After all the waiting, training finally started. On Wednesday, April 8th, the Oita Bamboo Craft Training and Support Center had it's annual opening ceremony for incoming trainees--20 in the bamboo crafts department and 29 in the nursing department (a separate occupational training program that uses the same facilities but has nothing to do with bamboo). At the ceremony, which only lasted about 45 minutes, we first sang the Japanese national anthem (I don't know it by heart so I kept silent while everyone else sang, albeit quietly, around me), then heard speeches from a string of important people: first from Shigeru Tamura, director of the Center, then from proxy speakers for Katsusada Hirose, governor of Oita prefecture, and Hiroshi Hamada, mayor of Beppu city, and then from a member of the prefectural assembly, the president of the Beppu Bamboo Products Union, and two others special guests whose positions I can't seem to remember. At the end of the ceremony, one of the bamboo trainees stood in front of the director and recited a speech promising on behalf of all the trainees our dedication to the year of work that lied ahead.
The following few hours and the following day were spent prodominantly on going over the rules of the school and the trainees' responsibilities, filling out and submitting paperwork, receiving our work clothes and locker keys and testbooks, and listening to lectures about how our daily schedule will run, among other things. By the time Friday rolled around, we were finally getting into the meat of things. We were each given ("loaned", to be precise) a box of tools--filled with a large variety of very sharp blades for cutting bamboo--and assigned cubbies to put these and other tools in. We listened to lectures on the names of our tools and a brief description of their uses, as well as an amazingly thorough explanation of the structure of madake bamboo.
Madake bamboo (pronounced "mah-DAH-kay"), by the way, is a very popular variety of bamboo used in making crafts and other bamboo art; Oita prefecture is the largest producer of madake, so, on a per-volume scale, it's very cheap compared with other materials. On Friday, we trainees propped 60 6-meter-long madake bamboo trunks outside to dry for the next week or two. Six of these trunks (for lack of a better word) together costs...wait for it...3,045 yen, or approximately 30 US dollars, which is surprising considering how much six of them weigh together. When they finish drying we'll cut them into more manageble lengths with our handsaws and then begin the process of shaping them into flexible strips to be used in baskets--a process I'm not directly familiar with yet and about which I'll describe in greater detail later.