Monday, December 12, 2011

My Trip To Saijo - Day 1 (Wedding and Onsen!)

Well HELLO. If you haven't left my blog due to feeling neglected, then it is nice to see you again. If you will not return to read my Japan-things, then good riddance.


Okay so I went to a wedding!

And I have a lot of pictures.

So to start, I guess I'll explain what was going on. I went to a wedding in Saijo on the southern island of Japan, called Shikoku. Above is a map of Japan (duh). The blue area, where it says, "Aichi," is where I live in Nagoya. Tokyo is also on the map for reference. And then on the pink south island, where you see "Ehime," is the prefecture I went to this weekend.

And it was amaaaazing.

Ayaka was the bride. I met her nearly three years ago when students from Saijo came to Menomonee Falls via our 2-week exchange program, and they went to Chicago and New York etc etc but they stayed with families in Menomonee Falls for two weeks. I didn't host Ayaka, my friend did, but we talked in school and eventually became pretty decent friends, and when she left I cried. It's kind of weird how close you can get to be with someone in such little time.

After that, we e-mailed (mostly in English), but as I got better at Japanese I started to type in Japanese. At any rate, about a month ago she told me she was getting married and she wanted me to come, and I was like, CHYEAH.

So here's the awesome part - they paid for everything. My plane ticket both ways, my food, even my souvenirs (some of which I didn't even need, but gratefully accepted anyway). Her parents were amazing.


I love planes.

So then Ayaka's family picked me up, we all (her, her two brothers, her parents and I) got in the car, went to a convenience store (have I mentioned conbini in my blog yet? Conbini is short for convenience stores, and they are everywhere. And that's an under-exaggeration. EVERYWHERE. And they have everything! Mostly everything. And they are very, as the name suggests, convenient.) and then drove to her village about 35 minutes away.

I forget the name of the village, but I pretty much fell in love with it right away. It's VERY Japanese-esque. Narrow roads, old wooden houses, stone gates, open fields, MOUNTAINS. Loved it. 

Well, why don't I just show you?

Here's the neighborhood as Ayaka and I walked around:

If the pictures seem a little pinkish, that is because when I dropped my camera three months ago it also started to favor the color pink. I think my camera's a girl. Anyway I never noticed but a friend pointed it out today and I was like, "Huh, I guess it is a little pink." Oh well. Ignore it.

Right, so that's basically how I've always pictured Japanese neighborhoods and when I got to Nagoya to see the very urban setting I was a little surprised. But this, this is what I am talking about. I love it there.

So we should probably see Ayaka's house! To see what it's like inside a REAL Japanese country-style home, you're very lucky. LET'S GOOOO~!

Just past the front door

Into the living room!

The bathroom. Which is outside, in a separate room from the house. SO JAPANESE. Very, very old-style. You only hear or see about that kind of stuff if you're talking about the days when people wore Kimono regularly. Like, a long time ago. Hundreds of years of styles ago.

The porch outside where Ayaka's laundry hung (she had asked Daisuke [now husband] to bring them inside, but alas, they were still up when I left 30 hours later)

Classic set-up right here; futon on the floor, huge, warm comforters. Which is a very good thing, which I'll explain in a second. The bed was where Aya and I slept (score).

Japanese-style closet.

Bathroom with a urinal, lol Japan. They never have the classic, "toilet-seat" problem that couples seem to have so often in America.


Here's Aya and her mom at the table (where they eat) underneath a kotatsu. Kotatsu are amazing, wonderful creations. It's a heated blanket under the table that keeps you warm while you're eating.

And on that note, why I was so happy about the thick comforters and the kotatsu. Traditional houses are freaking COLD. Which is what happens when you build houses out of wood, I suppose. No insulation. NONE. It is your living room, a piece of wood, and the outdoors, and save protecting you from the wind, it is basically like living outside. If I wanted to do that, I would live in a tent with Brooke in the woods like she wants to do with her life. Not I. So there are many ways to get warm in Japan; space heaters, big comforters, and the very helpful kotatsu. Once you go under one of those, you don't come back out. Or at least you don't want to.

So after I reluctantly got out from under the kotatsu, Daisuke came home and me, him, and Aya went to get some ramen.

The view outside the restaurant. Field, mountains, tree, it's NAAATURE. Which normally I hate but I love to look at it and the car had a really good heater so.

So then we went to where the wedding would be held!

The happy couple.

 It was cloudy but the sun was trying to come out!

 The hall outside where the reception was held.

So then began the pampering session. After briefly trying on the kimono and having it been decided that it would fit, I was whisked away to the hair room where a wonderfully talented woman put my hair up into a beautiful bun and topped it with a classic hair piece (the kind that looks like a small comb but has a flower on the broadside, so that when you place it in your hair all you see is the flower). 

It was then at that point I started to feel like it was my wedding, because not long after I was back in the dressing room, and two women were required to put on the kimono for me. Because it is absolutely impossible to do it on your own. And also because I'm obviously a princess.

There were three layers, essentially. One was a thin, white layer I wore over my undergarments. Next was a pink slip that looked just like the kimono above in shape, but had no decoration. And lastly was the kimono itself.

Then there was the obi, the sash around my middle. That, too, had three layers or so, underneath all of which was basically like a padding that they put there, "Because you have breasts!" they exclaimed in Japanese, a product that results due to me not being Japanese. It's essentially to give you a bit of a straight figure, I think. You're not supposed to look like you have a chest or hips. That seems counter-intuitive as a male-attracting device, but it did the work because when I walked across the hall, a group of 7 guys around my age stared at me, (like watched-me-until-they-had-to-turn-around-stare) and I blushed and giggled like a kimono girl would and just in general felt really pretty.

And if you were wondering, yeah, the sash totally constricts breathing ability. Pretty much no big breaths were done after I put the kimono on, but it was so worth it. 

My host mom told me afterwards that the long sleeves I had were like boy-attracting devices. As you can see in the first picture, they're super long (that's an older styler; they have shorter lengths as well, and some that have no length at all and are simply long sleeves that are a bit broad at the wrist) and you're supposed to kind of flash the sleeves at boys to attract them. Like a bird flapping its wing, in a way. If only she had told me this before-hand, I could have 7 Japanese boyfriends as I type this. Unfortunate.

But as it happens, this was not my wedding, it was Ayaka's and Daisuke's. And so let's continue!

Here they are outside the chapel built specifically for marrying purposes. And no, they aren't Christian, hardly anyone in Japan is, which is what makes the marrying tradition so fascinating. As my religions teacher said, Japanese people are born Shinto (there are Shinto traditions that are carried out upon birth), marry as Christians (in a church, by a priest), and die as Buddhists (Buddhist-themed funerals are the largest in Japan. Fun fact, Japan has the most expensive funerals in the world! Who knew). That said, the following is literally just for show and has no religious affiliation at all.

Which is actually a really interesting thing to talk about because in actuality getting married has nothing to do with religion. Like, until about yesterday I combined the two in my head indiscriminately. But to be married has everything to do with the government and nothing to do with religious beliefs. I think a lot of eye-opening things about religion have happened in Japan, for me. 

Like how the world is actually filled with atheists and in some countries that's neither rare at all, nor is it something people look down upon or tell you you're going to Hell for. But that will probably be something I never talk about here, because although anyone I talk to in Japan and most of the exchange students understand where I'm coming from, my readers are primarily American and some Christian and I fear I'd end up insulting people with my opinion on religion. AND ALSO THIS BLOG IS SUPPOSED TO BE FUN so. If you're ever interested in my eye-opening experience with religion, feel free to ask me privately any time. :)

So anyway, Japanese people aren't Christian but pretend because they like white dresses and the idea of a wedding in a church. I like that about them.

But what I haven't mentioned yet is that I was the flower girl. WHAAAAT. Which is why I was dressed up in the kimono in the first place, because I was IIIN the wedding. There was a photographer so many pictures were taken, and once Aya's family sends them to me, I will of course, share them here. 

I swear I was the most nervous of them all, though. It was freezing outside and I was convinced I was going to trip or walk too fast or mess up somehow. But it went smoothly. The doors where Aya, her father and I waited outside (the picture above) opened, I stepped forward and bowed, and then I walked slowly up to where the groom and priest waited, reaching into my basket and dropped flower petals along the way.

After, as I sat and tried to slow my heartbeat, the ceremony progressed. Most of the ceremony was in Japanese, including the, "Even in sickness," part.
But then:

Aww. (You probably appreciate the fancy vertical flair I do at the end where I turn the camera forgetting the image doesn't turn with it, pretty fancy stuff)

Now husband and wife.

I threw dry rice and confetti! Yeah, they do that here. 

Pretty lights and looking happy.

Aya changed out of her wedding dress and into a kimono. She looked gorgeous the whole night. And note, there are still two MORE dresses after this one.

And before this picture was taken, I gave the toast. The TOAST. In Japanese. What an experience. It was mostly me repeating the phrase in my head over and over until finally the announcer called my name and I got up from my table, shuffled (walking in a kimono is kind of impossible that way) my way to the stage where a microphone waited for me, and said:

だいすけさんとあやかさん:おめでとうございます! 末永くお幸せに。では、かんぱい!
Daisuke-san to Ayaka-san. Suenagaku Oshiawaseni. Dewa, kanpai!
Daisuke and Ayaka: Congratulations! May you be happy for a very long time to come. Well then, cheers!

And everyone raised their glasses and we drank and people clapped and I bowed like I had overcome a dragon. Which in fact I had, because I was worried about mis-pronouncing one of their names (I hang out with Ayame a lot and I was super worried about me just slipping and saying Ayame instead of Ayaka the whole trip), or accidentally saying something inappropriate, ("May you break up before children are involved,") but all went well and I was thanked afterwards for getting up and being brave and I felt good.

Here's dress number three as they cut the cake!

Freaking gorgeous, honestly. I'm just blown away at how amazing she looked. And that dress! Whaaat!

Now the important part: The food!
This was called a "salad," but it was mostly raw fish and squid, some vegetables and fruit and a dandelion (?) (Didn't eat that, though I know from The Hunger Games that I could) and an unidentified yogurt-thing that I thought was like liquified tofu but I forgot what it actually was. I thought it tasted all right but everyone Japanese hated it.

There was a plate of cooked fish before this, and then steak!

Drink number four. Was surprisingly not tipsy at all. And slightly disappointed. And then I had to go to the bathroom and I was like, "In a KIMONO, though?" It's a bit constricting and the layers and the IMPOSSIBILITIES. But as it happens you just separate the skirts one layer at a time and you can get it done.

You wanted to know that, right?

Right and then dessert!

Me with Aya's father. He was always fun to talk to, and both he and Aya's mom asked me a lot of things about myself and in general made me feel really comfortable. It was great joking and laughing with them, they seem like really great people and I hope I get to go back to Saijo before I go back to America.

Here I am with Ayaka's mother and grandfather. Her grandfather was so smiley! I didn't get to talk with him long but he was really nice. And of course Aya's mother was amazing and kind as well.

One of Aya's older brothers and me. He asked for a picture even though we hardly said a word to each other the entire stay. Lol, funny.

Dress number four and a funny story.

So throughout this whole thing, before the marriage and afterwards, I would ask Ayaka's parents once in a while, "Soo, how're you doing?" because, damn, her 19-year old daughter is getting married and it's the start of all kinds of lives being separated and stitched together and basically what I imagine as an emotional rollercoaster. 

So after the wedding I was like, "How're you doing?" to Ayaka's mom. Now, there's my mom, the woman who cried for over an hour (the amount of time it takes to get from Madison to Menomonee Falls) after she and my dad dropped me off for my first year in college, and also the same woman who cried for the entire car-ride home from Chicago when my parents dropped me off at the airport to come to Japan (that's closer to three hours). So if it were my mom I imagine we'll have to bring a kiddy pool to hold her tears on my wedding day. 

But Ayaka's mom was like, "Oh, I'm okay." And I was kind of surprised, like, "Really?" and she was like, "Yes, mothers are strong." And I was like, "Yeah, okay, robot," all accusing-like in my head because I have this ongoing theory that due to the lack of expression of emotion and love in Japan that I'm actually surrounded by robots and Japan hasn't seen the human race in over two hundred years.

Right, so anyway, when this picture was taken Ayaka had just finished her speech. It's a speech all new brides make at a Japanese wedding, where they thank their parents for raising them and allowing them to become the person they had, thanking them for everything they'd ever done, et cetera. Basically, it's the part where everyone cries.

So Ayaka's mom finally cried and I cried and everyone at the table cried and not even the strongest of men is strong enough for that kind of talk so Ayaka's father teared up too, and I was like, "I am so not doing something like this at my wedding." Think of the make-up. 

But it was touching and I was relieved to find out I wouldn't be sleeping in a neighborhood filled with robots.

So some more pictures!

Afterwards, because Ayaka and Daisuke hadn't eaten the whole night, we all changed our clothes and the groom and bride ate.

Right, so AFTERWARDS is something I have no pictures for because I went to an onsen; a Japanese hot spring/spa.

So here's the thing about Japan hot springs. It's basically like a public-bathing spot. Hot pools of water inside and outside a Japanese-style inn, basically awesome wooden hot tubs with spouts that pour water into the tubs that are surrounded by black stones you find at shrines. Because I read some manga and watched some anime when I was in middle-school, I thought that you have the option of wearing a towel around your body as you bathe, but guess what?

Everyone's naked. That's right, you go to a giant hot tub party with strangers and get naked and sit in hot water. But here's the thing; you go with your friends. And family. And you sit and chat and shoot the breeze while you sit in hot water, everyone naked. Like a nude hot tub party where everyone's the same gender. (If you're wondering, the reason everyone was wearing towels in the manga or anime I had read and seen was BECAUSE of the fact that they were manga, anime, and movies and that's how things are censored in a non-obvious way. Same goes for TV shows where people try out hot springs and such [which was how I found out about the nude-factor in the first place, when I was watching TV with my host mom])

Which, I can see how being naked among friends and strangers is not an appealing idea with my American brain, but actually that sounds great right now.

At first, as we stood in the locker room and Ayaka and her mother stripped down (Yeah, no. Yeah, though. People of all ages in Japanese hot springs), I stood tentatively in front of my locker, staring with a hard gaze at nothing. 

I had overcome my self-consciousness around the age of 17 where I decided to start pretending not to give a damn about what other people thought of me, so it wasn't really that, but it was just me hesitating. The way I did before I ate raw octopus and squid for the first time, the way I paused as I stared at the raw egg in my pasta or soup, the way I pause any time before trying something new in Japan.

But here's the thing: I always end up doing the thing I'm about to do. I had decided long before I came to Japan (pretty much the minute I got accepted last December) that no matter what I would try everything. EVERYTHING. And that method hasn't failed me so far, so after my pause of contemplation and tentative thought, the clothes came off and we went to the showers.

I didn't look at anyone, was the basic strategy. When I talked with Ayaka and her mom as we sat in the hot springs, I looked at their faces as I normally would during conversation, which turned out to be easier than expected. When we walked from tub to tub (there were varying temperatures and Aya and I wanted to try out the outside tubs as well), I knew I was probably being stared at (being naked probably only encourages that out of people) but as I was ignoring everyone, I can't say for sure. 

And anyway, I decided that acting all embarrassed and looking awkward and trying to cover myself up would be more embarrassing than pretending not to care, and eventually I did come to not care.

Can't emphasize that enough.

In the end it felt very freeing and it made me feel great for having participated in Japanese culture. And this is seriously TRUE Japanese culture because people going to hot springs together and talking has been something they've been doing for ages. Like, at least a thousand years, if I'm remembering correctly. A THOUSAND years?! That's my life span times 50! Who am I to judge such a historic culture, anyway? Japanese people would tell stories and have feasts in the hot springs, while soaking in hot water. 

And anyway, even when my eyes did inevitably scan the area, I was like, "Yep, we're all people." We all have bodies and this is our natural state, anyway. Baby, I was born this way, kind of talk. The fact that we wear clothes at all is super weird if you think about it hard enough. Like, we came out of our mother's vagina and the first thing that's done is that our bodies get wrapped up in a towel, and later in clothes? What the hell? If anything the most disgusting part of that is the birthing part, not the fact that we come out naked.

I've started to think about it too hard again and now I think we should all be naked. 

And that was just a single day! I stayed overnight and we had plenty of adventure the next day as well, so I will update that shortly! This post is long enough. Look forward to the next one and I'll see you then! (:

1 comment:

  1. that was a amazing story, and what the adventure for you. I printed you from facebook, in your kimono. so sweet, the girls at work want to see you!darling you make me proud, travel and all you do, we love you so mom!