Well, March was a varied month! It started out with me just recovered from being sick most of February and daily visits to my local Elementary school to help with their “Long English Conversation” time. I said “goodbye” to a family from Iran, whom I’ll miss meeting up with occasionally and pray that Bush doesn’t kill them. I met some new people who have lived in Saijo longer than I’ve been alive and we are meeting up now and then for coffee or meals, etc. It’s nice to have friends other than just college-aged people. Early on in the month, we had a minor earthquake one night. It woke me from a sound sleep with a noise like a freight train rumbling past, then the shakes came in after the noise. I listened, shook, rolled over and went back to sleep—it was quite like the one in Italy several years back, but the sound was much, much louder.
A little later on in the month, a group of my colleagues, a professor of ours and a few of us internationals (two Indonesians and me) went to a junior high school for an interview/marketing kind of exercise as a kind of public service our department does with the school. Shortly after we arrived and had tea with the principal, we went to the classroom we’d meet the students in. While waiting for classes to change the Indonesians were talking with a couple of girls and invited me over. The one girl looks right at me and says loudly “You have a nice body!” and her teacher chided her that in English they do not say that. At the same time her teacher was talking to her, I just kind of tilted my head in that “Japanese” way and said “Thank you?” I really wanted to bust out laughing and make a joke about hitting on the people you’ll be interviewing. I found out later in talking with her after the class that she is keen on basketball and would love to be as “big and powerful as [I] must be.” Oh, if she only knew me in my basketball days—height and strength were my assets, since I certainly wasn’t flight of foot! : )
After that lovely day at the school, we went out to lunch sans our professor and the strangest thing happened: I couldn’t finish my delicious meal. I just wasn’t feeling right and felt I would feel worse if I tried to push it. I relaxed and rested a bit, but low and behold, it seems I was sick again. As it panned out, this time I have laryngitis and some ear blockage (my eustatian tubes) thing going on. My Partner arrived safe and sound, and for her first excursion, she went with a friend and me to the doctor’s office. She said she’s glad that she went, since it is quite different, but I could have skipped the whole thing. After having a camera up my nose and down my throat and a tube on the same path to “pop” my ears from the inside, I kinda never wanna get sick again. Thus we started her visit out slowly and she was quite fine with that.
A couple of days later, we started in on the sight-seeing in HCity since we were both feeling better. Hondori (a covered arcade/shopping area), Peace Park, and Sogo’s were our sights to be seen. Then we went to meet a friend of mine’s father at a shop at which he volunteers. We visited and chatted with many language dictionaries and electronic translators between us. Once he closed up shop, he invited us for coffee. It was a really nice time.
The next day, we went to visit a colleague of mine and her family at their home. They decided to have a BBQ and we talked about nearly everything under the sun and ate ‘til we were full and tired.
We also went to visit my office and meet some of my colleagues. A couple of colleagues, my Partner and I went out for okonomiyaki. It was her first real okonomiyaki and she seemed to like it, though it was too much to eat in one go for her. That afternoon, we went back to Peace Park, since we ran out of time for that earlier. Finally, we went yet another time to Peace Park so that we could take our time at the big museum, then we went on over to Hiroshima-jo (castle) since it was drizzly.
Then it was time to go to Kyoto! We took the local trains with a special ticket we had that lets you ride as many trains as you want in 24 hours, as long as they are the slow trains and it’s during a school break. We got to our hostel and were quite impressed. It was a very nice and clean place for only about $25 a night per person! We were off to walk around and walk we did! We ended up walking far more than we should have that first afternoon/night, but it was good weather and we were having fun. We saw the lovely Ponto-cho area with the narrow roads and “inu”/dog fences, slatted windows, etc. We also ended up in Gion and walked along the Shijo-dori a bit to an area where there were some temples and a festival of lanterns and ikebana or flower arrangements. The lanterns and flowers weren’t quite our taste, but it was fun to be where there was an energy to the place and just walk around—even in spite of the bad comedian/juggler.
Our second day in Kyoto it rained all day—but we had a great day. We took buses everywhere since we bought a 2-day pass. After trying to find a tourist info place that must no longer exist, we visited Nijo-jo (castle) It was a lovely building and some of the paintings on the walls and internal sliding doors were incredible. It was also fun walking around in the slippers on the veranda while it was a good downpour of rain. I always enjoyed sitting on a porch during a good rain, and at this place you had such atmosphere! We rested a bit at their canteen/gift shop area afterwards, then decided to head on up to Kinkaju-ji or the Golden Pavilion. It was simply lovely as were the grounds around it and the smaller shrines and temples in the area. Again we took our time looking around and in the gift shop since it was still raining. It was around dinner-time, so we decided to take the bus back to the Shijo-dori area and walk around looking for a bite to eat. Knowing that good meals are to be had in department stores we ended up finding a nice restaurant and had some good Udon and hot tea. It was just what the doctor ordered after a rainy day. (Luckily, the whole time we were in Kyoto the temps were quite warm and we needed little more than a sweater—and an unmbrella!) We decided to walk on for a little while in the Gion area and then head back to our hotel. It seems everyone had this idea and because of the rain made the buses worse than Tokyo-rush-hour busy. At one point I was pinned between a chair and a few people on my bad knee, as the crowd shifted, I could feel my knee not being terribly happy, so when the loud American moved to get off the bus, I plopped right into her seat without hesitation since I was nearly pinned to it anyway. Course a couple of pushy businessmen looked at me with disbelief, but I figured I had been on the bus longer and somehow was quicker than they were, so hard lumps! After I plopped, the one guy even tried to push my Partner out of her seat for his obviously higher status colleague, but she held her ground and the higher status guy just told his pushy-junior to stay where he was. It’s funny how nasty most of the men seem to be in basic, public (key factor, I think) situations. I once had a young college student ask me what I thought of Japanese men and I had a really difficult time being positive at all from what I have observed and experienced, let alone what I have read about or heard from friends. It’s true there isn’t the same ueber-macho attitude expected which is a relief, but much of what I see exhibited is worse and so completely sexist that it’s no wonder women are waiting longer to marry and marrying foreigners seems to be big business. Of course much of this is perpetuated by the society and culture from whence it comes, so who am I to complain, still I really didn’t think it would disgust me quite so much when I first came to Japan.
Our last morning in Kyoto and we decided to do a bit of shopping, but specifically sought out the Nishiki-kojo to see the freshest catches of the day and such. We walked along and saw much of what can be pulled from the sea, some of it still partially alive—talk about fresh! After that we mosied on to Shijo-dori and the Gion area for our last few purchases. We took the slow trains back since were traveling on the Seishun 18 Kippu and stopped off at Okayama for a brief respite from the trains and some non-bouncy squatters (toilets). I never knew they had such a huge shopping area at that train station—it’s just crazy!
On the way back, we got a text-message from a colleague about a party for another colleague at a Japanese restaurant. Although we were both tired we decided to go anyway, our joint suitcase and all. It turned out to be a quite new place, but also quite Japanese. We ordered all kinds of things for dinner and so C was able to try many things she had only heard about or saw that morning at the market like raw octopus in wasabi sauce and soft chicken bone. We had a great time just talking and listening. It was great that it worked out that she could meet some of my colleagues and come with us to the party. We had a great time! After saying good evening, we were on our way to catch the bus lest we get stuck taking a taxi.
The next day, we took the train to visit a friend and her mom for lunch. We had a great time, delicious food and just talked and talked. It was really nice to relax and feel so welcomed. Her mom even offered to make Matcha for us, so we kind of had a mini-tea ceremony, very informal-like to just see how things are and to try the delicious tea. I really like Matcha tea a lot and enjoy the texture of the tea—it’s kind of frothy and thick, certainly not sweet at all. We rode back to town with my colleague then decided to bum around HCity a bit.
C’s last full day, we reserved to go to Miyajima for the festival/dance that was planned at the main shrine. Miyajima is the famous image that you often see advertising Japan—it’s a large, vermillion Torii or gate in the water with a “floating” shrine beyond. It was on this shrine we stood and watched the “bugaku” or the ancient musical court dance of this shrine. The dance is performed only 9 times a year and it has been handed down for generations since the Heian Period. It was accompanied by Gagku music played by other monks of the shrine and the colors of the orange costume, the red torii, and the blue water were glorious to see. I’m glad that C was here to see it. Afterwards, we walked around the shrines, and then took the ropeway to the top of the mountain where there were…MONKEYS and deer! I am obviously much more excited about the monkeys. Well, after having two live in your parents’ backyard and convincing your uncle of it, you’d be excited about monkeys too! The vistas were beautiful from up there, but it was a bit hazy. We wandered our way back through down and took the ferry back to the tram to the train to the bus to my room. We then got everything pulled together and went to the airport hotel since her flight was far too early the next morning.
Since doing some cleaning and major laundry, I have decided that since it’s still university break, I should go to more of the regional sights I haven’t quite gotten to just yet. After too many days of rain and an overnight snowstorm, the days have finally been just hazy or even nice out. Last weekend, I decided to go back to Miyajima for a children’s Kagura festival, since I love the Kagura. In Miyajimaguchi, before taking the ferry over, of course I had to stop and get some warm cheese momiji manju for the ride. The Kagura was held in an old chanting temple on the top of a hill. When I got there, a very old man led me up to the very front, center apparently he worried that I should see everything. In the morning, it was warm with a cool breeze and clear. So, after a couple of hours my legs and b*tt were getting sore from sitting on the floor of the temple on a thin cushion and so I thought of going to walk around and come back, but then I talked to an old man near me (who kept giving me little dried fish mixed with a savory, crunchy snack during the performance by poking me in my side then motioning to his bag of snacks) and he said that it was raining. Sure enough, and it had gotten quite cold too. I didn’t notice it within the crowd and so I decided to stay put, which was fine with me. The performances ranged from excellent to good and I really enjoyed seeing kids doing this—especially since it girls were allowed to dance and play the instruments. There was even a taiko group at the very start (opening ceremony) and four of the seven taiko drummers were girls! Traditionally, this would never happen—taiko were soley the territory of boys/men. There is a big push in Japan that Japanese traditional things are worthy of being saved and performing arts die out so easily—at least by allowing girls, that doubles the number of possible people to carry on the traditions. At the end, I high-tailed it to the ferry and managed to stay quite dry too. I had a hot lemon tea on the train trip back just in case.
Since then I have also gone to Matsunaga and visited the Footwear Museum and Antique & Folk Toy Museum. That same day, I also went to Fukuyama for the Hiroshima Prefectural Natural History Museum. After that I tried to go to the F. Art Museum, but they were closed for the day. So, I went over to the Fukuyamam Castle and went inside to see the museum of samuari stuff, etc. I also walked around the grounds a bit since they were pretty with a nice small garden.
I have also gone to HCity to visit the H Prefectural Museum and met up with a friend for the rest of the day. We had a great day, just walking in the lovely sun and 60F temps while doing this and that. One of the places we went to was quite interesting. It is called Fukuro-machi Elementary School Peace Museum. It was and still is an elementary school about 460 meters from the hypocenter of the A-bomb. Because the building was ferro-concrete, the walls of the building survived the blast—badly damaged, but survived. At the time of the bomb, nearly all of the students were assembled outside in the yard for morning assembly and were vaporized to death. The principal was in the building looking out over the students in the yard from his 3rd floor office and was thrown to the yard by the blast. He somehow got up and ended up walking home to look for his family. At the same time, there were two boys that were running late for school and they went to the basement to change clothes and shoes at the time of the blast. They survived because they were running late and were in the basement. The shell of a building almost immediately became a relief station. A female doctor (a rarity at the time) trained in ophthalmology ended up treating people with radiation burns and worse at the school with little more than meurochrome (sp?) and gauze while they had it in supply. There is one aspect of the school that is incredible to see and learn about. At many relief stations and other places people would write on the walls if they are searching for someone or if they are moving from one station to another or if they are just trying to gather their family together after the bombing when there is no home to go to. Many of the walls in the school were plastered over, but in March of 1999, they discovered that many of the messages were still to be read on one of the walls. Later they also found more writing behind a blackboard as well. It’s amazing that the writing was preserved since most of it was in chalk and the bit that was plastered over is unique. As you may know, after the initial blast there were horrible fires that burned all that could burn—in the school that meant the wood floors, stairs, etc. The fires created soot on the walls on top of which people used chalk to write. When the walls were plastered, the chalk was absorbed and so was most of the soot—but not the soot underneath the chalk! When this was discovered, they went back through photos of the school right after the bombing, and discovered that Japan’s Ministry of Education actually had made photos of the writing and so the photos helped decipher what was written.
I mentioned earlier that we went to Peace Park, but didn’t go into too much detail. That was because it is an interesting place, but it was such a museum-y and sterile place I did not feel much of an emotional response, except for reading peoples’ memoirs. Visiting this school was much more of what I anticipated and have experienced at Dachau, etc. It helped a great deal to be with a friend, who was so gracious as to help translate our impromptu guide. Rather than let us go through the museum at our own pace, he ushered us and explained everything point by point, mostly what was written on the displays in Japanese and English, but he did have some really interesting insights and was so sweet. He asked all about me and what I was doing in Japan. He is a volunteer at the school museum, but was 17 years old and in the Imperial Navy at the time of the A-bomb. He told us about how, the day of the blast his ship was sent to HCity to pull the dead bodies from the rivers. They were badly bloated with water and so it was not possible to cremate them, as is the usual custom. The bodies were then buried on Innoshima Island and just recently some of the bones are being discovered and they are a strange color, kind of a brown and not white at all. After letting us stay after “closing time” to watch a video he walked with us to the door and as we were saying goodbye he stuck his hand out to shake hands with me. Shaking hands doesn’t happen much here and almost never with the older generation, but like I said earlier, he was so sweet and wanted us to learn everything he had to tell.
(BTW: We had Flat Stanly (just call me Flat) along on our trip and you’ll see him in a few photos. It is a project for a friend and an Illinois school to learn about the world and where Flat might travel.)
So, that’s a wrap up of March…it’s a bit long, but no worries, I think! April holds the rest of spring break, a brief trip to Onomichi to meet a friend, Hanami or “cherry tree viewing” in Iwakuni, and then the university is in session again. Mata, ne?
Posted by cassl001 at April 2, 2005 4:05 AM