A unity of ashes

Calls for unity

pleas for understanding

let the world burn

fire and fury and all that jazz

heroes will stand in the epicenter of a nuclear rage

rage at what? at whom? to which end?

from here it just looks like a lot of hate

from here it just looks like terror

from here it just looks like unchecked mob violence, the sort that

strangles democracy, suffocates infants in their sleep, bombs churches,

burns ghettos, shoots those who are unarmed and backing down

from here it looks like fear

yet i see courage too

heroes will stand in the eye of the storm

the epicenter of a nuclear rage

fire and fury and all that jazz

any call for unity today

is a unity of ashes

 

it may be right to love your enemy

and it may be right to welcome him into your home with open arms

and it may be right to call for dialogue

and it may be right to let someone who sees you as lesser have his turn

it may be wise to rise above

there is no right here! there are no politics! save it for another day

and i’ll save forgiveness for when the ones i love hurt me by mistake

it may be a sound course of action to condemn hatred and call for unity 

hatred my ass

it’s only rage and fear

unity my ass

it’s only ashes.

 

how do you win? how do you not perish?

i see no answer on this day.

i only hope this monster is backed into a corner

and soon might fade away.

 

what i mean to say is i will not dull my senses, reject anger, become sage and unfeeling

what i mean to say is i will not accept torched unity

even when the torches go away it will still be too soon.

what i mean to say is

#blm

A Roadside View of the American Landscape

Dear friends,

Over the last two weeks, my friend Joe and I did a road trip from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. Along the way we saw a lot of America: stunning mountains, sprawling oilfields, dirty roadside gas stations, historic jazz clubs. Here I invite you to take a look at some of my favorite photos and moments from the adventure. America is a huge place, overflowing with land, crises, and opportunities, ripe with swift and unexpected changes from road to road and town to town. Enjoy the journey.

Harrisonburg, Virginia

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The Appalachians are as forested as they come. 

Nashville, Tennessee 

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Nashville is a strange city. You descend out of the Appalachian mountains into the Tennessee Valley, flatter, but just as lush and forested. And then, with no warning, several pointy-eared skyscrapers appear, and at their base a town that resembles a small historical railroad crossing. Nashville is a party town for rock and country music.

Meridian, Mississippi

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Flat forest and flatter fields. There were intense thunderstorms, with rain as hard and heavy as hail all the way from Nashville to the Gulf of Mexico.

New Orleans, Louisiana

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Ruby-red sunset over a working neighborhood in New Orleans.

French Street, New Orleans

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One of the most famous jazz bars in New Orleans, Fritzel’s, represents the curious transatlantic history of jazz. Despite New Orleans being one of the birthplaces of jazz, Fritzel’s is styled after a German pub. Jazz hit Europe in a big way after the Second World War, and is more persistently popular on the other side of the Atlantic in comparison with America. Fritzel’s was packed the brim with tourists when I went. A musical tradition had crossed the ocean and come all the way home. Somehow, it didn’t lose the bluesy bayou soul along the way.

Jackson Square, New Orleans

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New Orleans has incredible historic architecture, a beautiful mix of tropical arches and patios and baroque French, with narrow streets, wide plazas and flowers hanging from every porch.

Jean Latiffe National Historic Preserve, Louisiana

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The bayou is hot. 90 degrees with 90% humidity is almost unbearable in the direct sunlight. Fortunately, deep in the bayou, thick tree cover shades your skin, melting together a thousand chirping crickets, humming bullfrogs, and singing birds. Most of the animals hide just out of sight, but you can feel and hear them.

Somewhere, East Texas

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Once you get into Texas, the land gets big. Despite the tree line you can still see field after field following the horizon into a hazy blur.

Austin, Texas

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There’s an oasis in the middle of Austin, a cool and clear spring river that runs through a park that centers the city. Austin is clean and modern, and the prehistoric spring at its center serves as a strange complement.

Somewhere, West Texas

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Somewhere in western Texas, the prickly pear cactus begins to thrive. Besides unidentifiable scraggly brush and short trees, it was the single most prominent plant all the way from Austin to Santa Fe. Even in Arizona and California we saw some tall and monstrous prickly pear, blackened and purpled at the base, paw-like green fans knotted together until they reached six feet. You can eat the berries if you cut them open with a knife (watch out for spines) and you can easily find prickly pear juice in this part of the country. Unfortunately, the berries weren’t ripe when we foraged a few.

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico

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As you travel from Austin into New Mexico, the trees get shorter and shorter, and the scrub sparser and sparser as scorching desert climates take over. But even the desert has its treasured secrets. This natural cave leads 750 feet underground, past a thousand swarming bats and into the darkness. It goes to the unforgettable Carlsbad Caverns, full of monumental and expressive stalactites and stalagmites. These reaching, howling, recoiling, flexing mineral beings take on every imaginable form: slim porcupine spines, curved katanas, embracing lovers, Mayan temples, pungent mushrooms gusting spores. Some are over fifty feet tall. In the dark underground the air is cool. A good place for a nap.

Lincoln Forest, New Mexico

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It’s amazing what a little bit of elevation can do to a landscape. In twenty minutes we rose four thousand feet out of baking, shrubby desert into a full-blown evergreen forest. Just out of sight there is a field of fifty elk grazing. Within an hour we were back on scorched sands.

White Sands, New Mexico

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White Sands is an alien landscape. Long ago, a lakebed dried up. Strong winds blasting across the mountains blew its silted and dusty bottom into a hundred square miles of pure white sand dunes. At noon the white lizards come out for the dose of Southwest sunshine.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

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A geodesic dome north of Santa Fe. In the center of the dome, sound and energy seems to pool around you, pressing down and pushing out. Northern New Mexico is a region of mountains and art galleries, encouraging meditation for the mind and yoga for the body. The whole region feels a relatively strong connection to Native American practices, history, and beliefs. Native art, architecture, and contemporary politics are visible on murals, the main streets of towns, and in the daily papers.

Española, New Mexico

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Cliffs, hills, and grassy desert landscape. Hummingbirds, snakes, jackrabbits.

Sedona, Arizona

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We climbed a mountain for this view. First by we followed narrow trails up through jagged brush, and then climbed up chunks of crumbling stone. The tricolored bluffs of Sedona extend in diverse formations in every direction.

Arcosanti, Arizona

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Arcosanti is an eco-commune founded on principles of sustainable urban design. The fundamental idea? Urban sprawl is destructive to the environment and human psychology alike. Arcosanti feels like a different universe entirely on the inside with its 70s space-age concrete aesthetic and mediterranean gardens. On a Sunday, young people relax in the garden, talking or sketching, and the sounds of a piano trickle out from music rooms hidden beneath the patio.

Sonoran Desert, Arizona

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The desert is fucking hot. 110 degrees at noon gave me a headache in 120 seconds. And yet, somehow, the Saguaro Cactus pokes up its bald head, claiming the desert as its own without a second thought.

Joshua Tree, California

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Welcome to Joshua Tree. Being here feels like being underwater, in a surreal landscape with plants and rocks of bizarre forms. The humanoid rocks gives this part of the park a sense of urban density and unexpected community. Chipmunks, rabbits, spiny lizards, tarantulas. Outside the stony city, a diverse and baffling mix of dancing Joshua Trees and low-lying colorful scrub abounds. Bighorn sheep roam the rubble mountains beyond.

Downtown, Los Angeles

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Los Angeles is an unusual city. It has no real sense of gravity, no real downtown center of great importance to the people who live there. Yet even though the streets below are empty, at this rooftop bar an unexpected skyline emerges. As my friend said to me, “This does not feel like LA.”

Pacific Palisades, California

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I made it to the Pacific. The shadows of massive mountains cap the view to the north and east, and a strong wind comes in with the waves. Compared to the Atlantic, the Pacific is a different beast. Swimming in it you can tell it is bigger, more powerful. More force stirs in its endless depths, delivering surf-worthy waves for the sunny California Coast. I biked down from Pacific Palisades to Venice and had tacos and a fruit smoothie. 

じゃ、また

[Until next time.]

Exactly eight weeks later after coming, I left.

It seems a little too precise. Too on the dot, mechanical. 8 weeks and done. I wish it wasn’t like that.

For one, Kanazawa is an incredible city. To be a tourist in, and to live in. My first impression upon arriving in Kanazawa is that it was so big and goddamn nice for a city so small. It feels like an extremely modern city. And then you turn down a side-street with low wooden buildings and sliding doors and small red shrines nesting along the way.

But I didn’t come for the city, I came for the program–the chance to learn Japanese. And I’d say I did. I’m basically able to carry out any sort casual conversation in Japanese now. I still have difficulty understanding often, and while I know than twice as many characters as I could before, reading is still near impossible. But the real benefit of my Light Fellowship experience has been the people—my host family, my teachers, my fellow students, Kanazawa University students, the people who live here.

Japan, a world apart from Philadelphia and New Haven, is so incredibly different from America. In particular the way people interact with each other and present themselves. Also the conceptions of the roles and natures of community, family, respect, art, government, sex and sexuality, and the natural environment. And yet… and yet it is still a place that can feel like home (I mean Pokemon Go was just released here and 5/10 people on my bus home yesterday were playing it). People eat three meals a day. They go to school and work and love it or hate it or anything in between. People have hobbies. They like sports, they have friends, they go out together, they go on hikes and to the beach. They want to sell you things, they want to help you. Japanese people are stylish and very well dressed. There are foreigners among them, some living there permanently, with Japanese spouses or with families that immigrated all together. They are frustrated with their political situation (shout out to the bartender last Friday for giving me an angry rundown). Some of them are rich, many are not. Some are homeless but wear suits and ties so people on the street do not know. They will welcome you into their shop with a warm smile, greeting, and bow. Many do not talk to strangers, but some will start a lively conversation, and give you a special ten yen souvenir coin from the Phoenix Hall (thank you random lady). And of course, every one is an entirely different person. And of course of course, this is only about the Japanese people that I met on the course of my travels, not even starting to go into the Korean high schoolers at YMUN Korea, the other PII students who are from all over the world.

Here is a photo slideshow from the final week. We had our graduation ceremony and a special event with our host families today, where there was a lovely lunch buffet and each class put on a group performance. Our class sang and danced. Embarrassing, but fun.

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In order: Yummy pancakes, a local shrine, Shirakawa-go (a traditional village and world heritage site), a local garden in Kanazawa, me and my host parents, the sea, my class dancing.

Thank you so much to the Light Fellowship for making this summer possible for me. It’ll be one I’ll never forget!

Japan, see you next time.

COLOR

It seems a little inappropriate to talk about my experiences as a white Jew in a homogenous country of Japanese, while people are being shot in America because of the color of their skin. I’m going to engage in the exercise anyways, in hope that it can raise some thoughts for me.

I’ve been in Japan for almost two months now, but what happened to me today and last weekend would happen even if I had been living in Japan for twenty years. Today: hearing people say “Look at that 外人(Gaijin/Alien/foreigner)” on the bus; Last weekend: entering a local restaurant and being ogled/stared the heck out of for a solid minute and then being treated rudely by the staff. I’m not here to complain about it, because I have been treated with incredible generosity and kindness here. I just want to simply show that I don’t and can’t fit in in this country, because of color.

If I were to live here, especially without the support of a program like Princeton in Ishikawa, I would quickly adopt a Japanese hair-style, Japanese way of dressing, and avoid having conversations out of my comfort zone with strangers. The point is to fit in and get less stares on the street. I don’t mind now because I know my residence is temporary. But to be honest, the “Gaijin” barrier has prevented me from fitting in here more so than the language barrier. Even though I can converse with Japanese people, and know Kanazawa fairly well, it can be difficult and feel weird/inappropriate to try to be a local–because it’s obvious that I’m not.

Discrimination exists in varied forms in Japan. From 2015’s Miss Japan being criticized for not looking Japanese (being darker), to my friends getting harassed for speaking Chinese, it’s an interesting problem that’s not highly serious, but nevertheless present. For the few immigrants into Japan, such as a large number of Brazilians, life must be difficult.

How can this connect to America? Well, in America there’s certainly language discrimination. If one can’t speak English perfectly, one will likely be thought of as less “American”. The way people treat others also changes based on the type of English one speaks, with some types indicating less-educated backgrounds. The skin color problem is entirely different. In metropolitan areas in the U.S., one’s skin color doesn’t inherently bring about exclusion from being American/local, as a non-Japanese race does in Japan. But it certainly can bring about exclusion from certain types of establishments (i.e. restaurants, clubs), and exclusion or a “foreign” label in rural/suburban/certain areas (a rural farming town in IA, a small town in MS, wealthy suburbs of CT, a town on the TX border). This is not to begin to comment on the elephant in the room of police brutality.

Ok, good job Eric, you stated the obvious. Maybe next time I’ll be able to hone in. How do these labels manifest themselves in every day actions and behaviors? Can we escape labeling others? Etc

PHOTOS FROM THIS PAST WEEK

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In order: View of Kanazawa from near my host family’s house, Me playing Shakuhachi (bamboo flute), Nagashi-somen (picking up noodles from a bamboo chute), Visit to a local elementary school, Two photos from the 21st Century Art Museum, DELICIOUS RAMEN

Also. yes, #blm

 

 

japan, urban space, nature, thoughts

This week’s post is going to be short  because I’m exhausted after an exam. But all of us have had to write a speech, which we’re going to deliver in front of the rest of the program next Monday. Since my speech topic is a general comparison of Japanese and American architecture, I’ve been thinking a little bit about Japan, urbanization, nature, and the organization of space in general. I’m not going to write about the content of the speech, because in English it would be painfully boring, but just think a little bit about how space is laid out in these two vastly different countries. Scroll to the bottom to read what I’ve been up to this past week and see a short picture slideshow.

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A beautiful trail in Kagaonsen, credit to my friend Angel.

アメリカらしい/Typical America

  • Cities are sprawling, large green spaces within cities
    • Public spaces are essential, and any public square or park will be used extensively
    • Extensive systems of public transport tend to be limited to the biggest cities
  • Suburbs are huge–> spread and spread and spread beyond city limits into rural areas (exurbs); suburban and even urban homes have yards, ideally large yards (front and back)–yards imitate nature, one’s own natural world in one’s own territory
  • Driving is essential outside of city centers, shops and restaurants will concentrate in shopping malls, especially outdoor shopping centers with large parking lots

ニッポンらしい/Typical Japan

  • Cities are compact, with very few public or green spaces
    • I.e. very few parks, street benches, trash cans on the street; many Japanese cities will have gardens that may or may not require paid entry, some have parks but nearly every American city will have a substantial green space
    • Extensive public transport in a variety of cities, lots of outdoor vending machines
  • Suburbs are limited–> close to the city, they’ll have interior/concealed gardens rather than yards and suburban houses will be almost as tightly packed together as city houses, they will just be fewer stories
    • Interior garden is reminiscent of nature
  • Outside of the suburbs-beyond an hour away from most cities-protected forested mountains and farmland predominates. Rural living very distinct from suburban living, whereas in America they can overlap
    • Almost everywhere in Japan the forested mountains are visible, whereas in America you will have to go to particular places to see extensive swaths of land with no development

So there are a number of really interesting difference in the cities, suburbs, and rural areas that I think are very revealing about Japanese and American cultural attitudes about space. For example, the intense American desire to have a suburban house with its own yard–its own natural world. Japan is more content to have its nature segregated but accessible. One thing I’ve been struck by is how few public spaces there are in Japanese cities, which are otherwise extremely convenient. I think this says something about the division between the public and private life in Japan–one’s life isn’t very public, typically confined to distinct zones- the workplace, the school-place, the family circle. Another thing to note is the way that American building really takes over the landscape–suburban-style living can appear anywhere and everywhere, while Japan tends to keep its domination of the landscape confined to what is necessary–minimum living space, building up when possible, and agriculture.

Anyways I hope you find some of these observations interesting! Sorry for the lack of pictures above… boring amirite.

 

THIS WEEK’S SLIDESHOW:

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This past week for me:

Weekend at the beach and hot springs bath

Traditional Japanese crafts village- paper, glass, ceramics, lacquer, chimes

Ninjatera- a Buddhist temple with a ton of trap doors, secret rooms, and concealed staircases

Hung out with Kanazawa university students & ate ice cream

Studied for exam… took exam

I also had an idea to write about the violence, tragedies, and issues of race that are occurring around the world and in our own country and how that relates to globalization and Japan and language study and stuff but was not up to the task. Maybe next week…

visiting japan, in summary

 

this is wholly subjectively based on my experience here

but for anyone thinking of traveling to Japan it might be a useful guide–I’m basically just gonna write up some major points about all the Japanese cities I’ve visited and my recommendations based on my best experiences there! I’m deciding to do this on the heels of a weekend where I traveled to Osaka (for the third time) and Nara (for the first).

For each city I’m going to write a “must do”(quintessential), a “try it”(off-the-beaten path thing), a “warning”, “best food”, and four photographs that I’ve taken.

I’ve also asked my host dad for a recommendation for advice and recommendations. These are his two cents: Go to see famous places with history. Don’t just pick one place! Also make yourself aware of regional differences! For example Kanazawa sushi is better than Tokyo sushi (well, he probably said this because he’s from Kanazawa). If you try local specials, especially food that is traditional, then you get the best taste of what is unique about japan. For example Okonomiyaki is very different in Osaka than in Hiroshima.

TOKYO

  • Must do: Besides just wander around Shinjuku, Shibuya, Harajuku, and Akihabara? The Tokyo Edo museum. It is one of the coolest ways to get a comprehensive look at Japanese history–you can learn everything about Japan from 1600-today in an enjoyable, visible manner.
  • Try it: Hit up the cool local university neighborhood Takadanobaba. Cheap shopping and great izakayas.
  • Warning: While it’s fun to wander around Tokyo to an extent, it’s super easy to get lost. So make sure that if you’re looking for a specific destination that you know exactly where you’re going, or you could well end up very lost.
  • Best food: Tokyo has everything, but my favorite in Tokyo was probably the cheap stuff-soba, kebab, udon, ramen.
  • Host dad recommendation: Asakusa Temple!

Four photos:

KYOTO

  • Must do: Higashiyama, a beautiful crafts district with a couple of gorgeous temples to boot!
  • Try it: Monkey Park. It’s SO COOL. You have to basically climb a mountain, but once you’re up there, you get to hang out with monkeys.
  • Warning: Another directions-related warning. Things are very spread out in Kyoto, so plan your trip accordingly and visit close-by sites on the same day. It’s very difficult to go to two different areas of the city in the same day.
  • Best food: Fancy food. Binge in Kyoto. Fancy multi-course Japanese food, there’s even fancy Italian food.
  • Host dad rec: The Golden Temple! And Heian Shrine!

Four photos:

OSAKA

  • Must do: Walk around Dotonbori, Namba, Shinsaibashi, and Amerika-mura. They are all within 20 minutes of each other walking and you can see anything you want: luxury shopping, great street food, maid cafes + lots of anime, night-life, rap-music blasting local clothes shops.
  • Try it:  Kaiyukan aquarium! It is very large.
  • Warning: This isn’t really a warning but you can end up spending so much money on food in this city… it is known as the “foodiest” city in Japan.
  • Best food: TAKOYAKI. OKONOMIYAKI. nuff said
  • Host dad rec: Osaka Castle

Four photos:

NARA

  • Must do: Nara Park, chill with the deer. There are lots of them.
  • Try it: Kofukuji National Treasure hall. You can see some truly stunning Buddhist statuary, almost all of it from before 1000 CE.
  • Warning: The deer. Be careful when feeding them. Be careful if you have allergies. Also some of them have ticks.
  • Best food: Shaved ice.

Four photos:

KANAZAWA

  • Must do: Kenrokuen Gardens. Truly gorgeous, and you can also do tea ceremony there. It also lights up at night. hype.
  • Try it: Gold leaf ice cream, sake ice cream, melon-bread with ice cream. Also 21st century arts museum (I still haven’t gone but really want to)
  • Warning: Kanazawa is great but it is pretty small–not that much to do beyond a few days. However there are a lot of attractions in Ishikawa prefecture.
  • Best food: Sushi/fish.
  • Host dad rec: Kenrokuen Gardens, Kanazawa castle. COME TO ISHIKAWA PREFECTURE! come and have fun!!!!

Four photos:

NAGASAKI

  • Must do: Atomic Bomb museum.
  • Try it: Check out the small and plentiful lit-up back alleys with bars and restaurants.
  • Warning: Lots of stray cats?
  • Best food: I was only there for a few meals, so I can’t quite say that I’m sure. Had some pretty great tempura-udon though.

In other news, the program is more than halfway over! Midterm exam is done, weekend of travel is done. This week was super busy with activities including a large gathering with Kanazawa University students. I also got to play Japanese drum and make gold-leaf chopsticks.

Until next week!

tradition, or doing really hard stuff cuz it’s cool

This week’s post is actually vaguely related to last week’s, which is cool, but I’ll get there in a hot sec.

This past weekend the whole of Princeton in Ishikawa embarked on an awesome trip to the Noto Peninsula (scroll bottom to catch my slideshow of miscellaneous photos). Definitely the highlight was getting to stay at one of the most famous Ryokan (旅館, traditional Japanese-style inn) in all of Japan, Kagaya, and taking a dip in its Onsen (温泉,hot baths). But two stops on the second of the two days piqued my interest in particular for their adherence to tradition that seems like it’s been economically infeasible for some time.

First stop was the Noto region’s salt farms. Overlooking the sea atop steep cliffs, these farm-factories make salt using an arduous, lengthy, and traditional process. The salt is relatively famous, as far as salt brands go, but the process to make this salt feels almost over the top.

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Salt tanks overlooking the beach.

Now, considering that the explanation was in all Japanese, I didn’t understand some (read: all) of the specifics, but the process begins by dumping seawater on sand. We all participated.

After you soak the sand using those cool gourds (ok, why is it done by hand? Seems really inefficient, right? Tradition!), you presumably let the sand get nice and salty, and then move it into another field to be mixed around and eventually heaped up into wooden crates. It takes a lot of labor just to pile up the sand and put it into boxes using nothing but rakes and shovels, but that’s how the workers here do it on an every day basis. It’s not just a special tourist attraction to work on the salt farm by hand–they actually do everything by hand.

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Salty fields that need to be raked up

Now, what happens next, to be honest I’m not even sure. But there seems to be still quite a way to go before you get super salty water, and then after that you need to separate the salt from the water, which is an extraordinarily energy intensive process. The point being, these salt fields would totally not work, if not for tourism.

Same things goes for preserving the traditional Wajima rice fields. They are gorgeous, and a true treasure. Check out the following slideshow for a taste.

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The scene on the coast is stunning. Sharp cliffs descend to the ocean. They are cut into tiny, slim steps of wet rice fields, the bright green stems rustling together and singing in the sea breeze. Ragged, crooked trees loose tangled hair, and wildflowers bloom.

This is a beautiful tourist stop, but not the best rice field. Again, I’lll be the first to admit this is conjecture, but rice fields by the sea don’t seem like the greatest idea, due to the likely high salt content of the sand/soil. By the sea, only hardy plants can grow, and usually agriculture is very rare. But these carefully manicured, likely inefficient, and beautiful fields continue to bloom.

Why hasn’t the economy wiped these fields out, the salt farms out? Thank god they haven’t been wiped out by the economy. I reckon there are two main factors that save these traditions- 1) The fact that they are beautiful and valuable traditions in itself, worth saving beyond economy and 2) The economy in part helps preserve them due to tourism.

We see this all the time, especially in Kanazawa, a great city for traditional crafts, ranging from gold-leaf to dolls to sake. These things get expensive, but of course, their traditional, intensive process of manufacturing intrigues and captivates most people, making the price point worth it.

I know none of this is exactly shocking analysis, but I am so grateful that all these traditions–as time intensive and complicated as they are–have survived mechanization, capitalism, the internet, everything.

Here are some other photos from the trip:

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typical Japan?(日本らしい)(・・ ) ?o( ❛ᴗ❛ )o

Today I went to Higashi-chaya, a part of town that has very traditional architecture and maintains a quaint 17th century feel. The road is stone and free of cars, the buildings are wooden with sliding doors and you remove your shoes when you enter, you can buy gold-leaf crafts and try sake-ice cream, and several shrines are spread throughout the area.

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A street in Higashi-chaya

Today was rainy and a Thursday, so it wasn’t at all crowded. However, typically the neighborhood is SUPER packed. Filled to the brim with Japanese and foreign tourists alike, not unlike Higashiyama in Kyoto–a similarly traditional part of town filled with crafts. It is a very beautiful and peaceful area, but I’m certainly glad that it wasn’t filled with tourists today like it normally was. Even though it was so empty, I think I saw as many foreigners in this tiny neighborhood in one day as I’ve seen the whole rest of my time in Kanazawa. Now don’t get me wrong, Higashi chaya is a great place to spend an afternoon. But Kanazawa has a lot more to offer, and I was surprised that people tended to flock here over all the other great places. I’ve also been to a similar neighborhood in Seoul and it was so filled to the brim you had to squirm through the streets. Why are areas like Higashi chaya here and Higashiyama in Kyoto such tourist traps?

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A local shrine

I think it’s that neighborhoods like this are “classic Japan”, “typical Japan”, and fit the conceptions of what the historical Japan was like. Anyone who wants to get a real taste of Japan should supposedly go to neighborhoods like these. And while I definitely don’t think there’s inherently anything wrong with going to areas like Higashi chaya, I think people are missing the mark even though their intentions may be in the right place.

The thing is, Higashi chaya as most people experience it was more or less invented for tourists. Higashi chaya actually has a pretty interesting history–chaya houses are traditional houses of entertainment (the only 2 story buildings allowed) where geisha would perform songs and dances. And you can see geisha performances in Higashi chaya if you go at the right time. However, you probably wouldn’t know this simply by going there. For most people it’s just a great place to see some old architecture and buy some souvenirs.

I’m not trying to criticize Higashi chaya. I think any place that preserves history in any way is important. However, it’s important to understand the place that you travel to beyond what meets the eye on its own. That’s why I’m so glad I only have gone to Japan after studying Japanese language for a year and history for another. You don’t need to take classes to try to delve deeper into the places you travel, but it’s worthwhile trying to probe beyond the sense of stereotypes and what is “typical Japan”. Higashi chaya probably isn’t typical in any way. It’s completely unique, representing a specific cultural moment for Japan. It recreates the chaya houses of the Edo period. And I think that experiencing that special cultural moment is more worthwhile than the souvenirs (although I must say there is some pretty nice stuff…).

 

Slideshow of the past week:

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In order: Koto (traditional Japanese harp); Kaitenzushi (conveyor belt sushi); Roll-your own-sushi dinner with my host family; Park near my host family’s house; various photos of a temple near my host family’s house

☆ ~(‘▽^人): festival~dance~miscellany

Last weekend I attended the Hyakumangoku Festival, the largest summer festival in Kanazawa. The main street of the city was packed for at least two or three miles, and the parade was a wildly entertaining display. First groups of kids came, some kids dressed hilariously as old men with the shaved pate of Samurai; then drummers, carriages with women in kimono/yukata on top, and large groups of people dressed up as samurai, daimyo, and anything else you can imagine. Here’s a couple quick pictures:

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Then we went and snacked and waited for a while for our dance to begin. When the dancing finally started, there were thousands of people dancing, all in different colorful robes, shouting and flinging scarves at points in the song. There are three different dances, which we did for ten minutes each. We did the three dances three times with ten minute breaks in between. It was exhausting but definitely worth it. Afterwards we went to eat street-food from a bustling set of stands that had been erected for the festival day.

I spent all of the next day studying for our first test on Monday, which went poorly but not too poorly. I’m finally adjusted to class, although I was stressed earlier this week. Now I definitely enjoy it more. On Monday afternoon I took a quick trip to a temple.

Cultural activities started in addition to class this week, so I got to play Go and go to a Buddhist philosophy museum. We have a Japanese-only rule for in class/the classroom building and durings cultural activities, but it seems to be getting a little bit easier(???maybe??). The architecture at the museum was stunning.

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I’ve been quite busy with all the classwork + activities, but I’m starting to fall into a routine. I was remembering the advice that the Light Fellowship gave us back in the spring, saying that people’s time studying abroad often followed an arc: first there would be a honeymoon period, and then it would become difficult/lonely, and then it would get better. I definitely felt concerned earlier this week, but that was mainly about class. I do consider what my role is in the community here, being such an outsider. It’s something they ask us to think about a lot in my class. What should I give back to the community? Is there even anything I can do?

I’ll keep thinking on it.

Until next week!

エリック

~~~summer in japan~~~

Pictured above: Itsukushima Shrine on Miyajima island.

Excuse the digression from the general content of this blog. However, thanks to the incredible generosity of the Richard Light Fellowship I am able to spend the summer studying Japanese in the beautiful city of Ishikawa. I’ll be keeping a weekly blog during my time here–so far it’s been a blast.

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A terrible picture I took of my host family’s house

After a placement test on Monday and a lot of orientation-related things, class kicked off this past Tuesday. It’s incredibly fast paced and I was already behind the rest of the class on my characters (漢字). Fortunately I already knew a decent amount of the grammar we’re learning so the adjustment hasn’t been terrible.

I’m staying with a host family here in Kanazawa, the Takayama family–two lovely and kind Japanese grandparents whose kids and grandkids are off in Kyoto. I call them mom and dad (お母さん、お父さん) and they absolutely refuse my help with ANYTHING, any time I offer. Can I help with the dishes? Nope. Can I help make dinner? Nope. My next plan is to ask to help them with their little garden.

They live a 40 minute bus ride out of Kanazawa center in a quiet neighborhood. The house is quite nice–a cool mix between western and Japanese style, with tatami rooms, sliding doors, a Western-style kitchen, and a single rocking chair. Oh, and TV. Lots of TV.

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Kenrokuen Garden. Took a visit with my class on Tuesday 

Digression: Japanese TV is pretty awesome. My favorite program is an old Japanese couplethat  just walks around and talks to random people on the street. Somehow I was nearly dying of laughter the entire half hour of this program, even though I only understood 1 out of every 5 jokes. They just held hands and cracked jokes nonstop and chatted up strangers. Really endearing. 

Other highlight of the week was seeing TRICOT, one of my favorite Japanese bands. A band called Cinema Staff opened. Both were great. Tricot really showed off their incredible musical talent, and put on a good show. The crowd was more hype than I thought it would be–when “Pool” came on, the moshing was real.

This weekend I get to participate in the Hyakumangoku Festival (百万石通り)and do some sort of dance. It’ll probably be a disaster (dancing wise), but I’ve never even seen a Japanese festival before, so I’m really excited.

The sensee (先生) are great, and class is very enjoyable. It’s getting late here so I need to sign off, but maybe I should update more than once a week because I’m leaving quite a lot out!

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View from 19th floor of the Ishikawa Prefecture Government building, taken on courtesy visit with the regional government.

Looking forward to updating you throughout the summer! I hope to develop other content for this blog as well; I’m currently (kinda) working on revising an old historical fantasy that I wrote a draft of about 1.5 years ago.

Mata!  (また!Until next time!)