Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ise-Jingu and Sunshine

Last Sunday, my host parents took me and my friend Austin (the only other USC student at Nanzan this semester!) to Ise-Jingu, a shrine said to be one of Shintoism's most important shrines! Not only that, but it's supposed to be home to one of Japan's three imperial treasures, the "Yata no Kagami" (mirror). It's a three hour drive away in the city of Ise. It's actually in the next prefecture over, which is called Mie. The shrine was insanely beautiful, I can't even describe it. The sun was bright and the air was crisp and the red leaves are really starting to show. I wish these photos could do it justice!

There's something special about these chrysanthemums... (see next photo!)
It's all ONE plant! Isn't that amazing?
Okaasan and Otousan in front of the clearest river I've ever seen

We first walked through the shopping street of Ise before reaching the main area. Apparently, the shrine is actually home to 125 smaller shrines. We were able to give a donation and pray, and afterwards we walked around the shrine complex. Okaasan told us that they rebuild the two main buildings every 20 years as a way to honor and pass down the ancient methods of construction. Want to hear something amazing? It was apparently built in 4 BC. Want to hear something even more amazing? They don't use nails to build it, only notches cut in the wood.

The "torii" we went through

After we saw the shrine, we went and got some food! Sashimi and miso soup and tsukemono (kind of like pickles). A nice, traditional meal! We sat on tatami mats while we ate and drank umechu, which is like plum liquor. It was made at the store we bought it, right across the street!


Austin and I

After that, it was time for some sight-seeing and souvenir-buying! Here's a video of some koi we saw in a pond near the shrine:

I always get really refreshed when I see old Japanese culture. I feel like when I'm hanging out in the city, I could be hanging out in any city, shopping anywhere in the world. It makes me feel a bit like I'm wasting my time. When I go to festivals and wear kimono and spend time with old Japanese culture, I feel like I'm really getting the most out of my time here.


I just got back from what I can tentatively call a part-time job. For the past few Wednesdays, I've been helping at the community center at a group called "Sunshine." It's an English conversation practice group that Okaasan's friend runs. I have a lot of fun doing it. Not only are the people there interesting and fun, but it's a bit of a relief to see somebody else struggling with English as much as I struggle with Japanese. I'm really happy to help them, so it's comforting to think that Japanese people might be just as happy to help me.

Tonight was special because another English partner, Erin, showed us all a recipe. Being from Houston, she had told the class that she'd be showing them a Texan recipe, which I was predictably ecstatic for. It ended up being CHILI!! I was so stoked.

There was one problem though... Erin had asked the Japanese group leaders to buy ingredients, which of course included kidney beans...

but they returned with lima beans and garbanzo beans! So we made due with what we had and made the most delicious lima bean chili I've ever eaten!

Looks good!
Okaasan got to eat a little bit. I was really excited to show her Texas food! Later I'm going to make a lemon icebox pie for her.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Back with an Anecdote!


I’m not sick anymore! My computer was broken and got fixed for free! I got my roots bleached! I’m watching one of my favorite anime on live TV for the first time ever! And a commercial from a campaign that I’ve loved for years just came on:

A lot of things have improved since my last post. And it’s not just because I’ve passed the halfway point… I think maybe I finally came out of my culture shock lowpoint. Things are still really tough, I still struggle with everyday life, but my confidence level has greatly improved. I can’t really explain why, but I don’t think it’s just because my Japanese speaking level is improving (both my host parents and CJS friends say so).

A few weeks ago I made an appointment to get my hair done at a Toni and Guy that I happened to find in Sakae (downtown Nagoya) with the intention of taking my friend Erika with me to translate. Unfortunately, the day of my appointment, Erika had an emergency and wasn’t able to accompany me. Nonetheless, I decided to take the plunge and go it alone.

Just kidding I wasn’t that brave about it, I just didn’t know how to cancel an appointment over the phone.

So, following the map that Okaa-san had helped me print out, I went to the Fushimi station and to the building that was marked out. Fumishi is home to a large, fancy theater called the Misono-Za at which I had seen a kabuki performance the previous week (note: if you’re going to a kabuki performance, make sure they have an English translation headset… Being that it was about 5 hours long, it was a pretty painful experience.) My hair salon was supposed to be on the same block, only a few stores away. Not seeing a Toni and Guy sign or anything remotely hair salon-y in the area, I wandered around in circles for about 10 minutes before a good Samaritan saw this pathetic gaijin looking hopelessly lost with inch-long roots and a rumpled map in her hands. She pointed me in the direction of the building that was marked, which I had already passed a few times. Nonetheless, I thanked her and continued on, not knowing how to explain. The time of my appointment was growing near, so I started to worry. I had been walking around the blocks surrounding the Misono-za for about 30 minutes now. I walked into the closest (and friendliest-looking) store, went to the front, and clumsily asked for help. The clerk baffledly looked at my map and turned around and pulled out her own map. After spreading it out on the desk, she pointed to the address on my own map, and then pointed at a building that was marked on hers. She then said “But right now, we’re right here,” and pointed to a location that was about five city blocks away. The map on the company website had been wrong!! The salon was all the way in Yaba-Cho, a few stations away. I asked her how long it would take to get there walking, to which she laughed and said “Ganbatte.” I said “Well, I guess I’ll run!” and thanked her and bowed so low I almost hit my head on the desk.

With 10 minutes until my appointment, I knew this endeavor would be impossible on foot, so nearly in tears, I called the salon. I still had my school bag, so I was running with two oversized purses, a coat, a pitiful map, and my phone in my hands, doing an awful shuffle-run that girls who don’t know how to wear high heels yet do. Slightly impededly but stylishly hobbling along in downtown Nagoya alongside the Misono-za, unquestionably one of the most sophisticated places in the city, I too-loudly stumbled over an apology and alerted the salon that I’d be late. Out of breath, I arrived at the taxi area and practically dove into the backseat of the first one I saw. I poked at the address on my map: “DO YOU KNOW HOW TO GET HERE?” The driver probably feigned ignorance to avoid having me as a passenger, so I moved onto the next one. Again, the driver didn’t know it. Eventually I had caused so much of a scene that I was surrounded by taxi drivers who did their best to try to help, but none of which knew the address I was trying to get to. I gave up on this location and started running in the general direction of the salon. I tried one more time to hail a taxi, and upon showing him the address, he said “Yep,” and programmed it into his car’s computer. 5 minutes later, I had arrived and paid the driver a hefty 500 yen. So exhausted that I didn’t have the energy to feel nervous anymore, I walked into the salon ten minutes late for my appointment and was greeted by a bunch of chic stylists whose faces all said “…Oh no.” At that point, however, I was so proud of myself for actually getting to the salon without the help of any of my friends that all of my apprehension about describing what I want done had completely disappeared.

Indeed, I was able to tell my stylist what I wanted without a hitch. All in all, the experience was great. I got to spend the next hour getting pampered and worked on by at least four different stylists while listening to compliments on my Japanese and my “big eyes.” Also, get this; they give you MASSAGES at Japanese salons, totally for free. I definitely recommend it. When I was finished, I thanked everyone (probably bowing too much), paid for my service, and left with a map that the head stylist had drawn for me that told me where I could buy special shampoo and where I could find the nearest station. Glowing with happiness and basking in the wonderful fresh aroma of bleach, I went on my way.

The reason I chose to recount this story was that I think it might’ve been a major turning point in my experience here so far. Until that day, I hadn’t been able to confidently talk to a single Japanese stranger, whether a worker or not, without help. I had every intention of going to the salon with a security blanket that day, but when that plan fell through, I didn’t chicken out. I was practically lost downtown and I was able to not only find my way out, but to my intended destination, with nothing but my Japanese and 500 yen. Sure, my hair also didn’t fall out or all get cut off for lack of communication at the salon, but that success really pales in comparison to what else I was able to do that day. After that experience, I’ve found myself able to leave the house without needing anybody else. Recently, when my friends have been unavailable to hang out during the day, I’ve been occupying myself by just wandering around Toyota. I’m confident enough now that I can do that without fear.

Anyway sorry for making this post so long and without pictures, here's a picture of me in a kimono that you'll see more of when I post about the festival I wore it to.

Until next time! Thank you everybody for the kind comments on my last post. I promise I'll blog more, I've only got two months left!