Saturday, October 5, 2013
"But as the outward strangeness of Japan appears to be full of beauty, so the inward strangeness appears to have its charm-an ethical charm reflected in the common life of the people." Lafcadio Hearn
Yesterday could not have turned out any better. As I sit and reflect on all of the special gifts we received, I cannot help but laugh. So much of me wants to skip ahead to the main event and spill the beans of what took place that makes these weary travelers so out-of-their-mind giddy. But emotion with restraint is one of the overarching ways of doing just about everything out here, so I suppose I can give it a go and carry on with my four day tradtion of doing things in chronological order.
The ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn) that we woke up in is my favorite thus far. It had the same simple ammenities (beds, table, and tea cups) but with the most delightfully odd, young host. His sporadic movements and broken English were quite endearing, a sort of mad professor mentality with a deep mix of kindness. Sleep stood me up yet again that night but after a good warm shower and another filling breakfast (complete with new additions of whale meat and entire fish staring at me staight in the eye) I didn't seem to mind. *I should also note here that another reason I enjoyed this place so much was because we had our own private toilet and I didn't need to worry about sharing a bathroom with both sexes in the middle of the night, hah!) I am sure my mother is reading this and saying "Whhaaat?"
The atmosphere we woke up to outside of our window that morning was indeed perfect in keeping with our writing/literary tour. It was quite overcast and cloudy with intermitent bouts of soft rain. (I think any good writer would admit that a little meloncholy rain here and there is always necessary for gaining perspective.) I was also pleased with the weather because as both Grammy and Dad have told me, there is just something about Japan in the rain that you have to experience to get the full effect. So I got to put that in my memory picture box. I also got to use my new polka dot umbrella. Which, lets be honest, was also a highlight.
The pace that morning was great. We walked leisurely to the train station and got a very traditional cup of a long-standing historical coffee brought over from their great, great ancestors named after what the natives call...Starbucks. (Yes, we caved.)
Then we poured over the map and sipped our iced drinks like true American tourists. We casually discussed how we would instead go to author Lafcadio Hearn's museum and residence first and then the Matsue castle after that just in case the rain picked up.
Then we hailed a taxi and he brought us through the city of Matsue. It was a bustling town built around an island where the castle sets atop a hill. We crossed the bridge and he dropped us outside the doors of the museum. We thanked him and went to the front desk where we payed 3 dollars each to get inside. It was not a large museum by any means. An american author of Irish descendent, Lafcadio started out as a journalist at 24 and eventually became a correspondent for Harpers to Japan. In 1890 he procured a position as an Enlgish teacher in Matsue and his writings say that he "became fascinated with the beauty of Matsue and the kindness of its people." He remained in Japan for many years and became dearly loved by the Japanese people for representing them to the rest of the western world in such true and thoughtful ways. In 1904 Hearn passed away leaving his Japanese wife and 3 children behind. But his 15 months in Matsue left such an impression that his residence and works are still admired and remembered today.
The exhibit had two main rooms. The first told of his writings and earlier years in New Orleans and the second showed wonderfully unique items such as the luggage he took with him when he left New York for Japan, a pair of his spectacles, and the pipes he used to smoke.
We walked around the exhibit as most do, quietly and subtly observing specific details. Both my dad and I thought it odd at the sheer number of Americans that were in this small, little museum on an early Saturday morning, but didn't dwell too much on it it until he overheard a conversation between two gentlemen and saw a picture in the display case. That's when he leaned over to me and whispered. That's Lafcadio's great grandson standing there."
It absolutely was. The next 15 minutes were a blur as my dad spoke with him and his wife and also with the museum curator of New Orleans who as it turns out JUST brought over the New Orleans exhibit and had a ribbon cutting ceremony moments before we had arrived. How wild! To think that the two of us, on this week, on this day, at this time, would just happen to wander aimlessly into this little museum and meet the great, great grandson of the author we had been reading and enjoying while on the very trains of Japan's countryside! The photograph above you will notice a look of shock and kid-like excitement in both of our faces as we stand next to Bon and his lovely wife who reside in Tokyo-5 hours away!
We left those doors and attempted as best as possible to remain composed, but quickly dropped those defenses away from the gate and kept repeating to one another "oh my gosh that was so cool, so cool, so so cool". (Writers don't always have a profound way of describing everything, particularly when they are excited). After this small victory dance we walked next door and walked beneath the threshold to Lafcadio's old home. We could so easily picture a life lived there. A writing life. One of quiet dedication but also of every day annoyances. You could just as easily hear the sound of the pen on the page as you could one of his children crying in the other room over a dispute between a sibling. It was all quite lovely to think that one can write quite well and not have to be a slave to coffee shops, cigarettes, and the drunken life in order to make something of ones work. (No offense, Hemingway).
The rest of the afternoon all seemed to come together in one glorious, misty dream.
We took a boat along the channels of the town and sat on our knees as we went under bridges. We listened to the soft drops of the rain on the tarp roof and to the hauntingly beautiful songs of the tour guide as she sang. Her voice echoed off the cement structures above us and we would often sit without saying a word. It seemed to me a church service amidst a cathedral of trees and water. After we got out of the boat we climbed up the hill to visit the castle. What a giant. A fortress of power and design that looked across the whole city of Matsue.
On our way back we walked to the local super store and got a few items needed: two persimmons, a knife to cut them, chapstick, and 2 peach juices to take with us for the next days' bike ride. We then hunted for a restaurant to eat Yakisoba, which after countless dead ends, we thought we would never find. Just as we were about to give up, we entered into a small "restaurant" underneath the train tracks. It was a kitchen and a shelf. But they said "yes" they served it there and we sat down to rest our weary feet. Best lunch yet. It was the kind of food that leaves you warm on the inside for hours after.
It was this same warmth that stayed with me on the train ride all the way to Onimichi. I awoke from a small nap to see lines of mist hovering in the mountains as we followed the winding river bed. It was the same mist one of the tour guides back at the Ninjadora told us Japan was famous for. I had awakened in just enough time to see it.
Yesterday was a day filled with all sorts of these magical "happenstance" moments, like the simple smile of a young girl that told my Dad with no words at all that we were about to miss our connecting train. Or even that sleep crept in that night for me like the mountain mist, making its decent from above and hovering there until morning.
My view now is of the early sun, cascading over the hills and Onomichi's fishing port. My father is listening to Handel's Messiah "The Glory of Lord" and I can't wait to see the ways in which He will continue to reveal that same unending Glory to us today.
Posted by Jekisa Jean at 10:25 PM