Sunday, June 17, 2007

photos and stories

Hello friends and neighbors. Sorry if it has been awhile since my last post but things have been pretty busy here in Japan. We have been staying at the campus of the Graduate School for Advanced Studies, otherwise known as Sokendai. It is a pretty cool campus, and has one of the largest solar panel arrays I have ever seen in my life. Check out the picture below. That roof is literally covered in panels and it isn't the only building like that.

We have been treated very well here, especially in terms of the food. I guess that I told most of you that I was going to abandon the veggie ways once I got here, and that has opened up a world of possibilities. Why would I do that? Well, I personally feel as though it would be like walking through the MoMMA in NYC and only looking at the sculptures. There are simply too many new food experiences here and I can't deny them.

In addition to the great food, Sokendai is blessed with one of the most impressive views..... on the planet? Well, I won't go there, but it's pretty amazing none the less.

The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS), the group funding this whole thing, put together a home stay with a Japanese family for this past weekend. That was a truly memorable experience. My family lived in Yokohama, which is just outside of Tokyo. Most of my interactions were with the wife, Mariko. There are several reasons for this. The first is that she was the only one who spoke English well enough to carry on conversation. The next is that the husband, Kiyoshi, was at work most of the time. And when I say most of the time, I mean all of the time. This man left for work at 8:00 or so week days and didn't get home until midnight. He does this six days a week. Apparently this is the norm for many families here. Seeing this type of family structure, it is not hard to see why the typical gender roles are so entrained in the culture. Mariko does all of the cooking, all of the cleaning, all of the tending to the children. And I honestly can say, I don't blame Kiyoshi at all for relenquishing those duties to her, in fact I think that is the only way that one could possibly raise a family under such conditions. This is not to say that he is inattentive. He was very kind to me, and also very loving to his children, it was actually quite touching to see them interact.

As for the children, they are not unlike children in America. They watch TV, the youngest fights over the controls for the video game, they play dodge ball in the park and get grumpy when tired. There were three in my family, Ayana (2) Atsushi (11) and Misaki (9). The two oldest studied English in school, but were too shy or stubborn to speak with me. Sadly, I am dependent upon the investment other people have made in my native tongue to speak with them here.

Today, I had one of my first experiences "out in the real Japan", and what trip to an Asian country wouldn't be complete without a visit to a giant statue of a Buddah, or Daibutsu as he is known here. The statue we saw today was really impressive, to say the least. The crowds were huge, as I am sure that you can imagine, but most of the people were tourists, doing exactly what I was doing. It was really impressive to be in the presence of a statue that is about 800 years old, and has survived a massive tsunami that washed away many of the surrounding buildings, as well as many earthquakes. This is of course to say nothing of the humble and benevolent power the statue represents. I confess it was a little weird to be "inside" this statue, given all that I indicated above. That is right, for a mere 20 yen you can go inside the Buddah. I don't know why this is significant either, I asked and all I got was the answer I expected, for good luck.

It is said that the light of the world emits from the head of Daibutsu, and indeed this statue was adorned with a massive ingot of silver to represent this. I made some attempt to capture this...

Feeling thankful for the opportunity to stand in the presence of such an austere statue, I made sure to give a reverent bow before departing. It is truly a powerful place, in spite of all the crowds.


Arlo said...

Great pictures! That is terrific you got to stay with a family, there's really no better way to "meet" a culture... and don't forget the all-important phrase "Watashi no hobakuraftu wa ippai no unagi desu": My hovercraft is full of eels!

Danimal said...

Its too bad blogger doesn't allow for bigger pics, cause yours are AWESOME!!!!