Birthdays and bows and bars

Hello all!

This past week was pretty tough. Lots of tests and homework and lost sleep, but it was also my 21st birthday! I decided to post a little later this week so that I could fit in my birthday parties and pictures. Lots of fun was had and memories made.

The week started off kind of strange. My film class took a field trip on Wednesday (a night time tour) to Gion, or as most people know it, the place where all the geisha are. We learned during the tour that in Kyoto, they prefer to be called “geiko,” in order to separate themselves from the rest of the geisha in Japan. Unfortunately, that was pretty much all we learned.

The tour guide was a chipper Japanese woman with a British accent who seemed to have been doing this for quite some time now. On the tour with us were about 20 tourists, mostly from America it seemed. It became apparent pretty early-on that this tour wasn’t really meant for us. The way the tour guide encouraged oohing and aahing at the various places and people we met on the street made most of us AKP students uncomfortable. One time, the guide even said with a smile, “Oh, look at the people in the shops. Sometimes they remind me of animals in a zoo.”

We were going on the tour because we were interested in seeing the place that inspired Kenji Mizuguchi’s “Sisters of the Gion,” but everyone else seemed more interested in why Japanese girls are so darned small and cute and squeaky (hint: most of them aren’t). The tour guide encouraged these kinds of questions and answered them with phrases like, “Well, that’s because back in the day, men didn’t want their women to be able to walk too quickly, and they’re still like that.” This was met with oohs and aahs and disapproving tsks (hint: most Japanese men don’t really care).

There was a definite shield that the tour guide was putting up in front of us and the tourists. Because I’d been in Japan for a little while, and because I’m studying at a Japanese university, it had been a very long time since I had been so shut out of Japanese culture. My professor later remarked that the tour was actually a very interesting anthropological study of the tourists themselves.

The tour actually ended up motivating most of us to study Japanese culture and language even harder so that we might never get caught in that flytrap again. I wonder what that tour guide would have been like to talk to one-on-one…

On Thursday I met Mormons. Because I’m from Idaho, I spotted them from across the campus. They were talking to one of my AKP friends. I walked over and she was asking him why he had come to Japan. He paused and was about to answer until I asked, “On your mission?” He breathed a sigh of relief, although I’m not really sure why, and nodded while maintaining his smile.

I’ve had a lot of friends go on missions, so I asked him where he and his partner were from. They told me, and I told them I was from Idaho. They were happy to hear this and we talked about mission stories for a bit. The first one’s Japanese was really good–he almost seemed fluent. The second one’s, not so much. They had each been in Japan for about 2 years. I was curious about their language program, since I’ve heard it’s one of the best language programs in the world. It turns out it’s pretty much just talking to people. Being forced to go out and talk to people.

It seems simple, but sometimes I wish I had an excuse to go out and do that. It really is the best way to learn. I wished them luck. They only had a few months left and they looked sad to go, although one was sadder than the other.

Wow! Kyudo! I did it!


Here’s the dojo!

This was by far one of the best experiences I’ve had in Kyoto so far. The AKP office found the kyudo lessons for me, and I went to the place on Saturday with a fellow AKPer. The dojo is right next to one of the most famous Shinto shrines in Japan, Yasaka shrine.

We walked through the narrow doorway of the dojo and into a small, shallow room with a small bench. The room was probably about 3 yards deep and 5  yards wide. There was a large window-opening on the opposite end of the room, where we could see 4 targets about 8 inches in diameter, each set about 10 yards away. They were all still inside, but the window opening made it so you could only shoot at the targets, and not actually enter that part of the room.

We said good morning to and empty room, and our sensei entered from a side door. “Good morning, good morning! Have a seat!” We were alone for most of the time we were there, but a Japanese man came in later to practice who seemed like a regular. Sensei knew him by name.

The room was so small that we sat to shoot the huge kyudo bows he gave us. He got us up to speed really quick and was a pretty fun guy. Surprisingly easy to understand, too. “Wow, awesome! The girl has it down! Ah, the boy, well… keep trying.” I did keep trying and after a few times of him finally saying, “Ah! Yes! Like that, like that!” I managed to hit the target three times. This was apparently almost too much for him to handle and he asked that I sign my name on a piece of paper say that I hit the target three times, so that he could put it on the wall. I did my best with the calligraphy–enough for him to ask if I had studied it–and he pasted it on the wall next to other, similar pieces of paper.

In kyudo, you use your thumb to pull back the string instead of your fingers, and you also put the arrow on the opposite side of the bow. This was confusing for me, but also known. What really surprised me was how much I used my left hand. Because I’m right handed, I hold the bow with my left hand and pull back the bow string with my right hand. However, in complete opposition to Western/Mediterranean archery, you twist the bow very hard towards the arrow, counter clockwise. When you let go of the arrow with your right hand, the bow spins away from you a bit. That was the hardest to get used to, but also one of the funnest parts to get down. Afterwords, the center of my palm was sore.

As we were getting ready to leave, we heard a marching band coming down the street towards the dojo. We all looked out as the passed by the door. Our sensei thought it was a police marching band, and as the last people in the band passed by, we saw a few dressed as the Kyoto police force mascot. It was a nice band.

I’ll definitely be back. Hopefully I can make this a weekly thing. More updates to come. Highly recommended to anyone in Kyoto or traveling to Kyoto. 1000 yen (less than $10) gets you a lesson, equipment, and 20 arrows.

We celebrated both my host mom’s birthday and my birthday on the 18th. Her birthday is the 14th and mine is the 19th. Everyone could make it to the 18th, so we had it this past Sunday. My host dad, two host sisters, sister’s husband and their two kids came.

My host mom cooked lots a delicious food, because that’s one of her favorite things to do. Little did she know, having fried shrimp on my birthday is a bit of a tradition, and she was so happy to hear about that after she set the fried shrimp on the table.




Isn’t this cute?


Everyone had cheesecake and tea.

My host sister also baked a cheesecake, and we all ate cake and drank tea as we opened presents.

Everyone surprised me and ended up getting me a few things without me suspecting! They were perfect. A mini-umbrella, an awesome 3-way neckwarmer, and socks (“We noticed you were full of socks, so we bought you some more”).

The night closed out with one of my best and worst ideas. I brought down my Japanese homework as people were finishing up, so that I could finish without staying up too late. I instantly had 5 sensei helping me out. That was the best one-side of a homework work sheet I’ve ever done. They even argued among themselves about the most natural way to phrase my sentences, sometimes even disagreeing with the homework sheet itself. My host dad also got out a pad of paper and helped my practice writing kanji before I wrote it in ink on my homework.

That was the longest I’ve ever taken to finish one side of a worksheet, but it was also the most Japanese I’ve learned in that amount of time.

Monday night was an excellent cap to an awesome birthday experience. A couple friends and I decided to go to a jazz bar that one of my professors recommended. Wonderful decision. We ended up arriving at Jazz Spot Yamatoya around 7:30 and didn’t leave till 9:30.

Jazz Spot Yamatoya! In the daylight. It looks cooler at night.

Jazz Spot Yamatoya! In the daylight. It looks cooler at night.

When we walked in, the place was very quiet and the bartender/owner was wiping down the bar. Quiet except for the jazz playing on an amazing sound system, though. The sound system is even featured on their website and the back of their business cards. It really sounds and feels like a live band. The owner also only plays vinyl jazz records in his bar. The walls consisted of oak paneling, red bricks, and shelves and shelves of records.

The bar was a bit intimidating, so we sat near the back at a table. The owner, despite our protests, came out from behind the bar and moved the table around so more people could fit around it. It was a great gesture though. We relaxed a bit and soaked in the atmosphere. All the drinks were great, and the food was perfect too. Not too bar-like, but not too fancy either.

Friends :)

Friends 🙂

The place eventually livened up a bit as office workers came in after work. A few couples showed up too. Soon, we weren’t even the loudest people in the bar anymore. But it was still obvious we were having a great time. At some point in the night another bartender appeared and she took most of our orders. She noticed us laughing and ordering new things almost continually, and brought us all business cards for the place (one Japanese one and one English one).

Our Japanese was very amusing for her. She probably hadn’t heard anyone being that polite while ordering in a long time.

Coming up there are two major festivals on Thursday: the Jidai matsuri and the Hi matsuri. I’ll try to go to each, but I’ve got to figure out this whole adventure-school balance. On Saturday a lot of AKP students are going on a field trip to Koyasan. Last time I was there was unforgettable. I can’t wait to return now that I have a bit more experience and knowledge of Japanese art history. I’m also hoping to make my way over to the Kitano Tenmangu market on Sunday (similar to the Toji market I went to before). I’ll see if I can buy a fan for tea ceremony and a small bag to carry my tea things in, now that I have my fukusa and kaishi.

Until next time,


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