After a long week (no holiday this weekend?! What do you mean?!) I had a nice lazy weekend. I volunteered to go to a picnic for kids that don't usually attend school on Sunday afternoon, so my friend from Pippu who had invited me came to stay at my place on Saturday so we could head out to the picnic together. She studied in Australia and she's younger, so her English is really good and we can talk about interesting things like politics and such. The idea was that we would head out to Sounkyo or thereabouts, but Saturday was once again cold and rainy. Isn't that always the way? It has been nice and warm and sunny all week, but on Saturdays it rains. Boo!
So we stayed in town, went out for ramen for lunch and went to a really interesting spa type place in town. I forget the name in Nihongo, but it was basically lying on a heated stone floor. The floor is about 50C, so you lie on a towel while wearing thick pajamas for an hour. You drink lots of water, and it's supposed to be very purifying. For maximum detoxifying effect, you're supposed to do it three days in a row. I can't wait to go in the winter -- between ramen, the onsen and this place I'll stay nice and warm.
I also found the public bath. It's actually really close to my house, but because I don't read Japanese, I don't know what any of the buildings are. I'll have to check that out next time I don't feel like waiting for my bathtub to fill up (it takes a really long time because it's so deep).
Sunday we went out to a farm where the picnic was held. There weren't many kids there, but there was lots of great food and good company. It was a really nice day. I'm just kicking myself that I didn't bring my camera. I also met a woman that invited me to a Ainu language class. The Ainu are the native people of Japan, but they haven't been treated very well. Only recently was their existence even recognized by the Japanese government. Most of the Ainu villages that remain are very touristy, but I'm interested to attend this class. Mostly because there may also be lessons in traditional Ainu sewing.
A really interesting account of Ainu life that I read is in a book called Unbeaten Tracks in Japan. It's the travel diary of a Victorian woman, Isabella Bird, who goes through northern Japan and Hokkaido by herself and stays with the Ainu for a few weeks. It's a really interesting read because it's from such an unusual perspective. At that time (only 10 years after Japan had opened up to the west) it was unusual for anyone, man or woman, to go to Hokkaido. Although, from the reaction of my Japanese friends, Hokkaido is still viewed as the hinterland.