It was Friday and I woke up at 7am. For me, waking up on Friday at 7am is a rare treat. You see, Thursday was a 1/2 day of work and our school's Christmas party. There was paella, beer, pizza, tandoori chicken (which stained my fingers yellow for 3 days), sushi, and samosas... the international food gamut was run. After a rousing game of "Dirty Santa" where no one was really happy with the gifts they received...except Alex who got a pair of shiny gold high top slippers, and Adelfa who got a 1,000 yen gift certificate and a bottle of booze (I got a rum cake which I had no chance to eat), we all went home to begin our much earned winter holiday.
I went home to pack for a 5 day adventure to Oita. Megumi planned the whole thing and, thus, Lindsay and I shut our overworked brains off for a few days of soothing hot spring baths and yummy food that is supposedly only found in Oita. We were to hear this repeatedly during our trip as Japanese people not from Tokyo LOVE to educate foreigners on how their home town specialties are far superior to the metropolis's "over-priced" and "not so fresh" cuisine. Oita's miso, shoyu (soy sauce), chicken, tofu were, in fact, perhaps the tastiest food I've had in a long time but, just for the record, I think you can find incredible food all over Japan. Megumi's mother picked us up from the airport and took us to our first Oita onsen. Our bare bodies froze in the cold mountain air as we prepared to sink into the steamy hot spring. It was worth the wait! The first night, we stayed in Oita City and played a show at At Hall. The night was a lot of fun and we ended it by going to a cozy little place called "Beautiful Purasu" (beautiful place) Everyone giggled over wine, "sato imo" (sugar potatoes), and yummy "nabe" (basically a big bowl where lots of veggies and tofu are thrown in to make a soup) Everything, except the laughter, came to a stop for a few minutes when a fuse blew. I'd love to go to that beautiful place again some day. For the next 2 nights, we stayed in a great guest house in Beppu (Beppu Guest House) where Megumi's friend, Tomoko, works and lives an artist lifestyle. We met some travelers from Spain, Mexico, Holland?, and Switzerland and an adorable Japanese family celebrating their anniversary of moving to Beppu. I was charmed by little Kiwa and her mother Kyoko as they played hide and seek around the sofa.
We were very lucky to have Megumi's family as tour guides throughout the trip. Her parents drove us up and down mountains, gave us tours of old castles, a samurai village (Usuki), and stone Buddhas, took us to the top of a volcano, to mountain view restaurants where we could watch our lunch's final struggle as it wriggled on sticks smoking in the fire (I almost cried), to a hidden restaurant where we opened our bento boxes to find the most succulent treasures inside, and to a place where we could eat miso and shoyu ice cream (yum!). Her parents invited us into their home to eat fugu sashimi (or blow fish as we know it) and drink a potent flaming fugu sake. Megumi's dad charmingly and proudly announced that we'd be having "globe fish" for dinner. We all got slightly hammered as Kiku, San San, and Charmy, their 3 lovable cats, hovered around the table looking for handouts.
I could finally see the place Megumi has lovingly talked about throughout our friendship. I can understand her nostalgia and love of her birth place and artistic growth. Visiting these places with her and her family made me miss my home and family. The timing was perfect as I had planned to head home to surprise my parents for Christmas a day after returning to Tokyo from Oita. So here I am in Jersey...eating especially good meatballs and spaghetti which can only be found in the boondocks of Boonton, NJ in the Sikora household, made by my dad.