Monday, December 28, 2009

context shot

because I have a bit of extra time to kill while I procrastinate going out in the snow to take pictures of churches for my thesis.

This was our final project for the fourth (my LAST) studio, a community center of some sort. Mine was a center for religious understanding, reconciliation, and education. It's frankly a bit a jumbled, and in a few years I probably won't hate it anymore.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

stuff that interests me

for those of you are real people out there, I have a feeling you have no idea how much time your average dork college student spends surfing the web.

1. DID YOU KNOW there were three assassination attempts made on John Paul II's life? Once by a Turkish gunman who may have been backed by the Soviet Union, once by a right-wing Spanish Priest, and once by an al-Quaeda funded group in the Philippines. All failed, of course.

(with the obvious disclaimer that, I know, it's Wikipedia. It may not all be true but oh how I love surfing the information overload there.)

2. ALSO from wikipedia:

This U.S. map show, by county, what the largest ethnic background is of the people living there. It's quite fascinating, and in some ways a little surprising. (I don't believe it's a majority, just the largest group.)

3. Raw coconut has 350 calories per 100 g from sugar and fat. It also has B and C vitamins, as well as other nutrients.

So when Canadian Survivorman in the Costa Rica episode is complaining about not having enough food, and he's surrounded by coconuts and has a knife, he is full of crap.

4. I am trying to start a new habit: Googling "puppies" and "kittens" for pictures. This will replace my old habit of reading horror movie summaries on Wikipedia.

5. Do you find that you have hours of extra time on your hands? Balderdash! Kill them kill them kill them!

No kidding. There is a tourism niche for riding a horse around the world (or different horses in various places around the world).

I am personally scared of horses, but I saw this chipper lady on TV riding around Wales on a cobb looking at mountains and castles and stuff. WANT.


sometimes I am not mature.


Friday, December 25, 2009


I like pictures.

What does blogspot think about pictures?


This is one-half of my final studio project this term, by the way, photographed in Killian Court.

blog post about various things. Christmas.

so it is snowing great garbage bags of snow outside.

We missed the Christmas Eve service and the traditional Gochenour family reunion, delayed the Christmas meal with Grandma until Sunday, and in general have holed up.

The good side of this is that there's no way I can do the field research necessary for my thesis. Predictably enough, the bad side of this is ALSO that there's no way I can do the field research necessary for my thesis.

And now, a blog entry talking about various things.

I. Family Stuff.

This looks to be the best Christmas my family has had in a couple years, for various reasons. My brother is snowed in up north with his new wife, Reanna, and her family. The pink Carhartt coat he bought her did not, tragically enough, fit, so he is now searching for another present (hopefully another coat, but we'll see) that is equally suitable for the new wife of Farmer John.

Last night the power went out on the east half of town. The Dr. Gochenour family sat warm and comfy with our power on and our new generator in the old clinic, peaceably secure, and my mom promptly invited all our extended non-DNA-sharing family to stay overnight in case of a continued night without power -- i.e. Joanna, Bob, Baby Bobby, Chris (Joanna and Chris are my beloved babysitters of old and probably the best employees we have ever had at Willow Park Veterinary Clinic; Bob is Joanna's husband and Baby Bobby is her much-awaited, much-adored 10-month-old son), and Connie (whose dog Keesha was my godchild. Connie is now getting a new Corgie puppy soon. If you have known someone who lost a beloved dog, you will appreciate the joyful, almost painful sigh of relief that I heaved upon learning this information; and if you have not -- back in your cold little closet of heartlessness, you non-pet-loving cur.) The mental image of Baby Bobby, perhaps attired in his small puffy Santa suit, shivering in a dark house, proved far too much for my mother to stomach.

We hurtled around the house at high speed, trying to redistribute our possessions in such a way that would result in the least amount of small objects being gummed and swallowed by the Bobster. Mom produced two pans of enchiladas (yuck) and the yellow Dutch oven (a pot big enough to give a 3-month-old a bath in) full of minestrone (yum) in record time.

After an hour, the power came back on, and no one had to stay over after all. Mom and I were pretty deflated.

II. Books

I haven't read crap this term, due to the evils of STUDIO (more on that later. Maybe. This entry is looking unpleasantly long for what I had in mind.)

I read Olive Kittredge, by somebody Strout, on the plane home. It is apparently a Pulitzer Prize winner. It's a book of thirteen stories, set in a small town in Maine (which, other than easy access to the ocean, was remarkably like a small town in Iowa.) Each story is built up of tiny disappointments stretched out over years, and the seemingly even tinier joys that keep the residents of this small town going through these things. It was quite readable, though the Pulitzer designation is a bit mystifying.

Last night I stayed up late (ugh, mistake) to read Lullaby, by Chuck Palahniuk. He is certainly a talented writer with a gift for characterization, and that's about it for that book. It's doubtless deliberate that it is a mere 260 pages, because a lot more than that of trailing along behind a bunch of eminently hate-worthy characters who spout nauseating amounts of rhetoric formulated precisely to make the reader the optimum amount of irritated (uncomfortable through the entire book, but not quite enough to stop reading) would have resulted in an unfinished book landing in the Goodwill bag in Mom's trunk.

I just started The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini (I'm pretty far behind the reading curve.) 50 pages in, I'm looking forward to the rest of the book, and gritting my teeth in expectation of having my internal organs and emotions stewed about.

Books waiting for me (here at home -- there's a shelf of about 10 left at school): The Will of the Empress, a good old fantasy from Tamora Pierce, The Poisonwood Bible, by Barbara Kingsolver, of which I hear many good things, My Life in France, by Julia Child -- it's about France, cooking, and Julia Child; what's not to like? -- Stardust, by Neil Gaiman, which I expect to be charming, A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway, which I expect will not be. I have high hopes of getting through three or four more before heading back to school. We'll see if I fritter my time on Facebook and the Internet or spend it more wisely.

III. Food

I haven't been baking lately, although I have been gaining weight. Baking has temporarily lost its charm for me -- i.e. it does not seem to have the power to produce a sufficient amount of joy in random recipients to merit the effort.

But things that are tasty:
1. Apple tarts. Pie crust in muffin tins with apples cooked with some butter and brown sugar in the center.
2. STUFFING. homemade. out of the kraft box. out of the freezer meal. I LOVE STUFFING.
3. Roast potatoes. Chop, roll in olive oil, spread on pan, sprinkle with thyme and sage: Easy college happiness.
4. Potato soup, from a dried mix that has large amounts of potatoes, a sweet potato, and an onion added to it.
5. Fried onion. With soy sauce. Sounds disgusting, but man, it's tasty.
6. Pasta sauce made with canned tomatoes from the parents' garden, hamburger, onion, olive oil, basil, and mixed Italian herbs.

Things that are not tasty:

1. Dried Korean seaweed that I don't know how to cook in a bag for 100 people.
2. Red bean mochi. I'm sorry, everyone.

IV. Design & Thesis

In short, studio sucked big time. I am not going to be an architect. Because if I'm going to slave that incessantly over something, I want it to be something I care about a whole hell of a lot more.

I only pray I'm not going to be fined for the red ink I spilled on my desk in the new mezzanine.

But design.

I am collecting a lot of design-y sites on the internets, and I have designed two theater production posters (well three, but the third was a dud for unmentionable reasons) so far this year. I am working on improving my wheelthrowing skills, but currently my technique is not good enough to worry much about the careful design of the form, and I don't know enough about glazing to have much control of that, either.

Thesis. My thesis is about a) how typical daylighting has changed in Harrison County Church sanctuaries over the last century b) why and c) how this affects the quantity of, quality of, and attitude toward the light in the church.

We'll see about that. . . .

V. Ideas

I am carefully plotting my Independent Activities Period during January to optimize my research done, my number of books read, my Spanish learned, and my pottery produced. My roommate and I have hopes for a couple trips.

For next year: I am not applying to grad school yet. I am not ready. By a long shot. I have currently applied to the MISTI Japan internship program, the MISTI Spain internship program, and the one-year LEX internship program in Tokyo. And I continue to rustle around. . .

The Christmas music is blaring, and my dear mother is shouting into the computer as she plays Scrabble through Skype with Auntie Barb. I'm off to either thaw the turkey or resume (with trepidation) The Kite Runner.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


I will post interesting things about my life, more things about Japan, who knows. But something.

Until then.
Adaptation of Emma.
Adorable donkey.

enjoy, while I go procrastinate and sentaku-simasu (do the washing.)

Monday, August 17, 2009


Apparently coming in at 3 PM with a sunburn so bad my face swelled up is not enough to get my coworkers to spontaneously ask how my weekend was.

Now I need to update about my Thursday adventure (le Corbusier's National Museum of Western Art and Yanaka cemetery) and my weekend (first night of staying out until 5 AM at the ageha club, followed by Mt. Fuji.) More to follow. I swear.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

ugh. another interim entry.

I left work early. All of my coworkers except Ana are taking the rest of the week off for Obon. It's a Buddhist holiday, I think, where you honor the dead and visit your family. Ana and I are probably going into the office tomorrow, and then maybe trying for something fun on Thursday and Friday (?). I don't know. I definitely don't want to go shopping again unless I can FINALLY find some more presents for the more difficult people on my list. (Or Japanese Muppet paraphernalia.)


I'm really tired and crabby right now and unfortunately can't think of a thing to say that I won't regret later for either a) being too negative or b) eliciting sympathy that I really don't deserve.


Monday, August 10, 2009

. . .

When I got up this morning she was doing his laundry.

Sometimes I hate people. All of them.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

. . .

So maybe they're language partners. But who eats supper with your language partner at 11:30 PM?

Fun times in Tokyo: Interim entry

Experienced my first earthquake tremor tonight. I was so stunned I didn't move or anything. But yes, I was scared. It wasn't a major tremor; the gas for the stove didn't even flip off.

Walking out to get myself dinner and some more butter for baking, I saw a four-inch long cockroach wiggling out its last in the middle of the pavement. I felt like barfing on the street.

I am, as aforementioned, attempting to bake. It is intimidating. I have a toaster oven and two burners and nothing else. I am trying to bake bread in a pot on the stove, after having baked cookies three at a time in the toaster oven last week.

Finally, I would like to note that even the really weird French guy (who I can quite frequently smell from five to seven feet away, and who I once encountered "practicing magic tricks" in front of the communal mirror in the kitchen at 2 AM) in my guesthouse seems to have a Japanese girlfriend. I am a little bewildered by how easy it seems for white guys to get Japanese girls to date them. The Australian dude in the house also has already a Japanese girlfriend.

I swear I will post more entries soon.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

. . .

Kenta-san is wearing striped pants today. He is also wearing pink-and-black striped boxers.


Monday, August 3, 2009

Things I should tell you about


Things I should really tell you about at some point.

Chapter 5 (currently missing): My 4th of July Weekend (aka America Day) in Japan.

Chapter 6.5: My adventures with Eriko-san and Kiyoka-chan (I get to call her that because she is under two.)

Chapter 7-7.25-7.5-7.75-so on: My MASSIVE ADVENTURE in various locations throughout Japan.

Chapter 8: Day in Kamakura with Toshiko-san and Kyoka-chan (I get to call her that because she is six.)

Chapter 8.5: Awa Odori dancing festival. Perhaps with a retroactive entry about practicing.

And maybe another rant on her work. Who knows?

. . . Erk.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Interim note. . .


A couple things.

I'm going to be gone traveling for a week (very excited!)

So no blog posts.

Also, there are still about 1.5 blog posts missing below. . . I was going to write one about the July 4th weekend, which is why it skips from Chapter 4 to Chapter 6. . . in case you were wondering.

Now, back to packing.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Chapter the Fourth in "Sherry/Sharon's Big Adventure:" Kyoto, Nara, dance lessons, and Independence Day

Just got back from the grocery store, where I bought sushi for lunch, a box of "caramel-flavored" cookies (hey, they taste good, whatever flavor they are), deodorant (I could only find the spray kind), and corn flakes. They actually carry Kelloggs here, but it really small, really expensive boxes, so store brand it was for me.

Banal, yes. . . but I feel better every time I successfully locate something in a Japanese grocery/convenience/health store. It makes me feel less like a tourist and more like someone who actually lives here, albeit for a short time. I think one of the perks associated with being a tourist is the constant feeling of slight bewilderment and awkwardness because you're far away from how you know how to do things and nothing is quite like you expect it to be. It's an educational feeling, and I think by being kind of unbalanced you learn more than you ever possibly could while safe at home, but sometimes it's nice to feel a little stability. Knowing I can wake up in the morning and have corn flakes for breakfast is, I guess, one definition of stability.

It's a lovely Sunday afternoon, and I am not going out, even though I probably should. I'm kind of tired from previous adventures, and I know I will be traveling the next three weekends, so it's fairly easy to justify sitting around, updating my blog, and maybe studying Japanese a little.

Last week I made plans to meet with a "host family" through the MIT Japanese Wives Group, so I am having afternoon tea next Thursday. The lady, who I have not yet met in person, wrote me several emails in excellent English, but she claims her English is "not very good" so perhaps we will practice Japanese. (I hope she can deal with my Japanese, which is a little worse than "not very good.")

So. . . adventures.

Section 1: Enter Kyoto! (京都に行きましょう。。。)

Last weekend was the MISTI Japan intern trip to Kyoto, the historical capital of Japan from 794-1600 (from Wikipedia -- take with a grain of salt), when the capital then effectively became Edo, what is now Tokyo. Kyoto, as I may have previously mentioned, was largely spared from bombing in World War II (as compared to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, obviously, but also in comparison to Tokyo, which was completely leveled by traditional bombing) which means that many of its historical monuments, temples, and houses are relatively intact. (As intact as developers have left them, anyway.)

The plan was for us to take the night bus down at 10:30 on Friday night and sleep (ha!) on the bus until we arrived the next morning at 6:15 or so. I, being the scaredy pants that I am about traveling (and about Shinjuku, the station from which the bus left), arranged to meet with Bianca at Harajuku at 9:30 and then continue on to Shinjuku. Just for orientation's sake, Harajuku, Shinjuku, and Shibuya are all stations on the JR Yamanote Line (which I previously mentioned -- it goes around central Tokyo in a big circle.) Shibuya is in the southwest edge of the circle, and leading off it in a southwesterly direction is the Den-en-toshi line, which leads to where I live. Harajuku is one station north of Shibuya, and Shinjuku is another couple of stations north of that. Harajuku, as I have a probably previously mentioned, is a small-ish station, with only two exits; Shinjuku is bloody enormous.

This meeting up went successfully, and we got to the bus station early enough to get snacks at Starbucks and sit around and gossip. (SO GLAD I had Bianca with me. The bus station was on the other side of an enormous street past lots of construction and also sort of underground. I don't think Bianca understands why I was intimidated by the Port Authority bus station in NYC, so I suspect this is nothing special for her.)

There were some other MISTI interns on the bus, but my seat was in the front left corner, sandwiched in between sleeping people who got kind of annoyed when I reclined my seat too far. One of the other interns was literally five minutes late, and she missed the bus and had to buy another ticket. Oy.

I had foolishly brought my laptop, which I blame on a communication failure by my boss. What I got from him was that he wanted ALL TEN of the lighting simulations done by Monday; what he actually meant was that he wanted one lighting simulation done that I had already finished. Anyway, I tried (and failed) to do work on the bus; the rocking back and forth (I was on the top floor of a double-decker) made me quite nauseated. I also tried, and sort of failed, to sleep during the 7.5 hour bus ride from Tokyo to Kyoto; I woke up about every two hours falling out of my seat. Yuck.

As my boss put it, riding the night bus is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. . . every time after that you just take the train.

We arrived in Kyoto Station at about 6:15 AM. I had thought everyone would take the bus, but it turned out some interns had taken the Nozomi Shinkansen (super fast bullet train) and arrived several hours earlier, so they had been hanging out in the station for most of the night.

My first unpleasant "cultural experience" occurred when we trooped into the public restroom to use the toilet in the station. They had "Japanese-style" toilets only.

"Japanese-style" means a hole in the ground that flushes. You SQUAT. And there is no toilet paper.

Grandma Dyer, if you are reading this, you probably are shaking your head and asking, "Well, what's wrong with that?" I will tell you what's wrong with that. It's one thing when you are in the timber and ANY kind of building is a 30-minute hike away. It's a completely DIFFERENT thing when you ARE in a bathroom in one of the most hyper-modernized countries in the world and they expect you to SQUAT. WITHOUT TOILET PAPER.

How is this supposed to work? I have heard it is "more sanitary," but that is BULLCRAP. Sure, your butt doesn't touch anything, but your pants have to when you take them off, unless you want to get stuff on them (shudder, shudder.) Also, what genius thought it would be a good idea to invent a toilet that requires you to aim when the "you" in question is NOT MALE???

Anyway. I used one once. I am never using one again. Ever.

Also there wasn't any soap.

So we met up with our "tour guides," Michael and Mitsuko Barker, a couple in their 60s, outside the station (next to the blow-up Astroboy.) Michael went to MIT back in the day, and they've lived in the Kansai region for 10-ish years. They piled us on a tour bus and gave us onigiri, which were sort of an unpleasant surprise. I DO NOT understand the Japanese predilection for putting mayonnaise on EVERYTHING. I like mayonnaise. I DO NOT like mayonnaise on sushi, pasta, rice balls, stir-fry, pizza. . . the list goes on of things I personally consider to be inappropriate that I have seen mayonnaise slathered on here. Mary Beth would say this is cosmic vengeance for abusing mayonnaise in the U.S. Anyway.

We drove to another station for our NEXT traumatic cultural experience: THE PUBLIC BATH.

Let me say right here that I think it is pretty darn cruel to stick interns on a 7-hour bus ride where you know they're not to sleep worth a crap, and then pick them up and take to this second-most-hideous Japanese invention (after the squat toilet.)

So the public bath was located in the basement of this building, which I think was a train station or something similar. I, in my defense, didn't quite understand what this consisted of. I was pretty sure it involved being naked, but I wasn't sure how much naked, the timing of the naked, and how many people got to see me naked.

We put all of our stuff in lockers, and they handed out numbers to the interns. It was pretty crowded, so we had to wait a while. At this point the other interns started telling travel horror stories, primarily about Chinese bathrooms and the things that could possibly happen to you in them. (Note: At least in public park bathrooms that are just a big tank underneath the stool, I never seen MAGGOTS WRITHING AROUND IN THE SLOP, as one girl had when visiting relatives in China. That story was disgusting; I'm sort of hoping the one about the girl who went to the bathroom while eating out with parents in China and was found half an hour later with all her organs cut out wasn't true.)

Then they admitted us to the public path locker room. It was at this point that I suddenly understood three things:

a) There was no robe provided, as in many descriptions of huro/onsen (public bath/public bath in a hot spring) I had read.
b) There was no towel larger than 1' x 2' provided.
c) We were, in fact, supposed to get naked in front of each other and a bunch of strange Japanese women without benefit of a towel, waltz into the next room where the showers and big hot tub thingy were STILL NAKED, wash up, and sit in the big hot tuby thingy WHILE STILL NAKED, SUPPOSEDLY RELAXING AFTER A LONG BUS RIDE.

I took off my shirt and my skirt (I still had shorts on.) Then abruptly I said, "I can't do this."

I started getting dressed again, unfortunately realizing as I was doing this exactly how grimy I was. I had not envisioned this, so I hadn't changed out of my Friday work clothes -- I assumed I would be getting clean Saturday morning. Oh yeah right.

So this, combined with a desire to not be the lamest one, made me get undressed and, using my miniature freaking HAND TOWEL to cover up the most pertinent bits, rush into the bath room and claim a little stool facing the wall and a low showerhead. At least they had the decency to provide body wash and shampoo.

You're supposed to be completely clean and rinsed off before getting into the actual huro, the hot-tub thingy. It's supposedly more of a "relaxation" thing that a "clean" thing. Right. I am still skeptical. I would like to mention, in case this picture isn't vivid enough in your mind, that, as a moderately overweight American white woman, who has all the body-image issues that generally go along with that group of people, getting naked in front of a lot of tiny Japanese women is right up there on my list of greatest fears with being trapped in a hole with my arms immobilized (which happened later this trip) and getting stopped by the police and questioned (which happened later that week.)

I got clean. I sat in the tub in a modified fetal position. Luckily only one Japanese woman was in the bath at the same time as the interns, and she left after a few minutes (probably because of how loud, obnoxious, giggly, splashy and goofy we all were.) It was pretty awkward to start with, but after a while we started chatting (all while carefully not looking anywhere in particular.) There was a cold tub in the corner, for people coming out of the sauna, which several of the girls jumped in, causing a small tidal wave of cold water.

I'm guessing that whatever Japan's gender issues are, female body image is not one of the major ones. :P

Nothing else that day was quite as traumatic. We continued on to Kinkaku-ji, or the "Golden Pavilion," which was okay but kind of commercialized and crowded. It's a Buddhist temple with some nice gardens, which you can see pictures of on my Picasa account. I wish I had bought John one of the "safe traffic charms" they were selling though. Next was Daitoku-ji, also a Buddhist temple, which a little better, except that we couldn't take pictures of the inside of the temple buildings (lame!) They had us recite a life-affirming Buddhist tract, except they had us recite it in Japanese, which meant that I ended up saying mostly, "Mm blah blah mm mm watashi mm blah blah ki blah blah mm mm yes what?" We also looked at these rock gardens (also couldn't take pictures) which were basically fine gravel spread over a space with a porch-like wooden deck around them and large, bizarrely shaped rocks strategically placed throughout that we were supposed to interpret as mountains, waterfalls, ships, turtles, or cows (the last one was the biggest stretch.)

Next came the first truly awesome part of the trip, the visit to Geoffrey Moussas's house. Geoffrey is an architect who was trained at MIT who mainly works in Kyoto restoring old machiya-style houses.

Machiya (町屋 or 町家, miraculously both characters I know, meaning “town shop” or “town house” respectively) are traditional Japanese wooden houses that have been developing for the last couple hundred of years. Geoffrey's restored house is actually about the same era as the row house I live in in Boston (built in 1915, about 90 years old) and not a whole lot older than the central portion of our house in Iowa (although built by much wealthier, and arguably classier, people.) The layout, however, is dramatically different than either that of a wealthy or not-so-wealthy American house of the time. In Fenway House, built by a well-off (if not ridiculously rich) lawyer, you originally entered into small vestibule (snow-catcher), which linearly leads into a hall, with the dining room just beyond – you can see the other end of the dining room from the front door. The kitchen downstairs is downstairs, and the entertaining parlor upstairs. In my house (originally, anyway), you entered directly into the kitchen/living room/dining room.

In this machiya, the front door actually opens into a very small garden open to the sky, with stalks of bamboo growing in the corner and a basin of water, pink and gray rocks, and a few flowers on a stand. Here you make a sharp left turn and climb a few steps into the “entry hall,” where there was a bay window made of translucent paper, glass, and wood, a piece of calligraphy sitting in the corner, and a large vase of red flowers. Nothing else. We left our shoes on the steps between the front garden and the hall and turned sharply again, this time to the right; we could then look through a central room with a cabinet through a dining room with a low table to the back garden. In most machiya this front “hall” was actually a shop, but in this case the family who had built the house had also built the house next door, where their wood mill was located. Tucked in a sort of closet in the left portion of the center room were the stairs to the second floor, on which was Geoffrey's architectural office, one bedroom, and a balcony overlooking the garden. The front room and the back room were both floored in tatami mats, woven of some kind of fine grass with a smooth, slightly undulating texture that is very nice on your feet. The kitchen is tucked behind the front garden, actually a two-story space that is about a foot lower than the rest of the house, to allow heat from cooking (and smoke – the chimney was only added in 1950-something) to rise through a small glass window in the roof that opens by a pulley.

The back garden is perhaps the most beautiful part of the house. A narrow roofed porch (veranda?) wrapped around it in a backwards L, giving the impression that it was just another very green room in the house. Screens made of horizontally hanging split reeds sewn together down the edges blocked the sunlight on the porch somewhat, presumably so it would still be enjoyable to lounge about (in one very narrow lounge chair) without glare in your eyes. The upright of the L led past two small rooms, one containing the tub, the other the toilet. I can't imagine it's particular enjoyable to take a bath in the winter and dash back through the cold to get into the main house, but it's very elegant. The garden itself was very neatly trimmed, with flagstones, lots of ferns, a stone Japanese-style lantern, and a fountain consisting of a stone hollowed out at the top and large piece of bamboo constantly refilling it. On the flagstones sat a small rock wrapped around with rope; this is apparently the traditional symbol that a garden is only for looking at, not walking in.

It was pretty cool. We got to walk around and touch pretty much everything and wiggle our toes on the mats. There's something architecturally profound about layers of space and exit and entrance in stages tied up in that house, and maybe I'll figure out precisely what it is and how it works in a couple of months or years (or decades, sigh).

Then was lunch. I had sashimi and a variety of other things that were not as tasty. Sashimi, if you are not familiar with it, is sushi without the rice – i.e. slices of raw fish, in this case tuna. I love tuna. I in general love sashimi (no octopus, thank you very much.) I won't try to convince the collective readers of this blog, many of whom I believe do not tolerate fish in any form, of the merits of this food, but rest assured it is delicious. Other things on my plate included pickled purple something-or-others (most Japanese meals are served with some kind of pickle; this was probably some kind of beet), which were okay, and a cube of squishy gooshy nasty tofu, which was NOT. I have encountered very little tofu that I find delicious or even acceptable.

My lunchtime dose of awkwardness occurred when one of Michael Barker's Japanese students who was accompanying us on this trip, after being seated across from me and watching me eat my meal for a few minutes, commented, “Chopsticks are very difficult to use, aren't they?” I stopped, somewhat mortified. I suppose it is possible he wasn't commenting on my lack of finesse with the aforementioned utensils, but that conversation fizzled before it ever started.

After lunch we went to Heianjingu, the largest Shinto shrine in Japan. It was. . . very red. And very large. There were a lot of gardens with ponds and lilies behind the main temple complex, as well as some scary looking turtles (which another intern informed me later are supposed to be very tasty) that looked suspiciously like snapping turtles.

Then. . . Kiyomizudera, possibly the most awesome temple ever!

This temple is, unfortunately for those reading here, a temple made magnificent primarily by its spectacular scenery (i.e. beyond my linguistic and typing powers.) Try looking here for pictures. It occurs in approximately three levels that progressively move up the side of a mountain that looks over Kyoto. Apparently “taking a jump off Kiyomizu” is a phrase which means you are really committed to something – no kidding. The highest level of Kiyomizu looks out on a drop of about 100 feet; once you made the decision to jump, there would be a pretty low chance of survival. :\ In a more positive vein, you can see all of Kyoto from Kiyomizu; the whole city is surrounded by mountains. Extremely tall, slender trees (which doesn't seem remarkable until you're standing a half-mile away looking up at them) line whatever part of the mountainside the temple buildings don't occupy. There are a variety of shrines, presumably primarily Buddhist (tera or dera (寺) = Buddhist temple), including one of a black lacquered Buddha with red clothes and a bizarrely squished face (which falls neither in the category of “fat happy Buddhas” or “tall elegant Buddhas” – it was pretty squarely in another group known as “weird.”) I'm not really sure if shrines are a universal facet of Buddhism, or if the Japanese just adapted Buddhism to their already-present religious architecture of Shintoism. Ritual purification, with incense or water (this is the rinse right hand, rinse left hand, rinse mouth, let water slush down the handle of the dipper routine) seems to occur in both types of temples.

Also fascinating and weird, and as yet still unexplained to me, were the hundreds of tiny Buddhas lined up along the paths, all with little new(ish) red cloth aprons tied around their necks. Kinda creepy, to be honest. . . I have been accused of developing Buddhaphobia.

Look at the pictures. . . it's hard to describe, but it was beautiful.

Then. . . dinnertime, which was a disappointment. I had ordered something that I thought I recognized, and discovered that was indeed not the case at all. I ate my three small pieces of tempura and my rice and spent 20-ish minutes poking the various incarnations of tofu sitting on my plate. I Do Not Like tofu. During this time the Japanese students at our table taught us several rude words and phrases, the only one of which I remember is “ahou” or “idiot.” We reciprocated by trying, somewhat unsuccessfully, to explain what “flaming” meant colloquially. Other things that came up during the conversation included “chikan” (perverts who feel girls up on crowded trains) and the addition of warning noises to cell phone cameras in Japan to prevent upskirt photography.

Are we mature? No.

The girl next to me was eying my tofu, so I traded for the rest of her rice. Win!

We checked into a “Super Hotel” in Nara, which super nice. The weirdest thing about this hotel was that the bathroom was actually one continuous plastic piece – the tub was connected to the sink was connected to the toilet was connected to the walls. It also featured the far end of Japanese toilets from the squat toilet, i.e. a high-tech monster with a heated seat (yuck), a bidet, “flushing noises,” and a high-pressure jetstream of water (haven't had the nerve to use any of the last three options yet) installed in the toilet. Unfortunately, no iron was provided, so I ended up pretty wrinkly the next day.

The other guys and dolls headed out to do karaoke, play cards, and get soppingly drunk (in a couple cases). I was lame and went to bed at 10:30, after claiming I was going upstairs to do work (well, I thought work /might/ happen.)

Section 2: Attacked by deer! (Shika ga kamimasita. . .)

The next morning we were supposed to meet at eight and head out to see the attractions of Nara, the capital of Japan BEFORE Kyoto. This did not quite occur as planned, since a number of the other interns were still suffering from the choices they had made the night previous. However, this meant I had plenty of time to eat ridiculous quantities of the provided pastries for breakfast, which was one up on the previous day, day of mayonnaise and noodles on a bun for breakfast (yuck, sigh.)

We took the bus to Todaiji (東大寺 – all it means is “big east temple.”) Now, if not for Kiyomizudera, this would definitely be the Most Awesome Temple Ever. We were warned about its awesomeness, and we were still Astonished and Delighted.

Todaiji is famous for several things. One, it's the largest wooden building in the world (and it used to be larger; the two statistics they gave us was that there were over 1000 tons of tile on the roof and that the wood used in the house could build 30,000 Japanese houses.) Two, it's been around for a super long time; it was built in 794-ish. Three, it has one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world (and it's even higher up on the list, they told us with kind of grim humor, since the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas found in Afghanistan.) Four, THEY HAVE HOLY DEER!

These deer are a little smaller than your average Iowa white-tailed deer, golden-colored, and spotted. There are at least a hundred of them in the park directly in front of the temple. The Buddhist monks at the temple (of which there are only twenty now, decreased from several hundred in years (many years) past) feed them twice a day, so they're all pretty fat. There's no fence keeping them in the park – presumably the people in Nara just know they have to drive carefullly.

. . . and they are TAME. Well. . . In a manner of speaking.

You see, one of the delightful tourist traps invented by this temple is that there are about ten different little booths outside the temple selling DEER BISCUITS (or “bambi cookie,” as one lady called them. I just about cracked up and fell over.) The deer know about the deer biscuits. Mysteriously, they do not try to raid the stands. Instead, they act pleasantly friendly (if you're reasonably well-behaved they come up to you to be petted, and in the case of one girl who apparently smelled really good, rub their antlers on you) until you purchase said DEER BISCUITS. They are especially friendly during the purchase of the DEER BISCUITS. Keep in mind these are not hungry deer. They are fed TWICE A DAY like little cows.

When the DEER BISCUITS are purchased. . . they attack!

We were warned, but couldn't believe it until we saw it. . . the deer (particularly the larger, fatter male deer) will converge on any foolish tourist holding a package of deer biscuits and try to knock the biscuits out of their hand, jump up and grab the biscuits, eat the tourists' clothing and personal articles, and even knock the tourist down, as happened to one of the Japanese students with us when he was a kid.

This, of course, does not deter anyone from buying the deer biscuits and risking deer molestation.

Our guide, Michael, had to hurry us through the park, for (I hope) understandable reasons. We wanted to pet the deer, feed the deer, take silly pictures with the deer, make silly noises at the fawns. . .We went through a gate with perhaps the most remarkable statues I have seen yet in Japan, of two enormous guardians (enormous like two-three stories tall enormous) with ferocious faces, hair drawn up in high tails on top of their heads, robes draped around their waists, and hands held up in a “do not pass go” gesture. They looked kind of like terrifying genies from Arabian Nights. Presumably these are to intimidate the deer so they don't harass religious devotees.

They had arranged for a Buddhist monk to speak to us inside the temple, for which they had set up a bunch of chairs on the temple veranda to the left of the main temple. They unfortunately had one of the Japanese students do the translation for the talk. I say unfortunate because although his English was really good, he got embarrassed SO EASILY. As in, if he couldn't translate a single word, he would turn red and bury his face in his hands, even crouching down into a modified fetal position to hide his face. Some of the other interns has postulated that this is indicative of a Japanese attitude toward learning – if I can't do it perfectly, I don't want to do it at all – but I'm not sure. I think I would have been just as stressed if someone had asked me to translate from English to Japanese.

So. Buddhism. I know/knew almost nothing about Buddhism, so I'm going to guess most of the people reading this blog don't either. Buddhism is, from what I can tell, almost diametrically opposed to Christianity in a number of ways. First of all, it coexists with Shinto, the native Japanese believe in gods/spirits/animism, and in a lot of ways complements it. As the priest put it, Shinto is about reverence for things you can't change, like the sea, earthquakes, and storms, while Buddhism is about changing yourself to better deal with the circumstances around you. Buddhism, as they put, won't save you; it depends on you acquiring enough knowledge and self-discipline to implement its teachings.

He explained this, perhaps unfortunately, by using an extended metaphor about being lost at sea in a boat and knowing which way to row because you know which direction the sun is in. The sun doesn't save you, but knowledge of the sun will. I don't now; it was a nice talk, but it was probably asking a bit much to expect a bunch of interns, all of whom except me got ~5 or less hours of sleep, to sit through a discussion of (however simplified for our benefit) philosophical nature. In any case, I was struck by how much his description of Buddhism differed in fundamental ways from Christianity – every preacher I've ever listened to has emphasized intensely how we can't save ourselves, how we must depend on God for everything, and how our only achievements come through God himself, not any actions of our own.

I'll be honest and say that I don't know that this diametric opposition is a bad thing. It does seem weird to me, though, that the culture whose dominant religion has traditionally emphasized total reliance on God is the one which also emphasizes individuality and self-reliance, whereas the culture whose primary system of belief focuses on personal discipline and knowledge is the one that holds consensus and conformity in high regard. Go figure, I guess. :P


We then went into the main building where the Daibutsu is housed. This used to be three times wider before it was burned down in some war or another (I think) in the 1600s, but they apparently couldn't raise sufficient funds to rebuild it in its full glory. It is, as mentioned before, still the largest wooden building in the world. The only pieces of the temple that are original to the 700s are an enormous, elaborately figured bronze lantern in the front (enormous = ten feet tall), and the Buddha from about the knees down.

The Buddha is pretty impressive, but pretty standard as far as Buddhas go. There are two gilt Buddhas that are nearly as large flanking the biggest one, as well as a large multi-rayed sun sitting behind it with lots of tiny Buddhas ornamenting it. Two scary-looking general statues that are respectively squishing silly-looking demons, nearly as tall as the Daibutsu (which is over 30 feet tall and weighs more than a 100 tons) stand behind it. We were allowed to go closer to the Buddha than most tourists; we got to take off our sneakers, don slippers, and go up to the platform where the Buddha actually sits, about ten feet off the actual floor of the temple. We walked around the enormous lotus flower on which the Buddha sits.

After taking our requisite picture with the Buddha, most people flashing the peace sign, we went back down to the floor of the temple to visit Buddha's nostril.

Buddha's nostril is a hole cut in the base of the one of the temple's 3.5 (?) foot diameter supporting pillars (which struck me as a poor choice when I actually thought about it) which is the same size as the Daibutsu's nostril. It's a square hole about 1.5' x 1.5' foot cut through the entire pillar. It is apparently traditional for Japanese children (and intrepid (read: stupid) tourists) to crawl through Buddha's nostril and receive “seven years of good luck.” Right. So of course all the MIT interns, many of whom are small Asian girls or at least skinny, lined up to crawl through this hole. This did not strike me as a bad idea until there were about two people in front of me in line. It was about then that it occurred to me that a hole that a 100-pound girl could fit through was not necessarily a hole I could fit through.

I was really panicking by the time it was my turn. It somehow slipped my mind that the guy who had gone before me is 6'2” and correspondingly broad. When I got into the nostril, I didn't go in the correct diagonal fashion and got stuck for a moment. My arms were basically completely immobilized. I panicked.

Then all the little Japanese children waiting to crawl through Buddha's nostril learned a very bad English word. I won't type it here, but the little boy in “A Christmas Story” gets his mouth washed out with soap for saying it.

I scooted backwards so fast I probably left burn marks on the interior. The next guy squirmed through, who if I recall correctly was also about 6'2”. At this point my logic kicked in, and I realized that if two guys with as wide of or wider shoulders than me could get through this hole, so could I. (And of course, there is the ever-present fear on a group trip of being the lamest one.)

Sooo. . . I went in again. I got stuck again. I wiggled with my torso and pushed with my feet, as instructed, and kept moving forward. As soon as my hands appeared on the other side, I was hastily pulled through, my fellow interns/tour guide no doubt fearing another panicked outburst.

It was kind of traumatizing, yet weirdly fun.

When we returned, I bought a package of deer biscuits and was, of course, set upon. I ended up throwing some of them away to avoid being eaten, as they attempted to graze upon my dress, my hands, my wallet, and my educational booklet.

One of students missed the entire experience – he had been QUITE under the weather and ended up sleeping through the entire thing on a park bench, waking up to a find a deer staring at him.

We ate okonomiyaki – a truly delicious yet bizarre invention that involves noodles mixed with flour, eggs, and cabbage to form a fried patty, which is then topped with sauce and meat of various types (shrimp, squid, and pork seem to be prevalent) – for lunch. We went shopping, and took Japanese taxis, which have automatically opening doors. I bought some souvenirs and spent more than I meant to.

We got on the shinkansen. We went home. It was fun.

at top: "Kyoto ni ikimashou," or "let's go to Kyoto."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Back from Kyoto/Nara MISTI intern trip

Not blogging tonight, because I am tired.

However, the trip was amazing. Much awkwardness and cultural experiences ensued.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Chapter the Third in Sharon/Sherry's Big Adventure: New Houses, Plum Wine, and Multicolored Grids

I'm nearing the end of my third week of work. This weekend I'm going to Kyoto with the other MISTI Japan interns to absorb as much traditional Japanese culture and history as we can in two days, after which I expect to have more than enough to blog about -- hence why I need to get this entry done before then. This entry is somewhat non-linear, since first I talk about last week's and this week's work, then the weekend in between.

Section 1: The boring stuff -- work & my mutterings about the future

So I generally have no idea what's going on in the life of the other five people working in the office. (More than five people work in the office, but usually on any given day three or so are somewhere else mysterious. Like at home. In bed. I actually don't know about this either.) I have been helping with one large project, the daylight simulation for an apartment complex, and a few other smaller and less rewarding things. I am somewhat amused in retrospect that I had hoped to finish the daylight simulations by the end of last week; it's Friday today and I still probably have another week of work ahead of me. The apartment complex has 26 units, each one at least two levels, with a courtyard in the middle and a patio attached to every apartment. Some of the units are partially on the basement floor, which is why my boss wanted to look at the daylight in these particular rooms. It looks approximately as if someone built a structure by fitting together three-dimensional Tetris blocks -- pretty cool, in my opinion, but currently the project is stalled, so it probably won't be built for a little while. Editing the model to produce decent presentation pictures takes more time than the actual simulations. This week I picked a very stupid method for my first attempt, i.e. screenshot in Ecotect --> Photoshop --> Illustrator. The axonometric of the apartment with the daylight autonomy grid ended up scruffy and hard to read; next I'm going to try correcting the model and re-drawing the daylight autonomy grid in Autocad and then taking it into Illustrator. I'll see if I can post some screenshots of what I'm doing later. Honestly, I spent most of the second week just adapting the previously existing 3DS Max model so that I could use it for daylight simulation. Exporting from 3DS produced lots of extra triangles that make the model look more complicated and harder to deal with. I also needed to separate each apartment into its own layer which could be turned on and off; if I tried to put the model as-is into Radiance, the daylighting software, it would most likely stop deader than a possum on the interstate. So now each apartment has a detailed version and a block version, each on its own layer.

If this sounds interesting -- that's because you didn't spend approximately 12 hours too long working on it. On Friday night I hurtled out of the office at perhaps an indecorously high speed. My coworkers, of course, worked late, even on Friday night. I am frankly appalled, but I am an intern, and as such, I have no opinions.

Yesterday I finally produced some results for one apartment, which my boss and Satomi-san (see below) looked at glumly and basically asked, "That's all?" I compared two schemes, theirs and another one proposed by the owner, I think, and while their scheme was a little better lit, it wasn't very dramatic. It was kind of strange; I've been working on research long enough that the results looked pretty noticeably different to me, but I guess not in a selling-a-design kind of way. I will admit I was a little disappointed; I thought they would actually use my results to maybe tweak their design some. Maybe later.

The other people in the office are either working on the smokers' space competition, as Ana (who is Portuguese and fluent in English) is, or construction documents for an unknown project, as I think Ichikawa-san and Shika-san are. I really don't know about the last two though -- they don't so much talk to me, since neither is particularly fluent in English, and I feel that the young-not-particularly-confident-woman vs. slightly-older-slightly-cockier-man subtext is one of the most awkward contexts in which to practice my not particularly great language skills. I also have no idea what the other partner in the firm, Jun Vera, is doing, other than occasionally offering advice on what everyone else is doing. Bris, who is French and who has been in Japan for four years already, usually comes in only for a couple hours at most a day, and often he doesn't come in at all, instead working from home using the office network. Two other guys have shown up, both Japanese, neither of whose names I know. One is very friendly and said he had done an exchange in Rock Rapids, Iowa, when in high school (small world :D) and gave me a tasty Japanese sweet cake. The other I just showed up this last Wednesday, has glasses and facial hair, and wore these truly awesome shoes: Satomi-san (whose last name I have learned twice and forgotten both times) is in charge of the project for which I am doing my simulations. She is also pretty young, and has been the most patient with my attempts in Japanese. Yesterday we had a brief conversation where I managed to say (I think) that I didn't have very many architectural projects, so I wanted to add lots of my artwork and posters to my portfolio. I will now also remember the distinction between "nugu" and "kesu," which my dictionary made sound similar -- "nugu" is to take off, as Satomi-san demonstrated patiently with her shawl, while "kesu" is to remove or erase, as with the extra lines in my model. Another guy from Okinawa (I think) whose name I have also stupidly forgotten has been very nice, partly because I think he really wants to practice his English and so is willing to help me practice my Japanese. Today I managed to ask him why some houses in Tokyo have a whole row of clear plastic water bottles lined up at the base of the exterior wall. He said that people want to deter cats from getting in their gardens and digging up things and crushing plants, and people think that the reflected light off the water bottles scares off cats. I am frankly skeptical about the method but delighted that he understood my question. I also discovered a new word -- "kamu," to bite. Taitei neko ga watasi o kamimasu. . . usually cats bite me. Otherwise the language practice has been going slowly. I can never quite decide if the non-English speakers I work with think I'm a total moron or just are too busy and shy to say anything to me.

I really love observing the clothes people wear to the office, for their total illogic (in my eyes) if not for their snazziness. Ichikawa-san has a spectacularly ripped pair of jeans that hang somewhere below his butt that he is particularly fond of, while Ana usually wears these sort of harem-pant-like things like sweats where the waist is at the natural waist, but the inseam (going for delicate terms here) hangs somewhere around the knees. She also has tall wrestling shoes and several sundresses. Satomi-san always wears a layered sort of thing with a t-shirt and a dress with stripes or flowers and boots -- today they're white cowboy boots. Okinawa man (? he is a bringer of delicious pineapple -- I will find out his name) -san generally wears purple shoes. I usually wear a skirt to work, not for formality, but because it's really freaking hot and humid every day, and my shorts are veeery casual and limited in number.

Some other things popped up -- I'm at some point going to continue working on the class syllabus, which includes compiling a list of links for extra information and explanations about the history of Tokyo. Be still, my heart (not sarcasm -- really looking forward to this).

On Wednesday or Thursday of last week I was officially introduced to a Korean filmmaker. She and my boss are co-producing (they hope, if they get funding) a documentary about "green entrepreneurs." She was. . . well. . . terrifying. Bleach-blonde hair, extended cat-eye eyeliner, and no real eyebrows -- they had been drawn on with pencil. In the first ten minutes of our acquaintance she managed to fit in the conversation that she had lived in Germany for several years (with this charming segue: "Oh. . . is your name German? I lived in Germany. . . "), she was very "cosmopolitan," and that she spoke seven languages ("so please forgive me if I forget an English word or two." paraphrase.) I have no idea how old she is, but her mode of dress is. . . sparkly. . . and her purse is very large and probably designer (or knock-off). She described the project to me very excitedly, saying they had dubbed the production team "greenQuest" and tentatively the film "One" ("because we are all one with the earth, you know?") and asked me to write an introduction for a company that might be interested in sponsoring it. The people they want to interview do sound kind of cool. My boss would be one of them; his idea is to replace gravestones (which usually costs at least $5000 USD in Japan -- for reference my grandma paid about $600 for my grandpa's gravestone in 2001) with and small stones and small windmills.

She asked if I was okay with helping her, which I cautiously said I was, given that my boss didn't need me for other things, and then asked if I was okay with working weekends if needed later in the summer, to which I stupidly said, sure. I did the introduction -- hey, I can write, that's okay -- and gave it to her on Friday afternoon. On Monday she called me and said she had gotten together with a friend and re-written the whole thing. I hope she has forgotten who I am and why she wanted my help by next week.


I have been continuing my profligate ways, so I generally still go to bed shortly after I get home at eight. This has been making it difficult to pursue very many personal projects, but I have started researching graduate schools in the U.S. and abroad. Unfortunately, most other countries seem to use a different architect accreditation system than the U.S., making it seemingly a lot easier for foreigners to enter the U.S. system than for Americans to enter the British or European systems. I was really sure at the beginning of the year that I didn't want to be an architect after all, but now I'm less and less sure about what exactly I'd like to do. I know that I want to work before graduate school if it's at all possible (which, given the current economic climate, it might not be), and I know that I at least want to work with architects, because they're generally pretty cool people with interesting ideas and nice clothes.

I'd like to do another, longer MISTI internship before grad school in Japan, but it's hard to know what pitch the economy will be throwing this fall and next spring. I've started trying to re-vamp my portfolio, which I started in during a class last fall. Unfortunately my review for the class was disgustingly verging on catastrophically bad, so I'm not really willing to keep anything from that version of the layout. Lots of work to do. :P I also have a couple different ideas for trips I would like to take next year after graduating, meaning I have been rustling around with all of the following on the internet: a) language sites b) travel/accommodation sites c) writing sites, with hopes of actually being able to pay for such a trip independently. We'll see.

Most of my "adventures" during the week have occurred coming to or going from work, and many have involved trying to find Japanese equivalents of certain products, such as laundry detergent and contact solution. The latter item took me three tries before I could find a combination I could work with; I can read the katakana on the package ("sohuto kontakuto") but have a hard time figuring out which are supposed to be used by themselves and which should be used with saline solution, meaning that I ended up with burning eyes two days in a row (luckily I had saved a little of my old solution and could rectify this problem.) I finally rectified the problem by finding a bottle of "saarin sorusyan" and using the other stuff as cleaner last night. The other product for which I have had difficulty filling the proper specifications I will not mention here for the sake of my father's sensibilities, but rest assured that I located a where they live in the convenience store and am much more at peace with the world. Other Japanese product adventures have involved investigating the ingredients for cookies; luckily "flour" is written on the bag in both katakana and kanji; unluckily, it's about $3 for 2-lbs-ish. Butter prices are pretty stiff too, at about $3.50 for two sticks. Not sure if my coworkers will be getting any homemade baked goods out of me after all.

Another. . . adventure. . . occurred this Monday night when I met with Bianca to purchase our night bus tickets for tonight to go to Kyoto. We foolishly thought that we could meet right in Shinjuku Station next to the west exit, buy the tickets at the JR midori no madoguchi, eat some food, go home. Foolish, foolish mortals! I have since found out that Shinjuku is the busiest train station in the WORLD, with about 3 million people passing through every day. We meant to meet at 8; we finally found each other by way of heavenly mercy a 8:45, purchased the tickets, and ate at "Mos Burger," which is kind of like classy Japanese McDonalds.

Tokyo is incredibly dense with people, objects, animals, and buildings, so every time I walk the same route I find something new. The street my office is on is probably a half mile or three-quarters long, and I would bet there are fifty stores or more on it, none particularly big, selling a huge variety of clothes (including rain boots with heels and dresses for dogs), food (mainly Japanese, but there is a Mexican restaurant, an Italian cafe, and a bakery that specializes in sweet made of vegetables), health products, groceries, real estate, hair care, dry cleaning, antiques, fruit, and photography. The walk home is mainly through residential neighborhoods, but I walk by the most interesting things, like a shrine under construction and a Buddhist cemetery (which I wouldn't have noticed at all had I not peeked through the fence.) I blame my mother and aunt Barb for this, but I also keep noticing that the plants are similar but completely different from home. Sometimes it's obvious -- plenty of houses grow bamboo outside -- and sometimes it's not; for instance, hydrangeas are everywhere, but they're all the blue-purpley kind, not the lame white-green ones I'm used to at home. People hang their laundry outside and on their balconies; this morning I saw a woman airing her futon (which look an awful lot like comforters to me) on the bushes in front of her apartment building. I've tried to take as many pictures as possible, but I'm still kind of nervous to take pictures of people, so I've missed some really great pictures -- a little boy walking to school under his umbrella, an old man working on a construction project down the street, the guy walking four miniature dachshunds.

I will work on this.

Section 2: Return to TNM

Saturday morning got munched up in talking to my parents and friends at home, which was okay. Then, Saturday afternoon, I decided to go on my very own independent adventure, back to Ueno Park and Tokyo National Museum! Okay, I wasn't that inventive, but I really wanted to see the exhibits I had missed the weekend before. It was delightfully sunny. I took the Yamanote line around Tokyo, which to my surprise took over 30 minutes. I successfully found my way into the park and stopped at the pagoda which had been closed before; there was an elderly man there taking care of the counter with little charms and other things for sale. I think I was confused -- I thought the pagoda was a Buddhist (rather than Shinto, like the shrines) thing, so I wouldn't have to purify my hands before entering, but there was a basin and dipper next to the entryway, the same as a shrine. I think I may have come off an insensitive clod to the old man. We talked for a minute or two in Japanese -- I tried to ask if it was a Buddhist temple (otera), as opposed to a Shinto shrine (jinja), but I left out the second part, so I don't know if he said yes because it was Buddhist temple or because he thought I was a dumb foreigner who didn't know there was a difference. He told me the Japanese word for crow (karasu); the park is filled with enormous, scarily brave ones. My boss told me the word for Buddha, butsu, so now I can ask, sort of, what the statue inside is of.

I stopped to watch a bizarre street performance that consisted of a man inside a bouncy yellow balloon-ball that had been inflated and a woman in tall striped socks and a yellow windbreaker bouncing off of him. There was a large audience of deeply amused children for this.

The museum accepted my MIT student ID (wheee) so admission was only 400 yen (~$4). It was, if possible, even more awesome this time. The upper floor, which we had rushed through before, is basically the "highlights of Japanese art" -- so essentially Cliffs Notes on every awesome thing that Japan has produced in the last 1500 years. I looked at kimono, woodblock prints, and Jomon period clay figures, some of which are 3000 years old. They are. . . not very dignified looking. Actually they're kind of cute. I was delighted to find plushies of them in the museum shop; apparently I'm not the only one who finds them cuddly rather than awe-inspiring. I saw two prints that are part of the "Thirty-Six Views of Mt. Fuji" series, of which the print "The Great Wave Off Kanagawa" (here at wikipedia:, the first one) is probably the most famous picture to ever be produced by Japan. I saw two less famous ones, "Waterwheel at Onden" and "Nihonbashi Bridge in Edo." Then it was off to the archaeology museum next to the primary museum, which had only one floor but a lot of stuff. They had a special exhibit of three enormous maps of the world made in Japan in the 1500s, as well as lots more clay figures, swords that had been buried and worn away, and tack for horses. My favorite were the handsome ridge-end (i.e. end of the roof) tiles from different parts of Japan.

The museum shop was still fun but alas, still expensive. Silk scarves were $50, as were furoshiki (sp?), or Japanese wrapping cloths. I will find souvenirs, but I just haven't found them yet. I have also not yet sent my postcards. . . sigh. This blog makes somewhat redundant anything I might say.

I headed home a bit early, for I had a DATE with the other MISTI interns. I couldn't resist stopping in something called the "Tokyu Food Show" at Shibuya Station. . . Oh. My. Not a food court, as I had originally thought. It is a GOURMET FOOD EMPORIUM with something like 20 bakeries crammed in together. I bought a baguette, which I am still conflicted about, because it had asiago cheese on it and I don't like asiago cheese, except the baguette was tasty, and some sugar cookies, which I was not conflicted about at all (they were delicious).

Section 3: Night on the town (sorta)

The interns had all planned to meet at the Hachikou statue at Shibuya at 8 o'clock on Saturday night. Hachikou was an Akita belonging to a professor in Tokyo in the 1930s who accompanied his master every day to the train station when he went to work and met him every day when he came home, also at the train station. The professor died one day of a stroke a work and so didn't return, but Hachikou kept returning to the train station at the same time every night for many years. In any case, what we didn't realize is that Hachikou statue is the most popular meeting spot in Shibuya for young Tokyoites -- i.e. not as crowded as Shinjuku but still pretty impossible for a short person to locate a small group of MIT students in a sea of other young men and women. I finally found Bianca (of course), then the group, and we set out for Coins Bar, where we had a reservation. We stopped in 109 on the way, a ridiculous collection of designer, edge-of-reason clothes for women (the boys were not really happy or comfy). Coins Bar was delightful; it was small, with an enormous table in the middle that we each paid $25 to reserve, which reservation included a host of appetizers (all American) and as much as we cared to drink. Pirates of the Caribbean was playing in the background with Japanese subtitles and the music was too loud but fun. I ordered a glass of umeshuu mizu ari, or plum wine diluted with water. I HAVE FOUND MY ALCOHOL. It was delicious. So delicious that I didn't get another glass.

It was fun to hear how the other interns were doing. Jess, who is working at Rikken, actually ended up translating a lot for her boss, who has been in Japan for seven years without learning much of the language. Thu, who is working at an architecture firm too, is speaking entirely in Japanese every day and somehow got put on the model-making end of things even though she is a civil engineer and wanted to work in fluids. Jackie, who is working at Secom (sp?), a securities company, has to deal with incredibly strict rules: She had to re-dye her hair black (it had a streak of green), replace her green contacts with natural color ones, wear heels to work every day, wear no earrings larger than seed pearls, and wear no glasses that have other than gray or black frames. At least she's not a boy and does not have to live in her company dorms, which are far away, crowded, and have no internet. Bianca, who I talk with every couple days, keeps finishing all the work her boss gives her, so she spends a lot of time sitting at her computer, surfing.

Another intern apparently had drunk enough alcohol that freestyle rapping seemed like a good idea, so he got up and requested the DJ to play him a beat. He also remarkably enough had not had enough to make him unintelligible or uncoordinated; he actually did a really good job. It was bizarre.

The rest of them headed out to karaoke with the intention of staying out all night, and I headed home, with the intention of going to a church near Harajuku the next morning.

Section 4: Church stuff

When I woke up Sunday morning, it was pouring. This did not bode well. I meant to go to the 8:30 service at Tokyo Union Church, but I didn't manage to get out the door until 8:10 -- not good news for a journey that I knew would involve 5 minutes of walking + three stops on the subway + train change + one stop on Yamanote line + at least 10 more minutes of walking. It was indeed not good news for being there at 8:30; I got out at Harajuku Station at approximately 8:30 with a vague idea of which direction I was going in and shoes that were getting wetter by the minute. I had a raincoat but not my umbrella (running late) and had forgotten to eat breakfast (really, really late.) I found the church on a list of English-speaking religious institutions on the American embassy website. It's nondenominational, which I like, and had a reasonable-sounding statement of purpose. I've come across two local churches, one by my house and one on my walk to work, but I'm a little uncertain about how much I would get out of a service entirely in Japanese. Apparently only 1% of Tokyo is Christian, so thank goodness for the internet's search capabilities.

So I've been to Harajuku Station three times now, but that was the first time I had gotten out and walked around. I knew Harajuku meant shopping for the most part, but what I didn't know is it means HIGH-END INTERNATIONALLY KNOWN BRAND-NAME SHOPPING. As in, I passed by my second Chanel store in Tokyo, a Christian Loboutin boutique (I think), a Dior store, and maybe a Gucci on the way to the church. I had to stop at a police box with a cool map outside of it; it had potential locations listed at the bottom with buttons that you could push, which then made a dot and a helpful arrow light up on the map. It was still pouring, of course. The church building was between an Armani and a Louis Vuitton. Not kidding.

I walked in, thinking glumly about how it would look that I was twenty minutes late. The first guy I saw apologized and said that during the summer the only service was at 10:00 AM. I was super relieved and promptly switched to worrying about whether I would be able to meet my boss on time at noon to go to an architectural open house, a plan we had made on Friday.

The minister's wife spotted me instantly as new as I searched out the subway line that was closer than the Yamanote line on one of my Tokyo maps and rather forcefully but kindly introduced me to another girl who was supposed to give me more information about their Bible study groups. She ended up lending me her large, beautiful umbrella so I could run to a bakery down the street for breakfast.

The sermon was nice, mainly remarkable for the fact that the minister incorporated a reference to Field of Dreams. At this church, apparently newcomers get up every service and introduce themselves, because the English-speaking population of Tokyo changes so fast.

I headed out pretty quickly without stopping for coffee to the Ometosando stop, which connects to the Ginza and Hanzomon lines. I barely made it home by 12:05, but, as I keep forgetting, my boss was meeting me at noon (with three small children) and noon (with three small children) actually equals about 12:20.

Section 5: Awkward shakes hands with fun

My boss picked me up in his station wagon (which is disguised to not look like a station wagon), his three daughters, and his wife. I had met Reika and Tamao the previous weekend, but not Ayaka (who is three months old) or Mika (his wife). His wife is very pretty, very fine-boned, taller than me, and speaks a little but not a lot of English. I felt a wave of awkward come over me when I got in the car which never totally left; I sat in the front passenger seat while his wife sat in the seat behind us with Ayaka in a baby seat. I said the usual ("Hello, pleased to meet you, my name is Sharon, I'm so sorry but my Japanese is poor") and after talking with my boss for ten minutes, lapsed into silence for the rest of the 1.5 hour drive. We were going to Kamakura, south of Tokyo, famous for having a daibutsu, or big Buddha, that is 30 feet tall and weigh 93 tons (made out of bronze.) It was built in 1250 or so and has not been disturbed by much of anything; the temple around it was washed away in a tsunami in ~1450, and the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 that totally annihilated Tokyo moved it a foot or two, but it's still pretty much okay. We couldn't stop and see it, but I fully plan to go back. We were headed toward an architectural open house for a house designed by George Kunihiro, who, like my boss, went to Harvard's GSD (General School of Design).

The house was nice. It would have been nicer if hadn't been so foul outside, and if it wasn't a weekend house for a Swedish-American couple who spend maybe a couple days there a year. I roved the premises with Tamao and Reika, who I totally underimpressed with my language abilities. I did learn that "kutsu" is shoe, as Tamao required an explanation for the yellow marks my Birkenstocks left on my feet during the rain. I think I told her my other shoes drew on my feet. The awkwardness continued, as I somewhat unsuccessfully tried to have a conversation with Mika-san on the basis that a friend-of-family has a baby about Ayaka's age (hi, Joanna), and was mistaken by Kunihiro-san as my boss's wife (um wha?) My boss bought us all manjuu, or buns filled with red bean paste. I ate half and then discretely hid the rest in my bag. At least I hope it was discrete.

We then drove to an art gallery where Mika-san used to work. The art was. . . modern. It consisted mainly of splotches of paint and bent wires. The two women who worked there, however, were quite charming. Neither spoke English, so I got to say a couple things in Japanese (more awkwardness, when I confused the question of "where are you living?" for "what are you working on?" Also because my boss's wife was totally comfortable breast-feeding Ayaka in front of the rest of us.) One lady was somewhat elderly; she talked animatedly about, among other things, the characters used to spell Ayaka's name and a variety of people I obviously didn't know. They provided us with cookies and tea; I don't think anyone was counting besides me, but Tamao ate at least three pieces of candy and four cookies. At this point Reika started feeling sick again (they hadn't gone the day before because she had a fever), so she laid down on the couch.

We left there at about five. Tamao wanted to go the beach, so we drove around the harbor to the Hayama side ("much cleaner.") Final bit of awkwardness: We stayed ten minutes then meant to go home so they could drop me off and put Reika in bed, but Tamao threw an almighty tantrum. . .which led to another twenty minutes at the beach. When they came back, Tamao gave me some seashells she had found. I don't know if things would have gone differently if I hadn't been there.

I was quiet for the whole drive back.

It was fun. But awkward.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

quick note

I'm not sure why the links in the last post won't work. I would suggest going through my picasa album on your lonesome. . . hopefully it is pretty readily apparent b/t captions and my descriptions which is which.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Chapter the Second in "Sherry/Sharon's Big Adventure:" The First Week

Section 1. Tokyo zoom out.

So I've been here a week! It seems kind of weird. Strangely, I'm not sure if the major culture shock for me is so much being in Japan as being in a truly enormous city. According to Wikipedia (sometimes dubious), the greater Tokyo area is about 5,200 sq miles, with 35 million people, 12 million of which reside within the city limits.

Holy crap.

Tokyo is largely set up to make life easy for English-speaking visitors. Although there are at least 5 different independent companies running the trains and subways, they have standardized signage and layouts in all stations. Almost every sign has the station name in English, hiragana (the Japanese syllabary for Japanese words) and kanji (Chinese symbols adapted for use in Japanese writing sometime around the beginning of the last millenia, 0-500 AD.) Perhaps the most bizarre of all, all the trains run precisely on time -- they arrive two minutes before the digital sign overhead proclaims the next departure, then pull out again at exactly the aforementioned minute. Coming from the Boston subway system, where there is effectively no schedule, and one descends into the station with only a vague hope that the train will show up in the next 15 minutes but is not terribly surprised if it takes 20 or 30 --- it's brilliant. On the larger lines, such as the Yamanote Line (山手線) that circles the inner core of Tokyo, they run EVERY FOUR MINUTES. It's remarkable.

What is difficult about the train stations is their immense size and the complexity of levels required to coordinate sometimes four lines crossing in the same station. To get to work on the train, I walk to Komazawa Daigaku station, which is on the Tokyu Den-en-Toshi subway line; I then take that subway (chikatetsu, 地下鉄)three stops away to the Shibuya stop. I then leave the subway, walk to the main floor (bypassing the JR lines and the Ginza Line), and take the escalator up to an overhead track, which is the Tokyu Toyoko line. I then take this line to two stops away to Nakameguro Station, from which my office is a 5-10-minute walk.

Or I can walk; it's about 2.5 miles. I've done it three times now (two times going, one time coming), and provided I have the right shoes, it's pretty nice; I can either take a main road with nice wide (and well-lit, for you mothers out there) sidewalks, or, if it's not dark yet, there's a neat pedestrian-only "green street" where a river used to be that winds around a little bit and is bordered on both sides by bushes and hydrangeas. Hydrangeas, by the way, dominate Tokyo, particularly the purple kind.

The pedestrian path goes by this little shrine.

More later! Must go now.

Back. . .

Section 2. Sakura House/How I exist.

So. The 7/11 is far away.

Instead, my breakfast and dinner tends to come from "Family Mart," a convenience store immediately to the right of where the street that connects my residential street to the main street (which has an enormous overpass/freeway thingy running over the entire length of it) comes out. From there, I have taken to buying the following for breakfast: a) egg-and-rice onigiri (rice patty) b) diet coke c) orange juice and d) デニシュブレド、or "danish bread," which is three slices of delicious soft butter bread. Not healthy, but oooooh so tasty.

I then come back to my room and call my parents using Skype, which is an awesome free service that allows face-to-face chatting over the interwebs. My room is only a little smaller than the single I had in Burton-Conner my sophomore year, and a lot more cheerful given the large window, out which I can see this garden.

Section 3. Work and its many surprises.

Work is, as aforementioned, about 2.5 miles away in a neat neighborhood called Nakameguro. This is the street it's on; I have yet to succeed in taking a good picture of it. I really, really appreciate the blending of commercial and residential zones in Tokyo; while this street has lots of little shops, boutiques, and restaurants along its length, there are houses right behind and apartments above, so I get to see lots of mothers pushing strollers with kids or riding bikes -- a lot with a child seat in the rear and another in the front. One thing among many that really surprised me is how many pet dogs are in Tokyo. Shiba Inu, miniature Schnauzer, long-haired dachshunds, miniature poodles of all colors, beagles, chihuahuas -- I see probably twenty different dogs every day. Admittedly, most of them are very small dogs. The only big dogs I have seen are golden retrievers, like this one that lays out in front of its owner's shop right next to the office for a large part of the day. I have been told that part of the reason dogs are so popular is because many people can't afford to have a child, but they can afford to have a pet -- this probably also explains the preponderance of doggie coats and shirts that one sees.

The first day I went to work, Tuesday, I showed up at 8 AM. My boss had told me, "Oh, just show up sometime," which I took to mean, "Show up on time (whenever that time is) or we will JUDGE YOU!" That. . .turned out not to be the case. I sat around for two hours, during which time I took a brief trip to a look at a temple marked on the map a couple blocks away. When I came back I realized I had been standing by the wrong building all that time, which terrified me -- except that my boss calmly assured me that they usually start each day at around 10 in the morning. This partially derives from two of the employees in the office; apparently it was so difficult for them to find housing in Tokyo that they are just living in the office. This sort of makes me glad that I'm a foreigner and can take advantage of Sakura House.

About ten people work in the office; seven native Japanese-speakers, two of which are fluent in English and all of which know some English, one girl who speaks Portuguese and English but no Japanese; and one French guy who speaks English, Japanese, and (presumably) French.

I was also surprised to find that we invariably listen to an American radio station, an “eclectic station” out of a community college in California. This probably also describes the dress code pretty well. The first day, I had dressed up in slacks and a nice shirt and was pretty nervous that I was not going to make a good impression. When I got there, I found one of the employees in jeans, one in something remarkably similar to pajama pants, and one wearing. . . sweats (I think). So I was worried for nothing. However, my boss generally comes dressed in a suit (sometimes a tie), or sometimes, like today, he's also in jeans. The other principle architect, however, is terrifyingly fashionable. He has an array of little (by which I mean close-fitting, not perched on the top of his head like Donald Duck) hats that he wears every day, as well as perfectly tailored sports jackets – one of these is blue-and-white seersucker. He is half Venezuelan and very handsome, but I don't think he's ever addressed me directly and he's only in the office for four hours or so a day (and no one in the office seems to know what he does during the rest of his time), so, “Meh.”

The first day was even more of a surprise, because at about seven, my boss brought beer and another guy brought sushi and chips and we had sort of a party, only some of which I could understand. I tried to drink some beer to be a good sport and realized at nine I had gotten through less than a fifth of the can. Oh well.

In the back of the office is a little kitchenette, from which much espresso is produced. I can drink espresso. Sort of. With a packet of sugar and a bottle of water handy. I prefer the green tea that is also sometimes made.

We eat out every day for lunch, which is somewhat expensive but not obnoxiously so. Usually we eat at the 500-yen place (what is its real name? I do not know.) This translates into a little more than $5 (Google says $5.18 right now), so I don't feel too guilty. So far I have gotten “oyakodon” almost every time. This tasty, tasty dish translates to “mother and child” -- i.e. chicken on rice with an egg on top. The egg looks kind of raw but isn't actually – I think they put it on when the rice is still super hot, so it gets pretty much cooked. This restaurant is really tiny, about twelve seats. 500 yen also buys you as much orange juice as you can drink and a tasty little salad. I approve. Other places we have eaten include a “Chinese” restaurant, which seemed to have a suspiciously large amount of Japanese food served. I very stupidly chose the “age no tori (? something like that) teishoku,” forgetting what we learned in Japanese 2 – teishoku is the “fixed meal,” and it comes with salad and miso soup, which I didn't really want. (Sorry, “age no tori” is fried chicken.) Doh. We also have eaten at the Meguro Ward Office Tea Room, which was cheap, tasty, and not particularly healthy, because I got delicious tempura. At this cafeteria, you scrutinize the wax models of the available food outside (this is a pretty common practice in Japan), then make your selection and payment from a machine next to the models that prints you a ticket. You then hand this to the food service people behind the counter and get your food; this time I got the tempura teishoku knowingly and enjoyed it. My co-workers made fun of me for not liking miso (it's apparently made out of soybeans and salt. . . sigh) and putting soy sauce on my rice (apparently that's a Chinese rather than a Japanese thing to do.)

What I'm actually doing in the office is something that so far has changed almost on a daily basis. The first thing I was asked to assist with was finding pictures of “event spaces” in the books and magazines around the office for a class one of the principles (the one who's not my advisor) is teaching. I worked in the English-language books, while some of the other employees worked on Japanese-language magazines. (This whole little project was kind of unfortunate. I successfully managed to ask if I could remove and throw away the little paper markers for the pages after I scanned them and received an affirmative. This inadvertently caused the two guys living in the office to get no sleep the next night, as they had to search through all the books and re-find every entry, all of which work was then discarded when the principle changed his mind about what he wanted to teach.) After this, I was supposed to help working on the layouts for a presentation poster for a “smoker/nonsmoker” competition focusing on how these two groups can share the same space without a glass wall in between. I produced several pages of sketches which were. . . also discarded (? sort of). I re-worded a few small things for the company's website and a magazine (yay for being useful for my talents as a native English speaker.) Then my boss asked me to assemble some thoughts and a draft of a syllabus for a class he's teaching in the fall on life and architecture in modern Tokyo. For this, he gave me a booklet with excerpts of different books on the history, architecture, and social culture of the city. I read the whole thing and found it utterly fascinating but hole-y. It started with Tokyo(originally Edo)'s city planning under Ieyasu Tokugawa, founder of the Tokugawa Shogunate that controlled Japan from 1600-odd to 1868-about and went to a discussion of youth culture in Harajuku today (I was unsuccessful in photographing some Lolita Harajuku girls last Saturday morning, but I promise I will, and then you will see why this is an interesting topic.) At some point that project will continue; for now, I have moved on to a lighting simulation project for a group of apartments, some of which are partially underground, which I hope to have mostly done by the end of the week (yay for blind optimism!)

Sometime in July the office is taking a group trip to a house they have worked on (I think) in Nagano. I am excited.

I have frankly had limited language success so far. . . the first week I spoke very little Japanese beyond “Sumimasen” (“I'm sorry, excuse me”), “Arigatou gozaimasu” (thank you), and maybe “Ii desu ka?” (Is it okay?) I can unfortunately still count the number of exchanges I've had in Japanese very comfortably on both hands. I still pick up a smattering of new words each day, from either eavesdropping (“dandan” = gradually), contribution of friends (“tonniku” = pork; “gyuuniku” = beef), or in my scrambling to be able to say something relevant about my life/start a conversation (“sumu” = reside; “kawakasu” = dry out; “mitsukeru” = connect a phone line. I don't know if the last one can be used for internet or not; need to find out at some point.) The MIT Japanese Wives Group sent out an email asking if anyone interning this summer wanted a host family/language partner, and I emailed back my interest, so with any luck I'll have someone else to practice on soon.

Right is apparently the rainy season, until the end of June. . . which I discovered unfortunately yesterday about a mile into my walk home, meaning that I got totally soaked and was lucky none of my electronics were damaged. I also discovered yesterday that at 9:00 PM in Maruetsu, a Japanese grocery store close to my house, a box of sushi made at 2:00 PM (said so on the box) and an apple cost the same, about $1.60. They mark down sushi and deli food at the end of the day to get it off the shelves.

Section 4. Various adventures.

So I have had a fair amount of adventures in the last week and a half, some less intentional than others. I think Thursday or Friday of last week was the first day I didn't get lost at least once (not counting Monday, because I slept inside all day.) Tuesday night I accidentally got on the express train (which there was no excuse for! We even learned that character! and now I know why) and had to double back to get to Komazawa Daigaku. On Monday morning I tried to walk to work and found myself hopelessly lost and (I think) somewhere around Shibuya. I was saved by the fact that the characters for the neighborhood I work in are all ones I learned in class – Nakameguro, 中目黒 – with their most common reading. I don't know if it's a meaningful spelling or not; if so, it means something like “in the middle of the black eye.” On the way back to the street the station is on, I passed an American Apparel store, the Danish Embassy, and the Tokyo Baptist Church. When I got to work at 10:30, my boss wasn't there yet and one of the guys was still asleep. Non sequitur.

That night I met Bianca at Harajuku Station and we went out to eat. Bianca (hi, Bianca, if you should happen to read this) lived with me in Fenway House last summer and is another MISTI Japan intern, working for Hakuhodo, a marketing and advertising company. She is in fact pretty cool. We went to “Cappucino,” I think, a place in Harajuku, and got Italian food – spaghetti Bolognese and spaghetti (insert correct phrase here) with crumbled meat sauce. Tasty tasty. The very nice waitress asked us very anxiously if the Japanese on the menu was okay, which seemed a little weird since it has English subtitling. Harajuku is a small-ish neighborhood that is generally packed with clubbers (I think) and American tourists; Tokyo teenagers go there to show off how weirdly and awesomely they can dress up. Then I visited Bianca's house (also run by Sakura House company); it's on a hill and in a very pretty neighborhood. We sat and talked for a long time, and I grabbed what I think may have the been the last train back to Komazawa Daigaku (it was packed enough, oy.) On the way home, switching from the Toyoko line to the Den-en-toshi line was my first encounter with shamisen guy. The shamisen is a traditional Japanese instrument, kind of like a 3-stringed guitar. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera, because that time he was accompanying a hip-hop tap dancer. They were both mad cool.

The week finished out in the normal way. On Saturday I woke up at six (AM) and got into some shorts and a t-shirt; my boss had invited me to go along to an event for his children's nursery school. Apparently this school, which he described as “kind of a hippie school,” owns a small rice paddy, some chickens, a garden plot, a bunny (not for eating, I don't think), and even a beehive to help introduce the children to agriculture throughout the year. This last Saturday was planting time for the rice paddy, something my boss described as “very Japanese” (no kidding.) The word for this is “taue” (田植), which I assure you we did not learn in Japanese class.

This discussion is much aided by the pictures found here. (I've already used almost half my allotment on Picasa, so I will soon be opening a Flickr account as well.) There was concrete slab, much like a boat dock, that dipped down into the field, which was flooded to a little lower than knee height (or higher, depending on where you stepped.) All the parents (except those, like my boss, who apparently couldn't fit any of the pairs provided) put on the boots provided. One thing that made me rather delighted was that most of the boots had separate compartments for the big toe and for the rest of the toes, like tabi, Japanese socks. I guess it probably allows for greater mobility/stability in the water.. My feet were a big large, though, so I got a normal pair of boots.

What essentially happened is that all the parents planted the field and the kids, who ranged in age from about 9 months to 5 years, played extravagantly in the ample quantities of mud available. A few kids felt benevolent and planted a couple of seedlings or carried bunches of seedlings to parents who'd run out.

You can see in the pictures approximately how this worked. . . two people on the edges of the field held poles with a long cord stretched between them with white beads every so often – maybe every foot or so. They each had a 6-ft piece of bamboo laying on the ground parallel to the edge of the field with colored markers. The guy on my left would shout out what marker he was moving his upright pole to and the guy (girl?) on my right would follow that instruction. We then planted one or two seedlings behind each white bead; this way the rows ended up quite straight. This is apparently the traditional way of planting an entire field of a crop where you can't just make furrows; nowadays there is a mechanized process which I still need to locate and read about.

After this, they stripped the little kids down and washed them in tubs next to the drainage way on the edge of the street. We all washed our legs and arms (I remarkably did not completely cover my clothes in mud.) Then was lunch, so I ate rice balls, one kind with miso paste spread on the exterior and another with little purple bits of herb which I still can't identify, with my boss and his kids. Then he drove me home. Japan, by the way, drives on the left. This wouldn't be such a disaster-in-waiting for me (after all, I don't drive) if they didn't also WALK on the left on sidewalks, hallways, etc. Oy. I think all of Japan's freeways are toll roads; my boss stuck a credit card into a little slot on his dashboard, and it beeped when he drove through the toll gate. Oy again.

Overall, it was fairly awesome.

Then home. . . and a three hour nap.

When I woke up, I felt kind of guilty for having 'wasted' an entire Saturday afternoon in Tokyo. I contact Bianca again (yay g-chat!) and we met up shortly thereafter to investigate the many wiles, guiles, and overall general hugeness of Shinjuku, one of the premiere shopping neighborhoods in Tokyo.

We met at Harajuku again, since the Shinjuku station actually has 11 lines crossing in a limited space, making it kind of a monster to navigate. I know there are least six exits but there are probably several I don't know about. We then went back to Shinjuku on the Yamanote line (expensive but direct). First we went into Uniqlo, a now-international clothing store with a fairly large range of clothes. I was surprised to find shirts that even fit me there, and ended up wasting $20 on a ruffled t-shirt. :) In the basement I discovered the yukata display (yukata are cotton kimono) and oggled delightedly. They were $50 apiece, however, so I shall be price-shopping a bit. At this point I was figuratively dying of hunger, so we went to eat in a restaurant in the subway (not only are the subway stations clean, they tend to be attached to shopping malls). I got oyakodon again, and Bianca returned to the love of her life, barbecued unagi (eel).

At this point it was a little late to go in any more department stores (pud), so we planned to meet up again the next day and have more adventures. Bianca had already been in Tokyo for two weeks before I arrived, so she had investigated the wonders of Ueno Park and the Tokyo National Museum the weekend before and come back with a high opinion of their merits.

So the next day at a the crack of 2 PM we met up. I had sort of rolled the idea of going to the Tokyo Baptist Church that morning around before discarding it in favor of sleeping in. (Didn't help that their website made them look kind of weird. I don't know.) I have high hopes for an “international interdenominational” church close to Yoyogi Park this coming Sunday, though. Services at 10:30, I think. There's actually a small church really close to where I live, but I think the services are probably all in Japanese. It would be fascinating, and maybe toward the end of the summer I will work up the nerve to go there and listen to a service. Maybe.

In any case, we rode the subway over to Ueno. There are probably more pictures than anyone is interested in looking at here. The park itself is really beautiful, and there are far fewer homeless people wandering around or draped over random objects than in the Boston Common or Copley Square. This is also the first place in Tokyo I saw actual pigeons instead of the ubiquitous CROWS. I suspect the crows hold purges at night so that no pigeons survive. We visited two Shinto temples inside of the park and looked at a Buddhist pagoda from outside of its gate (Bianca said it's open on some days); unfortunately none had significant English signage, so I was a bit mystified as to what kami (gods, spirits, things to be venerated) the shrines were dedicated to. First we purified our hands and our persons (I think) by rinsing our hands with the ceremonial water provided outside the temple; we were taught how to do this by a Shinto priest who came to MIT to give a presentation to MISTI Japan. (Pick up the dipper in your right hand, pour it over your left hand, take dipper in your left hand, pour it over your right hand, tip dipper up and let the remaining water run down the handle. I think maybe you're supposed to rinse your mouth too, but I forgot.) Pictures weren't allowed of the actual shrines inside, which is really unfortunate, because the layers of space and ornamentation are so complicated, interlaced, and numerous that they are quite difficult to describe. I remember particularly the gold hangings from the ceiling (which could have been gold or brass, I don't know), designs punched in them; the carved wooden divisions to the sides; the bowl of fruit directly in front of the kami's shrine as an offering. At the front are tables selling charms and a slotted wooden box where I think most people put in a contribution of 5-yen or thereabouts in respect to the kami enshrined there, as well as scented candles burning.

Shinto is not exactly a religion as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or even Buddhism is a religion, although in the Meiji Era it was declared the state religion of Japan. It is a practice of belief unique to Japan, and has coexisted with Buddhism for about 1500 years there, and many of the venerated kami were also Buddhist priests. While I don't totally understand it myself, the closest explanation I can give is that Shinto is the practice of venerating objects, places, or people that inspire awe. When you pass one of these places, you go in, pay your respects, and go on your merry way. It doesn't really come with a package of expected behaviors the way Christianity or Judaism does. In any case, Shinto temples (jinja) make up an important component of Japanese traditional architecture.

Ueno Park also has some interesting street performers; while we were there, there was a girl jumping rope on a unicycle, as well as a random group of young people who dress up like 1950s American greasers and dance around madly to Japanese pop music. They're fairly entertaining.

The gallery of Asian art is closed for the summer (sad face poop), so we straight to the gallery of ancient art. The museum closes at 5, so we had just about two hours to look around. I was delighted to find grammatical and what seemed like nearly complete English signage. A lot of early Japanese art is focused on Buddhism, so there are a large number of 1000+-year-old Buddha statues in the museum. (Obviously, you can take pictures of manyof the objects; if you can't for whatever reason, there is a little sign with a line drawn through the camera.) It's kind of strange, but the image of Buddha is the U.S. seems mainly focused on a fat little bald man with a big smile. Most of these Buddhas, however, are tall, graceful, and serene, their eyes barely open. They convey a supreme elegance that seems to be missing in most American interpretations. Most statues of demons or generals have large, wide eyes to show anger and fierceness. There were also a lot of beautiful Japanese ceramics, lacquerware boxes, and SWORDS. Oh my the swords. The remarkable thing is that many of these swords are between 800-1000 years old – meaning a) some of them are probably taller than the people who would have wielded them (the last one I took a picture of was nearly 4 feet long) and b) they are in spectacularly good shape. European swords seem to have been buried with the wearer to rust into oblivion, whereas these swords must have been passed down through families to the present day. There were also many articles from daily life (my favorite: snow shoes), kimono, and brush paintings. We ran out of time to look around more, so we rushed downstairs so I could buy postcards.

IF YOU WANT A POSTCARD, you MUST EMAIL ME to remind me! (Erk. . .when going to the post office to buy postcard stamps, I accidentally got overcharged, according to my coworkers. . . they are supposed to cost 50 yen, and they gave me 70 yen stamps. Postage is EXPENSIVE.)

We actually had pizza for dinner. :)

Bianca was really tired at this point and ended up going home, so I went on alone to Shinjuku, intending to search in the Keio and Odakyu department stores for the traditional clothing department. I regretted this decision shortly thereafter when I got lost. Weirdly enough, most of the major train lines in Tokyo (Keio and Odakyu run subway/overheard lines) have a ritzy department store at whichever station is their hub. I then continued to Shibuya, which is a (slightly) smaller station, where the Tokyu line has their store in a more obvious location. The traditional clothing department is on the 8th floor in this case, so I proceeded to glut my eyeballs on beautiful silk and cotton prints in kimono (robes) and obi (belts), as well as hair combs, obi cords, and geta (sandals.) I felt a little dumb because I was the only non-Japanese person on that floor, dressed in a t-shirt and jean shorts, but it was still really fascinating and really, really beautiful. The clerks were of course very polite, but I think they were a little puzzled by my appearance. I really can't believe that they don't get tourists up there somewhat frequently, though – if you're a tourist, you want to see what is “quintessentially Japanese,” and what is more classically Japanese than kimono?

Again, if I want a kimono, I will be price-shopping. In this store, obi were about $200; cotton kimono were $200-$400; and silk kimono were $800-$1000.

I also learned two new characters: 絹, (kime) for silk, and 綿、, (wata) for cotton. These are interestingly similar to a character we learned in Japanese I, 紙 (kami), for paper. I'm guessing this is because paper and cloth have at different times been made of the same materials in Japan.

Section 5: Coming up next

So, adventures in planning. . . this Saturday I am meeting up with a group of other MISTI Japan interns located in Tokyo for dinner and who-knows-what-else afterwards. I am frankly not all that enthusiastic about the idea of clubbing in Tokyo, but karaoke (one time) could be fun. My boss might be taking me with his family to an open house for a new “architectural” house in Tokyo on Saturday as well. On Sunday, there is church (possibly) followed by a visit to Yoyogi Park (I hope) and maybe the Tokyo National Museum again.

Next weekend is the planned Kyoto trip, which all the interns in both the Kanto (Tokyo) and Kansai (Osaka/Kyoto) areas go on together, to see some of Japan's oldest architecture. Kyoto was not bombed during World War II, so many more buildings survive there than in Tokyo, which was totally flattened. Also, Kyoto was the capital of Japan for 1000 years before Tokyo became the de facto capital in 1600. I am pretty excited about this.

The office's trip to Nagano is on July 10, 11, and 12. My office is also participating in the Nakameguro neighborhood's Awa Odori dancing festival in early August, with lessons throughout July. I am also fairly excited about this.

Last Saturday, when I brought up that I had purchased a 14-day rail pass and asked for advice on where to go, my boss informed me that two weekend trips was a little hurried, so I should take a week off to use my pass. YES! I am not sure exactly when I am going to use this, but I would like to go to Kanazawa, on the west coast of Japan, and maybe Kyoto again – or maybe Hokkaido or Hiroshima. I'm not sure yet; right now I'm just looking for cheap places to stay in these cities.

Lest it sound like I am having too much fun, know that so far I have generally rolled into bed about half an hour after getting home at 9 PM and gotten up at 6 AM. Adventures are great, but sleep is even more awesome.