Feb 9, 2012

Back in the USA

I'm back. I left Japan and flew back to NY on Saturday evening (Japan time) and arrived at JFK airport in NY on Saturday evening (NY time). A very big part of me wanted to stay there indefinitely, though part of me also wanted to return home with a broader perspective on life and humanity. While in Kobe, I tried my best to immerse myself in the local culture by exploring the unfamiliar and interacting with strangers. I'm thankful that I was able to share food, ideas and laughs with the people I have met there. I don't have any regrets about how I spent my time there. I got to experience so much. Perhaps the most memorable part of the trip will be sitting comfortably atop Mount Maya overlooking the city of Kobe while a gentle wind shook the trees and snow flakes landed and melted on my skin. Or maybe the haircut I got at Mottomachi station, where communication was limited strictly to hand gestures and myself making the sound of a pair of buzzers. It might be the beer and conversation I shared with an software engineer at a local bar during the week. But I think the most memorable experience for me will be that of my last night in Kobe:

On my last night in Kobe, I headed back to the little restaurant I had grown so fond of. I purposely left my camera at home because I wanted to enjoy myself just as the others were - without documenting every last detail of every situation. And so when I slid the door to the restaurant open, and the host saw my familiar face, he smiled and said "Only two days ago!". Yes, I was here two days ago and now I'm back! I sat down and ordered a couple pieces of tuna, salmon, and octopus as well as a plate of skewered meats. The sushi was excellent as always. The meat skewers blew my mind... I had two skewers of the following: beef, liver, fatty chicken skin, and chicken & scallion. All of which were drizzled with a sweet teriyaki sauce. By far, the fatty chicken skin skewers were the best. As I ate them I thought: man, this tastes like chicken skin but who would cook just the skin?

After my sushi and tasty little meat skewers, I used my phone to learn how to say "Can you recommend anything?". The host looked at me and said "beef?" I nodded and he went right over to the grill and pulled a kabob off for me. This was a kabob of the tastiest tender meat I've ever had and it was drizzled with a sweet peanut sauce. I gave him the thumbs up. After that I pulled the menu out and looked at what else I could try on my last night in Japan. As I browsed a stranger came up to me and said "Would you like some?" and pointed to his plate. I had no idea what it was. It looked like an omelet though the top of it seemed to be moving. I was surprised to hear this man speaking English, but I was even more surprised when the man sitting next to me said "Japanese pizza" with a smile. I tried a good sized portion and it was delicious! It did not taste anything like American pizza. It was tangy, mostly egg, with mozzarella and the top layer, which seemed to be moving were finely shaved truffles which were shaved so thin that the heat from the pizza made them flutter. I thanked him and we talked for a few minutes. I tried to buy him a beer but he said he was full and had to go.

I then struck up a conversation with the man next to me. Turns out; he teaches English at a local school and he spoke it very well. I explained to him all that I had done in Kobe and my trip to the temples in Kyoto. I told him of my hike to the top of the nearby mountain and my experiences mingling with people on the street. We then talked about places we've been and things we've seen and what we thought of people in general. I told him that I thought that there were more good people in the world than bad, and I think he understood me though I don't think he told me what he thought. Either way, he was a nice guy and we shared a bottle of Sake.

When I was about to leave, I asked him to thank the host at the door and tell him how much I appreciated eating at the restaurant the 5 or so times during the last two weeks. I asked him to thank him for his patience and hospitality and that this restaurant was one of my fondest experiences while in Japan. As it turns out, this host was actually the owner of the restaurant and he was delighted to hear this. He bowed and thanked me with a big smile and while I sat back rubbing my belly and talking with the school teacher, he brought out another bottle of Sake and two glasses saying "presento". I felt so genuinely good. It was a great way to end my time in Japan.

2 comments:

Hendrik Morkel said...

Fantastic, a wonderful read (and I yet again a tiny bit more envious - I really need to have a chat with my wife about a holiday in Japan =).

phattire said...

Hendrik:

Thanks, it was a really wonderful experience. I'm ready to go back already. Hopefully soon. I do not, however, look forward to the long flight!