Monday, December 22, 2008

Walking Home From School

Today was the school closing ceremony before winter vacation, which only lasted until 11 am. Having some time to spare and no other plans, I decided to walk home from school. This decision was met with considerable shock on the part of my host mother. Japanese people aren't really used to doing things like that, I think. The day was grey and rainy, but I managed to take a lot of photos.

A view of a park of sorts beside a river. I'll be curious to see how it's used in the spring time.

Because I live in a more rural area, there are all manners of growing things and quite a few garden patches and farms scattered about.

A regular modern-esque Japanese house.

Most every business has an foreign name and sign for it written in English characters, along with bonus description in Engrish.

Giant spider! Aiee!

Haha.. I'm not sure if the owners of the house understand this, but cute nonetheless.

A look back at the bank of Kasugai City from across the river.


Since there isn't any garden space on regular houses, it's curious to see what some people do to liven up their living area and add some manner of green to their houses.

A tree near a farmer's field blossoming in December.

I don't know what this is, but I'm sure it would go well in a salad.

Home sweet home.

A curious house with a lot of decoration.


And again...

Then at night.

Christmas lights, or "illumination," are very popular here and it seems that neighbors try to outdo one another for the most elaborate setups. While some houses are almost overwhelming to the eye, the Japanese people seem to consider this beautiful rather than overkill. Who knows?

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Misc. Surroundings

Yesterday I rode my bike to school successfully and played piano for a time. I'm fortunate that they have a really nice Yamaha grand piano there, in a quiet room on the 5th floor with a nice view of the campus around.

I also had tea with my host grandparents, who are pretty cool folks. In their sixties, they speak in the Nagoya dialect, which seems to be a little bit similar to Kansai-ben. I don't think it would be a bad way of speaking to pick up, but as long as I have the freedom to switch between dialects, I think I'll stick with Tokyo.

Also, last night I watched The Matrix dubbed in Japanese. At the theatres here for big releases you can usually choose to see a screening in the original language with subtitles or a dubbed version, depending on your preference. I remember that from last time.

A marsh by a small river.

Looking over a car bridge into a nearly-dry riverbed.

Japanese practice for those studying. What does shop's slogan say?


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Biking to School

First of all, this is what the sun looks like in Nagoya right now... it's a little hard to tell from the pictures, but it's bright bright orange around sunset.

Yesterday, the after last day of school before my nearly month-long winter vacation, I procured the key to the music room so I could play piano. However, as I was heading out to catch the bus, I accidentally gave my house key to the teacher instead of the music room key and didn't notice until I arrived at home. Fortunately my host family's grandmother was home (they live adjacent to the house, an arrangement that is popular in Japan), and she let me in from her side. Today I had to go return it.

When I first saw the son's bicycle, I was a little incredulous. It was bright yellow, very wide, and the pedals were extremely low to the ground and tucked under the seat. It felt strange to pedal, and it didn't seem to be capable of changing gears, leaving it in a perpetual gear 1 or 2. With the varied terrain of Japan, I soon realized that this was an ideal setting for difficult hills and flat areas alike.

I hadn't gone to school by bike before, as my host mother was worried I'd get lost and I didn't know the route. I'd heard that by bicycle it took about 30 or 40 minutes each way. I tried to follow the path the school bus took, but soon lost the route and branched off in the direction I imagined it to be in.

It took me one hour, but I finally managed to find the school. I could see the hill it was on, but couldn't quite get to it. I kept making the following mistake:

If you want to explore Japan, the little streets are awesome. A good way to see such a different culture and country. If you're actually trying to get anywhere, though, they're a death trap! You may think you know where a street goes, but sudden turns and long hills will swiftly carry you away from your destination. Narrow roads the width of back alleys will force you to shelter in the nearest driveway as cars going the opposite direction barely avoid sandwiching you in their bid to skirt around each other.

Having learned my lesson, I mostly resisted the temptation to stray away from the main roads on the way back, this time trying to follow the route my host mother took when she drove me to school in the mornings. I soon lost this too, and ended up indulging myself a little, leading to a wait with some cars and another bicycle at a train crossing where Nagoya-bound engines blew by at astonishing speed. I ended up far down the bus route from where I wanted to go, but by following signs counting down the kilometers to a store nearby my house I was able to make it back after another hour of biking.

In Japan everyone bikes and sidewalks are everywhere, sidewalks that also serve as bike paths. This is what makes your bike bell so important. It's also interesting to note that there doesn't appear to be a correct side of the street to bike on. I encountered people coming from both directions.

In the mornings it seems like there are thousands of high school and middle school students biking to school. Elementary school students all walk in long groups, ushered on by parents and traffic controllers. People will come out of their houses to wave at the little kids coming by, who politely greet them in return.

Anyhow, since the teachers will allow me to use the music room at any time during my vacation, I'll have to make several more trips to school and see if I can make out a better route. But getting lost is good exercise and a good way to get to know the city, even if it's inadvertently!

Till next time!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Winter in Canada

Slightly unrelated to this blog's subject, but beautiful photographs nonetheless. A look at Canadian winter through the lens of the enterprising young photographer below.


Today I went to Kyoto with my host mother and her friend, who kindly invited me. It's the third time I've been here, and it's a beautiful place. This is Japanese December, at least in the area that I'm in. Green leaves on the trees, blue sky, white clouds, sunlight... it's a little cold and it grows dark early, but those are the only hints that it's winter.

We went to a market held on the grounds of a temple, apparently a bimonthly affair. The place was packed with stalls and people, everyone buying and selling handmade crafts like pouches and purses made out of kimono fabric, jewelry, pottery, traditional Japanese sweets, and clothing.

Beauty in simplicity.

After a light lunch at a popular French cafe, we went by taxi to Kiomizu Dera. It and the small streets around it were less crowded because of the season, but even in winter the blue sky framing the buildings made for wonderful photographs. I believe that these temples date from the 4th century, but they were rebuilt in 1633.

Presumably oxidized copper adding some colour to a wooden roof.

A distant temple seen from the wooden balcony at Kiomizu Dera.

More buildings surrounding the main temple. There are lots of things you can do around here to grant yourself luck, whether it be buying charms, drinking the spring water, praying, or washing your hands from the fountains.

A mess of maple trees sheltering a barely-visible staircase.

Kiomizu Dera seen from a pond along a walking path nearby.

I wasn't sure how these pictures were going to turn out, but the shapes of the tree branches really made the shots.

Lovely colours, still water. A very peaceful scene.

A view of the busy city of Kyoto from Kiomizu Dera.

The design of the roof of one of the temple buildings at Kiomizu Dera.

Sakae & Kamimaezu

I hadn't had a chance to see the popular districts yet, so on Saturday I went with my host sister Hana to Sakae. She doesn't have much experience going to different places, so I was the one leading us around. I felt sorry for her walking so much, but my host mother wanted her to come in case I got lost or had a problem. I'm quickly showing my host family that I'm capable at navigating around by myself and I've already learned the areas I've been to better than they have. Feels good, man!

Just coming out of Sakae station. While Nagoya is a smaller city than Tokyo, it is still one of the biggest in Japan, and its popular districts are quite busy. However, it has a more open feeling and you can see the sky. In Tokyo the sky comes in narrow bands between tall buildings. Nagoya is more spread out.

Traffic makes it difficult to get anywhere in any amount of time. I suspect bike would be an ideal mode of transport.

An apartment with flowers.

I was just picking roads to wander down by whatever direction looked most interesting, so we ended up in a different district called Osu, where this temple lay.

A peaceful Japanese street in a small suburb.

Trees in a park.

A neighborhood lake, possibly man-made.

A small patch of dry grass, though it seems like a prairie from this angle.

Clouds rolling in to Kamimaezu! On Sunday, my friend Brian, a Canadian living and teaching English in Nagoya, was kind enough to show me around the covered shopping streets and help me buy a camera cable. Now I can upload my photos!

A section of covered market, crowded with people and clothing shops.