Osashibudi, long time no see! Sorry for the long hiatus; I just got back from two amazing weeks of summer vacation with my mom, but no computer access. We went to Akame Taki waterfalls, Osaka Tenjin festival, Kyoto, (the Golden Temple, Imperial Palace, Water Temple, and a Geisha show), Mount Fuji (I climbed all the way to the top!), Shirahama (where we went to the beach, Adventure World Zoo and Theme Park, Sandanbeki cliffs, scuba diving, the glass bottom boat, moon island, Shirahama fireworks festival, Shirahama bon odori dance festival, and a lot more!), Toba (dolphin island, pearl island, Toba bay cruise), Ise Grand Shrine, and Nara (deer park, largest bronze statue in the world, temples, shrines, and lantern festival). I just love the Japanese ocean! And my students prepared three feasts for my mother and me. My Thursday night class threw her a welcome party, then my Wednesday class a midway party, and my church a bon voyage party! Everything was so spectacular I can hardly begin to describe it! I miss my mom already. It was so nice having someone else in my apartment, even if it made things a little cramped.
So, where to begin? How about when Mom arrived on Thursday the 22nd of July? I took the day off from work so I could be at Kansai airport to pick her up right at 4:00 when her plane landed. The flight board said it arrived at 3:45, but I waited for over an hour. I was beginning to worry when she finally ran through the exit gate of customs, throwing her arms around me and sputtering about how long the customs line was. She was just in time to catch the 5:05 bus to Uehomachi train station and the 6:15 train to Nabari, making it back at 7:20 sharp. The train really scared Mom. We were in the middle of rush hour, packed in like sardines. The first thing she noted when she entered my apartment (after the three flights of stairs we had to haul her luggage up), was the wave of oven-hot air that hit her face. “So this is why you`re always complaining about the heat!”
But there was no reason to turn on the air conditioner, because just a few minutes later Pastor Kumi called and said she was waiting at the curb to pick up Mom and me. Mom was further shocked to find the pastor`s family along with ten of my students and church members awaiting her with tons of home-cooked Japanese food. We started with introductions, then while Pastor Kumi was fitting me into a tight yukata in the Sunday school room, the church members teased poor Mom with repeated attempts to get her to eat octopus. She wasn`t familiar enough with Japanese humor to realize they were only joking. I had told them specifically that she would not eat any octopus. But once I returned to the main room to guide her through the foreign dishes, she found plenty of things she liked. Salad, of course, and fresh fruit, pork soup, custard, and fried chicken. At her insistence, I carefully steered her clear of anything raw or fishy, which excluded about half the dishes, including fried squid, octopus balls, caviar, and salmon guts. But I enjoyed myself some juicy, succulent eel! Quite a delicacy in Japan and my first time to try it.
While she stayed with me, Mom slept on my futon in the living room directly beneath my one and only window air conditioner while I slept in my boiling but soft bed. It was an arrangement easily agreed upon, since I`d rather be hot than sleep on the floor, and she`d rather sleep on the floor than be hot.
On Friday morning I went to school but let Mom sleep in to get over her jet lag (which she dealt with surprisingly well). At noon, my supervisor and I picked her up and took her to a nice Chinese restaurant in town along with three other English teachers. We all had a very nice lunch, though everyone was pretty quiet. Then Mom came to school with me and I showed her around. I was surprised when the principle and vice principle asked to speak with us us. The secretary brought us tea and we chatted for quite a long time in mixed Japanese and English, me translating, about Oklahoma and Japan. They were quite curious about our home. I introduced Mom to quite a few other teachers, showed her the art projects around the school, and we watched the Kendo club for a bit. They practice for hours without an instructor, no jokes, no unnecessary talking, completely focused with the club president directing them. (But I`m sure they have an instructor on some days.) There are four boys and one girl, so they switch off every so often to make sure everyone gets a turn to practice the forms in pairs. It`s taken me forever to get this video up, but here they are:
Mom was surprised by how disciplined and polite they were. As soon as we came into their practice area, they stopped everything, bowed, sat us down in the coolest corner, and brought us more tea. I explained to Mom that it was all part of their training; kendo is more than just sword fighting. It embodies the art of the ancient samurai, which includes strict codes on how to live and treat others with utmost honor, respect, and hospitality. Mom said we need a kendo club in Oklahoma.
After that, the little nature area across from my school impressed her quite a bit, especially the forest and wild flowers. Have I ever mentioned how Japan is a mish-mash of ecosystems and climates? Some plants appear tropical, others temperate, some desert. Where else can you find a cactus, palm tree, orchid, pine tree, azalea bush, and balloon flower all growing within the same ten square feet, naturally outside? (Well, maybe the balloon flower was planted.)
Finally we ended with band, and Mom was shocked to discover that there was no band class, only club. All practice is after school and on weekends, and the teachers are not even professional band conductors. They are math and Japanese and science teachers who volunteer huge amounts of their time without getting paid any extra. And they`re so good! Our hometown high school band in Owasso, Oklahoma is very good, having marched in the Rose Bowl parade four times, more than any other non-California band. Mom said the director Mr. Gorum has met his match in the Kikyogaoka band director. He wouldn’t let the kids get away with a single phrase until it was shaped and dynamicked and punctuated to perfection. My own music professor from college, Dr. Childs, would have been neck to neck with him. And the kids never said a word. Every one of them was 100% focused all day long in a non-air conditioned room from 8:45am to 6:00pm nearly every day of their six week “summer vacation.” When their part wasn`t practicing, they didn`t so much as space out but continued silently working on their own parts. Mom says next time she hears an American band kid complain about all the time and effort they spend on band, she`ll just tell them about the Japanese band system and get them to shut right up.
Oh, there was one more incident before we left school. I wanted to show Mom the "fancy Japanese toilets." You see, toilets in Japan are either holes in the ground, or full-automated thrones with music, sound effects, seat warmers, and a dozen other buttons I have never been able to determine. So I showed her one and started pushing the different buttons, and low and behold a little pipe came out and sprayed her in the face! Oops! I guess that toilet had a gag function.
Shortly after that, our motto for the trip became "stuff happens." Anytime anything went wrong, we would just laugh and say, "It`s Japan. Stuff happens." I think that`s about the only way my poor mother stayed sane while I culture shocked her into about a hundred different experiences that even I had never had before.
Friday evening, I took Mom to Okuwa store and bought her a yukatta for the fireworks festival Saturday night. The saleslady and man fussed all over her until we had just the right robe, obi (sash and bow), shoes, and undergarments. It was pretty neat to get to do that for my mom, remembering our trips to the big department stores in Tulsa once a year when I was young to get me the perfect, affordable, washable Easter or Christmas dress with all the frills and ruffles and the ooing and awing associated with being the only girl in the family, let alone the gorgeous prom dresses my mother bought for me and I enjoyed prancing to parties in for a number of years. It was about time I paid someone to fuss over her. She settled on a red yukatta covered in pinkish pianese, a purple and gold obi, and red flowered shoes.
I had a lot more planned for that day, but it was already 7:00, so we headed home and I made her Tai chicken curry for dinner with a side of yogurt and chocolate liquor ice cream for dessert. I think it turned out pretty well.
The next day we went to Akame Taki Waterfalls, but I have to go to an English teachers` seminar in Tsu now, the capital of my prefecture, so that`s all I have time for until later. My hard drive came for my computer, so I should also be able to insert some pictures soon!