Thursday, April 24, 2014

The only blonde on a bus full of Japanese... and a horse that couldn't believe it either...

This photo and the similar one below were taken by my friend. Thank you, Chie!
I've now gone on several cultural adaptation bus tours, and a handful of MCAS Iwakuni base travel agency bus tours through ITT... and now I can add a Japanese bus tour to my traveling resume - thanks to my friend, Chie. When it comes to traveling, Chie is a Japanese version of me... she loves to travel and see new things, but her husband... not so much. So we left the husbands and kids at home and headed off to see the Tsuwano Archery Festival on our own.

Well, not really on our own. We actually went on a Japanese tour bus hosted by a Japanese travel company, Bocho, which Chie booked... because she is the one who speaks Japanese. :) On a huge bus full of people bound for Tsuwano that morning, I was the only person who was not Japanese. But that definitely did not stop me from having a good time! Besides, I was going to see some guys shoot arrows from the back of a horse. My spouse may think he's a bow hunter, but these guys practice an ancient art that takes the cake!

So, of course, the bus picked up tourists from three different areas on its way to the festival: East Hiroshima, west Hiroshima and Iwakuni. Iwakuni was the last stop. Chie and I were two of the last people to board the bus... and that meant all of the questioning brown eyes (actually, the Japanese call them black and find it curious that we call purple, injured eyes black, but I digress) were on me as we made our way to our seats... which were in the second to the last row of the bus, of course. As I smiled and nodded to ALL of the passengers as I walked back, trying not to hit anyone with my Big OK backpack or my Big OK butt, that AFN public service announcement commercial kept playing in my head: "Remember that you are an ambassador... this may be their first impression of the Marine Corps... do not start an international incident by losing your balance and crushing one of these little Japanese ladies with your Big OK body..." Actually, that last part isn't in the commercial. I added that myself. No pressure, no pressure.

Fortunately, we made it to our seats without incident, although there was some whispering. If Chie could hear what they said, she didn't fill me in. Oh, well, who cares? Little did they know but they were going to be stars in a blog post! Ha! In true Jessica fashion, I really did want to go back to the front of the bus and get a picture of everyone looking at me strangely, but I didn't think that would be so great for foreign relations. SOFA status does have its limitations sometimes. ;)

But truly, the bus inhabitants turned out to be very friendly and kind. It was about a three hour bus ride to Tsuwano, but first we stopped at a shrine famous for its weeping-willow-like cherry blossom trees. Of course, there was a light rain and a few days past the peak cherry blossom blooming season, but I could still see how the path to the Tokusa Shrine would have been gorgeous a week earlier.

After the weeping cherry blossom path, it was time for lunch. The 6,000 yen (about $60) bus tour included lunch... and we're not talking a sandwich and a juice box, either. All of this food was mine:

Everything was tasty... except for the Japanese pickled horseradish (hidden under the bowl of tempura, with my rice in the second food photo) and the wasabe (the green hot, nasty stuff in with my pink noodles). The Japanese ladies at my table found my opinions of the food amusing. Of course, I did not make huge disgusted noises or anything... again, I have to limit my international incidents, but they asked what I thought of each thing, and I was happy to comply honestly, but with tact. Unfortunately their knowledge of English was limited, my Japanese even more limited, and Chie was seated at a different table because we decided to hit the bathroom before finding seats for lunch and the only two remaining were at different tables. But, I did manage to tell my table mates where I was from and the foods that I liked. They were able to tell me that what I did not like (the horseradish) by looking it up on a translator app. There was a lot of fun laughter at all of our attempts to communicate and I appreciated the fact that they were interested and didn't simply ignore my presence.

I almost forgot to get a picture of the place we went... the photo below was taken from my seat on the bus. The restaurant was on the second floor of the building on the right, by the back end of the bus. The bottom floor was a gift shop with a lot of fun things, like sweets, washi paper things, dishes and more! I dropped some yen in that place!

Off to see some bows, arrows and horses!

The bus traveled for a short time to the Washibara Shrine, the only remaining location for the 600-year-old Yabusame ritual, or archery from horseback (ya is arrow, uma is horse and base means tame... I know this because Chie was kind enough to translate two pages of information about the festival  ahead of time and present it to me on the bus... thank you!). The archers wear heavy traditional robes, carry a bow and have a quiver of "whistling" arrows. I did not hear any whistling, but there was a solid pfffffttt before the thunk when the arrow hit the target.

Before the demonstration began, and right after it ended, the archers and horses are paraded in front of us. The boy riding behind the master archer is his son, who is apprenticing to learn the archery skill. The object for the rider is, as the horse gallops by the target, to release the arrow with the accuracy and force needed to splinter the 50cm square wooden target. The shattered pieces are then sold as good luck charms. There are three targets to try and hit in one run... the white horse was the fastest we were told. I believe it because I couldn't get a good shot of him and his rider as they blazed past.

A worker puts the target in place.

Of course, it rained the entire half-hour the presentation went on, and it was tough to not only dodge all of the people who were there to see it, but their umbrellas. I also had to try and keep my camera dry with my own umbrella. I did my best to get a few good shots:

I swear this horse stared at me every time he ran by. Look at the photos below and judge for yourself.

See? These were three different runs. He looked a little bit like the people on the bus when I boarded that morning. Maybe he hadn't see a Big OK blonde before, either.

I had a great time on the tour and was pleased and disappointed that it wasn't much different from the American bus tours I have been on while living in Iwakuni. The only big differences were that lunch was included, and that the travel schedule to not include stopping at rest stops that had Starbucks. Apparently Starbucks isn;t as necessary for Japanese folks as it is for Americans. Chie and I have plans to go to on another bus tour in June to a Hydrangea Flower Festival. I can't wait! And this time, I'll try to sneak a picture of the bus inhabitants looking at me strangely. ;)


Semper Fi Wife n Mommy said...

First, please excuse my super motto wife username. I was young lol. I have bing read your blog for the past week starting with your arrival to Japan. We have orders to Iwakuni and will be there late July. Your blog has been amazing! Lot's of questions answered and lots of places and things added to our must do list! I really enjoy reading what you have to say and I look forward to future postings!

Semper Fi Wife n Mommy said...

Sorry that should say 'I have been binge reading....'

Jessica Guthrie said...

Thank you so much! That's a big reason why I do it... I found so little information about life here when I moved in July 2012. I'm happy my blog is helping others!