Almost every year World Campus – Japan is lucky enough to get invited to the home of one of the few katana swordsmiths still in existence. This time Krysta and Heide talks about their experience with smithing and trying a real katana.
We started the morning with some cheeky rounds of Karuta which we played with the cards we made together. The word “we” refers to us WCI members and the eager-to-play children of the Local organizing committee. Many of us had never even heard of the game itself, so the games were slightly over-powered by the children, but everyone looked like they were having fun all the same.
After the games were done, our vast group of many fellows departed together to be able to meet a real katana sword smith. He lives in a rather secluded place, narrow roads and lots of trees, and all of it just added to the mystique. When we arrived, there was a pair of cameramen waiting for us. They were filming material for a tourism video of sorts, and we got to be a part of it.
The actual katana experience itself was very exciting. At first, the smith told us about the history of katana, and showed us how he mends the metal. Some of us even got to try smithing – on a separate piece of metal, not an actual sword of course. Then we moved to his Dojo, and he and few others showed us how easily they can cut tatami-mat rolls. Some of us got to try cutting the tatami-mat rolls as well, and some even succeeded in cutting through the tatami.
All in all, a very exhilarating day trying activities a normal tourist might not be able to try.
Today we went to the bamboo forest. Michael talks about his experience with cutting down grass and bamboo trees, followed by crafting utensils and toys out of bamboo. We were also lucky enough, to see a traditional Japanese performance (drumming, and singing in Kimonos.)
Our day today consisted of muddy work, enjoyable crafting, and most importantly, lots of bamboo! It was time to visit the mysteriously beautiful bamboo forest. After some minutes of intense spraying-each-other-with-mosquito-repellant we were good to go. When we reached the top of the mossy staircase we were met by a tranquil forest shrine and a lovely view.
During the day we got to try out different activities together with the locals who instructed us. Some of us did grass cutting in order to clear an overgrown slope, and some learned how to cut down large bamboo trunks. It was both fun and challenging, and it felt good to do something useful. Everyone got to show off their creative side when we learned how to make our own chopsticks out of bamboo! We used a carving knife to carve them out of raw pieces of bamboo. Those chopsticks we then used when eating the delicious lunch including soumen noodles, onigiri rice balls and fresh corn. During the afternoon we got to learn about bamboo and the preservation of the bamboo forest. We also had the honor to meet the priestess of the shrine, and to see a beautiful and thrilling performance of Japanese traditional music and dance.
The day was concluded with a visit to a big shopping mall. Trying some Japanese-style crêpes was first on the list and we gathered in the small crêpe store watching the store attendants throwing together things like strawberries, banana, chocolate and cream. After this delightful little snack we spent the rest of the time looking for souvenirs to bring home, and playing games in the arcade.
I, like several of us, happily returned home to my host family tonight carrying bags filled with souvenirs. But somehow, as I prepare to go to sleep, what fills my head is not the thought of all the cool Japanese stuff I bought, but the swaying sound of a shamisen and the image of a pair of crooked bamboo chopsticks.
Today the WCI troop visited the elementary school of Midorigaoka in Arao. First off was coordination as per the usual. This means the explanation of the local rules to newcomers such as myself. I was surprised to know the things that looked like canals are used when 2 paths cross each other, namely ones for people with dirty shoes and clean shoes. The desire to separate the clean and the dirty was truly striking.
Afterwards we were guided to the gym where we rehearsed some Arigatou event moves. Soon after we introduced ourselves to the school kids and performed our little dance. The kids looked mesmerized by it. I don’t know why though, and it certainly wasn’t because our skill was at power level OVER … Hiro says they’re just like that …
After the Introductions we regrouped at our meeting room and split up into groups and taken to different classes. The group I was in went to a music class. That singing was probably closer to screaming than music, but I don’t blame them. It was clear that they were just that excited to have us there. They included us in some of their songs and activities. My favorite was the “Jankenpo train”: basically Rock – Paper – Scissors and the losers train gets on the winners train until there’s only one big train of overly energetic kids. The lesson we joined after that was calligraphy (writing kanji). This was my favorite lesson since it was mainly us complete beginners who got tutored by the kids. They made us copy the Kanji of their names and such. The lesson after that was music again, which was much the same except different songs and games( and screams). Lunch today wasn’t as stressful as yesterday, since it was properly organized. There wasn’t really enough time again though, since our chopsticks level isn’t Level Asian.
Next was Clean up and Play time, so basically free time with the kids. I really enjoyed this since the kids kept walking up to me with their energetic jibberish somehow trying to tell me to play too. In the end we all played Football since it’s the most international sport. After our usual regroup at the library/meeting room the school surprised us with an assembly of all 5th class kids in the gym. There was much jibberish said, thanks made and fun had. Of course the last lesson was the same setting as the previous one, but with the 6th graders instead. However, instead of trying to talk to each other we were told to play games together. We did the “Jankenpo train” again and also some kind of speed recognition game. Bless the Japanese kids for the recognition game. They noticed we couldn’t read Japanese and made it easy for us. At the meeting after one of my friends said he was easily winning till he said “give it 100%” and after that he didn’t make a single point. Remaining after all of that was a quick meeting and thanks round to the teachers/principal, clean up and information round about the next day.
All in all I have to say it was an excellent day. Thanks again to the teachers who made it possible for WCI to visit, I hope you and your students not only enjoyed but also learned lots today.
Michael Griffiths, UK/Switzerland
Unique Access to Japan!
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