"Our most ancient metaphor says life is a journey. Memoir is travel writing, then, notes taken along the way, telling how things looked and what thoughts occurred. . . .This is the traveler who goes on foot, living the journey, taking on mountains, enduring deserts, marveling at the lush green places...as a pilgrim, seeking, wondering." -Patricia Hampl
September 03, 2009
Final Night: The Delicacies of Japan
By the week's end, it was definitely time to come home. Devi's cold had me admittedly worried, and her sleep habits had changed significantly enough that I had visions of sleeplessness (as I did when she was brand new) forever. We'd been up almost every night with sniffly, and sometimes, coughing Devi, running a hot shower to steam out the cold at 3 or 4 a.m., and that, plus all the running around during the days, had us pretty wiped. [At some point, I'll blog about The Truth of Traveling Abroad with a Baby, but that's for another time. Let's see how long it takes her to recover from her jet lag first.]
There was one meal left to enjoy: our last dinner in Japan, with Yagi-San. We wound up not far from our hotel in a quaint but trendy sushi joint that overlooked the Osaka skyline. It was a perfect moment for Heath and I to reflect upon our time on the island-country (though we'd have 18 or so more hours in transit to do the same), and as we supped, Yagi continued to introduce us to delicacies we might not see again until our return. Red Miso. Unidentifiable fish. A kind of saki we wouldn't find in the States. As I like to do when I travel, I had eaten my way through Japan and loved every bite (except for nato, which made me wretch). I suppose it's hard to savor a culture without literally tasting it.
Our chef quickly prepared our meal--not for our sake, but because it was his training:
And how he made all of that sushi just perfectly, well, was in itself an art.
Beyond the food, though, I'll miss many things about Japan. There are just so many cultural idiosyncrasies that let you know where you are, and it's unmistakably Japan, but that are so hard to define outright. (It's lost in translation, again.) I've said to friends that this is a culture that values beauty and the aesthetic--even of its food--to such an extent that sometimes, roadsigns are a pleasure to look at. Delicate, rice paper windows on real, wooden doors; lanterns that hang from small, roadside shops; the occasional woman donning a kimono--perhaps a maiko, perhaps just a traditional woman, in and among the modern-dressed commuters in a subway train; the practice of washing your hands with a hot washcloth prior to eating; the fresh smell of the sea when you pass a small restaurant, its door open just enough to entice you to enter; the friendly smiles of the people who, though they cannot speak English and you cannot speak Japanese, are only too glad to help you find your way with nothing more than a map and a guidebook. I'll miss the quiet of the shrines and temples, and the bustle of funky Tokyo; doffing the shoes at the precipice of a home so as not to bring in the grime of the street; and maybe most, just enjoying the beauty and calm of a garden with my favorite little girl, whose bluest eyes took it all in with me.
Our last night in Japan....Or was it? By our calculation, we left Narita Airport at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday--and left Chicago bound for Rochester at... 6:30 p.m. on Saturday. Somewhere, over the Pacific, we gained a day or night. And somewhere, over the Pacific, many miles up, up in the air, we all slept soundly, our little family unit all snuggled together between armrests and among airplane pillows and blankets, all tangled around each other, our wanderlust satiated for the time being. (I think Uncle Walt would be proud.) Here's to returning someday to Japan. Kampai!