Friday, July 6, 2007

Adventures in inaka

Before departing Japan, I headed east to my old stomping grounds for five days of catching up with friends and rehashing previous adventures in inaka (AKA the middle of nowhere).

I have to admit that while I was very much looking forward to seeing old friends, catching up with the Japanese takes energy. After trapsing around the tourist haunts with my guests, I was afraid my supply would have been depleted. However, I managed to relax on the long shinkansen ride from Osaka to Furukawa, which was made much more pleasant with a few beers and some bad trainstation sandwiches. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the lush green rice fields and condensed urban areas, seemingly connected by endless stretches of sagging powerlines, roll by.

I was hosted by my friends, the Sugawara family, as seen above. The mom and dad are hardworking farmers who grow flowers, rice, and the best vegetables in all of Miyagi prefecture. During my days in the Fu, they kindly kept myself and numerous friends healthy with ample supplies of the above. In turn, we shared big meals together, usually with me introducing a new and "strange" way of eating their vegetables, lots of drinks, and humorous conversations peppered with a unique variety of the local dialect and our special usage of the other's language. Communication was never an issue, nor was eating!

We had always talked about having a kind of homestay at their house, so it seemed like a nice chance to actually do so. I think they were also happy to have a daughter in the house again. Their older daughter, Yukiko, (pictured above), is newly married and expecting their first child, and their other daughter, Akiko, is also recently married to a Canadian and living in Vancouver. I really appreciated being able to relax in a familiar place and open the window at night to hear the croaking frogs before falling asleep. Even their dog, Jiro, seemed happy to see me.

Each day presented a reunion opportunity: friends, my former school, F-Mate club, even old friends in Kogota, the neighboring town. I also had the chance to catch up with my friend, Lucy, and her beau, Takeshi, who live even further out in inaka. No visit among ex-JETS goes without a gossip session and naturally there had been enough drama to keep us chatting for hours. Lucy and Takeshi are tying the knot in September and I wish them all the best up in the tambo.

I have been back in Oslo for just over a week now and I think I am acclimated to semi-urban life in northern Europe. At least I am able to go to bed at a normal time and sleep past sunrise at 4:30am. Unfortunately, the Scando summer I had hoped for is not in the cards. There has been nothing but rain and cool temps, which has indefinitely postponed boat rides to the islands and swims in the fjord, cycling along the waterfront, late night bbqs, and lounging around in any greenspace in hopes of acquiring a tan. Ever the optimist, I am hoping it will pass, making way for clear and sunny skies, happy balcony tomatoes and chilli peppers, and prime tanning weather.

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