Nijo-jo Castle



Today, I visited Nijojo-mae, or Nijo-jo Castle. I was definitely happy that it wasn’t too far of a walk from my apartment–especially on a very hot and humid day like today. (I’m really beginning to appreciate that the Global Seminar was scheduled during June and July instead of August with its relentless heat).


While at Nijojo-mae, I went inside of the Ninomaru Palace (pictured above). In particular, I was struck by the differences in architecture and artistic style of the interior. This Palace was starkly different from the temple complexes that I’ve visited with my class. Unfortunately, no photography was permitted inside.

I was first surprised with the dimensions of the hallways throughout the complex. The hallways seemed to be both very wide and tall; the ceiling panels were painted with beautiful designs and flowers. Throughout the building, there seemed to be more of an emphasis on delicate woodwork.

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After the Palace, I walked the grounds of the Castle to view the gardens (pictured above). Unfortunately, I was rather disappointed with what I saw. Influenced by what I learned about the aesthetics of Zen gardens in the Global Seminar, I was very surprised to see a preference to use grass over moss in many of the spaces; in some areas, the grass was overgrown and looked very disorganized. In general, the moss did not seem well tended. In my opinion, the grounds seemed to follow a hybrid Japanese-Western style garden. I felt this detracted from the Castle’s aesthetics.


Kinkakuji and Ginkakuji

IMG_7933 On Friday, I visited Kinkakuji, a famous site in Kyoto where the Golden Pavilion is located. The Golden Pavilion, with its exterior covered in gold leaf, overlooks a pond-garden, and its sunbeam reflection in the water is striking in the summertime. It is no wonder why so many tourists want to visit it–even on the Friday I went, when it was one of the hottest and most humid days of my stay in Kyoto so far!

I actually preferred looking at the pond and garden surrounding the Golden Pavilion to the structure itself. The Golden Pavilion seemed unnecessarily baroque when viewed in the context of the aesthetics of Zen and other gardens that I have seen with the Global Seminar.




On Saturday, I went to Ginkakuji with some friends from class. Ginkakuji is home to the Silver Pavilion (pictured above). Unlike the Golden Pavilion, the Silver Pavilion wasn’t covered in silver leaf. I felt that there was less of an emphasis on the Pavilion and more of an emphasis on the gardens at Ginkakuji:

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The gardens here were absolutely beautiful. To be able to stroll through the gardens and view the different sites from various angles was one of my favorite aspects of Ginkakuji. Also, the view from Ginkakuji of Kyoto and of the mountains surrounding it is amazing:



I can’t believe that I only have a week left in this fantastic city and country. It’s definitely going to make me sad to leave!

Nihonga and Osaka

This past weekend, I had an fantastic time–from painting in the Japanese nihonga style to taking a trip to Osaka. On Friday, half of our global seminar visited the atelier of Professor van Tonder’s wife where we were able to see many of her nihonga works. She then led us in crafting our own nihonga paintings. It was a very arduous process that required a lot of patience (and hopefully, good weather conditions). We started by sketching our design on paper and then transferred it to the paper canvas. After that, we watched her prepare the ink that we then used to outline our sketches. Afterwards, we applied a white paint that would be the adhesive for the other paints we would use later on. We applied layers upon layers of paints onto the canvas, waiting between each application for the paint to dry out. The most intense part was the application of gold leaf to the canvas; the windows were closed, and everyone held their breath as we glued the gold onto the painting.

On Saturday, several classmates and I went to Osaka to visit Osaka Castle. Walking up to the castle, we were surrounded by a very beautiful complex. The Castle itself had an amazing view of Osaka, and we went through each floor of the Castle to view the museum exhibits that explained the history associated with the Castle’s construction and destruction.

Oh, yeah. I visited a Pokémon Center. Pikachu plushies for life. 😛


Scouting Unit 38 Service Project

I was walking down Horikawa Street when I coincidentally met Mr. Oh-yabu and other members of Scout Unit 38 of Kyoto Scout Council. As an Eagle Scout myself, I recognized the Scouting uniforms that they were wearing, so I decided to stop and ask them about the community service project that they were doing. With water flowing around their ankles, they were raking up the algae off the bottom of a shallow stream running along Horikawa. Mr. Oh-yabu told me that their volunteer work is important in the preparation of a festival that is to take place there in a few weeks.

I asked him if I could join them in their service project, and he happily accepted. For a few hours, we raked up the algae and traded many Scouting stories. I explained to him my experiences in the Boy Scouts of America, and he compared them to his own experiences with the Boy Scouts of America and Scouting in Japan. Mr. Oh-yabu was a very good-natured and funny person, and we shared a number of laughs in the heat of the afternoon.

While talking to Mr. Oh-yabu, it amazes me to experience how global the Scouting organization is, and even when I’m on the other side of the world, I see how the spirit to give service back to communities continues to thrive. It really was an amazing opportunity for me to participate in this project because of my own admiration for the Boy Scouts of America.IMG_7664 IMG_7665

Kanze Noh Theater

Today, we went to the Kanze Noh Theater in Kyoto. I had never seen a Noh performance before, and although I had read about Noh for lecture, I didn’t know what it would like to be in the actual audience.

The Noh performances opened with an ensemble of musicians: a flutist and drummers. Percussive vocals soon joined the instrumental music–I was impressed by the vocal control of the drummers, and later on, the choir and actors.

Thinking of my experiences with choral music, I recognized immediately the skills that these singers had. To transition smoothly from a deep, guttural sound to a falsetto requires a strong command of posture, breath, and tone. It was just incredible to witness the stamina of the singers and actors, too! There were several deliveries sung for at least five minutes at a time.

As the performances continued, I was amazed at the costumes–particularly those of the “Shite.” In the first performance, the Nochi-shite was a god while in the second, it was a spirit of a “nue.” Both had fantastic costumes with elaborate designs and possibly gold leaf. Along with the masks that the actors wore, the effect of these huge, brilliant costumes was somewhat terrifying–especially when the actors danced at the ends of the performances.

What contrasted the arcs of slow, controlled movements of the Shites in the first act was a series of quick, articulate gestures in the dance. The movements, however, remained just as graceful. It was truly an incredible experience.