I got back to Arizona yesterday afternoon. While I was waiting for my connecting flight in San Francisco, I noticed two things about the U.S. that hit me right away as being a big contrast from Japan. First of all, the airport was dirty. There was trash all over the floors of the airport. And second, people are FAT. There are so many more obese people here than in Japan. Plus, it seemed to smell like hamburgers everywhere in the terminal because so many people were eating fast food to-go.
I went with my parents to the grocery store on the way home to pick up some food for dinner. Despite the fact that they shop at Whole Foods, a rather bo-bo (bourgeois-boheme) up-market grocery store, there were no crazy 100 dollar melons in sight anywhere, unlike Japan. And there was a HUGE selection of cheap and attractive fruits and vegetable. Mind blowing. There is so much consumer choice in America.
Last night, I went with my sister to her church worship team music group rehearsal. They asked me to sing with them during the rehearsal, just for fun, and because I was on the worship team way back in the day. I didn’t really know most of the songs, but I muddled my way through them OK. I guess it’s my 3 years of advanced karaoke training in Japan that has prepared me for anything. Christian rock is easy compared to trying to imitate Freddy Mercury in a Queen cover.
Today, not much. I slept in. No jet lag. I went to the bank for some errands. And cooked a bunch of stuff at home for my mom. I also began the long process of cleaning out my room. My family has lived in this house since I was in junior high school, which was over 10 years ago. We are all big obsessive hoarders. I have so much stuff, dating back to childhood even. I threw out 4 big trash bags worth of stuff today and you can’t even tell that I have cleaned. And I haven’t even unpacked my suitcases yet.
Here’s a photo of the meal I had in the ANA Lounge in Narita Airport. There was a huge bar of free drinks and snacks (BTW, did I mention that free upgrades to Business Class ROCK!). I had this bowl of udon noodles with a piece of kamaboko (surimi fish paste) with the ANA logo stamped on it and a glass of white wine. I still can’t decide if the idea of that is delightful or disgusting, but in any case, it tasted alright.
Through the wonders of wireless internet technology, I am blogging on my laptop in Fukuoka Airport as I wait for my flight to Tokyo Narita en route to San Francisco and then Phoenix.
Last night, I had my last adult conversation class. Then I headed to an izakaya (Japanese-style pub/tapas bar) for some food and drinks with some friends on my last night out in Japan. We ended up singing karaoke until 3 in the morning.
After 4 hours of sleep, I woke up, walked to the Nakatsu train station where I was met by Kevin and some co-workers who went to see me off. It was quite sweet and a bit emotional. At the train station in Fukuoka, I had a nice breakfast of chocolate croissants from this amazing little bakery in the train station called “Il Forno del Mignon” – a rather odd Franco-Italian name, but delicious nonetheless.
At the airport, I had a pleasant surprise. The flight from Tokyo to San Francisco was full in Economy Class, so I got a free upgrade to Business Class. Awesome! That should really help to take the edge off of the stress of leaving Japan and of a long, transcontinental flight.
Well, that’s all for now. Next time you hear from me, I will be blogging from Scottsdale, Arizona, U.S.A!
Last night, I had dinner with the girls (Tash, Natalie, Isa) at Hakata Kinryu Ramen, a ramen restaurant across the street from my house. In local foreigners lingo, we often refer to this place as the “Green Dragon” becauce of the cute mascot on the sign and on the menus, but curiously, the Japanese name of the restaurant actually means “Golden Dragon”.
Japanese-style ramen should not be confused with the instant noodles that we often refer to as “ramen” in the West. Japanese ramen is legitimate restaurant food made with fresh ingredients. There are a variety of different region variations of noodles, soups and toppings across Japan. Kyushu, and in particular, the Hakata area, is famous for tonkotsu (豚骨) broth, which is made out of pork parts and bones which have been boiled down for hours. Basically, it is liquid lard, but it tastes really good!
I ordered my usual favorite and a house special, the black sesame and black vinegar ramen (黒胡麻黒酢ラーメン) with a side of 3 deka-gyoza (でか餃子) a.k.a. giant pan-fried pork dumplings, a unique Kinryu spin on the traditional, regular-sized gyoza. The black sesame/black vinegar soup is a lighter than the tonkotsu pork broth, which is a good thing during the humid Japanese summer. The ground up black sesame adds a richness and complexity in flavor to the soup, while the black vinegar adds a little bit of a zing and lightness to the whole production.
I went to visit the Usa [oo – sah] Shrine with Tash yesterday. The Usa Shrine is one of the most important shrines in Shintoism and is dedicated to the god Hachiman, who is the god of war and the divine protector of the Japanese islands and the Japanese people. Even though this shrine is only 30 minutes from my house, in the 3 years I have lived here, I had never been there before, so I decided to squeeze in some last minute cultural sightseeing before I return to the other USA, the United States of America. The shrine is an oasis of nature, with big trees and overgrown foliage and of beautiful, traditional architecture in an otherwise mundane modern suburban city of Usa.
Omikuji (fortune paper strips) tied to ropes.
Ema (wooden prayer plaques)
On Monday night (July 24), Tash and I headed over to Aki-machi to visit our friend Jessica and to check our her local matsuri (festival).
Local girl (above) wearing a yukata (cotton summer kimono)
The highlight of the festival (below), a fire dance on a boat in the river. According to a local that chatted us up, the fire ceremony is a revived tradition dating back to olden times that pays tribute to the spirits of the river.
Jessica will be going to the University of Arizona in Tucson (about 2.5 hours south of Scottsdale where my family lives) to finish her masters program this August, so I hope to be able to see her again soon.
Japanese Festival Food
Ikayaki (grilled squid)
Takoyaki (Octopus balls)
Yakisoba (stir-fried noodles)
On Saturday night, I went to have a final dinner with the Nishimura family. I used to live next door to them in the inaka (countryside) outskirts of Nakatsu during the first year that I lived in Japan, before I moved to my current house in “downtown” Nakatsu. The two Nishimura children are named Akari and Yuu. We would hang out together once every week and play and I would teach them English and they would teach me Japanese. Mrs. Nishimura prepared a wonderful meal consisting of somen (thin cold noodles), sashimi, and Hamburg steak (a Japanese version of Salisbury steak). The girls made a chocolate cake. Yum! As a going-away present, they gave me a pair of geta (Japanese sandals) and a folding fan. Thanks so much! I hope we can stay in touch and meet again!