Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Japan: Nakatsu

Nakatsu! Looking back, my favorite part of the trip. Rewind to last year, my in-laws are on a hiking trip in Switzerland and they met this Japanese couple and my brother in law starts chatting with them for a few hours at most. They exchange emails and over the course of the next few months they invite us to stay with them when we come to Japan, and then they insist. We were all like, "this is gonna be freaking awkward" and we just didn't know what to expect, but regardless we went down south to Nakatsu, of course with a little bento box action on the way. Also, I had the best banana bread OF MY LIFE in the Kyoto train station at Andersen's. I would fly across the world for it.
I asked my mom if she would eat this and she said "no" instantly. It's salad, tofu and potato salad lololol 
So we get off the train, we are all a little anxious that we won't even recognize these people once we actually see them but luckily the guy recognized us (a Japanese family with two white people probably wasn't hard to spot) and he had rented this van and we all piled inside. On the way he told us, through interpretation, that he just retired and moved into his 100 year old childhood home to take care of his grandparents since he is the oldest boy. They had just done so many renovations. This is their garden and it is so pretty!
This is the view from their front yard, can you see that torii gate? Gorgeous.
We walked into their house and I just hear my sister in law say, "THIS IS SO JAPANESE!" and that is kind of when my culture shock started setting in because I have never seen or been in a traditional Japanese house before! It's really hard to explain so I just won't, but know it's pretty different than your American house. We walk into the living room ish area and there are two REALLY old Japanese people (the guy's parents) in like, essentially kimonos, on the floor bowing to us. When I get uncomfortable I giggle, so I was literally holding in the giggles for all it's worth as I followed everyone's lead and got down on the floor to bow. Then the Grandma opened up the buddhist shrine in the living room and lit some candles. Then they had a big coffee table and pillows on the floor so everyone sat cross legged on the pillows, which is not an activity for tall white people who have never participated in a second of yoga in their lives (me). Then they pour this tea for all of us and let me tell you, there is a reason it's called cigarette butt juice. It would have been so rude not to drink it! So I'm sitting there, awkwardly cross legged wondering which is more rude, to finish the tea and then excuse myself to gag in their bathroom or not to finish, when my blessed sister in law hurry and switches our cups and drinks my tea. Crisis averted!
After a little visit, they took us on a drive. They really live in such a gorgeous place. These mountains are beautiful.

You can see the little overpass for cars in this picture on the left, one guy spent thirty years making this alone, with a hammer and chisel.
Another temple and yes, it burned down.
We went back to the house because the guy said he caught a fresh squid for us that morning and I was so seriously panicked because I hate squid and I was starving. Luckily they had other food, like karaage which is fried chicken that Nakatsu is so famous for that KFC couldn't last.

After dinner they told us they were taking us somewhere else, but didn't tell us where. This was kind of a theme of the whole time we were with other family members, it was rude to ask what the plan was and so for a control freak like me, that was tough, but I eventually accepted my fate and went along with things. They drove us about 20 minutes away from their home, had us get out and walk into the woods area where I could tell there was a river. We had been joking before we went to Nakatsu that these people would probably murder us, but at this exact moment I was a little bit wondering if that was going to be the case. Then I saw one, and then more, and then hundreds, fireflies. It was the time of year that the fireflies come to this particular area, it only lasts a few weeks and we were lucky enough to see it. It's hard to explain something so magical, hundreds of thousands of lightning bugs along this beautiful river. I am kind of grateful that we couldn't capture it on film, because it was a truly a once in a lifetime thing we will never experience again. It was breathtaking in every sense of the word and I'm so grateful that we got to see it.

After we got home I naively asked where our bedrooms were, not understanding that we had been in the room where we were sleeping the entire day. I have never slept Japanese style but it is pretty uncomfortable, mainly because their pillows are made of rice. However it wasn't horrible because we were so tired, we just conked out.

 The next morning they had my favorite type of eggs, with soy sauce and sugar, and these bad boys.

 The people whose house we were at had a full day planned for us, it was pretty awesome. They took us to this temple which was especially cool because it was the one day that month that the priests were visiting, so we got to see that whole ceremony. We also prayed about 1,000 times which consists of throwing money in this box, bowing once, clapping twice, bowing again, clapping again. I think. 

Not very many people! So quiet. 

This was actually the one place I felt so uncomfortable. Now that we were out of the big cities of Kyoto and Tokyo, people were not as used to foreigners and therefore my tallness/size/blonde hair made people S T A R E and they were NOT shy about it. Especially in Japan, it's very much apart of the culture to not stand out, I was a spectacle. I was getting very bothered about it but tried my hardest to just not care. It's probably good for everyone to experience what it's like being a minority even if it is on a very small and temporary scale.
After a very windy drive in which we almost got hit by a semi, we got to another temple which was the oldest one that hadn't burned down! They had engravings of buddha that had been there since 900. 
I wish we had gotten pictures of the friendly temple cat and the ice cream store at the base of the temple, the worker lady was in love with us and wanted us to move there. 
Then we went to lunch, which was tough for me because yakisoba is not my favorite and I was hangry, but I got over myself. 
Then they took us to an onsen, which I thought was the hot springs where you get naked and I was so uncomfortable. Luckily it wasn't, but that wasn't my last run in with an onsen. They had two onsen's that were like heaven and hell, is what they called them. We got to put our feet into the hell one and even though the water was super hot it felt so good on our sore feet!

That night we were told to be ready at a certain time because there was going to be a big party in our honor because it was a big opportunity to be able to meet Americans, so we also didn't know what to expect. The host families cousins and their families hosted a big backyard yakiniku party and it was THE BEST EVER. It was such a fun party with tasty food and ADORABLE JAPANESE BABIES. They were so kind to us and we tried to communicate with only two interpreters, but we ended up being able to do it! One of the guys there loves Wiz Khalifa so much haha.
 It was pretty amazing and a great cure to the weird homesickness I was feeling at this point. It actually really made me think about how I want to have the feeling that they gave us to be a permanent feeling in my own house and my classroom. It was so special and something I won't ever forget. 

We all follow each other on Instagram now so hopefully they will come visit us one day. 
In Japanese culture, being good hosts is hugely important and our host family took such good care of us. We were so grateful.
We left them with full hearts and sped towards Hiroshima! 
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