The past two weeks have certainly been a wild whirlwind of a crash course in Japanese culture, language, and visits to a multitude of famous sites in and around Ashikaga.
This past weekend was spent with my host family, the Tajimas. They were so very kind and giving, and graciously welcomed me into their home right away as if I was family. The very first night I spent with them they took me out for my first true Japanese sushi experience. I tried everything I could, and was NOT disappointed. (One evening with my host family I even tried horse sashimi… yes, you read that right! Horse! It was not awful, but I do not see myself trying it again. “When in Rome”, though!) They seemed to be very taken aback by how much wasabi I liked to eat! On Sunday we went to Hitachi Seaside Park, an amusement park near… you guessed it, the Pacific! I had never seen the Pacific Ocean before, so what better way to see it for the first time than in a clear, plexiglass cart on a massive Ferriss wheel? It truly put Six Flags to shame!
My last night with my host family they dressed me up in a traditional summer festival dress called “yukata”. They made me feel so beautiful, but most importantly, they allowed me to partake in a very important part of their culture, especially for females. After they dressed me, to my surprise, they wanted to take me out to dinner wearing yukata. I was so scared I would get funny looks for being an American dressed in traditional garb, but my experience was in fact the exact opposite! Strangers would come to our table, ask for pictures with me, and buy me food and drinks. I learned from my host sister that many people here very much appreciate when foreigners respectfully take part in traditions, so my fears of being gawked at or feeling uncomfortable were completely unwarranted! This, among many other of my experiences here in Japan, have shown me how truly hospitable and open the locals are to foreigners, and especially the gratitude they have for those who take an interest in learning and participating in their cultural practices.
Yesterday we visited Nikko, a city in Tochigi prefecture which is home to the mausoleum of a great shogun. In the areas surrounding the mausoleum there are two famous wood carvings which were some of my favorites. One was of the three monkeys that “hear no evil, speak no evil, and see no evil”, and the other is of small sleeping cat, which I believe is meant to act as a kind of “guardian” to the Shinto shrine. We also took a boat tour of Lake Chuzenji, a massive and gorgeous lake surrounded by mountains, and finally, we got to see the connected waterfall, Kegon Falls. The waterfall was probably my favorite site on this particular daytrip. Not only were the falls themselves breathtaking, but so were the rock formations around them.
I have done so much these past two weeks, and will be sad to leave Japan soon, but am also anxious to arrive in China to begin air quality testing. Last night we received our equipment, which seems as if it should be easy to use! Thank you to all the new friends I have made here in Japan who may be reading this, and a HUGE thank you to my host family! Japan, you are truly incredible!
PS: Sorry for the lack of images, I am still learning how to work out the kinks with uploading! I promise pictures soon!