Thursday, August 7, 2008

Ice Cream, Dolls, and Okinawan Donuts

Today I went on a tour with my friend Missy; we visited the Meiji ice cream factory, got to see how kokeshi dolls are made, and went to a family-owned bakery. Settle in for a bit because I'm feeling chatty, I might even learn you somethin' about Japanese language and culture here so if you don't want any of that educational nonsense you can just look at the pictures :)

Our tour guide told us that "Meiji" means something like "new horizon" in Japanese (It's also the name of a period of Japanese history when the country ended its isolationism and began to rapidly advance and modernize). The Meiji factory is the largest ice cream factory on island. We got to watch a video that they show to visiting school children about how milk goes from dairy farms to the factory and into your refrigerator case (hey, when I was in elementary school we visited the Mrs. Baird's bread factory in Ft. Worth, and while baking bread smells heavenly I think free ice cream samples would beat out bread samples.) They make a ton of different kinds of ice cream, desserts, and different types of milk (skim, vitamin D, extra calcium, etc.), and before we left we got a sample but not ice cream--yogurt milk. Yeah, yogurt milk? What the heck is that? I have no clue but it tasted pretty good to me :) It was pretty sweet, almost like apple juice, or maybe some of those drinks that Yoplait has. I didn't take any pictures at the ice cream factory though because we couldn't actually tour the factory due to sanitation concerns. But it was still interesting nonetheless (although you might disagree since you just had to read a big long paragraph about how much I like ice cream).

After that, we went to Sunshine Village, which is a facility where about 140 disabled people live and they make kokeshi dolls and ceramics. Our tour guide told us that kokeshi were first made in a very poor region of Japan many, many years ago. This was before birth control, and sometimes the extremely poor people would practice infanticide when they could not afford to feed a child. The kokeshi dolls originated as a, what would you call it, a tribute maybe? to the dead children. When written in Japanese characters, "kokeshi" doesn't really have any inherent meaning, but when written in Chinese calligraphy, it's a combination of "ko" for child and "kesh" for erase. (Apparently in Japanese, you can change the meaning of a word depending on the way you write it without changing the pronunciation of it. No wonder the Asian languages are so difficult for non-native speakers to learn.) A very sad story, but it may just be a folk tale--I haven't read that story anywhere on the Internet when looking for information on kokeshi dolls, but that's what our tour guide told us so take it or leave it. Anyway, over the years, the kokeshi gradually became a popular souvenir item. I even sent one to my sister-in-law for her birthday this year :) And those of you who play a lot of video games may notice that they look like Wii characters. Oh wait, I haven't showed you any pictures yet. Well, here ya go!

Our tour guide explaining the process of how they make the dolls, and one of the men who actually produces them. I couldn't get a good view of exactly what he did with the machinery but he produced the basic shape of the kokeshi doll, and then it's polished and painted.

Some half-done kokeshi that don't have their faces painted yet.

The dolls are made wood, sanded smooth, and then hand-painted. They start out pale but gradually darken with age (at least the ones that are made at this place do).

Some finished kokeshi in different costumes. I love the hats on the far left, Missy thinks they look like flower pots. I think that might be a traditional dance costume but I could be making that up. I think these were about 1400 yen each (~$14), I think the taller ones might have cost up to 3000 yen (~$30) but I don't remember exactly.

These two are a slightly different style than the others, shorter and wider. I've seen quite a few kokeshi in different stores, they have all kinds of styles but they're usually this same basic shape. I've seen a pair that are made up to look like an old Asian grandma and grandpa, they're adorable! I found the picture below on this website if you want to look.

The one I gave to Adrienne had pigtails like Mickey Mouse ears and cherries on her outfit. She was in the more whimsical style of this doll (below) that I found on this website. I like this style of kokeshi, I think they're absolutely adorable and I just love the hairdo. I'll probably start my own collection of kokeshi dolls before we leave Japan.

Anyway, back to the pictures of stuff I actually saw in person!

This origami swan was sitting on a windowsill in the kokeshi workshop. Wonder how much time it took to make that?

After we finished in the kokeshi workshop we went out to the ceramics shed. Mostly they make the always-popular shisa; I bought us a pair of blue ones that are about two inches tall for 200 yen, they almost look like salt-and-pepper shakers.

I was just trying to take some interesting shots of the unfinished ceramics. Since I didn't have Lee with me to do all the settings on the camera I was kinda flying by the seat of my pants but it turns out that the auto mode on our fancy schmancy camera works pretty well too :)

And here's some finished shisa; almost everything in the workshop was covered in a pretty thick layer of dust. Remember, the one on the left is the female who has her mouth closed to keep good spirits in, and the male on the right has his mouth open to scare away evil spirits.

Doesn't the fierce shisa look kind of funny with a plant growing out of his head? :)

We went to Jusco for lunch, which is kind of like a big mall with a supermarket in it plus a bunch of restaurants. Missy and I walked all over and looked at all the menus (they have picture menus for those of us who can't read Japanese) and we ended up having sandwiches at Starbucks. Yeah, I know! :p but the sandwich was goooood. I saw a sign for Charlie's Tacos so we were looking for that but couldn't find it, and we figured we'd better hurry up and pick something to eat or we'd run out of time.

The last stop was to a small family-owned bakery where we got to sample everything before we bought :) They had andagi, Okinawan donuts--pretty good, not as sugary as American ones. They also had some apple pies and peanut butter pie things that were really good. They're not like Marie Calendar's pies, they're a hand-held pastry thing with either apple or peanut butter filling. I got several of each kind, I'm not a peanut butter fan but Lee is (I think he lived on nothing but PB&J for several years when he as a kid). There are some pretty good bakeries out in town which is kind of funny to me because most Japanese homes don't even have ovens. Maybe that's why they have the bakeries...

So I suppose that's it for today, what do you think?


CCsMom said...

Really neat. Can't wait to see some of this stuff when we get there. I promise not to WEAR YOU OUT!!! I know once we get there, though, the time is just going to FLY by. I am learning new things about Okinawa from your website -- I will be a much more informed traveler now. Love ya!!! Mom

Amber said...

Sounds fun! Ya'll were all over the place, huh?:) I love the little dolls, especially the old people, they're SO CUTE!

naturecoastcrafter said...

I really enjoyed your blog this morning. It's been awhile since I've visited but I was so amazed at the dolls and that origami swan. Thank you for letting me live virtually in your reality for a little while this morning.
Jean (naturecoastcrafter)

Pinky said...

I really enjoy reading your blog - always so interesting. You have a great eye for photography. Thanks for posting your life experiences in Japan - it looks really wonderful!
Cheers, your Sistah friend from SCS, Lori (Pinky66)

Cheryl said...

Very interesting! We visited Japan in 1984 and loved visiting there. Very friendly people, very clean country, wonderful place to be.