Thursday, November 30, 2017

We're in the money!

As the Japanese observe the Chinese Zodiac, each year has a zodiac symbol (2017 is the year of the rooster), but so does every day and month. In November, on the days of the rooster, the Japanese celebrate Tori No Ichi. In the Edo period, these festivals symbolized the beginning of the new year, now they celebrate the beginning of winter. 

Haru wo matsu,
Koto no hajime ya,
In English:
Anticipating Spring,
The beginning of it all,
Year-end fairs.
At these festivals, celebrants purchase ornately decorated rakes or kumade to rake in good fortune. Merchants pray for good sales and farmers pray for a good harvest. We weren't able to go last year, but today (the third and final Tori No Ichi festival or Sannotori this year) I could!

Rake stalls

Heading into the shrine to pray

Of course, no Japanese festival is complete without festival food and games!
Game of some kind (not food)

All I ate this time was a candied strawberry - I was meeting Blake for dinner later.

Lots of chocolate covered banana stalls, but this was the cutest

Helpful pictographs instead of mystery meat!
When you purchase a large enough rake (mine did not qualify apparently), they sing and clap a blessing on your rake.

Here's my rake! Supposedly, it's good to start small because you want to purchased something bigger and better each year. Each thing on the rake is supposed to be a symbol of luck. The face is Otafuku - Goddess of Mirth.

I can't explain it, but I was so happy walking through this festival. I really love living here and exploring and learning and so grateful for the opportunity to do so!

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Sleigh bells ring, are you listening?

I sang with the Mormon Choir of Washington DC from the spring of 2007 through the summer of 2016, with a bit of a break in there while I got my second Masters degree. All told, I had 7 Christmas seasons with them, and even though I like Christmas music a lot, starting rehearsals of it in September made it impossible to only listen to after Thanksgiving.

Hold on, I just realized I could be listening to Christmas music while I write this.

Okay, fixed that.
What a Glorious Night by Sidewalk Prophets - New to me and I quite like it

Anyway - usually by the end of November with MCW, we were starting our Christmas concerts. We might have even had one the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The tree lighting ceremonies in the temple visitors center were typically the first week of December and we’d wrap for the season by about the 15th.

On top of that, I was generally involved in my congregational choir and spent at least one Christmas involved in the LDS Institute Choir.

It was a LOT of Christmas music. And that’s great!

But now I don’t have that. I recently learned about the Tokyo Embassy Choir, but their rehearsals conflict with my taiko classes. I’m still involved with my congregation’s choir, but due to a variety of circumstances I have only been present at one rehearsal that involved a Christmas piece thus far.

So, instead of flooding my ear holes with Christmas music for months, I find myself having to seek it out and, as seen above, even reminding myself it’s Christmas music season! I’ve heard it out in town some, but not everywhere. In fact, a store we were in (Don Quixote for my local friends) yesterday was playing Christmas music in one section of the store (Pentatonix even!), pop in another (Ed Sheeran at the time), the store jingle on the stairs, and something else entirely on the bottom floor. That store is an assault on the eyes and ears and I love it.

I’ve actually realized that my current lifestyle has changed my consumption habits of all music, but this is Christmas time, so that’s my focus right now.

Oh the whole, I’m okay with this. I miss MCW, but I don’t miss all the stress of driving all over for all of our concerts. I like being able to skip Christmas songs I don’t like (if only I could have done that at MCW) and hear old favorites. I even heard an obscure Kate Bush song that I already loved, December Will Be Magic Again, while we were shopping in Kappabashi-Dori. In a way, it makes Christmas music even more special since I’m not completely overwhelmed by it, and I’m going to have to be really proactive to listen to all my favorites.

So, since I’m not being bombarded with it from any direction - what do you recommend I check out this year?

Some other musings on Christmas music can be found here from 2009 and this same day in 2008.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

I'm a soul man

When we were leaving the States, Blake and I explained that we love our family very much, which is why we had gone back to Utah/Arizona/Washington a whole lot during our first four years together, but we were probably not going to come back for visits and they'd need to come to us. Well, when my dad had a business trip to Seoul, South Korea, and my mom would be coming along, I figured that was close enough and hopped on a plane of my own. Ultimately, we had a whole week together and while it was interspersed with a few meetings or client dinners, we also had a lot of time to explore together on my parents' first to Asia! (Warning: photo heavy post.)
Bongeunsa Temple

Bongeunsa Temple

Bongeunsa Temple

Bongeunsa Temple

Bongeunsa Temple

Jangseung - tall wooden poles carved out of wood and placed outside of Korean villages for protection.

Traditional Korean home

Dad had just asked me where his umbrella was.

Gwanghwamun Plaza - Admiral Yi Sun-sin of the Joseon Dynasty

Gwanghwamun Plaza - King Sejong the Great of Joseon

Gwanghwamun Plaza - King Sejong the Great of Joseon

Gyeongbukgung Palace

Japan does not have a monopoly on great toilets.

Changdeokgung Palace

Love locks at Seoul Tower

Love locks at Seoul Tower

Reppin the Y - This photo was featured one of BYU's Instagram accounts!

Since my first trip to Seoul, I've wanted to rent a hanbok like locals do when touring historical sites, but just hadn't yet for some reason. So when this little tent popped up at Seoul Tower (For only an hour or so! It was gone before we even left!), I happily took advantage of being able to try one for free!

With a guard - The mounds behind us were for beacon fires to warn the city. They did a reenactment of this while we were there.

Overlooking Seoul

Overlooking Seoul

Sprawling for miles in every direction

Rooftops as seen from the cable car coming down from Namsang Park (Seoul Tower)

Found a Clash of Clans maze. We had a few minutes, so I completed it and earned some stickers for Blake. He has played this game, so this was all for him. I sent him video evidence as well.

Han River Cruise

Han River Cruise

Photo spots on the riverfront

My parents did the romantic ones - I did the silly ones.

Because why not?

Visited the burial mounds of some former monarchs with just my dad

I think my favorite activity overall was going with my mom to the Dragon Hill Spa, a Korean bath house or jjimjilbang, with several floors dedicated to relaxation and entertainment.  It's actually not terribly different from an onsen in Japan, but this place was even flashier in some places than the onsen I've visited so far. We both got a full-body massage (more of those should happen in the middle of my vacations) and tried all the saunas and bath options and some traditional snacks. We ended up spending several hours here and missing a dinner that got scheduled while we were out of contact, but oh wow it was so worth it.
Entrance to Dragon Hill Spa

Like I said, a little flashy

Instead of paying inside the spa, you scan your wristband for any extras and pay when you leave.

Cold sauna

Himalayan pink rock salt sauna

Himalayan pink rock salt sauna

Sweet rice drink

Of course, no vacation to Seoul is complete without delicious food.
First meal with my mom (we met up with Dad later) - I have no idea what we ordered, because another customer ended up ordering for us because of the language barrier. Good thing it was tasty!

Taiyaki is a custard-filled fish shaped Japanese treat, but when we found one while shopping in Insadong that was filled with an Oreo, honeycomb, and topped with ice cream, I couldn't pass it up.

Korean barbecue!

Rainbow colored ice cream with a heart-shaped drip guard? Yes, please.

It would have been even better if Blake had been able to join us, but I'm still glad my schedule was flexible enough for this trip! Next time, Mom and Dad, if you could land in Japan instead of flying over it, that would be even better!
Parents worn out in the back of a taxi