Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Day trip to Nara- Part 2 (Mochi, Temples and Buddha oh my!)

This is part two of my day trip. After leaving behind the deer we got to the heart and soul of Nara: Todaiji. This temple was originally constructed in the Nara period (710-794) and was rebuilt and fixed after quite a few destructive fires. The temple survives to this day but at 2/3 of its original size. Despite that Todaiji is still the world's largest wooden structure.

We arrived at the entrance to the southern gate, inside this gate are beautiful wooden sculptures but its hard to get a good photograph of them because they are behind some heavy duty chicken wire. Here's a close up of a giant foot!

We continued past the gate and arrived at the main building. We washed our hands and faces in the fresh water as is traditional before entering the temple.

Here I am posing far away from the temple! Last time I was here with Robin it was so quiet and empty. Not today!

This guy sits outside the temple covered in red clothing. It is said if you have pain somewhere you should touch him on that spot and then yourself and you will heal. I couldn't reach his shoulders or his back or anywhere else that I'm actually sore. I got his knee so hopefully it will help keep my knee healthy.

Little demon guy

A beautiful lantern with very intricate detailing outside the entrance.

Inside the temple is the Daibutsu; Japan's largest and very golden Buddha. The Buddha is made of copper and bronze, he weighs 250 tons and stands 30 meters tall. The photo doesn't do him justice. His hair is all individually made balls and the eyes were hand painted on at the Buddha's dedication ceremony in 752.

Another close up of featuring the golden guys floating around Buddha

There are other large, golden statues in the temple but I'm not sure of their significance.

Maybe this gives you a sense of scale?

This is one of the guard statues also in the temple

At the back of the temple is a hole in one of the pillars. It is said that those who can wiggle through it will be blessed with enlightenment. There's a line of children who are waiting to go through and their parents waiting to take photos of their kids looking through the pillar. This hole is also the size of Buddha's nostril on the statue. This totally cracks me up! I like the idea of small Japanese children crawling through Buddha's nostril to reach enlightenment.

Here's the other side of the statue with another golden figure that is also really exquisite. We left the temple and headed back through the parks of Nara. It was slowly getting dark and the temples were closing as they usually do around 5. As we walked through the streets in the city of Nara we came upon an impressive street scene. . .

The men in the mochi shop was pounding bright, green mochi and yelling loudly. The mochi is pounded in a traditional mortar called a usu with giant wooden mallets called a kine. A crowd was gathered around the shop to watch the men pound the mochi.

Next, the pounded dough was put into a machine that filled the mochi with red bean paste, the small green discs of mochi were then quickly dusted with a powder and sold to members of the crowd. After watching the excitement for a minute Victo and I decided we wanted some fresh mochi to snack on. The mochi guys kept a steady rhythm as one would pound the dough and yells ichi (one). On ichi's upswing the other yells ni (tw0) and he hits the dough. This seems to prevent them from hitting each other and seems very useful when someone needs to put a hand in to turn the dough they are able to do so.

The sun started setting as we made our way back to the train station. It was a pretty fabulous day; I enjoyed the ramen I had for lunch, the vintage postcards I picked up at a little bookshop and all the photos I got of the temple and the deer. It was a long way home ; we still had to catch a train and then bike back to the dorms but we made it back around 11 after enjoying a delicious dinner in a drinking place with lots of tasty food.

Coming up: A sneak peak at some sketches.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Day trip to Nara- Part 1 (Oh Deer!)

Even though we are just one week into the new semester there was a long weekend and 3 day holiday from Monday-Wednesday. I'm not sure what the holiday was for, but I was happy to have extra time to myself and the opportunity to squeeze in a day trip to Nara.

My buddy Victo and I were feeling ambitious so we biked from the dorms to the station (about an hour though mostly downhill) and then we hopped on a train! In about 40 minutes and only spending 690 yen ($7.50 each way) we arrived in Nara and walked up towards the temples. Nara is famous for its sacred deer so there are lots of fabulous deer souvenirs everywhere!
Here's a poster with a deer and the Sento-kun the Nara mascot. Sento-kun is a Buddhist child monk with a rack of deer antler's sprouting from his head, this is supposed to relate to both Nara's rich Buddhist history and the "wild" deer that live in Nara.

On our walk towards the park and temple we passed many stores featuring deer signs, and displays.

Even the textiles on some of the buildings featured a deer motif.

Souvenirs and gifts ranged from stuffed animals, socks, deer headbands, cell phone charms, puppets and most importantly cookies to feed the deer. Do you see the stuffed Stitch in a deersuit? Amazing right?

We finally made our way from the city up to the park. It was very crowded, probably because it was a holiday. The deer were free to roam the park, but many of them seemed to lurk behind the fences. This gave the deer a chance to get away from the crowds. The deer are considered wild animals but in truth are very tame. I didn't see any children get bitten by the deer at all. However, I saw some children chasing and throwing cookies at the deer. Here's a little girl with a female deer. Is it me or do the deer look a little different from the ones we have in the States?

It was pretty hot out (mid 80's) so most of the deer were pretty subdued sitting in the shade and some were hanging out in small ponds trying to cool down. This deer spotted a boy with a cookie for him.

"tabetai, tabetai!" means "eat, eat!"

The deer weren't much smarter than my two Labradors. This one walked around with a cookie on his butt for at least 5 minutes. I also noticed that the deers horns were clipped or cut off the male deer; maybe to prevent them from fighting or mauling visitors. This deer must be a young male because he still has his horns.

A lot of the deer seemed very tired and no matter where they chose to sit they were constantly being visited by small Japanese children bearing cookies they wanted to feed the deer.

I liked watching this little boy try to talk the deer into eating a cookie.

Here's me with a deer friend.

It's a pretty good life for a sacred deer of Nara. After we made our way past the deer we ventured on to see the main attraction of Nara: Todaiji. Coming up in part 2: Todaiji and other Buddhist stuff. Also coming soon: beginning sketches! yay!

Monday, September 14, 2009


"Bicycle" by Queen could be an anthem for the entire country of Japan. For the last week I've had it stuck in my head... Bicycles are still the most popular way to get around Kyoto probably because the sidewalks are maintained, people don't often steal them and they are a great way to stay in shape. I suspect that at birth the Japanese are immediately presented with a tiny little bike. Kyoto citizens of all ages seem to commute on bikes. There are all types of strange bike accessories to accommodate the different needs that one might have while biking. Biking at night? blinking light! Biking in the rain? umbrella holder! One of my favorite gadgets is a headrest for children so when they fall asleep in a bike they have a pillow. These come in a variety of different cartoon characters.

When I arrived here at the dorm, Okasan and Otousan (Mom and Dad in Japanese) offered me a bike for the time being. I'm very grateful they had a spare because I was able to ride around with the other English speaking girls instead of taking the train or traveling on my own. It gave me a good chance to get to know the city and the other exchange students. Unfortunately, the bike's breaks are a little shot.... and by a little I mean the back one doesn't work and the front one makes a horrible screeching sound. (rusty door+ imminent danger= my breaks )

Here's me with my original bike. It had many of the features one would want in a bike; a basket, chain guard, lady handles, a nice bell... but I kind of wanted breaks.

Poor bike... I realized that I needed to find a new bike and so my search began...

The other exchange students and I talked over our dilemma. Most of them were in a similar situation using a bike that was a little dangerous for downtown Kyoto. We decided to investigate our options. We looked at many used bike shops and also some new bike shops, such as this one. I can't imagine there being a shop just of bikes this large in the US. The prices range from about 12,000 yen to 300,000 yen.

It's hard to get a good idea of how popular the bikes are until you try to park yours and just see lines and lines of bikes. Here's some of the bikes at school. I started looking to see what other students had and investigating the many interesting varieties of the Japanese bicycle.

Here's is a very popular option: The folding bike. The hinge in the middle allows you to fold the bike in two and take it on the subway or get a little bag for it and carry it. I'm not sure if these are used in the states but they are supposedly very comfy to ride. The wheels are smaller than normal bike tires but both men and women gracefully ride these.

This is more of a road or racing bike. It has a very light frame and seat. This one also has some gears and is without a gear cover. This particular bike is made by a company based in Kyoto. These bikes are very expensive but also of a very high quality. Having a road bike to get around is practical in Kyoto because cyclists often ride on the sidewalk. This seems to be more of a masculine bike or a bike for the serious bike enthusiast.

Here's a photo of a bike I found that shows what a typical child's seat looks like on a bike. In Japan the kids tend to ride on the front of the bike instead of the back. However, if there are two kids then one will be in the front and one in the back. This bike also has a an electric assistance on it... maybe for going up hills?

I had to include this one because it's a Hello Kitty bike!! It's hard to tell the scale but this bike is quite little and meant for adults. Us Non Japanese people have noticed that bikes are ridden very low here. I was always taught to put the bike seat up so that your legs can be nearly straight when peddling. That's not common here and as a result you see a lot of people riding tiny bikes and its very hard to find a bike that is larger. This is not really a problem for me because I'm only 5'4", but it is a problem if you're taller than the average Japanese person.

After lots of looking and test driving I decided on what I wanted in a bike and splurged for this bike from the Eiren bike store in Downtown Kyoto.

I think the real charm of these bikes is that they exist in a culture that is so caught up in technology and innovation. Although there are much more snazzy bikes, there is still an appreciation for bikes such as this one. Although it is without gears it does pretty well going uphill and I manage to carry all of my groceries home in the basket or anything else I purchase. So far I'm really enjoying living somewhere that is so bike friendly.

My baby!

Monday, September 7, 2009

Kyoto at last!

So I made it. I'm here and Japan is as weird as I remember it. The trip over was long and exhausting, but so far I don't feel too messed up by the time difference. Already I've gone out for karoke, eaten some yakisoba, and shopped at the 100 yen store. (hyaku!) So really I've experienced some of the best parts of Japanese cultures. It's good to be back here understanding more of the language, but I'll feel a lot more comfortable when I have a cell phone, bike and can answer basic questions more gracefully.

The weather is extremely hot and for some reason people dress with lots of clothing on. I haven't gotten a photo yet but they wear full sleeves and pants (sometimes scarfs too!) in 85 degree weather. I really enjoy being in the country side and seeing the rice fields, vegetables and the mountains are quite beautiful.

I went on a walk with one of the other English speaking exchange students. We both marveled at the rice fields and gardens most of the families seemed to have.

The scarecrows are also quite different.

These drains on the side of the roads seem very clever too.

I am quite impressed by how efficient a lot the city transportaion is but I dont want to spend 1,000 yen on a roundtrip to downtown.... Which is probably why most people bike.

We saw some beautiful fish and turtles at the Takaragaika pond.

We stopped at a grocery store on the way and I bought some nutella and tangerines. The tangerines are sour and a good deal at 289 yen. The nutella was more expensive but what else would I eat on my weird Japanese toast?

Upon trying to leave the park we took a different trail and ended up at the top of this hill. It was unplanned but lucky because we got some nice photos of the city.

So here is my home for the next 6 months. It really hasn't sunk in yet...