Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Bullet Train trip from Kyoto

Winter Field Trip to Japan has been scheduled from 12/18/08 to 12/30/08 under the Title of Exotic Japan, but for various reasons the trip theme was modified and re-titled as "Bullet Train and Kyoto." The group will base at Kyoto and using Bullet Train as much as possible to reach Hiroshima (Miyajima-island for which monkey living Mt. Misen and floating Torii Gate famous and we plan to visit), Okayama (Korakuen park and Okayama Castle and Museums), Tokushima in Shikoku Island (Naruto for which largest whirlpool in the inland sea is famous), Himeji (White Heron Castle), Nara (Deer Park, World largest wooden structure housing the huge Buddha Image in it), Osaka and Kobe. Kyoto's main spot will certainly included to enjoy the old and the new of Japan. I hope many students and community folks join the trip!

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ritsumeikan Univ. Chicago Alumni

Whiling coping with jet lag, I attended the Ritsumeikan University Chicago Alumni Association Summer Dinner at Daruma Restaurant in Schaumburg. There have been annual golf competition among 4 major university alumni association members in Chicagoland area. These 4 universities are Ritsumeikan, Doshisha, Kansai, and Kwansei Gakuin. Since Ritsumeikan and Doshisha are both located in Kyoto, they have been a rival for many years in various fields. I went to the Restaurant with my 2-year old daughter and happened to find my former student as a waitress who went to Kyoto for Study Abroad a few years ago with GTS. What a coincidence! What? Golf? Ritsumeikan lost badly!!

JET Program Sending-off Party

The following late afternoon of the day we returned from Japan, the JET Program (Japan's governmental program to provide English native college graduates to local government and schools) Sending-off Party at a hotel near O'Hare airport. I, serving as an interviewer for JET candidate selection, was invited as a guest. There were quite a few new JETs, I recognized. My table was for some reason Kagoshima Prefecture JETs table (Southern most prefecture in Kyushu) rather than the Kyoto- area table. Since I lived in Kagoshima near the Sakurajima volcano during my kindergarten days and visited my grand parents many times before while they were still alive, I could give appropriate advice to JETs somehow. I was happy to find a sister of my student at COD in the group which were to go to Mie prefecture!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Problemless Return to Chicago!

Students gathered at Kyoto Station Bullet Train Gate at 9am to catch 10am-Bullet Train (Kodama, or Echo) for Central International Airport via Nagoya. Most host families came to the station to see off their students and some students were burst into tears! Unlike the first day of the program, there was no significant problems! Getting to San Francisco was even a little earlier than scheduled and smooth connection this time made everyone reach O'Hare on time. Some students submitted post-program assignments and enjoyed reunion with their family members! All students and friends were invited GTS's Japanese Culture Club monthly dinner on Friday 8/1 at Kyoto Sushi in Downers Grove!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

"Watermelon Explosion" at the farewell party!

Time really flies! The commencement was held and was followed by the farewell party which many host families attended with students. Every student made a brief speech after "Kanpai (Cheers!)" teachers' speech and host family's speech followed. Then lunch time came and everyone rushed into Japanese Pizza Hut pizzas, Sushi, Okonomiyaki, Fried potatoes, sweets and cake. Three classes of our program made their performance they practiced yesterday. The main event was "Watermelon Explosion." 4 big watermelon were prepared and 2 students and 2 kids from host families were selected to play as a melon hitter/breaker. Each eye-covered hitter used a baseball bat to find a watermelon and hit and break!! They did it! Every attendee enjoyed watermelon as a dessert! The party was ended with big smiles!! They all miss Japan!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Heat Wave in the Osaka Castle

A day over 98F contnued today. After lunch 45-min train ride took students from Kyoto-city to Osaka Castle area in Osaka-city, passing several suburb cities between Kyoto and Osaka such as, Yawata, Hirakata, Moriguchi, Neyagawa, Kadoma, etc. From Kyobashi-station in Osaka, students walked from one building to another building through elevated pathways to where the Osaka Castle Donjon(Tower) or "Tenshukaku" became visible. Through bridges of the outer moat and inner moat, students got to the Tower, from which they can the entire Osaka city on the top floor balcony. Leaving the Tower for another side of the castle where Hideyoshi was enshrined. An express train skipped as many station as possible to carry them back to Kyoto-city and final official afternoon excursion ended!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Lake Biwa Lunch Cruise!

A couple of students decided to join the lunch cruise in the Lake Biwa, the largest lake in Japan and 3rd oldest lake in the world. 25-min train ride brought students to the Otsu port in the Lake Biwa. 90-min cruise ride on the top floor let student draw larger map of the area in their mind. It was quite unimaginable for them to realize that Japan's largest lake is just next to Kyoto! Through this program, students could reach almost all the direction from Kyoto as far as they could within one day. Students briefly visited Miidera-temple (or Onjoji-temple), one of the most famous imperial temple in the Western Japan. Tomorrow's Osaka Castle visit will conclude the daily excursion program during the study abroad Japan!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Suntory Beer Factory Tour!

A few students visited Japanese Beer Factory to learn the process of beer making as well as tasting a bit at the end of the tour. This Suntory Beer factory in Kyoto is in charge of producing and shipping beer for the entire western part of Japan. Suntory beer won the world beer tasting contest past three years. The tour lasted about one hour and our group was really large. The factory was very strict and careful about guests' age and how they visit the factory. Minors and drivers were asked to wear the special badge so that everyone knew that they could not be served beer. After a couple of glasses to taste, a shuttle bus and train took students back to the city! Well, the entire cost was only $3.50! It was a really good deal!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Traditional Puppet Theater "Journey to the West"

Today was the first day of the National Traditional Puppet Theater (Bun'raku) of the summer season. It was also the first day of the summer break for school kids. Theater prepares the show for kids as well. "Journey to the West," the title of the show, came from the famous Chinese novella and very popular in Japan so it was very suitable for students with student discount. During the show, students could learn how puppeteers controlled puppets. At the end of the show they took pictures with some puppets. Bun'raku came to Chicago last spring but it was very difficult to obtain a ticket so today's experience really paid off!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Phoenix conforted students after the final exam

Final examination was given to students today. After lunch, students visited the Phoenix Pavilion in Uji-city which has been famous for its Green Tea. 30-min train ride brought them to the Pavilion on which the Phoenix could energize students. The Pavilion is somewhat familiar to everyone here because it has been curved on a 19-yen coin. It was over 95F yesterday and it was a bit cooler today yet more humid. The swift current on the Uji-river seemed to attract students to jump into the water. Next three days are long weekend here in Japan, so some will go to Tokyo, some will enjoy traditional Puppet theater, and some will enjoy themselves in Kyoto this final weekend of the Study Abroad Program.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Gion Festival Climax with its floats parade

Last three nights, center of Kyoto city provided so-called "Pedestrian Heaven" in which all the traffic were regulated to only pedestrians. All the floats were moving in the parade. Those floats don't have any steering wheels so they use bamboo trees and water to turn huge floats at each major intersection. Hot and humid day of over 95F re-reminds everyone here of Kyoto Summer. Language School teachers and some students went to a coffee shop to avoid "dehydration" and to re-energize themselves! Students will take final examination tomorrow before visiting the Phoenix Pavilion! Hope everyone do well!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Tigers won with the Crazy Foreign Cheer-Brigade

A group of students arrived in Koshien Stadium whose home team is local Osaka Hanshin Tigers leading the Central League way ahead this year. They got some food at the huge supermarket right in front of the Stadium and some students got cheering goods and even Tigers jersey shirts with player's name on it. They took highest bleacher seats and got ready for the game. During the game they became a friend of Japanese Tigers fans around them and began shouting, singing, booing, laughing, on and on. Japanese style of enjoying the professional baseball game in the stadium seemed to really impress them. Tigers won the game and everyone experienced the most excited and craziest moment. The specially packed train brought students back to Osaka (the train compartment wouldn't be able to take any more human in it!) before heading back to Kyoto where Gion Festival Eve were still in celebration mode!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Sushi making and Heian Jingu Shrine

Students had a chance to learn how to make sushi rolls today. They made some creative sushi rolls that they may not even try! Hopefully they can try making some after getting back to Chicago next week. After Sushi practice Heian Jingu Shrine was waiting for us. This shrine was built in 1894 as 1100-year anniversary of Kyoto as a capital of Japan (794-1868). Its garden has been one of the most famous Japanese gardens which can be enjoyed throughout a year. After walking through the garden in a hot and humid day, students visited Kyoto Handicraft Center where the official group activity was dismissed. Some went to the Pedestrian Heaven in Shijo area for the Gion Festival, some went to sing songs in Karaoke, etc. Occasional thunder and rain have been hitting Kyoto and festival mood has been watered!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Nan'zen'ji Temple through Eikan'do Zen'rin'ji Temple

Kyoto city subway took students to Nan'zenji Temple which is connected with Lake Biwa Canal area. A little rain called "Tohri Ame (or Passing Rain)" began on the way to Eikan'do Zenrinji Temple through Nan'zen'ji Temple. Students were quite lucky to stay in the Main Hall of Eikan'do while first heavy rain fall passed on them. After enjoying inside the Main Hall and its garden and graveyard, students rushed to the bus stop just in time for second heavy rain fall! Some went to the Gion Festival Night Pedestrian Heaven area where they can enjoy some festival floats and PEOPLE from all over Japan! Ahhhhh, only 10 days are left before returning to Chicago! They will continue to maximize their existence in Kyoto now!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Universal Studio and Osaka Modern-yaki

A little cheaper ticket allowed us to visit Universal Studio Japan in Osaka at 3:00pm. Since there was only one GTS loyalist showed up, GTS took care of admission tickets. As soon as being admitted, the out-door acrobat musical began right in front of us. Certainly the content was a lesson about Love, Family, Harmony in Nature, so Japanese narration was a good listening material for students. On the way back home, we stopped by at Hankyu Sanbaigai (underground food town in Umeda) to eat Osaka Special Modern-yaki (Yakisoba, or fried noodle, is sandwiched by Okonomiyaki, or Japanese pancake-like pizza) in one of the most famous restaurant in Osaka called "Boteju" Before thid dinner, we visited the Internet Cafe called "WIP" to see how they were operated. Yes, we all became a member and got a membership card!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Playing with monkeys at Mt.Iwata!

Students climbed up a small mountain called Mt. Iwata in which there was a monkey park on top. On the way to the top, many monkeys were running around students, some even touch them. There is a hut on the top from which people can feed monkeys outside the hut. It seems that monkeys are enjoying humans in the hut. Some monkeys were jumping into the carp pond to cool themselves down. Some even stay in the water with carp as if they were in the hot spring. From the top of the mountain entire city of Kyoto was clearly visible! Nice hot weather day passed very quickly while playing with monkeys!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Buddhist Scriputure Writing with "Sagano-meguri"

Students visited to Daikaku-ji Temple where students had a chance to write/trace a Buddhist scripture "Han'nya Shin'gyo" to pray whatever each student wished for. Daikaku-ji Temple and its famous garden and pond have been used for making movies in Kyoto. On the way from Daikaku-ji back to Randen Train station, students walked along so-called "Sagano-meguri" which was the winding trail road in the bamboo forest in which "Nison-in Temple" and "Nonomiya Shrine" were located. Those temples and shrines were all mentioned in well-known "Tale of Genji" by Lady Murasaki. Kyoto-city is celebrating this year as a 1000 year anniversary for "Tale of Genji." Though hot and humid weather continued, everyone walked over 13000 steps based on a pedometer that one student was equipped with!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Kurama Temple in the Mountain and Climbing over it!

After lunch break at the Eizan Train terminal area, 30-minute train ride took students into Mt. Kurama upon which "the great king of the conquerors of evil and the spirit of the earth" was believed to be descended from Venus, with the great mission of the salvation of mankind some 6 million years ago. The temple is located in the middle of the mountain to which winding road and tons of steps continue. Beyond the Kurama temple, everyone began climbing the Kurama mountain and went down to another side of the mountain, "Kibune" shrine famous for the deity of Water! 1.5-mile walk took students to the Eizan Train station "Kibune-guchi" from which they return to the city area! Everyone was soaked with his/her own sweat! The Japan Study Abroad program should offer some PE credits!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Zoo-ing in the World of Humidity!

After lunch break in the KIA school area, a city bus took us to the Heian Shrine Area. This area has Heian Shrine, Okazaki baseball ground, Kyoto City Museum, National museum of Modern Art, Kanze-kaikan for Noh Play, and the City Zoo where we visited. Oh, besides that, GTS's condo is located here and students walked through right in front of it! It was exactly the feeding time for all the animals there and students had some chances to see them. The youngest Japan monkey was born in April 27 and she is alsways with her Mom!! GTS loves zoos and holds yearly pass of this zoo as well as the Brookfield Zoo! Lake Biwa Canal Museum is located next to the zoo where students visited to learn a bit about the difficulty to bring drinking water from the Lake Biwa to Kyoto over the mountains! Sweaty humid day continued today. Hopefully everyone gets a little bit cooler experience tomorrow on top of the mountain! How can they get to? Of course, climbing and climbing!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Sliver Pavilion to Nyakuoji-shrine via Philosopher's Trail

July 7th is the famous Milky Way festival (Tanabata) on which Orihime and Hikoboshi can meet once a year on this day! Students had a chance to write their own wish on a small paper slip to put on the bamboo tree. 95F humid day challenged us again on the way to get to the Silver Pavilion. Students took the mountain side road to go south from the Silver Pavilion to Nyakuoji-Shrine through the Philosopher's Trail where all the Japanese famous philosophers from Kyoto University used to philosophize though students did nothing but fight against heat and sweat. Students spend exactly half way through in this program, which means that their physical stamina begins declining! Hopefully everyone continues to maximize their Japan's experience!!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

10-hour Bus round-trip for Hiroshima!

Summer Study Abroad program schedule was modified because of increasing fuel cost and losing value of dollars. Hiroshima peace study trip was completed with some host family members and KIA teachers and other regular students! The chartered bus left Kyoto at 7am and arrived in Hiroshima peace museum at 1pm just in time for scheduled A-bomb survivor's talk. On the way from Kyoto to Hiroshima, the bus stopped several Oasis for short breaks as well as for quick lunch. Though there was insufficient time for exploring the entire peace park including the actual A-bomb dome and hypo-center, visiting the peace museum itself was quite meaningful and striking for students to think about how they live towards their future which they are certainly in charge. Students were able to visit Miyajima-island by 10-minute ferry boat ride to see the huge Shinto Torii Gate standing/floating in the inland sea of Seto. Lowest tide gave the opportunity for students to actually walk to the Gate before visiting famous Itsukushima Shrine where they bump into the wedding parade! The return trip of 5-hour bus ride back to Kyoto was a little too much for students. Hopefully they can rest and recover on Sunday to be ready for another Hike on Monday, the visit to the Silver Pavilion in front of which GTS was born!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Rits dining hall and the Peace Museum!

It has been a while since Rits college cafeteria provided lunch for us. Hot and humid day causes a lot of sweat and took all the energy from students. The Museum person was waiting for us with a nice pamphlet and students began their own peace study which will continue tomorrow to Hiroshima, Museum provided the vast information about WWII, Vietnam War, A-bomb, Japanese citizen's life during the war. After observing the special exhibit of Anti-Vietnam War posters each student took their own way home. GTS with his daughter accompanied two students to visit GTS's uncle's mackerel sushi restaurant and then went to Izakaya for dinner together! It seems that this kind of hot and humid weather (over 95F) continues to the end of our program without much rain according to the weather forecast! Phew!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Kimono Show and Sweaty Castle!

The original plan has been changed today based on the weather forecast of rain near the eastern mountain area. After lunch 15-minute walk took students to Kyoto Nishijin Textile Center where they could enjoy Kyoto Kimono Fashion show and some souvenir shopping. Today was the most humid day since our arrival in Kyoto and long walk to the castle after leaving the Textile center had let students got soaked with their own sweat!! This is KYOTO SUMMER! On the way from the Textile center to Nijo Castle, the group stopped by at SEIMEI Shrine being famous for Shinto Exorcism practiced by Abe no Seimei. COD group has been actually quite lucky for not having real rainy days so far. The Hiroshima Trip is coming up this weekend and as a beginning of the peace study, the group will visit the Peace Museum attached to Ritsumeikan University. There have been the special exhibit of "Anti-Vietnam War Posters" there and this visit has been arranged by GTS as a Rits alumni association member from Chicago!!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Packed bus took us to greet 1001 Kannon statues!

Though the destination is located in south, the group headed north to get to the Kitaoji bus terminal for lunch break. The terminal is kind of center of northern Kyoto city area where you can find Kyoto city botanic garden as well as department stores and other restaurants. From the terminal a packed bus took us to Sanjusangen-do being famous for its 1001 statues of Kan'non, or Buddha of Mercy (shape of goddess). This temple is located 3 bus stops away from Kyoto Station and right in front of Kyoto National Museum. Over 30 minutes packed bus ride gave every student another opportunity of feeling "No More Bus!!!!" hahaha. Every student seems to need the protection of Mercy goddess!!!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Soaked with sweat after 1000s of stair steps (Fushimi)

Students had 1-hour lunch break in Demachi-Yanagi Sta. area where two rivers, Takano-river and Kamo-river, joined into one big Kamo-river, the major river in Kyoto city. The Keihan line took us to the Fushimi Inari Grand Shrine being famous for 1000s of mini-Torii gate under which paths and tons of steps continued to reach the top of the Inari-mountain from which the entire Kyoto-city was visible from the South side. Students went over the mountain and came down to another side of the bottom of the mountain where they could find the part of the Higashiyama (East Mountain) Trail Hiking Course along which they could get to Tofuku-ji temple. This trail connects the entire 36 mountains in the eastern side of Kyoto-city. Several students took a wrong way at the beginning of climbing up the Shrine hill and we lost a couple of students on the way down from the hill, though everyone could meet with each other at the end. Because of loss of a little time here and there we unfortunately couldn't enter Tofuku-ji temple.
One of students became 25 years old today and his host family held the birthday dinner and GTS was invited to the party where Sushi and Ayu-fish, etc. were served. Everyone followed how GTS ate and spent a little fun time before their completing the homework!! Beer? Oh, yes!!