Written: June 28, 2009 5:50pm
This weekend was the MISTI-Japan Kyoto trip in which all the Japan interns went together to explore the ‘old capital’. It was one of the best weekends I’ve had, ever. Not only we had a great tour, visiting many beautiful and impressive temples, the food was also delicious and I met a lot of young, nice and energetic Japanese people. This really made the difference, particularly because Meru-san, Kim-san and I spent most of our time with two Japanese guys and we had a blast together.
My great weekend started Friday night when I left work at 7pm, the earliest I’ve ever left. It felt great to leave work while there was still some daylight. This made me seriously consider talking to my boss about my schedule, cause I don’t really think I’m expected to work until late (~10pm), especially since I come in at ~9am every day. I’m going to actually set the times I work in stone cause I know my MIT friends are working ‘regular’ work days, 9-6pm ish. Working a schedule like this would allow me to enjoy the city and meet more people. I love the people in my lab, but unfortunately most of them are too busy with their science and we can’t even manage to grab lunch or dinner together more than once a week.
Friday at 8pm I met Meru-san at the Juso train station and took her to Juso Ramen. I ordered something different from what I always order, and it wasn’t as delicious, so I’m going back to the usual next time. Meru-san had a regular bowl of ramen, and according to her it was good. That probably means it wasn’t delicious — maybe there is only one delicious bowl of ramen there.
After dinner we went to the conbini, and then we returned to my apartment. Once there we tried to figure out how to tie the obi in one of her kimonos, but that didn’t particularly work out. There’s a reason why they had geishas go to school back in the day, knowing how to tie a kimono was probably one of them. After taking a couple of pictures and having some fun, we went to bed at around 1am so we could get early in the morning. In the morning we took the 5:30ish train from Juso to Umeda station, and then the 6am train from Osaka JR station, to Kyoto. The whole trip was less than an hour.
Now this is when the fun started. We began the day by going to a public bath place. It is exactly just what you think, or maybe even more interesting. You go in, get naked in the locker rooms, cover what you can with a mini-towel (one of those that people carry around for when they sneeze, or to shower, etc.) and go out there to join the rest of the world that decided to shower there that morning. I felt for a second that I was back in high school where there was this room with 4 showers and no curtains and people would just go shower there. I only showered there once, and it was because for some strange reason there was poop coming out of the drainage of the other showers…
Anyway, once you walk into the room with all the people naked there are plastic ‘seats’ that are no taller than 1 foot and you just go sit on that. You shower by filling with water a bowl using the water faucets in front of you, and then there is shampoo and body wash on the side. There is also a mirror one or two feet above your head level at an angle that allows you to see yourself easily. Once you’re done with that, then you can go in to the ‘communal bath’, which is pretty much a big jacuzzi. It was quite hot, so must of us were out of there within 10-15 minutes.
After our magnificent bath (Japanese onzen) we we got on a bus and saw a few temples. We visited Kinkakuji (Golden Pavilion), Daitokuji and Heianjingu before lunch. Then we visited the Kiyomizu Dera Temple and some other temples I can’t remember. Lunch this day was at a really nice Japanese restaurant, I’m sure it was the most expensive lunch I have had up to that point. I had a tempura set and it was delicious. Dinner was probably even more expensive that lunch — I had a sushi set that also included tempura and a few other things. Both lunch and dinner included either a bowl of rice or noddles, and even that was very delicious. The food was so delicious, and the best part is that it was all paid-for by MISTI-Japan so I didn’t have to spend my money on that.
During the temple visits I talked to about ~6 Japanese people who joined us in the trip. These folks were somehow associated with the people in charge of our tour (worked in their company, or university, or something similar) and they were there mostly to practice English. The flaw in this plan, however, was we the MIT students were there trying to speak as much Japanese as possible, so our interests were not really compatible with theirs.
Meru-san, Kim-san, Ben, and I spent most of the day with these two Japanese guys which were pretty much our age and were quite good at English. This allowed us to communicate fairly well cause they could throw in a few words in English when we were confused by what they were saying. They had a great spirit and were very friendly and interesting.
Our conversations flowed from talking about MIT, to talking about Japan, and all the usual things. Then we started learning kansai-ben, which is the dialect spoken in the ‘Kansai’ area. Something I learned is that, apparently, the reason why Japan has two areas, one called ‘Kansai’ and the other ‘Kanto’, is because Japan has a lot of mountains (which are non-developed areas), and there are two regions in which bigger cities have been built. Kansai and Kanto are those two regions.
We learned quite a bit of Kansai-ben that day, and would use it all the time to practice. I think we might have used it a bit in excess, but it was just too much fun. In return, we taught the Japanese how to say a few things like, “this is freaking awesome”, “this is tight”, “sweeeeet!”, and other similar phrases. It wasn’t a fair exchange cause they taught us more things, but they learned a few things and were quite good at using them. A pretty great thing was hearing them randomly say “oh my god, this is frlikin osom”.
Saturday after dinner we went to Karaoke! That was, pardon for the repetitiveness, freaking awesome! We went in a group of 8 people, 6 MIT kids and the 2 Japanese, and we were all pretty much on the same page. It was a very high energy group and we sang a wide range of music. We opened up with “Thriller” to commemorate Michael Jackson, and then sang music from Utada Hikaru, some other Japanese folks, Britney Spears, Aqua (Barbie Girl), Backstreet Boys, Muse, etc.
I must say that karaoke was amazing. I left the place with my throat feeling just the way it does before you either lose it or start speaking like a 60-year-smoker. In the morning I discovered that in my case it was the latter. I woke up and when I said hi I felt like I was about to give the news on the radio. JKim quickly let me know that even though I had such a deep voice, I was basically a girl in her eyes because I was telling her about all the face products that I’ve been using to keep my skin clean and almost acne-free. I could feel the love.
After karaoke Saturday night we returned to our hotel room at around 1am and just got ready for bed. The hotel room was actually quite nice and I found an ethernet cable that happened to give you free internet access. Of course I spent about an hour online.
After sleeping about 5 hours I woke up today at ~7am to get ready to go to more temples. We first took the train to Nara, which was just one station away from our hotel. Once there, we went to the Nara Koen park and walked through it to get to the Todaiji Temple which was amazing. We had a lecture by a Buddhist Monk about Buddhism and Shinto (the other main religion in Japan) and he told us a lot of things about the temple. There was enough wood in that temple to build 15,000 houses in Japan, and the temple was actually 1/3 of the size of the original temple. I looked at the temple in disbelief, it was enormous and I was being told that it was originally 3 times bigger!
After the lecture we were taken up to walk around the platform on which the Japan’s largest Buddha statue is on. Not many people get to go up there, so you could see a lot of people looking at us a bit puzzled by why all these foreigners were walking up to a restricted area. I was very grateful for the opportunity because it really allowed me to appreciate how big this statue was. To give you an idea, there is a big pole that has a hole made on it that is the size of the nostril in Buddha’s statue. Most MIT students in the tour were able to fit through the hole.
Once this was over we walked to a restaurant to eat Okonomiyaki! Before getting to the restaurant we fed some deers, which are actually all over the place in the temple surroundings. Those deers are quite smart, and when they see someone buying the little crackers/biscuits that you feed them with they surround you and are quite obnoxious about it! I recorded a video of someone being surrounded by them, which I uploaded to Facebook. 😀
After feeding the deers we had the lunch which was めっちゃ美味いわ, or ‘too delicious’ in Kansai-ben. After lunch we then returned all the way to Kyoto, and then I returned to Osaka with Meru-san, Ben, and Koji-san (one of the two Japanese guys we went to Karaoke with). Sadly, Naoki-san, which is the other Japanese guy, couldn’t join us on the second day of the trip because he had other things to work on. Both Koji-san and Naoki-san were extremely nice and made the whole experience a lot more fun than I would’ve imagined it to be. They both study in the Osaka area, so hopefully we can meet again sometime soon. We did talk about going karaoke again at some point in which Kim-san can hopefully come to Osaka (she’s in Tokyo for the summer) and Meru-san can come from Kobe (which is less than an hour away). I’m quite grateful for this weekend, and if we could all get together again I am sure it would be great. I think we might go see the fireworks together (which happen at different times all over Japan during the summer), so that should be fun too.
Overall, I think the best part of this weekend was the high-energy of the people I shared most of my time with. I was called by the Japanese “the high-energy one”, but I must admit I was particularly happy/excited this weekend because of the people I was with. We simply had a great time together while going through the day and I probably have more good memories about the 6ish of us joking around, having fun and doing karaoke than anything else.