At Kaminishi, my smallest school way up in the mountains, they had their yearly culture festival over the weekend. Because it takes place at the same time as the city festival, I opted not to go last year. This time around however, I wanted to max out my experiences so I left immediately after my drumming performance to join this school in the festivities. I like this school a lot, so I was plenty happy to go and relax with them for a few hours. As a bonus, when I arrived, I was pleased to see a number of the teachers who had be sent to teach at other schools had returned for the event. It was great to see them all again.
The first half of the day involved making Soba, a buckwheat noodle commonly found in Japan. I’d never done it before, so this had a real appeal to it. By the time I got there, I had already missed the mixing of flour with water, but I was alright with that. I didn’t really feel like I kneaded to do that to get the full experience. The next stage however, well underway when I arrived, was stomping on the dough to flatten it out. To keep it from getting on our feet, they sandwiched it with plastic. As soon as I walked in the door, I could see them eyeing my 90 kilos of dough mashing thunder.
I was having a gay ol’ time with this.
After it was flattened to a certain extent, it was wrapped around a dowel and given the rolling pin treatment. This was a fun part of the process, and certainly the one that did the most to explain why making soba by hand is a bit time consuming. The kids weren’t putting much pressure down, so it didn’t happen too quickly. I however put a little weight into and had it spread in in no time at all. Every few minutes, you would unwrap it, add more flour to prevent sticking and then re-wrap in the other direction to keep is symmetrical.
Once nice and flat, it was time to do the chopping. Rolled off the dowel and cascaded on the cutting board, a large cleaver was used to do the job. It was hinged and on a track, so that every time you chopped, it would move over about 2 mm, resulting in easy-to-cut, consistently sized noodles. The blade was relatively sharp, and put to the test when one of the younger kids just chomped at random and caught the helper’s finger in it. I watched every moment of this, and it was hideous. It was the sort of cut that didn’t just start bleeding, but the sort of wound that was forged with such force that hot red blood splatters on impact. I’ll give him credit, as he just applied pressure and continued helping the girl, not saying anything until he had a chance to get bandages. As soon as he let up on the pressure though, it started gushing through tons of gauze. They did a rubber band tourniquet and sent him to the hospital for stitches. I don’t have much problem with injuries, but seeing every part of that happen gave me a fleeting nauseousness.
…Anyway, I too had my time to chop. No causalities. Mr. Tamafuri was one of the teachers who came back to see the kids.
The only thing left to do was cook and eat. The finished product was boiled and then added to a wild boar soup. Very tasty. As I was getting ready to sit down to my meal, one of the students, Ayaka, surprising me by fainting and falling into me. This was an an isolated incident, coming some 20 minutes after the finger episode. Laying on the floor in a daze, she was moved to the seldom used nurse’s room. She made a full recovery after a little bit. Meanwhile, the rest of the world was enjoying their soup, and I enjoyed chatting with my fellow teachers.
Once this morning portion of the day was done, the remaining time was spent with the kids giving various performances. There was a piano piece performed by the recovered Ayaka, all the students singing some song about their hometown, jump roping, a few comedic games, and also this really spectacular unicycle performance. It was something they had been practicing for a while, and was set to the song Omoiyari. They did a really nice job with it, and I was glad that I had a chance to see it, film it. To me, it is these sorts of performances that really capture the spirit of this little school. Enjoy.