Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Liquor Mountain, my favorite liquor store.
Because all of my usual co-hikers bailed on me, the only mountain I climbed this past weekend was Liquor Mountain. Instead talking about that, though,I will tell you about my classes here in Kyoto and about how class research can be a lot of fun without actually including any research. Maybe some of you can get inspired.

I already told you that I am taking 9 hours a week of Japanese, nothing worth any special analysis other than an honorable mention. On top of Japanese I am also taking two other classes, Japanese Buddhism and Anthropology of Modernity. Yeah, I'd rather be taking the Joint Seminar with Doshisha students and the Japanese Film class, but Anthropology and Religion actually count toward my East Asian Studies and International Studies majors, and if I want to graduate, I have no choice but to take them. The religion class is quite interesting (as interesting as religion can get, being what it is), and the highlight of it are Friday afternoon field trips to various Buddhist temples, Shinto shrines, graveyards or other religiously affiliated sites. These field trips are a great way to spend a Friday afternoon seeing the sights which I'd probably go to see anyway. This way however I get a free tour guide (i.e. our prof), and reimbursement for all expenses. The most interesting field trip so far was to Byodo-in, one of the most beautiful temples in Japan, located halfway between my house and Kyoto. To tell you how important a site it is to the Japanese, know that the outline of Byodo-in is also engraved on the 10 Yen coin. There is little I remember about the particularities of the place other than that there are two bronze phoenixes on the roof (see the picture below) which are deemed Japan's national treasures. Though I am not sure how many other national treasures there are, the phoenixes are quite elaborate, especially considering they were made about a thousand years ago. Because they are so important, the actual phoenixes are in a museum below Byodo-in, while the ones on the roof are replicas.
Byodo-in, taken from the left rather than from the front,
because everyone shoots it from the front.

Similarly, my anthropology class is as interesting as anthropology can get, but because I have been in fact conducting anthropological observations for the past more than four years simply by living abroad, I can definitely relate to many of the topics/discussions in class. We talk about all kinds of things which have to do with the word modernity in Japan. The other day we were assigned a "research" project, where we had to choose a place which should sort of relate to our readings and conduct field research there. Being conscious about my time schedule, I thought that the least time-consuming and most fun way to do my research is not to do it at all. In other words, do what I normally do and call it "research". So I submitted my proposal in which I suggested that I conduct a Friday night research in Shirokiya, my favorite bar just across the street from school. The topic of the research was to "find out whether Shirokiya is a western or more traditionally Japanese establishment in the context of our readings". Of course, because I needed to look inconspicuous while conducting my research, I justified receiving budget to buy myself some dinner and a couple of drinks. Giving the above rationale, I also justified taking a couple of my Japanese friends with me so that we look like yet another group of customers. While my "research" was supposed to take an hour and a half of work, it took me about four hours of usual Friday night fun with my friends, some good food, and a couple of free drinks paid for by the AKP. Good times.

On another note, the weather in Kyoto has been getting gradually colder, with highs at around 20°C (68F), and lows at night around 10°C (50F). The ever present haze caused by hot, humid air, which has been obstructing the view of far away places, has slowly been disappearing, and though the Ochiba (falling leaf) season is still about a month away, the leaves are slowly starting to change color. The beautiful golden rice fields, a dominant of Seika Town and its surroundings, have quickly been changing from a lively gold to a  murky brown as busy farmers reap the results of a year's work with their mini harvesters. This pleasant weather is awesome for riding my bike, which I do quite often on the days when school ends right after lunch. Last week I biked to Kamo City, about 17km (11mi) southeast from my place and was rewarded with a great view of mountains as well as half-harvested fields.
The fields in Kamo City, about 17km (11mi) from my place. Because I took it
with my phone during one of my bike rides, the resolution is quite low.

Speaking of harvesting, the Japanese surely know how to celebrate a successful harvest. Last Sunday, Oct 10, me and a couple of my friends went to see a harvest celebration at Momoyama, a town just south of Kyoto, on the way to Seika. We visited the Goryo Temple in Momoyama, which transformed that evening from a quiet meditation place into a bustling market street. All kinds of merchants were selling Japanese foods like Takoyaki (baked octopus), Okonomiyaki (see last post), and Omochi (rice cakes), as well as more western foods like fried cheese, Kebab, Wieners on a stick, and huge hamburgers. There was also a surprisingly big amount of merchants selling airsoft guns and video games. What I found the most intriguing though was a little game for kids where they would get a fish hook on a string and tried to catch eel crowded in a small tub by sticking the hook into the eels' bodies. Sometimes they would succeed, which would cause the unfortunate eel to twist, turn, screw, twiddle and tweak on the hook until it either managed to escape back into the tub or became one with the lucky kid later that evening. A successful catch would cause general applause from the kid's parents as well as other bystanders. Quite cruel a fun, if you ask me. The evening's finale came when two enormous processions of strong, sweaty men passed through the streets carrying heavy-looking Mikoshi, or portable shrines. They would sing and jump and make noise, waving the Mikoshi so wildly from side to side that I was almost certain that they were going to drop it, but they didn't. Maybe they didn't drop it because they made a refreshment stop to drink a beer and smoke a cigarette every twenty minutes or so. All in all, everybody seemed to be having loads of fun. 
The procession of men carrying the Mikoshi.


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