First day in Hiroshima and what a range of stuff. Had a great train ride furiously folding cranes and a nice bento lunch. Checked in, then walked to the peace park complex. Very sobering stuff to see and read about. It was a lovely night for a stroll and we stumbled upon a local festival with lots of street food and music. I’ll let Katie tell you more in her post but here are some pictures.
We woke up to have our first western breakfast at our cozy inn in Kyoto. The delicious and fluffy toast was especially popular and a great start to the day. We hopped on a train to the Nijo Castle about 20 minutes away. Upon arrival, we were amazed by the size and beauty of the estate especially the fact that it had not one, but two moats. We received audio tours. To operate the tour, you had to touch the stylus of the microphone to the corresponding spot on a special type of paper and it would explain that part of the castle. Group tours were discouraged, so we split up. All guests had to take off their shoes upon entering the castle proper and no photos were allowed (to preserve the paintings on the walls and screens). Throughout the castle, guests walked on nightingale floors. These floors would make a high pitched squeak if stepped on in certain spots. It was sort of like an ancient burglar alarm. If you lived at the castle, then you would know which spots were the squeaky ones and where not to step. The castle was filled with the different rooms with very specific purposes, each decorated with hand painted walls with incredible detail. The castle was surrounded by beautiful gardens with exquisite waterfalls and flower arrangements. Enormous 10 foot thick walls surrounded the grounds and provided an astounding view of the entire estate.
After a short train ride back to Kyoto, we got lunch at the train station (waffles were a popular choice), and then we took Japan Rail to a Buddhist temple complex. There, we met with a young monk who spoke impeccable English. He explained Zen Buddhism to us and led us through a 15 minute meditation session. Contrary to popular belief, zen meditation isn’t about clearing your mind, rather it is about conditioning and strengthening your mind, getting to a stage similar to REM sleep. Everyone was thinking the whole time and could feel their mind racing, yet when he rang the bell to signal the end of the meditation it felt like being woken from a deep sleep. Next the monk led us to an adjacent room for a tea ceremony with the temple’s tea master, who had been studying the art of tea ceremony since she was 5 years old and a third generation tea master. As the ceremony was going on, the monk explained what was going on. The significance of the tea ceremony is that it teaches all of the basics of Japanese hospitality. The tea was pretty strong and not necessarily to everyone’s liking, but the experience and precision of the ceremony was both fascinating and beautiful. Plus the sugar cookies that they gave us were really, really good.
After a brief rest at the hotel, we went out to a shabushabu-sukiyaki dinner. It’s sort of like fondue, but without the cheese and so much better. It’s all you can eat meat and veggies that you cook to your exact liking in a soy sauce or boiled water. Then, you season your food with sauces and can mix it with noodles or rice. Repeat until you are stuffed to the point of bursting. This restaurant was especially nice because although it upheld the Japanese tradition of sitting on the floor, but there was a drop off under the table so that your feet could hang down instead of curling them up under you.
After the boys finally demolished their last servings of meat, we travelled back to our quiet inn and packed for our departure to Hiroshima.
Sarah Jacobson and Claire Wiskind
The group woke up that morning to have a noodle breakfast at a nearby restaurant. Some were adventurous enough to crack their raw egg into their rice, which is the traditional Japanese way to eat eggs. After breakfast, we went to a shrine where all the Tori gates were located. Many Japanese buy Tori gates because they are supposed to bring good rice harvest. Each gate had a different prayer or wish on it. The group then separated into smaller groups and proceeded to climb up the hill through all the gates. Jeffrey (the track star) ran all the way up to the top and the rest of the boys made it to the top, but the girls got distracted by two snakes mating. After the adventure through the gates, we snacked on some dried fruits and went shopping for souvenirs. We eventually stumbled upon a place that sold Japanese shaved ice, which the group thoroughly enjoyed in the heat. Then, we went to the market, where we once again split into smaller groups. Everyone picked what they wanted for lunch. We also got a lot of souvenirs there too, including bracelets that showed your birthyear animal. Some of us found some churros to snack on that were delicious. Afterwards, we returned to the hotel to rest up and change for the Noh play. A Noh play is an ancient japanese form of opera. It was very interesting to watch the intricacy of the movements and to observe how the men sang. Although the play could be slow and confusing at times, I think overall the group enjoyed it. It really showed how two cultures can have similar ideas of entertainment, like opera, but the details can be so different. After the play, we went to a restaurant where we each ordered different items and enjoyed Japanese food. Then, we went back to the hotel to get ready for the next busy day.