Japanese garden.

A Ninjo-Jo garden in Kyoto Japan. Photo courtesy of Eve Corbett.

by Eve Corbett ’17

Throughout my homestay in Japan I have remained mostly in Okayama prefecture. Besides my short orientation in Tokyo at the beginning of my stay and my previous trip to Universal Studios which was located in Osaka, I have not traveled outside of Okayama. Both my time in Tokyo and Osaka was rather short and set with a rigid schedule for the day(s). While in Osaka, I didn’t even have the chance to leave the amusement park, so I didn’t get to experience the rest of the prefecture. But finally, on April sixth, I had the opportunity to leave Okayama and explore a different prefecture for the day. Well known outside of Japan for its beautiful spring cherry blossoms, Kyoto was the ideal place to spend an April day.

At first the plan was that I would go to Kyoto with my host sister and that we would join a bus tour group. But we soon remembered that my exchange counselor lived in Kyoto, and she was kind enough to offer to be our personal guide for the day. My host sister and I took the 8:16 bullet train to Kyoto, arriving there just one hour later. We met with my counselor and three of her other students before setting out. Our first stop was a famous and historical castle named Nijo-jo. The castle was built in 1679 with a large gate and moat. It is probably most famous for it’s hallways whose boards chirp like birds when they are walked on. It is theorized that the hallways were built like this so that intruders could not sneak in without being heard. Basically, it is a creative ninja detection system.  The inner walls of the castle were mostly paper with beautiful hand painted trees and animals. Unfortunately photography of the inside of the castle was prohibited, so I have no pictures to show of it. However I do have pictures of the castle’s outer gardens and cherry blossoms.   

Our next stop was Heian-jingu, or “Heian Shrine”, a large Shinto shrine founded in 1895 that is famous for it’s large garden. It’s large orange gates were very beautiful with their complex wood work and patterns but they couldn’t compare to the large expanse of green leaves, delicate flowers, and trickling streams that lay inside. Pink cherry trees dropped snow-like petals into koi-filled ponds painted with lily pads. The moss bordered trials through the garden were full of people, yet nobody spoke above a whisper. It was all rather dream-like, very much Japanese. Heian-jingu gave me an even greater appreciation for Japanese gardens, it made me forget we were really in the middle of a bustling city.

After leaving Heian-jingu, we went out to lunch. We were eating sushi and everything was going smoothly until I noticed a certain type of meat on the menu. Horse meat. As if that wasn’t bad enough, one of the other students thought he would look super cool if he went ahead and ate the horse meat sushi right in front of me for no other reason than to squick me out. This experience has only solidified my stern belief that boys are, with not better way to describe them, gross. However I will continue to attempt to keep an open mind, I have heard that they do occasionally grow up. We shall see.

On a happier note, both boys departed from our group after lunch. My host sister, counselor, her one other female student, and I all set out to do some afternoon shopping. We spent a good half hour in the Kyoto Animate shop (a famous chain that sells anime-related items) and even longer wandering through the streets of food vendors. Our day came to an end after we climbed up a long set of stairs to get a good view of Kyoto city from above. We played a card game while waiting for the bullet train and my host sister and I said goodbye to my counselor and her student when it arrived. It was a great day all in all.

Although I very much love my home prefecture of Okayama, experiencing life in another prefecture was awesome. The trip reminded me how you can’t judge all of Japan by a single prefecture, just as you can’t judge all of The United States by a single state. My trip also made me wish that I was able to go on more day trips to other prefectures, but that will have to take place some other time. My time in Japan is soon drawing to a close, and I want to enjoy as much of the country as I can before I leave.

Eve Corbett is a junior at Lincoln Academy, currently spending the school year in Okayama, Japan with Greenheart Travel. She is the daughter of Jody Corbett and Elizabeth Proffetty of Newcastle.