Remember last week I went to the Maebashi Hatsuichi? Well, I discovered the day after going that Shibukawa also had a Hatsuichi. And that is how it began... one of the coolest weekends ever.
It all started on Friday, as weekends tend to do. I spent half of the day on Friday doing calligraphy with the 4th graders under the supervision of one of the most serious teachers at my school. My interest in Japanese, I have to say, is widening. At first I thought it would be enough just to speak, but then I realized that in modern times the fastest way to learn most things is to read. Then I thought I could get by learning only to read Kanji, and that I need not bother writing it. Well, I have been mistaken again. It turns out that one of the most enjoyable parts of the Japanese language is writing Kanji with a brush and ink. Just like a martial art, you need to be both calm and focused. You must also be knowledgeable and have technique. Obviously, I was not able to get amazing results on my first day of calligraphy, but I was satisfied with the four slogans that I wrote.
Doing calligraphy really put me in a great mood which saw me through the rest of the weekend. One last thing about calligraphy, when I showed my writing to the vice-principal of the school and explained that I was developing an interest in calligraphy, she decided to give me the calligraphy brush that had been left on her desk by a previous vice-principal. I can tell that this brush has a lot of power in it. Maybe the vice-principal doesn't realize it, but whoever used this brush last left their mark on it. It is a very good brush.
Alright, so Friday night came, and Yuri showed up at my place so that we could go to Shibukawa's Hatsuichi. Which was...
really, really small. Yup. We spent probably a total of 4 minutes at the Hatsuichi before we had seen everything and decided not to do anything. After the Hatsuichi we stopped by a restaurant that is best described as "very yellow" and had the largest shrimp tempura that I have ever had.
People say that Japan is expensive. Sure, the cities are expensive, but when you get into the countryside prices get much more reasonable. Sometimes they get absurdly cheap. Especially when it comes to vegetables. Imagine getting 5 pounds of hakusai (Chinese cabbage) for 50 cents. Not uncommon. This shrimp tempura was another example of ridiculously reasonable prices. Shrimp and squid tempura with rice, vegetables and soup for 700 yen. Well, I guess the fact that the establishment was a little less than clean helps to justify that price.
So, as you may or may not know, I have wanted to go to a mushroom factory for quite some time. I love mushrooms and I love factories, so why not combine the two! I expressed my interest to Yuri, and the idea sounded fun to her as well. Thus, on Saturday morning, we set off on a quest to find the Numata Kinokoen (mushroom park). Our first stop was the Komochi Rest Stop, where we bought vegetables from the farmer's market. Next stop was the gaint Tengu mask in the center of downtown Numata.
Well, Yuri is a good driver, loves to try new things, is friendly, curious, and patient. Basically, a really good traveler. However, her sense of direction is not flawless. Combine that with the fact that I, who was supposed to be the navigator, can only sort-of read Japanese maps, and you might conclude that we got lost. We did. However, in the midst of our being lost, we actually found a place that not only had a mushroom factory, but allowed you to pick your own mushrooms!!!!!
Wow!!! Picking your own mushrooms is really a blast! I have to admit, the fungus that the mushrooms sprout from is disgusting, but the process of growing the mushrooms is really quite amazing! And the mushrooms were beautiful, especially when we put them in the cute little baskets they gave us!
Well, mushrooms are good and all, but after mushroom picking we were ready for a snack. In Gunma, what better snack than Yaki Manju!
We hit the road again, in search of the Kinokoen. On the way we stopped at another rest stop, bought some yogurt and bread at a bakery, and were given some leftover crumbs to feed the ducks at a nearby pond by the baker. We fed the ducks a little, and then gave our bag of crumbs to a family that had a small child.
Then we got lost again, although we didn't realize it. We showed up at the doors of a sake factory, only to find out it was closed. By the way that big brown ball of pine needles is an indicator that the sake has fermented. When the needles turn brown, the sake is good to drink.
The water source of the sake factory.
After 40 minutes or so of being lost, we found the correct way, and did it ever have a beautiful view.
Finally, we got to the village where the kinokoen was supposed to be, but we couldn't seem to find it. We made a brief stop in the local park and took a break to slide down what may be the longest slide I have ever seen. A brief snowball fight ensued.
Finally, after driving for about 4 hours, we arrived at the kinokoen.
The kinokoen was not what I expected, more of a shop than a factory. But they did sell some speciality items. A special type of mushroom, for one, and a bag of fungus for growing mushrooms.
Well, we bought a lot of mushrooms. Then, very satisfied with our day, we began to drive home. We decided to take the car over Akagi. We began to drive up Akagi. Soon, I realized there was very little gas left in the car. Shortly thereafter the road got icy like no one had driven on it. Soon enough, we noticed that no one was on the road that we were on and it was then we came to the sign informing the us that the road was closed. Well, fortunately, we had enough gas to get to a local village and refill, but had things gone a little diffrently, we might have been taking shelter in snow caves. Our drive then took us all the way around Akagi and almost to Tochigi. I finally got home at about 8pm that night.
On Sunday, I met with Jeff and together we went to go see one of his friend's children perform Kabuki in Maebashi. The performance that we were scheduled to see was a little late in starting, so Jeff and I decided to get our faces painted like Kabuki actors at the make-up booth that was being run by students of the Takasaki Beauty Mode professional school. The students were more than happy to have the chance to put make-up on the faces of adults, who don't seem to want make up put on very often.
The whole time I was in the chair, I this one guy with a very official looking press corps name tag kept taking my picture, so I get the feeling that I am going to be in a magazine. Yippie! These are the girls that did my make-up.
Our make-up done, Jeff, his friend Minako and I went into the the theater and sat down. Our make-up seems to have been just as big a hit with grandmothers as it was with children. For some reason, with scary make-up on, we were suddenly un-scarry enough to talk to. I have never had so many grandmothers come up to me and want to take my picture. Anyway, the play started. It was well acted, considering that all the parts were done by grammar school students. But as I didn't understand the Japanese they used at all I only got so much out of it.
The highlight of the show for me was when Yuri, who hadn't been there for the make-up, came in late, sat down next to me, saw me and then tried her best to control her laughter in the middle of one of the play's dramatic scenes. Well, that was kabuki. Allow me to leave you with one parting shot. Who in this picture has a future as a professional, I wonder?
So, now to reveal my secret. Yuri bought me a new pet. I told her all about my cat and how I really missed the cat. She empathized, and decided that what I needed was a new pet. So she bought me Fuzzy. Fuzzy is a block of Nameko fungus. Yuri says that I should sleep with Fuzzy at night to keep her warm. We'll see.
By the way, a block of fungus is a gift from the heart. Way better than flowers. I think Fuzzy and I are going to get along just fine.