As I finish my third week in Japan, I recognize how fast the days go by. When I am outside walking around and doing activities, time flies by, but when I am in the dorm doing work like writing this report, time seems to slow to a crawl. It has been an interesting three weeks trying to adjust to my new living situation. I have been in frequent contact with my family and friends back in Georgia, but I admit that I am missing home a little. For instance, I love Japanese food, but I would love to have some dried kiwis right now. Living in another country can make one really treasure the things they had once they are gone.
This week in Japan, I visited the Arashiyama area. For those who might recognize the name, that is the place known for its large bamboo forest. I think the bamboo area is a great representation of what is great about visiting these ancient places. Although there is not some attraction to occupy your attention, these places are more about meditation. It was fascinating to see these hundred year old bamboo shoots blanket the sky above us. It was enlightening to see employees work hard at maintaining these places by carefully cutting away old growth to make way for new growth. The disastrous effects of climate change get closer and closer to reality every day, but it was a sobering experience to see a part of nature mostly untouched by man and just allowed to grow. It reminded me of the precarious situation our planet is in and how important it is to protect it before it is too late. After leaving the bamboo grove, I had the chance to sample local food at a nearby restaurant. I challenged myself on this trip to branch out and try different foods I could never try in America. This time I ordered a udon with chicken and lentils in it.
I have not seen or touched chopsticks since elementary school, but I could not resist the challenge of trying to use them. I was sure I would embarrass myself, but using them was surprisingly easy. Of course the udon was very delicious. It is nothing like the cup noodles in America. This authentic soup was so much more filling and had a much wider range of flavor. That experience reinforced my belief to always be willing to try new things.
Tokyo Olympic Questions
On another note I managed to finish my quota of interviewing strangers regarding their thoughts on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. I was a little nervous doing this project because I am really hesitant to bother people I do not know. That nervousness was amplified knowing most of the people I would talk to did not completely understand English. However, the people I spoke were very polite and even the ones that turned me turned were very nice in doing so. I learned a lot talking to them such as their personal hopes for what the Olympic Games would bring for Japan like unity and economic gain. I could relate to that because I am a strong supporter of multiculturalism and diversity. I think the best way to reduce hatred is to get to know someone. I believe that the upcoming Olympic Games will be a perfect venue to accomplish that. Not that my interviewing is done, I will construct a PowerPoint and present it to a class of my Japanese peers, I just hope that my presentation will be interesting and clearly show the value of diversity.
Also during this week, I visited the area of Hikone known for the landmark known as Hikone Castle.
One peculiar thing I noticed on the train ride there was that Hikone was very far in the rural area of Japan. There were still plenty of buildings and shops, but the first thing I noticed was that compared to every other place I visited, Hikone was sparse in people. It was a nice change of place compared to other tourist spots which were very crowded. We noticed a statue of Ii Naokatsu leaving the station. The history behind this guy is that he basically took over Hikone after defeating a vassal of the deceased Toyotomi Hideyoshi. He is the one that built Hikone Castle afterwards. It is a great lesson in how power can change very suddenly. Thankfully, the Warring States period is over and most countries try to settle disputes diplomatically.
Once I got to Hikone Castle, after a very steep climb, I noticed that it is quite small compared to Osaka Castle. The reason for this is because people under the daimyo at the time could not build a bigger castle than his or risk disrespecting him. It was difficult, at first, for me to understand this thought process. I could not imagine placing restrictions on other peoples’ freedoms for my own sake, but after thinking over it and the time period they were in, I could see the logic. A man with all the power is also the biggest target. There were plenty of examples of men being assassinated by those they were close to. If I were in charge of such power and wealth, I would want to know who I could and could not trust, and ensuring your castle is the biggest is one roundabout way of doing that.
Before we went inside the actual castle, there was a small hut next to it. Inside was a Japanese woman who would give you a cup of green tea and small sweet called konki provided you pay 500 yen. I did pay and sat down for some authentic Japanese tea. I took a bite of the sweet konki and drank sips of the strong, bitter tea. The flavors mixed well and made for a very enjoyable experience.
Additionally, the tea gave me the energy to fully explore Hikone Castle. I stepped inside the castle and walked around its room before making my way to the top of the castle and taking in the fantastic view of the area.
Satisfied, I exited the castle, and followed the signs pointing me towards the nearby Genkyuen Garden built by a daimyo for a daimyo. It was quite spacious area. I could not imagine this being reserved for one man. I imagine there many servant and gardeners all tending to the many maintenance needs of the place. I think it says a lot that Hikone Castle, Genkyuen Garden, and other historical sites are still being kept in pristine condition. It is like they are fixed in time, forever preserved so people can come and get a sense of what it was like for those who first explored the area.
I think Japan’s mission of preserving these historical sites is a noble one. There have been many times throughout history of ancient structures being destroyed and years of knowledge lost with it. After the recent Notre Dame fire, I think it is more clear than ever that making sure that these pieces of history are maintained for as long as we are able so future generations can continue to relive the past, even if for a moment.
After exploring Genkyuen Garden and Hikone Castle, I nearly walked back to the station, and I stopped by a nearby restaurant to eat lunch. This time I had what is called a hikone-don. It was a bowl of rice mixed with beef, ginger, and egg. It was an interesting experience. Again for anyone in Japan, I highly suggest you explore the different restaurants and test your palate. You never know what will miss out on. I think it is best live life with as few regrets as possible.