Kimono in Tokyo: A Photographic Account

This weekend I trekked to Tokyo to see the gorgeous cherry blossoms open throughout the city. The opening of the blossoms and the changing of the seasons are very symbolic in Japan.

During this time of year, there are many special ceremonies and cultural events. One of them is called ohanami (お花見), where friends, family, or groups of people will lie out a tarp and enjoy food and drinks under the blossoming cherry trees. While most people will wear normal clothes, some Japanese wear traditional clothing for this traditional event.

It was interesting to see traditional Japanese clothing and traditional Japanese events happen in one of the world’s most modern cities this weekend. Here is a photographic essay documenting what I saw this weekend at various parks and shrines across the city.

Saturday started off at the famous Asakusa Shrine where hoards of Japanese and tourists alike assembled to take in one of Japan’s most famous sites. While incense burned, two women walked through the crowd on their way to pray at the shrine. Their brightly colored kimono stood out from the rest of the crowd.

Asakusa

From here, I continued onward to another famous park in Tokyo, Kuritsu Sumida Park, directly across the river from Tokyo Sky Tree, Japan’s tallest building. Along the river, children played, families took a stroll in the warm morning and afternoon breeze, and many people enjoyed hanami. Amongst the mayhem there were many kimono and many beautiful cherry blossoms. Almost as soon as I arrived, this image of a woman and her daughter caught my eye. Their kimono were beautiful!

Kimono Best

As I continued down the walkway, more Kimono were visible. Friends and family alike were dressed up for this special occasion.

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Some younger girls in kimono were even interviewed for a television program.

Interview

From here, I went to a few more parks and gardens, namely Shinjuku Gardens and Koishikawa Botanical Gardens, but there were no kimono, just countless beautiful flowers. After these stops I stopped at Kita no Maru Park and encountered a few more women wearing kimono.

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The day was waining but spirits were high. One more stop remained on my itinerary.  The last stop of the day proved to have the day’s best imagery.

One of Japan’s most famous and most controversial sites is Yusukuni Shrine, which is the shrine dedicated to Japan’s war dead. The shrine in the heart of the Chiyoda Ward offers some of Tokyo’s best cherry blossom viewing opportunities. After a long walk through a massive festival with live bands and street food, I arrived at the shrine to see some of the flowers. On the right, something special caught my eye.

Japanese men and women were dressed in traditional clothing performing a special dance inside the shrine grounds. I stood there and watched it for over 20 minutes. Here is what I saw.

Shrine Dance 1 Shrine Dance 2

Shrine Dance 3

Three women were dressed in beautiful kimono and performed synchronized dances while a traditional Japanese band strummed shamisen and beat taiko drums. It was an interesting sight to behold and I will be uploading a video at a later point.

Shrine 2

As the performance closed and daylight wained, I had one more chance encounter with a kimono. Through the sunset and the cherry trees, this woman’s kimono stuck out from the rest of the crowd.

Sunset

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Japanese Temple Projection Mapping Show

Take a journey through one of Japan’s most famous temples courtesy of this spectacular projection mapping light show at the 2015 Sapporo Snow Festival in Sapporo, Japan. Taken with a GoPro Hero 3.

Rendezvous Week – Old Friends in New Places

I have enjoyed the bulk of my time liven gin Japan and Asia since I arrived in Kobe this August. I’ve made some new friends, experienced some great things, and gone to tons of new places. Most of this journey has been fun, but this week has been the most enjoyable week yet.  This week has been “rendezvous week” for me, as I have met two friends from Philadelphia in Kobe throughout the course of the week. 

The three of us have had delicious meals sampled amazing Japanese food, and enjoyed our fair share of conversations and hot sake. I am very glad we were able to rekindle our friendship a half a world away from where it started. 

Today marked another kind of rendezvous which I enjoyed very much. Two summers ago, I attended a language school in Calfironia which was one of the most demanding and rewarding experiences of my educational life. For eight weeks, I used zero English. Throughout those trials and tribulations, amazing, new, friendships were made as we all struggled to make it through the grueling coursework and language study. Ever since that school and my study abroad experience in 2011, I have been amazed by how “small” the Japanese-speaking foreigner community is in terms of running into each other all around the country and the world. It seems like I always have a friend from language school either visiting Japan or coming here to study abroad. 

Today, I met up with one of my best friends from language school in Osaka. He is in Japan for the week visiting some friends and doing sightseeing and we were fortunate to have free time to meet in Osaka this afternoon. It was so great to see him and speak about where our lives are going, rekindle lost memories from language school and chat about the past. As I said, “it was a long way from Lancaster,” the place where we last met while he was still in school. 

We enjoyed some delicious ramen in the heart of Osaka and also had a photograph taken in front of the famous Glico advertisement in one of the busiest parts of the city. It was great to explore the city I know rather well with an old friend from so far away. 

I’ve said it a million times, but I will say it once again: going to language school was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done on so many levels. I am sure we will meet in Japan again this summer when he returns. There is nothing like having old memories come to life when you speak about such formative and transformative experiences like language school. 

The lesson of the story here is that you never know when you will run into people whom you’ve met over the years and your certainly don’t know when you will rekindle old friendships and relationships. Always keep an open schedule and be flexible. These moments are often fleeting, but I am enjoying this week. 

 

Off to Southeast Asia on Saturday, but I have one more rendezvous in store tomorrow!

More posts to come as time allows!

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Street Food, the Best Food

Street Food, the Best Food

Living in Japan, sampling delicious street food, trying new and exciting foods, and sometimes bartering for a better price gradually becomes a way of life. Yesterday I went to Kyoto and returned to Arashiyama to take in some of the famed autumn leaves as they change from green to vivid shades of red, yellow, and orange.

When we arrived in Arashiyama, just west of Kyoto, we noticed how amazing and beautiful the koyo (紅葉)were. The vividness of the leaves, boats on the river, and people watching were memorable and I will post about the day at a later date.

The one image that will stick with me from the trip to Arashiyama is sampling some of the abundant street food. This stand, offering yakitori, corn, and hot dogs, was the most lively. Between bartering, flipping the yakitori, and selling their products, this Japanese family sure worked hard. Sampling street food is a part of everyone’s life in Japan. This photo captures some of the energy at this food stand.

Street food is the best food.

Speaking Japanese in… Hong Kong?

One of the first things that comes to mind when you think of communication in Hong Kong is most likely the British legacy of the English Language. I will certainly admit the English ability in Hong Kong was a major plus and benefit for someone like me in Hong Kong. If I said I used more Japanese than English on one evening in Hong Kong, I am sure you would be surprised. I certainly was, too.  The ability to speak Japanese in Hong Kong is another experience about my time in Hong Kong I will not readily forget. 

This unlikely evening all started when my friend and I made our way from our hotel to the Victoria Peak Tram station located near Hong Kong Park on Hong Kong Island. We were there to take in the view from Victoria Peak. Once we passed through the turnstile, we saw the long line and were a little annoyed with how long the wait to ride the tram and get to the top of the peak would take. Image

Waiting to go to Victoria Peak. © Erik Jacobs, 2013. erikabroad.com

After waiting for about ten minutes, something very unique caught my ear. I heard a language that was certainly not English and most definitely not Cantonese coming. The two girls in line in front of us were either speaking Japanese or Korean, we thought, so I tuned in to find out what they were speaking. After a few seconds, we instantly recognized they were speaking Japanese and listened in to the discussion for a little bit. These girls had come from a place between Osaka and Tokyo and happened to be in Hong Kong just for the weekend to do some shopping and sightseeing. After a little bit of deliberation, I decided that I would just go up to them and ask the following question: すみません。日本人ですか。(Excuse me. Are you Japanese?)

We certainly knew they were Japanese, but I always like to ask Japanese people I see abroad in their mother tongue. The reactions I get, as a taller white male with light hair and light eyes are always fascinating. They just turned around and looked at us with a look of befuddlement. I am sure they were thinking whether or not we actually knew Japanese or just were joking around with them. After a brief discussion about Japan and our travels to Hong Kong, we boarded the tram together and went to the top of Victoria Peak as a group of four. 

One of the nice things about traveling alone or with one or two friends is that you always meet interesting people whenever you travel. Whether it is at Acadia National Park, a roadside diner in Vermont, a rest stop in New Hampshire, at the Subway in Quebec City, or on the hard benches at an airport, I have met some fascinating people on my travels. The exception here is this was the first time I ever met some fellow travelers who did not speak any English. This was certainly a different dynamic, but one certainly worth exploring. 

After about five minutes of chatting, I realized I was having no problems and there was almost no language barrier. I was so grateful that I studied at Middlebury the previous summer and continued to study Japanese each night in my free time because those opportunities opened up so many doors for new friends, acquaintances, and conversations. Our new friends helped us take photos and provided some nice company for the evening atop the tower at Victoria Peak. 

One of the bonuses that goes with studying language is that you never know when you will have to use your other language. This time it happened to be in Hong Kong, of all places. I was grateful to have made some new friends for the evening as well getting in some solid Japanese conversation. From travel to college majors to interests and thoughts on the scenery at Victoria Peak, we were able to discuss things in Japanese with no difficulty. Certainly a moment I will never forget. 

There’s just one catch to this whole story: they bid farewell in English at the end of the night. 

All I can say is that if you are studying a foreign language right now, do not give up and keep pushing yourself. I push myself each night in anticipation of the next unexpected moment when I can use my Japanese ability. The moment is often magical and unforgettable. I went to Hong Kong and ended up speaking Japanese for a whole evening. I never would have conjured up this situation in my wildest dreams, let alone three years ago when I did not speak a word of the language. 

Had I never taken Japanese studies seriously, I know I would not have had the chance to engage in a conversation like this outside of English. Keep studying. The end result will be worth all of your effort!

Have you ever had an experience like this? 

 

 

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A Kimono in Kyoto

A Kimono in Kyoto

I took this stunning photo on a bridge in Arashiyama, just west of Kyoto, Japan, on Saturday, October 12, 2013. The scenery at this location was truly remarkable, but having the chance to take this candid photo truly made my day. The perfect peach color of her kimono and the bow coupled with the mountainous scenery makes this a photo I will never forget. Erik Jacobs (c) 2013

Japanese Sports Day (体育会)

This weekend, my junior high school in Kobe had its sports day festival (体育会 in Japanese), which is something unlike any event that I have ever seen or witnessed in the United States. For those of you who went to school in the US, imagine something along the lines of field day and combine that with pomp and circumstance and traditional games and activities. The whole day is something I will never forget. 

For the past three weeks, my school and my students had tirelessly practiced, rehearsed, and reviewed for Saturday’s festivities. I did not understand why so much preparation was going into the event, but after witnessing it all unfold, I have such a great appreciation for all of the sacrifices that were made in the weeks prior to the sports festival. 

The whole day started very early on Saturday as I joined other teachers in setting up the seating for parents and neighbors out on the dirt school yard. Once that was finished, the opening ceremony and other festivities finally began. All of the homerooms made their own flags and marched in formation around the “track” on our school yard. As the students marched, Western-style military marches were played to help the students keep in step. It was a remarkable thing to see. Everyone was in step and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. 

Once the opening ceremony was finished, the games began. From relay races to traditional dances, I enjoyed watching the games even though I did not understand what was happening at all times throughout the day. Prior to lunch, our students did some amazing human formations during what is called kumitaiso 組体操。The students made certain synchronized body movements with their hands and arms and then continued on to make human pyramids and towers. No one fell and no one complained about being on the bottom of the pyramids; I will not forget watching it all unfold. 

Following a traditional Japanese bento lunch, I returned to the school ground and was asked to participate in the traditional game they call kibasen (騎馬戦). I was thrilled to be asked by some of the students to participate and willingly joined along for this game. Kibasen is a game where three people hoist a fourth person into the air and walk around the school yard, with the actions and movements mimicking those of a person riding a horse. Once all teams have one of their members atop the “horse,” the teams charge towards each other, with the end goal of removing the hats from opposing teams. I will never forget being a part of such a traditional and enjoyable activity like this. I spoke with many other people who are teaching English in similar situations across Japan and none of them had the opportunity to participate in games outside of the relay, let alone kibasen! I am grateful for this opportunity and will never forget taking part in the game!

My experience with kibasen and being a part of sports day was memorable and is something I will never forget. Everything from the perfect weather the synchronized marches and the traditional games made this an unreal experience on all levels. It was also great to meet many of my students’ parents, as well. 

Below is a photo of me taking part in the kibasen game with some of my students. とても楽しかったです!

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The Itch to Learn Another Language

The one thing I feared most about traveling to Korea this weekend has begun to manifest itself in my thoughts this evening: I think I want to learn some Korean. While, on the surface, this may not seem like a bad thing, or even a worrisome point, it is very dangerous for me given all of the hard work I have put towards learning Japanese over the past two years. 

When I first came to Japan and started learning it two years ago, I had no idea what I was doing when it came to formal language study. I studied Spanish in high school, was good at it, but dif not find it challenging enough so I ceased studying it when I was in college. On study abroad, we were required to take a language class so I took Japanese with the intention of only studying it for one semester and calling it a day at my university because I had met the language requirement. Two years, a summer language school, and a return trip to Japan later, I think there is no doubt that I fell in love with studying Japanese and the nuances that accompany learning a new language so radical and different than Western languages, let alone English. The instant feeling of helplessness and being lost I experienced in Japan back in January, 2011, re-emerged as I stepped onto the bus which would take us from the plane to the airport in Busan, South Korea. 

There I sat on the bus in Korea, speaking Japanese with some new friends I made on the plane, staring at a sign with no idea how to read it. I even had less of an idea of what the sign meant aside from having what appeared to be a singing group pictured on it. From that moment on, I tried to absorb as much of the Korean I saw on the train as quickly as possible. The same goes for common words or phrases I heard inside of stores or in the open air markets which are sprinkled all throughout Busan and Seoul. What is this Hangul? How is it read? What does the ad mean? – Those were very common questions I asked my Korean friends. 

It was so frustrating for me to be silent when ordering something at the convenience store, but it was even more frustrating to not have the ability to read a sign. That is what frustrated me the most. 

And so the desire to learn a third language begun. 

Following lunch with my friend, I said a few words in Korean and even read some Romanized names on the train as we headed back to Seoul Station. She said my pronunciation was very good, which encouraged me to study some more Korean hen I returned to Japan. 

 

This poses two obvious problems for me.

Firstly, where will I get the time to dedicate myself towards another language, especially when I have devoted so much time and energy to Japanese. 

Secondly, I am very afraid that if I start learning another language, I will lose much of my Japanese ability and Japanese skills that I have developed over the last two years in very intensive studies. 

Many of My Korean and Japanese friends say that the grammar is similar between the two languages. They also say that some vocabulary is shared, too. I just worry about forcing out the Japanese I have learned in lieu of a rudimentary level of Korean studies. 

Have you studied a third language? If so,  how was your experience?