Okinoshima

My friend has wanted to meet his extended family that lives here in Japan. We were both surprised when he was able to contact them from the documents his mother sent him that may or may not be accurate. Thankfully they were.

His grandmother passed away this past spring. She was Japanese, so he is a quarter. But, he never learned much Japanese until coming to Japan. I was able translate for him when he met his extended family for the first time. It was a very special experience. They were so excited to meet him.

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His grandmother pictured on the left in the bottom picture.

We arrived on the island on a Saturday afternoon. I had been messaging with his family prior to our arrival, so they were waiting on us when we got off the boat. His great aunt’s face lit up when she saw us walking down the stairs from the dock. She hugged us both and carried on about how tall we were. The rest of the family shortly met up with us and we walked to a restaurant across from the docks to eat lunch.

During lunch, I translated some basic introductions to the family. They asked where we lived in the US, how was Japan, what was our favorite places here and so on.

After lunch we went to the family house. In the house was their family shrine. I did not take pictures out of respect to the family. Shelby was able to light incense and pray respect to his ancestors at the shrine. Then, we sat in the family room and talked over coffee, tea, and snacks. They showed us multiple photo albums and other things they had saved over the years that his grandmother had sent. I have no words for how special this entire experience was.

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overlook on the island
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heart shaped rock

His great uncle drove us around a few places to see the natural beauty of the island. I was happy to see the red cliffs. 20141122_154534

According to what his great uncle told us, the cliffs were formed when the ocean cooled the hot magma from volcanoes long ago, so the red cliffs were rather unique to the islands.

Tired from travel, we were able to take a nap at the family’s hotel before dinner.

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our room

Shelby and I were able to have our first homemade traditional Japanese dinner- YUM

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the food never stopped

If you weren’t aware before, the Japanese love to drink. Beer is a celebratory drink here. So the beer (and sake) didn’t stop all night, but it is customary to pour each others drinks and not your own. It took a moment to catch on to this, and we were shocked they kept filling our cups before we finished. After dinner, the family took us to a karaoke bar and everybody sang and danced. It was such a wonderful night.

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Sunday morning, they woke us up at 9am. With good reason though, the sun sets around 5 here. We traveled to one of the other islands by ferry and his family drove us around to take pictures where his grandmother had taken pictures when she lived there. I left my phone in my bag, so I don’t really have many pictures of my own. They gave us pictures they took, so I hope to share them once I scan them.

The rain held off until we were done exploring, and we got to take another nap before dinner at the other family’s hotel.

Monday morning, we headed back for Hirakata.

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This was a truly special experience, and I feel lucky that I was able to help Shelby and his family communicate with each other. They were so welcoming and nice to us, and treated me as family too.

Curious about something in Japan? drop a comment below or shoot me an email at lucyjw3@gmail.com

Mount Hiei – Hieizan

The other weekend I traveled up Mount Hiei. I took the cable car, but there was still a little bit of hiking involved.

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always take off shoes before entering a temple

We didn’t hike up the entire way because our school group was meeting rather early on a Saturday if we were to hike. Early and Saturday are separately okay, but together, that never happens.

Once we met up with those who braved the hike, together we did some more hiking to our lunch spot.

The scenery was beautiful. I regretted not hiking  after seeing how beautiful the Mountain is.

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abandoned building on the hike to lunch
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open field on the mountain during the hike to lunch. Same area as abandoned building

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Once we reached the lunch spot, I ate some conbini (convenience store) food. Unfortunately, I covered myself in salad dressing rather than my salad. At least my sushi was still good though.

I couldn’t care much about smelling like Italian dressing when I was looking out on Kyoto, and reminiscing of the hills at home in West Virginia.

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oh the hills, beautiful hills…

After lunch, there was some more hiking, then we reached the entrance to the temple grounds. It was 700 yen to enter, but it was worth it.

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Buddha statue
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to wash your hands and mouth

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freezing

Though a slightly expensive trip, I believe it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see this World Heritage Site. So, it was worth it. Good friends are always a plus, too.

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“get by with a little help from my friends”

Halloween

I didn’t expect Halloween to be so big here, but the costume contest was a HUGE deal. Groups went all out on their costumes and performed little skits that related to their costumes. Because the event is so big, trying to see isn’t so easy if you don’t show up almost 2 hours prior to show time.

I had class until 6:10 and the contest began at 7:30. I walked straight from class to the stage, and it was packed.

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As for myself, I dressed up as Yoko Ono ( and there’s my John Lennon.)

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After the event, we hoped to go to a Halloween party to meet Japanese students, but the sign that said we needed tickets in advanced was in Japanese, though the rest of the advertisement was in English. Slightly let down, we decided to grab a drink and hopefully meet new people at a local club or bar.

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Still nobody there, we left and ate sushi.

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Anytime is a good time for sushi.

Jidai Masturi

The actual day of Jidai Matsuri, October 22. Jidai Matsuri is the festival of ages that celebrates Kyoto’s history put on by the Heian Shrine. (The shrine from my previous blog.) The parade takes awhile to watch, as it covers the span of when Kyoto was the capital of Japan. We were able see participants playing traditional Japanese instruments and wearing traditional Japanese clothing from the different eras of Japan.

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Unfortunately, it was raining and cold the day of the parade. Standing outside for two hours just didn’t seem as appealing as it did before. So we took breaks from the crowd and cold rain by looking around in book-off.

Book-off sells used video games, books, comics, dvds, and cds- all for a discount price. Most of the comics were 100 yen, and a used nintendo DS was only 2400 yen (or a little less than 24USD).

After the parade we ate at our favorite chinese restaurant, then headed back to Hirakata.

Next: Halloween

Accidents Happen

So before Halloween, I accidentally went to Kyoto. Let me explain: I thought Jidai Matsuri was on October 15, but it is on October 22. After I found out I was there wrong day, I decided to take a break from studying for midterms and enjoy the afternoon. My friend and I sat along the river after buying some bread and snacks from the conbini (convenience store) and fed the ducks. A few unexpected visitors showed up though…

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I’m not sure what kind of birds these are. They look like some type of crane, but I cannot say for sure.

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And of course, the pigeons.

After relaxing by the river, my friend and I walked to the Heian Shrine. This is the shrine that holds Jidai Matsuri (Festival of Ages). We figured it would be less crowded the week before rather than during the festival.

Walking towards the shrine, there are huge tori gates and we crossed a bridge.

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The shrine was humbly elegant.

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I don’t have a picture, but a group of shyougakusei (elementary school students) were there on a field trip. They all approached me, which was slightly overwhelming,  saying “Excuse me! Excuse me!”. After they had my attention, they weren’t sure what to say in english, so their sensei (teacher) told them to ask to if it was okay to take a picture with me. The bravest little girl tried and said “picture?” Seeing how excited they were to interact with a foreigner really made me happy, and I wish I had a picture of the adorable experience.

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After that encounter, I bought postcards and an ema to write prayers on and leave them in the temple.

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We ate dinner at a 330 yen restaurant and got a window seat with a nice view of the city. Overall a relaxing evening if I do say.

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Next: the actual day of Jidai Matsuri

Miyajima

Firstly, my apologies for not blogging as quickly as I’d like to, but midterms are now over!

Now, about my time on Miyajima island. Miyajima is about an hour train ride from Hiroshima via the Sanyo line. Then from the station, the ferry station is about a 10 minute walk that’s precisely straight. There is an odd underground pass on the way to cross the street. Japan seems to have a knack for building underground.

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The underground pass wasn’t boring though. There was pretty artwork to decorate along the way.

Once at the ferry station, I timed my arrival perfectly and was able to catch the departing ferry. The ride is about 15-20 minutes and I got to see a beautiful view of the fog atop the mountains of Miyajima island.

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Once on the island, I got to meet it’s spoiled ‘wildlife’ inhabitants. Deer!

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The deer are everywhere, and I say ‘wildlife’ because I believe these guys are pretty well domesticated. Though I did watch them aggressively grab peoples’ bags for food, that was the most wild thing they did. I was also able to pet them. They were very tame creatures, and in the event one were to charge, I assume the island staff or somebody has cut all the male deers’ horns.

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On Miyajima’s shore is the beautiful Tori Gate. It was beautiful and huge! Though, as a cultural note it may seem very plain to the average non-Japanese, but this is the beauty in Japanese architecture. Things are not meant to be completely ornate as one would see in other Asian cultures, but that there is beauty in simplicity. Therefore a lot of Japanese architecture may look similar, though it is somehow different. It is a deep concept I have come to love and appreciate about Japanese culture.

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I was able to read the first picture, which says peace. There is so much kanji to learn, so I was pretty excited about being able to read it. These little posts were all over the island. ‘和平’ was on our way up a hill to a temple. We had to take our shoes off to enter, but there were slippers provided.

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In the temple, there was a donation box of some sort and a large box with numbered drawers than contained little papers with prayers/poems. I got one after putting money in the box, then folded and tied it in the temple.

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I’m not sure what the paper said, but I would like to think the number I chose was for what I needed.

After the temple we went shopping a little before heading home. I wish I had more time on the island and will definitely try my best to go back.

Halloween is soon, so stayed tuned! Until next time.

Saturday in Hiroshima

Hi everybody, and thank you for reading my blog! The past few weeks have been quite relentless in school, but now the first exams of the semester are done. Today, my classes were cancelled due to the typhoon weather. I’ve caught up on much needed sleep, and thankfully have time to tell about my trip to Hiroshima this past weekend.

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My companion and I left from Osaka at 7:30AM Saturday morning for Hiroshima by bus. We used Willer Express, which turned out to be extremely affordable (¥5,100~ one way). The bus was also fairly comfortable, so I had no trouble sleeping the entire trip, but not without an eye mask.

We arrived in Hiroshima at 1:30PM. My first impression was how much smaller Hiroshima is than Osaka, though I prefer smaller. More people spoke English to us than during a typical trip to Osaka, so Hiroshima seemed to be more popular for tourism.

At 3:30, my dear friend Saki arrived by train. Saki went to my university for two years, and now I’m here in her country. Seeing her was wonderful.

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First we spent time in the peace park.

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This is the A-dome where the nuclear bomb was dropped.

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This is the statue commemorating the story of “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes”

“Sadako Sasaki was exposed to the A-bomb when she was two years old. Ten years later, she entered the Red Cross Hospital with radiation-related leukemia. Believing the old tale that folding a thousand paper cranes would make her wish come true, she tried steadfastly to recover from her illness by folding paper cranes. Despite her valiant effort, her brief life ended after an eight-month struggle. Sadako’s death triggered a movement to build a monument to all the children who perished due to the A-bomb, and the Children’s Peace Monument was erected in the Peace Memorial Park using donations received from all over Japan. Today, the story of Sadako has spread across the world and her paper cranes are considered to be an international symbol of peace.”

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These are a few of the paper cranes art works submitted this past August 6th (the date Hiroshima was atomically bombed).

After the park, we went to the Peace Memorial Museum. I had not originally intended on going inside, because I thought “What could they possibly display to be that interesting?”. I was extremely wrong in thinking that. meltingskin

This is the only picture I took. It was at the beginning of the museum- a depiction of a school girl stumbling about between life and death, her skin melting away. I was engaged the entire time, thus I did not take any other pictures. The museum was moving and I found myself at times holding back tears. I definitely recommend visiting it to anybody ever in the area.

Afterwards, Saki took us to eat Hiroshima style okonomiyaki! Yum!

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We also got to see the castle from afar, which was ironically also Saki’s first time to see Hiroshima castle.

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Around 10PM, Saki left us to return home. What a day it was, and I cannot wait to see her again.

That night consisted of Karaoke and hanging out with local Japanese we met. They did not know much English, so I got lots of much wanted and needed practice.

So far, Hiroshima has been my favorite place of Japan. I hope to go back soon, and cannot wait for the opportunity to do so.

Up next- My Sunday at Miyajima island, so stay tuned.

Questions, comments, or suggestions? Feel free to leave them below or my email lucyjw3@gmail.com

My Life Abroad

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