In the morning, the group went to visit Besshi copper mine, situated in the nearby mountains and once the source of enormous prosperity for Niihama and the whole of Japan. It is a very beautiful location and was apparently a much coveted place to live and work as it was well paid, despite the difficult conditions of working in a pre-mechanical copper mine.
All material goods at the Besshi mine had to be carried manually up and down the mountain by man power – the women carried 30 kilogram loads whereas the men carried 45 kilos. While most of us struggled to carry the sample women’s pack on display at the museum apparently this was considered one of the easier jobs at the mine.
After the mine visit, the group headed to Niihama National College of Technology. This College is an interesting type of institution that offers an advanced, streamlined senior high school leading into an undergraduate program to selected students with an emphasis on practical experimentation and student-teacher interaction. This is the 3rd time Isabella a cappella has visited Niihama since 2009 and on this occasion we performed at a big function with the whole student population present. Following our performance there was an enormous game of bingo with our group winning an enormous collection of chocolate and other miscellaneous junk food. For those that read Japanese, we featured in an article published by the university here.
One of the things that has been most memorable (for me – Dylan) from this and previous Isabella a cappella tours is the homestay experiences. In Niihama, Brenden (the wonderful photographer whose photos and video make this blog worth looking at!) and I stayed with an older couple who took exceptionally good care of us. Following the Niihama concert, they cooked us a delicious “shabu shabu” meal. This involves cooking your own very finely shaved meats as well as mushrooms and vegetables in a hot pot of stock that is kept simmering on the table. As the couple have children and grandchildren that live very close, about 3/4 of the way through the meal the whole house was swarming with children (the grandfather told me affectionately that they come over most nights to eat them out of house and home..) After dinner the parents of the hungry children showed up and as they were also musicians (and fans of blues & jazz) we played a few songs together on ukelele, piano and guitar. Lots of fun and lovely to discover how much you have in common with people who live thousands of kilometres away.
Dylan and Ria (granddaughter of host family in Niihama) jamming on “Amazing Grace”