Tuesday, November 13, 2007

11/14/07 Sightseeing with the P's

Last December I wrote about a package that I received from Japan(you can read it here). It was a thank-you from a girl that we hosted for a few days in Springfield. As she was from Ashikaga, I made sure to ask about her when I first arrived in town. As fate would have it, her mom is a music teacher, and she works at my junior high school, Yamabe. Mrs. Tanaka also sits directly opposite of me, so I see her several times every day. So when I told her that my parents were coming, she was very interested in the details.

On Sunday the Tanaka family was kind enough to drive us to Nikko (wikitravel link here). The whole trip was excellent. After maybe a two hour long drive, we arrived at our destination. Nikko is a pretty big deal tourist destination, for Japanese and foreign devil alike. There are several well known shrines and temples, with extravagant wood carvings and gold leaf everywhere. We bought a multipass kind of ticket that let us enter all of the important places for one price.

We began to climb the multiple sets of stone stairs towards the shrines. The leaves had just begun to change color in this part of the country. I heard the word for the autumn colors enough times that I remember it: koyo. Nice and simple. I actually prefer to see the trees at this time of year, as only select trees have turned red or yellow, and the rest of the normal green trees provide a nice contrast.

While I was climbing the steps, I turned around and saw a nice little view. The big stone arch thing is called a torii, a common way to mark your entry into a Shinto shrine or Buddhist temple.

Another very classical scene during our ascent.

Our progress was a bit slow at first. There were already lots of things worth gazing at, and we hadn't even gotten to the good part yet. Little did we know that there were predators afoot. Children. Tom was wearing a bright red baseball cap, which apparently made him a prime target for the elementary school children. A group of the kids walked right up to Tom and handed him a card. It read:

Dear foreign tourists, Hello! We're elementary school students studying English in ECC junior English language school. Today, we're here to communicate with people from foreign countries in English. I'd like to talk with you in English. If you have time, could you have a chat with us?

Here's foreign Tom communicating.

More communicating.

And more communicating.

First of all, I found this card pretty funny. Can you imagine the reaction if you talked like this to people in the US? "Hi foreign person. I would like to speak with people from foreign countries in Spanish." Hilarity would ensue. Anyways, they were stumping my parents with questions like "do you like skiing?" and other real deep stuff. After several minutes of this, they finally separated and we continued our walk to our destination. Not ten minutes later, though, red hat Tom was again attacked by the little English speakers.

The kids were cute, and they gave little origami things that they had made as a thank you. I avoided chat time just because my whole job is speaking English and the weekend is not work time, its sweet sweet rest time. I think my parents enjoyed it though. By this time our Japanese companions were looking a bit annoyed that we were making so little progress, so we started to walk a bit faster to avoid any more English lessons. We finally got to the end of the little walk, and the picture taking began.

The largest and probably the most famous area in Nikko is called Toshogu, and its main purpose is to mark the burial place of Tokugawa Ieyasu (founder of a shogunate that lasted more than 200 years). However, the wikitravel entry states, and I agree, that all this important shogun business is pretty comically overshadowed by something else. Wood carvings of monkeys.

There was a pretty healthy amount of tourists out on this particular day. Mercifully this is a very wide tourist attraction, so the crowds are spread out enough that they aren't much of a bother. The monkey carvings were an exception, though. There were enough people crowded around this humble looking building that I had to wait until later on in the day to get a decent picture. The 6 or so carvings depict the cycle of life, from childhood to old age. The famous carving, though, illustrates the "three wise monkeys" who "see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil". I have definitely heard that saying many times before, but apparently this carving in particular popularized the adage. Hard to believe, but there you have it.

Here are the carvings. They don't seem real remarkable from far away. If someone didn't point out their significance you might not even notice them in the sea of carvings.

On our way back out of the shrine I managed to take a picture of the famous monkeys. Monkeys have so much to teach us all.

This was such a long day. Rather than abbreviate its awesomeness, I think that I will continue describing it in another post. Check back.

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