こんにちは “Kon’nichiwa”

Laken Williams
Akita International University
Japan

Saying Sayonara to Japan and All of My Friends

As much as I enjoyed every minute I was in Japan, I knew it had to come to end at some point. For most, the end of their adventure in Japan was the last week of July and the first few days of August. But, for me, I had an archaeological excavation that was part of one of my classes and ended August 7th. So, as one of the last to go, I had to say goodbye to everyone. Some left quietly on the first bus to the airport or to the train station; some left with a crowd of waves, and most of my friend group left to the ever dwindling remnants of our diverse crew of Europeans, Americans, and Taiwanese alike, with the token AIU student, looking sad but used to saying goodbye. Although I had planned on doing it for all my friends, I never remembered to take a final selfie with everyone before they left, so I can’t put in everybody’s pictures.

One of the first friends to leave was Eri (Japan): all of us played ping-pong together at the beginning of the year. It was a real full-circle moment for us, because we started off Orientation Week playing ping-pong, and the last thing we did together was play ping-pong. Eri was a really, quiet girl, but, apparently, she had one of the best English scores of her class: she just didn’t like talking. We had “developed” a game called “Circle Ping-Pong,” in which we would all run around the table while keeping the ball on the table, and whoever missed the table was out. The last two standing would play a best of two to determine the king of the table. All of us would play this game back to back for hours: playing circle ping-pong is one of my fondest memories of Japan.

This picture is one of the first pictures of my stay in Japan. This was the first week that we had all met each other. Eri (Japan) is the one taking the selfie with the glasses on. Next to her is Shinu (China/Japan), who was one of my other really, good friends while I was in Japan: she was one of my few AIU friends throughout my stay. Behind them are some familiar faces: Savannah (Penn.) and Martijn (Netherlands), and next to me is Danika from Alaska.

 

This is from that last week before my excavation. Once again, Eri is taking the selfie, and behind her is one of her and Martijn’s mutual friends, whom I met that day and whose name escapes me. And behind them is the familiar Trio of Martijn, Theo, and I.

 

This is effectively the same picture, but I like it, so I added it. It was an interesting circumstance because all of the guys, excluding me who wore chinos and a t-shirt every day, wore pretty “relaxed clothes.” Martijn usually wore a fancy button-down collared shirt and jeans, so this casual black shirt was rare. Theo had a wide range of apparel: he sometimes had a button-down shirt, khakis, and Sperry-like shoes, but he could also pull off this “bumming” outfit with the tank-top, swim-trunks, and shower shoes. On the opposite spectrum, Eri and her friend had the typical dressed up, loose fitting clothes that all the Japanese girls wore: she seemed almost over-dressed compared to us.

 

The weekend before I started the excavation, two of my best friends would leave the same Monday I left for the farm stay. It was mainly Jordan’s idea, as were most things we did (his charisma and drive in life were hard to turn down), that we watch all three of the John Wick films each night before they left. During those weekend nights, as we had many nights before, Theo and I sprawled out on the House Lounge sofa, but this time we were joined by a group of other friends to watch the films. My long-standing friend throughout my stay in Japan, Martijn, his good friend from Mexico, Jose, as well as Theo’s friend, a fellow Scandinavian from Denmark, Mikel. It was one of my favorite weekends of all time, mainly because it was so simple: we all just hung out and watched cool movies while eating an array of Japanese instant noodles and snacks. The final night was when a lot of our nostalgia kicked in, and we spent a good bit of time talking about when and how we all met, and, for most of us, it was on the first day, which made our imminent parting that much more depressing.

Both of these pictures were taken at around 2 a.m., but none of us felt very tired: we mostly wished we could stay longer. Jordan is taking the selfie, with his friend, someone I met a few days earlier, Satoshi, behind him: he was the tallest Japanese person I had met; we were the same height. Martijn and Theo are split by Jose, whom I spent a lot of time with that last week but not at all really before. He was pretty candid about America’s “strained” relations with Mexico under Trump: he was fairly charitable, since most other people were more angry about it than he was.

 

This picture was taken the night before Mikel left. It was confusing for me to talk to him, because he had the same name as my twin brother (spelled differently), but it was, in Danish, pronounced completely different, although he used my brother’s pronunciation for the “Americans.” He also had a girlfriend that came with him to study at AIU: her name was Nini, which was apparently a pretty common practice among the Scandanavians/Nordics. I had two other friends that were named Nana and Sisi. Mikel was probably the tallest person at AIU: I think he was around 6’6”, but they use a different system, so I never asked. He was also in the Danish military and had some pretty crazy stories about their basic training.

 

My best friend Theo saw me off to the farm stay before making his solo walk to the airport, because he said he wasn’t going to pay for a taxi. Our parting wasn’t as emotional as I expected it to be, but neither of us are particularly emotional people: we gave each other a bro-hug, mentioned hanging out or face-timing sometime down the road, and I ended by telling him to say hi to his girlfriend for me. With that, my class and I made our way to the farm where we would spend the next week excavating a local Junior High School that had been shutdown in the 80’s: the Junior High School was a known location of a Final Jomon site, which is Japan’s earliest pre-historic society.  Although we did a lot of fun and interesting things during the excavation, I’ll just keep it short: it was really hot and humid; there was a lot of digging; and, there was a lot of really good food.

 

Here is a picture of me in full Archaeologist attire. Since Japanese people are generally much smaller than Americans and Europeans, both my shirt and pants were 3XL, which did nothing for my insecurities. The hat, which was a hit with the other students and supervisors, was actually a women’s farm hat, but I just took the black-satin ribbon off of it and it looked pretty cool and archaeology-ish. The sign behind me is for the farm owners, saying it was their family’s house and it was also a boarding house.

This poster was really cool for our class. The school actually had it made for us as a promo for our work and our end of seminar project on our research/finding. This is a picture of our class trying to use a measuring device: it was probably the most tedious thing I had ever used in my life. There were so many things we had to do before using it, and it did such a simple thing: found angles to create squares. Alex (Russia) is the only other guy, and his partner, Honoka, is the one looking through the lens. My partner, Nanaho, is supervising us: in actuality, she was much better than me at levelling the device and finding accurate measurements.

 

This is a group photo of all the excavators. From the right is: Nishimura-san (a Tokyo Univ PhD. Student), Honoka, Nanaho, Saki (our Manager), me, Aleks (Russia), Sekine (Wasada Univ. Undergrad), and Kuma-san (Wasada Univ. Grad student).

 

 

This was the day before I left and my last day of excavation. Most of the labor had been done by then, so it was all detail work, measurements, recording, and scale-drawing. Negishi-sensei (the lead archaeologist and our professor) let me take a solo pic inside the dig site. It gives you some idea of how small the site was, but we still managed to spend 8 hrs. every day for a week digging and making measurements. It was a lot of tedious work, but it was all very interesting.

 

The night before my last day, I went to Akita City to watch the massively popular Kanto Festival. The Kanto Festival is an annual Prefecture wide holiday that is celebrated in the heart of Akita City. All along a huge, 4-lane highway called, Kanto street, thousands of spectators and vendors lined the entire length of the street. The main attractions were community teams of drum and flute floats, which were following behind the Kanto performers. Each paper-lantern mast would have logos that represented local communities or businesses. Our own AIU Kanto team performed as well. The sounds of the flute were quite shrill, and the shouts that were used to keep the drums in rhythm echoed down the street and off the buildings. After the performers had spread out to their respective spots, the Kanto team would form a circle and start their performance. Each Kanto mast weighed anywhere from 50-150 lbs., and many of the performers would support this with one hand, their waist-belt, or, for the truly talented, their forehead.

 

This gives you an idea of how many people were lining up to watch, and this was the furthest point of the festival. In the picture you can see the drum platform, on which the flutist and the singers would stand, as well as the drummers. This was taken as all the teams were lining up to start as dusk appeared.

 

 

This is a close-up of one of the teams of Kanto performers, with their mast lying on the ground in front of them.

 

 

 

 

Here is a picture, courtesy of one of the AIU Kanto member’s Facebook, of one of AIU’s Kanto performers transferring the mast, all while fighting the wind.

 

 

 

This is a great picture, again courtesy of the aforementioned Facebook profile, of AIU’s personal Kanto mast, with real flame-candles in each paper lantern. You can also see the vast line of Kanto teams performing. When I was walking back to the beginning of the Festival street, I saw one of the heavy masts fall into the crowd: luckily no one was hurt, but it is always a spectacle that elicits large cries and shouts from the onlookers. It is some what like a tree falling: very drawn-out and dramatic.

 

That night, I finished stuffing all of my clothes and souvenirs into my suitcases and said goodbye to my AIU friends and the full year international students. The next morning, I woke up early to eat my last meal in Japan: a bowl of cafeteria ramen. I met with “the few, the proud, the August 7th crowd.” With the exception of Atsuki, three of us went to Tokyo together on the same plane. I was in a different mood that day, whereas, the night before, I was very sentimental and nostalgic; that day, I was basically ready to go home. I was not looking forward to the long, twenty-hour total flight back to North Carolina. At Akita Airport, I bought some final souvenirs for my family and hung out with Ben and Mary, who were the other two flyers to Haneda, Tokyo.

This was taken the morning of our flight: I had shaved that morning, so I looked particularly pale. Atsuki was probably my best Japanese friend while I was in Japan. He loves Formula-1 racing and dune-buggy racing. He is also on the Kendo club, which is Japanese fencing with wooden swords. He is planning on becoming an English teacher for High School students and spent most of his first semester looking into ways to reform the Japanese primary education system, which he believes does not allow enough flexibility for students to explore academic interest and doesn’t put enough attention on English acquisition programs.

I apologize for the creepy face: it must’ve been a bad angle. In between Ben and I is Mary, really Hsu Ching-Hua, from Taiwan. I actually met her mom and dad in Tokyo at Haneda airport. Their English was pretty good, and her dad helped me get a limo-bus to Narita, from where my flight to O’Hare would be. Funny story: I saw her right before my taxi showed up and she asked if we could share, and I said yes, so she ran to Komachi Lobby (on the other side of campus) to cancel her cab. However, before she got back, my taxi showed up, and I didn’t know enough Japanese to ask him to wait for my friend. I later met her at Akita Airport’s terminal for Haneda, and I profusely apologized and she forgave me.

 

This is a pic of Akita Airport, as you can see from the hill outside, which says AKITA. It was the smallest airport of all the ones I had been to throughout my trip to Japan.

 

 

This is a picture of Haneda airport (one of their two terminals, each of which was about the size of O’Hare). I had just hugged Mary goodbye and was waiting for my limo-bus to come. It was my second time to Haneda, and it was just so huge. The ride to Narita took 45 minutes, and I finally got to see the vast urban sprawl of Tokyo City proper. As someone who has never spent any time in a proper “metropolis”, Tokyo was impossibly huge: the highway bridges were like 20 feet off the ground and hovered between vast expanses of tall buildings and apartment complexes.

 

 

 

This is a rather picturesque view of the skies above the U.S. before we arrived over Greensboro. This was a tiny jet, especially in comparison to ANA’s new Star Wars themed BB-8A that I landed in O’Hare in. In contrast to my flight to Japan, where I couldn’t sleep at all throughout the entire 40 hour process, on the flight back to NC, I slept most of the way.

 

 

This is a grainy pic of Greensboro before landing. I felt a tinge of comfort being back in NC, and I was ready to see my family and my dog.

 

 

 

 

Although it was sad to have to say goodbye to all of the wonderful people that I had met during my stay at AIU, it was by far, the greatest experience of my life, so far. I look forward to going back sometime in the future, but, for now, I have to make sure I graduate on time! Anyway,  I would like to sincerely thank all of the people who helped me get to Japan, not just my family, but also Dr. Widdows and Ms. Wright in the Global Education Department, who were so patient and helpful during my long process of applications and bureaucracy, Stephanie Joynes and the Career Services Department, who helped through the application process and gave me encouragement, Dr. Dinmore, who has helped me in so many ways during my time at H-SC, Dr. Irons, who took me to get my passport finished, and Dr. Eastby, who got me started on the whole process back in my Sophomore year. Without them, and many others, I would not have been able to realize this dream to go to Japan, and, for that, I am eternally grateful.

日本はとても面白かったです。日本に来年もどります。それまで、さよなら。

Sorry for my feeble attempt at Japanese, but I plan on going back to Japan after graduation, so, until then, goodbye!

 

 

こんにちは “Kon’nichiwa”

Laken Williams
Akita International University
Japan

Working with AUWA

Since being at AIU, I have done my best to stay busy, whether that be with studies, clubs, events, or friends. That plan has been a resounding success, but, on the down side, I have not had much time for retrospection or blogging. Nevertheless, I wanted to take the time to talk about my wonderful adventures with a club on campus named, AUWA.

The whole club at their annual Okonomiyaki, event.

 

 

The premise of the club is to connect AIU students, especially International students, with the local community.

Our club getting ready to plant at a local farmer’s, Tooyama-san’s, rice field. I’m all the way at the end with the big hat.

During my time with the club, I have planted rice and vegetables and have helped tend to them; also, the club hosts monthly events to help teach local elementary school students English. To keep it fun and interactive, the members usually participate in singing songs, in Japanese and English (usually songs like “Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star,” and in making arts and crafts, like origami.

Here, we are singing. “Nada Sou Sou” for some local elderly people. Our club president, Sayaka, is on guitar.

 

Some of the really, sweet Oiii-sans and Obaa-sans from the local area.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although I have tried many different clubs and activities since coming here, the AUWA events have, by far, been the most interesting and eye-opening.

With members of the club, planting vegetables for next year’s crop.

 

 

Much of the work we have done has been very tiring, but I think that people bond more over hard word and accomplishing a task than just hanging out.

Here, I’m with a few of the other AUWA members and a couple Oiii-sans, enjoying the delicious food they helped prepare.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also, farmers make the best food! So, after working, we all get to enjoy home grown food, which allows us to get a taste of the local cuisine from the people that make it best. It isn’t only about having fun and enjoying the food; through the work, we can gain a better understanding of the lifestyle and culture of the local people.

This is the last picture of the club before leaving: we were all sad to see each other off.

こんにちは “Kon’nichiwa”

Laken Williams
Akita International University
Japan

A Competitive Cultural Exchange
As I promised in my last blog, I plan on catching back up with the present, which means I will have to go back in time a few weeks. A few weeks ago, I stumbled into an amazing opportunity, but I had no idea what was actually involved at the time: all I knew was that there was an opportunity to stay over a weekend and meet people from other colleges in the area, as well as a group of Taiwanese students.

Hard at work at the workshop. From the left: Lai, Sasaki, me and Ko.

The program was called, “Yokote City Design Workshop,” but I just assumed that some company wanted feedback from international and Japanese students about their products. However, when I arrived, a large panel of Japanese officials and Taiwanese product design professors informed us that we had three days to design a product that represented the traditional values of Yokote City’s culture and people. I was assigned to a group with two students from Tatung University in Taiwan, Ko and Lai, and one Japanese student from Akita University of Arts, Sasaki. Early on, there were issues with communication as Ko spoke some English, and Sasaki spoke little English and no Chinese. Fortunately for us, Lai was a Linguistics student, so she formed the link that connected all of our ideas and passed them on to everyone in the group. When I realized that we were all expected to design a product from scratch, create samples and create a PowerPoint presentation, which would be presented in English and Japanese in front of a panel of local officials, I thought for sure that I would be dead weight: what business does a History major, who can’t draw to save his life, belong in a room full of graphics design majors from Art Schools. I did my best to contribute ideas and some “rough” sketches, and my teammates assured me that I was helpful, whether they were being nice or not, I don’t know.

The same scene from another angle. And, if you look in the background, you can see my friend, Jo, in the white hoodie: he is a grad student at Akita University of Arts.
Fortunately, the workshop wasn’t all work and no play. On Saturday, we were all given a guided tour of Yokote City, and it was amazing.

 

Yokote-jo (castle).

 

Nature area behind the castle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The view from atop the castle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some cool examples of Samurai armor from inside the castle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perhaps one of my favorite places in Yokote is the Kamakura-house museum, which maintains a real example, all year round, of the “igloo-type” houses that the locals build in the winter.

From the left: Zack (D.C.), Me, Jo and Hiroomi (Akita Univ. of Arts). By the way, it was extremely cold in there: the room is a kind of refrigerator that keeps the snow from melting.

 

 

Afterwards, we headed back to the old High School where we were working on our projects. After the presentations, the winners were announced, and, unfortunately, we did not win.

Here was our banner, which Ko designed himself.

 

Here was one of the covers of our notebook, which had all four seasons, designed by Sasaki (she drew these from scratch using software!).

 

 

This was the Spring themed cover, with Yokote-jo surrounded by cherry blossoms.

 

 

 

 

 

Here was the Summer themed cover, featuring the fireworks festival.

 

 

 

 

 

Here was the Autumn themed cover, representing the local produce, which would be harvested in the Fall.

 

 

 

 

Finally, my personal favorite, the Winter themed cover, featuring an Akita-inu in traditional festival clothes, sheltering in a Kamakura-house.

 

 

 

 

Here, you can see my modest contribution to the drawing: many of the professors complimented me on my efforts, but I think they just thought it was a cute attempt.

 

 

At the end, all of the participants were given hand-towels as gifts, and the winners received nice, gift-wrapped packages. And, since I was a late addition to the program, I was not presented with a certificate, so Ko drew me up a new one.

After the awards ceremony, we all got on busses and visited the new manga museum, which hadn’t even opened to the public yet. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take pictures of the inside, but I have some pictures with all of us before we had to say our sad goodbyes.

Ko and I.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lai and I

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The last photo of us all together.

 

Afterwards, we all got on separate buses and headed back to our respective colleges. The Taiwanese students stayed another night before getting on a plane back to Taiwan. Ko informed me afterwards that it was significantly hotter in Taiwan than in the mountains of northern Honshu.

 

After all was said and done, I was so happy that I was able to attend the workshop and meet these wonderful people. Initially, I was skeptical because we had to sleep on the floor of an old classroom, for one thing, which I was not excited about, but, by the end, I find everything memorable and are unique experiences, which come straight out of an anime.

こんにちは “Kon’nichiwa”

Laken Williams
Akita International University
Japan

Settling in With New Friends

I apologize for the wait, but every day seems like a new adventure, and I don’t know where to start or where to end a blog post. Here at AIU, we are now mid-way into our spring break, which is known as “Golden Week,” and, apparently, it is something that is planned semesters in advance for Japanese students, so, for us international students, many of our plans had to be altered because of flights and trains already being bought out. Also, the recent events with the abdication of Akihito, the former Emperor of Japan, who became the first Emperor in 200 years to abdicate the throne, and the coronation of his son, Norihito, today, made “Golden Week” that much more packed with events.
In other news, since I was unable to find a flight or a shinkansen (bullet-train) for a reasonable price, so that I could go to Kyoto, Nara and Osaka (Kansai region), I have made the best of the situation and have spent my time exploring all that Akita prefecture has to offer with the friends that I have made since I have been here.

From the left: Rekka (Japan), Ania (Romania), Danika (Alaska), Shannon (Germany), Ben (New York: you can see his legs), Autumn (Taiwan, taking the picture) and I at Senshu Park, enjoying the Hanami (cherry-blossom viewing) festival with a variety of Japanese snacks and homemade foods made by Rekka.

Here you can see Autumn, Ben, Rekka (being lifted), Ania and I posing for a funny photo in front of the Sakura trees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For me, this was one of the highlights of the day: petting an Akita-inu. They are so fluffy and cute!!!

 

The same scene as before, but, this time, we were expecting the photo. Once again, Autumn was the wonderful photographer.

Here, we all pose for a picturesque scene with an air of contemplation; at least, that was what we were going for.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are a few pictures of the beautiful scenery at Senshu Park with all of the Sakura trees at full bloom.

 

 

 

 

 

I will break off this part of the blog, as it pertains to Senshu Park and make it a multi-part series until I can catch up to current events. Before I do, however, I want to share some thoughts on spending time with the other international students and Japanese students, as well as make some comments on the differences between being in Japan versus America.

For me, the most enjoyable part about spending time with people from around the world is seeing how their cultures/languages are different, (and finding out how different they are in funny ways), how they are, in many ways, the same as me, and finding how each country views other countries. For the Japanese students, there seems to be a keen fascination with all other cultures, including America’s, which is especially the case with Rekka, who did his semester abroad in California. But, for the Europeans and other international students, American culture is so widely publicized that they find little novelty in spending time with Americans or learning about our culture. That is not to say that they don’t want to spend time with Americans, but that, as is the case with other European countries, since they have learned English, studied about America and other European countries, they aren’t particularly enchanted by America’s culture. During a fun interaction with Martijn (Dutch), Ingird (Norwegian) and Doris (Estonian), where we were exchanging popular songs from our countries, as well as comparing names for things we had in our languages, I found out that the Europeans had already heard almost every song that I played, and I couldn’t really enjoy the word game because they all spoke English fluently, so, unless it was a colloquial southern phrase, I was just an interested spectator.
Seeing as I am running a little long, I will make a brief closing comment about being in Japan, particularly rural Japan. Even though I have lived in a rural area my whole life, nothing compares to the beautiful scenery that can be found in rural Akita. Despite the high population densities all over the country, the preservation of vast amounts of beautiful landscapes makes me think back to issues of land preservation in America, even though we have a much higher ratio of land per capita than Japan does.

I don’t know how good of an indicator these pictures are, but most of them were taken from the inside of buses to and from AIU.

Anyway, that’s all for this blog: look forward to more soon.
じゃあね。

こんにちは “Kon’nichiwa”

Laken Williams
Akita International University
Japan

Why AIU?
I have always wanted to come to Japan because of its unique cultural traditions and the beauty of the country, especially in spring. The reasons I chose Akita International University are 1) that all the classes are taught in English, 2) the university is set in a rural area, which is important to me because I have always lived in small towns, and 3) being an international university, I have the opportunity to meet students from all over the world, in addition to meeting Japanese students.

The AIU International team, with reps. from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Estonia, Norway, the Netherlands and America, posing in front of AIU’s mascot.

What am I most looking forward to?
I am most looking forward to experiencing, first-hand, Japan’s culture as well as interacting with locals and other students from around the world. I believe that, by studying abroad in Japan, I will not only come to better understand its people, language and culture, but I will also better understand myself and how limited the way I have seen the world really has been.
What am I especially worried about?
I am most worried about isolating myself and not making the most out of this potentially once-in-a-lifetime experience. I hope that I can accept others, but, most importantly, that others will accept me. I am also afraid that, due to my lack of Japanese language fluency, many of the Japanese students will avoid conversing with me.
What are my goals for my time in Japan?
My goals are quite simple: 1) to make a lot of friends, 2) to learn Japanese, 3) to broaden my horizons and 4) to learn as much about Japanese people and culture as possible.

Martijn, from the Netherlands, and I at the AIU matriculation.

Me, Atsuki and his friend pose for a selfie after the matriculation.

After 1 Week
So far, I have had the privilege to meet many students from around the world, as well as Japanese students.

 

 

 

Conclusion:
With the first week down, I feel confident that this wonderful journey is just beginning. Having met all these wonderful people, the thing I have come to enjoy the most is comparing and contrasting cultures with people from all over the world. It is not only interesting to see some universal qualities that exist across all cultures, but also the unique societal norms that have shaped each of us into unique people. For us Americans, the most commonly asked question has been, “what do you think about Donald Trump?” It is really, amusing to see what other countries think about Americans and our President, and, funnily enough, the most common stereotype is that we don’t know geography (which is kind of true). Anyway, that is all for my first blog…look forward to more later.

Here, I am posing for a selfie, which has a beautification filter, with Chisato (front), Himi, Ayana and Moena.

Japan 2017

Quinn Sipes
Japan Blog 6
7/21/17
When I last wrote, I had just finished my class and had an awful performance and I was so ashamed that I wanted to commit ritual suicide on stage to make up for how terribly I had performed. Well safe to say, I am still alive and I woke up the next day after my evening escapades with my classmates and teachers. I decided that after such an intensive class that I would take a one-day breather, so I really didn’t do anything except watch YouTube all day that Saturday. On the Sunday I made plans to go to Yokohama to visit the Ramen Museum.

A look inside the Ramen museum in Yokohama.

A look inside the Ramen museum in Yokohama.

I know that you may be thinking that the Ramen Museum sounds like a waste of time and super boring because it will just be a bunch of plastic ramen displays in a building. Not true! The Ramen Museum is what is known as a food amusement park. The building does have some plastic displays which talk about the creation of ramen and the various types all across Japan, but if you venture into the basement, you will be transported to 1940s post war Shinjuku, Tokyo where there are ramen shops all around. You get to have your pick of where you want to eat and how much you want to eat! There were 7 ramen shops in total all around in this 1940s Shinjuku neighborhood. There was also an old sweets shop and ice cream parlor that you could go into and buy some things to snack on. Because I went on a Sunday, the place was packed!! It took me 45 mins just to push a couple of buttons on the ticket machine to order one bowl of ramen and a bottle of Coca-Cola (which by the way is made from real cane sugar and taste waaaayyyy better than the corn syrup version we have in the states). And now I can say I had ramen from the Hokkaido region of Japan, somewhere where I won’t be able to visit.

Near the summit of Mt. Fuji.

Near the summit of Mt. Fuji.

Remember how I said I might go to Mt. Fuji but it was up in the air? Well guess who hopped on a train at 5 in the morning to get there…that’s right this guy! And guess who was dumb enough to put on a backpack and hike up Fujisan to the summit…yup! This moron! I arrived at Fujisan at about 10 am and began my ascent to the top at the Fuji-Subaru Line 5th station which is like 2 kilometers up the mountain…not much but well worth doing it from there compared from the bottom. The ascent took me almost 6 hours from the fifth station (a trek that would have taken me a grand total of 12 hours from the bottom…) and the descent took me 2 hours (guess you could tell I rolled down, right?) The hike at the beginning was not bad…I walked through some wooded areas and the slopes were very gradual and it lasted for about 20 mins and then I saw the first fork in the road. I read the sign that said to the summit 5.5 km. I was ready to knock those small insignificant kilometers in like 3 hours summit Fujisan and descend well before 4 pm.
I started up the steeper hill and wanted to die! The hill was so deceptive! It looked so easy that I rushed into it and pretty much hit a wall not realizing that it was almost 60 degrees for what seemed like miles! I pushed through this hill and the ones that followed until I reached the sixth station at which point I noticed I had sweated through my clothes. I put on my fleece and began to push forward toward the seventh station. It didn’t look too far and I was keeping pace with some little kids that were also ascending the mountain.
The trek to the seventh station took forever! It was steep; the ground was this fine volcanic ash and I slipped if I wasn’t careful when I put my foot down to move forward. I pressed on through bits that were nothing but volcanic boulders and parts where the trail seemed to go straight up for no reason (I am talking at like 90 degrees!). I made it to the eighth station and I could see the summit! After a while, a sign said that I was only 900 meters from the summit and that gave me the fuel to push through arguably the most grueling 900 meters that can exist on this planet. It was straight up almost the entire way with the terrain switching from ash to rock to boulder back to ash and slippery dust. I forced myself to climb higher and kept telling myself that I had made it so far and that I only had a few more meters to go. Turns out there was another sign saying that I had only gone like 200 meters and didn’t go as far as I thought I did. But I pushed all the way to the top. And I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to make it and then see the beauty from the top, which was nothing but big white fluffy clouds all around me.

The top of Mt. Fuji

The top of Mt. Fuji

I did what all Hampden-Sydney men do when they hike a mountain: I pulled out my flag and took a picture, commemorating it as a place the community can say they proudly sent a representative to. The community that I am referring to is the LGBTQIA+ community. If you are unaware, I am a proud member of the gay community and I thought it fitting to bring with me a pride flag donated by another Hampden-Sydney man in the community, and proudly raise it at the summit.

Sunset taken at the fifth station on the way down Mt. Fuji.

Sunset taken at the fifth station on the way down Mt. Fuji.

I took a couple of pictures at the summit and then basically ran back down the mountain to see the sunset at the Fuji-Subaru Line 5th Station. It was beautiful and it was probably even more beautiful at the summit…however, I had a train to catch and if I missed it, I would be out of luck until the next morning because it was the last train and the nearest hotel/hostel to me was another 4 kilometers from the train station and I was not ready to walk another 4 kilometers. Luckily I caught the last train headed to Shinjuku and made it back to my place at midnight disgustingly dirty, and hurting all over from the rugged hike. The next day I rested and relaxed my sore muscles.
The following day I decided to do some shopping because I don’t know the next time I am going to be in Japan.

Finally on the 20th of July I checked out of my share house and boarded the first Shinkansen (bullet train) bound for Kyoto! What a crazy experience riding on a bullet train is. It took me three hours to traverse half of the country and it would have taken me 8 and half hours on a regular train with multiple transfers. When I arrived in Kyoto I was hit by the unbearable heat! Kyoto is surrounded by mountains on three sides and sits in valley and during the rainy season the humidity is a killer! I was unprepared to step off the train and literally be dripping in sweat.

Main shrine to Inari in Kyoto.

Main shrine to Inari in Kyoto.

I checked into my hostel and decided to travel to Fushimi Inari Taisha, the giant fox shrine that most people consider quintessential Japan. It was a beautiful shrine and I got there right when the sun was setting at twilight and decided that it was the perfect time to see this amazing shrine. I started walking up to the main shrine and saw path leading up Mt. Inari…once again I decided to ascend a mountain but I did not bring a banner or flag or anything because it is strictly forbidden to raise a flag or banner at a shrine…it’s like doing something blasphemous inside a church. But I took my time ascending and made it to the top. I hadn’t seen a single person on my way up the mountain until I reached the top.
When I reached the top of the mountain, there was a rather large group of European school children on a field trip with chaperones and teachers. They were loud, which is kind of a no-no in a shrine because it is a holy site and you are supposed to be respectful to those who are worshipping the deities. I decided that I was going to pray and began to walk over to the purification basin when a boy no older than 15 took a drink of water from his water bottle and spit it out directly into the basin! The basin is filled with holy water is used to purify the hands of those wishing to worship. I was extremely upset and tried to make it as clear as possible that what he did was sacrilegious; a concerned chaperone came over and I explained the situation as best I could and then she chastised the boy.
I then walked to the shrine and saw the most appalling thing: a group of students were putting their trash on the altar and knocking off the rice offerings. This shrine is different from most of the other ones because Inari is the protector of rice yields in Japan and an offering table is in front of the shrine so that Japanese can offer a portion of their yield to ensure another successful harvest. I also tried to tell them what they were doing was wrong and they just laughed and called me some names. That’s when I went down to the shrine officers at the bottom of the mountain and told them what was happening. They ran to the top with me and escorted every one of those tourists off the mountain and asked them to never return. I just want to say that even though you may not be believe in the religion of the country that you are visiting you should still be respectful toward their practices. You are a guest in their place of worship and they are allowing you to see their wonderful world. That incident made me very angry and it hurt to see that a basic sense of respect toward one another was abandoned.

Statue of the love god enshrined in Jisu-Jingu.

Statue of the love god enshrined in Jisu-Jingu.

The next day I went to another shrine and to Jisu Jingu, the shrine of love. Turns out that Jisu Jingu as well as the surrounding Buddhist Temple and Pagoda are a UNESCO World Heritage site! I am not sure how many UNESCO sites I went to in Kyoto but I know that almost everywhere in Kyoto was some heritage site. Tomorrow is my last day in Kyoto and I plan on going into Gion where the Geishas linger and maybe going to the contemporary art museum to see the Kusama exhibit. After that, I head to Hiroshima for three days before traveling back to Tokyo to catch my return flight back to the states!

Japan 2017

Quinn Sipes
Japan Blog 5
7/15/17
I just finished my class here in Tokyo and I couldn’t be more upset. Before I get into the performance I had yesterday I want to look back at the days leading up to the performance. Every day we chanted Gekkyuden and danced our respective shimais for hours. We practiced the shoulder drum until our hands went numb and sat seiza until our legs couldn’t support our body weight anymore.

Performing the Takasago the day before the performance during dress rehearsal.

Performing the Takasago the day before the performance during dress rehearsal.

Oshima sensei told me the day before the performance that I have good energy for Takasago and that I was timing my dance perfectly with the chant. He said that it was the best dance I had done the whole class and I thought that this was good news for the performance…turns out I couldn’t have been more wrong.
On the day of the performance I was feeling powerful and intimidating in my dragon yukata with a golden dance fan in my obi. The men’s team had performed the drums pretty well and we had just chanted Gekkyuden and Hagoromo and executed it pretty well. I walked off stage and got ready to perform Takasago. I walked out on stage, opened my fan, took a second to breathe and started my chant. I pushed my diaphragm hard and my voice was strong, powerful, and filled the entire theatre. I began to dance while singing and then the unthinkable happened; The chant Gekkyuden came to my mind and I started to sing part of it as if it was Takasago. I realized two words in that I was singing Gekkyuden and not Takasago. I tried to rush back into the Takasago chant and I froze. My dance stopped, my chanting stopped, I was so lost and Oshima sensei who was in the choir had to give me the rest of line. I had never been so humiliated. I finished my line and continued to dance with the chorus singing behind me. It then came for my next line and I pushed through it without messing up. My final line came and I pushed that one out too, flawlessly and then finished my dance.
I finished the dance, closed my fan, turned and exited the stage. I heard applause as I exited, but I was too focused on not crying on stage for how badly I messed up. When I got backstage I couldn’t help myself but start to beat myself up over how I didn’t do a good job and how my senseis would be very upset and would not be proud that they had taught me how to chant and dance. Awaya sensei tried to comfort me (he had taught me how to do Takasago from the beginning), except this made me feel even more ashamed because I had let him down most of all. I went out into the audience to watch the senseis dances and when I entered the theatre I hid my face because I couldn’t stand to be seen after what I had done. Honestly, I wanted to go on stage and commit ritual suicide that warriors in ancient Japan would have done, because at least that way I would have done a better job at that than my dance.

Oshima sensei and I

Oshima sensei and I

After the performance, we all “graduated” and received our certificates from our senseis and I was ashamed to look Oshima sensei in the eye as I accepted my certificate. I quickly left the theatre, changed out of yukata and stayed with a few classmates until it was time to go to an izakaya (a traditional Japanese pub) for our party. When we got there all the seats were taken other than the ones right next to the senseis. (Perfect luck, am I right?) None of the senseis brought up the performance until after an hour in. Oshima sensei asked everyone at the table what they thought of their dance and after we gave our impressions of it, he told us what he thought. When it got to me I told him that I was very upset with how I performed and that I was not proud of it. Oshima sensei told me that the Fuji people (sidenote: we were being filmed and photographed for two separate documentaries. One by NHK, Japan’s equivalent to BBC, and Fuji) asked him if there was anyone that stood out to him in the whole class. (extra side note: the interview that the Fuji people gave Oshima sensei was after the performance) Oshima sensei told them that I was the only person who stood out to him and the only one that he will remember because of my energy. He said that throughout our rehearsals he could see and feel the energy in my chest and was expecting to see the same amount at the performance, however, he said that he was taken aback by how much energy came out in the performance. He said that the audience would not have noticed the mistake I made during the performance because the audience would have been too moved by the energy that I was giving. He also said that Noh is about making an impression, and he said that I definitely made an impression that the senseis and the audience would not soon forget.

Oshima sensei opening a sake barrel.

Oshima sensei opening a sake barrel.

I was very moved by what he said and it made me feel a whole lot better. I enjoyed the rest of the evening and Oshima sensei opened a sake barrel and led a toast. When we left, the izakaya, Oshima sensei took us out to a karaoke bar and continued the night. We laughed, had fun and enjoyed everyone’s company and by the time it was all said and done, I had to say goodbye to the amazing people I met. It was hard, and I was teary eyed the entire time as we all went our separate ways home. I won’t forget anyone that I met here, and I am sure I will keep in touch with them. I will be here in Tokyo for another week living it up. My plan is to do typical tourist things, including trying to hike up Mt. Fuji, but that is still up in the air. When I leave Tokyo, I will be travelling to Kyoto for three days, then to Hiroshima for four days before returning to Tokyo to fly home. I hope to have a great time here, but it will definitely be a lot, more lonely.

Japan 2017

Quinn
Japan Blog 4
7/10/17
I apologize for waiting a week to write one of these blogs but to be perfectly honest; I have been extremely tired after class to do anything, much less be witty on the web and write about the bad decisions I make while abroad. So, the past week has been a tough one. The pair of hakama that I bought turned out to be too small for me and I was out 40 dollars until someone in the class who did fit into them bought them off of me. My sensei also thinks that I am the best kotsozumi player in the men’s group, so guess what I get to do this coming Friday…that’s right; I get to lead the male group in playing the shoulder drum in front of an audience. Even better news is that I graduated from the Seiobo dance to the Takasago dance!
Here is a quick break down of the story for Takasago; Takasago is about a god who is a pine tree who disguises himself along with his lover as an elderly couple sweeping the pine needles around the pine tree that is his wife. The other main character; a Buddhist priest asks the old couple about the lover pine trees (two pine trees separated by a river who lean toward each other showing that they are in love with one another). The old man tells him the story of the two pine trees being gods and alludes to him and his wife being the two gods of the pine trees before disappearing. Takasago reappears in his true form as a young god and sings about the pine trees, his lover and everlasting love. I dance as Takasago in his true form, as a god. It is a quick dance, but there is a lot of singing which makes it kind of hard to perform, but I have picked it up relatively quickly and love this dance a whole lot more because there are quite a few stamps and it is a huge ego boost to be dancing as a young and powerful god.
I also have started memorizing a chant known as Gekkyuden, which I will perform on the main stage this coming Friday. It is a strong piece about long life and wishing the best for the emperor. Gekkyuden can be sung at weddings and it is considered very good luck if sung for the happy couple. If anybody would like this to be sung at their wedding, I am available for weddings and birthday parties…just email me, I charge 500 dollars for entertainment to be paid in cash up front…just kidding…but seriously, I am available.

In my dragon yukata on the main stage of the Keita School.

In my dragon yukata on the main stage of the Keita School.

I have been rehearsing really, hard and trying to memorize everything in a totally, different language. It has been really, really, rough and I have been able to do it, but it has come at the cost of me passing out at 8pm sharp every night. Later on in the week, I went yukata shopping and hakama shopping for my personal use. I found a yukata with a really, cool dragon pattern along with hakama that fit and complemented the color of the yukata, and a white obi which brings together the whole outfit. This yukata makes me look really intimidating and powerful when paired with the mask that Takasago wears for his dance in his true form.

Sunrise over Tokyo after our adventures in the gay district.

Sunrise over Tokyo after our adventures in the gay district.

The week flew by and before I knew it, it was Friday! As soon as class was over I went home took a nap and got ready to go to the gay district of Tokyo. Quick disclaimer; Legal drinking age in Japan is 20…I am/was 20 at the time I went out to the gay district. Needless to say I had a good time and I remember everything that happened, but I have to save some stories for my friends…let’s just say it was a night I won’t forget anytime soon, along with my classmates. We made it until 5 am when the trains started running again. As soon as i got home, I fell asleep and wasted my Saturday. On Sunday, I went to the Tanabata Festival.

Me putting on a mask before my Takasago dance (note this is not the mask to be used for the dance, this was just for practice. This mask would be used for the Seiobo dance)

Me putting on a mask before my Takasago dance (note this is not the mask to be used for the dance, this was just for practice. This mask would be used for the Seiobo dance).

The Tanabata Festival is known as the Chinese Star Festival.The Japanese adopted the myth and the festival into their own culture and it has become a big deal here. The Tanabata Festival celebrates the day that two stars are allowed to see each other. The story goes that there are two stars who are in love,  but can never see each other because they live on opposite sides of a river known as the Milky Way. The gods decided that the two should be reunited on one day. So, on the seventh day of the seventh month the stars are allowed to cross the Milky Way to be with each other. The festival goes on to celebrate love and it is believed that during the festival you should write a wish and it will come true. Well, guess what I did at Tanabata…yup, I was selfish and wrote a wish down for myself…look, I have prayed for the world at a bunch of Shinto Shrines and Buddhist Temples, I thought it was time to look after myself now.

I am entering the last week of my class and I couldn’t  be more excited. I am going through an emotional rollercoaster, because in this week I will say goodbye to some really, good friends that I have made here as they travel back to their respective countries, while I explore Tokyo and the rest of Japan for the following two weeks.  But, I am also excited, because I can’t wait to perform on the Kita School’s main stage and make Professor Dubroff as well as Oshima Sensei, Nagashima Sensei, and the two Awaya Senseis proud with how much I was able to accomplish in only three weeks. To put this into perspective; most professional Noh actors have their debut on stage at the age of three with beginning their training around age two. I would also like to point out that I am twenty years old and I have been doing this for less than three weeks. Actually,  pre-professionals training in Noh, train with the senseis for months on one aspect of Noh, focusing on one piece and it takes them about six months or so to make the same progress I made in three weeks. I have studied two dances, three chants, and one instrument…I just can’t believe how much progress I have made

Making a wish at the Tanabata Festival.

Making a wish at the Tanabata Festival.

I can’t wait to learn even more this week, but I don’t want it to end because I won’t know what I am going to do with all my new free time when the class is over.
Another side note; sitting seiza is still killing me and I don’t understand how people can do this for over an hour when a full length Noh play is being performed.

Japan 2017

Quinn Sipes

Japan Blog #3

7/2/17

Chanting Gekkyuden in seize position.

Chanting Gekkyuden in seize position.

Sorry for not blogging about my Japan adventure but I have been very busy with my Noh Training. For those of you who don’t know why I am here in Tokyo, I am studying the traditional Japanese theatre form known as Noh theatre. The theatre form was created by Zeami in the 1300’s and became big when the first Shogun was created. Most of the noh plays revolve around the Tales of Genji and many of the plays focus around a main character that is otherworldly like ghosts, demons, and gods.

This theatre form focuses on the combination of singing, chanting, dancing, poetry, and instruments. All noh plays take about an hour and a half to perform even though the overall script usually is no more than 5 to 10 pages. Needless to say, noh plays move extremely slowly and the storylines are extremely tragic.

I am in Tokyo studying this ancient theatre form at the youngest of the five schools of noh; Kita. By school I am referring to the style of how the Noh is performed. There are five schools Kita being the youngest and I believe Kanze being the oldest school. I am actually studying at the same school as my professor, Professor Dubroff with the same teachers that he had! I just mention his first name and everyone at the school is like, “ah yes! Matthew!” It’s kind of like he is a Rockstar or something and I am elevated by sheer association.

I started my first day on Monday with 5 hours of noh. I thought I was ready for a couple of noh plays but I was sorely mistaken. The plays were sooooo sllloooowwww and I didn’t understand the Japanese being spoken but I was able to follow along with an English synopsis that was provided. The first two plays were kind of boring. The first one was about a dead poet who urged a priest to sleep under a cherry blossom, and the second one was about a woman spirit asking a priest to pray for Genji and when the priest prayed for Genji the woman turned into a dragon and disappeared. The last play was by far the most interesting. It was about a demon that lived in a rock. A priest exorcised the demon from the rock and on stage the rock exploded and out came a demon and the dance that the demon did was so intense you could feel the tension in the room as the demon repented and was exorcised from the rock.

shimai for Seiobo

That was my first day along with a group meal at a restaurant near the theatre in Meguro. On the second day we wasted no time getting into the meat of noh performance. We started the day off with a greeting and sat seiza for 20 mins chanting a very celebratory song called Gekkyuden. We were then broken up into two groups to learn shimai (dance) from two different plays. I am currently learning the shimai for Seiobo. The character that does the dance is a beautiful princess…yeah imagine me as a beautiful princess if you are capable of doing that. Over the first week I learned the shimai for Seiobo pretty well and I think I am ready to learn a harder shimai but I am not the master at this and they haven’t asked me to move on and they know better than I do…I just hope they ask me to learn another one because I would like to challenge myself in my shimai. We also learned some hiyashi (instruments). We started off learning how to play the    kotsozumi also known as a shoulder drum. The drum can make five different sounds depending on how you hold the drum. We have learned three so far known as Po, Chi, and Ta.

Learning kotsuzumi

Learning kotsuzumi

Out of Utai (chanting) Shimai (dancing) and Hiyashi (instruments) I enjoy shimai the most and hiyashi the least. For the most part, that happened everyday through Friday. On Friday I went into Harajuku proper and found a cheap pair of hakama (samurai pants) because I am putting together a traditional Japanese Yukata for the Atsumori play that Professor Dubroff will be putting on this coming spring semester. I also went down the busiest street in Harajuku and found the store and designer where Lady Gaga bought her outfits for her Fame Monster album. I really want to buy something from there, but I can’t completely justify purchasing anything from there.

The busy street in Harajuku.

The busy street in Harajuku.

On Saturday I went to the Ueno Zoo and saw my favorite animal ever; the Giant Panda. I  bought a small panda magnet for the fridge that I don’t own…I guess I know my next purchase before I head back to Hampden-Sydney… I went back to Harajuku and ate gyoza (pot stickers) for less than 3 dollars! I also went into Shinjuku’s gay district and got to look around at all the crazy nightlife that I will probably be partaking in next weekend with some friends. I also went to the extremely sketchy area of Shinjuku known as Kabukicho it is not as sketchy as Roppongi, which I will not be going to anytime soon. I was kind of concerned about getting pick pocketed but I made it out okay.

Giant panda at Ueno Zoo.

Giant panda at Ueno Zoo.

I am really enjoying my time here and I love the class even though sitting seiza is killing me. I hope I have some more adventures to talk about in the next week!

Japan 2017

Quinn Sipes
Japan Blog
6/24/17
It has been two days since my last blog post and already so much has happened! First off, I would like to say that the crazy and overwhelming city of Tokyo is now easier to navigate after I wised up. Now, before I leave, I look up the address of the places I want to go while I have Wi-Fi and then screenshot the map and the directions to get to that place. I also have decided to just let the whirlwind that is Tokyo, take me to where I need to go rather than try to control it and live by the idea that “it happens.”
Other good news is that some of my money has been deposited and I can’t convey to you just how happy I am! I was so worried that I would have to make about 100 dollars stretch for 3 weeks, which would more than likely be impossible in a city where one dish usually averages 10 USD. But, I have money now and I am eating more than one meal every two days, and my goodness the food here is so delicious!
One of the things that I was looking forward to the most, when I was preparing to go to Japan, was to visit Shinto and Buddhist Shrines and Temples. I had the privilege to visit a shrine relatively close to where I live. The shrine known as Meiji-Jingu is a Shinto shrine located in Yoyogi Park right in the center of Tokyo’s famous Harajuku. The shrine, encased by a huge park that drowns out the sounds of modern day Tokyo, makes anyone who visits feel like they are in a rural Japanese town. The towering skyscrapers around the area are replaced by huge trees, and the sound of Tokyo traffic is replaced with the sounds of the birds and crickets.

Meijijingu Shrine- purifying my hands before entering.

Meiji-Jingu Shrine, purifying my hands before entering.

Enshrined in Meiji-Jingu is Emperor Meiji and Empress Shoken, Japan’s most revered royal family. When the Emperor died, the Japanese people built the shrine to honor him. The shrine burned down during World War II but was rebuilt by the Japanese people and the original shrine will turn 100 in 2020. When I visited, the copper plates on the roof were being refurbished and replaced for the centennial celebration and the Olympic games in 2020. I was also extremely privileged to witness a Shinto wedding procession into Meiji-Jingu. I sadly did not take any pictures, because I didn’t want to be irreverent to the couple getting married, and I wasn’t too sure about the policy on photographing Shinto wedding ceremonies.
The bride and groom were in beautiful traditional clothing and were being led in on a carriage. In the front of the procession seemed to be the head Shinto priest, followed by a drum, and then a few more priests (I think they were priests) who were chanting, and then the bride and groom came in on the carriage. It was very beautiful to witness and I wish I had been able to take a few stealthy photos.
Once I was in the shrine, I went and prayed for world peace and universal harmony. Through my prayer at the alter, and through my ema (a wooden plaque where you write your wish and prayers on) I prayed for myself and I received an omikuji, a small poem written by Emperor Meiji, which tells you about what to expect for the year and words of wisdom to be followed. The whole shrine was very beautiful, and the people there were extremely kind and welcoming to all foreigners and their religions. One Japanese woman was asking every person that finished praying at the alter what their current religion is; a few of the answers were Islamic, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, B’hai, and Buddhist. It is very beautiful and wonderful to see religions that have had bad blood with one another, come together and be peaceful toward one another, and wish and pray for the same thing. It just shows how we are all human and want the same thing; to be loved by one another and be peaceful toward each other.
I returned to my share house at about the middle of the day and relaxed a little bit before heading out to Shinjuku to register for a class the following day (today). Out in Shinjuku, there are a lot of very tall skyscrapers and shopping areas, which reminded me of Midtown Manhattan in the way that it is sensory overload almost the whole time. I found this one place called the robot restaurant, which costs about 8,000 (80.00USD) yen for one dinner. It seems that the robot restaurant is one big show, along with a dinner, and the people that I saw leaving the restaurant said it was worth the 8,000 yen for the show alone. So, I think when my class is over and if I have enough money saved up, before I leave, I will go and see what the robot restaurant is all about.
Today I went to Asakusa, about an hour away from where I live, to take part in traditional Japanese arts and crafts. The share house company that I am staying with while in Tokyo is known as Sakura House, and they put on events for their residents every month. This month one of the last events was making traditional crafts in the form of Zabuton and Hanko.

My Zabuton

My Zabuton

A zabuton is a traditional Japanese cushion, which has a trademark of being balanced in all four corners. You are able to tell the quality of the cushion by holding it by the thread in the center of the cushion, and seeing it hold steady and flat while being suspended in the air. Needless to say, mine was less than perfect. One of my corners was too heavy, and if you tried to pick it up by the center thread, it leans to one side. Building this zabuton was a lot of work too! I had to rip the cotton apart, lay each layer out, open each layer, rip some more, then feel for depressions, and add left over cotton to my cushion before I could even shape it into a cushion! Then came getting it into the cover, which is another long and drawn out process. In total, making one zabuton took me over 3 hours!

 

Senso-Ji in front of the temple and incense burner

Senso-Ji in front of the temple and incense burner

I had a little break between the two crafts so I went to Senso-Ji, a Buddhist temple in Asakusa, which is famous for how massive it is as well as the shopping street in front of it. I got lost there for a few hours and had some really, good fried chicken. It wasn’t like Granny B’s where it was fried with a breading, but rather just straight chicken fried in sesame oil. Some of the best fried chicken I have had in a while, actually. I explored the surrounding area of Senso-Ji until it was time to make a hanko.
A Japanese hanko is a traditional name stamp used by the Japanese to sign their name on contracts and loans from the bank. Every person in Japan has a hanko and uses it for official documents. The process started with us writing our names and then having someone write out a few modern Japanese characters, which mimic the sounds of our name. My name, being hard for them to wrap their minds around, because Quinn doesn’t exist in their language, ended up being a square. As I waited for them to explain how to make the hanko, I stared at my character, extremely upset that my stamp will just be a square. I felt terrible and like it was a waste of time at this point. Then something amazing happened! One of the professionals came around with a book of ancient Japanese characters, saw our modern day characters and then translated them to the ancient characters that they came from.

My Hanko

My Hanko

My little square “gu” turned into this face with two outstretched opened hands. I asked the professional why we were using the ancient characters, she said the ancient characters are more symmetrical and can be given meaning to them more so than some of the modern day characters. I then asked what my character meant now, and she said that it means giver or offering to the gods. I was thrilled and to be perfectly honest, the character looks really cool! After she wrote the character onto our stamp, we took an engraving tool and etched our character into the stone. It was rough work to do it by hand, but it was extremely relaxing for some reason. My stamp turned out to look pretty good, and the professional didn’t have to do too much in order to fix it. After I finished making my hanko, I stopped for dinner at this little place known as McDonalds. I know, I know, hate on me as much as you want for eating McDonald’s in a foreign country. However, I had only 500 yen that I was willing to spend and I didn’t want to go looking for a place that was selling traditional Japanese food at 500 yen…so I ate at McDonalds. I will say that it is a lot better than American McDonalds. Here in Japan, when you order something off the menu, the item actually looks like the picture on the menu compared to when you order something and it looks like it was run over by a truck.
That pretty much concludes my past two days here, and tomorrow I start my class in Noh theatre. I can’t wait to meet everyone in my class! I know this class is about to be super intensive, but I am ready for it. The only thing I may have a problem with is sitting sezah for long periods of time.