{Shaun in Japan}

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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.

2 Responses so far.

  1. Shannon K says:

    いい感じ indeed!
    The whole thing sounds magical. I wish I could come see it! Do lots of exploring and take lots of pictures! (omiyage???)

  2. Laurie says:

    Thanks for the blog update. I had no idea you did that already. Minakami and the people you have met seem really neat!
    By the way, Happy Valentine's Day! Love your family I'm glad you received our valentine card too! XOXO

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