JASC 67 Day 9— August 9, 2015 by Sabrina Ruiz

A Warm Welcome from Shimane

Yesterday night August 8, 2015, marked the beginning of our
stay in Shimane Prefecture. It also marked the start of my favorite experience
as of yet: a homestay with a local family. Throughout my time in Japan thus
far, I have had a lot of firsts, such as eating my first onigiri and bento,
visiting my first temple, attending my first lantern festival, and even
visiting Japan itself is a first for me. However, through my stay with Ikoku
(my homestay mom) and her family, I was able to experience many more firsts
through the perspective of locals.

My Homestay Family and Home 

(Left) Ikoku’s family picture,  (right) Starting on the left, Suzu, me, Saya,
Ayaka, Ikoku, Haru, Aki, taken today in one of their “toconoma” rooms

This is my homestay family, the people who lovingly took me
into their home for a day and kindly took the time to show me around Shimane.
Ikoku (left picture, top row, 2nd from left) took Ayaka, a Japanese
delegate, and me around her community.
Ikoku’s children, shown above, were lively, inclusive, and understanding
of my limited Japanese language skills.

This home also happens to be a temple named “Dairyuji,” or
“temple of the big dragon,” as Ayaka translated for me. It was so pretty, I had
to take lots of pictures.

Next, we went to the Community Center, where the
kids had taiko practice. I got a chance to play! 

Shinwa Festival

In the Evening, I got the chance to attend the Shinwa
festival. Although not the biggest one, this festival brings in many different
people from throughout the city. Ayaka and I got the opportunity to participate
in the “Bonodori” dance, which was the highlight of the evening. I danced with
shop owners, civil servants, young, and old (all of which danced better than

Ikoku’s co-workers with whom I joined in dancing. They
work in city hall.

(Left to right) two fellow dancers, Ayaka,
Saya, Suzu, Aki, and me

We ran into the leader of the American delegation, Hannah
(far right)

Bamboo Activities

Today, we went back to the community center to make “hashi”
a.k.a chopsticks, and bowls to eat “nagashi somen.” This was by far my best
meal in Japan so far. Because of the lively people, the welcoming atmosphere,
and the general sense of community I felt from the people made this a meal to

Various youth who attended this community event.
Everyone is making their own chopsticks and bamboo “bowls” to use for later

Various youth who attended this community event.
Everyone is making their own chopsticks and bamboo “bowls” to use for later

Eating “nagashi somen,” which is somen noodles — and in
this case pink somen noodles, cherry tomatoes, ham, and cucumbers —  getting put down an open bamboo shoot. You
try your best to catch the food and eat it. At the end of the shoot is a basket
to collect the fallen food and it is returned to the top and saved

I again felt the family atmosphere, especially when a young
girl gave me one of her tomatoes when she noticed I was unable to catch one
myself. The people were welcoming overall; they were constantly asking me if I
was doing okay, they checked up on my progress, told me to try different things
(like cutting the bamboo or hand-carving the chopsticks) and were considerate
of my limited Japanese abilities. I felt like I was given the royal treatment.
As I was leaving the facilities, young children leaving in a separate car yelled
out “See you” in English, a phrase I had told them just moments before.

Tea Ceremony

Upon coming home to the temple, Ayaka and I were
treated like guests of honor, through a special tea ceremony in the main
“toconoma,” an area only the “most important guests are taken to,” as Ikoku’s
mother told me. There, we made our own Japanese tea, ate traditional Japanese
sweets, and sat in a beautiful and large traditional Japanese room.

Making the tea with the kids. Suzu and Aki were especially
good at it

Creating Friendships

After speaking to locals and getting to know my host family,
I learned many things. First off, I learned more about life in rural Japan.
Through my conversations, I learned more about the need for revitalization in
Shimane, particularly in education and work opportunities for locals. I got a
deeper understanding of the forms of community bonding that take place in the
city, such as through festivals and fun, educational activities. I got to learn
about 100km, where students in Shimane in the 4th-6th
grade walk 100km in 5 days, as a type of spiritual and educational experience
where children learn their limits and strengths. Japan in itself may be new to
me, but I can say now that I at least know a bit more about Shimane.

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