Houston Fulbright Blog – 181129

Hello CHME friends, faculty, and students,

Kyo wa sukoshi samui desu ne.

[It’s a bit cold today]

It has been a bit cold for the last few weeks. I have not been able to update my blog in this time because we’ve been enjoying the cool weather and the changing season.  Over the last month we have been touring around Japan and trying to visit as many beautiful, historical places as possible. It is special to travel this time of year when the leaves change to vibrant colors and create a beautiful landscape. It is a popular tourist season because the Japanese maple trees turn amazing colors like orange, pink, and red.

Picture of Kevin and me taken in front of Mt. Fuji after riding the Hakone Ropeway to Owakundani. At this peak there are lots of sulfurous fumes (not pictured) because it is an active volcanic zone.

My father, Jacob Perea, and my nephews, Jakob and Adam Warniment, visited us and we toured the following places: Tokyo, Hakone, Saitama, Kyoto, Arashiyama, Osaka, Hiroshima, and Miyajima Island. We traveled by shinkansen (bullet train). I will write a little bit about Hakone, Kyoto, and Hiroshima because those were true highlights of our trip.

Hakone: this is an area south-west of Tokyo that nestled in the Fuji-Hakone-Izu National Park and is adjacent to Lake Ashi. This is a crater lake that is along the caldera of Mt. Hakone. What is really beautiful about this region is the proximity to Mt. Fuji. The lake and mountianous area make a perfect backdrop for great views of Mt. Fuji. The area has “sky ropes” which are tramways you can ride to tops of different peaks to get the best view of Fuji-san. Also, Hakone is known for its onsen hot spring resorts. Most Japanese people ask us if we have visited an onsen—they are very curious if we, as Americans, are willing to try out the tradition of the ‘hot baths.’  I am glad to note that we did them all! We also saw Mt. Fuji in it’s spectacular glory (on a rare, perfectly clear day). We enjoyed an onsen in the evening, took a ride across Lake Ashi, and took different tram rides, and rail-cars around the area.

Autumn foliage in Arashiyama, near Kyoto and at the Jōjakkōji Temple.

Kyoto: this is the “place to see” in all of Japan. Tourists flock to Kyoto because the city has a historic charm with traditional japanese architecture and a clustering of beautiful castles, temples, and shrines. It is also popular for seeing Geishas, which are often found in the Gion district of the city. We found the large number of westerners to be very different than our day to day experience in Saitama City. I think we were just used to the peace and quiet of our Japanese neighborhood where we see almost no tourists. Despite the crowds, Kyoto is definitely amazing as everyone says.  The autumn foliage was so vibrant and we visited places like the Kiomizu-dera, “a temple where there is water to cleanse from dirt.” When visiting this temple it is said that your body and mind become “clean without impurity.” We performed the rituals of washing one’s hands, and tried to take in the scenery. This temple is at the top of a hill in the city and you walk up a long hill along a street with shops then climb many stairs to get to the top. Also in Kyoto we visited an area on the outskirts of the city called Arashiyama. This area is known for it’s many temples in the foothills of the mountians that surround the city. The mountians have many maple trees and the temples are especially beautiful against this backdrop. Also in Arashiyama is a famous bamboo forest that is amazing to walk through.

Kiomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto

Hiroshima: many Japanese people asked us why we were visiting Hiroshima; perhaps they found it an odd place for tourism. Our purpose was, of course, the historical significance related to the atom bomb. Also as, New Mexicans it is meaningful to those of us (like my father) who have worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory and who understand the importance of nuclear nonproliferation. The city is like walking within a modern city in the U.S. It was completely rebuilt and thus has many nice parks, shopping malls, restaurants, and a very modern subway. There were beautifully decorated streets with lights for the Christmas season and enormous Christmas trees with amazing light displays. We visitied the peace memorial park where the A-bomb dome was located as well as the children’s peace monument. The peace memorial museum was also quite modern with dynamic exhibits and a really nice historical display of Hiroshima before and after the bomb. There is a peace flame that constantly burns and it is said that it will remain lit until all nuclear bombs on the planet are destroyed.  As we appreciated this aspect of Hiroshima we also learned so much more. The city has an amazing castle.

Many cities have towers (e.g. Kyoto tower, Tokyo tower) and many have castles (Osaka castle). The castles represent the places where the samurai lived. The castles have mostly been turned in to museums that teach the visitor about the family that was in power at the time the castle was built. The temples are Buddhist and the shrines are Shinto (the ancient pre-buddhist belief system in Japan, while the castles represent Japan’s age of the samurai).

Peace memorial in Hiroshima

During the month of November, I’ve learned a lot more about the history of Japan. Our journey through southern Japan has been an opportunity to take in the cultural aspects of the country, which is part of the Fulbright experience. My family and I visited the Edo Tokyo Museum, which was a tour arranged by the Japanese-US Fulbright Alumni Commission. We learned about Japan’s ancient and modern era: the Edo period then Meiji period. The Meiji era, after 1868, is when Japan is said to have become wesernized. We have also visited the Samarai museum in Shinjuku, and learned other history by going to museums in the Osaka castle, Hiroshima castle, Imperial Palace, and the Japan National Museum. It is so nice to be able to take time to just learn and explore. 

Selfie with Kaleb in front of Osaka castle.

I will have to use December to finalize a lot of work as Miho and I are now making revisions to a paper. I am also attending a conference with her group (more on that later) and will be doing more seminars at the University and visiting other places. 

I hope you enjoy the pictures showing highlights from our trip.

Arigato gozaimashita!

Jessica P. Houston, Ph.D.

Faculty Fulbright Fellow, Japan-US Fulbright

Saitama University


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