Sunday, March 06, 2005


This weekend I was invited by the 3rd year teachers to join them on their after-graduation roadtrip to Kanazawa in Ishikawa-ken.

With accommodation, transportation and meals already organised in a sweet package AND great company including 2 english teachers - how could I refuse?

We met at Osaka station and then took the 'Thunderbird' super express train to Kaga-onsen station. There a bus took us to our ryokan and we settled in. The ryokan was beautiful - really fancy-shmancy! It had 2 onsens (one outdoor one that closed at 1am and one indoor one that closed at 3am..I think), karaoke rooms, a club, a performance stage area, a Japanese style restaurant, cafe, lounge with live pianist, gift shop, table tennis room - I'm talking the works!

The rooms were tatami with paper sliding doors - yes, very zen. There were 11 of us and the women stayed in one room and the men in another. After we were served hot green tea and local sweets, we headed out for a stroll around the area. We had expected snow or rain and even though the wind was icy, it was still nice and sunny. We went into little shops that sold unique earthenware and pottery famous in the region. We dropped by little shrines and an outdoor foot onsen.

I was spoilt rotten. Being the youngest and the token foreigner, I was well looked after - which I really appreciated since I hardly knew what was going on, and was given all the bonus gifts like special onsen bath salts, painted ceramic magnets, Japanese print envelopes and a green tea ice-cream cone - it was so cold but still so tasty!

After we got back to our ryokan we changed into our yukatas and went into the outdoor onsen. It was simply bliss! Nice, calming and relaxing. Sure at first it was weird getting naked with my teachers but I think I'm used to onsens now. They had charcoal body soap, shampoo, treatments and sea salt scrub!!! Heavenly! The outdoor onsen was extremely hot - it was like human stock "Taste of a thousand men" haha Jon and Brendon know what I'm on about. But with the air around you icy cold, it's quite nice. But my whole body was red for about an hour afterwards! eeeks! slightly poached.

While relaxing in our room, we got a call from some of the male teachers asking us to play table tennis with them. There we were, yukata-clad, playing ping pong - it was hillarious! Still in our yukatas, the 'traditional Japanese ryokan uniforms' I was told, we then moved to the banquet room for dinner. It was a large tatami room with a traditional Japanese dinner - crab, sashimi, soup, rice, soba noodles, nabe beef, grilled fish, pickles, vegetables, dessert, beer, sake, chu-hai and wine.

After the official dinner party, the second party began in the male teachers room. They had brought snacks, chocolate, beer, shochu and a variety of Kobe wine. We snacked, drank, chatted *repeat process several times* We ate oh-so-much and I was surprised that we were heading back to the onsen again. But what about my gut?!? the bloating?!? my tipsiness?! what time is it?! But when in Rome...

The highlight will definately be the head of the 3rd year teachers getting nicely toasted, impersonating a monkey, telling us how he's super healthy and has never had a cold in his life, trying to take his shirt off in front of us and *in Japanese* "Feel my foot, here..feel it. It's hot isn't it? Feel it. I don't get cold easily. I'm really healthy. Feel my foot!" hahaha

When we got back to our rooms our futons were already laid out and I fell fast asleep in my yukata. Apparently you're meant to wear them to bed.

Woke up at 7.15AM and had a sumptious traditional Japanese breakfast. I couldn't help but laugh when the male teachers were drinking beer with their breakfast - at 7.40AM!!! Now that's hardcore! After breakfast we headed to the onsen one last time.

Then we took a bus back to the station and took a train to Kanazawa. According to my Lonely Planet, Kanazawa is known as Kaga Hyaku Goku for the one million koku (about five million bushels) of rice it produces in the area. It was one very wealthy region. It's also famous for its black lacquerware, Ohi pottery, Kutani yaki porcelain, Kaga Yuzen silk dyeing and gold leaf products, including tea and sweets (Lonely Planet - best $40 spent!). There were so many places I would have loved to go to like the Nomura Samurai house, Higashi geisha district, Kanazawa-jo (castle) and Omicho market. But we didn't have much time and you had to take the bus to get around. We headed to Kenroku-en, ranked one of Japan's top three gardens.

Kenroku-en was gorgeous, simply breathtaking! It was massive, sprawling with ponds, bridges, 500 year old pines, waterfalls, stone paths and little tea houses. Courtesy of Lonely Planet, "Kenroku means 'combined six' referring to a renowned garden from Sung Dynasty China that required six attributes for perfection: seclusion, spaciousness, artificiatlity, antiquity, abundant water and broad views. In winter, the branches of the trees are famously suspended with rope via a post at each tree's centre, forming elegant conical shapes that protect the trees from breaking under the heavy snow. In spring, irises turn the waterways into rivers of purple." Oooh how I wished I could have seen the irises and flowers blooming. But I saw funny looking ducks - so I was happy.

We also went to a contemporary arts museum which recently opened. It featured international artists as well as Japanese artists. Personally, I prefer the classics - oil paintings, water colours, prints or sketchings - when art was art and crap was crap. I didn't quite get the 'art' and neither did my teachers as we giggled and walked out of rooms with confused expressions on our faces. But what I gathered from all my art classes in high school is that art is subjective. Art exists in its interpretation.

Some exhibits were quite interesting like the white room turned into a airy-fairy jungle of flowers, butterflies, birds and vines or the room situated under a pool so you could look up into a glass ceiling or the shiny, reflective spikey capsule that you could walk into or the human vacuum seal box (too bad I had missed the operation times) and the pastels on mounted paper. Crap was the room with a black circle painted on a slanted wall, the room with mounted panels of glass - that's all it was! Truly! and the sound AV rooms with random footage.

After heading back to the station, we hit the omiyage shops, bought our gifts and lunch o-bentos and boarded the 'Thunderbird' back home. All of us were so tired we slept most of the way back to Osaka.

This was such a great trip. Not only was I able to get to know the other teachers a whole lot more but I also got to see more of Japan - one of the main reasons why I'm here. I also found out some interesting facts about my teachers.

One of them is a mystery writer who has 10 books under his pen name, with the most recent one just published last month! Wow! They are all murder myster stories and has a photo of him wearing dark shades on the book jacket cover. Classic! I was told that's why he always looks so sleepy at school because he's always up late writing. I thought he was quite scary looking at first and he didn't talk much before but during the trip, and after a few drinks, he was trying his best to speak to me in English and made funny jokes.

Also two of the teachers had their respective weddings early last year and while honeymooning in Tahiti? Figi? they bumped into each other, not knowing that each one was going there AND both their wives are English teachers.

The head of the teachers, yes the funny-drunk-"feel my feet!"-head of the teachers is one of Japan's weightlifting coaches. He was on the coaching team, one of five members, for Japan's olympic weightlifting team! Wowee, impressive!

As for me, well I think they just dragged me along for pure entertainment haha - I was "Tokey" the token foreigner who would try to taste all the Japanese food they offered, take an abundance of photos (in true Japanese tourist style) and amused them with my bad ass Japanese. But it was well worth it.


At 8:12 pm, Blogger Girl Kae said...

hey christine :) just wanted to apologize for not having found the time to reply to your email yet! Hopefully will do it on the weekend :) *MwaH* -Kae


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