Life in the Land of the Rising Sun

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

2005 School Trip, Day 2

It's another beautiful day in Hiroshima, but it's actually time to say goodbye. After breakfast (what, no natto??) and the usual fussing about, we walk past the A-bomb dome again and across the famous T-shaped bridge (Enola Gay’s actual sighting target) to board our buses. Looking back, the morning sun is glinting brightly almost directly over the Dome, and I can envision that August morning, 60 years ago, when, for an instant, two suns could be seen over that Dome. If I had been standing on this spot then, I’d now be a pile of ashes, my shadow etched in the bridge forever. Fortunately, however, there is only one sun, and it is a friendly one.

We're off to Miyajima.

There follows undoubtedly the shortest bus tour of any school trip I've been on to date, but the guide is sure an interesting character!

Arigatou de gansu! (Hiroshima dialect for “arigatou gozaimasu”, thank you very much!)

What a beautiful view of the Seto Inland Sea! For the first time, I notice the Woman of Miyajima. The shape of the Island itself looks like the silhouette of a feminine head looking up out of the sea at the sky. It's sunny this morning, but a bit nippy. I just know the ferry ride is going to be COLD…

…and it is…

I keep hoping that someday I'll see Utsukujima Shrine when the tide is in. This time, not only is the tide out, it is WAY out, the furthest I’ve ever seen. In fact, it is so far out that, for the first time ever, I'm able to walk down to the giant torii gate.'s hard to see just how big that thing is until you're standing right under it! I’m also surprised to find that the main pillars are made of only very rough hewn wood, as if a couple of trees were simply chopped down, peeled, delimbed, painted orange, and propped up in the sand. The braces and crossbeams are smooth, however. Still, the shrine itself is basically the same as always, very beautiful but a bit too crowded to be able to enjoy it to its fullest. Still, I'd say it's worth the trip.

On the ferry back to the mainland, I can't help but notice that the English subtitles of the interpretive video are so hideously bad that, If I didn't understand the Japanese narrative, I wouldn't have any idea what they were talking about. Basically, whoever did it simply translated all the Japanese idioms and colloquialisms directly into English, word-for-word, with no attempt to spell the words correctly. Sorry podner, but that just ain't gonna work. As famous as Miyajima is, I’m appalled at such slip-shod efforts. (Then again, it’s not much worse than all those stupid English catch-phrases [SECs] used by the prefectural board of education…)

We ride the local train back to Hiroshima Station to catch the Shinkansen. Before we do, we pause near an ice cream stand, and pretty soon half our kids have whipped ice cream cones despite the autumn chill. (Kids!)

As the train passes over a bridge, I see a solitary man in a stocking cap on roller skis making his way along the riverbank. This area definitely has its eccentricities.

Lunch is another ekiben (“station box-lunch”. i.e. a boxed lunch, featuring local specialties, sold at the train station) on the train. Those are always a nice fringe benefit of these school trips!

On to Kyoto!

Once again we have a real bus guide, i.e. one that is knowledgeable, entertaining, aggressive, and can keep up a steady stream of chatter as we go. That seems to be a regular feature of Kyoto and one that I always appreciate.

Our first stop is a ways out of town. We are going to the new Watashi no Shigoto Kan” (literally “My Occupation Hall”, but the official translation is a rather dull “Vocational Museum”). It's a vast, modern-looking hall filled with all kinds of funky things for helping kids choose their path in life. It also gives some remarkable opportunities for hands-on experience. There are seminars for graphic design, toy design, studio work, news announcing, fire-fighting, and many other things.

As for me, together with Mr. Sakuma (wouldn't you know it), I sign up for the piano tuner workshop (which we attend together with only two students from a different school). It's a lot of fun, and we learn a lot. Tuning is no problem for me (actually, both I and the teacher were amazed at how quickly I pulled it off), and I find the out-of-adjustment keys immediately and fix them. However, when I try my hand at a little assembly and disassembly of the piano mechanism I have a couple of slip-ups simply because I don't pay close attention to what I’m doing or look carefully at the pieces involved (live and learn...which is the whole point of the seminar after all). I guess that has always been one of my biggest weaknesses; I get overconfident with what I know I can do, so I take the other details for granted. Maybe some day I'll remember to look with my eyes. Even so, I learn a lot about how the piano works.

After the seminar I take their general aptitude test, whose cuteness factor clearly identifies it as being for kids (or 20-something women). Still, I have a good laugh about it. Guess what? The result says that I'm the type who is better suited for working with tools or machines than with people (i.e. I’m a geek). I guess there's some truth to that, but the recommended occupations are either technical or related to research or data management. It also says I'd be a good piano tuner! :-)

Now it’s back to Kyoto to check in to the hotel and have dinner.

Dinner, as always at a traditional-style Kyoto hotel, is fantastic...and of course there is umeshu (usually translated as “plum wine”, though Pandabonium makes a good case for calling the Japanese ume an “apricot” instead of a plum), though not nearly enough. After that, we have a performance/Q&A session from a maiko (geisha [called geiko in Kyoto] in training). This year's maiko is very good...much better than last year's. Her fluid movements, all obviously in perfect control, are positively hypnotic. She also has a much warmer and more agreeable personality, which makes for a more pleasant exchange. Of course, part of that might have to do with the better behavior of this year's 9th graders. Last year's maiko got laughed at and loudly made fun of, which might explain why her performance was stiff and clumsy and her personality frosty.

Once again the evening's teachers' meeting is beerless. *sigh* Oh, well. At least tonight I’ll get a good night’s sleep.


  • I just can't enjoy natto, not sure why. Suppose to be one of the best, oh, well :)

    And maiko performance! That was really awesome!

    I bet you all will drop by Kinkaku-ji, Kiyomizu-dera, etc. No? :)

    Enjoy the rest of the trip!

    By Blogger @ロウ 。LOW@, at 5:40 PM  

  • The picture of the sun through the dome is eerie.

    Utsukujima Shrine is on my list too. So many places, so little train fare.

    I'm not a fan of natto either, Low. Too bad, because K tells me Ibaraki is famous for it. A friend of mine who, coincidentally, grew up in Hiroshima absolutely loves the stuff. Acquired taste perhaps?

    It doesn't surprise me at all that you are good at piano tuning - or have the aptitude in any case. The vocational museum is a great idea.

    This outing is a great experience for the kids. Even if they seem aloof now, they are bound to look back on it at some point and draw from it.

    Good luck on getting a good night's rest.

    By Blogger Pandabonium, at 8:28 PM  

  • I don't blame you for not liking natto, Low. It is very much an acquired taste that is even limited here in Japan. It was invented here in Ibaraki prefecture and is mainly eaten in the Kanto region (i.e. in and around Tokyo). Actually, it is NOT popular in Kyoto at all (which is why I mentioned it).

    I've learned to like it.

    Actually, this trip was the first in seven times that I DIDN'T go to Kiyomizu-dera! I've only been to Kinkaku-ji once, though. I didn't go this time. I try to avoid the really famous, really crowded places in favor of less-known ones.

    By Blogger The Moody Minstrel, at 10:15 PM  

  • Geisha/maiko is a delicate art in Japan that I found much fondness in...

    Bringing a whole bunch of students for a trip sure is a fantastic experience! (and a handful one too)

    By Blogger YD, at 8:42 AM  

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