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Feb. 26th, 2014


Ise: Day Three

The Grand Shrine at Ise!

One of the strongest (though certainly not the only) motivating factors for me in joining this study program was the desire to learn more about the shrines that are located here in Ise—most especially the Grand Shrine (Kōtai Jingū)—which I have taught about in my Intro to Asian Art course but never before visited.

The trip (paired with morning lectures on the layout of the shrine and its proximity to other sacred spaces in and around Ise City) really brought into sharp relief how much the story of the shrine is simplified in the intro course—simplified almost to the point of nonsensicality. So now I'm totally rethinking how I may want to teach this material (in intro and other courses) going forward. The intro classes are fast-paced and somewhat akin to greatest hits albums, but there has to be a way to get more of the history of this space—its changing relationships to Buddhism, to the court government, to the Outer Shrine of Toyouke Jingū in nearby Yamada, Ise—into the lecture because it's completely fascinating.

We left the Momofune (Kogakkan's name for their International Exchange Office) about 11:40 to catch the bus down to the area of Ise known as Uji. The Grand Shrine, site of the Naikū (inner shrine) that is the dwelling place of the sun goddess Amaterasu-o-mi-kami, is located there. You approach it along a stretch of shops that are collected in an area known as Oharaimachi. Our first stop was lunch at a shop in Oharaimachi, where we had an absolutely amazing meal. Seriously, I just cannot stop talking about how delicious it was. We were served Ise Udon (thick udon noodles drizzled with a strong soy sauce and soup stock broth and mixed up with bonito flakes and green onions) and Tekone-zushi (tuna sashimi over rice, garnished with nori, shiso, and ginger). The Ise area—located on the coast of Ise Bay—is famous for its seafood, and the tuna was some of the freshest and most mouth-watering I've ever tasted.

After lunch, we made our way to the Uji Bridge, the entrance to the Grand Shrine, where we were met by a film crew from Local 7 News. Our visit to the shrine was schedule to be filmed for a short interest piece airing as part of the evening's 5:40pm News Broadcast. (More on that in a bit.) Being constantly filmed was definitely different, but I just put the cameraman out of my mind and concentrated on the experience. Fully two-thirds of the Grand Shrine is wooded, and the scenery was achingly beautiful. Even though there were many, many people present, it was possible to feel isolated and deeply grounded within the self, simply through the overwhelming presence of nature on all sides.

Entering the Inner Shrine was a particularly moving experience for me. We were especially lucky to be there in the first few months after the most recent building reconstruction and transfer of the goddess to her new dwelling space. (A number of buildings at the Grand Shrine are reconstructed every twenty years as part of an elaborate ritual process.) The buildings from the previous (1993) reconstruction were still standing, and because of a difference in the elevation between the two adjacent spaces it was possible to catch a glimpse of the previous shrine and really see the effect that twenty years of entropy had had on the earlier structures. It wasn't possible to take pictures within the Inner Shrine precincts, but I was extremely glad to have the chance to take a good long look at the two spaces together. It was completely eye-opening. As an art historian, these are the moments you live for. This is why you do it. And I was absolutely over the moon. After paying our respects to Amaterasu, we wended our way back to the entrance of the shrine, passing a number of minor shrines along the way. (The Grand Shrine is less a single entity and more a collection of smaller individual entities sharing a complex.)

Once finished at the Grand Shrine, the program coordinator took us for tea and akafukumochi (red-bean-paste smothered rice cakes) at the Akafuku Honten. I'm extremely delighted to say that this trip was added to the day's schedule because of my post to Facebook about how much I wanted to try this Ise meibutsu. Our program coordinator is really doing us proud. I don't think I've ever been so well looked after (read: spoiled) in a study program before, and that's the truth. The akafukumochi was unbelievably yummy, with the lovely lightly sweetened flavor of red bean paste and the chewy, chewy, chewiness of mochi. We all sat on tatami mat flooring, gazing out at the tea house garden, and giggling over our respective chewy faces as we pondered the day's activities. It was a lovely way to close out the afternoon.

With the day's outing officially over, we all broke into small groups, and I spent some time wandering the shopping street in Oharaimachi with T. and M.—another participant in the program. We took pictures of the architecture, bought some Ise-only beer (but of course!), and then got soft serve ice cream and tai-yaki for the trip home. At T.'s suggestion, we decided to walk back to the dormitory, which was only about a half-hour's distance on foot, rather than take a bus back. Along the way, we found a number of awesome sights that we would not have seen otherwise.

Back at the dorm, T. and I had enough time for a quick beer and discussion before the 5:40 news broadcast. Everyone piled into the common room on the second floor to watch. And before you ask, yes I was featured, and yes the broadcast was copied. Sort of. One of the girls in the program shot a clandestine video of it on her camera. I believer she's going to send us all copies of it when she has a chance to upload. When she does, I'll post it (with commentary). That's a promise.

Lots more to come, but for now, it's time to settle in for the night. I'm bushed!

Feb. 25th, 2014


Ise: Day Two

Lectures and more lectures, and I actually had the courage to ask a question about something I learned today in lecture. (This question was delivered clearly enough to elicit an informative response, and I'm feeling better about my ability to speak and understand Japanese than I have in months.) I'm hoping to compile a more scholarly-style essay about some of the things I've learned and post it at a later date, so stay tuned...

We spent most of the day learning about the history of Ise Shrine, and the Shinto rituals associated with it, in preparation for our trip to the Inner Shrine tomorrow. (We will visit the Outer Shrine at a later date.) After our lectures, we made our way to the Assembly Hall for a discussion of ritual and a hands-on demonstration of Heian period clothing and social class. And by hands-on I mean all thirteen of us being fitted and tied into traditional dress. I volunteered to wear the attire of the highest-standing woman in the room, mainly because I wanted to get a sense of what was involved in the dressing of a court woman.

And let me tell you, a lot is involved. I was not attired in jūni hitoe (twelve-layer robes), but I did have three robes and hakama pants to slip into, and they took a tremendous amount of work. In fact, I (and everyone, really) had to have help getting into the clothes. Actually, we needed a bit of help making sure we stayed in them, too. At one point, I spent about five minutes with my arms held aloft (good exercise considering the weight of the garments), while Kimura-sensei fussed and fiddled with the robes, their sleeves, and the sash. Thank goodness I don't have Heian-style floor-length hair to contend with. When the robes were properly fitted, there was a headress and accessories to be considered as well.

We were all giggling and taking photos and enjoying the moment, watching in turn as cohort was turned into processional. In the end, we all lined up (students, teachers, and assistants) for a massive photo op. There were at least ten cameras, and more pics than I can shake a stick at were taken. I'll post some to FB eventually, I suspect.

Tomorrow we'll be learning about sacred space and syncretism and touring the Inner Shrine of Ise—a place I've taught about but never visited until now. Very excited!!

Feb. 24th, 2014


Ise: Day One

So, for those not in the know, I applied (and was accepted) to participate in the first annual Ise-Japan Study Program. The three-week program, which is sponsored by the city of Ise and hosted by Kogakkan University, began today with a morning orientation, campus tour, pair of lectures on the history of the city, and a lively welcome party. But I'm getting a little ahead of myself, I think.

I came down yesterday afternoon with my friend, T., who—like me—is studying at Gakushuin with Sano-sensei, and it was a good start to the trip. It's always nice to share an experience with someone else, and the program really sent us in style. The people we encountered along the way were all extremely kind, too. One woman on the train from Nagoya to Ise even gave us one of her mikan (Japanese mandarin) to try. (It was super yummy, and it inspired T. to buy a bag at the local supermarket after we'd gotten settled.)

Things got moving at a pretty fast pace after we arrived, and they've continued to be fast paced. I mean, the above list is no exaggeration: we did all of those things—sometimes rushing from one place to another and occasionally stumbling upon something unexpected.

Our post-orientation tour was a good example of that, actually. Even before we'd gotten ten paces from the International Center Office door, we found a group of Kogakkan University students practicing a traditional/modern dance number. When they saw us watching, they treated us to a full performance—which was extremely cool. The dance style seemed to be a blend of gagaku dance and modern cheerleading, and it carried a truly unique flavor.

We split the walking tour into two sections: pre- and post-lunch. Over lunch at the cafeteria (I had a chicken rice bowl, tofu, and salad), we had a chance to start getting to know the student volunteers, many of whom are learning English and all of whom are very friendly and engaging. I bonded with a number of them over a variety of things: love of baseball, desire to become a teacher, mutual shortness, etc. Almost any point of commonality would do, it seemed.

After the walking tours, which included stops in the campus museum of Shinto art and history, the library, and a nearby shrine, we headed back to the classroom for the first of what promises to be a series of very interesting lectures. Today's topics were city history, and while I admit that I found the early history more engaging than the modern history (sorry modernist friends; I'm just an ancient history fan...) both contained a lot of really useful information that I look forward to one day putting into practice as a teacher.

When class was over, myself and a couple of others walked back to our dormitory, which is about fifteen minutes away from campus. We weren't exactly certain of the return directions, having only walked it once before that morning, but we were able to reverse engineer the trip by means of following the landmarks. I was pretty proud of us, actually, and it'll be nice to feel like I know where I'm going. One of the most important factors for me in feeling settled in somewhere is knowing how to get places by heart. As long as I can make a successful return trip to campus tomorrow morning, I'll probably start feeling pretty at home here.

There's lots more to tell—about the students, and the profs, and the staff—but I'm fairly tired after a twelve-hour day of work, so I'm going to pack it in for now. Suffice it to say, everyone has been pretty awesome. The other participants (who come from Australia, Russia, Germany, Poland, Belgium, and Portugal!) are a good bunch, the teachers and staff are enthusiastic about this program and about us as the inaugural participants, and the university students are both interesting and interested.

I think it's going to be a good three weeks.

Feb. 11th, 2014


Japanese Word of the Day: Never Say Die

へこたれる hekotareru—
to lose heart, to give up; also used negatively へこたれるな (hekotareru na) as an admonition: "never say die!" For example: グーニーズはへこたれるな!(Goonies wa hecotareru na!) = "Goonies never say die!"

Feb. 7th, 2014


Japanese Word of the Day: Insufferable

鼻持ちならない(はなもちならない) hanamochi naranai—
(lit. unable to refrain from holding one's nose)
insufferable, obnoxious, offensive, intolerable

Feb. 3rd, 2014


Japanese Word of the Day: Something Fishy

きな臭い(きなくさい) kinakusai—
(lit. the smell of something burning)
impending, looming; suspicious, shady; used in the phrase それは何かきな臭い話だ (sore wa nanika kinakusai hanashi da) = "there's something fishy about that story"

Feb. 2nd, 2014


Japanese Word of the Day: Atmospheric Terms

雨 (あめ) ame—
雲 (くも) kumo—
雷 (かみなり) kaminari—
thunder and lightning
靄 (もや) moya—
haze, mist
霞 (かすみ) kasumi—
haze, mist
(While both "kasumi" and "moya" mean haze or mist, and can be used to describe atmospheric conditions, "kasumi" is much more likely to turn up in idiomatic expressions for other things; e.g. karera wa kumo wo kasumi to nigesatta: [lit. they escaped like clouds turned to mist] they ran like the wind.)
煙霞 (えんか) enka—
mist and smoke; a shroud of mist
霧 (きり) kiri—
濃霧 (のうむ) nōmu—
heavy fog
霧雨 (きりさめ) kirisame—
霖雨 (りんう) rin'u—
long spell of rain
劇雨(げきう) gekiu—
torrential downpour
豪雨(ごうう) gō'u—
torrential downpour, flood
寒雨(かんう) kan'u—
icy rain
雨雪(うせつ) usetsu—
a mix of rain and snow
雪 (ゆき) yuki—
小雪(こゆき) koyuki—
light snow
霜 (しも) shimo—
露 (つゆ) tsuyu—

Japanese Word of the Day: A Decline of Fortunes

運命の暗転 (うんめいのあんてん) unmei no anten—
the rapid decline of one's fortunes

Jan. 31st, 2014


Japanese Word of the Day: Green with Envy

妬む (ねたむ) netamu—
to feel jealous of, be envious of; used in the phrase ひどく妬む (hidoku netamu) to mean "green with envy"

Jan. 27th, 2014


Japanese Word of the Day: The Early Bird...

早起きは三文の徳 (はやおきはさんもんのとく) hayaoki wa sanmon no toku—
(lit. getting up early has a paltry worth)
the early bird catches the worm

The word "sanmon" (meaning paltry, worthless, or cheap) turns up in a lot of idiomatic phrases like the one above. Other notable phrases include "nisoku sanmon no" = dirt cheap, a mere song, small change, a bargain price; "sanmon shōsetsu" = a dime novel, a penny-dreadful; and "sanmon bunshi" = a literary hack, a pulp writer. I'm rather surprised to find it in an "early bird gets the worm" construction, as the phrase is meant to emphasize the value of getting out of bed early while use of the term "sanmon no toku" (paltry worth) seems to imply the opposite.

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