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,


2 thoughts on “Thoughts on exploring and other things

  1. The planes look interesting – probably need at least one. Your week sounds so exciting, keep it up – we love reading it and looking at your pictures too.

  2. Jesse,
    I love reading about your experiences! Did you see the two emails I sent you? In one, I mentioned a wonderful teacher who lives in Kyoto. See my email for more info. You are a great storyteller!

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