Jun 18, 2017

Birthday Weekend


And I’ve already fallen way behind on blogging, so… time to play catch up.

My birthday was already almost two months ago, and the Boy came down to Kyoto the weekend before (22nd-23rd) to help me celebrate. He actually took a train in after work that Friday night, the 21st, which happened to also be the release date for the new live-action Beauty and the Beast movie in Japan, so after he arrived we killed some time around the station before heading to the theatre to get our tickets, caramel corn, and drinks. (Pretty much the best thing about movie theatres here is the caramel corn they sell – so good!) 


The movie was enjoyable, but I think I had built up my expectations too much and the movie didn’t quite meet them lol. That’s not to say it wasn’t good – Emma Watson was the best Belle, and overall they stayed really true to the original animated film, but I still much prefer the animated version.
The next day we woke up late morning and decided to go spend the day in Nara. We took the train to Nara Station then looked around for someplace to have lunch. Afterwards we walked to Nara Park, which is famous for the semi-wild deer that live there. We bought some deer snacks and were immediately accosted for some yums. There was also an Earth Day even going on that we took a quick look through, which made me then regret eating lunch near the station because there were some really tasty-looking vegan options available… Will have to keep that in mind for next year!


We took a quick look at the famous Todaiji Temple with its giant Buddha statue inside. I think that was my first time to the temple, but it was Boy’s first. I tried to convince him to crawl through the hole-in-the-pillar, which is said to be the same size in diameter as the big Buddha’s nostril, and if you make it through without getting stuck it means you’ll live a long live. I did it once before, but since we were there on a weekend there was a line and Boy didn’t want to wait (nor did he want to try with a bunch of people watching lol) so on we went.


Before heading back to Kyoto we got some famous Daibutsu Pudding (Big Buddha Pudding), and took them to a café where we could sit down and eat them (after ordering drinks there too, of course). The pudding is seriously really, really good. The first time I tried it was around when S and I first came to Japan, I think we went to Nara during the Golden Week holiday, and each got a pudding. Just the plain custard flavor. I remember we both took a bite and at the same time we turned and looked at each other and were both like, “Oh my god… this is amazing!” We had no expectations so we were really surprised at how rich and creamy it was, haha. This time I tried the chocolate, which I think is even better than the custard. Will have to try the matcha flavor next time.
For dinner we went to Donguri, an okonomiyaki/teppanyaki chain that’s pretty famous here in Kyoto. We stuffed ourselves with more food than we should’ve, then headed home and zonked out.

Sunday we decided would be a lazy day. We slept in, and once we were up and ready we headed to the Teramachi shopping area and got a light lunch at Starbucks. I had one of their veggie wraps and the American cherry pie Frappuchino that was out at the time. 


After that we made a reservation at a cheap (but still pretty nice) massage place, and walked around killing time until our appointment. At one point, Boy had joked about getting us matching shirts (when couples wear matching outfits here it’s called “pair look”, and we usually make fun of couples we see dressed alike lol), but we ended up going to Uniqlo and getting matching shirts anyway! I don’t think he ever intended for us to wear them together at the same time, but I made him go and change in the bathroom and I changed into mine. I thought it was pretty funny but he kept saying, “Everyone is looking at us!” Later after our massage (which was so relaxing I fell asleep towards the end) and the sun started going down he used the cool weather as an excuse to put his long-sleeved shirt on over his matching shirt. XD

Before it got too late, we got dinner (I honestly can’t remember where though, at this point) and headed back to my place so boy could get his stuff and make his way back home, since it’s a little over 2 hours away on the local trains. All-in-all an eventful weekend and I was definitely spoiled. :3

Apr 12, 2017

Weekend Trip to Mt. Koya

So I'm really late in getting around to blogging about this and I honestly don't have any excuses other than I just kept putting it off. 

The first weekend of December last year, bestie J and I decided to take a relaxing little weekend trip to Mt. Koya (高野山, kouyasan). I had only ever heard of the place, but J knew much more about it - what there is to do and what's worth seeing - so I basically left the planning up to him.

He booked us a shukubou (宿坊) - which is a type of lodging offered by temples to guests making pilgrimages to the area. Our temple was Fukuchi-in (福智院), and the room we stayed in was a standard tatami mat room like what you would get at any standard Japanese inn. The temple grounds were well-kept and peaceful, and the halls inside full of interesting old relics.




We had arrived before noon but weren't able to check-in until 3pm, but stopped by to drop off our luggage before going to do some exploring.

 

In wandering around we stumbled upon this... peculiar little temple.



Inside there were a number of morbid depictions of what I'm guessing was the Buddhist equivalent of Hell. There was also a dark, underground pathway inside, of which I'm not sure what the significance was but near the end there was a really psychedelic neon Buddha that was pretty cool.


Monks could often be seen strolling the streets

Random open room within Fukuchi-in
Once 3pm hit we headed back to our temple lodging to check in, chill, and take advantage of the  baths before they got too crowded. That evening we were served our vegetarian shoujin-ryouri (精進料理) in our room, and it was absolutely delicious. There was miso-flavored soy milk nabe hot-pot, boiled on the spot; crispy vegetable tempura with a side of matcha salt; goma-doufu (ごま豆腐), or "sesame tofu", which is actually made not with tofu but sesame paste, water, and kuzu root powder; various potatoes; boiled vegetables in a broth; pickled vegetables; rice and a clear-broth soup. J also got himself some hot sake, while I had an oolong tea in a cool, vintage-looking glass bottle that I kept as a souvenir.



After dinner we both decided to go take another soak in the baths. I tried out the smaller bath the second time around - the one without the attached outside rotenburo (露天風呂) - and had the place all to myself for a good half hour, which was all the time I needed.

The next morning J got up extra early to go for yet another soak before breakfast, but I opted for sleep. Our breakfast was also prepared in the traditional Buddhist vegetarian style, and was just as tasty as our dinner.

Top left to right: ganmo (spongy-textured tofu patty with small bits of veggies inside, soaked in a broth, my favorite!), dried nori seaweed, pickled konbu seaweed and pickled umeboshi plum, okara (tofu lees) with vegetables, soy sauce for seasoning, tororo (grated yam, which has a gloopy, slimy texture that takes some getting used to), and white rice.

Top left to right: Miso soup, miso soymilk nabe, seasoning broth (I can't remember exactly but I think it was ponzu), and green tea.


After checking out we headed to Kongobu-ji Temple (金剛峯寺).




And from there walked to Okuno-in Temple (奥の院). From the direction we came, we ended up walking through the whole of Okuno-in Cemetery, which is said to be the largest cemetery in Japan. It was definitely impressive, size-wise. The overall aura of the place too - tombstone upon tombstone, worn and weathered and covered in moss, surrounded by towering trees - was mystical yet calming all at once.



I have no photos from the temple itself; as it is considered one of the most sacred spots on Mt. Koya, photography is prohibited. I wish I could remember in more detail about the temple and its surroundings so I could at least write about it. All I can really remember is walking past a group of older women (and men?), standing in front of the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi - the founder of Shingon Buddhism - and reciting a song-like chant that reverberated in my chest as I walked by. The sound was so moving and chilling I had to blink back the tears that involuntarily welled up in my eyes. Granted I am rather sensitive to sounds and music, in that I literally feel them, but it was still an amazing moment to experience.

On the way back we walked through the newer part of the cemetery, which was interesting in its own right but didn't quite have the same feel as the older section we walked through on the way in. For lunch we stopped at an international cafe that offered vegetarian and vegan lunch plates. The vibe was very eclectic, and the food was served on handmade clay dishes which were also on display and available for purchase.


The food did not disappoint either. First was a pureed mushroom soup, then a plate of chillied beans, brown rice, quiche (?), salad with sliced persimmons and vinaigrette...


...and a rich chocolate cake and hot chai for dessert.


If you're interested in purchasing any of the clay pottery


By the time we finished lunch, the clouds had rolled in and started a steady drizzle. We had had a full day so were ready to head back to the cable car station anyway, and hopped a bus back. An extra day to see some more sites would've been nice, but we were content with what we did see and felt it was just the right amount of exploring. We left feeling contented and rejuvenated, which is really what we were hoping to get out of the trip anyway. ;)

Mar 1, 2017

A Walk Along Kamogawa

First off, I want to say I recently discovered I had comments awaiting moderation from my "Guess who's back" post that I missed... When I made the following Valentine's Day post I said something to the extent of "I dunno if anyone is even reading this anymore", which I hope didn't give anyone the wrong idea, because I'm aware that there are people still following along so... yeah. I guess in short I wanna stay thank you for the comments and for still reading!

Now, onto the main point of this post. Which is nothing special really I just wanted to share some scenery from my wanderings today. I volunteered to participate in a short research study at Kyoto University this morning, and since the weather was quite mild today - the numbing chill of winter has finally let up it seems - I brought along my camera and after the study was over decided to walk home. It's quite a long walk, but along the Kamogawa River (鴨川) is very serene, so it's a refreshing way to clear the mind. Right now the colors are still rather dull, but by the end of this month the cherry blossoms will be blooming and the walk along the river will be colorful once again.










Feb 14, 2017

Celebrating Valentine's Day in Japan

So, I don't even know who - if anyone - reads this blog anymore, but I guess it really doesn't matter much because this is mostly for myself anyway. However, I got the idea of maybe doing an occasional post with a tidbit on Japanese culture and include some relevant vocabulary for whoever may stumble across this blog and is interested in Japan and/or is studying Japanese. As a uni student studying Japanese myself, I always enjoyed reading expat blogs and hearing their personal experiences and learning what bits and pieces of the culture they shared through their stories, so if I can do the same for someone else that would make me quite happy. :)

Now, without further ado, I introduce to you (whoever "you" may be) Valentine's Day in Japan.

Vocab:
バレンタインデー / barentain de- , Valentine's Day
チョコレート / chokore-to, chocolate (often shortened to "choko")
義理チョコ / giri choko, obligatory chocolate (given to bosses, coworkers, etc)
友チョコ / tomo choko, chocolate given to friends
バラ / bara, rose (more common to see it written in kana than in kanji - 薔薇)
彼氏 / kareshi, boyfriend
彼女 / kanojo, girlfriend

Example sentences:
バレンタインデーに彼氏からバラをもらった。barentain de- ni kareshi kara bara wo moratta. I got a rose [roses] from my boyfriend for Valentine's Day.

私は彼氏に手作りチョコをあげた。 watashi wa kareshi ni tezukuri choko wo ageta. I gave my boyfriend homemade chocolates.

-----

Valentine's Day in Japan, or バレンタインデー if you wanna say it like the locals, falls on February 14 just as it does in the US, and, just like in the US, lots of chocolate is involved. Around the end of January and beginning of February, many major department stores have special areas dedicated to booths selling all sorts of fun, cute, or high-end chocolates. However, the twist comes when you find out that in Japan, Valentine's Day isn't necessarily a romantic holiday for couples like it is in The States, and that it isn't the male half of the population buying for the woman in their life.

On Valentine's Day, men are on the receiving end, and not just from their girlfriend. Women may also gift chocolate to men they have a strong acquaintance with, be it their classmates, coworkers, family members, or friends. Chocolate intended for coworkers, superiors, etc, are called 義理チョコ because, as the name implies, they are given out of obligation to those they work closely with. Conversely, chocolate given to friends - male and female alike - are called 友チョコ.

Now, before you get worked up over such a sexist, unfair representation of the holiday - guys who received chocolate on Valentine's Day are expected to return the favor next month on White Day.

While so far I only mentioned buying chocolate, it is also not uncommon for people to make and decorate their own chocolate instead. You can get a variety of chocolate molds, sprinkles, flavorings, frosting "pens", and cute boxes for your homemade chocolates at the 100 yen shop. Years back I bought a couple of chocolate molds, one peanut butter cup-shaped one and a heart-shaped one, so this year I only needed to buy some bars of chocolate, a little bit of flavoring, and a box to put them in. Since I wasn't feeling very creative this year I used my go-to chocolate recipes because I know they won't fail! Only since I didn't have any peanut butter on hand this year I made the chocolate cups with toasted and salted almonds sprinkled on top. Just as good, right?



My Boy came for a visit this past weekend, so we celebrated a bit early. I whipped up some of my no-fail chocolates, wrote a note on a cutesy little valentine that I brought back from the States (you know those boxes of 30+ valentine cards you would get to pass out to your class back in elementary school?), and I even went a little old school and made him a mix CD too.



Knowing the "Japanese Way" that Valentine's Day is done, I wasn't expecting anything in return, but Boy had come prepared with a lovely burgundy-colored バラ, boxed up in a cute little package.


Then we had a romantic dinner with an uninterrupted view of Kyoto Tower... at McDonald's. We're classy like that. ;)

Jan 20, 2017

Thanks Obama.

I had planned for my next posts to be catch-up posts, with lovely photos of nice things from my years in Kyoto and surround areas, but with this being the trending topic of the moment and my feelings about it all on a huge roller coaster I thought it best to get it all out on here while it's still fresh in my mind.

President Obama, First Lady Michelle, and their two daughters made a lovely First Family. Say what you want about Obama's agenda, his decisions or his short-comings, but as a representative of the American people and the most powerful nation on this planet, he and his family did it all with the sort of grace and decency not seen in the White House for many a term.


I've read through debate after debate on Obama's policies and what he could've done, should've done better, on why he absolutely ruined The United States and was the worst president ever. And while I get that everyone is entitled to their opinions, I have to say that most of those arguments have little going for them - the ones they really should be upset with are their congressmen and elected officials, but I'm not here to teach civics.

I'm also not here to tell everyone he was The Perfect President either. He was not, and no one ever will be. But for one man whose job it was to represent and protect the rights of hundreds of millions of people, each coming from a different background with differing viewpoints on social issues across the board, he did a pretty damn good job, without even overlooking the oft-forgotten minorities.




He was respectful, he was articulate, but still knew how to have fun. And oh, how I will miss that.




I have tried very, very hard to be optimistic about the incoming president, but going from a man who has shown such love and respect for his partner and gone about his daily life with utmost greatness and honor, to someone who has un-apologetically objectified women, mocked the handicapped, and has made calls for racist and bigoted policies, well... the transition will be rough.

To be clear, I have no political affiliation. My voter's registration card has been "Independent" from the beginning. On social issues I will almost always take the progressive stance, but after what the DNC pulled this past election I have no desire to associate with that party. The extremism that divides parties and ideas is only going to drive the nation further and further apart, which is why, as much as I do not want to see someone like Trump as the leader of The United States, I also cannot condone the extremely negative backlash that his election has stirred. What I see is no different than the extremists who proclaimed The End of Days and protested against Obama's presidency. That is no way to bring about the positive change that the US so desperately needs.

Perhaps we can all learn a little lesson on how to stand up to adversity with as much poise and dignity as the Obamas, to carry on a bit of their legacy. Former Always POTUS and FLOTUS - Oh, how you will be missed!

Jan 1, 2017

Guess who's back, back again

Well hello. Fancy seeing you here.

After nearly three years of silence, I've finally felt compelled to dust off the old blog and try breathing some life into it again. The past few years have seen a lot of ups and downs, and with everything getting in the way it was difficult to find the heart or motivation (or most pressingly, the time) to blog regularly as I used to.

But I have missed it. I always enjoyed chronicling my adventures to share with friends and family, and for myself to go back and look at later on down the road. And so, with this new year comes new hopes and ambitions, and for one I hope to revive this old journal. I will try to keep up with occasional updates whenever time allows. To start, I will probably do a couple of catch-up posts, just to get people up to speed with where I'm at now in life, so keep a look out for those!

I hope everyone had a wonderful New Year, and wishing you all the best in 2017!

EDIT: I originally posted this saying it had been almost two years since I last posted, when in reality it has been almost three! Seriously where has the time gone??
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