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).

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