Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Glass Village

On base, there is a program called "Cultural Adaptation." As you may have read earlier, I took a Survival Japanese class, led by a Japanese national named Akie. Akie is also responsible for planning and guiding tours to local destinations for the Americans stationed at Iwakuni about twice a month. The first tour I have gotten to go on was on Friday, when about 25 of us went to The Glass Village in Hiroshima. Being me and not wanting to miss a thing, I took a seat right in the front of the bus, next to the window so I could see Japan as the bus lumbered through it. For those of you who are familiar with my life back in 2008, I planned hosted a scrapbooking bus tour, and had I remembered, the first two rows of seating are especially useful to a tour guide. They can organize their roster, handouts, etc. Having me in the front seat was not going to be especially helpful. I did not realize this until Akie put her bags on the seat next to me - "Is it OK if I sit here?" she asked. Oh, yes, in fact I will move, I told her, and started to get up. She said that was not necessary, that I should stay, and I am glad I did. I got to know Akie and more about the American/Japanese dynamic as seen through her eyes.

Akie laughing with us while she explains the tour
While she did her job, making announcements and checking on the passengers, she had to be seated for the half hour we were on the expressway, so we were able to chat. It was interesting listening to her, what her job entails and some of the challenges she faces, such as playing the middle-woman between the expectations of Americans and what the Japanese hosts at different sight-seeing locations or willing and able to do. I did have a tour recommendation for her: I have talked to a few other military wives stationed here and the one thing they would like to see is the inside of every-day Japanese homes, sort of like a home or garden tour. They have had these in several cities I have lived in: a handful of families open their well-decorated homes on a Saturday for people to walk through, have refreshments, etc. I told Akie that, if it wasn't considered impolite in Japan and there were some people willing to allow a bunch of Americans to trample through their homes, I think it would be a popular tour. She thought it was a good idea, since she remembered that when she visited the U.S. several years back, she had wondered about people's homes, as well. So, I will let you know if this home tour becomes a reality. Now, back to the Glass Village...

It took about an hour and a half to get to The Glass Village from base. Akie described it as a sort of an amusement park, but without rides. I would have to say that is accurate. There are three museums, a "castle," a souvenir shops, glass-working classes and a restaurant. I half-expected the village to be all in glass, like an ice castle, or something, but the Japanese are much more realistic than that. This village was actually created by a famous glass bead manufacturing company. Because it was the middle of the day on a week day, we just about had the whole place to ourselves - no waiting in line or people getting in the middle of our pictures! And the weather cooled off considerably here this week - it was a lovely, sunny 72 degrees, although still a bit too humid for my taste.

While I am not sure what is on the second floor of  the Venetian House, but the bottom floor is souvenir shops. 

This was the"castle." Inside it has a mirror maze,glass artwork and a room that is completely tilted to one side.  It makes you dizzy despite the fact you know it is tilted when you go in.

The English greeting from the president of the company that owns the Glass Village

Me in front of the restaurant we ate at, with the Venetian House behind me. 
Once we arrived, we headed to one of the classrooms, to make muddlers, which Akie described as spoons. However, when we got there, the muddlers turned out to be more like stirrers, but I just chalked up the miscommunication to language barrier. While some of the tourists were disappointed, I still think they were fun to make. Basically, we were given two glass tubes to put the beads of our choice in. We then used Bunsen burner-type devices to melt the ends to seal them shut. To cool off the glass, the melted end was stuck in a cup of ash.

This was what was at my seat when I arrived at the class: Beads in a bowl, the Bunsen-burner, an ice tray with beads divided out by color and shape, a cup of ashes and my box with two glass tubes that would soon be muddlers. 
One of the Glass Village employees demonstrates the proper glass melting procedure.
Here I am concentrating very hard on"muddling" without burning myself. This photo and the next were taken by a photographer for the base's entertainment magazine. She was kind enough to email them to me.

My muddlers cooling off after the tips were sealed.
A close up of the bead colors and patterns I chose. These should come as no surprise. :) 
After we made our muddlers, which took about 45 minutes, we headed to lunch at the restaurant in the village. As you may have read in a previous post, I am in the process of losing weight, so I am being very careful about what I eat... 98 percent of the time. This is an example of that 2 percent of the time I let myself off of the hook so I can enjoy the Japanese culture. I am on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure these next few years, and while I am dedicated to a healthier lifestyle, I figured one "bad" meal in two weeks isn't so bad, especially when it is part of the Japanese experience (By the way, I have lost 7 pounds in the first two weeks of my diet and exercise program - thank you to everyone for being so supportive!). Here is a photo of our lunch, which was waiting for us promptly at noon. Lunch and muddler-making was really quite affordable: 1,280 yen, or about $17.

Those bright yellow things are similar to dill pickles and taste good with rice.

After lunch, we had free time until 2:30 p.m., when the bus left to go back to base. I did some shopping - there is not much in the way of glass items suitable as souvenirs for 6- and 10-year-old boys, but I did the best I could: I got them little glass dinosaurs, which they thought were cool and now reside in my china cabinet:

The boys with their glass dinosaurs.
It was also interesting to note that, while American dishes usually come in sets of four, Japanese dishes come in sets of five, since four is a number associated with "death" in Japan.

For my crafty friends who love beading, you would have loved this building - it was wall-to-wall beads for sale:

I am not much of a shopper (retail therapy isn't really my thing), so the next thing to do was tour the grounds a visit the bead and glass museums. The museums had an entry fee of 1,000 yen, which I gladly paid. But I was the only one on the tour to check out the museums. But because most of the signs were exclusively in Japanese, the village manager allowed Akie to go with me for free to translate - it was win-win! I got a translator and she got to see everything for free! Plus, it was just a lot of fun to share our combined knowledge when it came to looking at the displays. Some of them are here:

Beaded bull from Cameroon

Beaded ceremonial costume from Africa

Moccasins and pillows from America

A replica of a famous beaded head dress found in an ancient grave in Japan

A glass vase created by an American artist.

This bowl was the size of a toilet and created by American Dale Chihuly. It was my favorite item in the museums - I would have loved to take it home. On his web site, Chihuly calls these macchia.

The back of the glass bowl.

A Japanese vase

Another Japanese vase

A beaded globe.
There were a number of interesting things to see around the Glass Village grounds:

The Flower Clock of Glass

The painted glass hall inside the castle

The mosaic in the center of the "Fairytale Garden"

A closeup of the 24-hour zodiac clock on the Venetian House. I think it is half-past Aries. Just kidding.

The Glass Globe, which needed some Windex. It was a bit dirty. I think it's funny how all of the globes I've seen in Japan have Asia facing the front. It never occurred to me how globes in America always have North and South America facing forward until the globes I kept seeing here looked subtly different to me.
The Glass Village trip was fun and interesting - I was home by 4 p.m., and ready to be off the bus. Now I'm off to enjoy my muddlers!

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