Weekened at Home/Hiking Ancient Pilgrammage Road

Trip Start Jun 27, 2009
Trip End Jun 25, 2011

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Monday, October 23, 2006

I'm playing table Tennis on Thursday nights now, with all the other southern JET's...it's one of our little weekday group activities out here in the "inaka" (country). We play at the same time 15 or so 50-60 year olds play, they are incredible! They hit the ball so fast and are always drenched in sweat. After table tennis we head over to this large auditorium for taiko drumming practice. We have kind of adopted the local Taiko group, who couldn't be more welcoming and patient in helping teach us the basics needed to play this large traditional Japanese drum. using It's been a lot of fun so far, and really challenging! We have to read the music written in Japanese katakana! It takes a lot of coordination too but we sound pretty good when we play all together. We compare "reading" the music to learning a song on the radio - it's amazing to see the good taiko players in the group play for over 10 minutes without reading any music!

2 weekends ago we took a day trip into the mountains to a town called Hongu. We visited 2/3 'Best Onsen in Kansai Area.' The first was Kawa-yu Onsen where the heated water rises up through the banks of the river. On our walk down the riverbank Katherine yelled my name and told me to come quickly because she spotted a 'Mukade' or poisonous Japanese centipede!! I've only heard stories from other JET's about trips to the hospital after bites from smaller mukades...so this was so scary to see one about 9 inches long and with RED LEGS!!! So after we made it past the mukade, who was also moving rather fast down the steps....we were standing on the rocky river bank. At this onsen you can literally make your own onsen by digging out some of the stones and letting your hole fill with water! We opted for the permanent riverside onsen instead, but couldn't put our feet in for a long time as this was the hottest onsen I've been to yet! Lily walked across the onsen in the scalding hot water on a dare for 500 YEN!! haha We then met up with Dave, the JET who lives in Hongu, went to visit his new house, bbq-ed Japanese noodles and veggies, and enjoyed a classic movie that was on cable - ET!

The next day Lily and I met up with Justin and Tony in Kushimoto to go fishing. My predecessor left me 2 fishing rods in the trunk of my car so we decided to put them to use. We first went to the Koza River so Justin could try and catch some fresh water fish (with a net) for his fish tank - no luck, so next stop was the Kushimoto Fishing Port. We had no idea where to go, but found some serious fishermen and decided to try a spot near them. We were using mini shrimp as bait and soon after we put the bait in the water fish started to swarm! Lily caught the first little fish, and I tried to be brave and get the hook out but it was in pretty well...We walked over to a fisherman and said "Sumimasen!" and he helped get the hook out. Then he told us that the fish we caught was a type of 'fugu' or blowfish! We were so excited and ended up catching 3 more of the same kind. This type of blowfish doesn't have spikes so they weren't dangerous to touch. The real excitement was when Justin swooped in and caught a huge blow fish (with spikes) with the net! They swim really slowly so it wasn't as challenging, but still so cool! He was huge, maybe 7-8 inches long. He kept trying to poke him with the net so he would puff up but he never did. The same fisherman came over and told us not to touch and that this type was dangerous! Justin wanted to keep this one and put him in his fish tank, but I felt bad because he kept hitting his head against the side of the bucket, so we let them go :) There are 40 kinds of blow fish caught and grown in Japan and 10,000 tons of blow fish are eaten each year! There is an old Japanese expression, "I want to eat fugu, but I don't want to die." Since fugu's poison can lead to instantaneous deaths of diners, only licensed cooks are allowed to prepare fugu. Fugu dishes are usually expensive and one meal can cost $100-$200 per person at a restaurant. However, there are also inexpensive fugu dishes (from $15 to $20) available.

This week in school I've been starting out my lessons by giving each kid an English name. I remember how cool it was when I had a French name, and how my friends and I used to call each other by our French names outside of class-so I wanted to do the same thing for my students here. They thought every name was hilarious and each kid seemed to turn bright red from embarrassment as I gave them their name. Class favorites seem to be: Steve (they immediately yell out "Steven Spielberg"), Tom ("Tom Cruise"), Brad ("Brad Pitt-o"), Jessica (they yell out the name Jusco, the local department store), Sophia (the think is funny because it sounds like Mafia). I tried to reassure them that these are the most popular names in America!!

They continue to love learning about Halloween - they love looking at pictures of real Jack-o-Lanterns, and love listening to the scary music cd I made. We even did a Mummy Race activity where they wrapped each other in toilet paper to become mummies! They really like the idea of all American 'Hallmark Holidays' but so far with Halloween the actual items one can purchase are limited. Japanese pumpkins are dark green/black and VERY tough to cut, so that eliminated pumpkin carving as an activity. But Baskin Robbins does have pumpkin flavored ice cream that all the kids love.

Something I really enjoy doing is eating lunch with the kids...I think they learn so much about me and western culture when I eat with them. I was told by a fellow-JET that if you really want to freak the kids out, eat raw carrots. Of course I was looking for new foods to shock them with, so I bought carrots on my next trip to the grocery store. You should've seen the looks on their faces when I bit into the carrot - whispers/shrieks were heard around the class as word was spread that I was actually eating RAW carrots! Some of the more daring students actually came right up to my desk and just had to see the action up close. I could actually understand what they were saying about me, how only rabbits eat raw carrots!! haha I told them "No! In America, we eat carrots like this! GOOD!" Students also came up to my desk at lunch and said the word "Diet" I laughed and said "I wish!" I guess that was a good thing, they thought my food looked healthy! Today I had a bagel with peanut butter and jelly and some kid yelled "Hamburger!" I laughed and tried to explain what was on my bagel...They're also fascinated by trail mix and always put their hands out and act like little beggar children and say "Please!" "Please!" "Please!"

I'm also enjoying teaching Hi-Fives and Thumbs Up, they seem scared to actually hit my hand hard, but then love it once they see that's how you're supposed to do it!

This past weekend there was a Wakayama Jet hiking trip a few hours north. We spent most of Saturday walking the Kumano Kodo - the pilgrimage road that lead to Kumano Sanzan (the three grand shrines of Kumano-one of which is at the NACHI WATERFALL in my town!). Kumano is honored as a sacred place where the gods have lived since ancient times. People entrust their future happiness to the gods by traversing the rugged path to visit Kumano. When this ancient road was created, the roads and rest stops were maintained because the emperor took many trips along here. Thus the road became more popular. Since religion spread from the Imperial House to the ordinary people, many pilgrims visited Kumano. The lines of pilgrims looked like ants, so it was called the "pilgrimage of ants to Kumano". The reason for the huge spread of the religion was because the gods of Kumano are generous and accept anybody, without regards to status or gender.

We had a great Japanese guide who stopped to tell us about every plant, twig, berry, bird we saw - which didn't make for much of a good work-out, but it was very scenic. The slow pace gave us all a chance to catch up with the other JET's we hadn't seen in a while. The weather was perfect, high 70's and we had a picnic lunch at the highest point of our hike.

To end a great day, another JET Chris, in his 3rd year, had a party at his house nearby. It was great to see even more JET's and I got a chance to speak Japanese to some of Chris's Japanese friends at the party.

Sunday we stopped in Shirahama on our way back down south and went to a world famous hotel and onsen. Hotel Kawakyu won the Japnese Architecture Award in '93 and it's roof is paved with more than 500,000 glazed tiles, the same as that in the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. It looks like a medieval castle on the outside and inside the grand lobby is the largest mosaic Rome-style floor in the world, complete with 6m tall Marble columns, and a 22.5K gold foil ceiling!!!
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rosegraves on

Hey Kate-
Lovely photos! Thanks for stopping by last weekend, the onsen were great.


adventarian on

English Web Page
Hello Kate, How are you? It's Brad in Tanabe. I was just surfing and came across your travel blog. It looks like you are enjoying life down there!

PS. Did you know that Kushimoto has an English Webpage? www.kankou-kushimoto.jp/english/ Did you have anything to do with it? Also just to let you know that Tanabe has an English Webpage as well with downloadable bus timetables and Kumano Kodo maps. www.tb-kumano.jp/en Take care. Brad

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