The word is in! I’ve been accepted to extend for another semester at Ritsumeikan, meaning that my year of studying abroad won’t officially end until January 29th, 2006.
This week I have quite a diverse set of tales to tell. Let me begin with the tale of the bailing granny, or as we call them here in Japanland, obaachan.
A Tale of the Bailing Obaachan. Contrary to their appearance, the four foot tall innocent-looking little old ladies of Japan are actually lean, mean bike-riding machines. They ride all over town, sometimes at breakneck speed, on their one-gear monster machines in search of vegetables, rice, and noodles the likes of which you have never seen. Their true skills, however, are not to be revealed for just anyone. Being a gaijin, I’m offered the unique opportunity to witness their full capabilities.
You see, in the eyes of an obaachan, no gaijin is capable of safely riding a bicycle, especially in close proximity to pedestrians or other cyclists. Therefore whenever the two opposing forces come in contact, the obaachan’s self-defense mechanism switches on, they launch themselves over the seat of their bike and are suddenly hanging off to the side, ready to leap off at the slightest sign of a collision.
I simply never noticed before because I always assumed that they were preparing to get off. But sure enough, if you turn and look behind you, the instant they pass by they flip themselves back over and are once again safely on their way. Very, very amusing.
A Tale of Tea. This Saturday, ALL of the SKP (Ritsumeikan’s Study in Kyoto Program) students were taken on a field trip to Uji to a matcha (green tea) factory. The best part: tons and tons and tons of free, delicious matcha products (cakes, candies, jellies, dango, ice cream, wafers, and of course tea). The worst part: getting lost in the scorching humidity while walking from the train station to the factory.
It was also interesting to learn that like most things in Japanese culture, there is an incredibly precise art to producing matcha. It’s not just driving a truck through a big field of leaves that rips them up and tosses them into cans to be shipped off to supermarkets. I have a ten page pamphlet here describing the whole process, but to give you just a brief summary: each leaf is picked by hand, steamed to stop oxidization and preserve the smell, dried in a very special way to prevent the leaves from folding, leaf meat is separated from stems and veins, various varieties from different areas and different soil types are mixed to create a blend with the optimal color, taste, and smell, the blend is processed many times to remove every impurity or imperfect leaf, and the result is ground into powder by diamond-coated stone mills (each grain ends up around 1-5 microns in size). Each step involves the eye, nose, or tongue of a highly trained professional who has devoted his life to the art of tea production. He can’t drink alcohol, smoke tobacco, eat spicy foods, or do anything that might impair his refined senses. The course of tea production from planting seeds to the actual tea takes about 30 years, and the final yielded product is less than one tenth of the amount that’s harvested.
And that’s just making the stuff, you wouldn’t believe the intricacy of Sadou, the Tea Ceremony. As a completely perfect coincidence, tomorrow we have another tea-related field trip, this time for our wagashi class: we’ll be traveling to a well-known tea house outside of Kyoto to witness a professional tea ceremony. The normal cost to participate is $300 a person. It really will be a rare experience. I’m stoked.
A Tale of a Centipede. Once upon a time, a centipede the size of a small snake invaded Yong-Ha’s bedroom. Young-Ha screamed. Kier rushed in to the rescue. Having consulted the “how to dispose of centipedes guidelines” posted in the kitchen, he knew exactly what to do. Step 1: using the sharp end of the doorstop, press as hard as you can into the middle of the centipede to subdue it (note: you cannot kill it this way). Step 2: Place the centipede in boiling hot water. Step 3: Leave the invulnerable insect in the water for exactly three point five times longer than you think you need to. Step 4: dispose.
The Tale of the Japanese Hippies. Excited by the news of my extension, I set out early today to look into some possible future apartments. I began to sweat before I reached my bicycle, approximately fifteen strides from the front door. The humidity is in full force. The apartment hunting didn’t go as well as I’d hoped, but what I did find was well worth the effort that might otherwise have been wasted.
Riding past Kyoto University, aka Kyoudai, I heard the unmistakable sound of a live concert. Upon closer investigation, I learned that the band was performing from within a teepee, being observed by over a hundred Japanese hippies of all shapes and sizes. It’s like someone picked up Burning Man and dropped it back off on the Kyoudai campus. I bought some Thai Curry, listened to the music, and skimmed a number of pamphlets describing why George Bush is the devil. After perusing the various hemp clothing, organic and vegan vegetables, cruelty-free beauty products, and of course, keg beer, I packed up my sunburn and headed home.
What a nice day!
P.S. Thanks new commenters on my last post. Heather brought something to my attention that I thought I should mention: when I redesigned my layout, I had to change all post-specific URL’s, so if you’ve linked to any of my articles specifically those links will be dead. Sorry for the hassle 🙂
P.P.S. Today Dylan made his bed by flogging it repeatedly with plastic nunchucks. The result wasn’t quite as tidy as normal. He then exterminated an ant with said nunchucks.
P.P.P.S. Because I wrote this post on Sunday night but didn’t post it until Tuesday, “today” doesn’t really mean “today” anymore. It means two days ago.
And with that, I bid you good night!