Daniel in Japaniel

Archive for October 2008

Best CM Hotel

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Paid for by liquor sales in Boston, Best CM Hotel owes its foundation to a VietKyu (refugee returnee) who invests one year working at his store in the old bean town, and the other checking in Australians, Americans and otherwise at his nine story marble and concrete wonder.

Although I landed in former Saigon, the family packed into two buses (one a 14 seater Mercedes Benz, the other a 30 plus seater just shy of a real coach bus) and made our way south to CaMau (our grandmothers home city). Even though it’s just about 125 miles south of Ho Chi Minh city, the drive took over 8 hours in contorted positions listening to pigeon Vietnamese-English, full on full blown Vietnamese, and Andrew singing Hannah Montana.

Here at the Hotel though, we spent a day of rest while my Grandmother’s direct family coordinated efforts for today’s funeral/memorial service. From the little we know, we need a lot of bug spray, there will be mud, it might rain, and there is a canoe ride to get to her temple. What follows is a 3-4 hour service, some touring, and the hour bus ride back to this hotel.

More about the hotel later.

In 17 minutes we get back on to those two buses. But with less luggage, and a few hours of sleep behind us, it should be more comfortable.

Keep checking Picasa for pictures.


Written by Daniel

October 30, 2008 at 12:44 am

Posted in vietnam

We in CaMau

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For three days now the family and I have been in South Vietnam. When I say family, I mean we are related to everyone, apparently. The further we went in our bus caravan (loaded with tapioca bars, vietnamese balogna, unmarked bags, and bagettes) the more cousins, and cousins of cousins we picked up for our trip to our grandmother’s temple.

I took a five hour flight in from Kansai International into Ho Chi Minh city. For a second it felt like maybe I was flying over the Mississippi river with it’s bottomless mud reflections, maybe by some fertile country side, maybe somewhere else, Ireland, not sure, somewhere known for this shade of green, that rice field green. But the sight of rusted aluminum roofs sticking out of those water revealed the now flooded villages.

Leaving the safest city I’ve ever known was a difficult task. Listening to the passengers split into the different lines for immigration, made me mourn losing Japanese. Staring at the officer as he pointed at the blank “Intended Address” box in my form, simply brought on the culture shock that had been building.

But, the sight of cj and Stewart waiting in the mass of Vietnamese outside of the airport, relaxed me. We road a taxi with one of the first of many cousins. Unlike the lines of cars, the sound of the Japanese folk songs at cross walks, traffic in the former-Saigon is an open buffet of cutting, beeping, and swerving. At first I thought, oh at least they drive on the right side of the road, my brothers then detailed a story of driving head on into a cloud of motorbikes and mopeds as they parted around the car and moved past like a school of fish.

Entries will be shotgun style from here on out.

I am writing this on the marble steps of this Wes Anderson dream hotel, where the poverty line is equal to the property line.

“We are going sight seeing” says our Grandmother’s sister’s half-asian daughter.

Here are some pictures so far:

More pictures are posted under “Vietnam” in my web album. Expect more posts soon.

Written by Daniel

October 29, 2008 at 3:29 am

Posted in vietnam

Hello Kitty has no mouth

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The ratio of dancing to sleeping this weekend would be about 2:1.  The ABS program was kind enough to bestow a “Free Weekend” to us. Needless to say, every moment was spent.

More about that in a second.

So yes, “academic” life… or rather just my schedule has been pretty packed lately. This week is another one of those. With preparing for Vietnam, a handful of papers to write, and keeping up with TAing, my last full week in Kyoto will be slightly difficult. Already, I am thinking about this weekend: farewell party, Halloween party at work, and maybe a night at a club with some friends. There are some gems to look forward to in this week though- though I don’t know them yet.

Okay, so Friday I finished up my class, my favorite class (actually) to TA. We go through the 9 pronunciations that “A” has… that I can’t even distinguish. Throughout it answering question “What is the difference between a tortoise and turtle?”, comparing our various electronic dictionaries, singing conversations, teaching phrases like “What are friends for?”, “You’re a natural!” and “Oh Heavens!” while I explain the ones I use “Too soon?”, “jk rowling”, and “weenis” (none of which translate well). After class I try and get some of the students to come out with me for the weekend, but, like many college students here, most of them are working at their part time jobs.

So after hanging out at Fukakusa campus for a little bit, headed home on the free shuttle to meet up with Julian. He, Dan and I headed North by way of the river to have a few drinks and eat diner Chinese food- waiting for a DJ circle to begin at a little club called Voodoo.

Kyoto University students were hosting this little event in an alley club just South of Shijo-dori. As soon as we made it downstairs, Julian goes “isn’t that…” and suddenly fellow ABS students were rushing us. Out of all the clubs in the area, we manage to run into each other. Go figure, Kyoto is pretty small.

They left a little early, just before DJ Bubble danced around with a fifth of Jack Daniels in one hand and a silver platter of shots in the other. Respect gained- we hung around for his set. Which actually was pretty good. As usual, there were many wall flowers or knee bouncing dancers. Julian and I cleared the floor (for better or worse).

Just as a note… or rather to build up the theme of this post, at one point in the night a guy started booty dancing with Julian. After a little bit, Julian asks curiously “are you gay?” The guy immediately stopped dancing, put his forearms in an X and went “oh No Noooo, iiieee,” and then paused for a second and asked “are you gay?” “Yeah, I am gay” Julian responded, “are you gay?” And after looking around the little club, the Japanese man leans into Julian and says “no, but I am bisexual… so I don’t hate you”

Not the first Julian’s had such a strong reaction, but certainly up there as odd. It’s right up there with “Gay Parade? Is that like boxing?”

Now it is easy to throw this in the steriotypes of “Shame Culture” or the “Sexually Repressed”. And, yes, quite often Japan is described as socially stuck in the 20s and 30s. But of course these generalizations are made to deal with these realities a little easier. A term is easier to control than a man telling you he doesn’t “hate” you.

At one point during this weekend, at a “famous” Gay Club in Osaka Julian turned to me and said, “you realize you are taking part in underground culture right now.” Looking around, at the disparity between hidden salary men in the corner, solo-act-drags lip syncing as well as Tokyo citizens in Godzilla movies, and Europeans visiting the scene, it’s a startling experience what you really are doing.

For me, Club Explosion! was like any other club. Aside from some grinding couples, dancing was relatively tame and asexual. There was the worse drag I’ve ever seen. And some of the most bizarre:

She starting bleeding from the mouth at around 3 in the morning on the stage, during a set of variety acts including: Mario interpretive dance, corny magic tricks, and some other scenes.

This was our Saturday night in Osaka. The preamble to the Kansai Rainbow Parade on Sunday.

Earlier we met up with Aki, Momoko and Dylan in Amemura. Friends from Fukakusa campus, I spend a good portion of my week hanging out with them.

Dylan, obviously not Japanese, is an Australia studying at Ryukoku right now. Momoko, the reverse. is Japanese, trying to study how to be an Australian. Aki lived in America for awhile and knows what’s up.

Unfortunately they couldn’t stay out with us for the night. We shared a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon at Junk Cafe, wandered around to an Arcade where we had a fantastic experience of Puri-Kura (photo booths on acid).

After blasting away some zombies with Momoko (who is a pro, by the way), we parted ways, and Julian prepared the redbulls for the night, not after seeing a monkey the size of nothing, though.

By the end of the night, we found ourselves on a local train to Kyoto. Not Kyoto-eki, it would turn out. The hour and ten ride brought us a forty minute walk from home. Luckily an ivory taxi was idling for us, we got back… slept- woke at 11 and returned to Osaka.

There we met up with Osakan and  co-worker Sachi (pictured below)

She works 3 three jobs  (mine, a restaurant job at Kobe, and a translating gig) and only gets sunday off. In anticipation of Vietnam, we went to a restaurant by her translating job. Unlike Vietnamese restaurants back at Baltimore, the place was covered with Vietnamese art and knick-knacks. There were no quacking ducks heard from the kitchen.

The Japanese influence was subtle but there. Flavors and ingredients popular in Japan were exaggerated a little more (seen mostly in the desert menu, where , while stronger tastes like Nuoc Mam were made less fishy and more miso base. Pickled raddish and carrots still had their vinegar crispness, but they were cut in heart and star shapes (so Japanese) instead of strips. Also, like Shojin ryori, the entrees were separated into small dishes, so you could personally make them. Being able to make your own bowl of Bun Cha Goi, added the homely touch this nostalgic adventure was seeking.

We picked up the reasonable check, and made our way to the Kansai Rainbow Parade.

I am debating how to really begin this. So, let me present it the same way they do- here is a quote from the literature for the event:

Ojective of the parade

More and more sexual minority issues have been recently featured on mass media in Japan. The population of sexual minority people is estimated to be approximately a few percent to five percent in every society. This means you probably have one sexual-minority classmate out of thirty in a school class. Most people, however, rarely think a relative or friend of them may be sexual minority.

In this parade, sexual minority people and their allies proudly walk in downtown Osaka. We sincerely hope that the parade will help all people to realize that sexual minority people are here. And we also hope that our society will become more and more open one enough to respect sexual diversity.


There is possibility that your photo is taken during the parade(*). When you do not want to be on the photo, go to the pictures-prohibited zone. However, it is not always guaranteed that you never be on the photo even if you are in the picture-prohibited zone. Take protective measures, such as wearing sunglasses or caps if you want surely not to be shot.

Meaning of the rainbow

…Not only the rainbow flag uses multi colors but also the Olympic flag consists of five colors, which represent diversity and equality of races in the world. Same can be said for the rainbow flag; each of us have diverse sexualities including diverse sexual orientations or gender identities just like a six-color rainbow. We hope that our “Rainbow Parade” help all people to respect the diversity and try to live together.

Now before arriving, we joked about our low expectations. I had imagined about 20 people, 18 of which Euro/Aussie, while the other two, Businessmen hidden behind spread newspapers. What we found was a modest 1,200. Obviously no New York or Amesterdan numbers at this parade.

Still it was a powerful experience. Everyone was polite and, aside from the float blasting dance music, people peacefull marched alongside of streets lined with confused bystanders. The parade was so polite, in fact, we even stopped at traffic lights!

However, despite whatever my Western perspective depreciates this experience, you couldn’t deny that this parade was as effectual to the Osaka bystanders as one in San Francisco. Again, we felt part of a grass-roots counter culture moment. Children cocked their heads, while mena dn women watched from buisness windows at the cosplay and drag dressed participants.

If you frame by frame the video, you can see the variety of just confusion. From my short time here, seeing the reactions in general about gender concepts, I can say that a sight like this parade was a voice that Gay culture rarely ever gets here.

The Kansai Rainbow parade met up to its objective.

At the end of the two hour parade, we convened at no Central Park, instead this dingy children’s park between two department stores.

There a brass band played a final song, while everyone picked up balloons. A count-down led to the loudest everyone got all day. The energy of the march was put into that one moment where everyone shouted in support and let go.

There was a follow up party at Club Explosion, but we ended up savoring the moment at the harbor view in Osakako

We then hit up an Izakaya (cheap beers and tapas) by Umeda station, laughing and relaxing after the day.

As failure would have it, getting on the wrong train the other night left us with a free return trip home from Osaka (one less expenditure). So with forty yen in my pocket- Julian and I got back from the weekend at around midnight.

Written by Daniel

October 20, 2008 at 4:10 am

Posted in event, food, wandering

My lover, I’ve been donating time to review…

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Before I begin, of course a huge apology is necessary (not at all unnecessary) for falling out of contact the past week. So here’s the deal, I have been working on this entry for a couple days. You read it, and I will make you smile looking at the words and pictures. Sound good?

There are many possible things I could point to and deflect owning up to disappointing my handful of readers. But, as I write this, it is pretty difficult to say what happened. One thing I can say, and we can decide if this somehow relates, is that I have been awfully homesick.

Now what have I been up to? Many things. This past weekend was one of the last “field trips” of the program. The destination was Mt. Koya- the birthplace of the Shingon sect of Buddhism, where some odd incomprehensible amount of time ago a guy threw this diamond staff as hard as he could- then went out to find it. Sure enough (after two dogs and a incognito mountain deity showed him around the mountain) his stuff landed on the tip of a cypress tree. When he got to the tip of this tree, Kukai (his name) looked around and saw the eight peaked mountain range surrounding him as the eight petaled lotus. “A fine place to build a monastery!” he said, and then I trounced about it this past Saturday.

The path to get there found the ABS students at a traditional Japanese inn in the Omine mountains.

Japan does mountains well, so when I say mountains, imagine the best. We talked it up about Crosby Stills Nash and Young while we hit endless one laners with the sharpest BMW-commercial-esque turns you’ve ever Tivo’d past, while cypress trees led the push up the mountain side.

There is a single road that goes through this valley town, and all along side are inns that run right up to the road. The area is known for Mountain Acestics (the Yamabushi) who make pilgrimages up the mountainside, live in caves, have near death experiences off cliffs, etc. From the balcony of the inn, you can see them with their giant bags walking up the road, as the skin underneath your fall yukata cools after an hour spent in the natural hot springs.

Sure there were river walks during the day. For awhile we followed downstream the cleanest river of my life. We are talking clear clear clear water you can feel the coolness of off your cheeks- and when it hits and tumbles down into tucked away ponds, all you see is this mysterious blue that has a translucent aura where the water shallows. We also visited the matronly saint of pilgrimages’ temple. We chanted unintelligibly under freezing waterfalls as a yamabushi blew into a Conch shell horn-ette.

But the main thing- was the food.

Shojin-Ryori (actually part of my research project on Japanese food), it was a traditional way the aristocracy ate, which eventually evolved (was simplified) into a vegetarian feast for Buddhist monks. We sat in two rows facing each other, and mini-bowl after mini-bowl of fried-tofu with grated radish, tempura, a soft angel-hair-esque noodle, various pickled vegetables, sauteed baby-rainbow trout (okay, so maybe not completely veggie here) and elegantly crafted tofu ensembles of different textures and after tastes.

I love the variation of senses you encounter with Japanese food. Eating is never mindless- a cynic could say the exoticism of Japan makes me enjoy every morsel of my meals, but after over a month here (a month now-) still these seconds are reveled in with each bite.

Real quick- Of Montreal album?

The other day, for instance, Julian and I hit up KyoMoMa (the Modern Museum of Art in Kyoto- I don’t think it is actually called that). After enjoying their permanent collection, we made our way downstairs. Me, with only an hour or so to make it, and Julian with an empty stomach (myself as well, naturally), we decided to plop down on the outdoor patio of the museum’s cafe. I ordered the seasonal set meal while Julian ordered the rice pilaf and pickle set. He remarked it was delicious, I don’t doubt him, since I didn’t get a bite. Mine was fantastic of course. Again, here it is, the tiny tasting plates make it. My dish included a “potato” salad made with kidney and chickpeas, barely could taste anything but the fiber of the beans themselves, sesame dressed salad with button mushrooms and slice of daikon, a slow cooked salmon fillet that somehow kept a refreshing fishy after taste, and there was a coffee mug filled with a very creamy pumpkin soup with a hint of almond. There was also a little croissant and bagel (odd combo, yes) to be used as sauce sponges. A fan of dipping, the meal was enjoyed slowly with the Heian Jingu’s jade moat, reddening Japanese maples, rotating chrome sculptures over great conversation.

It made up for the fifty minute bike ride to Fukakusa campus. Actually that day (two days ago, wednesday) I biked a total of two hours. It has been beautiful weather, so it is well appreciated. After TAing, I grabbed some lunch (really just some ice cream) with friends and then biked back north to the Shijo-dori area for my work at the English Cafe. Work go out early, and I spent the night hanging out with my 30 year old staff mate from Osaka, Sacchi, at a 333 yen beer and Japanese-style-tapas bar.

So far I have jumping around in time. To make things clear: Omine mountain was last friday, Koyasan was the following saturday, KyoMoMa was wednesday.

Oh, and Franzia in bottles?

Though KyoMoMa is in the elegant complex that is the Shinto shrine Heian Jingu’s, it is not the same as the Heian Jingu dance contest I caught a glimpse of on sunday.

Now friends of mine who go to the local tech school here, have been practicing every night at the fields of a park by Kyoto-eki. It wasn’t just them either, lined up all along the park were various college groups practicing their routines. The thursday before heading out to Omine-san, Julian and I witnessed 700 of them choreograph the epic routine that was the opening ceremony for this festival.

As for the festival itself, I can’t really say what it was for, aside from that it is a tradition that happens every year there, always coinciding with another festival (the Festival of the Ages, October 22nd). Both of these festivals, I believe, are suppose to honor the philosophies of the Meiji restoration- dipping into the traditional roots of Japan. So the dance contest consists of completely different styles of dance. For the most part, however, kid’s our age performed beyond what I could have even expected. The coordination of these 20-30 odd people dances were remarkable. The groups were graded on style, rhythm, creativity, narration (there are 1 or 2 members interpreting through singing or yelling through a mic), costume design (most of which are hand made) and overall aesthetic quality of their performance.

While there were outliers of hip-hop, cheerleading, flamenco, and Para-para dance present at the festival, what seemed to dominate were college-student-dance circles’ genre. Neo-traditional in many ways, usually their performance started slowly with stark contrasting poses, fingers extending back on themselves and their Japanese style castanets keeping the building beat. In an instant, the remix starts to blast of their song, the narrator has picked up intensity, and dancers arms roll into the air as they yell “sore! sore! sore!” “yeah! yeah! yeah!”, from here your eyes kind of relax on just all the movements. Our friend’s group in particular reenacted a famous battle for the Old Capital, another played Hiyao Miyazaki’s theme from the movie “Pom Poko” as they showed how the various agriculture groups and the men and women of their ancestors banded together to build a great culture.

I took videos of all of this on my digital camera, and promise (I make too many) to edit them all into a few minute clip for you all to see. This really is something to be seen. That said, check out the, and by the by- HUGE UPDATE of photos on my Picasa. They include these and many other photos.

As for KyoMoMa (same area, different day, wednesday), although I have been busy keeping up with Fukasusa and Omiya campus, life at the temple (reminds me, lemme catch you up on my new morning routine), nights at Shijo (work or otherwise), and the “politics as usual” back home (jk rowling), I was able to spend a good few hours out with Julian in this beautiful culture district.

Flanked by Heian Jingu, the Geisha/Maiko historic road, and Kyoto University, KyoMoMa shares a couple block area with the Kyoto Institute of Design, Kyoto Zoo, and some other fascinating buildings. Though the first three floors are the special exhibits at KyoMoMa, Julian and, not feeling like footing a 1200 entrance fee, went for the 130 price of seeing their permanent collection. In retrospect, probably the best choice.

Whereas we could have seen collections of various European and American artists’ modern art, we had the honor of seeing pre and post-war collections of Japanese Modern art. For a bit of history, late 19th century Japan into the 20th was a time where the country rapidly surrounded it with the western world. The government sponsored academics to travel Germany, France, Italy, Great Britain to research industrialization and western philosophy at large. This carried on throughout and continues today as well with America now on the table as a line leader in “culture” (post-war culture).

So, as far as modern art is concerned, in short, we were looking at art that had obvious influence on the big dogs of their time. They had slight difference that maybe the back and front of a Highlights magazine has, eerie- if you stare enough. From things as simple as roman-lettering signatures versus the traditional family name Hanko- or even calligraphy Kanji, to the uneven circles of Gentaro, Komaki’s “Espiritismo No. 8” versus Charles Demuth’s “The Figure 5 in Gold”, the subtle differences allowed for an alien perspective of the modernists’ “dilemma”. What was once seen as universal, now seemed so Anglo-centric in the halls of KyoMoMa, it was still effectual- but, the soul lacked, and what filled it was the struggle of country finding it’s footing among world powers of it’s time.

Check it:

As for my schedule these days, we have been studying Shingon buddhism (was was was, we moved on now, monday is the first day of our Pure Land services). For the past three weeks, we have been alternating from going to services at Toji (home of the world’s tallest Pagoda, also it protects Japan, also it becomes the sword of a MegaZord whenever PETA activists team up with aquaman retributing for the whaling industry). Shingon is interesting in it’s similarity to Catholicism. Here we got saint worship, a desire to seek unity of mind, body and speech. Moreover, our morning service consisted of sing-song chanting the history of Kukai (dog man, threw a spear etc. etc. read above), the Heart Sutra, and various mantras. Somewhere during the last story chant on Koba-daishi, a monk wearing a face mask takes the reliquary of the Historic Buddha (Shakyamuni) and bless each of the lay practitioners. Each of them bring their own things, pictures of their family, letters, sutras, beads, praying for Koba-daishi’s grace. In this way, it appears like a sort of communion, and the lay people accepting the body of Buddha, yes, but of course the whole atmosphere has the smell of exotic Buddhism around it. By the end of the service, we prostrate before the alter and pray for the distribution of the good merit we’ve gained to the world. Toji is known as the protector, or healer of Japan, and these old men and women are there every morning at 6 in the morning praying for just that.

Now something I have to look into some more while I am here is the artist Kiyoshi, Hasegau. She/he started off as Japanese Matisse, then after the war, only seemed to keep the contrasting black and white of their silhouetting days and moved into a pencil-still lifes of mexican folk art. So bizzare.

One last story before I tell you my plans for this weekend.

My mid-term exam and a paper were due the other day, so last night deemed necessary for some relaxation. After watching McCain creep away my soul, one blink of a thousand at a time, Julian and I shared a bottle of wine, and geared up our bikes for a trip to a sento, a Japanese public bath.

The one we sought, unfortunately, is on a year long sabbatical. I learned this from a lady-bartender (mid-50s) who was keeping a man named Oeno company in her simple Karaoke bar. Oeno spoke to me, I am pretty sure. He had the thickest accent I’ve encountered so far in Japan. All I could understand was when he paused and asked, “ハフ?外国人?”, (Half asian, or Foreigner?). “Foreigner, foreigner” the bartender told him, he stopped making a map, and he said that he’d take us to his favorite bath.

We hopped on our bikes after him, it was already 10:45 (which is late considering when we wake). Alleys turn to alleys, and we arrive at the familiar fish-curtain-drapped doors that all sento dawn. He ran in ahead of us to check something for us, and then appeared again and gestured us in. After thanking him, Julian and I found ourselves in a smaller house than we are use to, but by no doubt- a popular local spot. Immediately we saw the naked backs of Yakuza, their emerald green and purple dragon tatoos stretching from weenis to weenis, under legs, every where imaginable. The lady at the front desk, situated between the mens and women’s section in order to see everything, didn’t ask for money, instead waited for it. After handing her a 500 yen coin, we found out it cost 410 (pretty standard).

The bath house was phenomenal. Again, it was very small- but efficient with it’s use of space. In about a half classroom sized room there was a hot spring style, cold water, jacuzzi, electric, tea, bathing showers, a shower tower (cj would approve) and a sauna that kept at a terrifying 110 degrees Celcius.

What makes bathing so relaxing here, like eating meals, is the journey your body goes through experiencing the juxtapositions of sensations. The electric bath, for instance, is painful. Your body convulses uncontrollably, you curse while the old men chuckle at you. Should you choose a cold water bath after you’ll feel every muscle in your body, or you could enter the hot bath and dissolve away those same muscles. My favorite combination is a simple but beautiful one: cold water until it feels like nothing, and then sauna until you feel like nothing. The tea bath was interesting that night, though not my favorite. It was a Lavendar and Camomille bath. Usually bath houses have a green tea or barley tea you soak in.

We barely were able to bike back. At around midnight, with our bodies’ numb from comfort, minds’ drunk from fatigue, we swerved our way back to Koshoji.

Anyway, that’s been more or less how it has been. This weekend should be great. Tonight will be spent at Kyoto University (perhaps) listening in on a DJ-circle, followed by a few drinks in the Shijo area. Saturday is a trip out to Osaka where we’ll meet up with some friends, have some amazing curry (hopefully). And Sunday is a brunch of Vietnamese-food (finally) and participating in Osaka’s Gay Pride Parade. The last one will be undoubtedly an interesting experience. Given the amount of repression this culture deals out, the state of sexuality in general (rights or otherwise) should all come out during this march.


Thank you everyone who has been keeping up with this. Thank you people who have been checking this even though I haven’t updated in awhile. Today I learned that I have had over 1,000 reads of this site since starting it.

Written by Daniel

October 17, 2008 at 2:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Installing a Priest

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Constant inner monologues, things we are use to, words shifting around in our head, experience solidifying knowledge, dissolving preconceptions, redefining experience itself, every day- whether in Japan or otherwise, we constantly add to our collective experiences while rehashing our past (organizing it or not) and, while our mind talks to ourselves, we do.

Pretension aside, this weekend was great to me.

Friday night was business as usual, hung out with Julian, Paul and Charlie out in Shiga at a friend of friend’s house. I brought three other people (one I had made at this new TAing thing at the local university the other two, her friends). Tall boys of Asahi an cans of Sapporo made themselves comfortable, filling clear cups, while Styrofoam bowls filled with udon, mussel mushrooms, and some foreign vegetables were slurped. We spent the night in a guy named Kohei’s room. This seven hundred dollar a month room, is a beautiful single with a view of the slopping hills towards Lake Biwa and the respective condominiums and college apartments that are terraced alongside.

Perhaps the length of weeks here, Japanese lifestyle, 5 AM calls, all things considered, just add up, at any rate- I was pooped, partying aside, you can’t resist sleep. There was more of a conversation going on inside than I feel I was contributing. All’s fair, no worries, you sometimes have a quiet night. This happens all the time at home. But for some reason- the distance from that, created this terrible homesickness. And, even though the company could speak both English and Japanese, the foreign sight exacerbated a constructed loneliness.

Wake up call came through the soundbites I could understand on the last train into Kyoto that night. Everyone was enjoying themselves, until the train waited forever at a stop. Apologies or something came on the speaker. Rie, a former Antioch- now Kyoto resident, explained there was a suicide, someone through them self in front of the train just ahead of us, “it’s terrible, it happens a lot” she expressed, “we have to switch trains, but it will be a little bit”. As brokenly as the news hit me, so did it drift through our party, the Ryukoku students took it solemnly, “wait what happened?” was asked as it was explained again to us, personally I felt frozen.

The next morning I was up at 6. With an hour before the whole face wash, shirt change, teeth brush, just thought above the triviality at which I approached things the other night. How, for some reason, despite my beliefs this summer of experience’s holiness as the one true, pure, and sure thing of life, I still found myself expecting a “change” in myself. Some bizarre fallacy that “change” happens, will hit you, suddenly the things you don’t like about yourself are gone, you know all. It’s a deleterious stereotype about study abroad programs, that you will change. Change may happen to you, but you can’t make change happen. It is stupid to assume that a change in scenery may make me never feel down again. “How will you live in Japan?” Julian asked me on the train, responding to my quiet look. How will you live anywhere? Anyway, you have to approach, confront yourself.

There is a terribly unsupported belief that’s been running in my head since that night, it is concerned with gratefulness. It goes “at any moment, any action you do, is someone’s ultimate wish come true” Now it’s tough to resolve that with death, are you, in that moment, suppose to appreciate that someone some where desires your experience more than you do? And in that find peace? I’m certain, but you can’t refute that somebody is wishing for that.

But like I said, intellectualized-pretension aside, this weekend was great for me. It had the perfect frame of mind that let me just take in these moments without expecting change, instead breathing in experience.

At 8:30 AM we boarded a rapid train out to Japan’s sea coast. Somewhere around Fukui, a mountainous area that reminds me of the Appalachian range around Pennsylvania, or somewhere more south, that place in between mountains, we boarded the “Tango Discovery” a local bumpy one that grows in cars as it heads east, and loses them as it travels to the Japan Sea coast. The ride was spent napping mostly, conversation happened- etc. etc.

Standard op. getting off the train, we huddled up, the field trip-esque group (we sometimes appear as). There is one road that follows the river and the train bed through this valley. We walk “two abreast!” west. Inside of what looks like your typical ancestral shrine, actually is filled with food you can take. These honor system shack grocery stores with their “Victory Garden” grown goods, put to shame the gucchiest of Organic markets, homely of farmers markets, or beautiful of country girls sitting in the back of tomato filled paint peeling Toyota pick-ups. Throw a dollar coin in a jar, pick up an Asian pear (Nashi) keep walking. (Of course too there is a convenience store, we hit up the next day on Avery’s birthday, pick up some coffee for part 2 of Abbott installation).

Anyway, we get to the temple. Moss covered steps, that have uneven divets from centuries of raindrops, and monks walking up the sides. Suddenly it was Hokyoji again, we bowed as we entered the main gates to the Soto Zen temple. There was a great flavor to this though. The experience was some bizarre wedding. In the courtyard of the Ryogonji were canopies set, underneath same black suit wearing men (parishioners of the temple) wearing purple sashes along their nape representing the seal of the Soto Zen sect and the Kansai area (specifically); they all had their own unique silver ties, though.

” Who are these gaijin?” we assumed they thought. We entered the main hall and made our three prostrations (sanpai) to Buddha.

The more casually dressed parishioners eagerly drove us (the 19) in their cars (the 7). In my Autobot rode four. I love when we get 4 on 1 (X>Y; X on Y) experiences with Japanese. There is this silent moment where you can feel everyone prepare themselves to delve into this person’s life one broken phrase after another. Before you know it you have an open invitation for a futon somewhere outside Tokyo, later, always sometimes later.

I have to say, as a side note (something to imagine throughout this story) I bought a cell phone recently (imagine it in my coat pocket, backpack, or left side pants pocket)- the added appendage has been amusing. I have to say I love the hiragana/kanji-T9 tech here, not only does it guess the words, grammar, I am going to use, but it also forecasts my expressions based off what I commonly use. I am totally predictable.

It’s hard not to relate experiences to a movie. Sadly, I am not at the point of “genius” where I can separate my own life from fake one’s I’ve seen/read. Example: kept thinking about “Darjeeling Limited” this whole weekend. Especially whenever they oldest reads the itinerary, mentioning all the very “spiritual things” they are going to do. It’s funny, I mean, the whole movie they desire such a spiritual solution, but they’re downing cough syrup, messing up rituals. Whatever though, what is silly is the belief that this purely holy moment exists. So what if the secular is so mixed up in this trip.

So this idea catches up on this trip. At first it seemed like perfection, the whole ritual, but despite the language barrier- you definitely feel the tension (like a wedding) the behind the scenes, behind the meditating face, the shear fear behind. There were monks chain smoking in the back room. There were babies screaming in the distance, probably bouncing on the knee of a son-in-law as made shushing faces at the kimono-clad-lad. I mean, even during the ceremony, as heads lowered in honor of Kansai’s highest priests, eyes used their time to search into Canon cameras, at the LCD version of that past moment.

I love coasting between these extremes though, the secular and the holy. That was the appeal of the program in the first place. Pretty soon I will be on my own, searching for it myself, train hopping throughout Japan, Hokkaido to Kyushu.

Before part 1 of the installation, we were taken to a Kimono “factory”. I mean, “factory”, because only 10 people work there, weaving the oldest known method of Japan. One Noh Kimono we saw, which had the color of a burlap sack, goes for about 300,000 $. Things aside-

I don’t think I’ve expressed the gravity of this ritual we had the distinct privilege of enjoying. First of all, now again maybe huge generalization, I’m not sure if this part of the country had seen such an influx of Americans since Post-war occupation. Every person we met knew where we were from, what we were here for, they bowed and welcomed us to their small town.

Throughout the ceremony, we sat, honored guests of Eitoku-sama (the new abbott of Ryogonji), next to his immediate family. Kansai’s great Soto Zen priests came to witness this, most came half way across the country, just to sit outside and hear the commentary through speakers. We, sat (or attempted to) seza, listening to ancient Sino-Japanese Dharma talks, as the new Abbott assumed his position as a living Buddha, a top the altar.

Although the Dharma Combat (a new priest was attacked with classic questions about the Dharma from every corner of the room), was one of the most powerful moments of the ritual. What was most beautiful for me, was interpreting, or reinterpreting the experience for myself.

Sitting on one end, with all the other Americans, facing the black-suited parishioners, pastel colored Kimono women, I amused myself, imagining myself as a brother of my Dad’s or some cousin, sitting in at his wedding in California, in a Buddhist temple- completely unaware of the language, but completely there with the honesty and beauty of everything.

Empathizing this way, filled me with so much inexpressible joy. When we prostrated in congratulations to Eitoku-sama, I had never so honestly congratulated some one. Afterwards- I thanked his sister, who was sitting next to me. She said that she had been holding in tears throughout the ceremony, but for her to see us all understand the importance of the ceremony, to bow before her younger brother, we made her so happy (ureshii) she wept.

The ceremony was concluded with massive photo ops, and even bigger meals. Each guest was presented with a giant bottle of Asahi, a bottle of sake, bottle of green tea, and a can of beer, to drink along with a Bento lunch box about the size of a briefcase (filled with everything that lives underwater, snails, salmon, fish eggs, eel; and some above, beef), tempura everything, some rice boxes with dried mackeral and flakes of tamago sprinkled atop. My joy, again, could not be matched. But perhaps, with the wife of Eitoku-sama handed me three bottles of Sake to take home… maybe then it was beaten.

Time off was taken recovering the nerve damage to our heels, walking shrine to shrine (independently perhaps… not sure what other ABS did), checking out local grocery stops, flower stores, just relaxing in the main hall.

Before we left, Charlie, Paul, Juliana and I presented the very…very tired Abbott with flowers, gave our final Sanpai (three prostrations), he invited us for coffee.

Then it was back to the “Tango Discovery” our very own “Darjeeling Limited” back to Kyoto. Each stop it picked up more cars (and with it, more travellers, business men, couples, Europeans, etc.)

For the weekend, it was good to be back to Soto Zen. Outside of confining experience to a word, and just letting it happen. Of course, the irony is my own experience- memory has to be sacrificed (in a sense) as I want to convey it to everyone else. Now it is re-scrambled.

The benefit is maybe I can remember this longer. And maybe you can live this with me.

At any rate, new photos on Picasa, check them out. I took my first flying baby picture.

Written by Daniel

October 6, 2008 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Photo Entry 1:

with one comment

First, for those avid readers, I am so sorry for the delay in posting. This weekend I, and the other ABS got to see what even few Japanese ever see: the installation of a high priest. All of Kansai’s high priests came to Ryogonji to recognize Eitoku-sama. The experience… will take a while to write. Tomorrow, I will spend a majority of the day capturing it for your benefit.


Until, please enjoy some photos from the past few days. 


You may notice a higher quality in these- it’s because they are Julian’s… and he is a superior photographer.



How about that debate?


More tomorrow!

Written by Daniel

October 5, 2008 at 2:20 pm

Posted in just photos

For the first time

with one comment

I voted.

Took a few days to register. Mailing a computer print out from the corner post office with Hello Kitty stamps isn’t exactly the forefather’s vision (perhaps neither is a half-vietnamese non-land-owning male). However, it sunk in this morning.

That’s really all.

In terms of my day, past few days, future days, I got some exciting things to write about. This may or may not include: TAing a Film Media course, finishing Dharma Bums, witnessing the installation of a new Abbott, entering the “Prince’s Hot Spring”, and watching a 7-hour (possibly not all) Japanese Dance Off at Heian Jingu.

Also expect a photo post.

Written by Daniel

October 1, 2008 at 12:59 am

Posted in announcement