Looking Back 8: Final Thoughts and Nagoya Farewell

Our final week in Nagoya went by in a blur, as I look back on it. We had everything from a group presentation with Yamagishi-sensei’s class and our own research presentations to arrange, last-minute shopping in Osu to do and arcades to find, and most importantly packing and attempting to remember everything that we had brought with us (and bought along the way) so that we could make it home without any fuss. I did some last-minute kimono shopping in Sakae and ended up with a beautiful pair of gold zori, though they’re a bit small on me since my feet are somewhere around 28 cm and the largest zori come up to 26 cm, (though I’m not complaining). One of the most memorable events of the last few days was going to karaoke at Joysound – twice. We went both on our second to last night and our last night (this time with some of Yamagishi-sensei’s students and even a professor!), and while Yagoto isn’t my favorite area of the Showa-ku ward, it has its benefits.

The final day of classes was too hectic to be at all sad – or, at least that’s how I remember it. We presented our research material for several professors and students, which seemed to go over well, and later went to dinner with lots of the professors and friends we had met during our stay in Nagoya. It was certainly a memorable evening, and I am incredibly grateful to have met the people I did while in a place as wonderful as Japan. Though the flights home were, as expected, long and exhausting, it was nice to be let into my own home again after about three and a half weeks of being gone. I miss Japan so much already, though (and I think the culture shock was more extreme coming back, to be honest), and I’m looking forward to returning many times in the future.

(I didn’t get a good picture of the Joysound that we went to, but this is a picture of it from their website!)

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Matsuri no Tabemono

To all potential visitors to Japan: I do not what how, when, or under what circumstances, but if you go to Japan then you have to attend a festival. It may be crowded horribly, and some things may be expensive, but even if you don’t like the inevitable fireworks or the views of hundreds of different, colorful yukata, then the food alone would still make it worthwhile. Japanese festivals have been following this pattern with street stalls, etc., for hundreds of years. If they hadn’t I would think that Japan looked at the cheap, greasy carnival fare of the west and decided to replicate with their characteristic care, quality, and attention to detail.

The ingredients might be relatively mundane, but several of the dishes there I have yet to find anywhere else, and they were made with expert care. Ice cold pineapple strips are not unique, but it is delicious, as are the cold, pickled cucumbers, the grilled chicken, and the hotdogs/similar sausages. All of which are skewered on what I belatedly realized was half a pair of chopsticks, for easier transport.

There were also various filled dumpling-like treats, such as five kinds of Taiyaki or mass-produced takoyaki cooked while you watched, and at least four kinds of chocolate-coated bananas that I would have loved to compare tastes of. But for me, the best two dishes were ones that sound completely normal yet managed to be completely unique.

First: you’ve heard of candy-coated apples? One stall sold candy-coated grapes, big enough to pass as small plums. Sweet, crunchy, and juicy, you could buy to or three on a stick at once and happily munch yourself sick.
The other was recommended to me by Lina, who had impeccable taste. I don’t know if there was a name for it, but it was a potato cut into a thin spiral and fried to be half-way between a french fry and a chip. Add a sprinkle of salt and it would keep you warn and stuffed even in the rain. Pictures are included, but the dishes have to be tasted to be believed.

Takoyaki mass-produced without sacrificing quality. So popular that he needed to make new batches /fast/.

Takoyaki mass-produced without sacrificing quality. So popular that he needed to make new batches /fast/.

Coats of chocolate, strawberry, I don't know what the blue is but I'd love to find out, and I saw a vanilla version somewhere in a different stall.

Coats of chocolate, strawberry, I don’t know what the blue is but I’d love to find out, and I saw a vanilla version somewhere in a different stall.

Potato Spiral on a stick. Fried while you watched, salted to taste.

Potato Spiral on a stick. Fried while you watched, salted to taste.

Crunchy, juicy, and easy to devour. The grapes were in season this week.

Crunchy, juicy, and easy to devour. The grapes were in season this week.

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Looking Back 7: Miyajima (and Deer)

After our trip to Hiroshima, we took a much-needed beach holiday in Miyajima! (Not really, but at least there was a beach.) Of all the places we went, Miyajima was certainly in my top three favorites. The deer literally came right up to Theo and started nibbling on him – and then the rest of us! The island itself, which is a short train and ferry ride away from Hiroshima, is a pretty picturesque place that looks like something out of the anime Soukyuu no Fafner, though a little less tropical and without the giant robots – at least, they keep them hidden well if they’ve got them. Seeing the local shrine’s torii gate standing out in the water was a truly breathtaking sight, and something I highly recommend to anyone visiting Japan. After we got to the ryokan we were staying at on the island (which is located near the aquarium, aka another place I have to visit next time I go), we had a little free time before dinner. Dinner itself was pretty excellent, save for the fish custard that I only half liked for the tiny white fish in it, despite that they still had their eyes in which was a bit strange. Nonetheless, all the food was good, as was breakfast the next morning. After dinner we went for a walk around the island; it was rainy, but I have to admit it was fun watching crabs scuttle across the sand when they thought no one was looking. The next morning we packed up and headed out to Miyajima Shrine to see it at high tide before taking the ferry back to the mainland (though not before sampling some delicious momiji manju first!). I missed Miyajima once we left, though it was nice to get back to Nagoya – which, come to think of it, is probably the place in Japan I’ll always feel the most at home.

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Manners and Obscenity (Read only if over 18!!)

For me, one of the defining paradoxes of Japanese society has propriety. It took me a long while to realize I was looking at it from too European of a perspective, and even then I had to go back over my beliefs and observations with a metaphorical comb to see where my misinterpretations were.

Example 1: Marriage and mistresses. In ancient Japan and Europe alike, marriage was primarily a social contract to bind to families together advantageously and provide heirs to the lineage. But due to Christian influence, in the West mistresses were a big no-no. In Japan, it was practically expected that men of a certain standing would pay visits to the pleasure district or have affairs, and I have heard that there was even a phrase for a wife and mistress living peacefully under one roof. Even today, I’ve read testimony in books that many Japanese marriages are still considered bindings of duty and obligation, and some (though not many) wives expressed the idea that an affair or mistress was not a deal-breaker, provided the husband kept coming home (with the money for bread, of course).

Nudity was originally another point of confusion for me. Japanese culture paid so much attention to proper clothing and make-up (the rules for kimono and yukata can be incredibly complicated) and to been seen as appropriately composed in public, yet they also have public onsens and mixed bathing. This got fixed in large part when sensei actually discussed the onsen with us and whether or not we wanted to visit one in Kyoto: it was part the revelation/reminder that mixed bathing, etc., only really became taboo after Europe and America started influencing Japan.

The other half of the fix, amusingly, hit me during a discussion of Japanese ukiyo-e versus old-style pornography. The clothes were the important part, which is why so many of the “mature” wood-block prints feature the woman still with her robes mostly on, which is counter to the stupidly blatant ideas of appealing sexuality. The clothes and make-up were so important because mixed bathing meant that one could just see bodies in the onset, so the ideas of attractiveness and sexuality developed very differently. I think of it as the opposite of the “She’s showing her ankle! How scandalous!” phenomenon that mostly applies in the Middle East.

The last part of this is how they relate the ideas of physical obscenity or innocence with children. It can be very disconcerting to be reading a manga and find an up-skirt shot of a four-year-old girl. In the USA that prompts the immediate flinch-response of ‘pedophile!’, but I’ve since found out that this is quite the opposite in Japan. Possibly connected to the above views on nudity, such pictures are designed to emphasize that the children are entirely innocent, and not at all sexual beings.
Similarly, because children are innocent, Japan generally has fewer reservations about exposing them to things that Americans find obscene. The thing that brought this subject to my attention in the first place was the attached photo I took of a fountain in Kyoto. It was in a public area with two kids playing an imaginary game only a few paces away while their grandparents watched from a bench. I’ll let the picture speak for itself to contrast how American parents might feel about this.

Yes, it is what it looks like.

Yes, it is what it looks like.

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Looking Back 6: Hiroshima at Peace

One of the most powerful parts of our entire trip in Japan was definitely our visit to Hiroshima. It certainly had its lighter moments, too, such as our group earning two free bottles of okonomi sauce from a kind gentleman who we had dinner with (Hiroshima style okonomiyaki is very good), but this part of our excursion carried a certain gravity with it that could not be felt elsewhere in Japan. We arrived late in the afternoon on Monday after leaving Kyoto (and stopping at Himeji along the way to visit the spectacular castle there), and went out for a delicious dinner of okonomiyaki before turning in for the night. The next day, we began the day with a trek to the peace park and heard the story of an atomic bomb survivor. Whether it was her story or her own tears that made me shed a few of my own, but it was an incredibly moving experience to be able to speak with someone who lived in Hiroshima the day the atomic bomb was dropped, and who witnessed the terrible, incredible devastation that it wrought.

After her talk, we toured a few of the monuments and made our way to the A-Bomb Dome, which is the only surviving building from August 6th, 1945. It is both amazing and even a bit sad to think that a building so destroyed could still be standing, yet there it was, one of the only surviving witnesses to the day the bomb fell. We stopped for lunch by the river after buying bento at a nearby Lawson, and continued on our way to the peace museum afterwards.

The peace museum was, in a word, overwhelming. I have heard that the staff is overhauling the exhibit in the near future, which I firmly believe should not happen. The exhibit is equal parts shocking and healing, as it not only talks about the devastation that occurred in the past, but it also talks about peace and how important it is for not only Japan, but the world as a whole. What really struck me the most was the display of mannequins with synthesized flesh peeling and hanging off of their fingers and limbs. I think it had the greatest effect on me because I am somewhat intolerant of anything body horror or having to do with injuries or wounds, but I was at a loss as to how something like the atomic bomb could have ever been unleashed on the world when all it would bring was that kind of result. I am grateful that we had the opportunity to visit the peace museum, because it very much caused a change in how I view the history between Japan and America. Not only that, however, but I suppose how I view warfare, too. It seems like a necessary evil sometimes, but when the only result is the grotesque disfiguring of human life, can it really be deemed necessary?

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Looking Back 5: Kyoto!

Looking back on the entire trip, I have to say the time we spent in Kyoto was among my favorite of the things we did. We spent a total of four days and three nights there, and the ryokan we stayed at, Nakajimaya, became as much a home to me as the Kenshu Center back in Nagoya. Shibata-san, who runs the ryokan, was a fantastic hostess and one of my absolute favorite people I met while staying in Japan. The first several days spent in Kyoto were spent touring temples and shrines, of which Inari Jinja was definitely my favorite. It was an optional trip, but the three of us who did go had the pleasure of hiking the entire mountainside in stifling 30 degree weather. Nevertheless, there was certainly a sense of accomplishment afterwards, as well as some much-deserved water. Seeing all the torii gates lining the path, though, was truly spectacular, and a sight that can’t be rivaled anywhere else in the world in my opinion. Ryoanji Temple was another of my favorite places in Kyoto, because it is the home of the famous zen rock garden – which is one of the most peaceful places I’ve ever been, when not swamped with schoolkids on class trips, like it was a mere fifteen minutes after we got there. I was glad to be able to enjoy the peace and quiet, however, if only for a few minutes.

I have to say, I particularly enjoyed our bike trip in Kyoto as well. I hadn’t expected to go biking in Japan, but it was a very cool experience to have, especially because bikes are so much more prominent there than in America. The entire day was, yet again, terribly hot and a bit too humid for my taste, but we got to experience so many interesting things, not the least of which was feeding monkeys on a mountainside! On our free day, I managed to get some shopping done as well, and walked away with my pockets emptier, but with several new pieces for my kimono collection (which was satisfactory, as both my komon and tsukesage are now wearable in the right conditions!). I also got to visit the Kyoto Animate store, which was incredibly cool as I’ve ordered from their online store before, but never had the chance to visit an actual retail location before. All in all, Kyoto was extraordinary, and the city is both historic and beautiful – definitely a place I need to visit again, hopefully for a longer duration next time!

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Looking Back 4: English Class

During our second week at Nanzan, we had the opportunity to experience a few classes with Japanese students at Nanzan like we had the week before. Perhaps my favorite was going to one English class and discussing the articles we found with the students there. It was incredibly enjoyable discussing an English article with students who, unlike those at Dickinson, appreciated the chance to use English as a means of communication. That’s certainly not to say that students in America don’t enjoy discussion, but it was a really interesting experience being able to both learn and teach at the same time. It also gave me a chance to switch between using Japanese and English, which is a rare occurrence for me outside of the Japanese classroom back home on campus. During the entirety of the trip, really, while I was able to help some of the Japanese students with their English, they were also able to help me with my Japanese which I was immensely grateful for. I even met one or two who are willing to do a Skype exchange with me, so hopefully we can maintain the friendships we formed and help each other with our language studies at the same time! I’m hopeful that, when I go back to Nagoya in the future, I can meet some of the friends I made this time around again, and we can all see how much our studying has paid off.

(Below: our group with Yamagishi-sensei and some of his seminar students.)

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Looking Back 3: Inuyama Castle

The Saturday of our first week in Nagoya, we visited the town of Inuyama, which is situated fairly close to the city. It took roughly a 30 minute train ride to get there, first to the end of the Tsurumai subway line and then transferring to another Meitetsu train that went on to Inuyama. The town itself, as we moved away from the station, became more and more historic as the buildings got older, which created a nice atmosphere leading up to the castle. To get to the castle, we hiked up a path on the side of a hill (or small mountain really, which was an excellent defense for samurai) and visited a shrine on our way. The castle was a truly spectacular sight (though it did admittedly pale a bit in comparison to Himeji Castle, which we visited later on our trip), though it looked incredibly peaceful which was somewhat ironic considering its original purpose. Strange as it sounds, the floors were perhaps the thing that struck me the most – their smoothness was remarkable on bare feet, especially when compared to wooden floors in more Western buildings, which aren’t nearly as finely sanded. I was also impressed by the view of the river from the castle (which would have been another excellent defense, actually), and the steepness of the stairs. Despite the architecture being so old, it really stunned me how advanced defense techniques were back in the feudal and Tokugawa eras. After visiting the castle, we stopped in town for lunch among a few other things, before heading back to the station early for some well-deserved rest. I definitely need to go back to Inuyama when I visit again!

(Unfortunately the image below is stock from Google, since I lost a lot of my phone pictures when I transferred them from my old phone a few days ago.)

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Theo Week 4 Post 2: Looking Back and Toward the Future

I wish I could say that I was all done, although I still got a good ways to go as far as my research project is concerned. Still now that I’m back in the States, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the trip itself. We accomplished so much in such a short amount of time. I certainly got my money’s worth. I’ve been to ancient temples, cities, and castles; I’ve hiked to the top of mountains, through forests, and even along beaches on the other side of the ocean; and most of all I’ve got to experience life in a brand new country. These are experiences a lot of people from where I’m from don’t get to have, and I can’t express how grateful I am for them. In the end, Japan was really similar to America so I didn’t experience a whole lot of culture shock. Instead I felt a sort of wonder while in Japan. The wonder of being able to turn down any street or stop at any station, and find something that was totally new and amazing to me. After coming back to America, I’ve realized that I don’t have to leave that mentality behind. I may be more familiar here, but I can still treat each day like an adventure and explore as much as I can wherever I am. Who knows what I’ll find tomorrow?

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Theo Week 4 Post 1: Akishi Ueda & Nozomu Shibata

I was really excited to meet both of these artists. Throughout our trip, I’ve made no secret of my love for art in all its various forms be it paintings, films, sculptures, or anything else. Meeting Akishi and Nozomu was great for multiple reasons. First of all, I got to see a real art studio, and got a first hand look at different artists’ processes. Secondly, I’ve actually followed Akishi Ueda for some time now, I had first seen his work in an art magazine in high school, and so it was awesome putting a face to the work. Although I hadn’t heard of him prior to our meeting, I’ve also become a fan of Nozomu Shibata’s work, and I really appreciated getting to see his interpretation of steam punk first hand. Both of these guys were lots of fun, and I loved getting to know them over snacks and tea. I could honestly say I would love to be their friend. It was great getting to see the lifestyles of a group of upcoming artists, and it made me sort of sad that I don’t have those sorts of talents. Still, it was a really great experience and I’m glad that as with the rest of the trip, I really got a chance to expand my perspective.Akishi Nozomu Theo and the artists

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