Monday 29th February
Today was the first day of activities with the rest of the cultural ambassadors, and it was lovely to be reunited with everyone, and to catch up on our weekends. We started the day at Yosano’s Town Hall, as the local mayor had requested to meet us. Although we were all very nervous to begin with, as soon as we met the mayor our nerves were put at ease – he is relatively young, so he communicates well with people of all ages, which meant that he was very easy to talk to. We introduced ourselves, and each of us explained our reasons for applying to go on the trip. He stressed the importance of the friendship between the two communities, and we discussed ways in which we could help continue this friendship further. We also discussed the politics of the United Kingdom, as well as his proposed policies for his upcoming election, which were really interesting. The meeting was extremely insightful, as it allowed us to reflect on our roles as cultural ambassadors, and what this means for each community. Before long, the meeting was over, and we travelled to the local nursery school where we were scheduled to spend the morning.
We were greeted by the nursery staff, who explained that the children ranged from ages 0 to 6, and we were given the chance to visit each of the classes within this age range. We spent most of the morning with oldest class, which consisted of children aged from 4-6 years old. The children had prepared some songs and dances for us, which were very sweet – the nursery teachers then held a question and answer session. The children asked us a wide range of what are, no doubt, very important questions for that age (what is your favourite colour? what is your favourite Japanese food?), and they were delighted with our answers. We then played a series of games with the children, which included countless rounds of musical chairs, followed by the most complex, competitive version of rock, paper, scissors I’ve ever seen – from what I understand, janken (rock, paper, scissors) is taken very seriously in Japan, which explains how competitive the children were!
The children had also been working on a play for their upcoming hapyokai (a performance recital which is a compulsory component of the Japanese education system for all ages). I happened to mention to the teachers that I’m a joint honours Drama and English student, and before we knew it they staged the entire play for us. We were taken aback at the sheer levels of respect and discipline the children displayed from such a young age – the children performed for twenty minutes straight, nearly word perfect and with little intervention from their teachers (needless to say, we were amazed). We then had to say goodbye to the children, which was harder than any of us could have imagined, and they waved goodbye to us from the doorway as we drove away.
We then ate lunch at the local Dandelion Café, which was the first time any of us had eaten non-Japanese food in several days. The café specialises in burgers, so we each (guiltily) ordered a cheeseburger and chips, which they delivered (much to my delight) with a portion of mayonnaise!
We then went to a sake brewery, where a local Japanese wine is made through the process of rice fermentation. We were able to watch each step of the process taking place, from the starting stages of collecting water from the local mountains to wash and boil the rice with, to the final product. We were a little disappointed to find out that the legal drinking age in Japan is 20 years old, so three out of five of us weren’t allowed to taste any sake at the end!
This didn’t matter too much, as we left soon after, and headed to the local onsen (hot spring). As I had already been to a different hot spring a few days earlier, I encouraged the others who were a little apprehensive. This hot spring was a slightly different lay out, as it had a few different onsen, including a natural onsen, a jacuzzi-style onsen, a herbal onsen and a mineral water onsen. We finished with the steam room, which was a nice way to unwind at the end of the day, before we headed back to our host families.
That evening, I ate yet another delicious meal consisting of four dishes: miso soup, chicken with salad, meat with potato stew and sticky Japanese rice, all of which were amazing. By this point, I was really beginning to feel the effects of jet lag again, so I had another early night, to rest before the next busy day ahead.