Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Bumming around

Hey all. Sorry we haven't posted in a while. We've taken a bit of a break since the holidays ended. But, we brought it back into full swing this past weekend, taking a 2 day trip to the cities of Kyoto and Nara, which are basically the two older, "more cultural" cities in this part of Japan. On Sunday, we got off to an early start and made it to Kyoto around noon to watch a Japanese archery competition! I was thinking about Robin Hood constantly, with all the banners, bows and old-style attire. It was very interesting because this style of archery is very different from any other I've seen. These types of bows are much longer above the handle than below, and the archers have a very specific way of drawing and firing the bows.

Here are some of the bystanders, taking a rest along this buddhist temple. Nearby, there were many food venders. Kendra got a baked potato and I got a okinomiaki. I'm not sure if I'm spelling that right, but most of you wouldn't know anyway. It's basically a savory cabbage pancake with various meats and vegetables in it, covered in a brown tangy sauce, tuna flakes and seaweed. Trust me, it's actually quite good, despite the description.

Here are some of the women archers preparing to fire. They position the arrow, then lift the bow wall above their heads, hold it out in front of them and pull back the string as they lower it. When they fire, their arms snap straight backward. Katherine, our local fulbright friend, who has actually learned to do this style of archery, said that if they don't snap their arm back, the arrow won't go anywhere. You can't tell from this photo, but the targets are quite far away. I'd say at least a 100 yards. As I said, it reminded me of Robin Hood. Aren't their outfits beautiful?

Some of the women with bows, in costume.

Afterwords, we took the trains to Nara, which was about an hour's trip away. Nara is actually older than Kyoto and was the capital city of Japan before Kyoto and before Tokyo way way back in the day. Anyway, Sunday night, they had their annual burning of the mountain. There is a mountain that is covered in grass that they burn every year. According to our friend Andrea, who has a hell of a memory and is addicted to guide books, they do this to honor the end of a territorial dispute between monks back in the day. I believe it. Anyway, we watched the mountain from a large platform near a famous temple and pagoda in Nara. There were quite a lot of other spectators, but it wasn't cramped. They started the show with a fireworks display, which they began 10 minutes before schedule, so we actually missed a bit of it, but that's alright.

You can see the pagoda on the right. It was very impressive--huge and lit up. After the fireworks, they lit the mountain, and you could see a long line of fire slowly moving across the blackness of the mountain. It was interesting, though we were a little far away, and we couldn't get any pictures to turn out. We spent the rest of the night at a local soba house, and then at our friend Abel's apartment. We met his French, Australian, and New Zealander friends and played some nintendo with them. It was fun. Monday, we returned to Kyoto for some site seeing with some other fulbrighters. We went to see the golden pavilion, a famous structure in Kyoto. It is coated in gold, though it is a replica of the original building, which a crazy monk burned down back in the day. Those crazy monks. The gardens were marvelous. Here are some pics.

Beyond the fence, you could toss little coins, trying to get them into the cup in the middle. It's for good luck, and is also a way to give alms. I took video of all of us trying to get a coin in. Amazingly, Andrea got a coin in the cup, but right after I stopped taking video. So there's no proof.

At the shrine, Mana and her friend Ryan partook in a religious ceremony. They lit incense and rung the bell.

In Japan, there is a holiday, which was this past monday, in which everyone who is going to turn 20 years old dresses up and goes to the shrine. It doens't have the most religious significance anymore, but it is an excuse for Japanese girls to get all gussied up in expensive kimono. So we went around Kyoto to see them.

At night, we went to an izakaiya, which is like a bar that you can buy various snacks at. We got a set meal, which came with all you can drink for an hour and a half. It was fun. We stopped to take a picture of this ridiculous window front. Oh Japan. What fun. Until next time.


Matt said...


Unknown said...

I have a business proposition for you guys. Do you guys have an email address I can send stuff to? If you do, you're in luck, 'cause this is the opportunity of a lifetime. Or not. But it's still wicked cool.

You can reach me at krychek(at)

Unknown said...

Did you know the I'm a expert archer and spelunker?