I am officially another year older and I couldn't think of a better place to celebrate than in Japan! Although I missed my friends and family back in the states, my close friends here made sure that I would always remember my 21st!
After a pretty hum-drum day of classes, four of us went to go get dinner at this small place that had no English menu and no pictures. We essentially told the chef, chicken and rice. What came back was some glorious fried chicken, a bowl of steaming rice, and two grapes that were a gift from God! We scarfed it down ignoring the fact that our feet were falling asleep after sitting on them for too long. Afterwards we casually strolled back to the hotel, little did I know the people back at the hotel were scurrying around to set up a surprise birthday party complete with a cake saying, "happy 21st birthday Diana". I was completely surprised when I opened the door and so grateful for the gesture. I had plenty to drink and had good company, I couldn't ask for much more. We eventually made our way to the karaoke bar that night for an hour of singing and shouting. But the best part was after leaving the karaoke bar, a group of Japanese boys chimed in with our group in singing happy birthday. So here's a special blog shout out to all of those who helped celebrated my 21st!
But my birthday wasn't the only exciting event to occur while in Matsuyama. Our classes were held on the Ehime University campus, a 20 minute walk from our hotel, both Thursday and Friday. We learned about famous Japanese works by Hearn, Soseki, and Oe and some basic volcano geology to prepare ourselves for the next destination, Kumamoto and Mt. Aso. Since the typhoon that passed over made conditions unfavorable for us to go rice harvesting, we also attended a lecture on the geography of paddy fields, which have been around for 2,000 years!
We were also able to visit Matsuyama Castle where we tried on suits of armor, watched a traditional tea ceremony, pondered and wrote haiku on the garden grounds, and rode a chair lift from the castle on the hill to the streets of Matsuyama. The view of the city was phenomenal.
We also had the opportunity to meet many new people from this area, students and families alike. After our adventures at Matsuyama castle we convened at the main gate of Ehime University to pair up with a few Japanese students in the area. My group consisted on Brian, Darrick, Aaron, Alexis, Danna, and the two Japanese students, Tomomi and Ayari. We walked around for a bit trying to figure out where we wanted to eat. We settled on a buffet location where there was one price for all you could eat and drink. It was so good and we pretty much had Tomomi and Ayari decide which foods to get since they could read the menus! It was difficult at first to communicate with them because their english was fairly broken and we hardly knew any japanese, but as the night progressed it got easier. We joked, laughed, apparently Brian started talking about taxes, and had a good time hanging out as dishes and drinks came and went. Afterwards, the girls decided they wanted to treat us to an hour of karaoke. Hopefully we didn't scare them off too much because we sing all together not just with the microphones, unlike traditional karaoke. It was great learning about japanese culture from kids our age.
The next day we boarded the bus bright and early for Tobe, famous for its pottery. I was fortunate enough to sit next to one of the students who came with us, her name was Noho. How fortunate that I would be able to meet and get to know so many people in Matsuyama! In Tobe we explored many of the shops and museums showcasing the beautiful talents of pottery makers and painters. We even got to try our hand at painting Tobe cups which will be fired and shipped back to Augie where we will get to see the final product. I can't wait!!!
That night we had a free night and Dr. Wolf invited the geology folks to join him on a trip to the famous local onsen, Dogo. We strolled through the shops, sampled a few treats, and ate at a local restaurant where I had some wonderful sushi and rice!!! Then it was time to hit the hot spring. So this was my first experience in a public bath and I think at one point I almost passed out. It was so hot. The tickets (about $4) allowed you an hour in the bath, which is more than enough time. They are gender separated and thank goodness because you will get thrown out if you wear any clothing. After you wash off at one of the shower stations, you slip into the steamy water and soak away the stress. Ahhhhhhh. It felt really relaxing for the first 15 minutes then I started to get really hot and was getting a headache and dizzy so I got out and did a cool shower before getting in again. After another two rotations of that I decided I had had enough and went to towel off and escape the steam! Although a bit exhausting and draining I'm glad I was able to experience this onsen since public baths are such a common occurrence in Asian cultures. All I can say is that afterwards I definitely won the reddest face contest!
I mentioned earlier that we were able to interact with a family while staying in Matsuyama. This was such a wonderful experience. The family I, and another Augie student Brooke, was paired with seemed like the kind of family I would have grown up in if I was born in Japan. The dad and son came to pick us up at the hotel in their car and drove us to the edge of town to their home. The mom and daughter, who spoke very little english, were at home. We greeted them politely and introduced ourselves then situated ourselves at the table, sitting on pillows on the floor, for tea. We had sweets and cold tea, which were both delicious, as we told them about when we went to a traditional tea ceremony. After we had finished the dad and son took us to the local mall to shop and get dinner. We stopped in a few hundred yen shops and I found some dinosaur origami and pretty origami paper which the dad bought for us. Then we headed to the grocery store to pick up sushi, sashimi, and an Osaka favorite, Takoyaki. I thought that we had plenty of food for six of us, but when we sat down the mom placed bowls of cucumber salad with octopus, miso soup, gyoza, and beef stew in front of us. I had so much good food at my home stay and I will miss their home cooking! I tried some new dishes and some favorites. They even provided some delicious sake and wine to enjoy with dinner. After we had all eaten our fill the daughter pulled out a small notebook where she had written some questions she had for us. We talked about our home life, hobbies, and exchanged gifts. I gave them a model Caterpillar backhoe and in return i was given the #1 soy sauce according to the dad ad two self portraits drawn by the son and daughter. The dad played some guitar and sang in Japanese. It was a great evening of relaxing and experiencing everyday life of Japan. I will be sure to keep in contact with them and send them a care package when I get back in the states, filled with american things.
I'm sad to leave Matsuyama. I've had such a wonderful experience here for only being here four days. But its off to Beppu via bus, ferry, and tram!
Thanks for reading! And I guess I enjoyed Matsuyama so much that I forgot to take Spot out and snap a sneaky pic of him! Be on the look out in the next post for Spot! Ooops!