Tuesday, March 13, 2007

"Time stop"

I read a book last year called "The Lady and the Monk" about a young English guy who goes off to live in Kyoto for a year and falls in love with a woman called Sachiko. Whenever her boyfriend introduces her to something new and exciting Sachiko would always say in her broken English "time stop". I think I speak better English than Sachiko but I really wish I could "time stop" right now.

Our time in Japan is almost over, this day 2 weeks we will have moved out of the apartment and in three weeks we will be at home in England. After Christmas we were really excited about getting home and would list off all the things we were looking forward to when we got back, mostly family and friends but also little things too like the pub, the Daily Telegraph on a Saturday, sausages, going shopping and actually finding clothes that fit ! Now it's time to go I find myself thinking about all the things I will miss when I leave Japan and the list seems to grow each day. I wish we could stay just a little bit longer.

Last week I spent the afternoon with my friend Ryoko at her parents house. Ryoko was my Japanese teacher and would come to the apartment every Wednesday and Friday to teach me to try to read, write and speak in Japanese. I am far from wonderful but I learnt enough to shop and eat and travel to all the places where I shopped and ate. Like me Ryoko loves baking and handbags, so our lessons always included an opportunity to have a break for tea and cake and handbag talk. I gave Ryoko some baking lessons, she now loves traybakes and her grandfather is very fond of caramel squares. (I'd like to think this will become Northern Ireland's contribution to Japanese cuisine and increase the sales of condensed milk too.) I will fondly remember the morning Ryoko arrived with her latest handbag purchase, a Kate Spade number in brown corduroy with beautiful pink script on the front and back saying "Hello" and "Goodbye". When she came in the bag was held to say Hello but as Ryoko left she laughed and got in a fluster because she hadn't turned the bag around to say goodbye. It was all these little things that so endeared me to Ryoko, always smiling, pretty, thoughtful and considerate.

Her family are just as lovely and it was real treat to be invited into their home (mostly Japanese people entertain outside of their homes). Her grandfather was so sweet and enthusiastically showed me around the garden and all the lovely stone lanterns he had built. Their home is a very traditional Japanese style house with lovely tatami rooms and shoji screens.
Ryoko's Mum had gone to a lot of trouble and made me feel really welcome, she even put on an exhibition of Hina dolls!

Ryoko and the Hina dolls.

I think I'm doing well if I give someone tea in a cup and saucer but this put me to shame. Each of us had an individual tray with bonsai plant, banana leaf, powdered green tea served in the finest Hagi pottery and mochi inside beautiful red lacquer ware bowls.

When I recognised the pottery her mum was so chuffed that I liked Japanese pottery that she ran off to give me some plates that she no longer used. On top of this she made me a notebook, a lemon cake complete with a piping bag of cream, a fruit hamper, mochi, rice crackers and even dressed me up in her engagement Kimono. Somehow the little basket of cookies and flowers that I arrived with seemed very inadequate for all this hospitality and generosity. It was lovely to be made feel so special and I will really treasure all these little experiences when I leave Japan.

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