Saturday, January 29, 2005

Happy Birthday to Me!

Sake, snowballs and sushi...Does it get any better than this?

Thanks to all my friends at ☆Ena Nishi Junior High☆for remembering my birthday! 

Leaving a never-ending echo of 'Happy Birthday!' in my wake as I left Ena Nishi, I returned home to find a a little Japanese delivery man hidden behind a bouquet of beautiful flowers, (sent by the one, the only, Mitsu!) waiting at my door. ☆I was so suprised!☆ (But not as suprised as the delivery man was to see a foreigner!) Sending flowers is definately NOT a Japanese custom! Mitsu is awesome! You made my day 笑 ! Thank you!

Did I mention Mitsu being awesome? Posted by Hello

But the celebrations officially began Friday night, when my friend Chiho took me out for a little pre-game sushi! I say pre-game because afterwards I was headed for to an izakaya (japanese pub) to celebrate with some friends, sake-style!

A few amigos and I at an Izakaya, or Japanese pub. Posted by Hello

Misaki and Colin Sensei: Partners in crime. Posted by Hello
Celebrating a person's birthday is a western custom only now starting to gain popularity in Japan. Traditionally everyone's birthday was celebrated on New Year's Day, despite their actual date of birth. I know alot of people went out of there way to make my day! Thanks to you, my first birthday in Japan was one of the best ever! 

David and Colin, the dreamiest ALTs in Gifu. Posted by Hello

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Temple halo. Posted by Hello

Beauty. Posted by Hello

Friday, January 21, 2005

Seijinshiki: Coming of Age in Japan

Seijinshiki at Yasaka Jinja, Kyoto.

Seijinshiki, the Japanese Coming of Age Ceremony, is a national holiday (and every tourist`s dream,) celebrated every January 10 or 15. Everyone who has turned 20 years old during the past year officially becomes an adult, which means they can vote, smoke, drink, and generally wreak even more havoc than before--only leagally! Along with the bestowal of these new rights come the responsibilities adulthood...Whatever those are!

Coming of Age rituals have been carried out since the seventh century. Genpuku, for boys between the ages of thirteen and sixteen, and mogi, for girls between twelve and sixteen, marked the adolescent`s rebirth as a responsible member of the society, at which time the they were allowed to grow their hair long and formally adopt adult hair and clothing styles.

Today, both young men and women dress up to attend the celebrations held in their hometown and visit shrines. Many young men wear western style suits, but if you`re lucky, you might see one in a formal black kimono with five mon (family crests), hakama, and haori (samarai style!). The girls rock furisode kimono, which literally means, "swinging sleeves." According to popular myth, young women would swing their sleeves to attract young men's attention (sounds better than having to shake your arse).

Brightly colored with auspicous Japanese designs like cherry or plum blossoms, butterflies, maple leaves and rivers, these kimono can cost thousands of dollars (not to mention the hundreds of dollars they spend to get their hair and makeup done). Kimono are so expensive that many people choose to rent them instead. My friend's little sister just rented one for $1000.

Back in the day, pictures taken of women wearing their kimono at Seijinshiki were shown to eligible bachelors hoping to get lucky with an arranged marriage. Ah yes, the good ol' days!

Omikuji: Drawing Lots

New adults in fursiode, drawing their omikuji.

Who needs fortune tellers when you have Omikuji?

Omikuji are written fortunes obtained by drawing lots (sticks) from a container found at Shinto shrines or Buddhist temples. The sticks are then exchanged for long, narrow pieces of paper upon which fortunes ranging from outstanding, to average, to bad a are foretold, covering every aspect of on's life.

During the New Year's holiday festivities many people visit Shirnes and draw omikuji with a sense of playfulness, rather than using them as a means divine their future. Unfavorable omikuji are tied to trees a on temple or shrine grounds in hopes that it will not come true.

Omikuji is said to have been imported from China in ancient times, and was used as a messanger of the gods for everything from business transactions to marriage. Nowadays you can get omikuji from vending machines. Welcome to Japan.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Happy New Year Kansai!

Well my first weekend back in Japan turned out to be quite an adventure!

Wakausa Yama Yaki, Nara. Posted by Hello

I happened to come across an amazing photo of Wakakusa Yama Yaki (The Burning of Young Grass Mountain). The stark black silhouette of a 5 storied pagoda seemed to spread its wings and rise from the sea of fire engulfing the gentle slope of the mountain behind it. Fire flowers (the actual translation of the Japanese word for fireworks), shot up from the waves of flame, blooming like cherry blossoms in the dark veil of the night sky.

Luckly along with the picture was a note saying that the festival, which commemorated a battle between Buddhist monks of two rival temples who had set the mountain on fire, was celebrated January 15th of every year! Happy birthday to me!

The next day I was on my way, riding in the lap of the luxurious Shinkansen, Japan’s ultra-fast bullet train. But by the time I got to Nara the sunny blue skies of Ena had faded to paler shade of grey, draped in heavy rain clouds that soaked the earth beneath. There was as much chance of the mountain burning as there was of me spontaneously combusting, so needless to say, I was hopeful.

Todaiji, the largest wooden structure on earth, is only a shadow of its former self, 30% the width of the original structure. Fall 2002. Posted by Hello

As I walked toward Todaiji (The Great Eastern Temple), home of the world’s largest cast iron Buddha, I was inevitably stopped by a young rickshaw driver. She casually informed me that this year the festival had been held on January 9th. Ah well. It’s a little early to be celebrating my birthday anyway, so I wasn’t too disappointed. I went to hang out with Buddha for a bit, and figured since I was in Kansai, things could only get better! That’s just the way it works!

Daibutsusan, the Great Buddha of Nara. Posted by Hello

I called Lindz and went to meet her for dinner in Osaka. We noisily slurped down a bowl of miso ramen in a tiny shop conveniently located in her apartment building and run by a bunch of young, American-music-loving kids. I was sucking down noodles to the beat of Michael Jackson, Blink 182 and for a brief moment, Whitney Houston, until thankfully one of the horrified waitresses rushed to the radio and promptly filled the shop with the soothing sounds of something techno.

Lindz said I could crash at her place, so I took the chance to catch up with my long lost partner in crime. Unfortunately, the fact that we are, despite some serious effort, inevitably growing up, she had to work the next day, which made the chance of a joint adventure impossible.

I was ready to head for home the next day when I snapped out of it. There is no way you can go to Kansai and not make brief cameo in Kyoto! I mean, that’s sacrilege!

Kabuki, a traditional form of Japanese theatre, in which all roles are acted by men. Posted by Hello

I wandered up the subways stairs, past the famous Minamiza Kabuki theatre and towards Gion. Since it was lunch time and Indian food is a rare commodity in these here parts, I indulged in a little curry and dal in the same place where I had celebrated thanksgiving. It always makes me smile to hear the owner speak Japanese with his undeniably Indian intonation.

Brand-spankin' new adults I met on thier way from a New Year's visit to Yasaka shrine. Posted by Hello

After meeting my quota of curry in a hurry, I rolled myself out onto the street and turned, as if magnetically drawn, towards Yasaka Jinja. I squinted as what appeared to be three kyoningyo (Kyoto porcelian dolls) dressed in their finest furisode kimono slowly came into view. Seijinshiki and New Years celebrations were still in full swing! I stopped to congratulate them on their coming of age (and take their picture of course), and ran up to the shrine.

Leaving Yaska shrine, thesr girls couldn't escape without letting me take a picture. But who is that man in the back taking a picture of? Posted by Hello

From there it is only natural for me to head up the twisting, cobblestone roads that lead to Kiyomizudera. I know the path by heart, as if I had grown up wandering the narrow, twisting streets in another life. Along the way I ran into many nisemono maiko, tourists dressed as geisha apprentices to be photographed in the ancient capital, but nothing prepared me for the luck I would find at Kiyomizu.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

明けましておめでとう!Happy New Year!

O Christmas tree...

Well, despite some serious effort on behalf of the snow the midwest has been burried under recently, I finally made it back to good ol' Japan, but not without some duly noted drama. First I made the mistake of delaying my flight an extra day so I could kick it with my crew around the 'hood. Fo' shizzel.

La famiglia.

I arrived in the States on the tail-end of a blizzard that dropped about 20 inches (about 50 centimeters) of snow in one day. Stranded in Detroit, some other desperate Cleveland kids and I rented a van and braved the blanketed highways determined to make it home for Christmas. Since that snow had all finally melted, I figured I was golden...Until I woke up the next morning to find that once again we had been smothered in a blanket of freshly fallen snow.

Pre-departure romp in the snow.

No sky
No earth-- but still
Snowflakes fall.


The airport people said my flight was good to go, so I said my good-byes and passed thru the security gates (gates of hell would be more appropriate). My flight was an hour and a half late, which means I missed the connection to the day's one and only flight to Nagoya. I was stranded in Detroit (also more appropriatey, Hell on Earth) again! Luckily I had met up with Matt, another JET ALT in Gifu. We got a hotel and watched every Back to the Future movie ever made. Thankfully our flight left on time (2:30PM) the next day. Sigh (of relief).

But the drama didn't stop there. About an hour into our flight an old man became terminally ill. They were going to turn around and take him to a hosipital, but the family refused. They wanted to get him home to the Phillipines so he could be burried in his homeland. The entire flight a doctor that happened to be onboard tried to save him, but he actually died on the plane. When we finally landed in Japan a whole crew of police, Meds and fire fighters (yes, fire fighters) hopped on board and spent about an hour confirming that he was indeed dead, and trying to determine the exact time of death. I guess they were confused by the time zones. Craziness.

When I finally got to Ena it seemed so much warmer than Ohio-ville...Until I got into my apartment! Even with my heater on full blast I could still see my breath! After I took a shower, the steam that had condensed on the mirror actually frosted over! I slept underneath my kotatsu, a small japanese table heated from beneath with a blanket draped over it. I love kotatsu! I'm convinced kotatsu has saved the lives of many a foreigner in these here parts!

It's been snowing all day! Light and fluffy, it floats down as if it were waltzing, vanishing when it hits the ground. The tree-covered mountains shimmer as if they've been sprinkled with star dust at night, and in the sunlight they sparkle like diamonds. Its beautiful!
What a way to start the new year! I can't wait to see what adventures 2005 is going to bring! Funky chicken! Rock out!

: Its the year of the chicken, hence, the funky chicken comment. I do apologize for any distress or confusion it may have caused. )