Friday, September 16, 2011

In which I do a lot of sightseeing, and hang out with awesome people

We only had orientation for twenty minutes apiece today, which left a lot of time to go sightseeing.  So I got in contact with my friend, Geoff, who is currently studying in the area to see if he wanted to meet up.  He said he did, so we made plans to meet in the afternoon.

My twenty minute orientation was actually a bit shorter than that, 'cause the program coordinators said I was really on top of everything and going in with a good game plan.  We actually spent a bit of time coming up for reasons for not drinking; one of the women suggested saying I have an allergy to alcohol if I'm asked, because that's a common excuse among Japanese people.  That is respected a lot more than "I just don't drink," so I'll probably go with that if people start pressuring me.

After orientation, three other Fulbrighters and I went to Yasukuni Shrine, the most controversial shrine in Japan.*  It enshrines the "glorious war dead," which include class A war criminals.  The shrine also has a very, ah, creative view of history, which does not go over particularly well with any of the countries Japan invaded during World War II.

Anyway.  We went to the shrine, and it was quite interesting.

Here's the main gate into the shrine.  What you might not be able to tell from the picture is that the torii (the shrine gate) is actually made of metal (I'm fairly sure it's bronze).  Most torii are made of stone or wood, so a metal one is quite unusual.

Here's the walkway to the second gate.

...and here's the main gate leading into the complex.  So far, pretty standard for a shrine.

Here's the main shrine itself.  

Still seems pretty normal, right?

Do you see him yet?

Yep, I'm talking about this guy:

Yasukuni Shrine has a security guard.  Given the amount of protest surrounding the shrine, it's not exactly unreasonable, but seeing a security guard at a shrine was rather strange.

This is an ema (a sort of placard on which you write your wishes) that was hung up at the shrine.  I took a picture** mostly because I really like the message, which reads in translation:

"I will definitely get totally better at drawings and making manga!!  Definitely definitely definitely definitely definitely!"

(Whoever wrote it made a couple of grammar errors, though.  Ah well.)

So then we went to the shrine museum, which was well worth the 500 yen entrance fee.  There were a lot of artifacts I wouldn't have been able to see anywhere else, but there was also the, ah, creative history I mentioned earlier.  Some events were rewritten, some were approached from a different angle, and others were ignored entirely.  For example, the entry for the Nanking massacre went something along the lines of "Nanking Incident: The Japanese army went to Nanking.  They had a resounding victory."  Although my favorite creative history example was that they argued that enshrining the war dead is an ancient Japanese practice--stretching all the way back to 1868!  ...of course, they fail to mention that 1868 was when State Shinto was formed, and enshrining the war dead had a political purpose.  It would be like if I rationalized my painting a horse blue because the U.S. has a long history of painting horses blue, stretching all the way back to 2011!

So, yes, very interesting.

Then I had to leave to meet Geoff in Akihabara, so I took two subways to get there.  Geoff and I wandered around Akihabara for a while, and somehow ended up in Ueno Park, where a guy was doing a cool juggling routine:

 (Yes, he is juggling his hat.)

After that, we wandered around Ueno Park a bit more, saw some cool ponds and a few small shrines and temples, and then wandered into a little shopping district nearby.  After failing at finding swim trunks (for Geoff, not me) and poking fun at each other's accents ('cause I have a Kyoto accent and he has a Tokyo accent) for a little while, we wound up in an arcade.

(Geoff got so many double-takes on the street...and even more stares when people heard us speaking Japanese together.)

After that, we geeked out around the model section in Yodobashi Camera for a while, and then hopped on a train to Hamamatsucho (another district of Tokyo), and grabbed dinner at Mos Burger, which was surprisingly good.  Japanese fast food isn't at all like American fast food, in that it's actually relatively healthy, tastes good, and doesn't make you feel like you're eating fried grease.  Also, MELON SODA.  It's so great.

And then we went... Tokyo Tower.  And neither of us got transported to another world OR was told we had to battle for the fate of the world!***  GEEZ, DISCRIMINATION.

We went up to the observation deck (at 150 m) and it was AMAZING.

My camera, however, was not awesome.  In fact, this is the best picture it could take from up there.  YOU FAIL, CAMERA.

...and just in case you thought I could go for more than five minutes without talking about shrines, this was in Tokyo Tower!

So then we grabbed a (totally non-alcoholic) drink a floor down (which was still really high up), and talked a bunch before we headed back to the subway station.  (I also continue to be amused that he calls me senpai.****  I have kouhai!  It's awesome!)  All in all, a pretty excellent way to spend my last day before I have to begin Serious Research!

*For a complete explanation of the "Yasukuni problem," I highly recommend Helen Hardacre's Shinto and the State, 1868-1988 (ignore the negative review by the person who thinks he/she knows everything about East Asian religion, ugh), although it does not cover the more recent developments.  I also recommend this article, which is coincidentally written by my advisor at Nanzan, for more recent information.

**For anyone worried about how appropriate it is to take pictures of other people's ema, it is perfectly fine.  Ema are meant to be read (it's a way of proclaiming your intentions to the kami and everyone who comes to the shrine), and shrines encourage their visitors to take photographs.  What isn't appropriate is opening other people's envelopes with prayer requests.  That would just be creepy.

***Sorry, nerd references.

****Senpai-kouhai is a really important idea in Japanese society.  Essentially, a senpai is an upperclassman and a kouhai is a lower classman.  But, more importantly, senpai are expected to take care of and advise their kouhai, while kouhai are expected to treat their senpai with respect and take their advice seriously.  So the fact that I have several kouhai is kind of amazing.  Of course, all of them are older than me, which is a little bit weird, but whatever.  I have kouhai!  They ask me for advice!  It's crazy!

1 comment:

  1. The Senpai-kouhai situation with Geoff reminds me of the mentor-minion relationships different techies had back at my high school. Does Japan still have a strict class system? *ignorance ignorance* I'm aware that I could google/JSTOR this sort of thing, but if you've had any interesting first-hand experiences, I'd love to hear about them!

    PS How manageable is Japan for "pure" vegetarians?