Thoughts on exploring and other things

Hello all,

This past week was a bit packed. To keep things from getting too crazy, I’ll just highlight a few things that happened. Hope you’re all well.


The flea market! The view from the entrance.

Wow, the Toji flea market was crazy. I have to admit, I got lost. For about 15 minutes. It’s all good though, because by the time I found my friends again, a small group of Japanese people said hi to us and talked to us in English and Japanese for a bit.

It turns out that they’re from an English conversation school, and they wanted to talk to us about possibly coming by every once and a while and talk with the kids in English. Then they gave us a map of Kyoto (which we already had), and circled places where we needed to go and see (which we really appreciated).


Awesome kimono! I was curious to see how cheap they were, since the market is famous for crazy cheap second-hand kimono among other things. They we quite cheap, but I learned that meant they were around $100. Maybe another time.


Japanese planes! This one’s for you, grandpa.

Although I didn’t buy anything, it was a great experience. I’ve started to go by a certain rule: don’t buy stuff, buy an experience. There are so many things in Japan to buy and try out, but experiences are the best–especially when you meet and befriend new people.

I still buy stuff, but only when there’s a story or memory behind it. Like stickers from a guy who was super excited to hear I was from America, or a bag that I’d been eyeing for two weeks before I built up the courage (and vocabulary) to finally buy it (even though it was pretty cheap). I almost bought some long metal chopsticks for manipulating coals at the market because a guy showed me they could be used for wind chimes, but then I got a little suspicious (what if they actually are windchimes?). Next time…

I’ll probably come back next month now that I know what I’m getting myself into. Plus, I got to make some new friends. I’m looking for a part-time job, too… maybe I’ll contact them and see if they’re serious about that offer.

I also went to Osaka with friends over last weekend’s break!

So much crazy fun. I think we walked for about 8 hours in total. But in the end, I think this video sums up how awesome it was:

Best octopus balls I’ve had yet. And she was just chatting and laughing the whole time while making these.


The best place.


These are things you can get in a ball in Japan. The small print is great.


And yes, I did get a ball from each dispenser. Very dangerous.


If you want to read more and see more about my trip to Osaka, check out my friend (and Whitman alum)’s blog about silver week.

The day after I returned from Osaka, I went back again for a field trip to a town called Tondabayashi. It’s about 1 hour away from Osaka by train.

The town itself was awesome and super well-preserved, but we visited when it was still a holiday. It’s famous for its sake, so I may come back another time and do a couple tastes.

What we saw in Tondabayashi was amazing. It was a show called a “phantasmagoria” in English. It’s a precursor to modern film, and you project the images from the back of the screen instead of the front. But you can also manipulate the images, and if you’re good, you can make them seem almost like animated cartoons. They were good. It was crazy.

I couldn’t take a picture or video, but here’s a demonstration of the technique on youtube:

Anyone who’s interested in cinema, theater, or carnivals should take a look at it.

Japanese is getting better for me. You don’t really need to know that much to communicate with someone. As a rhetoric major, I’m interested in language and how it works. More and more these days, I’m noticing that the real meat of language is reference. We’re taught that in any foreign language class, that one word means another word. That “hana” in Japanese references “flower” in English. But it seems a little more complicated and also more simple than that.

When I’m talking, or when I’m listening to someone else, I’m always referencing or remembering the last time I saw that word. Whole phrases even. I remember the last time I heard that sentence or used that word. It really has nothing to do with one word “equaling” another word. It’s more about having a subtle agreement that you understand and have also experienced your talking partner’s memories.

More than any other language I’ve tried to learn, Japanese is extremely referential. Sometimes you only get one, two, or three words and that communicates a whole complex idea. All because you know the references. And there are so many homonyms in Japanese, partly because there are so few choices for sounds. No wonder it’s so important when talking and listening in Japanese to almost continually provide verbal or physical signs that you’re still following what the other person is saying. It’s so easy to get lost.

That’s what’s hardest and most fun for me right now. Building up my memories and my library.

On Friday, all the AKP students went on a field trip and learned how to make Japanese sweets!


Here are my results. The one on the left is a chrysanthemum, and the one on the right is a ginko leaf.


I had one that I made at the shop, so I have these to my host parents as gifts. They were so excited. They split them down the middle and each had their two halves with tea.

Making them was super difficult, but also so much fun. It’s crazy how good they look when you follow their instructions. I guess they’d have got the method down by now.

And finally today. Today, like the last Sunday I blogged on, was really awesome. And kind of unexpected.

Last Thursday, my Japanese art history teacher told us that there would be a 24 hour Namu Amida Butsu chant at a local temple over the weekend. We didn’t have to go for the whole time, and if we were staying for less than 2 hours, all we had to do was donate one coin (or any amount) to get in. Once we were in, we would be given a seat, a drum, and we could chant the Nembutsu along with the monks and others.

I debated about going but finally decided last night that I really should go. I’m not sure when I’ll be able to do something like this again, since this event is only once a year at this temple.

I got started a bit late today and got to the temple around 12 after about an hour of commuting and searching. They had started the day before at 1 PM which meant there was only one hour left of chanting. I actually thought this sounded pretty good, since I’m not sure if I could continually chant and drum for more than an hour or two.

I handed my coin to a nice lady at a plastic table in front of the temple, and I wrote down my email so they could send me updates if I was interested in other temple events.

I walked in and about 8 people were sitting and chanting, 4 of them in robes. I found a seat and a drum in front of it. I started chanting and drumming at about 12:10 and didn’t stop till about 1. I didn’t want to take any pictures or video, but here’s a youtube video (yay for youtube today!) of a Nembutsu demonstration:

At first I wasn’t sure if I was saying the right thing, and I couldn’t tell because it was hard to make out what everyone else was saying. Luckily, I figured out I was actually saying it right, but you just concentrate more on the rhythm and sound after a certain point and it sometimes gets a little mumbly.

After a while I settled into it. It was a bit relaxing, and when everyone’s chants line up for a couple moments it’s amazing.

The chanting ended at 1, but after that the head priest came up and finished up with a few slower, more complicated chants (luckily they had spelled out everything phonetically for us so I could read it and sing along). Then he turned around, thanked everyone for coming, and updated us on temple events and news. He spoke in the most polite Japanese I’ve ever heard and I often couldn’t understand him at all.

I helped clean up a bit afterwords and ended up getting my picture taken with the group of everyone who was still there. If you look at the website I linked to above, you may see me pop up on their homepage in a few days.

After the photo, the head priest came up to me and thanked me for coming and helping out. He asked me a few questions in incredibly polite Japanese. Where are you from? What are you doing in Japan? He was happy to hear I was studying at Doshisha and that I was from America. A friend of his studied in New York. I appreciated how he didn’t dumb down his Japanese at all for me, but I was having a lot of trouble understanding him. I thanked him and the other priests and found my way back home again.

My host family was surprised/amused when I told them what I had done. “What?” “Wow, that’s really crazy.” “I bet they were all suprised to see you. Bet it was a bunch of old Japanese people, and then you walked in: *young, white foreigner*” Then my dad did his best Nembutsu until he collapsed into “Namunamunamumamu” and ended with chuckle.

Kyudo looks grim. No long term lessons anywhere nearby and the club doesn’t accept newbies. I might try out a couple one-shot lessons for fun sometime, though. I’ll be starting tea ceremony on Tuesday, though! I’m pretty nervous but excited. Going to practice my self introduction for the next few days. My sensei will help me buy my own materials, too. Maybe next time I go the the Toji flea I’ll know what to buy.

Until next time,


Chance encounters and fuzzies

Hi all,

I’m currently on a four-day weekend! Many things have happened since Wednesday and many more things are going to happen in the next few days. However, in keeping with the last post, I’m just going to tell you about a few events that popped into my head as I wrote this.

A few days ago, I was sitting on a park bench on the Doshisha campus, waiting until my next class started. I admit was doing a bit of people watching. I love the fashion here. Even the older people have great fashion sense. I was watching one such older man out of the corner of my eye. He was slowly walking past me, but kept slowing down until he was right in front of me. He asked me in Japanese, “Do you speak Japanese?” I said, “A little.” Oh, alright. Do you speak English?” I said, “Yes, as a matter of fact I do [ok actually I just said yes].” Then he said in English, “Oh, good. I’m an autodiadact. I’m looking for a teacher.” Ah. Then he gestured if it would be alright to sit down next to me. “Sure.”

He pulled out a thick notepad full of notes in English and Japanese and told me that he was “teaching English to myself.” Right after he said that his brow furrowed and asked if that was a proper sentence. I told him of course it was, but he wanted to know if it sounded natural. “Maybe, ‘I’m teaching myself English’ is a bit more natural,” I told him. He made a note of it. Then he pulled out a book and prefaced it with, “I’ve been meaning to learn more about American Indians, because I feel bad that I know so little about them. I checked out this book from the library but I’m having trouble reading it. Perhaps you could help?” Sure. I took a look at the book. The title was The Bureau of Land Management Practices in the American Southwest Riparian Areas, 1951-1961. That was when I learned that Japanese word for convoluted: fukuzatsu. “This is definitely very fukuzatsu. Even for me. Don’t feel bad about it.” The book opened with a topographical description of a plot of land, and my new friend had even tried to draw out a map from it. “Yeaahhh… Fukuzatsu. I’d give up on this one. I have no idea what it’s talking about.” He thanked me and then pulled out the other book he’d been working on: a golf manual. Needless to say, the manual was also fukuzatsu and strangely [needlessly] metaphorical.

I recommended that he check out some American literature instead. “If you want to learn more about American Indians, you should check out this one author.” He thanked me and I wrote on his pad, “Sherman Alexie (author): Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (book)”.

I looked at my watch and told him I had to go to class. “Oh, please, go if you have to. I didn’t mean to keep you.” We exchanged names and email addresses and parted with smiles.

A few days later, he sent me an email. He thanked me for my help a few days prior and told me that he had bought the book on Amazon. He already had a question about a portion where Alexie was playing around with some language. I helped him out a bit and I was happy with how much I was able to explain in Japanese, switching into English when it was necessary.

I’ve never been in a tutoring relationship quite like this. I wonder how it’ll affect me by the time I return to Whitman to work at the COWS (Writing Center).

Hopefully more updates to come.

On Friday I went with my Visual Arts class to Todaiji temple in Nara, which houses the biggest bronze Buddha in the world (50 feet tall). There was a place where you could crawl through for good luck that was as wide as the Buddha’s nostril. Yes, it was that big. No, I didn’t do it.

It was a beautiful day for pictures.


The overlook above the temple.






Looking out from the overlook.


The steps up to the Todaiji overlook.


I’ve noticed that the affect I get from Buddhist things is different than other religions I’ve encountered. These huge statues and representations are more like “reminders” or “references” to the Buddha and Buddhism. They don’t seem like actual representations. Other religions I’ve encountered affect me differently. Not sure how else to phrase it.

Two Doshisha students helped me get insurance and claim my residence the other day. It was scary stuff since I had no idea what most people were saying. The guy who ended up helping us was pretty nice, though. He assumed that the students who escorted me there had written the kanji on my paperwork, and was impressed when it turned out I had done it. H also kept referring to my as “brother” to my “sisters,” which is just what you do in Japanese, but it made me feel fuzzy in an otherwise cold place. Later, my friends and he helped me remember a kanji when I had to fill out more paperwork. They explained it to me the way you would to a native speaker: “Oh, it’s just that plus the left side of sama.” It’s the little things. More fuzzies.

Today was amazing. Yesterday was my cleaning day, but today I had decided I was going to find an ATM. My best bet was a 7/11 because they accept all kinds of foreign cards, but my the way to getting lost I found an ATM in a convenient alleyway. I went in and humiliated myself in front of the obviously one-way mirror. After realizing I was going in precisely the opposite direction I was supposed to, I decided to head off to 7/11 in earnest. On the way there I passed a shrine that my host mom said was very famous (“Hmm that looks cool”).

After about 40 minutes of walking, I found the 7/11 and extracted almost exactly 50 times the amount of money I intended. Oh well, today had an ok exchange rate anyway.

On the way home I decided to stop by the shrine I had noticed on the way to the 7/11. Best decision ever. I did it everyone, I found a place that was definitely not intended for foreigners and/or tourists. I had unwittingly stepped into a massive free, local music festival. And it was only for today.

I didn’t see another foreigner the entire time I was there. It was kinda weird, and I loved it. But I also wondered, why is that? Awesome free music all over this shrine complex. There were at least 4 acts playing at any one time. I guess you either know about it or you don’t. It was so lucky that I happened upon it.

Awesome food and drink too.

OBSERVE MY BOUNTY Fried octopus balls, teriyaki chicken, and a beer.

Fried octopus balls, teriyaki chicken, and a beer.

After about an hour, I finally worked up the courage and the appetite to order some octopus balls. So worth it. I thought they’d go pretty well with a beer too, so I went to a separate booth and ordered one. The lady thought I said “teriyaki,” and her coworker tried to correct her. I realized right then that I was actually in the mood for teriyaki as well, so I told them that I would like teriyaki AND a beer. “AND?!” “Um yes, and.” This made the beer and teriyaki man very happy and I think I have a new best friend. Or at least he does.

I finished my food and drink and walked around a bit. I found a crane in a water lily pond and stopped to take a picture because they were both equally amazing. I made more friends with some old ladies as we all ooh’d and ahh’d together.

IMG_20150920_143126748_HDRI took the train home after realizing the shrine and the 7/11 were each just 2 minutes away from the train station.

The weather was perfect and I walked the rest of the way home when I reached my stop.

Coming up: going to Toji’s famous outdoor fleamarket tomorrow, exploring Osaka with friends on Tuesday, and returning to Osaka on Wednesday for a field-trip. I also have my first Tea Ceremony classes coming up on the 29th, and I’m trying to see if I can join the Kyudo club at Doshisha. I’ll keep you updated.



First week!

Dear everyone,

Well, tonight brings to a close my first week in Kyoto, Japan. Needless to say, I’m too happy for words. I suppose I’ll have to write something out anyway to get this blog ball rolling, though. But first, some business.

For those of you unaware of why today marks my first week rather than a few days ago marking my second week, I’ll do a quick sum up. First, the Japanese Consular Office in Portland misplaced my visa, passport and other Japanese government documents. After they found all my items underneath a stack of unapproved visas (and after many calls), the office sent my documents back to me. UPS dropped the ball as well at this point and lost my package with all of my documents (passport, visa etc.) for about a week. It was later found in Illinois and shipped back to me in Boise.

By this point, I had missed my flight by about four days. My aunt managed to work some magic and rebooked my flight from Boise to Osaka so that I would arrive in Japan about four days after that. The hitch was that I would have to sleep in the Vancouver airport overnight if I wanted to save some money. Well, since I was going to spend about a year in Japan, saving money sounded like a great idea. So save money I did.

Oh what? Are those two airline pillows? And two airlines blankets as well? Why yes they are.

Oh what? Are those two airline pillows? And two airlines blankets as well? Why yes, yes they are.

Nicely tucked away behind a plant.

I slept reasonably well considering it was on the floor of a well-lit building. When I woke up, Delta had lost my bag. I had to run back and forth across the Vancouver airport in order to motivate the staff to find it before my flight to Osaka. They came through in the end, after realizing they actually didn’t have anyone working in customs.

But all that’s a distant memory now. I’m in Japan! I’ve done so much exploring and acclimatizing in the past week I don’t think I could even begin to sum up my experience so far. So instead, I’m going to provide you all with a few vignettes and memories that have popped into my head while writing this. After all, a blog, just like any piece of writing, is really just a product of the moment in which it’s written. I think this might be close to what my blog will be throughout the next year.  With that, some memories:

I arrived at my host family’s house straight from the airport. I took a taxi to my host family’s house. The driver asked me in Japanese if this was my mother’s address, and I responded “Yes,” I suppose it was. The taxi driver ran me to my door and held an umbrella over my head as it rained. We’d flown through a typhoon into Osaka, but from the ground it was actually a pleasant warm summer shower. The driver asked me if this is the right house and I said “Yes, I think so.” “Oh, is this your first time?” It felt kind of nice that he could even think it might not be. “Yep!” “Oh, I see. Well, goodbye!” “Oh, bye.” I stood on the porch in front of the door as it rained and realized I didn’t know whether to ring the doorbell, push something that looked like a pager, or knock. I noticed that the mailbox had “Jesse Clyde Moneyhun” written on it–the largest text on the mailbox.

I decided to knock. I heard some bumps and shuffling inside. My host dad opened the door. “Ah, Jesse. Hello.” He smiled. “Hello.” There was a small pause. “Come in.” I stepped in, took my shoes off, and he provided me with slippers. I studdermumbled through an introduction but the spirit was there and my dad chuckled a bit. We walked over to the couch and he told me to sit. We quietly watched TV for about 20 minutes, not saying much but both content. Eventually he said, “Your mother and I speak no English at all. Sorry about that. You’re going to have to do you best.” “Ok, I’ll try.” We continued to watch the TV and chuckle until my host mom came home.

The moment she came through the doors she saw me and yelled, “Jesse! You’re finally here!” and gave me a huge hug.

At dinner I was grasping at all of the Japanese I had studied, but things were a little rough. We talked about my various troubles getting to Japan and about how worried they were about me. We all agreed that it was wonderful I finally arrived. My dad asked me if I wanted a beer. I said a definite “Yes,” and he returned with a beer from the fridge. He kept filling my glass as soon as it emptied.

My 36 hour day gradually came to a close, and thanks to the food and drink and broken communication, we all went to bed laughing. It was a great start to a great family.

On Thursday, Mathew Hirano (Whitman), Lya Hernandez (Whitman), and I explored the famous the famous Kyoto train station with out new friend Clara (from Connecticut College). Fun and food was had.


Kyoto train station (Matt pictured).


These doughnuts were the best. The bubbly ones are made partly with rice flour so they were a bit chewy.


Yep. Ramen. Found on the ramen floor in Kyoto station. You heard me.

Three days ago my host sister came over and brought her kids to visit their grandparents. Her three year old son wanted to play a card game, but everyone seemed a bit busy. I was so jealous of his mastery of Kansai dialect. My mom suggested I go play with him if I wanted to. I said yes, and he grabbed my finger to lead me to the table. Heart melted.

I was in sore need of bug spray four days ago. I memorized the word for bug spray and went to a local convenience store. I asked the man behind the counter if he had any bug spray and he instantly replied “Yes, we have some. Spray type or gel type?” I was a little shocked that he understood me, and then that I understood him. I reacted quickly: “Spray type.” “Right this way.” He showed me their stock and recommended one in particular, which I later bought. At the cash register, he asked me, “So, are you a foreign exchange student?” “Yes.” “Oh, nice! Where are you going?” “Doshisha.” “Oh, Doshisha! That’s a nice school. Where are you from?” “Nagaoka-kyo” “Oh. Really?” Because of the stream of conversation and the way he phrased it, I thought he asked me where I was staying in Japan. His question could have been interpreted either way in Japanese, but my brain decided he was asking about Japan. He asked, “Oh. Sorry, I mean where are you from?” “Oh, right. Whoops. America.” “Oh, ok. Nice! Well, welcome!” I’m still not sure what to make of it. But I’m definitely laughing about it.

My blogs will be a bit shorter from here on out, but I thought this first one needed to cover a bit of ground before I got started. I’ll update it every Sunday, and maybe post some in-between.


Much love from Japan,