Tom and his girls came to grab us the morning we had to leave and took us on a tour of a convenience store where the girls showed us some of their favorite crap foods. We got a selection of samples of course!
With ice cream, gummy products and tea in our bellies we headed off to visit a temple and pagoda. Amazing!
Tom took us over to an open field filled with daisies and told us that the field was more of a spectacle for the Japanese than the temple behind us. Anywhere you can take off your shoes, picnic and run through the grass is a valued experience.
We ate lunch at an Udon noodle place and he helped us buy all the Shinkansen tickets we needed to get to the airport…for which we were very grateful.
As he and his girls waved goodby to us and then watched as we feed all the tickets into the gate wrong, tripped over our ridiculous collection of suitcases I could see the doubt on his face that we’d ever make it to the airport. 🙂
Thanks for everything Tom!
When I booked the ryokan and noted the futon bed I was pretty jazzed. I love futons – plump and firm and oh so easy to just roll out of bed.
During our first night when the grandmas came to “bed making” and politely insisted that we “go walk”. When we returned we were delighted by an elegant futon bed all made up on the tatami mat floor. Flashbacks of Shogun ran through my media infused brain. The good parts.
Kaety got into bed first and was fumbling around with the layers when I came in from the bathroom. “I think they forgot something?”, she said as she took an inventory of what made up the bed. “Is this another blanket? Where is the mattress?”
I got down on the floor and crawled into the investigation, “I think this ‘other blanket’ is the futon mattress”
She got up and started rifling through the bedding closet, “I’m too bony, I’ll never survive the night’”
She remade the bed with layers of blankets, sheets and seat cushions. When she was done the bed looked less like a scene from Shogun and more like a 5-year olds slumber party.
In the morning after breakfast the grandmas gave us a look.
We taken to calling them ‘the ryokan grandmas’ – they’ve brought us our food, fixed up the futon at night and cleaned our room during our stay. They basically run the place and we’ve noticed that when we do something wrong we get a look. If Kaety doesn’t finished all her food there is a look. When we order plum wine with dinner we get a look and a lot of talk that we don’t understand…but we do. We got a look when we didn’t get the hell out of the room when they came to make the bed. One of them was following after me to make sure my slippers fit. When she discovered that they didn’t she wasn’t happy with the state of affairs. When we returned after a day out, they serve tea and a small semi-sweet in our room. When it was evident we had no clue what to do with the food she pointed, “You open, you cut, you eat!”. And that’s was the end of it.
Tonight we were served the most amazing thing ever. The grandmas came to the room with a giant plate of food, a portable burner and a kettle of broth. She whipped up a bowl of raw egg and place it in front of each of us. She fired up the stove and melted a ball of fat and then poured in a mixture of beef broth and soy sauce. She started feeding in pieces of beef and vegetable and cooking it. At some point she gestured to the meat in the pot. I looked at where she pointed and then back at her. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to pulled the food directly out of the pot or what? She sighed, gave me a look, and grabbed my bowl of raw egg and started putting food in it.
I pulled a piece of beef dripping with raw egg out of my bowl and ate it. It was one of the best things I’d ever eaten. I exclaimed, “oh my god!” and involuntarily moaned. At that the ryokan grandma gave me a look I hadn’t gotten out of her – she smiled, nodded and said “Hai God!”. We ate and ate and she cooked and cooked. At some point there was still cooked food on the big plate, and she looked at both of us, “More?” She asked. “No more” we replied. She looked at Kaety up and down and asked again, “More?”. She had decided that Kaety needed some fattening up, “No more” we replied with a smile. She gave us a look.
Best meal ever!
I am completely in love with this woman. Not just ‘on vacation’ in love, but all the time in love. Being our best selves for each other is the way we live our love. Which means stopping and taking ‘a fearless inventory’ and being emotional honest with each other all the time.
Accepting my love with Kaety has been the biggest awakening of my life. Everything I asked for, everything I always wanted from love I got….but even bigger than I had imagined.
Wandering the streets of historic Kurashiki was like traveling back in time. Everything was charming and romantic. Above the district were two large temples. We wandered around all day shopping, sitting, gawking, talking and laughing.
Breakfast at the ryokan was served in the small dining room. When we were provided an individual grill and an open flame we figured it wasn’t for ambiance – we started looking around at what the other Japanese guests were doing with it. Ah! Cooking the strange little flat fish!
As we nibbled at the dozen or so tiny bowls of surprises our tiny little flat fish sizzled and popped. After last nights fish fiasco we were hesitant to engage as we had no private exit strategy. I leaned over and whispered to Kaety, “When is it done?”, she whispered back, “I have no idea”. I pulled mine off and bit into its tiny little flat side. It was pretty good and skeleton minimal!
We texted Tom and asked how to deal with the rice and pickle course. He replied, ‘alternate bites’. We finished up and were ready for a sunny beautiful day in historic Kurashiki.
The set meal the ryokan staff served us in our room was beautiful and intricate. All the little covered dishes and boxes were delightful and always gave you a sense of a gift to be opened. The food was over the top. Tiny little stacked items with nested items were all colorful and complementary. There were only a few challenging items that gave us pause. We both consider ourselves adventurous eaters but when confronted with the trifecta of skin, head, and skeleton there’s a go/no-go moment. For Kaety the no-go moment occurred after she swallowed. I got mine down but had to turn off all diagnostic systems in my mouth to get it down. Fortunately we had a room with a private toilet for Kaety to deal with her no-go fish. The only complexity after that was negotiating with the super smart toilet, who had no idea what she wanted. There was a lot of discussion about what button on the toilet control panel to push for ‘Yacked up fish’.
Aside from that dramatic moment the meal was excellent!
We made arrangements to stay at a ryokan in the historic district of Kurashiki about an hour south of Kobe.
A ryokan is a traditional Japanese guest house – rice paper walls, tatami mat floors and futon. They serve your meals in your room and have a communal bath for the guests.
We had no idea what to expect. After a perceptually long transit to Kurashiki we found ourselves dumped along side an ancient looking cobbled roadway surround by old world Japan. Moments later we were sitting at out little wooden table in floor chairs in our traditional old world Japanese room. The smell of green grass mats and tea filled the air. We looked at each other across the table and started laughing. What a bizarre transition from the city to the ryokan.
We both felt super gross from a hot sweaty day of travel and wanted to bath but both of us were daunted by the unfamiliar bath territory we’d have to enter to get what we wanted. To prepare we read the instruction sheet that was left on our table.
I scoped out the bath facilities and came back to Kaety with a recon report. It looked pretty straight forward and no one was there. We could make our mistakes and not be naked at the same time.
By the time we mobilized and I made my way into the bath I noticed another pair of slippers outside the door. Oh well.
Naked mistakes aren’t like other mistakes. They seem a lot more high stakes for some reason.
I managed to get the knobs and dials figured out on the shower mechanism, and I got myself scrunched down to sit on the tiny stool.
Once you get rinsed off you soak in the tub. The Japanese guy sharing the space with me got into the tub ahead of me. I settled in and was starting to relax in the water and tune out when he started up a conversation. We fumbled back and forth for a while playing word lawn darts with each other. I only understood 1 out of 3 things he said and while my racing brain sought comprehension of the missing words I’d leave a staring blank space in the conversation. He was doing the same with me. We did have a moment where he smiled and said, “Japanese bathroom culture is different huh?”. I nodded and laughed.
Naked language barrier isn’t any better than clothed language barrier.
We said goodbye to Kobe and the MTS/Ocean conference to head off for some personal time.
We also said goodbye to the hotel breakfast buffet which had been a delightful amalgam of cultural culinary surprises every morning.
Near the train station we discovered a covered mall that had a dazzling array of shops and interesting mixed marketing messages.
We met up for with Tom for dinner in Kobe after the conference. We hugged him and immediately peppered him with all the questions we hadn’t even been aware we’d been saving up, “What’s that yellow thing we keep tripping on?”
He took us up the hill into an old neighborhood that was a fascinating blend of colonial western and Japanese architecture to seek Italian food.
We were a bit ashamed to admit how nice it was to have someone navigate the restaurant like a native.
We talked careers, kids, culture, family, religion, politics and the nitty gritty of kanji for hours! The food was impeccable and the wine was abundant. It was great seeing him and listening to him tell the story of how he experiences his identity living between two cultures.