Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving from the Senseitions!

Celebrated Thanksgiving in style tonight: at best of the local Indian restaurants, with a handful of co-workers. (Alas, my crummy cell-phone photo didn't work out.) Then on Saturday we have a Thanksgiving dinner at the Hilton. Still not sure what's on the menu, though I will say I would kill for some turkey and some pumpkin pie right about now.

Anyway, if we can't be home for Thanksgiving, I guess this is the next best thing. It's certainly hard to be away from home again for what might just be my favorite holiday . . . but our FIS buddies do help make this place feel a little more like home!

All our love to you readers out there--here's hoping you have a great holiday.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Fall Foliage and a Giant Buddha

Thanks to yet another mid-week Japanese holiday, Nana and I just dozed our way through a much-needed four-day weekend. But we didn't spend the whole weekend catching up on work and sleep: instead, on Sunday morning, we joined a few co-workers for a half-day trip to Kidonanzoinmae, a little hamlet up in the hills famous for its huge reclining Buddha.

The Buddha was surrounded by little statues, each with a different posture and facial expression . . .
. . . as well as what appear to be urns, each marked with a day of the year.
I wish I could tell you more about the ritual significance of these things, but most of the tourist information at Nanzoin was in Japanese. Though running the temple's website through Google Translate does reveal at least a little bit about the site: the statue was built in honor of some sacred relics the temple received as gifts from Buddhist communities in Nepal and Burma.

Luckily, although there was little English to be found, the gentlemen below were well versed in the universal language of expats abroad, aka Repeated Emphatic Gesturing, and were able to explain to us (and co-worker/neighbor Dayle) how to say a Buddhist prayer.
Nana lights a votive candle.
Nana sticks some incense (joss sticks) in a vessel full of sand.
Apparently, the key ingredients in Buddhist prayers are candle-wax burns and second-hand incense smoke.

The Buddha wasn't the town's only attraction, though: it's just part of a complex of temples and shrines strewn across a mountainside--and connected by a network of trails and caves. There wasn't really any signage in English, so I can't really do anything but let the pictures speak for themselves. Enjoy!

 This tunnel was full of incense smoke from a small shrine cut into the wall.
 Most of the hillside was covered with sugi, or Japanese cedar, the national tree of Japan.
The Japanese really have a thing for turtles. You can find a turtle pond in almost any Japanese temple.
 We weren't sure if this guy was real at first. He was really still, and his legs were sticking our at such an unnatural angle. (Yes, the big one is fake.)
 Fall colors on the hillside.
 Looks like they dress some of their statues up for the winter.
 Part of the temple complex was a kind of elaborate garden built on the hillside, with streams and waterfalls and bridges. It was almost like a temple playground--very beautiful, and lots of fun to explore.
This is what a Japanese-style temple looks like when it's new. Eventually, that fresh wood will weather to a grayish brown.
 This guy seems to be on fire for some reason.
Many of the little statues had these donation buckets in front of them. Anyone have any idea what they're for?
 More statues bundled up for the winter.
 This little shrine was tucked away in a little grotto at the top of the complex. That's a waterfall in the background, and there's a very small cave to the left you can walk through, with a chain to help you climb out the top.
 A shot of the shrine complex.
 On our way out, Nana rubs Buddha's belly for good luck. You can see he's worn a little thin there.
 One of the entrances to the temple/shrine complex. That's a gingko tree--I love the brilliant shade of yellow they turn in the fall.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Crisis in Korea

Don't know what kind of airtime this is getting in the American media, but the top story on BBC News Asia is about an artillery battle along the hotly contest Western sea border between North and South Korea. Apparently, North Korean artillery opened fire on military and civilian targets on Yeonpyeong Island.

Scary. This is certainly the worst it's been since we've been in Asia. As Nana says, in light of the recent Cheonan incident, in which North Korea got away scot-free with an unprovoked attack on a South Korean military ship, it seems like the North has decided it can kill South Koreans with impunity. This is kind of how it was in as late as the 1980s, when frequent North Korean terrorist attacks claimed dozens to hundreds of South Korean lives every year.

But who knows if the South and its allies will take action. With North Korean artillery trained on Seoul and South Korean and American aircraft trained on Pyeongyang, the two sides are locked in a kind of non-nuclear mutually assured destruction. A Mexican standoff, if you will.

For the sake of all our friends in Korea, though, let's hope this one gets resolved as quickly and peacefully as possible.

Justin and Nana Eat Weird Stuff for Your Entertainment: Fried, Sugar-Coated Sweet Potato

The place we bought these was basically a shack with a deep fryer next to a tiny little train station up in the hills.
They also sold fried chicken and fried . . . I don't know? Fish cakes? But we opted for these huge chunks of sweet potato.
Verdict? Awesome! (They also get the co-worker/neighbor Dayle seal of approval.)

More on our excursion to the nearby temple/shrine complex later.