Archive for April, 2010

Festival and a cold


Cherry blossoms and businessmen

In the indigenous Japanese religious holiday Sannou-sai, portable shrines (mikoshi) of are carried down from Mount Hiei for a huge festival. The deities are prayed to for a bountiful harvest. At night, about (what seemed like) 100 of the town’s local young men dress up in fundoshi and repeatedly rock these huge mikoshi back and forth violently to represent the female deity’s giving birth to wakamiya (according to Kanji Go program means “shrine dedicated to a child of the god of the main shrine” After rocking the shrines, the men carry them to Hiyoshi Taisha. Of course, the actual experience is beyond words or recordings but I did try to take photos.

Mugi, an alumni from KSU who works in the sculpture department took me to the festival. Hiyoshi Taisha is about a 5 minute walk from her house. She randomly invited me to come, and I’m so thankful that she did. I say randomly, because I only really had met her briefly once before, and it’s funny, because when I first saw her at school, I really thought I’d somehow met her in America (she’s never been to America). For some reason, she looked startlingly familiar. She was a sculpture student at Seika five years ago, now works at school and doing office work.

At the festival, we joined a huge crowd of people to watch about 50 men in fundoshi up on stage rock the shrines back and forth, side to side, shouting the deities’ names, which lasted for about 40 minutes. There was a huge cherry blossom tree hovering over the crowd, and every time the wind blew, hundreds of petals float towards the stage, glimmering in the light against the purple night sky. Old ladies would say, “Oh, it’s just like snow, isn’t it?” to each other.

When the rocking was over, the men carried the four shrines and gigantic bamboo stalk torches and headed up the hill to install the deities into the main shrine. We eagerly and aggressively pushed our way through the crowd to chase after the shrines, dodging the occasional fiery bamboo pole or leaping over its ashes, trying to photograph the whole thing all the while.

We ate yakisoba, dorayaki, and sugar-coated sweet potatoes at some of the hundreds of vendors that line the path up to the shrine. After that, we walked to her house. I met her parents, who are AMAZING. Her mother is a sculptor. She has wild, frizzy purple and black hair. Her father is a naturalist (with artistic inclinations, he said “nature is my inspiration” in English) with a gray-haired bowl-cut. Her mother made us a wonderful meal, they are so kind, and were very excited I play the banjo (I mentioned it when I saw the grand piano, two violins, and guitar as we warmed ourselves in front of the wood burning stove). I hope I can take photos of the place soon, the bathroom is bedecked with tiny, beautiful plastic, wooden and porcelain animals, and an AMAZING cloud calendar.

As I was leaving, her parents also gave me two oranges from their garden. Mugi drove me back to the station. On the train, I was almost moved to tears by her and her parents’ willingness to embrace me and overall kindness and generosity despite my being a complete stranger. I don’t think such a thing would ever happen in America.

I’m sick this weekend and since Friday had just been sitting around, not really doing anything except trying to get better. Now herea are some pictures

Carrying the shrine

Actually, I lied. I’m invited to “Midnight Nembutsu”, midnight praying at Kiyomizudera.


This weekend

This blog is a documentation of my daily adventures and describable transcendental experiences in Japan. Let it be known that I am an exchange student from Cooper Union studying sculpture at Kyoto Seika University.

Here is a link to my flickr account (currently consists of photos from my trip to Kumano only. I’ll have to wait till next month to add more)

On Friday, I biked over to Entsuji Temple. When you enter you see signs saying something like “Enter with a quiet heart.” So much for a quiet, peaceful place to meditate. I sat and drew Hieizan and read Japanese Aesthetics and Culture until the sounds of jackhammers from nearby construction became too peace-wrecking to bear. Once again the development of suburbia has ruined the day.
Next, I tried to go over to the Shugakuin Imperial Villa. My not being aware that one must first make a reservation months in advance to enter Shugakuin was not an issue because I never found it. Instead, I came upon a shinto shrine, asked the monks a simple, stupid “where am I?” and strolled around the grounds (I’ll have to go back and find out what shrine it is. and take pictures of the countless stone sculptures).
Trying to find my way back, I stopped on a bridge and watched the clouds light up the range in Kurama. “Hello there!” An American woman’s voice. I turned around and saw the same woman who, days earlier, had given me and another exchange student directions to a vegan all-you-can-eat for 850 yen lunch buffet from a kaleidoscope museum. She biked with me through Takaragaike park through a special cherry-blossom viewing path to get back to school and drew me a map of how to bike to Ginkakuji from my dorm.
I went back to the dorm, and after dinner went with a group of exchange students to the greatest bar in Kyoto, Honky Tonk. The owner, Beau Yatani, a country musician himself has made Honky Tonk embody the collective nostalgia that everyone has of some run-down dive bar somewhere in Memphis. Live country and western music almost every night, 500 yen cover charge, and here are just a few of the nights I plan to go this month:
April 15: HONKY TONK JAM! JAM! JAM! (no cover charge)
April 22: BLUE GRASS JAM! (no cover charge)
29: HONKY TONK 40th Anniversary, with Stardust Cowboys, Cabbage Down, and Dallas & Steppers
and possibly 30: HAWAIIAN NIGHT
I asked him if I could play my banjo here, and yes, I will be playing on the 15th or 22nd.

On Sunday, Tajh and I went to Iwakura Shrine, Jisso-in Temple whose garden altogether bewildering, intense and calming (hint: everything is everything), and a few crazy moss-shrines scattered around the grounds of (what we think is) a nearby hospital. Neither of us wanted to go home, so even though it began to rain, we biked over to Miyake Hachiman jinja (these pictures don’t do the early-evening fog filled, cherry-blossom raining water falling shrine justice). There is holy water you can drink that comes down from Mount Hiei, and the pigeon is the shrine’s sacred animal of choice. There are two large stone carved pigeons at the entrance, bronze ones perched on bells, little red and blue painted wooden ones scattered about and imprinted on lanterns and other inconspicuous surfaces, on banners and well…yeah. everywhere.
We sat under the closed entrance of a temple and watched clouds wade across the smaller mountains before us.
Then we ate okonomiyaki. I can’t even describe the anticipation of that dinner. I’ll try. A family sat across from us, across the hibachi grill, ordering every food to make your mouth water (fried and grilled every kind of meat (from the sea and land), grilled asparagus, tofu, omelettes, things we had no idea what they were but looked way too good for how hungry we were, and our food took forever, and the family was very nice and talked to us. The anticipation for our own food with the never-ending parade of delicacies before us made us REALLY appreciate our okonomiyaki when it came.

Today I went to the studio for the first time. I came in early to meet the professor I’ll be working under, Yoshino. I was printing out the image I am now carving from, and another teacher, Takemata, saw my image, looked at it for a while, said “Yes.” And “It’s a man?”, left the room and came back with a DVD of Calder’s Circus. “You Look?” He asked. I was quite flattered. We watched it until we had to go to a funny little morning meeting. I didn’t understand much of it. Just about things that the teachers saw recently (books, articles in the newspaper, shows, movies) that they thought were worth mentioning.
While working, I met a few 4th year students, they showed me their work, they asked me about New York’s punk scene. I said I didn’t know. I was invited to go tomorrow to a festival so I’ll be sure to update about that.

Good night

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