Last night i left the comfort of Bree-chan's japan. Bree was an amazing guide and a generous host. Our exploits ranged from the ancient Temples of Kyoto to the shores of Kobe. What made my time with Bree special was the fluency in japanese that bree posesses. Her perfect grasp of the Kansai dialect allowed her an inside view into the culture of japan. It all culimnated on the last day of my time with bree. We went to her favorite bar in the small farming village she lives in.
As we entered the sliding glass doors after ducking under the hanging tapestry we were greeted joyfully by Masta, the young propriotor of the bar. Bree-chan, being the polite patron that she is, presented the barkeep with three gifts. The first was a big block of fresh Kyoto tofu that was bought earlier that day after our temple tour. The other two gifts had a more personal touch and were recieved with much excitement. Masta was excited to recieve a scroll with native american killer whale drawings and a Seattle Mariners pendant. After a couple of deep bows and a showering of gracious thanks the owner grabbed a chair and some tacks and with Bree's input, proceeded to hang up the gifts.
After the pleasentries were complete it was time for food and drink. Bree's favorite winter drink is a mix of a strong spirit called Shochu and hot water flavored with a pickled plum. This drink is sure to warm the weary traveler on even the coldest Kyoto winter night. Warm us it did, and not only our bodies, but our hearts and spirits.
I noticed an air of concern about bree and i asked her what was troubling her. She pointed out the family in the corner of the bar and explained that they were students from the middle school that she teaches at and that it was improper for a woman to be drinking in a bar and even more so for her to be with a man. When she rose to use the restroom and walked by the family she was drawn in to conversation and proceeded to charm the family to the point where she was invited to come home with them and eat. Bree has an unintentional power of persuasion that is manifested every time she speaks. I don't think her fear of gossip will be actualized because of the student's presence.
After several hot shochu cocktails, beer, and cold sake as well as sashimi, chilli peppers on skewers, fried chicken, squid guts, chicken tendons on skewers and french fries with mayonaise our gracious hosts brought us two drinks on the house. They were in mugs similar to our shochu but the mugs were wrapped in tinfoil and we were instructed to wait before consuming them. Bree explained that the drinks were hot sake with blowfish fins. After the steaming beverage was allowed to steep we pulled of the tinfoil and were treated to a rich and flavorful blend of hot alchohol and fish flavor. It was delicious and i quaffed mine with much pleasure.
Bree had called her friend from the post office and invited him to join in in drink. He arrived when bree was in conversation with the family in the corner of the bar and as i exited the restroom the eldest member of the family motioned with great enthusiasm for me to join them at their table. He pulled a pillow close to him an instructed me to be seated which i did. I then asked his grandchildren what they had learned in english class from bree. They were dumbfounded and not prepared for the pop quiz. The family found it hilarious and eventually they were able to tell me "Hello my name is...."
We then drank with her postal worker friend and soon were joined by an older japanese man who was interested to talk to the foriengers is his favorite bar (i knew it was his favorite spot because he had his own shochu bottle on reserve). He told us about his grandparents grape farm in southern california and the started talking about the economy, which is never a happy subject in japan. The subject was quickly changed and it began to grow late. Soon it was midnight and time to make our way home. We stumbled back to bree's house to sleep of our drunkedness.
I awoke like a excited child who knew it was the day to go to the toy store. With good reason too, because i was about togo to the technology district in osaka. After an hours train ride we were there and i was in heaven. We wandered from store to store and i decided on the laptop and camera i wanted to buy. We found a store that bree said was good for bargaining and when i went into the back of the store i found there was a cash only outlet center. The laptop i wanted, a Sharp mebius was on sale there for 100,000 yen... down from 159,000... less than $800 for a 2 pound piii with 256mb ram! I was excstatic and we quickly made our way to a cash machine that was american atm card friendly... this is easier said than done. We finally located one and i tried to withdraw a hundred thousand yen... unfotunatly the most i can take out at one time is $400 or about 50 thousand yen... i was pissed... lucky for me bree is a wonderful generous person and she lent me her rent money to buy the laptop.
We went back and bought the laptop and i also bought a camera with my visa card. it's about the size of my visa card too and it takes great photos and has a 128mb memory chip. It also take pictures instantly unlike my bulky Olympus
camera which takes up to 20 seconds to take a picture, and it forgets it's resolution settings every time it is closed.. all this coupled with the fact that it has moving parts which are prone to breaking make me fall in love with my tiny new casio camera.
Earlier that week we traveled to Kobe to visite on of bree's japanese family members. I took a bit over an hour to make the journey by train. Once we arrived we were picked up by her japanese sister, a strong willed single mother who traditional japanese would call loud and a man and who i would call a wonderful mother. She brought us to her home and we were greeted by joyous screams of her children who hadn't seen bree in months. They don't think of bree as anything less than japanese and can't see her as a foreigner because she speeks japanes so fluently. They were intrigued by my nose and said that it was even taller than bree's.
We were presented with a massive feast of crab which i later learned cost around $400... an entire weeks salary for the mother. It was exquisetly delicious and we consumed great amounts of freshly boiled crab. She then made a soup with the crab water and poured in seaweed, rice, tofu and greens. She served it up to is steaming in bowls which we enjoyed greatly.
The japanese are kind and gracious hosts and i have asked bree to give me all the addresses of the people we visited so i can send them gifts from america after my journey.
After hearing about how beautiful the temples in Kyoto are i decided it was about time for me to experience them first hand. Bree's supervisor or sensei lives in Kyoto and was kind enough to offer us a car ride, a rare thing in bree's life, to visit his favorite temples.
The first temple we visited was one the not even the Kyoto locals know about. It is hidden in the mountains and is so infrequently visited that there is a box for dontations as opposed to the usual ticket person. We dropped our dontations into the box and walked through the gates of the temple.
The first thing that we noticed, and what makes the temple unique, are the 1300 stone statues that keep a silent vigil over the temple grounds. Later i learned that these statues have a very interesting significance. During WWII, an artist who was drafted had a dream that he was going to die in battle. In the same dream he was visited by Buddah. The Buddah told him "Fix Me". He asked to buddah to let him live and he would make his life mission to fix buddah. Buddah agreed, and a few days later his entire batallion was killed in a fierce mele. He was the only survivor. When he returned home to Kyoto he saw that the war had been harsh on the famous temples of the areas and many were in ruin, destroyed in battle like the other soldiers in his unit.
He quit his job and set out on his life mission to fix buddah. He needed a way to earn money in order to repair the temples. He started carving stone statues for people who had lost childres and friends dear to them. He used the money to repair hundreds of kyoto temples. The temple that we visited was beautifully restored thanks to his work as were countless others.
We then visited a more popular temple and toured the grounds. The japanese have a great flair for the timeless tranquility of nature fused with manmade contruction. I was overcome with a sense of harmony, which is an important theme in japanese culture. After the walking tour of the temple we were treated to a traditional new years tea mixed with crushed pickled plums which makes for a delicious salty treat on a cold kyoto day.
The final temple the we visited was the home of the living buddah. The budda statue is a replication forged in bronze a thousand years ago. The original was brought to china thousands of years ago over the hymelias and is a remarkably lifelike effigy of young budda around age 30. I bought some lovely prayer beads at the temple and afterwards we were treated to some delicions grilled mochi on a stick with a tasty miso based sauce.
We went back to Bree's sensei's house were we feasted on a whole smoke salmon with capers that bree gave them for new years. After we started on the salmon sensei's wife brought us out pickled radishes, dried tiny fish, golden fish eggs, tofu, rice, seaweed, wine, pickled plums, plum wine, and much more. We were stuffed and i once again marvled at the uncanny hostpitality that the japanese are famous for.