Koyasan [Day 1]

Koyasan in Wakayama Prefecture is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.

During spring break, my friends and I took a weekend trip to Koyasan, a World Heritage Site and the center of Shingon Buddhism.  Kobo Daishi, Shingon Buddhism’s founder, built Koyasan as his place of worship.  Kobo Daishi is entombed at Okunoin Temple, where people believe he’s resting in eternal mediation.

Koyasan is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever traveled to and I was in awe everywhere we went.  Nature, religion, and serenity transcends on this mountain town.

Koyasan can be accessed from Osaka on the Nankai Railway.  You can purchase a 2 Day pass at Osaka-Namba station for ~$26.00, which covers the train fares from Osaka to Koyasan and back, the cable car, unlimited bus rides, as well as discounts at some of the sites in Koyasan.  It’s a great money saver if you’re going to be staying in or around Koyasan and plan on visiting for two days.



We got into Koyasan around 3:30 pm, which only gave us an hour and a half to look around before many of the sites closed.  I didn’t realize Koyasan was also a town with 4,000 residents.  I thought the whole area would be temples and shrines, but was pleasantly surprised by the cute town that awaited to be explored.  I also used the nicest public restroom I have ever seen in that town.


Our first stop was at the Garan, the main temple complex.  I loved walking around the temples, nestled amongst the trees.  There was something different about this place.  It was almost as if I could feel all the history and significance in the air.  I wanted to soak in all the history this place had to offer.









Next, we walked to Daimon, the gate that those walking the pilgrimage trails passed under to enter Koyasan.  Those trails are still open to hikers, those who want to approach Koyasan the traditional way.


And of course, I have to have a picture of food.  Finding food was really difficult for us this trip.  We found out on the second day that we were looking in all the wrong areas.  We ate dinner outside of Koyasan in the city of Hashimoto.  Even finding food there was really difficult.  It seems that every store was closed and the people at the train station had trouble telling us of a restaurant that was open (it was only 7pm on a Saturday night!).  Note that: Wakayama is a countryside prefecture.  The further you go from Osaka, the more country it becomes.

If you ever find yourself in the Kansai region of Japan (and you should), consider putting Koyasan on your itinerary.  It’s such a beautiful and historical part of Japan, which displays many of the Japanese ways of simplicity, nature, and tranquility.  Although I did not have the opportunity this time, you can also stay overnight in a temple and experience a monk’s life, eating the same foods and waking up at 3am to pray.  I hope that I can travel back there one day and be able to stay in one of those temples.

Sakura + Mark’s New Home

Numazu

As spring break is winding down and the new school year is starting, the cherry blossoms are also starting to fall.  I was so happy that I was able to see the cherry blossoms in full bloom and spend the last few days of break with Mark in his new home, Numazu.  He was slowly getting used to his new city, as he had only lived there for a week before I got there.  I love his city and I’m excited to be able to make more trips there.  It’s definitely a different feeling from my countryside town.

Numazu     Numazu

You can see the top of Mt. Fuji from the city.  Mt.  Fuji is blocked by another mountain, though it looks like one mountain from the pictures.  Mark said that the mountain in front of Mt. Fuji will save their lives if Mt. Fuji would ever erupt.  Nonetheless, seeing the top of Mt. Fuji often (depending on weather) is a great site!

Numazu  Numazu
Numazu

We spent the weekend cherry blossom viewing, hiking, and eating.  I was finally able to enjoy the cherry blossoms and I can see all the hype about them.  It’s absolutely beautiful seeing all the pink flowers everywhere.  I wish it could stay spring for forever!

Numazu
Numazu

Ise Jingu: Japan’s Most Sacred Shrine


Ise Jingu is Japan’s most sacred Shinto shrine and it is located in my home prefecture, Mie.  The majority of Mie is countryside with its biggest industries being fishing and agriculture.  It is really exciting (and a bit confusing) to know that the holiest shrine in all of Japan is within an hour of where I live.  This shrine is a bit out of the way from Kyoto and Tokyo for those who were making the pilgrimage in between those two cities.

My friend and I had planned this day trip a few months in advance and the day we picked happened to be the day after Japan’s largest snowstorm in a very long time (I’ve heard 10 years and 100 years… I’m not sure which one is correct.  Then a few weeks later, we had an even bigger snow storm…).  Parts of the shrines were closed off due to the snow, so we weren’t able to explore the entire grounds.  It may not look like a lot of snow, but this prefecture usually doesn’t see that much snow.  I think people were confused on what to do…

If you want to be more “traditional,” you should start from the Outer Shrine (Geku) and walk to the Inner Shrine (Naiku), as part of the pilgrimage experience.  But if you’re like us and many other people, you can take a bus in between the two shrines.  We started at the outer shrine, which was closed when we got there since they were clearing snow from the path.  We decided to eat lunch while we were waiting and went to a soba restaurant.




Geku is dedicated to Toyouke, the goddess of food, clothing, and housing.  Cameras aren’t allowed in the main shrine area, but you can catch a glimpse of the torii (gate) leading to the shrine itself, through the white curtain.  Unfortunately, due to the snow, people weren’t allowed to walk through the torii and into the shrine.


Our next stop was Naiku, the inner shrine, which was about a 15 minute bus ride away.  Naiku is dedicated to Amaterasu, the Sun Goddess, making it the most important Shinto shrine in Japan.

The entrance to the inner shrine


A shrine within the grounds


The inner shrine is beyond those steps

Like the outer shrine, you are unable to take pictures of the shrine itself, but it was simple, yet beautiful.  I learned that these two shrines are purely Japanese architecture, built from no outside influence, showing the Japanese style of simplicity and serenity.

Right next to the inner shrine is, Oharaimachi, a road of traditional buildings with many stores and restaurants.  We loved walking around here looking at all the food and souvenirs.


I would recommend Ise Jingu to anyone is in the area, since it’s an important landmark in Japanese history and Shintoism.  Unfortunately, it’s a little out of the way for travelers who hit up the major cities and attractions.  For being the most sacred shrine in Japan, it’s not well known.  I didn’t know about this shrine until I emailed one of my professors (who did a lot of research in Japan) and he told me about it.

The outer shrine is located, in Ise, Mie Prefecture, about a 5-10 minute walk from Ise-shi Station, on the JR and Kintetsu Lines.  It is free to enter the shrines.

 

April Budget Challenge

Let’s talk money.  Money!  We all need money to do the things we want to do or have the things we want, I know I do.  Traveling is such an important part of my life and something I love doing, but as we all know, it costs money.  Lately, Mark and I have been planning our big trip at the end of the year and while I’m super excited to plan and finally visit those countries, I know that a lot of money saving is coming up in the near future.

I went a little off my budget path in March… Okay, I went off it a lot.  When I look at my budget app, almost everything is in the red, ah!  Maybe it was partly because I was trying to get out of a rut, but every now and then I want to shop and eat really good food!  I was going to take a picture of my money to add some excitement to this post, buuuuuuut, I’ve pretty much spent all my cash…  Anyway, I was scanning Pinterest for budget tips and came across this challenge: Focus on Finances on Fun, Cheap, or Free.  I was inspired by this clever way to budget and since it’s past January, I though, Why not create my own?

So now I’m blogging about it, so people out there in the internet world know what I’m doing.  If it’s blog official, I have to stick to it, right?


From previous months, I have determined how much is a good overall spending goal for the month.  A part of this challenge is to withdraw all the money I need for the month, to decrease the amount of times I go to the ATM.  It also motivates me to save as much money as I can, because the unspent, excess money will go into my savings (yes!).  Another main part of the challenge is a spending freeze, a day/week when you don’t spend any money (bills excluded).

Why all this budgeting? An important part about budgeting is having a specific goal in site.  “I want to save 5 million dollars by June.”  Okay, that’s a great goal, but is it attainable?  Maybe if you’re Bill Gates, but if you’re a English teacher in Japan, you will never see that kind of money.  Make realistic, attainable goals for yourself, so you’re not stressed out about saving an amount of money that isn’t feasible.  Sooooo…

Let’s make a goal!  (This is how I talk to my students: Let’s (insert verb here)!  I’m all about ‘Let’s do such and such’ now) By December, I want to send $6000 back home to build my savings for grad school and a new car.  I also want to save $1,500 for my winter trip in December.

Why?  I want/need a new car, because once I go home, I will have no means of transportation.  I also need to go to back to school in order to be able to work in the field I want to go into.  Lastly, I love traveling and think it’s very important to experience different cultures because it broadens your understanding about yourself and the world.  There are so many places I want to travel to!  I would like to cross off my two top countries off my list of travel destinations in December.

Feel free to join along!  It’s always nice to know that you’re not the only person doing a challenge alone.  Let me know if you are because I would love to hear about your experiences and different kinds of saving methods you use.

How do you budget?  What methods have worked really well for you?  What are you saving up for?

A Response to an Almost Expat

I’m in no way an expert on being an expat.  I’ve only lived abroad for almost 8 months (holy cow!  8 months already?!) but in that short time, I’ve had so many new experiences and had to figure my way through situations that would never happen back at home.  Last time, I asked Mark a few questions about his worries and excitements about moving here.  I was so really happy to see everyone’s responses.  They made Mark feel a lot better about moving!  Thank you so much!

Today, it’s my turn to bestow my wisdom for him (okay, I’m not that wise and my advice isn’t that great) from my experiences from living in Japan, so far.  Even though I do this almost everyday…

I’m not sure what this has to do with the post, but you can see this if you move to Japan!

Worries about abiding by the culture
Watch people.  Maybe that’s my anthropology background speaking, but really, watch people.  You can learn so much from just watching what other people are doing, whether it’s at a restaurant or at work.  It is important to read up about certain cultural practices before moving, so you’re not seen as completely rude and ignorant, but many times, you can’t learn everything from a book or a web page.  Like, I didn’t know that you’re supposed to flatten out your milk cartons after eating school lunch.  How exactly am I supposed to do that?  I watched the kids and a lot of them helped me.  (Fun fact: they recycle the milk cartons and they are made into toilet paper!).

Another random thing that it is really confusing is separating your trash.  Japan, I still don’t understand your trash separating!  If you’ve never lived in Japan, let me give you an example of something I thought was crazy: when you recycle a plastic bottle, you have to separate the cap, the plastic wrapper on the bottle, and the bottle itself.  That’s three different piles of recycles for one tiny bottle.  Isn’t it all plastic, you say?  Yeah, I don’t understand either.  Watch how people throw their trash away.  There are literally 2-3 different trashcans and sometimes they’re only written in Japanese.

Be excited!  Be be excited!
This is an amazing opportunity, but of course there will be ups and downs.  As I recently learned, the expat life isn’t all travel and fun.  There are times when your life will be monotonous and boring.  Once you get into a routine, your expat life just feels like normal, everyday life.  Remember to remind yourself that you’re living abroad, that there’s always adventure out there, new places to go, new things to eat, new things to learn.  When you feel like you’re in a rut, remember why you came here and take a trip (big or small) and explore.

Take a risk, take a leap, and breakawayyy (I don’t think that’s how that Kelly Clarkson song goes…)
Moving abroad, in general, is a HUGE leap of faith.  You never know what’s on the other side, what kinds of situations you’ll encounter or how you’ll react to living in a new culture.  I think an important thing is to remain positive and open minded.  Each day is a new day and a new adventure.  You’ll learn so much about yourself and your new country.  There will be times when you’re frustrated because you don’t understand people or they don’t understand you or you don’t get why they do this and the list goes on and on.  Take a deep breath.  Everything will be okay.  You can get out of situations more easily if you keep your cool.

What life in Japan like?
I think the hardest thing for me is communicating with people, since my Japanese is very elementary.  The worst people to talk to with elementary Japanese are the post office people and the train people.  Most of the time, I can understand 60-75% of what people are saying, but with at the post office and the train station… 0-5%.  I think it’s because they use a really formal language there, which in Japanese, is completely different from everyday speaking.  I’ve had most of my panic moments talking to these people.

As for teaching, since we weren’t technically trained, I found it a “learn as you go” process.  I had an idea of the kinds of activities I wanted to do, but as the months went on, I found out what works and what doesn’t.  I found new activities I wanted to try to make my lessons more exciting.  I still have a lot more to learn, because there are days when I think my lesson is completely boring, but as for now, I will continue to look for new activities and learn from the teachers I work with.

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Those are some of the things I’ve learned and experienced in the past 8 months living as an expat.  Everyone’s experiences are different, so I can’t speak for all people.  I’m sure you (Mark) will have a different experience than me and will eventually have you’re own advice for new expats.  My closing words would be:

Go out there and enjoy this opportunity!  Soooo many people out there would love to have an experience like this and aren’t able to and remember why you came here! 






















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