Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wednesday Weirdness: Goofy Temple Sights

Kyoto is famous for its temples. Stately traditional architecture, glassy koi ponds, sculpted hillocks, well-chosen rocks: every element seems to be carefully designed to promote contemplation and serenity. Most of them succeed, too, even on a crowded autumn afternoon.

Except for these guys.


Sup baby?

. . . and then all the bacon will be mine!

Oh no you just di'nt!

It wasn't me! I swear!


I don't wanna work .  . .

I will haunt you in your dreams.

Yes, even my earlobes are fat.
One of the bigger, wilder temples we went to was also home to a small Shinto shrine, Jishu-jinja, which as the sign below can tell you, is the site of the famous LOVE STONE.

Unfortunately, the shrine was so crowded that I'm pretty sure no one was getting lucky that day!

That same temple, Kiyomizu-dera, also boasts one of the strangest things I've seen in a temple (and I've been to an animatronic Buddhist hell). One of the buildings near the entrance has a winding, pitch-black hallway through its basement, meant to symbolize a passage through the womb of Zuigu-Bosatsu, a female Buddha with the power to grant any human wish.

Following the prayer-bead handrail through the darkness was actually pretty peaceful, to tell the truth. Until you remember that you're supposed to be inside some old Buddha's womb.

Today's Lesson
お寺 (おてら)・ お手洗い (おてあらい)
otera ; otearai
temple ; restroom ("hand-washing place")

How long have we been asking waiters for directions to the temple?!?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

I'm a celebrity!

If you pop over to my high school alumnae magazine web site (note correct spelling of "alumnae" for all-girls school!), you can see me featured in the issue "When Foreign Lands Beckon: How CSG Alumnae Make Their Mark Globally." I'm on Page 10. If you've been around the blogs for a while, you may recognize the one picture from the old School of ROK blog, while the other is from our Zazen meditation adventure last summer.

Normally you have to do something impressive to end up in your alumnae magazine. All I did was have someone else buy me a plane ticket and eat moving squid. And now that I've already been featured, the pressure is off to do anything impressive with the rest of my life!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Shinkansen: Traveling in Style

Our trip to Kyoto last weekend also marked our first time on the Shinkansen (新幹線), the world's oldest and busiest high-speed rail network.

Known to foreigners as the bullet train, as of last spring the Shinkansen (literally, "new trunk line") runs all the way from Kagoshima in southern Kyushu to Hachinohe, near the northern tip of Honshu. It's hands down the most convenient way to get between cities on any given line: door-to-door, it beats most flights, and the stations are a lot closer to town. As for driving, it's not even close: 8.5 hours on the road, versus less than 3 on the train, and not a whole lot of savings after you pay those astronomical Japanese highway tolls.

Plus, it's an awesome machine.

Check out these videos of how swift and smooth they are pulling in and out of the station. (Remember, e-mail subscribers - for videos, you need to click through to the blog.)
Even cooler? The fact that the Shinkansen doesn't depend on any single technology. In other words, it's not one super-awesome feat of engineering, it's dozens, plus a few feats of logistics, to boot. The result is that you can walk into any major train station on one of the Shinkansen lines, buy a ticket, board a train within about 10 minutes, and be at your destination in a few hours. Isn't the future grand?

Note: the Shinkansen ticketing system is sadly much less futuristic. Long story short, I had two $250 pieces of paper in my pocket for the better part of a week. Tickets like that should be at least a little more secure than cash!

The Christmas Spirit: A gift for my brother

Dear Jim,

As you know, we are currently experiencing an armistice in an escalating war of who can give each other the worst possible gifts. I fired the opening shots when Justin and I lived in Korea, and I gave you a pink necktie with rhinestone paisleys. You retaliated by wearing the tie to church and getting cast in the Easter pageant. I then upped my game with a boxed set of underwear by the Korean brand "Body Gay." You saw that and raised by bringing me back a "Bush Lover" shirt from South Africa. At that point we declared a truce.

Well, my dear brother, TRUCE NO MORE. I have in my hands the worst possible Christmas gift, dredged from the seedy depths of this classy-on-the-surface archipelago. If our struggle is World War II, this gift is Stalingrad. (I'm the Russians.) If this is the Cold War, I'm thwarting your blockade of the Federal Republic of Germany by landing one plane every thirty-six seconds in West Berlin. (You're the Russians this time.) This gift is the apotheosis of gift horribleness.

How horrible is this gift? I bought it Sunday at the flea market, and the vendors appeared genuinely distressed to discover that they actually possessed this item for sale. They tried to convince me that I couldn't possibly want this item and suggested an alternate purchase. They charged me a dollar and felt guilty about it. I've been cleaning it for twenty minutes and it's still not clean.

What is it? Oh, my dear brother, that is for Christmas morning to know, and you to regret finding out!