EPISODE 4: Storm Mountain ][ 嵐山

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EPISODE 4: Storm Mountain ][ 嵐山

Fate whispers to the Warrior ‘You cannot withstand this storm.’... the Warrior whispers back ‘I am the storm.’

Arashiyama (which translates to "Storm Mountain") is located on the western part of Kyoto and is right across the Oi River. Many of the pictures of the bright green Bamboo trees you have seen are probably from this area, as the "Arashiyama Bamboo Grove" is among the most well known places in Japan! This district was basically a small town and even though I am also living in a small town, the Arashiyama district felt completely different, very peaceful and slowed down. I was lucky enough to experience the many things Arashiyama has to offer including the bamboo trees.

We started off with the colourful and bright Kimino Forest located right at Arashiyama Station. You can walk along a trail with poles wrapped in Kimino fabric on either side of you. It leads to  "Pond of the dragon" where it is said if you dip your hands in the cold (freezing in winter) water you will be blessed with peace and tranquility in your life.

Directly across from the station we saw a huge sign for Tenryu-Ji Zen Temple which is a United Nations World Heritage Site as well. I forgot to mention I woke up at 5:30 just to get here early and beat the tourist rush. So far in Japan, this zen temple is hands down my favourite. I think one of the main reasons for this is the Sogenchi Garden which is inside the temple. The mesmerizing pond with the Japanese plants and trees surrounding it had me at a loss for words. The unmelted snow in the morning added a perfect final touch. One of the main attractions here is the Clouded Dragon Painting that you saw in the video above. The Cloud Dragon was made in the happo nirami style, so the dragon appears to be looking directly at you no matter where you are standing. Oh and funny story, it is actually extremely forbidden to take any photos or videos of this temple :O and there I was with my huge Canon T3i with the bulky battery grip and my huge tripod :P . No one said anything to me, maybe because it was so early and we were the only ones there!

Trying to find the bamboo grove we stumbled across Arashiyama Monkey Park and decided to go check it out. It was a nice light hike to the top of the mountain where all the monkeys are located. When we got to the top I stopped to take a breath and my friend nudged me, pointing up. All around us in the trees, we were surrounded by monkeys, almost on every single branch! We were able to buy some apples and sweet potatoes and got to feed them! If you go here though be careful as the older monkeys are quite savage...you have been warned. We wanted to feed the cute babies but the older monkeys would literally slap the little ones off the wall. All in all the park was fun and the Japanese Macaque's were kind of cute (the babies were cute , the older ones were petty nasty not going to lie.) Every monkey I passed by kept opening their mouth at me so I just assumed they wanted food or something. Later on we found a warning sign that said if a monkey opens its mouth at you it means anger or agitation and it will most likely attack...

Relieved and not being mauled by Japanese monkeys, we made our way to the main attraction : BAMBOO! Not much to be said about the grove because words don't do it justice. When you are standing  in the middle of the forest with huge Bamboo trees all around you, pockets of sunlight piercing down, all you can do is silently take in the beauty. There were many people (mostly Chinese tourists) wearing traditional Kimono's and walking around. You can actually rent them for a day along with a professional photographer.

We ended with nice big bowl of steaming Udon and headed home.

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EPISODE 3: The Nation's Kitchen ][ 天下の台所

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EPISODE 3: The Nation's Kitchen ][ 天下の台所

起死回生
Wake from death and return to life.
— Japanese Proverb

Osaka is called the Nation's Kitchen (tenka no daidokoro) not just because of the amazing and exhaustive selection of foods (there are endless tasty possibilities) but because Osaka is literally being compared to the kitchen of the house which is Japan.

Osaka's close proximity to Kyoto, the historic capital during the Edo period (1603 ~ 1868), made it the perfect business centre of Japan. This is one of the explanations of how Osaka was able to rapidly develop compared to other cities in Japan. Known as the west entrance of Japan, many merchants and traders would go through and visit Osaka everyday. Realizing the importance/value of Osaka many of the feudal lords started investing. Since rice was the method of payment back then, Osaka became one of the cities storing the largest amount of rice. Kitchens are known to be the part of the house where most of the food is stored and thus Osaka was referred to as the "Nation's Kitchen".

Getting sick plus being busy with Uni work made it hard to travel and see some of the sights on my bucket list, so getting the chance to travel was a welcomed adventure. Getting to experience the big city of Osaka was an exciting change. As soon as you leave Shinsaibashi Station (the closest station to downtown Osaka) the bright lights and tall buildings transform you. The vibe is incredibly energetic and the city is always buzzing! I saw every kind of store imaginable including major western and European brand outlets. When you walk a little more you get to a place known as Namba which is basically the fashion hotspot of the city. The lights and feelings you get from Namba are a little like New York City's Time Square, with the exception being all Japanese signs. After exploring a bit and taking videos, we went to an area called Amerikamura (American Village, like the reverse of China Town) to visit my Japanese friends Persian restaurant. This village is infamous to locals who think it is the most dangerous place in Osaka. If you tell them you went there over the weekend they will literally gasp in shock and worry. It is probably the shadiest part of Osaka, but it is not as dangerous as people make it out to be, or so I have been told by most foreigners here.




 

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EPISODE 2: Touchdown in 平塚市 ][ Hirakata City

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EPISODE 2: Touchdown in 平塚市 ][ Hirakata City

Opportunities multiply as they are seized
— S U N - T Z U

The very first thing I noticed after I landed in Japan was the respectful nature of the staff at the KIX (Kansai International Airport). This respectful nature followed through to almost every Japanese person I have seen/interacted with in Japan. Especially if you go in to any sort of store like a restaurant or convenience (Konbini) store. Everything in Japan, I have learned, is designed in a way that makes things more efficient and accessible for the consumer, but in turn the society is such that the consumer is also made to be more efficient for the the environment and for society at large.

The night we landed we went straight to Hirakati Shi (Shi = City) to the Seminar Houses. My room is quite nice, with traditional Tatami mats and a Futon on the floor for bedding. The whole first week was orientation week, which meant waking up for 9:30am lectures! The KGU campus was breathtaking with their huge buildings and open air concept.

R U L E S. There a LOT of them here in Japan. In our orientation week we literally had 4 straight days of just rules, what to do/not do. Some of these rules make absolutely NO SENSE but the people here follow them religiously and expect you to do the same, and if you question one of them the answer you get is "It's the rules." No one here really wants trouble with foreigners, and like I mentioned they are super respectful, so if you do happen to break some of the cultural norms the worst that will happen is  you get some weird looks. This will definitely add to the preconceived notions some Japanese people have about gaijin, the idea that all foreigners here are bad and make trouble in Japan...so just follow the rules haha! Some of them are simple things like not talking on your phone when on the train, considered very rude here. Eating and walking is a big no no here as well, but between you and me I eat and walk almost everyday :P. It's the only way to get breakfast in before a long day of classes! In all honesty it is not bad at all and most of the rules make a lot of sense: The famous example is the trash separation here in Japan. Some of my friends warned me about it, that it can get quite difficult to sort trash, and that there are practically no trash cans on the streets (Excluding can bins). I listened to them but took these points for granted, and just assumed it wouldn't be a big deal here....BUT there are around 8 different classifications for your garbage and serious fines if you get caught putting garbage in the wrong bin.  I will post about that more in detail on the "cool stuff" page of my website with the  detailed trash sorting handout we got.

Another concept I found interestingly peculiar here was the way bicycles are treated. A bicycle in Japan is treated exactly the same way as a motor vehicle. You know what that means? yup more rules. There were several registration and security measures I had to go through in order actually use my bike....legally. The first thing you need is a police crime prevention sticker from the Bike shop (AKA a license plate) so that the police know if the bike you are riding is your own or stolen. (This means if your biying the bike second hand or from a friend you need to make sure all the original paperwork is there) Oh and yeah the police are allowed to stop you and check for your bike or Residence Card at any time with no reason at all. If the bike is not yours they will arrest you on the spot and if you do not have a good justification or you can not get into contact with the owner of the bike, letting the police know you had permission to use it, you will be taken to the police office. This is such a different concept  different than back home in Canada where bike thefts happen on a daily occurrence. Police investigations that involve stolen bikes here are taken seriously as well. I got lucky and on my second day I made friends with a local Japanese student who is going to America for his study abroad. He said he wanted me to have a great time in his country and gave me his bike for free!

I travelled around Hirakata a bit and found some cool chill out places. Hirakata Station, where all the major train stations are, is basically the centre of the city and the main downtown. Located here is the T-site, one of the biggest book stores in Japan. Think chapters on a lot of steriods. Different floors have different items, for example one floor is all audio and albums/headphones, with cool hi tech chairs to listen to music etc. On the 4th floor there is a huge Starbucks with many places to sit, perfect spot to study! Major cities like Osaka or Kyoto are only about a 30-35minute train ride away, perfect for weekend get aways.

I have met so many people here from all around the world. Some of my good friends here, excluding the Japanese ones of course, are from Morocco, Turkey, Netherlands, Somalia, Finland, and the list goes on. Everyone has such interesting perspectives and stories to tell. I always considered myself very high in terms of cultural intelligence and thought of myself as an international individual because of the amount of travelling I have done, but after interacting on a daily basis and especially taking classes with all these students, I have learned and expanded my horizon like never before.

Tried some new food here as well: Mcdonalds Fish Fillet was my saving grace for the first week or so until I learned how to say No Pork/Meat, No Alcohol. I really wanted to try some Ramen but most Ramen is made with a pork broth so I gave up on it....but just then I got assigned a Japanese speaking partner, and we all went out to a great Ramen place where I got a miso based broth instead. A M A Z I N G *Heart Eyes Emoji*. Some foods however were a total disaster for me. I tried something called Okonomiyaki, which is basically a cabbage based "Japanese pancake" of sorts... to me it tasted like Fish Food sooo yeah. Not trying that again.

All in all a solid start to my trip! Classes have started for 2 weeks now and tests/assignments are starting to come up so will be busy with that. I have a few videos all edited and ready to go, so at least for the next week or so I will have daily content, after that lets hope I stay on track and at the minimum  post every few days! Let me know if you want to know something specific about Japan and I will try and make a video about it. Excited for the future.

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EPISODE 1: H O M E ?

EPISODE 1: H O M E ?

It may be that the satisfaction I need depends on my going away, so that when I’ve gone and come back, I’ll find it at home.
— R U M I

I write this while I am at an altitude of 11,583 meters somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. More than 6000km from home, I am travelling to Japan for a semester as an exchange student. I feel like I am not as nervous as I should be, seeing as I know zero Japanese! But I have travelled a lot and one thing I have learned from that and my family is just go with the flow and things tend to work out for the better. It should be an amazing and different experience for sure. I’ve been thinking, reflecting about family, friends, and especially home a lot.

People can get really cheesy when taking about home and travelling: Quotes like “Love is wen home changes from a place to a person, blah blah and other senti stuff like that, which is sometimes very accurate I’m not denying it. But the concept of home is so complex and so many factors contribute to why someone callshome home. Because home is so much more than just the physical location you choose to live in for extended periods of time. It isn’t even just about family and friends, or people in general. It is a mix of both. When it comes down to it home, has everything to do with your comfort zone, that’s it, plain and simple. When you live an area for long enough you become comfortable. The things around you become familiar, you can associate with them. Like the mountains in Banff, or Stephan avenue in Downtown Calgary, or the lights in bankers hall. Whatever it is, you connect with these things like places and food culture in general, and so do the people around you and that is how you build your comfort zone network. Anyone who has ever tried something out of their comfort zone knows that although scary at first, once accomplished becomes a very easy task. So to speak your comfort zone grows! This is exactly what travelling does to your “HOME”. When you travel, and I mean properly travel, experience the local culture, and history/struggles, and daily life you can relate to something new and familiarize yourself with it. This is exactly why I chose to come to Japan. To break free of my daily routine/habits and just completely shock myself. The same way you need to change up your workouts if your body plateau, you need to keep trying new things in order to learn and grow as a person. I am not nervous at all but instead where one would be scared and nervous, I am motivated and optimistic. Excited for the future.