Wednesday, October 20, 2010

More catching up, the other half of my Hiroshima trip: Miyajima

So, Uncle Dale, the first part of my last post was strikingly similar to an answer to your comment on my last post. I have to say though that I hadn't read your comment until just prior to making this entry. I found it amusing anyways.

So, I left out quite a bit about my trip to Hiroshima last blog post. I got carried away with my opinions on Hiroshima and forgot to actually write about what I did. So here is the continuation of my travels.

Hiroshima is on the coast of the Seto Inland Sea which is basically the water in between the islands of Japan. Off the coast of Hiroshima is a small island called Miyajima that due to its spectacular beauty and large mountains was chosen as the place to build several shrines that are very well known. It is also an awesome place to sample the local seafood which is without a doubt amazing, and to try various maple products.

This is me in front of the famous Torii. The only one that I can think of that is out in the water. Usually they are on land. In the late afternoon when the tide comes in you can walk out to it.

The part that I mentioned about local seafood has to do with the popularity of oysters. Oysters here are actually a very decent size and they make a great snack.

Then there is my new love:

That's right, it is pancakes. The best drink in the world and so far the only place I have been able to find it is at the top of a mountain on an island. I hope that blows your mind.

Well, every time I sit down to write an entry I get distracted and it turns out way too short. As a consolation though if you plug this URL in you will get a public access to my facebook album of my trip to Hiroshima and Miyajima. If you count the fact that a picture is worth a thousand words, then that makes my blog post about the length of a novel. Have fun.

Monday, October 18, 2010


I apologize for not having written in a few weeks, but as I am an extremely important person, I don't have the time to waste on writing blogs so you can get your fill of my life in Japan. Just kidding, except for the part about being busy.

Anyways, about two weeks ago I went to Hiroshima to listen to a speaker talk about her experience when the atomic bomb dropped. She was 14 years old at the time, and she had been activated with all of the other children her age at the time to work in wartime factories. She was only a few kilometers from the hypocenter when the bomb dropped and she was trapped under the machines that she had been tasked with working at because of the impact of the explosion.

This women has seen more suffering than anyone else I have ever met before in my life and the only thing I could think about during this was that this lady was using an extremely humble form of speech, and most of my friends would never notice that. It made me very uncomfortable. I don't claim responsibility for the dropping of the atomic bombs as an American, nor do I think that that image should be attached to Americans of my generation either, but I still claim to be a citizen of the country that destroyed her world, and for that reason I was very unsettled by the fact that she was using this manner of speaking to almost put us, the listeners on a pedestal. I mentioned it to my teacher, and he told me that he was glad I noticed and that he hoped I would understand that this lady only wants other people to learn from this experience. She doesn't have any intentions of pointing fingers at anyone. That was the most impacting part of what I learned from her. Nobody should ever have to experience anything like that.

This is the Genbaku dome. It is the last building in Hiroshima standing after the atomic bomb dropped, and it serves as a symbol to remind us of the horror that comes from war.

I have to say I am very thankful for this lady having shared what she did with me and my classmates, because this is the type of feeling I want to bring home with me from my time abroad. I saw a facebook status recently saying : Random person is now at Hiroshima ground zero. I won't say who it is (hence the random person part) but it made me extremely angry when I read it. I was sick to my stomach that someone would make a joke like that, but that is only because that person doesn't understand. I know now that I won't let anyone talk like that around me ever again.

I did have the good fortune of getting selected to be one of the groups of people that presented gifts to the Speaker. I got to be at the front of the line to meet her. That was all thanks to Raghda, who was chosen by Dr. Scott to give the Speaker the present and who was nice enough to let me tag along! That is one of the only times that I considered not washing my hand ever again, but I forgot and washed it after I went to the bathroom. Force of habit I guess.

Anyways, I will try and post a nicer blog post probably tomorrow. I still have quite a bit of story telling to do, so get your reading glasses out Dad, and anyone else who is as old as Dad.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Danjiri Matsuri, also known as the Festival where people get hammered and run around with giant wooden carts almost running over small children!

Don't be frightened by the title. Danjiri Matsuri is much more dangerous than that... Just kidding!

I'll start off by explaining how I got into going to this festival in the first place. Matsuri or Festivals are huge here in Japan, so when one comes around everyone is excited and ready to party and eat good food and have lots of fun. My friend Shizuka also feels this way about Matsuri and so when one came around in her hometown she thought that inviting all of her friends was the right thing to do. Therefore, I was invited along with some other people, who mostly bailed out on us and didn't go because of "other plans" (you know who you are), to go to Danjiri Matsuri in the small suburb of Osaka that is known as Otori (which if you are curious, roughly translates to large chicken). Matsuri always sound fun to me so of course I agreed to go.

Background on Danjiri Matsuri:

Danjiri Matsuri is a Shinto religious festival asking a Kami aka god, to provide for a good rice harvest. The Japanese start harvesting their rice right about this time of the year so this is an especially important festival. In order to honor this god, they spend approximately three days drinking as many beers as possible and then pulling huge wooden, shrine-esque carts around town as fast as they can. These carts are called "Danjiri". For those of you who have trouble putting two and two together, that is where the name comes from. Here is a Danjiri:

As you can see, its a bunch of men dressed in traditional matsuri outfits with there names and the name of the shrine on them, and all of them has a can of Asahi within reach. Fun times are had by everyone.

I actually arrived on Friday with Shizuka and went to her house where her mom made an awesome dinner for us called Chanko. Its famous with Sumo Wrestlers and it is basically a big pot of broth with chunks of all kinds of meet and vegetables. Its amazing. Then we watched the kid danjiri matsuri which is the same except much slower. After that, she said that her aunt was in an Izakaya (Japanese Bar) down the street and that we were gonna go visit. So, we walked down there and her mom told me that I could drink/have anything I wanted and she would pay for it. I was already in awe of her because of her letting me in to her home, feeding me dinner and agreeing to let me spend the night. She also gave me a cool towel! So we go into the bar and sit down at the table with her family and friends and it turns out that the "friends" are actually the bar owner and his fiance. He is only 31, which I thought was pretty young for a bar owner. He had me try the Korean beer, which I liked enough to have four mugs of that night. Half way through that, we went and got Peter and Chiharu from the train station and brought them back with us to the Izakaya where Peter had three mugs of the awesome Korean beer and then we finished up. You really have to love Japanese hospitality. It is like no other.

The next day, we got up somewhat early and went to the Otori shrine to see the Danjiri teams taking a break, and when I say taking a break I mean sitting in a circle chanting as every person one by one chugs a beer. Then we got up close and asked if we could have our picture with the Danjiri and since they were all drunk, they were of course fine with it. Then they had us take a picture with them:

After that, they started asking us about the size of our male genitalia, and one guy actually reached out and tried to grab it. Then he claimed that he was gay. I told him I was not, and directed him to Peter with a "Douzo" which means "I am offering this to you" in Japanese. Then as a gift for having been harassed they gave us each a pony beer to help us forget haha. We wandered around for a while after that before going back to Shizuka's house and taking a ride to the mall for the afternoon until the next part of the Danjiri, which started at five.

At the mall, we went to a restaurant called Kushi Katsu, which is basically a "Fry your own breaded stuff" restaurant. It was all you can eat, and of course Peter and I aimed to get our money's worth out of it, unless this is Hassan reading, in which case Peter only ate chicken and white fish with lots of vegetables. After we had finished, he and I both were ready to pay and Shizuka's mom again said she was going to pay for us which is unbelievable because it all you can eat restaurants are not cheap in Japan. We then went grocery shopping and returned to the house before going to get our friend Megumi and heading to the next part of the Danjiri Festival.

Danjiri is not nearly as exciting to explain so I think I will just post a video or two instead so you can get an idea of what it is like.

As you can see, very fast, very exciting and very fun!

Then, after we had watched our fair share of giant moveable shinto shrines being pulled around as fast as possible, we went and helped ourselves to a all the Matsuri food, which is the equivalent of the food you get at the county fair, except better.

Here is me eating grilled squid:

By the way, the necklace I have on is an O-mamori, essentially a good luck charm. Both Shinto and Buddhism have O-mamori, and they are typically made for specific purposes (i.e. passing a test, having a successful love life, making it safely through an airplane, getting over an illness). This one however, is special, and according to Shizuka's aunt who is the one that gave it to me, it is pretty rare. It doesn't seem to have a special purpose, but it is still awesome. Besides, I already have a Victory and Success O-mamori on my keys. At first I thought it was just a souvenir, but then I realized that it is big enough that it weighs my keys down in my pocket so they don't fall out anymore. It actually does work!

Back to food. Here is me and Peter eating Karage, with some awesome spicy sauce on it. We got it from a guy who had only one tooth, so we know the quality is top notch.

After that, it was time to head home, so we got our bags, and with all the Japanese knowledge we had tried to express how happy we were with our experience this weekend and how nice Shizuka's mom had been to us. After trying to find the words over the course of ten minutes we finally gave up and got on the next train headed home. Thus was the end of one of the most awesome experience's I have had thus far in Japan. That is saying something because I have loved every second that I have been here. Well, I hope that you guys enjoy this post.