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Sunday, September 2, 2012

Dawn Of The First Day

So, I figure it's time to play a little bit of catchup. I arrived in Kofu on a Thursday morning and there wasn't much for me to do since Mitsuko had to go to work that very day because as it turns out, that was also the first day of school. I knew that later on I'd be going to a drinking party, otherwise known here as an "enkai" which was meant to welcome Mitsuko as a new teacher for their school. That wasn't going to be until much later however. I didn't get much sleep on the overnight bus, even though it was about 9 hours until I disembarked. I just couldn't get comfortable enough.

Mitsuko's neighbor, a incredibly friendly man named Jiro-san, came with Mitsuko to pick me up so I wouldn't have to walk all the way back to their house. It's not terribly far away, but I'm sure glad they came.

As I said earlier, there wasn't much for me to do, and I wasn't feeling like sleeping after Mitsuko left so I hopped across the street to visit Keiko-san's shop. Keiko is the wife of Jiro, and is an incredibly helpful, and friendly person as well. She's so sweet! She speaks very good English as well (as does Jiro, I should say) so if ever there's something that we don't understand she helps clear it up for the both of us.

Jiro-san was there in the morning when I showed up. Keiko-san was out running errands and had not yet returned. I sat with him and talked about a number of things, trying to practice my Japanese and get back into the swing of things. I did. . . all right, I would say. My biggest problem is a lack of vocabulary. That's what it mainly boils down to. I just don't know enough words, so when people say things I get hung up on words I don't know rather than listening to the rest of their sentence(s). This of course throws me off and then I have absolutely no idea what people are saying. Cue the smile and nod.

Jiro-san was very nice and welcoming though, and we had a good chat. Keiko-san came back later on, and I was able to introduce myself to her finally. They had both heard much about me, and as I understand it, were very excited to finally meet me. I talked with Keiko-san a bit as well, before receiving a text from my family asking if it was okay to chat with me. I hadn't talked with them since I had let them know I arrived safely in Kofu so I figured it would be best to have a chat with them as well. I thanked Jiro-san for picking me up, and Keiko-san for being so helpful to Mitsuko. I explained how she mentioned that she was very grateful for all the help. I bid my goodbye and walked back across the tiny street to my house.

I chatted with my family for a bit, and showed them around the place via facetime on our iPhones. Around 3pm, Mitsuko sent me an email saying that she was coming back home and to be ready. I didn't know exactly what I needed to be ready for but as she doesn't work too far away from the house I assumed that I needed to ready quite quickly. She arrived before I was able to hang up the phone and as such said hello to my family as well. She told me that we were going to an onsen on invitation of the principal of the Junior High School, and he'd be picking us up quite soon.

After the onsen we were going to head straight to the enkai, which made me want to change but Mitsuko ensured me that I'd be more than dressed enough for the party. In no time at all, the principal arrived and we set out for the onsen.

We had a bit of conversation on the way, and I was ever so slightly intimidated (incredibly nervous) about having just met him, but needing to not only be entertaining, and pleasant, but also naked in just a few minutes time.

For those who don't know: Japanese Onsen are like spas in a way. They're referred to as hot springs in English, and are used as a means of relaxing. All of this sounds fairly straightforward but when you arrive at one you are met by an intermediate room. In this room there are lockers and rows of shelving which have one basket each of the holes. It is required that one removes all of his or her clothing before heading into the actual onsen area. From there, you basically have a shower. Seriously. There are little stools to sit on, just under a shower head, with soap, shampoo, and conditioner. The point is that you are supposed to be entirely clean before you hop into the onsen itself. After washing up, you can take your little hand towels and step into the water, which is incredibly hot, by the way. From here you can sit down and relax, enjoy a bit of conversation, and nudity with your fellow compatriots or foreigners in the case of myself. Afterwards you can hop out and in as many times as you feel necessary. In the end however, it is recommended that you shower up once more, because the water is a bit salty and it might feel a bit unnatural to just dry off like that after hopping out.

So that's exactly what we did. When we first got there there was a nice lady, who speak good English as well, that explained to us the process for getting into the onsen. Afterwards we split up (boys and girls have separate baths) and had a go of it. はずかしい (hazukashii) is the Japanese word for embarrassed, and that about sums up my thoughts on the matter. I knew about onsen beforehand and I even had the opportunity to go in one, but this was truly my first time getting into one, and probably the first time I was naked with another man whom I had just met about 25 minutes earlier. Though equal parts strange, fascinating, and nerve-wrecking, it was still relaxing being in that bath.

Our next destination was a shrine in the area, which I feel is best explained with pictures rather that what few words I could use to describe it. All in all a very amazing place. These types of things are what I especially love about Japan.

The large entrance gate, note the awesome size of that rope

A small torii

A smaller building off to the side

Wishes and prayers that have been tied up

Another small gate in another direction

The size of this stone lantern was impressive

The main part of the shrine itself

I also took a small video to capture the sound of the Cicada in the area. They're constantly making it throughout the day and it's a wonderful bit of ambiance that I enjoy.

Later that night there was the enkai. There I met with all the Junior High School teachers and become friendly with a number of them. There was so much good food. I unfortunately did not take any pictures because I didn't want to appear rude or strange in the eyes of so many people. I was also hoping to make a good first impression in front of them as well since I was hoping to be able to volunteer at any of the schools that would have me. Fukada-sensei asked about where I was from because I looked Japanese. I told her that my father is part Japanese, and the men in the family have a strong resemblance to one another so it carried over to me as well. They thought that was neat. When they saw I liked octopus and squid they were all impressed. "Just like a Japanese person!" they said.

One of the teachers called Kawakami-sensei I particularly enjoyed talking with. We chatted about where in Japan I had been to, why I had a fondness for Japan, and foods I liked. During a part where he asked if I liked ramen (which is yes) I asked him if he had ever eaten Hakata Ramen, which Fukuoka is famous for. He said that he had indeed eaten it, and the best place was a small restaurant called Ichiraku Ramen. I got all excited at that, because I had eaten there when I was in Fukuoka, and it was my favorite place as well. How cool is that?! We stood up and shook hands, as though we were in on a secret that none other were. It was a very cool moment and it totally broke the ice for me, which made the rest of the nigh easier, even though I stumbled over my self introduction, haha.

What a first day, don't you think?


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