My Definition of Home

今日は! Enchantée! Nice to meet you! Schön dich zu sehen!

The few months I spent away from “home” changed my definition of that term completely.  But not in the way I thought it would do. My feeling of affinity to a place developed into another direction, into the opposite of my expectations. The more I realized that, the more it turned out that I´d known myself less than I thought so far.

To explain that, I have to go a little far afield and talk about as what kind of person I´ve considered myself till now. What (stubborn) picture of me was in my head. I imagined myself always as an “open-minded” character, the one who´s about to sleep on mattresses in South East Asia, who explores the neighbourhoods of a Manhattan or travels spontaneous through Northern Europe. The one who could easily adapt to a new culture and survive in a foreign environment, who never knows in what corner of the world she´s pitching up her tents. To cut it short: Whose home is the world itself. That picture of me mainly comes from the fact that I´ve never seen myself as an Austrian patriot. I was never the one who´s waving excitedly the flag at a match of the national soccer team (also because there´s rarely anything to be excited about) or would see herself in a Dirndl. Don´t get me wrong: I love Dirndls, I´ve even got two by myself, and I do sing the national anthem if it comes to it. Not at all that I was not fond of my country, just the fact that I didn´t define my own character by it, that my personality wasn´t shaped by the nation I belong to. I thought that I would have been a similar personage or even the same if I´d been born in another (Western) country, that a character is predominantly influenced just by your parent´s education. That was what I expected myself to be.

Actually a human being doesn´t work like that. Only by now, only when you are separated from the safe hands of your country, your traditions, your habits, your familiar environment, you realise how much you´re defined by that. Just if you´re apart from the things you know you recognise how essential they are actually for you. Even and primarily the small things, the ones you didn´t even notice. The fact that the vehicles stroll on the wrong side. That you cannot get brown bread here. That the sun sets so early in the afternoon. That you´re in most cases the only blondie (ok, that´s just for me). All the tiny things you´re so used to have that you can´t even imagine them to be not self-evident. What dominates your daily life influences you in a certain way, the things you like as well as all the annoying ones.
That was what I´d not been willing to accept: I always considered myself to be an “independent” person who´s standin on her own (how ridiculous that sounds now). And now, the short time I´ve already spent in Japan, in a completely different culture made me learn about myself that I´m more an Austrian than I thought. That your nation does decide your personality (or at least influences it), if you want that or not. And I only learned that by being away from my familiar space, from living out of my comfort zone. Yeah, the journey I´ve been into so far made me understand myself a little more as I expected that before. But not in the way I expected it.

So the feeling of home is definitely aligned with a specific place. It´s a fabulous imagination to call the entire planet your home, but it can´t be more than imagination, as the little human brain is too small to deal with a term that wide-spread. The coziness is required to be associated with a certain corner of the world, a certain culture, a certain nation. The place where you grow up, where you do our first steps, spend your childhood will always be in your memories as your real home, even if you would´nt expect that. I learned that the culture in that you´re raised up, the beliefs you got told and values you got taught as a child will always stuck unconsciously in the back of your head. And amusingly in the far even the things of your culture that get on your nerves, that you´d wish to get rid of, start to seem surprisingly special and familiar. So in my case some things of the Austrian culture and characteristics that totally stressed my up don´t appear that bad right now (for example the preference of Austrians to motschgern). And even clichés and stereotypes of your culture tend to become rather intimate for you (In Austria I´d have never toyed with the idea of going into a Sound of Music show).

The feeling of coziness, of trust, of relief of the society´s difficulties does start at a door, and is not only associated with the people you´re surrounded with, as I was assuming before. Now that I know better, I have to admit that I´m in a way more dependent that I imagined myself to be. And in this case that is not a bad thing.

いってらっしゃい! -Have a good journey! -À tout à l´heure! -Halt die Ohren steif!

The one who wanna have a full passport

V

Asakusa´s histories

今日は! Enchantée! Nice to meet you! Schön dich zu sehen!

Asakusa 浅草 literally means `low city´ but that does not really describe the feeling of strolling through that district. When I headed for that traditional spot of Tokyo for the first time I imagined it to be very quiet and historic, full of dignity and history just as the Meiji shrine I visited before. Meiji and Asakusa are the two main and most popular shrines of Tokyo, whereas the Meiji Temple 明治神宮 is a monument of the Shinto religion and located near Harajuku-station in a big natural park (probably because of this that silent and historical atmosphere gets created). So the impression I had was pretty solemn and comparable to entering a church in Europe: You get the feel of something special and illustrious happening around you. But, like often, my expectation didn´t fit with reality. To get a picture of Asakusa you´ve to imagine a district consisting of a mélange of religiosity, tradition, huge attraction and entertainment square. People in kimonos and yuukatas take pictures of themselves with pink selfie-sticks, trying to capture the mass of people behind them who all come here to either pray, eat, buy souvenirs (you can get the biggest trash here) or just want to conclude their sightseeing tours.

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When come out of the chikatetsu 地下鉄 (Japanese word for underground) the first you see are Japanese men next to their rikschas  (two-wheeled vehicles drawn by humans) that shout out lout for customers and try to attract the touristic-looking people. That´s one of Asakusas typical traditions: Getting on a rikscha, being carried through the whole district passing the temple and feeling like being in ancient centuries, voluntarily guided by the rikscha driver (who´s to sweat in front of you). But we didn´t take that opportunity as we felt sympathy for the poor drivers who had to deal with the cruel sun that day.
After squeezing through the crowded main sidewalk the building you see first of the temple is standing out massively of the tourist´s heads: An impressive light-red lantern, several signs and syllables on its surface that´s probably two times bigger than a human being. Known as Kaminari-mon 雷門 (“thunder-gate”) it´s guarded by two Japanese gods and leads to the official temple plaza. Because of the crowds the square spreads out an atmosphere more like a big tourism attraction pot, just as being in a busy flea market. And that´s exactly what you get after trapping through the lantern gate: A street is enlarging in front of you lined by bunches of little market stands, called Nakamise-dori. Here you can literally buy every souvenir you want (as far as you manage coming through the horde)- but you should not expect very high-quality items. It´s just a market where you can rummage in stalls with little Japanese puppets, fans, sandals, post cards, samurai T-shirts (and strangely Chinese waving cats as well). It´s a great square for grabbing some presents for friends and family and trying traditional Japanese candy.

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After that you arrive at the real temple plaza, through another big gate, where you can wash your hands and mouth for cleaning before entering that holy place. There´s also (as I told you about in a previous article) the possibility to write something on prayer tablets and bound them to a special board, as common in a lot of Japanese temples. The most outstanding building in this spot is definitely the five-floor pagoda that you already can see from far away, a red, filigree tower looking over the grey houses. The plaza itself is often covered by a thick well-smelling fog caused by the huge incense kettles standing in front of the main temple. According to a legend breathing in that fog would bring health and good luck. Another quite interesting (but naturally not free) myth ritual you can do here is raffling special tickets announcing good or bad luck. For that you have to shake little wooden boxes with a tiny holes so long until a little wooden stick is falling out. On that stick is a number carved in (unfortunately in Japanese signs) that refer to certain drawers standing by. Take out of the drawer with the right number a little sheet where you the prediction for your nearer future is written on. Of course that´s rather an intelligent sort of tourist trap, but nevertheless it´s fun doing it and I still carry my good luck sheet with me around sometimes (wow that sounds a little weird now).

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The main temple itself is more like the traditional calm religious place that is actually accessable for foreigners, but you recognize that the real purpose of it is not made for public´s entertainment. You see there Japanese people conducting their ritual way of praying in a Buddhistic temple: Throwing a little coin into a basket, clapping twice in the hand and praying in Japanese, afterwards they bow several times in front of the temple´s interior. There´s also a bell that can be chimed by pulling a certain rope.

Asakusa is one of the most famous religious locations in Tokyo and that´s not without reason. It´s definitely worth looking here around and get a feel of Japanese ways of traditions. Although it only slightly differs with other, similar temples it´s because of its popularity and size something special coming here and breathing the air of old Asian histories.

So that was it from me. I hope I could paint a roughly good image of Asakusa and that you were a little interested. Thank you so much for reading!

いってらっしゃい! -Have a good journey! -À tout à l´heure! -Halt die Ohren steif!

The one who wanna have a full passport

V

P.S.: Sorry that I didn´t write a post for longer time now. My school in Japan started recently and I had a lot to do with organization, but now things slightly start calming down.

Exploring the unexpected

今日は! Enchantée! Nice to meet you! Schön dich zu sehen!

Foreigners usually have a typical idea of Japan in mind that´s common all over the world. And as clichés always have kind of a true pip, that image often matches with reality. But getting off the beaten track there are some things that do not necessarily fit in the expectations from abroad and that could surprise one or the other tourist (such as me). Things that you would not expect Japan to be or to have. So I picked out a few of these catching my eye and maybe they surprise you a little as well.

  1. Vending machines.
    That was one of the first things I marvelled about when I came to Japan and what catches every tourist´s eye. The bunch of vending machines behind every corner and door. You find these rare species of Japanese curiosities on crowded squares, especially at train stations. But don´t expect that these are the only natural inheritances for them, you bump into them in lonely alleys and parks where no single soul is coming around and they´re always fulfilled. That´s a huge mystery in Japan: Who´s gonna filling them up all the time? I have never seen anyone doing this so far. So maybe there are some tiny Japanese goblins (or pokémons) whose job is to assure enough possibilities to drink.
  2. Japan is very Japanese.
    That might sound way curious, but what that sentence is supposed to say is that Japan is not as international as you might assume. It´s still an island, a very exclusive island where 99% percent of the population is native Japanese. Foreigners, though as they´re getting more and more, are still a rare thing here, specifically in provincial areas outside the metropolis. I definitely stand out here in my appearance. First, I was a bit irritated by all the stares on a blonde girl, but after some time you get adapted to be an alien in a more or less homogenous environment. And the less you care the less you attract glances.
  3. WLAN is rarely available here.
    Well, Japan, the state of technology and electric curiosities, where robots can communicate with you and the toilets have bunches of technic options, you could say that free WLAN is something natural here. A friend asked me once whether there is free Internet connection all over the country. That´s a dream far away.
    Don´t get me wrong, there is actually WLAN in several areas and restaurants, especially at chains like Starbucks and McDonald´s, but to get access to it you must have a Japanese telephone charge. And even then it often doesn´t work if you are a foreigner with special licences. So I´m sorry to destroy your dreams but if you come to Japan you should be ready for that.
  4. You don´t give tips in restaurants.
    That is something that is completely unknown in Japan. In Europe you give tips to appreciate a waiter´s service (or to help them to survive as in America) but here you only will earn a blank look by them. They will give you the money back assuming that you calculated wrong. A tip is even something that might be considered impolite so you should not take the risk and express your gratitude by thanking and saying a few honorable words.
  5. Japan´s pets aren´t animals anymore.
    That is maybe one of the weirdest things for foreigners coming to Japan. In case you see here a pram standing around or accompanied by ecstatic young women don not assume that a child is lying in there. It´s even more probable that a little white poodle is holding its nose out of the carriage, maybe dressed in little pastel costumes. The hype about the “cuteness” of little animals is enormous here (and absolutely overdone from my point of view). In many streets you can see pet hotels, dog oases and animal equipment stores where your sweet little darling can be treated as far from its wild nature as possible. Recently I saw a woman having a dressed rabbit on her arm. That picture of sweet innocent animals fits perfectly in the Japanese longing for sweetness and youth and I understand the enthusiasm around that. But nevertheless I think that the natural sense for treating an animal getting lost by degrading them to fluffy toys (as though I like fluffy). Of course that´s all generalization and I´m convinced the conditions in the land are different, but in Tokyo, where I´m living now that´s something that really catched my eye. I always imagine my grandma thinking of me to be going bananas if I´d let my dog eat on the table.
  6. Japan is very tropic.
    I didn´t really expect the weather here to be a lot different to my home. Until I came here. And I felt it.
    The Japanese are celebrating spring and autumn and that not without reason: What´s between is quite bearable sometimes. Tokyo is actually located on the same degree of latitude as Sicilia which surprised me as I heard it first. In the cooler seasons you don´t really notice that as the winter can be pretty freezing, but the summer is extremely hot and muggy. The sun never stops shining, in the night the air doesn´t cool down and there are not really thunderstorms turning up as in Europe (apart from the taifuns naturally, but they usually just arrive in the beginning of autumn). Japanese have a special word for that feeling of the merciless sun on your head: atsui 暑い. You hear it often in sweaty summer days during chasing the tiny places of shadow.
  7. The most frequently used English word: Starbucks
    In Austria drinking a coffee from Starbucks is something very special (as there aren´t many) and you keep the cup with the mermaid proud for several days in your room or share a picture of it on Instagram (still kind of provincial, though). When I came to Tokyo the first time I also was like that: Drinking a coffee there was something I was looking forward to and at every corner I saw one I wanted to have cup of it. Afterwards I got aware that I had been a victim of their actually quite simple marketing concept (that´s successful all over the world). Having a drink at Starbucks isn´t something extraordinary in Japan as you´ll find a store literally everywhere. At any station, any busy square or boulevard you will not pass without having seen the mermaid smiling at you. You can have your karameru kappuchino in every street if you turn around. I dare to say that Japan has the highest Starbucks-density in the world (maybe apart from the U.S.). And it seems not to work bad, even without young tourists following the hype.

So that was a little extract of the things in Japan that surprised me, amused me or is different to Europe. I feel like I´ll do another series of that format after some time as there are lots of other things that are surprising,  interesting or good to know about the country. Thank you for reading and have a nice, not-heated day with some coffee!

いってらっしゃい! -Have a good journey! -À tout à l´heure! -Halt die Ohren steif!

The one who wanna have a full passport

V

24 hrs in Kyoto

Click here for the photo portfolio of Osaka and Kyoto.

今日は! Enchantée! Nice to meet you! Schön dich zu sehen!

The expression “to jump off the stage at Kiyomizudera” is the Japanese equivalent of the English utterance “to take the plunge”. There it´s obvious what meaningful role Kyoto plays in Japanese culture as even in the language.

If you ever get in contact with a piece of Japanese history, you´ll definitely catch up the name Kyoto 京都市. Its roots go widely back in earlier centuties, in times of cruel wars and peaceful periods, where shoguns ruled the country alternately with the tenno (emperor) and were samurai’s controlled the streets. The city is a guarantee for originality and quality in Japan, as the imperial residence was located there for over 1.000 years. All historical lines come there together, as the European cradle of culture is Rome or Athene.  It´s literally the symbol for sophistication, so popular that you find phrases like “Quality of Kyoto” inside kimonos. As I told you in previous articles Kyoto wasn´t destroyed by the bombs in World War ll, so you will find a temple or a shrine around every corner you pass. Japanese religion is mainly a mixture of buddhism and shintoism (a polytheistic nature religion), so you will see monuments of both beliefs. In the famous Gion-district, where the atmosphere is the same as in earlier centuries, Geishas in colourful clothes step on their getas 下駄 (traditional wood sandals) tuneful on the pavements.

As we arrived at the local train station we recognized that Kyoto is apart from all that predominantly one thing: very touristic. You see there as many Westerners in one scene as you won´t find easily in Tokyo. It´s organized in tourism centers and bus lines, guides will lead you in the right direction or if you don´t know the way, you just have to follow the masses of people. You see officers standing at the sidewalks, trying to overlook the busy crowds, kouban-stations (police boxes) in every street and, of course, the bunches of vending machines provided for dehydrated tourists. The time we visited the city was still in the very hot arid period, so we stood under every tiny shadow spot we found. The assemblies of people were actually quite an amusing picture: Sweating Western-looking folks with exhausted faces and water bottles in hand, who were not used to the heat, and perfectly styled Japanese in their long, wide kimonos and yukatas that seemed to not even feel the strong sun (was a little upsetting, too).

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First big postcard-monument we visited was actually a little outside the town, set in the Eastern surrounding hills: The wooden Kiyomizudera-Temple 清水寺, which is a definition for several buddhistic buildings next to each other. Kiyoi-mizu (清水) means in fact `clear water´ as the temple is named after a waterfall inside the temple-complex. According to a legend the water has healing forces so that you´ll be in health and wealth by drinking it (That explained the queue of Japanese in front of the little basin aside to it).  Before you reach the temple itself you have to come through a very, very touristic street, full of shops where you can spend your money on talismans, Geisha dolls and Japanese traditional sweets (be careful trying them).

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After struggling coming through the crowd you get a first glimpse of the temple. Several impressing, light-red gates are located there and after hiking a little up the hills you see the main wooden terrace, placed on pillars 13 metres above the ground. It´s a curious but also rather affecting feeling standin on that huge ancient pillars in middle of a green forest and having a thrilling view on the city. On the terrace there´s a holy prayer hall inside the temple that is isolated from the public. Buddhistic monks sell joss sticks and prayers tablets there, tourists take photos and inhabitants pray for fortune and health.

The path of the temple continues afterwards into the forest and leads, accompanied by noisily shrieking cicadas, to a shrine of shintoism. It´s called Jishu-jinja and dedicated to a god of love. According to that it is very famous for a superstition: There are two big stones 18 metres apart from each other next to the shrine. If you go with eyes closed from one stone to another, a new love will be ensured for you. It´s a myth mainly practised by female Japanese students and tourists (did it as well).

After experiencing that old Japanese temple-complex we got back to the station and went for our second destination. Unfortunately we had only 24 hours for visiting the city (which is far too less) so we had to hurry up a little bit. Our next historical building to visit was exactly the opposite quarter of Kyoto: The utter West. It took us quite some time to get to it, but as we´d arrived it was totally worth it: The Golden Pavillion is said as to be the most popular monument anyway in Kyoto and it did not get its name without reason. Originally called Rokuon-ji 鹿苑寺 (roe-deer garden temple) it got its term Kinkaku-ji 金閣寺 (golden temple) after its gold-covered surface. The three floors unite different Japanese and Chinese style epochs and the top is dominated by a bird of Chinese mystery, the Fenghuang.
The Pavillion is spotted next to a big lake inside a Japanese traditional park. It´s very admirable strolling through it, especially in the evening when the sun is reflected red and orange in the temple´s surface.

24 hours, 7 days or even 1 month are far too little to get the feel of this wonderful historical city. It´s really a pity that I´ve got to see only such a tiny insight of it as I´m sure there are a thousand other things left to discover. You never can actually see everything as a tourist, but I really hope that I have another chance one day to visit Kyoto and fill out some of the empty spaces I didn´t see. Kyoto is something unique all over Japan and has its own, deep-cultural but also kind of tropic flair. I really enjoyed traveling it (as you´ve maybe noticed).

If you don´t only want to read my experience, you have here the chance to see it: I´ve created a photography portfolio of Osaka and Kyoto.

If you´ve come so far, thank you very much for reading!

いってらっしゃい! -Have a good journey! -À tout à l´heure! -Halt die Ohren steif!

The one who wanna have a full passport

V

Getting off from Europe

Well.

Okay. Is this stuff working? Right.

今日は! Enchantée! Nice to meet you! Schön dich zu sehen!

Welcome to my new fresh-opened website (I´m still excited)! Nice that you found your way through the million different pages that exist. I hope that you enjoy a little what you find in here.
There are hundreds of thousands different websites online and every day they´re getting more. And now there´s another one. Another site where you can read into the crazy thoughts of an overflowing teenage mind. So thank you for visiting my site, I´m honored that you spend a little of your leisure time with me!

You might wonder why an Austrian girl writes a travel blog about Japan in English (and you may have noticed the little influences françaises as well). So I should start with introducing myself, shouldn´t I? My name is Victoria, I´m a 16-year-old girl grown up in the countryside of Southern Austria (and no, that´s not where the kangaroos come from). In the middle of a green periphery I used to spend my time with ordinary daily life activities including music, sports and literature.  After some more or less unadventurous school years and struggles what to do with my life I recently got offered a huge chance to fulfill a big dream of me: To go abroad for some longer time and to experience a completely different culture. It has been my dream since I was a child to see as much of the world as I can. So you might not be surprised that I was literally over the moon as I got the opportunity to spend (probably) half a year in Asia, more accurate Japan and more exactly in the biggest centre of population in the world: Tokyo 東京, the city where you find high-tech buildings and ancient Asian traditions.

So the main purpose of writing this blog is to share my experiences with some people and to shorten the distances a little bit between the Asian and the Western world. At first sight Japan might look quite Western-adapted, but the society, the lifestyle and even the mind of people is completely different. It´s like entering a second life when you´re getting off the plane, checkin out your new environment and try to adapt to (or just understand) the new habits here.  At least if you stand at one of Tokyo’s huge crowded train platforms and feel like an illiterate because you can´t read anything you realise that some frightening new années de pelèrinage are beginning right here.

Tokyo is a labyrinth in order.  You can go everywhere there, whether to one of the popular big sightseeing streets or a twisty little alley, you will always find someone who can help you. Or at least tries to because the English skills of the inhabitants are usually not on the top (one good reason to study more Japanese). You could have therefore some difficulties to start here but as soon as you are more into the local behaviors you will not have any trickinesses.
I had gone to Tokyo several times before I actually settled here, so I know more or less the touristic side of the city. But I´m not yet used to some more hidden interesting places and I´m looking forward to exploring them in these huge Asian labyrinth. And I would love to share them with you!

So let´s jump into the materials and please apologize btw my non-perfect English as I´ve just written school articles in that language so far. It´s a possibility for me to improve myself by trial and error. I hope it´s quite understandable and proper to read.

Okay let´s get started and stop beating around the bush!

いってらっしゃい! -Have a good journey! -À tout à l´heure! -Halt die Ohren steif (love that expression)!

The one who wanna have a full passport

V