Snow n00b

It’s snowing again today. I can’t help but feel a sense of melancholy and childish glee. The teachers pass by, saying, “It’s snowing” with a smile on their face. “It’s beautiful!” I reply. Little did I know…

I observe a teacher looking outside at the falling snow with a pensive face. she looks like she’s enjoying the scenery. Little did I know…

“Do you like the snow?”

“I hate it. You gotta shovel it out everyday to move your car, it’s cold, and it’s dangerous to drive in. When you walk on the streets, you might slip on ice. Be careful out there!”

Silly Cat.

It’s funny. It’s not that I don’t understand the dangers and annoyances of a snowy winter. I am schlepping through deep snow, face the cold, which will only get worse, share the road with cars, always watching my step for ice, hoping I don’t slip and fall, and get up early in order to get to work on time. But after surviving the 30 minute or so walk without incident, it feels like a small achievement that I’ve survived.

Forget the year, Santa Clauses, and charity

This weekend started out with the school’s bounenkai (忘年会), forget-the-year party. A shuttle bus picked up teachers from the school and drove us to 丸峰観光ホテル (Marumine Kankou Hotel) at 芦ノ牧温泉 (Ashinomaki Onsen). We had an amazing dinner, where rows of individual table settings with plates and hot pot arrangements for each teacher was placed. For entertainment, the MCs and other teachers dressed up as Doraemon and Nobita, President Obama, Spider-man, and… an eggplant. We played trivia games and drank like crazy and chatted. I can’t drink too much beer, so eventually I switched to shochuu, which is pretty strong, but at least it doesn’t give me headaches like beer does. After dinner, we went to the second party, where we snacked and chatted some more. I got a lot of comments about how teachers think I’m quite Japanese, but I constantly remind them that I’m not at all. I need to save myself from the intense Japanese work ethic that may follow down the road! Finally, an hour before midnight when the hot springs closed, a number of us left the party to bathe and enjoy the outdoor pool, 露天風呂 (rotenburo). The snow was falling at this point, which is a great combination with the hot spring; if it got too hot, just keep your body above the water a bit, and you’re good!

The snow came down like crazy that evening because it was perfectly white all morning. We took the shuttle bus back and I walked my first snowy trek home. It was a little scary because I was afraid of taking the wrong step and slipping, or falling into a hole I didn’t see. Also, the snow along the roads are so dirty!

From there, I took a bus to Tokyo to do a SantaCon scavenger hunt in Nakameguro with some friends from the industry. Tokyo was totally different from Aizu: no snow, the sun was shining, it was a briskly cold. I had some time to kill, so I went to look for gossip Cafe in Omotesando, a queer-friendly place with a library full of LGBT literature. The GPS on my phone was going haywire though, so I made some wrong turns and took a little longer to find it. The area felt quite a bit like Noe Valley, with some new renovated buildings and cool, swanky shops. On this day, a lesbian couple, Sunny & Honey, were selling their goods at the cafe,  we got into a bit of conversation, and I bought some of their buttons. I could wear them to school, and suss out some students… As if I’m not  obvious already.  Hoping to run into these two during Tokyo Pride and film festivals.

After having some curry rice, I walked to Nakameguro, and the Santa Claus hunt was on. One of the instructions said to find the closest 7-11, and go from there to find a phone booth, but unfortunately, we went to the wrong one, and ended up at a phone shop, instead of a phone booth. After getting back on track, we ended up at the party place, where I was finally introduced to one of the guys from 8-4. I hope we get a chance to work together.

So my original plan was to go to 2-choume, the gay district from the Santa Con (while everyone was great and I had a good time, I really wanted to feel my peoples’ vibe), but I had an early morning, and decided to just go to the capsule hotel I reserved and crash. After 5 hours of sleep, I took a walk in the early morning through Tokyo, before anyone was up and crowded the streets. I walked through 2-choume, and there were still people hanging out at the bars, in full drag even. For a while though, as I was heading close to 2-choume, I noticed that a middle-aged man who was originally in front of me, hung back until I caught up, then walked from behind me. I kept looking at his face, not really sure what he wanted, not believing that he’d actually hurt me, though the thought did cross my mind. I took a turn down an alley where I thought the FTM bar was (but wasn’t), and finally shook him off.

Anyway, back to the snow Aizu.

I had committed to going to a charity event thrown by the Filipinos in my town to raise money for the typhoon victims, and didn’t have a ride, so walked about 40 minutes from the station to the venue. Great exercise! Not too cold, but it was getting to be so after while, but I finally made it on my own without a car. PROUD! I hope to tone down the fat, but keep the muscle this winter!

As for recent classes, I taught the 1st years the 12 days of Christmas for the week, and had them play a game where they had to make up their own presents for the 12 days, and try to remember what the last kid said within the last 10 minutes of class. Pretty happy that the lesson incorporated listening, reading, writing, and speaking all together. I’ll be finishing it up with the last class tomorrow, but I’m been sniffling and having a phlegmy-feeling throat, so I hope I’m not coming down with something.

What a weekend!

Tourism in Aizu-Wakamatsu Part 1

I’d never really thought much about tourism besides where to go and what to do, but after attending a tourism guide instruction workshop this Saturday, I realized how serious it is, especially with sites rich in history and culture, such as Aizu-Wakamatsu’s. Looking at the number of visitors from different countries since 2001, it’s depressing how numbers have dwindled after the stock crash in 2008, and pretty much tanked after the nuclear accident in 2011 and 2012.

Between 2001 and 2008, the number of foreign visitors to Aizu-Wakamatsu steadily increased from 5,688 to 19,413, according to the Aizu-Wakamatsu・Bandai District National Tourish Promotion Council (City of Tourism Division). Since then, the number of foreign visitors have continued to decline to 1,686 in 2012. From what I hear, there were hardly any tourists visiting 2 years ago. The historical drama series “Yae’s Sakura” (八重の桜) has been able to draw huge domestic crowds, but the show is ending at the end of the year. What will happen after it’s over? Will people still be coming to visit?

Each and every part of Japan’s regions are incredibly unique, and Aizu-Wakamatsu is no exception. In the past several centuries, Aizu has been blessed with lords who saw its potential in the craft industry. For example, Gamo Ujisato, Aizu’s daimyo between 1590 and 1598, saw Aizu’s abundance in trees, and brought his people from modern-day Shiga prefecture, to teach Aizu how to make laquerware. In 1627, another new lord, Kato Yoshiaki, invited weavers from Iyo Matsuyama (modern day Matsuyama City in Aichi Prefecture) to teach their trade in Aizu where cotton was plentiful. Also, trees that produced wax were used to make artful painted candles through an intricate layering process. About 2/3 of Japanese candles consumed during the Edo period were from Aizu, and became its specialty product. People would often say, “The light from Edo is from Aizu.”  These crafts continue to be made and sold to this day: Laqueware are often used to serve food in restaurants, which is a treat during the grey, colorless winters here. Aizu momen (cotton fabric) is a comfortable material that absorbs sweat well and keeps the wearer warm. The painted candles can be bought as decorative souvenirs.

In addition to the crafts I previously mentioned, Aizu-Wakamatsu is also well known for okiagari koboushi (起き上がり小法師) and akabeko (赤べこ).

起き上がり小法師 , or roly-polys, are these cute figurines that represent, in a word, perseverance because these toys could never be knocked over, and will always find itself standing upright. Although the other day, I found one that stayed tipped over and couldn’t get back up. a dud! So be sure to test your 起き上がり小法師 throughly! Traditionally, for New Year’s, a farming family would have as many of these as they had members in their family, plus an extra one for more family members (or farming helpers!).

The 赤べこ is a legendary red ox that suddenly appeared during the building of  Enzou Temple (円蔵寺) in Yanaizu (柳津) to help the builders through a difficult construction process. A statue of this bull also stands by the temple, and was commissioned by an Aizu lord to be made into a toy, a papier-mache boxy body of a cow with a bobbing head. Today’s 赤べこtoys are painted with spots, but they originally did not have them. The spots came after an outbreak of smallpox, and residents noticed that children with an 赤べこ did not catch it, and therefore, 赤べこ was said to ward off illness.

Back to the history:

Aizu’s leadership during the Tokugawa period when the shogunate government took over began again with the Gamo family. When Ieyasu’s son, Iemitsu, came into power, he granted Hoshina the Aizu region after the Gamo family died out, and renamed them Matsudaira, the previous name of the Tokugawa family. The Hoshina family actually came from the illegimate son of Tokugawa Ieyasu, so being renamed as Matsudaira was a symbol that the Hoshina family were accepted into the Tokugawa family, and they returned this gesture with fervent loyalty to the shogunate. The clan leaders cultivated that loyalty among their members with laws that were taught to children of samurai (什の掟 – Juu no Okite) that has been translated to a modern-day simplified version taught to children in Aizu today, called 会津子宣言 – Aizuko Sengen:

The Rules of Conduct for Samurai Children (什の掟)

  1. Do not turn your back on what your elders tell you.
  2. Do not forget to bow to your elders.
  3. Do not lie.
  4. Do not act unfairly.
  5. Do not hurt the weak.
  6. Do not eat outdoors.
  7. Do not speak with women in public places.
  8. Do not do what you must not do.

The Declaration of Aizu Children (会津子宣言)

  1. We show consideration to others.
  2. We express our appreciation and regrets.
  3. We are patient and persevering.
  4. We do not act unfairly.
  5. We are proud of Aizu and respect our elders.
  6. We work hard to realize our dreams.
  7. We do what we must do and do not do what we must not do.

This loyalty to the shogunate ultimately brought Aizu to its downfall when the Edo government disintegrated and the country moved into the Meiji period. In a sense, Aizu is seen as a loser out of circumstance. But it takes a very committed community with a great sense of pride, whose rules include, “Do not do what one must not do”, that can keep its culture self-sustaining and continue to survive, despite its struggles.