Wednesday, June 11, 2008

May's Best of Hokkaido; Part I

My mom's much anticipated arrival in Japan was finally here ! Her first week was spent in the village and touring neighboring towns. A hike to the top of the ski hill gives May a good look at our home for the past 10 months.Shawn's Board of Education workmates threw a welcome party just for May.
Jinpe, the local deer hunter, keeps the Sapporo flowing and cooks up some delicious wasabi venison. The shika was taken that week by his wife Ryoko.
This was a great introduction to Japanese social culture complete with sake hangovers the next day.

I was happy to have May here for my Thursday English cooking class.
May holds Sora as Chihiro teaches her, "Itadakemas", spoken before meals which means, "I gratefully receive it".

Today's recipe, lasagna. Here's me going over the recipe before we get started. I refrain from telling them that I myself have never made lasagna before.
Chizuko surprises us with a home-made pasta and cottage cheese demonstration.
Chizuko pretty much rocks and has become the darling of this blog, second only to Nova of course.

The lasagna was a delicious success.
May spent her birthday in Japan this year. Her only request, that we spend it outside.
Our amazing and stunningly handsome chauffeur, Chaunces (aka Shawn), drove us half an hour east to Takinoue to view the famous Shiba Sakura, pink carpet flowers.
It really does feel like a carpet! This place was amazing even after peak season.
Lots of Nova/May love-fest action throughout the trip. We just couldn't get over the fact that she was really here with us!
I was told that these flowers were planted by one man starting in 1957.
In Takinoue we visited a Shinto shrine.
May observes the custom of washing her hands before entering the shrine grounds.
Nova crosses over a bridge flanked by her two spirit animals.....
Born in the year of the horse, on the left. And under the sign of Taurus, the bull, to the right. A dynamic duo of strength for sure.
Her special connection with shrine deities continues.

The superintendent of schools, Kamaya-san, invited us to his home to welcome my mom. It was a great honor to be invited. Mrs. Kamaya put on an amazing spread of traditional Japanese foods. Mr. Kamaya and May share a passion for birding. It wasn't long before the Guide to Birds of Hokkaido was being referenced. Sharing bird calls soon replaced the awkwardness of any language barrier. The Kamayas ended the evening with Macha, green tea, preparation. I got to show off my Macha whisking skills for May. She took a special interest in the ritual of it all.

Here we are admiring a display of plastic food at the mall. A true art form and easy way to order. The Jr. High school English class surprised May with a wonderful welcome presentation.
Saki wows us with her excellent English in a warm welcome speech. Afterward, students were invited to ask May questions about American culture. What is your favorite anime, what is your favorite baseball team, what are the biggest differences between American and Japanese culture? May did a wonderful, gracious job in answering.

Kikuchi-san, one of the middle school teachers is also a Kendo-sensei.
She and her students put on an awesome demonstration for us.
Kendo means "way of the sword". Its purpose, among other things is to mold the mind and body, to cultivate a vigorous spirit and forever pursue the cultivation of oneself. Very zen.
Surprise, now it's your turn May!
Kikuchi-sensei helped May don traditional Kendo clothing as Kurata-sensei looks on.
Bogu, protective body armor is worn. The torso (do), head (men) and forearms (kote) are the three Kendo strike zones. Before a strike, the name of the intended zone is strongly cried out.
May gets strapped in to her helmet and face guard. She was such a good sport and giggled with Kikuchi-sensei the whole time.
The shinai, bamboo practice sword, is held at an angle while one foot slides forward followed by the other in an advance toward your opponent.
We cheered May on as she delicately tapped her opponant on the head, tentatively calling out, "men!". I think her adversary got off easy this time.
Yatta, you did it! After the practice, May was presented with a garland of origami cranes made by students, which brought tears to her eyes.
Thank you so very much to all the Jr. High school English students,their senseis and all the people of Nishiokoppe for making my mom's time in the village an unforgettable and heartwarming experience. We felt proud to call this place home and introduce May to the friends we have made.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

May's Best of Hokkaido; Part II

May says sayonara to Nishiokoppe and konnichiwa to a good old fashioned road trip south.Our first stop, Furano. A place with a very beautiful Italian sounding name and landscape to match.
We bunked two nights at the incredible Furano Youth Hostel. Our room was it's own cabin with a loft and amazing view of the valley. A country style breakfast and dinner was included. I give this place 5 stars for comfort, cuteness, and affordability.

Furano is famous for it's agriculture, especially lavender.
Shawn shows us off the richness of the soil at Farm Tomita, a lavender and flower farm just down the road from our diggs.Workers were busy getting ready for the flower explosion of peak season, the end of July.
The fields were still beautiful and the lavender smelled lovely despite being there a bit early.
Next stop, the Furano Cheese Factory.
I had to try it, and you know, it wasn't bad!
This Jinja shrine was just outside Furano. Visitors can choose a fortune. If the fortune is a bad one it is tied to these strings along with prayers for support. Our English class interpreted the message on this wooden card, "West Asahikawa high school asks to pass exams".

The Hokkaido countryside is full of surprises.
You'll drive for miles and miles and see nothing but fields and trees and then come across a giant mudra hand sculpture and an old style pagoda.
It was a refreshing change of scenery to go from Northern Hokkaido's dairy country to the rice basket of Japan's central Furano valley. Very pretty. Very classic 'Japanese' looking lanscape.
We quickly transitioned from country to city life with three nights in fabulous Sapporo.
Odori Park runs through the heart of the city and was the site of the 2008 Yosaksoi Soran Dance Festival.
Yosakoi dance originated in 1954 from a traditional summer dance called Awa Odori. Teams from all over Japan and the world participate. There can be as many as 150 dancers on a team. Costuming and choreography were impressive even for smaller teams from rural areas.
So different from the subdued emotion we've grown accustomed to. We could feel the passion and joy from these dancers in the audience and it drew us in.
Men and women of all ages danced side by side. Also a departure from the somewhat gender segregated lives we are used to seeing.
Naruko, small wooden clappers originally used by rice farmers to scare away birds, are a key element of the Yosakoi dance.
This festival with it's pounding drums and spirited movement was such a breath of fresh air for me. I would love to participate in this next year if I can find a team to practice with close enough to Nishiokoppe.
Since Shawn and May had been indulging in daily beer breaks for the past 10 days, we thought it appropriate to tour the Sapporo Beer Garden.For all you McCaffertys and Irish stout fans.

We hit the streets of Sapporo's famous Suskino district for a taste of the city's night life.
There's nowhere I'd feel safer walking big city streets late at night with my family than in Suskino's red light district. This city is incredibly clean and safe even in it's racier sections.
Who let the Japanese boy band memebers out? An inordinate number of these big haired, leather clad rockers flooded the sidewalks this night.

Our last day in Sapporo and May's last day in Japan was spent at the Botanical Gardens.
We'll miss you May! Thanks for giving us a great excuse to discover more of Hokkaido. Your visit helped us see how far we've come and made us feel a little closer to home at the same time.
As for the rest of you, our tatami room and futons are always open for guests. Matta ne!