Apr 28, 2013

First Week in Ishikawa

The trip to Japan got off to a rough start. I arrived in Tokyo a day late due to my flight being cancelled, so I missed the general orientation. I made it in time to catch the last ten minutes of the banquet dinner. Fresh off the plane from the 13-hour flight in a sweatshirt and trousers, I joined the other JETs who were all dressed in pressed suits. Worse - the food was gone! After a short sleep, I flew over to my new home in the Ishikawa Prefecture.

Upon arrival in Nanao (pronounced nah-now), the entire day was a whirlwind of setting up administrative necessities: opening a bank account, purchasing my hanko (a stamp that replaces a signature on official documents), and getting the keys to my apartment. At city hall I had a formal ceremony where I received a certificate welcoming me to the city as an English teacher.

The next morning there was hanami (cherry blossom viewing/ picnicking) with the local ALTs. They are an awesome group of people who all share a passion for the Ishikawa prefecture, especially the city of Nanao. "It's a special, magical place," they assured me. I believe it! Between the mountains, the sea, onsen spas, blooming sakura, spring festivals…. this place is AWESOME!!!!

I arrived just in time for preparations for the biggest festival in Nanao: the Seihakusai Festival which features the biggest floats in Japan (called dekayama, meaning "big mountain"). One is being built in the Shinto shrine across from our apartments. Every week it climbs higher! I can't wait to see it once it's complete.

Several JETs are involved in taiko - Japanese drumming. It is a performing art and incredible to watch. At another local hanami, the neighborhood came out to eat together and watch the performance. Some of the taiko drummers are long-time professionals, and the JETs did really well! Next up a group of little boys performed on the drum too - they were insanely good!

After the picnic: a road trip to Kanazawa, the capital of Ishikawa! We took the highway south along the coastline - mountains on one side, the Sea of Japan on the other. There's even a section of the road where you can drive right on the beach! Wow.

In Kanazawa we walked through Kenrokuin - one of the top three gardens of Japan. It was once the private garden of a feudal lord, who lived in the giant castle just across from it.

Kanazawa is also known for its gold leaf production. They put gold leaf in everything from hand lotion to ice cream. Yes, you read that right: ice cream. I definitely had some (the gold flakes have no taste).

Back in Nanao, we all had dinner together, then us girls headed over to the famous Wakura Onsen. So… I've known these girls for two days, and it's like, time to get naked together in the spa. As one of them put it, "We've hung out naked. Now nothing can be awkward between us."

There's still so much to do and learn and see and experience - and I'm just at the beginning. I am so happy I don't know how to express it except to say: there's no where on earth I could be happier.


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