Saturday, 1 December 2007

Letter from Japan - Part One

I love Japan. Although I was only there for three weeks, I was in absolute awe of the temples, the landscape, the people and of course, the food. I can’t wait to go back, but I’m not sure that I’m brave enough to travel overseas while Mini Chef is still in the nappies and tantrums period (so, maybe after he turns 16). Anyway, in the spirit of reminiscence (and a strong desire to win Tattslotto), I thought I’d share some of my observations from that visit with you. Just to clarify, the ‘kiddies’ I refer to are a group of year 10 students I was chaperoning, along with a Japanese-speaking colleague. Reading back, it sounds rather like we abandoned them regularly, but I can assure you that they all got home safely, after only one minor incident with customs and the Federal Police (a story for another day).

September 16, 2004

Have done so much travelling this week I don’t even know where to begin. Perhaps I should start with a whinge, and get it over and done with.

Japan is very hot. Stickily, brain-fryingly hot. We have all taken to carrying fans around with us in an attempt to overcome the sweltering heat (and just in case anyone didn’t realise we were tourists). I also have a heat rash and have discovered that I am allergic to Japanese mosquitoes, whose painful bites cause me to break out in swollen hives which eventually turn into bruises the size of my hand.

Now that’s out of the way...

The fun really started on the plane on the way to Sydney. My learned colleague and I decided to have (one last) drink with dinner, but the flight attendant obviously believed that I was one of the students and asked my age. Much to the amusement of the actual students who were sitting around us. This trend has continued; teachers get in for free at historical sights over here, and there have been a few confused looking employees trying to decide which one of the females looked the oldest. Honestly, I don't really look that young, do I?

We spent the first day wandering around Tokyo in a somewhat bewildered state, and from there moved on to Miajima, a little island that was hit by a massive Typhoon just a week before we arrived. Some of you may have seen it (or seen pictures of it); it’s the shrine that sits right out over the water with a huge golden gate a little further out into the bay. An amazing sight - took a whole roll of film there. The island is also home to hundreds of wild deer (mmm - venison), who, a little like the emus at Healesville Sanctuary, try to snatch things out of your hands.

We also visited Hiroshima and the Atomic Bomb monument and museum. This place has the same kind of effect on visitors as a concentration camp in Europe. Horrific images and artefacts - I won’t go into too may details but let’s just say that some of the kids thought they may have taken it a step too far with the life-size models of the melting people running through the flames.

We then went on to a little town on the west coast of Japan called Hagi. It’s surrounded by mountains, and is well known for it's beautiful pottery and pretty little streets. We hired bikes and rode around all day, and Justin and I happened upon this funky little bar right on the beach with a delightful view. Obviously we decided that the kids needed a bit of free time, so we let them loose one the locals for an hour (this is an understatement - they have taken to saying Konichiwa to everyone who walks past, and often follow that up with an invitation to go swimming. Not sure why. Think that’s all they can say in Japanese).

Later that night we went out to a Karaoke box - quite a bizarre little place. It is literally a boxy room with a table and a huge TV screen and a microphone. Much like that scene in 'Lost in Translation', you program the songs you want into the TV and sing along as it blasts out through the speakers, while hilarious images are displayed on the screen (think early George Michael or Rick Astley video clips). As you can imagine, I was totally in my element. We played a game to get everyone to join in, where if they sing they get to choose a song for the next person. Fortuitously, ‘You’re the one that I want’ from Grease was chosen for me by some of the girls, which I performed in a very entertaining manner (don’t worry, there’s video evidence). The girls also chose a Justin Timberlake song for Justin - heh heh.

Kyoto was next on the itinerary. Having spent just two days there, I have decided that that’s where Adrian and I are going for our next holiday (okay, honey?). There are over 2000 temples, little cobble-stoned streets, markets, leafy parks, streams, bars with views of the river... it was just amazing. And the FOOD! (Can you believe that I'm this far into the e-mail and only now mentioning food??) Yesterday, Justin and I got rid of the kiddies (here's a map, go shopping, be back by 7) and went to a little restaurant near the Ginkoku-ji temple and had Sashimi and Kirin with a view over the whole city. The fish was incredible - mackerel, swordfish and salmon. Who would have thought that raw flesh could taste so good?

And while we’re on the food topic, had the best tempura I have ever tasted in Tokyo at this little lunch bar thingy. Prawns, squid, okra, pumpkin, served with rice and miso (are your mouths watering??)… Mmm.

Have had a couple of funny experiences so far - not digging the Japanese style toilets, for one. As I have mentioned to the girls, it's just weird being that close to the business. Now the host family I'm staying with have a very snazzy electronic toilet that plays music (!!!), can give you a bit of a watering (bidet) and flushes itself. There's a seat heater too, but I don't really need to use that at the moment.

The girls have been really good with the showing together in communal bathrooms thing, but the boys have been totally wussy about it, and have been going in one by one. Speaking of the boys, two of them arrived back at the hostel in Kyoto the other night (punctually, after finding their way back with the map we gave them) wearing matching pumpkin outfits. They had little orange berets with a little green stem on top and these orange suits made out of felt, with arm and leg holes and a Halloween pumpkin face. Most hilarious. Apparently they had been walking around Kyoto like this for an hour or so, saying ‘Konichiwa’ and asking people for high fives. Of course, we had to try them on - I believe there is photographic evidence of that too.

So now we’re at our sister school in the South East part of Honshu. My host family here in Ise is very nice (three kids - 18, 17 and 15) and Taka's wife is an excellent cook. She kind of runs around them all the time, serving, cooking, cleaning, etc. She was most impressed when I explained to her that my husband did all the washing and cleaning; Adrian - I think she wants you to come over and teach Taka a thing or two (he looked amused but also slightly nervous when this was suggested).

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1 comment:

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

Isn't it fun to relive our travel adventures?! I have kept two boxes of every letter that I recieved from people when I lived in Norway - also the journals I kept. I enjoy reading them to get me instantly back to what it was like being there!

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