Saturday, March 1, 2008

A New Challenger Approaches!! (Day 3) - The Exhibition, a baby, and Nabe

Friday morning, Jillian left for her trip, so it was just Kaori, Charlie and I. Our first errand was for food, and also to pick some 差知れ(さしいれ、SaShiIRe - after-event gifts) for Midori. The way Kaori explained it, sashiire are kind of like the oranges or treats one brings to a soccer or volleyball game for the players onces its over. They're both congratulatory, and refreshing!

We stopped by the mall to get refueled and pick up gifts, then made our way to Wind Farm, where the exhibition was taking place.

Wind Farm! Cafe and Gallery

Because Jillian was unable to attend, I promised I'd take lots of pictures. The exhibition was for Midori and her classmate. Midori does sculpture and metalwork, while her partner does photography.

Some of Midori's sculptures placed next to their clay molds

Some of Midori's classmate's photography

The center of the exhibition room, that's Charlie and Midori chatting on the left

We received programs for the exhibition, but they were entirely in Japanese so I was having a hard time reading them. Midori explained to us that her partner was working with [] (HiBi, or cracks) while she herself had taken on a plant motif. I can only imagine how much work they both must have put into their work, especially considering how much bronze needs to be worked and polished before it's ready for presentation.

This one was my favorite of Midori's classmate's work. I like how the crack branches out kind of like roots.

Charlie, Kaori and I were discussing the cracks, and how evocative the project was. It was interesting to see how much attention was being paid to something not only usually overlooked, but often also considered ugly, or even dangerous. Looking at them so closely brought about questions of how those cracks came to be, and about the general wear and tear of life. The weaving path of pictures on the floor are a collective photo of one large crack, which the artist suggested we walk upon. Charlie thought it was interesting that walking along the crack, which was haphazard, was more similar to the path of life than a typical road, which are usually fairly straight linear. I thought that the crack was interesting because it reminded me of when I was a kid and how the game wasn't to step on cracks, but didn't say anything. (This comes up later)

鈴木さんの「あいさつ」 Midori's "Aitsatsu," or "Greeting" I thought this would have been Jill's favorite if she had been able to come.

This one was one of my favorites of Midori's, since it reminded me of seaweed beneath the ocean. She said that it's Japanese title could be loosely translated to "rhyme," which she chose since the was inspired by sound for this one.

I really liked the way that the light fell on these two

What are these? That's for the viewer to decide!

Midori asked me about this piece in particular, saying that some of her friends had said that these reminded her of birds. I told her that my honest first impression was that of slugs, since there's a lot of them in the northwest. She seemed kind of surprised, but I assured her that slugs aren't a bad thing! In fact, there's lots of funny songs about slugs. She let us pick them up an investigate them more closely as well. One of the first things I noticed was how heavy they were, and on the bottom side, they'd been sand-papered to have a really rough texture. From a different angle, they look a lot like leaves, and from another angle, they can look kind of like cupped hands as well. I explained that Jill probably would've seen birds, where I saw slugs. Still, it was really interesting how many different things they could appear to be.

Kaori, Charlie, Midori and I at the exhibition. Midori looks a little upset... I hope it wasn't my slug comment! Although she assured me that it was a valuable thing to hear from an artistic standpoint.

Goodbye, Exhibition!

After the exhibition, Kaori, Charlie and I went to go visit Kaori's friend Keiko, who Jillian and I had gone with Kaori to go visit before. Charlie had visited Keiko and Nagomu (Keiko's baby) the last time he came to Miyazaki, back in November. He was surprised to see how big the baby had gotten!

Charlie goofing around with his hatamaki outside of Keiko's apartment

At first, Nagomu was not happy to see us. He was bawling and screaming and crying so much we didn't know what to do. Even Kaori's amazing charm couldn't get him to stop! Kaori explained that Keiko thought it was likely that he's hit that age where he just kind of cries about everything, but eventually he got tired and fell asleep. (We'd also tried feeding him, changing his diaper, playing with him, and many other things, but he really seemed to just need to wear himself out.

Aw... he's so cute when he's sleeping

I'm embarrassed to say that due to a late night and an early morning, (Thanks, Shiva) I was pretty tired, too.

I'll just close my eyes for... a... minute... zZz...

I was pretty mortified that I'd basically passed out on the floor, but Keiko and Kaori insisted that I sleep, and brought me a pillow and blankets, even! I felt really bad, but was too sleepy to refuse. While I slept, Keiko, Kaori and Charlie chatted and drank tea and ate some snacks that Kaori had picked up at the mall.

Don't worry, we both woke up eventually.

Nagomu likes Kaori a lot!

He likes Charlie, too, but mostly he likes pulling his hair, I think

After thanking Keiko for being such a lovely host, (I still felt bad for falling asleep!) Charlie and I hung out for a bit while Kaori and Tomomi prepared dinner. Kaori picked up a bunch of things for an amazing Nabe soup. (I bought some alcohol, since we had decided it was going to be a drinking night) It was just the four of us since Rumi was working and Jill was on a field trip. On my way to the store to get the booze, (Smirnoff Ice - reminds us of Evergreen) I ran into Midori's partner from the exhibition. She recognized me first, and thanked me for going to see her photos. I thanked her, too, and told her that it was really interesting.

As I was walking away, though, I realized that I wanted to say something about the "don't step on a crack, or you'll fall and break your back, (or your mother's back, depending)" thing. I couldn't decide if I should go back and try to talk to her about it, or if I should just let it go. I decided that I would regret it if I didn't tell her, so I went back and luckily found her just right where she was before. (I think she was waiting for someone) I did my best to explain in Japanese (since she said she wasn't very good at English) about the childhood game, and how her art was really impressive, and we chatted for a while about her pictures. She told me that she Midori had told her that I'd said that the one with the flower was my favorite, and she said that it was one of her favorites, too. We talked a bit about how it was neat to look closely at things that you don't normally pay much attention to. It was difficult at first, but I was really glad that I'd gone back to talk to her.

Dinner with Kaori, Tomomi and Charlie was amazing. We talked about all sorts of things, (Charlie is really easy to talk with, in English or in Japanese) and the Nabe was delicious. Kaori and Tomomi had put in mushrooms, noodles, chicken, beef, tofu, cabbage, daikon radish, mochi... probably more, too! It was a wonderful way to spend our last night with Charlie.

Kaori, Tomomi, Charlie and I enjoying some tasty Nabe at Kaori's place

The next day, Kaori and I dropped Charlie off at the ferry terminal. I was sorry to see him go, but was also preoccupied with how soon I'll be returning, too. Charlie, having been in Japan for a year, has had lots of crazy experiences, and has also dealt with all of the ups and downs with traveling aboard. It was really a blessing to be able to talk about a lot of things, things both at Evergreen, and in Japan with him. I was also really grateful to have someone to spend time with while Jill was gone, since Shiva, while sometimes friendly, isn't much of a conversationalist.

Farewell, Charlie! Have a safe trip back to Kobe!

As things are starting to wrap up here, and my trip comes to a close, there's... a lot that I want to say. But! I'm rushing out the door right now, since I want to meet Jillian at the bus stop when she comes back from her trip! So... that reflection will have to wait! (Sorry!) Thanks for reading, and whew! Lots of writing today. Sorry it was all kind of slapdash and a little rushed. Until next time! (Other stuff happened that I missed, too!)

PS Note Disclaimer Thing - Some of the pictures I've used were originally taken by Charlie, Midori, or Jillian. Just f.y.i. They're probably the good pictures, since my pictures usually turn out kinda blah. That's all!

A New Challenger Approaches!! (Day 2) - Cape Toi

After leaving Kojima Island, we hit kind of a snag in our plan to go to Cape Toi. Due to typhoon damage, a large part of the road was being worked on, but the construction workers pointed us toward a detour.

This road was really narrow, and also got dangerously steep...

Kaori was getting really worried driving on such a strange path, and Charlie commented that it really seemed about the size of a walking path, not a road. I was personally really grateful that I wasn't the one driving, but was curious as to what we would do if someone came up from the other direction. (The construction workers, we found out later, had radios with which to prevent this from happening) Fortunately, we made it alive to Cape Toi, the Cape of Horses!

Um, thanks for the welcome, but could you please get out of the way?

At Cape Toi, we went to the horse museum, which was a sort of natural history exhibition that explained the effect of the horses on the ecosystem. According to Kaori, the horses were probably brought to Cape Toi by samurai in the past three hundred years or so who were using them for war, but no longer needed them. Ever since, the horses have just kind of stayed there.

Two of my favorite things at the museum were the deer mystery, and the folktales. The deer mystery is that there's one male deer who lives in the cape among the horses, who seems to think he is a horse. Nobody knows how he get there, since there aren't really any deer in the area, so the most likely theory is that he somehow swam there. The horses have for the most part accepted him into the community, fortunately. There were some really cute pictures, but I didn't take any pictures in the museum, since I'm not sure if that's okay or not.

The other really fascinating the was the folktales. My favorite one was about when the gods were deciding the lifespan of the various beings on earth. The short story is that when the gods asked horses how long of a life they wanted, they turned down the initial 40 years offered to them, saying that 40 year is too long of a life for a horse, since they work so hard. They settled on 20, and that's why horses live such short lives. Next was the dog, who also didn't want a really long life, saying that with old age comes suffering - they didn't want to have problems with being sickly or immobile, so they would have a short life of only 10 years. Finally, came humans, who, when offered 40 years to live, complained that that wasn't enough time for them to do everything they wanted to do. So, the gods decided that they would give humans the extra years that the other animals didn't want, but at a price. They decided that when humans turn 30, they need to work as hard a horse, since they were taking the years that the horse turned down, and when they turned 60, they would suffer from their bodies debilitating, since they were taking the years the dog had turned down.

Or something like that. I might be a bit off on the numbers, but I really liked the story.

Oops... poor lighting! Due to contact issues, I had to don my glasses. Luckily for Jill, her hat didn't run away during the boat ride!

After the museum, we all started to get pretty hungry, since we hadn't really eaten at all that day. (Jill had brought some chocobread, but it can only go so far!) Still, we had a lot of things that we wanted to see before heading back, which was unfortunate since there's not a whole lot of civilization, and thus not a lot of food, out on the cape. What was worse, I was having some problems with my contract lenses, and eventually ended up just trashing them for lack of supplies. (My fault)

We made a quick visit to a little shrine in an odd spot on a cliff, and once again, I saw a tiny path, and got curious - finding another mini secret shrine in the wilderness!

Okay, it's not much of a shrine, but still an interesting find!

Next up we stopped by the Cape Toi lighthouse, where we were grateful to find a small omiyage shop. Fortunately for us, where there's omiyage (souvenirs) there's food! Granted, it was just snacks like dried fruit and things, but still delicious and satisfying! Once we were sated, we made our way up the hill to the lighthouse.

Cape Toi Lighthouse

I'm actually a pretty big fan of lighthouses, despite not knowing all that much about them. On a field trip along the Olympic Peninsula with my American Literature class last year, we were supposed to visit some, but I got hopelessly lost in the woods instead. (Whoops) This one, while small, was still pretty neat, and had an amazing view!

The view from the lighthouse - isn't is beautiful?

Throughout the day Charlie had commented on how he couldn't believe it was February with the amazing weather we'd been having. Of course, it was a little windy since we were so close to the sea, but the sun was shining brightly and the sky and water were both so clear that it was hard to complain.

Kaori and Charlie demonstrating the presence of the wind

After a quick visit to the mini-lighthouse museum on the top of the hill, (Lots of information about the development of lighthouses in Japan, and some pictures and examples of the inventors and their lightbulbs) we began the journey back to Miyazaki. Not a moment to soon, too, 'cause we were all starving! Kaori and Charlie took the opportunity to catch up a bit while Jill and I snoozed in the back of the car. Thanks to Kaori, we were able to make it back over that treacherous narrow road once again, although I was able to sleep through the terror of traveling over it this time.

When we got back - yakinikku! Oh my goodness, was it amazing. We had to call it an early night, since Jillian was going to be leaving at 8:30 the next morning for her field trip, but while she slept Charlie and I watched The Taste of Tea, which felt kind of like a cross between I Heart Huckabees and Little Miss Sunshine, except that I think Tea came first, and was like, ten times better than the other two combined. (Don't get me wrong, both of the American movies were great, but this movie totally floored me. I actually cried!)

Jill, Kaori, Charlie and I preparing to feast on the roasted flesh of various animals. (Apparently, one of the things we ate were cow's ears... I had no idea!)

So, yes. Whew... almost caught up. I've got to finish posting before Jill gets back! Type type type the day away...

A New Challenger Approaches!! (Day 2) - Kojima Island

Thursday was set to be another travel day, with Kaori playing chauffeur. (Thank you so much for driving, Kaori!) Luckily for us, the weather was amazing, and the drive was nearly as scenic and gorgeous as the destination.

Miyazaki-ken shoreline as seen from Kaori's car. The water is super clear! (I missed the Devil's Washboard again... sorry all!)

The drive took us about an hour and a half or so, and since Jillian was the only one who has actually been to Kojima Island before, we had to be careful about directions. (Jillian, thankfully, has a really good memory, and the map Midori gave us was really handy)

There it is, Kojima Island! You can kind of see the little dock stretching out on the right side of the picture

Something interesting about the island that Jill told us is that it only recently, like within the last fifty years or so, became an island. A big storm washed away the land bridge that used to connect the island to the coast, so the monkeys that live there are now pretty much completely isolated. For a biologist like Jillian, it makes for really interesting study.

For non-biologists like this goofy crew, it's mostly just fun and pretty, but also interesting

Unfortunately for us, we couldn't find a boat, and far too late discovered that in order to get to the island, you're supposed to call ahead and make a reservation. While Charlie and Kaori planned out what to do next, Jill and I explored the beach.

Ooh, pretty sea shells!

A sad little sea star skeleton. Rest in peace, Mr. (Or Ms.) Starfish.

Fortunately for us, Kaori got really lucky and was able to contact the boat guy, who was literally at the parking lot in less than five minutes after the phone call. He said that he could take us to the island, (for the regular price of about $10 per person) but that he couldn't guarantee that we'd see the monkeys. They usually only come out to play in the morning, and since it was about 1:00 or so when we got there, they'd probably gone into hiding or were looking for food.

Still wanting to see the island, we decided to go with him, so he took us on his little boat and we went out to cruise around the island.

Here is the little cove where the monkeys are said to usually play, unfortunately, as he warned, it was deserted.

It would be dishonest to say that we weren't a little disappointed, but we couldn't say he didn't warn us, either. He told us that sometimes, though, you can find the monkeys in other spots, and that he knew of some likely places they might be hiding. So, after making sure it was okay with us, he took us to another spot he thought they might be likely to be.

Wait a minute, what's that on those rocks over there?

Oh my god! They're adorable!

The boat man pulled up to the shore and told us that we could disembark on the rocks, but that we couldn't bring any food with us, and that we should not touch the monkeys. Pictures, obviously, were okay to take. As he tossed the monkeys some nuts, they basically went berserk, and some of them even started fighting! It was a little scary at first, but he assured us that we were safe.

While the bigger monkeys chased each other around, these little guys waited off to the side for it to be safe for scrounge around for nuts.

Jillian was able to identify which monkey was the troop leader, and the boat man, (who I think might also have been a researcher) told us a lot of things about the monkeys and how they live in the island. Unfortunately for me, he had a semi-strong Miyazaki-ben, and also spoke really fast, so I couldn't understand most of what he was saying. He apologized for not knowing English, but thought it was really neat that we'd come all the way from America to see these monkeys. The monkeys, apparently not afraid of humans at all, were pretty comfortable with us being close.

Some of them came up REALLY close

When it came time to return to the shore, we were all sad to go. The boat guy could make the monkey sing, too, which was a really neat way to depart. He made a noise that went kind of like ロロロロ or "Ro Ro Ro Ro!" and all of the monkeys would respond in a kind of singsong shouting. To be completely honest, the noise they make is kind of like a pig's squeal, at least to my ears, but together they would made a kind of melody. It was really amazing, and cemented the memory remarkably.

さよなら、おさるさん!Goodbye, monkeys! We'll miss you!

On our way back to the shore, the boat man also cruised around a bit more and high speed, taking some really sharp turns to kind of tip the boat around a bit. He told us to hang on and send the boat soaring over the waves. It was scary, but hilariously fun! Jill had to hang onto her hat tightly. After bidding the man farewell and thanking him for such an amazing experience, we headed out to Cape Toi.

A New Challenger Approaches!! (Day 1) - Midori

Charlie arrived on Wednesday - in time for lunch with Hirase-Sensei! He also brought along a damsel in distress. Er... he also brought along my luggage. Long story short, I left some stuff in Kobe because I thought I'd be coming back sooner than I actually did. And by some, I mean a lot. Basically, all of the gifts Jill and I have been buying for everyone back home. It's a pretty big suit case... thanks again, Charlie!

Wednesday night we had dinner with our friend Midori, who is had just finished up preparations for a big exhibition. She was kind enough to host, and invited Jillian, Charlie, Kaori and I to spend the evening with her.

Kaori, Jillian, Midori, Charlie and I. This is the "Serious" picture. You'll see why later.

To my embarrassment, Jillian did all of the cooking on our end. She made the amazing chicken nanban that Kaori's mother taught her the recipe for. Kaori and Midori also made a really tasty udon dish, salad, and rice, and Midori also shared an amazing crunchy apple pie with us, as well as ice cream, edamame, and some snacks from her exhibition. Kaori, in addition to helping Midori with ingredients and cooking, also brought the drinks. Charlie and I felt really bad, but they assured is that it was okay. (Jillian had also planned to make french toast, but we were all so throughout stuffed already, and with plenty of leftovers!)

Quite a feast!

Charlie, being amazing at Japanese, helped conversation flow quite quickly, and Kaori, Midori, Jillian and Charlie were always ready to help me if I didn't understand something. Midori also helped Jill, Charlie, Kaori and I plan our trip for the next day. We chatted all night about things ranging from German sweets (which Midori also shared with us) to Japanese Love Hotels, and didn't leave until nearly midnight. (Midori is a bit of a night owl, it seems) It's always really interesting to chat with Midori and Kaori, who have both been to Evergreen, and both know English really well. Midori is actually a really international person, and has traveled to parts of Europe, America, and Asia. (Probably more!) She also knows French, and maybe German? I'm not sure. Midori has helped Jillian and I out a lot with making reservations and things throughout our trip, and even helped me get my flight ticket for leaving Miyazaki for Japan. Such an amazing person!

And now, the silly picture. Jill and Midori are making mustaches with their hair. Me... well, I'm just being creepy.

And so, we were all planned out for the next day. On the agenda was Kojima island, famous for its monkeys, (YAY!) and Cape Toi, famous for its horses. (Also yay!) Jillian and I had wanted to go to Midori's exhibition, but since Jillian was leaving for her GSO trip to Nagasaki / Saga on Saturday, she wasn't going to be able to go. (Kaori, Charlie and I were able to attend, though - more on that later!)

So, yes. Next time: Kojima and Cape Toi. Yahoo!

Quick Pix - Dinner with the Maeda Girls

Monday and Tuesday Jill and I took it pretty easy, although on Monday night, Kaori was kind enough to invite Jillian and I over for dinner. She wanted me to meet her sisters, and it was also kind of a mini-goodbye party.

Rumi, (Youngest) Kaori, (Eldest) Tomomi (Second-born) and Jillian.

The girls made Takoyaki, which is nearly as fun to make as it is to eat! Normally it's kind of a fair food, and one time at Evergreen, Kaori had a Takoyaki party at Jillian's. It's a really fun sort of group thing to do. Our Takoyaki had varying ingredients including mochi, cheese, octopus, sausage, green peppers and potato. Tasty tasty.

Tomomi, Jillian, me, and Rumi

The Maeda family is really sweet, and I'm really glad that I finally got to meet Kaori's sisters! Rumi and Tomomi are both studying to be nurses, and also work part time. Busy busy.

Wait, this is completely unrelated! There's Jill on the right, Hirase-Sensei in the middle, and whose shirt is that on the left? Could it be...? (This poorly-taken picture was the result of my camera's batteries dying at a critical moment. This is at one of our Wednesday day lunches with Hirase-Sensei. Present are Max, Charlie, Hirase-Sensei, Jill, Kaori, and me. We just... can't see them all.

Whew! Almost through with the posts! Just a little bit more...

Aya ~ Hina Matsuri

Whoops, fake-out. We did lots of other things before Charlie came, but he's coming up, I promise!

On the day after we got back from Fukuoka, Satomi was kind enough to offer to take us to Aya, a small town to the North of Miyazaki. She wanted to spend some time together before she leaves for her trip to Singapore, and suggested that we go and visit the Hina Matsuri festival. She even offered to provide Jillian with a kimono to wear, which was super sweet of her.

Satomi and Jillian in Aya, aren't they lovely?

Although Jill and I were kind of dazed from our Northwest Kyushu trip, we still had a fantastic time. I also got to meet Satomi's parents, although only briefly. (We stopped by her place to pick up some hair accessories) I was honestly a tiny bit jealous since I had dressed slightly boringly, but my envy didn't last. Satomi took us to a really cool traditional restaurant in Aya with really pretty and fancy food.

Rice, Miso Soup, and Croquettes

Ack... I forgot to take pictures until after I'd eaten most of the food... the presentation looks like it was pretty nice though, huh?

The Hina matsuri Festival, which I wrote about back here, happens in the springtime, so the weather was conveniently agreeable on Sunday. (It was especially good for Jill and Satomi, since kimonos are kind of hard to get around in.) There were lots of people out and about looking at all of the dolls, which were on display all throughout the town. There was even a map that you could stamp after you visited each spot, and the map specified which doll collections were owned privately (by families) and which ones were owned by companies or businesses in the area.

One of the company-owned doll collections

Something I noticed pretty quickly is that Jillian was attracting a lot of attention. After closer inspection, I realized that she was probably one of only a handful of foreigners in Aya, since it's a pretty small town, and definitely was the only one wearing a kimono. Pretty much every five minutes someone would approach us and compliment Jillian on how lovely she was. We heard 「ああ、かわいい!」 (Wow, cute!) 「きれいな!」 (Beautiful!) 「すてき!」 (Nice!) more times that day than I could count. I think that Jill was a little embarrassed, but she was definitely having a good time. I couldn't help but smile and feel really fortunate to be so close to someone so bright and lovely.

Satomi and Jillian at one of the doll displays

Jillian being offered to come get some あめのわたあめ、almost literally "cotton candy"

One of the community centers was showing some really pretty kimonos, and also serving some special soup at a really inexpensive price. The town was also littered with street vendors selling handmade wares. It was had really nice community feel that's hard to find in big cities.

A public kimono display - the kimonos were owned by families living in Aya

Childrens' photo spot - none of us could easily fit into these, least of all the ladies in their kimonos

One of the collest doll collections we saw was one owned by a local middle school. Not only were the dolls impressive, but they'd also made a neat little mountain landscape for the dolls to sit next to.

A landscape like this would cost hundreds of dollars in a store! Maybe even over a thousand!

Aya also provided a great opportunity to practice Japanese. While Jillian and Satomi visited the restroom, (Which is quite an endeavor in those kimonos...) I chatted with a father from Oita who had brought his wife and two daughters to come see the dolls. While with Jill and Satomi, we also gave a woman directions who was looking for a particular doll display. (Giving the directions was easy, trying to figure out which one she wanted to go to was the hard part)

After visiting the dolls, we went to Aya castle, which isn't a huge castle, but was still neat to go visit.

The mini-bridge Aya Castle - on the grounds is also an international art museum

I'm not familiar with the history of Aya Castle, but there were still some neat exhibits inside.

Wait a minute, the symbol on this chestplate looks familiar...

These men are made of wax. They don't speak.

Castle interior - it was very creaky and drafty

These stairs are steep and slippery. They were challenge for me even, so I can't imagine what it must have been like for those in more restrictive clothing. (Again, sorry, girls in kimonos!)

Luckily, despite the steep stairs and poorly-fitting slippers. (Visitors in the castle are provided with slippers, which are kind of dangeorus large) the three of us made it out alive. Props to Jill and Satomi for surviving! It was really neat to be able to experience Hina Matsuri first-hand, especially in a small town like Aya.

Oh! Jillian got attacked by the blink-monster. :(

Whew! Four days in a row of traveling! It was really nice to see Satomi again before we both left Japan, though. I'm really grateful that Jillian has so many good friends here in Miyazaki. As I prepare to leave, I can take comfort in knowing that she'll be well taken care of.

Coming soon: Charlie arrives!