Little World/River Cruise
November 8, 2009
(Note, I don’t know why but none of the captions for these pictures are coming up, so mouse over them to see my witty captions!!!)
When one of the teachers at my junior high approached me about going on a trip this weekend, I assumed several things. First, that this outing would be a faculty bonding event that would score me all sorts of points in the eyes of my peers. Second, this trip couldn’t possibly last all day. The flier featured a boat and what appeared to be farm houses sticking out in fields. That’s not too bad, right?
Jump forward to Saturday morning, me waking up at 6:30 in the morning to meet the teacher who first suggested this at 7 for a 12-hour trip. This teacher turned out to be the only person I knew on the trip, everyone else a teacher from another school in Nabari. I could have felt remorse about my decision to go on this expedition, but it occurred to me all I would do at home that day would be debate whether to buy the new Bacon and BBQ Quarter Pounder. Confused, but mostly just sleepy, I boarded the chartered bus and made my way to the back of the bus where all the men on the tour sat around a table.
A popular stereotype about Japanese businessmen is that they are all functioning alcoholics. Well, I think teachers might also fall under that broad umbrella. Minutes after the bus started down the road at 8 A.M., everyone started drinking beer on the bus. The last time I drank this early (because I didn’t want to make a bad first impression, of course I joined them) was for Northwestern’s Dillo Day…and even then we waited until the much more reasonable hour of 9. For the next two-and-a-half hours I sat in the back of a bus watching middle-aged men down beers, eating squid chips and seaweed candy which I imagine one can only eat when sloshed.
Up until the midway point of our bus trip, I thought the first half of the day would be spent touring some countryside. That was until the tour leader started up the “little world trivia game” and the one English teacher along on the trip explained to me we were actually going to a place called Little World that housed exhibits on 22 countries and featured “spoken German.” We drove past Nagoya into a secluded town called Inuyama that housed the “Little World Museum of Man.”
Little World is a strange mix of EPCOT Center, Jia Zhangke’s The World and the buffet at the Rio Casino in Las Vegas. It’s a psuedo-educational place packed with gift stores but also mindless entertainment, as displayed by our group’s first stop, a stage show. The performance was set in the Arctic based on the Northern Lights featured prominently on the background, and all the performers dressed as Eskimos. I might be wrong, but the show didn’t wast anytime exploring the intricacies of Inuit culture, instead opting to just have the performers do cool tricks. I’m pretty sure Eskimos don’t twirl lassos or ride unicycles on tightropes.
The rest of Little World is devoted to showing off various other nation’s cultures via buildings. Like the bizarre habits of a supervillain, Little World takes a building or two from every country and places them in “little” versions of that country, complete with appropriate food. The country selection seems a little controversial to say the least – the Middle East is completely ignored as is North America (unless Native American culture counts) and Oceania, while Micronesia and Nepal somehow get entire sections for themselves. One of the big draws is that the majority of nation’s have a “rent-a-costume” store where you can borrow country-appropriate clothes for a photo-op. This led to a lot of parents shuttling small kids from country to country, snapping pictures of them in all sorts of get-ups. Cute times.
We spent a good chunk of time in fake Europe, especially Germany. They had the best food selection, so our group chose to eat at their sit-down restaurant. I went with the traditional German meal of a sausage sandwich, “fried potatoes” and a Coke. Following a nice lunch we spent twenty minutes in the big Germany gift shop which featured coo-coo clocks, meatstuffs and delicious candy. Then it was off to fake France to drink wine. The wine was fine, but the real highlight was the small selection of cheese accompanying the drinks…cheese is strangely rare in Japan, so anything a step up from Kraft Singles is a treat worth remembering.
Little World offered an interesting glimpse into how the Japanese view various other cultures. They go to great lengths to make it as realistic as possible…I think they even imported white people to be greeters at the entrance. Besides a few questionable decisions…why was Tanzania inside a barn?…it seemed to do a good job showing off the tiny world, avoiding some of the ignorance people here can dip into sometimes. Basically, Little World is more educated than some people at Northwestern. I bought some candy from the biggest gift store and got back on the bus for the next leg of the trip.
Next up was a tour of a big river running near Nagoya. Though not nearly as exciting as fake Italy, the boat tour was a peaceful hour featuring lots of pretty sights and, apparently, monkey filled forests. There were a few moments of exhilaration – the river sported a few mini-rapids, so every ten minutes or so the boat would go through them causing big bursts of water to cascade around the boat. But for the most part, a very relaxing time.
After the tour we got back on the bus and made the long trek back to Nabari. Save for a brief game of Bingo (I won wine!), most everyone passed out on the bus while I drained my iPhones battery. Sure, when I got back home all I wanted to do was pass out, but it was still a fun day. At the very least, I could fake a decent amount of knowledge about Micronesia.
(Japanese Fun Fact #29: Hey journalist friends! Wonder what newspapers in Japan are like? Well, they feature full-pages of much more revealing nudity than British papers, so gauge accordingly.)