Tag Archives: featured

Tokyo, Sayonara, The End

25 Aug

Tokyo is an incredible, vast, diverse city. It is the Japan of our dreams, the one we picture when we think of futuristic billboards, technology, quirky fashions, and so on. This is Shinjuku Crossing, kind of like Times Square, only crazier. I sat on the 2nd floor of a Starbucks and watched the crowds:

I spent my last few days in Japan seeing Tokyo for the first time, and I absolutely loved it. Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad I was able to live in a rural area, where people are friendlier and life is slower. But Tokyo is a phenom among cities.

My last night in Tokyo – my final night in Japan – was quite special. I spent those few days reflecting on my two years there, and thinking about what was to come. On the final night, wanting to go out in style, I headed to Tokyo Tower for a view of the whole city. Tokyo Tower used to be the tallest structure in Japan, and is modeled on the Eiffel Tower. Only it’s bigger. And uglier. But at night, the ugly red-and-white paint disappears and all you see is glowing light:

I rode to the top and gazed out at beautiful, endless Tokyo. And while there, Japan said goodbye to me. First, with the full moon shining down over the city lights.

Then came the fireworks, popping far away on the horizon, one after another. I watched the show for a good half hour, together with other visitors. Then, finally, on my way out, I stopped on the lower level, where a jazz trio were giving a terrific concert on violin, drum and keyboard. I listened and danced for a while, and finally made my way out of the tower, content that Japan returned my love.

I’m now back in New York City, and my Japanese life feels so far away it might as well never have happened.

Back in high school, I spent one summer living with a host family in rural Belize. I had an amazing time, but after it happened I quickly readjusted to NYC life and forgot much of the trip. Then, years later, on my last night of college, it all came back to me. I lay in bed as intense memories of the trip washed over me – and these were physical memories. I could smell the hot cereal my host mother cooked me; I could hear the laughter of my six little brothers.

I remembered tiny details that had otherwise slipped my mind – the way my host mother and I connected over songs played on the radio, or the sight of heat lightning flashing across the sky at night. I recalled everything in such exquisite detail that I can only explain it as a kind of ecstasy. Like the ecstasy of St. Teresa, I was transported that night into another world.

But it took years before that happened. Years of forgetting. And there wasn’t much else that stayed with me from Belize. I can’t let myself accept that for Japan. It’s human nature to move forward, focus on the next step, and let the past fade. But I can’t let something I loved so much fade entirely. Japan will remain a part of my life; its people my friends; its traditions a space of my learning; its attitudes part of my own.

This will be the last entry for this blog. Thanks to everyone for reading, and following along with me on this adventure. It’s been mind-bending and life-altering…. I don’t know what’s next for me, but if I start another blog, I’ll link to it from here. Until then… peace out, and ganbarou!


PS: You can now find me on Twitter.


Last day in Chikugo

17 Aug

My time in Japan has come to a close, and so I spent my last night in Chikugo attending this festival:

The Daijayama Fire Festival features huge, dragon-shaped floats that breathe fire and are ridden by boys and men playing instruments and shooting fireworks. Children help adults pull the floats along the streets, and women follow along, dancing energetically. It was a terrific, lively festival that lasted for many hours into the night, and it felt like a wonderful goodbye party.

Also, since it’s hard to sleep on your last night anywhere, I highly recommend my chosen strategy of staying up into the wee hours with friends, playing Taboo and cooking pizza. (thanks, gals!)

Korea in my Seoul!

1 Jul

Annyang! I went to Korea last weekend. Here is a picture post of that trip, highlighting some of the interesting or funnier sights we saw.

Pretty palace roof, far more elaborately decorated than anything in Japan:

Guards outside the palace gates, at varying levels of attentiveness. We saw a changing of the guard happen a couple of times; it’s always startling when the guards change from living statues totally impassive to the harassing antics of tourists, into kinda scary soldiers.

Very authentic dinner at Pizzeria Uno (mmmmmmmm I miss american pizza so much!!):

Couple wear!! (or “pair look” in Japan, according to my coteacher) This cracked me up, and totally baffles me. It is apparently a very common thing in many Asian countries, but I’d never encountered it before Seoul.

Awesome water monument to one of the greatest naval leaders in Korean history, who is mainly famous for beating up some Japanese folks. Anyone in Korea who did anything bad to the Japanese is an instant hero. They really, really don’t like us there. Literally every museum brochure highlights some terrible thing the Japanese did, like tear down a historical building, imprison and torture Korean citizens, build something in an offensive place, invade, attack, etc etc. I’m not saying the hatred isn’t justified; I’m just saying it was a little scary.

Lastly, I really enjoyed this statue of the Chinese Zodiac outside the Folk museum; I think that’s the rat in front, with my ox on the left and the pig on the right:

Town festival

20 May

Almost 2 years ago, I mentioned that my town was most famous for its really big tree. But it turns out I got the wrong tree! The real one is much more exciting.

This is the tree Kurogi is famous for:

There are actually over a dozen wisteria trees all gathered around a shrine, some over 600 years old! The branches are supported by a huge network of overhead trellises, which you can take a stroll or picnic under. The flowers dangle down 3 or 4 feet long, and smell amazing.

Here’s another shot, of me and a local friend:

And some more pretty pics:

And on the weekends, there’s a wacky town festival to go along with the flowers:

Kurogi gets a lot of well-deserved press for its wisteria festival. If you’re ever in the middle of the Yame mountains in the heart of Fukuoka prefecture, around the end of April, I highly recommend it! 😉

PS: Sorry about the hiatus!! My time in Japan is swiftly drawing to an end, and I’ve been doing lots of preparation / job-hunting stuff. I’ll be returning to the NYC at the end of July…. only 2.5 months away!!

A special visit

19 Mar

As usual, I biked to Mt. Kiyomizu on Sunday. Even though it was a little rainy, I wanted to spend some quiet time in my favorite temple. Sadly, I climbed the wet mountain only to find that the temple was closed! And yet… it was my best visit yet.

A man wearing geta  and simple, loose clothing arrived at the temple at the same time as I did, and we shared our disappointment at finding it closed. He had come all the way from Aso, in a prefecture south of Fukuoka, just to see it. Two or three times a year, he travels to Mt. Kiyomizu to play the shaku-hachi while gazing at the temple’s beautiful garden.

Since the temple was closed and it was raining, we sat on the entrance steps. Then he unwrapped the cloth that covered his shaku-hachi, and began to play. He improvised the tune, meditating on the tall trees, plum blossoms, and rain before us.

You can listen to him play the shaku-hachi for yourself! Here is one of his videos on YouTube:

We parted ways and I continued up to the top of the mountain, where the other part of the temple is. Here I found out why the first building was closed. On the 18th of every month, people flock here to offer prayers to Kannon (the bodhisattva I am named after – known as Tara in Tibet). I watched as a train of older people descended from a mountain trail, rang the temple bell, and went inside to be blessed by the monks.

The temple also offered a vegetarian meal on that day, an example of shojin ryori – Buddhist monks’ cuisine.  I was too timid to join in the train of pilgrims, but I went upstairs into the restaurant for an early lunch.

To my surprise, I was seated at a table with the shaku-hachi player! A friend from Aso had joined him, and as we shared the meal, we talked about our backgrounds, Buddhist sects, the history of the Kiyomizu temple, and more. His friend spoke excellent English, having spent a year in Montana teaching Buddhism and befriending Mormons. The two of them were truly lovely people, and I learned more about Buddhism in that one conversation than I have been able to in the past year and a half! They, in turn, were very surprised to learn about my father’s Buddhist career, and to hear about the different kinds of temples in New York City.

We exchanged email addresses and I continued on my hike down the mountain. The rain was gone, rabbits bounded across my path, and the plum blossoms brightened the landscape. I biked home a thoroughly happy gal.

Ume season!

18 Mar

It’s plum blossom – or ume no hana season – again! Last weekend I went to Dazaifu Shrine, one of the most famous sites in Fukuoka Prefecture. Students go there every year at New Year’s and before exams to pray for good grades. It’s particularly famous for the many plum trees that cap off winter with their pink and white blooms:

We also dropped by Komyozenji Temple, a lovely, peaceful retreat with a gorgeous Zen garden:

But, if I’m being honest here – and I usually am – the highlight of the visit was this little sale of ume bonsai that we stumbled upon. I didn’t buy one, but I enjoyed the time spent drooling over them. It was also a good distraction from the poor monkey on a rope who was being forced to do tricks for money. 😦 😦 😦

Let’s focus on the flowers, shall we? I think that’s generally a good policy in life.

Perfect day for a bath….

25 Feb

I finally visited Yufuin, a small town in Oita Prefecture that is famous for its onsen. It’s actually less famous than the neighboring city of Beppu, but is much cuter and more picturesque. See?

In Yufuin I went to my first rotemburo, which is an outdoor onsen. We sat in the pleasantly scalding bath while gazing out Yufu-dake, i.e. that mountain above. The onsen only cost 700-en but was quite fancy, with an enormous dressing room, free lockers, and gorgeous woodworking. The bath section even had separate 1- or 2-person round tubs, which were gently scented with things like mikan oranges or rooibos tea.

After shopping we ate at a nice soba restaurant, which was positioned right next to this creepy lake of death:

See how the water is steaming? I guess it’s the kind of natural hot spring that onsens draw their water from. But it’s a little disconcerting to look at, especially when you see ducks and swans swimming in it!

Near the lake of death I had my first encounter ever with geese. I have never seen a goose before. I’d like to take this opportunity to say that they are the most unnatural-looking animals I have ever seen in my life. And I’ve seen ligers.* Have you ever seen a liger? Geese are weirder.

I’m not talking, like, Canada geese here. I’m talking Mother Goose-sized geese. I didn’t think those actually existed. But here’s a distant shot I took of the monster geese. See how fat that one’s neck is on the right?


So, all in all, it was an awesome, horizon-expanding trip. We didn’t get a chance to take the Yufuin no Mori, the luxury train that travels to Yufuin from Hakata, because it was sold out. Next time!


(*I’ve never seen a liger. But I’ve seen photos, and that was scary enough.)