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December was such a busy month that I didn’t notice it passing so quickly. Today is the last day and soon a new year will unfold. And I have almost forgotten to post about my enchanting trip to Kobe Luminarie.

Kobe Luminarie is held every December in which illuminations are built in memory of the Great Hanshin Earthquake which struck Hyogo Prefecture on January 1995. I was still young back then so I didn’t know such a disaster happened in Japan. It must have been very hard during that time in Kobe. But now they have largely recovered and that is very good.

There was a huge crowd of people as expected. Saying it ‘huge’ in this post is actually an understatement. Because it’s so huge and large-scale that they have to slowly direct all these people to the illumination site so there were a lot of walking and detours.

It was really a spectacular sight. Though I must be frank, illuminations are still grander in the Philippines.

And so for the reflections of this past year..

I remember back then, I said during last year’s December that I will definitely have a different Christmas next year.  And sure enough it happened. I received many blessings, so many that sometimes I can’t contain my happiness to myself. I am very thankful. I was taking my master’s program from the University of the Philippines during the almost first half of this year, and then I transferred during the second half  at Kyoto University.

It was just dream before, going and studying to Kyoto. I didn’t know it could be possible. It’s all thanks to my sensei, he was so kind to accept me in his lab even though my background is different from their research interests. And the lab members are also kind to me, friendly and helpful. And I should note that I am their first and only international student.

I think the most important lesson I learned this year is to believe and to have courage. If I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here today.  I am just so glad. I hope this coming year will also be a blessed one for me. Let’s do our best! 頑張りまあしょう!

Happy New Year! あけましておめでとう

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I went to Kyoto University November Festival and tried many sorts of food and goodies. Then I found this Japanese dango-style “Palitaw” sold in an international food stand. Palitaw is a Filipino food/snack made from rice flour topped with grated coconut, sesame seeds and sugar.

The taste was similar but it wasn’t soft or cooked enough. But nice job though! So I guess they made basic dango balls, then added the Filipino-style toppings in the end instead of kinako, anko or glaze sauce.

Amazing.

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Shikomi are trainees aspiring to be maiko or apprentice geiko. They are usually 16 years old or junior high school graduate when they start their training in an okiya which lasts for about a year. They do household chores and also attend lessons for dance (mai), singing, shamisen, and other traditional instruments. If they are successful, they will be able to debut as maiko and will be assigned to a geiko who will act as their official onee-san (older sister).

These young ladies are shikomi, probably from the Kawayoshi okiya in Miyagawa-cho. They were very kind to pose for a picture. I am so much rooting for them. Go girls!

Visiting Kyoto is definitely not complete without tasting its elegantly sweet and bitter matcha parfait using only the finest teas in Kyoto. A very Japanese approach to dessert, I must say. A Japanese friend of mine has kindly invited me to this beautiful store, Gion Tsujiri, tucked along the busy street of Shijo-dori. I thought this place would only be filled with women but I was wrong. I even saw some old local men and also male foreigners inside the shop. I think that is a sure testament of the shop’s success.

So here are the parfaits we ordered: Shiratama Parfait (白玉パフェ) and Fukiyose (吹きよせ).

You can see more of the parfait menu in their site: http://www.giontsujiri.co.jp/saryo/menu/kyoto_gion/pafe/

At last my dream came true! I was able to see a maiko real close when I went to Miyagawa-cho. Actually my first time was when I went to Gion in an izaka-ya but I was just too star-strucked or dazed to even react. What really surprised me about Miyagawa-cho is that it was such a long yet narrow street with a community feel. Maybe it will feel like hanamachi during night time with the lit-up lanterns in every ochaya or establishment.

Her name is Toshiemi, a first-year maiko (apprentice geiko) in one of the five hanamachi of Kyoto. I’ve seen pictures of her before in the internet but she was even cuter in person. I personally think she is a classic Kyoto beauty. Thank you Toshiemi-san for posing for me!

Note: Since this month is October, her hana-kanzashi has the theme of chrysanthemums. Her first year status can be seen clearly with the shidare in her kanzashi, very red eri, and only her lower lip painted.

You can read more about maiko and geiko in my previous blog post here.

It was my dream before to go to Kyoto to see and experience the traditional Japanese culture at its finest. I thought it was impossible with the little resources that I have. But I realized that there was a way, but it would be a very difficult one: applying for the Monbukagakusho (MEXT) scholarship.

And I successfully got in. It took me courage to send e-mails to Japanese professors as my research background was far from my research interest. But a professor has accepted despite that and he was even kind enough to make the study plan (because we were nearing the submission deadline). I am now currently undertaking my Master’s in Kyoto University with animal virus as my research study. My labmates are all Japanese with me as their first and currently only foreign student in the lab. Still, they were very kind to me and would initiate English conversations even when they’re having difficulty speaking it.

I remember that I used to be ask, “Why did you want to study to Kyoto”? And I would always answer simply, “Because it’s like hitting two birds in one stone”. Aside from experiencing the Japanese traditional culture, I also would like to build up my career as a researcher. And nothing is better than going to one of the best universities in Asia, or even the world, which is Kyoto University.

The first two weeks was a long nerve-wrecking adjustment period. I had to finish a lot of paperwork while attending the orientations and the first day of classes. But now, thankfully, I have settled down. I currently live in a nice cozy apartment near Shimogamo-jinja.

And so my journey to Kyoto begins.

Kamogawa or Kamo River in Kyoto