Monday, October 24, 2005

Our Stay in a Japanese Ryokan...

This morning I was kind of sad to pack up my bags and head away from Katsuyama. I started to grow comfortable with the town and the hotel that I could actually navigate in! I was leaving behind the massage chairs We set out on our bus to go and meet the PTA and some parents. I found this meeting one of the most interesting, because we were able to talk to parents and hear their concerns about their children. The main thing that I learned from this meeting is that a child is a child anyway. That all parents have the same fears, hopes, dreams and concerns for their kids. Instead of just asking questions to the parents, they asked a lot to us, which made us feel like teachers again!

We moved on to another traditional Japanese lunch (just give me American food already!). We stopped at a restaurant and had more food that tasted like fish. Blah! I traded some of mine for extra rice and miso soup, so it wasn’t too bad. We did spot a gas station across the highway, so some of us booked it across the Interstate! Oh, the lengths I go to for food here! We ate our treats as we started on a journey to our ryokan. This was going to be an adventure! On the way, we stopped at the Sea of Japan, which was beautiful. It had cliffs all around and huge rocks with raves crashing on it. We walked through the marketplace that took us to the sea and they were selling things such as squids on sticks (yes, the whole squid!) and purple ice-cream that I learned had squid ink in it! Wow, my culture sure is a lot different!

A ryokan is a traditional Japanese inn. Japanese families often go there on their vacations in Japan and we were lucky enough to get to spend a night there. We chose groups of four to stay in the room and Heather, Renee and Leona were my roommates! Upon entering the room, we had to change into traditional Japanese attire. This was a kimono with an obi (the sash we wrap around us), socks (with separate holes for our big toes so we can wear slippers!) and slippers. As always, there were a ton of different Japanese slippers for us to wear. There was a pair for in our room, in the bathroom, leaving our room and we will learn that there was one for the outside. Whew! I thought I had a lot of shoes to wear! Our room was set up for a meal with a table. The floors were made out of mats and we would eat and sleep in the same room. We sat down at the table and had traditional Japanese tea and ate one of the bean curd cakes.

We had about an hour and a half until dinner so Heather and Renee decided to go to the hot springs (which I still refused to try…again, I’m shy!) and Leona and I went to explore the ryokan. It was so beautiful everywhere! There were flower arrangements, traditional Japanese art and a little stream that ran through the ryokan. We met up with Renee and explored the outdoor gardens. We had to put on special shows to walk around and they were very tall. I had a hard time keeping my balance and I was scared when I crossed over a bridge in the gardens that I would fall in! Renee and I switched to easier shoes and decided to venture out on the town. The area catered to the ryokan and it was okay to wear your kimono around. Renee and I had to try it! It felt so strange to walk around the area dressed in our Japanese attire, but it was a lot of fun. We made sure to take pictures in the middle of the street so everyone could tell we were walking around town!

The dinner that they had prepared for us was more like a feast. We were set up in a horseshoe and all ate on the ground. We had crab legs, tons of fish (surprise!), vegetables and a very cool meat dish. We had little candles that we lit and they cooked the meat and a sort of stew that was above it. It was really good and felt fun to cook your own dinner! I even sampled some plum wine, which was very very interesting. It was a rich syrupy wine with a fermented plum in it! I thought it was too sweet, but I was daring enough to eat the plum!

So what else does one do in Japan….karaoke! Aiko read a letter to us from Fulrbight (again with congratulations) and opened up the curtain on the stage, which held a karaoke machine! The best part of it was that she sang a ton of songs in American! Of course, I had to sing a few songs so my roommates and I did “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” and
“Stop in the Name of Love.” It was not a pretty site! I am ashamed to say that after we were done in our banquet room, we moved down to the lounge and did more karaoke! Not just for an hour or so, but for about three or four! We were up until about three in the morning singing! I swear, only in Japan would I do this! Ha! There were three Japanese friends in the lounge, also, and they joined into some of our songs with us. It was so fun! My “roommates” and I went back to our room, which had been set up with beds on the floor (big feather mattresses and buckwheat pillows) and talked for awhile before falling asleep.

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