Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tales of Tajima

Lol, sounds like a game.

In my last post, last Thursday, I mentioned that I'd be going to Tajima and would be offline til I got back. I did promise you a big fat update, and here it is:


We arrived at uni at like, 8:30 or thereabouts, with intentions of leaving at 9am. It wasn't so bad for me, I live really close but some people, like Trav, had to be up at like, 6 to be there on time. We were off just on time, and once we were out of the city limits we started watching Harry Potter on the bus's TV. It was relatively uneventful. The scenery was pretty - Japanese rural scenery is SO different to Australian rural scenery. Photos coming soon, I have all afternoon tomorrow off, so I'll do a massive upload then!

The whole district we stayed in is Tajima, but each group stayed in a different town. The Kiwis stayed in Toyooka, one of the major cities in the region; the Fijians stayed in Shin-onsen, which is apparently quite famous for its hot springs. We Aussies stayed in Kami, a little town about an hour away from Tottori, a city on the coast of the Japan Sea. We met our host families at about 3pm, had coffee and a chat, and then went home. My family's home was lovely. I didn't manage to get any photos of the inside of the house, and only a couple of the outside, but it was nice. My room was massive, about 12 tatami in size (a tatami is a straw flooring mat, sleeping and sitting rooms are generally floored in tatami, and each mat is 1mx2m). It was... enormous. And a little lonely, being in this huge room on my own.

My host family, the Ueda family, were lovely. Mum's name is Midori, and dad is Michinori. She's a housewife, he's a dentist. She studied education and speaks excellent english, he speaks almost no english at all. It was fun, though.

Friday night, the moment I mentioned I had my wedding pics on my laptop (which I had bought with me on the off chance that I would get internet access) I had to show them all off. Not just once, to mum, but twice, because when dad got home from work at 8:30, I had to show them off again, and it took about 2 and a half hours because of the language barrier. It was pretty cool though.


Saturday, we had planned to meet at the restaurant we'd met our families at the day before, at 10:30 and go from there to Tottori to the Sand Art Museum. Mel's family ended up driving past just on 10:30 and nobody was there, so they figured everyone must have already left and went back home. Everyone else must've arrived just after, or we were inside at the time having coffee and we didn't see them, because only Lisa, Stephanie and I ended up going.

Tottori is pretty cute. It has a spectacular sand dune beach, with this massive dune about 20m high that people taboggan down, and a Sand Art Museum. Sculptors have created a display of the Terracotta Warriors at Xi'an in China, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China and several other pretty spectacular world heritage sites, all out of sand. The detail is incredible!! The whole thing was just amazing! We spent a little over an hour going around there, looking at all the amazing sculptures and enjoying the sea air (we were right on the coast). Afterwards, we went shopping, had lunch and I bought myself a new pair of shoes! I finally found a pair of shoes that actually fitted me in Japan! Usually Japanese shoes are tiny, so this is really awesome news! After going shopping, we went off to this really cool place with natural hot springs that are hot enough to boil eggs in 12 minutes. We tried it, and it was awesome. While you wait for your eggs to cook, you are welcome to sit on the side of the river and put your feet in hot springs that aren't quite that hot, having been cooled by the river water. It was lovely, just the perfect temperature. It was really nice, sitting there with my feet in the hot water, watching the ducks and the carp - they grow to well over 2ft long here - cavorting in the river. It was great!

Afterwards, when we were in the car, Midori decided that, since I'd said I wanted to try a real onsen - the one I went to in Amagasaki wasn't so much an onsen with natural hot springs, as a public bath house with man-made "hot springs" outside. Fun, but... this was heaps better. We went to Yumura, a town that is famous for its onsen complex. Yumura Onsen is a huge complex with about half a dozen springs outside, plus the bath complex, which is quite vast and includes an Olympic-size heated swimming pool. The recommended way to do things is to start at spring 1 and work your way up the side of the mountain that the onsen are located on, until you reach spring 6. Spring 1 is a warm, fairly deep and fairly clear pool, designed to just relax you and get you used to the water, which is fairly mineral-dense. Pool 2 is small - about 3m in diameter, and quite hot, nearly 50'C. We only stayed in for about 2-3 minutes, before it got too hot to bear. Pool 3 is located in a cavern (which has been modified for safety) and is quite steamy, lots of fun. Pool 4 is huge, completely massive, and has a waterfall running into it (and one from it too) so you can sit under this hot waterfall and get a massage. It was really really good. Pool 5 was naturally bubbly, smelled a bit like sulphur but was like sitting in a spa with all the bubbles. It was fun, until the smell overwhelmed us and we had to move on. Finally, pool 6 is actually a series of little rockpools dotting along a steamy, sloping, twisty tunnel, which leads back out near where pool 1 is situated.

After exploring all the outside pools, we went back inside and took off the swimmers we'd been required to wear in the outside pools (because both men and women go to the outside pools) and went to the bath house to wash off. As I mentioned before, the bath house was vast. It had a sauna room with a small, but quite deep, ice plunge pool; massage rooms; some long, shallow sloping pools that you lie in and get a bubble massage from; hot tubs, a big, waist-deep, warm bath you could just sit in for hours, and, of course, showers. We spent, all up, about 2 hours just wandering around having fun at the onsen.

After that, we went to a little tiny Sushi bar, the owners of which are friends of Midori's, and had dinner. I had raw squid, eel, prawn, octopus, tuna, salmon (which I've had before) and sea anenome (which I'm never having again!) We also had some tempura, and dessert was a dish called Triple Mango - some mango ice cream, mango jelly, and a piece of real mango. I nearly cried when I ate the real mango - it tastes of home!

So, we got home and I went straight to bed, I was so sleepy after the onsen and the late night the night before.


On Sunday, we went to a child care centre and did Mochi-bana with the little kids. Mochi-bana is where you take mochi - sticky rice cakes, made out of rice pounded into powder and mixed with a little water until it is like glue, and you put it on sticks to resemble flowers. It was pretty fun but we couldn't take them with us. After that, we drove well over an hour to Toyooka, to a conservation park where we saw Oriental White Storks. They were all but extinct - there were only 12 left in the world about 10 years ago, but now there are a couple of hundred. It was pretty cool to see, but it was so far out of the way it felt a little like a waste of time. Anyways...

So, we went back home, did our packing to return to Amagasaki, then had our farewell party. Mel's host family own a restaurant, which is where we had the party. It was SO much fun!! We had Shabu-Shabu, which is where you get a big ceramic pot over a hotplate and you make the soup and cook your meat and veg in it. It's tasty, and you don't realise just how much you're eating because you just take a little in a small bowl and you keep going back for more until you've eaten 10 bowlsful.

Also, free drinkies. Japanese beer is gooooood!


No hangover, thank goodness. We did our final packing, and made our way out to the primary school, where we did soapstone carving. I'm not telling what I made, you'll have to wait and see! It was fun!! Afterwards, we went across to the middle school, where we learned to play Sakura Sakura on the Koto - I was pretty good at it. It turns out nobody else in the group has learned how to read music... I had a good time. We met a fellow Brisbanite who teaches English at the school, and we sat in with his English class and did some conversational English with the kids, which was good fun.

Then, it was time for a final farewell to our host familes, and we went. It was quite a teary farewell. Midori extracted a promise from me that I'll come back to Japan one day, with John, and we'll come and visit her.

We travelled by bus to Sonoda University's Ookayama campus, wherein we had a Tsukiyaki party, which turned into a rave! It was pretty mad, everyone was dancing and singing and having a good old time! That was, until about 1 in the morning, when we were all in bed and nearly asleep, and one of the Korean girls, who had just been sitting there drinking all night, until she was completely paraletic, threw up on her bed and all over herself. Then there was no sleep for anyone. These girls don't have any common sense! None of them knew how to deal with a drunk person at all. We - Mel, Lisa, Emma and I - had to take charge. Get the dirty bedding outside so it doesn't stink out the whole place. Get her in the shower with a friend, to sober her up and make sure she doesn't drown. Get her a bucket. Put her out in the other room with a friend so she's nearer the bathroom if she needs to spew again. Put her in the recovery position - to which they all asked, "What is that?". No. Common. Sense. At all. We finally got to sleep at like, 2.


Got woken up at 6, after very little sleep - the smell of spew was still on the air and it was hard to ignore it. Packed, went down to breakfast, helped clean up. Madame le Spewe was all bright and happy and not at all hungover, which proves that justice doesn't exist and that there are no consequences to anything at all... we ANZAC-Fijians had to clean up everything, the other girls - from Korea and Taiwan - sat there playng on the piano. Brats. So, we left by about 9:30 for Himeji. I don't remember much of the trip - I think all 4 of us girls - Mel, Lisa, Emma and I - slept all the way there. We arrived at about 11:30, saw Himeji castle, which was really cool, and the Western Bailey, which was meant to be the Princess' Quarters, which was... not so great. It was pretty but I had been expecting a museum display there like in the castle, and there was nothing. Kinda sucked. We had lunch at this tiny little yakisoba - noodles - place, and it was really nice. Then we were back on the bus and homeward bound. Slept all the way home and am feeling somewhat better now.

So, big fat update provided. I'll be back in the land of Oz in 4 days now - nearly 3 1/2 now that I think of it.

So, I gotta go, Miki wants to use the table to make dinner.

Love y'all


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