Not necessarily related at all, but I thought it`d make for an interesting title! This weekend saw the 4 rural GAP volunteers spend the 2 nights at Maeda-sensei`s house. On Saturday, we had yakisoba (chinese soba noodles and vegetables) and made an apple crumble from the Be-Ro cookbook mum sent (thanks again!).
Die Hard 3 watch the focus of the night, and several card games, so we didn`t get to bed until about 1.00am. On Sunday we attended a small local matsuri (festival) in Yamasaki. I took part in a Shinto ceremony while the others watched (which basically only involved me watching and wondering what was going on anyway o.O) before we all went for the parade.
The local junior-high school children were walking with a large ornament (I don`t know the name, unfortunately)while banging drums to a beat. Everyone was dressed in bright blue shirts with red and white decoration (which symbolises good luck – by contrast, black and white are used at funerals). It was really good, albeit a little hot, and I got to talk to one of the adults (as best I could in my limited Japanese) called Hori-san, while Jess, Christine, Lizzie and Maeda-san stopped off at Maeda-san`s house for a while. The thing that really struck me about this was that it was entirely a local event, unlike the one in Ichinomiya being held next week. We walked around what was probably only a 2 kilometer square area, along side roads, while the residents gave money in envelopes to tie on the tree branches some of the adults were carrying. It`s amazing how close-knit the communities are out here, espeically for how organised and grand even this tiny celebration seemed ^_^.
Dinner in the evening was just as good as the night befoore. We stopped at Jusco to buy ingrediants and I got a CD burned off and more pictures printed, ready to send home soon. We had sukiyaki tonight (meat and vegetables on rice) and then made chocolate-chip cookies ^^. I tried licqourice and peppermint tea, which I surprisingly liked – it helped to soothe my cold I`ve caught from Shiso. I`m drinking far more tea than I ever did at home, although standard English tea and coffee are still not really my favourite drinks. Ocha (green Japanese tea) is good when freshly made (at the Tea Ceremony), but otherwise so-so. We went to bed with the promise of rice porridge with cinnamon and masala in the morning, which I might as well say now, was oiishi (delicious) ^^.
Just to interrupt the flow of events, the screaming deer (shika), I mentioned because I`ve heard it several nights in my apartment. At first I wasn`t quite sure what it was, and had to have Kyunai-san explain the next day, because the noise it makes is something crossed between a high pitched scream and a whistle. It was a little more than just unnerving considering I heard it about 11.30 at night o.O! Also, while I`m on the topic of bizarre noises, the nightly `ramen man` that we heard last week at Maeda-sensei`s sometimes wonders the streets at night, for people who get in late from work I suppose. Now the concept of an alternative ice-cream man going around at night is strange enough, but not nearly as odd as the moan he calls to alert people. It was so low and spooky I thought perhaps The Grim himself might be selling Death lollies on the cart! Collecting the unfortunate souls who dared taste it perhaps… but Ii digress.
After a great porridge breakfast, we all went to Himeji on the Monday. Dave and Sarah were suposed to be here today, but we never saw them. After buying delicious anko cakes from below Himeji station, we walked up the long road towards Himeji-jo (the Castle) – this was the same road the Japanese class walked up! It brought back a few memories of Monkey Thumbs and blisteringly hot weather ^_^;. After arriving in the Castle grounds (which actually, we stepped into as soon as we departed the train, because the outer moat that used to run around the Castle is now where the train station in Himeji is ^^) we sat and ate the cakes – which were still warm. The anko filling is the same used in a lot of the bread and sweets I`ve gotten hooked on lately out here, so naturally I had to buy some before we left Himeji this eveing ;p.
The Castle was just as beautiful as last time, and a I got to take more of it in as it wasn`t quite as hot as in July. I spent some time fiddling with the camera settings and trying to snag candid shots of the people visiting, which was good fun. I won`t bore you with the details of the Castle (of which I`m sure there are plenty online), but one thing I did notice was the huge amount of tourists. What was the strangest thing, howerver, was the fact that I felt more intimidated by them than anything. Having lived in Japan for over a month, I felt a pang of irritation that any native onlookers might be classing me as `just another tourist`. I felt distinctly un-gaikokujin, in other words, not at all a foreigner! I guess that may soothe any troubled minds that I have settled in yet ^_^.
After the Castle, we looked around a beautiful garden right next to Himeji-jo, before eating at a reccommended udon bar that Maeda-san used to visit when she was younger. The noodles were rolled out in pastry, cut and boiled right there before us! They even let me photograph it, which was very satisfying, as were the noodles themselves – the best udon I`ve had, without a doubt ^_^. We shopped a little befoore heading home, but the day was old, so I`ll have to return another time. Himeji is a lot closer to us than I thought, well, if you go by train fee. If we get a lift to Yamasaki (40 minutes), and Maeda-san takes us the 20 minutes to the train station, it`s only 40 minutes and 400 yen (2 pounds) away! I agree with Dave about Himeji being a nice city, there`s something I immediately like about it as soon as I leave the train station. Hopefully it won`t disapoint upon further exploration!
To close then: After dropping Lizzie and Christine home, Jess, myself and Maeda-sensei went to watch the practice being held in prepartion for next week`s matsuri (the bigger festival in Ichinomiya). There were 50 or so men heaving this huge ornament up and down, spinning it around and chanting, while 4 more mounted on the display were playing taiko (drums). It was really impressive to see, and this was just one of (I think) 5 ornaments that will come together at the jinja (shrine) in Ichinomiya next Sunday. In addition to this, the men carrying it are apparently going to be wearing skimpy sumo-like pants – and nothing more (much to the girl`s satisfaction, I overhear from muffled gigglings). What I`m not so sure about is that I`m pretty sure my head-of-home – Joki-san – is also taking part. While the idea of men wearing pants and dancing around doesn`t bother me (it can`t beat changing napppies, right?), seeing my head-of-home doing it just might :p.
Just to cram in my thoughts on other matters last-minute. I have started to write letters, but it is very difficult to do as most evenings are taken up by something or other and I`m sometimes quite tired or need too learn some Japanese. Chris, I wrote your letter on Friday, but haven`t sent yet (need envelope) and it took me about 2 1/2 hours! So I`m getting on with them, but please, be patient ^^;. I hope to ail things this weekend, including Jen`s birthday present.
Today at Shiso was the GAP program (as it is every Wednesday). We made cookies again and painted the papier mache masks, but the best thing is I`m gradually talkin to the staff more. This makes the job so much more fun, and I really feel like part of the team a lot more. Maybe these are just random thoughts that follow, so take them with a pinch of salt: It struck me today that life can be as big or small as you want it. I`ve always thought that the larger picture held the answer, that you have to do something massive to make your life worthwhile, but I noticed today that even in the small places – this rural village care home – people are living a life just as good as any person who has accomplished great and noteable things. Seeing the staff laughing and having fun with each other and the residents is realy satisfying, so I`m really going to try to make even more of the placement than I have so far ^_^.
Okay. Until next time.