A place to reflect, ramble, and rofl at adventures from my study abroad in Nihon...
Honestly, there could be shenanigans.


A belated blerb

So I keep saying I'm going to get back and finish/continue this blog. I do intend to. I got caught up in the new semester, trying to reconnect with people and all of that nonsense...2011 hit and I was like "Jeez, in a few months it will have been a year since I left to stay in Japan."
I know exactly why I've been putting off revisiting my experiences in Japan. I'm not going to explain it any further than saying that it's painful.
All the same, I should really record those things, while my memory's still sharp--and I'm surprised that it is as sharp and clear as it is, months later. Plus I did write a lot of notes and collect a ton of brochures and pamphlets.

In remotely recent news, I actually sold some art prints...back in September I think, at this annual street festival a couple of blocks over. So that was exciting. I also started working on my portfolio site in my web design class last semester, so that's still WIP. My deviantART is more up to date with my work (the good, the not-so-good, and the weird), and I also have some prints up for sale on Imagekind, though it's not quite so up to date.
Also--one of my photos from Japan actually won in its category in my university's Study Abroad Photo Contest. (You'll have to scroll down a little bit on that page to see it--the one with the little girl.) So that was kinda neat too.



I'm currently sitting in the airport at DC, organizing the rest of my photos from Japan...
Flight boards in about an hour.
First food bought upon my return to America: a bagel with cream cheese and a "coolada" from Dunkin' Donuts...also Reese's and ハイチュウ/Hi-Chew.
Yes, turns out they have ハイチュウ here in the US...how anticlimactic. But once my snack package from Japan is shipped here, there will be an official taste test comparison.

It's been a bit crazy the past couple of weeks with things wrapping up in Kyoto, so I know I'm really behind on the blog posts. But I promise I'll catch up with them soon. I've got some bridesmaiding to take care of first, but starting this weekend, I should be able to relax, take a breather, and write...leisurely.

I keep almost answering the workers in the airport here with "hai" or "sou desu."
Go reverse culture shock, go.


Humanity's Spirit Mirror

For my paper in Japanese religion, our teacher was very generous and allowed us essentially free reign in topic, as long as it had something to do with Japanese religion or mythology. I happily took advantage of this to do some real research on kitsune. I give you, gentle viewers, my essay. I hope you will find it at least an interesting read.
A special thanks to RH Potter for allowing me to include her illustrations here. (Her work would be the ones which clearly aren't photos of my kitsune-dorei or from Fushimi Inari Taisha...) Please go visit her site--
she has an excellent portfolio with fabulous illustrations and tattoo designs. These kitsune pieces are the tip of the artistic iceberg here, trust me. =)

Kitsune, Humanity’s Spirit Mirror:
Human Foibles Expressed with Supernatural Force

What exactly is the appeal of kitsune in Japanese culture?
Life-sucking demon.
Just call her an overachiever.

While kitsune is simply the Japanese word for “fox,” it also commonly refers to the fox spirit, which belongs both to the classification of non-humans who do or can appear humanlike called sei, with beings such as faeries, demons, goblins, and ghosts,
as well as the group of supernatural transforming creatures known as henge, along with tanuki, dragons, and the bird-man mountain goblin tengu. In modern fantasy role-playing culture, kitsune are grouped with humanoid shapeshifters and were-creatures derived from traditional Eastern folklore—including but not limited to nezumi (ratkin),
khan (were-tigers), and naga (serpent-folk)—under the label hengeyokai, a term I suspect someone in the Western gaming industry coined, which is a combination of henge and youkai, the latter half being a generic Japanese term for supernatural creatures, spirits,
and monsters. Like most shapeshifting supernatural creatures, indeed,
like most foxes in mythology from around the globe, the kitsune is a well-known trickster in Japan, a creature of chaos, sometimes acting as a good-hearted albeit mischievous figure, and sometimes playing the role of a malicious deceiver. She encompasses the whole of the human spirit and all its contradictory impulses: kindness and cruelty, spirituality and sensuality, wisdom and foolishness, the desire to give and take life. Through her, we can view ourselves, the human race,
in all of our ambivalent glory.
The Chinese and Korean traditions of fox spirits and fox magic entered Japan during the T’ang Dynasty; it was only sometime after the 6th or 7th century when the kitsune joined (and was occasionally confused with) the likewise magical shapeshifter raccoon dog, the tanuki,
in Japan’s trickster mythos. One particular aspect of the kitsune,
which appears relatively unchanged from Chinese legends concerning fox spirits, is the manner in which foxes are supposedly granted powers over the course of their extended life period. Some traditions say foxes can transform into a woman at the age of 50, and at 100 years, she grows another tail, additional shapeshifting abilities, and clairvoyant and illusory powers. When a fox has matured to 1000 years of age,
she becomes a nine-tailed celestial fox, often pure white, with infinite sight and capable of communication with heavens. In Japanese,
this powerful creature is known as kyuubi no kitsune, literally "nine-tailed fox." While the kumiho, the nine-tailed fox seductress of Korean legend, is unequivocally malevolent, and the kitsune carries on some of the powers and characteristics of this being, the depiction of the Japanese fox spirit retains more the Chinese tradition of a morally ambivalent figure, capable of acts of goodwill and loyalty, fairly harmless mischief, as well as great villainy.

Foxes, however, are also inextricably tied to the deity of rice and agriculture, Inari. Sometime around the 11th century (Kamakura period), foxes came to be seen as Inari’s sacred messengers and retainers; indeed, pairs of white fox statues guard the red torii of Inari shrines from evil, usually carrying objects such as granary keys, accounting scrolls, and wish-fulfilling jewels in their jaws. Though the exact reasons are unknown, one likely cause for the connection between foxes and Inari are the rice deity’s association with the bodhisattva Dakiniten, since the imagery of the Inari descending from heaven on the back of a white fox, cereals in hand, to save people from famine seems to be borrowed from typical depictions of Dakiniten. One story explains that a clan of foxes, out of a sincere desire to help maintain prosperity in the world, offered themselves to Inari as servants. Another theory is that the fox conducted the Shinto mountain kami when he came down from the mountains to become a kami of rice fields. Foxes also tended to appear after the fall harvest, when the kami was believed to return to the mountains. Yet another possibility comes simply from foxes’ predatory nature, and their tendency to hunt rats and other pests who are known to feed from rice harvests.No matter the reason for the connection, Japan’s fox spirit gained certain characteristics from their alliance with Inari: a great liking for aburaage (fried soybean curd), inarizushi (rice wrapped in aburaage) and sake—common offerings at Inari shrines—as well as increased associations with fertility and monetary prosperity. It is possible that fox spirits were commonly perceived as female in Chinese tradition before it arrived in Japan, but since, according to Opler and Hashima, most Japanese viewed Inari’s principal form as female (although according to other sources, this is not the case), it would not be a far stretch to consider the possibility that the oft-depicted gender of the deity mostly closely related to foxes would affect the perceived gender of the majority of kitsune spirits, or vice-versa.

The result of the amalgamation of the morally ambiguous fox spirit of Chinese tradition with the revered guardians and aides to Inari is a race of wily, very humanlike creatures, despite their superhuman and magical abilities. Not only are they capable of taking human form and passing themselves off as human, but they run the gamut from good to evil, from prizing order to spreading chaos, and all the grey areas in between, just as humans do. Even the society of fox spirits itself is rather humanlike: foxes’ records,
which can be good or bad records depending on their behavior and deeds, affect their rank and power amongst foxes. Inari shrine masters would often call upon foxes in good standing, so to speak, to aid in the recovery of lost items, or ask to lend their foresight for purposes of consultation. In many stories, kitsune reward kindness and faithfully return favors, whether that be acting as a guardian to a man who returned its precious hoshii no tama bauble, or a cast-out but loyal shapeshifting fox-wife who, conjures up bountiful harvests with her powers and helps her family to become prosperous after she must leave them, because her children had discovered her tail. Sometimes foxes are very wise or very clever, and sometimes they turn out to be rather naïve or foolish. Oftentimes fairly harmless pranks of kitsune will succeed in confounding humans, but there are a few interesting cases in which it is actually the fox who is duped in the end. A fox’s mistakes may lead to a good-
natured laugh at his or her own foolishness, or it may lead to death, as in the case with the fox who forgot he still had the vulnerabilities of an animal while masquerading as a tree, and was subsequently shot by a suspicious priest and his servant.

There are legends of morally grey-area kitsune who use their abilities to assume human form, deceive peoples’ minds, and even possess a human for understandable and fair reasons. Perhaps a kitsune simply wished for human offspring, or was slighted by a perceived injustice. There are, however, a few cases of rogue kitsune who use their powers out of spite, revenge, or for other evil intent, and are banished from the court of foxes. These degenerates are most often the fox spirits who take possession of humans, whether to exact some vengeance, or in attempts to transform themselves into humans; here, the kitsune can take on vampiric qualities. A person under kitsune-tsuki, fox-possession exhibits strange behaviors, which today we would associate with symptoms of schizophrenia, hysteria, and multiple personality disorders.
(In fact, according to Volk, scientific studies in the early 20th century showed the condition occurred especially within women who could not adjust to their social roles.) The long-lasting superstition amongst the Japanese, however, was that kitsune-
tsuki shortened one’s life span because the kitsune drained a person’s vitality through the possession. The same was believed of vixen who seduced young men, that her goal was to steal the man’s life force or chi in order to advance to a higher state of being, though in a more symbolic fashion. Sei, once again, refers to spirits, but also to a person’s energy or vitality.
It also means “semen.” In stealing as much of the man’s “life force” as possible, she might become more human, or immortal, and the man, like a person fox-possessed, is left weakened and likely to die shortly thereafter.

The stories and myths surrounding kitsune, wreathed in chaos and contradictions, are a reflection of the confusion of humanity itself. Good kitsune reflect the wisdom and loyalty of humans, their desire for justice and drive for self-improvement, while the malicious foxes revel in deception, disorder, and destruction. Many are neither purely good nor purely evil. Kitsune can become anything, man or woman, animal or inanimate object, and shows both wisdom and naïveté.They can become faithful servants, companions, or wives; they can cruelly trick a person and leave them for dead. While Inari’s guardians of fertility and prosperity are the standard of virtue (among foxes,) the vixen-wife represents sexuality and sensuality outside social acceptability, and sometimes even death. Our incongruities and foibles may be magnified through her supernatural nature, and while we might not exactly like what we see, the kitsune is truly a fascinating, if slightly uneasy mirror.

The Japanese have a word for the contradicting circumstance and opposing forces of rain falling while the sun still shines: kitsune no yomeiri, or fox wedding. The body of kitsune legend uncannily captures the dichotomy and ambivalence of human nature, through the cunning, convincing, and enchanting disguise of a fox. 

American Folklore Society. "Fox Possession in Japan". The Journal of American Folklore, 
              Vol. 13, No. 50. Jul. - Sep., 1900: 224-225.

Fairchild, William P.. "Shamanism in Japan". Folklore Studies, Vol. 21 1962: 34-38.

Hashima, Robert Seido, and Morris E. Opler. "The Rice Goddess and the Fox in Japanese Religion and Folk Practice". American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 48, No. 1. Jan. - Mar., 1946: 45-49.

Heine, Steven. "Putting The "Fox" Back in The "Wild Fox Koan"": The Intersection of Philosophical and Popular Religious Elements in The Ch'an/Zen Koan Tradition". Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies, Vol. 56, No. 2. Dec., 1996: 260-281.

Kunio, Yanagita, and Fanny Hagin Mayer. ""Yanagita Kunio": Japanese Folk Tales". Folklore Studies, Vol. 11, No. 1. 1952: 57.

Ludvik, Catherine. Japanese Religion Class Notes. Apr 21, 2010.

Nozaki, Kiyosho. Kitsune: Japan's Fox of Mystery, Romance and Humor. The Hokuseido Press, 1961: 13-17.

Schumacher, Mark. "Oinari, Fox Spirit, God of Japan, Photo Dictionary of Japanese Buddhist & Shinto Deities". Onmark Productions.com. 6/16/10 .

Schumacher, Mark. "Inari, the Rice God, and His/Her Messenger, the Fox (Kitsune)". Onmark Productions.com. 6/16/10 < http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/fox-inari-university-of-wiscon.html>.

Uther, Hans-Jörg. "The Fox in World Literature: Reflections on a "Fictional Animal"". Asian Folklore Studies, Vol. 65, No. 2. 2006: 140.’

Volk, Alicia. "Katsura Yuki and the Japanese Avant-Garde". Woman's Art Journal, Vol. 24, No. 2. 
                     Autumn, 2003 - Winter, 2004: 8.


Jewels in the Stacks

One rainy day I made up my mind to make my way to Kyoto International Manga Museum, finally. Rainy days are good for these sorts of things, and tis the season to be rainy. Walking east from Nijo-jo castle, the rain got so heavy I had to take refuge in front of a konbini at one point. And I passed that Oike Koto building again...the one with the amazing window.

Love that building.
Kyoto International Manga Museum is essentially a combination museum and library, in what looks like was an old school building. (The inside of the building felt and looked similar to many of the old 19th c. school buildings I've been in before...Saint Mary's campus buildings are the first which come to mind. My guess is this was built sometime in the mid to late 1800s and modeled after Western-style school buildings.) Except for the collection which is in chronological order, the manga in the stacks are actually organized by author, unlike in Japanese bookstores which primarily order books by the publisher. I've never quite figured out how they are categorized after publisher, because it's certainly not by author, and doesn't seem to follow an "alphabetical" ordering system or anything similar.
If you're a manga lover, you could probably get lost in the stacks for a full day. I limited myself to looking up what CLAMP and Naoko Takeuchi manga they had in their collection, and was happy to discover a couple of volumes from Takeuchi's less well-known manga Codename wa Sailor V, The Cherry Project, and Miss Rain. In addition to the library and museum set-ups, their gallery is currently filled with Range Murata's illustrations, and they have an exhibition of 100 maiko illustrations, each from a different manga artist. They also have rooms for illustration demonstrations, picture-story shows, workshops, and research.
Continuing down Karasuma-dori in the general direction of Kyoto Art Center, I walked through some more heavy torrents and puddles...I never did find Kyoto Art Center--even following the signs--but I did come across another jewel, not to overuse the metaphor...(Ha! Of course I'm overusing it.)
Half-hidden from the street by a Starbucks, sandwiched between a hotel and some business high-rises, Rokakkudo's entrance is just a little ways down a side street off of Karasuma-dori. Founded by Prince Shotoku in 587, Shiunzanchohoji's common name derives from the hexagonal shape of its main hall; rokakku means "six-sided" and -dou is a suffix for a hall or temple. One of the buildings surrounding the Rokakkudo courtyard is actually Ikenobo, the birthplace and headquarters of ikebana.
Jizo statues with bib and hat offerings.
The rather modern fountain behind the main hall is filled with koi...
...and swans
Really whiny swans...
And continuing on around behind the main hall...another fountain
Hidden up some stairs behind the above fountain...
Very intriguing sculpture...the face is so realistic
A Miroku Nyorai, slightly different in style
Inside the main hall
Detail of the incense urn
I want these guys. I seriously want these little guys.
This carving sits outside the temple office side entrance, closest to Rokakkudo's main gate.
The front gate...peppered with stickers as usual
Rokakkudo's bell tower, outside the small temple grounds and just across the street:
a small, odd piece of old surrounded by the urban
Further south down Karasuma-dori, just before Kyoto Station, is Higashi Hongangi,
and the beautiful lotus fountain in the median of the road in front of its front gate
I managed to take a small peek inside the temple a few minutes before it closed.
(Although, they were closing up at least fifteen minutes earlier than their official hours said they would, grr.)
Some details of the metal and woodwork inside the front gate
Very draconic tortoises on the roof corners of the Hondo
A very mossy-roofed side gate
On the way back, I stopped by and walked through the Teramachi area.
Came across this INCREDIBLY PINK store which I hadn't seen before.
I didn't peek my head in the door, but I think they probably sell modern kimono,
yukata and fashion accessories...
And speaking of fashion, while looking for that Art Center earlier, I came across a kimono/hakama rental store. I actually stepped in, partly to get out of the rain, and asked the lady working there a bunch of questions about furisode, yukata, and hakama,
mostly as an excuse to look at the amazingly gorgeous hakama whose rental prices make my Gwen Stefani Harajuku Lovers wallet cry tears of imaginary pain...

Engrish of the Day:
"Made in Only"