Today we looked at some Japanese yen (en) and how we will take money to Japan and get it while there if need be. We also talked about convenience stores there and how they provide low cost but healthy food – unlike here in Canada. Here is a good site on Japanese money.
When we are on the road, convenience stores – ‘konbini’ in Japanese – will be where we get our breakfasts. They will also be fine for lunches and even dinner. Here is a good site describing them.
The cheapest, most convenient and delicious bit of traditional Japanese food you can get is ‘onigiri’. Onigiri are riceballs with some kind of protein hidden inside, wrapped in nori. Here is a good site showing the onigiri typically available at convenience stores in Japan.
We all met at the ‘kindokei’ or gold clock used as a meeting place by everyone meeting at Nagoya Station at 8:30. The host families brought our kids to the station and stayed till we were heading to our Shinkansen platform. There were final photos, hugs – and then more hugs – and some tears. Our hosts were wonderful and I received positive reports from all the host families About our kids.
We took the 9:15 Shinkansen from Nagoya and 45 minutes later were in downtown Kyoto. We took taxis putting 3 or 4 people and their luggage per taxi and headed to our guest house, Sakura Peace House in the Higashi Yama – ‘eastern mountain’ district of Kyoto, just off the downtown core. We left our bags at the guest house under the care of Aroni who is the New Zealander who manages the guest house. We set out on foot for Kiyomizu Temple which was 1 km away. The temple sits on a low mountain and provides a great view of Kyoto. The temple complex has pagoda’s, a grand hall and a waterfall from which the temple gets its name. Kiyomizu means ‘pure water’. The water is said to have a purifying effect on the soul if drunk with the right intention and humility. Our group lined up and took the long handled cups and put them into the one of the 3 streams of water flowing off the mountain. These kids are pretty good already, so not much purifying was needed.
We then went to the ‘koi no ishi’ or ‘love stones’. There are two stones abut two foot square set in the ground about 40 feet apart. The legend is that if you can close your eyes and walk from one stone and actually reach the other stone with your eyes closed you will have success in love. If however you are veering off course it is alright for a friend to gently steer you back on course – after all what are friends for? I am happy to report our kids have bright futures in this department.
Finally we entered the ‘hara’ maze. ‘Hara’ means ‘belly’ in Japanese. We descended into the depths of the main hall down a steep stair case into pitch blackness. Our only way forward was holding on to the hand rail and going slowly. The corridor twisted and turned until finally we came to the center. At the center was a large round piece of granite with the Sanskrit word for ‘hara’. The idea is that we had entered into the Buddha’s belly and were safe there. We were to touch the stone and make a wish with good intentions. We all did.
The teachers and students were re-united Monday morning at the beginning of school. We hadn’t seen them since Friday afternoon and were wondering how they had fared. They all had a great time. As I expected the host families’ hospitality was excellent. The students had great stories of food they eaten (and sometimes made) at home or at local restaurants the family knew were good and representative of the kind of business they wanted to introduce to our students. Some had been to the ninja school, the Toyota museum, driven to Mount Fuji, made paper, made soba noodles, played traditional games, sung karaoke ….. They had had wonderful experiences. They had been quite anxious in the time leading up to meeting their hosts and going off for the weekend. Yet each one came through the weekend with new experiences and new friends. Our hosts were very kind.
The morning at school began with a presentation by the group of Aichi Keisei students who visited KSS last May. They had prepared a series of stations introducing different aspects of Japanese culture: young people’s fashion, origami, traditional sweets, the different kinds of miso and its origins, important sites in Kyoto ( where we were heading next) and traditional ghost stories.
In the next period we met the group of students who are travelling to Qualicum Beach. They introduced us to a traditional card game called Karuta. The game is kind of a combination of the card games ‘concentration’ and ‘speed’. The students had prepared a series of cards with either pictures of important Japanese cultural practices or names of things in Japanese. We were divided into 3 groups around tables with these cards and waited for the Japanese students to give us clues in English and Japanese. We then had to find the cards that illustrated those clues and grab them before our competitors. It was a lot of fun with encouragement being shouted to us from the Aichi Keisei students and teachers. Along the way the students would give us detailed descriptions and explanations of these cultural practices with a slide show accompanied by a talk. It was great fun.
Next, the girls were taken away to learn how to wear ‘yukata’ which are light cotton kimono. These kimono were made by some of the students in the school’s fashion club. The boys were fitted with ‘happi’ coats, which are traditional light cotton jackets worn by men at festivals. We were then taken to the school’s tea room where the girls in the ‘sadou’ (tea ceremony) club prepared ‘maccha’ which is the powdered green tea used in the tea ceremony. Their teacher is a highly trained and experienced ‘sadou’ teacher and explained to us how and why things are done in the tea ceremony. As we sat in our yukata and happi coats we all experienced the quiet, contemplative mind-set the tea ceremony is meant to produce. It was a great experience.
At lunch the kids ate the ‘bento’ (homemade lunch) their hosts had prepared for them in the homeroom classes of their host students. After lunch we went to a local temple that is hundreds of years old. It is in a rural area and a market has grown up around it, which has also been operating for hundreds of years. We prayed at the temple and shopped at the market. It was then back to school to meet our hosts and head back home for the final night with the host families.