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Reading

~Chinese / 中文
《平如美棠》饶平如

~Japanese / 日本語
「女のいない男たち」村上春樹
「職業は武装解除」瀬谷ルミ子

~English
"Notes on Democracy" Arundhati Roy

~Korean / 한국어
《그렇습니까? 기린입니다》박민규
《소나기》 황순원

~Finished / 読了 / 已读
「コンビニ人間」村田沙耶香
"Factory Girls" Lesley Chang
"Your Republic is Calling You" Kim Young-ha
「色彩を持たない多崎つくると彼の巡礼の年」村上春樹
《裸命》陈冠中
"River Town" Peter Hessler
"Oracle Bones" Peter Hessler
"Country Driving" Peter Hessler
「カンガルー日和」村上春樹
「こころ」夏目漱石
「火の鳥9」 手塚治虫
《呐喊》鲁迅
《娃》莫言
《朋友》余华
"Inside the Kingdom" Robert Lacey
《活着》余华
"A Room of One's Own" Virginia Woolf
「羊をめぐる冒険」村上春樹
《阿Q正传》鲁迅
《倾城之恋 》张爱玲
《茉莉香片》张爱玲
《金锁记》张爱玲
「深夜特急」(2)沢木耕太郎
「1973年のピンボール」 村上春樹
"One Foot In Eden" Ron Rash
「双子の星」宮沢賢治

Meeting UGA alumni in Osaka & Kobe

Dear Readers:

On Tuesday, August 14, I saw Kiyomizu Temple and returned from Kyoto to Osaka. I checked my email in an internet cafe, and a message from Miho said she and a friend were at a bar in Namba. Miho lives and works in Kobe, but the night I came back from Kyoto, she happened to be drinking in Namba, the area where I had booked a capsule hotel. This was the first in a string of felicitous events.

Meeting Miho in Namba

I met Miho and her friend at Cherry Bomb in Namba. The bartender was from California and made us 200-yen tacos. Miho teaches English and oversees a dance club at a high school in Kobe. When I was an exchange student in Japan in 2009-2010, Miho was an exchange student at the University of Georgia. We met when she came back to visit UGA in 2011, and she came by my house in Atlanta over spring break. We moved from Cherry Bomb to a different bar in loud and crowded Namba, and passed over the central bridge with a huge lighted Glico advertisement. At the next place, the bartender was a friendly man from Israel who spoke fluent Japanese with the customers. We agreed to meet again in Shanghai and I left for the night.

Going to Kobe with Aya

The next day, I met Aya in Umeda, and we took the train to Kobe. Aya was an exchange student at UGA in the fall of 2011, and I met her during the orientation for the Japanese exchange students that year. She’s a college student in Osaka. We visited Ikuda Shrine 生田神社 in Kobe, near the area where lots of foreigners once lived in Kobe. The shrine was colorful, with purple cushioned seats for an audience, and the woods near the shrine were the site of a battle in the Genpei War some thousand years ago. Aya told me the Japanese students who had studied at UGA were having a reunion in Fukuoka on August 17 and invited me to join. We parted around the Daimaru department store and I walked through Chinatown to the sea, where cracked pavement and leaning lampposts were left in situ to commemorate the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake that occurred on January 17, 1995. A clock that fell from the hands of a famous statue was left stopped at 5:46AM.

Meeting Makoto & Hitomi in Rokko

At twilight, I took the bus east through Kobe to Rokko, and walked south to Rokkomichi to meet Makoto at the JR station. Makoto and Hitomi (who joined us later) studied at UGA for a year in 2011-2012, when I was Vice President of the Japanese Conversation Club. Both are college students in Kobe. Makoto is from Fukuoka, and Hitomi from Aichi. Makoto took me to the place where he works, a tonkotsu (pork-bone soup) ramen restaurant that serves the “Hakata ramen” famous in Fukuoka. He treated me to karaage (fried chicken) and tonkotsu ramen that tasted like the real thing. He (falsely) claimed to have forgotten English. I met his co-workers, and soon Hitomi got off work and came to eat with us. We then went to a bar up the street until late, and talked about our friends, our studies, and whatnot. Both were going to the reunion in Fukuoka. We parted at the station, and I took the train back to Osaka.

Meeting Mr. Kanbara, the composer who drives a cab

The train was a few minutes late, and I missed the last train in the subway, so I took the overland loop line to Tennoji thinking I could walk to Namba and Shinsaibashi. While walking didn’t seem impossible, it was almost one in the morning in a nearly deserted huge city, I was really far from Shinsaibashi, Namba is a little crazy at night, and the hotel locks its doors at 2AM.

I hailed a cab. The driver who picked me up was named Kanbara Yoshiaki, and during the day writes music. He kindly took interest in my life and travels, and asked me to friend him on Facebook. His music is available on his blog and on YouTube.

神原良明のブログ

Kanbara Yoshiaki on YouTube

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Art, an Artist and the Tsunashiki Shrine in Osaka

Dear Readers:

Today I met a video game character designer named Yamazaki and his wife. We met on CouchSurfing, and agreed to meet in Ueda. While wandering around before the meeting, I came upon a shrine called Tsunashiki Tenmangu Otabisho 綱敷天満宮御旅所, or Tsunashiki Tenjinja. (It has a website here: www.tunashiki.com .) Sitting between buildings on a street next to Kappa Yokocho, Tsunashiki Shrine caught my attention because of its steep steps, and the “Otabisho” part of its name. A “tabi” is a journey in Japanese, and sure enough Tsunashiki is a shrine for ryoko anzen, or safe travels. I offered some yen and bought an omikuji. It was lucky, but recommended I hold back and not try to do too much. As for direction, anywhere south was good. As for travel, it suggested I quit. I tied up the omikuji to ward off the bad luck and bought an o-mamori charm for safe travels. Of course, I can’t quit, so I have the charm. The lesson on the back of the omikuji read something like, “The high peaks tower in the blue sky, but if you climb, there is a way up.”

I ate curry in Kappa Yokocho, got lost around Umeda walking up and down platforms through crowds and department stores, and drank some bottled ginger jujube tea. I met Yamazaki at Yodobashi camera and we tried two cafes before we found one with empty seats. He kindly treated me to coffee and we talked about Kyoto, where he attended university, learning languages, traveling in Rome and Europe, and his dream to hold an international art exhibition in London. Also, he designed two characters in the video game Street Fighter 4.

Art in the Isetan department store

We went to Isetan department store to see an art exhibition called Girlie Show. The theme was “girls,” and women artists from around Japan depicted girls in various styles on small canvasses. Prints of artworks and goods like iPhone cases were on sale, and one or two of the artists were present. We then went upstairs and saw the “Art Liberation Space” or something like that, where various works were exhibited, like ceramic cups crawling with metal insects. In the back was an exhibiton called “The Beauty Adventurers” (美の冒険者たち) if I remember correctly. The artists were students, graduates and faculty at an art college in Osaka. I enjoyed the various styles and materials and the high level of artistry in the works, and happily spent an hour with Yamazaki gazing at paintings.

Tsukemen noodles in Ueda

We met Yamazaki’s wife at Loft variety store and went to a nearby shop for tsukemen (dipped noodles), which were delicious. The roast pork on top was expecially good. The Yamazakis gave me lots of advice about Kyoto, and we talked about what we had done that day. I received advice from a pair who had studied art in Kyoto. What could be better! When I mentioned that I saw the guardian statues at Todaiji Temple in Nara, Yamazaki told me those are by a famous artist of the Edo period. I took notes on place names in Kyoto, and they kindly saw me back to the subway. The next time I see them, perhaps their first child will be born!

Kieran

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Osaka’s Temples and Shrines around Shitennoji

Dear Readers:

During a day wandering among temples, I realized that I came to Osaka with a false impression. In the early 1970s, the writer Sawaki Kotaro traveled by train and bus from Bangkok to Singapore. In every city, he felt something was missing. The excitement he’d found in Hong Kong wasn’t to be found in Thailand or Malaysia. On the eve of leaving Singapore, he realized, Singapore isn’t Hong Kong. It seemed too silly to say out loud, but he’d been looking for a copy of Hong Kong everywhere he went. Certainly, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok must have their individual charms.

I assumed Osaka was a loud and crowded place, on flat ground, without much that would carry me away. I was wrong. Shin-sekai, around the now 100-year old Tsutenkaku tower is indeed a place of boisterous bars, and not a boring place to visit. Shitennoji is a world apart.

Shitennoji District (四天王寺)

I happened to be staying next to Tennoji station so I took the subway past it on a whim to make my 200 yen go farther. I alighted at Shitennoji-mae Yuhigaoka Station, which means “In front of Shitennoji (and) Sunset Hill.” It turns out, the Shitennoji area is full of temples, leading south to Shitennoji Temple itself. I learned a lot about Japanese Buddhism by reading the signs. I turned a prayer wheel carved with scripture in Chinese. I met a group of high school students near Yuhigaoka Academy. On a stele was carved in Chinese the exploits of the writer’s father, Date Munehiro 伊達宗広, according to the nearby explanatory board. He loved the songs of a songwriter Fujiwara Ietaka 藤原家隆 who lived many generations before him, so he made his home in the same place, and named it “Sunset Hill” after one of Fujiwara’s poems. They are both buried nearby. While reading the sign, a man working on his 600cc shiny black Honda came over, and we talked about my travels, my brother Pace’s travels in America, and the history of Osaka. His name was Kishino, and he told me to go on to Shitennoji, past the tower we could see over a parking lot.

The tower turned out to be a 400-year-old national treasure, a pagoda to store the treasures in Aisen-san 愛染さん temple. It was the model for a temple once erected at the Japanese pavilion at the World’s Fair in San Francisco. Aisen-san itself was bright red.

The Seven Slopes (七坂)

There are seven slopes among the temples. I came up Kuchinawa Slope, which a writer once climbed and thought, “I won’t be climbing this slope for a while, I suppose,” whereupon he came to feel that the sweetness of youth was over, and a new reality had come to face him. I stopped for ramen, and ate “Osaka Black” salt-broth ramen with thick noodles (you could choose thick or thin). The dark broth had an edged flavor. I walked down Aisen Slope to a temple that holds Kinryu and Ginryu Ido, or the “Golden and Silver Dragon Wells.” Alas, they dried up when the subway was built, and Ginryu is buried in concrete. However, a woman from the temple named Asano showed me to Kinryu Well, in which we could see our reflections! The water has come back, little by little, though we can’t yet drink it again to get the sweet taste that was once favored in the tea ceremony.

Kiyomizu Temple and the deadly fault line

I climbed Kiyomizu Slope to Kiyomizu Temple, which shares a name with an illustrious temple in Kyoto. From the hill at the Kiyomizu graveyard (which was packed with a tour group for a few minutes), a vast stretch of Osaka can be seen, including a tower still unfinished at Tennoji Station. I went down to see the waterfall at Kiyomizu, and a man was chanting sutras before the statues behind the water. As I left, a man named Satoshi spoke to me in perfect English. In what was quite likely the first all-English conversation I’ve had with a Japanese person this trip, he told me he worked for the IT department at Stanford and lived in California. He was surprised I came to Kiyomizu, which he visits often, because he seldom sees tourists there. He asked had I noticed the slopes and varied elevation in the area? I had, but he informed me that the slopes are due to a dangerous fault that runs under the area. The line of temples and shrines are built on the fault to prevent disaster with their power.

Isshin Temple and modern decor

I went through a shrine with cats and a man behind the counter who explained the Warring States history of the area. Across the street was a temple far busier than the sleepy ones I had visited. Isshin Temple (一心寺) lost its gate, so a very modern gate was built to replace what had been called the “Black Gate” or Osaka. Indeed, the gate is made of a honeycomb of black metal, and two utterly fearsome guardians wave green fists over heavenly ladies embossed in dark steel. The temple grounds were packed. I prayed in the main hall and offered incense, and a very old couple encouraged me to go to Sapporo.

Shitennoji and the story of the Buddha

Up the street, I walked down the arcade to Shitennoji, the biggest and busiest of all. The red five-story pagoda indeed towered over the hall at Aisen, and every building in Shitennoji was painted red and white. Inside the main hall, wall paintings told the story of the Buddha, from his miraculous birth under the right armpit of Maya, to his death and entrance into nirvana at the age of 81. Most impressive was the scene of the Buddha returning, enlightened, to speak at the Deer Garden. He wore simple clothes and his face was calm and pure, and a light emanated from his brow. In the forest, those who had known him before fell to the ground and reached out their hands in awe to see Gautama so transformed. (According to the explanations written below.) The Buddha had also been attacked by a host of demons, but their arrows turned to floating lotus blossoms and the beautiful women sent to seduce him suddenly grew old. The story was mostly new to me, so I am keen to read more. Another hall told the story of Xuanzang 玄奘, who spent 17 years on a journey from Chang’an to India and back. Upon his return, he and a team of scholars translated hundreds of scriptures, which were stored in the Great Goose Pagoda that I visited last year in Xi’an.

If only I could tell you everything I learned today. I’d never get any sleep. I walked among the bars around Tsutenkaku tower and spent a mostly fruitless and expensive hour in a net cafe trying to copy photos.

Osaka is alive!

Best,
Kieran

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Kieran Maynard

Kieran Maynard

Writer, translator, researcher, traveler specializing in Japanese and Chinese literature.

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