Sunday, December 25, 2011

Hello, Dana's Blog

Hello, all of Dana’s faithful readers!
My name’s Mary. So, recently I kidnapped Dana, and made her do all sorts of enjoyable things down in “balmy” Kyushu. And when I say kidnapping, I mean the whole kaboodle--blog-napping and all.
Operation Kidnap: DAY ONE!
… started at 22:00 at night. Well, this is when Dana finally managed to get here, and I was done with my 忘年会 (bounenkai, or litterally “forget the year party,” or the end of the year party yay let’s drink and be merry!) for my Junior High School. The bounenkai went pretty much as expected—lots of drinking, lots of laughter, lots of pictures of the past year—and I left in good spirits. Since Dana was arriving an hour late, I had time after the party to slip into the local mall to pick up some yuzu*, but since I was so late, all they had was mikan and oranges. Sadface.
   Oh well, I thought. Mikan and oranges are pretty rockin’ citrus, too.
So, armed with citrus, I walked to the train station, and got there pretty much the same time exhausted Dana trudged from the train. And then we both walked home, considerably more perky since we could exchange awesome odd conversation about everything. We got home and rolled about and I got a bath ready and threw in some oranges, and we took turns**. It was pretty highly excellent, and we both passed out in bliss.
Operation Kidnap: DAY TWO!
Day two was also known as the Day of Walking. We walked to the Takeo Shrine, which is known for enshrining one of the biggest/oldest camphor trees in Japan. This camphor tree (called 大楠, or Ookusu, or Big Camphor) inspired the Princess Mononke movie by Studio Ghibli, and is pretty excellent and huge and tree-like. It’s approximately 3,000 years old and awesome. I’m a super fangirl of big ancient trees.
 For more pictures of the tree, you'll have to look at my blog.
Then we decided it’d be fun to walk to Mifune Rakuen, the big park on the opposite side of Mnt. Mifune.
 It was quite a long and excellent walk. The garden was pretty, but since it was winter, most of the plants were like “Oooh, it’s so cold, and I’m a plant, so I’m going to drop my leaves and look soooo sleepy,” so we decided it was best to move on to bigger and more interesting places.
So we walked across a mountain road.
Oh so dangerous and interesting.
(I think it would be a very good idea to find a path through Mnt. Mifune that has walkways. Yes.)
ANYWAY, we came home and made awesome deliciousness:
I ate so much food, and it was fantastic.
Then we watched 2 episodes of My Little Pony, and 3 episodes of Misfits, and listened to good music, and stayed up late writing on blogs and emails, and it was excellent, and we slipped into deep and profound sleep.
Operation Kidnap: DAY THREE!
I woke up super early in the morning, and tried to not wake up Dana by skyping my parents from my bathroom (which is different than the toilet room). It didn’t really work, but I did get my traditional Christmas Eve present from my parents (pajamas), so that was cool.
Then at 10:30, my friend and fellow Tea Ceremony student, Tatara-san, picked us up and took us on a tour of western Saga.
It started by going to Yuutoku Inari Jinja, which is one of the three largest Inari shrines in Japan (the biggest being in Fushimi Inari Shrine in Kyoto, which I went to with Dana (we're totally going to have to find the third, and go there, too)). It’s a pretty excellent place, so here are some pictures of our adventures:
We got to the top of the mountain, and the view of Saga was pretty spectacular.
Then, getting down the mountain, there were some steps that Dana thought were pretty steep:
Then we went to an excellent sushi/udon restaurant and had some of the best pork udon ever. I don’t have pictures, but it was warm and delicious, and I had a lot of fun talking to Tatara-san and Dana-san about our various studies and pursuits.
Then we drove some more, and “balmy” Kyushu got snow! 8D Really, it was just a dozen or so super wet snowflakes hitting the windshield, but still, it was pretty fantastic. It’s been about 6 years since I lived somewhere that got any snow, and I’m excited.
Then Tatara-san, being sneaky, pulled over and bought us シュークリーム (I always think “Shoe cream” when I hear it, which sounds so not delicious, but oh my gosh Shyu-cream is sooooo delicious!) from a famous bakery in Yama-uchi-cho. Tatara-san is super nice and likes making people smile, and we’ve started a war with giving each other nice things. The shoe-cream were delicious, but super hard to eat without making a mess all over the back of Tatara-san’s car. I succeeded in getting most of my mess on my coat and my scarf, and not all over Tatara-san’s backseat.
After that, we drove to Arita to see some Arita-yaki, which is some of the most famous pottery from Japan.
Arita-yaki is porcelean, and it’s older designs are rather recognizable, since they are so famous and seen everywhere. I wasn’t sure if we should take pictures, but here are some examples of some famous Arita-yaki.
The store we were in was more for tourists, and as such the pottery for sale was more modern. There were lots of floral patterns, and all the pottery was delicate and perfectly formed. I’m not sure how each were produced, but I’m assuming they are form-molded, not each made by hand, but I’m not sure. I will have to ask next time.
I started getting suspicious when Tatara-san started asking us each what we liked, and then kept returning to look at the cups we had pointed out to and looking at them thoughtfully. Dana, naïve of Tatara-san’s schemings, kept looking happily at the pottery. Then Tatara-san said, “So, choose your favorite piece, because I will buy you some!” *** Dana and I were happy, and embarrassed, and politely tried to refuse, but Tatara-san was insistant. She bought Dana a Petite Prince mug, and me a beautiful white yunomi**** with a simple green ring around the lip and beautiful green leaves on one side. Tatara-san had worked at the store before, so she got a crazy discount.
This is why I highly recommend taking Tea Ceremony (or any other traditional Japanese art form) with the awesome ladies of Japan. J Thank you, Tatara-san.
After receiving our presents, Dana and I went upstairs to where they displayed pottery from the Meiji and Edo periods of Japan. These were some pretty fantastic pieces of pottery, most of them 100-200 years old, and some of them nearly 400 years old. I was drooling every step I took, and had to be painfully dragged away from the gilt porcelain.*****
Then we hopped in the car again and went to Imari, an out-of-the-way city in Saga that used to be a ceramics enclave during the Edo period of Japan.****** There were lots and lots of little pottery shops, but I’ll admit, the mountains had me most captivated.
Also, the whole town was very quaint and heart-warming.
It was bitterly cold, but it was enjoyable to walk through such a peaceful small arts town, and to see so much beautiful pottery.
Then we went to Kuro-kami shrine (黒髪神社). Kurokami-zan is the most famous mountain in this region of Saga. The temperature had kept dropping from our time in Imari, and so it was bitterly cold outside. Tatara-san stayed in her car as Dana and I ventured out to the shrine, and she kindly let me wear her blue fox fur ruff. I looked pretty shnazzy at the shrine, and kept warmer.
Then, on the way home, Tatara-san swung by the grocery so we could buy dinner food-stuffs and food for the Christmas party tomorrow.
We wrapped up the tour by me running back into my apartment to retrieve the gift of Godiva chocolate I had forgotten to give her on the outset of the journey. I feel like it was only a small repayment for the vast kindness we received from Tatara-san, and I am very thankful for her generosity. It has made a wonderful memory.
Now, Dana and I are lying around my apartment, writing blogs, making food that is like nikujaga’s distant cousin *******, watching Misfits, and baking a pumpkin pie.
Good day, good day.
*Look at Dana’s previous blog post. She eats them! D:
**If you aren’t aware of Japanese family bathing traditions, the bath is in the shower room (often taking half the floor space), and you can splash everything with your nifty detach-able showerhead and smile like an exctatic child, then when you are done splashing and getting clean, you slip into the bath that is shared with everyone. On the Winter Solstice, the longest night of the year, the Japanese figure it’s a good idea to take advantage of all that long dark coldness and put delicious-smelling yuzu in the bathtub and stay in for soooo loooong.
*** This is a paraphrase, because, while I can think in Japanese, I often translate things in my head instantaneously and tend to remember a translation of what people said in English, and not what they actually said in Japanese. It’s kind of odd, actually…
**** <i>Yunomi</i> are a Japanese-style tea-cup, without a handle.
***** If you don’t know me, I am a ceramisist, and pottery is one of my undying loves. Being in a pottery shop is like putting a kid in a candy store—and very dangerous for my wallet. Being in a shop surrounded by old, gorgeous pottery was heaven.
****** Artist enclaves were areas where artisans were forced to live in the village and make things for the emperor.
******* Nikujaga literally means “meat and potatoes”, and is made by cooking thinly cut pork or beef with potatoes in sake and soy-sauce until the potatoes fall apart into a yummy mash-potato-like consistency, but what Dana and I had was comprised of Satsuma-imo, potato, pork, piman (which is like a bell pepper), and renkon (lotus root). It was delicious. I also made brownrice on my gas stove for the first time, and it turned out well.

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