I have begun going over to a colleague’s house once a week to chat in English and have dinner with his family. It’s kind of been like a cultural exchange, so to speak. Initially, they offered to pay me for English lessons, but I don’t especially like that kind of arrangement with colleagues/friends. We talked a bit more and sorted things out and it’s been a really nice time ever since—I think for everyone involved. We take time to talk only English one-on-one with his wife and oldest boy for a little while about whatever is of interest and then we have dinner. So far it’s been huge traditional meals like okonomiyaki (savory pancakes) or nabe (stew) and some kind of a drink like beer or sake or shochi. They also always want to be sure I have a beer or such and were concerned that I didn’t drink very much or very often. I explained that I am on medication for my allergies and so I am careful about drinking much, if at all. Once I explained that it could hurt my liver and makes me very tired, they offered that I could stay overnight occasionally, if I’d like and so that we adults could drink together and talk. My poor little liver quivered at the suggestion. I think if I sip on a beer each time, all is good. Regardless, I really appreciate that they offered this arrangement because I am learning a lot about Japanese foods and home life not to mention it’s just nice to be in a home rather than a dorm setting. I really like talking and playing with the two kids as well. They are both boys and are 3 & 10. It’s so cute, their mom told me that the youngest one was so excited last week that he wanted to prepare my ohashi or chopsticks in anticipation of my visit. They are very good boys and quite fun to play with—and learn from. They have been teaching me more Japanese with their toddler toys and the bug and animal books, too. Every evening after dinner and playing or singing/dancing a bit, a timer goes off and that means it’s bath-time and on Thursdays, that Tina has to go until next week. We all say “see you” and “bai bai” and I get home all happy about what a nice evening we had.
Washi, or the torn paper designs, has always been something that I enjoyed and here I can actually afford some of the paper. I have also been working on my New Year’s cards as well. People typically don’t send Christmas cards, but rather the new year and new lunar year seem to be the big celebration.
One Saturday, I had a spontaneous spaghetti party. That means that I didn’t plan to have a party in my quite small place, but we did and it was fun and funny! I had a ton (actually a kilo) of spaghetti that was given to me and so I invited a friend over, then two, then one friend wanted to bring a friend. Ultimately we were only three, but more than that and we would have not been able to walk past each other in my place. After eating far too much spaghetti, I made a kind of banana’s foster without the actual flambet. We had plenty to eat, so we just sat around talking and then decided to have the bottle of wine that a friend brought. Well, I don’t have a corkscrew…so we improvised. After trying a few things and the same friend insisted that we should be able to just push the cork in without a mess. We tried that…after using some of my art tools, we were able to get the cork to go inside the bottle, but it certainly made a bit of a mess! It was funny though.
November 16th I woke up from a dream that was a mix of English and Japanese…it was reminiscent of what I am currently learning in Japanese and included speaking and writing in Japanese…the writing was hiragana and I was especially writing and reading something with “Neko”—means cat…
My counterpart/colleague on the exchange was in Japan for a conference and we met a couple of times during the week he was around campus. It was good to see him again! He looked about the same, but with shorter hair. His English is so much better than when I first met him in the US. It is interesting to see him in his own classes and office. He doesn’t seem nearly as nervous or shy. He even brought a bag of stuff over for me from my roommate although he was traveling light. I look forward to his return to campus in April so that I can get to know him on his territory, too.
I also went on a trip to pick mikan (tangerines)!! It was a fun day though I was dead tired by the end of it. There were four of us who pretty much spent the day together, only one person I knew. It was a fun day and we went from HU to the Shimanami Highway which runs along the coast of the Seto Inland Sea and through some really lovely and also some heavily industrialized areas. On the way we stopped at two nice rest stops that had all the stuff of US and German rest stops, but also nice views of the mountains and valleys. Once we arrived near Setoda, we drove by a small grove of tangerines and grapefruit…I joke that that was were we were going, sure enough it was where we were going! So we got off of the buses, by now we only had three buses, not the ten we started out with. I think that maybe we went to different groves since they are quite small and then just ran in tandem the rest of the day. I all that I could since those were free—lost count after 12 and then also picked and paid for a bag of them to bring back for my colleagues.
While we were picking fruit a couple asked if I could pose with the wife and the fellow from Romania. She was amazed that we were so tall and especially that I am taller than her husband. They were very friendly and all giggly about it. It was fun and apparently, I’ll be interesting to their family back home in India because of my height. Only time this has really come up in Japan unless I brought it up…
After the “fruit picking” we went to Sunset Beach for lunch. We brought our lunches and the four of us (a Chinese girl, a Chinese guy, a German guy and me) found a table so that we could eat together. After lunch two of us found some toilets then went walking along the shore. I found two jellyfish and we had to call the guys over to see them. As they were coming over, I spooked her very good indeed! She was poking at it with a shell and the third or fourth time she did so, I went “boo!” She jumped half-way up from squatting and fell right on her bum! It was funny, but I felt sorry that she probably got her trousers quite sandy. The four of us decided to walk out one of the piers and take some photos. It was fun. We were acting like we were on a catwalk and stuff…just being silly.
Eventually we were all back on the buses and we went into the town of Setoda. Our first stop was the Hirayama Museum. It is a museum of Ikuo Kirayama, a living artist, whose main goal of art is to bring peace to the world, while at the same time preserving the World’s Cultural Heritage through what he calls the Red Cross Spirit for Cultural Heritage. He was a junior high school boy when Hiroshima was destroyed by the A-Bomb and he has suffered from radiation poisoning and side-effects ever since. They have artwork from his toddler years through to the present. In the early works, it is clear that he has a gift in drawing and painting. Some of his works from when he was 14 or 15 are simply incredible—in some cases, I like them better than some of the later works he has done.
Two things that really left an impression on me were a painting of the A-Bomb Dome he had done recently and also two paintings of the Buddas in Afghanistan that were destroyed by the Taliban. The Buddas were done in 2003 from memory after the Taliban destroyed the original huge effigies. It is really interesting to me that first of all, he did not paint them previously, for example during his travels there. They are also interesting to me because he took the time to paint them from memory once they were destroyed to preserve them further. Good for him to have the consciencous to do so. The other painting that really caught me was of the A-Bomb Dome he had done recently. It is a simply picture with a red that will “make you cry” as Lee-san described it. On the very bottom maybe 1/10th of the picture is the rubble and the Dome standing midst the red of hell. In the upper right corner is XXX, or the god of the underworld, as a colleague described him to me. He is sitting upon what appears to be a red cloud within the red sky and is looking down menacingly. I really like this image and actually missed it the first time I saw the picture. It makes me think that the aftermath of the A-bomb was a hell on earth. I can’t imagine any better imagery that what he has portrayed.
Personally, I really enjoyed the pen and watercolor paintings he has made best overall as a genre. His younger brother was actually at the museum and talked with most of the Chinese students that I was with.
After the museum, we walked to the Kosanji Temple and looked around for a while. It was an amazing temple and area. Most of the design and architecture seems to be very similar to Chinese temples, according to many of the Chinese students. I especially liked the dragons on the corners of the temple, as well as the stone deities along the natural walls of the areas. They were all very detailed and beautiful. I also was intrigued by a painted wood relief on the side of the temple of a woman dancing in front of other women and with women sitting behind her as well. There was a male child to whom she was dancing, but he just seemed to be in the middle of the picture…the real action of the relief was all around him. I liked it so much I took an up close photo of it that looks pretty good. We also walked up to the Colle della Speranza on the hill of hope. It reminds me of two people preparing to kiss, but only of the lips and chins. I like the anonymity and intimacy of it all at once.
During the course of the day a bit of slimy guy kept talking to me about learning English and studying English theory and stuff and so I was polite, but clear that I really don’t want to be his English teacher. He also mentioned something that everyone knows me on campus as the “tall western girl” and I checked this out with a friend who is also Chinese and she said that people were talking about how tall I am and that most everyone apparently recognizes me. What can I say to that?
After we got back on the bus, headed home, we stopped once at a rest stop, just in case, I guess. I wanted some ice cream, but couldn’t find it, so I got a kind of jellybeans instead. As soon as I turned around, I saw the ice cream coolers—bummer!
On November 22nd, I woke with the remnants of a dream in my mind. There was a hand reaching through an open window as I slept stealing a wallet and keys, etc. It wasn’t here and it wasn’t mine, but rather at my parents’ house in the spare room. At first, I thought it so strange and thought maybe I was dreaming of a youth hostel or something since it wasn’t all normal, rather it was all so surreal and nothing seemed to fit.
I also got the chance to visit a Juku or cram school where a colleague of mine works in teaching English for the national exams. At first, I was quite uncomfortable since we were early, but after a little while, it was just fine. They gave me some tea and had me eat some mochi (rice paste balls) in azuki (sweet red beans) like a soup. Ooooh, I love that stuff! Once the class started, I took the drill/exam too. I got 168 out of 200…yeah, and I’m a native speaker. At least I was on the high end of the curve. I realized that a few of the questions, just weren’t good questions or didn’t give good answers to choose from. My colleague who was teaching had me say several of the sentences and words over for the student to hear and figure out how they may have answered differently. At the end of the lesson, he let me have ten minutes to talk with the students about anything. I started off asking them about school compared to juku, but realized that was a bit much for their conversational levels. So we talked about hobbies and sports. They are quite nice students, just a bit shy at first. I’ve already been invited back for a visit and to observe again.
Initially, going into visit the juku, I had a negative impression of them. Mostly this was because basically they are studying to the test and taking drill/exams to get their timing down. After actually seeing one (only one time), I think it’s more than just that. It’s actually a good way to have a small cohort (under 10 students in this particular class) to commiserate with and with whom to prepare. It’s not such a bad idea and it seems quite a friendly place. I think that my negativity should better be placed at standardized testing as the end all to entrance to particular universities…though this too is changing in Japan.