Buddhism and Shintoism

Today was pretty much all about religious things.  First, we went to see the Great Buddha at Kamakura.  This is a 2/3 scale replica of the one in Nara, which I saw last year, but this one is actually several hundred years older, because the one in Nara has been reconstructed a few times.  They said it was originally completely covered in gold, but now it's basically just a bronze statue.  A hint of gold remains on one of the cheeks, though.

The statue, dwarfing everyone around it.

There are windows in the back, which were probably used in construction for the workers to be able to get in and out.

We actually got to go inside it.  It's completely hollow, and you can see up into the head area and everything.  They figure it was built using a clay base as a mold and the copper was poured in in layers.
After that, we went to another Buddhist temple in the area.  It was a pretty simple place as far as the buildings go, but it was nice outside.  Lots of plum trees, which it's famous for, along with azaleas, hydrangeas, and irises.

I don't know what these trees were, but they were impressively tall and straight.
At the temple, we got a lesson on zen meditation, then all participated.  Basically, you sit cross-legged (ideally with both feet up on the opposite thighs), hold your hands together, palms up and somewhat open with thumbs touching to make an O, and sit perfectly still while breathing really slowly and counting each exhalation.  Your eyes have to stay focused on the ground a meter in front or so, not closed.  The monk also lit some incense which let out a slight smell, but wasn't too noticeable except when the wind was blowing it my way (the room was open on most sides).  I made it to 57 breaths by the end, which was 20 minutes.  You're supposed to start over counting after 10, but I figured I'd just keep going.

The meditation room and head monk.
Nothing really came of it, except that I realized how fast 20 minutes can pass when you're doing absolutely nothing.  We couldn't take pictures during the actual meditation, obviously.  You're not supposed to move at all.  I had to shift my legs a tiny bit when they started falling asleep, though.  And I kept slouching slightly.

After that, we went to a major Shinto shrine, but I don't have the name.  It was still in the same area, Kamakura, which apparently has 5 major shrines in it.  We went to the biggest one.

A wall of vending machines.  Apparently this path is really popular.  The guide said the shrine we went to gets about 10 times the population of the town itself in visitors every year, roughly 1.7 million.

A cool tunnel we passed through.
The streets we walked along in this area seemed much more familiar to me than most of where we've been.  It was a smaller town rather than a big city, so all the sidewalks were just a couple feet across, and the roads were narrow with cars driving very close by.  It definitely reminded me of Izumichuo from last summer.  Just more people.

Amish in Japan?  Or just some Japanese person selling old-style western food?
There was a wedding going on at the shrine when we arrived.  Another one was about to start when we left.  Shinto-style weddings are less popular than Christian-style (girls like to wear the big fluffy white dresses, it seems), but this is a famous shrine, so it probably gets a lot of people for weddings here.

You can see some of the wedding party in the suits and kimono on the right.

This tree stump was once a sacred tree, over 1000 years old.  It fell a few years ago, I think in 2010, due to the wind, making national news.
We also wandered around some shops, then went back to the hotel and had dinner at a family restaurant.  Everyone kind of split up after that, some going off to eat sushi, some shopping, some drinking (that may still be happening now).  We leave the hotel tomorrow, so after going around town some, I'm back and mostly packed up again.

One of our chaperones is sick with influenza.  She was sent to the hospital a couple of days ago.  One of the Japanese guides we've had from the beginning is also sick at the hospital, but we don't know with what.  They've made us start taking our temperatures every day to identify if anyone's getting sick, but no one else is having problems so far.  I've been pretty careful, I think, and using hand sanitizer and such, along with some immune system booster medicine I brought.  I think everyone else will be fine.

I'm not going to be able to post again until I'm back in the U.S. on Thursday.  I could respond to comments/e-mail when I get up tomorrow morning, though, maybe.  See you later.

Chinatown, Cup Noodles, and Culture Festival

Yesterday, after breakfast at the hotel, we moved to the Yokohama prefecture government office (essentially like a state government building).  There, we learned about the area more specifically, including a long but interesting and enthusiastic presentation from a tourism department representative.  It was kind of interesting to get to see inside, and the workers there were formal but not unapproachable, which was nice.

We were let out onto the roof again.  More places in America need to let you do that.

Everyone on the roof.

There are three towers in the city that foreigners nicknamed King, Queen, and Jack.  The government office has the King tower, and from that building we were able to see the other two:

The Queen tower, as seen from the roof of the King.

The Jack from a skybridge in King.
And the King itself from the front.

 On the way to lunch, we passed a cool monument with mirrored pillars.

The tourist official was a pretty fun guy, and he led us to Chinatown, where we ate.

One of the gates of Chinatown.

Cute hedgehog buns and other treats.

Our dinner at the restaurant was corn soup, rice, and, pictured above, mabodofu/maaboudoufuu.  I can't say I understand why Kanade (Angel Beats) likes it so much, but I can understand why everyone else thought it was super spicy.  I didn't particularly care for it, but I don't really like tofu.
After lunch, we were free to explore Chinatown.  I went around to a few shops with a large group, but when several of them decided to go to "Doctor Fish" and have them eat the dead skin off their feet, I decided to move on on my own.
Doctor Fish at work.

You don't usually see black ice cream.  This one is black sesame flavor, apparently.
 I was thinking about buying some little animal figurines that I found at one of the shops, because they looked really cool and I thought they could add to my family's collection, but they were way too expensive.  $30-40 for a 2-inch mouse carved of some sort of black stone.  They had jade and gold figures, too.

We walked past the other side of the monument that we saw on our way over, and I found out it was for the Japan-America Treaty of Amity and Friendship.

Bluegrass Bus - Traveling in Style.
Our next stop was the Cup Noodle museum.  At first, I was thinking this would be kind of a waste of time, especially when I walked in and the first room was literally empty except for a massive staircase and a giant inflatable Cup Noodle cup.  It ended up really being a museum to innovation, telling the story of how the noodles were invented and each of the major additions over the years, and relating that to how people can work to come up with all sorts of new things.  It also had some of the most creative displays I've seen in a museum, but the whole thing was pretty short overall.

This was my favorite room.  It used the miniature trees and various lights, some on tracks, some still, to show a whole short movie in shadows on the wall, with words scrolling by for narration and everything.  It was really impressive.

That's going to take a while to clean up.

They had one of those trick perspective rooms.  This is the first time I've seen one in person, I think.

Switching sides.
While my favorite exhibit was the shadow room, my favorite activity was definitely making our very own instant ramen from scratch.

The workroom.  We all put on bandanas and aprons and sat through instructions before getting to work.
We got to mix the dough, shape it, run it through the flattening machines, and cut it into strips.  It was pretty fun.  Then we watched them deep fry the noodles (which is how they dry them to be preserved and ready for instant rehydration) and they gave us the exact ones we worked on in bags that we drew on and labeled ourselves.

My finished product.
They also gave us a normal bag, I guess in case the ones we made didn't turn out well, or just to compare.

Then, on to dinner.

Dinner that night was at a karaoke place, but we didn't actually get to do karaoke.
This was definitely the weirdest dinner yet.  Since it was a karaoke place, they didn't actually have much real dinner stuff.  We got some sort of fish/daikon salad (with the little white eel-like fish that I can't stand), pizza, breadsticks, fried chicken bits, onion rings, and pudding topped with coffee (which I had one bite of before realizing what it was and giving it to someone else).  They were served in that order, with a good 5-10 minutes between each dish, and in rather small amounts.  Very strange meal.  For drinks, we had orange juice, some sort of brown soda (Coke or whatever), and... cold coffee.  I didn't know that was a thing, but no one willingly drank that that I saw.

For the rest of the night, several of us went to the mall, which was basically like any normal mall in the US.  This one wasn't geared towards tourists at all, which the others we've been to have been.  I still found something I liked though, and ended up buying a cheap K-On! Azusa figure.  Actually, it's in the same set as the Yui one I bought last time I was in Japan.

Today, we went to Nihon Minka-en, an outdoor museum of all the different old Japanese house styles for the past few hundred years.  They actually moved real houses to the museum area, and let you walk around inside most of them.  We also had a fairly fluent tour guide, an older man who obviously knew all about and loved the houses.  It was a pretty interesting tour.

Various tools used to make the houses.  Rather than nailing the pieces together, they would fit like an interlocking puzzle, so pieces could be replaced as necessary, and in this case transported more easily to the museum.
The roofs of several houses.  You can see thatched, ceramic tile, and stones on wood shingles.  The stones hold the wood in place.

This was outside the samurai's house.  Water runs into the bamboo stalk, and when it fills up, it tips, pours it all out into the pond, and falls back into place with a light clatter.  I've heard that it was supposed to keep away small animals and such.  Not sure if that's true.

This was probably the most interesting house.  Commoners weren't allowed to have houses over a certain size, and weren't allowed to use straight wood for their beams in the roofs (that was reserved for the samurai class).  Whoever built this house cheated the system as much as possible.

In order to have a larger house, he built two right next to each other and opened the wall in the middle.
A fire burning on the inside, with a pot hanging from the ceiling.  These were on adjustable-length poles so that the heat level could be controlled.

The second cool thing about the cheating house: those not-straight beams are awesome.  He had a real eye for it, and managed to turn what was supposed to be a disadvantage into a really impressive and elegant addition to his home.

Some of the thatched roof styles used plants - specifically Japanese irises - on the top to hold the thatching in place.  This swampy area is growing those irises, presumably for use on the houses in the museum.
After the Minka-en, we got to do something I never thought I'd actually be able to experience.  We went to a school culture festival.

We returned to Yokohama National University for their Seiryo Festival.  They don't have any school events even close to this in the U.S.  All sorts of clubs had stands set up selling food, and there were lots of events happening all day all over the place.

One of the first areas of the festival, lined with stalls on one side and packed with people on the other.  These things are a big deal.

One stall was using anime to advertise.  In particular, the poster on the right is the most popular current-season show, Shingeki no Kyojin (Attack on Titan), which I immediately recognized.  They're selling curry rice.

We went to see some a capella performances.  Apparently, it's a pretty big thing at this school, because there were a few dozen different groups scheduled to perform throughout the day.  We stayed for just a few of them.  The first one was doing some English songs that I was vaguely familiar with.
In another building, I found acoustic guitar performances and listened to a couple of those, including one of my favorite songs, "One More Time, One More Chance", which was used in 5 Centimeters Per Second.  He did a decent job, though clearly not as good as the original.  I still mouthed all the words along with him.

I found a guy dressed up as Hatsune Miku (no picture), and then later a girl dressed as... Kaito?  I think?  But if so, it was a weird version of him.  Anyway, I got a picture.
The next big event we saw was a martial arts demonstration.  They showed a few moves as normal for these things, punching and kicking at the air, but then they went into a short series of actual sparring matches, which were really fun to watch.

This picture was after those, when they were doing choreographed throws, demonstrating various defensive techniques.
Other than the real spars, I think my favorite part was when they were showing how to defend against knife attacks.  One person would use a wooden knife to stab at the other, who would dodge, grab some part of the attacker, and throw them down, sometimes also disarming them in the process.  At the end, they also had some two-on-one fights, which I'm not sure if they were choreographed or not.  The club leader took on one knife-wielder and another member at the same time, constantly knocking both of them down.  So I guess martial arts like that can be used in more than one-on-one fights, but you rarely see it for real.

They also had a live rock concert on stage after a while, but it was too loud for my tastes, so I didn't stay there long.
Eventually, it was time to go, and we went to dinner at the same karaoke place again.  This time, it was a bigger room, and we actually got to do a bit of singing towards the end.  I didn't, because time ran out, but others did.  The food was also better proportioned and made more sense this time, and was served mostly all together.  Slightly different dishes.

After dinner, most of the others went to a small amusement park by the lake and Cup Noodle museum, but I decided to head over to a Book Off I had located (by asking the person at the hotel desk) and buy some manga.  I'm not really into roller coasters, and while the ferris wheel is huge, I've ridden in them before, and already seen the city several times from high up.  And I think that's most of what the park had, so I wasn't really interested.

I ended up buying a few random manga again, along with a few old Playstation 1 and 2 games: To Heart 1 & 2 and Valkyrie Profile (only 500 yen!).  I figure owning a Japanese version of VP gives me at least a reasonable claim to be able to play a translated copy on my computer rather than having to buy it used from someone for over $100.  And maybe I'll eventually learn enough to actually play the one I bought, too.

This entry took way too long to write.  Gotta go to bed; it's already after 1 a.m. here.  Tomorrow's our last full day here, and therefore my last entry before I go home next Thursday.  Coming up in tomorrow's post: zen meditation.

First few days back in Japan

I have arrived back in Japan after only a 14-hour flight.  Not nearly as bad as my three-flight trip last time.  This post is mostly going to be pictures, since I've got a lot of catching up to do and I've taken 440 already.  So first we landed in Narita airport, then took a bus to Shinjuku.

Rice paddies + orange and white electric tower = Japan

First glimpse of Tokyo Sky Tree.

Beautiful bridge and skyscraper scene.

We drove right by the Square-Enix headquarters.  I was about to take a picture of it because of the cool brick design, then looked up and saw the logo.
Once in Shinjuku, we dropped off our stuff at the Prince Hotel, and then moved out en masse to a nearby restaurant on foot.

The shop had a bread buffet, so I collected several varieties.

Our school occupied one whole wing of booths.  25 people.
Everyone's meals.  This was a fairly western-style menu, but obviously with a Japanese take on it.

And, of course... Calpis Water!! I realized that I have not been making it strong enough with my mix back home.  This is a lot stronger than I remembered, and therefore better.

On our way out of the restaurant, I decided this would make a cool shot.
A lot of the others decided to explore straight after eating, but I didn't remember the way back to the hotel, so my roommate and I went back there first with the guide before wandering around some more.

The only thing consistent about the architecture in Tokyo is that the buildings look cool.  There is no unifying design element besides that.

A karaoke tower.
We got free slippers.  They let us take them home.  I read the Japanese to make sure I was interpreting that part of their translation correctly before deciding to keep them.

You should never Slippers.  Especially not outside of your room.
We went out again and explored the area a bit more after that, but quickly decided to return to the room after we were both made well aware that the area across the street from the hotel is a red-light district.  It took us about two streets in before we fully realized it.  Since we couldn't see much in any of the other directions, we decided to give up for the moment and go to bed.

Nothing like fresh smog in the morning.  This was taken looking out the hotel window.
We went to orientation at the Youth Olympic Center, which seemed a lot like a college campus from what I could see, but had more tours.  Orientation was long and boring, and it was really hard to stay awake during the 2+ hour lecture on Japanese-American relations.  The fact that this was on our first full day didn't help.

Lunch at the cafeteria.  I couldn't eat the barely-not-raw egg, but I finished the rest.  The melon gelatin was pretty good.

Just a friendly airport limousine.

We can't actually stand up in the back of the bus.  For some reason it slopes up almost a foot in the last few rows.
We next visited the Tokyo National Museum for a couple hours.  They had a lot of Buddhist statues, some swords, and a lot of writings and paintings.  We didn't get to see everything since it was a pretty short visit.  Self-guided tour, though, which was the first time we got to really get out on our own (unless you count the night before).

At the museum.

Four-season folding painting.  From right to left, it has scenes from spring, summer, autumn, and winter, all in a continuous set.  This was a common style.

Detail on the same painting section above.

A very, very long scroll.  There are lots of these.

A music stand.  I mean, reading stand.  But it's the same basic idea.  Only this one's gold (or looks like it at least).

One of many swords on display.  This one had a cool engraving in the base of the blade.
After the museum, we went to Kappabashi Dougu Street, which is the largest concentration of shops dedicated to cooking goods, primarily for restaurants and such.  They had lots of huge knives, pots, etc.  I also saw a taiyaki maker, which would be pretty cool to have if it weren't 20,000 yen or something.

A kappa on Kappabashi street.  Kappa are water spirits.  There are lots of weird stories and ideas about them, so you can look them up if you're interested.
We next went to Sensou-ji, an ancient temple.  I've seen and posted about many of those before, so I didn't take all that many pictures this time.  Just the main buildings, mostly, and they look basically like all the others I've already posted about.

Another shot of Tokyo Sky Tree from the temple grounds.

Don't feed the pigeons.  Feeding pigeons makes them sad.  Pigeons can get their food by themselves.

On our way to dinner after the temple.  The building just looked cool with all the ivy.
Dinner wasn't great.  Tempura of all sorts, but I think we got there a little late, so it was all a little colder than it should have been, and I wasn't a big fan of the stuff anyway.  I heard later that some of the others at least agreed that it wasn't good as tempura goes.  I don't remember having any before, so I can't really say.

That night, I went with a larger group, 5 or 6 of us, to better explore the area and buy stuff at Book Off.  We stopped at several shops along the way and lost a few people who decided they'd walked far enough, so only 3 of us made it there, but I ended up buying 3 manga I'd never heard of before in hopes of practicing my reading and improving my vocabulary.  I don't really have any idea what they're about.  Didn't have enough time to try to figure it out beyond the titles and quick skimming of the pictures inside before deciding.

Today, we moved to Yokohama National University, where we had more lessons on Japanese culture.  This time, though, it was actually fun and interesting.  We learned about the cultural emphasis on work, various opinions on different topics, seasonal foods, and other things, most of which I already knew but were still kind of interesting.  Then we had lunch.

A friend poses with a ridiculously large bite of ramen.
On our way out of the cafeteria, I saw one girl outside talking to her friend pointing in at all of us (I think at me specifically at the moment, because I happened to be right in front of her).  When she saw me look at her, she started laughing and waved, so I waved back.  It's weird being looked at as a foreigner again, but it doesn't happen nearly as much in Tokyo as it did around Izumichuo.  Most people ignore us.

We had our pictures taken in front of the school emblem.

And then we climbed up to the roof.  Well, I did.  Everyone else took the elevator.

Most of us then climbed the ladder to the top of the little building on top of the roof.  Because why not.

It was a pretty long way down, though only maybe 15 feet to the roof below.

My roommate and his new Japanese friend pose on the rooftop.
After that adventure, we headed inside to learn how to put on yukata.  This time we all actually did it for real, unlike last summer where we just kind of messed around with it until we got something that looked almost sort of right or gave up.  I think I could actually remember the knots well enough that I could do it again if I had one.

Some of the men in their yukata inside.

All the men in yukata and geta by the university's emblem.  Walking out there we got a lot of looks from the college students.

And suddenly, color.  The women always get the better-looking outfits.

The instructor and Japanese students who helped with the presentation and lesson.

Then we learned how to properly fold the kimono.
After a little while waiting for the bus, we went to our new hotel, the Heiwa Plaza Hotel.  The rooms here are bigger and more spacious than the other ones (which were absolutely tiny), but the beds, doors, and bathrooms are smaller.  But now we have internet.  Some of the guys promptly opened the windows and walked outside to the other people's rooms.  I stepped out to see what was there.

My roommate at the next room over.

Looking down from our "balcony"

Another ostensibly western-style meal for dinner.  Bread, chicken with cheese and tomatoes/tomato sauce on top, corn, and potato wedges.  And of course Calpis Water, but this time I also changed it up and got Melon Fanta, which was actually pretty good, too.

The bread was just too cute.  It's like a whole loaf from the store, but it fits in the palm of your hand.
We had plenty of time after dinner tonight to explore, so we went to the Landmark Tower Sky Garden.

Some cool buildings along the way.

The tower itself.  The tallest building and third tallest structure in Japan.

I just thought this was a cool shot.

It wasn't actually this light outside, but I thought the framing of the bridge, buildings, and grass around the water was nice.

We had many adventures along the way.  The 15-minute walk took us almost an hour and a half.

Japan.  The vending machine capital of the world.

Some possibly famous sculpture near the tower.  We don't know what it is.

Riding the escalator down right after going up because no one else followed.

In the mall between us and the tower, I found the Pokemon Center.

Now that all our pokemon were back to full health, we continued to the actual tower.  This is the ceiling of the fastest elevator in Japan, reaching the top of the 69-story building in just 40 seconds, with a max speed of 750 m/min (45 km/hr or about 28 mph).

The vast city as seen from the observation deck.  It looked about like this no matter which direction I took a picture of.

Bridges of light seemingly over nothing.

A subset of our group at the top of the tower.  The girl taking the picture didn't want to be in any of the pictures herself, so my roommate and I made it our mission to get good pictures of her.  Then I realized when I got back to do this blog that I already had a few (on the escalator).

This is the Nippon Maru, at the Nippon Maru Memorial Park just at the base of the tower.  I don't know anything else about it.
So now I'm back at the hotel, and that concludes the recap.  I can elaborate on anything if there are questions, but I'll only have internet for a few more days, then nothing until I get back to the States.