There is a lot of joy to be found right out my back door.
12.11.2007 9 °C
Until now I have only experienced two seasons in Japan: the repressive and painfully hot summer and the glorious and oh-so-pleasant fall. I can’t imagine the other two seasons possibly measuring up this marvelous season. The mornings are breathtaking: misty and cool. The afternoons are warm and sunny and the evenings smell of burning leaves and tilled soil.
While I find myself completely broke (I have put myself on a strict debt-reducing budget) I have still managed to get out and enjoy some loveliness closer to home.
Despite Japan’s lack of proper Halloween festivities, the schools encourage us teachers to give the students a little taste of Halloween. I wrapped most of my students in toilet paper and called them mummies. I have also been toting around a big bag of Halloween costumes for the kids to try on. I think the kids are dying to try out trick-or-treating.
Speaking of the kids, you may or may not notice I have taken down the pictures of my students. It was recently brought to the attention of all teachers here that we could get in trouble for posting pictures of the kids. So, while I would love to show you all how cute they are wrapped in toilet paper, you will just have to use your imaginations. However, I can still post pictures of the staff. In this picture is the school nutritionist (left), the principal, (center), and the school secretary (right). They got right into the Halloween spirit.
This same day I was invited to join some of the children (I think I can get away with this picture as you can’t see his face) to learn how to perform a traditional tea ceremony. I was asked to perform the guest duties first which, as it turns out, are just as painful as the host duties. Every part of the tea ceremony is choreographed; the host and the guest perform the ritual together. Not a single movement is wasted. As the guest I enter and get into seiza (sitting on your knees). I place my fan before me at a very specific place on the floor and I bow. I rise and take very deliberate steps to a flower arrangement which I examine from top to bottom and I bow again. Then I will sit in seiza for what feels like a lifetime. During this time I will eat a chalky cookie and drink some weedy tea. It might all taste better if my ankles didn’t feel like they were being bitten by fire ants the whole time. On the hosting side of the tea ceremony there are a lot more moves to learn. Very specific ways of folding the napkin and stirring the tea makes the hosting job a hard one to master. It is easy to become entranced by the motions and forget the pain in your legs. Actually my legs fell asleep so I couldn’t feel them at all. I also couldn’t feel them when I tried to gracefully get up to bring the tea away. There was a lot of giggling I tell you.
We did actually have some festivities just before Halloween and I was pleased that nearly everyone had an awesome costume. The music and the venue were great; it almost felt like home.
My new and delightful friends Shane B and Laura H (both American), and I, have gone on a few low-cost adventures recently. The first was a lovely sleepover at Laura’s mansion. I’m just barely overestimating the reality) followed by a day in Tsuyama. We made our way to the Tsuyama castle, which was nothing if not positively breathtaking. I’m told it is even better in the spring when people come from all over Japan to view over 500 cherry trees in bloom.
As we left the castle we stumbled right into a full-on festival so we followed the crowd and took dozens of pictures. It was a great day.
The next weekend the three of us headed off to Kurashiki where there is a great little old fashion touristy area near the station. We wandered around and soaked up the beautiful weather, the unusual shopping, and the delightful food.
This weekend I was not only given an electric blanket by one of my teachers, Kobara-sensei, but I was also treated to a day of relaxation and great food. Kobara-sensei wanted to show me some of the onsens in my area. Onsens are public baths which dot the entire country of Japan. They bring much needed warmth when the seasons cool down. We first went to an onsen close to my house which was inside of an old hotel. It felt very much like stepping back in time. Before the visiting the second onsen I was treated to lunch at Kobara-sensei’s mother-in-law’s house. She made a feast. If I had even coughed I would have splattered all over the place. Kobara-sensei’s father-in-law even treated me to a great performance of traditional Japanese mask dance. All this was followed up by a visit to a full-on onsen resort with hot sand baths, saunas, and six different baths to soak in. it was an absolutely wonderful day.
As my budget has kept me close to home recently, my darling friends came to me this past weekend. We took a hike though the forest near my home and discovered a surprisingly beautiful and challenging trail to consume our afternoon. Later we walked around my little town and took in the shrines while Shane unleashed his wild side.
They say that the three to four month mark is a time when teachers typically start feeling very low and homesick. While I have been warding off homesickness very well (thank you Skype) I have had my down days. Communicating is always a tough road and people are very shy and embarrassed to speak to me. Thankfully there are still a few who go out of their way to make me feel at home here and others who just go out of their way. One way or the other I am glad and grateful for those friends who make life in Japan that much easier.