Friday November30, 2007 1:11 am
Well, 2,000 pictures, a month and a half, and five blog posts later, I’ve finally gotten through my trip to Japan. I either need to work out a more streamlined system for publishing my pictures and stories, or I’ve got to travel less. Without further ado, here is how the last few days in Japan went down:
(Extra photos are here on Flickr, as usual)
In the comments on the last post, Leila asked me if those shiny Tachiuo fish were tasty. I am glad to report that they are. This was my breakfast the next day:
A brief explanation. One of the things that we discussed a lot while I was living with the Nakamuras was the Japanese concept of “western” food. There are some classic “western” dishes that are common all over Japan, but the thing is that they aren’t found anywhere in the west. One of them is “omurice” - a rice omelet. The only way to explain it is a thin sheet of egg wrapped around rice that has been mixed with ketchup and pieces of hot dog, with ketchup on top. I said I had never had a rice omelet, and Fumiko said she would make them for Mori and I for breakfast. As you can see, mine says Ben, and (you’re going to have to trust me on this one) Mori’s says Moriyuki - which is his full name. How was the omurice? Truth be told, it was pretty tasty. Also served for breakfast are a whole Aji - the little fish we caught, and sections of Tachiuo - see how even after it is chopped up and cooked it still shines? Nice job, fish.
It was Thursday the 18th, my ticket home was for the 20th, and as you can see, it was a beautiful day. Mori had some stuff to do that day, so we got up early to collect some Anago (sea eel) traps. Unfortunately, as we were out, the boat broke. The little 5 horsepower engine on the boat was shot - possibly the clutch, maybe the screw, but at low RPMs the engine would just quit, and if you gave it some gas, it would rev until the entire engine was rattling and shaking and making terrible noises, and the boat wouldn’t move much faster than a normal person would walk. I was in charge of driving us around as Mori worked the traps, and as you can see, I was not confident that we would get home.
That is the boat, going flat out as fast as it can go. You may notice we aren’t creating any wake at all. A rowboat goes faster than we were.
While I was trying to figure out how to put the boat into gear without stalling the engine, Mori was hauling in traps, most of which were empty, some of which had Anago in them, and one that had a little octopus in it. If I learned one thing in all my time out on the inland sea with Mori, it’s that octopuses (octopi?) are smart. They will let themselves into a trap, eat everything you’ve caught, and then go right back out the door, leaving a pile of bones and shells. This one must have been eating, because as Mori pulled it up, it was pulling itself out of the trap - but Mori grabbed it.
After the fishing in the morning, I can’t remember exactly what we did. I think Mori had to work, and I may have gone out on my own again. I only took a few pictures, and they are of hanging around in Mori’s house, so maybe I did nothing? I’m not sure.
That night though, I went to photograph Graham at his nightly Judo practice. I took a boatload of pictures, but Graham already did a post about Judo, and since he actually knows what Judo is all about, I’ll just send you over there. My pictures are the ones in the second half of the post. While we were at the gym, though (at the maritime college on the island) the Kendo team was practicing right next to us. Kendo is the Japanese sword-based martial art, and in case you didn’t know, they wear the coolest protective gear around.
I think everyone should have an outfit like this - so versatile! Especially good for walking in bad neighborhoods at night.
All the Judo team’s awards, up on the wall - there’s just something about official Japanese paperwork - they know how to do it right.
That night we had yet another delicious dinner at Mori’s house, we stayed up late watching TV and reading (or, in my case, looking at the pictures in) manga, Mori and I went out for a drive, and then I went to bed. Friday rolled around, and somehow my last full day in Japan was upon us and I had just gotten comfortable. Mori and Fumiko had no plans for the day, and Hiroko got the day off, so we looked at a map and tried to find a fun place to go and spend our last day. Over breakfast of fish, miso soup, and rice, we decided to go to Onomichi.
Onomichi is a city in eastern Hiroshima, well known for its windy paths and streets leading up a mountainside that is dotted with old houses and temples. Recently, Onomichi has fallen on hard times due to depopulation - one day while we were all watching TV, we saw a report about how Onomichi was becoming like a ghost town, with long shots of empty streets and decaying houses. This led Mori to tell me that Onomichi had become very scary, which led me to ask him if we could go. In the end we did go, piling back into my rental Demio and catching the ferry.
Team Road Trip Japan, getting started with our usual pre-trip routines: Green tea, silly stretches, and back massages. I know I said I wouldn’t go one about this any more, but look in the background - we’re just commuting, and across the calm water is some little town perched on the side of a mountainous island. I need more of that in my life. More stunning commutes on boats.
The ferry parking lanes. I kept meaning to take this picture while I was living in Japan, but I never did. Good thing I went back.
We got into Onomichi around lunch time, and the first thing I noticed was the castle. Onomichi-jo is a pretty classic feudal Japanese castle, placed up on top of a little mountain to be inaccessible to invaders and also to provide wonderful views and the like - but in Onomichi, they didn’t just let the mountain do the work, they also gave the castle the silliest foundation imaginable. Look:
Can we just talk about how that castle looks like some sort of giant mushroom? The above-ground foundation is practically as tall as the castle itself! I also kind of love how there is a hotel right next door to it. You know, it probably looked a lot less silly when there was no city crammed all around it - maybe it was up high to see over the trees. Now though - silly.
Onomichi is known for a special kind of chinese-stlye ramen, and has a few ramen shops that are famous for this ramen. On this random rainy Friday we ended up having to walk away from two different shops because the line was too long. We finally spotted another one with just a couple people in front, so we got on line. About five seconds after we did that, probably 15 business men came around the corner and got on line behind us. That’s always a good feeling.
The ramen shop was so small that if I had taken out my camera to take a picture, I probably would have been sticking it into someone else’s soup, so I refrained. It was a tiny hole-in-the-wall, a single counter with about ten seats, and an older couple behind the counter making soup after delicious soup. I just read an article last week that talked about a chef who had spent time in Japan and described Japanese food culture as the most interesting and wonderful food culture anywhere in the world. I think I agree. We eat a lot of good food in the States, no doubt, but in Japan it’s different. Food is tied to places, to seasons, to events, and the variety is almost endless. Onomichi is a two hour drive from Hiroshima city, and yet they have their own distinct type of ramen, and they have a handful of restaurants that specialize in just that, and they do it well.
After lunch: The cable car up to the top of the mountain.
Mori demonstrates what he’s going to do when he sees something amazing.
What actually happened when Mori saw something amazing.
On our way up.
I just realized that in all the pictures I picked, both for Flickr and this post, I left out all of the pictures looking back down from the top of the mountain - you’re going to have to trust me - it was a giant urban vista of a valley covered in little houses with a river running through the middle of it. It was kind of foggy out, and the pictures I have are really not terribly interesting. When we got to the top we had a choice of a number of different paths down the mountain. We ended up taking the Path of Literature.
My favorite thing about this sign is how they want to make sure that you realize that the route is not directly to the right - you’re going to have to go around something first. When you actually looked at the path though, the object you were detouring around was a stone about three feet around. Then you just go off to the right.
Mori, doing an update of the last picture in this post.
At one of the temples on the way down, Hiroko and I got fortunes. Hiroko translated mine - it told me that I would soon have some new prospects on the romance front, and that I should be honest with my parents about it, or it might blow up in my face. I decided that was all right advice, and I am following it. Still waiting for the new prospects, though. We tied our fortunes on the tree and went on down the mountain. Another thing I had always wanted to do but had never done when I was living in Japan. See how productive I was?
On the Path of Literature. These are the old narrow winding stair/streets that Onomichi is famous for.
We spent probably four or five hours in Onomichi, and then we drove home along the water. It was weird, knowing it was my last night in Japan - again. I had been through the super-traumatic leaving once already, and even though it was more than a year ago, I still remember how it felt. Getting emotionally ready to leave again was the exact same as getting ready to leave the first time, but on a smaller scale. I felt the same turmoil of emotions, the same sudden need to do and see all the things I hadn’t done yet, the same sudden thoughts of buying a house and moving to Japan. As we drove home during this beautiful sunset, I had this familiar feeling where suddenly I realize that everything was the last. The last time I took the ferry to the island. The last time I was going to have dinner with the Nakamuras, the last chance to drive recklessly around the little island roads, the last sunset seen from the dock where Mori skates. When I have that feeling, I start trying to remember everything. The way the that island looks from this road, the way the air smells, the sound of the ferry bumping up against the dock. The smell of Mori’s Mild Seven cigarettes. Everything takes on this added nostalgic value, just because I know that in a few hours it will all be far away and soon forgotten. It’s never an easy feeling, but in some ways I think it is a good thing. When I go through all that, I know that I’ve got a real connection to the island and to my friends. I know that it’s more than just a vacation, and that is a comfort. I know that I’ll be back.
Hiroko and I riding the ferry. I have such love for the ferry, god knows why. It’s a slow boat that adds a half hour to your trip every time, but there’s just something about taking the ferry that I love.
We had another great dinner of shabu shabu (anothing thing that I had never tried while I lived in Japan - check.) and everyone was kind of quiet after dinner. I didn’t know what was going on, if I had done something wrong, or worse, forgotten to do something right, but Mori and I went out for a long drive after dinner and he said everyone was just a little sad that I was going home, thinking about my time staying with them, about the wedding and all the stuff we had done. I guess that my leaving was sort of the final part of the wedding celebration being over. Once I went home it was back to business as usual. It was really great to go out for that drive with Mori on that last night. We talked about everything - something that is not always easy to do when a close friend gets married - I love hanging out with Mori and Fumiko, but it’s certainly different than hanging out and talking with just Mori. It was a little sad and mostly nice, a reminder of how good a friend he really is. When I first met him in August of 2005 he was single, and I remember him coming over to my house in October and telling me that he had met a really cute girl in Hiroshima, and that he would like her to be his girlfriend. It’s a good feeling to see something like that work out in the end, and when we got back to his house and stretched out on the floor in his new house with Fumiko relaxing and watching TV, I couldn’t be happier for them. We said good night, and I got into my extremely comfy futon for the last night.
The next morning, getting ready to go, my mother’s wedding present hanging on the wall.
And then before I knew it, I was on my way to the ferry port, the same old emotions fighting for attention. The fifteen minute wait for the ferry felt like all of about twenty seconds, and then I was rolling onto the boat and watching Mori and Fumiko recede into the distance for the second time.
(They are on the left, standing in front of that white building)
Leaving on the ferry this time was different this time. Last time all I could think as the boat pulled away was that I would never be able to really go back. I was leaving a life where I had my own house, a car and a scooter, a job, friends - and the only thing I could think was that if I ever went back, I could visit, but I could never have the life back. What I realized this time was that while I might not be able to move back into the apartment where I used to live, the Nakamuras will always be welcoming and kind, and that if I ever do want to go back and do the things I love and see the people I miss, for as long as I want, I can. That totally changed how I felt as the island slipped away. The last time I was inconsolable, this time I was just a little sad, and looking forward to going back. Of course, now, as I think about leaving, I am getting sad. Way to go, Ben.
A last drive out through Takehara.
The Shinkansen (cool as ever) from Hiroshima to Tokyo.
And then before I know it, winging it out over the evening skies of Japan.
. . . and 15 hours later, coming in over good old Manhattan.
Well, I hope you enjoyed my little regression into photographing and blogging about Japan. I know I did. Now I’ve got to catch up on some silly things I’ve been doing in Brooklyn, but really how do you follow a five-post epic full of beautiful photos and intense emotion? I guess you follow it with whatever came next.