Sunday, May 26, 2013

Uchiko and a reunion with friends

Saturday marked my last full day in Japan.  With the students at their home stays, I had the opportunity to get together with Miki and Azumi, two friends from Ehime University whom we had the privilege of hosting in our home one weekend  last summer when they were participating in a three week exchange program at CLC.  They picked me up and took me to Uchiko, a small town of about 20,000, about an hour outside of Matsuyama.  Uchiko is unique in that it is a town dedicated to the preservation of the old, traditional style of Japanese architecture.  On the way, we stopped at a small grocery store where Miki and Azumi taught me a bit about the different vegetables and fruits one can find in Japan.  In our perusing, I discovered bottled honey that contained the body of the largest bee I had ever seen (see picture below).  Even Azumi and Miki were surprised.  Beside it was another jar of honey that contained the bodies of several smaller bees, but still large by U.S. standards.   The smaller bees looked to be the size of Carpenter bees, not honey bees.  This only left me to surmise that the bigger bee must have been the queen bee.  If these are honey bees in Japan, I can only imagine what beehives must look like.

After our expedition of the grocery store, we went out for a nice lunch and then headed into the town of Uchiko.  Driving through the town felt like taking a step back in time.  Every where I looked I wanted to take a picture.  Once we got parked, we visited a Shinto Shrine with what appeared to be the largest statue of a reclining Buddha that I had ever seen.  We then toured the Japanese Wax Museum, which explained the historical importance that Uchiko had in production of vegetable wax made from the dried flowers of the Sumac plant in the 1900s.  As part of the Museum, we also toured the Kamihaga Residence, a historically refurbished home in the traditional Japanese style.  It was amazing to see.  I learned from Azumi and Miki that Japan made the move to more modern housing in the 1960s and 1970s.  Consequently, there are very few persons in Japan that still live in the old style homes.  Even their grandparents didn't live in old style homes.

After touring the museum and home, we went to visit Uchiko-za, one of the only remaining Kabuki Theaters in Japan.  Unfortunately, it was being used at the time and unavailable for tours.  Afterwards, Miki and Azumi took me to see their homes and meet their parents.  We didn't stay long, but I appreciated the opportunity to see what a modern Japanese home looked like.  There were definitely still elements of the old traditional style evident in their homes-- tatami mats, sliding doors separating the entrance way of the house from the rest of the house, a room for prayer/worship of their ancestors, and beautiful use of the open space leading up to their front doors for plants and flowers.  I appreciate them giving me a little glimpse into their everyday lives.

After departing their homes, we went to a vertical mall in the center of Matsuyama where we had a late dinner.  Within the mall, I had the chance to see what a typical grocery store looked like in comparison to the one I saw earlier on the lower level of a department store that I would say was comparable to Macy's.  It looked a lot like a Jewel/Safeway/Pick n' Save with slightly different goods, of course.  One thing that I saw that did make me laugh was the size of their shopping carts.  They are extremely tiny and the basket was just the size of the basket that you carry around at Target or US grocery stores when you have a few things to pick up.  Miki and Azumi said this was the case because many people grocery shop every day and only get enough that they can carry by foot or by bike (I think there are more bikes than cars in Matsuyama).

Azumi and Miki kindly helped me find a few other souvenirs that I had been looking for but didn't have the language skills to find on my own.  Soon it was 9 pm and time to go home.  It was sad to say goodbye to Azumi and Miki, but I couldn't have planned a better way to spend my last day in Japan.  I thank them (with a deep bow), for their time, their generosity, and their friendship.  It was deeply satisfying to be able to share a bit of their lives and their culture after their trip to the U.S. last year.  Although I have made many international friends over the years, it is not often that I get to travel see them in their home countries.  I hope I have additional opportunities like this in the future, and perhaps Matt will even be able to come with me next time.

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