Monday, March 4, 2019

Ready for Break

Heyo, it's been a hot minute since I posted. I've been quite busy with finals and such. Spring break has started and is a little different than it is in the U.S. Rather than a week off, we have about a month and a half off, but I don't have a summer break this year. I will go back early August, so I already know it's going to be stressful between catching up with everyone I need to before going back to Columbia and starting classes for the fall again. But I will cross that bridge when I get there. The break will be relatively lazy, but I am going to Seoul, South Korea for a few days with two friends. We also have to move due to issues found with the buildings we are currently living in.

Winter Break

Christmas isn't that big of a deal here, but the university did host a small Christmas party for the students that didn't travel during break. It was quite nice because when isn't food, drinks, and friends a good time? We went to karaoke after, which I've come to really enjoy. I much prefer the private rooms over the open mic that is common in America.

I went with my friend Ayame to meet her family for New Years. It was a three hour train ride and an additional 45 minutes in the car. Wakayama prefecture is stunning. It's much more rural compared to Shiga. It's very mountainous and there are SO many trees. I love trees so much, so I had an absolute blast. I had never seen orange trees before so getting to see so many was amazing.

They have an annual pilgrimage to the kumamo hongu taisha shrine which was a really cool experience. The drive there was quite long from her hometown, but well worth it. I loved the trip along with the actual shrine experience. We went with her mother and sisters, grandparents, and an uncle and cousin. There were a lot of people there, and it's been a place of pilgrimage for a long time. They obviously now have roads, but people used to walk the distance. The trip could take a month by foot. While the trip is still important, it's more of a tradition than holding a religious meaning. Her grandparents still go due to belief, but for Ayame it was a tradition. We got little fortunes, which foretold how our year would go. Mine is going to be a good year according to said fortune. Her mother also bought me a small emblem that is supposed to promote good health for the year. There were several shrines in which different gods resided. There was one that was much more popular than the others. The line to pray was quite long. We didn't pray at those shrines. There was another structure there were the owner would pray over the people. The person praying wasn't a monk, but was a believer. Each family gets a small piece of wood that the person would bless as well. Ayame's grandparents kept it in their home. This is renewed each year, and the one from the previous year is burned. It signifies that the gods are watching over the family. They are held in high regard, with the wood having a special place in the home. The process of blessing us and the wood was interesting. We all sat on the floor, then bowed for a while while he chanted.

Then when that was finished, we were given an orange tree branch that we placed at an alter type thing and prayed there again. Then we went to see the original place of the temple. It was destroyed in a natural disaster, but the shrine remained standing. It is the largest in Japan. It was a sight to behold.

After this, the second part of the tradition is to go to a natural hot river to boil eggs and sweet potatoes. There were many people here as well.

It was a lovely experience and location. We also stopped by an outdoor onsen for a bit, but I didn't go in because it was rather cold out.

Not part of the tradition was making a pit stop at a bridge over part of a river. It swayed slightly as we walked on it, but that was part of the fun.

The next day, upon discovering that I hadn't been to the beach before, we went to the beach. Well we went to two beaches and also to a lighthouse. The first beach had rocks rather than sand. It was quite windy, so we flew kites as well. It was delightful.

Then we went to a smaller area to pick up shells. It was cool to get another perspective.

And then the lighthouse. It was further up the mountain, and it was incredibly windy. Luckily I had a hat and hair not long enough to actually be messed up, but we got some fun pictures of Ayame and her sisters hair. Seeing the ocean like that really makes you realize how small we are. I love that feeling.

Ayame's uncle, our driver for the day, was very kind and stopped often so I was able to get pictures. Watching the sunset over the ocean was incredible.

On the last day, we went to Osaka for some shopping before we went back home. It was my first time in Osaka. I love cities so I enjoyed it. It was also the first time to be in a subway, so that was cool too. It wasn't super eventful, but shopping areas are a bit different here than they are in the U.S. Shops often have people shouting about deals. It's a bit startling at first, especially if you don't see them right away.

Overall, it was a great experience. I thoroughly enjoyed it. 10/10 would recommend.
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