Today, I’m going to do that travel blogging thing and actually blog about, well, travel. A couple weekends ago, we went on the overnight trip sponsored by CET to Okayama and Kagawa. It was AWESOME. All of us Americans and almost all of our Japanese roommates piled onto a bus early Saturday morning and drove to Okayama Prefectural Shizutani Educational Center, up in the mountains two prefectures to the west of Osaka.
The Educational Center is a big building with classrooms, a cafeteria, baths, and these big tatami-mat floored rooms full of futons for sleeping. Japanese schools take their kids on trips to places like these to do group bonding activities, learn random skills, and generally have some good clean fun, so it was a cool opportunity for us to have a similar experience. Right when we got there, we got a talk about the rules and regulations about staying there (like how to fold our futons properly) and dropped our stuff before lunch in the cafeteria.
The Educational Center is also right next to the beautiful old campus of the Shizutani school, which is one of the oldest schools still around in Japan. Its history goes back to the early Edo Period (1660s). The main lecture hall building by itself is OLDER. THAN. THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. Yikes. A lovely guide gave us a tour of the grounds (even got a chance to pray at the school shrine) and we had some free time to wander.
After a brief foray in search of civilization (we were really out in the boonies), which yielded the delicious results of soy sauce ice cream (surprisingly tasty), we headed back to the school for a lesson in making Bizen-yaki! Bizen-yaki is a specific type of pottery unique to the Bizen region (in which we were staying). We got a brief how-to tutorial from the Bizen-yaki-sensei-in-residence and then they gave us our own globs of clay and a mini-wheel and off we went! I made three little teacups.
Once we cleaned the clay off of our hands, we headed back downstairs for dinner. Then, after dinner, we had the baths all to ourselves for two whole hours. For most of us Americans, it was our first experience with a traditional Japanese bath (a large room with showers along the wall to wash before soaking in the big tub of hot water in the middle), but it was significantly more fun and less awkward than I imagined. We ended up having a grand time being silly, singing Disney songs, and splashing around in the big tub. Afterwards, it was great to just bum around the rooms, play cards, and be silly before an early bedtime.
We woke up bright and early on Sunday to eat breakfast, fold our futons, and generally make our rooms and bathrooms spiffy before we got back on the bus on our way to Kagawa. We stopped for lunch and wandering in Kurashiki, and then back on the bus, headed to Kotohira, in Kagawa Prefecture on Shikoku (the island right to the south of Honshu, the main island).
We climbed the 1,000 steps to Konpira shrine on top of a mountain, during the peak of the cherry blossom’s beauty. Between the gorgeous trees and beautiful vista every time I looked behind me and watched the city fall away beneath us taking my breath away every five seconds, and the 1,000 freaking steps, I’m amazed I made it to the top alive. What an awesome opportunity.
After we all made it back down the mountain, we went to a school for making udon and learned how to make the dough and roll out and cut our very own udon noodles! It was a blast. Half of the process of making the dough is, after you mix it, you put it in a plastic bag and then dance on it. So, naturally, the Sensei put on some silly pop music and we boogied like pros. They fixed us some tasty tempura and we cooked the udon we made ourselves. I’m not sure whether it was that the udon ingredients were especially good, or that we’d climbed 1,000 steps that day, or that we made it ourselves, but those were the best noodles I’ve had in a very long time.
Exhausted, well-fed, and quite pleased with an excellent trip, we piled back on the bus and slept the whole way back to Osaka.