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.
In my apartment I can sit on the floor and drink tea to the sound of old Japanese men singing Enka through the paper thin walls. My bathroom's name is Rush Limbaugh and sometimes I can hear rock and roll music during week nights when I sit on the toilet. There are cockroaches in summer and, to my dismay, they like the silver ware drawer. On Saturdays when I sleep until 10:00 my apartment shakes because of the construction of a 60 floor monstrosity in my block. The new apartment complex threatens the life of a tiny house standing strong in the shadows of the growing building. The owner wants to live in that house forever and will not be bought. The construction already claimed the lives of the coffee house I liked and a neighborhood record shop where I bought a cd of Brazilian lullabies, Tom Petty, and Papas Fritas for 700yen. The first time I felt the tremors, I thought it was an earthquake and so I went back to sleep. I have neighbors. I know this because I hear them washing and climbing with heavy feet up the stairs before my alarm goes off on week days. This is annoying but I'll never say anything about it. I hang my laundry on the balcony. It's sunny and I can see the rooftops of the other houses. I often think I'll sit up there some night with a bottle of wine. Some times I can see renegade cats with short tails creeping into our "garden." They don't want to be noticed but I like to see them drinking rain water that collects in the stone basin. I always wonder why their tails are so short? In my apartment there is a piano. The owner bought the piano a long time ago and, when she moved, she couldn't get it through the door. The piano stays. It was the main selling point when we decided to rent this place however, we never play it. The piano is out of tune. It makes a really nice desk. Some day I hope we get it tuned. The apartment is 1 minute from Asagaya station. I timed it once. I can hear the song that plays every time a train arrives at the station. That's about every 10 minutes. It's a nice song though, much better than Enka. I leave my apartment at 7:10 exactly and it gives me enough time to get to the station, climb the stairs, and some times buy a hot yuzu drink before I board the 7:13 train. Yuzu tastes like lemons but better. One day I left my house at 7:10 and, as I walked toward the station, I realized that I'd left my train card in my house. I hesitated for a moment before dashing back into the house...running up the stairs...only to find that the card had been in my pocket the whole time. I ran all the way to the station and caught the train...completely out of breath and with no yuzu drink. I'm living in my apartment with two Japanese men. One of them is my boyfriend. He and I have different tastes in decorating. He's a minimalist and likes name brands. I am cluttered and most of my things are bought second hand. I think the living room should be cozy and I want a comfy sofa and a rug. My boyfriend likes the straight-backed chairs we bought and doesn't want to buy a rug. Our other roommate would probably agree with me but he's never home. Like the typical salary man, he works too hard, smokes too much, never eats at home, and, sometimes I think he sleeps in manga cafes. I miss him. He's a good person to talk to. The landlord has no idea that I live here. She's probably a nice person because she likes pianos, however she, like many Japanese land lords, doesn't want to rent to foreigners. Maybe she doesn't know that I plant tulips and scrub tiles. Or that I wash dishes and I distain cockroaches. Maybe she wouldn't mind my living here if she knew.