Monday, November 16, 2009

Absolutely Fabulous Weekend

..with wine, women, song (hummed), chocolate, nudity, sex (mimed), ninjas, 70% off book sales, Chinese, Italian and Japanese cuisine, a castle, gingerbread lattes and a samurai(me).

Which just about wraps up the AFWJ mini-convention week.

Vicky knows what I am talking about. Christine, Kristin, I wish you could have made it, it really was worth it! Angela, Heather, it's kind of like the Board Meeting weekend, only with no work to do. Jo, Katy, get off your bums and join already, don't tell me you're too busy, just join, INK the convention and mini-convention dates into your calendar and say NO to anyone else who tries to book you that weekend.

I arrived nice and early on Saturday morning after a mammoth car-karaoke session all the way down the highway from Nakatsu. I found the hotel with only one extra trip around the block, parked and hopped on a tram. I didn't know Oonagh was on the same tram until we jumped off! We met Victoria, who showed us the location of the bookstore - and yet another 70% sale, the first one I've had the luck to encounter. It seems all the English book sections in bookstores in Japan are down-sizing, and getting rid of their general books sections. It's happened to three places in Oita, and two in Kitakyushu that I know of, and even Maruzen and Kinokuniya in Fukuoka have smaller English books sections than before.

I got some of the those large format, gorgeous colorful picture books I love so much, including a total mystery book, wrapped in cellophane, with unmarked black covers, no dust jacket, no title card or anything! Since everything was so cheap, and I am a certifiable book nut, I bought it!

Lunch was Chinese at the New Otani. We met Michelle, Tamah and Denise in the lobby, and soon Kathleen and Melody caught up with us too. A local member, Karen, and her sweet daughter Leena also joined us for lunch. We had a few wines for lunch but it was mostly high spirits providing the charged, energetic atmosphere. Everyone was so pleased to be getting away from home and families and work and commitments for a weekend away! We had a private banqueting room which was just exquisite, making us all feel very spoiled.

After lunch I headed back to the irresistible 70% sale after lunch, this time with Michelle and Kathleen in tow. Kathleen did the Gap while I gathered some kids books this time around. Then Kathleen dragged us to Starbucks, where I tried the famous gingerbread latte - it was truly divine, and went so well with the chocolate marshmallow bar I also could not resist.

Sadly we were not back in time for Susie's yoga session. I also missed Denise's lecture on a new English teaching system, as I was changing, grabbing chilled wine from my hotel room fridge, then rushing down in the elevator to the car to check that Kanji hadn't left his keys and jacket in it. He found them at home just as I was rushing back upstairs phoning him to tell him I didn't have them!

I also missed the champagne toast and group photo, but not the actual champagne, thank goodness, which was flowing nicely. Dinner was at 6 in the hotel dining room, but we were put in a separate tatami room. Sashimi, tempura, soba, nabe and little bits and extras plus beer. I hardly notice the food though as we soon launched into a game of charades.

Victoria's version of charades is light on rules, heavy on innuendo, and void of scoring, perfectly suiting a bunch of not-terribly-competitive women who just want to laugh watching their friends try to act out words like 'brothel' 'dekichatta kekkon' 'James Bond' or 'impotence'

We finally got chucked out of the dining room and re-convened in the onsen. At national conventions the onsen is always full of Kyushu gals, so at Kyushu mini-cons, we ALL end up in there, extending the party, minus the charades, thank god.

We finished up the night back in the tatami room (we hired an extra room just to party in), where we attempted a skype conference with some other club members, and played loads of party and drinking games, as well as just chatting and of course, imbibing copious amounts of chocolate and wine.

I can't remember what time I got back to my room, I think it was fairly early. I was feeling pretty energetic still, so I decided to fulfill one of my goals for the weekend, which was to have a foot-bath. Then I browsed through my new books while listening to songs on my iPod. I opened the 'mystery book' - it was about space, and just as I was getting disappointed that it was from the European Space Agency and not NASA, the 3D specs fell out and I discovered the fantastic 3-D photos of Mars. So there I sat, feet scrubbed clean and sipping the only non-alcoholic, non-caffeine drink I could find in the hotel machines - strawberry milk - going 'Wow' at each new page and succumbing to the temptation to reach out and touch the pictures just in case they really did have bumps and pits.

Breakfast was the usual Japanese business hotel fare, so I brought down my own milk! There's always tea, but finding actual real milk is often a challenge. Seemed easier to just bring my own rather than sending the staff on a wild goose chase that just might end up in my being presented with a tiny packet of creamer. We all met up again at breakfast, and made our plans for the day, then split up into the shopping team and the castle team.

Kumamoto has one of the best castles in Japan. There are officially Three Best (there's always three best of anything in Japan), the others being Himeji and ...(someone fill that gap please). Typically it was built in 1960-something, hardly any actual castles have survived. This one had miles of genuine walls, and one surviving old turret which was wonderful, with it's low doorways, wood polished with age and new tatami rooms. We had to remove our shoes to enter, which was a bit of a challenge in my high-heel knee-high boots (yes, I was having another shoe-fetish moment).

Next we moved around to the main castle, where there were people posing for photographs in samurai and ninja outfits. We stopped to take photographs of them and with them before touring inside the castle. It was exactly like Osaka castle and Nakatsu castle inside - with each floor displaying museum items and the stairs winding up to the top. Unlike Nakatsu, you can't go out onto the balcony at the top floor. But the view of the city and surrounding mountains was spectacular.

As we left, the people with real TV cameras invited us to pose with the ninjas again, and handed out shirikens (lethal spiked spinning disks) for us to pretend to throw. Then someone handed me a sword, woo hoo! Only it was stuck in the scabbard, damn. No accidental beheadings allowed. Then the guy rushed over with a jacket and a samurai helmet to put on me! It was so heavy it gave me a headache, but I kept it on for loads of photos. Here's one that shows how well high-heel sex-kitten boots go with swords and samurai helmets:

We met up with the shopping contingent, who had also been charged with the job of finding us a restaurant for lunch. They aimed for Indian, but could only find Italian - my favorite Cappricosa. On way back I stopped at a shop to buy a scarf and got left behind...Michelle waited for me, so we snuck back to Starbucks for seconds of that wonderful gingerbread latte.

After meeting up with the rest back at the hotel, we said our goodbyes, and four of us went to an onsen. I love to finish up a long, tiring weekend with a nice hot soak. Victoria booked a long massage, and I drove of with Susie and Michelle, dropping Susie off in Kurume and Michelle at Nakatsu station.


illahee said...

sounds like a lot of fun! hopefully next year!

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