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Final Touring Excursions

Tomorrow is my last day. It felt strange to write that sentence, knowing that I've been gone six weeks, which feels like both no time at all but also forever. Even though this is my fifth time coming to Japan (and the fourth for an protracted trip), the coming-and-going is something I don't get used to. Just as I start getting over my "ugh, I just want to go home" hump and settling in, well, it actually IS time to go home.

What have I done the past few days?

Well, on Sunday my host family and I took a drive to Yamanashi prefecture (re: near Mount Fuji) to visit the Oshino Hakkai, the Eight Sacred Ponds of Oshino. According to the signage, when people used to hike up Mount Fuji for pilgrimages, they would purify themselves in the ponds before starting their journey. And having stuck my hand in an (acceptable) corner of the main pond, Wakuike, it was FREEZING. Some other ponds have specific purposes, however. One was for people who wanted a good marriage, for instance.

Walking around Oshino was charming. The ponds are literally located in the middle of the village, so around the walking route there were your typical tourist shops and restaurants.

And the ponds were, well, ponds:

Very pretty ponds, with clear water and filled with koi, but ponds nonetheless.

We did make the effort to go to all of them, though, even the one that was a (hot) fifteen minute walk in the opposite direction from all the others. This one had a shrine in the wooded hill just behind it, and found the torii gates with their peeling red paint to be both beautiful and somewhat disconcerting.

After stopping for lunch, we drove around two of the larger nearby lakes.

Had the day been cloudless we would have had an amazing view of Mount Fuji, but as it were we only saw the lower half (the top being completely shrouded).

Then, yesterday, I met up with my Japanese language TA from Yale at the University of Tokyo (Todai) Hongosanchoume campus.

This is the campus's main gate, Akamon (lit: "Red Gate") which was built by Nariyasu Maeda (whose family has their castle in Kanazawa!) for the sole purpose of welcoming his bride, Lady Yasu.

Then here is the main pathway of campus and at the end of this ginko tree-lined walk is the clocktower.

We walked around the campus, with my TA pointing out the different buildings and who occupied them. We also stopped in the library (under construction, but still looked very historic) and one of the dining halls (which looked like your standard school cafeteria), as well as a cafe called Wagashi Kurogi which specializes in traditional Japanese sweets.

I had warabimochi, which is mochi (glutinous rice) covered in kinako (toasted soybean flour). The black stuff is a sweet sauce (made of brown sugar?) used to help the kinako stick to the mochi. It's much sweeter than expected, so the green tea and the pickles on the side are a very nice palate cleanser.

Following our campus wanderings, we walked to the Ueno area which has a museum campus/park complex (not unlike Chicago's museum campus). We didn't have time to go to any museums, but we did get to listen to several street musicians playing renditions of "My Neighbor Totoro" on bamboo pipes.

Tomorrow I head to my last coffee shop, Bear Pond Espresso, which many people have credited with bringing espresso to Tokyo in the first place. The owner is, I quote, "a mysterious man making mysterious coffee" so I hope to see what that's all about. Then all that remains is packing up my belongings and checking in for my Thursday flight.


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