Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Japanese Temples

If you've seen my pictures you will have noticed I saw many temples in Japan. Well that's one of the many things Japan has, along with mountains, rivers, small rooms, fast trains and many people. However, not all temples are Buddhist; some are Shinto. For you see, there are two types of religion noticed throughout the rolling landscape of Japan. The very colorful temples are for Shintoism, which is actually the first and original religion of Japan. These temples are usually smaller than the Buddhist temples but are definitely more colorful. They are usually designed with the colors green, orange and sometimes purple. They are wonderful to see because they pose such a sharp contrast to the Buddhist temples. The Buddhist temples, on the other hand, are more minimalistic- corresponding to their minimalist beliefs. They are simply designed wooden structures with very little color. However, the wood has all been exquistely carved with various form of kanji, katakana or other characters. Each temple has a beautiful worship room and this is the room where the statue of Buddha resides, and the only room that may show some color along with exquiste decoration. It's never done over the top but appears just right.

So what kind of temples did I see? Well I saw the second largest wooden structure in Nara City, the second largest Buddha, the only female Buddha and the skinnest Buddha. I also saw the oldest temple in Asuka and many five tiered pagodas (another common symbol around the temples). I saw the smallest scaled five tier pagoda (it was so cute) and also the craziest looking pagoda ever. I saw derelict looking temples and newly renovated ones... and even a golden temple.. yep golden... that one was a shocker. But by far, my favorite is the pagoda that has been affectionaly labeled as the fiesta pagoda (seen to the left).

I like this one for several reasons. Firstly, I saw it all by myself on my very last day in Japan. I went there during my layover in Tokyo and successfully managed the trains and purchasing my tickets to get there. Well I walked through this quaint little Japanese town on my way to the temple. I see other shops and food places and other tourists out enjoying the place. It warmed my heart. Secondly I really like this one because it's such a contrast to anything else seen. It just graps you and doesn't let go. I had seen other temples on my way up to this one (I had several levels to scale to reach thevery top temple- another common theme in Japan) and boom... here's this three story pagoda. I stopped dead in my tracks and just couldn't believe that I was seeing something this colorful and beautiful. Finally I like this pagoda because it is only three stories. Most pagodas are five and this one is definitely not. I don't know if it's because it was so exquite that they couldn't afford to do another
two tiers, but I'm sure it's symbolic of something... if only I had been able to understand the Japanese. Also, another great aspect to this pagoda was how it made all the other temples and shrines more colorful. Even the simply designed Buddhist temples had a little more color to them. It definitely was a place I very much enjoyed and quickly became a favorite.

So yes, you will see many temples throughout Japan, they're as common as the churches here in the Bible belt but each one has something special... find it and cherish it.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Peace Corps Update

Many of you know that I'm going into the Peace Corps. Woohoo! I live soon be leaving for the country of Kyrgyzstan (or The Kyrgyz Republic). It's a small mountainous country with lots of lakes, rivers and mountains in the north. The south seems to have fewer moutains, warmer and dustier. Both Kyrgyz (the official language) and Russian are spoken, though most people seem to speak Kyrgyz, however, both are understood.

I will be leaving July 3, 2008 for two days of orientation in Philadelphia. Then I fly out and start pre-service training on July 8,2008. Come September, if all goes well, I should be in my official site for the next two years. I don't yet know where that will be (I find out towards the end of PST). I'll be staying with a host family for the first six months and then will have the opportunity to decide if I want to stay with them or live on my own. Volunteers have done both, though the majority seems to stay with the family.

I'm officially labeled a health promotion specialist because I have extensive health experience. It seems like I'll be working with other organizations and groups throughtout my local area to help determine health needs, work on ways to promote changes and ascertain the best way to achieve change. I'm going into a relatively undefined field, which will pose both challenges and rewards. It also looks like I may be teaching some health workers as well along with teaching English (every Volunteer does this... no matter what the official title is).

Some of you I'm sure may want to help me prepare for the trip. If so, great. I've posted a list of items that I would like to get, some obviously are needed more than others and by no means do I need to get all of this. However, I do ask that if you are planning on getting anything to please let me know so I can provide you with the proper place to send it and also so I can take the item off the list. If you don't want to buy anything specifically but still want to help then money works great too and that can be sent directly to me. If you don't want to get anything at all then that's totally fine to... I'm not expecting anything from anyone. I appreciate your thoughts and prayers.

Well that's the update... enjoy learning about Kyrgyzstan!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Japan Day One

Thus begins the first section of the recording of my latest adventure: my vacation in Japan... woohoo! This post will cover my initial departure to that amazing country as well as cover my first "official"day- i.e. Day One... so enjoy.

Thursday morning (very early morning, mind you) my good friend Sarah dropped me off at Dulles International Airport where I then began my journey to Japan. Five hours later I departed in San Francisco to catch my international flight to Osaka. Well, anyone who's travelled internationally knows that usually the food is of ok quality, sleep is often hard to acquire and they are usually late. I didn't have any of this (except that the movie selection was a little lackluster- I saw the Golden Compass way too many times). My flight attendents were awesome, the food was good, and the people around me great. However, the most astonishing thing is that my flight was actually 45 minutes early, yep- early. Then it only took me about 10 minutes to get through quarantine, immigration and customs, weird huh?

Unfortunately because we were so early my pickup person was not there to acquire me. She arrived about 15 minutes after I would have gotten in. This person, named Harumi, is awesome. She is a friend of Nate's who is kinda like a mother/older sister to him. Due to a school conflict Nate was not able to pick me up so she kindly offered her services. However, Harumi felt so bad about being late, eventhough it wasn't her fault because the flight was early. I tried to convince her that is was fine (she speaks English fairly well) but there's only so much consolation that can be done. However, my waiting time was not in vain as I met another American waiting for her daughter to pick her up. This lady's daughter is in the same program as Nate and so she, too, had to wait for her daughter to get off work. So I had someone to talk too, yay!

Harumi then drove me to Nate's place. She wasn't alone though.... I got to meet three other amazing Japanese ladies. They didn't nearly speak as much English as Harumi but they were still sweet, joyous, respectful and enjoyable no the less. We all had a good time, and I didn't have jet lag so was actually functioning, which was another good sign. I was driven through many towns and gradually began making our way into the countryside, and boy was it beautiful. I immediately knew I was going to enjoy this place. A little while later I was dropped off at Nate's apartment and gave a hug to my friend whom I hadn't seen in three years! It was a nice moment that culminated with an nice relaxing evening before heading out for the next day. So a great trip out, followed by great company and ending with a successfully relaxing night. On to the party!

Day One: was called my "jet laggy day", although I really didn't experience much jet lag- thank goodness. This was one of our lighter days (for they were all pretty jammed packed). It started off with a tour of Nate's town (Schimochi-cho). Sounds simple right, wrong. There were a few things that I vaguely knew regarding Japan that came into full effect here. First Japan is a very mountainous country, and although I'm in good shape, I wasn't fully prepared to begin walking continous up the mountains. Talk about being out of breath quickly and feeling stupid too. Nate's just walking along breathing totally fine and here I am huffing and puffing, looking back it's kinda funny actually. The second thing I forgot was that Japanese people walk and drive on the left. So I immediately go to walk on the right and Nate very kindly states that if I don't want to die I had better walk on the left. Ha, nice.

We walk thorughout the town and he shows me his apartment building, grocery store, local waterfall, river, temple and school where he works. We take a tour of the school and are greeted by the chorus club practicing. The teacher invites us in and they begin to sing for us! I have no idea what they're singing but they sound absolutely amazing. We then proceed up to the city cemetary which was absolutely beautiful, old, and ancient. It was a photographic gem, and I enjoyed snapping many pictures. We then headed off to the train station to meet his friends that were going with us to the Buddhist mask parade that we were attending. So that day I got my first taste of the Japanese rail system. Talk about on time trains and comfort. They were so much better than any of the trains I've ever ridden in the states. They were nice.

Near the town Kashihada we met up with another JET named Doc. He is teaching English at the high school in the area and was nice to talk with. He took us to this noodle place where I used chopsticks for the first time. Boy was it difficult and a mess but I managed to eat all my oudon... it just took a while... but was really good. Then we headed off to the parade and met up with one more friend. Her name is Eriko and is Japanese. She is a teacher as well, although not an English teacher. Eriko is a sweetheart and very patient with all of us regarding language problems (she speaks very little English but was amazingly patient with Nate and his Japanese).

The Buddhist mask parade was awesome. It consisted of 25 different masks being worn by people dressed up in these intriciate and gorgeously designed outfits. I don't really know anything about Buddhism so didn't fully understand what was happening but I still enjoyed it none the less. The adults and children involved were elaborately dressed and very reverent about what they were doing and one felt awed by their devotion. It was a beautiful sight to behold. Afterwards we all went and got icecream; I tried the famous green tea flavor and was pleasantly surprised by it. Then the four of us sat around on a park bench and talked for awhile and gradually began to head home. It was the nice end to a rather enjoyable first day. Stay tuned... additional days to come.