Japan Summer Blog 2012
I've just awakened on Saturday morning--in Kyoto. Only 18 hours or so ago, we were sitting in the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs discussing the merits of using popular cultural references to engage our students in more serious inquiry with their Cultural Affairs bureau staff, and this morning we are preparing to see centuries old temples and shrines nestled in the mountainsides that surround Kyoto. We've all been saying what an amazing place Japan is.
In addition to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we were briefly back in the U.S. yesterday during our visit to the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. As we approached the Embassy, we were struck immediately by the contrasts between the American way of doing things and the Japanese way. The signs on the giant fence surrounding the embassy complex were as clear as can be: NO photos, NO loitering, NO entry without a search, NO electronic equipment inside. It was the first time since arriving that we had encountered such stringent rules. In Japan, there is a different way of ensuring that policies and procedures are followed. Like so many other things in Japan, there is nuance and subtlety and even a certain beauty I'm the way social order is ensured.
Our meetings at both the embassy and Ministry of Foreign Affairs focused on the role of education in building bridges between the U.S. and Japan. There is concern that the number of Japanese students traveling to the U.S. has declined over the years, and concern from the Japanese that too many American students are interested in Japan only because of its popular cultural and not its "real" history or cultural. That's why we were talking about pedagogy and popular cultural yesterday afternoon.
After our appointments in Tokyo were concluded, we walked back through the labyrinthine metro system to find the right train line (Tokyo has 26 of them!) to take us to Tokyo Station, where we caught our bullet train (the Shinkansen train) to Kyoto. The train moves fast, but it's a very smooth ride. Upon arrival in Kyoto and check in T our hotel (another Japanese-style inn), we met up with our guide, Kenzo, for a tour of the Gion District of Kyoto. Gion is the geisha district and we did see two practicing geisha arriving for a party at a tea house. Despite what many people think, geisha are not prostitutes or escorts, they are party hostesses and entertainers who train for a minimum of five years (the Maiko stage) to learn traditional dances, music, and ways of dress. Our walk through the Gion District culminated at a large Shinto shrine, Yasaka-Jinja, which was built in 1654. The shrine is a large complex of buildings with many small alters and hundreds of beautiful Japanese lanterns. Kenzo showed us all how to properly purify ourselves to enter the shrine using the water and ladles at the main gate, and then demonstrated the worship ritual.
By this time, it was getting late, so we headed back by taxi to the main part of the city, where Kenzo took us to an "omen" restaurant. Omen are a type of noodles, and the meal-like all of the ones we've had in Japan-was wonderful. We'll spend today with Kenzo again, visiting many of the major shrines, temples, and other sights in Kyoto.
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