Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Chiryu Bicycling and Muryojuji Temple Adventure (with video)! Bonus: Musings on Goodbyes, Japanese Style!

Today I got back on my bike and made my way to Chiryu City! While this was, according to Google Maps, a mere 12.2 kilometers away, and walkable in about two hours and 27 minutes, it took me on my bike about two hours to get there. Maybe I got lost?! I've noticed, in general, that distances that usually take me a very short time to traverse in the States take a hugely long time here. I'm not sure why. For example, last July, I did a 10 kilometer run in a little over an hour, but a 12 kilometer bike ride took me almost 2x as long. This is kind of weird, and it makes me wonder how accurate Google is in regards to distance (or how badly I'm getting lost...or how much the hills are slowing me down, or how badly out of shape I've become...not sure which, but wondering with active interest). I'm just going to say it felt like it was a lot more than 12 km to get there. As usual, the way back took me significantly less time, about an hour and a half, not counting my stop at Jusco for vital food supplies (like bran flakes).

But back to the bike to Chiryu. This was by far the easiest long distance bike ride I've made here. For the most part, the path was clearly marked. This is because I was going from one metropolis to another, on a main road. For a portion of the middle of my ride there, I even had on my ipod as I was was one of the least interesting roads as compensation for it's relative ease of travel.

The video tells the story:

In fact, I had no real problems until I actually got into Chiryu proper. At that point, I realized that (of course), I'd totally lost track of my google maps directions (and probably overshot my mark to a significant degree). Entering Chiryu city was a bit like entering the outskirts of Camden, without the terror.

Video Here:

If I hadn't seen the tiny sign just below the stoplight that read 知立, that's Chiryu in Kanji only, I wouldn't have even known I was in a city. (the sign is too small to see in the video, but I think I took a picture of it). As a word of advice for navigating Japan, always memorize (or at least print out or write down clearly) the Kanji for where you live and where you are going. While the blue road signs are in English and Kanji, the local signs are not. (especially for the fun things you're looking for, like Temples, and onsens and the like) If I hadn't done this, I'd never have found the onsen yesterday, and certainly not the Temple today.

After asking for directions (showing the map, this is where Google Maps is highly useful because it gives you the name of the location, vaguely where it is located in the city, and it is written in both English and Kanji) I followed them and found a sign for the Temple (as I'd had the vague idea the person who gave me directions had asked me to look for, but only after I spotted it).

This was very exciting for me, so of course I took video:

Note: if you can't memorize the exact name of the onsen or temple in question, it's worth it to at least get the general Kanji for Onsen or Temple (tera). Onsen = 温泉, literally “warm/hot” + “spring”. You also know by looking at the left side of the first kanji that the warm/hot has to do with water, as the radical on the left is water. And the top left is a sun. There's a plate on the bottom, which may be the sound element, or have something deeper to do with the meaning. I don't really know. And honestly, this level of Kanji dissection is totally from what I've taken from Heisig and how I've thought about it. I'm no expert, so take it for what it's worth.

Temple = 寺. Temple is also the right side of some really useful kanji including time = 時 (sun + temple = とき), wait = 待つ(ちょっと待ってください = wait a second, please) and the slightly more obscure poem = 詩 (し), among others. If you google Heisig's “Remembering the Kanji” and go to the direct site (nanzen, you can get the first 1/3 of the book which includes this Kanji. I have the link to it on my Kanji Movie Method blog that only has one entry: I highly recommend Kanji Movie Method; I just didn't have enough time to do it and write about doing it at the same time. And Heisig's method is amazingly helpful. I recommend doing Kanji Movie Method, but after you've read Heisig's introduction and worked through a little of the book so you get a feel for how to create effective mnemonics.

Then it was a relatively short jaunt (less than a kilometer) to the Temple itself, which in addition to being beautiful, also had a wonderful performance going on of young girl's doing fan dance. I took two videos of it: first the older, more skilled girls, and then two younger girls who were giving it their all (and would totally have kicked my ass in a fan dance contest, I'm sure).

Video 1:

Video 2:

I also had the privilege of sharing the same bench and thus enjoying a conversation with a wonderful older man, answering questions about my life in Japan as well as learning that the Irises had come up early this year. We sat, surrounded by beautiful irises and trees, talked for a bit, and then, as is the norm with Japanese people as I've noticed, an abrupt conversational end where he jumped up, shook my hand and wished me luck before leaving. This took less than five seconds, and was right in the middle of what I thought was a conversation.

When first coming to Japan, I used to get so worried I'd offended someone when they did this (and still hold that niggling fear), but it seems to more of a cultural difference. People from the States (and Canada it seems) take a relatively long time to say goodbye. We have to say “goodbye” and then “take care” and maybe have a little bit of I'm leaving small talk before we shake hands or hug (hugging is not the norm here). Often, we'll keep an eye on the other person for a short while afterwards even. So usually a standard USA goodbye will last at least a solid minute or two. Even if you have a plane or train to catch, you're apologizing for having to leave so abruptly and saying goodbye a couple of times as you grab your bag.

This is not the case in Japan. In Japan, even between friends, it's goodbye and gone. I've spent a fair amount of time thinking about this, and I think it has something to do with the general Japanese sense of punctuality. It's probably more polite to leave quickly here, as you both probably have somewhere else to be, and would be better off to be early getting there. This is different from the USA, where the 15 minute grace period of lateness is the norm on both ends of a get together or event—especially at the end of something. (like a party that claims to end at 1 am never ends before 1:30 am, unless something has gone horribly wrong). A part of this in US culture I think also has to do with the idea that you want to show the other person that you enjoy spending time with them, and aren't really thinking about the next event because you are so much enjoying their presence. (this may or may not be true). In Japan, you want to show the other person you value their time by not overstaying yours.

So I assumed I hadn't offended him and enjoyed the irises for a little longer. The temple itself, and the tons of Irises were stunningly beautiful. Hopefully the pictures will upload to facebook so I can actually show them to folks. We'll see.

After that, it was a simple bike home! Gonna try to hit the sack early. Toying with the notion of biking to Josui tomorrow to get to school. I'm feeling so much better now that I'm biking more regularly, though it means getting up earlier, it might be worth it to make the trek on my bike (if the weather is good). Josui is only 4.9 kilometers away: should be doable in an hour or so, even at my miserably slow current biking speed here.

Or I'll sleep in and catch the train. Hmm...