•April 1, 2010 • Leave a Comment

So one of the big things I got into (culturally speaking of course) when I got to Japan and all settled in, was Taiko. I had kind of heard about Taiko, and I had HEARD taiko music (It’s actually fairly heavy in Anime and other shows and games) but I had never really experienced what it was all about.

Lined up to see

And thus: TAIKO!

For those of you that don’t know Taiko is a music ensemble of Japanese War Drums. It began as an instrument for sending signals, and intimidating the enemy, but after being discovered in 1951 by a Jazz performer and used as a Jazz instrument, taiko groups have started popping up everywhere. It’s a fun thing to do and the Japanese groups get really into it.

Warming up

Warming Up

Taiko has been described to me as being 70% Musical 20% physical and 10% Talent. While, yes, music is a big part of it, there is a lot of of moving around, dancing, and flipping of Bachi (the Taiko drumstick, if you will). It’s not surprising to be sore after your first Taiko practice.

I started Taiko sometime in the middle of November last year (2009), when I was looking for something “culture”-y to get into around Japan. I had tried Kyudo (Archery) and a few other things (martial arts, ect) but I wanted to do something with music. The Shamisen, Shakuhachi, Taiko, I was looking at various things. But when a friend (THANKS KOURI) recommended Taiko (he teaches it at his home school back in Michigan) ,I decided to tag along and have been hooked ever since.

Theres nothing like being in a practice hall, the loud banging of Taiko Drums, and the rhythmic beats pounding your body to the core.

They also know how to party

We frequently have random parties where we go out to a nice restuarant to eat.

However, thats not to say that Taiko is all we do. After practices, It almost customary to head over to the 7-11 next door to buy snacks, ect. And last semester Kouri and I would occasionally head over to a small Ramen Stand for dinner. But whenever a student is about to leave, we’ve had a concert, or some other random event, The entire Taiko group usually gets together and we head out to whatever restaurant the “Party-planning committee” has decided on. these restaurants are usually a series of small meals, from fried foods, to random bacon salads, to sweet things I have no idea what to call. It’s always a good time, but usually sad in the end because it is usually the last meal we have with someone who is about to leave.

However, Taiko has been a great experience for me in Japan. It’s an activity I look forward to each week, and It has really helped get music back into my life (outside of my ipod and the radio). I’ve met some great friends and had the opportunity to get to do some things that not a lot of foreigners get to do here (Things like appearing in an Opera). It’s even starting to slowly spread in the US. Maybe I’ll be able to find a Taiko group when I return!

Good Memories

Very Good Memories, Amazing Friends


Kenbu: The Art of the Sword Dance

•March 28, 2010 • Leave a Comment

This was a Cultural Opportunity I had the chance to do (as of the time of this writing) last semester. The trip was payed for, as well as a free lunch, and a chance to dress up in some samurai garb and handle some real swords. It was a good way to spend a Saturday. The dance lesson took place in Otsu a few stops down from the Hikone Station. The flier that my friends and I had signed up for read “Need international students to evaluate Kenbu program. Lunch will be provided as will Transportation Costs”. For those of you that don’t know, Kenbu is the art of the sword Dance (hence the title of this post.) It is a series of samurai moves, done so that it flows into a dance. While there is no killing, maiming, or injuring of any people, Imagery is helpful in getting the steps down ^_^.

We didn't know we were going to be getting ACTUAL swords....

Gearing up to Dance

Waking up on an early Saturday morning, Danielle, Seth (see picture above), and I boarded a train early in the morning to meet up with the program advisers. We were essentially getting a taste of their program for free, except we were the test subjects. They started off by teaching us the actual dance, honestly not a very hard feat. The hardest part would most likely be drawing the blade and sheathing it without looking. After that, we were told about the origins of Kenbu, and how it is used in festivals, ect. It’s not very widely known outside of Japan ( I had never heard of it). After  learning the dance we thought we were taking a break for lunch. However we were presented with several different choices of Kimono and Zubon, then dressed up. this was the whole thing, we were going to be dancing in costume, ect. All while being recorded for future use in teaching.

yea....we're cool.

Modern Samurai

Finally, we de-robed, and gathered to get some lunch….treated to Food the size of our head.

Yakisoba and Okonomiyake

Biggest meal I've had in Japan.

It took all day, but It was a fun experience. After our meal we headed back and wrapped everything up by helping create slogans, posters, ect. Imagine my surprise this semester when I saw one of our posters hanging on the bulletin board…

Also, I got to play with a freaking SWORD! How awesome is that?

Good Food,Good Friends, Good Fun


•December 16, 2009 • Leave a Comment

So……A month break, turned into winter break in Tokyo, turned into level 3 Japanese kicking my butt all over the place. UNTIL NOW! A lot had changed. A lot more posts are in the works (I’ve learned not to promise posts however because…I just don’t do em)I’m still gonna do em in order and play catch up over the next few days if I can.

By far, my best experience in Japan has been my Weekend Homestay. I was able to practice my Japanese, learned how to make various Japanese Foods (and I may have gotten to play some Taiko Drum Master and Super Smash Bros on my Family’s Wii XP).  I even wrote my final presentation for my level 2 Japanese class about them. I still keep up with my family and I hope I can visit them next semester some. They have their own Blog (almost entirely in Japanese but with some AMAZINGLY taken pictures) here, アクアパッツァ.

Meet the Family

The week prior to starting my homestay, I went over everything in my mind; How I should greet my family, the common household manners and customs, what I should give them, ect. Yet, despite all my mental preparation, when Friday afternoon rolled around, and I was waiting by the JCMU door to meet my family, I was extremely nervous.  Finally, around 6 p.m., one of the regular looking Japanese cars drove up to the entrance and out stepped my Homestay お母さん。Surprisingly (and luckily) enough, she greeted me with a friendly, ENGLISH, “Hello”, helped me load my luggage into the trunk, and I got in the car for the 45 minute ride back. I was very thankful my host mom spoke english, and most of the car ride back we spoke about the typical things, my major, why I was learning Japanese, and some of my Hobbies.  Turns out, not only was my Host Mom’s English really good, but we had a lot of the same interests, including music, cooking, ect.

Host Family!!

From the Left: Tatsuto, My Host Mom- Kazumi, and Monami.

After arriving at my house, I met my host brother, Tatsuto, and my host sister, Monami. I was shown around my room (including a futon bed, and small speakers for me to listen to music at night) and then was left alone for a few minutes to unpack my things and get anything I needed. After grabbing my laptop, I headed into living room to get to know my siblings-to-be. After some short introductions, Tatsuto asked me if I liked video games (I answered with a resounding YES!!!, of course) and he pulled out the family Wii……resulting in the next two hours of switching back and forth between Taiko Drum Master and showing off my skillz in Super Smash Bros. Brawl; mainly watching Tatsuto play while I talked with my family. I found out that  Monami likes to dance,my Okaasan(mother) manages a few blogs and likes Jazz, and that my Otousan (father) helps run a company that produces a variety of things. Soon after we put the Wii away, my Otousan walked in the door and we started dinner!!

Me and the Siblings

Awww Me and the Siblings

Best Sleep I’ve Ever Had

Once my Otousan walked in, changed, and did some nightly stretches and a small workout on the punching bag in the living room (Yea, he had a punching bag in the living room, how awesome is that?) we all sat down around the table for some Temakizushi , hand made sushi. (At this point, it would be good to point out that I had SOOooooo much good food during this stay. The BEST part of my weekend after having to eat my cooking in the dorms XP.) We talked around the table, and for a moment, I felt more at home since I’d been in Japan than I ever had been. It was a great feeling and I was fortunate to get a wonderful family.  With that though, I was getting tired and shortly after headed to bed. The futon I slept on was not only extremely warm, but very comfortable. I woke up the next morning feeling more rejuvenated then I had in a long time.

A Day Around Town

Entering the Temple

The next morning I woke up around 8 a.m. and headed to the living room. My Host Mom was up making breakfast and asked me if I was okay with traveling around town for the day. The plan for the day was to visit a temple (whose name I could not and probably still can’t read) , then head on down to the city’s kite museum, followed by lunch and then head on over to pick up some ingredients for meals for the next couple of days. Not wanting to spend my homestay inside studying, I of course, was ready to get out and see what I could! First stop was the temple, embedded into the side of a mountain. The entrance before me, was a a long flight of stairs, weaving its way through mountain forest and bamboo. starting our way up, I walked along my Host mom, talking with her about the temple, daily life, ect (practicing my Japanese the entire way). Tatsuto and Monami, ran ahead up and down the stairs, waiting for us, taking picture opportunities when possible with me around the temple. At the top we saw various statues to gods over different things (the home, jobs, luck, ect) and I walked up to the shrine, threw what little coins I had in, clapped twice and rang the bell (as is custom).  We headed on around the mountain to a small passage (seen left), and Tatsuto explained to me that, if you are evil or have done bad (I think that’s what it was supposed to be, I don’t exactly remember) then the passage would come together and crush you. (-_-;) No worries right? on the other side we took a small off-the-beaten-path staircase that led us to a small shop. Stopping for a rest, we enjoyed some Onigiri and looked at the antiques placed about the shop (including a propeller from a Japanese World War 2 plane).

Bottomless stairs

On the way back down

We once again started our trek back down the millions of stairs. At the bottom we hopped in the car and headed out to the Higashi Ohmi Kite Museum. A unique place with huge kites and a history on kite making, along with all the kites in the history of all the kite competitions, ect. In other words, GIANT KITES EVERYWHERE! It was way cool.

Mmmm Gyouza

~Making Gyouza all day long, Making Gyouza while I sing this song~

On the way back to the house from the kite museum we stopped at the market to pick up some food to make dinner. On the menu tonight, gyouza (Did I tell you I mentioned to my host mom that I love gyouza? She’s the best) We started by making the meat and all the other ingredients that go in Gyouza. Basically mashed it all up in a bowl then took the Gyouza wrappers (i.e. Dough) and carefully added spoonfuls of our mixture into the gyouza. Then we added it to a large pan, and steamed the gyouza until done. We made a bit much though……..about 3 or 4 plates of the stuff. And I wouldn’t have it any other way ^_^.

After Dinner I retired to bed, sad to know that I only had one more day with my family but I would make the most of it. Sunday morning I woke up and headed into the kitchen. After a typically delicious Japanese breakfast, I spent some time studying in the warm living room, working on my web site design, until Monami came up to me and asked what I was doing. Showing her that I was trying to learn the intricacies of the interwebs (It’s more than trolls and youtube videos apparently), we got to talking about the internet in Japan and I talked her into making a facebook. Mainly for the fact that I would be able to talk with her, but also because monami wanted to be able to talk to my sister (she thinks marjie is beautiful! But I’ve heard that from a lot of japanese people about my sister XP) After a short while, we geared up to head on out to “Marionette Station” an area where people gather once a month, filled with shops and random activities, it is an exciting place.

Helping Monami Make a Facebook

Helping Monami Make a Facebook

We headed on out to a place to grab some food first. That being a chinese food restaurant, nearby Marionette Station (hearby known as M.E.) and had the japanese version of chinese food. Nothing like American chinese food.The we headed to M.E., and was greeted by a group making some kind of german sweet, and people chopping logs. After trying my hand at it (it’s been a while….), my host dad stepped in and showed his strength.

Antoinette Station

So MUCH food over the course of one weekend..... I regret nothing.

After showing out manliness chopping wood and what not, we headed over to the actual Marionette Station, bought some pan and ice cream and sat down and just enjoyed the day. There were some random shops with some good souvenirs, and other cool little places, but eventually the time came and we headed back for some sweet dinner before getting ready to bring me back home. The menu for Sunday night, TAKOYAKI! After making the batter we poured it over what can only be described as a metal pan with holes in it…..after frying up the batter in there for a while we added pieces of octopus to finish it off. After being completely cooked we devoured those small foods like I had no time left in this world. Best takoyaki I’ve ever had.

Like all experiences though, they must eventually come to an end and so I grabbed my things and prepared to leave. I said my good bye’s to Tatsuto and Monami, and promised to come back  to visit. I had a good talk on the way back to JCMU with Kazumi (In english of course. Kazumi your english really is amazing!)  When I got back, I set my stuff in my room and got back to work….It was time to get back in the swing of things for school. However, this homestay is something I will never forget, easily the best experience I’ve had in Japan.

My Home away from Home

I Miss you guys!!!!


I recently visited my Host mom again. Went to a Jazz concert, introduced her to my best friend at JCMU, ect. But more on that in another blog post…..

No Blog Post This Week

•November 27, 2009 • 2 Comments

Sorry folks, I know just how popular my blog is (insert sarcasm here), but I’m really busy this week. I have 3 きまつしけん (final projects) that all just so happen to fall on this coming week, so I will spend the weekend and coming week cooped up in my room, studying and working on papers. On a lighter note, I have much more to write about, Thanksgiving was pretty awesome, I’m heading to a zenbu sword dance class tomorrow, I joined a taiko group here, and it should be noted that I absolutely hate writing papers. Math is so much better XP. See you next week!


Whoo! I look so enthusiastic.

Little Glimpses at Cultural Events

•November 23, 2009 • Leave a Comment

My Typical Week

Ok, so maybe I haven’t exactly explained what my usual week is like at JCMU.  Classes are usually from Monday to Thursday, from 8:50 AM to 11:40 AM, with 10 minutes breaks about every hour (This breaks it into a 3 period class schedule everyday). This is assuming of course, that one of the many Japanese holidays hasn’t oh-so-tragically given us a day off from school.

Classes are entirely in Japanese, with English only being permitted to be spoken if asked before hand in Japanese (英語でもいいですか? Literally, Is English okay?). And even then, Our Teacher, Aizawa-Sensei usually asks us to try and explain in Japanese. There are about twenty something kids in our class, so for the first period we have everyone stuck in the same room for an hour, where we practice grammar forms, new and old alike, vocabulary, ect. Oh did I mention we have some sort of quiz almost everyday at the beginning of class? Well yea, we have that 😛

Aizawa Sensei teaching Calligraphy

Ah, the almighty Aizawa. Teaching, not Japanese, but a Friday cultural activity of calligraphy.

From there, the class splits in half, going to another class period with Aizawa Sensei, or heading to the other teacher, Kitasaka-Sensei. Class flows very well, and every student gets some semblance of speaking time, both as a grade and good practice for our developing language skills. Most of the time in our split class with Aizawa he gets slightly distracted by asking about some kind of American culture or trait that he is surprised has changed over the years. He is just now hearing about the Daily Show and the Colbert Report. I have taken it my responsibility to teach him what I can ^_^.

Fridays are the shortest day, yet also, the hardest days. We have a weekly test on Friday covering whichever chapter of Genki we had studied the previous week (so if this week we were studying chapter 18, this weeks test would be over 17).  This does of course give us all week (if you are a good student) during the afternoon to study for the test or, (if you are a typical college student) Thursday afternoon the day before to study the material. The average grade on tests seems to be mid-B’s. Lucky me, I seem to be making it a bit above-par.

Diving into the culture

After our tests however comes the fun part. You see, just about every Friday after a test (barring swine-flu cancellations and some bizarre free day), we have some kind cultural event, whether that be tea ceremony, the Judo Club coming in to teach us some throws, Calligraphy (as seen above), or a trip to the local college for a tour.

Judo Throw in Action

That's right, I learned how to do that. When I return, Bert beware.

It’s a fun and easy way to get a taste of the culture, a feel for some areas around town, and a good way to meet some people. I’ll start with Koto , a small 12 stringed instrument we learned to play. Because there are so many students, and most cultural activities are held in a small tatami-style, traditional Japanese room, the students are split up into two groups, with each lesson lasting about an hour. From there we all entered the room sat down, and were taught some of the beginning facts about koto, given sheet music, and taught how to read it and play. It was fun needless to say, but the lesson seemed all too short. It was so successful however that another lesson was scheduled and we were all invited back if we wanted.

The tea ceremony was more or less the same,with a small group crowding into the usual tatami room, but this time we all sat seiza-style (think, kneeling like your praying but instead of standing on your knees you sit on them) while we watched a tea ceremony go on, then followed by us allowed to have a small sweet usually used in the ceremony and some of the tea.It was great, except I could feel my legs very well for a few hours after.

Tea Ceremony

Tea Ceremony!!!!

Another cool activity was Judo, where the local Shiga-daigaku (daigaku means college) Judo club came in and explained to us some of their feats, competitions and showed us a few moves, something I intend to put to good use when my younger brother tries messing with me again. After explaining some of their methods, and what a day is like for both the senior and younger members (It differs for both as senior members, senpai, usually get preferential treatment and younger members, kohai, also are more or less water boys, ect. The kohai address the senpai in a very respectful manner while senpai are usually a bit more casual.), they launched into some cool moves, and showed us how to perform them in practice.

Class at Shiga Dai

Wandering through the confines of The Shiga-Dai School

Another venture, and the last one I will talk about is our class trip to the local college Shiga-Daigaku. We all gathered together after tests on a Friday, and Aizawa-sensei led us by bike to the front gates of the local college. From there we met up with some of the local students (some we already knew, some we didn’t) and they led us around campus. I always love talking with the College students here, because we can both use a mix of Japanese and English. The campus isn’t the biggest I’ve been on (Mizzou wins by far!!!) but it was nice to be seeing the local college life. Made me feel like I was home again, wandering across campus on a sunny day to head to the quad, maybe study some, and fall asleep by the pillars. By the end of the trip we had met some new friends, gotten a feel for the Shiga-dai campus and had some quick lunch at the small mart inside the school. Hopefully, I’ll be seeing some more of those students at the party coming up.

Lazy Afternoons (and Sundays)

Now you may be asking, “Ben, you’ve told me about your morning classes, and some of the things you do on friday afternoons, but what do you do in the afternoon and weekends?” Well if the title of this paragraph indicates anything, afternoons give us lots of free time.  Usually spent studying, lounging around the lobby talking/studying, or procrastinating, it’s when I get most of my stuff done. I.e working out, studying, socializing ect. And quite honestly I love the dorms here. I get out a lot, there is always something going on, I get to learn to cook from other people, ect. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my weekend homestay, and I plan to do one for a month or so next semester but I’m really comfortable here. The dorms have both Japanese and American students and everyone (although one or two people are a little weird)  is really nice. One thing we all share in common I think, (and I believe its almost a prerequisite to study abroad in Japan) is our nerdism. On the weekends we all usually pile in the Television room for some movie or anime marathon, introducing the Japanese students to some new American movies, or just watching Anime and having them explain things to us we don’t get. Like my professor told us last year, “Where would the Japanese class be, if not for the nerds?” 🙂

Kyoto! Final Post!

•November 18, 2009 • 2 Comments

Man I’m really bad about updating aren’t I? I was on a roll the last two weeks. Oh well, I’ll try to deliver more often.

Can I get a Map I can read please?

So after leaving the beauty that is Kiyomizudera, I had been planning this entire time to hit up a few of the local Kyoto Shops, namely one called “Random Walk”. You see, the on my previous trip to Kyoto, I had picked up a small tourism map in Kyoto Station, and one of the the first things that caught my eye was a bookstore that carried English books! One of my weaknesses back in America is reading (and gaming….and manga and anime…and movies), where if you were to ask my parents, waaay back in high school, I would love to spend weekends being dropped off at the local Barnes and Nobles, Borders, ect. Thus it only makes sense that I wanted to find this store and waste the next couple of hours.

Random Statue!

My main marker. When I saw this I knew I had gotten lost and ended up in one big circle.

Unfortunately, I am apparently like Ryoga from the Ranma 1/2 series , in being that I have no sense of direction in Japan, even with a Map…..in english. The picture above was my one marker, located near the bridge after exiting the intersection near Kiyomizudera. In my round-about travels, if I saw this statue again I knew I was in the wrong place. Something just didn’t add up, the map said that the shop was just around the corner yet, when I finally reached said spot on the map I was in the middle of an alley. Needless to say I was a bit confused, and so I asked for directions from what looked like two mothers nearby playing with their children. After a bit of rough Japanese (hey I’m not exactly fluent yet), they were able to point out my mistake. They simply took my map, flipped it over to the folded side, and told me I was one block down. On a block that looked EXACTLY.LIKE.THE.ONE.I.WAS.ON. Feeling slightly the fool I headed up one block and found myself at the Nishiki Shopping Mart.

Nishiki Shopping Area

For all your one stop, rare food needs.

Finally, the Nishiki shopping area. This place connected to the Teramachi shopping arcade I was looking for, so I knew I was close. But hey while I’m here why not look around for a bit? Seeing a Ramen Shop close by, I decided to satisfy the rumbling of my stomach and ducked inside the shop for a quick bite.

~Slight Tangent here~

Japanese Ramen (unlike the prepacked cup junk america has) is delicious. When entering a Ramen shop you usually see one or two (maybe three) cooks behind a bar like setting, a television at some area in the room, and various ramen spices and ingredients. Ramen in Japan is fairly cheap, going for about 500~900 Yen and nets you a filling meal. Of course it Ramen ingredients usually include, the noodles and broth, but also, Onions, slices of Pork, and other various vegetables. If you are ever in Japan and don’t go to a Ramen shop, you should be barred from returning to your home country until you do.

~end Tangent.

Inside Nishika Market

The inside of Nishika Market

Anyways, enough about delicious, appetizing Ramen. The inside of the market is an amazing mix of dancing colors and mysterious smells (GOOD mysterious smells). The hallways are usually crowded on weekends, silver week being no exception, so it was a bit crowded. All the better to slowly trudge along looking at all the delicious foods. Various types of fish and vegetables, people cooking interesting-looking snacks, it was all very amazing. I would love to spend a semester working in a Japanese Restaurant.

As I made the final push (literally) through the people buying their weekly groceries, I found myself at the Teramachi Shopping Arcade. The culmination of all my mischievous adventuring (ok so maybe it was me just walking around for a good couple of hours I was excited to get there) had finally led me here.

Teramachi Covered Shopping Arcade

The area connecting Teramachi to the Nishiki Area

Finally! ~Shopping Arcade Mania~

As I stepped into the shopping arcade I checked my map once again just to make sure I was in the right place. Sure it LOOKED like a shopping area but one can never be too careful right? Many random shops? Check. Lots of random tourists for the holiday? Check. It looked to be the right place. But when I started running up and down, looking at all the various shops I couldn’t find “Random Walk” for the life of me. I did however discover a lot of cool shops, including a shirt design store, some really cool fashionable clothing places (which I will return to. Perhaps with more money and someone a lot more fashionable than I to help me.) , and a slightly smoky Arcade with some Street Fighter 4 cabinets (Fighting Game Otakus’ be jealous).


Aforementioned Street Fighter 4 machines.

After exploring everything there was, and buying a few Souvenir’s, I finally gave up finding my dream bookstore. A sad ending I know, to my exploration, but that place just doesn’t exist. Having only a few hours left before my intended train back to Hikone left, I decided to make one last stop. The Kyoto Manga Museum.

The best Museum ever.

A few blocks down from where I was, my final stop on my Kyoto trip, the Kyoto Manga Museum. For those of you that know me (which would be about 98% of the people reading this blog.) I’m a huge anime and manga fan. Somewhere along the way though, I was granted the ability to not be socially inept, and am able to keep my nerdiness in check, but here I was like a kid in a candy store.

Kyoto Manga Museum Yard

So....wait. Your allowed to just come here and...check out manga and read? Best Place Ever.

So here’s how the Museum works. You go in an pay 500 Yen (about 5$) and are allowed access to thousands upon thousands of manga. Most, yes, are in Japanese, but there is a good section of American, Italian, and other foreign manga as well. It’s quite a collection. Inside you can see how manga is put together, some old Hayao Miyazaki sketches and what he thinks to be a perfect community, and all the old shonen jump magazines starting at the first one. You can just grab what you want, get some coffee, and lounge about, inside or out and read. It’s a good thing I didn’t come here earlier in the day or it’s all I would have done. I intend to come back and stay for a day if I can. There are several other cool services, like art classes that are held, and you can get a manga style portrait of yourself from one of the many art students who come to the museum to practice.

And there you have it. Needless to say I spent most of my time in the Manga Museum until I had to head back. It was a long, but well worth it trip. And don’t worry Kyoto, I’ll be back.

Random Shirts

Some of the shirts from the "Make your own shirt" Store

Kyoto: Night

Some of Kyoto at night. I'll miss you Kyoto!


Oh yea! In an effort to get some more feedback from some people, to those of you that I know, what are some good gifts you’d like for me to bring back? What are some things you’d like for me to blog about ect? Any ideas?

Kyoto Part Two

•November 6, 2009 • 1 Comment

Well, the Sunday following My Kyoto trip I was really sore. So sore in fact I actually had trouble biking to church my legs hurt so bad. Completely worth it though. After getting back from church I lounged about my room, letting my sore body rest and “working” on homework. Despite the slow day, I was really excited for the next day to get here, as Monday I had decided to head back to Kyoto.

Original Plans sometimes fall through…..

I woke up on Monday morning around 8 A.M. ready to head out with a group of people to Kyoto. I had been invited to go with a few people off to Kyoto. They had planned to head out in the morning, getting to Kyoto around 10 or 11 in the morning and explore. I intended to travel with them and go with the group thinking it would be fun……….

Not so much. After waiting in the lobby for an hour with about 3 people who were actually ready to head out on time, everyone slowly gathered at the entrance ready to head out. Already having missed the Shuttle bus to the Station, I figured it would be quicker to just walk. After a good 45 minute hike, Our group finally arrived at the station and an hour later we were in Kyoto……at approximately 1 p.m. Since I was only going to be in Kyoto for the day I headed off on my own to get a better feel for Kyoto.


On the way to Kiyomizudera

See that mountain in the background? That was my final destination

Thus I set my first stop was Kiyomizudera, a temple built in the Heian Period with many attractions. Being Silver Week a TON of people were headed there for the holiday week, whether it be for fortunes, the “love stones”, or to drink from one of the three streams for their corresponding properties.

Steps up to Kiyomizudera

The beginning steps leading up to the temple

Finally reaching the bottom of the hill leading up to the temple I begin my long trek to the entrance of the Temple. On the way, there were many shops sets up in the streets for tourists making the trek to the top. I stopped for an Ice cream cone (mmmm mango green tea. It was a lot more delicious than it sounds) seeing as I hadn’t eaten yet, and then finished my climb. At the top I saw the crowd of people, both Japanese and foreign tourists waiting to get in. As I approached closer I was greeted by two geisha waiting outside (AND I got a picture of them. Score!). Wandering further in I arrived at the gate, paid the entrance fee (300 Yen or about 3$) and made my way inside.

Kiyomizudera is easily the prettiest place I have been. Its located on the hillside of East Kyoto, with impressive views of the city, and yet is nestled in with the beautiful, luscious forest. The first area you enter into has an impressive veranda jutting out above 3 flowing channels of water coming from a Waterfall (more on that later). As you make your way around there is a set of old tools the monks used to carry. Made of metal, they are very heavy (I could only lift one of the staffs, not to mention the metal Geta) and people line up to see what they can carry. On the way off the veranda are various windows selling fortunes, much like the ones I bought in the Iida Temples Kushihara brought me to. Trying to save money however, I didn’t buy any and moved on.

The Veranda of Kiyomizudera

This place overlooks three streams that are said to grant various things if you drink from them. You may drink from two, but if you drink from all three you shall get bad luck.

After exiting the Veranda, there are two paths you can take, one leads to the infamous “Love Stone” and the other on down the hillside. The Love Stone is actually two stones placed away from each other. It is said that if you can walk from one stone to the other, you will find (or have already found) your true love. Shuffling through the various people, I made my way down the hillside (Stopping, of course, to help 3 Australian girls and their Japanese friend take a picture. Sorry but I’m a sucker for a cute girl in need of some help XP) and winded down to the three streams coming from Otowa Waterfall.

Arriving at the bottom of Kiyomizudera, I saw the three streams. As I am rather inept at explaining specifically what these streams are, I took this from Wikipedia. “Beneath the main hall is the Otowa waterfall, where three channels of water fall into a pond. Visitors can catch and drink the waters, which is believed to have therapeutic properties. Drinking the water of the three streams is said to confer wisdom, health, and longevity. However, some Japanese believe that you must choose only two; if you are greedy and drink from all three, you invite misfortune upon yourself.”The lines leading up to the place were really long however, and knowing how I would be back a lot next semester I decided to skip out on it this time.  Leaving the temple I started the long trek back down toward Kyoto Station to try and find some cool shops in the Shopping Arcade.

View of a small pond at KiyomizuderaNext Post (yea I decided to be a jerk and divide this up into three posts): I’ll finish up Kyoto and talk about the shopping arcade and the Kyoto Manga Museum!