Archive for March, 2007

The End of the School Year

March 22, 2007

Today was the last day of class and tomorrow is the closing ceremony. The next two weeks are Spring Break and then the new school year begins.

Speaking of which, I finally received my new assignment. For the entirety of the new school year, I’ll be working at Hibarigaoka Junior High, which is five train stops west of downtown and a fifteen-minute bus ride up into the mountains. My predecessor describes the school as”hell,” with students walking in and out of class, windows getting broken all the time, one of the English teachers apologizing to judo club members when they tell her off, and so on. However, as an upside to Kobe’s policy of transferring teachers fairly frequently, that particular teacher (plus yet another English teacher) are being moved, and the replacements will be probably be chosen from tougher characters. And my current school also has a reputation for wild, impossible-to-teach students (albeit not too violent), and I’ve loved it there. We have a lot of enforcer-type teachers though, so the state of my next school might depend on the quality of the transfers. But before I have to deal with that, I’m going on a vacation.

Last weekend I went on a trip with the second grade teachers. Originally, we were going to Fukuoka, a major city in Kyūshū, the southernmost of Japan’s four major islands. Unfortunately, one teacher had to attend a funeral and another’s wife has been battling cancer, so instead of going anywhere far, the venue changed to the town of Maiko, which is technically part of Kobe. We stayed in a resort-ish hotel near the Akashi-Kaikyo Bridge. The bridge was pretty, but the trip was a bit lame. I enjoyed spending time with the teachers, though.

So. Last week I realized that the school year is almost over and I hadn’t made any plans for Spring Break. I want to visit China, but it was already too late, since you need to arrange a visa in advance. So I thought, why not make that trip to Fukuoka? And to get to the point, while researching Fukuoka, I discovered that there are ferries to Korea. So after making plans and then reserving tickets and hotels through a travel agent, my vacation looks like this:

On Tuesday, I’ll take the bullet train to Fukuoka and then catch a hydrofoil ferry to Busan, South Korea. I’ll spend a day in Gyeongju, three days in Seoul, and two days back in Busan, returning to Japan on Monday, the 2nd. Then I’ll stay in Fukuoka until I head home on Wednesday evening.

Ack. I was going to write more, but I need to get to bed.



Kyoto Part III: Part 2

March 11, 2007

The early spring weather has been all over the place, warm one day, freezing the next, but I guess that’s not unusual. Rain was pouring down all last night. Now the rain has been replaced with howling wind. So I’m not going to go out much today, but in the meantime, I still have lots of pictures that I’ve been meaning to put up. Picking up where I left off . . .

On December 2nd, I went to Kyoto. In the morning I visited Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. After that I went to the Zen temple complex of Daitoku-ji, where I spent the rest of the day.

Daitoku-ji, founded in 1319, is a large complex composed of many sub-temples. Each sub-temple is in its own enclosure and has its own character and history. The sub-temples also all have their own gardens, which include some of Japan’s most famous rock gardens. Alas, photography isn’t allowed inside most of the temples, so I don’t have pictures of the best stuff, but hopefully I can still give you an idea of what Daitoku-ji is like.

This map is near the main gate.

Daitoku-ji Map

Daitoku-ji is still active, with operating monasteries, public and private religious services, and so on. Of twenty-one sub-temples, only four are normally open to entry. Luckily, three more were specially opened for autumn, and I took the afternoon to visit all seven.

But before that I had lunch. I ate at Izusen, a Zen vegetarian restaurant (vegan, in fact) inside Daitoku-ji. The meal was absolutely fantastic. It’s probably a good thing that I’m not living in Kyoto. I wouldn’t be able to stay away from all the great restaurants and I’d go happily broke.

This sign points to Izusen.

Daitoku-ji Izusen

Now, onto the rest of Daitoku-ji. I won’t go into the details of each temple or anything, I’ll just show you my favorite pictures.


The paths.

The roads in the complex (all private) were busy with repair workers with trucks like this one.

Daitoku-ji Truck

Smaller avenues were lined with trees near the end of their autumn glory.

Daitoku-ji Broad Path

And garden walkways lead from each temple to its gate.

Daitoku-ji Garden Path


The roofs.

Many of the temple roofs have gargoyle-like faces at their peaks.

Daitoku-ji Face

Sometimes you have to look closely to tell, but different temples have different faces.

Daitoku-ji Face 2

And some temples have other sorts of decorations.

Daitoku-ji Roof

From the style of its roof, you can tell that this bell is part of the previous temple.

Daitoku-ji Bell

And finishing my theme, I like how the wall is made from old roof tiles.


One last picture.

Daitoku-ji Basin

This large, pretty, but unassuming basin was made from a stone taken from Korea’s royal palace when Japan invaded in the 1590s. It’s in a sub-temple that was built in 1601 at the behest of a famous military leader who retired to study Zen under Daitoku-ji’s abbot, thirty years later. He had a really fascinating life, but I’ve written enough for one post, so I’ll just leave it at that.



Addendum: now it’s snowing. Crazy.

In the News

March 4, 2007

Last Monday, the police searched the headquarters of the Yamaguchi-gumi yakuza. This was in Kobe’s Nada Ward and my school is in Higashi (“East”) Nada Ward. So the headquarters of the largest criminal organization in Japan (47% of all yakuza) is just a train stop away from work. Good to know.

In other news:  Today, in Higashi Nada Ward, the city is removing an unexploded WWII bomb. Sixty-two years have passed and they still turn up every once in a while.