Japan II Home
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Japan II:  Tomodachi, Tokyo
Top: Ming, Megumi and Mark (AEON Hiratsuka).  Above, right: Ayako, Utako and Michiko.

Below, left: Michiko and me.  Right: Looks like I'm having a serious discussion with Mark's co-worker (R) and his brother (L) who was visiting... we really weren't...
Above: Celine Dion was AEON's spokesperson/ad model that year. In about four out of five of the ads, she had her hand on her face like that-- we were beginning to think she had something to hide.  The next year, Mariah Carey was the poser (both were extremely popular in Japan).  Just my luck-- I would have much preferred someone like David Bowie...

Left: After the palace we met Melanie's student, Yuri, for yakiniku.  This is very thinly sliced and marinated beef that you grill at the table and dip into sauce.  It's the only time I eat cows.
There are several big fireworks displays throughout Japan in summer, especially in July and August.  These shows and the various neighborhood summer matsuri (festivals) are fun because of the festival food: corn-on-the-cob, barbecued squid-on-a-stick, tako-yaki (battered and fried octopus), etc...  and also because lots of girls and some guys wear yukata, the lightweight, cotton summer version of kimono.  Some matsuri have parades where they carry mikoshi (a portable shrine) through the streets.  Famous festivals include Gion Matsuri in Kyoto (the mikoshi are huge!) and Asakusa Sanja Matsuri in Tokyo.  Tens of thousands of people attend each of these every year. 

Kamakura, which is right on the ocean, has hanabi every year, and since I lived there, we started our day at my place.  First I had about 10 people over for lunch-- I don't think I could have fit more in if I wanted to.  Then we went to the beach, just a short train ride away, to watch the fireworks.  I don't think there was an occasion, other than just celebrating summer (and just fireworks, no mikoshi).  After the show, we went to this izakaya (Japan's version of a tapas bar).  The next year I saw the fireworks over the Sumida River in Tokyo-- they were great; they just needed more port-a-potties!
Left: I spent the weekend of my birthday/New Year's Eve 2000/'01 with Anastasia and Susan at Susan's apartment.  Anastasia made fabulous pumpkin soup one night, and her special balsamic spaghetti sauce the next.  They were both co-workers at Grandom, and Anastasia's the one I traveled with in SE Asia/India in 2001.  Yes, that's how they always look ;-)
Right: Michiko was one of my students at AEON and we still keep in touch.  She's a smart cookie with a good soul and was such a generous friend/tour guide/host.





Below:  Before I left Japan in January 2001, I went to a garlic restaurant called Ninniku-ya in Yokohama with (left) Nobuaki, a.k.a. George (the same student I had dinner with in Shanghai; he's an industrial designer); and (right) Yutaka and Megumi (who have since married; she ditched Ming).
More Friends & Around Tokyo/Yokohama

Below, left: Gaku & Blair (who have since broken up); Right: Susan & Ryo (who married in 2002)
Above:  Me and Blair on the train after having dinner at the best Israeli restaurant in Tokyo (Shalom, in Shin-Ekota).  When I left AEON, she replaced me.  We bonded instantly in the taxi on the way to my old/her new apartment, after finding out that we both loved Lamb (the band).  We've been sisters ever since... 

Right: On my birthday in 1999, I went to an Italian restaurant with my buddy Megumi (back, right), who was the assistant manager and my savior at AEON Higashi-Totsuka.  The manager was a very difficult person and if it weren't for Megumi, I might have walked out.  The other people in the photo are Ming, who was Megumi's (now ex-) boyfriend, and some of their friends from a study-abroad program.
Around Tokyo/Yokohama:
Of course, most of my tomodachi (friends) were fellow English teachers, staff and students in the Tokyo/Kamakura/Yokohama area...  Here are photographs from a few of our outings:
Kyoto

When my year at AEON was up, I went back to the US to visit for a couple weeks.  But first, I stopped in Kyoto for a few days (about 2 1/2 hours south of Tokyo on the shinkansen/bullet train).  
Above, right: Reika, Charlotte, Karenko, Keiko, Naoko

Below: Arashiyama.  The river and bamboo forests here are gorgeous!
Apartments
Work, Students
Kamakura, Yokohama
Jennifer Visits!
Kyoto, Hiroshima, Koya-san
Sapporo, Nagoya
Mashiko, Nikko
Mt Fuji, Fukushima, Fuji Rock Fest
Holidays, Meiji Shrine
Imperial Palace, Tokyo

Kōkyo, the Imperial Palace, is the official residence of Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko, who ascended the throne in 1989.  While the East Gardens are always open to the public, the palace grounds are open only two days a year: on the Emperor's birthday, December 23, and on New Year's Day.  So, Tracy, Melanie and I decided to pay a visit to His Highness on His special day...

Right: The palace grounds cover 1.15 square kilometers (.44 square miles) and includes several buildings similar to this one, a moat, and many gardens. This palace was completed in 1968, after the previous one was destroyed
in WWII air raids.  Prior to the Meiji Restoration of 1868, Japan's Emperors had lived in Kyoto.
Above, left: Just like the guards at Buckingham Palace, you can't make these guys laugh...
Hanabi (Fireworks) in Kamakura
Left:  Yurie, Saori, Ayako (not pictured) and I made Korean food at Saori's apartment. It was in the 90's that day, and very humid... They were all fellow teachers at AEON.

Below: Motoko (the mom) was one of my intermediate students.  She had another classmate (Hiroko, not pictured) and me over for a fabulous dinner of chirashi-zushi (a big bowl of rice with all kinds of fish and vegetables-- kind of like open-air sushi) and barbecued veggies.  Her son and daughter were cute kids; her daughter especially was quite a clown!  That's Motoko's husband on the right.
I lived in Kyoto from 1991-93 and taught at GEOS' Karasuma location with Charlotte (from Canada), Naoko, Keiko and Reika (all Japanese).  Coincidentally, Charlotte had returned to Japan for a second go-round just before I did, but in Nagoya (about 1/2 way between Tokyo and Kyoto), and she left at this time, so we used the opportunity to have a little reunion.  (Naoko gave me my nickname "Karenko," because most Japanese girls' names end in "ko.")

Kyoto was Japan's political capital from 794-1192, and one of the few places that escaped bombing in WWII. It continues to be the culture
capital as well, with over 250 Shinto shrines, 1600 Buddhist temples and other cultural properties.  In all of Japan, my very favorite temple is Tenryuji, in Arashiyama, founded in 1339 (photos above).  I love the gardens, the rocks, the sculpted trees, the ponds, the bamboo... 

Coming in at a close second is Ryoanji, in western Kyoto, founded in 1473.  It belongs to the Rinzai sect of zen Buddhism and has a beautiful garden made of thousands of small pebbles and 15 larger rocks.  The 15 rocks are arranged so that you can only see 14 at once, no matter where you stand.  Too bad, I didn't go to Ryoanji on this trip, so I can't show you photos...