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We are in Kyoto now and settled into our guest house. All the girls are shoe horned into one room and they say it reminds them of being in girl guides.
On Sunday the chaperones had one more day to themselves. We went to the Noritake pottery and china museum and saw how china is made. Some beautiful displays of this craft led all three of us to be happy shoppers in the gift shop. After that we headed over to the Toyota museum. Very interesting history of the Toyota company and how it went from being a textile manufacturer to the car giant it is today.
On Monday morning we met the kids at school at 8:30. They were all very excited and shared their weekend adventures with each other and the chaperones. The homestay experience always produces a lot of anxiety in our kids before it starts, but once they were in it they love it. This group is no exception. I am proud of them for stepping up and trying all the experiences that were presented to them over the last few days.
On Monday we had our welcome/sayonara ceremony in the school gym and the entire school assembled for us. The Aichi Keisei students sat in neat rows on the floor with girls on one side of the gym and boys on the other. We sat in chairs at the front of the gym facing the stage. Mr. Adachi the principal started the assembly with a speech that spoke of our 9 year history and how his school and students have benefited from it. Our principal Ms. Marshall gave her speech and Ali did a great job as the KSS student representative in giving her greeting speech in very good Japanese. Aichi Keisei school then gave us a taste of their school culture with performances by two dance clubs, their cheer leading squad, brass band and acapella group. I was impressed by their skill but even more about the lack of self-conciousness these students had on stage.
After our reception we received lessons in Japanese caligraphy from Madoka sensei. We all did our best writing the Chinese characters (kanji) for maple tree, cherry tree, friendship and a few others.
The next event was the tea ceremony. But first we had to dress for the part. The boys received ‘happi’ coats which are light cotton jackets worn in the summer when men participate in local festivals. It didn’t take long for us to get dressed in our happi coats. The girls, however got some very special treatment as they wore kimono. The schools sewing and design class has produced some kimono and the girls were dressed in them. I say ‘were dressed’ because you really can’t put one on by yourself properly – at least until you have some experience.
Dressed in our happi coats and kimonos we walked to the tea ceremony room. The school has a tea ceremony club which is run by a neighborhood lady with a quite high level certification as a tea ceremony teacher. We were instructed in the basics of the tea ceremony and all drank some bitter ‘macha’ – the powdered green tea only used in the tea ceremony. Participation in the tea ceremony naturally leads you to be in the moment, which is truly a meditative experience. We all got a touch of that experience.
After lunch our students’ host brothers and sisters joined us for a tour of a local shinto shrine. After the shrine the students toured the adjacent outdoor market and bought lunches of yakitori and noodles at the outdoor stalls. We then went to an important temple nearby and the buddhist ‘heaven’ in its basement. We had to travel down a tunnel in complete darkness using only our hands on the walls to guide us. We then entered a room with statues of important dieties that we will likely meet in heaven. A mysterious experience.We returned to school and then the students returned home for their final night with their hosts.
We all met at 8:30 at Nagoya station on Tuesday morning. After some heartfelt farewells to our hosts we entered the Shinkansen (bullet train) station and found our platform. We boarded the Shinkansen at 9:00 and set off for Kyoto a short 40 minute ride. At Kyoto we were met by Meiko Nishida. Meiko was a student at KSS for a year and came home to Japan at the end of semester 1. She made many friends at out school and asked to help us out when we are here. Meiko helped us get into taxis and head out to our guest house – Sakura Peace House – to drop our luggage off. We then set out on foot for Kiyomizu Temple.
The weather forecast for today was 90% rain, but even though the skies were threatening all day the rain held off until 3pm – just when we ended our walking tour. We started off by walking up the hill to Kiyomizu Temple. Kiyomizu means ‘pure water’. The temple is named after for a spring on the temple grounds that is funneled to three stone spouts. Worshipers drink from the water with the intention of getting help for one of three problems they may have. If you have problems with your physical health you drink with that healing intention in your mind. If you have problems with your mind – such as how are you going to get it to work to its maximum potential to pass that university entrance exam – you drink with that intention. Finally if you have problems opening your heart to the world, you drink with the intention of fixing that.
At Kiyomizu we also found the ‘love stones’. These are two large stones about 10 meters apart that symbolize our search for love in life. In this case it means romantic love. The idea is you have to walk from one stone to the other with your eyes closed. If you are successful at this challenge you will have success with love in life. If not…. The good news is friends are allowed to help you with this activity just as they are with your romantic endeavors in real life. So as our kids made this journey they were kept on the straight and narrow with shouts from their friends of ‘left/right’! Everyone successfully completed the walk.
After Kiyomizu we walked down the hill toward Sanjuusangendo Temple. This temple is an impressive hall with the statues of 1001 bodhisattvas. These are beings who have achieved enlightenment, but instead of staying in nirvana have decided to come back to earth to help the rest of us become enlightened. A very mysterious hall. Each statue is different and has its own personality. But they are all very silent as the bodhisattvas are deep in meditation on our behalf.
We left Sanjuusangendo and walked for about 20 minutes to the hub of Kyoto – Kyoto Station getting there at about 2. The station is a very impressive building architecturally and is considered the most beautiful train station in Japan. It is also home to a high end department store and many good and inexpensive restaurants. The kids had free time until six and in that time were able to get their supper. After that we returned to the guest house by taxi.