Friday, November 18, 2011

I can't eat natto

Today is the saddest day of my life, for today I have discovered a food that I physically cannot eat.
And that food is natto.
One of the girls from the Nanzan Institute who I went on the mystery tour with dared me to eat natto.*  She even gave me freeze-dried natto...things.  So today I screwed up my courage and decided to try it.  I found it so revolting that I started gagging just by having it touch my tongue.  When I tried to swallow it, I thought I was going to throw up.  I wound up spitting it out and drinking way too much water and sucking on a piece of hard candy until I stopped feeling like I was going to die.
I can't even explain WHY it tasted bad.  It wasn't anything in particular, just a general taste of WRONG.  Sort of like if you ate a peach but instead of it tasting like a peach it tasted like super spicy chili flavored with molasses?  I DON'T KNOW.  It was bad.  It did not, however, taste like rotting meat or corpses (both of which I have heard people describe it as tasting like), but then again, I haven't eaten either rotting meat or corpses, so I wouldn't really know! it bad that I'm tempted to try to eat it again just to see if I was just imagining the stomach-churning horror the first time around?

Other stuff I've been doing!

On Tuesday my advisor's seminar class visited Atsuta Shrine:

It's basically the biggest, most important shrine in the area.  It enshrines one of the three imperial regalia** (the sword) and is just generally the boss shrine.

It was the fifteenth, which is traditionally the date on which shichigosan is celebrated, so the precincts where swarmed with small children.  There were also a lot of different stands, like this one, which was selling chitose ame (千歳飴; literally "thousand years of age candy"), a kind of sugar candy that's normally associated with shichigosan.

The shrine, being really old, also has some amazing trees.

There were flower and ikebana (flower arrangement) exhibitions going on on the shrine grounds as well.

So this wall is Super Important because apparently it was built by Oda Nobunaga?

This miko was performing purification ceremonies.

...and here's the shrine.

...and here's the long line of kids (probably from the same preschool) who were coming to pay their respects to the kami as we were leaving.

Another amazing tree!

And a tiny shrine, enshrining a kami of pure water.

Specifically this pure water.

You have to scoop the water from the stream and throw it upstream to splash on top of a rock three times.

My advisor is demonstrating here.

One of my classmates threatened to throw the water at us instead.

(You can see the rock in this picture.)

And here's another one of my classmates throwing water.

So I believe this is the building where the sword is enshrined?

Here's where they were conducting the shichigosan ceremonies.  As you can probably tell, it was pretty crowded.

Here's the Super Famous Wall again.

Trees!  Blossoming in fall!  This was actually on the news a couple of weeks ago; a bunch of sakura (cherry blossom) trees starting flowering randomly.  Scientists think that it might be caused by the typhoon plus the really weird weather--the typhoon tore all the leaves off the trees, and then the weather warmed up, so the trees thought it was spring and started flowering.  I don't know if that's true or not, but it's pretty surreal to see trees flowering in mid-November.

So then we went into the museum associated with the shrine, where they have a whole lot of swords.  SO MANY SWORDS.

These guys were outside.  They're making metal plates with kids celebrating shichigosan's names on them.

One of my classmates wanted to know if we could pretend we had children so we could get nameplates.

So that was that field trip. Not terribly long, but still fun.

Yesterday (Thursday) I went to Susanoo Shrine for their monthly festival, and actually got to participate, instead of just watching this time, which was pretty exciting.  I managed to screw up only once (I bowed from the wrong place shtoeuwtwhskhgskah I am disgraced forever).  And then afterwards I got to help divide up the offerings and purify the shrine grounds by throwing rice and salt that had been used in the ceremony while saying, 「祓えたまえ、清めたまえ」(roughly translated to "bestow purification, bestow [different word for purification]").
Also, due to a series of complicated circumstances, there is a possibility that I will get to participate in the New Year's ceremony at the shrine.  I think this has less to do with my dazzling abilities and more to do with the fact that they have pretty much nobody else to help out.  A lot of the conversation went, "Well, what about T-san?"  "Isn't he 80?"  "Actually, I thought he was 90 by now..."  Still, the fact that they even consider me eligible is pretty exciting!  Also, next month I get to come early and help them set up the offerings.

After that I went and talked to Itou-san at Kawahara Shrine for ~3 hours about a whole bunch of different things.  SO MANY NOTES.  But then randomly,
Itou-san: So when is your boyfriend going to propose to you?
Me: Uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
Itou-san: Well, I guess you still have to get your doctorate.
Me: ...yes...?  Yes, I do.
Itou-san: So he's got a while.
Me: Um.
So, um, that was exciting?  It also came out of NOWHERE.

Anyway, I then had to leave to go to class, but Itou-san gave me some chitose ame before I left:

I am an honorary little kid!

AND THEN today I went and talked to Professor Dorman, who works at the Nanzan Institute for Religious Studies. He was really helpful and has promised to put me in contact with some people and also suggested some reading material.  So that was awesome.

And now I am tired and should probably go work on my graduate school application essays.  I have no idea why I thought applying to grad school while on a Fulbright would be a good idea.

*Natto is fermented soy beans.  It smells somewhat akin to if you rolled a dead body in a wet dog.  It looks somewhat like feces.  It looks even worse if you mix it with mayonnaise.  When you see advertisements for it in the grocery store, they always stress how healthy it is for you, not how tasty it is.  It's very much an acquired taste.

**As the story goes, Amaterasu gave her grandson the three imperial regalia--a sword, a jewel, and a mirror--to prove that he was the emperor of Japan. The mirror is enshrined in Ise, the sword is enshrined in Atsuta, and the imperial family has the jewel.

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