Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Hiroshima day one

We arrived in Hiroshima on Thursday evening, August 9. After dinner we walked to our hotel, past the atomic bomb dome, which would be a constant presence in the few days we stayed in Hiroshima. On Friday morning we had roundtable discussions, and after a lunch break we headed to Miyajima by train and ferry. The island is famous for the shinto shrine with its tori (gate) that is submerged in the sea. When getting off the ferry we were greeted by the many deer that roam the island asking for food.

We headed down the shopping street that leads to the shrine, pausing along the way.

The tide was out when we arrived, but the gate was still spectacular.

Shrines often have a horse, but this one was plastic.

There was also a temple atop the hill next to the shrine.

With paintings!

And interesting large rice paddles, though I'm not sure of the significance.

It was pleasantly breezy atop the hill, a nice break from the heat and sunshine.

As we were preparing to leave, the tide came in. This photo is a view of the entire temple and shrine complex.

We returned to the city by train and had a dinner of Okonomiyaki, one of my favorite Japanese foods. This was special Hiroshima style, which uses noodles. Mmmm....

My finished product!

We were also served vegetables (and meat for others).


Thursday, August 16, 2007

Akita last day

After a free morning, we had the Akita forum on the afternoon of our last day in Akita. Above is the mascot of Akita, the tree that was everywhere. The forum consisted of speeches and panel discussions, including by a former UN Undersecretary General, and a physicist who has a tv show in Japan. The reception that followed the forum included a performance by namahage, demons that frighten bad spirits away from children.

I stopped by the convenience store after the forum, and found a pound cake-like bread that was mint chocolate chip flavored. Ah, the yummy wonders of the Japanese convenience store!

The following photo is of the amazing dorms at Akita International University, we were the first people to stay in them. They had wood floors and were more like mini-apartments than dorms.

With the namahage at the airport, preparing for the hot weather we would face in Hiroshima.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Akita Kanto Festival

Sunday afternoon and all day Monday were spent in roundtable discussions, until Monday evening, when we attended the Kanto Festival in Akita. The streets were crowded with people for the festival, and there were vendors selling souvenirs, food, and beer. Before sundown there was a parade with women performing traditional dancing. After sundown, the highlight of the festival began. Groups of people paraded through the streets with large poles bearing many candle lit lanterns, and weighing about 50-60 kilograms. The shape of the lanterns is supposed to represent the top of the rice plant. The groups were accompanied by taiko drums. They balanced the poles on their hands, hips, shoulders, wherever. One man balanced while holding a baby! A few fell down, but were quickly propped back up. The following are photos and video of the evening. A great festival, and a good time in Akita.

The parade before the balancing act:

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Akita homestay

We left Tokyo very early on Friday morning for the one hour flight to Akita, in the far north. After arrival and dropping off some baggage at the Akita International University, we took busses for about two hours north to the Noshiro-Happo area. We attended a welcome ceremony with the mayor of the town before a bus tour of the local area.

We visited the Energy Center, which was a museum attached to a power plant. The heat from the plant heated a large botanic garden, seen in the photo above. The museum also housed floats from a local festival, seen below.

The Energy Center mascot.

Our next stop was a lookout tower with a view of the Japan Sea/Eastern Sea (depending on your political outlook, the name is different).

I climbed the 100 steps to the top for a nice view.


We also spent some time climbing around on the large cement breakwater area.

On Friday evening we were introduced to our homestay families, who we would be spending the weekend with. My house had two American delegates and one Japanese delegate living with a couple and their two young children, aged 3 and 4, and one set of grandparents. They made us veggie curry, which was delicious, and we sat around the garden drinking beer and talking.

The plan for Saturday was to go hiking in the Shirikami Mountains, hiking near the Twelve Lakes, and go to an onsen (traditional bath). Because a typhoon followed the JASC delegation to the north, we were unable to go hiking. Instead we went to a nature center, did an abbreviated lakes hike, watched a documentary on the mountains, and learned to play the taiko drums.

The angry sea in the midst of the typhoon.

One of the Twelve Lakes, which are super clear and blue, a very beautiful area.

Lookin' good in our ponchos, hiking in the typhoon.

The water is known for its cleanliness and clarity. Near this stream we were treated to some tea brewed with the local water, and some light biscuits.

Playing taiko in the late afternoon.

After our drum lesson, we went to an onsen on the shore. I was pretty excited to be able to go in, as last time I was in Japan I was turned away because I have tattoos, which apparently are only for yakuza (gangsters). The onsen was very nice on a rainy typhoon day, the waves were visible through the glass, and there was even an outdoor area which was modeled after a traditional outdoor stone onsen. Soaking in the super hot water after a day of activities felt really relaxing. On the way home, our host family took us for ice cream, yum!

The host family house was in a pretty rural area, a nice change after the dense feeling of Tokyo. The family had a nice garden, where they grow organic veggies, and a small stone marker across the way.

Saturday evening dinner consisted of kiritanpo, a local specialty of molded rice served in soup with veggies and tofu. It was awesome. We also enjoyed edamame and a few drinks as we sat around the dinner table discusing life, politics, music, and other things. Like many places in the world, Akita prefecture has its own dialect. As a result I had a difficult time understanding what the host 'grandmother' was saying, as her dialect was thick. While I was able to communicate with the kids over 90 percent of the time, I needed the assistance of my fellow JASCers to understand much of our conversations with our hosts, as the topics were relatively advanced. After two nights with the host family I feel that my Japanese improved, and good about how far I have come, but I also was aware of how far I have to go.

The host family kids, so cute!

My fellow U.S. JASCer with our 'little brother.'

Our room for the weekend, futons folded up for the day.

My homestay roomates and our host.

Goofing around with gifts from homestay families on the long bus ride back to Akita city.