After a wonderful summer home it was great to get back into the swing of things again in Japan
16.11.2008 16 °C
When I got back to Japan I met up with my friend Sol in Osaka and spent several days with him and his friend, Chris, exploring Osaka and Amanohashidate.
Aminohashidate is called one of the top ten views in Japan and it is basically a tree covered sand bar that connects the mainland to the island where we stayed.
In order to get the full effect of the view one is meant to travel to the top of a mountain and view the sandbar by bending over and looking through their legs. It’s hysterical. Here is Sol doing it.
Here is what it looks like.
Only in Japan would they have looked at the view so many different ways they would eventually discover that the best way to looking at the view is in fact through your legs. And it really is better. Unfortunately, all my pictures of this trip with Sol were somehow lost off my camera so I have have had to borrow Sol's pictures from the trip. All these photos are ones he took.
A few weeks after my return to Japan I celebrated my 31st birthday. I decided to spend the week on a small island in the Seto Inland Sea, not far from my home.
Unfortunately the weather was crappy the whole time and I decided to leave early. I did however have my first sailboat ride and a lovely birthday party before I left.
I was also able to take many great pictures of the views around the island.
When I finally returned back to work at the schools in September it was time for the students to prepare for their sports days. Sports day consists of a variety of events such as relay races, beanbag tosses, dance and cheer contests, and various performances.
Two of my favorite performances are the Sorambushi dance, which is a traditional Hokkaido fisherman’s dance, and the pyramid building performance, during which boys create various human pyramids some of which end in choreographed collapse. It’s a full day, and all the parents (and I really mean all) and community members come out to watch the events. Many family members are also asked to participate in some of the events. I’m glad to report that the weather this year was much cooler than last year so it was a relatively comfortable day and better than last year when the students were dropping like flies.
While I can't show you pictures of the student's faces, I can show you pictures of the party after.
Naturally, after a day like sports day, all the teachers go out for a party. This party had three parts. Dinner and Beer, Snack and Hard Liquor, Dinner and Watching the News. Great night. Actually it was a full moon that night and there is a special dish the Japanese eat on the full moon.
I can't remember what it is called but it has the Japanese word for "moon" in it. Not as good as it looks.
September was also the time we English teaching veterans welcomed the new teachers to Okayama. Naturally there was lots of time spent in Karaoke bars and sushi houses in attempt to make the new teachers feel welcome in Okayama. My town of Kibichuo-cho said goodbye to Melissa who was here last year from Michigan, USA and this year welcomed Tina who is an artist from upstate New York, USA. One of the first things Tina and I did together was pick blueberries and go up to the local ostrich farm to have a look. What ugly birds! They freak me out!
A few weeks later we were invited to Yokota-san’s house for a soba making challenge. Soba is a flower that is dried and ground down into powder which they mix with water to make soba noodles.
The noodles have a very earthy, grainy taste and are usually served cold with a dark sauce, wasabi, green onion and sesame seeds. The grinding of the seeds takes forever though and even with six of us grinding at top speeds we maybe only produced a half-cup of flower after a half hour.
Yokota-san’s wife said it takes three hours to grind enough flower for a decent batch of soba.
After the soba challenge we went down to look at the rice field we had planted in the spring which was not yet ready for harvest. We also picked grapes from Yokota’s vines and were sent home with enough grapes to fill a bathtub.
It was another great day.
A few weeks after that, we were invited to yet another Ekaiwa student’s home. Tadao-san loves to make pizza, almost as much as he loves to brag.
So after going on a tour of his home listening to him tell us how many things he made in it we started to make pizzas. Then we walked down the stairs that Tadao made and sat in the chairs that Tadao made and ate with the chopsticks Tadao made, all the while listening to Tadao talk about how great he thought all the things he made were.
They are pretty great but they loose their luster when the he brags about it every five minutes. When we were finally all bragged out we headed home, once again, with a bathtub full of grapes.
So that brings me to last weekend when a few friends and I went to Takebe to enjoy the fall festival there. It is a very vibrant and colourful festival, as all the fall festivals are, and I had a wonderful time.
And one week later, we found ourselves at another fall festival, this time in my town. The Kamotaisai festival is one of the three larges festivals in Okayama and it is really spectacular.
Last year Shane and I went and had a great time so we went again and took a new English teacher from Scotland, Katie, with us. All afternoon we enjoyed the okonomiyaki and all the other goodies that the street vendors had to offer. We also took in some Japanese masked stick fighting, some shrine shaking, some priest bowing, some drum banging, some drunken fighting, some flute playing and some slutty teen parades.
Just a usual afternoon at a Japanese fall festival and it was a great time.
But that wasn't the end of the fall festivals. Oh no! They love the fall festivals here. Every town and every village and every shrine and temple has one and the shrine nearest my house is no exception. My area, Yoshikawa, in fact has a very famous, well known temple and it's fall festival is equally as famous if not widely visited.
Two boys are chosen from the town to ride up to the temple on horses with their gang of priests and samurai following behind.
There is a lot of shouting and drinking on the way. Once the two groups have reached the shrine steps the boys are pulled off their horses and raced up the steps to the shine. They are set on cushions and fed all day long in two separate corrals. Several dances and ceremonies take place through out the day, and, as always, there are lots of vendors serving Japanese favorites such as sweet bean paste cakes and octopus on a stick.
The next weekend a couple of friends and I went out to explore the Seto ohashi bridge. One of my friends lives very near the bridge so we drove up to have a look.
The bridge is the longest two teared bridge in the world and is 35 km long. It's pretty cool but very expensive to cross in a car. I have gone over it twice now.
This weekend we were invited by Yokota-san to go with him to Hiroshima to pick oranges on Ikuchijima island. The Christmas mandarin oranges are perfect right now. We drove about two hours out to a little island which is famous for the orange picking, the incredible temple, and octopus(s) (?) The weather was perfect and we were able to enjoy a lovely morning of climbing into trees and eating as many mandarins as we could. A one point a woman who hadn't seen me picking in the tree suddenly saw me there. She gave a little shout, turned to her friend and said, "There is a foreigner in this tree." Very funny.
After the picking we went off to have our octopus lunch. I usually don't think that much of octopus (I don't mind it but I never order it) but this octopus was very tasty. One of my friends, Lauren, is a vegetarian and that always perplexes the Japanese mind. There are pretty much no vegetarians in Japan and they don't at all grasp the idea of not eating meat. They were very nice though and did their best to make some vegetarian stuff for Lauren. They did think she was very strange though.
After lunch we went off to check out Kosanji Temple and museum and it was amazing.
The temple had many sections and you could spend hours there just checking out all the nooks and crannies. The temple buildings were all very decorative and brightly coloured. They looked like new. There was an enormous 50 statue in the middle of it all of some female goddess.
The best part by far was the cave. My pictures will do it no justice at all. The stones that lined the cave were brought in from Mnt. Fuji and there were hundreds of rock statues throughout. The statues lined all the walls and went right up to the ceiling. Every where you turned there was a beautiful little carved statue. It was amazing to see.
Outside the cave there were beautiful gardens and an incredible marble monument called "The Hill of Hope" It reminded me of Crete in Greece.
So now, here I sit on Monday afternoon, trying to choke down what I affectionately refer to as spit salad, wishing I were back on the island chewing on BBQ octopus.