Very nearly everyone in my IES Abroad group clicked almost immediately. I could tell from the very first moment that these people would be my crutch this semester, and I would be theirs. A sense of community swept over us so quickly it is almost unbelievable. Just like I expect to be in touch with my good friend I met my very first day in Japan for many years to come, I feel the same about each and every one of the friends I've made in my IES group. In varying groups we went out to Inuyama Castle and bonded even more, went adventuring to find a shop to eat (for some reason a large number of restaurants and cafes in Inuyama are often closed) and bonded even more, and sat in Japanese classes to help us brush up on the language and...BONDED EVEN MORE.
We stayed in a ryokan (a Japanese-style inn) for orientation, and a very nice one at that. For boys, it was 3 to a room, and girls 4 to a room. It was a small but very comfortable space, and in here we were able to get to better know each other by talking about our different anime and manga preferences, sports, music (my favorite part of the information we shared with each other), Japanese studying tactics, hopes for this semester, life back at home, and all of our most vibrant memories of fun adventures past.
New friends I made in those first couple orientation days extended past just my fellow IES Abroad-ers. While exploring the humble streets of Inuyuma, I passed a small shop that immediately caught my eye. For inside, I noticed what I could easily decifer as an artist's studio space. I entered hesitantly, in order to show respect as is custom in Japan, which was somewhat difficult for me solely because I was literally overflowing with excitement to have my first encounter with authentic style Japanese art, and even more excited at my assumption that I would get to meet the artistic hand who created it. Luckily, I was right! Sitting in this small room filled with art was an elderly woman working her craft. I was amazed at the patterns, colors, quantity and quality of the walls, boxes, shelves and desks filled with art. I quickly started shuffling through a box to my immediate left filled with what looked to be original prints of varying subjects (flowers, birds, etc.) on varying sizes of cloths, starting from coasters and ending at...way bigger coasters? The price was far too good to pass up and I had to use an extreme amount of self-control to not buy as much as I could with every single yen I had on my person. I ended up striking up a conversation with the woman and got on the subject of me also being an artist. She asked me to take a seat and draw anything I wanted on a sheet of paper. Drawing a blank on a good subject, I quickly sketched a not so flattering portrait of myself. She accepted the drawing and introduced me to her craft of Katagami, the Japanese art of making stencils, usually to dye textiles. I was amazed at her precision and love of her craft. After she finished she handed them to me (she used my portrait for two different sizes and worked them at the same time, すごい！) and sent me on my way, for FREE. Of course, I still purchased multiple pieces of art from her. But either way, in that moment we became best friends. She even stamped her hanka in my Japanese journal and signed & dated it, IN ENGLISH! (also すごい！)
We tried many new things during those first couple days of orientation, lots of them were food. Not everything was amazingly delicious, but the majority of it was very good, and there was definitely more than one thing that WAS amazingly delicious. Our dinners ranged from French style restaurants to very traditional Japanese meals (eating on tatami mats and pillows). We were served multiple types of fish, shrimp (served in infinitely different ways), tofu, coffee jelly, sashimi, sushi, octopus, eel, fig, and many many other things I wish I could remember and explain in depth. Every night was something new and I loved every moment of it (even when the bites I took made me cringe just a little bit), live and learn.
We also explored nearly everyday for lunch and happened to find a very nice and cheap place to eat one day. This day was when I was introduced to katsudon (the big picture). おいしいでしたね！Katsudon is basically a bowl of rice toped with cooked onions, meat (in this case a delicously breaded chicken breast), egg, and some magic sauce that I am still not 100% of what it was but wow, SO GOOD. Other than all of these things I also tried Japanese curry for the first time, also very good. Basically it as all the same as regular curry except not nearly as spicy, although I do enjoy spicy foods I did not miss it too much because the flavor is all there and it is amazing.
Inuyama Castle (国宝犬山城）
We went on a group field trip to Inuyama Castle, which is a Japanese national treasure. We split into 4 groups with volunteer tour guides and embarked on an awesome journey. First we stepped through the temple gates and cleansed ourselves by washing our hands in specific steps, as is custom. Next we ascended into the castle and were introduced to the awesome history of the gorgeous place we were all standing for the first time in our lives. We walked up several seperate flights of steep stairs and each floor bore a new picture taking opportunity. The castle had sumarai suits, original tatami doors, a scaled down version of the castle, photos of every owner and some of their families, photos of other famous Japanese castles, and many more great things. At the top of the castle, as one would assume, there was a beuatiful view of the surrounding area in every direction. This Japanese treasure was truly a pleasure to visit and the culture lesson that came with it was the icing on the cake and a cherry on top.
Artist note: I was able to return 2 days later and get the stamp featuring the castle in my Japanese journal as well.
Karakuri Museum (からくり展示館）
After Inuyama Castle, we went to the Karakuri Museum. Karakuri are traditional Japanese mechanized puppets and are considered by some as the earliest form of robotics in Japan. These dolls and puppets were originally handcrafted by artists between the 17th and 19th centuries and were used primarily for entertainment. The museum was full of old puppets, new puppets, artist tools, masks, photos, primary sketches and of course, puppeteers. We got to watch a live puppet show and it was so great! Afterwards they even offered to have people step in and try to operate the puppets for themselves, I quickly took the opportunity. It was very fun, and I also feel like I could become a puppet master myself as a fun hobby. Being an artist it would almost make more sense for me to actually carve the physical puppets, though that craft is far beyond my personal ability. We were also offered to try and play traditional Japanese instruments that were often used during old puppet shows, unfortunately I wasn't as good at this as I was at manuevering a puppet...next time!
But wait, there's more!
After the puppet museum we visited a Japanese tea garden. Here we took part in an informal formal tea ceremony (if that makes any sense). It was an amazing experience and I wish I was staying until spring semester so I could experience a formal formal tea ceremony. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed in the tea ceremony, so you'll just have to take my word that it was an extremely serene space. Following the tea ceremony we entered the tea garden and were shown around the beautiful greens. Check out the pictures and enjoy! :)
This specific photo holds quite an amazing story. This space was specially design by the monks of the time. This is a place for spiritual cleaning and using the laddle and water to wash your hands, of course in a very specific manner, is meant to show respect to the family of the house and those who have passed. Below the black stones the monks integrated an extensive and impressive system that, when payed very close attention to, produces an amazing array of bells and chimes. Though it was slightly raining that day, when you step close you can hear it and for them to put that much work into something that could so easily go overlooked, I think is truly amazing and memorable. That specific moment may actually have been my favorite part of that entire day. The idea of creating things to be enjoyed by those only seeking to enjoy it far after you have left this earth holds a very special place in my heart.
Welp, I hope you enjoyed hearing about my adventures and hope it entices you to check in frequently with my IES semester abroad in Nagoya, Japan!
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<p>I am a graphic design student at Georgia State University. I work in a number of mediums including drawing, painting with oils, acrylics, and watercolors, and screen-printing. I tend to draw inspiration from artists such as Chuck Close, Dan Flavin, Roy Lichtenstein, KAWS, and Jeff Koons. I also enjoy studying different artistic styles as a whole, including: surrealism, pop art and Japanese ukiyo-e prints. Other than art and work, the majority of my time goes to listening to music and attempting to learn anything new from photography to playing a saxophone to transcendentalism. **attached creative sample is titled "A Groovy Portrait of a Universal Soul". 19.5x25.5. Micron pen and watercolor on paper.</p>