Tuesday, October 31, 2006

I think this video is pretty self-explanatory, but I'll be happy to field any further questions.

p.s. remember to look below at the previous pictures and videos, if you haven't been here in awhile. arigatooo!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

More Kyoto!!

Continued from Day one :
These first four pictures are still from Ginkakuji Temple and its garden areas. These trees on the mountain just looked so surreal to me. The hill was very steep so even though this picture is 'straight' on, it looks like I was pointing the camera up. All I know is these are very different forests from the ones I am used to.

This is part of the sand garden. I still don't understand how they stay so perfect. You would think the wind would startle them, but I suppose people spend hours raking and perfecting these gardens. It was impressive, thats for sure.

This was part of the temple, looking in either direction out into the sand gardens surrounding it. I just thought it was a neat little room.

This is the entry way into the temple grounds. The first thing Ian said when he saw the giant hedges was "Wow- this really reminds me of Harry Potter". Meaghan, you would have been proud! Haha

And Finally - We move onto day 2!!

These fist couple pictures are from a place called Heian-jingu, and it is a shine complex. Though they are not originals, they are replicas 2/3rds the size of the original Kyoto Gosho. They were built in 1895 to commemorate the 1100th anniversary of the founding of Kyoto.
They were pretty impressive to look at, but thats about all you could do here, so we moved on fairly quickly - there was too much more to see!

The rest of the pictures posted here are from Nanzen-in and Nanzen-ji. This was possibly our favorite spot while we were there. The Garden, Temple, and surrounding trails and sub-temples were just stunningly beautiful. Its the kind of place the just feel serene. It began as a retirement villa for an emporer and was dedicated as a zen temple when he died in 1291, making it over 700 years old. The grounds were massive, and we ended up spending almost the entire day in this area.
This first picture is a shot of the entry way and the building is called San-Mon: you can tell they really like to build big around here.

This is just one of the many sub-temples that spotted the area. You weren't allowed access to all of them, but they were amazing to look at non-the-less.

This shot if from the garden inside Nanzen-in and I can't begin to tell you how much the shot does NOT do it justice. The pond is heart shaped and has carp swimming through it. There are paths that wind all the way around and up into the mountains where you can hike. Ian and I took advantage of the paths and hiked the the top before we came back down to sit and enjoy the surroundings.

This last picture is from inside Nanzen-ji. Ian called this a perfect dining room and I have to agree. The room is so simple, and the sliding doors open up onto the most beautiful little garden and pond. Again, the picture doesn't nearly do it justice but it was amazing. I would definitly love to eat dinner there every night!

The lesson you should take from today's post - Kyoto is amazing, but it is a million times better in person....therefore - COME VISIT!!!! Free personal tour guides?! Come on...who can say no to that?!

Anyways, there are still a few more shots from this area, and about a hundread more to come after that, so stay tuned!!

I Love you and Miss you alllll!!!!!


Monday, October 23, 2006

Kyoto Day 1 Video

If the the video does not appear in the box above, please try the following link:

Here's part one of the trip to Kyoto. On the first day we visited Ginkakuji (the silver pavillion), and later in the evening we explored the Kyoto train station, which itself is a work of modern art.

Editor's Notes:

The video is a bit shakey in ginkakuji, but you get the impression of the place. In one part you will see a display of many different kinds of moss. Some of them were labelled VIP- and infact, they did look quite impressive as far as moss goes. You can't see much, but I included this anyway because the entire grounds were covered by moss, and I think this is important to the shinto belief that everything is alive. If you're not interested in eastern religions, replace the word "Shinto" with "Jedi", and read as "The Jedi belief that everything is part of the force." It's essentially the same religion, as far as I can tell....not to offend any Shintoists out there, I just don't know anything more about it. Point is, the whole garden is so green and alive, as you walk through it you feel like it's breathing and growing with you.

Kyoto Eki is really quite an impressive building, although many locals protested it when it was first errected; calling it an eyesore in the middle of a beautiful traditional city. On the contrary, I was quite impressed with Kyoto station. Down the middle, an endless line of escalators carry you up a whole 14 floors from ground level. At night, many people were sitting on the roof top where there is an open air bamboo garden, and a small patch of lawn. The station is filled with large bizarre curving shapes, and is mostly open to the sky. I think it is a good example of the harmony of the modern world with ancient tradition, which I think Japan pulls off so well. It also incorporates the natural world with the constructed human world, an ideal that Kyoto pulls off perfectly. As you will see in future episodes, the city is a wonderful harmonization of these opposites, and that is what made it such an intriguing city to me.


P.s. Please see Tara's pictures below if you haven't already!

Kyoto: Part 1 of Day 1

So as you all know, on Wednesday we headed out on our first real adventure - to KYOTO! We decided that we would take the local trains instead of the Shinkansen (bullet train) because it would save us some money. Unfortunately for us, the Shinkansen may be more expensive, but it makes up for it by being easier. We lost a fair bit of time in our first day because we didn't know how the local trains worked. Then when we finally did arrive, I decided to take the map and direct us to our hotel. Anyone who knows my sense of direction will immediatlyask...ummm...why???? So I got us lost for a bit but eventually Ian took the map and we were at the Hotel in no time. Unfortunatly by then it was around 2 and most sites close around 4 or 5. But we headed out anyways, in search of the silver temple that isn't really silver (Ginkakuji Temple).

Ginkakuji Temple was absolutely gorgeous. The temple itself was impressive but the grounds with all the gardens were the real appeal. It was built as a retirment villa for Yoshimasa and established as a Zen temple in 1482.

There is a waterfall in behind me, though it didn't turn out in the picture.

You will notice that everything is still super green, despite the fact that it is mid October. Apparently fall here doesn't really start until around November. I ceertainly won't complain about that! We were a bit disapointed though, because people kept telling us the 2 best times to visit were in the fall when the leaves change, and in the spring when the cherry trees bloom.
I guess we will just have to go back!!

From the main grounds there is a path winding up into the mountains: When we reached the top there was a beautiful view of the city. Unfortunatly because the sun was setting on it, none of the city shots turned out great.

The sun did help make for a few other impressive shots though! Actually if you recal from from the previous post, the Rivendale looking picture is from this same location.

Though the temple itself was probably the least impressive of the ones we saw, the grounds more than made up for it. This was one of my favorite places we saw.

These sand gardens were so impressive. We kept seeing them everywhere, and I can only imagine the effort and time that goes into making them look so perfect.

I have a few more shots from Ginkakuji which I will post soon. As I said before, we have about 200 pictures, and Blogger is picky about how many they will let us put up at a time. Enjoy these one though, and there will be lots more soon! Ian is also working on editing his video which he will do in 3 parts, so there is still lots left to see.

I miss everyone!!!

Love Tara

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Kyoto: The Trailer Version.....

Just a little teaser from our trip to Kyoto: The greatest place on earth
With 204 pictures and about 50 minutes of video it might take us a while to put together some comprehensive posts. But don't fret, we are working diligently on them!!

Keep in mind that all who come visit us will have the pleasure of seeing this amazing land in person!!

Some things to look forward to:

Sanjuusangendo (1001, 100 armed golden buddhas: Though no pictures were allowed inside, the grounds themselves were amazing) -

Ginkakuji Temple (The Silver Pavilion): We felt like we were in Rivendale from Lord of the Rings. Seriously - I didn't know such places existed in real life -

Higashiyama Mountians (Yes, there is a monkey park in the mountains): quite possibly the cutest creatures I have ever seen! -

Alright, thats all for now, but remember, there is LOADS more to come!!!

I miss you all!

Love Tara!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Like an Asian Clarke Kent

Until more recently, I hadn't received the usual "Are you part Asian?" question, however it did finally happen twice last week. Then again yesterday I had the more inconspicuous but closely related "Did you die your hair?" The question came out of the blue, and I took it to mean "How did you make your Asian hair less black?" Perhaps I'm reading into it a bit much, but it doesn't change the first two questions:
- Are you maybe oriental?
- I thought maybe one of your parents is Asian decent?
So, there's the proof - while not as blunt as the infamous schoolyard kid who yelled "Hey Chinese guy! Pass the ball!" - EVEN Japanese people suspect that I'm at least PART Asian.

For those of you who haven't known me for that long, understand that this is an ongoing theme for me. Every couple months or so somebody (sometimes people I don't know, other times close friends) ask me about my Asian heritage, or refer to me as being part-Asian. Of course, I have been known to go along with this, sometimes embellishing on made-up family background. For example, at my highschool graduation dance I wore a kimono (as made by mom!). As my good friend Tim Golem is fond of saying..."You know Ian....you're really not helping this people-thinking-you're-Asian thing by walking around in a kimono."

The other presumed aspect to my identity (at least my secret identity), is of course Clarke Kent. The more dedicated readers of this site will recall the "You look-a like Clarke Kent-o" anecdote from a few weeks ago. Other friends may recall Justyna drawing this connection in highschool (although Claire was more fond of calling me Austin....as in Powers), and Jen from Cafe One calling me Superman.
Today marked the fourth unprovoked Kent-comment when an Aussie Nova Instructor in the elevator asked me if I had ever been told that I look like Clarke Kent.

I don't know what it is about that damn elevator, but it sure brings out the mild-mannered news reporter in me.

In less pointless news today:
Of course, since I haven't written anything about NOT going to Kyoto, this will not come as a great relief to you, but let me assure you that the last few days have been a struggle through red tape and fax machines.
Wednesday I am scheduled to work. Tara has this day off. To take this Wednesday off, I had to find somebody to cover the shift for me, in exchange for working one of their shifts the following week. This WAS taken care of, but unfortunately the guy covering my shift backed out before signing the agreement. Since the paperwork is supposed to be in 3 days in advance of your shift, the trip to Kyoto was in temporary jeopardy. It took me 2 days of calling other schools to finally find somebody else to cover the shift. Fortunately my manager was understanding and allowed the swap on short notice.
SO, to Kyoto we go on Wednesday. 2 nights, and 3 days, in what's supposed to be one of the most beautiful cities in Japan; absolutely packed with ancient temples, heritage, geisha, and all other things Japanese.

Final comment, for those of you who know and like Justin Sanchez, you'll be happy to know that I spoke to him briefly today. He is safe and enjoying the beaches in Fiji!

Ok, that's all for now!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Ticket to Ride

Sorry, long time no post.

I've been spending a lot of my free time trying to learn Japanese. It's coming along, slowly but surely. Every day when I go to work I tell the Japanese staff something new (I can say some essentials like "I'm going to Kyoto next week", or "I want to go to bed", or "I want to drink beer"), and get them to correct my pronounciation.

Oh, some more about work, since we never fully explained how the business works:
Students pay for "points" up front, and can then use these points to book into lessons on their own time. So students don't have regular schedules, they just come to lessons when they feel like it. The schedule is constructed based on whoever books in to class, people are grouped by their ability. The average lessons costs about 3000 yen, which is about 30 bucks, which is probably too much for a 40 minute lesson. Some people come to class all the time, meaning they actually spend more on English lessons in one year than a year of university costs in Canada. Ouch! That's a LOT of YEN!!! The nice thing, is that you get to meet a wide range of people, and you mostly see a few different people every day.

The dreadfully boring part of the lesson is that all lessons are written out for you in a series of manuals. Particularly in the lower level lessons, the "teacher" might as well be a voice recording. In the higher level lessons there's more room to be creative, and have a discussion on interesting topics... correcting grammar, or helping with vocabulary where necessary. Still some of the lower lessons can be fun too. Yesterday I had a woman explain to me how to make mashed sweet potato cakes. They sound pretty tasty! People are always surprised when I tell them that I cook. But we got to exchange recipes for awhile, so that was fun.

Hardest word/phrase I've had to explain so far: " The moral implications of cybernetic implants". Yeah....this actually appeared in a listening exercise. Fortunately I took a course on Biomedical Ethics, so I'm used to explaining these things.... but even so...haha, that was a challenge.
Other more surprisingly difficult words: "deserve". This shows up in a lesson on congractulating people. By the 3rd time I taught the lesson, I had devised a scheme for explaining it: I drew 3 faces on a piece of paper. 1. he's always late for work. 2. He never works hard. 3. She's always on time, and works hard. She deserves the promotion. This is always received with a chorus of understanding "Ohhhhhhhh....". It's a great satisfaction when you make them realize a difficult concept.

I have been brushing up on my Canadian history too. They are so interested in other cultures, and most people here are Australian, Brittish, or American. So, getting to be the sole Canadian ambassador at my school, I feel I should at least KNOW what I'm talking about when I say that Canada was settled by both Brittish and French colonies.
It's also interesting what people know about Canada:

*Student: "Laurentian is a famous place for viewing the leaves changing colour."
Me: "Umm...really? I had pencil crayons called 'Laurentian,' when I was younger... I guess it's famous for colourful things."

*Student: "Many young girls want to get married in Green Gables."
Me: "...... like.......Ann of Green Gables?"
Student: "Yes, it's very popular with young girls, and some of them want to grow up and be married there."
Me: "I did not know that."

And the thing that's really unfortunate about the school is that we're "not allowed" to meet up with students outside of class. At least, we're not allowed to give out personal information, or invite them to do anything. This is most obviously done because the company is afraid that if students made friends with English speakers, they would stop coming to lessons.
So, we meet many interesting people, but we're really not allowed to get to know them personally, which is a shame since they are so curious about us and where we're from, and we really want to know about them and Japan.
The non-teaching staff at schools consists of Japanese people with fairly good English communication ability. We ARE allowed to hang out with them, however it's supposed to be part of their job to keep an eye on teachers...make sure we're not stealing students from the school. So there's a touch of Orwellian overwatching, and an air of nervous mistrust in the school, until you get to know people better. Fortunately, many of the Japanese staff really don't LIKE working for the company, and thus don't care much about the rules.

Anyway, all in all it's not too hard of a job, and it pays pretty well. Living is comfortable in our apartment, and we can easily travel to many great cities nearby. You see a lot of cool things just walking around here too. Yesterday while walking to work I passed a couple buskers playing possibly the best cover of Ticket to Ride, that I've ever heard. Next week, we're going to Kyoto, and will have many new pictures and stories to share!
Anyway, check back soon, and we'll try to post some more pictures and sights.


Friday, October 06, 2006

The "One Month" Mark

Yup, thats right folks. It has been a whole long month since we got to Japan (Well a month and a week if you want to be picky). People here have been telling us that this is the point where we will start to hate it, but if we can get over this slump we will be fine.
Technically, things haven't really been too bad here lately. We are finally starting to make some friends and get out with people more, and we aren't getting lost 'quite' as much as we used to. My Japanese is even improving!! I can now count, intoduce myself, ask what something is, and how much it costs! Wooo. Its a start at least.
Our first paycheque is inches away now (yes - we STILL haven't gotten paid) and let me tell you, that paycheque will be a gift from the gods. I think money has been the most frustrating thing. Nova not informing you that you don't get paid for 6 weeks, then saying they will give you an advance, only to have to wait 3-4 weeks before you see it! And the bank seems simply to not like Ian nor I. Neither of us can figure out how to work our bank cards....we aren't that hopeless! So yeah, even when we actually HAVE a bit of money, we can't figure out how to access it! Ahhh - soon that all will change. Friday the 13th is our LUCKY day!!!

If you recall, when Ian and I were training there was a 3rd person - Jeff - also training with us. We all really hit it off and hung out a bit, back in the day. Then we parted ways and realized we had no way to contact each other. As luck would have it, Jeff moved out of his Nova 'apartment' and into the same building as us. He went to the building office asking if he could post a flyer saying IAN AND TARA: I AM IN FREEBELL. WHERE ARE YOU?? or something to the like...anyways, the staff thought it was weird and just told him our apt #, and now we have a friend!! Hahaha. Its great.

Unfortunatly we don't have anything really 'interesting' to post right now, because we have had a quiet 2 weeks. A combination of no money and a reappearing cold have kind of zapped our options as well as our energy. However that said - next week we are reeealllllly hoping to make it to Kyoto! Our first major outing! We are both very excited, and I promise every one there will be a massive amount of pictures and video coming your way after that trip.

Anyways, I just thought I would post to say hi and tell everyone that I miss them and we have not forgotten about you!!! I hope everyone is having a great Thanksgiving, and I wish I could be there celebrating with you all.

Lots and lots of Love

Monday, October 02, 2006

Inuyama Part III: The Final Installment

Ooooooh, more shots from up on the balcony of Inuyama Jo.
Alright, I guess it was windy up there. It made me a little nervous, because the guard rails only came up to my knees.

There's a cute little mountain over my shoulder, on the other side of the Kiso River. Here I'm kneeling down to hold onto the guard rail.
Later you'll see a very interesting demonstration on this same river!

Aww...CUTE, non? We're the poster-couple for the castle real-estate market.

Tired of houses in convenient locations? Do you have billions of yen lying around that you don't know what to do with? Thinking of upgrading into a stylish and priceless world heritage site protected by UNESCO? We may have the ancient Japanese Castle for you!

COOL! Samurai armour!!! I used to have ninja turtle toys with these same outfits.
Unfortunately, ancient Japanese people were even smaller than their modern day descendants, so I don't think any of the armour would have fit me.

Later that night, down by the river....
This was an awesome experience that you just have to watch:

It's called "ukai" in Japanese. It's a traditional form of fishing using cormorants. The birds swim out in front of the boat and swallow whole the sweetfish that are drawn to the burning pine in the hanging metal basket in front of the boat. The fishing master reels the cormorants in by the ties around their necks, tugging just hard enough that the birds can't swallow, but not so hard that he chokes them.

He then has the birds regurgitate the fish into the boat. It was an incredibly unique experience, and a first hand look at a very old Japanese tradition (the practice is around 300 years old). The hanging bonfire reflecting against the water made for a mesmerizing site, and the stream of sparks flowing out behind the boat made it look like a magic ship.