Nikko, birthday tea and the perils of wearing purple

Ohhhh what a collection of diverse occurrences has built up over the past week or so! Currently unsure as to what sort of shape this post may take… The good news is that Tuesday’s earthquake failed to do the anticipated damage to Japan’s north-eastern coastline. The bad news is that Trump still appears to be president-elect (BIG shout out of solidarity to y’all across the water – VIVE LA RESISTANCE).

In yet more bizarre news, I woke up to this view this morning:

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First time it’s snowed in Tokyo in November since 1962 one of my students informs me – mental! True to form, both the city’s rail network and student population were undeterred by the adverse conditions; the Tobu Skytree line conveyed me to work bang on time, and throughout the day my classes have been well-attended by groups of eager (if rather soggy) language learners. Marvellous.

On to the week’s round-up then…

Nikko. With winter well on the way (to which above photo attests) and the autumn leaves falling fast, Alaina, Luke and I decided it was high time we paid a visit to Nikko, nestled in the mountains of Tochigi Prefecture. Intense drizzle and low-lying mist encircled the train as we drew into the station, and I wondered bleakly whether the weekend would end up being (quite literally) a massive washout. However, my misgivings  were soon melted away in the blaze of crimson, scarlet and gold that greeted us as we stepped out into Nikko’s central square. The mist miraculously had the effect of making the leaves’ colours pop somehow, and our way across to the Shin-kyo Bridge and upwards to the famous Toshogu Shrine was bedecked by a glorious spectrum of deep autumn shades.

The shrine itself was a feast for the eyeballs (and especially after being thoroughly spoiled/over-shrone back in Kyoto, this was a tall order indeed). We wandered amongst the complex’s many buildings, taking in its intricate facades, craning our necks to spy Honjido Hall’s Crying Dragon ceiling painting, and puffing our way up 200-odd steps to the mausoleum of Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Shogunate of the same name back in 1603. The great cedars that frame the entire site are what give the place its magic though I think, towering guardian-like over all who pass through…

Day two saw us ascend into the mountains to scope out the Kegon Waterfall, Chuzenji Lake and the Senjogahara Marshlands. The autumn colours had already faded into the sepia of early winter up there, so it was the sparseness of the marshlands that struck me most: a world away from the rich palettes on show in the town below, but no less beautiful in their bleakness. We managed a good amount of lake-side and woodland wandering before hurrying back down the mountainside, hoovering up some decent yaki soba (nom) and soya ice cream (NOM), and finally battling our way onto an insanely packed train back to Tokyo. PHEW.

 

Poetry perplexity: haiku and Jenny Joseph. Life has definitely not been dull on the work front either, due in part to two contrasting and culturally illuminating poetry-based classes. I had long been itching to add some more empirical bulk to my translation/teaching research, and decided this would be best achieved by setting up a day of getting students to translate haiku into English.

20161114_103452I must admit that my appreciation for the humble haiku was somewhat lacking; I think I have tended to be rather inwardly dismissive of its stark simplicity and brevity… Without boring you all by lapsing into a lengthy, obsession-fuelled blow-by-blow of my findings, I learnt through students’ impassioned translation discussions (RESULT!) that many felt the only way of replicating the beauty of haiku in English is to add a load of adjectives and hope for the best (“Japanese does more with less”… “Japanese people have more of a relationship with the sound of words, they don’t need more description” – student quotes). What this may show about Japanese culture in a broader sense is a point we spent a considerable amount of time picking apart. FASCINATING. I won’t bang on any more at this point… But please do pop me a message if the linguistic stuff does tickle your pickle – I am literally NEVER not in the mood to discuss it!

 

20161118_103503Poetry experience #2 could not have been more diametrically opposed. My lesson brief for last Friday centred on the theme of “Getting Older”, so I thought Jenny Joseph’s poem about a woman who decides to grow old disgracefully by wearing purple, drinking a lot of brandy and learning to spit would fit the bill pretty well. Little did I suspect the depth to which the Japanese sense of social responsibility runs. I had planned for a jokey session of imagining all the naughtiness students would get up to in a hypothetical retirement of social deviance. Instead I got a series of appalled silences at the mere mention of putting their toes so brazenly out of line. Bloody HILARIOUS – wish I’d taken a photo of the sea of shocked faces. Had to think on my feet a bit and have them come up with model citizen behaviour to contrast with the poem instead, at which point they visibly heaved a sigh of relief and settled down into the usual earnest chatter. Make of THAT what you will, sociologists amongst you.

Matcha for two in Asakusa. Birthday celebrations on Tuesday got off to a rumbling start when I was shaken awake by a surprise of the seismic variety… Thankfully the earthquake came and went with no harm done, and my birthday played out marvellously. It began with a pre-work sesh of opening cards and presents from home (cue lots of goonish beaming and warm squishy feelings), and ended in an izakaya in Kita Senju with Alaina and the work gang, a whisky and lemon something-or-other in one hand and pumpkin in the other (Alaina knows the way to my heart: VEG).

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Birthday glory

An extremely timely day off the following day meant that Alaina and I were able to head over to Asakusa for a final birthday celebration in the form of a tea ceremony, as I had long wanted to experience this most delicate and regimented of arts. We were guided by Madoka, our faultlessly gracious (and at times hilariously over-enthusiastic) host (“WOWWW!!! You make it FOAM!!!! AMAZING!!!!!”). We were told to select the bowl from the shelf with the design that would most please our guest, and were then given detailed instructions regarding the appropriate angle, hand, utensil and order to use when performing each preparation stage for the perfect matcha brew. Our perseverance was rewarded by drinking down said brew (bitter but beautifully rich) alongside bean paste wagashi (melty-smooth sweets a bit like petit-fours). Ooogh it was wonderful.

I emerged from the tea house, and my birthday overall, with a renewed sense of appreciation for all the singular experiences Japan has so far gifted me. Perhaps more significantly, I also carry a renewed sense of the love that courses through my life from sources near and far, and which never wavers, however far from home I find myself… I am so bloody lucky. Truly. THANK YOU shiny wonderful people! Your friendship and support are my greatest treasures. Never taken for granted.

Here endeth my soppiness, and this post ;). Posting a few extra photos below!

All my love.

Trina x x x

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