Every year the elementary school students take a field trip to somewhere within about an hour of school. These are broken up by grades, with the pairs of 1st/2nd, 3rd/4th, & 5th/6th graders going to different places. This time around I was paired with the third/fourth graders, and the first stop of the morning required a bus ride over to neighboring Marugame.
Marugame has for hundreds of years been Japan’s largest producer of fans, called uchiwa. These aren’t the folding fans that you are almost undoubtedly picturing, but these are the flat variety – think fanning flames. This would be a really good opportunity to try something new and learn more about the creation process. Despite how many of them I have used while here I really didn’t know anything about how they are made.
A really artistic effect, made from the spines of uchiwa fans.
We arrived at the Harbor Uchiwa Museum and after a quick stroll through an exhibit showcasing a number of different varieties, but we wasted no time in making our own. While the most difficult portions had been done for us, such as paring the bamboo and weaving it into the spine of the fan, we had a few things to do yet. The first was to take the paper with our original artwork that we had prepared ahead of time, and apply a layer of glue. Then after doing the same thing to another piece, we sandwiched the bamboo spokes between the two, and then brushed it to ensure there were no bubbles in the paper, and finally laid it out to dry.
Since we had to allow it a few minutes before we could proceed, we walked to the other side of the museum to see a demonstration and movie about how the do the more difficult steps. It was pretty interesting, and while I didn’t know the specifics of what they were saying, I got enough out of it to make it worthwhile. After some question and answer time, it was back to our own project.
The next step was to cut the desired shape out of the spokes and paper. If you can imagine a rake, the spokes are about the same length and in a triangular shape. By placing the fan on a woodblock and then using a mallet to drive a rounded blade though it, a more beautiful and refined shape could be attained. The students lacked the power of my mighty blows, but everyone finally made it though. The last step of the process was to put a thin adhesive strip along the outside edge to keep everything together. In the end I felt pretty good about mine.
The completed piece.
After boarding back on the bus, we went to a small park that was built to celebrate the successful irrigation projects in the prefecture. They talked all about how there isn’t enough rainfall in this part of Japan, so to compensate thousands of ponds and reservoirs have been built over the centuries. Before getting any deeper into our scholarship, we broke into groups and ate the lunches we had brought. The students all had works of art that their mothers had painstakingly prepared early that morning, while I did my standard ‘throw-whatever-I-got-in-a-bag’. In these aspects of Japanese culture, I do my best to upset the apple cart by being as ‘foreign’ as possible. I took things beyond their wildest imaginations by remedying my forgotten chopsticks with some sticks that were just lying on the grass.
A meal of champions. One of the teachers also made me some egg sandwiches, since she had heard that I often pack raw broccoli and felt bad for me. Hard boiled egg on bread is definitely more pathetic [tasting] than raw broccoli me thinks…
Once we were done with lunch, we all had a ball on some playground equipment and also took a rather unsafe photo with everyone atop a single teeter-totter. I am definitely glad that these can still be found in the modern world. I blame the PTA for the loss of such toys as these, and games like Red Rover. Injuries build character.
The real reason that we came to this place though was to check out that museum that had all sorts of information about how we have conquered the water supply over the years. This museum was very thorough, but entirely in Japanese. And while I enjoyed some of the pictures and exhibits, the facts and figures were generally beyond my realm of comprehension. I got the feeling that the kids weren’t overly keen on the museum as well.
This was one of the cooler things in the whole place, though it had nothing to do with any of the other exhibits.
The final stop of the day, and it was only that, was at Manno Lake. This massive reservoir was built well over a thousand years ago by the hero of all things, the Buddhist monk Kukai. We basically only walked to the edge to appreciate an example of what we learned about in the museum, and after a few minutes we were back on our way. I had been here before, briefly, but it is indeed a really beautiful place.
Overall, this was a reprieve from an otherwise uneventful day at school, and getting to spend time with my students outside of the classroom is always fun too since they are in similarly high spirits. A few minutes of nap time here and there on the bus is always a welcome treat too…