My life long dream came true on our last day together in Tokyo. We visited the Ueno Zoo and I got to see a panda!! Pandas have been my favorite animal for my whole life, and I’ve always wanted to see one. One time we were at the Milwaukee Zoo and we were supposed to see a red panda but the exhibit was cancelled. Yesterday was redemption. I go to see red pandas AND giant pandas. The first time we walked through they were sleeping, but we decided to go through again and they were sitting up eating bamboo! I was so wonderful and a great was to end my little holiday with my family.
We all felt that it was important to visit Hiroshima. We first went to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. We decided to buy the audio guide, and we were so glad that we did. It made the stories come to life, and have that much more impact. I hadn’t ever studied the bombing of Hiroshima, so all this information and imagery was very emotional and tough to swallow. The images of affected people didn’t hold back, and gave the viewer the true feeling of devastation and pain; not even an ounce of what they were feeling. We learned more about specific individuals and families that were hit and their stories. How family members were sometimes never found, or if they were, they were unrecognizable. That families would watch each other die, and sometimes feel so much pain and loss that they would take their own lives to escape the horror. Or that children would be left orphaned and lose their appetite when they saw a family together. There were clothing items that showed the effect of the bomb, some of which were said to be seared to the individual’s skin and had to be cut off. Other items such as watches, wallets and coins were the only things left of a person that was never found or identified. We spent about three hours in the museum, there was so much to see and read about, and I’m glad I have a larger perspective and educated mind on the event.
We walked around the surrounding area after visiting the museum and saw the one building that is still standing from the bomb. It was quite eerie. I read that there was much debate over keeping the building or not, while it preserves the history of the event, did it bring back too many horrifying memories for those who survived? We also got to see the Children’s Peace Memorial inspired by Sadako and her paper cranes. I’m glad I read the book, as it made me feel more emotionally aware of the story behind the statue and its overall meaning. There were huge containers surrounding the memorial, all filled with paper cranes. I’m glad we travelled to Hiroshima to learn more about its history.
I was given four days to travel outside of Onishi during my internship, so I took my holiday while my sister and mom visited! It was great to show them around Onishi so they could see what I’ve been experiencing these several weeks.
We decided to travel to Kyoto, a more touristy city in Japan. We took a train to Tokyo Station, and from there rode a bullet train to Kyoto. I had booked a hotel a while ago not really knowing the absolute best spot to stay, but it ended up being just perfect. It was only a ten minute taxi from Kyoto Station, and was walking distance from the Gion District and a large shopping area. That first night we explored the old district and had some of the best dumplings EVER. Then we walked around the shops and had some great finds. We went in the coolest vintage clothing store and Emily and I bought some really neat dresses.
Our next day we visited Fushimi-Inari Shrine. It was breathtaking! We made a wish with a coin in the main area, and then shook these wooden containers and pulled out a stick with a number that corresponded with a fortune we received from the counter. We later found that there were also shrines up the mountain that had each number on them so we found our shrine as well. We started up the stairs going through these large orange gates. We learned that they are all there from those who donated. As we went higher and higher the gates change from large, to small, to large again. We made it to a spot that had a progress map and found out we had only made in to the first marker!! After all that way? So we decided maybe it wasn’t the time to go to the very top. What an incredible place to visit, something so out of the ordinary!
We then travelled to the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. I’ve never seen that much bamboo! It felt like walking through a portal into another world. We walked for a long time through the forest and then came across a Temple that we explored. The grounds were beautiful and it had a lovely garden as well.
After a long day in the sun, we were hungry! We had tried to eat at this Italian restaurant, Vinaino, the previous night, but it only had five tables and was booked, so we had it reserved for that night. It’s hard to put into words not only how delicious the food was, but how wonderful the dining experience was. The man who owned the place was talking to us the whole time we were there and was just so jolly and welcoming. He wanted us to try many dishes, so we all shared several. It’s times like this, even across the world, that people are still people. That might sound odd, but there are good people everywhere, and experiences like this make me so excited to travel more and open myself to different people.
I finally have time to share my experience at the music festival! Weeks of preparation, learning and practicing Taiko drums, finally came to an end. I thought I had so much to prepare and worry about, but the work and effort given especially by the group leaders was incredible. Since our group (out of five) was the leader of the festival this year, there was even more to plan and prepare on their end, making my little part seem almost silly!
To begin the first day, we had help from a local in putting on our uniforms. She helped us with the belts and tied them super tight and low as per tradition. Most of the day consisted of pulling the shrine with huge ropes yelling “Wah Shoi” to encourage everyone to stay positive and try their hardest. We were pulling everyone playing drums and flutes on the shrine, and there were even people on the roof with lanterns. We would stop at different locations and our leaders would present our group and say a few words, but the instrumentalists would switch out as the shrine was moving. Mostly kids played the drums which surprised me a bit, I would have thought the fast playing elders would play throughout the town, but now I see that they had their time and its about preserving the tradition in their kids. It was fun to watch as shrines met through the town face off and play at each other. One of the most fun moments of the day was running up the hill near the end of the night. No kids were allowed on the rope at this time to avoid injury so there was a lot more room as we ran full speed up the hill with hundreds of spectators on either side of us. Then to close the night the shrines met in a circle and played their group’s song. I also got to play the drums twice that night! It was such a rush getting up there and looking out into the crowd, but I just did my best and smiled through the song.
The second day was much hotter so my sister mom and I took a more hands off approach to the day and spent some more time observing and enjoying the festival. Forgot to mention that they came to visit and we had some wonderful days together. We were so lucky to have them in the festival as well. Emily and I walked around the venders, had some delicious food, and made it back to the shrine in time to pull it up the hill again. At the end of that day the shrines met in the large parking lot in a half circle and played in order several times. I was given the chance to play again, an experience unlike any other. I’m so grateful to have been taught and welcomed into these traditions.
This post doesn’t begin to capture the energy and excitement felt on those days. Yes they were long sweaty days, but the sense of community and passion urged you to keep pushing your worn out body. I’m already missing the late night Taiko practices and those from our festival group. If it was something I looked forward to each day, I can’t imagine how much the people of Onishi love it and miss it when the two days come to an end. I can’t stress enough how kind and welcoming everyone has been to us. This is a pretty close knit town, and the fact that they were so open to allowing us to join their biggest pride is just incredible. I will never forget the festival and the faces that let me be a part of it.
I have to share a bit of this experience before the memory of it begins to fade. Yesterday we drove into the mountains, about an hour away, to visit Myogi Shrine. One of the residency’s close friends, Motoe Kawashima owns and runs the grounds. Her father and brother are Shinto priests. Their house is on the property and is huge and beautiful. We ate lunch in this large room that was opened up by sliding doors to the outside. You could see out to the towns under the mountain, it was an incredible view. Motoe explained to us the history of her family and showed us a smaller room connected to ours that was slightly raised from our section. She said that it was a room only for the emperor to reside in to show that the family is close to him and show their power.
Then she brought out some packages. I could not have guessed that we would be given the privilege to wear some of these one of a kind Miko shrine maiden uniforms. I felt like a princess as she dressed me! Every tuck, fold, and tie was done with precision and purpose, making the entirety of the process even more special. I even got to wear a headpiece resembling a crown.
We then explored the grounds and climbed a very tall staircase to the top of the mountain to visit the shrine itself. Before we went up we had to purify ourselves in a short yet significant water rinsing ritual. The Myogi Shrine is only used on January 7th each year. We were able to go inside, yet another privilege not regularly offered. Here we were told to leave the center of the room open, and if crossed to bow as we passed through, as this is where the gods go in and out of the shrine. Motoe taught us how to properly pray in the shrine as well. We kneeled on a small mat, bowed twice, clapped loudly twice (so that the sound would travel to the gods and they would hear us), prayed, and then bowed once more to finish. Although it is not my religion, I felt honored to be taught their ways. We explored the grounds a bit more before leaving, and one of my favorite parts were these small bells strung in a line in different areas. They made such a peaceful sound, meant to ward off evil spirits.
I can’t believe all the authentic experiences I am getting here. There is no other site or internship that would provide something this special. I’ve loved every new opportunity and can’t wait for all that is ahead of me.
I have finally found some time to sit down and share my experience here in Onishi Japan thus far. Our travels here were not without some struggles, but problem solving and quick thinking helped us in arriving on time at the bus station to meet Kjell, our boss and owner of Shiro Oni Art Residency. I got a sense of how close the community was in the first few minutes in arriving as Kjell introduced us to a woman not twenty feet from the bus stop. We met lots of people who live in the area who joined us for dinner as well. I immediately feel so welcomed in this town, something that surprised me considering its rich culture and isolation from the rest of the world. Our neighbors Ken and Aya are some of my new favorite people. They love getting to know us and Aya speaks through google translate when she can’t quite get the english out.
The first several days were filled with lots to do. We toured the surrounding towns, biking through winding streets and up steep mountain sides where we met more friends of Kjell. We also toured the immediate Onishi area and met lots of people who will be in our festival group. They are all so excited to learn about the artists’ work and us in general. On this tour I was able to physically see a lot of the restaurants that I am designing english menus for as well, which helped me find a sense of direction in beginning that work. So far I’ve made three new menus and some other flyers to help visiting residents understand the language.
It’s interesting how the smallest things are harder to do in a foreign country. That seems odd to say because of course everything is different, but something as simple as finding what you need at the super market turns into a treasure hunt. I was actually surprised with my skill in finding what I needed at the market, I can thank my mom for that as she made me do things on my own at a young age. We also cook one night a week for the house, a skill I’m also happy to have. I learning to try new things, and not say “no” to anything. I’m never going to get these opportunity again right?
One of the coolest experiences so far has been rice planting. We drove out to a farm and were even given the traditional rice planting clothing and a hat to wear as we planted to get the full experience. Calve deep in mud, we planted our rice in the corners of the grid for a couple hours. Definitely makes you more inclined to finish every grain at the next meal.
I’m sure there’s so much more I’m leaving out, but I’m truly loving every minute of being here. Human connection is something I crave, and an aspect to my life that must be present in order to enjoy an experience, and I can say with confidence that this site is absolutely providing that. I hope I can give to the residency what it has given me in these weeks to come.
I’m very excited to share a little about myself and how my passions and interests have led me to this unique experience. I am a sophomore student, studying Marketing with a minor in Entrepreneurship. I am currently involved on campus as a member of the track and field team, Sigma Kappa Sorority, and different student organizations including Student Senate and AKPsi our business fraternity.
I am very excited to be interning at Shiro Oni Studio this summer. I have enjoyed learning more about their mission, history, and past experiences. I am eager to involve myself in their dedication to bring community focused artists together in order to foster a sense of togetherness through art and unity. I look forward to assisting in the marketing of events and coordination of necessary projects. I’m most excited to immerse myself in the global community and meet artists from around the world. This is truly a unique, once in a lifetime experience unlike any other!