Eating Like a Local While the Typhoon Rages On. Enjoying farm to table eating while I survive the typhoon in the Japanese countryside
A major typhoon is sweeping through Japan. For three days, torrential downpours and black clouds heave covered our valley. There have been moments of sunny skies to break the gloom. Two nights ago, I became convinced I would be struck by lightening. The clouds were thick and heavy. I could barely see the streetlight right in front of my window. Thunder and lightning shook the house every two minutes. About every ten minutes, I heard the big crackling an death rattling lightning strike. We are surrounded by forest on the backside. It sounded like the trees were getting pounded. Every time he lightning flashed, our whole room lit up. I found myself wanting to crawl into my mom’s bed, until I realized I AM the mom know. Amazingly, my three-year-old never woke up. My baby woke once but was easily calmed by my presence and fell back asleep. Clearly, he couldn’t see the panic on my face in the dark.
During the day, I drive slower than the numerous grandmas here. I am very cautious of rain on windy mountain roads. When the rain pours the hardest, I stop in to the nearest eatery and pig out until the weather calms down. It is for the safety of my children. A bonus is the delight of my tummy and meeting new faces.
Along the back country road, there is a little development. The drive surrounds me in forestry, rolling hills,and vistas of the town and farms below. Rarely, I stumble upon a little eatery. My first thought is where do they get customers? The road feels deserted, as if I am traveling through a fantasy world by myself. I am frequently the only customer at places I stop. I enjoy the intimacy. The shop owners have time to talk with me, whether out of boredom or any real interest in me. They are always surprised to see a foreigner, especially with a baby in tow.
Today, the rain suddenly picked up speed close to home. I pulled into a little cafe run by a local farm. The little house is surrounded by apple trees and blueberry bushes. The windows look out over the uninhabited forest and a lonely log cabin with wild flowers. The kitchen is run by a mother and daughter team while the grandfather comes in and out as he tends the farm. It feels like dining in there home, as multi generations gather in the kitchen for a family meal while I eat next to them in the dining room. The entryway is filled with bags, dolls, tissue holders, and other items hand sewn by the grandmother. It feels more homey than my own home.
My baby crawls around and takes in all the attention. Meanwhile, the daughter serves me hot tea. While I relax and watch the downpour, I see her dash out into the typhoon rains to a shed. She comes back in, drenched, holding a small bowl. Would you like some blueberries while I cook? Would I ever! I feel guilty that she suffered the rain for me to eat blueberries and savor them even more than usual. The baby ate them right up! He will be quite disappointed when we get back to eating produce in the desert.
The restaurant only serves three dishes. One is soba (see my noodle post: https://misomommy.wordpress.com/2014/07/02/noodles-a-japanese-noodle-guide/). Another dish, displayed proudly on a outdoor banner, is grilled rice balls on skewers slathered with a sweet and chunky miso paste.
The third dish is called kurumi. I ordered it blindly and then learned about the dish as it arrived. Kurumi looks like white miso soup, but it is actually coarsely ground walnuts boiled in a sweet broth. The soup is topped with two, freshly-grilled mochi squares. The aroma of buttery walnuts and grilled rice filled the air. As I dug in, the mochi softly pulled and stretched. I bit off a piece at a time, chewed the mochi, and drank the soup. In between bites, I looked over the storm and the mountains.
As you can seem the soup came with homemade pickles. The salt content is lower than commercial pickles and the experience is crisp, cool, and refreshing. I didn’t think it could get any better, until she brought out local cherries that she had frozen. They were like little cherry Popsicles plucked right from the cherry tree.
After a delicious respite, it was time to face the tsunami and drive slowly home.
Last night, a rainstorm ravaged the mountainside in the middle of the night. Dark storm clouds sunk into the valley. For the first time, the neighboring mountains were invisible. The storm clouds blocked out the mountains of every elevation. At night, pounding rain blocked out the stars, blurred street lights, and blinded the landscape.
Safe within our temporary home, the heavy rainfall created the perfect soundtrack to fall asleep. Instead of listening to music or the whirrings of my mond, I focused on the rain. I let my thoughts and stresses wash away, envisioning a mental downpour washing out my worries.
Yesterday, the valley filled with darkness. There was no light in sight. The ominous clouds hung heavy on the town. I stayed inside and off the blinding roads.
Yet, in the morning, the clouds lifted. The valley and mountains unveiled before, greener and refreshed.The farmers went back to the fields refreshed from a surprise day of rest. The doom and gloom passed and strengthened us all.
The mental and emotional rainstorms in our life are the same. One day, challenges pour into our valley, block out the light,and sometimes we forget the light, vistas, and life are still right beside us, waiting for the storm to pass. As those dear to me face some stormy skies, may we remember the Light and life is still there. The storm will pass. May we soon be strengthened, enlivened and refreshed, and play in the sun together.
What if I told you I spent the evening on the nude in a pool of other naked people? Then, what if I told you I brought my kids along? This is what you had in mind reading a blog by a traveling mommy. This is
exactly what I did. The Japanese are known for their modesty and discretion, but there is one custom that shakes the modesty of the rather immodest Americans: stripping down for a dip in the hot springs with other strangers in the nude. While showing skin in the U.S. is not unusual, bathing with naked strangers is out of the comfort zone of most Americans.
Most hot springs are gender-specific, so women a only with other women.
This is generally more comfortable for foreign visitors except for one major caveat. Often, our sole travel companion is of the opposition gender. Imagine separating from your partner/boyfriend/spouse and going it alone, naked and surrounded by naked strangers that don’t speak your language.
One of my first visits to the hot spring was even more nerve wracking. My Japanese boyfriend (who would become my husband years later) brought me to Japan for a family visit. My boyfriend’s mother was not pleased to see a white girl who was formerly clueless about Japanese culture. Well, guess who came with me alone to the hot spring? Next time you meet someone’s parents or hang out with your in-laws, remember it could ne more akward. You could be naked.
Despite the nudity, and occasional gawking at a white girl at the local hot sprong, a visit to onsen is a magical experience. The steam rises over the water’s surface, creating a therapeautic mist. The outdoor onsen are usually shrouded in boulder cascades, lush landscaping, and scenic mountain vistas. In order to adjust to the heat, enter the water slowly. Proceed deeper when your body is comfortable. Once you sit down and the water reaches your chest, your whole body will slowly release and relax. Although I have a mind that never stops churning, the onsen sedates me mentally and physically. Fifteen to twenty minutes will change one’s state. It is an automatic zen for the low price of 500 yen, or $5.
Yesterday I finally gathered the courage to go to the onsen with my two kids. At first, my three-year-old wanted to escape the heat. A couple minutes later, he adjusted and went exploring in the water. Unlike a pool, the whole hot spring is shallow and walkable. We all mellowed out a bit and then the hard part was getting him to leave. In the end, we all took a cool shower while seated on small stools. Once dressed and refreshed, we ate dinner at the inn’s restaurant and then drove home. We were all zen then.