Tokyo (2nd Day)

I believe we woke up around 8:30 am and started the day off right - with some McDonalds! For some reason, I think Pepe was really in the mood and it was close to the bus station. I will say, and those of you who have also had the opportunity to compare, know that the Japanese McDonalds are far classier and have a superior interior design/decoration than those in the United States. The food is only slightly different. We ate our breakfast before departing to the Thunder Gate. The gate was absolutely huge and the city itself supposedly represented a more traditional setting compared with the Tokyo skyscrapers. There was also a temple so we decided to get fortunes. Additionally, the area is known for fried food of some sort and rice cakes; so, of course, we got both of them. The man flipping the rice cakes on the fire was amazing, I could tell he had been doing it for quite some time. It was quite the site and I really enjoyed that section of the city.
(Pepe and I in front of the Thunder Gate)

(Decky and Pepe in front of the Temple)

(Me cleansing myself in the smoke, a Japanese ritual)

(Fortunes! I finally got the best one but it was a little late.)

(Pepe and I in front of the pagoda)

(Pepe and I mimicing Buddhist's statues)

(The rice cakes)

I forget the name of the place we went to next but it was the electronic area. There were a lot of electronic stores, many, if not all of them were duty free. I think it's a ploy to get a lot of foreigners to go there but I'm not sure how they pull off the duty free scheme. Needless to say, that was not the purpose of our journey. We were headed to a maid cafe. From what I have read online, maid and other similar cafes have been sprouting up in Japan as a way to fill a fantansy. I know that many of you are thinking it is geared towards the men, however, when I was there, there were just as many women. I believe it has turned in to more of a tourist attraction but there are probably some back alley places. It was 500 yen to sit down and another 700 yen for a drink. No pictures were allowed and customers are only supposed to stay for an hour. If you wanted a picture it cost an additional 500 yen. Needless to say, it was quite pricey and did not fill any of my fantasies. However, it was an experience and if I ever visit Tokyo again with a friend, I am sure I will take him or her there as well.

(Since we were unable to take pictures I snapped this one outside. Needless to say none of the girls were that beautiful.)

I wish I remembered the names of each place but I have no forgotten. I do recall some of the names themselves but cannot accurately associate them with any place. So, after the electronic area and maid cafe we were off to the "Sumo Dome" and sumo area. Fortunately, while we were walking around I passed a sumo and took a photo with him. While he was a lot larger than myself, I have a feeling he was still rather small in the sumo world. I wish I would have known what rank he was. We stopped at a place for lunch and got some rice bowls. There really wasn't too much to see since it was a national holiday and a lot of the attractions were closed. One place I did want to go was the Imperial Palace in Tokyo since I already saw the one in Kyoto however that was closed as well.
(Sumo statue/shrine?)

(A sumo wrestler and me)

(Pepe and I squaring off in front of the "Sumo Dome")

We ended our stay in Ueno Park and the surrounding area. We walked along one street which had a ton of shops and the "chocolate man." He was pretty interesting. You pay 1000 yen and whatever he feels like giving you he throws it into a bag, it's all at his discretion. I'm not sure if some people get two or three bags or if some get a piece of chocolate but he was definitely an entertainer. We had Mexican for dinner, go figure and I think we ended up getting four bottles of wine - yes, the bus trip back was a bit rough! Oh well. My stay was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed the city. I picked up a bit of Tokyo bend and by a bit, I mean one word - jian. As in "Watashiwa Justin jian."

(A group of us in Ueno Park. The man and dog were both famous for starting a revolution or so I was told.)

(The "Chocolate Man!!!"

(A final group photo before we got on the bus. I'm not exactly sure what Decky was looking at, maybe a nice looking lady passing by...)

Well, I hope everyone is doing well. I had a phone interview on Monday - not my best performance. So, now I have wait until the 7th of March to see if I made it on to the next phase for Teach for America. Pepe, remember, you are a penguin now. Good luck with your confession - I am rooting for ya buddy!!! Take care everybody and keep smiling!


Tokyo (1st Day)

After about an hour or two of sleep, I left my apartment at 7:15 am in the morning so I could meet my good buddy Decky at Shin Osaka by 7:30. What normally was a 20 minute walk ended up taking about thirty minutes for some reason; perhaps it was because it was the last time I would make that walk from Higashimikuni to Shin Osaka and I wanted to take in all the sights. Either way I was late meeting Decky but we still made it to our platform on time. Since it was my last trip in Japan for a while, I decided to take the Shinkansen or "bullet train." Decky informed me that it moves at 200 k.p.h. and it took us approximately two and a half hours to get to Tokyo. The ride was silent and smooth and the sights were amazing. At one point, to the left, right out the window almost, was Mt. Fuji. Someday I would like to hike it.
(Decky and the "bullet train")

(Mt. Fuji from the window)

We arrived in Tokyo around 10:30 and went to Shibuya, the largest of the cities. We didn't get much of a chance to explore since we were meeting a friend. Also, there seemed to be a lot of shopping centers and malls, not exactly my cup of tea. However, I did get my picture with a famous dog which I now forget the name of. The dog reminded me of Lassie. After meeting up with one of Decky's friends we went to a famous street close to a giant arena where Kiss would be playing that night. On the street, which was filled with shops, we got crepes. I ended up getting a caramel, pecan, and ice cream crepe - it was quite delicious.
(Famous dog and Justin)

(Me eating a crepe with little success at the end.)

(I took this picture just to show all of the different subway lines in Tokyo. Decky, who is Japanese was struggling to figure it out, imagine if I had to by myself. Those are all the lines compared with perhaps 7 or 8 in Osaka. It was quite overwhelming.)

After eating Ramen for lunch we had some time to kill before Pepe (that was his nickname, his real name was Iipe) got finished voluntering. We ended up going to an island of sorts which housed Fuji TV, a minuature statue of liberty, and had a great view of the Rainbow Bridge. Additionally, there was a beach where we spent some time just relaxing. I must add a little story at this point. Well, nevermind, it was one of those where you had to be there; but, Decky got ice cream at a shop and before he even took a bite it landed on the ground. Poor guy. While we were at Fuji TV there was a famous comedian outside participating in some show. We hung out there for a few hours before heading to my favorite place - Tokyo Tower!!

(Decky and the Rainbow Bridge)

(Fuji TV in the background)

(The group surrounding the famous comedian right in front of the station.)

Pepe met us at Tokyo Tower and we headed up to the observation platform. Once we got there we decided to go to the "special" lookout which was a 100 meters higher or so and cost an extra 600 yen I believe. Nevertheless, the view was breath taking and it was amazing. All you could see was lights, lights, and more lights. There was a 360 degree view of the city and it was absolutely amazing. We ended up taking the steps down which was around an 8 minute walk or so. It was a lot of fun and a great view!

(Me and Pepe in front of Tokyo Tower)

(Me and Tokyo tower right before the sun went down.)

(The tower at night. It was spectacular.)

(View of the city)
(Another view of the city - AMAZING!!)

(Me and Pepe at the top of the tower. We were trying to get the city lights in the background with no success.)

(Walking down the steps)

After the Tower we went to a sushi restaurant with Pepe before heading back to his place to spend the night. When I first met him he was carrying a guitar on his back so it was time for him to prove that he could play. Once we got out of the station close to his house Decky and I convinced him to play a song. So, we stopped right in the middle of the street and he busted out his music. I didn't understand a word he said but he could play. I asked if he had a CD but said he just played for fun. Before bed we went to a public bath, my first time at one of those. Beforehand I tried to get Decky to explain to me what to do but there was definitely a lack of communication. So, while I was in the shower, some strange guy had to show me how to do everything even though I had two friends with me - thanks guys! The bath was rather relaxing and it was something I would recommend. I would actually think about opening one in the United States as it seems like a good place to hang out and chat with people, something I think older people would really enjoy. That was all for the first day. We went back to Pepe's apartment and played some Nintendo 64 before hitting the sack. For one day I must say I got to see a lot of places!
(What a baller - Pepe rockin' out!!)

(A little scandalous but Pepe wanted a picture since it was my first time in a public bath and for some reason we had to flex! This one's for you Pepe!!)

Hope everyone is doing well. I will try to get Day #2 up some time soon. For those of you interested, I passed the intial phase of my Teach for America application. I have a phone interview on Monday so keep your fingers crossed. I also started applying to be an RED which is someone who supervises RAs. Also, I got an email from a company in Harrisburg in regards to an internship - Thanks Uncle Rusty. So, I will keep you updated as all of the processes move along. Take care, Love you guys, and keep smiling!!


I'm Home and Missing Japan

Although some of you already of you know, many of you do not. Since the end of January I knew I would be heading home on the 14th of February but wanted to surprise my mother. Therefore, I used the blog as well as a couple of emails to keep her off guard. I must admit, it worked very well - when I came home she was downstairs with my sister and as I stood at the bottom of the steps she looked over and then back to the stove, pausing for a second, then she finally realied it was me and got a big smile on her face! She had no idea so that was a plus! I only told my dad and three other people, none of which were in the state of Pennsylvania. The flight went well and I had no problems. I was able to sleep for a while which was something new to me.

At the airport I saw the crew on the same shuttle and for the first time in six months, I could completely understand a conversation I overheard. While it was exciting it was also sad because I realized that I was actually leaving the country which I had become so attached to. People continually ask me to describe my situation or what I thought of it and I tell them, "I love the country, I hated the situation." That is the best way I can describe the time I spent in Japan. However, I wouldn't change it for anything as it will probably be the most valuable learning experience of my life. As of right now, I really want to go back but I'm not sure when that will happen.

The things I'll miss:

1) My Japanese friends - I made a lot of great friends while I was in Japan and developed some already exsisting friendships. You always hear that you find out who your friends are when things go bad. After this experience, I can validate that claim. Some of my friends were extremely helpful and offered me a place to stay, aided me in searching for jobs, went above and beyond anything I could have asked for while other friends did nothing. I hope to be able to repay those friends who were so helpful someday.

2) Joel - When you go from seeing your best friend every day to not at all of course you are going to miss him.

3) The Aochi Family - Without a doubt one of the kindest, warmiest, most friendliest families in the world. Without them, I surely would have left Japan a lot sooner than I had. Mr. Aochi is outgoing, talkative, and somehow, we found a way to communicate. His energy definitely helped lift my spirits. Mrs. Aochi was the quiet, reserved one but with an endless kindness. I knew everytime I would visit that there would be a food basket waiting as I left. She was concerned about my welfare and offered a place to stay after Joel left. Mr. Aochi wanted me to accidentally miss my flight and stay with them - a very tempting offer and one which weighed heavily on me the night before I left. I just want to say thank you very much and I hope to see you again some day soon.

4) My private lessons - You are all very kind, wonderful, helpful people and without you, there is no way I could have stayed as long as I did. I appreciate your hospitality and cannot thank you enough for the financial and moral support. I know that I will continue to communicate with many of you and wish you all the best in your English studies.

5) Japanese kindness - One day I was on my way to Ibaraki-shi and wasn't quite sure if I was on the correct train. I had just arrived in Japan and was not used to the local, express, and rapid services. I asked a couple if I was on the right train and they shook their head no. They got off with me at the next station, waiting by my side to get me on the right train, and then waited for their train to come. Overall it probably cost them 15 minutes or so but I will never forget their kindness. This is just one of several stories I can share. When Joel and I were struggling after the collapse of Nova we had numerous offers. I will never forget the Japanese people nor their kindness, it has definitely helped change me as a person.

6) Japanese food - Sushi, Ramen, and anything made by Mrs. Aochi. Plus, the smaller portions were much healthier. I know I am going to have to watch my weight and everything I eat.

7) The Mass Transit System - It is so nice not having a car and still being able to travel almost anywhere in the country, something which is impossible in America. I loved the fact that I could go to Kyoto or Nara or Kobe without any problem, any time I wanted to go.

Overall, it was an amazing experience and I know that someday I will be back to Japan, it's just a matter of when. It could be in a couple of months or a couple of years. I will just have to wait and see what happens with my current job applications. I just hope that the next time I go back I can enjoy myself and believe it or not, I would be happy to work! Hope everyone is doing well. Take care. I am going to try to get some Tokyo pictures up today!


Give me a couple of days

Hello everybody. I know I haven't posted in a week but things have been a bit hectic. Joel and I had a sayonara party on Friday and then two days later I went to Tokyo. I have a lot of pictures I want to put up so it's going to take some time. I am still in the process of trying to figure out my flight details. Right now I am waiting on Nova but I should be leaving some time around the end of the month. Other than that, nothing else is really new, just spending a lot of time with friends. So, within the next day or two I will try to get up the pictures from Tokyo as well as a few from the sayonara party. Hope everyone is doing great and enjoying life. Take care and stay happy!!


Kyoto with Momo

Yesterday Momo and I headed to Kyoto and I was excited to visit a few temples which I have yet to go to. On the way there, I was checking the Kyoto Travelpack, given to my by my old roommate and I realized that I have been to 7 of the top 10 places to visit in Kyoto. I don't know, I was pretty excitied about it. Anyway, we planned out our trip the night before and we decided to go to Ginkakuji Temple (the silver temple) and Nanzenji Temple. We embarked on our journey around 10 am and since we had to take the Hankyu line, it was about a twenty minute bike ride to the station, with Momo on the back. Needless to say, by the time we got to the station, I was sweating up a storm.
We arrived in Kyoto and checked out the bus station map. After figuring out what bus we were to take, we headed to the bus stop. Ends up we were on the wrong side of the road but a nice older woman, pointed us in the right direction. After running across the street, we caught the next bus. On the bus we decided to get the All-Day Bus Pass for 500 yen since we had a couple of places to visit. Before we knew it, we were getting off the bus and headed for Ginkakuji Temple.

On the way to the temple, we came across the philosopher's path. I thought it was only close to Kyoto University as I read about it in the Travelpack; however, I guess it's a pretty large path which encompasses a large area of Kyoto. If you know me, you would know how excited I was to be on the Philosopher's path. I must admit, there were no great moments of insight or revelations while I was on my short part of the path but it was fun nevertheless.

(The Philosopher's Path)

After seeing pictures you will probably wonder why it is called the Silver Temple. Well, from my readings, the Shogun at the time wanted to cover the building in silver but either ran out of time, money, or both. There is a bronze phoenix on the roof facing to the east and the building itself is dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy. The grounds on which the building sat were more spectacular than the building itself. There is a silver colored sand and according to Momo, he wanted a river on the grounds. However, since there was no river, he decided to place the sand down instead. I heard it is beautiful in the moonlight. After Ginkakuji it was back to the bus stop and off to Nanzenji.

(Justin and Momo standing in front of Ginkakuji, the not so silver Silver Temple)

(Some of the silver sand, all it was raked and in some sort of design.)

(Random shot at the temple)

(Some more of the sand with a beautiful background view. There were several paths which we took and walked around the complex. Along the way there were a couple of minature shrines and some great views of the city.)

(One last shot of Momo and Justin on our way out.)

After we got off the bus stop we checked out a local map attached to the bus stop and planned our route for Nanzenji. Along the route, there was another temple, so we figured, why not, let's go. The temple ended up being the headquarters for a Judo Sect - the Seizan Zenrinji Branch. The name of the temple was Eikando. There is a story behind it:

"The then chief priest of Eikando, the Abbot Eikan, while intoning the Nembutsu, was walking around a statue of Amida. He suddenly came to as the dawn was breaking, Amida came down from his pedestal and began walking away, bekoning to Eikan. Eikan could do nothing but stare, speechless and unmoving. Then, Amida looked back at Eikan and called to him in a soft voice, "Eikan! Come with me!" Eikan decided to pass on to others the merciful heart he had received from Amida."

Amida is the Buddha who savs us all and in order to obtain the highest enlightenment, Amida established 48 vows. There are many multiple meanings to the statue's pose but my favorite is that she is looking back on all of those who have fallen behind, waiting for them to come to the front with her. It is difficult to explain but the statued and it's meaning was very touching. However, no photographs were allowed. There were several buldings within the compound and an amazing view from the pagoda.

(The Entrane to Eikando. In the background, to the right of the peak of the gate you can see the pagoda.)

(A garden with Eikando)

(Another random picture with Buddhist statues.)

(View from the Pagoda)

(A dragon water feature. I liked it so I took a picture. It would be neat to have a pond with one of these in it.)

(Buddhist statue)

Finally, we made our way to Nanzenji Temple. Once again there were a series of buildings and the largest gate I have ever seen in Japan. There was also a bridge where Momo informed me a famous drama takes place. At Nanzenji and several of the temples, moss is very prevalent. Momo also told me that Japanese people find moss beautiful although I'm not quite sure why. Inside the temple there was a tea room with a beautiful waterfall just outside. Also, there was some more of the silver sand as well as a moss garden. However, Nanzenji is most famous for the painted sliding doors, 132 of them I believe. Once again, pictures were prohibited due to the damage they cause.

(The largest gate I have ever seen. If you look closely you will notice people standing in the center. It was huge!)

(The famous bridge)

(Moss garden. If you look to the left you can see various types of moss growing.)

(One of the entrances to Nanzenji)

(Random building)

(Tea room - used for meditation)

On our way out of Kyoto I noticed this giant temple entrance. I am sure there is a specific name for these structures, however, I do not know what it is. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the pictures, there probably aren't going to be that many more, at least not from Japan. Hopefully everyone is doing well and enjoying life. Take care and remember to smile. Love you all and miss you.

(Giant orange pillar. Yes, that is a bus on the right and a truck to the left.)