Archive for December, 2006

Catch-up Continued

December 15, 2006

Picking up from when I left off in my last post: On Saturday, the 25th of November, I went to Kyoto, crowds be damned.

But speaking of the crowds . . . man, they were ridiculous. It was peak season for the autumn leaves and the city was packed. I arrived at Kyoto station around noon, with plans of eating at a particular famous restaurant. I had some trouble finding the place, and when I got there at last, I was met with an absurdly long line. It probably would have taken three hours to be seated, so I scrapped that idea. A lot more time was wasted in searching for an alternative, but the place I finally found was pretty neat. The restaurant, named Imobou Hiranoya, serves an unusual dish that has been it’s thing for the 300 years that it’s been in business. See the website for pictures and details.

After lunch, I walked along “The Philosopher’s Walk,” which is the route a famous professor of philosphy at Kyoto University (during the 30s, I think) used to walk as a daily constitutional. The path starts at Nanzenji, a major temple, and follows a canal until reaching the vicinity of Ginkakuji (“the Silver Pavillion”). The path was beautiful, but absolutely choked by the crowd. It’s probably lovely on weekdays.

Daunted by the crowds and pressed for time, I didn’t go into Nanzenji, but in the last hour of the day’s decent light and weather, I visited Ginkakuji.

The Silver Pavillion is not actually covered with silver, but it’s construction was inspired by Kinkakuji, the Golden Pavillion, and it was often used for moon-viewing parties. This isn’t the best picture, but I had to work around the crowds of people.


Some history: The Shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa didn’t like politics and wanted to retire from his position, but didn’t have any heirs. He named his brother as his successor, but a year later his wife gave birth to a boy. Kyoto divided into factions, with one half supporting the brother and the other backing the infant heir. This led to the Onin War (1467-1478), which in turn eventually led to a period of warring states that wracked the nation until reunification under the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1600. Yoshimasa has been reviled by many for ignoring the whole mess and pursuing poetry and painting while Kyoto burned, but at the same time, he fostered a flowering of the arts that developed much of what we now think of as traditional Japanese culture. Yoshimasa built Ginkakuji in 1482, and it was here that the tea ceremony, flower arranging, and influential styles of architecture, painting, and gardening variously originated or matured.

So there’s your history lesson for the day. I’ll leave you with one more picture.




December 9, 2006

Gah. I have a surfeit of things to talk about and not enough time to write posts. That’s better than the opposite, though, so I won’t complain too much.

Thursday of two weeks ago (around Thanksgiving) was a holiday – something like Labor Day. My school took Friday off instead and held class on Thursday. This wasn’t done to give us a three day weekend, rather it was because on Thursday we had “Open Junior High School,” where elementary school students visited the campus with their parents. School was held as usual for the first half of the day while our visitors looked around the buildings and peeked in on the classes. In the afternoon, everyone gathered at the grounds for some athletic competitions. Then our students broke off into their clubs (baseball, swimming, brass band, etc.) and the visitors could check out the different groups.

Less than twenty elementary students showed up for the day’s events, but I don’t think our kids minded. They got to have an afternoon without classes.


So we had that Friday off. I had intended to go to Kyoto on that day and avoid the weekend crowds, but my plans were sabotaged. I was told midweek that I was being sent to do some classes at an elementary school on the next Tuesday morning. I spent half of Friday finishing preparations and sorting things out with the elementary school, so that ruled out any big trips for the day.

But I didn’t let my afternoon go to waste. There is a hiking trail one train station over from where I live that I’d been meaning to try, and so I did. After about 45 minutes hiking up into the mountains, the trail ended near the Kobe City Municipal Arboretum. I went inside and was rewarded with some pretty nice scenery.


The autumn leaves were gorgeous and I didn’t have to contend with big crowds. My fellow patrons were mostly retired folks and young couples.


All in all, not a bad way to spend the afternoon.


The next week’s elementary school visit, by the way, went well, although I was caught off guard on one point. For one of the activities, I had the kids mill around the room while I played music. Periodically, I would stop the music and yell a number, and the kids had to form groups of that number. In the groups, they had to introduce themselves in English (just, “Hello, my name is xx,” and a handshake). Then, I’d start the music again and repeat.

This game was a great success, except that two of the classes had kids with autism. Movement, loud noise, and lots of social interaction – not fun for autistic people. When I had first spoken with a teacher from the school in planning the visit, I asked if there were any blind or deaf students, but I hadn’t thought to ask about autistic students. Now you might think that the teacher would have volunteered this information, but not so much. And they okay-ed my lesson plan when I faxed it to them, so . . . yeah. At least the other activities in my lessons were safe. And I think that, surprises and all, the visit went very well.

And now, I need to get to sleep.