Saturday, June 30, 2012

Did You Know There Are Female Samurai Too?

This week went by really fast. Emily didn't say anything last week, but I strained some back muscles last week and a week later, it's finally feeling better! Guess I should stop throwing kids around at school. :) Anyways, with my back pretty much back to normal, we had a fun weekend doing some more exploring with our buddies, the Nugents. Here are some pictures of our weekend adventure.
We went to the Aizu Clan school (Samurai school) and this is what was waiting at the entrance. It had a sign next to it that read, "This lion protects this school and prays for world peace.It is made of marble. It gives wisdom, power, and protection to worshipers." Looks like Miss America isn't the only one praying for world peace. 

This was the south gate into the school. There were 3 different gates. The east and west gates were for students, and the south was for the important people. Naturally, we entered in through the south gate.

Upon entering the south gate, you can walk through another smaller gate that gives you a view of  a shrine and a courtyard. The weather was awesome and it's starting to even get hot.

We thought it would make a nice picture standing on the bridge, what do you think?

In the shrine area, there was a statue of Confucius. Everything in the room was pretty ornate. The Nugents said that we haven't seen ornate until we go to Niko. So we are going there in two weeks... The weekend just before we leave Japan. Anyways, apparently one of the things Samurais studied was religion, mainly Shintoism and Confucianism. Some of the other things that Samurai studied were reading and writing, etiquette, how to build castles, lots of history, and how to use a variety of weapons. Only males were allowed into Samurai schools all across Japan and were admitted when a boy reached 10. There were two ways to be admitted into the school. One, they were the first son of a famous Samurai lord. Or two, they performed really well in school.

This was in the shrine area. I just thought it was a really cool pot.

They had an observatory kind of place that overlooked the school and the surrounding area. It was a pretty big size. The thing I really enjoyed about the school versus the mansion place we visited last week was that we got to go inside the buildings. 

The mountain back there is Mount Bandai. It's the one we skied down back in March. So much fun!
So while we were touring the place, one of the workers asked if we wanted to hear some stories about the school. In his stories, we learned that only males were allowed into samurai schools. However, there were many women that learned on their own and became samurai. There was a pretty big war called the Boshin War in the 1800's here in Aizu. Even though the female samurai fought along side the male samurai, they still lost. The school was burned and the castle was overtaken. The government reconstructed the school back in 1987. Close to where the school was rebuilt, there was a large statue. We called it the Mary statue; don't know too much about it.
It's a little hard to tell, but it's a statue of a lady with a baby. I'm not sure about the history of it, but it is part of the Buddhist religion. Although we didn't take the time to go inside it, you can climb a series of stairs. Apparently there are a few lookout windows as you climb.
After seeing all those fun things, we went out to eat at a place called Maruyama. One of the cool things about the place (although there are lots of other places that let you do it) was to grind sesame seeds and then add in a special sauce. You can make the sauce to your liking.

This was the lunch special. The tonkatsu, hire katsu, and ebi fry was pretty standard. However, it was all you can eat cabbage and rice, so I was a very happy camper. 
Anyways, I hope that you enjoyed the pictures. We are excited for the other things we have going on in the next few weeks before we depart. Hope you are enjoying spring as much as we are. Much love!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

So You Want to Live Like a Samurai?

We had some great adventures this week touring our little town of Aizu Wakamatsu. We visited a samurai mansion and a ruling family's graveyard up in the mountains. Below are some pictures of our adventures.

This is one room in the samurai mansion that we visited. Much of the mansion burned down and was recreated about 30 years ago. Many rooms had Japanese mannequins to show the purpose of the rooms. 

The guard room

This was a rice cleaner powered by water. Pretty ingenious for how old it is. 

The lavatory. The English sign reads, "The lavatory was for the exclusive use of 'Onari-no-ma.' It was dumped with sand. The cart was filled with sand in order to separate the excretions for health advisers to examine." Ewww!

So this is the cart that the poor health examiners had to dig through to make sure that the samurai were in tip-top shape.

I had to giggle at this one too. "The lavatory has no ceiling boards, which prevents hidden enemies from making a surprise attack."

"Please gently rub the head. Surely, you will get a good fortune!"

These are the steps leading to the ruling family's graveyard. This was one of the most beautiful hikes I have been on here in Japan. 

The gravestones were different shapes to represent the different types of Buddhism that  evolved throughout the generations of this family's reign.

Not sure if you can see it very well, but these gravestones had some really interesting kanji on them. It almost looked more like hieroglyphics than modern kanji.

Sorry, kind of random, but look how beautiful the green of those rice fields are. James and I run through the rice fields every once in a while and I am amazed every time at how breathtaking that green is. We are so lucky to live in such a beautiful place.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Only a Month Left...

The weeks seem to be going along faster and faster. With only a month left of our stay in Japan (that's right, it's almost been a whole year since we came here...), we have been trying to hit up all the local tourists spots. We have also been really lucky this spring season with the weather. It has been around 70 F with the sun out on most days despite it supposedly being the rainy season. We will just count our blessings. Enjoy some of the highlights of the week.

This is at a place called Oyakuen. It is a botanical garden that has a bunch of plants used for medicine. It was started several hundred years ago (1500's I think) and it known as a place of refugee for soldiers to get better after being wounded in battle.

I guess we could have chosen a little better scenery behind us, but the garden was actually really pretty.

There is a trail that takes you all around the garden showing it's various plants and trees. Unfortunately, there wasn't a whole lot of info in English, but like I said earlier, the colors were amazing!

This is another view of a part of the garden. The little building there is on a little island and was used as a tea ceremony room or something like that.  

We also went to the Aizu Sake Museum this week. It was quite disappointing. This is a picture of some of the brewing tanks. We thought we would be able to see the process of making sake here, but it looks like they don't really make sake there anymore.

Imagine that you are on the floor above the brewing canisters... This is what you would see. They had holes in the floor  just above the canisters. Not exactly sure how it all goes together. However, to make good sake, you need to have both good rice and good water. You also need a nice warm season for the rice to grow and a nice cold season when brewing the sake so that not as much bacteria grows. Anyways, Aizu is really famous for sake because it has a good balance for all the key elements that are needed to brew good sake.

There was a tiny display room at the museum and one of the displays had these dolls. Not really sure what they were used for... Some of them are a little scary looking. 

We had omelettes sometime this week. It was pretty awesome. We made it with avocado, tomato, grilled onions and garlic, and melted cheese. 

This is a picture just outside of one of the schools that Emily teaches at. You can only imagine how awesome she thought it was to have a whole field of daisies (if you don't know, daisies are her favorite flower).

Some bridge that Emily thought was really cool by her school.

Some river that Emily thought was really cool by her school. :)

If you remember the post a couple weeks back with the video on the chicks hatching, this is how big they have gotten so far.

This is June's bulletin board that Emily made for one of her schools. She wanted me to say that it is probably the ugliest one so far. However, July's is going to be awesome!
I hope you enjoyed the picture tour of our week. We love you all lots and look forward to seeing many of you in about a month. It's crazy how fast time goes!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

9 Marriage Problems That Are Actually... Real Problems

I (Emily) am a sucker for articles about marriage advice. It could be because I am planning to incorporate couples mediation into my career, or because I love making my own marriage better, or because as a newlywed (sure two years is still newlywed), it's a new and exciting stage of life. Whatever the reason, this week a Yahoo! article entitled "9 Marriage Problems that Are Actually Good for Your Relationship" caught my eye. I'm sad to report that after reading the article, I felt a bit sick to my stomach and panicky about the fact that this is what I'm up against as a potential family mediator. 

The article started out by saying, "While some behaviors, like cheating, are obvious deal-breakers, other seeming threats can actually have a positive impact on your relationship." Some of these "seeming threats" included fantasizing about other people ("thinking about a sexy neighbor, for example, can improve your marriage-as long as those racy visions stay in your mind"), using porn ("a slippery slope.... But if he or you use it occasionally when the other's not around, that's okay"), flirting with people online ("flirty friendships can be healthy as long as they don't get physical"), and being close with a colleague of the opposite sex ("'your financial stability and social status may depend on this specific office relationship'")

Um, no. Those things are not ok. At all. 

But the article did have a redeeming quality: The comment section. Thank heaven for the common man and his need to loudly and clearly express his opposition. Every comment I read agreed (a rare phenomenon!) that the article was just about the crummiest marriage advice you could find. The comments helped me to regain my hope in the world...and the world's marriages.

As I type, I am waiting for my adorable knight in shining armor (James) to return from slaying his most recent dragon (the GRE) in a distant land (Tokyo). What a blessing it is to know that I am his princess. Me. Not a fantasy in his head. Not some racy Photoshop-ed magazine or website. Not a female colleague. Not anyone or anything else. Me.

Now, maybe I'm not really qualified to comment on the article since I haven't really tested and proven [wrong] any of its "problems." But I can attest to the fact that it feels beautiful to be someone's one and only. To be loved with a pure and constant stream of forgiveness, service, humor, intimacy, gentleness, and kindness. 

Here is someone who really is qualified to give advice. Gordon B. Hinckley said, "Give expression to the noble desires that lie within your hearts, to reach out, to comfort, sustain, and build others." The man who performed our sealing said something similar to James and I right before we were married, and we have tried hard to put that into action in the last two years. 

Oh yes, and also this advice from a Beloved Auntie: "The secret to a happy marriage is pretty kitchen towels." 

You should see my kitchen towels.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Miracle of Life...and Chickens

This week, I (Emily) watched an egg hatch for the first time. It was pretty amazing to watch. The little guy (with the giant foot!) in the video below had been working to get out of his shell for over five hours. I was lucky enough to see the last hour of him breaking out of his shell. I took a short video of the climactic moment for you to enjoy:

Yesterday, our awesome American friends took us to Urabandai and the five colored lakes. Bandai mountain was a volcano that erupted in 1888 (and was supposedly due for another eruption a hundred years later...uh oh), and blew a crater in its top. Here are some pictures from our adventure.

The first lake. Some people rented canoes and paddled out on the lake. We didn't rent a canoe, but we were lucky to enjoy perfect weather the whole day.

There were five different colors of lakes as a result of the mineral run off from the volcano. They were all beautiful, but the blue was definitely our favorite.

The water was so beautiful in contrast to the greenery around it.

Part of the red lake/pond. Everything it it looked rusted. Not very pretty, but interesting.

Pretty moss.

These ferns were everywhere, and all of them grew in a perfect circle like this one. I felt like I was walking through a jungle.

For date night on Friday, James and I made homemade tortillas again with yummy black beans. Beans, and black beans especially, are a rarity in Japan, so it is a treat when we can find them.

After dinner, our activity was painting...we are very talented artists (*snort*) as you can see below:

Mine. Not finished yet, but I'm definitely going for more of an abstract feel here.

James is much more artistically-gifted than me, though you would never know it because I uploaded his picture upside-down :) 
That's about all for us this week. Love to all of our family and friends!