Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My two weeks in Japan - epilogue: The last sunset

This is the last picture I took on Japanese soil. I rushed with Mr. Yemen to the Rinkuu town seaside to catch the sunset. The weather was cloudy so the sunset wasn't clear. Just like the future, I say! I don't know if and when I will visit Japan again, but I sure hope I can; two weeks is a little too short!

The sun sets on our last day.. and on this blog.

It has been almost a year, but I'm finally done reporting and shared [almost] everything I wanted to share about the trip. I hope you enjoyed reading the blog -like I enjoyed writing it- and learned something worthwhile from it. If you have any questions or anything else you want to know, please don't hesitate to ask by commenting on this post or by sending me an e-mail and I'll be more than happy to answer.

Again, I would like to thank everybody who helped me out in those two unforgettable weeks: The embassy for recommending me (without a test!); the Japan Foundation personnel who took care of us up to the last moment, especially M-san;
the homestay family which made me attached to Osaka; the nice participants especially Mr. Egypt and Mr. Yemen, who made me feel at home in the difficult and awkward moments; my friends and teachers who received me in Japan: Yoshi, N-sensei, Nobu, Ocha no, Sanad, T-sensei and of-course, K-sensei. (K-s: Thanks for the awesome, awesome picture book!)

After all the kindness I received in Japan I am willing to help any Japanese person in Jordan in any way I can. This way, hopefully, I can repay the Japanese kindness with Muslim & Jordanian kindness. As the nice expression in Japanese goes: お互い様です

Last but most,
Alhamdulillah. Thanks to Allah for giving me this opportunity and a magically smooth, most wonderful trip.

To wrap up here is a list of the trip-related posts, oldest first:
My two weeks in Japan - prologue: Kokoro
Round 1: Home stay photofest
日本で一番好きな場所 - My favourite place in Japan
Japanese children 日本のお子供さん
The beautiful scenery of Japan - 美しき日本景色
Awkward moments 気まずい瞬間
They arrived FINALLY!! ヤット届いたんだ!!
Long time no post: The lost letter 久しぶりにポスト!失われた手紙
Muslim X Japan X 2 weeks ムスリムX日本X2週間
One free day in Tokyo
A visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park 広島平和記念公園の訪問
Playfulness ふざける事


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Playfulness ふざける事

Question: What happens when you cross famous sights of Japan with plain silliness?




A visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park - 広島平和記念公園の訪問

One of the highlights of my trip was the visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. It was part of a three day trip to Kyoto, Hiroshima and the island of Miyajima. Since it is a cultural educational program and since we're foreigners from various regions of the world, - some of which are war-torn - JF invited us to the Peace Memorial Park as a way to introduce and share with us the Japanese vision of peace, by showing us the hideous effects of war. Specifically, the Second World War and the Hiroshima Atomic Bomb.

The first thing that we encountered when we entered the park was the remains of the Hiroshima Prefectural Commercial Exhibition Hall. This is the closest building to ground zero to remain standing.
Being around this building gave me a surreal feeling; it constantly reminded me that this beautiful peaceful park around me was the site of unspeakable horrors.

This is one tough building. The dome is replicated.

More pictures of the building...

We continued our walk along the beautiful peace memorial park...

Look at the beautiful trees or big plants.

While we walked along the park, I noticed a few landmarks...

Help. I can't read that. The only thing I can make out is 'kudasai'.

This is where they (used to?) measure distances
between Hiroshima and other places from.

I don't really know what this is.

Or what this is.

Sometimes we just wandered off or the guide wasn't around to answer questions.

While we passed by this river, the guide detailed to me how after the explosion people were running and jumping in the river because of the heat. I imagined the scene of people running towards the river and jumping in.. at that moment was the only thing on their minds wanting to feel cool? Or did they realize that it will be their resting place? Was the river even cool after the explosion and extreme heat wave which set things on fire? I looked down and imagined all those people's bodies at the bottom of the river.

Next we went to a very famous landmark.

Small children taking pictures under Sadako's statue.

Big children taking pictures under Sadako's statue.

Now here's something interesting. This is one of those 'it's a small world' moments. Around this time last year, I was chatting with N-sensei about my trip, and I told her I'll be going to Hiroshima. She said that the writing engraved under Sadako's statue is her mother-in-law's shodou. She was a 15 years old when she wrote it. Her mother-in-law taught shodou in a high school and retired last year. Talk about bragging rights!

"This is our cry.
This is our prayer.
For the establishment of peace in the world"

Around Sadako's memorial thousands of paper cranes were displayed. Cranes of all sizes and colours.

And then we reached the A-bomb Museum. The Museum claims that it tries its best not to be biased and the underlying theme of the Museum is that the atomic bomb was not necessary to end the war. Here is where I learn some things I didn't know about the atomic bomb.

Like Britain's involvement.

And the Soviets preparing to engage the Japanese.

And that there was not any warning.

And how Hiroshima was chosen.

Not the average thing to lose sleep over.

The culprit who wrote that.

Before the bombing

After the bombing

The first seeds of the Japanese people's peace efforts.

Prohibition of the peace festival during the Korean war.

Sorry for the blurry pictures. I am bad at close-quarters shooting; I couldn't keep a steady hand. I took many other pictures also including the effects of the atomic bomb. I don't want to post them here because of their quality and also because they are sort of saddening and disturbing. Besides, you can research them on your own.

One week later, during the Tokyo bus tour, I learned something unexpected and ironic. For all the attention the atomic bombing of Hiroshima gets one would think it was the most devastating raid in history. Apparently it was not!! The tour guide detailed to us why Tokyo is all-modern, unlike Kyoto which is a wonderful mix of old and new Japan: The Firebombings of Tokyo which torched more than 30 kilometers of the city. The guide detailed how due to the heat, the 'fireproof' suits worn by citizens melted on their skin. She detailed how the raid was carried out, calling the Americans 'very smart'.

I deeply respect the Japanese peace efforts, especially those by the individuals and civil groups there. In the park there were peace activists who were victims of the atomic bomb. Even here: I met a JICA Jordan intern who left his work in the engineering field after 4 years to pursue 'Peace studies'. Truly admirable.

Alright. This ends the last detailed report about my Japan trip. Please expect some more light-hearted pictures and the closing post soon.


Saturday, August 09, 2008

A reminder 思い出させるもの

On this day, I would like to congratulate all those who graduated and all those who will graduate...

Don't forget that, because you will be asked about what you did with the knowledge you acquired.

Update: It was brought to my attention that this post can be misunderstood, so a clarification is in order. See comment #5. I also made the caption bigger in the picture, because some might have missed it.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

One free day in Tokyo

Alright, this time it's about one free day in Tokyo.

During our Tokyo trip, on the next day we were given the choice between an optional trip to some landmarks or 'one free day in Tokyo'. I went with the latter. I spent one free day in Tokyo with Saqf. It was Ramadan and I wanted to experience fasting in Tokyo (besides Saqf was fasting, so it would have been unkind to eat and drink infront of him, especially with the insane heat and humidity). So, at night I had suhur on the Tunamayonigiri that I bought with T-sensei.

I woke up early, bid T-sensei 'bye-bye' and 'see you next week in Amman' and left to the station.
I was supposed to meet Saqf in Ueno station at 9, but miscommunication happened and I ended up alone for a couple of hours. So, I figured I'd spend some time inside Ueno Park. Here are some pictures.

Ueno station: Pretty and huge from the inside..

...small and normal from the outside.

Here are a few landmarks in Uenopark:

This is a statue of some famous Samurai guy who did seppaku to himself.


This landmark looks peculiar, so I had to take a picture. I don't know the story behind it or what 'toki wasureji no tou' means. If someone other than google can tell me, please do.

And more stone lanterns! AARRGH!!

And the most famous landmark:

The bench.

This might or might not be the Museum of Western Art, I forgot.

Ueno park is huge and I actually did not plan out my visit to it. I only knew about the National Science Museum and that's what I went for. I did not know about the Zoo and other stuff that I still don't know about. I wanted to go there because my dad's friend told me that in the seventies he went to the national museum while in Japan and saw flat panel TVs. I was like "flat panel TVs in the seventies!" Maybe if I go there I can tell my children later about how I did time travel back in the 2000s!

When I arrived at the museum, I didn't look carefully around and thought there was one entrance, and I saw people (mostly Japanese) lined up and paying to enter and there was all those banners about Aztec and Mayan exhibits. When I went in, sure enough it was an exhibit about Mayan and Aztec civilizations. So I stopped and thought "Why I am I inside a Mayan museum in JAPAN?!!" I was the only white guy there, this alone is testimony that I'm in the wrong place. So, I left the exhibit and although it was not allowed, I took one picture because it described my feelings perfectly at that moment:

So I left the voodoo mumbo jumbo exhibit and went into the permanent exhibits in the upper floors. I saw lots of amazing stuff, but nothing about the future. Maybe the miraikan wasn't open in the seventies I thought to myself sighing. I should have gone to Odaiba instead and danced with Sony's Aibo or Honda's Asimo. :'( Instead I was stuck with these guys:



How so last century and boring!! Annnyways...

So then I met Saqf and we went around Tokyo. We went to many places actually and it was pretty fun. It's fun not to be alone, especially in Tokyo. We went to... let's see: Shibuya, Shinjuku, Shimokitazawa, Komaba and Setagaya, and so on.

IF the internet is to be believed, this is the busiest
crossing in the world, busier than manhattan,
NY and Leister or Picadilli in London.

I also went to Akihabara, which I forgot to mention above. I forgot to mention it due to lack of interest. I just wanted to see what's the fuss about. I'm not crazy about manga, anime, games or electronics (Saqf forced me to buy Zelda for the DS from Yodobashi though!). I also wanted to buy a denshi jisho, but failed.

We then went to Komaba to rest somewhere. Komaba is on one of the sides of Tokyo university, so if you live there, chances are you are smart.

Can you guess what this place is?

If you are a Japanese language student and still can't
figure out this place, you fail miserably!

Right. So we rested for an hour from the crazy heat and humidity outside in Saqf-dono's quarters. This is a place far, far away from visual noise and crimes.

Then it was almost sunset, so we hurriedly went to Shinjuku, where Tokyo masjid is, and we prayed maghreb jama'a there. It was really a refreshing moment for me. First time to go into a masjid since coming to Japan (10 days plus).

I couldn't take a good picture. The trees were in the way.

After the [much needed] spiritual power-up, we headed to Setagaya-ku, to have iftar in Islamic Center Japan. During Ramadan, there was a free iftar every Sunday. How nice and community-like! Actually, I didn't go there only for Iftar. I was planning to go there from the start and insisted on going there. During the trip, i wanted to learn about life in Japan. In addition to that, I had a special interest where our cultures intersect. I was interested in Islam in Japan and how Muslims (Japanese or non-Japanese) live there.

This is the entrance to the Islamic Center Japan.

The Center itself is a shadow of what it used to be. It looks old and rugged inside and out. The reason is the so-called 'war on terror'; I was told there that the Islamic Center was once 40 full-timers strong, now those who stayed are there on a part-time best-effort basis, because they stopped receiving grants and donations after September 11th, because everybody was afraid of becoming suspicious and black-listed. The ICJ guys told me that ICJ didn't receive cash donations since 9/11 and they're spending from their personal pockets. This is all in spite of the good relations the Islamic Center enjoys with the Japanese government and press. While I was there, there was actually a reporter from Yomiuri shimbun interviewing the cook.

Anyways, when we went in, we were lead to the prayer room where the food was placed on sheets on the floor.

Saqf putting the yummy in the tummy after a good day's fasting!

Not only did you have me born in you
but now you're feeding me halal meat in Tokyo.
Thank you Kuwait, I love you.

The food had red meat. I'm really picky when it comes to red meat. If you see me eating red meat, you will really hate me. But at the time I was so hungry that red and white looked all the same to me. I was eating like the cookie monster himself and the f.. ..ooood was delicious!!

So, after the food, I talked a little with ICJ people before taraweeh prayers and they gave me some books and materials (such as the books I talked about here).

After Iftar, we went to Shimokitazawa, which was by far my favourite place in Tokyo. It is packed full of all kinds of shops and full of young people everywhere. We walked around a lot and shopped at the local Muji there and we played taiko no tatsujin in a small game center on the street (awesome, awesome music game). But the best part was a shop called 'Village Vanguard' which is full of mostly Japanese (and some western) popular culture items such as books, manga, clothes and accessories. You'll find all kinds of popular stuff and obscure and geeky stuff there. I got me a kinoko lamp and a mario bros. bonus towel. I also found stuff I was looking for all over Osaka and Tokyo: 8-bit video game motif'd T-shirts
(Pacman, Space Invaders, Mario bros. etc)! But they were all small sizes :( I advice everybody to go there if they find the chance. It's a pleasure just walking around and looking at the things on sale.

Hora! Argeelah in Shimokitazawa.

Why do they always take these things from our culture? Argeelah, belly dancing, etc..
Why don't they take the nice, healthy, meaningful stuff?

Closer look at the argeela flavors available.
Cola? Banana? HONEY? No thanks!

That's all about my 'one free day in Tokyo'. The Tokyo trip was actually three days and we went to Tokyo tower, Asakusa and the Edo Tokyo museum. But I wanted to focus on this one fun day.

Thank you a lot Saqf-dono for taking me around Tokyo. I had a great time.

Next and last time: Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park (or "Where all the poor jordanian souls stuck in Tokyo didn't go!")