Trev and Signe's Hamada Bonanza
We left Matsue and made the three hour trek by car down to Hamada, where we would be spending the next few days with our friends in the western part of Shimane Prefecture. We stopped for dinner in Izumo, famous in Japan for the Izumo Taisha Shrine, the second holiest in all of the country and home of GodCon(TM) in October when all the Kami of Japan gather to relax and converse while taking a break from their godly duties.
We finally arrived in the sleepy seaside town of Hamada at around 9 pm and met our friends at a local bar where we chatted and drank for about an hour before going to bed. Our host, another ALT, is usually a night person and frequents the many bars in town, but this week he was down with a cold, so he opted to say at home and rest. That is just as well for us, since we tend to be day people, a lifestyle that fits us fine out here in the Japanese countryside. It always amazes me to meet people who start partying after midnight everyday.
The next morning we woke up bright and early to meet Signe's Japanese friends for a tour of the fascinating "Tatamigaura" rock formations right on the coast off of Hamada, near a popular surfing beach. Our tour guides were students of Signe's when she taught at a local English Conversation School in Hamada last year. The family consisted of a retired couple and their single daughter of 31 years that lives with them and tutors junior high school boys in English in her spare time. The father of the family also is a rock enthusiast and has spent a fair amount of time studying and teaching people about the rock formations at Tatamigaura. So when we went he took his teaching materials with him and we got the full tour, geology lesson and all.
Tatamigaura is separated into three distinctive layers that are easily viewable in part by a massive earthquake that hit the area around 1837 that pushed part of the coastline 25 meters higher than the rest allowing us to view a cross section 20 million (or 4000 for you creationists out there) years of rock formation. The top and bottoms sections are relatively the same, both having been created by molten magma mixing with sands. The most fascinating section, though is the middle, which was formed about 16 million years ago. This section consists of rocks that have been bound together by calcium carbonate, or lime, that came off sea shells and sands mixed with rain water. The result is rocks suspended on the side of a cliff in natural concrete (http://flickr.com/photos/ginshari-san/142847734/in/set-72057594129458296/). The 1837 earthquake also exposed two tiny islets, Dog Island and Cat Island where these layers are quite identifiable.
The next stop of the Tatamigaura tour was the main section. This is the section that did not rise up during the 1837 earthquake, so we were standing on the top layer that Tatamigaura gets its name from. The wide area right on the coast is split horizontally and vertically by small creases in the rock that make the over-all area seem to resemble tatami mats in both shape and color, hence the name TATAMIgaura (http://flickr.com/photos/ginshari-san/142852015/in/set-72057594129458296/). The most exciting part about these sandstone plains, though, are the many fossils that can be found in them, from 5 million year old oysters to ancient whale bones, the fossils are easily viewable right on the surface of the plains in the form of nodules (http://flickr.com/photos/ginshari-san/142850784/in/set-72057594129458296/). These nodules were formed in the sandstone by groups of shells, often discarded by crabs and other sea creatures after feeding on them. The shells would secrete calcium carbonate, or lime, when exposed to rainwater and the area around the shells would make a hole in the sandstone and harden. Over time the hardened holes would be filled and covered by weak sandstone. Over the last few million years the sandstone has slowly been corroded away by wind and storms and the nodules are becoming exposed to the open air (http://flickr.com/photos/ginshari-san/142857012/in/set-72057594129458296/). In these nodules, we can find with the naked eye many different type of fossilized sea life.
This was all explained to us in a mix of Japanese and English as we walked the area for about an hour and a half. Our teacher was very interested in sharing his knowledge with us and with his homemade diagrams drawn with colored marker on plywood (http://flickr.com/photos/ginshari-san/142849837/in/set-72057594129458296/) he did a fine job making us understand.
After our geology lesson we when to lunch at a nice restaurant by the Hamada Beach, a popular spot for surfers. The food was great, but afterwards we had to ask a slightly imposing question before our travels were to continue. Some of our friends from Eastern Shimane wanted to come with us for our next leg of our trip that would be happening the next day, on the 4th, but where we were staying, with a local ALT, was too small for all of us and no other ALT wanted to let them stay the night. The solution we found would depend on the goodwill of Signe's Japanese friends. So, after lunch Signe mustered up the courage to ask the Japanese family if we could stay with them for a couple nights so that our friends could come down and stay with the ALT we were currently staying with. Fortunately, they were more than happy to have us and moreover we could have their old grandparent's house, which was right in front of their own home, all to ourselves. With a sigh of relieve we called our friends and gave them the OK to head on down that night.
From there we headed to AQUAS, a large aquarium in Hamada. Although Signe and I have been by AQUAS many times on our way to other things, we have never been inside the aquarium. There is a very nice kid's park right next to AQUAS and we have gone there on a few occasions when the park was devoid of people to play on the long rolly slides (slides that consisted of rollers instead of smooth metal) and jungle gyms. The Japanese people who were with us today declared the park for children only, so we unfortunately did not venture there today. It's a shame when adults cannot act like kids.
Another very memorable thing we went to at that park on another day when it was almost free of people was a dog show. Well, a dog petting zoo is more like it. We got there to play on the slides and were wondering around the park area in that particularly cloudy day and in one of the buildings there were a couple people and a little dog with a sign saying there were more dogs to play with inside. There was an entrance fee, but Signe and I forked it up and went inside. These people were not selling dogs, they were just displaying their dogs. There were 4 or 5 pens with about a half dozen dogs in each of varying breeds. The staff let us go into the pens and play with the dogs, petting them, picking them up, etc. It was extremely cute and fun. And as we all know it is good for one's mental health to see a little cuteness everyday.
Inside the aquarium Signe and I were treated to something pretty cute today, too. AQUAS is known for having three beluga whales (called "shiroikura" or white dolphins in Japanese), and they have trained one to blow bubble rings. Although it was very crowded in the aquarium we were able to get in to see the beluga show at the last minute. Cuteness ensued. It is a very nice aquarium, with a rather large shark tank equipped with a walkway that goes underneath the main tank. There are also many individual tanks with fish from all over the world. The design is not as impressive as the Osaka Aquarium, which is truly splendid with a top down spiraling design, but it is nonetheless a wonderfully fun place. Right before we left we got a glimpse at the seals as well, taking a well-needed rest in between shows.
After our AQUAS experience, we too needed some rest, so we headed back to our ALT friend's apartment, where he was resting, to chat a little and pick up our bedding to move to our Japanese friend's house that night. Before we parted we agreed to meet up with him and our friends from Eastern Shimane later that night for dinner. I also barrowed the Kurt Vonnegut book "Cat's Cradle" from him, which I liked so much I was finished reading it by Friday night. Reading a book in a mere two days is extremely fast for me.
We arrived at our new host's house and got settled in for the night. They informed us that they were making dinner for us, which was an unexpected surprise. After calling our ALT friend to let him know we could only meet for drinks instead of dinner, we accepted their invitation and when into their house for pre-dinner drinks. We were staying in the old house that the grandparents used to live in, the rest of them live behind that house in a newer house.
Pre-dinner drinking is something of a Japanese male tradition. Most every man you ask here over the age of, say, 30 will tell you that he always drinks when he gets home. Usually they have a few beers and perhaps some "shochu" (distilled grain alcohol). I, on the other hand, almost never drink at home, especially when it is only Signe and I. In any case, Signe and I sat down with our geologist teacher of a host and drank some beer and ate some snacks while he showed us some old videos of his showing various groups around Tatamigaura that aired on local news spots through the years. We even watched a promotional half-hour TV spot on tourist attractions in the surrounding area that featured our host's 30-something daughter introducing the TV host to the geological site.
The daughter does English tutoring almost every night a week in their spare room in the house and this night was no exception. During our drinking and video viewing we were invited to have a short conversation with her junior high school student. He was very surprised to see a couple American walk into his tutoring session! He introduced himself to us and we talked for a bit about his school and what sports he plays, etc. Then we went back to the living room for more videos. About a half hour later we were called back into the room and the student had written out a series of questions to ask us and we had a fun conversation with him, asking the questions of him in return. The final one being, "what is your dream?" We had a great time. It was fun to interact with a male student that was so excited about learning English.
We had curry rice for dinner and after making plans for breakfast the day after next. Thursday we were waking up very early and returning very late for a trip to Yamaguchi Prefecture so we wouldn't see them again until Friday morning. With our plans set, we headed out to the bar where our friends were heading to after dinner. Our friends from the east had arrived safe and sound and we relaxed while drinking real cocktails, like Kailua Milk and Gin & Tonic. (As you might know, I have a "Gin & Tonic Futon Brain") This might not seem like a big deal to anyone in a country with a robust taste in alcohol, but in Japan, and especially in the countryside of Japan, there are exactly four type of alcohol you can choose from: beer, sake (Japanese rice wine), whiskey, and shochu. There was one time I was at a Japanese party here in my small mountain town and we went to the local bar for drinks. I asked for a Gin & Tonic and they just laughed, like it was absurd that I would want anything besides the four types of drinks they had. In any case we had drinks and agreed to meet the early the next morning for...
I hope to hear from all of you out there. Until next time and the final installment, take care!