Thousands of Miles from Home


Long Road to Izumo

A letter came in the mail saying that I would attend a rotary meeting in Izumo, but I wasn't sure of it's exact location or the purpose of the meeting. The function ended up being Rotary International District 2690's Regional Conference, one of 500 being held all over the world. Although usually a large scale event (says my host father, a rotarian) this year was special because it is the 100th year of rotary. The other exchange students traveled by train but I went with my host father and a fellow rotarian on the 3 hour drive to Izumo in Shimane prefecture.

The morning drive was a little long, but not without it's rewards. As we passed through the mountains, clouds hung low in the valleys casting thick patches of fog to the left and right of the car. At one point we went over a huge bridge and no land could be seen in any direction except for a small patch of road drifting off into the clouds. Also, about two hours into the drive we got an excellent view of Daisen, a very famous mountain in japan. Snow could be seen on the top and we circled the mountain on the expressway for about 15 minutes. Another interesting feature of the expressway is it's many tunnels, which pass right through various mountains (some are much too long to hold your breath).

When we arrived in Izumo the conference had already started so I found my seat in a large conference hall in the front (my host father frowned when he saw his seat was towards the back). Janna and Cori were already in their seats and they said that I missed the main speaker's entrance which was accompanied by music and smoke machine. Pretty fancy for a rotary meeting. I sat catching pieces of a few speeches until the opening ceremony ended and we went to another conference room for lunch. Kayo, the exchange student to Canada last year, was also at the conference so we chatted with her for a while over lunch.

After eating, some rotary members (including Tomosue-san and Aketa-san) who were in charge of inbound students held a small meeting where they asked us how we were enjoying japan. We all got a chance to talk about school, friends, and japanese school. Fujiwara-san, the head of the Izumo rotary club led the meeting and spoke excellent english if we got stuck speaking Japanese. We were also informed that the rotary members would be paying for us to go see Sumo on the 31st in Okayama. After the meeting we all piled into small busses for some Izumo sightseeing while the other rotary members held meetings.

First we went to Izumo Taisha, a famous shrine. There were many rotary members sightseeing in business suits, and the weather was perfect despite being farther north than Okayama. Statues and very old trees lined a walkway to the main attraction, a giant japanese style Yashiro Zukuri (sort of a large shrine). We spent some time walking around the grounds and I was especially interested in a building where all the gods of Japan are said to come and meet to discuss the affairs of various religions. There was also a huge Shimenawa (braided wheat is probably the best description) adorning the door of the shrine. People come to throw money up into the wheat where coins stick. I tried a few times with no success until I finally jumped and shoved a coin into place (another man tried this and knocked a whole bunch of coins to the ground, but people just laughed). Stopping in front of the shrine, you are supposed to bow and clap four times.

After visiting the shrine, we piled back into the busses to go to the sea (the real sea, much more rough than the calm inland sea near Tamano). We stopped at a lighthouse and climbed to the top up some very steep steps. From the top you could almost see Korea (sort of). The view was nonetheless wonderful I took a ton of pictures. On the way back from the lighthouse we stopped to eat squid, eel, fish, and ice cream. mmmmm.

After sightseeing we went to the Izumo Dome, a large structure resembling Morgantown's colliseum but made of wood imported from canada. Tons of rotarians were inside watching a taiko drum performance. When I walked through the door many rotarians stopped to speak, and I got to talk with the district governor again (who you may remember I met at the welcome party. He is 90 years old but I wouldn't put him a day over 60). He was extremely nice and instantly likable. After the drum performance we were lead into the center of the Dome where food was waiting on many tables. Everyone stood while eating and mingled in the crowd. Izumo is known for it's Soba noodles so that was the main course, but sushi and meat were also served along with copious amount of alcohol (the japanese like a good party). There were no non-alcoolic drinks on the table, so I had to wander over to the drink table to get an orange juice.
A large orchestra performed on stage, the dictrict governor spoke, and Kagura appeared at the end. Kagura (a picture is better than words) are scary figures who will chase away bad thoughts (there is also something about them fighting a dragon, but I didn't catch that part of the explaination). Following plenty of eating and socializing, Oosan (what the family calls Masatoshi) and I got back in the car for the long drive home. He put on Enya and I instantly fell asleep.


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