An American Picker in Japan

We took a drive to Togochi in Yamagata-gun, Hiroshima. It is an old country town that used to be a booming center 50 years ago. We were told that the Hondoori area had been filled with people, shops and pubs back then, including 2 movie theaters! They were putting in the Kabe line linking Kake with Sandankyo completing it in 1970, just 3 years before I came to Japan! This is what the old main thoroughfare looks like now.

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Mr. Yoshihiro drove me there. We took the mountain road through Yuki Onsen, turning off at the road for Tsutsuga Village. On the way, we stopped to get a picture of this huge gingko tree, which is over 250 years old. The protrusions that hang down from the trunk are sometimes called “chichi” (tits) as they look like a cow’s udder. This tree is designated as a natural heritage site of Hiroshima Prefecture.

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筒賀のイチョウ (beside  Otose Shrine)

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大歳神社(安芸太田町)

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Gingko Leaves on the gigantic tree!

On to Togochi Town! Yoshihiro-san had told me about an 88 year-old woman who was having a “going-out-of-business” sale at her shop, everything half-price. The items were old and dusty, and things we don’t see today. Unfortunately this shop was closed today. So we went to Komoto Shoten”instead, the very last shop on the road.

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The sign used to say 河本酒店(Komoto sakaten)

I wasn’t disappointed! Most of the shelves were bare but I found 3 chawan mushi cups I wanted. I had no idea if bargaining was appropriate but I said out-loud, ” I like these cups but they are a little too expensive for me.” The owner offered to mark them down, and finally made them half of hte original price.

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Today’s treasures!

I ended up getting some interesting items. My picking partner, Yoshihiro-san also bought an old-fashioned razor and shaving brush. I found a very “Showa era” aluminum kid’s lunch box, an unusual sake pitcher and the cups.

We went to another shop down the street which was basically a hardware store that also sold miscellaneous housewares. That’s where I found this cool knife and bought it for just ¥100 (about $1.00!) All new items. Here I am with owner Yoshimoto-san. She was very nice on her prices for us. I don’t think she is used  to having customers negotiate the price, but she gave us some amazing deals. I recall that at one point she said, “Well, I’ll be having a “going-out-of-business” sale myself before long.”

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It was noon and we were hungry so stopped at an old Okonomiyaki shop, run by this very young-looking octogenarian, Ayako. She told us she has been there for 30 years, previously having run a coffee shop. She was really nice to us and seemed to think I was a celebrity, saying “I’ll never forget this day!” Ha Ha !

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Ayako in front of the Yamane Okonomiyaki Shop

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I was very satisfied. I like her old sign outside that says “Akinai-chu”, an old phrase that meant “open for business!”

She is the one who told us that this was such a lively place back in the late sixties when construction on the railway was going on.

I am thrilled to see these places and wondered how they still hang on. At the same time, I realize they will disappear in just a matter of years.

That makes me very sad. I hope I can visit more of these shops in the countryside before they are gone forever.

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Komoto-san talks to a customer
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Mostly empty shelves at Komoto Shoten

Iwakuni Sandwich Shop

Today I visited a unique and very American-style sandwich shop near Iwakuni Marine Base in Yamaguchi Prefecture. My friends, Takako and Junko accompanied me there. It took about 30 minutes as we took the Expressway as far as Otake.

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The shop called Sako, has been around for awhile but the present owners took over 6 years ago. The interior is bright and cheerful. We ordered Avocado BLT and several other sandwiches from the wide menu.

Takako ordered a Coke and I thought the bottle was very retro as we don’t see these bottles in Japan nowadays!

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The owner, Missy and her husband prepare the sandwiches. Missy is fluent in English and very good with people! Missy also has quite a collection of Japanese antiques and pottery including “maneki neko”! The prices on them were quite reasonable!

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Avocado BLT at Sako, Iwakuni

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Missy in her red apron

The sandwiches were delicious and we  really enjoyed chatting with Missy and volunteer staff, Yukiko-san!

Missy and her husband decided to take on this new business after retiring even though they had no previous experience in the restaurant business! It’s hard to believe as they have created a great atmosphere and prepare wonderful sandwiches. There was a steady stream of customers!

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Masaru-san, friendly cook!

Go early as the hours Tuesday to Friday are 11:00-2:00. On Saturdays they are open until 7:30! (Closed Sunday and Monday)

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Very reasonable!!

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Takako and Junko enjoy lunch!

 

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Location: 2-chome 8-5 Kuruma-cho, Iwakuni-shi, Yamaguchi(山口県岩国市車町2-丁目8-5)

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Owner,Missy Hamano and me!

Car Trip to Izu

Omihachiman 近江八幡

We reached our first destination before noon and went straight to the William Merrell Vories Memorial Hall. Vories came to Japan in 1906 as an English teacher with the intent of telling people about Christ. Later he founded the Japanese Mentholatum company and also an architectural firm, jointly called the Omi Kyodaisha. (近江兄弟社)He married an aristocrat named Makiko Hitotsuyanagi and finally became a Japanese citizen.

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Vories Museum in Omihachiman, Shiga Prefecture

 

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William Merrell Vories

Many buildings designed by Vories still stand here and in other cities. We saw several of them as we walked around this area. The old post office was very interesting. as was the Omihachiman Church.

 

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Bungo-san, guide at the Vories Museum

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Omihachiman Post Office (Wm. Vories)

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Omihachiman Church (Nihon Kirisuto Kyodan)

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Omihachiman YMCA (Wm Vories)

Walking around, we found an antique shop and, though most things were out of our price range, I bought some old postcards of Omihachiman and an old “fujin-zashi.” (Woman’s magazine. ) Here I am with the owner of Nakajima Shoten. (中島多吉商店)

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Members of the Local HIstory Research Club (地歴探訪倶楽部のメンバー)

At lunch, we happened to talk to a few of the members of a unique club based in Osaka. They visit many historic sights with a guide twice a month to learn about local history. They have been to many areas like Nara, Himeiji, Kyoto and so on. They learn about places and events that are not so well known! I thought this was a great idea and envy them! There are about 50 members in their club.

Junko-san had urged us ot visit the Sweets Shop called La Corina. (ラ・コリーナ)We were so surprised at this amazing “living” building. There were so many people even on a weekday that we didn’t order any desserts. We found a small bakery behind the main building and bought some rolls there! Amazing place to visit!

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La Corina Cafe in Omihachiman

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From there, we drove up a very winding mountain road to our inn, the Hotel Wellness at Yunoyama Onsen, Mie Prefecture. It was a kind of scary road and I was glad HIroo was driving and not me!

Inuyama (犬山市)

Our next stop was at Inuyama Castle, the only castle remaining from the Senkoku Period.  (1467~1603) It was built in 1537 by Oda Nobunaga’s uncle. It is a designated National Treasure. The Steps inside that lead up to the watchtower on top of the tenshu were quite steep for me ot climb. But hte view from  the top is definitely worth it.

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View from atop Inuyama Castle

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Watchtower atop the Castle

I enjoyed the old buildings along the streets beneath the castle and ate “gohei mochi ” at a little shop there. I wish I’d had more time to enjoy the area. But I had an appointment to meet a very interesting person at the Million Dollar Cafe!

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WIth artist and cafe owner, Takeshi Ozawa,(百万ドルカフェ、犬山市)

For 50 years, Mr. Takeshi Ozawa has run this cafe. It was first a pub, then a unagi restaurant, and now it is a karaoke cafe. We ordered coffee only but look what they served us.

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Ozawa-san is an artist. He told me that at a very low point in his life he dreamed of a dragon. He had the same dream three times. Then he painted the dragon and after that he continued to paint。

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I was so glad to meet his business partner (former wife) Chitoshi. She and I hit it off. I liked her a lot and she was so friendly and easy to talk to ! You should definitely stop by this place. YOu certainly can’t miss it if you are driving by!

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Million Dollar Cafe, Inuyama

Yui Port- Mt Fuji- Izu

Hiroo wanted sakura-ebi tempura on rice for lunch so we found the Yui Port and got in line. There were tables and everyone eats outside. I enjoyed my tempura, but Hiroo got a bad stomach after eating his boiled shrimp and shirasu donburi! I don’t recommend you get that!!!

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Seafood on Rice at Yui

From there, we headed toward the Izu peninsula. ANd suddenly Mt. Fuji appeared in front of me. I’ve been here going on 44 years but never seen this symbol of Japan until now! It didn’t disappoint! What an amazing and thrilling sight!! I took over 50 pictures, I think!

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We took a central route into the Izu hanto, passing through the Shugenji Onsen (or hot springs) area. This hot springs appears in Kawabata Yasunari’s novel, The Dancing Girl of Izu. We took a break and had Japanese sweets and iced latte.

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Japanese sweets at Shugenji Onsen area 

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Shugenji Temple, Izu

I especially enjoyed the ashi-yu foot bath that is heated by the hot springs. Then we travelled on to Shimoda.

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Relaxing Foot Bath at Shugenji Hot Springs

On the way, we stopped at what we thought was a “Michi-no-Eki” souvenir shop but were pleasantly surprised that it was really a Literary Musuem. Novelist Inoue Yasushi  lived in Yugeshima near here.  He was sent to live with an old woman there from the age of three until he left elementary school. He wrote the autobiographical novel “Shirobamba” about that time.

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Two bald men at Shugenji

 

There is a very old and famous tunnel nearby called “Amagi Tunnel” which is also featured in the story of the Dancer from Izu.

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Amagi Tunnel from “The Dancing Girl of Izu”

I really wish we had reached here earlier in the day. I wnated to hike to the tunnel and see it for myself but it was 1.8 kilometers each way. It was already 5:00 PM so I had to give up on that.

Shimoda

Shimoda is where Commodore Matthew Perry signed the pact to trade with Japan in 1854. Here is the temple where it was signed. We can visit the “Kaikoku Museum” and walk along Perry Road. Many old buildings with namako-kabe walls still remain and give a special aura of Meiji era to the town.

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Perry Road with lots of little shops and cafes

 

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Treaty signed here at Choraku-ji

We stayed in a really wonderful hotel on the ocean called Yamato-kan. The outdoor bath ( rotenburo) on the roof has a fantastic view of the bay. I enjoyed three different hot tubs and wished my daughters were here to enjoy it too!

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The view from our balcony at Yamato-kan hotel

I wanted to eat samma-zushi (mackerel sushi) and we found the one shop that sells it at the small port of Irozaki(石廊) at the tip of the Izu peninsula. Unfortunately, they were sold out, so if you hope to try samma-zushi,  you should call ahead!

I enjoyed chatting with the owner of Fujiya sushi shop, Mitchan. She has been operating this restaurant  since she came as a bride in about 1971.

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「ふじや」のみっちゃん

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The only place that makes samma-zushi!

The samma-zushi was a recipe that her own grandmother used to make in Shimoda using vinegared-mackerel in oshizushi style. She said to salt down the mackerel for one whole day and then put into nibaizu marinade (酢100cc+砂糖大さじ1.5+塩少々)for a day before making the sushi. SHe also puts slices of fresh ginger in the marinade. Let’s make it some day!!

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I’m still disappointed that i couldn’t eat it! Next time! ANd I’ll hike to the tunnel too!!Who wants to go with me?

We made it safely home! The new Nagoya station building was crazy! So big and so many people there as it just newly opened, it seems. I’d avoid that!

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Iwashina Gakko, Matsuzaki

The last night in Izu, we stayed at a friendly family-run inn. These women are married to two brothers, one who runs a fishing boat every day. We had fresh fish. These sister-in-laws are 77 but full of energy. We all agreed we should keep working as long as we can. They seem to enjoy running the inn!

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At Sanrakuso Pension (三楽荘、松崎、伊豆)

I met Nobuko next door. She is 90, born in Taisho 15. (1926) Although she no longer runs an inn, she seems very energetic! It inspires me!

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90歳のノブ子さん!!

Great trip. But next time, I’ll plan one that is not quite so far away. Hiroo had to drive really far! I guess over 1500 kilometers! Otsukaresama!

 

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Japanese Drummers

Kaze no Saiten (風の祭典) Drummers

Yesterday my friend Masumi invited me to go and see a Wadaiko (Japanese drums) performance by young men with Down’s syndrome or other severe handicaps. Their mothers were also part of the troupe. I was impressed to see them  play the drums powerfully and with such gusto! They were all enjoying themselves so much.

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Aono-san and his Mom

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Kageyama (center)  really seemed to be enjoying performing. Such an outgoing guy! He even gave me a kiss on my cheek spontaneously.(Aono-kun on the left)

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Shintani-san

I thought Ms. Shintani was really good at the drums. I found out that she had lived near me when I first came to this area. She remembers me because there were few foreigners living here then.

I realized that these women formed the troupe for their sons but that it has also empowered them and created an opportunity for the family to make a positive impact.

These women must be my age or older and yet they had so much vitality and spirit! We were caught up in their joy, too!

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Kageyama-san, mother and son

I hope you all keep on practicing and performing. I look forward to seeing  your show again!

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Emcee, Nagai-san (who is also raising a son with Down’s)

Afterwards, we had tea and zenzai at Masumi’s house! Thank you for inviting me!

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Always in a good mood! Yuki-kun, Arigato!

Yuki-kun didn’t seem to mind a house full of people!

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Wajima-nuri Lacquerware (antique)

Art and Artifacts(?)

The very last day of summer, we started out for Shikoku, one of the four largest islands that comprise Japan. I wanted to practice driving on hte Expressway so I drove to Imabari! Then Hiroo took the driver’s seat and we made it to our first destination about 10:00 AM.

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This man has amassed quite a collection of items from the Showa period. (1926~1989) He has everything from movie posters to Kewpie dolls! He spent an hour with us , showing us through the two buildings of fascinating things. Nakanishi-san was a news photographer and still has a small old studio wedged between the two “museums”!

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Paper dolls from 1960s?

We had a great time looking at his collection. I recommend you contact him just to be sure he is there when you g. It is only 300 yen to see the museum.

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From there we went to the nearby “Hibari Shokudo” which is apparently famous for the huge pork cutlet on rice (and cheap!) People were lining up well before opening time and hte couple in front of us said it was their second attempt to be served at the restaurant as last time they couldn’t get in! It was more than we could eat.very good!

Swinging Bridges are Scary

We went on to the famed “kazura-bashi” at Iya in Tokushima prefecture. It was only 30 minutes or so from the Otoyo Showa museum. You must pay to go across and there were many tourists from Japan and abroad. I somehow made it across but it was scary! Beautiful view..my photos don’t do it justice.

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Scary enough!

That night we stayed at a hot springs in Miyoshi. We enjoyed hte breakfast in particular as they served just out of the oven pizza and also amazing French toast made with French bread!

Tobacco Trade in Ikeda

The next town, Ikeda, was a center for drying and curing tobacco in the Edo period. It was then transported down the Yoshino RIver to the city of Tokushima and from there to other areas of Japan. We stumbled on the Tobacco Museum when it was opening at 9:00 AM. A friendly volunteer guide gave us a tour and lots of interesting information.

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Hiroo tries smoking a kiseru tobacco pipe at the Tobacco Museum, Ikeda-cho

As we were leaving, we happened to meet an older woman who was sweeping the road in front of her shop. A retired high school home ec teacher, she is in her 80s but very active. We went inside her “shop” and visited with her. It seems she organizes all kinds of events, makes her own posters and produces it all. Recently she put on a “chindon-ya” parade where everyone enjoyed dressing in period costumes!

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We took the local highway 192 to our next stop, Daibosatsutoge Cafe” where Shima Rikita san has been continually adding to his enormous brick structure began in 1964. His son and wife operate a cafe in part of the area, but we were especially lucky to get a two hour tour and talk with this artist in his studio.

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Shima Rikita, artist and craftsman

 

 

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When he couldn’t get bricks at a reasonable price, he built a brick-kiln and kept going! Now he works in many mediums, carving wood, ceramics and furniture building. Probably close to 85, he still executes new ideas as soon as he gets them, now finishing up his chairs carved to represent the 47 prefectures. I definitely want to go back for his exhibition!

Best-ever inn By the Sea, Kaiyo-cho

We were so fortunate to stay at Osa inn and for a very reasonable price. Our hosts, the Hayashi’s came back to her home and re-opened this inn after retiring. She is an amazing cook! Everyone gave the food top rating and that is why I chose it..and I wasn’t disappointed. This is the best place i have ever stayed in Japan!!

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They talked about ayu fishing!

And after breakfast, she served her special Creme Brulee and fruit and her husband ground fresh coffee for us! We really enjoyed the warm atmosphere and the food!

On to Kochi..

On the last leg of our journey, we headed for Kochi city where I saw the “Jiyu Minken Undo” museum. But what we enjoyed most was Makino Tomitaro Botanical Gardens!

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Makino Tomitaro in his study (recreation)

 

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Tomitaro as a young man

He was a botanist and did research on plants, the first person to produce a definitive  encyclopedia of Japanese plants. His original sketches are on display and, fortunately for me, the museum of his life and achievements had English explanations which were well done!!

Home Again

Stopping by the Kochi Castle and the nearby Museum of Literary Arts, we finally started for home. We saw so many things and met creative people who all follow their dreams. I am inspired to find a new project now! We had a wonderful time! I love Tokushima and the people there are really friendly!

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Friendly Rika san at Iya Onsen

Bees and Berries

Our friend gave us a bee hive a few weeks ago. Yesterday, we arrived at the farm to find bees were finally in it! I hope we will have honey someday!.

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Standing in front of the hive!

Mr. N lives at the top of Norozan mountain because his ham radio (無線ラジオ)gets good reception there. He talks to people all over the world!

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Mr. N with baby goat “Teamo”

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He has planted over 600 blueberry trees there and now we can gather berries! (¥400 for 200g) He also has goats and chickens and ducks there! The baby goats were s cute!

I met an interesting couple there who have a farm in Higashi Hiroshima. They have an animal farm! Alpaca, donkeys, sheep, goats, ducks, and chickens! I hope to visit them some day!

Minna no bokujou can be found at http://www.minna-no-bokujou.com/

I was happy to meet people who are living there unique dream!

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Arafurue-san and wife Miho (from Minna no Bokujou)

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Old Friends

This week old friends visited the farm! Mayumi was my English student in junior high and high school. I hadn’t seen her in 12 years! It was great to meet her husband and kids. They live in Sweden, about an hour from Stockholm.

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Mayumi and daughter Maya,10

I was worried for Hiroo’s sake that they couldn’t speak Japanese, but fortunately even the kids spoke good Japanese as wella s English. Swedish is their main language and it sounded strange to my ears!

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Unfortunately, it rained the whole time and never let up. But we had a BBQ anyway, under the tent and on the porch!

They were staying at the nearby Green Pier resort but without meals so when we heard that, Hiroo decided to make sushi for dinner! He went to Kurose to get fresh sashimi and make a great meal. It seems the kids mostly eat salmon sushi as that is plentiful in Sweden.

We had a great time and I appreciate guests who wash all the dishes! Maya and her Mom made rice balls ( o-musubi). Maya was good at that!

Thirteen-year-old Leo is a soccer player and studies Spanish at school. ( His 4th language!!)

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Too bad we couldn’t play in the ocean or on the beach but the whole family really got into doing “take-zaiku” or bamboo craft, making chopsticks and bowls from green bamboo.

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Good sushi, Hiroo!

We enjoyed eating and talking together and I was glad to see her Mom Kay, after so many years! It is good to see old friends!

Mayumi’s husband, Bosse, was really nice and laid back! I’m glad to have the chance to meet everyone! And honored that they took the time t come all the way to Yasuura to see us!

 

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