Well, we weren't able to update the blog while we were doing the homestay, but we did journal a lot. So I'll be posting my journal entries while Jorie posts on more specific things.
Yesterday, we met our host family and stayed for the first night. Jorie and I ended up in the same home due to our vegan diets. We have an Okaa-san (mother), Otoo-san (father), and Ai-chan, our 16 year old sister. They have been very kind to us and Okaa-san can speak very good English. They have a traditional Japanese house with sliding doors and tatami. They have a pet cat named Chii-chan and he’s really friendly. They also have a beautiful garden.
We learned a lot even on the first night. We understand why rooms are closed (to keep heat in only certain rooms), we tried some new food, we took Japanese baths in the evening, and we slept on futons.
The weather has been rainy and kind of humid. Today, we were brought to a meeting place for our class, and then we set off for the day’s activities. First, we went to a beautiful Shinto shrine. We actually met the priest and sat down inside to have tea and snacks and learn about Shinto. We then were allowed to participate in a ceremony. It was beautiful and we were very grateful. Everything just looks so lovely - the moss and lichen covered stone, the torii gates, the rain chains, the gardens, the stone lanterns, the flowers. It seems like it smells especially nice in the shrines, too.
After the shrine, we went to a Buddhist temple. We were taken on a tour inside- something we don’t usually get to do. Buddhist temples are much more ornate than Shinto shrines, but include less nature sometimes, with the exception of zen temples. The priest talked at length to our sensei about the building and the art inside, and then we moved on to a confection store while Kakimi Mayumi prepared lunch for us at her home.
Kakimi-san is the artist and teacher who taught us about etegami and nihonga. She had a very lovely house with a cute dog outside. For lunch, we had sukiyaki. Our classmates used a grill right on the table to make their own sukiyaki, made of noodles, sauce, and some vegetables. Kakimi and a Japanese woman, Chihiro, who studied at NMU, made special food for Jorie and I, so we had a vegetarian sukiyaki and vegetable sandwiches. It was really tasty! We do feel bad that people have to make a special effort just for us, but of course it’s important to us. Everyone has been very helpful.
After lunch, we went to the Oodako (giant kite) museum. The kites are beautiful, and some of them really are giant. I think the kite we saw inside was 15 meters, but there are much bigger kites in the world too. We learned how the kites are made, and that they have a special kind of picture on them- a combination of a kanji and animal(s) which make a pun. For example, a tiger is “tora”, so there was a kite with a kanji saying “retsu” (let’s) and it had tora on it, so it sounds like “retsu tora” or “let’s try”. There were other, smaller, kites in the museum too. Jorie and I especially liked the insect kites.
After the kite museum, we went to a department store to shop and relax before going back to our host family. Jorie and I found some sweets and we ate fresh taiyaki. I tried shiiro taiyaki for the first time and discovered it is actually made from mochi! I also finally found a children’s book to bring home. I’m excited that I found a good one. Sensei and the others helped me find cough medicine- it even had English on the side! It’s interesting- it’s in a nice glass bottle with a sturdy plastic cup included. It tastes better than American cough syrup!
Okaa-san picked us up from the department store at 5. We drove home and dropped off our things, then went for a walk through the area. It really is a beautiful place. It’s kind of rural, so a lot of it is rice fields and large houses. We visited a very nice little Shinto shrine, as well as a small Buddhist shrine. Okaa-san explained how the people in the area all donated to help build and maintain the temple, and that older men from the area pray at (inside) the shrine as a rule. We dropped our coins in the container as we have at many other shrines and temples, and rang a bell, clapped, and bowed. Okaa-san also showed us one of the lanterns inscriptions that had her family members names (her father and sisters, I believe). On our walk, we also saw a very important tree that ‘s hundreds of years old. It was quite a beautiful tree, and it had supports and signs beneath it.
From my room, I can see nearby mountains. On one of them is a Shinto shrine.