Seven Years of Good Luck by Jess K. '10
MISTI paid for all the MIT Japan interns to meet up this weekend in Kyoto. My stomach is still full.
This weekend MIT Japan paid for all the MIT interns in Japan to meet up in Kyoto for a whirlwind tour of the temples, food, and more temples in the Kansai area. Since a good percentage of the interns are working somewhere in Tokyo, it was a great opportunity to get out of the city and explore a place so deeply rooted in Japan’s history. (It was also a great opportunity to sightsee on MIT’s money, but when is it NOT a great opportunity to sightsee on MIT’s money? Mmm, $40 sashimi dinners.)
As this whole trip has been an experience in pushing our cultural boundaries, our first challenge was to visit an onsen together, which is basically just a giant public bath. Essentially the idea is, “welcome to Kyoto; in order to get the free tour and food you’ll all have to hang out naked together for a little while. But don’t worry! You get to squat under one of those spigot things, then all get in a giant tub together. The water is scaldingly hot and then you have to dump ice cold water on yourself.”
Needless to say, we all enjoyed the experience immensely, and then went to get dressed in opposite corners of the room.
We then piled onto a giant bus with a similar-sized group of Japanese students, most of whom were studying English and were comp sci students of Mike Barker, a previous MIT employee and our guide for the weekend. A microphone was passed around, and we were forced to introduce ourselves in our non-native language, which produced such gems as “I want to enjoy this tour!” and “Yorushoku” (intended to be “Yoroshiku”; Please take care of me; but instead “Yorushoku”; dinner). Luckily we reached our first temple before it got to the back of the bus and I got to keep my dignity.
Our first stop was Kinkakuji, the Golden Temple.
Our second temple of the day was Daitokuji, which featured several rock gardens with giant rocks that were supposed to represent waterfalls and manatees. (You have to kind of tilt your head at something like a 270 degree angle, but eventually you’ll see it.) Then we hit up our first Shinto shrine, Heian jingu, as Buddhism and Shintoism are the prominent religions featured side-by-side in Japanese culture. The shrine at Heian jingu was almost entirely garishly red, set beside a lush green garden filled with lotus flowers and weeping willows – sort of an Amelie color scheme meets Memoirs of a Geisha.
Even still, I loved it, especially because that hill was lined with little shops giving away free samples of yatsuhashi, or triangle-shaped mochi with different flavorings and fillings. (The original flavoring, I’m told, was just a cinammon filling, but now I think they’re channeling Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans because they have all sorts of different combinations such as red bean, green tea, peach, blueberry, mango, strawberry chocolate, Ramune, mud, boogers, chicken feet.. maybe not chicken feet; we’re in Japan, not China..)
I’d also been to Todaiji four years ago, but coming back was especially exciting because of the tame deer. The deer will let you pet and photograph them (but to preempt further questions, particularly by my friend Steph, I imagine riding would be difficult and possibly fatal). Several of the vendors outside of the temple sell packets of deer biscuits, so a good number of people bought some (and were subsequently mauled by herds of hungry deer).
Todaiji’s family-friendy vibe continues with the Buddha’s Nostril, a hole cut into a wooden column purportedly the size of the giant Buddha statue’s nose hole. If you’re able to crawl through the nostril, you’ll supposedly have good luck for seven years. Eager to soak in all the good fortune we could get, our huge line of shouting foreigners (most of whom were a good deal larger than the average Japanese person) attracted a little bit of a crowd, but we were for the most part succesful:
We left Todaiji and headed for our last lunch together, at an okonomiyaki restaurant. Okonomiyaki, also known as Japanese pancakes, literally means “whatever you want, grilled”, and comes with any variety of toppings from squid to soba, from mochi to kimchi. It’s really freaking delicious. It was also probably the first filling meal I’d had in Japan, since everything here is SO tiny, but it feels like okonomiyaki gets into your stomach and and expands like a Chia pet. A tasty Chia pet.
Coming up: the world’s best sushi! And fish uterus. I know I’m excited.