Thursday, September 15, 2011

Orientation day 2

So this morning two of the other girls and I went to Nogi Shrine.

(There I am, squinting into the sun like a dork.)

It was a pretty small shrine, and we arrived just as the shrine was opening, so we got to see a lot of the early morning routine, which was super neat.  There was a whole gang of guys in dressed entirely in white cleaning the shrine and raking the gravel out.  One of the priests was also paying his respects to all the kami*, which was quite a long process, since there were at least three separate shrines within the shrine complex and then about six or seven sacred trees!

This was a super cool place to tie omikuji.**  Much nicer than the strings people usually tie them on at shrines.

This was a random hallway leading down the side of the shrine.  We think it's used for weddings and other ceremonies, but we're not entirely sure.  I've never seen another shrine with such a thing!  Then again, Nogi Shrine is very, very new, in terms of shrines ('cause General Nogi didn't die until 1912, and the shrine wasn't built until 1917), and the architecture reflects that.

This was a super cool rock they had on display.  It's called "the chrysanthemum face rock" in Japanese, and (although it's hard to see in the small picture, so you should really click on it) it has flower-shaped patterns all over its surface.

So then, after two of us received 5 mosquito bites apiece over the course of about fifteen minutes, we decided to head back to the hotel and then head over to orientation.

Today's orientation was more useful than yesterday's, 'cause we talked about things we'll actually need to know for the program, like how to get a cell phone and how to sign up for classes and how to get our Alien Registration Cards.  There was also a lot of information for people who need to get apartments.  I am so glad I don't have to do that, 'cause it sounds insanely difficult and complicated.  We also got a lot of information on what to do in the event of a major natural disaster, because the Fulbright program organizers didn't know enough or given enough information about forced evacuations and voluntary evacuations when 3/11 occurred, so they've decided to remedy that this year.

On the less helpful side, we kept being told, "Yes, it's really hard to balance study and research and a social life and not go insane from overwork.  But make sure to do it."  Auuuuuugh.

On the other hand, I'm glad I'm not in the sciences, because apparently staying in the lab from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. is expected of graduate students.  We're not sure whether it will be the same for Fulbright Fellows, but we're hoping they'll have to do less, since they, you know, want to have lives and actually see sunlight sometimes.

After orientation, we went to Meiji Jingu, but unfortunately due to orientation running late, we didn't have much time there before the shrine closed.  So I don't have many pictures, despite its awesomeness.  Walking through the gates into Meiji Jingu is bizarre, because the street outside is your normal, bustling Tokyo street, and the shrine is essentially located in a forest.  You can't even hear the street outside once you get far enough in.

These were some random barrels of French wine inside the gates.  SO STRANGE.

And here're the more normal barrels of sake.  One of the other girls thinks that maybe the wine was there because the shrine was built during a time when there was a lot of pressure in Japan to Westernize.  Still, it's surprising that the wine wasn't taken out later, during the anti-Western movements.

We found a huge billboard with a poem written by the Meiji Emperor's wife outside the inner gate, and we were all trying to figure out what the poem said, 'cause it was written in an older form of Japanese.  Someone asked, "Can anyone here actually read this?" and immediately several people said, "Ask Dana!"  It was kind of amusing.  I guess I've become the official Hard Japanese Reader.  I could read most of it, but there were a few vocabulary words that I didn't know (and I still can't find them in the dictionary, so they're probably not used any more).

Here's the main shrine.  This was taken from just inside the gates, so as you can probably tell, there was a huuuuuuuuge courtyard.  It was paved too, which is unusual, since a lot of them are gravel!

After that, most of us returned to the hotel.  I registered myself for the State Department's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, and then went out to a random hole-in-the-wall restaurant to get dinner.  And then I walked all the way to Roppongi (a big nightlife distance) just because I could. It was interesting to see Roppongi, since I've heard so much about it, but really not my thing.  Although the extremely tall black guy advertising the nude girls club was kind of amusing.  It was like if Simon sold nude girls instead of sushi...?

A bunch of other people from the program are going out for drinks this evening, but since I don't drink (or particularly enjoy being around people who are drinking) and I'm really, really tired, I'm just going to stay in.

And some random thoughts before signing off:

A lot of us have already gone into gaijin-spotting mode.  It's kind of sad, actually, that whenever we see a non-Japanese person we do a double-take.  Of course, a lot of them are standing out like crazy because they're doing dumb things like shouting in the middle of the street or standing on the wrong side of the escalator***, so we're not entirely at fault.

During lunch we decided to make a list of the things we will miss the most about the U.S.  What we came up with was:
1. Mexican food (actually, about three of us said this one simultaneously)
2. Cheap produce
3. Really good dark chocolate
4. Skim milk
5. Being able to show your shoulders (i.e. wear tank tops) in public

And now I'm going to hit the sack, because I am way too tired to do much else.

*Kami are the spirits believed to inhabit pretty much everything.  Unlike the Western conception of god(s), they don't have any particular moral compass, and often behave a lot like humans.  If you're nice to them, they'll usually help you out, and if you're a jerk to them, they'll make your life miserable.  They can also throw temper tantrums, which is how earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and bad storms happen, so it's usually good to keep them happy.

**Omikuji are fortune-telling slips.  You should tie your slip up if you get a good fortune--or if you get a bad one, depending on who you ask.  Basically, everyone ties them up.

***In Tokyo and pretty much everywhere else, stand on the left and walk on the right.  In Kansai, stand on the right and walk on the left.  Yay, Kansai being randomly rebellious!

1 comment:

  1. I'm trying really hard to remember what side of the escalators people stood/walked on in Seoul- that's the place I've been with the most escalators!
    I saw something that might be similar to omikuji in Korea. It was a tree at the Korean Folk Village where you could write a wish on a strip of paper-fabric and then tie it to the tree. (I think they were also asking for donations to UNICEF.) Have you seen anything like that in Japan?
    I noticed there was no "I don't actually know what I'm eating" tag on this post, so I guess your hole-in-the-wall restaurant worked out!