Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Culinary and cultural explorations: Matsuyama days 1 and 2

I arrived in Matsuyama on Tuesday afternoon and was greeted at the airport by Ruth Vergin, the coordinator of the International Education office at Ehime University. She took me to the University Guest House where the CLC and JJC faculty leading the trip are also staying during their time in Matsuyama.  The students are staying in a youth hostel type hotel  little further away from campus.  The Guest House feels a bit like furnished dorm rooms with private bathrooms.  It isn't the most luxiourous accommodations, but is fine for the time I will be here.  Honestly after such a long flight to get to Japan, I was just thankful for a place to take a hot shower and lay down to stretch my legs.  After a quick shower, I headed onto campus to meet up with our students and faculty and some Japanese students for a meet and greet.  I was delighted to see several of the students who had come to CLC last summer for a three week exchange program, including Azumi, one of the students whom we hosted in our home one weekend.  Afterwards I grabbed some lunch at the campus cafeteria trying some delicious pork, onion and cabbage stir fry of sorts selected for me by one of the Japanese students at my request.  I withdrew some additional money, got some beverages for my hotel room, and then headed back for a quick (2 hour) nap before rejoining our group and many Japanese students for a Nabe party.  Nabe is a type of dish made up of various vegetables and meat cooked in seasoned broth in a big pot heated on a propane fueled burner at ones table. It is like soup but with larger chunks of vegetables and meat.  One drinks the broth, but the main attraction is the food contained within the broth.  The broth is really more for the purposes of cooking the other items.   There were about 8 different types of nabe pots at the party and small groups of us sat on the floor on straw mats around tables low to the ground, which each had its own pot of Nabe that we shared.  It was a great introduction to Japanese style meals.  I am anxious to try a duplicate Nabe at home.  I'm not sure I can find all the same ingredients, but I think I could make due.  After the party I crashed and slept pretty well until I woke up around 3 am Japan time.  Thankfully, i did manage to get back to sleep an hour or so later.

Later that morning, I enjoyed a Western style breakfast at the Guest House.  It was a odd assortment of things:  one piece of bread, half a pancake, small dish of egg salad, one sausage link, coffee, small tossed sald, and yogurt.  I then headed onto campus to the computer lab where I did some catch up on email and afterwards had a lunch meeting with Ken, the CLC faculty leading the trip, Ruth and a colleague from her office to discuss the MOU between our schools for short term and semester long exchange.  Followings lunch, I joined up with the students for a tour of Dogo Osen, a public bath house situated atop a hot spring.  The bath house is the oldest Hot Spring in Japan and the Special bath house for the Royal Family.  We didn't actually see people bathing, but rather saw the part of the bathhouse designated just for the royal family and a sample private room where people rest and relax after bathing.  Since I'm not one to even make an appearance in a bathing suit, I do not anticipate returning to partake in the bathhouse personally.  I heard some students will do so though.

We also took a tour of the area surrounding the Guest House, which included a Buddist Temple and a Shinto Shrine.  It was quite the hike and I regret that I didn't have a chance to change my clothing after my meeting with Ruth.  Consequently I got some blisters from my shoes.  Nonetheless it was neat to see these sites of such historical and cultural significance in Matsuyama. I especially enjoyed the beautifully manicured gardens among the temples and shrines and in the homes we passed along the way.  If I had had time, I might have enjoyed just sitting in the gardens and spending some time in prayer.

After the tour concluded, the group split up for dinner.  I took a tram across town with a Tamara, a JJC faculty member to try and do some shopping and to find a place to eat.  We had received some instructions from Ken about how to get there for which we were glad since there aren't too many signs in English in Matsuyama and trying to navigate based on the tram map itself wasn't particularly helpful.  When we arrived to our stop, we came across a drug store.  As we had both been battling some mosquito bites since we arrived, we sought out some anti-itch cream and some mosquito spray.  Of course everything is in Japanese so we sought the help of the pharmacist.  He didnt speak English well enough to communicate with us, but through gestures, we were able to explain what it was we wanted and he helped us find it.  I was grateful and proud of our accomplishment.

Afterwards we had dinner at a nice restaurant above a department store.  We soon discovered that like the pharmacist, the server also did not speak English and that the menu was only in Japanese.  Undaunted and feeling adventurous, we chose a meal based on a photo in the menu and pointed to the picture and asked the server for two of them using our fingers.  We were each brought a set that included some tempura, some noodles in a broth like Miso soup with seaweed, and a bowl,of white rice with fish eggs and dried seaweed on top.  The server showed us which sauces went with which things and we dug in.  While I'm not sure I would have ordered fish eggs If I had known what it was that I was getting, I am glad to have tried it.  It wasn't too bad actually.  I'm not likely to try duplicating that meal at home however.

Tomorrow we will go to see the famous Matsuyama Castle.  Afterwards we will meet the President of the university.  I can't wait to see what other Unforseen adventures await me!  Sianara!


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