One of the city's attractions is the Kumamoto Castle. The castle was built as early as the 1600s by Kato Kiyomasa, and now thirteen undamaged structures in the castle have been desginated as Important Cultural Property. It is one of the three premiere castles in Japan, and is an important part of Kumamoto (information from Wikipedia). On the way to Kyusyu Lutheran College, where we played a concert, my host family was kind enough to take my roommate and I to see the castle. We only stopped for a few minutes, but it was long enough to take a few pictures and admire the castle's unique structure. I loved being able to share that moment with my host family–it was great that we could see a part of their culture with them, and that we could take that photo together.
Our host family has been just wonderful. Last night they served us great Japanese food for dinner. We had "somen," which were white, thin noodles served on ice. We ate them by dipping them in a thin brown sauce that tasted like a mild soy sauce. In Japan, this is a tradition summer dish, and we both enjoyed it a lot. Another dish we had was specific to Kumamoto–it was a soup called "dahgo suru." It has vegetables and doughy, dumpling-like pieces inside a broth that tastes similar to our chicken noodle soup's broth. It was also very tasty. It was really interesting to see both Japanese and Kumamoto dishes, and both were very good.
The conversation at the dinner table was even better than the food. Although our hosts don't speak much English, we were still able to communicate with gestures, re-wordings, and their Japanese-English dictionary. We tried to teach them to say words like "Europe," "volunteer," and "thank-you"–these are difficult to say since the Japanese language doesn't have the same sounds as English does. It was so fun to communicate and laugh togetehr about the language! Not knowing the language almost made it better–we could laugh at things more easily and laugh in delight when we understood each other. Every word was precious, and together we helped each other understand not just the words, but also our lives and hearts.
Kumamoto also has a type of mascot–his name is Kumamon ("Coo-ma-mone"), and he is a cute panda bear. At dinner last night, our host family presented us each with a small Kumamon bear keychain. They also showed us their Kumamon–when you turned him on, he would repeat everything you said. It was very fun because as soon as he repeated something, we would all laugh, and then Kumamon would laugh too. It was so cool that Kumamon could repeat everything we said, even though he is from Japan and we are from America. The laughter was the best part–no matter where people are from, we all laugh the same–even panda bears like Kumamon.