Monday, December 6, 2010

Kyoto monkies

After my trip to Korea, things were still so crazy! I got back Tuesday night, Wednesday had work, a business trip to the capital of my prefecture, Tsu, for a seminar planning meeting, a writers` meeting in the afternoon, and taught my adult English class in the evening. Thursday I had work all day and taught my church class in the evening. Friday work all day and in the evening cooking like crazy until midnight for the Thanksgiving party on Saturday! Saturday I went to akame taki forty-eight waterfalls with my friend Kayoko. First, I took these pictures Friday at work at a park near the school where I often walk at lunch break:

And here are some pictures of the waterfalls with fall colors:

In the evening, I got to church at 6:45 for the 7:00 Thanksgiving party. I made five pies (one of which burned so I have to eat it myself, oh darn), stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans. Took me six hours to make it all! Unfortunately, only nine people showed up including myself despite many of my students and foreign friends saying they would, and Japanese people are not terribly fond of American cooking. I ended up eating stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans for the next week. Well, at least my peach, pineapple, and sweet potato pies went over well, and I didn`t have to cook from Saturday to Friday!

After eating, my friends Ashley and Mathew performed and taught some Irish dances. They told us some of the stories behind the dances too, how they “hold history in their feet.” I was planning on doing a little Thanksgiving skit and talking about God`s ultimate gift to us, Jesus, but the only non-Christian Japanese had to leave early. But everyone had a really good time.

The next morning, Sunday, was my student Miwa`s baptism. That was really exciting for the church, especially for me, and nearly everyone cried as she gave her testimony. The service lasted almost all day.

The following Saturday, I left Nabari at 6:40 so Kayoko and I could take our long-awaited trip to Arashiyama in Kyoto. We`d been planning to go a month ago, but I`d been sick with bronchitis for two weeks, and we both had other plans for the next two weekends. I arrived at Arashiyama for the first 9:07 “Sagano romantic train,” but Kayoko was running a little late, so I checked out the train and music museum. Here`s the chandelier and old-style trains in the main hall:

Kayoko arrived about half an hour later so we took the 10:07 old-fashioned scenic train, which turned out to be much better (less crowded). Here`s a view of the river from the train:

And an empty river valley:

We got to Torokko Kameoka Station around 10:40, to the bus, and were just in time to catch the 11:15 boat down the Hozu River. The water was low, making for a slow, pleasant two-hour ride with only a few rapids. The Japanese screamed each time, but compared to the rapids I rode in Colorado, that was nothing, not even class one. There were three men piloting the Japanese old-style wooden boat, one at the rudder, one with a pole, and another with an oar. They told funny stories the whole way, most of which I didn`t understand, and the forests of maple trees were past their prime, but it was still beautiful.

Here`s a bridge:

And the scenic train going past. They wanted us to wave and look like we were having a really good time so the people on the train would want to buy the boat tickets. Of course, who needs to pretend when you actually are having fun?

Near the end of the boat trip, a floating store came alongside us to sell hot sake and other Japanese winter foods. Kayoko and I shared some oden, or Japanese boiled hotpot foods: egg, fish, devil’s tongue, and tofu.

We landed near the famous Togetsukyo Bridge where there are lots of traditional shops selling everything from fans to silk purses and giving out free samples of Kyoto sweets (rice cake with chocolate was my favorite), and salty seaweed tea. For lunch we enjoyed some of the specialty street foods: rice flour buns stuffed with sukiyaki and strawberry/Oreo gelato. Here`s a view from Togetsukyo Bridge:

Then we climbed up a mountain for the local treasure, Arashiyama monkey park. I hardly expected the leaves on the mountain to be so beautiful, or for the monkeys to be roaming free. There were about 130 of them, them pamphlet said. I learned why you should never stare a wild monkey in the eyes. I tried to take one`s picture, and he ran at me!

“Did you see that?” I asked Kayoko. “That monkey charged me!”

“Really?” she asked. “How much? He`s got a cute face, so if he`s a smart monkey he should have charged you five dollars for a picture. Or better, he should have charged you in yen, because it`s stronger than the dollar now.”

We both got a good laugh at of that one. That`s one reason I like Kayoko. She`s one of my few Japanese friends who is fluent enough to make and understand English puns.

And here's some of the beautiful leaves:

At the top, there was an indoor place with a fence where you could feed the monkeys. We asked the attendant what there favorite food was, and she said it changed everyday, but today it was peanuts. So we bought some peanuts and took turns feeding them.

Here`s me:

Here`s Kayoko:

One monkey just sat there with its arms outstretched the whole time, apparently board by the whole arrangement:

There were lots of baby monkeys. They looked really cold and were constantly hugging and cuddling with each other.

And here`s a video of them cuddling:

There were also great views of the leaves and the city of Kyoto from the top of the mountain:

After the monkey park, we walked to Tenryuji Temple, a World Cultural Heritage site, famous for its landscape garden. It`s a gorgeous temple and well worth the trip, but there are some things that the staff are careful not to tell tourists that would be beneficial to know beforehand. The garden tour gate comes first, but it`s not worth the 500 yen. The garden is beautiful, to be sure, but a little further up the hill there`s the temple tour for only 100 yen, and you can see most of the garden clearly from the inside of the temple. We made the mistake of buying the garden tour first and then the temple tour, going out to see the bamboo grove and trying to get back in when we realized we`d gone the wrong way. They wouldn`t let us. Fortunately, Kayoko argued with them long enough until they finally gave in and let us back inside. How ridiculous! If you pay for a ticket and accidentally leave, why should you have to pay again to get back inside? Such are Japanese temples. Also there`s a painting of a dragon you can see for 600 yen. One painting for 600 yen, when you can see a replica of it for free outside? Neither of us did that. What a rip off.

Here`s a picture of the garden:

And Kyoko and me in front of the garden. I include this picture to show my mother than I am not “turning Japanese.” She insists every time she sees me that I look more Japanese. The Japanese certainly don’t think so. You can see very distinctly in this picture that Kayoko is very pretty but I don’t look anything like her:

Here's the garden leaves up close:

Here is a very famous picture composition, the garden seen through the sliding doors of the temple. You often find this style in advertisements:

And last, the “inner shrine” of the temple, depicting one of the ancient Emperors.

The Temple was built in his honor, proving the close, if not inseparable, connection between Buddhism and Shinto in Japanese culture. You often find Shinto gods (such as the Emperor) worshiped in Buddhist temples, and Buddhist art in Shinto shrines. Most Japanese people who call themselves religious adhere to both, even though they contain many contradictions of each other. Very few actually read the Shinto and Buddhist texts.

We left the temple about 5:00 to visit the famous bamboo grove behind it. This was the best picture I managed to get in the strange light, with a rickshaw in the background:

About that time it was getting dark. Kyoto is famous for its various “koyo illuminations” or lighting up of the fall leaves. If you ever get a chance to go in November or early December, it’s one of the best sights in Japan. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so mystical and magical. Words can’t really describe it. I’ll just have to show you the pictures:

Unfortunately, the pictures aren’t nearly as beautiful of as the real thing. It made me think of the Balara forest in my books, a place of gold and silver leaves, of enchantment and seduction where one can easily get lost and never wish to be found.

For dinner we ate the fried street food, then I headed back to Nabari and got home around 10:00. What a day; we did so much! And the next day was the big revival at church!

It was a little disappointing; we had spent months planning and publicizing. The famous guest speaker Arthur Hollands drove his motorcycle all the way down from Tokyo, and a local news station even came. But only twenty people showed up. And ten of those were church members. Poor Pastor Toshi and Kumi had been expecting 100! A lot of people who said they would come didn’t, like at least five of my students. The first session lasted from 10:30 to 12:30, then we had lunch until 2:00. There were so many sandwiches and so much soup left over! They must have spent a lot of money on it. The second session lasted from 2:00 to 5:00. I think some people were really moved. Reverend Hollands must have been funny, because a lot of people were laughing. I couldn’t really understand, because the woman who graciously interprets for me most Sundays had a fever and had to go home after lunch, and even for the first part she had a hard time because he spoke so quickly. My host mother from Komono came. I’m not sure whether she got anything or not. She seemed in an awfully big hurry to leave the church and kept asking when it would be over. Maybe five hours is a bit long for non-believers to sit through, even if it’s broken up into two sessions. I say this not as a criticism, but as a future note for those who might be planning this sort of event. Two sessions is a good idea I think, because people can leave after lunch if they want, but maybe each one should only last an hour. Perhaps combining the sessions with worship is not so effective for non-believers. But I think the believers got a lot out of it.

Prayer requests for this week: Prayer that the revival will have many positive, unforeseen consequences. Also prayer for my students, particularly some who have stopped coming to my Thursday night class. Also prayer for the Pakistan mission trip I’m planning for March. Things seem to be coming together, but I still have a lot of preparation and difficult decisions to make. Speaking of difficult decisions, I have to decide whether to renew my contract in Japan by February 4th. What a tough choice! I love Japan, but I really miss home and two years feels about right. Perhaps it’s time to move on. There’s also the issue of publishing my books, which seems hard to do from here, with most traditional publishers and agents preferring to work only with domestic clients (that’s what they keep telling me, anyway). Hopefully my visit home for Christmas will help me decide.

Until next time, keep praying and keep loving, no matter what the cost,

L. J. Popp

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