Ah… it’s been over a month again! Let’s start back where I left off…

I went to see The Ring with my host mom back before the Kyushu tour. Movies are insanely expensive here, with a ticket running about ¥1500, or over $20. I really wanted to see this one though because I had heard about it from friends back home, and I wanted to see how it compared to the original Japanese one. My host mom ended up paying the admission for me anyway, and I got a student discount card which makes the second time I go completely free. I surprised myself by actually being able to read the Japanese subtitles and could tell they were quite different from the English dialogue, but only at a few random points in the movie. For the record, the idea in both movies is the same but they’re a lot different. I did notice lots of things pointing back to the Japanese version, though, like a few kanji and a Japanese maple tree.

The next day, because I was due to change host families on Dec 1st, I finally got around to making supper. I made pineapple meatballs (most because they’re my favourite), ceasar salad, and cherry nainamo bars. I should have known what the reaction to the meatballs would be from my host dad and brother — too sweet! My host dad had one bite and brought the rest of his over to my host aunt’s family, where it was a big hit with the three little kids there. It was hard getting the ingredients for the nainamo bars right, though. All my recipies from home were in imperial measure (cups and whatnot). I could convert things to mililitres, but the Japanese measure everything in grams! (Not that I’ve ever seen my host mom measure anything). So the bars didn’t turn out exactly like they should have, but they still weren’t bad.

So after that, it was the tour of Kyushu with Rotary. I’m sure they cut it short by town days – one on each end – but it was still great to spend four days gallavanting around the island with all the exchange students. The beginning of the first day – Sunday, November 24th – was the Rotary District’s convention. That was pretty simple for us. Everybody just carried their country’s flag through the theatre and onto the stage. Then, while we waited for the real tour to start, we walked around Imari for a while.

When we did finally get moving, we drove pretty much straight through to Beppu, in Oita Prefecture, on the eastern most side of Kyushu. The area’s famous for its hot springs and “seven hells”. We visited two of them – the sea hell and Devil’s hell. Sea hell had a pond of the bluest water you’ll ever see – even more so than Lake Louise – and it’s hot enough to cook eggs. The Japanese maple had turned red and yellow so the backdrop around the place looked really cool. There was a little trail into the woods a bit where we found a small shrine, and threw some money in. The Devil’s Hell is used as a breeding ground for crocidiles. Apparently they enjoy the 99 degree water… (or at least that’s what the English sign said, but it’s never really wise to trust those!)

On the following day we visited Takasaki Mountain, which is a park full of thousands of wild monkeys, and Mount Aso, an active volcano and I think the highest point in Kyushu. The last time it erupted was eight years ago, and it went for 96 hours straight. When we were at the top, the volcanic activity was really strong and Aso was spewing out so much sulfuric gases that they sounded the alarm and evacuated the immediate area. No worries, though – they had lava shelters, though I’m sure they’re completely inefficient and are only there so tourists can take pictures of them (which I obviously did).

Most of the sightseeing after that was to historical Japanese buildings and gardens, like Kumamoto Castle and a shogun’s old residence. At one, we had a tea ceremony. Suus says she does it every Friday in school, and I think a lot of schools have it as a club, too. We also saw a couple of mountains that looked liki mini Mount Fujis. One, Sakurajima, in Kagoshima, used to be an island in the bay, but a recent eruption changed that. Its name still says “Island” though (that’s the -jima bit). The other, also volcanic, was down by what the Rotarians told us was the southernmost part of Kyushu. We looked at a map later, though, and saw the other side of the big bay goes a lot farther south.

The whole time they gave us traditional Japanese meals, i.e. very little of what we were eating could be identified. In Kuramoto, though, everyone was sure what the thing they gave us as a local delicacy was horse stomach soup. A few people refused to eat it (at least Anita and Janelle) but I gave it a try. I thought it was really good, but I still wouldn’t order it in a restaurant. (It’s one thing to have it made whether you’re going to eat it or not, and another to ask to have it made for you.)

Note: Since then, I’ve also added whale cartilage to my list of weird Japanese delicacies I’ve eaten.

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