Secondly, in my last post, I mentioned that I was doing an assignment that might interest you guys: a few paragraphs of descriptive writing about Japan. The assignment for my creative writing class was to devote a paragraph each to three different places you had been- just open up and write every detail you can remember about them, no matter how long-winded it becomes (kiss of death for me, if you know my writing style!) A few people expressed interest, so I figured, since it's kiiiiinda relevant (is there really anyone here who isn't a Japonophile?), I may as well tack it on to this housekeeping post!
The first paragraph, describing a closed kindergarten I passed by on my way to school during my third trip (senior year of high school, rural Japan):
Himawari Youchien had its door barred. All that showed above the garage-like barricade was the sign, a hand-painted sunflower and simple hiragana labeling the kindergarten. I passed by it every day for ten days on the two mile walk from the train station to my high school. The road wound like a vine down the hillside, and I was always struck by the iconicity of the scene; winding mountain roads in rural Japan are like endless plains are to Nebraska, or urban sprawl to LA. On one side was a small water garden, a pond with an elaborate waterfall and lilies floating like candles for the dead. On the other side squatted a plain white building made of something akin to brick but almost plasticine in its glossiness, and further down the road had to swerve sharply to avoid a small corn field half the size of my American backyard. The steps up to the small door were cracked and lichened; if they were an alcove there would be a thick layer of very unJapanese dust covering them. There was an ancient, rusting padlock on the gate, and the windows were harshly curtained with yellowed linen that might once have been white. The brightly-painted yellow sunflower, its fresh green leaves and succulent-looking stem were a harsh, confounding contrast to the general feeling of abandonment and disuse.
And the second, about Meiji Jingu in Tokyo:
(My own picture, these are the two oak trees in the first courtyard.)
There was a certain stillness in the air that breezed breathily through the ancient oaks. The only sound was the crunch of gravel and the murmur of pilgrims punctuated pizzicato by their clap-clap-clapping, and then drowned out by the big bell ringing the prayers up to the Shinto gods. The first courtyard of the shrine was nearly empty; aside from a periphery of scattered stalls where shrine maidens sold ema and cell phone charms – charms for lovers, for students, for drivers, for pets – the only things there were two massive trees. They were rung round with prayer boards, a wooden circle with rows of pegs hung sometimes nine boards deep, and most of them read the same things. I pray that I make it into university, I pray that I pass my exams, I pray that my sister finds a boyfriend, I pray that my mothers gets well, I pray for world peace. They were written in Japanese but also in English, in French, in German, in Korean. The second courtyard is a vast emptiness with archways on each side leading to paths through the surrounding forest, and at the opposite end is a huge arched doorway, through which a large rope and slatted box are visible in the darkness. There were people nearby, taking pictures or tossing coins into the box and clap-clap-clapping their prayers, women in modest skirts and sandals and men in polo shirts and khakis contrasting harshly with the white-and-red kimonoed miko sweeping floors and raking gravel, their long black hair tied into ponytails at their napes.