Outdoor Circle: Cherry Blossom Viewing
During this last semester, I joined the Outdoor circle as it was to my interest and I found it as a means to practice and learn more Japanese. As the name describes, this circle encompasses many outdoor activities from hiking and visiting different temples to camping. I further considered it as a way to keep exploring places of Japan, particularly Kyoto, and getting back in touch with my Boy scout self. At the beginning, I was the only foreigner but two of my other friends from Norway and Germany joined as well. Nonetheless, using Japanese is vital to communicate with the rest of the group as no other Japanese student knows English, or their understanding of it is very limited.
The first activity that the circle had was Hanami, or Cherry Blossom viewing. Hanami took place place in Hirano Shrine, which is the biggest shrine closest to the university. We gathered in university grounds and I was surprised that I was one of the first ones to arrive. At first I saw myself becoming a little shy as the others were talking and I didn’t know exactly how to join the conversation in Japanese. However, the circle leader started conversation with me and introduced me to the others. Before I knew it, more members came and, being the only foreigner at the time, I somehow got the spotlight for a while. For Japanese people, the fact that a foreigner can entail a conversation and understand Japanese really surprises them and even if you know very simple words, such as thank you or hello in Japanese, they will say you are good at the language.
We headed towards the shrine and one of the Japanese guys took it upon himself to teach me Kansai Ben, which is the slang that they use in Kyoto and Osaka. Even from before coming to Japan, I had heard of such slang as it is very popular and catchy. People from these places pride themselves on their accent and slang as it is unique from the textbook Japanese we learn that comes from Tokyo.
From the moment we arrived, I was flabbergasted at the scenery and atmosphere the shrine encompassed. Entering the shrine grounds, Cherry blossom trees surrounded the walkway from both sides, setting the perfect environment for admiring the beauty of Kyoto, relaxing, and having a good time. Along the sides, there were a lot of vendors selling different kinds of drinks, snacks, and foods, from apples with cherry coating and crepes to pork meat on a stick and traditional dango. The environment was just friendly in every way, shape and form. You could see from group of friends to couples, families, and kids playing blissfully, as they all enjoying their time. There were special places allocated for people to sit, but you had to reserve some of the spaces. However, that did not stop others from enjoying and you could see people putting towels and blankets on the ground in whatever space they could find. That is a very common practice in Japan for that time of year.
The circle had reserved a big spot for us and just like any Japanese housing, we had to take our shoes off and sit in Japanese styled mats called Tatami. They also brought different types of drinks and food such as noodles, meatballs, and green Japanese beans called Edamame. At the end, we spent the remainder of our time socializing, talking in Japanese about different topics and getting to know each other better.