Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Autumn colors

19th October
On 19th of October, hubby and me went to Koyo (also called Momiji) Matsuri (autumn leaves festival) at Hottai-no-Taki. Hottai-no-Taki is a waterfall in Yurihonjo, Akita prefecture of Japan. Besides the waterfall, there is also a short hiking trail, a large grassy picnic place, and a restaurant in the area. This is one of the most popular spots for autumn leaf viewing in Akita.
Hottai waterfall is in the mountains near Mt. Chokai. It is about 60 km away from our home. But it took us almost 1.5 hours to reach there by our car as more than half of the way was curvaceous mountainous road and hubby had to drive rather slowly. We followed the Chokai-kogen route to go to the waterfall. On our way we noted that the forests in the mountainous area were still rather green in color with signs of beginning of the autumn color change of the tree leaves. There were colored leaves here and there but not that significantly striking to our eyes. But as we neared the waterfall, we saw the fabulous display of autumn colored leaves of red, orange, and yellow mixed with green everywhere. The view was amazing and I found myself utterly transfixed by the majestic beauty of the autumn leaves.
It was a very sunny and warm day, and when we reached the waterfall at about 2 pm, the Matsuri organizers were already winding up for the day as it was the last day of the two day festival. However, there were many people around enjoying the riot of autumn warm colors of the mountains near the waterfall. A few groups of people were sitting in circles on the grassy picnic ground and singing Japanese traditional songs while playing traditional musical instruments. Hubby and me enjoyed listening to them. I really loved the colored autumn foliage. We took several photos of the waterfall and the surrounding area.

Me standing next to Koyo (Momiji) Matsuri banner

People in festival mood in the grassy park near the waterfall

Me standing in front of the waterfall

Close up view of the waterfall and surrounding colored leaves

Hubby posing in front of colored leaves

Me sitting and enjoying the colored leaves

25th October
On 19th of October, although the waterfall and the surrounding area located at higher altitudes was full of autumn colored leaves, the mountainous way to the waterfall was still rather green. We wanted to enjoy and view the colored leaves on our drive through this mountainous road also. For this purpose, we went again to Hottai waterfall after a week, that is on 25th of October. Indeed this time, we enjoyed the fiery display of autumn colored leaves on our entire way up to the waterfall. We stopped our car several times to enjoy the view, which was really breathtaking and splendid. Although it was a cloudy and rather cold day, the weather could not dampen our spirits and we enjoyed every moment we spent viewing the autumn colors.

Some photos of the autumn colors on the mountainous way

As we approached the waterfall, we noticed that some of the trees had already started shedding the colored leaves and looked slightly grey. But at the same time, the red, orange, and yellow colors of the leaves looked more strong this week, probably due to the greyish background. However, there were only a few people around enjoying the view as the autumn colored leaves were just past the peak near the waterfall and the surrounding area.

Autumn colors near the waterfall

The waterfall

Autumn colors were just past the peak near the waterfall

Many trees already shed the colored leaves

After viewing the autumn colored leaves, we had sansai (mountain vegetables) noodles and oden (Japanese winter dish consisting of boiled eggs, radish, and processed fish cakes stewed in a light, soy-flavored broth) in the restaurant near the waterfall.

Hubby enjoying eating noodles

The autumn color change of the tree leaves is indeed one of nature's grandest displays of color.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Akita International University Festival

In the afternoon of 12th of October, hubby and me went to see the festival of Akita International University (AIU). It was the first day of the two day festival organized by the students of the university, and was open to everyone. AIU is a public university located in Akita city of Japan. Established in 2004 and modeled on American liberal arts college, AIU is one of the few universities in Japan that offers all of its courses in English. The aim of the university is to contribute to world peace by educating young people through a unique, liberal arts education, and a heavy international focus.
As soon as hubby and me entered the university, we saw that there were many international students from various countries studying in the campus. It was really nice to see the energy and enthusiasm of the students in organizing various events in the festival and trying to make it successful, which they did perfectly. The students put in a lot of effort to decorate the university campus, corridors, and the classrooms that were used for the purpose of the festival. There was a festive mood all around.

A reception and information booth (white colored) was set up at the main entrance of AIU. The lady under the blue and white shade was selling icecreams.

Me standing in a decorated corridor

Hubby posing in a decorated corridor

An exhibition was held about the information and culture of several countries. There were also exhibitions about authentic Japanese sweets, calligraphy, tea ceremony, ikebaba (Japanese flower arrangement), French cafe and many more. We liked the exhibition about Mongolian culture very much. There were traditional hats and musical instruments on display. Hubby and me wore the hats and tried to play the musical instruments.

Display of traditional musical instruments in the Mongolian stall

Display of Mongolian hats

Hubby and me wearing Mongolian hats

We also liked the exhibition of Tonga, where several young kids were busy trying their hands at paper art and stone art.

Exhibition of Tonga

In yet another exhibition room there was a beautiful tree made by the students, where the entire roof of the room seemed like branches and leaves of the tree. The artistic imagination and the concept of the tree was really commendable. Surrounding this tree, there were six stalls exhibiting the cultural, geographical, and historical aspects of USA, Thailand, Zambia, Philippines, Cambodia, and India. A mini workshop and a quiz progam was held about these countries. We got five out of the six questions correct! According to the organizer of the workshop, it was the highest score among the visitors until that time. We were happy to know that our general knowledge about the world is not that bad!

The beautiful tree

Hubby in front of the stall of America

Hubby thinking about the quiz question in front of the stall of Zambia

Me in front of the stall of India

Hubby in front of the stall of Thailand

After seeing most the exhibitions, hubby and me went to the cafeteria to have a cup of coffee. At that time, one of the organizing committee student volunteer approached us and requested us to give a speech in front of the potential newcomer students about the campus life, studies, the internationality of the university, and how we met (and eventually married) during our studentship in the university! We had fun explaining to her that we did not study in that university and we were there just to enjoy the festival. Seeing me, a foreigner, the student volunteer probably assumed that we were former students of AIU.
When we came out of the cafeteria building, we saw that an open air live music concert was going on at the ground just next to the main entrance of the university. It was nice to listen to electric guitar music and many songs.

Open air live music concert

Many food stalls were set up in a small street on the right side of the road just after the main entrance gate. These food stalls offered food items from various countries. However, by the time we reached there almost all the food items were over. I guess all the stalls had favorite food items of the students as well as the visitors.
We were inside the university campus until 5.30 pm. After that we had dinner at an Indian restaurant named Peacock in Akita city. We ordered a very mild snack called 'samosa' (a fried triangular pastry stuffed with potatoes and onion), mild seafood curry, very hot and spicy 'palak paneer' (spinach and cheese), naan, and saffron rice. My hubby is not used to eating spicy Indian food. So it was very amusing to observe the changes in his facial expressions while eating. His face is a good indicator of the level of hotness and spiciness of Indian food.

Indian food

Expressions on hubby's face: indicator of spiciness of Indian food

It was a nice way to spend the day and reminded hubby and me of our own university days.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Giant Buddha of Akata

On 12th of October, hubby and me visited the giant Buddha of Akata (Akata no Daibutsu in Japanese). It is a temple with a large indoor statue of standing Buddha in Akata town. The temple is about six km away from our home and it took us about 10 min to reach there by our car. The atmosphere of the temple was very calm, serene, and peaceful.

Hubby at the top of the staircase leading to the temple ground

Me in front of the temple

Akata no Daibutsu is an important tourist attraction of Akita prefecture. But I was unable to find an English pamphlet explaining the history of the temple. Fortunately, my hubby found some information about the temple in Japanese on the internet. So I requested him to translate some of the Japanese literature in English. I was really amused to see that he could not pronounce or grasp the meaning of many 'Kanji' characters used in the literature about the temple. 'Kanji' are Chinese characters used in the modern Japanese writing system along with Hiragana and Katakana. 'Kanji' characters can have more than one meaning and often have several pronunciations. That might be the reason why hubby, who is from Science background, found it difficult to fully understand the Japanese literature about temples and shrines. Here is the summary about the history of the temple.
Akata no Daibutsu is a Hase temple (Hasedera or Hase Kannon temple). The original temple was built by priest Zezan in 1774 AD. A statue of Buddha was bequeathed to this temple by Kameda han's feudal lord in 1784 AD. Kameda han was a domain in the Edo period located in Dewa provice, which is a former province of Japan and comprised of most of the modern-day Akita and Yamagata prefecture. The statue of Buddha was small and was carved with the same wood as that of the principal statue of Buddha of the Nara Hase temple. After the establishment of the Akata Hase temple with the small statue of Buddha, the giant statue of Buddha was made. However, the temple caught fire in 1888 and therefore the present giant statue of Buddha was remade later on. The statue is about nine meters in height. This is one of the three big Hase Kannon (Bodhisatva in Sanskrit) in Japan, the other two being that of Nara and Kamakura. Every year there is a festival called Akata no Daibutsu matsuri in late August. This matsuri is very rare and unique in entire Japan because of the participation of both temple as well as shrine in the matsuri. During this matsuri, Hase Kannon is taken from the temple and kept for one whole day and night in a shrine that is located about one km away, and then returned to its original place in the temple the next day.

When we arrived at the temple, we noticed that there were only a few more visitors around. So the atmosphere in the temple was really calm and quiet. There is a bell at a height of about four meters just outside the main entrance of the temple. It was nice to pull on the long and strong rope to ring the bell.

Hubby ringing the temple bell

Me ringing the temple bell

The sliding type main wooden doors at the entrance of the temple opened only about one meter and therefore the inside of the temple was rather dark, which was ideal for meditation and praying. The main source of light inside the temple was a few light bulbs located at a height of about four meters. So it was very difficult to take photos of the nine meter tall statue of Buddha as almost no light reached near the face of the Buddha. But hubby succeeded in taking a few good photos of the statue.

The statue of giant Buddha

Hubby and me posed in front of the statue of Buddha to get a relative idea of its height. There was hardly any space in between the main entrance door of the temple and the statue. Therefore, for us to be in the photo with proper focus required a lot of hubby's skill at photography.

Me in front of the statue of Buddha

Hubby in front of the statue of Buddha

There were several small statues in one corner of the temple, which really looked very beautiful. We prayed in front of these statues also.

Hubby in front of several small statues

Me in front of several small statues

Outside the temple, there were several small statues of Jizo, the guardian deity of children. Historically, parents came to Hasedera to set up these statues in hopes that the deity would protect and watch over their children. Today, though, the Jizo statues represent the souls of miscarried, stillborn, and aborted children. Some of the statues were dressed in bibs. They looked very cute!

Statues of Jizo

Hubby made a video of our visit to Akata no Daibutsu.

We were in the temple for about two hours and really liked the place. Visiting the temple for sightseeing had a calming effect on me as well as hubby.

The following webpages are interesting and give information about the religion in Japan, Hasedera, and Kannon.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Sayonara Tsukuba

This post is about me. On 19th of September, I resigned from my job as a researcher of a national research institute located in Tsukuba city of Ibaraki prefecture. It was too hectic to travel every week from Akita to Tsukuba, stay in the guest house of the research institute for 2-3 days, carry out research experiments, and finally return back to Akita. My work routine has been like this since I moved to Akita in April 2007, and lately I had started feeling rather exhausted after every trip. I had worked in the same research institute laboratory for many years and it was very difficult to bid farewell to my colleagues and also to all the research machines that I used. A very nice official farewell dinner party was arranged for me and it was really enjoyable. Thank you all my colleagues!

Me receiving a flower bouquet and having dinner during farewell party

Flower bouquet given to me by my colleagues

I had been involved in the research of Physics and material aspect of semiconducting materials for the past 18 years and am surely going to miss the research life. Akita is an agriculture based prefecture with very little scope for such activities. After a few more years I might return to the research field again although I am not sure at the moment. However, I am very happy and content with my present life with hubby, and that sort of compensates for the lack of research activities.
Prior to moving to Akita, I had lived in Tsukuba city for 7 years and had made many friends there. So during my last week of work in Tsukuba, i.e., from September 16-19, I was rather busy getting a lot of farewell parties from friends too. All the four days I had lunch as well as dinner parties with my friends, except for the night when my colleagues gave the farewell dinner. Wow! It felt good to be eating nice food everyday! Although by the end of every lunch/dinner, I felt sad thinking that it might be the last time I was meeting my friends. But life has to go on.
Here I would like to specially mention my friend Sucheta who is also from India and works in another national research institute in Tsukuba. Although she is my friend, she has been more like my elder sister and my advisor in personal matters during my stay in Tsukuba and now also. She has always been there during all the ups and downs of my life. I remember that about seven years back I was going through a very rough phase in my personal life but I refused to do anything about it by pretending that everything was fine. At that time she was always there guiding and sometimes even gently scolding me! Her gentle but persistent advices helped me in getting my personal life back on track. Thank you Sucheta for all your help and for everything you have done for me. Recently I have not been able to meet her as often as I would like to but she is always there in my thoughts.
On 17th of September, I had been to Sucheta's home for dinner. The dinner was Indian style and I savored every bite of all the tasty dishes she cooked. I had a nice time playing with her kids and stayed at her home for the night. The next day in the morning while leaving for my office, she gave me many varieties of Indian snacks as present. I enjoyed eating them after returning to Akita. They were delicious. She also gave a Kurti top (Indian shirt to be worn over jeans) for me and handkerchiefs for my hubby as presents. I am really thankful to her for so many presents. I am surely going to miss playing with her sweet kids and the delicious dinners at her home.

Indian snacks presented by Sucheta

Kurti top and handkerchiefs presented by Sucheta

I am going to miss the research life and all my friends of Tsukuba. Sayonara Tsukuba.