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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)

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