Got back on Sunday after a very pleasant flight. There were gale force winds in Tokyo when we took off and thanks to that, we landed about 50 minutes early. I was thinking about how long it’s been since flying 12 hours to see family has been my norm. Certainly since university when my family returned to Tokyo and I stayed on in New York to finish my education. I was surprised they allowed me to stay but perhaps my appeal to graduate with the same class I started with seemed a reasonable request. Anyway, since 1978, some form of family has always been 10-12 hours away. There have been many changes to the travel over the years, we no longer need to stop in Anchorage to refuel between Tokyo and New York, the economy class seats just keep getting smaller and security is ever more annoying. But the amount of time spent in the air and the excitement of being in a familiar place that’s also different hasn’t changed. Tokyo, New York and now London are three places where I will always feel like I’ve come home.
So, I’ve been spending the week in front of my computer, getting caught up on things I missed while I was away and working away on my cooking class plans. I brought home a new rice cooker so I’ve been trying it out. This one has many settings including brown rice so I no longer have to make brown rice on the stove. This may not be that exciting to you but for me, being able to walk away and come back to perfectly cooked brown rice is very exciting.
Both kids come home this weekend so I can try out some more recipes on them. Cooking is really big in Japan right now so I acquired a lot of new material, can’t wait to experiment.
Hopefully I can get something done by the end of the week and out about the classes. Watch this space.
Day three of our grand adventure started chilly and rainy. After another hearty breakfast, we said goodbye to our lovely nakai san, the person who looked after us during our stay, and boarded the train for Arita. I had a vague idea from the guidebook that Arita would be nothing like Imari geographically and I was right. It is very spread out and you really need a car to get around. The nice thing about travelling with elderly parents is that they no longer feel the need to do things the hard way. We got into the first taxi outside the train station just as the rain started for real. There is a kanko taxi (sightseeing taxi) tradition in many parts of Japan where a taxi can either take you somewhere on the meter or just charge you by the hour and take you around town. Our driver was really nice and so we opted to have this man show us around until it was time to board our train back to Hakata.
First, he took us to the site where they first found the rock that became porcelain. It was truly impressive and very atmospheric since by then it was pouring. He said most of the material now comes from another area in Kyushu but there is still one pottery that makes some of their porcelain with rock from this quarry.
Then we went on to Tozan jinja, a shrine with a gate and many objects made out of Arita pottery. The colours had faded so it wasn’t as impressive as the photos in the guide book but it was still great to see. I pulled a fortune, my second in two days, as I also got one at Imari jinja the day before. Not only were they both Dai kichi, the best you could get, but they were identical. An astounding coincidence, I am planning to heed the fortune very carefully.
The weather was clearing and the driver then took us around to a couple of different potters. It was a very different experience from the day before. This was like going to a museum, the pieces were exquisite and very expensive. So it was much more a look and appreciate rather than think about owning. This is the house of one of the famous potters. You are looking at his teahouse and to the right, the house he grew up in. The family have built a more modern house directly behind the one on the right and they live there now. The workshops are on the property as well as the showroom. The tree in front is a persimmon. They say he observed the fruit to come up with the brilliant vermilion color he used in his work. Only the heir is allowed to use the color, they are currently on the 14th generation.
It turns out there were outlets and more places where things were actually affordable but we ran out of time and really I think it was a good thing since anything I buy I have to bring home and I did just ship 3 boxes of my mom’s old china back home. It turns out one set is from a famous maker in Arita so I already had my piece of Arita.
We bought eki ben (bento meant to be eaten on the train) and boarded our train back to Hakata and then back to the airport. We got home safely and we were all pretty beat, especially my parents who are not used to schlepping non stop.
I love visiting different parts of Japan every year when I come to see my parents, I hope one day I can make the same trip with my family. There is so much to Japan outside of Tokyo and these trips really make me appreciate the history and the traditions that have shaped Japan. It is so much easier to wax lyrical about your own country when you don’t live there and don’t have to put up with the everyday annoyances. Maybe that’s the best thing about being an expatriate.
My time here is almost done and reality waits at home. It’s been a great couple of weeks with all it’s ups and downs.
Sorry about this link, I can’t get rid of it.
Just got back from a jam packed 3 days with my parents touring the pottery towns of Imari and Arita in Saga, Kyushu. It was my first trip to this southern island of Japan and I hope it won’t be the last. Everyone was so friendly. They were incredibly kind and helpful and the taxi drivers are a hoot. More than once, someone said hello as I passed them, just unbelievable for a big city girl like me but so nice.
Anyway, but I digress. We flew to Fukuoka, domestic flying in Japan is a throwback to what flying used to be. Relatively carefree and you get to leave your shoes on in security. I even got to bring my tea through security, although they do scan it, for what I don’t know but they gave me back my half drunk bottle afterwards. Once we landed, 2 or 3 stops on the subway which is in the airport to Hakata, then a train to Takeo onsen, a sleepy hot spring town which was to be our base for the next two days. Well, the flight was a little late, the train was a little late (gasp!) so we were a little late arriving at the inn. It was a gorgeous ryokan, over 100 years old and their chef had trained in one of the top restaurants in Japan and had also appeared on the Iron Chef. We all soaked in the hot spring, recovered from our journey and sat down to a feast. It was gorgeous, and very filling (2 nights in a row) but the great thing is, you don’t need to go anywhere afterwards to lie down. Here is a little sample of what it looked like
The following morning, round two. Well the portions were less than half the night before, but still a hefty amount to put away at 8:30 in the morning, then to our destination, Imari. The weather really was with us and the day was bright and clear. I really had no idea what to expect, I just knew it was a name that everyone knew associated with pottery and although I was a little fuzzy on the details, I knew the pottery was very beautiful. The passing scenery from the train was so tranquil, it was as if the area was caught in a time warp. There were gorgeous old houses with serious roof tiles, fields and soon to be rice paddies. Here is our train which is only one car and runs on a single track. The trains can only pass each other when one is stopped at a station, not sure a feat that the London underground can pull off. Most of the stations are unmanned and you take a ticket when you get on the train and pay the conductor when you get off. Each stop is numbered so the conductor/driver(same person) knows how much to charge. Life moves a bit more slowly here.
We got to Ookawachi yama where 20 potteries are clustered, we passed many more on the ride up but really you need a car to hit them all so we consoled ourselves with the 20 that were accessible.
It turns out we did this a little backwards. The whole pottery business started in Arita around 400 years ago but geographically it was not good for keeping crafts men sequestered. It was a highly coveted and highly guarded skill these potters possessed and to prevent the artisans from running away and spreading their skills elsewhere, they moved the lot of them to this mountain. There, they were essentially kept prisoner by a mountain behind them and a toll booth in the front. So probably it made more sense to go to Arita first, but what can you do. I believe we hit every pottery on that little mountain and it was very interesting to see individual styles as well as a lot of similarities. We did a little shopping but mostly we did a lot of looking. There weren’t many tourists about so in most shops, we were the only ones there. It was a lovely time, quiet, peaceful, surrounded by beautiful objects and nature.
On the way back, we stopped at Imari Jinja(shrine) and paid our respects.
Then back to the inn for another feast.
The next day was off to Arita but I’ll tell you about that another day.
OMG I am sooo full. I was treated to an exceptional dinner this evening by my old friend M. He was my first boss and it is great that we have stayed friends.
The dinner was a very special experience starting with the entrance. You would never know it is a restaurant from the outside. Of course in retrospect I should have taken photos of everything, but instead you just get my raves. The interior is very modern, very sparse but with much wood, giving it a warm feel. We sat down at the counter, and that’s when the party started. Just one dish after another of exquisite seasonal food. Everything was so incredible that I forgot to pay attention to my stomach. Apparently it was getting quite full. I probably should have stopped before the rice, but how can you resist when it comes with salmon roe, mullet roe and seaweed that you add yourself? And did I mention the two desserts?
It was great to catch up and have a few laughs in such an amazing place. But I seriously thought I was going to explode on the way home. I managed to make it back in one piece and have finally digested to the point where I think I can go to sleep. Thanks so much for a lovely evening, the food truly was magical.
Tomorrow, I’m off for a couple of days in Kyushu, an area in southern Japan. I’ve never been and I’m looking forward to it very much. We are going to stay in an onsen ryokan which is well known for their food. We also plan to visit the potteries in Arita and Imari. I hope I can resist the bargains on offer, I have to keep reminding myself I just sent 3 boxes of my mom’s dishes back to London. But you know, none of it was Arita or Imari so we’ll just have to see.
Ok, so I admit, my last post was a bit whiny. But I have just had two action packed days which were just the opposite of my endless days in front of the tube.
Now first off, the weather improved markedly today. But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with yesterday. I spent the day with my very good friend C. We’ve been friends for about 12 years I think and have shared many laughs and good times. We went to a shop near the Ginza which if you’ve never been to Tokyo, it is hard to imagine (the shop, not Ginza). I think it started life as a camera shop, but to call it a camera shop is like calling Costco a food store. They sell the standard electronic things like cameras, tvs, phones, and appliances like washing machines and toaster ovens. But they also have a book department, interior department, golf gear and so much more. We spent a good half hour trying on headphones and didn’t get through a quarter of the display. The store really appeals to the my inner geek and I bought some things which will make my laptop happier when I get home.
From there, we went to lunch. Many Tokyoites are foodies and there are many restaurants that cater for every budget and every taste. I even saw an Ethiopian restaurant this trip not far from my parents’ place and where they are is pretty suburban. Anyway, we chose a restaurant we had eaten in before, which serves great dishes from Kyoto, heavy on the veggies and very pretty. Here is a not great picture of my lunch. I would have had to stand up to get a better angle and that was a little too embarrassing.
Fro? there, we went to my other favourite store, where they sell all kinds of things having to do with life – stationary, storage, lunch boxes, kitchen gadgets, I could get lost for hours and pretty much did. Then she had me over to her new flat and having just done battle with 120+ boxes myself, I thought their place was coming along very nicely.
Then drinks with S whom I haven’t seen since we left Tokyo almost 9 years ago. It was great to catch up, the time just flew by. But that was not the end of my evening. Dinner with another friend, M, whom I met in London. She now lives in Tokyo and knows some of the same people I knew, it’s a small world. We went to a lovely Kyoto restaurant (my day for Kyoto food, but who’s complaining). My mom is friends with the chef/owner’s mom and it is easy to be supportive since the food is fabulous. Here is a photo:
Now, I did mention that today was fabulous, weather wise. It was bright and sunny, not too cold. My mom surprised me by saying she thought we should take a trip to Yokohama to have my aura photographed. So the three of us went off after lunch and it was a fun experience. They give you a massive print out about what it all means which I haven’t read yet. But Yokohama has changed a lot since the last time I was there. There are now converted warehouses which have shops and an event space. Of course the real estate obsessive in me thought, “what a waste, better to turn them into condos, look at the great windows.”. You can’t really see from the photo but this is a proper warehouse with walls about 2′ thick. and heavy cast iron doors.
We then headed towards Moto Machi, an area of shops which was the chic place to shop in Yokohama when I was younger. We tried to hail a cab, but had a hard time finding one and I saw one going the other way. I tried the London trick of asking him to make a U turn and sure enough, it worked and we got a ride. Had a lovely stroll through Moto Machi then, over the bridge to Chinatown. Tokyo Chinatown is pretty big and they have had a renaissance in the last 15 years or so. It was very bustling with many impressive looking restaurants. We had a great dinner in a private room of a well known restaurant, I think they only had private rooms, 4 floors worth in fact. That was fun and the service was amazing. We headed back to the train, got a little lost and ended up walking an extra train stop. Now my parents don’t walk much anymore and we had done our fair share already. But they made it to the train and home. I looked at the pedometer I always carry and we had walked almost 9000 steps. I think they said on a big outing, they walk 3000. I hope they continue to get out as the weather improves, walking in the city is so much fun.
This has turned into a monster post so I am going to sign off now. But another fun day awaits tomorrow, good night.
So, I’m still here, visiting my parents. This is something I have done for the last couple of years, visiting by myself and staying for a couple of weeks. I have found as my parents get older, it is easier for them if we don’t all descend on them at once. Also, they live in a pretty standard Japanese condo so I think at this point, a visit from all 4 of us would cause their house to explode.
I love being in Tokyo and visiting with friends and going back to the places I used to frequent when we lived here. That of course is in direct conflict with spending time with my parents. So every year, I risk my mom’s wrath and spend lots of time catching up with friends. But this year, I made the radical decision to come home to spend time with my parents. So I find myself on a rainy Tuesday, sitting in their living room watching endless TV, telling myself that I am not wasting time. To put off temptation, I really didn’t let too many people know I was coming and I made sure to tell my friends that the primary purpose was to hang with my parents. Many of my friends are in a similar situation with aging parents and everyone is very understanding.
What I had hoped to do was eat in the many wonderful places Tokyo has to offer and take photos and put them up here. Well, eating is not high on my parents’ priority and travelling to eat is really not a part of it. Frankly with the exchange rate being what it is, that’s probably a good thing. Tomorrow I am seeing a very good friend and we will have a nice lunch together and I am seeing a different friend for dinner so there may be hope for some photos. On the plus side, this has been a very mellow trip and my parents actually seem to enjoy our time together.
There probably won’t be that many more opportunities for me to feel like a kid again, both in a good and bad way. I am planning to enjoy it while it lasts. I wonder if I will treat my kids like children when they are 50, I hope not. Relationships are very different between us and the next generation so I guess we will find our own way to annoy them.
I am here at my parents’ condo, where they have lived on and off since 1971. It is essentially the only permanent home I have known growing up. My dad was an expat so we spent a lot of time out of the country but this place has remained constant. There is a shopping area about 15 minutes away. I remember when it was just a little branch of a big department store really in the middle of nowhere. I used to pass through it to get home from school and we used to break school rules and cut through for the air conditioning in the summer, the heater in winter. It has now grown into a two building luxury shopping mall with many designer boutiques and shoppers who travel there as a destination. Now they are in another phase of development with major construction going on all around the train station. I take the back roads to get there from my parents’ and I was struck today by the changes. It used to be a really sleepy place, sure the occasional house would get knocked down to be replaced by a mini condo but that was the extent of it. But this trip, I almost got lost going to the mall because of all the unfamiliar buildings. Where there used to be a lumberyard, there is this large grey building with a parking lot. All of a sudden, there are sidewalks on that side of the street, where there never were any. Of course all this didn’t happen overnight, but I haven’t been home in 14 months. There is a huge grey building which I think is the parent to the grey building that I passed, I’m not sure what that’s going to be. Where am I going with this? I guess it’s not that unusual for things to change and for areas to be developed and not recognise where you were brought up. But for me, it didn’t happen in the 80′s when all of Tokyo went nuts duing the bubble and it didn’t happen in the following 20 years. I’m afraid the next time I come home, I really won’t recognise where I used to sneak ice cream cones on the way home with my friends (the school rule stated no detours on the way home and certainly no going into shops in our uniforms). I haven’t been back at my school since I left in 1975, I really don’t think I could find my way there any more. Tokyo is an ever changing city, and that change has finally reached my little neighbourhood.
My son is in a band. He started drumming about 6 years ago. We figured it was a phase as he had tried clarinet and trumpet without it making much impact on him. But the drums stuck and he’s been drumming ever since. He has been in a band with some friends from school for the last two years. They’ve played at school, at the odd party at other schools but recently they have started playing gigs around London. They have a group of very loyal friends/fans who turn up to support them. We go too, feeling a bit out of place but very proud. His playing has just taken off in the last 6 months or so and I think he is now a very good drummer. Of course I may be a bit biased but if your mother doesn’t think you are the best, what chance have you got with the outside world. The band writes their own material and I enjoy listening to them. They have gelled as a group and are good friends outside the band as well.
One of the band members organised a charity concert last night to benefit Room to Read. It was an extravaganza involving three schools and many musical acts. They sold over 700 tickets and raised lots of money for the charity. It was held in a theatre in the West End, it was certainly the biggest mixed crowd they had ever played to. All the acts did really well, it is so nice to see kids passionate about music. One of the dads filmed the whole thing so hopefully the results will be up on Youtube fairly soon. Here is the very blurry photo I managed to take of them on stage.