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Pounded Rice, Communal Nudity, and Churches on the Second Floor

It is time for another wonderfully long post about what Claire does on her weekends. All of the interesting things I do now happen on Saturdays and Sundays, usually because they're related to AFS. Last Tuesday, Valeria and her LP invited me to join them to make mochi, which is pounded rice and traditionally eaten during the winter/new year and to go to a sento: a public bath. (Different from onsen, which is natural hot springs.)

So I took the train out (gradually getting better at navigating trains!), and Valeria, Akira (Saitama chapter volunteer) and I went over to a local elementary school where they were making the mochi.

Mochi is pounded rice. First rice is put into the wooden bowl (for lack of its proper term) and mixed around with the two mallet (again, for lack of the proper term). Then it's smashed with the large mallet (too heavy for me to swing properly!) while a second person turns the rice during reloads. Slightly dangerous, since if they get the rhythm wrong the turner gets his fingers bashed in. When the mochi is fully pounded you can do stuff like toast it in a pan, eat it with curry, put anko (red bean paste) or soy sauce or kinako (soybean flour, I don't know how I feel about it) on top. It's super chewy, kinda like taffy.

We each got to try with the smaller mallet. I swung too enthusiastically once and accidentally, uh, broke some of the wood.

After mochi, we went to Akira's house and talked with his parents while we waited for Valeria's LP to come pick us up. We started making our 1000 cranes, which we're doing for no reason. When she arrived it was off to the Super Sento (yes, that's what it was called). Wikipedia does a pretty nice job of explaining what a sento it, how it works, and its history so for your education (should you want it) here's THE LINK! WHOOT CLICK THIS!

The first thing you do is wash yourself briefly, mostly just a rinse, before you get into the ofuro (hot tubs). There was one that was boiling hot (LOVE LOVE LOVE), one where there was a stone seat with strategically placed water jets, another stone seat with lukewarm water for cooling off, another hot pool except the water was milky white, and even this one seat that ran electric currents through you! Where you felt the electricity, sort of like someone was pushing on a tight muscle, it's where you were stiff. Aparently I'm stiff in my lower back. Mostly it just made me feel all tingly.

When we were done soaking we went into a dry sauna, which had a TV in it. Evidently, people stay there quite a while. When we had finished roasting, we went and actually showered and shampooed. This you do on personal seats with personal shower heads. It's quite relaxing. When we'd finished I felt all refreshed. Then Valeria's LP told us about a sento tradition, which is milk drinking right afterwards.

You stand with your feet at shoulder width, take the bottle of milk in your dominant hand, and put your other one on your waist. Then you drink for as long as you possibly can--I think I managed about 75% of the bottle. It was indeed very refreshing, I highly recommend it.

Something like that, except with milk and not a tote bag.

When I finally got home at around 9:30pm, a giant box was waiting for me from the Youth Group of COS.
Very, very, very happy. Played with the noise putty for about forty-five minutes, seriously weirding my host mom out. I can't WAIT to bring it to friends are going to freak out.
I love all of you guys so much, thank you!!

And that brings Saturday to a close.
Sunday morning I got up to go to church. It was the Saitama International Church, which had 9:30am English services. I got to the station and followed the map I got online, looking for a church. I wasn't expecting it to be large, but I wasn't anticipating this at all:
Despite Valeria having gone before, I actually pulled out my house key in case I needed to stab someone strange.
Fortunently, no stabbing was necessary. The church was set up in a room with folding chairs and a pulpit. Everyone was very nice, and the prayers were earnest, if not what I'm used to. They sang a lot of songs. And the sermon was about the good semaritan and finding eternal life. No communion, which was a pity, but ah, well. I talked with some people afterward...couple people from Wheaton, and this guy who's here teaching French to business people. Nice enough, but since it's an hour away and the train fare really adds up for the round trip, I don't know if I'll go again.

And now I"m going to wrap this up and go play with my putty again!


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