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Archive for February 2012

Yushinkan update

Posted by Shaun

 This post is adapted from an email to my mom because I don't want to take the time to type the same thing more than once and apparently I update my relatives more than I update my blog.

I'm gradually learning how to do more things at Yushinkan. The other day one of the people working with me took the time to teach me out to use one of the hand-held touch screen computer things that all wait-staff in Japan uses to take orders (it then sends the data electronically to another device in the kitchen where the order info prints out). She came with me whenever I went to take an order and explained that I was a student and learning about the place and asked people if it was okay if it took a while for me to take down their order. Everyone was pretty chill with it, and they were really impressed with my Japanese. So it was a bit of a let down today when I was working with a different person and there was nothing to do (very few customers) and no duties being passed my way. In the entire 5 hours of work, I think I wiped down the tables in the dining area, did some dishes, cut grapes off their stems for a fruit plate, and at the very end I got to bring some food to customers and decorate some dessert parfaits. But it was a pretty dull day today, with an extra side dish of "no one will let me do anything because I'm awkward and foreign."
Tomorrow I have the day off because the company that brought Matt and I to Minakami is finally deciding to show us around town. I heard we are going to get to do the soba-making activity at Hourakukan and who knows what else. The next day my host family is taking me to Nikko, where there's a huge awesome waterfall I've really wanted to see, as well as other important stuff like Tokugawa Ieyasu's tomb and the hear-no-evil, speak-no-evil, see-no-evil monkey statues. I asked if it was close, and apparently it's not really any closer than it is from Tokyo (about three hours), and our resident director said we might go there as a program in April, but whatever, I'm not gonna turn down a family trip.
The second to last thing on my Minakami schedule is some kind of interaction at the high school that I know nothing about. It's on the 6th, literally two days before I'm set to leave. Evidently the presentation about tourism for the mayor was a lie. Good thing I wasn't too excited about it, though it would have looked good on a resume.
It's been an interesting experience. A lot of people (especially my host mom) have expressed that rather than tourism they wish we would come teach English like in Shimane, so I'll be passing that information along. I'm not sure how to feel about it though. I wouldn't have particularly minded trying an English-teaching practicum if I didn't feel like competition for them was so steep, and it would be a cool opportunity for kids to have the opportunity to listen to and talk with a native English speaker in their English classes, but I don't really appreciate the pigeonhole that all foreigners are good for is English teaching...

Starting out at Yushinkan

Posted by Shaun

This is part of an email I wrote to my grandpa, but I don't want to take the time to rewrite everything, so here's a description of what I've been up to these last two days:

My health is finally back to normal, and for the last half of my cultural practicum I've been rotated to a different workplace. I'm working at a place called Yushinkan now. It's got a hot spring bath, a restaurant, and rooms that people can reserve for parties. I've been there for two days so far, and yesterday, the first day, they were hosting an enka concert, so the place was crawling with elderly people who kept ordering food and buying the boxed lunches we were selling. And I had no training at all but the other people working with me were like, "Shaun, come here, deliver this to table #5, okay?" so I just had to hope I'd absorbed enough polite Japanese from shopping, going to restaurants, and watching TV and play along and try to be useful. I think I'm doing all right (no one's gotten mad at me yet). I'm amazed they allow/encourage me to serve customers even though I'm not a native Japanese speaker, but even though my heart pounds and I laugh inappropriately whenever I deliver a dish, I guess I'm grateful for the opportunity.

After lunch on that first day I ended up getting put in charge of stacking dishes by the tiny dishwasher, but I couldn't get them off the carts fast enough so the other employees ended up lining up dishes on the floor since there was nowhere else to put them. I think I did okay though because, once again, no one got mad at me. But it was a little high stress. I felt like I should have had some sort of waltz playing while I stepped over trays and leaned over carts to fling food scraps into the sink.
Today was not nearly as high-energy since apparently Saturdays are a slower day than Fridays. Dirty dishes didn't pile up, so I did a lot of standing around, a lot of vacuuming, and a little bit of awkwardly giving customers their food. But tomorrow there's reservations in the party rooms so it might be more stressful. Good thing I only have to work 9-3 and then I can use the hot spring to take a nice relaxing bath afterwards!

The hardest thing to get used to is that no one wears shoes. It's regulation to take your shoes off in the entryway of a Japanese house and not uncommon to have to remove them before entering particular seating areas of traditional restaurants or to put your shoes in a locker at an onsen. But it feels weird to walk around at work in stocking feet. The floor is heated so no one wears slippers either. When you go to the toilet or the kitchen you put on a pair of slippers that you take off when you leave, but other than that, even when I was stacking the dirty dishes, it's socks. I stepped in something weird at one point. I think it was a really old soba noodle. It makes me reluctant to wear my wool socks even though my feet can get a little cold since the "behind the scenes" floor isn't heated.

It's a strange concept to get used to but it makes some sense because the restaurant seating area and the party area are tatami rooms with low tables and zabuton cushions to sit on, and you can't wear shoes or even slippers on tatami.

So, there's a little insight into my life for the time being. Stocking feet, awkward waitressing, all in Japanese.

Taiken 体験

Posted by Shaun

Finally a picture of the front of Hourakukan, on my last day there.

I can't believe I wrote about my experience in Minakami so far and forgot to write about 体験 taiken. My English is failing me and I can't come up with a concise translation, but the word taiken means "lived/hands-on experience." Takumi no Sato is truly what it translates to, an "artisan's village." It has places where you can pick fruit and buy local foods, but the main attraction is the craftsmen's workshops and the opportunity to buy artists' products, watch them at work, try things yourself, and make a really cool souvenir.

During my time at Hourakukan, I've been treated to a lot of free taiken. My host mom payed for the pottery and washi paper I mentioned in my first Minakami post, before I really understood what was going on with all these people letting me make stuff. The washi paper is ready now, but Ono-san is gone for the day whenever we try to go pick it up, so there's no photo of it yet.
After that, apparently someone put up some money to treat me to taiken because Yumemi-san, whose job description I'm not really sure of but is some sort of Takumi no Sato higher-up, has come to pick me up from work at Hourakukan three different times to take me to meet an artist and try out a craft. I like Yumemi-san because she's really friendly and mom-like (I'm pretty sure she has a daughter who's around my age or younger), and I really appreciate her introducing me to all sorts of people and praising my finished products.

The thing about the craftsmen in Takumi no Sato is that they're really fascinating people too. They care enough about their art and want to share it enough to think hard about how to simplify it and make it easy to teach a total beginner in an hour. And they're interesting to talk to. I found out when I went to make washi that Ono-san walked across Asia when he was younger, and he talked a lot about how things were in India, since my host mom has been to India too, and how he got so tan while walking that he was mistaken for an Indian person. It was entertaining. And at the chirimen (crepe fabric) house, I ended up finishing faster than expected while Yumemi-san went to run an errand, so I had no choice but to talk to the owner there. Turns out his degree is in physics and he spent 10 years teaching Japanese in China, so we talked a lot about travel and linguistics.

So I'll go into more detail about the taiken I got to do (hands-on crafts? How do I condense that?).

First I went to the Mask House (O-men no Ie). There, I painted a mask. There are all different shapes to choose from, ranging from traditional characters to pop culture like Hello Kitty, all of which were made by hand by the woman who works there. The same was true for all of the example masks that covered the walls. I'm not super-passionate about masks, but I looked for one that looked interesting. She told me the one I picked was a kappa, so I thought, heck, let's try to make a kappa (a Japanese folkloric water monster). They had kappa cookies at the souvenir shop at Hourakukan so I kinda remembered what it looked like. It's sorta off from the most popular depiction of a kappa because I only kinda remembered what it looked like, but since it's folk-lore I guess it's fine. I probably should have looked harder and found a fox mask like I originally wanted to, or asked if I could paint one of the Daruma dalls I didn't notice until later. But for now I have this weird green kappa mask. Ha-ha.

The next craft I got to try was making a sewing box at the Crepe House (Chirimen no Ie). The whole process of making the box was really ingenious. I started with a set of pre-cut pieces of fabric and cloth and glued them together following precise instructions. The owner of the Crepe House had a really clever method of using folded paper to help keep the corners and edges of the box crisp, and when there was a step that required putting weight on the flat part of the box while the glue dried, rather than putting it under a book or something, he had me stand up, put the box I'd made on my stool, put a plastic sheet over it, and then put down a pillow and had me sit on it while I made the lid of the box. Clever.

Today, I got to go to the Glass House (Gurasu no Ie) and choose a cup in which to etch a picture. Then I got to pick a design out of the many, many options available, from daisies to dinosaurs to Domo-kun.
The design was a piece of paper that the owner of the Glass House sprayed with adhesive and then had me position on my glass, which he had covered with a layer of some kind of sticky-backed vinyl. Then I used a craft knife to cut out the details of the design and pick off the vinyl to reveal the glass. I also got freedom to write anything I wanted so I wrote Minakami in katakana with thick sharpie and cut that out too. The next step was to use a machine to create the design using fine sand. The machine had a box with gloves attached, so you stick your hands in the gloves, have the glass put in your hand, grab the "sand gun" inside the box, and have someone shut the lid. Then you use the foot pedal on the machine to turn on the sand and spray it at the design. Afterwards, you peel off the remaining vinyl, wash it off, and it's done. I came into the Glass House thinking there was no way I could make anything as beautiful as the works I saw on the examples, but I was amazed at the quality cup I could make. I looked at some of the owner's works-in-progress, and it looks like he uses the same process, with much more precise cutting and many layers, and he produces beautiful work.

In other news, today was my last day at Hourakukan. Starting tomorrow morning at 9pm I'm working at the onsen Yushinkan. Not sure what I'll be doing there, but I should be able to take a bath there where the water isn't so hot it hurts. Hahaha.

I finished off my time at Hourakukan working at the information desk. I really liked getting to talk to Kazumi-san and Keiko-san, so I'm a bit sad I'm leaving, though I'll be back to buy omiyage before I leave. I asked if we could take a picture together, and we did. Included is Gunma prefecture's mascot, Gunma-chan, an orange horse wearing a green hat. I have a second Gunma-chan strap, if anyone ones it. :D

Kazumi, me, Keiko

Further details about Minakami (guys I'm so sorry!)

Posted by Shaun

I really meant to update sooner. I'm sorry I've let you guys go halfway through my practicum without any details about what I've been doing. It started out that I was tired and busy, but then I got sick for about a week. I'm feeling just about normal now, but starting Thursday the 16th I had a fever and no appetite, and then I got diarrhea and I couldn't really eat a lot of food, so I was subsisting on Pocari Sweat (a sports drink) and Weider in Jelly (vitamins and minerals in a bag of jelly - grape flavor is disgusting). I find Weider in Jelly (freudian typing slip: weirder in jelly) confusing to drink because I feel like I should chew it because it's not actually liquid, but the jelly clumps are too small to chew.

I also learned way more about 1980s boy bands than I ever wanted to know. What were people thinking when they got dressed to go on stage back then? But there wasn't a whole lot else to do besides sleep and watching TV, so I did. I went to the doctor and got medicine a few days ago, and I'm just about back to normal. Now I can use my having been sick as an excuse to not finish the way-too-huge meals my host mom serves me. Even while I really couldn't eat anything, she'd make all of these things and then I'd take two bites and get up to go to the bathroom. Man, at that point, just don't cook me anything and I'll be fine.

I'm better now though. I'm eating and everything. And I got a care package from my friends Samy and Ana just in time where I could actually eat the beautiful cookies and cupcakes and things inside! So now, since there's so many things (Girl Scout Samoas!), they're sitting on the kitchen table with the flavors labeled in Japanese waiting for someone to like how sweet they are. I hope this means the grandkids can come over, because I kinda want to talk to them and Maki more than once before I leave.

All the baked goods I received! And the lovely notes!
Okay, time to back up.

The dinner we went to turned out to be the welcome party for Matt and me, but no one made that clear to either of us, so it's a good thing jeans were okay. It was at a fancy hotel with an onsen, in a big tatami room, and we (me, my host mom, Matt, a guy from Matt's work, people from the city international relations committee or something, the mayor) sat on the floor around the perimeter and ate more courses of food than I could actually finish. It was basically a big eye-opener to Japanese alcohol culture. The mayor came in late, and drunk from a prior engagement. It's apparently customary to go around the room pouring drinks for everyone and chatting them up and stuff, which is the sort of thing I'm terrible at. Matt was way better at faking than I was, and was willing to drink beer, so everyone got a lot more excited about his general existence. I'm not a beer fan, and I'm still not comfortable drinking alcohol in front of adults even though it's legal at 20 here, so I let everyone pour me oolong tea, and thankfully I wasn't the only one abstaining. But I did get some gags from one older guy about how "this is very strong tea-whiskey drink up" because it was important for him to pour me alcohol. And I heard way more old men speaking terrible English than I could stand. The "tea-whiskey" guy gave a speech at the end along the lines of "I don't know what I am going to say if it is going to be Japanese or if it is going to be English" that just kinda went on for a few minutes. There was also karaoke, but all the songs were the wrong era for me. I ended up singing "Sukiyaki"/"上を向いて歩こう" because it was the only song I knew I knew and I felt like I should sing something.

It was truly an interesting experience, and one I am glad I probably won't have to repeat often, since I don't plan to enter Japanese politics or corporate society.

After that, I started work at Horakukan, which is part of Takumi no Sato (the Artisan's Village), which has a lot of different hands-on crafts experiences (like the pottery and the paper-making I did), as well as places to pick fruit and vegetables or try making stuff like soba noodles and konnyaku.

Streets of Takumi no Sato

The first day, I worked bagging shimi-doufu, which is dried out tofu that is apparently used in food somehow. I asked, but I forgot the answer. Tempura and soup, I think? Apparently I was good at sealing the bags, but it was pretty boring.

Takumi no Sato's shimidoufu

The next few days I rotated between the information desk and the cash register inside the main building of Horakukan. I got to pour yogurt free samples, say "Irrashimase!" (welcome!) when people came in the store, and help bag souvenirs. And talk to the young women who work there, which was the most fun. They wanted to ask me about myself, but in every other area I worked, the older women just talked shop, which is a conversation I'm never going to be able to enter, I'm sorry. So that can get kinda boring, which makes me tired.

After that I had the day off on Monday, so I got to go check out a cafe with my host sister Yuki. I got to eat a waffle, which I've been longing for, and meet an American ex-pat named Phillip and his Japanese wife (I'm so sorry, I forgot her name). He gave me an old book about Japanese pop culture and some newspapers that in all honesty I probably won't read since I'm busy with my Japanese reading, and he gave Yuki some American cake mix he received from a friend that was apparently really bad-tasting and way too sweet for him, so she's going to make the cake for the students she teaches at her English cram school and tell them it's a taste of America. Phillip has apparently spent most of his life in Japan and therefore has Japanese tastes for sweetness, not American. Apparently American chocolate is overwhelming for most Japanese.

The waffle - Yuki and I split it

Later that evening, I went to watch a taiko practice I was invited to see, but it turns out they wanted to teach me some taiko stuff more than they wanted me to watch, so my host mom and I should have come earlier instead of right at the end. I got to try a basic rhythm on the taiko drum and take pictures with the group members. It was pretty cool.
My host mom is in the scarf next to me.

I did not get to play this taiko but it was apparently a cute angle so I was told to pose with it.

Then, back at Horakukan, I got to work in the area where they sell local products, like veggies and jam and soap and stuff (if anyone wants anything non-perishable, please let me know, especially if you're willing to pay me back if you want a lot!). I learned how to use the cash register for the first time, and I got to wring up two or three customers. Mostly I just spent a lot of time being cold and folding paper bags to protect jam jars. But I'm hoping I can be useful again at information/register now that I've had time to learn to use the register.

The next day I worked in the manjuu-making house (Takumi no Sato is a village, after all). Manjuu is basically bread with flavor in the middle, usually red bean paste, but they made all kinds, like miso and sesame. I got to try to make some manjuu, and it was really difficult making them pretty and round, as well as closing the dough around the red bean paste and not getting dough stuck all over my hands. I got to keep the ones I made as well as one that was too small to sell, so there were exactly enough to share with my host family and Matt. It was pretty good, but I generally like sweeter sweets.

My host mom planned to take me to see another taiko performance, this one by a group of Minakami kids who does an exchange with another group of kids from Miyake Junior High on Miyake-Jima island. Apparently the Miyake kids come to experience winter sports and the Minakami kids go to Miyake to experience the ocean. They also do an exchange of taiko and traditional dance. So I got to watch a little of that. We drove out to Tanigawa Onsen where Matt is working to pick him up so he could go, and it was a good 40 minute drive up into the mountains. The amount of snow up there is completely different from down where my host family lives. It looks like some sort of arctic playset. But it was good to talk to Matt, and he was happy to get out of the mountains, and the car ride was good conversation practice.

The performance the adults did for the kids

Part of a dance performance, in which the characters pulled out a big box of snacks and started throwing them to the audience, to the kids' glee.

The Miyake Junior High students

The next day at work I got to make konnyaku, wash a lot of dishes, feel crappy, go home at the end of the day, gradually realize I have a fever, not eat dinner, and yeah, see the beginning of this post.

Bright white mountains outside Kaori-no-Ie, where they make the konnyaku

And that's been my Minakami experience so far. I have two more days of work at Horakukan, and then I start at Yushinkan, which is an onsen with a restaurant and a souvenir shop and stuff. I'm hoping I can avoid like, cleaning the onsen and work more with the souvenirs/restaurant/whatever because I'm starting to realize I'm kinda onsen-weak. I start feeling my pulse in my head if I'm in the hot water for too long, and it's uncomfortable, but unfortunately I can't just enjoy onsen at my own (admittedly fast) pace because we don't have a working bath at our house so I have to be driven to the public one by either my host sister or my host mom and then take as long as they take. I think once I'm working at Yushinkan I'll get to use their onsen, though, which is great because 1) it's not oh-god-I-can't-feel-my-toes hot like the small one my host family uses and 2) they have showers in addition to buckets so it's way easier to wash yourself properly. So hopefully after that I can be a little bit more "my pace."

(As a last end note, mai pe-su マイペース is a great example of one of these Japanese words that comes from English but really isn't anymore. You can't say in English things like: 今日のペースはマイペース kyou no pe-su wa mai pe-su  or, with a similar example I heard on TV, ペースはハイペース pe-su wa hai pe-su ("Today's pace is my pace" and "[the runner's] pace is high-pace"). Partly because we don't talk about "paces" like ever, and partly because repeating the noun sounds silly, but in in Japanese "pace," "high-pace," and "my-pace" are all individual words.)

Bright white mountains with the entrance to Hokrakukan behind me (the pic from the front didn't turn out)

いい感じ ii kanji "good feelings"

Posted by Shaun

I arrived in Minakami yesterday afternoon, and I was pretty nervous. Right after getting off the train, Matt and I went to the city office and were introduced to Suzuki-san and Hayashi-san, who are our contact people for the trip. Then they told us that the mayor was at the office right at that moment, so we were suddenly sent to meet him and introduce ourselves.

The shinkansen that brought us to Minakami
Turns out he seems pretty laid back, and he speaks fantastic English. Apparently he used to work for the UN. We were supposed to ask him questions, but I couldn't think of any. Thankfully Matt took over and asked about the presentation we're supposed to do.

Afterwards, I was dropped off at my host family's house and Matt at his dorm. My host family's house is beautiful! It's very woodsy. There's a big staircase made out of logs that goes up to a half-second-floor where my room is. The house is heated with a wood stove, so it smells really good even though it makes my eyes kinda dry.

I have host parents who are in their 60s (?). My host mom reminds me of someone, but I'm still trying to figure out who. I think one of my former teachers or my parents' friends or something. Apparently before I came she knew almost nothing about me, so trying to make conversation has been a little awkward, but at least it's awkward on both ends? She's really nice.

My host dad is kinda intimidating, but he's friendly. He's got grey hair that I think is supposed to be a comb-over but yesterday kept ending up standing straight up. Combined with his glasses it made him look like a mad scientist. He kept asking me about American TV dramas, and it turns out he watches Supernatural! Since I spent a good year of college pretty obsessed with that show, it was kinda exciting to have one of my first conversations in rural Japan be about Sam and Dean hunting ghosts. Worries about whether I'd be able to use the internet were abated when I found out that he spends a lot of his time on the internet watching American TV dramas.

My host sister Yuki is in her 30s, but she seems younger. Apparently she teaches English at a cram school, since she studied abroad in Oregon, but she says she's forgetting her English, though Suzuki-san said she was fluent. Turns out she has a younger sister, Maki, who's married with two kids, a son in middle school and a daughter in elementary school. I met them and they were really friendly. Maki works at Sukiya, a gyu-don chain restaurant, and she entertained us for a while with her stories of elderly customers' drive-through conversations and people who try to order things that are only sold at the other gyu-don chain restaurants.

It turns out our bath is broken, so we have to use the public onsen every night, which is no big deal. I like onsen, after all. It's interesting though. I guess you rent a key or something, rather than paying every time you go. And it's just a bath, a changing room with sinks and mirrors, and an entryway to leave your shoes. Interesting way to meet people. It's funny though, because my host mom left me a note before I left saying "enjoy a lot of onsen."

Mountains by where I ate lunch today
After being here less than a whole day, I'm trying to figure out if there's anything in Minakami that people don't do. They make/grow miso, tofu, pottery, washi paper, masks, apples, peaches, blueberries, strawberries, soba noodles, daikon radishes, cucumbers, anything and everything, and Minakami's mountain streams are what supplies Tokyo with drinking water. I'm impressed.

Because warm air rises, and I had a hot water bottle (literally a PET bottle filled with onsen water), and I think flannel sheets, my room here is actually warmer than my room at my host family's house, and I slept really well, despite being intermittently woken up by a rooster that I think might be ours. I haven't been able to figure out where/how to ask, "so is that annoying bird ours?" but I think there's a small coop by the house.

Today has been interesting (for reference, it's 5pm). I woke up for breakfast at 8, and had a cup of coffee. Then around 10ish we went to where I'm going to work. I recognize the name, but I can't remember it right now. Anyway, they do all kinds of things, and they're going to try to get me a schedule of what exactly I'll be doing. Tomorrow I'm making tofu or putting it in bags or something like that. I'm going to get to learn lots of different types of stuff, and I'm excited. I work from 9am-4pm and I'm supposed to bring a boxed lunch. My host mom seems kinda concerned about that: "how many years has it been since I made an obento?" It's really fine, I'll eat anything! They asked me if I wanted one or two days off, and I'm not sure what was decided on. I tried to tell them that I'd work however many days they needed, since that's what I'm here for, but I don't really know if that came across.

Anyway, I work there for the first two weeks, and I think the last two weeks I'm working at one of the onsens. I'm not sure if it's the same one as Matt.

When we stopped by to confirm my work hours, they gave us a cup of coffee.

Next, apparently, my host mom decided to fill my day with interesting stuff because she wasn't sure when I'd have days off. So I got to go learn how to make washi paper. I've made paper before, so it wasn't really new, but I got to make a pretty design with leaves. I hope it looks good when it dries, because I didn't think to take a picture. After I was done, we sat and talked to the artist (Ono-san) for a while, and had a cup of milk tea. Apparently my host mom always sees him out walking, and he told us about how he walked across Asia when he was younger. Wow!

After the washi, we went out to lunch and had tempura udon.

Then we stopped at this potter's workshop. I never got his name, and I'm not sure if he got mine either. I think it's rakugo pottery but I'm not sure. You work with coils and a wheel you turn by hand. I got to make something, so I put together this interesting-looking mug. I hope it turns out.

At the same time that we were there, photographers for some sort of magazine were visiting, and one of the reporters was making a pot of some sort. They decided to include my host mom and me in their pictures as well. Then I heard the photographer ask my host mom if it was okay since it's a zen-koku publication. Zen-koku means "nationwide." So apparently I'm going to appear in a magazine that can be read all over Japan, and they'll send my host mom a copy when it comes out. While we were waiting for the photographers, we had another cup of coffee. I was also offered tea as I was leaving, which I declined, because my stomach was full of coffee.
Pictures the potter took for me and printed out while I was working
Also, apparently NHK is going to be at my work tomorrow, so I have a feeling the people in charge want them to interview me. So I could be on Japanese national TV too. It's kinda frightening. I guess I should think hard about what I wear tomorrow.

We're going out to dinner tonight, I think, so I should probably start making sure I'm ready to go. Tomorrow's going to be an early start, but I think it will be a good day. I hope so.

Catching up before Minakami

Posted by Shaun

I've done a lot in the last month, and because my wrists kinda started hurting after typing up the Japan, Food, and Gender blog series, I haven't been super excited to update, but I feel like I have a duty to catch up a bit before I head off to Minakami, since I don't know what my internet situation will be like there.

So this is basically going to be a list of everything I've done since New Years, and it's not going to be very detailed or exciting.

1) I went to see a kabuki play. I'm not sure what it was called, I think something like "The Eight Samurai," but there was also another shorter play afterwards that I didn't understand at all. I honestly didn't understand most of it, but it was fun to watch. The costumes and the staging were really interesting. Rather than trying to hide its stage hands, kabuki uses people dressed in black that you're supposed to pretend not to see. Someone told me that the idea of the black-clad ninja comes from kabuki, because one play had someone get assassinated by a ninja, and rather than being killed by a character, they had him be killed by a stage hand, and it really shocked people because they were so used to just not paying attention to the stage hands, so it was really like he'd been struck down by an invisible killer.

Outside the kabuki theater
2) It snowed. It's not unheard of for it to snow in Tokyo/Saitama/Chiba-area, but it doesn't happen very often. The snow all melted by the end of the day but it was fun to watch it through the window while I wrote a paper.
My host family's driveway

3) We went to the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka. It was a very cute museum, and if I could read Japanese faster I would have learned a lot about how animation is made, but we ended up staying there for 3 hours, so I got kinda bored and irritable. It also reminded me that I'd only seen a few Ghibli movies, so there was a lot I didn't care too much about. But the design of the museum was adorable.

Outside the fake reception desk, run by Totoro. It was cold, but I'm the only one who looks cold.

4) We went to Tokyo DisneySea. Thankfully, it's not a water park, just a different Disney park unique to Tokyo and close to the ocean. Apparently February was a good month to go because only college students are out of school, but we still had two hour lines for the big attractions. It was fun though, because it was the last time we got to hang out together before we all head off on our cultural practicums.

It was the tenth anniversary of DisneySea so there were a lot of fancy "10" decorations

I really wanted a churro and it took us forever to get around to buying them
Almost all of us rode Tower of Terror together, and it was worth the 2 hour wait.
Another highlight was getting there just in time to see the "Be Magical" show going on, where all the Disney characters glided around the lake in the middle on boats. I got good pictures because my camera zooms better than my vision.
I had fun. I would have liked to go to Disneyland and ride more of the classic roller coasters, but I would have probably spent the entire day in line instead of just most of it, and it was nice to see a place that was unique to Japan. It was interesting, though, because English was still the dominant language despite it being a Japanese park.

It was a long, long day. We got to the park at 11 and stayed until it closed at 10. And we had talked about going to dinner together, but everyone was a little worried about missing their last trains, so we grabbed some convenience store food and ate it together because this was the last time we'd all see some of the people who were only here for a semester. Then, Sam and I were still hungry, so when we finally got back to our home station at 12:30ish we had some gyu-don, and it was delicious because food always tastes better in the middle of the night. And I realized that I hardly ever hung out with Sam, which is stupid because we lived in the same town, and I'm still not sure if I'll see him between the time I get back from Minakami and the time I leave to go on a trip to Osaka.

Well, that's the quick version of what I've been up to. I leave on Wednesday for my cultural practicum, and I'll keep you posted about that if I have internet access. Basically, I'm going to be doing some sort of work in this artisan crafts area of Minakami, and I'm living with another host family, and short of their address and the ages of the family members, I don't really know anything else. I'll be there for a month, so hopefully all will go well.

A little while after I get back from Minakami, my friend Laura and I are taking a bus to Osaka and exploring there for a few days. We're also going to head to Kyoto for a day and rent kimono and go see some temples and things. I'm really excited.

Response to comments

Posted by Shaun

In response to questions my aunt asked:
1) The eclair in this post was pretty good. It was a lot of chocolate. The cream puff is better, but it's way too much cream for me.
2) There actually is a drinking age in Japan. You become an adult at 20 in Japan, so you're then considered a legal adult, you can get a driver's license, and you can buy alcohol. The practice of "carding" people is not nearly as intense in Japan as it is in the US. I know a lot of 18-19 year-old Japanese people who regularly go out and drink and don't "get caught." You can also buy beer from vending machines, where there's no one to card you. So it's pretty easy to drink underage in Japan.

Expect a big catch-up post sooner or later. I should probably get it typed up before I head off to my cultural practicum in Minakami on Wednesday, since I'm not sure if I'll have internet there.