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Kyoto with Teenagers – Part 6 of 6

(Read Part 1 through 5.)

Some of the thoughts and special moments we had during the Kyoto excursion:

My teenagers mocked me praying at every temple we visited. They had never seen me pray before. I am not sure whether they fully understood what Buddhism, Shintoism and other religions mean to typical modern Japanese including myself. For the most part, Japanese respect the presence of some sort of a higher being. The  way they interact with this higher being, however, is typically very personal and not socially organized. To me, these temples provide the opportunity for me to give thoughts to the higher being. Nothing less, and nothing more. The act of praying allows me to focus the thoughts.

My teenagers were constantly amazed by the bicyclists. The bicyclists pretty much own the streets there, and taxi cabs are constantly yielding to the bicyclists. My daughter, who wants to one day live in Japan, is now considering living in Kyoto and owning a bicycle to be one of her life’s goals. I would love for her to live there and perhaps go to school or teach English there. That would give me an excuse to visit Kyoto often.

My teenagers loved the Shinkyogoku shopping district and its vicinity. We went to UNIQLO and LOFT twice (and bought tons of reasonably priced clothes and a rather expensive suitcase). We walked up and down the Shinkyogoku mall.

My teenagers enjoyed shopping at convenience stores without me. They speak no Japanese and store keepers hardly speak any English. But since Kyoto receives so many foreign visitors, the store keepers are able to help clueless customers and my kids rather easily.

My teenagers were able to take the lead in selecting the bus routs thanks to the English bus rout map. Once we were on the bus, the multilingual announcements kept them well informed. Kyoto is absolutely the best place to visit in all of Japan for foreign tourists. The city has a very robust and extremely accomodating tourism infrastructure that is unlike any other place in Japan. I wish the city would do more to attract international conventions. Internationale convention organizers in Japan should be strongly encouraged to consider Kyoto over Tokyo or other cities.

Speaking of conventions, the ASLO meeting will be in Otsu which is just a short train ride from Kyoto next year. I am doing everything I can think of to get funds for me to go to this meeting.

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Kyoto with Teenagers – Part 5 (Kinkakuji)

The next morning came, and we were starving. So we walked a block to the nearest Lawson for Karaagekun and other breakfast-appropriate items (i.e., juice, chocolate milk, pastries, rice balls). I just can’t get over how absolutely convenient these Japanese convenience stores (“konbini“) are.

After breakfast, we took the free hotel shuttle to Sanjo-Keihan, then took the #59 city bus to Kinkakuji (The Golden Pavilion Temple).

They were letting tourists ring the gong for 100 yen/ring just inside the temple grounds. I got my teenagers to do this.

I’d been there at least twice before for the junior high school and high school trips. But this is the first time the temple was actually golden. In the past, the temple was either just before a re-surfacing, or in the middle of a resurfacing job.

I believe the temple was built as a summer residence and place of meditation for a rich person, rather than a place of worship for general citizens. As such, unlike other temples, Kinkakuji lacks a focal point for worshiping. Instead, small offering boxes are scattered throughout the grounds. We tossed some yens into some of them, and offered some thoughts.

Kakigori was enjoyed before we left the grounds.
Then we too the #59 city bus again to Ninnaji. According to the guidebooks, this temple boasts both magnificent buildings and impressive gardens. We were not in the mood to shell out several hundred yens per person to appreciate the gardens or building interiors, so we just strolled around.

Then we hopped onto a little train to go toward downtown, had a nice little lunch at a Japanese fast food chain Sukiya, then went back to the hotel for a nap.

Kyoto with Teenagers – Part 4 (Westin Kyoto Miyako Hotel)

(Read Parts 1-3)

After touring Kiyomizu-Dera and had another round of Kakigori, we took a cab to Westin Kyoto Miyako Hotel. Our luggage, which we dropped off earlier at Kyoto Station, was waiting for us.

The hotel has everything an American traveler expect in a high-end American chain hotel. Well, almost everything. It lacks one thing that is important to me – WiFi in the rooms. As my AT&T  iPhone refusing to talk to the 3G signals in Japan (and it would have been very expensive even if it were able to talk to 3G), the lack of WiFi meant no tour-critical information was at my fingertips while I lounged in my bed. I either had to borrow my mother’s Softbank iPhone or had to go all the way to the lobby (and paid a large sum of yens for the WiFi) to get the signal. I tried both options which were both equally inconvenient.

Other than the lack of WiFi, however, the stay there was enjoyable. Our room had an excellent view of the city (the first photo). There was a convenience store, Lawson,  just down the street for inexpensive meals and snacks. My 16 year old reported that the gym was small but adequately equipped. And Nanzenji, one of the most important temples in Kyoto, is located just a few blocks away, providing a perfect excuse for a morning stroll or jog (the second photo).

The hotel has a shuttle bus that takes you to Kyoto Station. It lets you get off at the Sanjo-Keihan terminal which is a convenient stop for catching a city bus or to walk over a few blocks to the major shopping district. Some of the shops we enjoyed include LOFT (the third photo) where you can find things you didn’t know existed but are glad to have, Graniph T-shirt shop (where my 16 year old bought his Looney Tunes shirt), as well as many of the shops lining the Shinkyogoku Pedestrian mall (the fourth photo). Even with the ultra-weak dollar, we were able to find reasonably priced clothes and souvenirs.

Kyoto with Teenagers – Part 3 (Kiyomizu-Dera)

(Read Parts 1 and 2)

Kiyomizu-Dera is a Buddhist temple located in eastern Kyoto. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Kyoto.

The uphill pedestrian paths leading up to the temple are a part of the charm this temple has to offer. In fact, some of the most “quintessentially Kyoto” Kodak moments can be had on these paths. They are lined with souvenir shops selling mochi confections, Hello-Kitty key chains, traditional silk crafts and chinaware, as well as tiny cafes offering Kakigori (shaved ice) and soft serve. In fact, my teenagers were handily trapped well before they reached the temple by one of the tourist-trap cafes for some Kakigori.

The temple itself is also a huge tourist trap.

Calling this temple “a major tourist trap” does not in any way diminish its historic significance, cultural charm or religious importance. In fact, temples and shrines have always been the focus of tourism in Japan well before the modern tourism began. And as one of the most popular tourist traps in the most important tourist destination in Japan, Kiyomizu-Dera delivers – gorgeous views, spiritual routines, 100 yen fortunes, 500 yen charms, and deck-side cafes.

Many Japanese regard themselves as spiritual while not necessarily tied to any one specific religion. They simultaneously take advantage of various belief frameworks offered by different religions. The birth and healthy growth of children are often celebrated in the Shinto framework, while the majority of Japanese receive Buddhist funerals and burials. Meanwhile, the moral is taught overwhelmingly in the Buddhism-Shintoism-Confucianism hybrid context. So, in the typical Japanese manner, my teenagers and I tossed some yens into the offer box (Osaisenbako) and gave some hybrid thoughts.

Kyoto with Teenagers – Part 2 (a Quick Lunch at Kyoto Station)

(Read Part 1)

Shinkansen arrived in Kyoto in the early afternoon. The Kyoto Station itself is a magnificent piece of architecture worth some exploring if your schedule allows.

Kyoto is a MAJOR tourist destination for Japanese people as well as for overseas tourists, so there are tons of lodging options for any budget and preferences (i.e., western or Japanese styles, with or without meals). Lucky for us, my mother has some “connections” and “knows people” (aka she retired from a large life insurance company with full benefits including subsidized hotel stays) so we got to stay at the posh Westin Miyako Kyoto Hotel at a bargain price.

Westin is a 15-minute shuttle bus ride from the station. However, they have a little outpost at the station where you can remotely check in and drop off luggage. They would transfer the luggage to the hotel for you.

So we dropped off our suitcases and went to the top floor of the station building where a dozen ramen noodle shops were gathered (i.e., “Ramen Alley“). We were starving despite the sandwiches we had on Shinkansen. We settled into the first shop we came across with empty seats, and had a quick and satisfying meal.

When traveling with teenagers, spontaneity is important. I know my parents would have liked to browse around more restaurants before settling in. But my priority was to keep the teenagers’ whining to the minimum, which required us to be spontaneous and flexible.

Then we took the #206 bus for Kiyomizu-dera.

(Read Part 3)

Kyoto with Teenagers – Part 1 (Shinkansen Bullet Train to Kyoto)

Summer in Kyoto is hot. (Kyoto is located in a basin surrounded by mountains, thus the hot air pools and can’t escape even during the coolest hours of the morning.) Visiting Kyoto with two (potentially) whiny teenagers makes it seem even hotter.

My parents, kids and I took a late morning Hikari from Tokyo to Kyoto. Hikari is a “Shinkansen Super Express Bullet Train.” Another SSEBT, Nozomi, runs on the same track and is slightly faster. However, my parents wouldn’t be able to exercise their senior discount privilege on Nozomi, so we took Hikari.

I could write a whole thesis about these SSEBT’s. They may well be the world’s most pleasant mode of transportation. They are very frequent – there are at least one westbound Nozomi or Hikari every 10-15 minutes from Tokyo Station. So there is no need to worry about missing your train. They are not crowded at all – there is no need to pay extra yen for assigned seats. The seats are very spacious, with far more than enough legroom and the absolutely spotlessly clean interior and bathrooms.

There are vending machines for drinks on board. In addition, a salesperson comes around frequently with a cart full of food, candies and drinks. The prices are comparable to those found at the station kiosks.

Once on board, we settled into seats, stowed the luggage, and bought some drinks, sandwiches, bento, and ice cream from the cart. My teenagers, who watched Harry Potter 7.2 a few days prior, thought it was “just like Hogwarts Express” especially regarding the sales cart.

It’s a three-hour ride to Kyoto.

Fuji-San appears on the right side windows rather unceremoniously during this ride. As someone who was born and raised in Tokyo, I am obliged to take a picture of Fuji-San when it appears. You know, we are just supposed to. My kids could care less, however. They wouldn’t have had time for my Fuji-San shpeel that would have involved the low viscosity of basaltic lava and three tectonic plates that meet at Fuji-San. Oh, well.

(Read Part 2)

5年ぶりの日本(その2-叔父の野菜畑)

今回の日本行きでは、両親と一緒に京都へ2泊3日で行ったんですが、その帰りに私と子どもたちで富士急ハイランドへ行こう、ということになりました。というわけで、新幹線の小田原駅まで、南足柄に住む叔父が迎えに来てくれました。

南足柄の叔父の家の建っている土地は、私の祖父が、四国の香川県から戦後仕事の斡旋をしてくれた知人を頼って東に移ってきた時に、初めて住み着いた土地です。私が小さい頃は、その土地にはウチの祖父母の家、土地を借りて家を建てたご近所さん一家の家、そして家業のつまようじを作ってパッキングする工場がありました。祖父はその後つまようじ工場をたたんで竹の輸入業に専念するようになったので、まず工場が無くなってそこが分譲住宅地になりました。その後祖父母とご近所さんの家も解体されてその土地が再分譲されて、今では昔家が2軒建ってた土地に家が6件ほど建っています。叔父の家はそのうちのひとつです。

祖父母の家のすぐ南側は、みかん畑でした。冬になると、ここのみかんが段ボール箱びっしりとウチに送られてきて、私はおこたに入ってテレビ観たり宿題やったりしながら、爪がまっ黄色になるまでみかんを食べました。

今回行ってみたら、このみかん畑だった土地の小さな一角が、叔父の家庭菜園になっていました。

叔父と叔母といとこののりちゃんは、忙しいなか、この畑で取れたキャベツをたっぷり入れた餃子や、ナスを浅漬けにしたものや、採れたてのトマトのサラダなどを振舞ってくれました。

25年ぶりくらいにこの土地に来て、もうとうに亡くなってしまったおじいちゃん、おばあちゃんの住んでた土地で育った野菜を、叔父さん夫婦といとこののりちゃんの手料理で味わえたのは、とってもうれしくて、そしてちょっぴり寂しかったです。英語で言うとビタースイート。そして、この機会を作ってくれた叔父に感謝、です。

 

5年ぶりの日本(その1-13歳女子の視点)

今朝、5年ぶりの日本訪問から帰ってきました。日本は(私が自分自身で東京近郊や京都で体験した限りでは)結構普通でした。出発前は、「東京電力管轄内では節電でショッピングセンターや駅ビルがムッと暑い」んじゃないかと思ってたんですが、実際に行ってみたら、結構外気が涼しかったことも手伝ってか、とても快適でした。あ、でも、あの天下のディズニーリゾート(私たちが行ったのはディズニーシー)で、洗面所の手の乾燥機が「節電のため」という能書きで全部電源がオフだったのにはちょっと笑ってしまいましたが。ちなみに手の乾燥機をオフにしてるのはディズニーだけで、映画館でも駅ビルでも普通に使えました。

今回の日本訪問は、4月下旬のイースター休暇に計画していた日本訪問のやり直しでした。3月11日の東日本大震災の後、4月に入ってからも、日本はまだ原発事故の行方や電力不足で混乱しているように見えました。私は4月上旬にはイースター休暇中の日本行き往復航空券をキャンセルしました。その時、子供たちに、「日本はまだ混乱してるみたいだから、日本行きは今年は諦めて、今年は夏にハワイでおじいちゃんとおばあちゃんと合流する?」って聞いてみたんですが、これには下の13歳女子が大反対。彼女は絶対日本に行きたかったのでした。16歳男子の方は、ハワイでもいいぜ、っていうノリでしたが。というわけで、7月発のチケットを改めて取り直しました。(これは、旅行代理店や航空会社のツイターやフェイスブックをまめにチェックしていたお陰で、ニューオリンズ-羽田往復が超格安の$600未満で出た時にささっと買いを入れることができたのでした。旅行中は超円高になってしまったので、せめて航空券だけでも安く手に入ったのは良かった。)

ウチの13歳女子は、日本がとても気に入りました。5年前は、まだ彼女は米国と日本の違いを実感するほどの精神的なmaturityは無かったと思います。でも、今回は、しっかりいろいろ観察できたようです。

まず彼女は、「家から歩いて買い物に行ける」というのが嬉しかったようです。ウチの両親の実家の徒歩圏内には、スーパーが2軒、ローソンが2軒、その他にも本屋さんや床屋さんなんかがあって、これは、牛乳1ガロン買うのにも車でいかなきゃならない米国の田舎の日常とは大違いです。子供たちは日本滞在中は毎日大喜びでローソンへ歩いて行ってました。滞在中に親戚の法事があったのですが、法事の食事会の後の二次会で大森のおばさんの家へ行ったときも、大人たちが飲んでる間に子どもたちを徒歩でのコンビニへお使いに出したりして、それが彼女にとっては結構感動だったようです。あと、彼女にとっては「小学生くらいの子供が大人の付き添い無しで電車に乗ってる」というのが驚きだったようです。私は小学5年生の時に始めて大人抜きで家(当時多摩ニュータウン)から都心(新宿)へ電車乗って友達グループと映画見に行ったのですが、その話をしたら、かなりうらやましがられました。日本って、30年前も今も、皆が基本的に他人の善意を信頼できる、かなり安全な社会なのです。(この点だけをとれば、私、絶対日本で子育てしたかったなー、と今更のように思います。でも受験戦争のことを考えるとやっぱり私には日本での子育てはキツいだろうなーと思うのですが。)

他にも、彼女は、制服の高校生たちのスカートの短さに驚愕したり、携帯のカワユさをうらやましがったり、ホームを早足で行き来してる女の人たちの靴が7センチヒールだったりするのに敬意の念を示したり、と、特に電車の中でのピープルウォッチングで色々感ずることがあったようです。

写真は、日本滞在中、彼女の一番のお気に入りだったカツカレー。これはすき家で。

K-pop, J-pop, and ジャニーズ? (Musings on East Asian Boybands and Girl Groups)

My 13 year old daughter has been absolutely fascinated by K-pop.

Last night, I caught a glimpse of one of the K-pop videos that she was watching on YouTube, and I was intrigued. I sat down with her and watched many more. I was impressed. The boys and girls are good-looking, they dance reasonably well, the songs are ultra catchy, the videos are visually entertaining, and the production is flawless.

The songs are catchy – I found myself singing along even though I don’t speak Korean and I had little idea what the lyrics meant. They are BSB-, NKOTB- or NSYNC-catchy.

After watching quite a few of these (we spent about 3 hours watching K-pop videos as well as a series of Korean pop culture vlogs at http://www.eatyourkimchi.com/), I felt that I should be introducing her to some Japanese culture as well. So I did a little Google search, and found out that Arashi (嵐) is currently the most popular Japanese boyband. They are managed by Japan’s authority on boyband management, Janiizu Office (ジャニーズ事務所). (Janiizu Office has been around since I was a little kid – I grew up with Tanokin Trio (たのきんトリオ)!)  However, after much googling, I could not find a single official music video of theirs. When you do a YouTube search with any of the K-pop band names as the search tag, you get all the official music videos as the top search results. On the other hand, when I YouTube search “Arashi,” all I get are some poorly-made fanvids and random TV appearances. J-pop is absolutely failing in the international public relations department.

As a result, I failed to get my daughter interested in J-pop in general. To make the matters worse, she has seen some AKB48 videos, and she had already decided that K-pop girl groups are much better at singing and dancing than AKB48 (which I wholeheartedly agree, sadly).

It looks like she and I will be making a trip to Shinohkubo (新大久保) while we are visiting Japan later this month. She is excited about getting her hands on glossy K-pop photo books and CDs. (Incidentally, Shinohkubo is adjacent to my college, so I am excited about revisiting the place and see what it is like now after all these years.)

During those 3 hours of the K-pop immersion, I also found out that one of the K-pop boybands, FTIsland, will be doing a show at Budokan (which is the biggest arena in Tokyo) while we are there. So I went on to search for tickets. It turns out, however, their Budokan show was sold out within 10 minutes of going on sale, and the Japanese version of StubHub has them listed at about 8-9 times the original price.

I haven’t given up, though. I will keep checking for the ticket dump. I think the last time I went to Budokan (~20 years ago) was for Whitney Houston.

ウチの13歳女子の夏(その4)

ウチの13歳女子、金曜日にガールスカウトキャンプを終えて帰ってきました。金曜日に迎えにいったときは、けっこう早めに行ったので、ほかの女の子たちまだたくさん残ってて、みんな名残惜しそうにウチの子にバイバイって言ってたのでちょっと安心。いちおうみんなと仲良く過ごせたようです。

キャンプ中は携帯なし。というか、電気が通じているのは、広大なキャンプ場に4つほど点在してるユニットハウスだけで、そこも冷房は無くって、冷凍庫、テレビとDVDプレイヤー、位しかありません。というわけで、迎えにいったら一番最初に言った言葉は「携帯持ってきてくれた?」でした。たまってる(はずであろう)テキストをチェックしたかったんでしょう。

カウンセラーとちょっとだけ話したのですが、彼女は「ずっとイイ子だったわよー」って言ってました。このカウンセラーは、実は春にウチの団でキャンプ行ったときにはRopes courseとZiplineのインストラクターとして働いてたので、もともとちょっとは顔見知りだったのでした。ガールスカウトのこういうところが結構好きです。Continuityがある、というか。

写真は、うちの子がキャンプ場のお土産やさんで買ってきたおみやげのかずかず。結構硬派です。水筒、懐中電灯、ミニ扇風機、そして開くと枕になるトナカイのぬいぐるみ。

彼女、ガールスカウトのキャンプに行くのは3度目だったんですが、「とっても楽しかったけど、もう来年は行きたくないな」って。うーん、もうだんだんコドモらしいことからは離れていく予感があるんでしょうか。ちょっと寂しい。まあ来年になったらまた気が変わるのかもしれないですが。

上の16歳男子の水泳キャンプ、この子のガールスカウトキャンプ、両方終わって、もう夏休みも大詰めになってきました。あとは、来週の週末に水泳の州大会があって(これが私には大仕事。100人ほどいるコーチとオフィシャルの人たちのために3食用意する係なので)、そのあとバケーション行って、それでおしまい。学校は8月8日から新学年が始まります。あーあ。

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