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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

Jingo-ji or Jingo temple is one of the Buddhist temples that can be found in Mount Takao in Ukyo,ku, Kyoto. I went with my international friends here for momiji-gari or viewing the momiji but we were too late as almost all of the leaves have already fallen. But there were still a few trees at its peak and the mountain scenes were serene and breathtaking so I guess it wasn’t too bad.

The origin of Jingo-ji goes back to 824 AD and has gone through many disasters throughout the history (like fire). I will quote what was written in the pamphlet that was given to us during the visit:

Wake-no Kiyomaro, who was in charge of building the new capital at Heiankyo (now Kyoto), established Takaosan-ji Temple on this site at the end of the eight century. In 824, Takaosan-ji and Jingan-ji Temples were combined as Jingo Kokuso Shingon-ji Temple.

Before the merger, Takaosan-ji Temple had played a key role in the Heian School of Buddhism, including visits, as guests of the Wake clan, by Tendai sect founder Saicho (Dengyo Daishi) and Kukai (Kobo Daishi). In 812, Kukai gave esoteric teachings of Takaosan-ji to Saicho and 190 others, laying the foundation for the establishment of the Shingon sect.

Heian-jingu or Heian Shrine is one of top Shinto shrines in Japan located in Sakyo-ku which was built to signify peace and rejuvenation of  Kyoto after the transfer of the capital to Tokyo. You can read more about its history here: http://www.heianjingu.or.jp/shrine/heianjingu.html

My main destination was actually Miyako Messe to watch the monthly maiko performance in Fureaikan (see my previous post). But since I arrived earlier, I spent my time sightseeing in the nearby Heian-jingu as I never been there even although it’s quite a popular tourist spot.

That day was also Shichi-go-san so there were lots of families with their children dressed in kimono. It was an adorable scene.

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I was able to participate in a subsidized study tour organized by the Graduate School of Biotudies, Kyoto University targeted for the international students. The tour was destined to Awaji Island by crossing the famous Akashi Kaikyou Bridge connecting the island to the mainland Kobe. We had a fantastic view of the sea, or maybe I was exaggerating it, because it’s been a while since I’ve seen one. I miss the smell and color of the sea!

The main goal of the tour was to learn how to make the Japanese thick chewy noodle “udon”. I actually like udon very much so I was very glad to make our own handmade noodles (although the staff made the dipping broth). The secret for the chewy consistency is kneading the dough several times by stepping on it! Then we cut the dough to 4-mm thick using a cool-looking knife.

After making and eating udon, we went again to the famous bridge and there was a promenade park underneath the structure. I have a bit of fear of heights so I had trouble looking below the glass pane overlooking the sea below. Then we went home after sunset.

That trip was certainly relaxing since I have nothing to do and worry about anything. But one thing I realized is that Kyoto is still more beautiful..

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Kitano Tenmangu is a Shinto shrine located in Kamigyo-ku dedicated to Sugawara no Michizane. It was said that he was the first person in Japanese history to be enshrined as a deity. He is best known as the “god of academics” and so many students come here and pray for academic-related intentions, especially entrance examinations.

The lighting conditions was not very good at the day I went here due to cloudy weather. Also there was not much kouyou (紅葉) or autumn foliage yet. I will definitely come back here to see the famed momiji and ume in February next year.

You can read for more information in the shrine’s site here: http://kitanotenmangu.or.jp/top_en.php#en_tp4

Zenkyo-an is a sub-temple of Kennin-ji (建仁寺) which is located in Higashiyama-ku just across the Ebisu-jinja. What’s interesting about this place is the presence of many wild pig or boar statues. Still, it’s a nice quiet place tucked hidden in the narrow streets of Kyoto unlike other shrines or temples.

Shimogamo-jinja (“Lower Kamo Shrine”) is a Shinto shrine located at Sakyo-ku dedicated to the creator and guardian of the Kyoto City, Kamotaketsunomi-no-mikoto with his daughter Tamayorihime-no-mikoto. It was built even before the Heian era and is currently designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s sister shrine is Kamigamo-jinja located upstream of the Kamo-gawa (“Kamo River”). Meanwhile Tadasu-no-Mori (“Forest of Corrections”) is a virgin forest which goes back during the Yayoi period. It was very relaxing walking through the forest path, hearing the chirps of wild birds and the quiet murmur of the flowing stream and as well as seeing the lush green scenery. I am looking forward to going back when the leaves have changed colors.

You can read for more information in the shrine’s site here: http://www.shimogamo-jinja.or.jp/english.html