Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Brief History of Shinto (part 4)

Academic Post #4
A Brief History of Shinto (part 4): If You Overthrow the Shogunate and Establish a New Government, You Can Say Anything About Shinto That You Like (Although People Might Not Listen)

Where we left off last time, National Learning dudes were convinced that Shinto should be used by the emperor to rule over all people.

Suddenly, the Meiji Restoration happened!*  Basically, a bunch of disgruntled people overthrew the shogunate and put the emperor back into power.  But then someone said, “Hold on a second!  This is actually not that great of an idea!  Look at China.  They have an emperor, but they’re getting crushed by Westerners and all sorts of crazy rebellions!**”  So after studying Western forms of government, they decided to set up the Diet and a cabinet of ministers…so it became an oligarchy, basically.

In addition to governmental changes, there was a huge push in Japan to modernize and Westernize.  At the same time, the new state-builders were worried that unless the Japanese people were united as a whole, the West would be able to just swoop in and crush them.  What Japan needed was a “national consciousness,” something that bound all Japanese people together.  What it needed was…State Shinto.

The problem was that Western powers were pushing for Japan to guarantee freedom of religion, which meant that if the Meiji government made observances of State Shinto mandatory, the Western powers would get ticked off and beat them up.  On the other hand, if they didn’t make State Shinto mandatory, it wouldn’t be very effective.
The solution?
Shinto isn’t a religion.  It’s a SUPRARELIGIOUS ENTITY.***

There’s a whole lot that can be said (and has been said) about State Shinto, but since this is a brief history, I’ll stick to the basic outline:

What was State Shinto supposed to do?
1. Make the people feel loyal toward the government (especially the emperor).  As a consequence of their loyalty, they would do pretty much whatever the government asked them to do.
2. Unite the people by making them feel as though they all had something in common which made them Japanese.  Remember, Shinto stretches back to ANCIENT ANTIQUITY and hasn't changed AT ALL NOT A BIT.
3. Remember all that about Japan being the source of everything ever?  Well, imagine that times one thousand.  A sizable chunk of the propaganda from WWII features poor, unenlightened Koreans/Chinese/Taiwanese people on their knees as they are dazzled by the Japanese army, who have conveniently brought Amaterasu with them to spread her heavenly light over the poor, oppressed, unenlightened foreigners.***

How was State Shinto supposed to do that?
1. Shinbutsu bunri, also known as the separation of Shinto from Buddhism.  Shrines were ordered to be moved out of temple complexes and vice versa.  Any Buddhist paraphernalia in shrines had to be thrown out.
2. Setting up national holidays and certain rites which the whole populace was supposed to participate in.  Also included mandatory fieldtrips to shrines for kids in elementary school.
3. Ordering the priesthood to stop performing rituals that could be associated with “religious” activity.
4. Worshiping the emperor as a “living kami.”  While the imperial family was always believed to be descended from Amaterasu, their connection to the sun goddess was particularly stressed during the State Shinto period.

How well did this work?
1. Shinbutsu bunri.  Not all that well.  Shinto didn’t really exist separate from Buddhism, so separating the two of them was…hard, to say the least.  It would be like if I handed you The New Testament and asked you to take all the silly stuff about Jesus out.
2. National holidays worked equally badly, mostly because a lot of people ignored them.  Many of the new holidays and rituals had no grounding in local beliefs or traditions, so nobody really had an incentive to follow them.
3. Trying to cut the religion out of Shinto failed pretty spectacularly as well.  The main problem was that the government couldn’t afford to support shrines, and the main way shrines normally got their revenue was from the local populace.  If the local populace came to the shrine and asked for prayers for health/good luck/plentiful crops to be performed and the priest refused, the shrine had no money and the priest starved.  If the priest accepted, he was violating Shinto’s suprareligious nature.
4. It’s…not really clear how well the propaganda concerning the emperor worked.  People certainly knew about it, but whether they believed it is another matter entirely…

But now you’re saying, “Waaaaait a second!  If State Shinto failed so spectacularly, what’s the deal with WWII?”
Well, there are a couple of things going on here.
First of all, State Shinto didn’t cause WWII.  State Shinto was the result of a mindset which contributed to the start of WWII.  Think of it as a symptom of the underlying problem, not the problem itself.
Second of all, State Shinto was pretty horribly ineffective at the beginning, but as the war progressed (and the situation in Japan got generally scarier) some bits of it became more effective.  If it’s a question between going to the festival that is meaningless to you or working, you’re going to work.  But if it’s a question of going to the festival that is meaningless to you or getting shot in the face, you’re probably going to go to the festival.  Also, there were some bits of it which were relatively effective from the beginning, such as the observances performed at schools.
Third of all, the situation was a lot more complicated than I have room to describe here, so you should really go read more about it if you are interested.

Further reading
Shinto and the State, 1868-1988
Japan's Modern Myths by Carol Gluck
Although this book doesn't focus specifically on Shinto, it does talk about ideology in the Meiji period, of which State Shinto was a small part.

*Note: This is not actually how history happens.  Some people had to get killed in nasty ways before anything got restored.

**Taiping Rebellion.  Best rebellion ever, not even kidding.  Basically a guy claiming to be Jesus’s younger brother (yes, that Jesus) gathers together a bunch of followers, runs away from the army with his followers and in the process somehow manages to capture the southern half of China, holds onto the southern half of China for ten years as the Qing army fails hilariously at defeating him, manages to tick off/weird out the Western powers who are actually interested in helping him, rewrites the Bible, orders the death of his right-hand man (the Holy Ghost) and the resulting slaughter takes out about twenty thousand of his followers, and is finally killed, becoming one of the twenty to thirty MILLION deaths caused by the rebellion.  If you’re interested in reading about this (bizarre and fascinating and bloody) rebellion, I highly recommend God’s Chinese Son by Jonathan D. Spence.

***You have my permission to headdesk, if you so desire.  If you do not have a desk, you may headtable.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

In which I go to a nomikai, fail at being female, try to describe Oasis 21, and swoon over Joe Hisashi's music

So yesterday was the nomikai for Tuesday sensei's class.  It was held at an izakaya*, and was a lot of fun and nobody made fun of me for not drinking, which was an added bonus.  I got to hang out with some cool girls from my Japanese class and also meet some new people.  Although one of the girls I met seemed to think that everything I said/did was adorable.  That was...kind of odd.  I'm used to people thinking I'm scary/weird, not adorable.
Also, there was this thing called motsu nabe.
Me: What's in it?
Kocchan (from my Japanese class): Um...organs.
Me: Organs?
Kocchan: You know, from inside.  *gestures at her torso*
Me: ...what organs?
Kocchan: You know, organs.  From cows.
Me: What organs specifically?
Kocchan: .......just...organs, I don't know.  They're really chewy?
So I ate some kind of really chewy organ.  It had chunks of cartilage or something equally chewy in it, so...I haven't a clue what I ate.  It probably wasn't liver or intestine?  Maybe heart or something?
It should be noted that when I asked another girl what was in it, she cheerfully responded, "Organs!"  And then she couldn't explain further either.
So, yes, I have now eaten organ meat.  SORRY, DAD.  But I'm pretty sure it wasn't liver.  Or if it was, it was some seriously messed up liver.  I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse...
Other than the chewiness, it was pretty okay, though!
I also got to have an amazingly awkward conversation in English after Tuesday sensei spent about three minutes cajoling the poor guy into practicing his English with me.
But, overall, awesome experience, although kind of expensive (3,000 yen SO MUCH MONEY, I know).

Also, yesterday's culinary adventure was this:

SO DELICIOUS.  May post a recipe at some point, or may just revel in my newly discovered ability to cook seafood.  (Although upon telling of the girls at the nomikai about what I had made for lunch, she informed me that I "cook like an old person," because young people only make instant stuff.  Well then, SIGN ME UP FOR THE OLD PERSON TRAIN.)

Today I decided to take a break from fieldwork/reading and ventured over to Sakae (sorry, Josh, but I couldn't find any yakuza shrines; I AM A FAILURE) and Oasis 21.  If you've never been to Oasis 21, the best description I've heard of it is "spaceship dinosaur topiary garden giant fountain shopping mall concert center."  Seriously, just look at pictures.  They have dinosaur topiary in their basement and a random pond on top of their TRANSLUCENT GLASS ROOF.  And you thought the Granoff Center looked weird.

There were a bunch of people performing today, ranging from Some Guy Who Thought He Was Really Sexy But Everyone Just Stared at Him to A Bunch of Girls Trying to Be a Cute Idol Group to A Bunch of Small Children Performing in a...Fashion Show (?) Set to Peppy Korean Pop Songs.  And then there was an incredibly awkward live commercial for Docomo's new "smart phones for women" (what does that even mean?), which featured a bunch of girls wearing long sleeved shirts and really short skirts parading around with smart phones while the cameras for the huge projected screens aimed at their legs.  Awkward.

Speaking of which, Japanese girl stereotypes kind of kill me.  It seems like, if you're under the age of 25, there is really only way you can be a proper girl, which is to be cute.  There are different variations in overall cuteness (for example, you can be ditzy cute or you can be sexy cute or you can be feisty cute), but, in the end, you have to be CUTE or you're not a girl.  Necessary components of this cuteness include:
- Giggling.  And doing that wide-eyed thing.  I don't know how to describe it.  There's this whole set of mannerisms that most college-age girls seem to have that I cannot pull off for the life of me.
- Wearing make-up.
- Wearing high heels that you can't really walk in so you just wobble everywhere.
- Not showing interest in academics/higher learning.**
- Not having male friends.***
- Dressing in a really feminine fashion.  SO MANY FRILLS.  Even the flannel shirts have ruffles.
Of course, not everyone sticks to those rules one hundred percent, but most girls seem to skip one or two at most, whereas I'm preeeeeeeeeeeeetty much skipping out on all of them.  Which might explain why everyone thinks I'm weird.  (There was a group of middle school girls on the subway today staring at me and whispering behind their hands and giggling madly and then pretending to be really interested in something else when I stared back at them.  The only word I caught from their giggly whispering was "blue" which makes me think they were probably making fun of my clothes.  SIGH.)
These rules seem to stop applying once you get married/pass the age of twenty-five, which is good except for the fact that I'm not twenty-five or married.  Solution: Hang out with old/married people.  And the few non-married people from my Japanese class who seem to not think I'm a total freak.
SIGH.  I guess I've just gotten really used to there being a whole bunch of ways to be a girl (or a guy or a human being) and nobody thinking you're weird just because you don't perfectly fit into the mold.  Then again, I guess people think I'm weird in the States anyway, just for different reasons.

ANYWAY, I left Oasis 21 and went to Central Park (across the street), where I discovered...


And this.

Well, that explains everything.

After that, I went to the huge Book Off! in Sakae, which was AMAZING and I died of happiness everywhere.  And also got the soundtrack for Departures.  Because, seriously, it is one of my favorite soundtracks in the world.****
P.S. Deep down, I am a giant geek and think Joe Hisashi is amazing.  Because he is.

Okay, gonna go listen to this CD about a trillion more times and then collapse.  I keep forgetting that I'm not a robot and need to actually sleep/take it easy sometimes...  Dang, I should really get that fixed.

*Uhhh, how do I explain this?  It's sort of like a bar...but...classy...and crossed with a restaurant.  That's a really bad description.  UM.  So there are tables, but you can order copious amounts of alcohol.  So like a pub, but without a bar (the physical bar, not the alcohol-serving bit) except Japanese and classy and serving Real Food?

**I wish this weren't true, because it kills me.  Someone actually told me to my face that I would never get married if I got a PhD because "boys don't like girls who are smarter than they are."  Several other people have confirmed this; apparently if you are a woman and go to graduate school, your dating prospects significantly diminish, 'cause the only people who will date you are other PhD candidates (and even then, maybe not).  (Of course, there are exceptions, but the fact that this seems to be the prevailing view makes me really sad.)  Also, apparently some mothers won't let their sons marry girls who have higher degrees (or, in some cases, the same level of education), because they're afraid that it will make the girls more powerful than their husbands.
Also, I was reading a book about Japanese new religions while waiting for everyone else to arrive so we could walk to the izakaya yesterday (my subway connection was such that I got there about 15 minutes before everyone else), and upon seeing me reading it, one of the other girls decided that the reason I was reading it was so that I could get into a good graduate school.  I was actually reading it because it was interesting.  Sigh.

***In Japanese class I mentioned that growing up 90% of my friends were male and now about half my friends are male, and several of the girls reacted as though I said I enjoyed chopping people up with chain saws, and then started whispering to each other behind their hands.  WHAT IS SO WRONG WITH HANGING OUT WITH DUDES?
The two girls who I hang out with most in the class (who, it should be noted, are both significantly older than me and married) said afterwards, "You know, it does make sense that most of your friends would be boys.  You are really...boyish."  When I asked for clarification, they said that I was really straight-forward and that I dressed boyishly.  Can't really argue with either of those, I guess.

****Also, my advisor mentioned it in class and said that it is a movie that everyone should watch.  SO GO WATCH IT.  If you aren't crying through half of it and laughing through the other half, YOU HAVE NO SOUL.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Interviews and floss

I haven't had much to write about the last few days, but I suppose I should write something here just to let all of you know I'm alive.

Hey, guys, I'm alive.

I went to Gosha Shrine today to talk to Nakano-san, and we wound up talking for about two and a half hours.  Sooooooooooooo much information.  A lot of it was stuff that I had read about before--like elementary school kids taking field trips to the shrine or kids taking college entrance exams using the shrine as a place to announce their commitment, not just ask for a free pass--so it was cool to get a real life confirmation.

I also learned quite a bit about the female priesthood.  It's very unusual for women to be Shinto priests; apparently 30 years ago only about 1% of the priesthood was female.  Now it's about 10%.  Part of the reason why it was so rare was that women were believed to be kegare, which is a term that is sort of a catch-all for "impure," "polluted," or "defiled."  In Shinto, there is a taboo against blood, and since women menstruate, they were believed to be automatically impure.  (There were even time periods when women weren't allowed to come onto shrine grounds when they were menstruating or pregnant, because it was feared that they would defile the shrine.)  However, that view is slowly changing--the speaker at the lecture I went to on Monday said that he believes that blood is only impure when it shouldn't be there, i.e. because women menstruate so they can give birth, it's "natural" for the blood to be there.  Nakano-san said that the kami don't care whether their priests are male or female; they care more about what's in your soul than what your body looks like.  And then she added, "Anyway, isn't Amaterasu a woman?  And she's the top kami!"

Also, I found out a little bit about Nakano-san's background.  She's been a shinshoku* for 7 or 8 years now. Before that she was a "normal housewife," although she quickly amended that statement with, "Actually, I don't know about the normal part.  I'm weird."**  Her husband was Gosha Shrine's guji, and she began studying to enter the priesthood so she could help him.  There's a test you can take to enter the priesthood, and she apparently studied for it intensively for a month (while raising three children and helping out at the shrine and being a "normal housewife") and then passed it on the first try.  Given the huge number of subjects the test covers--Japanese history, the Shinto classics, the proper norito writing forms, the proper protocols for shrine ceremonies--that's kind of amazing.  Her husband then got a job at a shrine in Yamanashi Prefecture (which is one heck of a commute from Aichi Prefecture, where Nagoya is located) and she became the guji of Gosha Shrine.

Anyway, I got lots of notes which I will turn into something semi-coherent at some point, instead of the random Japanglish scribbles that are currently in my notebook.

ALSO, Nakano-san lent me a children's book of stories from the Kojiki, which will be fun to read.  I've read a chunk of the Kojiki (in translation) and little snippets of modernized Kojiki in Japanese, so this'll be a new experience for me.

In other news, FLOSS IS REALLY HARD TO FIND IN JAPAN.  I ran out of floss a couple of days ago and didn't manage to find any until today.  They didn't have it at the grocery store.  They didn't have it at the convenience store.  Where they did have it, though, was at this bizarre health food store/pharmacy on the way back from Gosha Shrine.  Weird.

*A Shinto priest.

**I mostly think she's awesome.

Monday, October 24, 2011


So today was the 愛知県女子神職講演会 (Aichi Prefecture Female Priest Lecture), which meant that I woke up supremely early and took a subway to the train station, where I met Itou-san (Kawahara Shrine's guji) and we took the train together to Higashi Okazaki.

Itou-san, by the way, is still awesome.  She regaled me with tales of her exploits around the world (seriously, she's traveled so much; I'm pretty jealous) and then tried to get me to teach her English.  She said that sometimes foreigners come to the shrine and she wants to show them around, but doesn't know enough English to be able to pull it off.  So I got to teach a little bit, which was cool.

The shrine (Rokusha Shrine) was only about a five minute walk from the train station.  We arrived really, really early, because the train took 15 minutes less than the schedule said it would, so everyone was setting up chairs.  I got to meet a whole bunch of really cool ladies who were really excited when they realized I could (mostly) understand what they were saying. was kind of funny, because almost all of them told me about how they had grandchildren my age.  Ouch.
Also, one of the women, upon discovering that I was studying at Nanzan, told me that she had graduated from Nanzan, which made her my senpai!
Also also, Nakano-san was there as well, so I got to say hi to her as well.

Before the lecture started, everyone went to pray to the kami of the shrine.  When I went to wash my hands, however, I discovered that a newt had taken up residence in the water dipper.  Itou-san rescued the newt and took it to the pond right next to the hand-washing station.
And then we faced THE STAIRS.
Rokusha Shrine has the most terrifying set of stairs I have ever seen in my entire life.  They are so sheer that unless you're standing at the very edge of the top step, it looks like a sheer drop with no stairs at all.  Also, the stairs are essentially giant stone cubes that were put in place at least four hundred years ago, so time has made them lopsided and scary as all heck.  I clung to the handrail for dear life as women four times my age went up with no problem.
The shrine itself is absolutely gorgeous; it's a Japanese cultural treasure.  I don't have any pictures, unfortunately, but the shrine does have a Wikipedia page (although don't trust the information on it, because I can tell you for a fact that Tokugawa Iemitsu was dead loooooong before 1934).
There was a short purification ceremony inside the shrine as well as an offering of a sakaki branch to the kami.  I have never seen a priest so nervous as the one performing the ceremony today; not only was he performing in front of the kami, he also had twenty incredibly experienced priests watching him PLUS his boss (the guji of the shrine).
Then everyone headed back down the TERRIFYING STAIRS (they were even worse on the way down) and went into the shrine office to listen to the lecture.  The lecturer (who was the only male there) was also a priest, and he was lecturing on concepts of death and the afterlife in Shinto.  He went through concepts of death and the afterlife in a whole bunch of world religions and then in all the different branches of Shinto through all of history.  It was pretty cool, even if it was really hard to understand, because he kept using really complicated words.  (On the positive side, I now know how to say "cremation"?)  I understood about 75% of what he was saying, but afterwards I felt like I had run a marathon.  I keep forgetting how exhausting it is to mentally translate academic speech.
Overall, the important points can be summed up as "there are a whole lot of different views about death and the afterlife in Japanese culture and...we have no idea which one's right, so good luck."

Anyway, there was a lunch break in the middle, so I got a free lunch and impressed everyone again with how I could eat anko.  Unfortunately, my lunch had Ninja Wasabi in it* and so I died a little, but not enough that anyone noticed.  There was also a "tea time" break in the middle of the afternoon, where everyone had tea and cake and that really good mochi stuff that comes in cubes and is covered in ground up sesame and maccha?  I don't remember the name of it.  Anyway, during tea time a discussion about brain-death popped up, as well as one about whether animals have souls.  (The lecturing priest said that he thinks cats and dogs and tanuki and foxes have souls, but not cows and chickens and pigs.  And then he shrugged and said that maybe he was totally wrong.)
Also, I wasn't considered weird for not drinking alcohol (there was the usual post-purification ceremony sake), because a number of the women there don't drink (most for health reasons; I heard some incredibly terrifying stories), but I WAS considered weird for not drinking coffee.  When I explained that I don't react well to caffeine, everyone seemed to consider that a reasonable excuse but also strangely hilarious.
ALSO, everyone kept giving me food; I took home a shopping bag full.  Their reason for giving me so much food was "because you're a student," which I think is probably polite code for "the only reason a human being would be so skinny is if they have no money, you poor, starving student."

The event ended at about 4:30, and afterwards Itou-san and two of the other women and I went to a nearby temple, which is very famous because it has one of Tokugawa Ieyasu's (many many many many many) graves.**  I had actually been to the temple before, when I visited Okazaki back in the summer of 2009, but it was cool to go back and actually know what I was looking at this time.

And then we took the train back to Nagoya.

And now I am really tired and should sleep.


Sorry for having lame posts the last two days, even though what I did was awesome.  I'm just...too...tired.

On an ironic note, I am better at socializing with women who are three or four times older than me than with people my age.  Yay?

*THERE'S YELLOW WASABI?  I thought it was mustard or something, a mistake I will never make again.

**Tokugawa Ieyasu was an interesting guy.  An interesting guy.  He has a whole bunch of graves...all over the place.  Because he was interesting.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Ise Adventures

Tonight's post will be a bit sparse on details, because I'm currently EXHAUSTED.  You'll see why shortly.

So this morning I woke up at an ungodly (unkamily?) early hour to take a subway to a subway to the train station to meet with the rest of my advisor's seminar and take the train to Ise.  (If you don't know about Ise, it's the single most important shrine in Japan.  REALLY, REALLY BIG DEAL.  Imagine something like Vatican City for Catholics.)  It was very exciting, because we got our own train car.  I also had no idea what people were talking about for most of the ride, because all the other students in the class are studying Christianity, so their conversations sounded a lot like, "[something something something] church [something something something] priest [something something something] mass [something something] that guy from the anthropology department."

Anyway, we arrived in Ise after a one hour and twenty minute train ride and went to...

...the outer shrine.

There was a lovely walk in.  All of the Ise shrines are smack-dab in the middle of REALLY, REALLY old forests.  REAAAAAAAAAALLY OLD.

This is also the post where you get really good at recognizing the backs of the heads of my classmates and advisor!  YAY.

Here's the outer shrine.  Ise Shrine has different architecture than pretty much every other shrine in Japan; a lot of people consider it the "original" Japanese architectural style, rather than the more Chinese-influenced style of most shrines.  Other people have pointed out that the architectural style of Ise bears an incredibly strong resemblance to the rice storage huts used in ancient Japan.

Also, random factoid!  The Ise Shrines are rebuilt every twenty years, and the kami have to be moved into the new shrines (which are right next to the old ones)!  This takes a pretty long time, because there are a lot of kami enshrined in Ise.

When we left the outer shrine, we discovered that there was a street-fair-like thing going on.  Apparently it was a meeting of the "Ise Chef Club," so they were selling all sorts of (really expensive) gourmet food.

Then we hopped on a bus and went to...

...this museum!  It has a bunch of artifacts from Ise as well as Really Old Books and Calligraphy from Oda Nobunaga?  Yeah.  It was pretty cool.

There was also a museum of agriculture right next door, which apparently has some of the oldest material culture artifacts from Japan, but we didn't have time to go to that.  (Plus, the boys in the class were already teasing the other girl and I for Actually Bothering to Read the Signs in the museum, which meant that we finished way after they did.)

So then after some misadventures involving nearly getting on the wrong bus and being bitten by mosquitoes a lot, we got on the right bus and went to...

...the outer shrine!  Or actually the shopping district around the outer shrine.

All the buildings are done in a much older architectural style (probably Edo period), which was really cool.

So then we grabbed lunch (we picked our restaurant based on where we could get the best view of the river), and I ate something called tekone sushi, which, as far as I could tell, was just slabs of raw fish marinaded in something on rice.  Apparently it's an Ise meibutsu*, and it was delicious.
Also, I got to sit through the inevitable "can you eat" questions.
"Can you eat sashimi?"
"Yes, I can eat anything."
"Can you eat udon?"
"...yes, I can eat anything."
"Can you eat anko**?"
"...yes, I can eat ANYTHING."
"Can you eat tempura?"

So then we headed to the inner shrine!  Which, by the way, was a beautiful walk.  Here, have a river!

...and have a torii!

This is the river by the shrine.  A lot of people wash their hands in it, because it's supposed to purify your body and your heart/soul.  In Ye Olden Days, people stripped naked and bathed in it.  That's probably not such a great idea now.

Small child washing hands in river as mother apparently is not concerned that she will fall in.

My advisor, on the other hand, was concerned that WE would fall in.

More river!

Then we walked through a whole bunch more forest.  There were HUGE trees; two of us couldn't have joined hands around some of them.  People kept touching them, because their age is supposed to give them special powers.  An older woman behind us was leaning against the tree, and she said, "If you touch it, you can just feel it LIVING."

This is as close as you can take pictures of the main shrine from.
I think my English failed in that sentence.
Hopefully people will know what I'm saying.
Need to stop typing and go to sleep.

MORE AWESOME RIVER PICTURES.  They will distract you from my failing English.  DISTRACT.

There was a pond as we were leaving the shrine, and in the pond were...

...the biggest dang koi fish you have ever seen.
Japanese girl: They are like the bosses of the koi fish.
Filipino guy: I'm gonna touch one.  *spends the next minute trying to touch a koi fish before finally succeeding*
Japanese girl: You know, when they get this big, they're just...really creepy.
Filipino guy: I wonder if you can eat them.***
Advisor: DON'T EAT THEM.

Also, as we were leaving, we ran across a group of random chickens, which one of the Filipino guys attempted to entice over by making chicken noises.  Apparently he wanted to eat them too.


Then we had green tea ice cream, which is, by the way, one of my favorite things EVER.  SO GOOD.

We all had free coupons to eat this thing, which I have no idea what it's called.  It's basically soft anko surrounding a mochi core, and it is DELICIOUS.  Also, I ate one of the other students' as well, because he thought it was too sweet.  Apparently he can't eat anko.
I think I managed to impress everyone today with how much food I can put away, because I was one of the few people who finished my entire lunch (and one of the two who did it without complaining about how much food it was).  I also managed to impress everyone by not complaining about how far we were walking.  A twenty minute walk is nothing when you've spent five hours trekking around Nagoya.

Due to a series of really (not) exciting events, we wound up walking back to the train station.
As we were walking back, I discovered that I know a lot of random things about Japanese culture that other foreign students don't.
For example, in Japanese there was originally no word for green.  Green and blue were the same color, but were differentiated by shade, so you would have "grass blue" and "sky blue" and "leaf blue" and "sea blue."  There's now a word in Japanese for green ("midori," which originally meant "fresh" or "young"), but there are still some things that Westerners would call "green" that are referred to as "blue" in Japanese.  Case in point:
Filipino guy: Quick, the light's green!  Run!
Me: The light's blue!
Filipino guy: ...what?  No, it's green!
Japanese girl: It's blue.
Advisor: Because it's blue.
Filipino guy: NO, IT'S--oh, wait, now it's yellow.

Yep, in Japan the traffic lights are red, yellow, and blue.

So then we rode the train back to Nagoya, and decided that today was so awesome that we will be having a third field trip to Izumo Shrine in January, after finals are done.  AWESOME.

And now I am going to collapse, because I have to wake up at an ungodly hour again tomorrow.  GOOD NIGHT.

*Special product.  Meibutsu are insanely important in Japanese culture, and you will very quickly learn what each place's meibutsu are.  Ise's meibutsu are Ise udon, tekone sushi, and the strange anko thing that I don't know the proper name of.

**Red bean paste, also known as That Thing in Every Japanese Sweet.  I think it's delicious, but apparently a lot of foreigners can't stomach it?

***If this seems like a really random statement to you, you've obviously never been to a Japanese aquarium.  The most common statement you'll hear is not "wow, that fish is cool" but "wow, that fish looks delicious."
...also, as it turns out, you can actually eat koi (just not the ones from Ise).

Friday, October 21, 2011


Today was the Halloween party at my dorm, and last Friday as well as today we had parades through the campus to advertise.  I actually went last Friday as well; I just didn't take my camera so I didn't have any pictures to show off.

Here, have some pictures.

Little Red Riding Hood is actually my suitemate, Hi-chan.  Also, the girl in the bloody nurse outfit did a brilliant job with her make-up; she had a piece for her forehead that looked like she'd be gouged by something.

Some people were super excited to dress up.

Also, the cop girls kept shooting people and then handing them flyers. I'm not sure if that made them more or less effective...

Hi-chan's elbow and SKELETON MAN, who managed to terrorize people as he handed them flyers.

Also, for some reason there were a huge number of middle and high school students going through the campus on tours during the lunch hour today.  You have never seen so many kids looking thrilled by people in costume.

Here's the transformed community room, pre-party start.  This is the bar.

Some of the decorations were...uh...really interesting.  There was a lot of tinsel, for some reason.  I think there was some holiday confusion going on...

The balloons on the ceiling were a really cool idea...except that they came off in the middle of the party and had to be taken out of the room before they popped.

The entrance into the lobby of our building.

Super cute ghost hanging from the ceiling.

Speaking of appropriate decorations, I bet you didn't know that cranes and sakura petals are Halloween-y.

Before the party we all gathered downstairs and took pictures of each other's costumes.

The swan princess was definitely my favorite, hands down.

Everyone in this picture is male.

And the guy dressed as a miko apparently had another guy hit on him during the party, thinking he was a woman.  OOPS.


Huge lines of people waiting to get inside...

A swan princess, a miko, and a salaryman walk into a bar...

If you don't recognize these guys, you haven't been watching enough Lupin III.

We have a surprising number of really good artists in the dorm.  All the promotional materials for the party were hand-drawn.


These guys didn't even coordinate their costumes, but that night a beautiful friendship was forged in the fires of shared love for Power Rangers...

...and this was the actual party.

I'm not going to write anything more about the party, but suffice to say that it was like the Transfer Orientation We Swear This Party Will Be Dry Except That There's Beer and the Non-Alcoholic Punch Is Spiked Epic, except that I couldn't ditch it 10 minutes in because I had to work the last shift (even though I explicitly asked for the first shift and was assured I would be assigned to the first shift), and there was 200% more puking in the hallways, being grabbed around the neck by drunk guys, and having my shift-partner be so intoxicated that he couldn't walk in a straight line and was sending his friends to get him more drinks.  I think the only reason I got through the experience in more or less one piece is that I hid in my room for about an hour and ate copious amounts of chocolate.*

I miss Tech House.

So instead of writing about my inability to enjoy Normal People Parties, I will write about FOOD.

I like food.  It's pretty tasty.  Today for lunch and dinner I made This Thing which sort of looks like udon in a swamp, so I call it

(I am the greatest at naming things.)

(This will make two servings.)
2-3 cloves of garlic
more ginger than you deem strictly necessarily**
1 onion
2 bunches of spinach
1 satsumaimo
1 bunch of udon
2 shishitou
1 Japanese green pepper
some kind of meat, preferably pork or beef shavings
hon dashi
soy sauce

Step 1!  Chop up the intuitively obvious stuff.


Step 2!  If your satsumaimo looks like it fell off a building and was hit by a truck (like mine did, since I bought it from the discounted produce bin), peel it.  You'll be left with something that looks distinctly inedible.

Then microwave it for about four minutes.

You'll be left with something that looks like the love child of a mandrake and a banana slug.

Chop it into little cubes and ignore how nasty it looks.

These are shishitou, which my dictionary helpfully tells me means "green pepper."  This is not, of course, to be confused with piman, which...also means "green pepper."  Thanks a lot, dictionary.  Anyway, you wanna chop these up too.

This is hon dashi.  It's basically fish stock pellet things.  If you're vegetarian, you can substitute konbu dashi.

Step 3!  Add some hon dashi to your water.  You probably don't want to add as much as the box says you should add, unless you want everything to taste really strongly of fish.

Step 4!  Add sake and soy sauce.

Step 5!  Add all the non-green ingredients, except the udon.

Step 6!  When it starts looking like this, add the peppers.

Also, if your stove isn't set as high as it can possibly go, you're doing it wrong.

Step 7!  When your broth starts getting weird and congealed, add your udon.

Note that your udon may look like traditional spaghetti...or it may look like some sort of bizarre pasta bobby pin.

Step 8!  Boil everything for a while until your udon is pretty much cooked.  This could take as long as 15 minutes, depending on how competent your stove is/what brand of udon you're using.

Step 9!  Add the spinach and cook for a few minutes.

Step 10!  Enjoy!

It looks gross but tastes delicious, I swear.

*I don't have an addiction; I can stop any time I want!

**I don't have an addiction; I can stop any time I want!