Trev and Signe's Aviary Adventure
We got back to our Japanese friend's house late, as predicted, took a quiet bath and got some much needed rest. The next morning around 8 AM, we got up and had breakfast with our hosts, who went all out making us quite the feast. We had ham, eggs, yogurt, salad, the works. It was a fantastic meal and we had some great conversation. Soon we packed our bedding into the car and set off to the capital city of Shimane Prefecture, Matsue, and our main activity for the day: Vogel Park.
Vogel, it seems, means "bird" in German, and Vogel Park is a place true to its word. The bird park is really fun. It starts out with about 20 or so owls in the front area next to the gift shop, which itself is owl themed. The owls are from all over the world and I have never before seen so many in one place.
It was a very crowded day. So much so that we had to park a ways from the Park and shuttle in. The cost at the door was discounted for us because we were foreigners. I thought that was really great, then I started thinking about it. If there was a foreigner discount in the U.S. where you had to show your green card or passport to get the discount, perhaps some groups would be up in arms over it for various reasons, among them racial profiling, segregation, and reverse preferential treatment (however absurd that might be). The one thing that just wouldn't fly is that the woman assumed we were foreigners and thus informed us of the discount. This is easy to do in a painfully homogenous society like Japan, but if a worker singled out someone as "foreign" in the U.S. for the same purpose there would be hell to pay. Most American know this as a matter of course, but when I mentioned this to a few Japanese people they were very surprised that it would elicit a response at all. Even the few worldly Japanese people I know tend to be blissfully ignorant about the basic concepts of racism and prejudges. It is as if they do not learn about it at all.
All prejudges aside, though, Vogel Park is an amazing place. It is not only full of birds, but quite a quantity of beautiful flowers which were all in bloom that day. After entering into the pay area, which starts with a huge greenhouse packed with flowers, a cafe, and a couple performance areas. A local chorus was singing some ethereal song while Signe took pictures of the hanging flowers (http://flickr.com/photos/ginshari-san/142867732/in/set-72057594129458296/).
After the flower viewing we took a long moving walkway up a slope to the first bird viewing area. We both though it was odd that we had to wash our hands before going in, but we soon found out why. The birds in the first area were roaming free. It was really cool to be able to go up right next to these extremely exotic birds and see what they were like (http://flickr.com/photos/ginshari-san/142863827/in/set-72057594129458296/). The next bird house we went to had some areas of free roaming birds, but the rarer one were kept in large glass rooms for viewing. The most popular birds at the park are their wide variety of toucans (http://flickr.com/photos/ginshari-san/142864356/in/set-72057594129458296/). There was one special room where you could feed the birds. You pay 100 yen to get some bird feed and a bird will fly onto your arm and eat the food. It was a very cool experience and the birds were all really friendly.
Another cool thing was the penguins. They were out and about showing off to the tourists. We were slightly annoyed though because the staff dressed them up in "hapi", traditional Japanese festival shirts, and they seemed quite annoyed about having to wear them. I don't blame them. Dressing up animals is about the dumbest thing in the world. We were very impressed though with the penguins ability to follow instructions. Their human attendant said in Japanese, "Let's go home," and the penguins that were milling around all turned in step and waddled away with the attendant, cleaning up their poo, and a large crowd dutifully following them. We could not help but think that from the penguins point of view, they were the kings. Not only do they have a slave to feed them and clean up after them, they have hundreds of followers praise them daily, all for the price of wearing a "hapi" a few hours a day.
We returned to the main greenhouse area where we were before just in time to see the owl show. They brought out three owls to perform tricks for the audience and told us all about them. One of the owls was born at the park about three months earlier and looked pretty happy to be out and about among the crowds. The other two performed tricks, like flying through hoops and the such. It was really great to see them spread their wings.
Afterwards we went to the cafe area and had a very unique flavor of soft ice cream: begonia. They have a lot of begonias in the park and they take some of them and make a begonia extract and add it to the vanilla soft ice cream to produce a pretty good taste. Who knew that flowers could taste so good?
After heading back to the car by shuttle bus, we drove to the Tamatsukuri Hot Springs area in the hope that we could have a dip in one of the popular hot spring bathhouses there. We had our eye on one in particular named "Chorakuen" (literally the "Long Fun Park"). We want to try out their hot springs since we have heard that the main pool is an open air bath that is very large and coed (http://www.choraku.co.jp/roten.htm). The ALT in that area goes there very often and highly recommended it. Unfortunately they are only allowing people with reservations take baths there until after the Golden week holidays, since it is their busiest time of the year. We went to another hot spring in another area, but we ran into the same thing there, too. Hot springs are extremely popular vacation destinations, especially for young couples. We went to a nice one for Signe's birthday (http://trevreport.org/ttr/tTR060213.shtml).
Slightly disappointed, we headed to Okuizumo Town in the mountains about one and a half hours from the capital for our final adventure of the Golden Week holidays...