Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A bus ride to Sugimoto-Dera

This unforgettable bus ride happened over the past weekend trip I took down to Kamakura City. Ruth and I woke up really early to finish up our weekend trip. We caught a city bus to get to Sugimoto-dera, the first buddhist site in Kamakura City. We're not overly sure on which bus stop we want to get off at, nor can we read the kanji, so we're intently listening, hoping it'll work out.

After about 4 minutes into the bus ride, the bus driver through his microphone for the rest of the bus to hear asks us in Japanese, "foreigners, foreigners, where are you getting off at?" We're incredible embarrassed, I mean, he's not just asking us where we're getting off, he's asking us over the loud speaker of the entire bus. I tell him, "Sugimoto-dera" He clarifies the spot and asks us, again, over the loud speaker, "where are you from?" I respond that I'm an American and Ruth responds she's from Scotland. Poor Ruth. No one ever knows where Scotland is. The bus driver's next question is, "that's near England, right?" Right. Then, a woman to the front right of us turns around and tells us our Japanese is good. The bus driver doesn't stop there. Soon, we're explaining that we're English teachers, that we live in Miyagi, our basic "why are you in Japan" life stories. Again, in front of the entire bus. We had an audience. This went on for probably a total of 3 minutes, the conversation over the loud speaker and us shouting up to the front of the bus. Of course, we couldn't understand everything he was saying; some of his comments weren't understood by us, but the rest of the bus was laughing at what he was saying. We provided good entertainment for people at 10am. Well, atleast we got off at the right stop. It was a funny start to a great day.

A bit of history about the temple we went to see, complete with pictures.

In Spring 734, Sugimoto-dera was founded by Fusasaki Fujiwara, minister of the Imperial Court and priest, Bodhisattva Gyoki to meet the wish of Empress Komyo. This Bodhisattva enshrined the first Juichi-men Kannon - an image of Buddha that embodied 11 faces in which he carved himself.

In 851, priest Ennin stayed in the temple. He carved the second one of these and enshrined it.

In 985, Emperor Kazan ordered priest Genshin-Eshin Sozu to carve and enshrine the third one. Afterwards, he designated the temple as the first amulet distributing office of the Eastern part of Japan. The Emperor himself made him pilgrimage to see it. Since then, the temple has been visited by a great number of pilgrims.

On the night of November 23, 1189, a fire broke out. According to a legend, those 3 principle images of Buddha mentioned above hid themselves under a huge cedar tree. This legend derives from Azumakagami - the 1st official documents compiled by the Samurai federal government. They have since been called Sugimoto-no-Kannan or the Kannons under the cedar.

On September 18, 1191, a ceremony was helf for miracles in all ages when Shogun Minamoto no Yorimoto reconstructed the lost Kannon hall. The 3 Kannons were enshrined in the inner-back and the juichi-men-Kannon at the height of nearly 7 feet in the front.

The first Kannon used to be called "Geba-Kannon" - the geba meaning "dismounting a horse" - this is to caution people against their faithlessness of riding horseback into precincts because they were believed to fall off their horses. Zen Master Daigaku, founder of another shrine called Kenchoji, once stayed in this hall. He prayed that these horse accidents would cease. The Kannon has since been called "Fukumen-Kannon" or the masked Kannon.

the scary protector of Sugimoto-dera

Walking up to Sugimoto-Dera

The bell of Sugimoto-dera

This is Sugimoto-dera

A children's graveyard here.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

A test

I have kind of failed at blogging. I had aspirations once, secretly - of course, some people knew, that I would like to become a travel writer. I even had a travel writing book given to me so I could learn more about it. I felt more and more that perhaps I could do it when people told me they used to read my blog every week. Some people even dedicated whole afternoons to catching up on it. I felt a bit of pressure between my secret aspirations, people that actually read it and then what I was reading in the book. So, I slowed down a bit. I think the biggest reason being I got too busy. But, I want to keep writing it, even daily. I want to write about things that are kind of funny that happen to me daily, or things that I think about, anything, really, I want to write about it from now on. So, I will and in between, hopefully, I can get some stories out about my weekend holiday trips to you as well. I apologize because it's not going to be chronological and that is why I never included my everyday life in my blog because it wouldn't have been chronological. So I guess expect the future posts to be something like this. sara's random funny story of the day. sara's long weekend to somewhere from 3 months ago. sara's book she just read. sara's future plans. Sara's short weekend to somewhere 2 weeks ago, sara's past thought combined with present occurrences. Don't expect any type of organization from here on out. It's just going to be....

....starting now...

I'm freaking out a bit. I've signed up to take the JLPT - the Japanese Language Proficiency Test. I am taking it on Sunday, December 1st. That's less than one week away. I shouldn't be nervous because I study Japanese daily. I study while teaching English, I study at the grocery store, I study with friends, I study at the train station, on the train, reading the passing signs as they whiz by the train. When I'm not studying by simply living in Japan, I am studying out of a book, about 5-7 hours a week. And, I have a nice tutor who I meet for about two hours a week, where she helps me read Japanese more fluently and we practice speaking skills. We work on my pronunciation, she always corrects my casual form of Japanese into polite , "speak like a princess" Japanese. She is correcting all the mistakes I've grown into a habit saying when I teach myself. You can see that my life is constant studying. However, I'm still nervous for this test. Why? I haven't studied for "the test." I have "the test" studying materials here. I have old exams to practice off of, to get the ideas of what the test will be like. To do several examples of a possible question. These tests provide the basic set up of what all tests will be like. Yet, I haven't opened it once. Not once.

Now, if I were back in college; I would have been studying my ass off, for about a week in advance. Maybe a week before, 2 hours a day....all the way until the night before the exam, 8 hours a day plus pulling an overnighter before taking the exam. This is how prepared I was for taking exams back then. I knew the types of questions inside and out, I knew the test format inside and out....and it was all up to me to just take it and pass it. I haven't done that here. I used to do that with 5 tests being lined up to take. Each test receiving the same amount of proper studying time as the others. I only have one test here. I still haven't done it. What am I thinking?

I guess I am hoping that because I actually, fully understand it - minus the test set up and the types of questions that will be asked - I am hoping that just by knowing the language well, that the test set up and questions will not throw me for a loop by being unprepared for that. I am feeling pretty confident that I know the grammar. I am a little worried I don't know the kanji (Chinese characters). I'm taking level 4, which means it's the easiest level. I think I could do level 3 - vocabulary and grammar wise, however, I could never pass the kanji section, ever. Never, ever. For level 4 - you need only 100 kanji. For level 3 - you need 350 kanji. I can probably recognize 115 kanji. Here's a crash course in kanji - 木 this one to the left is tree  山 this one to the left is mountain  目 this one to the left is eye  肉 this one to the left is meat  私this one to the left is i or my  人 this one to the left is person or people 車 this one to the left is car. Crash Course 2 - they don't have the same pronunciation  水 this kanji to the left means water. it is pronounced mizu. But if you combine it like in the next example, it's pronunciation becomes sui. So, one has to know when to change it's sound when being combined with other kanji as well. By the way, this sui pronunciation goes together as suiyoubi which translates as Wednesday. 水曜日  - So, the more you learn, the easier it gets. But, I still pretty much suck at it. I only started studying them since February, so I haven't even bothered studying for a full year yet. And since I've moved, I barely study it at all. I used to study only kanji with my tutor prior to moving. But, we can't meet anymore because now we live too far apart from one another. With my new tutor, there isn't must structured kanji studying. So, I'm not nearly as good at it as I should be. After writing this, I decided I am going to buy myself a kanji studying book because I would get much better at it if I had the book she used to teach me with.

Alright, that's it for now. will probably write again soon. I also am not going to be so anal about my word usage, sentence structure or capitalizatoin. I will try to make this a bit casual and not so professional as how I was trying to make it before. Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


I'm trying out a new hobby. I think I will have tried nearly everything Japanese by the time I actually come home. What I'm up to now is called Ikebana or what is translated loosely to flower arranging. The purpose of this tradition is to arrange different flowers in an aesthetically pleasing fashion. There are several "schools" of ikebana. All that means is that there are different headmasters to each school who determine what rules are acceptable for arranging your flowers. The type of ikebana I study falls under the ohara school. It is said that ikebana developed around the 6th century as an offering in Buddhist temples. However, my school, ohara is relatively recent being founded in the late 19th century.

I have been attending the school as an invite by one of the women, Yumiko, that works at the Board of Education. I attend with Ruth and Jane as well. We go with Yumiko to her teachers' house to learn. Traditionally, one uses flowers and is expected to arrange them in ways to represent sky, earth and mankind in a well-balanced manner. The founder of my school, ohara wanted to create a type of ikebana that balanced natural beauty, such as mountains and fields. It was also created to allow for the adoption of Western flowers that were being introduced to Japan during the late 19th century.

I have predominantly been studying how to do the Rising Form which allows for one flower or vine or plant piece to serve as the main subject. Then, another form must be cut to 1/3 of the size of the subject and that becomes the object. The rest of the flowers or pieces are to be arranged as to not take away from the object or subject but to serve as fillers to make these two pieces become even more beautiful.(this is the rising form that I made this past week, I chose these flowers for the first time, too!)

There are several rules you need to keep in mind while arranging your flowers. For example, sometimes the stems cannot cross; some flowers should not be facing directly forward, there are certain measurements that must be followed. The object must always be 1/3 of the length as the subject. The filler flowers, stems and leaves cannot go outside a particular measurement in comparison to how tall the subject is. I'm still a beginner and learning in Japanese so I learn from my mistakes. It would be impossible to be taught all the rules at once in Japanese, so each week that I make a new mistake, I am taught about that mistake and write it down as to not do the same mistake again the next time.

Ikebana is incredibly relaxing. We are just studying how to do the next form, called the Iclining form. In this form, the subject cannot stand straight up but must be curved off to the side. Perhaps, if I get confident enough and understand it enough, I will have an exhibition someday!

(above: this is the inclining form, notice how the longest flower is off to the side and doesn't stand straight up like in the example above)

(above: Yumiko, who is way more advanced than us. Her flower is a two -tiered - the top tier is the rising form and her bottom tier is the inclining form, she's so good!)

(above: I went to see my Japanese teacher's exhibition, who also does ikebana. The above example was one of the arrangements. I was shocked at how big it was. It was about 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide. )
(above: this is also the rising form. This is my Japanese teacher's exhibited ikebana!)
(above: furthest left is Ruth, the middle one is mine and the furthest right is Jane's. This past week we all got to choose our own flowers! They are all in the rising form)