Sunday, October 16, 2011

International Camp - Ainu museum, Onsen, Edo Wonderland

International Camp was neither international nor a camp, though since foreign students from America, Korea, the UK, and China, along with a bunch of people from HI-C came and since we spent the night at a hotel, I guess it was close enough. We all got on a bus at the college around noon and headed out, first to the Ainu museum which was a small recreation of an Ainu village. Basically Ainu were/are the "native Japanese" as native Americans are in the United States. Their dances, music, and clothes bear similarities to some of that of native Americans too. The first thing written on the brochure/map as an introduction was "This large island of Hokkaido was once a land of freedom for our ancestors," so it sounded like there might be some lingering bitterness between Ainu and other Japanese even though Japan was settled by "outsiders" for-freaking-ever ago (I think). It seems to go both ways though as I've heard that discrimination against Ainu is fairly common. The first and most interesting things there were a giant statue of an Ainu chief and an enclosure with dogs and bears which the Ainu apparently kept... though I really wonder what they used the bears for. The buildings had a unique and old-fashioned style to them but the illusion of being in an Ainu village was broken by modern objects like rubber boots hanging up, a truck, tarps, and new doors on "old" buildings. Overall the place was kind of small and looked as if it had been an interesting attraction at one point but now was falling into slight disrepair. We also saw people perform Ainu dances and play Ainu instruments and afterward we were able to carve our own instruments. Though I should use the word "instrument" loosely as all they really did was make a "boing" sound. Seemingly they were the simplest instrument in the world to play but no one in our group could actually get theirs to make a sound.

From there we went to the hotel with the onsen (hot spring / public bath). We had Japanese style rooms with tatami floors and a low table. For beds we laid out futons on the floor; and since there were four other people in my room, actual beds definitely would not have fit. Most of us went down to the pool first and volleyed balls back and forth until supper. Supper was a buffet and had a variety of Japanese foods to choose from like noodles, curry, and rice. After that was the main event, the onsen. Everyone changed into yukata and slippers in their rooms (with just underwear underneath) and brought two provided towels down to the onsen, which was divided by gender. The first room had a bunch of baskets where you could deposit your clothes and bigger towel, along with some sinks and mirrors with hair dryers and combs for fixing up your hair afterward. From that room, we went naked (except for the strategically placed second towel) down to the main, large onsen room. I was surprised by how big it was; it was definitely bigger than the one I went to on my May trip in 2010 and felt like something the ancient Greeks would have. In the center was a large steaming pool of milky colored water which had various minerals and things added to it to apparently be good for your skin. Around the edge were showers with stools in front of them to sit on while you clean yourself. Optionally, you could fill a tub with water and dump it over yourself to rinse off. Once showered and clean, there were several things to choose from: the main pool for soaking in the center of the room, a small pool with jets of water that massage your neck, a small pool of cold water for soaking in, a sauna, and an outdoor pool much like the one inside. When entering any of the pools, you were not supposed to get your towel in the water and could either fold it and put it on your head or set it to the side. I tried everything multiple times and actually stayed for over an hour since more people kept coming in that I wanted to hang out with. The British guys and I amused ourselves by the challenge of completely submerging in the cold water after being in the sauna. When we were all finished, we showered off again and headed up to dry off and change. Interestingly, a female employee came into that first room to tidy up, whether there were naked men there or not.

Later in the evening, we had a room with low tables reserved and spent a couple hours drinking and hanging out. Once again I didn't drink very much at all and almost everyone else went a bit overboard, but I was still able to chat a bit and observe everyone else. I fear that our group might have made a bit of a mess there and in their rooms though, besides being pretty noisy late into the night. I managed to get to bed around midnight and only woke up when the rest of my roommates came back early in the morning.

In the morning, I took another quick dip in the onsen and then had breakfast, which was also a buffet. After we packed our things we got on the bus for Edo Wonderland, basically the Renaissance Fair of Japan where a town from the Edo period was recreated. It was much nicer and bigger than the Ainu town and had shops, various attractions, and events. We first went to the ninja maze which had rooms that seemed flat but were actually slanted, secret doors, sliding panels, and the fear of someone else in our group hiding around the corner to scare you. Then there was a cat shrine which on the surface just had a bunch of cats displayed but was actually a sort of haunted house that you walked through with giant cats that popped out from things and scared you. Next door was a building that had various old Japanese monsters from legends that you could push a button and watch them reveal themselves creepily. There were evil umbrellas, a woman with a long neck, a giant spider grabbing a woman with web, creepy one-eyed people, and a kappa that popped up and shot water at you from behind a window. For shows they had two different ninja performances which had a back story that we couldn't understand and then epic fight scenes which were very cool and sometimes funny. There was also a history theater which I didn't go to but which seemed to be a short and funny play that none of the English-speaking people could understand. There were also gift shops and food shops too which served food from the old days, though it wasn't all that exotic because people in Japan still eat food from the old days regularly (like ramen and dango). It was definitely a memorable trip overall and I was quite tired by the end of it.

Check out the full International Camp album here! And keep a lookout for more, longer videos on my YouTube channel. I'll link to them on the blog too when they're up.

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