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May 29, 2012

Student Reflections – May 29

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By Jessica Guevara

This day was the most memorable day of the trip. Tokyo is such a modern fast-paced city, that traveling to another city was a great way to slow down and see other historical parts of Japan. Japan has over a thousand years more history than the United States and walking down streets in Kyoto, you can see centuries of traditions. We visited two historical and religious spaces that took my breath away. Our fist stop was the Golden Pavilion, a golden Buddhist temple. When you see this building the sight mesmerizes you instantly. When you are walking through the garden, everything seems to be manicured and properly landscaped. I learned this is the biggest difference between Shinto and Buddhist spaces. The building is gold and near open water that reflects over the water’s surface. It gave the illusion that the Golden Pavilion was floating. I was at peace just looking at it.

Next, we took the taxi to Doshisha University where we finally met the students we Skyped with in April. We were eager to meet each other in person.  However, I felt that the language barrier stopped us from fully understanding each other. From our meeting we learned that schooling is different because college in Japan is an opportunity for students to relax from the rigorous first eighteen years of their lives. On the other hand, college is really rigorous and is an intensive preparation for your future in the United States.  We had two lectures—one with Dr. Sanchez and Professor Masumi Izumi from Doshisha University and the other with Shinto priest Masamichi Okaichi. The lectures gave us a better understanding of Japan’s culture and we learned more about the Shinto religion. I have a greater appreciation for the Shinto religion because Shinto believers are part of a collective community. Unlike any other religion, the belief in multiple deities pertaining to the natural world further enforces the balance between people and nature.

Providing a tour with his lecture Okaichi-san took us to the Shimogamo Shrine. The moment we stepped into the entrance of the Torii gate, I knew were in a special place. This Shrine is a World Heritage forest, one of two Kamo Shrines of Kyoto and one of the seven Shiners related to the imperial family. Like stated before, I have been seeing a difference between Buddhist and Shinto Shrines and a lot of it is the relationship that nature plays. Walking through the forest, I was captivated at the sight of immense trees—some wrapped with Shimenewa or sacred ropes, and rocks all showed that Shinto is about letting nature take its own course. When we walked to the temple, we met with one of the Shinto Priests. He showed us around and gave us the opportunity of our lifetime to take us into the most sacred space of the Shrine. This opportunity is only given to the imperial messengers and no common Japanese citizen has access to what we saw. Even Mr. Okaichi was noticeably excited and overwhelmed at the opportunity.  He even thanked us for getting him in! It was a privilege and we were nothing but honored in the trust they had in us. While in this space, I realized the grandness of being in a spiritual place that I myself have been disconnected from for a long time. All the emotions I felt at the moment cannot even be explained in words. All I know is that this left a beautiful memory in my mind and to be part of the moment is mindboggling. Kyoto has definitely been one of the most beautiful places in Japan for me and this day only reassures my belief.

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