Hey, guys, I am (still) on a plane (and will continue to be on a plane for the next 3 1/2 hours), so I guess I will write about my second day on the Nikko tour!
I started the day off with breakfast with my host family, and then my host dad drove me to the hotel where we were supposed to meet all the other people on the tour. We piled onto the bus and drove for a bunch and then piled off the bus to watch a washi demonstration.
I don't have any pictures, but washi is a kind of thick Japanese paper made by hand. We also got to make some washi ourselves! I'm gonna steal some pictures from the other Fulbrighters when I have a chance, 'cause it was massively cool. Basically, we had a frame with a bamboo screen in it (sort of like you roll sushi in), and you'd dip it into a vat of fiber and swish it around to make paper! I made two pieces which were excessively derpy. Pictures coming shortly.
[Edited after exiting the plane:
Here are some pictures I totally stole from Karen because I am a bad person.
Alyssa got to try making paper with the huge paper-sifting-thingy.
One of the women who works at the shop was helping her shake it, because it's so heavy, and you have to keep it horizontal or your paper gets weird.
Then you lift the top off and run your finger along the edges so that the paper isn't stuck to it...
Then lift the finished sheet while it's still on the bamboo mat...
...and lay it down flat on the table. Peel the bamboo mat off (carefully!) and you (in theory) have a beautiful piece of paper!
Tada! All done.
Here we are with our first pieces of paper!]
Then we hopped on the bus again and rode to watch a soba-making demonstration at the restaurant we were going to eat lunch at. Soba is a kind of buckwheat noodle (and is really tasty), and some crazy intense people make it by hand.
...also the mayor was there for some reason?
Look at the starting size of that ball.
LOOK AT IT.
That's gonna feed 18-20 people.
OH MY GOSH, NOW IT'S A RECTANGLE???
DARK MAGIC, GUYS. DARK MAGIC.
Look at that knife. The thing he's holding in his left hand is a kind of ruler he chops up against the edge of.
He was a soba-chopping MACHINE.
This guy was dividing the soba into portions.
So then we ate the soba!
(Well, actually, first we heard a speech from the mayor about how fantastically smart we were and how we would do great things, which was interesting, because he didn't bother talking to any of us. Awkward.)
LOOK AT THOSE FANTASTICALLY SMART PEOPLE.
THEY'RE GONNA DO GREAT THINGS.
Dessert was like...rice noodles with red bean on top? It was odd.
Gonna do great things, you guys.
So then we walked over the Yama-age (literally "mountain raising") Festival Museum. The Yama-age festival is this festival they do in Karasuyama (where we spent the day) which involves hoisting giant wooden mountain cut-outs and then performing kabuki in front of them. It sounds pretty amazingly cool, to be honest, and not just 'cause I'm a giant shrine nerd.
Here's a mikoshi!
...and here is the absolute creepiest animatronic anything I have ever seen. This thing went so far down into the uncanny valley that it was more like the uncanny canyon or the uncanny chasm. I will probably have nightmares about this thing for years to come.
YEARS TO COME.
Robots: sometimes they shouldn't happen?
Anyway, then we got on the bus AGAIN and went to this former-tank-factory-in-a-mountain-which-then-was-turned-into-a-sake-storage-place?
It was kiiiiiiiiiiiiind of surreal.
We didn't really get to see much of it, though!
This is the symbol of the kami of alcohol!
Or so I have been told.
Anyway, then there was sake-tasting for those of us who drink, which wasn't all of us, so some of us just sort of stood around awkwardly!
After that we went to a sake factory, where we didn't really get to look around either.
I asked our tour guide about it and he said it's because making sake is sacred.
...so, that's what a sake factory looks like.
Not that exciting, I guess, compared to say, chocolate factories.
And then there was more sake tasting, just for longer this time and in the sake factory's store! Because everyone loves tasting sake! Right?????
So then we hopped on the bus AGAIN and we went to...
Basically we went to look at it.
And that was it.
An oven! Made of Oya stone!
I forgot to mention previously, but Oya stone is heat resistant, what with it being volcanic and all.
I want a tea kettle with a fish on it.
Look at that thatched roof.
LOOK AT IT.
That is basically a huge kotatsu.
And a little kotatsu!
I love kotatsu. I want one. I spent a huge chunk of time at my host family's house chilling at the kotatsu.
A kamidana! Also known as a household altar.
KAREN, THAT IS NOT HOW YOU DO DOORS.
(There was a hole in the shouji, so she didn't actually rip anything. She just stuck her arm through the hole to sneakily take pictures of us, because she is Karen.)
This, incidentally, is the picture Karen took through the hole.
So then we hopped on the bus again and drove back to the hotel in Utsunomiya to meet with our host families again!
My host family decided that since I was in Utsunomiya, I should have gyoza (pot-stickers), because Utsunomiya has the #2 gyoza in Japan (they used to be #1 and are Very Bitter About It). Anyway, Ashley and Steven and their host families came along as well! But on the way we stopped at a shrine:
That's my host mom.
...I forgot to take proper pictures with my host family because I was too busy doing other things. Oops.
What is it with Japan and the STAIRS?
And then we went to eat gyoza!
So much gyoza.* There was boiled gyoza and fried gyoza and something called "wing gyoza" which is where the gyoza is fried in a small amount of batter so they're all stuck together and when you break them apart it looks like they have wings. They were DELICIOUS. My host mom asked me which one I liked the best of the three and I said the fried one and then she came back with TEN MORE GYOZA, which was insane because they expected me to eat that many. And I told them it was impossible and they said I should use my betsubara** and I said that I wasn't Japanese and thus didn't have a betsubara and they told me that I should make one since I had come all the way to Japan and I could call it my gyozabara (gyoza stomach). Anyway, long story short, I wound up eating them, because wasting food is terrible, especially if it's food other people bought for you.
Note: My host family was totally more reasonable than Steven's, who fed him two separate dinners, because he is so skinny.
And theeeeeeeeeeeeeen we went to an onsen! Which was exciting, because they had a bunch of different pools? And I didn't understand that an "electric bath" meant "a bath with an electric current running through it" until I had stepped into it and suddenly was in a lot of pain?*** And there was a bath full of bacteria which kind of weirded me out? But the other baths were really nice!
And then we headed back to my host family's place and ate ice cream from Okinawa, which was delicious but not like you'd expect. There were some weird flavors, like salt chinsuko (that weird cookie I ate a million months ago) and sugar cane. My favorite was a lime-like-citrus one.
And then I crashed and slept and that was the end of tour day 2!
*Also, my host mom ordered "taco salad" which turned out to be something that bore virtually no resemblance to tacos...on rice. Also, the menu said that tacos are Okinawan. WHAT.
**Literally "other stomach." It's a Japanese thing.
***I have no idea why anyone finds them pleasant. You know that really awkward feeling you get when you're rotating leg from your hip and your hip gets stuck? Imagine that. If you don't know what that heck I'm talking about, imagine being electrocuted...in water.