Archive for March, 2008

Hiroshima and Miyajima

March 23, 2008

My spring break trip to China is just a few days away. On the 26th, I’ll fly to Hong Kong and then visit Guilin, Xi’an, Beijing, and Shanghai, returning to Japan on April 6th. I imagine that I’ll come back with enough material to keep me writing for quite a while, so before that has me occupied, I want to talk about one of my previous excursions that deserves mention.

Back in the beginning of October, I spent a weekend in Hiroshima.

View Map

Hiroshima is of course the first city to have been struck with a nuclear bomb. This building was at the hypocenter of the explosion – the spot directly below the blast point.

Hiroshima A-Bomb Dome

At the nearby memorial museum, a set of pictures taken at the hypocenter not long after the bombing shows a panorama of nothing but miles of scorched rubble.

Hiroshima has recovered impressively from its devastation. The surroundings are beautiful and the city is both vibrant and laid-back. And though as a loyal resident of the Kansai region it pains me to admit it, Hiroshima style okonomiyaki wins over Osaka style.

I spent Saturday night and most of Sunday in Hiroshima, but before that I visited the nearby island of Miyajima.

Miyajima Ferry View

Miyajima (“shrine island”) is properly named Itsukushima, and it’s famous for Itsukushima Shrine’s Shinto gate.

Miyajima Torii

Both the gate and the shrine are at their best when the tide is in.

Miyajima Itsukushima Jinja

If the tide had been in, the shrine would seem like it’s floating on water. Oh well.

Itsukushima Shrine is about 1,400 years old, although its current form dates from 1168. As for the famous gate, it’s not just there to look cool; its position offshore indicates that the entire island is sacred. I’ve heard that to that end, no burials are allowed on the island, even though there are enough residents that it has an elementary school and a junior high.

Like Nara, Miyajima has sacred deer.

Miyajima Deer

They’re a bit less well-behaved than their cousins, though. Whereas the deer in Nara will only bug you if you have food, Miyajima’s love to eat paper, and you have to watch that any maps, tickets, bags, and the like aren’t devoured in an unguarded moment.

Miyajima’s fame resides with the shrine and its gate, without a doubt, but it also has a significant temple.

Miyajima Daishou-in Map

Daishō-in was founded in 806 by Kōbō-Daishi, an important figure in the history of Buddhism in Japan. I’ll write a post about him someday. The Dalai Lama visited the temple on its 1,200th anniversary.

Daishō-in doesn’t feature anything I’d rate as must-see, but a lot of little things made it worth the time.

Like this carving.

Miyajima Daishou-in Medashi-Daruma

Or this one, of a tanuki dressed as a monk.

Miyajima Daishou-in Tanuki

I love his expression.

And there’s always good old Jizō.

Miyajima Daishou-in Jizou

The buildings, meanwhile, were a mix of old and new, although I’m pretty sure that none of the originals remain. The newest construction was the highest main building, which had to be rebuilt after a nasty typhoon in 2004. This is the top floor, looking very new indeed.

Miyajima Daishou-in New

Finally, this is from the basement of another building.

Miyajima Daishou-in Lanterns

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I remembered that Daishō-in actually does have a big draw. On the top of the mountain, a good hike from the main temple, is a building that houses a fire that has been kept burning since the temple’s foundation. Unfortunately, the path up the mountain had been washed out and was closed, so I wasn’t able to take a look.

Yokohama

March 16, 2008

Rather abruptly, it’s spring here in Kobe. Temperatures are at least ten degrees higher than last week, birds are chirping, and the non-evergreen plants are showing signs of life again. Unfortunately, spring has also brought several days when the air is filled with yellow dust from northwest China. Blah.

Last Wednesday was the graduation ceremony at the junior high school. The first and second year students still have a week and a half of classes, though. On the same day, the board of education sent out notice of school placements. I’ll be staying at the same school for my last term.

This news is a month old, but I’ll mention it anyway: I passed the level two JLPT. So I have “mastered grammar to a relatively high level, [know] around 1,000 kanji and 6,000 words, and [have] the ability to converse, read, and write about matters of a general nature.” Still can’t read the blasted newspaper without consulting a dictionary every sentence, though.

Speaking of old news, the conference at Yokohama two weeks ago was in fact worthwhile. Most of the speakers were former JETs, and it was really interesting to hear them talk about where their lives took them after they left the program.

Before and after the conference, I had a little time to explore Yokohama.

Its Chinatown – Chūkagai, literally “China Street” – is purportedly the largest in Japan.

Yokohama Chinatown

Another JET said, “It feels just like Taiwan. Except that it’s clean.”

I also visited Sankei-en, a garden built a hundred years ago by a silk tycoon. More interesting than the garden itself is that the owner had almost a dozen historic buildings moved to the garden.

This one – a 1623 construction of unusual design- was taken from the grounds of Ni-jō, the former shogunal castle in Kyoto.

Yokohama Sankei-en Choshukaku

This is inside a villa built in 1649 by relatives of the shogun.

Yokohama Sankei-en Rinshunkaku

And this isn’t the best picture, but the building shown here was taken from Daitoku-ji. It was built in 1591 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi to celebrate the long life of his mother.

Yokohama Sankei-en Oido

Hideyoshi unified Japan at the end of the Warring States period and led invasions of Korea in the 1590s. He died in 1598, and as the country started to fall apart again, Tokugawa Ieyasu took control and established stable rule with the Tokugawa Shogunate.

That’s all for now.

Conferences and Broken Windows

March 1, 2008

Also: Elementary school visits. I’ll start from there.

The junior high school had final exams this week, for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Rather than have me sit around doing nothing for three days, I was sent to teach classes at the neighboring elementary school. My classes went well and the kids were cute.

My kids – the junior high students – have been distinctly not cute. Or some of them, anyway. On Friday morning, it was discovered that overnight, all the windows had been smashed in one of the second year classrooms. Now windows getting broken at my current school is nothing new, but an entire room’s worth is a lot (they cover the upper halves of two walls). Because of the scale of the vandalism and the fact that it required breaking into the locked school, the police were called in to do an investigation. I overheard the summary of the immediate findings and it was impressive how much they could work out.

I’m interested in finding out who did it, but that will have to wait until Thursday. For Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of next week, I’ll be in Yokohama, at the conference for departing JETs. The conference is optional, and participants have to arrange and pay for travel, food, and lodging on their own, but it’s three days of “special leave” from work, and that’s not bad. I’ve never been to Yokohama, so I’m looking forward to it, and hopefully the conference itself will be worthwhile, too.