Monday, November 16, 2009

Konnyaku sunset's fine

Sorry blog fans, it's been a while. This is of course because my family were in town. Without any further ado, I'll tell you how that went. I suspect I will split this story into several posts, because I can see it being epic even by my verbose standards.

Friday: The other 75% of the Stewarts arrived in Akayu to find me caught up in a kind of stress tsunami. Having rushed from my school to get to the station, I was fielding texts and emails from about five different people at once, most of whom were trying to arrange various social engagements with my aforementioned relatives. Everyone, it seemed, wanted a piece of the gaijin family. My stress was boosted by certain people (cough-Marie-san-cough) who speak perfectly good English sending me messages in Japanese. Normally I am grateful for this bonus language lesson, but it was hassle I didn't need on this occasion. I literally got a nosebleed.

Once everything was sorted, we headed out to - where else - Kappa Sushi. There we were the centre of attention - a little boy (whose big brother I apparently teach) was very keen to talk to us, but due to the language barrier just spent most of his time staring at us, wide-eyed and slack-jawed. Then a bunch of guys (who I think may have had a beverage or two) came over and asked us where we were from. My family were amazed at the celebrity status we appeared to possess, and I had to explain to them that this kind of thing doesn't usually happen to me. I guess one foreigner can be accepted as an anomaly, but a whole family of pale-skinned, red-haired gaijin? That's something you don't see every day. Anyway, my family seemed to enjoy the sushi, though they understandably stuck to the tamer-looking items gliding past our table. We rounded off the night with the first of many visits to hostess-extraordinaire Marie-san's, who was so pleased to see us that she cracked out the nine-year-old sake, despite our protestations.

Saturday: We had a fairly quiet one on saturday, with Blair and I spending much of the morning playing Rock Band while my dad went exploring the local supermarket and my mum tidied out one of my cupboards. Now, I neither ask nor expect her to do this, but she insists and I've found it's best just to acquiesce. Not that I'm complaining though; she discovered no fewer than three heaters that I didn't know I owned. In the afternoon we went for a stroll around Akayu, taking in the shrine and surroundings. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and the autumn leaves were stunning. We spotted a Japanese hornet, a huge insect which, on account of its fearsomely venomous sting, you definitely don't want to mess with. We then bumped into Marie, who invited us all in for tea and ice cream.

The evening's entertainment was a trip to an izakaya in Yamagata City with Hosokawa and archeologist, anglophile and raconteur Yoshino-sensei. We had a huge meal of yakitori, fried tofu, seaweed salad, sashimi, and nabe stew. I must say, I was impressed with my family's willingness to eat the alien cuisine, and for their dogged determination to do so with chopsticks even though cutlery had been thoughtfully provided for us. Between Yoshino explaining what we were eating and offering various related titbits of interesting Japanese trivia, and us detailing esoteric features of Scottish culture, conversation was lively. My dad ambitiously tried to explain the Scots saying "Lang may yer lum reek", and clearly his efforts were not wasted because I later got an email from Yoshino asking for more details.

After the meal we headed to a European bar with a wide selection of Scotch whisky. It was all very pleasant, but drinking imported malts in Japan is not cheap. Because I'd already had a few drinks, I offered to step up and pay the Stewart's share, which meant handing over a cool ichiman en (10000yen = £65) for eight drinks. What was I thinking?! I'm still reeling from it a bit.

Sunday: It was now time for some proper sightseeing. However, getting my family organised to do anything is a bit like piloting a supertanker by post, so it was past noon by the time we actually hit the road. Our destination was Yamadera, a whole complex of temples situated up a mountain and accessed by climbing over a thousand steps. My parents and I did the whole tourist routine of ritually washing our hands, wafting the incense, and touching the Buddha (a euphemism waiting to happen there), but Blair hung back, anxious about disrespecting people's beliefs. I'm pretty sure most Japanese people don't actually believe in Buddhism but rather see it a a fun collection of traditions and stories, but whatever, each to his own. After our descent I bought a stick of konnyaku, the weird negative-energy savory jelly snack that is inexplicably popular around these parts. No-one was particularly keen to share it with me.

Next on the agenda was the Okama crater lake, which regular readers will already know about. Despite not looking that far away on the map, when one factors in the zigzag nature of the steep ascent, the journey becomes a rather more serious undertaking, especially when you have four people inside a puny Suzuki K-car. The drive became something of a frantic race against the setting sun, which I'm sorry to say we lost. With just two more switchbacks to go before the top car park, we found that the road was closed for the night. In the fading light, we parked the car by the gate and started charging up the last 150m of the ascent on foot. I couldn't help but think of the stories you hear every winter of woefully ill-equipped morons dying on mountains. Like the sun, my confidence was sinking fast. Then a car with flashing lights came along and told us in no uncertain terms to get off the mountain, and I think we were all somewhat relieved to have an excuse to call the whole thing off. Still, it was worth it for the drive there - the views of the mountains covered in flame-coloured trees were spectacular. Since Yamagata City was (sort of) on our way home, we finished our day out with dinner at Mos Burger followed by dessert at Mister Donut.

Alright, that's enough for now. The next update may be a little while because I'm on yet another training seminar for the next two days.

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