I have returned to Williamstown and had a few days to reflect on the Kyoto trip. It was definitely a life changing experience
I will mention the tea ceremony and Zen meditation sessions first. I had thought tea ceremony was a way to make really good tea prior to this course. I was completely wrong. Tea ceremony is, as described by tea master Amae-san, a form of active meditation. It is to focus only on the task in front of you. Prior to this trip, I would always try to do as much as I can at any given moment. I would listen to music and even study or go on my phone while walking to somewhere. Or I would play a game like Hearthstone while studying for a Japanese vocabulary quiz or watching a tv show. Often, it is better to enjoy just one thing at a time, rather than to do many things mediocrely. I’m going to take my eyes off my phone when I walk from now on to enjoy everything around me. Not to mention, it’s also much safer. On a similar note, I feel like I usually have too many thoughts going on in my mind at once, to the point where it even affects my sleeping. My experience with zazen was very calm and soothing. I’m going to try to do zazen every now and then from now on to help with resting my mind.
The interview with Buddhist statue sculptor Miyamoto-san was very inspirational. He talked about how he changed his career path directly. After spending years obtaining a degree in fashion design, he suddenly decided to become a Buddhist statue sculptor. I was touched by how he could throw away years of work upon encountering his true passion. He also did not let his fashion design background go to waste. He uses it to make unique sculptures, such as unique draping in his Buddhist statues and the blue azalea sculpture. Listening to his story made me reflect on myself. I have spent two and a half years in college on the pre-medical track. I’ve aimed to become a physician during my college career thus far, but it’s very much possible that I may suddenly decide to do something completely different. Nothing in life is set in stone. I will study abroad this upcoming spring semester in Tokyo. I wonder how it will affect my career trajectory and the way I think.
Before flying to Kyoto, I read that Noh plays take a lot to be appreciated. Without any prior knowledge, one may think that it is dull and boring. Only after learning the intricacies of it may one appreciate Noh. My experience with Noh in Kyoto was exactly like what I just wrote. I had a bit of knowledge about Noh from the required readings and professor Bethe’s lecture. With this knowledge, I was able to enjoy the music and the movements of the actors when watching a Noh play. However, with six hours of it, I lost my focus at some points. After visiting the Takabayashi family, I learned that Noh actors have to perform with extremely obscured vision. This is very difficult, as the movements of the actor need to be very precise; stage is also of considerable height, so a fall can cause severe damage. I also visited a Noh costume maker, and learned that the process of making a costume can take over a year. When I visited the Noh mask carver, I realized how stunning the masks were up close. All these small details that I learned about Noh made me appreciate the art even more. I believe that I will be able to appreciate Noh much more if I watch it again.
I was not very interested in art before the trip to Kyoto, but the art in Kyoto has converted me. An experience that particularly impacted me was walking around Nijo castle. I walked through the castle itself first and the paintings in it were absolutely stunning. The dim glow of the gold foil of wall painting contrasted with the painting itself. The paintings seemed to pop out at me, giving them a sense of realism. The paintings of the tigers were particularly interesting. The Japanese had not seen actual tigers before at the time, and had only seem imported fur and Chinese paintings of tigers. As a result, the tigers they drew had a sense of creativity in them. The shape and proportions of the bodies were a bit weird, and some of them even looked like cheetahs. The faces looked different from the typical tiger – almost human-like. After walking through the castle, I walked through the two famous gardens. The arrangement of gardens is also a form of art. I do not know much about gardens, but I must say that the arrangement of the rocks in the pond blended really well with the greenery accompanying it. The little bridge in the pond was also a very nice touch. The Kyoto trip has made me appreciate a variety of art forms more, and I’ll definitely try to check out more art when I’m in Tokyo.
I have been learning Japanese since high school, and I had a high level of confidence in it. However, my trip to Kyoto has made me realize that I still have a lot to work on. Since I am East Asian, people usually assumed that I was Japanese and spoke to me as if I was a native speaker. I could not understand what people were saying sometimes due to the speed.
Reflecting back on the trip, I realized that I have changed a lot from the trip. It was a very pleasant and educational experience, and I hope to visit Kyoto again in the future.