Student Blog Post #13 The Bullet Train

Final student presentations and packing for the trip home occupy our time today, Friday. Meanwhile Tommy Silva shares his trip on the Shinkansen or Bullet Train. 

The bullet train was an interesting experience. It is the fastest train in Japan and I would have to say it’s faster than any train in America. The fastest that the bullet train gets up to is 230km. That is 375 mph which is nearly as fast as an airplane. Before we had to get on the train, there were cleaners that only had 7 minutes to clean all the carts. It was cool to see how fast they cleaned it. It had that airplane type of feeling to it because of the seats and tray tables. There were even food carts. On the ride back from Kyoto we saw Mount Fuji. Even though we could only see the top of Mount Fuji it was still interesting seeing a volcano that has been active for 100 years now.

Christie shares a picture of the ‘pink’ cleaners. 

The group waiting at Kyoto station. The author, Tommy, faces the camera ( photo by Ruth.)

Finally Ruth shares this video of the train coming into Kyoto station. 


Student Blog Post #12 A Trip to a Pottery Village and an Unexpected Chance to Play the Japanese Game of Go

As we anticipate our last class on Friday we have a blog post from Alex Milliken And Jenny Beller. Alex shares the day trip that half the students took to Shigaraki when we were in Kyoto. Shigaraki is known as one of the six ancient kiln sites, and is known for its wood-fired, porcelain ware.

My personal favorite experience while visiting Kyoto was our one day trip to the “ceramic” village and cultural center in the small mountain town of Shigaraki. Our trip started off negotiating the Kyoto train station  to start our trip by train. As the trip progressed into the countryside, we had to keep changing into smaller and smaller trains until the final mountain climbing train that was only two cars long. While on the train we could look out the window to see aspects of local rural life that was very traditional in comparison to the busy streets of Tokyo or Kyoto. There were rice paddies and farms that looked as if they had not changed much over the past century. Finally we made it to our destination and got to experience first hand the beautifully imperfect and rustic works of art that have been being made in Shigaraki for nearly one thousand years.

Christie Herbert, Academic Director, adds a few photos she took during the trip to Shigaraki. 

Next we hear from Jenny Beller who had an unexpected experience in Kyoto she will never forget. 

Last Thursday in Kyoto I had the time of my life. I had the amazing opportunity to play Go, a very old, abstract strategy board game popular in Japan. I walked into a café near the Kyoto Station, ordered a snack, and sat down. Stunned and excited, I noticed several people playing Go at the table next to me! With a little nudge from Will, I went up to them and before I knew it, I was playing a game. There were three people: a lady, and younger gentleman, and an older gentleman. Despite the language barriers and communication difficulties, they were very inclusive and nice about making conversation. They asked me how I learned to play Go, and I said my dad taught me, and they asked why I was in Japan, and I explained about studying abroad to learn about Japanese culture and art. When I said I was from America, the older gentleman explained that he has an American friend who teaches at Cornell University and plays Go. Small world, I thought! Smiling and completely in the moment, this was truly an exciting and extraordinary experience. The younger gentleman was a very strong player, and despite having lost to him, I still relished in every moment. It was a night I will never forget.

Student Blog Post #11 Japanese Transportation Runs on Time

Today our blog post is by Andrew Swift who shares his observations of Japan. 

The Japanese schedules are very precise; trains and busses run right on time. Today I went to the train station in Akihabara to return to the Olympic Village. The schedule said the train was going to leave at 16 minutes past. I looked at my watch and it was 13 minutes past. We waited a few minutes then the train left exactly 3 minutes later. Another time we were waiting for a bus right in front of the Golden Pavilion in Kyoto. There was a schedule that told us when the bus would come and it came right on time. In addition to the busses I have also noticed that the food gets served faster than it does in the U.S. Most of the restaurants I have been to here are small and they need to get people in and out. Since we’re in one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the world it makes sense for schedules to be maintained and organized. I’d like to suggest that some American cities like Los Angeles would be better if they had more on time transportation systems.

This is the bus we can catch in front of the Olympic Village to get to Shibuya. The cost is about the same as 2 US dollars and we can use the same transportation debit card to ride  trains, subways and busses all over the country including Tokyo and Kyoto. 

Student Blog Post #10 A Look at Flowers in Japanese Culture

Today we hear from Will Sutton who explores the significance of flowers in Japanese culture. 

One thing that I have noticed on just about every one of our trips is the significance of flowers. There have been three particular flowers that have popped up consistently; the lotus, hydrangea and chrysanthemum.

The lotus has ties to Buddhism in that it is the namesake of the Lotus Sutra, a Buddhist scripture teaching of emptiness on ones way to enlightenment. I had the great pleasure of seeing the great Buddha statue in Nara and he is seated around lotus petals. The Japanese particularly love that the lotus blooms from dirty water into something beautiful and the transformation is seen as a form of enlightenment. The lotus also has the ability to look beautiful even as it is dying which is a form of mono-no-aware, a Japanese term meaning beauty is found in dying things.  

Hydrangeas have the unique ability to go through seven different transformations before they reach their final color and usually bloom from June to late July. The Japanese love hydrangeas for their ability to have such a long blooming period because of their interest in suggestion, meaning their ability to visualize what the flower will look like next during its blooming phases or even just as the buds begin to show. 

 Lastly, chrysanthemums are the imperial symbol of Japan and have represented the family of the emperor beginning in the Nara period from 710 to 793. The chrysanthemum is also seen as a symbol of rejuvenation and longevity. 

 One of the most fascinating features of all these flowers is that they represent the changing of seasons, (the lotus and hydrangea are summer and the chrysanthemum is fall), which the Japanese hold dear and leads to their love of both perishability and wabi-sabi, a term meaning rustic and withered elegance. In essence, the Japanese appreciate beauty in flowers at the beginning and end of their lives often more than when they are at full bloom.

Academic Director’s Report and a few more photos

Today Christie Herbert provides her perspective on the first two weeks of the program. 

Our first week of classroom work in Tokyo focused on a quick and immersive introduction to Japanese culture, including the topics of Japanese language, history, etiquette, values, and religion. Students either took a test on these topics prior to leaving for Kyoto or did a project. We also looked at and read about some core aesthetic principles that we would use as a lens with which to study the intersection of art and culture for the remainder of our trip. We started with the core concept of mono-no-aware, or the appreciation for the fleeting nature of all things, which derives from both Buddhist beliefs and the Shinto reverence for nature(not to mention the geography of Japan making it a place of both extreme beauty and danger). From there we looked at a continuum of overlapping ways of understanding the distinct design and culture of Japan—from the austere and rustic (wabi-sabi) to the opulent and showy. We then studied how Japanese culture has shaped its art—including the lack of distinction between fine art and craft, the emphasis on miniaturization and technological innovation, artistic lineages, the combination of visual and literary art, and on and on. One of the most interesting things about studying about the art and design of Japan is that it is a mirror of Japanese culture in its indirect and referential quality, so that as soon as we study one term, and think we have a clear understanding of it, we find that there are three other terms that overlap with and possibly contradict our understanding! In Kyoto, students had a very rich experience of Japan—from numerous visits to places of historic and artistic importance to experiencing a tea ceremony to deepening their ability to navigate around on their own. This group continues to exemplify the best of Landmark in their compassionate and kind ways of helping one another navigate in some challenging circumstances. So today we are back in Tokyo and will spend the morning making sense of all of our experiences in Kyoto. I liken it to returning from a trip to the beach and sorting all of our shells, and treasures, and again looking at how the art and culture of Japan intersects. Students will have the choice of completing a project or taking a test tomorrow. Then they will finish with a five slide presentation on Friday on the essence of what they have learned on this trip, both academically and personally. It has been a joy to work with such an engaged group.

And here’s another selection of photos taken recently by Christie. 

Here’s Jenny entering the ryokan. 

Christie caught me finishing my packing in the morning in my tatami mat room in the ryokan. 

Will enjoying our Japanese Shabu-Shabu dinner in Kyoto. 

Abigail enjoying her traditional bento lunch on the Shinkansen or bullet train. 

Student Blog Post #10 Tea Ceremony in Kyoto 

Christie Herbert and I are sitting in the student lounge tonight supporting students as they work on their projects or prepare for tomorrow’s test. Meanwhile we have a blog written by Madison Pryer describing our group’s experience at a tea ceremony in Kyoto a few days ago. 

On Wednesday, while in Kyoto we went to a traditional tea ceremony. We waited outside the small venue on a side street getting soaked by the rain. Hanging above the doorway there was a wooden sign that read, Tea Ceremony En. I was very excited to be a part of and learn the process of the ceremony. Before we could go in we were told to take off our shoes (as you would in a temple). Once we were all inside and had removed our shoes, the tea ceremony began. We all sat cross legged on the floor and we watched the demonstration and listened to the instructions carefully. I was captivated the whole time. I found the movements to be very relaxing. Then we got to make the green tea ourselves. The green tea was incredible; it didn’t need any sweetener.

Here’s a few more photos that I took during the tea ceremony.

Student Blog Post #9 A Visit to the Fushimi-no-Inari Shrine

We’ve returned to the Olympic Village in Tokyo for our final week in Japan. We still have a number of student blog posts and several will be about experiences we had during our week in Kyoto. Today we hear from Harrison McGuire regarding one of  his experiences in Kyoto. 

Yesterday we visited Fushimi-no-Inari Shrine in Kyoto. It was a beautiful place with paths going down through the woods and two main walkways going up its length. On my way up I was both extremely exhausted (it was a very long climb) and impressed by the many fox shines I passed by. However the real highlight of my day was when I took a wrong turn down a steep hill. I had assumed that this would take me down a scenic route through the forest to the main shine at the bottom of the mountain. Fortunately for me this path, while it curiously took me past a few people’s houses, eventually led me to a large bamboo forest. It was amazing– all of the trees seemed to move in tandem with each other, and emitted the same sound like a million doors creaking at the same time. I was incredibly moved by it, and as opposed to the path where I had been stopping to take pictures every few minutes, here I only stopped to take two, choosing instead to enjoy the ambiance. Of course while I absolutely loved the experience of finding and observing the beautiful bamboo forest, discovering that the bamboo forest led to a dead end and having to climb up half the mountain again is a an experience I could have done without.

Here’s a few pictures of the Fushimi-no-Inari Shrine that we visited. 

Andrew, Elizabeth, Will and our blog author. Harrison.