First Two Weeks in Kyoto
A lot has happened in the past couple weeks–I’ve finished my first job at the Airinkan, the day care center for people with cognitive disabilities, and I’ve started my next job, at the Bazaar Cafe. I’ll do my best to neatly sum up how it has been.
February 11 was a Japanese holiday, National Foundation Day (Kenkoku Kinen no Hi). This day celebrates the ascension of Japan’s first emperor, Emperor Jimmu (Thanks, Wikipedia!). For some reason, however, on National Foundation Day everyone talks about leprosy, also known as Hansen’s Disease in Japan. I guess it was a huge problem, not just in Japan, but all over the world, although I’m not sure why they chose February 11th to talk about it. Anyway, everyone gathered in the building next door to the Airinkan, where we sang loosely religious (Christian) songs. I realized that the people I was with were probably all members of a church, and volunteered at the center as part of that community. Apparently, the café is the same way. It’s not like they make me go to church, so I have no problem with it. Some guy from outside of Kyoto came and gave a long presentation about the history of leprosy. The parts that I understood were pretty interesting, though I admittedly stopped listening about halfway through.
Afterward, some of the staff and I were invited to go to Fushimi, one of the districts of Kyoto, with the sensei who had talked to us about leprosy. We visited a couple of museums that he wanted to see, and we were all surprised to learn that some of the staff, Kyoto natives, had never been to the museums before. The first museum, Teradaya, was an inn where, in 1867, delegates from the government met with some radicals to try to dissuade them from enacting a coup d’etat, which failed–the radicals pulled swords on them and killed several of the delegates. The second museum, the Gekkeikan Okura Sake Museum, was about the history of the sake company, Gekkeikan. Fushimi is a traditional sake-brewing district, so there’s sake everywhere.
After, we went to a little street that makes up Fushimi’s only shopping area, which made me kind of miss Tokyo. Sensei bought some omiyage (souvenirs) for his family, and I almost bought a t-shirt that said “Omotenashi,” which means “hospitality,” which is relevant now because it’s the word the Japanese representative used in Japan’s acceptance of Tokyo as the location for the 2020 Olympics. It’s sort of a running joke among the Japanese now–here’s the video. (From 0:15-0:22.)
On the 15th, in a break with what I usually did at work, I went with a group, Yurin, who take children with cognitive disabilities to do fun things. They meet every Saturday, and they’re in the building right next to the Day Center, but I never knew about them. It’s too bad because that day was the first and last time I would be with them. They’re quite an entertaining bunch. Mori-san from the Day Center came with me, so there was one person I knew. There’s a guy in Yurin that has a pink mohawk and is the singer in a Japanese hardcore punk band called Warhead. Definitely the most interesting person I’ve met in a while. They’re coming to Tokyo in April so I said I would try and see them live. It’s interesting that a guy like that also volunteers to play with children with cognitive disabilities in his spare time. There were also two guys and a girl around the same age as me, which was a nice change from all the older people (well, adults) that work at the Day Center.
We went to a sports center where there were a bunch of rooms, each one outfitted for different activities like swimming, basketball, and ping-pong. We had a room with a floor covered in mats, an air trampoline, a ball pit, and a bunch of big bouncy balls. I’m pretty much five years old at heart, so needless to say, I was in heaven. It was great being able to enjoy myself and have fun with people without having to communicate much. There were only about four children with us, so most of the time I was just playing by myself or with the other staff. It was so much fun, but by the end of the day I was pretty exhausted. Getting up at 6am every day is difficult.
I had the following day off, and after several hours of procrastinating and loafing around, I went to Kiyomizu Temple. It’s an easy 35-minute walk from my apartment, only a couple of turns. I took a lot of pictures (below). Everyone there was with other people, whether they were friends, couples, or part of a tour group, so it was kind of weird being alone, but I didn’t care after a while. I’m actually pretty surprised how okay I am with being alone in public. For so long I was scared to go out to eat alone or do stuff on my own.
Anyway, to get to the temple I walked up a hill lined with cute (but overpriced) cafés and omiyage shops. I went into a couple of the shrines, and watched people pray in front of them. I also did this thing where I shook a box until a stick came out through a little hole, which has a number on it, which corresponds to a certain fortune, ranked by varying degrees of luck. Somehow I managed to get dai-kichi, which is the best luck you can get. I don’t understand, usually I’m the unluckiest person ever, literally never won anything luck-related in my life. I also did this thing where I held out a cup attached to a long rod to catch the water sprinkling down from above, then washed my hands and drank some of it. I guess for good luck?
On Thursday, my day off, Tsuya-san (a co-worker), two of her friends, Noah (Kayla’s boyfriend), and I went to Sanjo, the main downtown district of Kyoto, to do some shopping and eating. I felt kind of bad for Noah since he doesn’t speak any Japanese, but I was able to translate a little and one of Tsuya-san’s friends spoke some English. Tsuya-san is in an all-girl punk rock band, and the two friends were her bandmates. Pretty out there, not-at-all ordinary Japanese, to say the least. They’re really into manga and otaku, so we went to the Kyoto Manga Museum, which is more of a library than a museum, with virtually all manga ever published. People can browse and read them there. There was also a student exhibition going on from a special manga university, where students showed off their work. There was one collection of a ton of monster trading cards that I thought was Digimon at first, and was impressed when I learned it was a student’s work. I got a free card out of it, which was cool.
All in all, I’ve been having a pretty good time in Kyoto so far, and I’m excited to see what else it has in store for me. I plan on visiting some more temples before I go back to Tokyo, so stay tuned for that. Sorry for the long post, and thanks for reading!