Sunday, September 20, 2009

Off to an awesome start!

(Be warned! This is an even longer post than my usual rambling ones! =P)

For a while I've been wondering if I made the right decision to stay in Towada instead of traveling somewhere (overseas or within Japan) for this five-day weekend (a.k.a. "Silver Week"). But things have gotten off to such an awesome start that I'm really happy that I made the choice to stay put!

Friday night was bowling followed by all-you-can-drink and all-you-can-eat-yakiniku with everyone from the Board of Education (our section plus the general affairs, sports & recreation, lifelong learning and culture sections). It wasn't my best game by any stretch of imagination, but considering that I think it's a great thing if I make it past 70, my scores of 99 and 88 were more than satisfactory. The yakiniku afterwards was nice, too, since it's been a while since I've had meat for dinner. =P (Yes, I've been back on my "too-lazy-to-cook diet" of raw veggies for dinner recently.)

Then today I went to Aomori City with a coworker-friend (Muranaka-san whom I mentioned in my Aki Matsuri post). We went to the Michinoku Traditional Wooden Boat Museum in the morning, had lunch in the 14th floor restaurant at Aspam (great view of the sea!), checked out the Youkai (Japanese demons/spirits/monsters) at the Aomori Kyodokan (Culture Museum), and coffee/tea & desserts at Patisserie & Cafe Chandola.

The Boat Museum was right by the water, so before going in we stopped to take a look and to breathe in the sea air. Living in the middle of Aomori Prefecture, I always forget that Japan is an island and that it's not that far for me to go to the sea/ocean. It was also interested to see lots of old men out fishing; I didn't think they would be able to catch anything that late in the morning (10am-ish?) but apparently fish are still out at that time.

I didn't know what to expect of the Boat Museum (other than seeing different boats), but it was pretty cool to see fishing gear--like three-pronged spear-like things for getting uni (sea urchin) and wakame (seaweed) collecting things. (I didn't take any pictures inside the museum, but I'm sure you can find some online! =P) It was also neat walking through a wooden boat that they made (and sailed to Hokkaido, I think) using old time methods, as well as a Chinese junk used in a drama.

Lunch at Aspam was good. We actually had "dessert" before lunch, in the form of hotate (scallop) soft serve ice cream!! It was pretty salty and the more you ate the stronger the scallop taste got, but it wasn't weird-tasting enough to prevent me from finishing it. =P Then we went up to the 14th floor restaurant for a proper lunch. Even though Friday's kyushoku (school lunch) was curry, I ended up going for the seafood curry set. ^__^ It was tasty, but really filling. The nice thing about the restaurant was that we could choose to sit at a counter looking out to the sea. With my natural habit of eating quickly combined with all my practice gobbling down kyushoku, I usually finish my meals in about 10-15 minutes, but the atmosphere was so relaxing it even slowed down my eating pace! For once I managed to enjoy a leisurely meal. (I'm sure the interesting conversation(s) I was having with Muranaka-san also helped to slow me down.)

After lunch it was onto the "main event." When I talked with Muranaka-san at the enkai (party) after taiko for Aki Matsuri, he mentioned the youkai exhibit going on at the Kyodokan. Thanks to manga like xxxHolic, Hyakki Yakou Shou, Natsume Yuujinchou and Mononoke I've gotten to know a little bit about Japanese demons/spirits, so I was really interested in checking out the exhibit.

And I'm really glad I went because I was able to see lots of interesting pictures/displays. For example, there was a series of images hyaku monogatari (100 stories), an Edo period game where people got together at night, lit 100 candles and told 100 "ghost" (I use the term loosely, here) stories--blowing out one candle with each store. When they finished telling the stories, apparently some sort of creature/ghost would appear. The one thing I didn't understand was why people would want to summon a supernatural creature, but various online sources suggest it was used as a test of courage. I'd actually read about it in xxxHolic before, but I didn't really get what it was all about until today.

There was also a set of scrolls depicting people who had died undergoing judgment and receiving punishment according to their sins in life. Apparently the scrolls were linked to Buddhist belief and were shown to children as cautionary tales, i.e. "if you do bad things like this, this is how you'll be punished". I thought it was interesting because it reminded me of Dante's Inferno and the various circles of Hell.

They also had some extremely creepy tengu (bird-like creatures with long beaks/noses) "mummies"--they were far too real-looking for my comfort!

Apart from the exhibit, there was also the permanent collection which had ancient stuff (pottery, axeheads, etc.), wildlife and "olden time" clothes/housewares, etc. from all over Aomori Prefecture. It was especially interesting to see a Japanese person's depiction of foreigners who came to Japan. Oh, and there was a chart of Tsugaru and Nanbu ben words for body parts which I thought was pretty awesome!

When we finished at the Kyodokan, we went to the main street to look for a place to have coffee. We found a shop (Chandola) right away, but when I looked at the menu and all the desserts offered I realized that I was still pretty full and suggested that we keep walking. I wasn't hungry, but I did want to find a coffee shop or someplace where we could drink tea/coffee and chat. (I guess I felt like I wanted a slightly more casual atmosphere than Chandola seemed to have.) The next shop that we saw was already closed, though, so we ended up going back to Chandola.

I (re-)learned then that I have very little self-control when it comes to sweets. Despite all my protests of not being hungry, I ended up ordering a chocolate parfait along with my Darjeeling tea (the picture was just too tempting!) And it
was delicious. The vanilla ice cream had what I presumed were real flecks of vanilla bean, and the chocolate ice cream was also good. Plus there was mango and raspberry sauce--yum! I was also quite impressed that they had a glass-covered tea light to keep the tea warm, and that they brought a timer to the table with the tea so you'd know when it was done steeping!

In a rare instance of my "separate stomach for desserts" failing me, however, I only actually managed to eat about 1/2 to 2/3 of the parfait and had to rely on Muranaka-san to finish it off for me. ^^;;

After that it was back to Towada!

It was a really fun trip, but I felt a bit bad because I was the one who asked him if he wanted to hang out over the long weekend but he was the one who ending doing all the driving and planning for the trip. ^^;; He also paid for everything--except for the hotate soft serve. @_@ We actually had a minor tussle over the Chandola bill (which I had managed to grab slightly before him but didn't move out of his reach fast enough), but I ended up giving up because I felt like it was better to gracefully accept his kindness than to insist on having my way. (But I'm definitely doing the treating the next time we hang out!!)

That aside, though, it really was a great day. I really appreciated getting to see things I wouldn't have ventured out to see on my own. Plus I learned a lot--not just from the places, but also from our conversations. For example, somehow we got to talking about the Governor General of Canada (hereafter GG), and I realized that I really didn't know much about the position: only that the GG was the ambassador for the Queen and that the function was mostly ceremonial. I remembered Adrienne Clarkson, but I blanked on the current GG's name--well, I thought it was "Michelle", but it's actually Michaƫlle Jean. I also told Muranaka-san that the Prime Minister picked the GG, but actually, the PM only recommends a choice, and the Queen actually does the appointing.

But really, I had no idea that the role of GG included such a lofty responsibilities as being the "guarantor of responsible government" and "Commander-in-Chief" of Canada (although, again, "Commander-in-Chief is pretty much a title that only requires "honour[ing], recogniz[ing] and encourag[ing] Canadian troops." But at least I was right about the GG welcoming foreign dignitaries and promoting Canadian culture.

Other than that, I also learned from Muranaka-san that the origin of "unlucky 13" is from the Last Supper. Since Jesus plus the 12 disciples made 13 at the dinner table, it became a superstition that 13 people at a table would result in one person's death within the year. There are other opinions, but Nathaniel Lachenmeyer, author of "13: The Story of the World's Most Notorious Superstition" suggests that most of the other origin stories are the result of people going back and imposing the superstition on older stories; the Last Supper story is the one that was generally known/accepted when the superstition was first recorded.

I think Muranaka-san is a good influence on me because he likes history and enjoys studying. I like history, too, but I've been too lazy to study. After talking with him, though, I feel like I want to start doing some studying of my own again--Canadian or Japanese history, or just something! Got to keep my brain active!

Anyway, after coming back from Aomori I had a bit of time to relax at home before going to Hide-san's house for conversational Japanese practice. I got lots of advice for good places to go eat while Nathan's in Japan. ^__^ So it was pretty much a full day of speaking Japanese for me (which is good because I don't really study on my own). Well, admittedly when I was really stuck for an explanation in Japanese with Muranaka-san, I ended up saying things in English (and usually he could understand) or using my dictionary, but it was mostly Japanese. =P

When I came back from that (and grocery shopping) I noticed a white envelope sticking out from my mailbox. I didn't think I was expecting anything, but when I got to it I found the xxxHolic/Tsubasa Chronicles drama CD I'd sent away for in the summer! (I could get it by sending in stamps I collected from the special manga/DVD editions of xxxHolic 14-15 and Tsubasa Chronicles 26-27!) And the great thing is that the booklet has the script, so I can actually figure out what exactly they're saying!

Then when I woke up this morning, instead of just checking the weather on TV (like I usually do), I ended up surfing randomly for a bit. And I found a show called Top Runner (or something like that) interviewing Oguri Shun!!! <3 They showed clips of his early work, like his debut in the 1995 NHK drama Hachidai Shogun Yoshimune. When talking about the drama, Oguri Shun said that he thought that if Shogun Yoshimune had ruled longer, Japan might be a country more like Canada!

He explained that although he didn't know much about Canada, when he visited, he saw that Canada had both English and French (languages and culture) and he thought that made Canada a country more open to different peoples/cultures. So he thought that if Yoshimune had ruled longer, Japan might've had a greater influx of foreign culture/learning and would be a more international country now. (Shogun Yoshimune relaxed the rules restricing the importation of foreign books into Japan and started rangaku, Western studies.) Go Canada!

So yes, my long weekend is off to an awesome start so far! And I still have the Kirita Jinja Matsuri (shrine festival) this afternoon, plus all of Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday to look forward to!