The Tokyo Countryside
I’d been looking forward to meeting more of my Twitter friends, and I had the chance opportunity to visit with some of them in an area outside of central Tokyo called Fussa. It’s about a 1hr 15 minute ride from Yotsuya station to Fussa. I’d never been out there, so it was a little confusing. There is a “special rapid service” train to Ome that stops at Yotsuya, but dumb-dumb that I am didn’t realize that once I got to Tachikawa, I could just stay on the train and it would take me to Fussa (福生). So I got off at Tachikawa only to realize too late. The guy kept saying on the PA that it was the special train to Ome, but didn’t say what stops were next or showed it on the map. Either way, I made it there a little late, and Kenny (@KennyFK) and Noriaki (@DX_JF1VBB) were already waiting for me! Well, not only them, but two young men (English students) were in the car too (Yuki & Kota).
It was raining cats and dogs outside for what turned out to be ALL DAY LONG. I didn’t mind though; it wasn’t as if I was going to melt or something. 😛 So, we had some small talk in the car throughout the trip – where I’m from, what got me into Japanese and so on. We talked a LOT – for me it was unusual because, 1) I don’t get to hear Japanese for such a concentrated time frame, 2) because I’m an inherently quiet person and 3) even with the Japanese, there’s some things I still didn’t understand anyway. BUT, none of that mattered. We checked out 2 spots in Fussa: a Buddhist temple that was 600 years old and a shrine that was 300 years old. We got a bit of history on the temple and how it evolved over time, that some of the areas got destroyed and had to be rebuilt. The guy there was like “Um, no English…?” Yeah. It was very interesting regardless, and he was very very pleasant. I think I understood about 60% of what he said, which was good considering he was talking at normal speed. I also had to speak BACK (my big weakness and shyness). He’s a Yankee fan. Of course. (Go figure.) LOL. The shrine was nearby, but it was closed for the holiday, so no one was around. The rain was incessant!!
Nori was so kind to drive us around the whole day (thanks!!). After, we stopped at a shop owned by Nori’s wife called “Mottainai-ya” (http://homepage3.nifty.com/mottainaiya/ – (042) 551-7865), a cute place with all kinds of knick-knacks and “recycled” stuff. I guess you could call it a vintage shop – selling old stuff that others don’t use anymore. It’s smart tho – at least things don’t go to waste! (I’ll get back to the “waste” thing momentarily.) She’s so sweet, and gave me a little gift to take home with me. So, if ever you’re in Fussa, stop by and say hi!
I was rather shocked that on our way there is a US Air Force Base there: Yokota. As we drove through one side of Fussa into another, it was rather evident the English influence on the neighborhood. Signs were in straight English with very little Japanese, there were diners (!!), Chinese restaurants, English bars… I was rather astounded that something like that was so close by. As it turns out, Kenny has volunteered on the base teaching Japanese language and customs to the military families for some time, so I guess it’s just a normal thing. As the outsider looking in, I find it fascinating and disturbing at the same time.
After, we went to an udon shop. You know there isn’t an excursion where I don’t eat or drink SOMETHING. This udon was SUPER cheap. Less than $3 gets you a bowl and you can add on stuff if you want. The place itself is really simple, and they have tatami seating (remove the shoes!). Kenny’s wife met us at the restaurant for lunch since it is nearby to their home. Getting Kota and Yuki to speak in English was quite the trial. We were at lunch trying to do just that. I get it, they were shy and of course, if they speak, they want to be perfect. I’m okay with my lack of perfection – you can’t be perfect on the first try. You’re going to make lots of mistakes before you get better! I tried to explain that to them, but ehh, it gets “lost in translation” I suppose. You just have to do you best – ganbarimasu! Sidenote: I wanna make my own udon noodles from scratch. YES.
Afterward, we headed up toward the sake brewery for the tour Kenny had made reservations for. What a cool place it was! We sat school-like with a whiteboard and everything, as our tour guide explained the sake making process and the fundamental differences between wine, other spirits and sake. He spoke full blown normal speed Japanese, and I think I understood a majority of what he said. Also, it did help that I was familiar with the subject matter otherwise the terminology would have been completely lost on me. It is a nice facility that uses a specific type of water in the area (we saw the well where the water was). Then, we got to do the tasting. WOOT! You know I love tastings. Hehe. The sake we tried is the house special and it was very smooth, a little sweet and had a very clean finish. I enjoyed it immensely. I also got to try a few other types of sake across the street, where I got the sake glasses for free! The whole area is just beautiful though… there’s a shrine (of course there is, shrines are all over the place in Japan!), a bridge overlooking a gorgeous backdrop of the river and mountains. There were white water rafters and fisherman in the river actually! Just beautiful.
Once we were done with the sake, Nori drove us up to the dam that regulates the man-made lake responsible for providing water to the entire Tokyo area. What was entirely surprising was how low the water levels actually were. You could see by the water line that it had to be 5 times lower (at least) than normal. What shocked me was that there were no warnings on usage of water or any notification of need for conservation efforts. I suppose that perhaps it isn’t a necessary thing to do? I dunno. Either way, the actual location was amazing! Background mountains and water… granted, in the rain it was kind of funny.
This whole area is about 1 hour drive outside of Fussa station, so it took a while to head back between the weather and the distance. We headed back to Fussa and Kenny was kind enough to invite me to his house! Imagine my surprise when his wife said that she wanted to show me the traditional tea ceremony (at least a truncated version of it). I’d taken part in a tea ceremony once before – those things generally take a while to perform! Plus, you have to sit on your knees in that seiza position (legs tucked under your butt and feet crossed) for a LONG time. It’s something Westerners are just not used to doing for any length of time. I did okay though, even with my bad knee. 😛
We just sat around drinking tea and having senbei cookies. It was such a family atmosphere with everyone around and talking about random stuff. I really felt a part of the whole family interaction! Heck, Kenny even offered to let me stay at his house! Seriously, I was on the verge of tears at their generosity. It really spoke to me how wonderful people could be.
All that said, it was a magnificent time in Fussa and Ome, and I will definitely see my friends in Fussa again. Maybe in NY, maybe back here in Japan.
But no matter what, even the countryside can be Tokyo. 😉