Happy Turkey(less) Day!!!

 

This may not have been my first thanksgiving away from my family, but it was my first thanksgiving away from  thanksgiving. Not only do they not celebrate thanksgiving in Japan, there aren’t really even turkeys. Annnnd most people don’t even know what it is, halloween is a more popular holiday. This was also my first twinge of homesickness. While at work I thought about how much I would love spending the day on a huge couch smelling turkey in the oven and then eating myself into a comatose state. Instead my other american friends and I went to McDonald’s and got a chicken sandwich meal. poultry and potatoes in a meal- its pretty much the same, right?

Although I was a bit homesick, I have so many things to be thankful for. I am thankful for this incredible opportunity to experience and live in another country. I am thankful that my parents and dog are happy and still in good health. I am thankful for all the people that have supported me through the preparation and during this great adventure. I am also thankful for the friends that I have made here. They have saved me and made me feel at home. Although this was a turkey-less day of thanks I still have plenty of appreciation.

 

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Weekly Highlights

Although there weren’t any epic vacations, mini-breaks, or grand plans, this week was pretty great for the following reasons:

1) Tuesday was a holiday. Not sure what the name was, but through my conversations I have come to the conclusion that it was something like labor day. My students described it as “thank you for working everyday..” Whatever the reason I’ll gladly take another day off.

2) Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- movie. I have to admit that being able to see Harry Potter soon after the release was one of my concerns about moving to Japan. Since HP is such an epic movie they made sure that it had the same release date as the states. Most other movies come out 4-6 mos after their release in the states, and sometimes with a different title. It was kinda cool to see the movie in another country, sure there were subtitles on the bottom- but it was a chance to practice some Japanese reading. Aaaand the movie was AMAZING!!! The biggest disappointment was the credits- cuz that meant it was over. I could have easily sat through another 2 1/2 hours to see the whole 7th book in action. Just another 7 mos till part 2.

3)Fall colors. Dan, Kerrie and I made our way over to Iyama Hofukuji Temple to check out the fall colors. I thought I knew changing leaves but these kinda blew my mind. We were there at just the right time of day so it looked like the trees were on fire.

4) Badminton with the teachers. I was invited to play with the teachers from one of my schools and I was terrified. I haven’t played since high school PE and its not like I was very successful then. But I managed to hold my own. I dont have plans to take america to the london olympics, but I wasn’t a total embarrassment either. It was an all around good time for a wednesday night.

5)Christmas Holiday- planned. Heather and I just planned our trip to Hokkaido for the winter holiday. We booked our flight today, and are in the process of filling in the details. Its nice to have something planned for the holiday, now I have something to look forward to. Sapporo- prepare to be dominated by team Heather/Ellie.

Geeking out Geisha

While in Kyoto, we were able to catch a few geisha, not in nets- but on camera. In the days following the trip I developed a curiosity  with this group.

The contrast of their white faces, black hair, and colorful attire create such a unique idea of beauty.

After we got home from Kyoto I set about researching this japanese profession, and read memoirs of a geisha. Geisha are not in fact prostitutes, they are actually entertainers and experts in traditional japanese arts.

The word geisha actually means master of the arts. They spend years of training in dance, music, tea ceremony, and conversation. Their primary job is to entertain men, providing sake, drinking games, dance, witty conversation, and maybe some other things. What actually happens in the tea houses of geisha is unknown to the general public but that only adds to the mystique.

my rockin’ Keitai

My hunter green cellphone or keitai, has gotten a glam makeover. It all started when I achieved one of my japanese goals: earn enough mister donut points to get the donut cell phone charm. It was by far the most over-the-top amazing thing that I had ever seen. So my friend Jacob (another friend who surpasses my enthusiasm for donuts) and I set out to earn the charms. 300 points later we both earned them. It was a shinning moment indeed.

Once the donut charm was attached, the rest of my phone looked so plain in comparison. So I went to the classiest place I know, the 100 yen shop, and bought a phone bling sticker and slapped in on my phone.

I am proud to say my phone has more sparkle than a west virginia beauty pageant.

obscene? maybe. fabulous? without a doubt.

Sweet Serendipity

Its been a week since our trip and to finish my Kyoto high I have just one last post…

Although the sights were incredible they weren’t the best part about the trip. Our Kyoto weekend was epic because of the spontaneous moments that we had throughout the week. These wonderful encounters made this weekend one for the books.

As we started our trek towards Kiyomizu temple an old man became our tour guide. We must have looked hopeless with our guidebooks out and cameras flashing. Although he didn’t speak english and we don’t speak much Japanese we managed to have a wonderful time together. He lead us through streets, stopping to show us the Kodak moments and take group pictures. He brought us to a tea house for some morning sake, then bought us some treats for the next day. He skillfully guided us through the busy streets and showed us the best stores. Luckily our group was pretty big so I was able to sneak into a store and buy him a gift of sake for being our great tour guide. When we got to the Kiyomizu entrance he let us go and disappeared into the crowd.

During our night stroll we came upon an impromptu dance party.  Well I’m not sure what it was really. But there was a group of people singing in the river. Not by the river, in the river. They had their pants rolled up and were leading singing. There were also people singing and playing guitars on the banks. I had no idea what they were singing, and it probably would have helped to know what this gathering was. I climbed down on the banks because it was too good of an opportunity to pass by. No, I did  not jump in the water, it was too cold, and I didn’t know the words of the songs.

 

When we left for dinner we expected a typical dinning experience and perhaps  drinks after if we could find a place. We got so much more. The restaurant was a japanese interpretation of a hippie hang out, with random pictures tacked to bare wood walls and crates for chairs. An additional plus, we were the only foreigners in the place. In the middle of dinner, a couple walked in and the rest of the room erupted into applause. As it turned out they were just married and met up with their friends to party. We spent the rest of dinner making friends with the wedding party and hanging out with some Kyoto locals.

 

One of our new japanese friends proposed that we continue the night at Kyoto’s “hottest” clubs. This is a phrase that I have heard thrown around too often, but why turn down a good time? Daiski lead us down the block to inconspicuous entrance. We went down the stairs into a club that was just waiting to be turned into a good time. And we turned it into a good time. As if getting my groove on wasn’t  enough, it got better when a concert started. Some girl took the stage and we continued to jam to some sweet live music.

The night took several turns that we could have never planned, but that’s probably why it was so great.

 

night sights

Lights at night were one of the first things I fell in love with in Japan. Walking around Hiroshima I was mesmerized by the dazling colors and displays that decorated the night’s skyline. Kyoto at night had the same effect on me. While shrines and temples dominate the sights during the day, the small streets take center stage at night. After temple chasing all day, we rested a bit  and took a stroll around the city at night.

Our hostel was in the Gion district, an area famous for geisha throughout history. (its the same neighborhood as memoirs of a geisha)

Streets that we had been walking on all day took on a whole new personality, and all I could do was take it in.

 

…kyoto according to ellie pt 2

and back to kyoto…yesterday we left off at Kiyomizu, well we left that temple and moved on to..

Our next stop was the Kodai-ji Temple also in the Higashiyama area. The temple is known for the gardens and borders an amazing bamboo forrest. Next to the temple is a memorial to the people who lost their lives in WWII. It was a large complex with a huge buddha statue. Unfortunately the memorial was closed and I was only able to get pics from the outside. I also haven’t been able to find any info on the sight in my guidebook.

The rest of the day we wandered around the city exploring temples and shrines as they came without knowing the name of these sights. We also walked around the night sights  enjoying the lights and busy streets.

The next day Kerri and I took a bus across the city to Kinkakuji or Golden Pavillion. After a long night out, the long bus ride seemed really really long, and the crowds especially big, but it was a sight that was well worth it. Kinkaku is the most famous part of the Rokuon-ji temple complex.

While many pictures make the area look serene there are actually tons of people. There is enough time and space to find a spot, get some pics, and get out for the next person.

The rest of the grounds were quite lovely as the leaves were starting to change. After getting some grub and a short walk  back we hopped on the shinkansen home to recover from the busy weekend.

There was so much that i loved about Kyoto other than the famous sights, we met some awesome locals, the night scenes were great, and it has some fantastic people watching, and the city seemed to have a great energy. I will definitely be going back.

kyoto pt 1

This last weekend the OK crew took our first official trip to Kyoto. I say official because we stayed in a hostel and took the shinkansen. Although the trip was short we packed a week’s worth of epic into those two days.  There was so much epic that I can’t even fit it into a single post, I will be doing a series of post on tourist sights (2), night sights, geisha watching, and our random companions. And now part 1 of the kyoto guidebook according to ellie.

Kyoto is considered the cultural captiol of Japan. All the ancient temples and geisha that are the stereotype of japan are primarily found in Kyoto. The city has over 2000  buddhist temples and shinto shrines. This massive amount of historical sites is due to the fact that Kyoto was the capitol of Japan for over 800 years, and also avoided much of the bombing during WWII. I felt like I saw more historical sights than I could comprehend, and we barley scratched the surface of the city.

Other than the historical significance of the city, Kyoto is full of eye candy. But I’m not really talking about the guys. There is so much beauty in this city. There are temples tucked away on every city block,  geisha walking the streets, amazing mountains, night sights and huge variety of tourists wandering the streets. I am in love. I also found that the places we went were even more amazing after learning their history or significance.

We were lucky that our hostel in the middle of the city and we were able to walk to many of the sites and stumble upon surprise sights along the way. Since many of the things we saw were stumbles I don’t know their names.

The first temple we went to was called Rokuharamitsuji, a buddist temple for the souls of people that are alone or repose of lost souls. There are a number of pilgrimages that stop at this temple as it is one of the 33 sacred temples are Japan.

Our journey moved on to Kiyomizu Temple, in the Higashiyama (east mountain) area of Kyoto. On the way we walked through some amazing streets lined with shops and tourist sights. On our way an old japanese man approached us and took on the job of our tour guide. (more on him later)

At the end of the cobblestone streets and at the base of the mountain was Kiyomizu temple. The temple is beautiful and huge, but the most amazing part is that the entire temple was built without a single nail. That’s right no nails, the builder was a serious bad-ass.

Next to Kiyomizu is the Kyoto Jishu Shrine, the shrine to  Okuninushi no mikoto, the god of love and matchmaking. Numerous people come here for good luck in their love lives. In the middle of the shrine there are two stones 10m apart and if you are able to walk from one stone to the other with your eyes closed, you are granted good luck. Fortunes are also available for 100 yen. After purchasing and reading the fortune you have the option to tie it to a pole in hopes that it comes true. If the fortune isn’t quite your flavor, you are free to discard it. The fortune I drew seemed pretty sweet, so i tied it to a pole. We shall see how it goes.

…and that’s the end of pt 1… pt2 tomorrow. get some rest like this little samurai..

ConVeniE!!!

Maybe 1) I just never fully explored convenience stores in the states, or maybe  2) the convenience stores in japan are amazing. I’m going with option 2. Not only are they everywhere but convenies out here seem to have everything. I mean everything. In addition to a multitude of snacks and beverages, you can also purchase stationary and underwear. Yes I said it, underwear. As if that wasn’t amazing enough they also provide a copy/fax/print machine that is super easy to use. But wait there’s more: you pay your bills there too. That’s right when its that time of the month to give my money to the electric and gas company- I take a stroll to 7-11. They scan it and I hand the cash over. Some convenies have specialties, like better candy or and easier fax, the one by my house even has a bakery attached. Consensus: convenies are the mvp of life.

(ホトカキ) Hotcakes…

they’re everywhere, but they’re sneaky. They like to hide in cans and square candies, ready to jump out to unsuspecting convenience store customers or people waiting for the train. I have fallen victim to random hotcake attacks. Most recently I find myself buying the hotcake drink on my way home from school. That’s right hotcake drink. Its not just watered down maple syrup, there’s a little something added to incorporate butter and cake flavor. Then there’s the candy, I can’t seem to go to the convenie w/o buying at least 2 little hotcake squares. These little squares of goodness incorporate crisp, a drop of maple syrup, all covered in butter flavored coating. There’s so much artificial flavorings and additives in these bad boys, but they are so good. If that wasn’t enough I found myself buying a McGriddle at McDonalds without even realizing what I had done. The hotcakes got me again. After two weeks of buying imitation pancakes in various forms I broke down and bought some pancake mix, we’ll see how it goes.