Oh. My. God!
I love the snow. Here, with the mountains, trains, rivers and all the wonderful Japan-y things everywhere, the snow magnifies the already supreme beauty. When I got home, this is the view I had out of my patio window:
I only had a moment to snap the shot, as the train was just stopping briefly in the station, so I had to use my cellphone, which was in-hand. I’ve photoshopped it a bit to remove some of the distortion caused by a shitty cellphone camera, but if you can mentally enhance the image a bit more, you may get a slight idea of how pretty it actually was.
Scenes like this make me cry that I can’t be a full-time painter right now.
(By the way, a number of you have been pestering me for photos of my new haircut. Well, I don’t usually take photos of myself, but this time, you’re in luck; my manager wanted to take new photos of me for the website since I lost weight and got a haircut. So if you browse around the Aeon Takefu site, you can spot a few shots of me mugging for the camera.)
Kiiro-chan died this morning. She got sick suddenly this weekend, and was eating little, having trouble balancing, and really low on energy. I spent every night this week up late with her, as she looked really bad, but she really kept hanging on as long as she could. She eventually started eating and drinking again, and yesterday even though she was still sick, she was doing her best to be normal… she even was making feeble attempts to chirp with Pi-chan. They sounded more like moans or meows, but she was trying. Last night was pretty bad for her, though. I didn’t get much sleep at all and neither did she, and finally at 7:30 am she died.
I’m worried about Pi-chan again now, but I’ll do my best to give him as much company as I can. Also, I don’t know what to do with the body. I don’t have a yard to bury her in, and Japan has really strict rules for disposing of anything… so I’d better find out what to do today.
I’m really exhausted… time for work…
If every one of us gets only one super power, I certainly drew one of the shorter sticks. Some people are blessed with amazing athletic ability, some people with brains or wit as sharp as a garrote, or smashing good looks… Me? I have a super sense of smell. It may sound cool, but I can tell you it’s a double edged sword. I can smell a meal and tell you with 90% accuracy everything in it. I’m also debilitatingly susceptible to body odors, smelly feet, and rogue farts. It has some fun applications — I can tell when someone enters the room, and I can follow people with my eyes closed (providing there are no scent-less obstacles in my way), good food is that much more enjoyable for me — but for the most part it is more of a problem than a blessing. After all, there are many more bad smells in the world than good ones.
So that brings us to the title — the sea of citrus, udon and cheese — that’s what I’ve been swimming in all day. Or at least it smelled that way. In my 4-year old class — already my most difficult class — one of my students puked all over the place. The instant it came out I could smell exactly what he had eaten and drank for lunch… made all that more powerful after having stewed in his stomach acids for 4 hours… It was unbearable. And the smell just spread everywhere, to every corner of the plaza our school is in. Our eyes teared, our noses ran, and the rest of the day was just hell.
I suppose one thing I can be thankful for is that it’s the dead of winter now, and not the sweltering, humid Fukui summer…
The smell won’t go away, even now. I can smell it on my suit, in my hair, in the mucus membrane of my sinus cavity. I’m poisoned, and all I can do is wait until my tainted skin cells shed in a few weeks and leave me with a fresh coat. Man, and I just got my hair cut, too!
I haven’t written in a while because this new year has been really busy. But I had to write this Kyoto post before it gets moldy. I was planning to only show a few photos to save myself some work, but as it turned out I took about 300, so “a few” was a lot more than I expected…
So I went to Kyoto on the 3rd of January. I met up with Kayo, who I met in Philly a few years back at the JASGP conversation club, and we toured the city together. It was cold and snowing hard in Fukui, and I fell asleep on the train ride, but I woke up in a whole different world — a warm, bright, sprawling city surrounded on all four sides by mountains. It was like entering a new world. Actually… it wasn’t all that warm, but people had been warning me about how cold Kyoto is, and so I bought all this extra warm gear and was wearing it all, and it turned out to be way more than I needed down there.
It had been ages since I’d seen so many gaijin… actually it’d been ages since I’d seen so many human beings! Kyoto station is new and very stylish. The city is wide, but not huge like Nagoya or Tokyo. Apparantly, Kyoto has really strict building standards too, so even convenience stores and fast food chains have to tone down the gaud and blend in with the historic-ness of the city. McDonald’s doesn’t quite look like an izakaya or anything, but it certainly blends in a lot more than in other places.
So our first stop was Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavilion. Kyoto was crowded due to New Years, so the bus ride over there was insanely tight. Like a New York subway at rush hour… only cleaner, and I could see over everyone’s heads.
Kinkakuji was smaller than I imagined it, but a lot more beautiful. The weather was perfect, so I got a real nice shot… only one… the other shots were all full of people. The grounds were amazingly beautiful too, following a winding path up a small mountain and past small statues and shrines.
After Kinkakuji, we decided to walk instead of taking the bus… walking was nice, but we walked all day long, so my feet and legs really hurt afterwards. Our next stop was Shimogamo-jinja, a very old and very famous shrine. It was absolutely gorgeous as well, and of course really crowded too. I took a lot of photos, but I’ll just show you this one.
Next we went to the Heian Jingu, a castle of a shrine that was bigger than a couple football fields. I didn’t get any photos that capture the sheer size of this beast, but it was absolutely breathtaking. As it was New Years and really crowded, all of the shrines and temples had tons of food parked out front so it looked and smelled like a Japanese festival. That was really cool too.
After that we walked around quite a bit, visiting other shrines whose names I forgot, and walking down many streets. The crowds were fun to watch, and the buildings of course were all so pretty. And it seems like wherever we went in Kyoto, there were little alleys full of ponds, and gardens, and classy little streets with really old buildings all over them. It’s hard to describe in words how pretty it is, and the feeling you get walking around this environment… even a few snapshots don’t do it justice. It’s almost like visiting a movie set or entering a book, and it was really a feast for my eyes.
We were looking for the path to Kiyomizu-dera, one of Japan’s most famous temples, and we got a bit lost… but got to see a number of beautiful things along the way, including this mountaintop covered in gravestones, and beautiful crowded streets full of old, old shops and women dressed like maiko.
Finally we made it to Kiyomizu-dera. We had been walking for a long time, and we got there just as the sun was setting, so our timing was really lucky. From the temple we could look over all of Kyoto, and see the sun set behind the mountains. Again, sorry that there’s only a couple photos, but no matter how many I posted, it could not come close to replicating the experience of being there yourself.
After that, we walked, feet very tired, back to Kyoto station. Kyoto Tower is right outside the station, and quite beautiful. It was an awesome one-day trip, and surprisingly close to Takefu, so I will definitely be going back again to get more painting references and just to soak up the beauty.
This post is a little bit late, but I’ve got good reason — I’ve been busy celebrating New Year in very normal Japanese style, happy to say!
Last week I posted about my Christmas/Birthday celebration, which was very nice. I went to Fukui to see Yumi sing, and then had my Birthday/Christmas “home party” dinner at Minako and Hiro’s house. It was a great party! We talked a lot, had some really good chicken, hand-roll sushi, potato salad with apples in it, champagne, wine, and (of course) Christmas cake (Japan’s staple Christmas food).
Then, on actual Christmas, I had to work, but it was an easy week — only 3 days — so it wasn’t really a hassle. One of our teachers is transferring to Toyama after this New Year’s, so it was her goodbye week. A little sad, but also happy for her. After work on the 27th, all of our staff went out to dinner at an izakaya and karaoke to celebrate our End of the Year Party. New Years is the biggest holiday in Japan, and every family and every company, and every organization within a company, has a party… so most people end up going to many parties (to where it becomes tiring and troublesome for many people).
My actual vacation started on the 28th, and I’ve been having a very nice and relaxing time… watching movies with my friend, going shopping, etc. It was forecast to snow, so I went out and bought a lot of stuff — a winter coat, new sneakers (my boat shoes and spring jacket were not cutting it in the December cold), a new cord and blanket for my kotatsu (an amazing Japanese invention that combines a table with a heater), gloves, a hat, and some PC stuff so I can build a more powerful wi-fi antenna. (The person I normally steal my wi-fi from must have gone on vacation, because his router is turned off… so I have to use another spot which is quite far away and pretty touch-and-go from this distance.) (Another fun thing about Takefu is that it’s so small that whenever I go out, I almost always run into one of my students… and today was no exception; I met two of them at Uni Qlo where I bought my winter gear.) I also cleaned and reorganized my room, and it’s really nice and cozy now. Wow… every time I go shopping I’m floored by the cool new computer stuff. The new generation of printers is so sleek and sexy, and pretty professional too… I think whenever I go home, I won’t need to use a print shop anymore! It’s really tempting and difficult to keep myself from buying a new PC, so I think I’ll have to ask my parents to ship my home PC after all… >_< I really need it!
My shopping spree was right on time! The next day, the snows began. And boy did they begin! It snowed for two days here, and we got about… 50 – 60 cm? It’s really wet, heavy snow, perfect for snowballs and snowmen, and absolutely beautiful. It’s been alternating between snow, heavy snow, and hail, and sporadic bits of sunshine, but the views I had on New Years Eve and New Years Day were just breathtaking:
My Christmas/Birthday boxes came from home (Thanks Mom and Dad, and Angel!) and I was really lucky to go and get them from the PO before it snowed! It’s an uphill ride to the PO, which I don’t know if I could have made in the snow… and the ride back home with these two enormous boxes duct-taped to my bike would been a lot more difficult than it already was. But I was super happy at all the wonderful US food I have now! If only I hadn’t just gone grocery shopping! Yay!
On the 30th, I went to a friend’s house to make mochi, a tradition New Year’s activity, with her family. Basically, you make these enormous globs out of smashed, cooked sticky rice, and then when they’re steaming hot, you take the glob out, form it into little cakes with your hands, and mix it with flour, or grated radish, or other stuff. It was fun, and really delicious! Then we drank, and ate, and talked a lot (I’m impressed at how much I was able to say and understand).
On the 31st, I had a relaxing day at home (cleaning and rearranging as I mentioned earlier), and at night I went back over the their house to celebrate New Year’s. Japanese New Year’s is in some ways a lot like US New Year’s. There is a huge TV event with songs and competitions, with all of the year’s most famous performers. We played some games, and drank and ate a lot (on New Year’s we eat soba, which is famous in Fukui, so it was quite good), and talked a lot too. Then at midnight, all of the shrines in Japan start ringing their bells loudly and slowly (180 times, I think… or was it 108?). We put on our snow clothes and marched out in the snow to the nearest shrine (across the street) and everyone took a turn to smack the huge bell with a log on a rope. Fun! Then we went inside and everyone prayed for the New Year. Afterwards, we stood outside under the awning for a long time and just watched the snow falling on the ground, the graves, the statues, and the buildings. It was so pretty, and so quite… you could hear the sound of the snow hitting the ground, and the echoes of the huge bells from other shrines far in the distance, and the occasional phthump as huge masses of wet snow slid off the roofs. It was such a beautiful and serene experience!
After that, we walked across town to the traditional knife-making spot, but they were already finished making knives, so we walked back and played in the snow on the way. The road is just a narrow raised section, surrounded by rice-paddies in ditches on both sides… so it almost felt like walking on an endless bridge in a sea of snow. Occasionally, the hail and snow would break, and looking up we could see tons of stars! Not as many as on the Great Lakes in Boondocks, Michigan or other places… but still a very beautiful sight. Living on the opposite side of the world and seeing the same stars at night, and thinking the same things as everyone else makes you realize how small the world really is, even though huge distances, or histories, or cultures might separate us. After it began to snow really hard and we couldn’t see the stars anymore, we tried heaving the huge clumps of snow off the side of the road into the water channels on the side of the road. We got a few of them, but others were just to heavy, and we got soaking wet from sliding in the snow…
So then we went home, drank and ate some more, watched movies, and eventually went to bed. I slept in a closet room underneath an electric blanket… Man it was cold! No central heating in Japan… most people just use oil-powered space heaters. They work really well, but they only heat one room… so while that room is nice and cozy, in the rest of the house you can see your breath. Going to the bathroom sucks (in fact, the bathroom window was just wide open, because… why the hell not?), and every time someone opens the door to go in or out, there’s an icy rush. But even so, it’s fun! Oh, and I brought some of the Little Debbie Snacks that Angel sent to me, and the nuts’n'bolts from my mom, and got to share some US food too. Yay!
In the morning, we woke up for traditional New Year’s breakfast… osechi and ozouni… hard to describe, but the former is a really fancy and artistic arrangement of foods that won’t spoil over a few days, and the latter is a kind of miso-and-mochi soup. Sake and green tea too. And everyone got their New Year’s money envelopes. (They gave one to me too! :-O) After that, games, TV, and eating all day. The TV shows were funny, and I understood a little bit of one… about a man who missed his family on New Years so he ordered a substitute father from a rental service. After that, we were tired so we slept for a few more hours. In the afternoon it started to snow again, but right before that I managed to get some awesome photos:
Then we went back to my house, had some Mac ‘n’ Cheese and watched the rest of my US Christmas movies. At night, I painted until late and watched a bunch of other movies by myself (haha Grindhouse!)… what a nice New Years Day!
Today, more relaxing and painting. Tomorrow Kyoto. It’s a great week!