After a flight that halfway through felt endless, but by the end felt as thought it had gone quickly (I know, I don’t get it either), I arrived at Narita airport Friday evening
Once I arrived at the airport and made my way through customs, which was fairly quick and easy, I walked out to the arrival area but didn’t see any familiar faces. I exchanged my dollars for much fewer yen than I would’ve liked, walked through the arrival area again to see if I’d missed Yuka and her family, and then found a seat to watch the doors. After nearly two hours of waiting, I spent the $5 it cost to use the airport wi-fi to find my future sister-in-law’s phone number, but wasn’t able to reach her. I sat a while longer before I finally decided to walk to the other arrival wing of the airport, just in case. Surely enough, at about the same time I had started walking from my wing to the other, Yuka began walking from that wing to the one I was in. We met halfway, and after a warm hello embrace she explained that she’d assumed I was flying American Airlines as that was what we’d both used last time, and what she always uses. She finally called her brother and had him look up my itinerary in her email, which was when she learned that I was on Northwest. She apologized for making me wait, but I told her it was okay, because I had nothing else that I needed to be doing.
I rode with Yuka and her mother and brother back to their house, roughly three hours from the airport. I was warmly received at the house by her father and other brother, and we all joined in preparing some homemade gyoza, which we ate with some very nice *****, followed by a tasty strawberry cake made by Yuka.
The following morning, we headed over to the home of Yuka’s Obaa-chan (grandmother), the aged-but-sturdy matriarch of the family farm. We participated in the annual family tradition of mochi-making, which is a tough job but was much easier for me this year. After growing frustrated quickly in my first efforts two years ago, I paid careful attention to my future father- and uncle-in-laws’ techniques, which proved to be quite effective when I put them into practice on my second batch during that visit. Like riding a bike, the mochi-skills came right back to me, which proved to be very impressive to Obaa-chan and the great aunts. We ate some of our freshly-made mochi with delicious vegetable soup, and then with sweet red beans, as we sat around talking for a while. I occasionally threw out a relevant statement or phrase in Japanese, further impressing the family. I’m eager for the time when I’ll be able to keep up in the whole of conversation, rather than simply catching bits and pieces.
When leaving the farm, we (the whole immediate family less my future sister-in-law) bowled a couple of games there in Utsunomiya, followed by a fantastic dinner at the ramen shop where one of the young cousins who made mochi with us was working the dinner shift. The ramen I ate was simply amazing.
We finished the day by returning home, as the onsen (hot springs) we’d hoped to visit was too busy, and the one closer to home was already closed for the evening. Back in the home, we played some card games until nearly 2 in the morning, with lots of laughing, yelling, and fun. The future sister-in-law, Hiroka, came downstairs at some point obviously annoyed at our noise. She made herself some udon without speaking/responding to anyone, though she did feed one of her thick udon noodles to the little kitty, maybe six months old, who scarfed it down greedily.
Today we’re taking it easy. Oto-san, Yuka, and I went to an onsen about 65 kilometers from home for a nice relaxing dip in the hot springs water. As we Oto-san and I got into the hot pool of water, another man asked if I was Yakuza. Oto-san was like, “Nani? Do shite?” (What? Why?”) The man pointed at the tattoo on my shoulder. I wish he would’ve told the man “not anymore”, but instead I think he just explained that tattoos are more common in the US. My intact pinkies would’ve given me away, anyway.
Tomorrow, Yuka and I will go down to Tokyo where she’ll have her appointment for renewing her student visa, and then we’ll probably shop and perhaps I’ll try to catch a meeting.
Japan is simply amazing; I’m having a blast. I’ll post more later.