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08/11/2012

Adventures at the Tokyo Skytree

I shouldn't been in bed a ridiculously long time ago, so I'm going to have to make this quick.
Today was (of course) class as usual. After class, I went to a CIEE lunch with a few other students. We went to a delicious Indian restaurant near the university campus and the entire thing was quite enjoyable. After lunch, I spent a little time in BookOff buying J-pop and then headed back to the hotel. The fun story of today begins around 5pm. 

This evening several of us went to Tokyo's newest tallest tower; The Tokyo Skytree! As big as it is, you would think it would be easy to find. No. It looks close pretty much no matter where you are because of its immense scale and no matter where you look for directions it's kind of confusing. Google maps lied and took us the wrong way, but eventually we did arrive!!! 

It costs about 2000yen to go up, but we took the elevator all the way up to the 350th floor! It was definitely the right time to be in Japan. The skytree only opened back in May and the crowds are only just now becoming manageable to visit. We were only in line for tickets for around half an hour, but once you get up to the top there's even a line to take the escalator down to the 345th level to see the glass floor.
Despite the pervasive theme of "waiting" and "lines", the view was absolutely beautiful. It was definitely worth the trouble of getting there and I would recommend it to anybody visiting Tokyo. I of tried to take a few photographs of the view, but my camera definitely couldn't do it proper justice!

When I got back to the hotel I still had to do laundry, finish up round 2 of postcards to get them sent out tomorrow, and get all the stuff off my bed that had been put there when I needed to get into one of my suitcases. Suffice it to say that it is almost 1am and I still have to be awake at 6:30am tomorrow to be ready for school. Oh well, I suppose I can sleep next Friday while I'm on the plane. There won't be much opportunity before then!

Tea Ceremony and Host Siblings For Life

The day of my midterm was the day of the tea ceremony event at school! We didn't get to participate in the tea ceremony, but we learned all about them and then watched one with accompanying explanations. After we watched, everyone was given some Matcha (Japanese green tea) and a tea cake. 

Then later that same week,
                                                                     
Today is the day I got to meet my sister and her mom in Ueno!!! I hadn't seen Hiromi since she went back to Osaka at the end of her exchange, and I hadn't seen okaa-san since I first met Hiromi the summer before that, so it was a wonderful reunion! We met up in front of the Tokyo National Museum in Ueno, Tokyo. None of us had been before, so it was a new experience for everyone. We were all so happy to see each other!!!

The National Museum is a rather large establishment, and it is full of some absolutely amazing Japanese art. From samurai armor to paper fans, this place has EVERYTHING!It was fascinating and I definitely recommend it if you're ever in Tokyo. The Ueno Park Zoo is also in the area if you have a second day.
Anyways, we explored the enormous museum for what I thought was only a short while but turned out to be about 2 hours! I couldn't believe how fast it flew by! I think my favorite room was the one with all of the Ukio-e, or maybe the netsuke, or maybe the wall screens? Oh, I don't know, I can't pick a favorite, there were just too many fantastic things I saw!




                                                               After we finished looking though the National Museum, we walked through Ueno park. There is a very famous statue on the other side from where the museum was, and we decided that we wanted to go see it. Along the way, we stopped when we saw many tori gates lined up down a path. Okaa-san suggested we follow it to the shrine. It was a very short walk to the shrine and Okaa-san gave me and Hiromi each a 5yen coin (they are good luck) to make a request of the shrine. I could tell you what the shrine was for, but I that might give away our requests, and we can't have that! The walk through the park was beautiful since the weather has cooled down substantially after it rained two days ago. We did find the statue we were seeking and took a photo in front of it to commemorate the day.

 
By this time we were starting to get hungry, so we left the park in search of food. There is a shopping center very close to both the park and the station, so it was convenient for us to walk over there and find something delicious. After exploring the available options, we decided that tonight was a night for Kaiten Zushi! Kaiten Zushi is what you might be used to hearing called "conveyor belt sushi" in the states. I love these places; they're really fun and the sushi is always fresh and delicious! We had our choice of sushi from the varied assortment available, as well as miso soup with shellfish and an unlimited supply of hot Matcha (Japanese green tea). The only problem I ever have at these places is getting full before I can try everything!! I'll have to go back so that I can try even more wonderful sushi. Some of these I have seen in the states, but the vast majority I only see on my occasional trips to the Land of the Rising Sun. Maybe there's a Kaiten Zushi place near the hotel or the University, I will have to look into that!

After dinner, we explored the shopping center. It was such a fun time! We looked through many floors of the large building and had a blast talking. I am so happy that I was able to see Hiromi and Okaa-san today. I am very thankful that they were able to make the trip all the way from Osaka to visit. Eventually we had to part ways. I was sad that we had to separate, but I know that in time we will definitely see each other again.

Street Style: Hitting up Harajuku the Right Way

Okay, so you've probably all heard of Cosplay Bridge (well... you may know it as Harajuku bridge or JinguBashi); Where all of the lolitas cosplayers congregate every Sunday. People I know in Japan (including lolitas who generally participate in this weekly pageantry), the internet, Japanese magazines, pretty much everyone I've ever talked to about Harajuku has mentioned this spot and what generally takes place. So about 12 of us decided that today we would get all dressed up and make the trip to 原宿の橋 to try and get some pictures with local fashionistas. It was boiling outside, and we all had on various forms of heavy dresses, tulle under-skirting, and wig-etry making it even hotter, but we went through with it because we all really wanted to take part. Now take a second look at that picture on the top left and see if you can tell me what the problem is. 


Got it yet? Here's a hint: who do you see in the photo? That's right. Us. Not a single person outside of our CIEE group. It was kind of sad really, because we had all been looking forward to this event we had heard so much about! The funny part was, people starting coming by with their cameras and asking to take our pictures. We ended up becoming the very attraction we had come to see.  Personally, I think part of the reason nobody was there today is that it was really far to hot to be standing out in the sun. ESPECIALLY in outfits with so many hidden sources of heat. I would go again to hopefully see some people, but definitely not in the middle of August. It's far too hot and as fun as it was, a lot of the enjoyment was spoiled by the humidity and overwhelming temperature.

Now of course I couldn't let a good pair of (excruciatingly painful) new Shibuya 109 high heels go to waste, I had to do some walking around Takeshita Dori! I met up with Jamie at the train station to have some more Harajuku fun. 
We started the afternoon with some purikura, in perfect BGE tradition. It was especially fun getting to do it with my big hair on.  It's a pretty convincing style, don't you think? 
We also went to lunch in a cafe. They had some delicious fruit pancakes with ice cream. Maybe it wasn't the healthiest lunch, but it was a delicious way to cool down when it was far too crowded to push all the way down to the crepe place. I'd always heard that Sunday was the busiest day since nobody has school (and yes, school does happen on Saturdays for many students here), but WOW I didn't realize it would be so insanely packed! It was almost impossible to get anywhere. Everywhere we went had lines wrapping around to the back of the store, one even went all the way outside. We only went about 1/8 of the way down Takeshita Dori because all the people were so packed in. I have never seen such insanity! 

The Happiest Place in Japan: Tokyo disneyland

This ticket is mine. All mine! 
The trip to Disneyland finally happened today!!!!  I hate to use a cliche, but it was definitely a magical experience! Initially I wasn't sure if I wanted to go to Disneyland or DisneySea, but after today I know I made the right decision. I'll just have to come back to visit Sea another time!

Inside Disney Station! 
The entire CIEE group met at school and took the train to Disney Station together. That was where we received our tickets and split into Team Land and Team Sea for our monorail destinations, and then split up into our groups for the day. The monorail was adorable, even the little hand rails hanging from the ceiling were mickey shaped!  The ride wasn't very long and we very quickly arrived at the gates. Of course we all ran in and started the awesomeness immediately. Our first mission was to pick up fast passes for Space Mountain. Even though we arrived decently early, it was so popular that our assigned return time was past 3pm! Since there was plenty of wait time, we moved on and went on our first ride: It's a Small World!  I took a video of a short portion of it; in case you're interested in hearing what it's like in Japanese.
We also were given a handy tip about nearby Splash Mountain. No matter how large your group is (at that point we were 7) always say you're a single rider. They let you go in the fast pass line and you turn an 80 minute wait time into an 8 minute wait time. You won't be sitting with your friends, but it's totally worth it for not having to wait in that awful line!

I'm such a card! Did end up eating
dinner inside here later.
We explored every one of the souvenir shops and eventually three of us bought various forms of head ornamentation. I say it that way because we went beyond the typical mickey ears (which EVERYBODY was wearing!) for something a little more unique. My personal choice was Stitch nom noming my head. I definitely tried on quite a few before choosing, but this one seemed the most me.

Once our fastpass time arrived, I took a quick picture of us rushing through the line at Space Mountain. I couldn't believe how fast we got through everywhere! I think Tokyo Disney has a better understanding of the phrase "maximum capacity" than the US counterparts. Though perhaps it could be because (fun fact) they aren't actually owned by the Disney Corporation. They pay for the right to everything so they can have different rules! For example, if as an adult you show up to Tokyo Disney in costume, nobody cares. If you pull that in the states you'll be kicked out faster than you can say "Security".
 Cinderella's castle not only served as the main focal point of the park, but also the main event stage for their Natsu Matsuri event shows. You have to participate in a lottery to get tickets to the seated area, so we only saw part of the afternoon show, but we definitely snagged tickets to the night time main event!
Disney food was also sort of different, and yet sort of the same. Instead of Mickey shaped ice creams, they had Mickey shaped fruit pops and frozen mango. And don't hate, it's so hot and humid that ice cream would probably make most people sick while conversely the fruit based items cool you down enjoyably. There were still ice creams available, just not on the carts. Even the lunches and dinners had their own Japan twists. My lunch at pizza port was definitely a slice of Mozzerella and Crab pizza. Now THAT is unique, yet delicious!
Even though we're way too old to ride most things there, we took a detour into ToonTown. We wanted to see the Mickey Mouse fountain!






Even though this park is smaller than the Disney in California, it was the perfect size for a one day adventure.

Just past 7 it was time to go watch 'Soryo Kobu The Final'. That's the name of part 2 of the big Natsu Matsuri show up on the main stage. At this point it was just me and Lauren. Our lottery spot secured us some pretty great seats, second block center. What we didn't realize was that this show gets you WET. Not just little sprinkles of water. I mean massive cannons spread throughout the castle and stage. At one point I was trying to film a part of the performance when the cannons went off, all you can see at the end of the video is the camera dropping as you hear me scream. It was kind of hilarious. The show was really fun! The characters danced and there was a lot of audience participation! Also the water cannons felt amazing in the heat.

After that show, we met up with Liza and Andrew near the front of the park. The four of us got a spot to watch the 'Tokyo Disney Electrical Parade'. It was about a 25 minute show which I filmed all of but am not able to upload here today due to internet constraints.  That was probably the best Disney parade I've ever seen. It was just so entertaining and fun!!

When all was said and done, we left the park smiling and feeling like little kids again. I took SO MANY PICTURES! This has been the best day of the entire trip! All in all, I think I'm going to have to come back to DisneyTokyo. Though my next trip may have to be to explore the park next door; DisneySea!

 

The Road To Midterms: Balancing School Life and Tokyo Fun

Many summer session classes have field trips; some optional, some required, some in class, some afterwards. During the first full week, my class to a field trip to tour the Tokyo Stock Exchange. 

Even though it was technically after school, we still had to end class early in order for everyone to arrive by the scheduled tour time. We were perfectly allowed to take pictures, but we weren't allowed to use flash so it was difficult to get many good images. I won't know for sure what all turned out until I look at the pictures larger on the computer, so for now check out my fancy schmancy visitor badge.
CIMG8985
We had a special private tour scheduled for the class, so this is something I never would have been able to see if I had simply been in Tokyo on my own. We learned quite a bit about how the stock market works in Japan, as well as how the TSE runs on a daily basis. It was very interesting and it was a fantastic opportunity brought to us by the campus. 
The next day, I hopped on a train after school, transfered at Kanda, and went back to Akihabara to do what I had been planning since June: go to MaiDreamin. MaiDreamin is a Maid Cafe in Akihabara with multiple chains of the cafe throughout Akiba. There's like 6 of them on this one street and they're all super successful. Why? Because they are AMAZING! This isn't like the 2 other Maid Cafe's I've been to before. This was by far the most spectacular service I have had anywhere in Japan.
When I walked in, I was given my own personal maid, Mariko, and my presence was announced to the entire shop (of course, everybody applauded. It's part of the ambiance). I was referred to for the entire time as either "Princess Jennifer" or "Master". Okay, a little creepy in English, but in Japanese it was adorable. Mariko asked me about where I was from and talked to me about lots of things. Another one of the maids came around when Mariko was busy and made sure I understood everything that was going on since it has been discussed that my primary language is English. They thought my Japanese was cute! My treats were a chocolate bear parfait named kuma-chan and a white peach tea.   2012-07-31_14-07-43_658
After I got my food, all the lights were turned off and exchanged for party lights for the "Live Show". It was so adorable, the maids danced and even sang a little! They got the audience involved, clapping and joining in on a part of the dance. We also got various colored glowsticks to play along with. The whole experience was just pure sugary fun! It costs a little more than others I have been to, but honestly the quality makes it 100% worth it and I would recommend MaiDreamin to anyone planning to go to a Maid Cafe. If you ever go to one with me, we'll definitely be going to one of their branches!

The next day after classes the Sophia Summer Office sponsored a trip to the Meiji Shrine in Harajuku. I had been here before, but this time was different because we had a presentation about the shrine from some of the priests, as well as we were able to watch an official ceremony. I wish I could've taken photos during the ceremony because it was quite beautiful, but photography is strictly forbidden in that particular part of the shrine. Luckily the outdoor areas were photographable, so I was able to get some shrine photos; just not of priests or preistesses because they ask you not to.
                                                                                     

Now an especially cool fact about the Meiji Shrine is it's location. You walk outside and are literally at Cosplay Bridge. Even with it being already pretty late in the evening (just past 5pm when all was said and done) we couldn't be in Harajuku without going back down Takeshita Dori for a little mini shopping trip. 


Our next summer session activity was going to Noh. Noh is a type of masked performance play. I was a little nervous about going because I'd heard a lot of poor reviews of the art form. Things like "It's really slow", "It's boring", and "I fell asleep". But of course I try to experience everything, and I had never seen a Noh play for myself, so I was up to try it. I was so pleasantly surprised! The first few minutes I was worried, it seemed to be starting out slow; but very quickly I was drawn in and the hour and a half performance felt as if it had taken only a few minutes. The minimalist nature of the staging makes the actors have to draw you in on their own, and the whole performance really does pull you into it. My only comment on Noh is that the masks are REALLY CREEPY. I mean just downright scary. The good news is that only main characters wear them, so it's okay. We saw "Aoi no Ue" which is basically an episode from The Tale of Genji. I have never read Genji, but it is very famous and after seeing this performance I may have to read it because I would love to hear the rest of the story. I really wish I could've filmed part of the show, or at least taken pictures. Sadly photos were not allowed once the show began. At least I was able to capture a few shots of the stage.
After the show we all went in search of food. The Noh theatre was in a haute fashion district, so there wasn't much to eat in that area. Luckily for us our train transfer was in Shibuya, so we just hopped over there and looked for somewhere to eat right in the center of all the action! Once we found our way out of the ginormous station and around to the proper side, we crossed the road at Shibuya Crossing and started to check out the back areas behind Shibuya 109. There's a lot of shopping in that area, but there's also a TON of food.
Corn soup: one of my favorites
We looked around and around trying to decide what sounded right for the night. Finally, I spotted a sign that said pancakes. Pancakes have been brought up for various reasons over the past few days so I saw the sign and thought immediately "This is the place!".
My awesome pancakes of delicousness
 I pointed it out to the group and we all took the elevator up to the 8th floor where the restaurant was located. As soon as we saw the big menu setup, everyone else decided it was definitely the place. Everything was as delicious as it was adorable! Also, since their pancakes are thicker, they were extremely filling and they incorporated dessert into the dinner experience. I haven was able to have some corn soup! It's one of those silly little foods that I love in Japan but hadn't found yet this year. It wasn't a big day for pictures, so basically all I've got is food pictures. I'm sure you don't mind, they're cute! 

 

08/09/2012

Before I Jump In, A bit about Me エヴリーン (Evelyn)

Blog-Me

Hajimemashite!  My name is Evelyn Cooke, a rising sophomore marketing major at Howard University in Washington, D.C.  I am only 18 years old, which makes me the youngest in the CIEE group (luckily I have met one 17 year-old in the summer session at Sophia University that understands my struggle) so I have a pretty unique experience.  I live in Staten Island, New York so moving to Tokyo didn’t seem like it would be too much of a culture shock as I am accustomed to the hustle and bustle of big city life.  That's what I THOUGHT.

Blog-trip2

You may be thinking, wow a rising sophomore studying abroad already?  (or not lol)  So, I would like to start by explaining why I decided to buy a $1,700 plane ticket to go halfway across the world.

Personally:

            As the youngest child of mostly males, I learned early on to appreciate the entertainment choices of my brothers.  This led me to finding much appreciation for Japanese anime, games and toys.  Continuing this interest, I began to volunteer at an annual Japan Day event held at Central Park in Manhattan which introduced me to the real culture.  Here is where the dream of one day seeing this beautiful country first-hand was created. 

Professionally:

            During my first year at Howard, I decided to fulfill my language requirements by studying Japanese, (my older sister had taken Chinese and my inner child strayed away from wanting to be a “copy-cat” even though I admired her choice) It was during this class that a recruiter from a popular game company, Namco Bandai (responsible for things like Soul Caliber, Tekken and Pac-man for you gamers) came and told the class about summer marketing internships right here in Tokyo.  Unfortunately, to apply, you need to know more than how to count and introduce yourself in Japanese.  So, to prepare myself for applying in the near future, I decided that covering myself in the culture and language was the best solution.

Academically:

            While my school doesn’t make studying abroad very easy to do, in the long run, taking classes at Sophia University will help me to continue to learn Japanese.  I have come to realize that language courses I have taken move at a much slower pace than what I need to become comfortable with the language any time soon.  Taking not only language courses, but a business course as well will provide me with credits and everything I need to know to get around Tokyo at a basic level.

CIEE was the only choice for me!

I chose more specifically to come through the CIEE program because I had the option to stay with a Japanese family which would allow me to learn the structures and manners of the culture first-hand.  Also, this program seemed to be the freest in terms of allowing for time to explore and see whatever it is that interests me about Japan.

 

I am here to have fun, put aside my American ways, and enjoy all that this country has to offer.  I was nervous at first but to those interested out there that sound like me, hopefully my story will give you all you need/want to know.  

 

This is my first time blogging so I hope I don't put you to sleep, I will try not to ramble on about myself anymore lol

In case you were wondering:

List of other Namco Bandai games - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Namco_games

Hiroshima and Nagasaki Memorial Day

Japan_hiroshima_peace_dome_memorial

During our first days here in Japan, we got to know one another by asking various questions like place of origin, name of and year in school, and the most interestingly answered questions, “Why Japan?” Many have come as Manga heads, Anime fans, Lolita lovers, or just to satisfy a craving for an extreme change in scenery. Despite all of our specific reasons, I think it is safe to say that we all truly love Japan as a country and what it has to offer.

In the midst of the blissful touring of the countryside and the packed trains and streets of the vivacious city, the natives live their lives from day to day, just like any other year.

As a home stay student, I am a witness to the daily life of the average Japanese family including the holidays.

Today, my okaasan shared with me the importance of this date. Today, Aug 9th, marks the Memorial Anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki. Just three days before, marked the Memorial Anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. My mood was brought down to a somber, contemplative murmur. Cherry Blossom Festivals, fireworks, and the playful cosplay of Harajuku are only the surface cultural novices of this long established country. As awful as the bombings were, Japan is the country it is today because of it. Hundreds of thousands of people perished that day and the days following, and as some of you may know, many victims still suffer from the damages of the nuclear bombings including severe burns and radiation poisoning.

 On Aug 15th, 1945, Japan surrendered, ending World War II. Being here in Japan offers me a much different perspective on the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As the mention of the bombing is consistently disheartening, I take the time out to remember those days and be glad of the progress this grand country has made, and that the doors to this country are still wide open to foreigners like us.

The bombing’s of Hiroshima and Nagasaki are just as much a part of this culture as Manga, Anime, Cherry Blossom Festivals, Geishas, Samurai, and Ghibli animation, and I feel as Japan immersed students, we should acknowledge the history the same.

For those of you who believe in a higher power, let us pray for the victims that are still affected by the bombing, and for those who don't, please offer a sympathetic heart. ♥

 

08/08/2012

Japanese People are so polite! Until they get on the train 8-/

IMG_1866


So as a joke, I submitted a Facebook status that ready “Random, but I'm thinking about creating a t-shirt that reads "I survived Tokyo Transit Rush Hour” Unsurprisingly, many people left comments sharing my pain. All who left comments said that they would be proud to wear the shirt, while others left more detailed comments like my favorite:

“Ahh good old Tokyo rush hour. Gotta love the feeling of being pushed, shoved, stepped on, booty bumped, elbowing of body parts, stampede "rush" out the door (when everyone is going to the same place anyways.), being pushed/forced in the train like I am about to get kid napped, and of course the sudden stops that sends everyone flying across the whole train, Ooo and of course the glares! Yea I can saw I survived that! I would be proud to wear that shirt:)”

She pretty much summed up most of what goes on, on the train. Whether you are staying for a month, a semester, or a year, taking Tokyo public transit can wear heavily on your body and mind. I have just a few tips that have worked for me during my short time here:

IMG_2047

  1. Always leave about 15 minutes before your estimated travel time. In the event you need to step out of a crowded car and wait for a less crowded one, you have allotted the time to do so. Also, things like “accidents” happen often and may also delay most trains.
  2. To avoid getting smashed into a corner far away from the door (possibly smothered by larger man) stand strong in a position you have chosen on the train. Plant your feet shoulder width apart and let everyone pass you. They will be just fine.
  3. If unidentified objects brush parts of you that you are not comfortable with (and it will happen) DO NOT HESISTATE to turn around and assess the situation. It may just be a briefcase or woman’s’ purse. IN THE EVENT that it is a pervert who is trying to be slick, turn all the way around and face him (happened to me and this worked). Look him in the eye till he clearly feels uncomfortable, no need to say a word.
  4. If a “tight fitting situation” is just more than you can handle and you are not the “confrontational type” remember, you have allowed yourself enough time to get off at the next stop and wait for a less crowded train. (Cars towards the front are usually less crowded. Cars towards the middle or close to stairs are most packed) I advise you to not suffer through it for it will wear on you mentally and physically sooner than later.
  5. For women, there is always the Women Only Car, which is usually packed, but chances of another woman acting inappropriately towards you are slim. However, getting off and on the trains are done just as aggressively by women and men alike.

Besides all the drama, Tokyo public transit runs and operates very efficiently (despites its evident lack of a maximum capacity limit). Most trains run every 5 minutes or less, and the express lines stop at all major stops including Yotsuya. I hope I have helped many future and current students attending CIEE. Japan is a wonderful place, however, the politeness stops when the Suica card is scanned. ;)

 

Sado – Japanese Tea Ceremony

Hello, blog readers!

I have a double whammy I’d like to share with everyone. I recently got to experience a tea ceremony demonstration from my host mother and sister at home, then followed up with another one from Sophia University as an optional event. It’s the difference between the two that I’d like to share with you, sorta’ to see the two sides of the approaches to the same traditional event.

Let’s begin with the tea ceremony I experienced at home.

It was pretty straightforward. Okaasan showed me the different tools used to prepare the tea, such as the chasaji, or “mini spoon” made of bamboo used to scoop the tea, the chasen, or whisk you mix the powdered tea with, and the chawan, or tea bowl, which you drink the tea in.

Teaceremonybasics

Macha is the specific Japanese powdered green tea that has a slightly bitter tang. It’s delicious, really. So Okaasan took out her tea tools, but she let my Imoto-chan take the lead and show me how it’s done. I was informed that the tea ceremony is a class you take in Jr. High school, while my host sister Imoto-chan took me step-by-step through the motions.

Firstly, using the chasaji, only two scoops of macha are used to make roughly 1/3 of the chawan’s capacity in tea. You then pour hot water onto the macha, and use the chasen you vigorously mix the contents until it’s an even darker green. Then, you lift the bowl by placing it on your left palm and using your right hand to turn the bowl clockwise twice.

Okaasan explained that this is done to appreciate the design and pattern on the bowl, or the shape of the bowl (chawan) you are about to sip tea from. Then you drink while your hands are held the same way. After being dubbed nekko-jita by Okaasan for being unable to drink my macha that hot (and lolled at a little—don’t worry, I can eat spicy food which leaves my host family in awe, so I got a laugh, too) I was shown how to wipe the portion you sipped from and then rotate counterclockwise in the same method. It ended just as abruptly, and was pretty informal.

   While Okaasan had me at the dinner table with Imoto-chan, and a fascinated Otooto-kun watched along, the demonstration at school didn’t really involve me as much, nor did it get into the motions of the tea ceremony so much. Rather, it was all an explanation about the aesthetics of the tea ceremony and the psychology behind it. A faux tatami room was set up to add to the mood.

TeaCeremony (30)

We observed the making of the tea from scratch, using very traditional methods, all the while the movements of the oba-san making the were constrained and deliberate, all radiating discipline. We had an announcer giving us the play-by-play of what she was doing. I kept mentally comparing it to Okaasan’s pouring hot water out of a hot water heater, and the four of us just sitting and laughing around the table, (me attempting to drink super hot tea), to what I was watching now. Although the aesthetics that were explained to us said that this ceremony was supposed to be one of relaxed airs and easy communication between the teishu (host) and the kyaku (guests), it was a far cry from Okaasan’s kitchen table.

TeaCeremony (45)

We watched the wrap up with the guest thanking everything (not just the host, but the tea growers, the tea, the tea cup, the displayed wall scroll and the ikebana) and I didn’t get the same explanation for why to rotate the tea cup, to my surprise. Then the oba-san cleaned up everything on the spot in a very traditional way, and we all got to taste the macha they’d made behind the screen, along with a famous tea sweet called Momoyama from the Yamanashi Prefecture popular for such tiny cakes.

I liked this ceremony as well, but I feel like what we were shown was more of how it was done, old school. I guess the way Okaasan showed me would be more of the modern spin on a very, very old tradition. It still kept the idea and purpose behind the tea ceremony—to relax and enjoy one’s company and scenery—but it was done with less rigidity and more silliness.

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Those cakes were so darn cute! I learned that you eat the sweet before you drink the tea, to equalize the bitterness. And it didn’t hurt that an adorable little kid was shuffling about serving them on a tray. Kawaii desu ne?

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Thanks for dropping by, bloggers! Until my next omoshiroi event, Ja matta ne!

;3

 

 

08/07/2012

Tai-ko: the Great Drum

Bloggers! Long time no read :D

Let’s talk Taiko, traditional drums of Japan. This blog’s subject will surround one totally fantabulous instance: my visit to the Taiko Labs.

Anybody who’s interested in music, this is absolutely the place for you to visit. You don’t just have to be a drummer to check this out—heck, I’m only a violinist and this was Ah-May-Zing! It’s not only awesome music and a jaw-dropping demo, but you get to play a taiko drum and feel what the drummer does. This drum is pretty big, and pretty tough to hit. If you’re not careful, those bachi you play it with will recoil and pop you right back!

Like any other aspect of the Japanese culture, this requires a good bit of discipline. Honestly, not just anyone can be a Taiko drummer. And man, it really is an art form as much as exciting music.

The first sight I laid eyes on when entering the sound-proof studio was a small river of large taiko drums.

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We had a nice instructor who took us through the motions of playing a simple pattern, then adding complications with having only half of us play, then half the room play one chorus while the other half played the second part, then switch off. We even had a moment where some of us drumming next to each other had to switch to each others’ drums between beats, then hurry and switch back. It was fantastic, and a ton of fun. I loved the energy that our instructor brought into the room, and the sound of the drum vibrating thorough everyone was exhilarating. It made you want to play and be a part of the fun. The shouts in particular added to the mood. We chanted “So-re, so-re, so-re!” periodically through playing, in time with the beat.

The closest possible thing to that kind of thrill that I’ve ever experienced is, like, being in the student section of a college football game, while your team is winning. It’s that kind of rush that keeps you all moving and shouting together. It actually brings a strong sense of unity, playing together like that.

Then our instructors came out to give a demonstration.

And basically, playtime was over.

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Watching them perform left me speechless. I could only stay behind that camera of mine and stare. In particular, the man in the center of the above picture, Tanaka Masayoshi. He wrote two of the three songs performed. And seriously, this guy is unbelievable. If there’s anyone out there who truly loves what they do in life, and is as serious about it as they like it, it’s Masayoshi-san.

…Your entire world narrowing and to the skin of that drum face… How much of his life went into loving, understanding, and working with that instrument, though it’s just a drum?… The force with which they were beating those taiko left me with baited breath, waiting for when it would finally break… I thought of the meiji shrine and the large statues of fuujin, god of wind, and raijin, the god of thunder. The way that he played, making the room shake—I could feel the vibration through me, if that makes any sense. Kinda’ like standing next to a bass speaker and feeling vibrations hit you. That was incredible and powerful in a way that’s tough to describe. I do know one thing, though. The three of them out there?

Tonight, they were the gods of thunder.

:3