Tokyo, a go go, baby, yeah!

By: Lauren and Michaela

Wish Upon a Star
Where It All Began 
Magic Never Ends

Blaise, Sarah, Ellie, Jess, and Michaela in front of Tokyo Disney Castle

Blaise, Sarah, Ellie, Jess, and Michaela in front of Tokyo Disney Castle

Five of us went to the most magical place today, which was Tokyo Disney! The weather wasn’t in our favor but that didn’t stop us from having a Disney day. We navigated ourselves efficiently in and out of the transportation systems and arrived to Disneyland. The rides did related to what they have back in the U.S. but the experience was way better since we were in Tokyo, Japan. We went on many rides, had ice cream in the shapes of Disney members, and got a tour of the Tokyo Disney Castle. We tried to get in line to take a picture with Mickey but the line was quite slow. In the end, we had a lot of fun and also got some fun souvenirs to take home.

For those of us who didn’t go to Tokyo Disney, we spent the first half of the day exploring the Tsukiji Fish Market. The Fish Market is the largest wholesale seafood and fish market in the world—it’s like one big farmer’s market that specializes in fish! It originally came to be during the Edo period when fishermen were hired to provide food for those in the castle. All the fish that wasn’t sold to the upper-class was brought under the Nihonbashi bridge, where a fish market called uogashi—meaning “fish quay”—developed. It soon became the largest fish market in the world. However, when the area was damaged due to a serious earthquake, it was relocated to its current location in Tsukiji.

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Because admittance to the actual fish market is prohibited unless you show up in the wee hours of the morning and happen to snag a spot in one of the small, exclusive tour groups, we just explored the outer shopping and food areas. (We didn’t think waking up at 4 a.m. to stare at fish seemed like something any of us would want to do.) The streets were so full of people and fish that it was hard to know which way to look! Mitch, Tyler, and I stopped at a sushi restaurant to get breakfast sushi, which was highly recommended by previous market goers. And they couldn’t have been more right: the sashimi we purchased was fresh from the auction that morning and absolutely melted in our mouths. I personally could have sat there and eaten all day, but I wasn’t sure how to say, “Excuse me, please never stop feeding me.” in Japanese, so we moved on to your next venue: the Studio Ghibli Museum.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Studio Ghibli, it’s basically the Disney/Pixar of Japan. Founded by Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli is famous for its anime (cartoon) movies, which usually revolve around magic meeting the modern world. Though beautiful to look at and full of fun moments for everyone, Studio Ghibli specializes in telling a message about political/environmental issues, personal growth, and teaching Japanese culture and tradition. Some of their more popular movies in the United States include My Neighbor Totoro (where their logo derives), Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Spirited Away, which won an Academy Award for Best Feature Animation.

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Because Mr. Miyazaki is so in love with nature, it’s only natural (HA) that the museum is located in a park down the street from the train station. However, we happened to get a little lost on our way there and ended up on the other side of town. We did, however, happen to walk by a small house with a golden nameplate reading “Miyazaki”, making us all wonder if our getting lost actually led us to the famous director’s house!

Once we gathered our bearings and made it to the museum, it was absolutely magical. Obviously made with children in mind, it has a certain whimsy that Studio Ghibli could accomplish. Unfortunately, photographs were not allowed inside the building, which makes sense because any visitor could spend days taking pictures of all the drawings, statues, and exhibits inside. A special treat for visitors is a small theater which plays one short film every day, which can only ever be seen at the museum.  It was, though, in Japanese, so we could only enjoy the visual aspects and overall plot development!

I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend my last day in Tokyo, experiencing the magic that I’ve grown up admiring for years first hand.

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Ryōgoku Kokugikan Sumo Hall brought us all together to witness Japan’s most renowned sport. Wrestlers attempt to force another wrestler out of a circular ring called the dohyo or to touch the ground with anything other than the soles of the feet. If their hands or knees fall the ground, the opposite wrestler wins. The sport includes many ritual elements, such as the use of salt purification, ritual dances, and bow ceremony for the winner at the end.

IMG_4150Sitting in the second level in front of the balcony we got a good view of both wrestlers on each side of the ring. When entering the circle, wrestlers would get all psyched by slapping themselves and getting pumped up by jumping around. They took a handful of salt and threw it into the ring. The throwing of salt and stamping their feet, sumo try to get rid of evil on the ground and purify the ring before the match.

A group of us were beating one yen based on who would win the match just to make it more interesting.  Mitch had a favorite Sumo wrestler called Endo. He won his match which ended in five seconds. Most of the matches ended quickly. However, when there was two wrestlers in the ring longer, the crowd began cheering louder and the suspense rose in the stadium. The east was winning more matches compared to the west tonight. At the very end, there was a bow-twirling ceremony performed. This ended our exciting night in Tokyo and our last night in Japan.

Fat men in diapers
Pushing each other around—
Who makes up this stuff?

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Miyajima

Tyler Creed and Mitchell Hrovat

Oh Miyajima
How pretty art thee today
Big tanuki balls

Today we traveled to Miyajima island. Having been there once before, Tyler longed to return, Mitch longed to know what was worth returning for.

We began by taking a ferry to Miyajima Island. Our tour of the island started at the Itsukushima Shrine; the one with the world-famous floating torii gate. The shrine was floating today, but only barely. We arrived just before low tide and the torii gate was on the beach.

The famous Torii Gate

The famous Torii Gate

Like in Nara there were deer along the sides of the road, but these deer are a little more wild. They don’t bow, but they sure do love a heap of assorted leaves.

We walked through the Itsukushima Shrine and witnessed the proceedings of a traditional wedding. Though the tide was out, the shrine was still quite beautiful and awe inspiring.

once we exited on the far side of the shrine, we climbed up the hill to the rope-way to the top of the mountains. the trip took two stops and was full of truly “smallifying” views. At the top the group disbanded with the goal of meeting up at the ferry port.

At this point some students trekked to the top of Mt. Misen. Along the way there were many small statues with rocks piled up around them. The steps curved up, down, over, and under between two peaks. The climb was steep but the temples and the views were well worth it.

Atop Mt. Misen

Atop Mt. Misen

Other students went shopping and/or to shrines (the island is full of both).

Many of the shops had tanuki. Tanuki is often translated as “raccoon-dog” which is an accurate description. These creatures are in Hayao Miyazaki’s film Pom Poko. They are indigenous to Japan and well-known for swinging their testicles at others as an attack. Tanuki are also often associated with drinking and can be found outside bars.

To the opposite side of the island (from the rope-way) there is a staircase with scrolls which can be turned as you walk up. It was believed that touching the scrolls as you walk up the staircase gave you all the same benefits that reading would, only quicker.

Up the mountain, hidden behind all the shrines and under part of the stair-case, lies one of the most beautiful shrines to be seen. About 900 lanterns are aligned in a grid along the ceiling. Statues of deities of every sort are arranged from small to big with several flames alight and two large deities on either side of the center.

More Rice?

More Rice?

Giant rice paddle
Deer lounge despite the people
Rope way, torii gate.

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Go Tigers!

Bang the bats and chant,
Go, Hanshin Tigers lets go,
Or so I assume.

On Saturday May 10th, we left Yunomine Onsen on an hour long bus ride to the coastal city of Shingu. We had a bit of free time before our train left for Osaka, so we decided to visit a couple of Shinto Shrines. The first was different from most Shrines we have visited thus far. This one was located on the side of a mountain, which required a travelling up horribly uneven, steep, rock staircase. It was like builders had just poured cement down the mountainside, then threw a bunch of rocks into it, to make steps. I (Geoffery) personally enjoyed the challenge, and once the steep staircase was scaled, the path leveled out to be smooth and flat. However, half of our group were conquered by the staircase, and chose to stay at a midway point. If you chose to make the entire climb, you were treated with an amazing view of the city and ocean!

After raiding a local grocery store, we boarded our train to Osaka and rode the four hour ride in peace and quiet. Once we arrived, we checked into a very nice hotel and then went our seperate ways for the evening to explore Osaka. My experience was particulary fun, for I met up with a fellow hometown high school graduate who is taking a year of college to study in Osaka. He gave me a very nice tour of the city. We went to many places, such as; Den Den Town, which is a district of electronic and magna stores. Another place we went was, America Mura, a district meant to look like the United States of America. There we saw a Humvee driving around and believe me, you never see Humvees in Japan. Now we all know what vehicle the USA is associated with.

The next day, Sunday May 11th (Happy Mothers Day) was the day we went to see a baseball game between the Hanshin Tigers(Osaka) and the Yomiuri Giants(Tokyo). It was a 2pm game, so everyone putzed around for the morning and then we made our way to the stadium around noon. We quickly learned how popular the Tigers are when we had to squeeze onto an overcrowded train. Several group members` claustrophobia not withstanding, we all made it to the game safely.

Our seats were located in the right field section, just on the foul ball side of the foul pole. As far as the field goes, there were almost no differences, but their were several other elements that were different from American baseball. One, the Tigers used three different mascots. Two, Japan teams have cheer leaders. Three, as everyone noticed, the fans chant almost the entire game. They do not quiet down for pitches like we do back home, so you must be attentive to not miss a pitch.

(The view from our seats)

For me(Blaise), the fans were the best part of the game. Their relentless passion for the Tigers was expressed by their constant chanting and noise making. They had different chants for every player, including our groups favorite player Yamato. These chants would last for the duration of the players At Bat. Of course we had no idea what they were chanting, but we would just clap along with noise makers, which were a must for all Tiger fans. One thing that would interesting was that they had a pep band, which you don`t often see at professional sporting events.

One of the most exciting parts of the game happend in the middle of the 7th inning, when we would normally sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame. All of the fans would blow up balloons and release them all at the same time. It was an awesome specticle to watch 20,000 balloons be shot into the air all at once.

(Tiger fans celebrating the win)

Besides the fans being great, we were treated to a great baseball game. Our pitcher dominated from start to finish, firing a complete game shut out. Our Tigers squeked in a run in the second inning, which was good enough to win the game with a final score of 1-0. Again, as the final out was recorded, the fans sent off a display of balloons.

After the game, the fans didn`t rush out of the stadium, instead they stick around to do more chants and sing the Tiger fight song. At this point we were entertained by intoxicated fans trying to teach us the words to their chants. Despite not having a clue what they were saying, we yelled something close, and just made a lot of noise.

One thing that Ellie noticed during the game was a fan wearing a Nishioka jersey. For all you Twins fans out their, you should recgonize this name. Tsuyoshi had a brief career with the Minnesota Twins a couple years ago, before he got injured and returned to play for the Hanshin Tigers here in Japan.

After making it through a very crowded train station, we made it back to our hotel. Some people then went to a Cat Cafe and other went to enjoy some more Ramen. I went with the Ramen crowd as I am definitely a dog person.

Tomorrow we will be traveling to Hiroshima, which is our last stop before we head back to Tokyo. I am writing this on Monday morning, but that is really Sunday back in the States, so Happy Mothers Day to all of our groups Mothers and Mothers everywhere. God Bless! Blaise and Geoffey.

Beer Vendors are loud,
the fans are very intense,
Go Hanshin Tigers!

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Hiroshima

Nineteen-Forty-Five
flames destroy Hiroshima
It will rise again

August 6, 1945, at 8:15am, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. About a mile from where the bomb was dropped lived a little girl named Sadako Sasaki. While many died some did survive, but not without consequence. Sadako was two years old and was blown out the window luckily her mother found her alive. In November of 1945 though Sadako developed swellings all over her body, then a year later, purple spots on her legs. She was then diagnosed with leukemia and on February 21, 1955 she was hospitalized and given one year to live. A friend reminded her during a hospital visit of an ancient Japanese story that promises a wish to anyone who folds 1,000 paper cranes. Sadako’s wish was to live. She fell short of her goal of 1,000 and made 644 cranes before dying. After her death her friends finished the last of them and buried the 1,000 paper cranes with her. People still bring paper cranes to the peace park. Last year the Wartburg Wind Ensemble made 1,000 paper cranes and sent them to the Peace Park during their tour.

This is just one story about the after effects of the atom bomb being dropped on Hiroshima that we learned about today while visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. As you make your way through the museum one of the first things you see is a watch that is stopped at exactly 8:15 and next to it is a quote, “A dragonfly flitted in front of me and stopped on a fence. I stood up, took my cap in my hands, and was about to catch the dragonfly when….” This day started out like any other day. Normal. The weather was good, people were going about their lives like normal and within seconds of the bomb’s explosion, which was 600 meters above the ground, an almost two mile radis had been completely destroyed. Of the 90,000 buildings that once stood only 28,000 remained. Between 60,000 and 80,000 people were killed instantly. The current death toll is between 150,00 and 200,000 people due to the radiation after effects.

The museum is filled with dioramas and artifacts. The dioramas give a visual as to what happened to the city and the artifacts brings those dioramas to life. Many artifacts have been donated along with stories. For example, one of the artifacts was a lunch box with ash in it. It had belonged to a school boy. After the bomb detonated a mother went looking for her son and found a body clutching the lunchbox to his stomach. The contents of the lunch box were reduced to ash and the boy was dead.

While the museum holds many horrific things there is still hope. Next to the museum is the Peace Park, the A-bomb Dome, and the Peace Flame. While many buildings have been destroyed the A-bomb Dome is a building that was left partially standing and is now a reminder of what has happened here. The Peace park holds several “Peace Bells” that people are encouraged to ring for world peace. One of the most amazing things though is the Peace flame which will burn until all nuclear weapons have been destroyed. Today Hiroshima is a strong leader in abolishing nuclear weapons throughout the world. They have written over 600 protest letters to countries who continue research and development of nuclear weapons.

We are all very grateful for the opportunity to have visited these places today. It gives one a new perpective on history and life.

Six hundred meters,
A mini sun was born here,
Please do not repeat.

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More adventures in Japan!

By Ellie and Jessica

Hiking among trees
Everything is green and lush
The trail is gorgeous

Thursday we arrived at Yunomine Onsen. The town has the world’s only UNESCO registered hot spring. Although none of us have bathed in this onsen, we had the opportunity to use the one at the guest house. Compared to the other towns we have visited, this one is a lot smaller and feels more rural. Yunomine onsen is surrounded by mountains and lush vegetation making it a very relaxing and beautiful place. Unlike the twenty four hours if neon lights in Kyoto, the small family businesses close their doors at sunset.

The town is also important because an ancient pilgrimage route runs through it. The kumano kodo trail stretches from Kyoto, which was the ancient capital, to the Kumano Hongu Taisha shrine. People from all levels of society have hiked this route for over a thousand years. The walk takes about thirty days and travelers would undergo purification rights for the mind, body, and soul along the way.

We had the opportunity to walk part of this path today. We started at Kumano Sankeimichi Nakahechi and walked for approximately four and a half miles until we reached the Shinto Shrine. During our hike we spotted many Jizos. Jizos are Buddhas that have reached enlightenment, but stay on earth to help people. They are called Boddhisattvas. Some of the Jizos we saw were to help with tooth aches, back aches, and for expecting mothers to have safe deliveries.

Something that was noticed along the way were little piles of rocks stacked on tree stumps. It is believed that in the afterlife people would have to cross a river before entering heaven or hell. Before crossing the river they would stack stones from the river bed. The stones you could stack, the better your afterlife would be. The practice along the trail is reminiscent of this tale.

After several hours of hiking we finally reached our destination: the Kumano Hongu Taisha Shrine. This shrine has the biggest Torii gate in the world, which is surrounded by rivers on three sides. The shrine was destroyed by a flood in 1889 and its replica was relocated to a safe place nearby. It has two female deities and one male diety. The emblem for Kumano is a three legged crown called a Yatagarasu. Legend says that this divine bird led the first emperor through the mountains.

A big Torri gate
And three rivers on the sides
Mark the sacred shrine

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Oh deer!

By Sarah and Tyler

Today in Nara
Outside Kyoto Prefecture
Deer are everywhere

We rode on a small, crowded bus to beautiful Kasuga Taisha Shrine—home of the Fujiwara clan. The shrine is still in use by the Fujiwara family today. There are deer hiding everywhere, waiting to steal your deer cookies. The deer are considered a messenger to the gods, alongside with ravens (and a fox). They’re kinda of like an animal version of Hermes, without the winged shoes.

The shrine has thousands of large, people-tall stone lanterns. Under the entrance to many shrines and temples, is a board that is easy to trip on. That’s not what it’s for. The idea is to make people bow before entering to show humility. If you do trip, however, you will be on your knees bowing; which is so humble. The shrine is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; which means it’s pretty important.

Afterward, we went to Todaiji Temple. It was built originally in 749 but has since been renovated because of earthquakes (the Buddhas head even fell off once). Todaiji Temple was highly inspired by Chinese architecture, which means it’s very symmetrical and brightly colored. Inside the biggest building hides the enormous Daibutsu—which means “big buddha.” The bronze Buddha inside is 48.72 feet tall. It is said that if you can fit through the Buddha’s nostril, you will go straight to Paradise after you die. Of the six people in our group that tried, four made it through. While the temple is known mostly for housing the Buddha it is also one of the largest wooden structure in the world—which is pretty amazing because the current building is 30% shorter then the original!

Finally, we visited the Fushimi Inari Taisha Shrine. Founded in 711 BCE the shrine is most known for its Torii gates. The shrine messenger animal is a fox. While most shrines have a straight path from the entrance to the temple, the path for this shrine weaves up the side of the mountain. This is because of the energy of the fox. The fox has very strong energy, but it is also a very cunning animal. The shrine itself is for the Shinto god of rice. In the mouth of one of the foxes is a key and the key is for the grain shed.

Quick, fast, and cunning
Beware, the fox hears your prayers
The shrine messenger

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Konnichiwa from Kyoto!

By: Ellie and Michaela

Mother Nature’s song
Cascading like a waterfall
Pure water from the heavens ™ Michaela Neuzil

ImageAfter a long day of traveling and ridding the bullet train we arrived in Kyoto. We got off and walked around Kyoto Station and viewed the architecture and sky gardens. Then, we ventured to Teramachi Street and got a smell of the side shops/markets which was very busy given that it was Golden Week. In Teramachi Street, we saw things like octopi on a stick along with the replica of the famous crab. 

The next day, we got a private tour thanks to our guide named Ayako Kiyono.

Royanji Temple: This Temple is home to one of the most famous rock gardens, which was created around 1500 by a highly respected monk.  Dry landscaping is commonly found at buddhist temples and are open for interpretation.  Zen-Buddhism is known for constructing your own reality.  What you get out of the rock garden is up to you.  In this particular layout there are only fifteen rocks and white gravel.  Legend says that if you can see all fifteen rocks, you will reach enlightenment like the Buddha.  Today, this temple is used for Zen training.

Image We have seen a lot of Buddha statues so far and today our tour guide said that at most statues you can make a wish, but first you should look at the position of their hands.  The hand position that the Buddha had today represented “picking up spirits” so you don’t want to make a wish at that Buddha!  

Golden PavilionKinkaku (The Golden Pavilion)/Rokuon-ji Temple: Kinkakuji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion, is rightly one of Kyoto’s most famous attractions. The pavilion was built by a samurai shogun who retired and became a Buddhist monk.  He wanted a place to relax and entertain Chinese messengers.  It was also the setting for one of the strangest and saddest stories in the city’s history. In 1950, a monk with a mental disorder burned down the pavilion before attempting to commit suicide. The outside of the temple is made of gold leaf. It was located right next to a small pond area that had little islands all around, each overflowing with beautiful views. Apparently from the top of the temple, the view of the pond area and the islands are supposed to look like the entire island of Japan.

ImageNijo Castle: Built in 1603 for the first Tokugawa Shogun then completed in 1626. The structure of the castle was designed to defend the shogun that lived there.  The castle was surrounded by a mote and strong walls.  Inside the building, were lavish paintings and carvings which were meant to intimidate guests or invaders.  Speaking of invaders, parts of the house were designed to alert the samarai when invaders arrived.  A special feature is the nightingale floor.  It squeaks like nightingale when people walk on it.  This is to prevent assassinations.  

 

 

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Now for Tea Time:
Then, we taxied ourselves over to Ochaya Tomikiku to have afternoon tea with a Maiko. The Tomikiku Teahouse was an apprentice to the geiko/geisha ways. We sat around a table and had dessert which was made out of grounded soybeans while the Maiko made each one of us tea. We learned the proper ways on how bow and properly take our tea. After the dessert and tea, we were entertained by the Miako’s dancing. She performed very well and we said our goodbyes. Lastly, we walked around some of Gion which is the most well known geisha districts in Kyoto.

Lovable and cute
Koala grams are oishii
My favorite treat ™ Ellie Schaffer

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