I know that one of these days the run is going to stop, but so far, somehow, each day I spend here tops the previous.
First, I’m sorry to everyone whose phone messages and e-mails I haven’t responded to – I haven’t been back in my room for the last 3 days. Hopefully I can call everyone back tomorrow morning before you all go to sleep 🙂
Second, I cannot thank Alanna enough for introducing me to Naomi and her family. So, THANK YOU!
A few months ago Alanna, a friend of mine from the LA area, gave me Naomi’s e-mail address. Naomi was one of Alanna’s friends from when she was studying abroad here in Kyoto last year. We got to know each other over the Internet, finally meeting for the first time on New Years (we went together to the shrine I mentioned in my previous post), and she invited me to a traditional Japanese-style New Years dinner with her family in Uji (near Kyoto) on the night of January 2nd. Cool!
But if I were to tell you that her family is the most awesome, friendly, kind, caring, accepting, …………family ever, I simply wouldn’t be doing them justice. Without ever having met me they took me into their home and treated me like one of their own. Right off the bat her mother told me to call her “Okaasan” (“Mother” in Japanese…I’m not sure if it’s normal to call someone else’s mom Okaasan? Alanna?), sat me down at the table, and started putting the most extravagant home-made Japanese plates in front of me…one after another…the second I’d stop eating Okaasan would make sure everything was OK, run to the kitchen to get me another beer, make sure I understood how to sit properly on my pillow (her house is very traditional, tatami floors, sliding shoji doors, etc). It didn’t take long for me to become fully comfortable around all of them, even when speaking Japanese (Okaasan, Nao, and her brother in law all speak a bit of English, but no one else speaks a word). Likewise, when I first arrived some of the younger kids were really quiet and shy around me, but soon they loosened up and we were all running around and playing together.
In the picture above Nao is next to me, and Okaasan next to her. More family members came by later, but unfortunately we never took a complete group shot.
Of course when I got there I tried to eat with and obey Japanese manners as well as possible, but with my limited experience I really have no way of knowing how well I did – what I do know, however, is that the few times when I slipped up and started acting like my goofy self they all LOVED it. I also know that over the course of the night all of the adults – especially Okaasan – were getting quite tipsy and goofy themselves from all of the sake, beer, and wine. So, little by little, I also let loose – and before I knew it I was jumping around with a wooden training sword, showing them card tricks, basically being the comedian. It was a great night – especially because after awhile Okaasan got so drunk that she was on the floor laughing more than half of the time, once even spitting her sake out with laughter!
After dinner she invited me to stay the night. Since we were all having so much fun I of course couldn’t turn down the invitation.
The next morning we all went to a nearby cemetery where we briefly visited Naomi’s father’s grave. She kept on apologizing to me, thinking that I was offended or saddened to have to join them – but in truth it was a really interesting thing to see. Also it was just another thing that made me really feel like part of the family.
After only a few minutes of lighting incense and prayer, we continued on to a nearby Onsen – Japanese bath house. At first I was a little uncomfortable because it’s essentially a huge walled-in outdoor area with a bunch of whirlpools, saunas, waterfalls, and naked Japanese men. No swimsuits allowed. Also no tattoos allowed. And none of the people who came into the men’s section with me could speak any English at all. But Nao’s nephews (the three younger boys in the picture above) were all really nice and helped show me around, show me how to use some of the baths, and so forth. I soon loosened up and enjoyed it for what it was. They also had a bunch of “special” baths like the peach-scented bath and the denshi ofuro (“electric bath” – the water is electrified!! I couldn’t handle this one). Although I tried to insist on paying for myself, they wouldn’t hear of it – and treated me both to the bath and lunch afterwards (we also ate at the bath house).
Next we drove to a nearby shrine called “byoudouin.” That’s right ladies and gentlemen, the very same one that’s pictured on the back of 10 yen coin!
What, you didn’t all know that already? Sheesh!
We walked around here for a bit, then around the surrounding area of Uji stopping for some oishii green-tea softo-creemu.
And then another shrine for omikuji (“fortune paper”).
Some time over the course of the day Tomo-chan, Nao’s niece and perhaps the cutest little girl imaginable, also came out of her quiet/shy shell and soon we were having a blast playing around during the short walks between each destination (despite the fact that neither of us could understand anything the other was saying).
Finally we headed back to Nao’s place for another outstanding dinner (Okaasan and Nao both told me that they’d be happy to teach me how to cook Japanese food sometime, but I doubt I’ll ever be as good at it as they are. But then again, I did stuff some mean Gyoza :))). Dinner was followed by more shenanigans including card games
and even a fitness contest. Now I know you all are gonna jump at my throat for this one, but trust me – IT WASN’T MY IDEA! Daigo, the little guy in the foreground of this picture and in front of Okaasan in the top picture, kept on asking me to arm wrestle him. I finally did and when I beat each him and the 2 other guys, then all 3 of them at the same time, then their father, it was on. 🙂
We hung out for a bit longer, they helped me with my Japanese (I learned the first of my Kyoto-ben, aka Kyoto dialect), I helped some of the boys with their English homework (in Japan everyone takes English in High School…most people just forget it afterwards), and finally we all tired ourselves out and once again, they asked me to spend the night. So once again I did!
When I awoke the next morning Okaasan was preparing kimonos for myself and Nao to wear. We took a bunch of pictures “Lasto Samurai Stairu” as she put it, and then Daigo and I proceeded to battle to the death with his wooden kendo swords.
He successfully battled me to the death several times. When we got tired of battling to the death he and his mom headed home (a few blocks away) and Nao and I went back inside to hang out for a few more hours before going out for some spifftastic Ramen.
Finally, we decided that I should head home. When I came to their house I never expected to receive such a gracious invitation to stay for 2 nights, so all I had with me were the clothes on my back. But before you say “EEW, THREE DAYS WITH THE SAME CLOTHES?” keep in mind that it’s freezing cold here so you have to dress in LAYERS :).
We said our goodbyes, Okaasan showered me with gifts, as if her generosity over the past few days wasn’t already overwhelming enough, she told me to come back any time, and Nao drove me to the train station.
Wow. Again, thanks so much Alanna…and of course, NAO AND OKAA-SAN. Perhaps such hospitality is more the norm here in Japan, but for a bakka gaijin as myself, I was quite taken aback. I can’t wait to hang out with them again!
That’s all for now!**