So I was totally going to blog all about Minakami this weekend, but Mami, Su-chan, and I all went to Mami's parents house to hang. Sorry. Starting in April her parents will also a have an American student living with them so Mami promises we will all go there often to asobu (asobu is the Japanese verb "play" but is often used in a more "hang out"-like context).
Anyway, about Minakami.
Rachel and I took the shinkansen (bullet train) from Osaka to Tokyo where I had an hour and a half to buy a bento (boxed lunch) and omiyage for my Minakami host family before catching my shinkansen to Minakami. This seems like a lot of time, but it was really just enough as Tokyo station is gargantuan and I had all of my luggage to drag around.
I went to Minakami with two other ACM/GLCA Japan Study students: Lydia and Ian. I was very happy that Lydia was going since we're buddies. Anyway Lydia and I wandered Tokyo station together and got confused and finally found our platform.
At left is Lydia with our combined pile of stuff. And this is not everything I have here in Japan by any means. I often wonder how I'm going to get everything home.....
I believe our group was actually the closest to Tokyo (with the exception of Jazz who stayed in Tokyo) as our shinkansen ride was just over an hour.
We arrived and were met by a welcome committee of people from the town office (or whatever you call it, I hate translating that kind of stuff) and Watt-sensei and Michiyo. There was a little welcome gathering where we met what member(s) of our host family came to pick us up (for me it was just Hideko-san as her husband was away on business). From there Hideko-san took me to her house where she assured me that I would have no duties that night but would get to work the next day.
I will start by describing the kinds of things I did. Hideko-san and her husband own three ryokan (Japanese-style inn) all near each other. Hideko-san manages and works in one (called Garuni), her son and his wife manage the biggest one (Maruichi), and a long-time emplyee manages the third (Maiyote<--not sure of the spelling on this one...) So I worked in Garuni. The cleaning is done by a company that comes in once a day so I didn't have to deal with making beds or vacuuming or anything. I worked in the kitchen. At Garuni there's a couple that work there and take care of things probably at least as much as Hideko-san does: Ayami-chan and Takkun (his name is actually Takuhiko, but people rarely call him that since it's so long). They are absolutely wonderful people with whom I had a lot of fun. I especially loved Ayami. She's only a few years older than me (she's 25) and really sweet. Random fact: she and Tony have the same birthday.
Really everyone there was really nice. The best part was they were all willing to talk to me (with the exception of Kine-chan, who despite the feminine nickname is a guy, because he's super shy) despite my limited Japanese. It was also funny to see what English they knew. One of the high school girls who did her baito (part-time job) at Garuni knew the word "coordination" even though her English was super basic. So I had lots of conversations involving mostly Japanese with lots of gestures, sound effects, and the occasional English word thrown in.
Anyway, I wanted to explain what I actually did. Winter is the slow season for these three ryokan as they aren't really near any of the Minakami ski slopes (like Lydia's pension) so we only really had customers on weekends. This meant that I usually worked Friday morning cutting vegetables and preparing food and things we would need for the weekend that we could do ahead of time. Then Friday night, Saturday morning and evening, and Sunday morning (and sometimes Sunday evening and Monday morning) I would help put together plates for the guests (other people cooked, I just put things on the plates so they looked pretty then took them to the tables). After the guests were done, I was general on dish drying/putting away duty. This involved me standing next to the giant dish washer and drying each batch of plates, bowls, etc. as they came out then putting them away. Since the meals were pretty complex, this was actually quite the job (each place setting probably had at least ten dishes, multiply that by about 20 guests, sometimes more).
So during the week, I had a lot of free time, but you'll have to wait to hear how I spent that because I'm tired of blogging for now. Sorry for the lack of pictures, but I didn't take any of me working, sorry :P I really think this might take at least two more entries. Sheesh. So much...