesn't result in exercise so much as getting aches in your knees and ankles.

Fushimi Inari shrine is supposed to be some kind of magical, spiritual experience. Or so it is advertised. These days hundreds of people from all over the world come to visit. Japanese people who visit often comment on how many foreigners they saw there. But it's hard to have a spiritual experience when it's your first time, you're cold, and your ankles hurt.

If I'd been to many shrines and then finally came to Fushimi, I might have had a better experience. Fushimi Inari is huge, the paths wind up and down all over a mountain, there are so many gates, and there are so many nooks where someone here is selling traditional snacks or toys, and over there where some ancient statue still stands or there is a pedestal to purity your hands. . . If that's the first experience you ever have at a shrine, you're bound to be disappointed when you go to a regular shrine and it's nothing but a gate, a fountain, and a building that's all locked up except for the place to offer your money. Going to Fushimi with nothing to compare it to inevitably skewed my perspective for a while. I didn't know how to appreciate what I was looking at.

Despite having been through that experience, when my parents came to visit last month, the first shrine I took them to was Ise Jingu. Ise Jingu is the shrine to the goddess of the sun, and Japan being the Land of the Rising Sun, this is a pretty big deal. The main buildings are rebuilt every 20 years, in exact replicas, so that the techniques that go into the construction are ancient skills passed down through generations. Instead of a washing area, you turn down the path to a sacred stream that runs along the shrine like a moat surrounding a castle.

http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000IseP.jpg

Coming up to the stream, I noticed a fine mist rising. It clung to the area until we were ready to go home, and then dissipated abruptly. I had nothing but good feelings about the day. On the other hand, we had been riding on trains for a good five hours, my parents were tired, our legs wanted to stretch but our brains needed a time-out, and there were mosquitoes everywhere. I started to realize that I was doing exactly what had been done to me: dragging foreigners to an impressive, religious experience when no one has any clue what's what, why it's impressive, or different, or why this god is more special than any other local shrine. I started wondering if I was being selfish for doing this.

We all decided to head back. The sun was setting and we weren't really sure how far the train was or if we'd have to drag our luggage around before finding it. We were hungry, too. But just as we were nearing the station, my mom noticed a band setting up in an open area. Were they going to start playing live? We decided to hang around and find out.

The open area was being set up with tables and chairs. Vendors were beginning to gather for a night time festival. Most shops sold only drinks, but we found some food as well. Young couples began gravitating, then local folk with nothing better to do on a Saturday evening. After a while, to my mother's delight, the band began to play.

It wasn't just a normal band. It was a mix of guitar, keyboard, and shakuhachi. Sometimes performers would come up to do yoyo or play some special instrument. My mom got up and her tired feet found energy and started dancing. At first she was dancing alone and I wondered how long I should give her before deciding to call it a night. But then one person after another began to join her. After a while, we had our own dance group going on the side while the band played and the singer gave us winks. The most energetic of dancers was a woman who was quite fond of aerobics. She and my mom did a whole aerobic-dance-mix in front of the band. When it comes to music, there are no language barriers. When it comes to enjoying something, just a smile is enough. By the end of then night, we had all exchanged emails and shared food and drinks. In all, I'm glad we went to Ise on that special night.

http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000YoDancing.jpg

I went back to Fushimi Inari later with a Nepali friend. Walking under the multitude of gates up and down the endless stairs was a great experience. I could really appreciate it, now that I know something of Japan. This time I wasn't following friends around in the cold, but moving forward at my own pace and taking my own time to appreciate the little nooks of beauty along the path. Sure it was crowded with tourists, but I knew it was going to be that way so it didn't bother me. I'm glad I had a chance to redo the experience.

http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000FushimiInari.jpg

Jennifer
 
 
japanshin
Karma.

You'd think in Japan, where people claim to be Buddhist, that they'd know all about karma, but I've run in to so many people who've said, "I think I've heard of that term before but I don't really know what it means. . ." My personal definition of karma is measuring up all the good and bad things that you do. You want your karma level to be at 0.

Here's my story about trying to reach 0!

So long ago when I came to Japan to study abroad, I had a horrible language barrier experience. Imagine that you're barely 22, with a mentality of more of an 16 year old, with no idea about how to deal with the world, and you're stuck in a long line at the immigration counter in a foreign country. . . 40 minutes before your flight is going to take off. And the guy at the desk tells you to go to the back of the line again because you filled in your card wrong.

Needless to say my flight from Tokyo to Itami was missed.

The thing I remember most about this was that feeling of panic. That sick, helpless, selfish feeling. In my head I was shouting, crying, screaming, but on the outside I was just standing, white knuckles curled around my belongings, all my documents crunched under one arm, my pale face and red eyes darting around the room, and no one paid any attention to me. I was standing at the baggage claim area wondering if it was worth it to claim my baggage since I was obviously going to die tonight, sleeping outside in the cold, with no money, and no way to get to where I wanted to go.

Until some staff from the airport decided to try speaking to me in English. He not only helped me book another flight, but when the bus to the next terminal was late, he paid for a taxi to get me to where I needed to go. I somehow managed to catch the next flight at the last minute, I somehow managed to be on the same plane as another person going to the same school who had reserved a seat on a bus. And I somehow managed to have received just enough money to cover the bus fare as a birthday gift from a friend's mom and was able to make it to my dorm.

From that point on I have felt in some kind of karmic debt to the universe. I thought some day I need to pay it back. And recently I found that chance!

So I dunno if I told anyone, it was kind of a spur-of-the-moment thing... But I went to Alaska. The flight itinerary was awful, going first to Korea, then back again, passing over Alaska and down to Seattle, then two more flights before arriving at my destination. And then having to do that all over again to get back home. Basically, I shattered my immune system and it took a week to recover, but anyway, on the way there, I was full of energy. The airport at Seoul is quite lovely and I had some great conversations with my neighbors on the plane. I had a couple of hours to kill in the Seattle airport. After going through immigration, I found a group of three Japanese ladies huddled together with worried faced poring over some documents.

I went over and asked in Japanese if they needed any help. Then turned to me and it was like some cloud had opened up over their heads because their faces literally started shining with the light of God beaming down from some other heavenly dimension. I have never seen faces so shining before! They asked first hesitantly if I really truly understood Japanese, and then proceeded to tell me their story.

It was a story I have heard before!

Something about having only an hour to catch a plane, and the wait for immigration being 40 minutes long, and that awful panic that happens, and seeing a sea of people around you who cannot help you. Missing a plane and wondering how you'll end up that night, if you'll ever make it to your destination, and what this trip was all for anyway.

These ladies were on their way to play in a musical ensemble in southern California. Encumbered by their instruments, they had managed to arrange a second flight but weren't sure where to go from there, which line to get in to, or how to procure boarding passes. I looked at their new itinerary, noted that we were using the same airline, and asked them to just follow me. It was like I'd just told them they'd won the lottery, they were trying hard not to jump around dancing and singing.

So while waiting in line for the security check, I told them about my life in Japan and they told me about their music. They play some kind of ancient Chinese stringed instruments with snakeskin. They were really worried about being able to bring them through security, since it's real skin from snakes, but I told them not to worry. More importantly, we have to take off our shoes and get rid of our liquids. They were really happy to have an airport guide! I mean I'm no professional, but I have gone through enough airports in my life that I basically know where to find the information I need.

After security, there was a sign saying to ride the train to the different terminals. The ladies claimed that they could never have done something so complicated without me. I think they could have, it just would have been full of second-guesses and mini panic attacks. I've been in that situation, on trains in Japan, going to much farther places than the next terminal. I've gotten pretty good at reading signs and maps. And I showed the ladies how the map told us where we need to take the train to, but I wasn't sure they were paying attention to anything I said.

Eventually I got them to a counter where they could get their boarding passes, then took them all the way to the gate. They still had a few hours to spare, so they requested that we all have something to eat together! In that particular place in the airport was a McDonald's, a steakhouse, and a bagel place. OMG bagels!! I haven't had a real bagel in forever! And they had so many different kinds! But I wasn't sure if middle aged Japanese ladies are up for bagels so I asked what kind of food they had in mind.

They said, "Something you like, something you haven't had in a while, something you're craving!"

Okay bagels it is!..... Or so I thought, but when I said that they totally couldn't understand my point of view. "Oh Jennifer, don't be humble, of course you want steak! I mean you're AMERICAN for goodness sake!" It took all my power of persuasion to convince these girls I did NOT crave steak. Of course then they jumped on McDonalds. "Original American Style McDonalds! What a treat! Let's go see if it's different from the Japanese one!" At least I had a good excuse for this one, "Oh but it's not very healthy.." to which they couldn't disagree. And then one of the ladies said, "But bagels.. aren't those just hard donuts?" That's when I realized that these people don't even know what a real bagel is, or even how or when to eat it! So I told them I'd introduce them to real American bagels.

Of course they all wanted exactly what I was ordering, so I couldn't get the jalapeno cream cheese one I'd been eyeing. I ordered 4 chicken breast bagels and then the choices started coming! Which kind of bagel? Whole wheat? Honey oats? Poppyseed? Which kind of sauce? What kind of drink? Did you want fruit or salad with that? This started a whirlwind of translating back and forth, which started to annoy the clerk and the people behind us in line. Finally, the clerk squared her shoulders, slammed down her paper pad, looked at the three musicians in the eyes and said in Japanese:

"I'm Japanese, too, you know, so just order in Japanese, will you?"

We were all totally shocked and then the rest went smoothly in Japanese. It turns out she's from an area of Tokyo that one of the ladies was also from so they were freaking out at the coincidence. The clerk had been living in Seattle for 30 years and she had such an awesome, "I don't put up with BS" attitude that is so different from the Japanese people I meet in Japan...

So after we sat down with our bagels, we all had a lively conversation about coincidences, airports, American food, our lives, our adventures... One of the ladies has been to so many different countries, including all the ones I've been to. She gave me a tiny llama from Peru! I was so happy I almost cried. Another lady lives in Sendai, where I'm planning to visit next month so we made plans to meet up.

Finally, it was almost time for my flight. We took some pictures together, exchanged addresses, and I ran off to catch my plane for Alaska.

Karma, 0!!

3 days later I was back in Seattle, waiting to catch a flight back to the US. Nervous about flying and tired from waking up at 5 am, I arrived at the gate and asked for my boarding pass to be issued. The lady said that couldn't be done and I'd have to wait for my name to be called. What does that mean? It turned out they mistook me for someone on a waiting list, so I didn't get my boarding pass until the very last minute, only to find someone else in my seat when I got on the plane. Both of us had to wait in nervous terror until they found some volunteer from the waiting list to get off. Then as the engines started up, they couldn't get the plane to unhook for the taxiing car. We had to wait an hour for them to fix it. Then we had to wait another hour while some baggage arrived late. Needless to say, we got in to Tokyo an hour late.

For those paying attention, I pause to say, does this story sound familiar??

Well this time, for all it's worth, I was prepared! I have a visa that gets me through the fast lines at immigration, I don't have any checked baggage, I can speak Japanese, I know who to yell to if I need some immediate assistance, and I can survive without bathroom breaks! I was going to put all of these things to the test, I had exactly one hour before my next flight's take-off!

Okay, I was being a little to sure of myself..
The second I got off the plane, I saw a guy holding up a big sign that said, "JENNIFER HINA." It's the first time anyone's held up a sign for me so I was actually quite flattered. He was a nice, cute young guy named Hatsu. It turned out he's Filipino and can speak both English and Japanese. He told me I had very little time to catch my flight and I needed to hurry with him. I told him I'm about to be the fastest person he's ever seen go through an airport!

I whizzed through immigration, customs, and security. And then I found out we had to take a bus to the next terminal. I was suddenly facing a giant crowd of every single person coming back to Japan from their Obon holidays, and 10 different bus stops, very little written information, and huge lines. I realized I could not have done this without Hatsu. He told me which line to stand in and we couldn't fit on the first bus and had to wait for the second. He knew exactly which stop it was and how long it would take, so I could relax while we rode together. When we got near, he told me traffic was getting bad so we got off a stop earlier and ran the rest of the way. This guy was really an angel! Including the gold wing logo on his shirt.

Well, did I make my flight?
I had to reach the gate by 4:25 and I got there at 4:20.

Seriously, even with all my confidence, intelligence, and wits, I could not have gotten there without help. Hatsu and I spent those last 5 minutes taking a picture together before I left.

Karma, back in the minus!

Jennifer
 
 
japanshin
Hello everyone.

I haven't made a group post in a while.

So I thought I'd talk about rabbits and chemical warfare.

This started a long time ago when I was headed in the direction of Hiroshima with no real destination in mind. Takiko's hometown is Hiroshima, so I texted her to ask if there was anything interesting to do there, and she mentioned the island of rabbits.

For someone who has had to chase rabbits out of the garden time and again, I can't really see the creatures as anything but a pest. I couldn't really see the appeal in going somewhere full of them. And they weren't bound to be wild ones either, as I've never seen wild rabbits in Japan, and rabbits aren't especially known as island creatures.

But on Yossi's birthday, we were sorta headed in that direction anyway, so we thought we might at least check it out. It was a sweltering day, the kind where pushing your legs out of the car takes all the energy out of you. We hadn't yet decided to go to the island or not, as there was a stream and a mountain nearby that offered coolness and shade, and plenty of other things to do, but we thought we'd see how to get there at least. It turns out there was a humongous line for the ferry that was pulling up right then. We had to make a quick decision, to join the masses at the last second, or to let it go for another day. It became more of a challenge, could we actually get on before it left? We made a run for it - and made it!

http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000BunnyIsland.jpg

The island is called Okunoshima and the rabbit thing is very much.. a thing. They all look like the household pet style of rabbit, but have been living there a few generations and now are pretty used to the environment. You can buy cabbages to feed them. I am so not a rabbit person, I mean they're cute, but not to the point that I have to stop and play with them or something. Then again, I think moths and beetles are cute, so maybe I have a skewed version of this whole emotion to begin with.

Anyway, no one told me that this island was originally a center of the creation of poisons to use in chemical warfare! The factory was constructed during the war against China and used until the US destroyed it after World War II. Suddenly this happy bunny island took on a lot more sinister tone. There were happy rabbits frolicking around the rusting gates of the poison gas factory, there were people handing out cabbages under the shade of some giant concrete tank that had become overgrown with vines. Children chased cicadas around ancient bomb shelters and families were having picnics in front of what used to be poison storage units.

Yossi and I took a hike to the top of the hill, wondering at what the bits and pieces of ruins we found used to be. One hillside was entirely lined with concrete holders for tanks. The tanks are gone, but the holders are still there, not yet having disintegrated into the earth. I imagine the traces of the history of this place will become less and less distinguishable from the forest as the years go by.

(I saw some really awesome saturnid moths in the forest, but I got absolutely no distinguishable pictures.. Too bad!)

Near some kind of resort pool, however, was a museum that preserves artifacts and pictures as evidence of what once was. The working conditions of the factory men and women were atrocious and government aid is still being given today to affected families.

Anyway, this is a really interesting place if you'd like to go. You can feed some rabbits, learn some history, take some interesting photos, and go on a hike or bike ride. There are nice beaches for swimming and playing. I'm glad we went!

Jennifer
(Subject written on a young lady's handbag)
 
 
japanshin
Hello all,

Sorry I've been so, so, so busy this month. I haven't had time to contact many of you. So much has been going on!

I am so ready for summer!!!
http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000SummerComing1.jpg
http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000SummerComing2.jpg

Waking up to dappled sunlight coming in through the large trees overhead, the distant sounds of waves on a shore, the cries of birds, the puddles leftover from the rain the night before. I take a walk and my footsteps send insects fluttering about. And suddenly, without any warning, a heard of deer scamper past, then stop to look over their shoulders at me. Yeah! Yossi and I went camping for Golden Week!

http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/Camping1.jpg
http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/Camping2.jpg
http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/Camping3.jpg
http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/Camping4.jpg
http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/Camping5.jpg
http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/Camping6.jpg

Okay maybe you can't exactly call that camping. . .

So I got my artwork in a gallery with a couple of friends!!
http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000GAM.jpg
There were a bunch of awards, but I didn't get any. . . But I got to meet a ton of new people and make some contacts in the art world of Japan.

Finally, I GOT MY PERMANENT RESIDENCY!!
Thanks for all the support!!

Tomorrow Artslam starts which means I will probably forgo socializing in the name of improving my skills.
Does anyone else have plans for summer??
By the way, National Geographic teamed up with iNaturalist to determine species boundaries! I hope my tons of pictures of moths will help!
Go biodiversity!

Jennifer
 
 
japanshin
06 May 2015 @ 05:50 am
Hello.
I've been wearing a flag of Nepal on my backpack.
Sometimes people stop me and ask me what it is.
Sometimes they stop me and ask me which flag it is, which is a little more heartening.
I tell them I'm supporting Nepal, and they ask why.
Or they ask, oh do they have a good football team?
So I thought I'd write here, in case you didn't know, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal and over 7,000 dead have been found, the number rising every day. Many world heritage sites have been destroyed, many people have been buried alive under their brick homes, many people in remote villages have lost access to food, water, and firewood because the roads have been destroyed. And these are not just Nepali people, but foreign visitors climbing the mountains, sightseeing, or doing research or aid work.

There is a lot of worry, whether people can survive, whether the country can rebuild, whether disease will wreck havoc, whether the helicopters will come soon enough to rescue, whether displaced women and children will be sold to the sex slave trade. If you can, please, please give just a little to help with the needs of Nepal.

I gave to:

http://www.directrelief.org/

and
Empower Generation via FB

and
A local friend's fundraiser

Thank you.

In happier news, I'm sending off my art to a gallery that's going on next week!
http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/MyArtPic.JPG

Jennifer