Today I went with my host mom to a children's meeting hall, basically a preschool or daycare except that the children's mothers come along to play with them. It seems to just be a good place for young children to meet other young children and play and be read picture books. My host mom goes there once a month to read a picture book and today I read it with her. Before us, another woman read a picture book that was about a rabbit who wanted to go to the moon (because in Japan, instead of the Man in the Moon, there's rabbits on the moon that make mochi). After that, one of the employees (though it's hard to tell who actually gets paid and who's just volunteering since a lot of women seem to volunteer, especially my host mom) demonstrated her skills with a kendama, a wooden Japanese children's toy with a ball attached to it by string. The goal is swing the ball up and catch it in various places on the handle part. She was pretty good at it, and was also good at top spinning, which she popped up into the air with a string and caught, still spinning, on her hand.
The picture book we read was about the different sounds that animals make and was in both English and Japanese, depending on whether you started from the front or the back, and it met in the middle with a combination of both Japanese and English animal sounds. We read from the English side, taking turns, with me reading in English and my host mom replying in Japanese. At the end we had the children make the English animal noises. Some of the different noises in Japanese were: nyaa nyaa for cats, wan wan for dogs, mee mee (may may) for goats, and ko ke kokko for roosters. Saying "cock-a-doodle-doo" was definitely the hardest for everyone, including the adults.
For lunch we ate at a place that looked distinctly Japanese. At the door we were greeted by a woman wearing a kimono who took our shoes and put them in the cubby holes while a waiter showed us to our table. The tables and chairs (which were luckily actual chairs and not just cushions on the floor) were actually a small step down from the path to get to them. The menu was unusual too because it was really long (not tall) and had even the prices written in kanji, which isn't really that abnormal in particularly Japanese restaurants. As usual, we were given washcloths to wipe our hands with and a cup of tea. When we were ready to order, we just had to push a button to call the waitress back. I got some rice with crab on top which came in one container with a wooden lid from which you would scoop out the rice and crab into a separate bowl and put the lid back on to keep the rest warm until you needed more. There was also a bowl of soup and little plate of vegetables as usual too. At the end, my host mom let me have her mango pudding, which was extremely good.
In the afternoon, we went to a nearby elementary school to give copies of pictures to a couple kids I met at the Sports Day and to hang out with some of my host mom's friends who volunteer there. From the outside the school looked pretty much like an American school, though there was an enclosure in front where the school's pet rabbit lived. Inside though, was probably the biggest difference, which was an entry way for taking off your shoes and putting them in cubby holes for the day. There were also slippers to wear around the school too. We just went to the school library and hung out with my host mom's friends, who were painting and drawing pictures from a picture book. At one point, they made this "paper plane" that was cylinder shaped with a diagonal slice out of it which when thrown was supposed to drift back down at an angle, though we couldn't really get it to work most of the time. It seemed to be somehow related to the story of Princess Kaguya, who was found inside a stalk of bamboo (since the paper plane looked like a piece of cut bamboo). We also discussed what I would put on my inkan (a family seal/stamp that is often used instead of a signature) if I had one. Simply writing my name in katakana would probably suffice, but they also thought of ways to write my name in kanji. We only really talked about my first name though since my last name would be longish and especially un-Japanese sounding. We settled on either 来安 (Come + Peace of mind) or雷安 (Thunder + Peace of mind), both of which could be read as "Rai + an" (Ryan).
And that's about it. My sister requested I take more pictures of food, so there will probably be more of those popping up in the gallery. If there's anything you'd like to see more of, let me know in the comments.