Friday, June 30, 2017

June 29 - Day 13

hello! Today we left Japan and, somehow, successfully returned home to Pittsburgh. The trip back was a comedy of errors, involving three delayed flights, being temporarily re routed to Cleveland, immigration issues, and bus issues, resulting in a 26 hour trip. Despite an unpleasant airline experience, the trip was wonderful. After trying to get some much needed rest, we will try to post some thoughts on our adventure, as well as more pictures.


Buses, planes, and finally Pittsburgh!!

Day 12 - June 28

Today is our last day of sightseeing, and I think it's fair to say that the students are exhausted. As a result, I will take care of writing the last tour day blog post.  

Today was another early morning, and even after two weeks students haven't adjusted to being up before seven every day. Somehow we were all able to make it into the bus to our first destination. We went to Heian Jingu, a Shrine in the center of Kyoto. It is notable for its giant torii gate leading into the shrine complex, as well as a wide open interior courtyard. Several notable festivals are held at this shrine every year.

Surrounding the exterior of the main buildings was a series of beautiful gardens you can walk through. The difference between American and Japanese gardens is staggering, and the meticulous landscaping is a wonder. Students were able to freely walk through there, and what was originally planned as a 25 minute side excursion became an hour and a half as they took in the beauty. In the middle of the garden was a large pond, and students spent a strangely long time buying bread-like fish food to feed to the fish.

While at Heian Jingu, it began raining a bit, but fairly quickly stopped. Throughout this trip we have been so lucky, since it's the rainy season, and we've barely seen any rain. However, that short rain let to some rather unpleasant humidity. As a result, by the time we got to our next location, Nanzenji, we all looked like we just ran a marathon. We wandered around there for a bit, before deciding to take a break from old culture and instead go shopping.

At Teramachi shopping arcade, I let the students go on their own to do some souvenir shopping, and I took a much needed rest. What happened during the two hours I gave them, I do not know, but all students returned, arms full of things purchased. From there we crammed all 11 of us into a purikura booth. Think an instant photo booth, but one where you can manipulate the pictures after taking them. It was definitely a different experience for the students.

Our last stop was Kyoto Station, where we had dinner and had our last chance to take in the sights of Kyoto. Tomorrow afternoon we will be leaving to head back to the States. I think I can speak for all 11 of us when I say we are sorry to leave, but so happy for the chance to sleep in.

Heian Jingu and the surrounding garden


Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Day 11 - June 27

Thus is Brandon Fafata, class of 2019. To start our second to last day of touring, we all had breakfast at the hotel. The food and the restaurant were very impressive with a mix of Japanese and western food. Everyone had a very good meal, except me. I couldn't tell which container had sugar, and put salt in my coffee. After that mistake, we boarded a bus to take us to Kyoto station, and from there we went to Nara.

Nara is the original capital of the Japanese nation, and it has some of Japan's major shrines and temples, as well as hordes of overly friendly deer. The train ride took about 40 minutes from one old capital to another.

Within five minutes of exiting the station, we saw our first deer. The deer in Nara are sacred to Shinto  belief, and so they are allowed to roam freely throughout the area. That first deer was very friendly and even licked my hand, but it could not prepare us for the eventual onslaught of peaceful animals. We continued on along a walkway seated next to a park that could only be described as infested with deer. Big old dudes with huge antlers, pretty fawns, and baby deer. As we walked along the route, we were exposed to their incredible friendliness and willingness to interact. It was like a park of friendly dogs, except you had to watch your step. I stepped in something.

While seeing the deer was fun, it got interesting when we started feeding them. Along the street they sell senbei, or rice crackers, specially made for the deer. Upon buying senbi to feed the deer, we found that the deer were friendly only to wait for this moment. All the deer seemed to descend upon us, and for me, they chased me around trying to eat my food. Everyone that bought senbei would eventually be mobbed.

After that we explored several temples and shrines, including Todai-ji, a huge wooden structure that houses an unbelievably large statue of Buddha. It was kind of ridiculously big.the building was mainly supported by large pillars scattered throughout, and one pillar had a small hole cut through the center. We were told that the whole is roughly the size of the buddha's nostril, and if you could pass through it, you would be blessed with longevity. It was a tight fit, but somehow I made it through.

We went to two more shrines, and during the hike up a mountain in the humidity, we stopped to get ice cream. There were all kinds of flavors that you can't get in America, but I was boring and just got chocolate. One person, who will not be named, got three ice cream cones. I think we were looked at as a little crazy.

Next we went to a museum which explained the history of Buddha statues, and had examples hundreds of years old. While at the museum, we decided to have lunch. I ate some curry. It was good.

We went to another shrine (there were a lot of shrines) and before we knew it, we were departing for Kyoto and an hour long train ride to Kyoto. We were so tired that the trip could be described as grueling, and we took turns falling asleep and having our cohorts take pictures of us sleeping on the train.

In Kyoto, Sensei took us to a mall, which was much different and a lot nicer than an American mall. While waiting for our dinner reservation, we wandered the mall and bought souvenirs for people back home. Dinner was very interesting. Like yesterday's shabu shabu, you cooked the meal at your table. However, instead of cooking healthy meat and vegetables in a light broth, this involved deep fryers at the table. They had a wide selection of things on skewers that you would tak back to the table, batter, and then deep fry. It was as delicious as it sounds.

The deer

We kept getting interviewed by elementary school kids

Todaiji and the great Buddha 

Buddhas's nostril

On the way to Kasuga Taisha