Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Volunteering at Kugunarihama, Miyagi Prefecture (十八成浜、宮城県)

Last weekend, I volunteered with the Aichi Volunteer Center in the Tohoku region for one day.  We left Nagoya for a 13 hour night bus ride to a small village in Miyagi prefecture named Kugunarihama.

Backward sign pointing towards the ocean

The place we went to is a poor village known best for whaling.  It's basically going extinct - most of the people I saw there were the elderly.

Our group of 80 people were split into three groups: one group focused on clean up, another made bento (lunchboxes) for around 100 people, and the last group which I was in went to each house in the area to invite them for lunch and pass out a weekly newsletter.  We also record how many people wanted lunch, and if it was too cold for them to go out, we would deliver their lunch for them.

New tori being built

While we were there, we also had a rare chance to see a new tori (鳥居) being built / made.  This was the event that we were advertising to the locals to come to, because it was also where we were going to have lunch at.

Picnic in front of the new tori

Looking firsthand what that area looks like now was a really good experience.  For the most part it was all cleaned up.  There were only broken cups or bowls, or other small things mixed in with the dirt.  What stood out was the lack of houses, when you could clearly see the plots of land that separated the homes that used to be there.  That was a humbling experience - to think that in just less than a day a whole home was washed away.

Ship stuck on a parking lot

Debri scattered all over parking lot
Later in the afternoon we also got to visit some of the wreckage that was still there in another place called Ayukawa (鮎川) (like a huge liner and other broken boats that was washed onto shore).  There, we did another type of volunteering - souvenir shopping.  According to one of the volunteer leaders, he told us that the main problem is real estate and the lack of jobs.  The people in that area cannot afford to build a new house, so the government pays for their land.  Furthermore, the work for volunteers are drying up because now many people want to have the locals have those jobs, since their jobs also were washed away by the tsunami.  Economically, they will have a hard struggle in front of them.

For volunteers, they warned us to not come up randomly.  There's just not much for volunteers to do.  Instead, they recommend going with a huge organization that's already involved with volunteering over there (like the org. I went with).  These org. usually have already developed relationships with the people in the area.

In May, my friend and I hope to go once more before I leave, so I'm hoping we can!

Cherry blossom viewing (お花見)

The season is basically over, but here are some pictures I took at a hanami (花見) I went to with my church!

The location is at Tsurumai Park - apparently known as one of the best places to view Cherry blossoms in Nagoya.  There are a bunch of cherry blossom trees here, and walking around the park was beautiful!

One of the reasons I didn't really take a lot of pictures of the sakura (桜) is no picture could every compare to seeing the real deal.  Pictures literally cannot describe how beautiful and amazing they are.  They're like tiny delicate flowers, but there's so many of them it's wonderful.

About what people do during hanami, normally people drink and spend time with friends (basically an outdoor party).  One of my roommates noticed that most people don't do hanami  because they want to see the sakura though; it's mostly to have fun with others.  A cultural yearly party that everyone can join.  A party where you can get drunk for almost the whole day.

Hanami usually happen all day.  Some people start late at night to enjoy the illumination (as well as get even more drunk).  According to Japan News (the newspaper my dorm gets for free), every year the number of people who enter the hospital always increases during hanami.  They're a lot of drunkards who do stupid things and end of getting hurt basically.

However, the best part of this season is seeing the sakura fall.  It's absolutely something to see here.  While I was playing with some local kids, we once stood out to watch them fall onto the sidewalk.  One kid commented that it looked like "Sakura snow" (桜雪).  That pretty much describes their beauty.  It's nice to walk under a road lined with sakura trees too, especially if some petals are falling all around you.

Which brings me to a saying during this time too.  Hana yori dango (花より団子).  It translates as "Dango (a type of sweet) over flowers", which basically means that one would rather receive food more than flowers (so the practical use of food outweighs a beautiful but useless aesthetic).  I've heard of different versions of this as well, such as hana yori sake (花より酒) "Sake over flowers".  ^__^"

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sadou (茶道)

A quick post about my tea ceremony class!  I'll be writing in bullets:

  • There's probably over 20 of us in the class, when the tea room can only house 10 people at a time.  This means that the class is split into 2 groups, and for the most part we all just chat, drink tea and eat snacks.
  • As one group practices, the other group usually waits in the "waiting room" and is taught a little bit about sadou's background and what the sweet that day means.
  • Before you drink the bitter matcha, you eat a really sweet Japanese sweet called okashi(お菓子).  It's one of my favorite parts about the class - they're so good! 
  • Since we just sit around most of the time, the class is also really loud.  Not at all soothing or serene at all (unlike what most of us picture sadou to be).  This even gets on our sensei's nerves sometimes, I can tell.  Especially when we should all be watching carefully how each of us make the tea, etc.
  • Each week we have the chance to put on kimonos.  The sensei's are really amazing at this - normally it'll take over 30 minutes or more to wear one, but the teachers can do it with in 5 minutes (granted - they aren't letting us wear everything that's required for a kimono).  It's a fun experience - but it makes doing sadou a bit harder because you cannot get up so easily.  Plus, the sensei corrects your posture more because you are wearing a kimono (so basically they tell you to straighten your kimono when you sit).  At the end of class (and even during the middle of it), people get their pictures taken in them.
  • Last week, we got to do a cherry blossom viewing (ohanami お花見).  It was cloudy, but it was pretty nice to sit outside with a large red paper umbrella.  However, because of the class size some sat on red cloth (which kept on sliding around) or a blue tarp.  So, overall . . . not too must aesthetic value in our class.
  • I learned that someone in Nagoya (or in the area) makes some of the best tea (ocha お茶).  
  • On average, a normal tea ceremony takes over 3 hours to finish (it's like a whole day experience, actually.  There's a lot of waiting and ceremony to the practice.  I remember back at OSU learning that people will sometimes even give invitations by hand still.