Takamatsu-city, Kagawa prefecture, Shikoku-shima, Japan.
Takamatsu is a small city with an even smaller downtown, sprawling housing districts, narrow roads, and random plots of rice paddies. The people of this city are all very kind and easy going. Like the rest of Japan, there are as many (if not more) bikes as there are cars. Since it is a small city, biking is a very convenient mode of transportation. The city’s organization makes biking a priority. Here, not only the streets have lanes, but the sidewalks too. One thing that takes a little getting used to for a foreigner here in Japan is that cars stay to the left side of the road, and the same goes for the sidewalk lanes. In so parts, the sidewalk is divided even further into a pedestrian side on the left, and a biking side on the right. And within those lanes, a biker still needs to remain to the left to make room for the oncoming bikers on the right. Even though the city is very crowded and is always in motion, with their system, to which everyone adheres to, it renders a state of organized chaos, a tranquil mass-coexistance. In the distance, similar to the soaring Rockies of Colorado, are the ever-looming presence of the Shikoku mountains…
Rinku Town, Osaka, Japan. Saturday, September 22.
In order to catch the bus to Takamatsu, I had to return from the hotel back to the airport. It just so happens that a mother and son that I had seen the previous night on the shuttle to the hotel, were on the same shuttle that morning back to the airport. Anxious to test my Japanese speaking abilities, I politely begin to speak with an, “Anou… sumimasen,” and we begin an attempt to communicate with my limited Japanese.
Since then, I have had numerous encounters like that, and I have gathered that in general, native Japanese folk really enjoy listening to me try and speak their language. If I say a somewhat difficult phrase or manage to communicate something effectively, they will clap and say, “Tsugoi,” amazing. They are always very encouraging and patient.
After a short trip, we arrive at the airport. By that time I had learned that her and her son were on a 40 day pilgrimage to 88 Japanese shrines, or temples. They had learned that I was an international student from New York (most people do not know of Philadelphia, let alone Toledo), and that I am going to Kagawa University to study. She very graciously escorts me to where I will need to get onto the bus, and we part ways.
I had some time until the bus left, so I decided to sit down and wrap the gifts I bought in the U.S. for my host family, a Phillies shirt and necklace, and an alcohol shaker filled with Jelly Belly jellybeans. Then, after a quick cup of Japanese tea, I returned to the bus stop. As I walked up, the bus arrived, the driver loaded the bags, and off we went.
The trip from KIX to Kagawa was amazing. With a Genius playlist created from a carefully selected inspiration track in my ears, the sea to my left and Osaka to my right, floating on an elevated highway, my journey to my new city began. After winding our way north for an hour or so, we turn left and begin crossing the first of many bridges that connect the islands connecting Honshu to Shikoku. These islands are small, but still populated. What struck me the most obviously was the abundance of green.
During the trip, I took time to study my Japanese textbooks and dictionary. After hearing natives speak so rapidly, I realize how far I really have to go before I will be able to effectively communicate. On this trip, I met an older Japanese man, who was returning from a tour of Europe. He has lived in Takamatsu for nearly 60 years! We got off at the same stop.
You’me Town, Takamatsu.
When I get off the bus, my bag has already been unloaded. I go to retrieve it when I hear my name called from somewhere behind me. I wonder how I was identified so quickly… I turn around to see Takao Oki, my host father. He is a slim, clean-shaven, younger-looking man with neck-length hair, white jeans, and a blue Polo shirt with a popped collar. My apprehension that had developed slightly during the bus ride at meeting my host family abated fairly quickly. He speaks decent, though still fairly limited English. We load up my bags and head onward towards his home. We stop outside a very nice, traditional Japanese-style house sitting across from yet another rice paddy.
We were greeted by his wife, Chiharu Oki, as we exited the car. “Okairii” is the traditional greeting for when someone returns to the house. It is expected that when anyone returns, that person says, “Tadaimasu,” and is in turn greeted by everyone else in the house with either an, “Okairii” if the person returning is of the same status, or an “Okairinasai” if the person returning is of greater status. For example, when my host father returns from work, I say, “Okairinasai!” There are many such traditions. Another for example is whenever a meal is served and you are about to begin eating, you say, “Itadakimasu!” and then when you are done you say, “Oshisousama deshita!” It is also considered rude if during the meal, you do not comment on the taste of the food.
When we entered the house, all shoes were removed. I was then greeted by Ayano Oki, the Oki’s 14 year old daughter. Takao-san firmly encouraged her to introduce herself to me in English. Out of all the Oki’s, Takao-san is the most proficient in English, but all are learning. I return her greeting in English, and then in Japanese. When I enter, I am encouraged to sit down and relax. They offer me a drink, and inquire about my trip. Takao-san also inquires about my alcohol tastes. I will soon discover that Takao-san loves to drink and also that there are many customs surrounding the proper drinking etiquette. After bringing my bags up to their son’s room, a traditional Japanese-style room with eight tatami mats, and a sliding door called a shoji, myself and Takao-san go out to go shopping. My first meal at there house was to be an expertly prepared meal of raw fish filets called sashimi.
The shop was filled with all sorts of different types of fish. Types rarely seen or consumed in the U.S.
I’ve been typing too much, so I will let some pictures do some work… I will say however, so far during this trip, I haven’t turned down a single food item offered to me.
Our next stop was the liquor store. With two VERY large bottles of sake (Osake), one bottle of Sauza Blue Agave tequila, one very large bottle of whiskey, and a case of beer, we head on to the local grocery store.
That was our last stop. Once we were home again, they let me know that dinner would be around 6 o’clock and that I could go upstairs to rest and get settled… It was greatly needed and appreciated.
I came down at 6 and saw father and daughter at work in the kitchen preparing the sashimi. Like my own father, he only cooks on special occasions and holidays. The display was fantastic!
After beer we drank sake, and after sake we drank tequila on the rocks with lime, and then tequila, and then tequila… It is a custom that you are never to pour your own drink at the table. It is rude because your host is supposed to pour for you. They are VERY good hosts. And my glass was never empty…
After dinner, we moved to the living room. They asked me if I played any instruments. They showed me to the piano and asked me to play. So I played the only song I know… Fur Elise. Then Ayano played, and she is amazing! Afterward, Uada reappeared with a guitar and I was asked to play. They all listened very intently and clapped and exclaimed, “Tsugoi” when I was finished. Then I taught Ayano some chords. She caught on very quickly. Afterwards, I got some vocabulary practice with colors by playing some Uno! Ryunosuke Oki, their 13 year old son was at soccer practice when I arrived and so I did not meet him until dinner. Here he is in this picture. He loves Uno!
Afterwards, they prepared a bath. In Japan it is a custom from old times that the household shares the same bathwater. It is a guest’s honor to go first since the bathwater is hottest then. I politely declined, but they insisted, I declined again, but they insisted again (such is custom in many circumstances), so I finally acquiesced. With this bathing system, you rinse, wash, and rinse again before getting into the bath. The bath is for relaxation purposes, not for cleaning. After the bath, I went upstairs to my room (I believe I have displaced Ryunosuke), laid down on the Japanese-sytle futon, quite different from and American-style futon, and went to sleep. Here is what I woke to.
Thus, my first day in Takamatsu ended. I have had two more days in Takamatsu since then, but they have both been so busy and filled with new experiences that I feel like I have been here for a week already. I have to go meet with my host mother now. I am downtown at a free internet facility writing this and she is almost done with her cooking class. I will update with the rest of my many experiences later on.