Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Japanese Onsen Unzen pt. 1

This past weekend we went to a place called Unzen which is high on a mountain East of Nagasaki city. This was my first hot springs 'onsen' experience and it gave me an interesting look at Japanese culture.

The hotel was a Japanese style, similar to my home stay apartment but a lot nicer. It was one main room, a toilet room, washroom and bathing room (all separate) and a lovely area with a table and chairs where you can look out the window at a Japanese style garden.

I shared the room with two other American women which I haven't done since high school. But both ladies were mellow and ended up being good roommates. In the room was a cotton Yukata (summer kimono) and a beautiful purple jacket for colder weather. It was like playing dress up to wear these down to the hot springs and while we were socializing.

The hot-spring baths were a bit of a shock as they are communal and you must be completely naked. It was really difficult for most of us to get past our Western inhibitions, but since everyone felt the same way we all focused on ourselves and didn't pay attention to each other. First you have to wash yourself off because the baths are only fore bathing, not for washing. Then you soak in the bath, there were two in the woman's section (which switched to men in the morning) a large hot indoor pool and a cooler outer pool surrounded by a garden and small waterfall. The water smelled like sulfur but felt wonderful and was so murky that we couldn't see anyone below the surface.

In the evening we had a very traditional meal on low tables with floor cushions and were served by women in lovely kimonos. After that was games and Karaoke which were a blast.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dream come true

So far the most exciting part of my studies has been my traditional arts classes. Monday was Calligraphy which is very similar to Sumi-e painting. We were taught about the materials used, the brushes and types of animal hair used and how to rub the ink stick on the stone with water to make the ink. The lecture was completely in Japanese but I was able to get the gist of it. So far we are simply getting used to working with the brush but hopefully I'll have something decent to show after a few classes.

The other part of the class which is on Thursdays is the Kimono class. Also in Japanese, the teacher was really pleasant and fun to listen to. She described the differences between winter versus summer kimono (two layers of silk for winter, one layer of thinner silk for spring) and the cotton yukata used in summer. Four of us were chosen to model the different types of kimono, myself included. My kimono was a silk summer kimono and was most expensive one worn by the class, I believe she said it cost what would be about $3000. The fabrics were gorgeous and I really enjoyed myself. I can't believe I got to wear a silk Kimono in Japan!!!

Monday, April 16, 2012

First Reflection

Time is really strange here, I feel like I've been in Japan a long time and yet I also can't believe it's already been more than two weeks. I'm feeling really comfortable in Nagasaki, the buses are really handy, the scenery is beautiful and the city is interesting. Most of the time people ignore us, gawk at us or are really friendly, we haven't had any negative experiences with the locals yet.

School is a little more trying, I was pretty sure when we arrived that both of us would be in the level 2 language class. We've learned a lot but we haven't had much practice with speaking or listening and we really need to review. I was shocked when the placement test put me in level 3 and Brian in level 2. Naturally we want to be in the same class, we are at the same level despite what the test said. But I assumed that if I got into lvl 3 than Brian should take the lvl 3 challenge exam. But after a week of studying and frustration they refused to let him move up (he missed it by 1 point..). So today I was faced with a dilemma, I've been going to lvl 3 classes all last week and it is definitely the level I should be in, but I've decided to take a hit to my pride and drop down so I can be with him. It wouldn't have been so bad but they made me have a meeting with one of the ladies in charge so I could answer questions about why I was moving down, and if I was sure I wanted to do this. I essentially had to lie about needing to be in that level, although I will still learn new things either way. Needless to say, both of us feel like crap about the whole situation. Hopefully we will get used to this class and it will give us the opportunity to really understand all the things we've learned up to this point.

ANYWAY, everything else is wonderful. Our other classes are Culture, History, Cinema and Literature and we are really excited about all the great things we are learning. There is so much to see and do here that I know that we will have a great experience no matter what.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

School Field trip pt. 3

After the lunch and Saikai Bridge we got back on the bus for about an hour and then stopped at the Strawberry Forest. It was INCREDIBLE! They let you in for 45 minutes with a pair of scissors and you eat as many strawberries as your stomach can hold. They were gorgeous, ripe, juicy and sweet and I think it was one of the funnest things I've done so far. They are also addictive, not matter how full we were there was always another beautiful ripe strawberry and we would have to eat "just one more".

After that was the Bio Park. It was a zoo that had very few enclosures so the animals were able to wander around and interact with people. There were a lot of monkeys and parrots. It was smaller than I expected but enjoyable none the less. The strangest part was that there was a petting area for domesticated animals like cats, dogs and rabbits.

Monday, April 9, 2012

School Field trip pt. 2

Our next stop on our field trip was Sikai Bridge Park overlooking an inlet from the sea. When the water from the ocean hits the water in the bay it creates whirlpools. The large bridge built over the water has an amazing view of the whirlpools as well as the beautiful trees and flowers on either side.

We ate lunch at Toto Market and they served a multi-course traditional Japanese meal. We sat at the fish table but there was also a chicken table. Some of the Japanese teacher sat at our table and helped us understand how to eat the unusual food. Some of it (the shrimp, sashimi and grilled vegetables) were delicious and other parts (some kind of custard with mushrooms and...some other things we couldn't identify) were not so good. But all in all it was filling and a fun experience.

After lunch we were free to walk around for a while so we went over the bridge. On the other side was a grove of sakura (cherry) trees in full bloom. With the contrasting blue/green water and the fresh air it was just breathtaking.