Monday, 19 November 2007

Bug's Life

I've talked before about how much I enjoy the visits and trips that have been a part of my program. After having been invited to join my other professor's study group on their monthly trip since I started in April, I was finally able to take my professor up on his offer.

There were about a dozen of us: high school and university teachers, a zoo employee, graduate and undergraduate students and even a fourth grader! We met at a train station about an hour out of Tokyo and were picked up by two vans from the local community centre, where we were to spend that and the following day.

The usual practice is for the centre to bring out a box or so of their un-classified 200-100 year old documents for the group to (attempt to) read and classify, putting each one in a special envelope filled out with the relevant information. This time we were in for a special treat, at my professor's request the centre had brought out some of their damaged documents. These were letters and official documents originally belonging to an important local family. This particular bunch were dirty and dusty and had been (or were still) infested with paper-eating bugs of various sorts. So, we donned aprons and face masks and dug in, some of the worst damaged documents needed to be pried open page by page with a specialized pick.

On day two, our pile of documents to be read was dwindling and a few of the group worked on their own research with some of the documents. A few of us were taken to another room to sort and place in envelopes stacks of very dusty and dirty (but bug-free) shrine and temple prayer papers. They were easier to read and sort than the other documents but after a few hours my fingers were black and my electronic dictionary was covered in dirt.

The community centre provided box lunches for us both days and put us up at a very nice hostel in a large park at the height of its autumn glory.

Everyone was very kind and helpful - the elderly men at the community centre were clearly delighted to have a foreigner join the group and asked me to send them a blurb about the experience. The other students and members were endlessly patient with my questions of what to write where and to verify I was correctly reading the document.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I actually enjoyed the trip and while I won't be able to join them for the December trip, I am looking forward to the chance of a future trip!

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