I just returned from a whirlwind one and a half day trip to Nasu, Japan for a weekend trip with my coworkers at the Hitachi City Board of Education. There were about 15 of us all together, including us 4 ALTs. We set out early yesterday morning and went on our big adventure. Man, even when Japanese are vacationing they are working hard. First we stopped at an aquarium which was awesome. I made a point of trying to find fish that represented many of the main characters in Finding Nemo. :) I didn't find quite everybody, but I found a lot. Then we had lunch at brewery that had an all you can eat buffet. Just so you know, when places are all you can eat they are called "viking". Then we stopped at a cheese garden, then we went to a honey and herb garden where we got to make our own soap, which was very fun. :)
We finally arrived at our hotel last night, and I was amazed at how beautiful it was. I took pictures and will post them as soon as I can*. As soon as we arrived we had a huge feast laid out for us, and they kept bringing us more and more food. Even though I am not a huge fam of seafood, the majority of the food was very good. Many nice Japanese meals have at least one "cook your own dish" element. We had a little pot of broth, and we got to light the flame under it then cook some meat and greens to make a kind of stew, which was delicious. I got to make yet another (and I think my last) new girl speech. It was funny, because my fellow ALT Ian was translating for me, and whenever I tried to be funny it just deadpaned, but whenever I tried to be serious they thought it was hilarious. All I know is that by the end everyone was laughing and they clapped uproariously.
After that we went and karaoked for two hours. I performed "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gayner, "When" by Shania Twain, and "Eight Days a Week" by the Beatles. :) It is amazing to see "reserved" Japanese people belt it out once they're handed a microphone. Although many of the songs were in Japanese, many of them have English phrases thrown in so it was fun to sing those with them. What a great bonding experience, but not nearly as bonding as what we did next.
Yes, I have now gone to an onsen (public bath). One of the primary draws of our hotel was a natural hot spring onsen that was part of the hotel and open 24 hours a day. Thankfully, there are only 3 women on staff at the Board of Education-- me, Alina, and Ishii-san, and we're all about the same age. It is definitely a paradigm shift to go from bathing privately your whole life to going public. After we got in Alina exclaimed, "We're not the same people we were yesterday! We've now been to a public bath!" :)
Once you get over the extreme intial shock of being naked with your coworkers, it is actually nice. Like a jacuzzi. Perhaps that is all I shall say about the onsen experience. :) I don't think I'll go all the time, but I wouldn't be afraid to do it again. And if you want to come visit me, I won't make you go to an onsen. ;)
After that we crashed and woke up this morning to a big breakfast. As we walked to our banquet room I was fantasizing about bacon and eggs and pancakes and juice and milk and donuts and everything that makes American breakfasts beautiful. However, I was greeted by many strange things. It was an odd flash of culture shock. But I ate a lot of it (including 2 bites of natto) and vowed to make a good ol' fashioned American breakfast (just as God intended) very soon.
We then, sadly, left the beautiful hotel and made our way to a pickle market or something, which was a swarm of scary, pushy tourists. Then we went to a rice cracker factory and heard a lady sing. She shook my hand while she sang. Boy am I special. Then we had another huge meal at yet another fancy Japanese restaraunt, and most everything was very good, but let's just say I am tired of Japanese food for a while. I got myself a Dr. Pepper for the road on the way back to remind myself of home. As we approached Hitachi City and began to drop people off at their respective homes, imagine my surprise when we always clapped for everyone as they left the bus. I tell ya, it's amazing how close co-workers are here. I really think that in some senses the Japanese business relationships take the place of what we would consider family relationships in America. Interesting.
After getting home us four ALTs had a short meeting about an international cultural festival that we're helping to put on in November. This year's focus is going to be the Christmas holidays, and guess what I was put in charge of-- teaching the nativity story! :) Good chance for me to use that Bible degree, huh? ;) But really, I think this will be a good chance to teach about Christianity in a non-threatening environment, so please pray that God will speak through me and perhaps the story will peak the interest of some of these kids.