My fiancee made the (very valid) point that my post are too text heavy. I do prefer the feel of some of my older posts, so I’m going to try to apply more graphics to each article. I also have a dearth of photos from my time in the land of the rising sun. This will be first of several post where I display said photos, and tell whatever stories may be attached to them.
There is something about castles that rouses a child-like excitement in me. Youthful fantasies of knights, dragons, samurai, and ninja clashing in grand battles dance in my head. The dreams are something akin to Game of Thrones on LSD. I am constantly amazed at how amidst bustling, modern Japanese cities grand traditional structures like these castles rise out. The old and the new complementing each other more than contrasting. They balance each other out, and give each other space in a land where space is at a premium.
I visited Osaka Castle and Nijo Castle on my initial stay in Japan. When I returned, every one of my Japan faring friends asked if I visited Himeji Castle. I had not. Osaka Castle and Nijo Castle are marvelous in their own right, but it is difficult to compare them with Himeji Castle. One of the few castles to remain unscathed by the ravages of natural disaster or war (especially the second world one.) The interior is maintained just as it was in the castle’s prime, contrary to many castle that were converted into museums. It is also the largest and arguably most beautiful castle remaining in Japan.
On my next experience in Japan I set Himeji Castle at the top of my bucket list. On a warm summer’s day I set out from Kobe to the Himeji by rail. Exiting the station, I set off down the main road. At the road’s end stood Himeji Castle, ascending like some glorious statuesque mountain of white marble. The backdrop of the brilliant azure summer sky seemed almost dull in comparison. This is why they call the castle the White Crane.
Even on a week day this monument drew admirers. Passing through the outer gate I noted the children, the bohemians, and the fellow tourists. Greetings were made by an actor styled as a ninja. Photos were taken depicting my untimely demise. I entered the outer courtyard, ringed with cherry trees. Even out of bloom the trees painted a tranquil landscape in emerald and auburn. The courtyard was dotted with couples and pet owners. Dogs frolicked in the grass while one unique sight caught my eye.
A tall, young, Japanese man with a thin goatee, in khaki shorts, white polo, and fisherman’s hat stood excitedly encouraging his pet. “Banzai!” he would shout, throwing his arms in the air. “Ganbare!” he exclaimed as his little pet turtle trotted along carefree.
I don’t know why this man chose to bring his turtle to Himeji Castle. At the same time, I don’t know any reason he shouldn’t. Perhaps his turtle was lethargic at home. Maybe he feared his turtle grew depressed and needed inspiration. I like to believe that is the case. I like to believe he brought his turtle to the castle and said “Look at this my hard shelled friend. This castle has stood for hundreds of years. It is the jewel of our city. Just because you have a hard shell, does not mean you must have a hard heart.” Seeing this, the turtle elated. He saw a kindred spirit and a senpai in the castle.
He saw something to aspire toward.
Summer has come to Japan, and it is hot as balls. The heat isn’t as bad as the humidity. At night, and even during the day, you can actually see the air because it is so thick with moisture. Every few days we hit a breaking point. The sky opens up and torrents of rain pour down. I’ve taken to bringing a spare t-shirt and a towel to school with me, as I tend to sweat through the first one before second period. In August the rain will taper off, the heat will increase, and my students will be off on their summer vacation. And so will I.
My friend Dana is coming to Japan in August, for which I am very excited. Though I’ve only known Dana for a year, she’s someone with which I feel very close. She’s very intelligent and quite well traveled, but I think Japan will be a whole other world to her. A culture similar to our own but in many ways quite different. I look forward to showing her around and us making some new discoveries together.
Our plans are still in the rough stages. We’ll meet in Tokyo, explore the city for a week, take a day trip to Kamakura, go clubbing at Ageha. The next week will be spent in Kansai. A day in my town, a day for Kobe or Nara, and the remainder split between Kyoto and Osaka. There is so much to this country and each city. The same can be said of the US. I still have so much more to see.
July 7th is Tanabata Matsuri, and though I will post this later, today is Independence Day. I’ve spent the past week doing a bit of cultural exchange in my classes, explaining the 4th of July to my students while they explain Tanabata Matsuri to me. I put together a nice Powerpoint presentation and speech, which I feel went very well. However, doing research for the presentation made me a bit home sick.
The 4th of July is something uniquely American, and the Boston celebration is quite amazing. I’ve often over looked it in the past, but the 4th of July, America’s history and what America stands for is something truly wonderful. Becoming jaded is easy, and the word “patriotism” is bandied about by a lot of ignorant and hateful people. They abuse the word, and make people ashamed of its presentation. But patriotism isn’t something we should shy from, or twist for our own meanings. Patriotism is not owned by one group but shared by any individuals who love their country. Those who fight for their country, be it in war or by pushing for positive change and greater unification, are patriots. People who seek bring progress, focus on the welfare of their fellow man and the betterment of their country are patriots. Those who seek to undermine the lesser man, the under privileged, the poor, the diverse and the different, are no better than the oppressive monarchy we fought to free ourselves from two hundred thirty four years ago. They are no patriots.
For all its faults and flaws, I love America. I know what it is, what it was and what it can be. I hope for a brighter tomorrow, and support all those working towards one. Living in a foreign country, despite it being one I love, has given me a renewed sense of patriotism. I am proud to be an American. And while I can’t see a large fireworks display or listen to the Boston Pops, I will spend this night grilling hamburgers, drinking beer, and lighting off what fire works I can get at the local convenience store while humming the Star Spangled Banner. Not in that order, though. What could be more American?