We arrived last night via bullet train from Tokyo to Sendai, which took about 2 1/2 hours. It was great to finally meet up with the group.
The agenda is full today. Our first stop is the Town Hall for the welcome ceremony. When we arrived & came into the room, it was crowded with about 20-30 town officials ready to welcome our delegation to their town of Shichigahama. To the other end of the conference room, there were about 30-40 middle school students waiting with their instruments to play to us. As we filed into our seats we were greeting with clapping and cheers. The genuinely were excited to have us visit their town and start the 20th anniversary celebrations. It was an honor to be introduced to the town in such a manner.
The music started. The children first played our national anthem. It was flawless. The sound from orchastra was awe-inspiring. I was amazed to see such young talented students with such enthuasiam. We later found out that the children were comprised of two different elementary schools, both of which only received the sheet music for our national anthem only three days prior to the celebration, and furthermore they had only practiced together as a group just one half hour before we arrived. Talened children can accomplish so much when they have a strong foundation. It was apparant that this set of children could play anything given to them at anytime because they had a tremendious music education.
Speaches followed next. First the Mayor of Shichigahama, then the Chairperson of their Selectmen. Next from our delegation, Mr. Quintal spoke and finally Dr. Maestas. Next item on the agenda was a multitude of "official" photos of our delegation and with the children and the local officials. Smile !
Next stop: Sendai Electrical Power Plant. We were given a brief powerpoint presentation of the transformation of the power plant from a coal/oil plant to now a modern state of the art thermo energy plant. It was interesting to also see the photos of what the plant looked like 50 years ago with the big smoke stacks and huge ugly building. Now the 21st century structure looks more like a traditinal bulding, along with a Japanese traditional roof. It was very informative to hear about the innovative way in which they approached all of the needs of the community as well. The power plant greatly respects the surrounding area in respect to fauna and flora. Endangered species of birds and other wild life occupy part of the facility grounds.
We arrived at the pier of the Shicigahama marine gate. Lunch was promplty served to us. After eating a delicious meal of beef at the seafood restruant, we embarked a boat to take a sight seeing tour bay cruise of the Matsushima Bay. The Matsushima bay is well know for its beautifully carved islands. Our interpreter said -shima meands island. We saw many little islands with in the bay.
After about an hour of going in and out of the islands we arrived at the port town of Matsushima. We were at the gates of the Zuiganji Temple grounds. It was such a soothing feeling walking through the forest of cedars on the way to the Temple. We took a tour of the Temple and learned of its history that spanned over a thousand years. Some items they had were in the range of 500-600 years old. It was interesting to hear of the stories of the Samari warriors. This Zen temple was made of the cedar logs that enveloped the landscape. When standing inside the entrance & looking up to the cealing, I noted the beautiful logs used in construction of this marvelous structure. The logs were not planned boards, or even timbers that had been shaped into smooth logs. They still had the formation of the tree with the bends and curves of their natural form. The only preparation to the logs was the removal of the bark and the smoothing of the surface. The length of the logs spanned the entire area of the cealing. They must have been some pretty tall trees.
Across a zen stone path from the temple was the Matsushima History museum. We were fortunate to come to Matsushima in October. Local law states that a portion of the musuem can only be viewed in May and October for a total of 60 days. Inside this portion was the special room the priests built for when the emperor arrived. The background painting was traditional Japense screen painting with a gold background and figures painted on it. This area was about 400 years old.
Our next special treat was a meeting with the Mayor of Matsushima. He invited us to a traditional Tea creremony. The amount of ruitual that goes into the tea drinking reminded me of the readings of "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson. I could see similaraties between the cultures. The ceremony consisted of eating a sweet item that was prepared with bean paste. It was purple in color with a yellow accent to decorate the top. You ate this with the portion of a stick that was neatly placed beside it on a white cloth. The texture was smooth, yet somewhat grainy. The next step was to drink the green tea. Well if you read my previous post about green tea, you must have imagined my delima. Luckily I was fortunate to sit next to Mike, and him seeing my distress, took the tea and drank it for me. We did this so fluidly that no one appeared to notice. Thanks Mike for taking if for me!
A bus was located outside of the tea ceremony structure and we boarded it for our next destination, dinner at the Hotel Taikansou hosted by the Mayor of Shichigahama. We were placed in a private dinner party room with two long tables and seated by name. Very well organized. Our dinner consisted of 5 courses, all of which were beautiful creations of art. The plates were undeniably done with perfection in both appearance and taste. At the conclusion of the dinner we were presented with a beautiful gift from the Mayor. It is a delicate crystal paper weight with the Japanese characters for friendship, and the Mayor's name sketched into the crystal.
Now that our days activities had ended, we arrived back at our hotel via another bus.
After dinner we came back to the hotel, and pursued other night time activities which included a long walk and singing Karayoke at a small establishment called Cha-Cha across the street. Who knew the group of people I was with were such great singers? Their talents amaze me.