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My Web Site -- Japan

A Branch of Asia by June Schnitzer

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2001 Aug - Dec
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7 Apr
Today is my 29th birthday. I have begun to update these pages once again. Today is an "office day", which means I get to sit on my *ss all day with nothing to do. So this is how I'm spending my 29th birthday, sitting in a drab office with nothing to do!

I returned from Kyoto last week. My God, that is one incredible city! Being in Kyoto made me very happy to be living in Japan. I toured around the city and saw some ancient castles, shrines, and temples. I stumbled across a Buddhist ceremony taking place in one of the temples. All the incense smelled wonderful and the Buddhist priest's costume was magnificent, all brilliant shades of gold and orange with huge sleeves and a long train. The chanting was mesmerizing, too.

Kyoto was jam packed with tourists from all over the world. I saw a lot of French people. One group of French tourists in particular really fascinated me. They were having breakfast at "Cafe du Monde" in Kyoto station.
They were talking across the table to each other in rather exaggerated, slightly arrogant tones. The only woman in the group was wearing a sleek all-black outfit with a bright blue scarf around her neck and was smoking a long, dark cigarette. From behind, she looked young, but when she turned around, I could see that she was much older. She was wearing heavy eye makeup that made her look racoonish and rather haggard. The expression on her face was one of complete boredom and apathy. Just across the aisle from them was what was an undoubtedly an American couple: both overweight, wearing sensible sneakers with bluejeans, the man wearing a hideous plaid shirt, the woman wearing a pink windbreaker, the two of them looking rather small and intimidated, talking to each other with looks of deep concern on their faces, probably trying to figure out how to get to some place or another. Needless to say, the people watching was excellent in Kyoto. I don't believe in judging others based on nationality, but we most certainly inherit certain cultural habits and characteristics, like dress, behavior, etc. It's fun to watch people from all over the world converge on one city and then observe the differences.

I saw geisha in the Gion district of Kyoto on their way to their evening appointments. Having been swept up in the whole geisha mania like everyone else, seeing them for real was definitely one of the most exciting experiences I have had in Japan so far. There were throngs of people all along the street hoping to catch a glimpse of them. When they finally did emerge, hobbling up the street in their geta sandals, their personal assistants trailing behind them, I was totally awe-struck along with everyone else. They are really stunning. They seem to be bathed in some kind of ethereal, otherworldly light. They are radiantly beautiful creatures. They were only on the streets for a few seconds before they disappeared into one of the tea houses that lined the little street.

I also went to Hiroshima and saw the exact spot where the US dropped the atomic bomb in 1945. The US dropped the bomb right over a building that is now called the A-bomb Dome. It was one of the few buildings left standing after the bomb hit. It was an amazingly eerie feeling to stand there in front of that structure. Also visited the Peace Memorial Museum and listened to survivors' stories, viewed memorabilia (a child's twisted tricycle, burned clothing, hair that fell out all at once, deformed fingernails, Buddhist figurines with their faces half blackened), and saw scale models of the city before and after the bomb. Lord have mercy. I can't even begin to imagine the living hell these poor people went through. Of course, the city's been rebuilt into a thriving metropolis, complete with cell phone-toting young professionals and a Starbucks on every corner, but there's still an aura of sadness that seems to linger in the air. I never detected the slightest hint of anti-Americanism, though, which is remarkable considering that the US completely destroyed the city, killing 200,000 of its residence in the process, only six decades ago. As I sat on the trams that run through the city, I looked at the elderly people sitting around me and wondered how many of them had been witnesses. I wondered whether they saw the irony it the fact that 60 years ago Americans committed a heinous atrocity against them and today they're on the tram asking them directions to the place where it occurred. Weird stuff.