Monday, 30 August 2010

That's All I Kansai!

Well, with only 5 days left my time in Japan is finally drawing to a close. I still can't believe a whole year has passed by so quickly!

Anyway, this entry is not intended to be about recollection - I'll save that for my follow-up entry in England. Instead, I am going to continue from where I left off last time.

If you will recall, I ended the last blog having just kicked Mt. Fuji's ass. Like I said previously, the downward journey took slightly longer for some, and this resulted in us not being able to set off home until 3pm.
The problem here was that many of us exchange students had been invited and were planning to attend the IFL's (Japanese international society at Rikkyo University) farewell party that evening which was due to begin at six. Our return to Ikebukuro (where the university and party were) took around 3 hours and we ended up cutting it pretty close. The main problem though, was that we had intended to shower and sleep a bit before going, but ended up not being able to. Nonetheless, the party was good fun (if not a little depressing) and we were all able to celebrate the "Big One's" of the year.

A few days later, on the 27th of July I was lucky enough to be invited to attend the wedding of two of my very good Japanese friends. Keiko and Daichan met in Sheffield during my first year at Sheffield. They were exchange students, Keiko having come with Naoko from Seijo University for a whole year, while Daichan had come from Hosei University for just six months. They stopped going out when Daichan returned in January, but once Keiko came back they got together again and have been with each other ever since.

This being my first ever wedding (not just in Japan, but anywhere) I wasn't really sure on what to expect. They had decided to go for a western style wedding, and the way this works in Japan is you rent out the services of a "wedding-chapel-resort-place" where they have a wedding chapel (obviously), banquet facilities, and they generally take care of all the preparations.

The whole thing was great, and I was really happy to have been invited. What I found unusual though was that both of the marrying couple's bosses and fellow employees had been invited to the ceremony - I was under the impression that it was only the nearest and dearest were invited (at least in England).

The food at the wedding (sorry Josephine!) was absolutely great. Having not been to any other weddings I have no real comparison, but every dish I had was delicious. The menu included foie gras with truffle sauce, filet mignon, and some incredible desserts.

Lucy and my mum came to visit soon after the wedding and we had a pretty rad time. It gave me the opportunity to show them around the city that I have been living in for the past 11 months. It also provided the chance to do a final bit of travelling, and so I took them to the Kansai region of Japan - more specifically, Kyoto and Nara.

As they had bought the Japan Rail Pass (something I highly recommend if you come to visit Japan), they were able to ride the bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto for free, while I had to fork out £85 each way. Once we got there though, we did the usual touristy Kyoto tours to all the major shrines, castles and temples.
Kyoto really does have some beautiful temples and shrines, but due to the heat and high humidity it was hard to stay enthusiastic after seeing so many temples. I personally find Kyoto is never as incredible as people make it out to be - yes there are lots of nice old buildings to see, but apart from that if feels a lot like any other big Japanese city. Still, it is certainly worth the visit, and both my mum and sister enjoyed what they saw.

Nara on the other hand was much more to my liking. Perhaps it's because I have been to Kyoto 3 times now while that was my first trip to Nara, or maybe it's because Nara is much smaller, but either way I thought it was a much more relaxing place to go. In essence, Nara is a smaller version of Kyoto - it was once the capital of Japan, and has many old temples and shrines, including the famous "daibutsu" (a huge bronze statue of the Buddha) housed inside the biggest wooden building in the world - an impressive sight.
What makes Nara particularly good for sight seeing though, is that the majority of temples and shrines of interest are found in Nara Koen, a huge leafy park which lies to the east of the city. The park is also home to hundreds of wild deer which are not afraid to pester those who go to visit the park and temples. It was a pretty sweet place to go, and even though I got pretty badly sunburned while there, I would love to go back.

We only spent 3 nights in the Kansai region before returning to Tokyo (which is in the Kanto region), but upon our return I was able to organise a small day excursion to the mountainous "city" of Nikko along with my Japanese tutor who drove us. Nikko lies about 3 hours away from Tokyo, but has one of the most beautiful shrines I have ever seen, as well as a pretty epic waterfall.

The shrine is called Nikkō Tōshō-gū, and the complex contains the mausoleum of the final unifier and first major Shogun of Japan, Tokugawa Ieyasu.
It also contains the famous carving of the "Three wise monkeys" who see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.

The waterfall, known as Kegon Falls, is in a leafy area to just outside the main city. The touristy surroundings make it a bit commercial, but it is still a great site to see. There's a lift that takes you to a platform right at the base of the drop and the spray hits you right in the face.

All in all, I'm pretty sure my mum and Lucy really enjoyed their time here. I know for a fact Lucy is already looking for a way to come back and stay a bit longer some time. Their coming though, made me realise that my time here is very almost at an end, even though I still feel I have barely scratched the surface of what this country has to offer.

I took them back to Narita airport (which is in Chiba prefecture, next to Tokyo) on the 9th August to catch their 9am flight (which meant that we had to leave Tokyo at 4.30am) only to find that the flight had been delayed by 3 hours. That worked out OK with me as I was going to hang around Narita until midday anyway as I was staying going to the coast of Chiba in the afternoon for my Spanish circle "camp" (basically, an night on the beach with the Rikkyo Spanish Society). This meant I kept them company until their actual flight, and then headed off myself.

What I have found on my year abroad so far, is that while it is easy to make acquaintances with the Japanese, it is hard to be accepted as a "friend". Due to the social norms here, everyone treats you very politely and warmly, but tend to keep you at arms length. by being invited on the Spanish circle "camp", I felt somewhat that I was being accepted.

One thing to point out though, is that while it is called the "Spanish circle", they don't really speak much Spanish. I found this out the first time I went along to their meetings.

Anyway, the camp proved to be a lot of fun. We went to the beach during the day, and had a bit of a drinking fest in the evening which went on though the night (although, the number of people kept dropping as people went off to sleep, be sick, or couple up...). Basically, the circle had rented a small dormitory right near the beach which had food and bedding provided. We turned up and made the most of what was on offer, and had a pretty fun time while doing it.

Basically, that's what has been going on. Obviously the days in between have been peppered with the usual Karaoke nights, all night sports, eating of sushi and what not - as well as having to say goodbye to the exchange students I have met over the year who are leaving early. It's a bit of a depressing time as I know that I too will soon be leaving, but a small part of me is looking forward to not have to put up with the insane level of humidity here at the moment.

I'm going to be realistic and say that this is probably my last entry from Japan. I haven't been great at getting a regular system of blogging done, but at least I have more or less managed one a month. This year has been really great, and I sincerely hope that I get the opportunity to come out here again and live some more big ones.

So this is it from Japan! Sayonara people - the next time you hear from me, I'll have a brew sitting next to me, the window open, and the grey miserable skies of England above me - big ones in their own special way!