When I was a Young WartHog...

The title of this blog is in reference to how well I'm getting on with my host family. We have a shared love of musicals, particularly of the Disney and Lion King nature!

So, it's the end of week one. Be-jaysus! Week one flew by. You don't know how much stuff I got up to and I don't think I'll fit it all into this blog but be prepared anyway for a long read! Infact, why not go make yourself a cup of tea and then we'll begin? :)

My last blog dealt with toilets, but my japanese experience has totally escalated from there. The day after I posted my last entry, I bounced up bright and early, scrubbed myself and stuck on my nicest dress... well the only one I brought. My host mother and I packed into the car and went off to meet the mayor. It was tense stuff and we were all nervous but that feeling doubled when we arrived to cameras and journalists! The whole meeting was very formal and japanese-y. I was served green tea and then I sang a couple of irish songs. Literally a couple, "Molly na gCuach Ni Chualaineann" and "Black is the Colour". I didn't bring the concertina because my hands were shaking with nerves! But it was really fine and went smoothly. We exchanged gifts, I gave him a lump of turf and he gave me a pregnant woman. Afterwards I was interviewed and that evening I was on Japanese television!!! The 5, 6 and 7 news.The Mayor of Chino (in Suwa), me, my host mother Yumiko and Miyoko (the lady who makes everything possible)

But my day didn't stop there. After our exhaustion of smiles and courtseys we headed off for a "light" japanese lunch. Have I mentioned how much food they eat here?! It's unreal! Most lunches I eat are dinner sized portions which I simply can't finish.

After lunch however we tripped off to and outdoor foot spa. The Nagano Prefecture in Japan is all mountainous and famous for it's Hot Springs or "Onsen". This particular public one is looking out over picturesque Suwa lake. It's free to use and you just come along, take off your shoes and plop your feet in. I am so pale (pail?) however that I go bright red in the hot water but it really is a sleep inducing level of relaxation!

Now with fresh feet and a light feeling in our heads we trekked off to one of the Suwa Shrines. This was my first experience of a Shinto Shrine and it was... indescribable.... although I guess for the purpose of the blog I have to try describe it anyway. Hmm... it was a peaceful and cool respite from a hot and hectic day. The whole place rings with ritual and this "ancient japan" feeling. I think everyone should go see for themselves, it's just... wowza.

The Sumo ring in the Suwa Shrine... I think it's there because the temple is a man's temple where the god is for men and Sumo is for men...

For the next two days I attended Kami-Suwa Chu which is a junior high school in Kami-Suwa. I will be going there until Wednesday this week and I think I should let you know that THEY START SCHOOL AT 8 O'CLOCK! Which means I have to leave the house at 7:30 and be awake at 6:30. But I don't really mind anyway because I'm a morning person. However it can be difficult because on nights like tonight I stay up for ages talking about how busy I'll be the next day!

A couple of notes on Junior High School.

  • You can go to sleep in class, the teachers don't mind.
  • Most of the teachers are in their 20's and are sound.
  • P.E is frickin' mental! I had P.E with 1st years and spent the class running about like lunatics.
  • Lunch is served to them and is GOOD! It's not packet soup and it's free!!
  • Resources for special needs students are amazing in comparison to Ireland and the school has loads of resources in general like a broadcasting studio! ...did I mention this is a public school?
  • Everyone's super friendly, although some of the boys overly so. I lost count of how many marriage proposals I got.

All in all Junior High in Japan is super fun and really well organised. Oh but I forgot to mention that the students clean the floor every day... yeah, that was a shock. They don't mind at all or moan because having a clean environment and self seems to just be inate to japanese people.

Yesterday (Saturday) I went to Jomon museum which is where my pregnant woman is from (she's really just a statuette) and the man in the museum recognised me from the tv and gave us a free tour! Which was really nice but he spoke too fast and I didn't really understand. After that we had a little exploration into prehistoric japanese huts and then ventured into the world of modern japanese art. All in all it was a very cultured morning.

We then went to an old traditional style japanese house with a restaurant inside. It was gorgeous and we ate pizza and pasta. I keep finding it funny how everyone asks stuff like "in your country do you have pizza?"... well, why yes we do! It's actually a real pleasure eating out in the Suwa region becuase there are lots of vegetable farms and generally what's on your plate came from down the road that morning so everything's yummy and fresh.

Seiryo high school was the next port of call as there was a school festival going on. I will be going to Seiryo starting Thursday for 14 days which is pretty much three weeks. I met with the vice principal and a girl, Akane, who will show me around when I start. We dawdled about the festival for a while, watching an unfortunate group of 4 girls and 4 boys play some cruel japanese match making game. But really it was hilarious. I can't wait to go to Seiryo because everyone seems to be good craic. Although having said that Akane seems really shy but hopefully I'll be able to befriend her and get her talking :)

That evening we went to my host mother's family home because her nephew and his girlfriend were going to bring me out. But on the way we stopped for a glass art gallery and sushi.

Masaki (also known as DJ Zun... like dzoon) and his girlfriend (who's name me AND my host mother forget, whoops!) are two of the most down to earth people I've ever met. Although all the Japanese people I've met so far have been SUPER nice. Masaki and ehh, Gf brought me on the train to go to the Hotaru Matsuri (firefly festival). There was dancing and kimonos EVERYWHERE and stalls and lanterns and just a general buzz. Get it? buzz? I'm sorry, it's late. Masaki and co. didn't have much english which actually made everything a lot more fun. The end of the festival was everyone waltzing up to this river to wait for sunset and watch the fireflies which was really stunning. We even caught one!

Anywhoo. I have to sleep but I only have one day to go through so I'll fly through today and then we're up to speed!!

Today = Matsumoto Castle and Onsen... naked communal bathing.

Matsumoto in a few words is, steep, old and beautiful. It's a castle from the Edo era in Japan (around 400 years ago). It's one tough cookie as it was built to withstand gun fire and despite becoming delapidated and crooked over the years, it never collapsed. Oh, and was only being supported by one rotten beam until they gave it a new lease of life in 1905 and 1950.

Matsumoto Jo is the kind of place where if no one was around I would want to dress up as a Samurai and play with all the old guns and swords. No doubt a number of friends would join me??? :)

Erm, yeah this evening was the dreaded Onsen! I hadn't heard of these before I read Orlaith's blog and since I won the travel award it's been the subject of my nightmares. You see everyone gets into this lovely hot spring to relax and enjoy themselves... but you do so stark nude! When thinking about this previously a whole manner of things went wrong in my head but today, i guess I just got on with it and had an aboslutely great time! I suppose you just have to say, if they can do it no bother then so can I. It helped to laugh at myself a little too because as a pale (pail?!) Irish gal, I turned bright tomato red in the water and all the lovely tanned asians had a giggle. But I did too because well, I was funny looking.

I'm exhausted now and I have to go to sleep but let me just say one last thing before I head.

Kevin (EIL) said to us before we all left on our worldwide trips to keep in mind the differences in wealth and how it's spread throughout the world... and all the rights and wrongs of that. I just want to say that I have really been thinking about that. I am in a very fortunate first world country and I think Kevin's request is really changing the way I would otherwise see things here, and infact at home too. Don't get me wrong, I love Japan, but maybe the little things I see are going to EXPLODE one day into some huge epiphany and I will achieve enlightenment. Thanks Kevin! :)