Category Archives: Uda City

Summer School and Zen

Exchanging Ideas at Uda City Hall
Exchanging Ideas at Uda City Hall

We have done it, we have finally arrived in Uda! The city of beautiful hills, roaring rivers and… bugs. After having survived the first night without encountering any big unwanted guests, it was time for the first day, a day packed with a variety of activities.

Early in the morning our host-mother took us out for a quick stroll to a big dam that is just a stone’s throw away. The dam looked over on a beautiful lake surrounded by the dark green forests. The morning fog that was gliding through the woods created a mystical atmosphere. With that beautiful sight engraved in our memories Paul, who stayed at the same place as I did, and I were ready for the day

After having our usual morning meeting, we took a bus to a local elementary school. The kids were very happy to see us and greeted us with some traditional songs and a flute concert. One of the kids in particular stole my heart. When the other kids were listening to the long speeches, he took his socks of and tried to play the flute using his feet only. That was only the beginning of the fun. After the official welcome we were divided into smaller groups. My group had the luck to spend the morning with the 6th graders. We played a lot of card games together in some kind of tournament format. Even though I (almost) lost every game, I still had a blast! After having some intense card matches, it was time to replenish our energy with a traditional school lunch!

After Lunch we went to city hall, where we were ironically enough greeted even more as rockstars. When the bus arrived, the crowd was standing outside, cheering us on with flags. At City Hall we enjoyed some speeches by the mayor and other administrative figures of Uda City, a short presentation about the history of Uda and we got to ask many questions.

Immediately after the visit we continued on our way through the beautiful roads of Uda. We drove all the way to a Renshoji temple, which would be the location of a very unique experience: we were going to master the art of Zazen, the art of meditation and clearing your mind of all thoughts. Sadly, but to no surprise, I wasn’t very good at it. A key component of Zazen is the form. We had to sit in an uncomfortable cross-legged position, keeping our backs straight at all times without moving an inch. I don’t have to explain why, for somebody who can’t even sit decently on a chair, this was like cleansing the Augean stables.

While we were trying to cleanse our minds, a monk was walking around, making sure everybody was doing well. Those who were losing focus, received ‘encouragements’ in the form of being beaten with a stick. I can proudly say that I was one of the lucky few who got to experience the stick. After being beaten, having a sleeping foot and not feeling my ankles anymore, I felt one step closer to inner peace. The physical pain aside, it was a very interesting experience that I will take with me for the rest of my life. Up to the day that I have written this blog, me and the boys have been strengthening ourself in the art of Zazen on the path to true enlightenment. Except for Nils, he has a long way to go.

In the evening, Paul and I gave our host-mother some local gifts from Belgium and the United states. It was a very cozy evening and we really were having a blast. Paul also insulted Poland by calling the traditional 15th century Market square of my hometown in Poland a supermarket. Thereafter it was finally time to go to bed after what had been a very interesting and eventful day.

Herbert
Poland

Arigato event as through the eyes of the technical guy. And tea!

Trying out tea ceremony in yukatas in Uda
Trying out tea ceremony in yukatas in Uda

Saturday was the final activity day and the Arigato Event day of Uda. For me, as I’m responsible for the technical area of World Campus Japan, the Arigato Event day looks quite different from the other participants’ day. It’s a very busy day and it can be stressful if I don’t have a good plan.

I woke up about 7.30 and started working on the slideshow that I had created the day prior. The slideshow is an integral part of the Arigato Event where we show a collage of photos and videos from our stay with the host families, and for many it’s the highlight of the event. As such, I take the job of creating it very seriously. However, due to a lot of work and lack of time lately, I had to finish the slideshow on the same day as the event, which made my schedule very tight.

After eating breakfast and washing myself, my host mother drove me to the Shinkou center, where we would spend most of the day. In the morning I was informed that I had to hold a presentation about World Campus Norway to the ten-or-so students that came from Nara prefectural university to visit us that day. That meant less time for me to make the slideshow, so I had to take every opportunity I could during the morning to work on it.

Our first activity of the day was a tea ceremony experience. We all got to dress up in a Japanese yukata, a lighter summer version of kimono. While there are a lot of different customs to follow during a tea ceremony, our teacher was very casual and wanted us to enjoy the experience of drinking Japanese matcha tea (green tea,) so we only learned some basics. When drinking, we had to turn our cup three times such that the front was facing away from us, and then we had to turn it back before placing it in front of us so the front was facing ourselves. We also tried to sit in the seiza position, which can be very painful if done for a long time, but looks very beautiful.

Next up was lunch. We walked to a nearby facility with the newly arrived university students from Nara. This day was extremely hot, reaching 35 degrees celsius, which is typical of Japanese summer. At the facility we had a buffet style lunch, made by some very kind local ladies. We enjoyed the delicious local food, including rice, cooked bamboo, fried chicken and eggplant, among other things, while talking with the Japanese students.

Having had lunch, we returned to our original location where Juuso and I held a presentation and led a discussion with the Japanese students, while the other participants were doing team building activities. Juuso is in charge of World Campus Finland, while I’m a local staff of World Campus Norway. The students seemed very interested, and it made me happy to see that we could spread the word of World Campus to other people.

Finally, it was time for final practice for the Arigatou Event before the real thing. I had to finish the slideshow first, and then I had to test the sound and video system of the facility, while the others were practicing. Trying to figure out how this ancient system works, mainly made for playing CDs and cassettes(!), while the others are practicing and expecting me to participate and support them with music while not being in their way, is one of the hardest part of my job. I kept my cool and had to accept working with a very old projector for displaying our videos, and we eventually managed to do a full rundown of the event using the outdated sound system. It was time for the event.

The event went exceptionally well. As expected of the second city, the other participants knew their dances and other parts very well, with only minor hiccups. The slideshow was well received, which made me very happy. When people laugh and enjoy my work, I’m very glad for all the effort I put in it. In the very end, after our performance, I was suddenly asked to play a cassette with some music over the sound system, because a local student was going to dance. I had not prepared for that, and it took me a few minutes to figure out how to do it, which caused a small delay. That’s a typical part of my job, but I have managed to accept that I can’t always be perfect and that I have to improvise.

Being content with the work of the day, I went home with my host family and enjoyed tempura and a beer with my host father. I went early to bed in anticipation of the next day, which would be the last day of Uda, the host family day.

Joakim Gåsøy (Norway)

Tourism advisor gig and playing with kids during elementary school visit

Emma talking about ways to improve Uda's tourism at the city hall
Emma talking about ways to improve Uda’s tourism at the city hall

Yesterday we had a fun day of Zen meditation and some interesting ninja training. One of the most difficult activities was the crossing of the Akame river, using only a small floating device, which I completely failed at. Returning home I was looking forward to a much appreciated rest.

The house of my host family, the Okuda family, is amazing. It is a really relaxing environment with an absolutely wonderful forest view accompanied with the whining of the nearby cicadas. The house itself is made by my host father himself using only natural resources that can be found around the building. It is such an amazing and relaxing environment that it makes me want to stay a lot longer than a week.

However, today we had two activities planned; visiting Murou elementary school, and Uda city hall. Before meeting with the schoolkids we were invited to their morning meeting in the gymnasium, so that we could formally introduce ourselves. We were also introduced to some Chinese school kids who also were invited that day. We showed them our Japan medley dances too. After that we were divided into groups, meeting four different grades. My group was going to meet the third graders.

When we met the kids in their classroom they were really excited to see us. They all welcomed us with a song, and then we played a game. The World Campus Japan members were asked some questions and the kids had to guess the right answer. They asked me what my favourite colour was, but none of them guessed the right answer, which is blue if you were wondering. Then we ate lunch with the kids in the classroom and we got some more time to interact with them. Kana-chan absolutely loves playing the piano and Ibuki-kun is absolutely crazy about labels and ketchup cups.

After saying our goodbyes we went by train to Uda city hall and met up with the members of the tourist committee. They told us what Uda’s must see spots and attractions are. Because we have not been here long we did not yet really know a lot about the city and its surroundings but I have the impression that Uda is a wonderful place witch does not yet know the mass tourism that places like Kyoto and Nara knows, which means that it is a place where you can enjoy the many temples and shrines, without feeling swarmed, but able to visit them in a peaceful and relaxing way.

We sat together with the committee members to talk about the possible ways to attract more foreign tourist; as of now Uda mainly attracts Japanese tourists and only a handful of foreign tourists. This led to some interesting discussions about the future paths Uda’s tourism can take. I hope that they can take some of our ideas into consideration.

This afternoon did convince me that Uda is certainly a place were I want to return to, hopefully in the near future.

Then we returned home to our host families and at night I had a lovely dinner with my host mum, Hinomi-san and the kids, Akiha-chan and Kiharu-chan. In the beginning they were incredibly shy but after a few games they opened up. We probably were too busy yesterday so after watching sumo, first time for me, they went to bed. I spent the rest of the night with my host mum and talked to her some more until my host father came home. After some nice cold beer and some more chatting, I went to bed.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the weeks activities.

Emma Vermandez (Belgium)

Ninja village! – 14/07-2017

Videoblog filmed in Uda on the 14th of July 2017.

Shinto shrine and zen meditation! – 12/07-2017

Videoblog filmed in Uda on the 12th of July 2017.