My goodness, how time flies! It seems like only last week I arrived in Japan for study abroad, but today I check my calendar and realize two whole months have passed! It boggles my mind to know I’m almost halfway through my first semester.
But enough musing about calendars, time you fill you all in on some of the awesome things I’ve been doing in Japan:
Before my classes kicked into full swing, my assistant Mao and I went to Kyomizu Temple (清水寺), one of the great historic monuments in Kyoto. We went during Respect for the Aged day (敬老の日), so it was a tad bit crowded with other like minded travelers. However, that didn’t stop us from taking in the sights and sounds (and even smells!) of the temple. I had a wonderful time looking at all the architecture and seeing all the rituals. I even got a good luck charm to aid me in my academic endeavors!
The best moment of the the trip was walking out onto the balcony of the temple. To stand out above the tree grove and look out and see the views of the trees and the Kyoto cityscape: it was a nice opportunity to reflect. It was in that moment that it really hit me: I’m not just thinking about Japan or studying Japan from a book, I’m here and living out my dreams!
My next traveling opportunity came in mid October, when I went with my fellow study abroad students on our Fall Semester study tour. Our two destinations for this day trip were Omihachiman (近江八幡) and Kikone Castle (彦根城).
In Omihachiman, our group went on a scenic boat tour on the Hachiman Moat. Originally a standard castle moat, it was renovated into a canal system in the late 1500s to promote commerce in Omihachiman.
As you can see from the photo we had a bright, lovely partly cloudy day, perfect weather to view the moat. In my opinion the most spectacular thing about the tour were the reeds. As our boat passed by, the breeze of the moat would pass through the reeds, gently swaying them back and forth with the most calming rustle. So scenic and relaxing, I really felt at peace there!
Next our group headed to Hikone Castle, one of the four castles considered national treasures by Japan. It was very steep both trekking up to the castle and traversing inside the castle walls, but once inside the courtyard we were able to see some spectacular views of Lake Biwa and Hikone City. Seeing Hikone Castle in person was astounding, and climbing to the very top and looking out to the land below is something I will never forget. All in all, I had a wonderful time on this field trip, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the spring semester trip!
Toward the end of October I went to see the Jidai Matsuri (時代祭; Festival of the Ages), one of Kyoto’s largest festivals. This festival celebrates the long history of Kyoto, stretching as far back as the Heian period (late 800s). As a a cultural requirement for my study abroad program, I was given a break from classes in order to experience this wonderful festival.
The parade portion of the festival lasted nearly two hours, and despite the moderate rain and going through two batteries of my digital camera, I managed to take some really nice shots of the festival as it passed. I was lucky enough to get fairly close to the participants in the parade, which gave me the nice advantage of seeing their costumes up close. The details of the costumes were so beautiful, and the further the parade progressed and the earlier the periods became, the more I was able to see the shift in design and material. To quote my fellow classmate and kimono enthusiast: “It was really interesting to see the de-evolution of the Kimono through the eras!”
I must say however that my favorite part was hearing the different traditional songs. I happened to live near one of the band practice areas and could hear them almost every night, so seeing them perform the fruits of their labor was quite rewarding!
Although two months have passed by, I still feel like I’m just starting to scratch the surface of my study abroad experience! Recently, the season has been starting its transition from warm summer to cool autumn. My assistant Mao tells me that in November, Kyomizu Temple is one of the best spots to see the Momiji (紅葉; the autumn leave changes). I can’t wait to return there again to see the leaves, as well as journey to more places both in and around Kyoto!
Here’s to even more exciting cultural opportunities ahead!