Monday, August 27, 2007

moving on

Well, Saturday I left for home, and despite my arriving at Osaka-Kansai Airport two hours in advance, I nearly missed my plane, since the slow employees of Northwest took a good 45 minutes to check people in, then security, and my plane was leaving 10 minutes early (since when do planes leave EARLY?!?!?!?), and immigration-that-i-didn't-realize-was-necessary that caused me to panic since i couldn't read the signs and Aki wasn't with me after security and my plane was supposedly already boarding (they let me cut to the front of the immigration line) and then a tram to my gate. Whew. Then a twelve-hour flight to Detroit–fun times. Layover in Detroit. Flight back to LA. Finally home. Anyway, sorry if my blog hasn't been very interesting lately, unless you happen to be planning a trip to Japan. I wanted to get everything in order for myself to help me remember my trip. I'll get back to normal now. Not that that's more interesting, anyway.

Since I've started the Japan trip entries, the world has kept turning. We lost two great directors. Merv Griffin, who funds an orchestra I play in, also passed away.

I finished reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and I was so RIGHT about Snape, for the record. I enjoyed it, though I could have done without the epilogue, thanks.

I've taken an audition for which I was unprepared, but it helped me get ready for school, which starts tomorrow. My last year of school! Almost 20 years straight. Yikes. And it went OK, but gosh I wish I had a better reed! I mean, I usually do, but I REALLY do right now. I don't think I like this Victoria cane as much as I thought I should (or for its price). I might stop by RDG soon and get something else.

Several of my friends have now moved, and a few even have gotten their first orchestral jobs (congratulations to Jamie, Michael, and Julianne!!!). I will miss those who are leaving very much.

And I came across an interesting quote from Italo Calvino, in a collection of his short stories called Numbers in the Dark. This story is called "Henry Ford," and presents an Italian perspective on the quintessential American Man, Henry Ford:

"So, just as ecology originates in the culture that produced pollution, so antique dealing originates from the same culture that imposed the new things that have replaced the old."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Japan, part IX

My last day in Japan was spent primarily in Nara, another important ancient city. There is a really huge temple there, and a beautiful ancient forest, and deer. Lots of deer. The first place we went was a sort of collection of shrines in the forest. There was a main pathway to this place, lined with stone lanterns and guarded by lions (as always with shrine guards, one open-mouthed, the other closed).

We continued to walk on a path through a beautiful forest, where we passed some interesting shrines. One contained quite a lot of sake for the gods. They must alcoholics, these gods. Or maybe they're musicians. We also passed a shrine for womens health, which I found rather odd. Either women had unhealthy breasts, or the illness was located somewhere else on the body, but not the head. At least, according to the posts at th shrine. It was rather surprising to come across!

The forest in Nara had a lot of really beautiful, old trees, and one temple even had a tree growing out of it:

We also encountered some very interesting signage on our sojourn through the forest. Nara, as I mentioned, is full of deer. Apparently, the deity to whom one of the temples is devoted to arrived in town in style on a deer, thus the deer were treated as sacred animals in the city. They're everywhere, and they're tame, or at least not afraid of humans, whom they now see as a food source. You can buy food to feed the deer. However, they are still wild animals, so there are a few signs up warning: A) Don't get between a mom and baby deer. Though baby is just curious, mom will become anxious and upset (I'm interpreting this from the pictures, not from the Japanese on the sign that I couldn't read). B) Don't get between boy and girl deers at a certain time of year . . . this will seriously piss them off.

When I actually did come across deer, they seemed rather sweet. Especially the fawns. Awwww. (Those ferns must have been tasty . . .)

After seeing the forest and the various shrines there, we had some lunch at a place where they serve a special kind of rice dish. They steam the rice with vegetables and various meat or seafood of your choice. The rice takes on the flavor of the things it's cooked with, and it's served in the same container that it was steamed in. The rice that sticks to the side and bottom of the container gets slightly crispy and extra flavorful, and is therefore considered a treat.

After lunch, we headed to the huge temple, Todai-ji, supposedly the largest wooden structure in the world. The entrance is guarded by two huge figures (open-mouthed and close-mouthed). Inside, there is an enormous Buddha, and several other very large religious statues. It was quite impressive.

It was awe-inspring, actually. As was the gargantuan bell outside the shrine. I wish I could have heard it being rung.

After the shrines, Aki and I had some of those special thick green tea drinks and dessert. I had this gel stuff made of special plant with ground beans on top. It sounds weird, and to be honest, it looked really weird, too, but it was actually quite tasty, in an almost peanut-buttery sort of way. I love peanut butter. How American of me.

Tired from our trek through Nara, we took the train home and I packed my bags for my flight home.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Japan, part VIII

Thursday we spent in Kobe, where we went shopping again, eating, and to an art museum. Shopping in Kobe was an experience. Japanese young people dress VERY trendily for the most part, as I've mentioned before. Therefore some of the stores were a little over the top for me. Some even made me laugh, they were that ridiculous. But there were also some really nice places, and the department stores were way cool. They had everything, and everything was CUTE and clever. I particularly liked the lunch boxes, which had cool little compartments and were just generally cute.

I really enjoyed the art exhibit we went to at the Kobe City Museum, called Prussian Blue. It centered on the use of a particular shade of blue paint and how its arrival in Japan changed Japanese art. It had some beautiful prints and paintings, including works such as this and this by the Japanese master woodblock artist Katsushika Hokusai. Several of the prints came from his series, Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, including those two linked pieces.

Japan, part VII

On Wednesday, we took it a little easier again after such a busy Tuesday in Kyoto. We headed to Osaka, to the aquarium there. It was an excellent aquarium, complete with:
•penguins•sea otters•dolphins seals•sea lions•giant sea turtles•eels (scary!!)•sharks•whale shark•tuna•manta ray•jellyfish•octupi, among other creatures. We spent quite a long while at the aquarium, actually. At the exit of the aquarium there was a seafood restaurant, which we found a little sadistic, especially considering how many excited children were at the aquarium. We proved a bit hypocrtical, however, since we had sushi for dinner! Even the tuna, who was rather cute. Cute, but so tasty!

After dinner, we headed over to the concert hall for a performance of the Pacific Music Festival, where we had a few USC friends playing. Actually, there were also several Northwestern acquaintances, and even someone from my youth orchestra, though for the most part I was unable to see them afterward. Oh well. The all-Russian program was interesting, and I enjoyed the performance. So many talented musicians! The oboists were all excellent. One of them just won a job in the Atlanta Symphony. Although it's true she does not have a Mack sound, it was clear to hear how she won the job. She phrased so musically and with such conviction. Inspiring and depressing at the same time!

Aki was babysitting one of our friend's basses when he went on vacation to China from Japan (Osaka was the last stop for PMF). We had an adventure getting the enormous bass (in its flight case, no less!!!) home from Osaka on the train. It was incredibly muggy that night, poor Theo was dripping by the time we got home. I'm glad I don't play bass. It's truly a beautiful instrument, but so difficult to travel with. Or move at all with. Anyway, that was our day in Osaka. Just two more days to enjoy Japan.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Japan, part VI

We returned to Kyoto bright and early at 10 am on Tuesday. (I say early because it takes at least an hour and a half to get there from Aki's place.) We had a reservation to see the ancient imperial palace, Gosho, in Kyoto. It was quite hot again that day, and the English tour had 130 people on it (though most of them were not actually native English-speakers, but Europeans). For the first time on my trip to Japan, I felt short. Perhaps because of the heat and the size of the tour, I wasn't as impressed with the Imperial Palace as I thought I should be. The tour guide didn't really say very much of interest–Aki would have made a better guide. But the palace was still intriguing and it had some nice gardens. It had several gates for several different purposes: there was a servants' entrance, an entrance for important foreign visitors, an entrance for the emperor himself, etc. Here is one such entrance (I'm not sure which!).

There were several places for the imperial family to live, but one particularly large building used for important occasions, like cornations:

It also had a nice pond and some pretty bridges. I have a thing for bridges.

I was glad to get out of the heat and on to the next site when the tour was over. First we decided to book a spot on the tour of the summer imperial palace, which has really famous gardens that we both wanted to see. Apparently, Japanese citizens must have a reservation three months in advance, but foreigners can get a spot the day of. So Aki needed my help for that :)

Next was Ryoanji, a temple best known for it's Zen rock garden, but which also had great gardens. And more turtles.

We had to get to Shugakuin Rikyu, the summer imperial residence, by 1, so we went through Ryoanji a little quickly, and moved on to Kinkaku, famous for its golden temple. It also had nice gardens and a very pretty waterfall.

Kinkaku wasn't as peaceful or mossy as Ginkaku, and it was possibly the most crowded place we visited, but it was still quite beautiful.

After Kinkaku, we headed out to Shugakuin for our tour. This tour was quite different. There were only about 12 people, and the tour was in Japanese, not English. The tour guide was a spritely Japanese gentleman of about 60, who walked faster than I did and said everything with a twinkle in his eye. I liked him better than the tour guide from the Imperial Palace, even though I couldn't understand a word he was saying.

The emperor who built Shugakuin put a lot of thought into his plans. He had rice planted on the palace grounds for the sheer beauty of it, and how it turned gold in autumn (I wish I could see it). He allowed farmers to care for and keep the rice. To this day, farmers care for that rice field. It has paths with short evergreen trees guarding them, providing shade without blocking the view. There are also small streams for irrigation that he had designed to make a pleasing sound of flowing water.

There are three levels of gardens, with lovely streams and ponds and bridges. And there are some lovely buildings, too. One has a panel painted with three laughing monks; another has beautiful golden clouds, and yet another has a lifelike carp. The person who slept in the room with the carp mural got a little creeped out by him–the carp looked like it might jump off its wall and cavort at night. So he had the artist paint net over it.

There was a nice gate to the path to upper level gardens. This path had high hedges planted on either side of it, so that you would be surprised by the spectacular view when you reached the teahouse on the top.

On the way back down, there as a lovely waterfall, and the pond with island was lovely. The imperial family boated on the pond, and the island had a very interesting bridge on it. It was not symmetrical: one half represented the common people, the other half, with a golden phoenix on top, represented the royal family. The bridge joined them.

I really loved Shugakuin. It was extraordinarily beautiful, and the emperor put such thought and care into it, it was rather touching. The tour guide so clearly loved the place, it inspired even further admiration. It was also a favorite of mine on my trip.

After Shugakuin, Aki and I took the Philospher's Walk along the river back to the bus to return home. It was a very satisfying, but tiring, day.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Japan, part V

On Monday, we went to Arashiyama, probably my favorite place on the trip, perhaps in part because it was also the least crowded. We also took a more leisurely pace here. The main attraction for us in Arashiyama was the majestic bamboo forest, but we found plenty of other things to distract us.

Since we got a later start that day, by the time we arrived in Arashiyama, we were hungry. So we got food in a Japanese convenience store. The food you find in a Japanese convenience store (such as Lawson, or or even 7-11) is very different from what you would find in an American convenience store. They have sushi as well as full meals in a little box that they will even heat for you. There are always rice balls (well, more like 3-dimensional rounded triangles of rice covered in seaweed), as well as pork and fish breaded and fried. It's not as good as a restaurant, but it's not bad, either! Plus they have all sorts of fun snacks and drinks, including Boss, some coffee drink that features Tommy Lee Jones' face on it (rather like Bill Murray in Lost in Translation).

So on our way to the bamboo forest, we passed a collection of shrines in temples that we walk through briefly, only looking at the free ones (entrance is usually only $3-5 but if you go to 5 0r 10 in a day, it really adds up). I particularly liked these statues by the road, and I also took a picture of a cicada, simply because when I think of Japan, I think of the sound of cicadas--they are everywhere, and they are SUPER loud. The little drunken raccoon statues were everywhere, and Aki couldn't really explain what they were about, but I took a picture one, anyway.

After passing through the group of temples, we walked on until we came to the entrance to the forest. It was truly beautiful there, and very peaceful. The bamboo made a really cool noise when the wind ran through it, almost percussive.

In the bamboo forest, there were a few more temples, including two that I really loved. They were both very quiet and mossy and had beautiful streams in them. The first was Joujjakoji.

After pausing at this peaceful pond, we came to the home of a a famous Japanese haiku poet, Mukai Kyorai. He lived in this place, Rakushisha, in the late 17th century. Apparently, Kyorai had a large number of persimmon trees there (several still exist), and one autumn the trees were particularly fruitful. He waited until they were ripe, and was planning on picking them and selling them. But a big storm hit one evening, and none were left on the trees by the next morning. Thus Rakushisha is the "cottage of the fallen persimmons." People still come here to write haikus.

Next we came to a small temple hidden in the forest. It was called Ghi-Ohji, and I remember that in the temple, a little white cat sat and faced the garden.

After leaving the seclusion of this temple, we pass by a rice field, and then went into a tea house, where I enjoyed vanilla ice cream with green tea powder (the nice man gave me extra) and Aki let me try one of her favorites, a kind of thick green tea with froth on top. It usually comes with a little treat. It was tasty.

The man in the cafe had suggested we go to a particular temple, Otagi Nenbutsu-ji, which had over 1,000 little stone statues of people worshipping.

This was our last temple in Arashiyama. We headed back toward Kobe, stopping in Kyoto at the Shimogamo festival (at the shrine). I'm not sure exactly what it was for, but there were lots of people, especially children, and the Japanese version of carnival food. Many people wore traditional Japanese attire, which I thought was cool. Aki had me try a large wafer thing with a sauce dripped on it and then seaweed and other goodies sprinkled on it. That was pretty good, but I refused to eat the part with mayonnaise drizzled on it. There was also a sort of pancakey thing with all sort of sauces and cheese wrapped in it and put on a stick, which was very rich and difficult to eat, since it kept falling apart. I guess it had a lot in common with American carnival food. For desert, we had a frozen, chocolate-covered banana. Pretty good, actually. And that was it for the day. We headed back home for the evening, preparing for another busy day (and early start) in Kyoto.