Settling in

Hi everyone,


View of Kyoto from the mountains.

Things calmed down a bit this week, which gave me a bit of time to settle in. I’m just about getting used to living in Japan. I almost always complete my homework while riding to school and the train and subway, so I suppose that suggests a certain level of comfort with my commute. Don’t worry though; there were still adventures.

I had my first tea class!

I was pretty apprehensive before going. My sensei from Whitman set up lessons with his sensei who still lives and teaches in Kyoto. To even think that another person taught my sensei is pretty difficult (wasn’t he just born with natural ability like that?). Also, the school of tea that I was taught is a very old style, so I wasn’t sure how formal I was supposed to act or speak. I brought a lot of Idaho taffy just in case. It turned out that getting there would be far more challenging than the actual session itself.

I figured out that the tea classroom was about 20 minutes away by walking from a station that was already on my school commute. Pretty convenient. If I had taken the right train. As it turned out, I had actually taken the only train that didn’t stop at that station. It passed by my station and two others. I decided to get off at the next station and get the train headed back so I could retrace my steps. Unfortunately, that was the one station on my line that doesn’t have return trains (the other platform was under construction). Long story short, I finally switched about three more times and made it to the station near my tea class.

After walking for about 20 minutes and getting a little lost (see a theme here?) I found my tea classroom, which is in a small inn on a quiet side street. Luckily, I entered the inn with another tea student and she showed me the way to the tearoom. As I was taking off my shoes, I heard her go to our sensei and say, “Sensei, the foreigner is here.” “Ah, please enter.” A voice from somewhere inside the room.

I made my way around the door frame and there sat my sensei and four other women. They were chatting idly while one of them served tea to another. This was not a place for foreigners. It felt pretty cool. They all stopped talking and looked at me. I introduced myself and they introduced themselves. Smiles all around. Sensei told me to have a seat and to feel free to shift around if my legs went numb.

I passed sensei my Idaho taffy and after thanking me, she placed it on a plate with the other sweets and snacks. They then passed the plate to me and one of the students made me a bowl of tea. I thought I had misheard at first, but I didn’t. Sensei told me that the brown sweets were from a very famous shop nearby, and the snacks that were wrapped in foil were from Taiwan and go very well with beer. Although I had it with tea that day, I think they would too.

It was very interesting to see how everyone moved. The end goal was obviously to make a bowl of tea, and any elegance or aesthetics that came out of that act were a side effect. This seemed like almost the exact opposite of how I was taught at college. They were all very good. A few of them complimented me on my Japanese and also my sitting (even though my legs fell asleep 3-4 times during the two hours of practice). A professor at Doshisha told me that the moment anyone does that, however, is the moment when you’re failing. It seemed a little dramatic at the time, but I definitely understand what she meant. If I was a natural, people would hardly notice my Japanese or my sitting. That they made a point of commenting on them showed that there was still a part of me which was inescapably different; enough for it to be remarkable that I had made it this far.

Regardless, the praise made me feel nice and soon it was my turn to practice.

Although the ladies gossiped and giggled most of the time while they were practicing, they became silent when it was my turn. over the course of my practice, I messed up many times–but not nearly as many times as I thought I would.

By the end, sensei told me that she would hopefully have a few utensils for me by next time (she called the shop during class and talked over prices and his stock). On the was out, I was awkward enough to make everyone giggle, and that was good enough for me.

Getting back was another ordeal. Google maps quit on me right as I left, and I had to go by memory. Which ultimately failed me. In the end, I asked a nice man who was closing up his shoe shop for directions to the station. He understood me! And I understood him! As I left, he told me to be careful and take care of myself. He was amazed I was walking all the way to the station at that time of night (7 pm).


He underestimated my determination and frugality and I got home by 8:30.

Yesterday, after staring at the mountains on either end of Shijo, I decided to try and reach them.


I walked all the way to one end, through Gion, through Yasaka shrine and out the back. Once I got near the forest and the mountains, I ran into a couple of huge temples. They looked like they might require an admission fee, so I kept walking along their walls whenever I came up to one. As I kept walking up and up, the temples got smaller and smaller and I also ran into a couple more shrines. It was an excellent lesson in how closely intertwined Buddhism and Shinto really are in Japan.


A crane at Yasaka shrine.

I eventually made my way to a thick part of the underbrush and pushed through. It was so worth it. The other side opened up to a wide trail-head, leading to bunches of beautiful paths. And some of the biggest spiders I’ve ever seen. But I’ve talked a lot already. I think my adventure is best experienced through pictures and imagination.


More and more paths…


Today, although it was a small adventure, I think should be mentioned anyway. I went out for the first time with my host mom. I realized that I had never interacted with my host family anywhere except inside the house, so this was pretty exciting for me.

We went on bikes to the local supermarket, and she took me around shopping with her. I feel like my Japanese has never improved that much before. I really felt like I could communicate freely with her about important things. I’m starting to build up my language through memories. When I use a certain word or phrase, I don’t remember where I learned it in class; I remember when I used it correctly, or in what situation I heard it being used.

The supermarket today provided me with a whole new breath of fresh memories to use in the future. Who knows what next week will bring?

Well, next week as it stands looks to be exciting. AKP is taking all the participants on a trip to Hiroshima and the surrounding area from Wednesday to Saturday. Also, my chances to practice kyudo are looking up again! The AKP office found a dojo that gives lessons nearby. I’ll probably do it with a friend who’s also interested. I’ll keep you all updated.



One thought on “Settling in

  1. We have been on vacation to the great state of Illinois so have not had time to comment on your blog. Pretty darned interesting and you must make the most of your adventures. What got me real excited was the box of planes you saw at the flea market. Years ago your uncle Roy sent me one but I never learned how to use it. I understand the smooth the wood with a pulling motion rather that a pushing motion like I Use. If you get a chance to observe you could get me started on a new adventure. Enjoy your self and learn a lot. Love Grandpa.

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