Trains, Tremors, and Temples

Greetings, friends and foes!

We now return to your irregularly scheduled glimpse into my adventures studying abroad. If you’re upset that I haven’t posted a blog in several weeks, I would advise you to lower your standards significantly so that I can’t disappoint you anymore.

Allow me answer the unasked question:  Kali, why haven’t you been blogging? The fact is, I’ve been going to school and taking naps, and frankly I just didn’t feel like it. But now that I’m here, I’ve got a few things to say.

We can start by discussing my love/hate relationship with Japanese trains. In general, I find public transportation repugnant for a number of reasons, but the trains here are clean, quiet, and almost always on time. Usually, I’d give these trains a 10/10.

Except during rush hour.

During rush hour, there are no rules. Chaos reigns supreme. It’s as though the concept of “train car capacity” doesn’t exist here. Oh, did you want some personal space on your way to work this morning? WELL TOO BAD, CHUMP. People crowd into a each train car like clowns in a circus routine. Do not take a rush hour train if you’re unwilling to spend your commute wedged between a salaryman’s sweaty back and the overstuffed backpack of a high school student. And you better grab a handhold or have exceptional balance, because some of those turns can knock you off your feet and send the combined weight of at least 10 other passengers careening into your fragile body. This is the reality of my morning commute. It’s genuinely terrifying, but it’s also so hilariously absurd that I kind of don’t mind it.

Most of my time consists of harrowing the train system, exploring, doing school work, and sleeping. I managed to get out of Tokyo a little bit this past weekend, when I visited Kamakura with a couple of girls from my dorm. It’s a beach city about two hours south of Tokyo by train, known for its many Buddhist and Shinto shrines and temples. The ride there was pretty great, if only because we spent most of it in a first-class car by accident. Eventually one of the train attendants noticed us out-of-place foreigners and asked us to move to the regular car with the common rabble. It was glorious while it lasted.

Once we made it to Kamakura, we walked around the Engaku-ji Zen temple complex, which was super rad because there’s nothing I love more than a nice Buddhist temple. I’m not even being sarcastic this time, I’m super down for temples. This one was founded in the 13th century, and today it hosts graveyards, shrines, and a tooth that was said to belong to the Buddha himself. I didn’t get to see the tooth. Maybe next time.

After the shrine, we got lunch at a yakiniku restaurant, which is pretty much a Japanese barbeque place. Of course, I don’t eat meat, but I did get some amazing udon noodles. We followed lunch with a stroll around the city to walk off the gluttony, and eventually we ended up at the Kotoku-in temple. This temple is known for its giant statue of Amitabha Buddha, which at 43.8 feet tall, is still only the second tallest Daibutsu Buddha statue in Japan. Its larger counterpart in Nara reaches 49.2 feet. So far, visiting these temples has been my favorite experience in Japan, and I hope to see many more before I leave.

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I’m going to start wrapping up this entry, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t give the people what they want, i.e., BEEF and DRAGS. That is to say, I’ve got beef and I want to drag something or someone.

The first thing I have beef with is earthquakes. Japan has them constantly. For the most part, they’re so small that you probably won’t even notice them, but sometimes they’ll actually make their presence known. My problem is that sometimes I’ll wake up to my bed shaking ever so slightly, and in my sleep-addled state my mind somehow jumps from “Seismic Event” and straight to “PARANORMAL ACTIVITY.” Still, I’m glad these earthquakes aren’t very strong, because otherwise I’d be way more terrified, and 9/10 times I’d rather deal with a potential ghost and/or demon than a scary earthquake.

My other beef is with certain individuals that I encounter on a regular basis. Before coming to Japan, I’d hear how strange it was to be Black here, or in Asia in general, because folks weren’t used to seeing someone like me very often. So far, this has not been a problem. Actually, my issue has been with non-POC students and faculty who will spout off problematic ridiculousness without thinking. I won’t get into any details because I don’t need that rise in blood pressure right now, but I will say this: DON’T COME TO ME OR THE GOOD PEOPLE OF JAPAN WITH YOUR IGNORANT NONSENSE. Traveling provides an opportunity to learn about others not like yourself and to expand your worldview, but if you’re the human equivalent of a trashcan fire, just stay home.

Otherwise, Japan is neat and I’m A-OK. Thanks for tuning in, and keep an eye out for my next post sometime between next week and my 35th birthday.

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