As everyone knows Japan had a terrible earthquake/tsunami this week. The photos of the destruction have been shocking to say the least. My prayers are with the Japanese people. It is beyond sad.
In 2005 I had the great experience to spend two weeks in Japan- mostly in the city of Kyoto. My family has been blessed with a connection to Kyoto for many years- starting long before I was born. I’m not sure when but my Grandpa Wagner came in contact with a man named Dai Hirota and they immediately became fast friends and life-long business partners. Dai has a wonderful wife named Chizu and three lovely daughters (I won’t even try to get their names right). You might say the Hirota family is an extension of my family.
While I had met Dai and Chizu many times, I didn’t really know much about Japan or Japanese culture, and the only reason I had the opportunity to go was that my parents needed a chaperon for my sister Anna (not a bad gig right?). She made a deal with my parents that if she practiced her flute for an hour a day they would pay for her to go to Japan (the ironic thing is she’s totally given up the flute now. Kind of sad when you think about it).
Anyway, without knowing much I took the long flight to Japan and had an amazing experience. From practically the moment I got off the plane I remember being struck by how different it felt. I had been to Europe twice and thought visiting Japan would be similar but I found much more in common between European and my own American cultures.
Everything from the language, the mannerisms, and definitely the food felt different and unique. Experiencing something so out of my comfort zone made me realize many things I both like and dislike about my own culture. For example, I loved how everything in Japan was either cute or beautiful. If you buy a box of cookies they are either ‘hello kitty cute’ or beautifully packaged with ribbon in a lovely box. Every time we went out to eat, which was nearly every meal, the plates were presented with intricate detail and garnishes- (even the food I liked which Dai called ‘children food’ was gorgeous). In America we tend to rush through life and don’t take the time to make things special- we too often do the bare minimum.
I also appreciated many of the Japanese mannerisms such as bowing and smiling when you greet someone. As a guest in a very foreign land it was wonderful to be welcomed so unconditionally and repeatedly!
The only challenge I had with Japan was the food. This surprised me because I thought I was an adventurous eater. After all, I had tried octopus in Greece and liked it! Some of the food was good in Japan but it was all very different from the flavors and tastes I was used to. I loved the gyoza and ordered them almost everywhere we went. I also liked the pork curry and the udon bowls. Even the sushi bar was a lot of fun, but I did not care for the caviar sushi (I didn’t try the really scary sushi). There was also this weird cold rice noodle dish that was too gummy for me. By the end of two weeks I was tired of Japanese food and actually went to a McDonalds- just to taste something familiar.
The funniest experience with food happened at the Hirota’s house. At the only meal Chizu made for us, we were served a delicious dish of sukiyaki (kind of like stir fry). The catch is the Japanese eat it with a raw egg cracked into the bowl. The entire trip I had kept with my commitment to try everything that was presented me but this was too much. Anna was also looking at me panic-stricken. Meanwhile Dai was smiling- knowing Americans do not like the raw egg. Just when the eggs were passing our way Chizu said ‘does anyone want any rice?”. We said a gleeful ‘yes’ and put the rice where the egg should have gone and everyone giggled at our American ways!
It was a great trip. The only sad thing is that all of the photos except for four have been lost. In a family of photographers this breaks my heart. I particularly wish I had the photos of my feeding the herds (yes herds) of deer in the city of Nara. They have tons of deer just roaming the streets and there are vendors that sell wafers to feed the deer. If you recall I have a bit of an animal phobia but never the less, I shot my wafer into the air and the deer came swarming. I have never been more petrified but I did it! Anna can attest to my feet of courage.
Here’s a picture of someone else doing it. Can you imagine me doing this!
Here are the four photos I have! (So sad). I love the Japanese people. I love Japanese food. Anna and I have a favorite place called Nagoya Sushi Restaurant in Salt Lake. It is delicious. If anyone wants to go there I’d be more than happy to oblige! Everything I’ve had there has been great. I probably spelled everyone’s name wrong. Sorry!
I hope the Japanese people are able to regroup and rebuild. I know they certainly have the wonderful people with great faith and persistence. God bless Japan.