Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Kumano and school taikusai

Wow, the last few weeks have been crazy! Friday, May 23rd, I left right after school for my Kumano writers’ meeting. (Our group is called MEWS, though I don’t remember what it stands for.) I arrived around 10:30pm at night to be picked up by my friend Marissa, a Kumano local. I stayed with her and her cute kitten Zepher.

The next morning we had breakfast at a café overlooking the famous shi-shi no ishi (lion rock) formation and the beautiful Kumano beach:

Jacinda, also coming from far away, arrived at the café with the other local, Susannah, around 10:00am. Then we enjoyed a lovely sightseeing tour of Dorokyo Gorge. It was raining, so we were lucky that the boat was covered. Here’s some pictures:

The boat:

The gorge:

About halfway through, we took a break on a little pebble beach between Nara and Mie prefectures. Here’s Marissa and me:

A waterfall on the way back:

And turtle rock:

This was the person who took our tickets when we got on the boat and said “arigato gozaimas” as we left:

She’s dressed like an “ohimesama” or daughter/wife of a shogun or samurai. (Imagine the woman from the famous Akirakurasawa film Rashomon and you’ll see what I mean.) They dressed that way when they traveled along the famous Kumano Kodo pilgrimage road that runs from Tokyo to the temple complex on Mt. Koya. The people who owned the boat must have also had some franchise on Kumano Kodo as well, because they kept encouraging us every chance they got to visit that place too.

Here’s a view of the boat and river from the mountain roads:

For lunch, we stopped at a quaint little restaurant. They served really good pasta, pizza and pie. But we were really freaked out, because there was a little girl who kept coming to our table. At first, she looked to be about two or three, but when she came back, we could have sworn she’d grown! We finally figured out that there were two little sisters, about a year apart, dressed identically, and they never came out at the same time! That and the misspelling of “float” as “froat” on the menu gave us a good laugh.

Next, we drove to the famous tiered rice fields. It was very misty and beautiful. Here are some pictures:

Then we finally got around to our writers’ meeting. I brought a submission to a contest, the first 20 pages of Treasure Traitor and the synopsis. Those girls are so helpful! They really made the first chapter more realistic and tactile.

The next day, we got up early and had a second meeting. This time I read the synopsis, and they really helped me work out a better ending and add more tension. Yea!

In the afternoon we went to Onigajo, or demon castle rock. Really beautiful place. Here’re some pictures:

The following Friday, my school had our taikusai, or track and field day. All the different classes compete against each other. (Unlike American high school students, Japanese students don’t get to choose what classes they want. They stay in the same classroom and have the same classmates all day like American elementary schools, and teachers come around to the various classes to teach the different subjects. I really don’t like that system, because it means that a student really good at a certain subject might get stuck in a really dumb class, and a student who might need a little extra help in one subject has to struggle to keep up with everyone else. Also, there’s no freedom of choice.)

And something really hilarious, the warm up. Yes, Japanese students do this same warm up every single day of their lives in P.E. and before sports, and they’ve been doing it for the past 60 years. Some schools require it in the morning before first class. Some companies even do it! I can`t show you the video though, because it shows the students` faces. Can you imagine grown men jumping up and down? It’s funny to see 800 kids all doing it together.

I just wandered around for most of the day, talking to students and taking pictures. The most amazing event was how they could all jump rope together more than twenty times in a row.

At the end of the day, there was the “folk dansu,” performed the third year students, which I also participated in along with a few other teachers. First we did a Russian folk dance, then a modern Japanese dance, then an American modern dance. A student took some videos for me, but of course I can`t show them.

I was planning to stay home the next day, Saturday, and rest, but the weather was so beautiful and I was feeling down, so I went to the beach. I heard of a really nice one about two hours away in Kashgojima called shirohama, which means “white sand,” but by the time I got there around noon, the ferry to the island was already gone. (I assumed the ferry came every hour, but apparently it only went twice a day.) So I went to asogohara beach in Ugata instead. That was interesting, because I didn’t realize it until I got there, but that was the same beach where we had the welcome party when I first arrived in Japan. All things come around. This time, it was nicer too, without the sand blowing everywhere or jelly fish stinging. Here’s a picture of the beach:

There was hardly anyone there, since swimming season doesn’t officially start in Japan until July 1st. Just surfers in wetsuits. But I wasn’t afraid of the water!

Until next time, keep praying and loving, no matter what the cost,

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