Posted in Further Afield, Issues, Souvenirs

Out Sick

Image: http://thisjapaneselife.org

I used to only get sick once every February. Why that month, I have no idea. Then I started getting sick as the seasonas changed so once in October or November and once in March or April. Then 14.75 months ago my niece was born. And ever since she started going to “school,” I have been catching her sicknesses. I’ve caught something from her probably four times already this calendar year, including this past weekend when a visit took place. So, due to the fact that I cannot wait to put my head down on a pillow, pull many layers of blankets over me, and shut my eyes, this week’s post will be a short one. My apologizes – or you’re welcome – depending on the reader.

The Lecture: Getting sick while studying abroad can and probably will happen. Think about it. You are most likely trying to do and experience anything and everything. Eventually that can wear your body down, especially if you aren’t getting enough sleep or not wearing the right clothing. This is all common sense but while in a new environment where different and exciting things are happening and you want to – no, have to – be a part of it, common sense can be the first to vacate the premises. So try and keep your wits about you, drink plenty of (non-alcoholic) fluids, and remember that rest is actually important. Adrenaline can only take you so far and for so long before you crash.

A Cultural Snapshot: While in Japan I came across a new sight – people wearing surgical masks. I noticed them first on the train and then just out and about walking around. My first thought was that they were protecting themselves from other peoples’ germs. Then my Japanese friend, Indy, explained that they were the ones sick. They were wearing the masks to keep from infecting others.

What a great idea! I know I could do without shaking the hand of someone whom I just saw cough into the exact same hand. People just don’t think. Again, a lack of common sense and courtesy. I like the mask. It is more of a preventative measure than what I see around me here in the US, which is an (over)use of antibacterial hand gel. The gel is too far down the line of defense and is a more reactionary measure. The germs have most likely done their dirty work.

Stay healthy!

Posted in Further Afield

High Up in Nikko, Japan

Nikko Station

I realized that I’ve included some pictures from Japan in my Postcards but I haven’t actually written about my time there. No time like the present.

My cousin, Natalie, was teaching English just outside of Tokyo. I had recently graduated from college and was still searching for a job. I also had a leftover plane ticket – and by leftover I mean this was back when if you needed to cancel your trip, your ticket could be transferred for a small or non-existent fee. I’d had this ticket since my sophomore year of college for a spring break trip that didn’t happen. How many times was it transferred? I don’t know, but two years later I was able to tell my cousin yes when a trip to visit was suggested.

We (my cousin, her mom, her grandmother, and I) went up into the mountains to Nikko for a day trip. This was our last excursion and my last roll of film. I was aware of Mount Fuji, but I never really thought about Japan’s landscape in-depth. So I was more than pleasantly surprised to walk out of the train station (which had an Alpine feel to it) and see snow-covered mountains. Thus far most of what I had experienced on my short trip was in and around Tokyo.

Mountains of Nikko

The four of us made our way from the station up the road in search of Nikkō Tōshō-gū, a Shinto shrine. On the way we passed Shinkyo Bridge, a red bridge which belongs to another Shinto shrine Futarasan jinja. The bridge was being restored and was covered up but at this point in the trip I felt I had seen enough red bridges – kinda like the Celtic cross in Ireland, there’s only so many you can see until you feel you’ve seen them all. Then we entered the grounds of Rinnō-ji, a complex of Buddhist temples, and stopped at Sanbutsudō, the temple’s main building. Further up the moutainside and deeper into the forest was the complex of Nikkō Tōshō-gū.

Yōmeimon (gate), Nikkō Tōshō-gū

The thing that I found most remarkable about the shrines and temples was the detail. Everything was so ornate and colorful; even those structures being restored, which had been stripped of all color were beautifully intricate and powerful. Unfortunately, the quality of my camera wasn’t able to even come close to doing the buildings justice.

The Royal Stables was one of the more simplified structures. But who should I find there in elaborate carved panels lining the tops of the stable doors?  Sanzaru, of course! Mizaru, who sees no evil, Kikazaru, who hears no evil; and Iwazaru, who speaks no evil. Also at Nikkō Tōshō-gū is Nemuri Neko, the sleeping cat. We didn’t get to see him because he was undergoing some restoration.

Washcloth souvenir of the animals at Nikkō Tōshō-gū

The quiet around the complex, even with a large number of people visiting, was impressive. If you combine the history, the beauty, the craftsmanship, and the serenity, this place definitely had a magical quality to it. Visiting Nikko was by far my favorite stop of the entire trip.

On the forty minute walk back down to the city and the train station, the reality that my time in this wondrous country was coming to an end began to sink in. Japan was another one of those places that I never thought I’d travel to. So yay for my cousin teaching there, and yay for better airline ticketing rules, otherwise, I might not have been able to catch this glimpse of Japan.