January 9, 2005

January – Part 1

False Start

A friend and I went to HCity with the intentions of seeing the Weather museum, Shukkeien Gardens, and the Hiroshima-jo. Well, we got up & on our way early, made it all the way to Eba and then found out that the weather museum was closed for the holiday, although the info we had from this year said they were closed starting on the 29th. So, we took the trams into City Center and had lunch at an okonomiyaki shop. After that, we went to the Gardens. On the way, we decided that if it’s not open (although our info said it was), then we’ll just go shopping since all the stores are open…instead of shopping right away, we met a friend of mine for a coffee and to chat. Then the three of us went to Sogo and split up. The two of us perused the books and then just walked the Hondori a bit stopping here and there. We got home at a reasonable hour, but were quite tired from the false starts.

Real Okonomiyaki!

Yesterday was a nice day. I had e-mailed with a colleague to meet for lunch for the last time this year, so I went into the office for the day. Most folk were there so it was nice to see them and chat a bit. My colleague had a particular idea for lunch and even drove to campus so that it would work out. I didn’t realize this and was just “ok, whatever you want to do” since I was just glad it was sunny and folks were around. So, we drove out to a small residential area outside of Saijo and campus. He parked the car and at first I thought we were going to visit someone on our way to lunch—sometime I don’t quite follow all that is happening around me and don’t really mind not understanding it all. But then we went up a walk to a house, and just inside the sliding doors is the smallest & best okonomiyaki shop I have ever been in. It had four seats tightly together for the customers, and you eat right off the griddle. Yeah, I burned my tongue a little because I was enjoying it a bit too much, not to mention it was my first time just using a metal spatula to eat the okonomiyaki with—don’t lay it on the griddle then eat! The woman who runs the shop had made 14 okonomiyaki that day and we were her last two. (We saw seven or eight of them leave while we were there, then we had two of them.) The best way to describe it is that it is a small kitchen in what might have been built as a small garage and you eat in the kitchen. She was so nice. While we were waiting she gave us a sweet potato that was cooked on the portable heater in the shop and after our lunch, sweets. It feels like you are visiting someone’s grandmum and although the language isn’t coming just yet with the heavy dialect she was speaking, y’all can communicate and be friendly and everything. I plan to visit again and again, though it’s a ways out! On the way back to the office, my colleague was explaining to me that sometimes it gets so busy (and the food is so good) that people will wait until they can get a seat. Apparently, she’ll sometimes have people sit in her living room while they wait so they can watch TV and read Manga (comics) until a spot is available. Other times, she’ll make the food up and serve folks in her own dining room and kitchen.

“Hi, I’m in Hiroshima!”

So, I got a call from a Japanese classmate of mine from the U of M, that she and her husband were in town to visit her family in HCity. We decided to meet up and she also told me that her family wanted to invite me to spend the New Year’s holidays with them. (A couple of weeks ago, I had met her Dad by chance in a shop where he volunteers.) We decided to meet and did a little shopping together. With it being around the end of the year, everything has adjusted hours—like the bus from the train station to campus. Well, I ended up missing the train that would have let me take the last bus and rather than take a taxi from the station to campus, she suggested that I just stay over with them starting that evening. The next day I was to get my stuff from campus and stay on for a few days.

After a late night, we went to see a friend of hers from high school and a professor (& family) she knows from another university in town. It was a really nice day and I went to get my things while she & her husband visited with her brother’s family. Then her brother was so kind to drive us all back over to her parents’ place. Her Mom had to work that night, so the three of us made nabe (table-top stew/fondue) with her Dad. We all had a bit to drink with the meal and really had a nice time talking and then her Mom joined us when she got home. It was a good night, but a late one!

The next day, once we had breakfast and got cleaned up, we started preparing stuff for New Year’s. I peeled the fish eggs while Mom made some of the other Osechi things. All at once, it was time to Osoji (big cleaning of the house). We all pitched in and it was done very quickly indeed. We hung the Shimenawa (twisted straw decoration above the door to the house). Once that was up and photos were taken, we (except Mom) went to the grocery to pick some things up. When we got home, we put away what we had bought and then her brother and his family came over. We had oyster rice, yellowtail fish, mussel soup, tea, shocha (too strong for me!), beer, and much more I cannot remember. At one point, someone noticed it was snowing, so I went out with my classmates niece and brother to play in the snow with one of the neighbor girls. It was getting too cold so we all came back inside, but also made a few yuki daruma on the mail box!

We tried to go to a shrine or temple at about 11:40, but none of them were “gonging” yet, so we went back home with the little ones since they were getting sleepy. We had soba noodles (for a long life like the soba noodles are long) and watched the NHK TV show with the Japanese singers and the scenes from around Japan, including Miyajima, to ring in the New Year.

On the 1st, we got up and had an oyster soup with mochi balls(I had three!) and ate Osechi all for breakfast. It was delicious and I especially liked the mulberry sprouts (for new growth in the new year). It had snowed overnight and so once we were dressed, my classmate, her niece, and I went and made more “yuki daruma” or snowmen on the front steps.

After that we went to the family cemetery site and cleaned the stones, as well as left incense since there were already flowers there. Then we went to the family shrine, Gokoku in Hiroshima-jo. It was like a matsuri or festival with food stands along all of the walkways and so much good food and hot sake to be had. We followed up waiting out turn in the sea of people and at last could throw in our offering, clap twice, and say a prayer before moving on to the side to purchase a fortune for the new year. We each got one for hyakuen and eagerly opened them. I was “reading” mine seeing what I might be able to decipher with my hiragana, but most of it was in kanji. Then my classmate came over and asked to see mine and she smiled and said “oh, you got, dai-kichi (great good fortune), the best one you could have picked.” From what she told me, overall everything looks pretty good. This year I should, however, watch out for pick-pockets while traveling and a man will help me to find something I am missing. Sounds good to me! As we left the shrine, those who didn’t receive dai-kichi tied their fortunes to trees or the strings near the shrine to allow other spirits to worry about them. Then on the way back to the cars, we ate and drank a bit, while also buying other food for Dad and her brother who went to get the cars since they had to park so far away.

Once we got back in the cars and ate a bit, we ended up at a conveyor belt sushi bar. It was fun to eat there and I really like that I was able to try a bunch of different things in small portions. We ate our fill, I even had mango ice cream since there was a plate for it and we returned home. We had some tea and talked a bit, and then her husband decided to make curry for dinner.

Over the course of this evening and the others, my classmate’s parents made it very clear to me that I am welcome and her Mom even made me promise that I will visit again. Of course I will, they are dear, dear people. It was such a nice visit and they are such good people…it was sad that this was the last evening together.

Well, all good things come to an end and on Sunday, Mom was up and off to work, just as I was getting up, so luckily I was able to bid her adieu. Once she was off, my classmate and her husband hurried to get all in order since they were on their ways that morning via shinkansin (bullet train). All of us, except Mom, saw them off and helped with all of their luggage. Then they saw me off too. Once I got settled on my train with a hot drink, I realized that it was kind of lonely to go from a big, loving family back to my cold dorm room. I dumped my things off at my room and went right out to buy a mini-heater since it had snowed and was literally much colder than just before New Year’s. The room has an air conditioner/heater, but is old and take so much energy to just warm up. DeoDeo was having a New Year’s sale so for less than $20 I got a really handy model that kicks-a**! Overall, I have to admit this was one of the best New Year’s I’ve had.

Dog Tired, but Still Truckin’

Needless to say, after several days of nearly only Japanese, I was so mentally fatigued, it is not funny! I slept and relaxed as much as I could the next day or two. It was the best I could do since school is still on holiday until the 10th and nothing really opens up again (except shopping) until close to a week away. I have been meeting friends for lunch, or saying goodbye to a colleague headed to Europe for a while and bummed around Saijo a bit. On the day I went to Saijo, I needed to stop by the train station to take care of a few things. I asked at the window when the office would be open, and one of the fellows from the window met me at the doors to help me. He is youngish and might even be a university student, though I don’t know. He told me that my Japanese was quite good, though I laughed and said what I could in Japanese about my bad Japanese. I was trying to do the entire conversation in Japanese, but he kept answering in English. It was kind of funny, but it all worked out. At the end of the transaction, I told him he has lovely English and he said he has been studying English and that’s why he wanted to be sure to use it. Then I went to the Youme Town store to get some groceries. They were having some kind of a bingo promotion and so I thought it would be a good way to practice my numbers in Japanese and it was free with my “Youme Town cardo”—besides what else would I have to do that day? It seemed that I was the only non-Japanese person in this huge mass of people and no one seemed to care. It was kind of funny since I could follow much of what she was saying and I am sure the others didn’t think I could.

Good Movie Alert

If you haven’t seen it, you may want to watch “Erleuchtung Garantiert” in German. It’s quite a good movie.

Friday & Saturday

Firday I met with the daughter of my classmate’s professor since she and I hit it off when we initially met. They had me over for a visit and we talked over tea and mochi. She’s a very nice girl and quite smart. We talked and talked a mix of Japanese and English about high school and friends and life in general. Then I figured out that between her and the woman who helps with housekeeping, they were sorting out what to have for dinner and that I was staying. I had to bow out since I was planning to meet a friend for dinner. Once I realized this I let her know and asked her to apologize to her parents for me since they weren’t home. It was a really nice time and I look forward to meeting her again. She was kind enough to drop me in town so that I could meet up with my friend.

We walked around a while to see what we were in the mood for and decided on a Japanese-style restaurant. The food was great and I really liked the place in general. Small cubbies for people to eat in and kind waitstaff. After dinner, we went for Starbucks and talked a while. Over coffee she asked me to stay over so that we may go to Cloud 5, her friend’s bar. We went and had a great time, there are really some characters that seem to be regulars. She told me later that it was a relatively quiet night. Once it quieted down, three of us went to Churi’s for some late night chow. It’s a great falfel and pita kind of place. I had a whole one with lots of habenaro sauce—it was excellent after having beers that evening! There are certain food that compliment each other: pizza and Coke, spicy and beer, fruity or red wines and Italian foods, ice cream and sprinkles. This was one of those times! It was late, but we were still having a good time, so we bid one adieu and went to another small Jazz & Soul bar for a nightcap. It was surely a place visited by many the tourist, but it was a small crowd that late on Friday night with only maybe 10 people including staff in the place. They got to talking, while I was talking with an overly drunk Japanese guy. It was funny, I understood everything he said, but then there were parts I couldn’t comprehend and since the one bartender was kind of chatting with us, she would sometimes help out describing something more in Japanese. Thing is, when I couldn’t understand him, neither could she—that made me feel quite good! We even ended up shaking on it, laughing our heads off because it wasn’t the Japanese that was difficult for me to understand. There’s something to be said about the slowed speech of a drunken fellow for me to be able to converse in Japanese! : )

We ended up taking a cab together back up to my friend’s place. Her friend dropped us off and went on home while we walked on to her place.

Saturday was pretty low-key. We slept in until we woke up and slowly started getting cleaned up, etc. We talked and while, surfed the net, just kind of hung out. Then we decided to have pizza for lunch and so while we were waiting for the pizza, I went to get a few photos developed and pick up some Coke and ice cream. We had lunch and kind of hung out talking, etc. Around 4:30pm I went to Sogo to pick up a couple of Sazaesan books and then went over to meet a friend at the shop where he volunteers. We had a lovely evening. It was funny, we both brought each other a “hotto” drinks and he even brought me a snack of black sesame crackers. We talked and talked the best we could. It was nice. Then a bit after 7pm, we closed up the shop and said goodbye. I got back to campus around 9:30pm.

Posted by cassl001 at January 9, 2005 7:36 PM