My family spent this past weekend in Oita prefecture (which you’ve seen if you follow my Instagram.). The trip was partly to spend time with my husband’s cousins and family, and partly to track down my father-in-law’s birthplace in rural Japan. It was a whirlwind of kids and busses and hotels and exhaustion, but I think it was rather worth it.
We did, indeed, find where my father-in-law (and uncle, who was with us on this trip) lived for a time. It’s now an empty field in Matama, across from a temple that Uncle remembered clearly. My husband and his cousin got to walk where their fathers walked as children, and that’s pretty damn cool if you ask me. Meanwhile, The Spouses took The Kids to the beach where we ended up helping some people catch razor clams. The Boy decided that the clams must be sharp, so mostly just poked around finding crabs and jellyfish, but the younger two had no such qualms and snagged the clams as fast as they popped out of their holes.
Then off to Beppu for a stay at a ryokan. I found futons to be pleasantly comfortable, but my poor husband doesn’t do well with them. We saw cats and tengu and steaming hand baths beckoning tourists to visit the onsen behind them for just a few coins. We bought local bamboo housewares and food made with local citrus to which I am no hopelessly addicted.
The hardest and scariest part for me, personally, is that I was traveling with a group of people who were all multi-lingual to some degree, but the two primary languages of the group were English and Korean. Only my husband had any real Japanese. As such he ended up with whatever group needed the most fluent person at the time, leaving me with the others.
I am in no way fit to be an interpreter and was barely comfortable buying coffee and saying thank you to the hotel staff. Suddenly I’m trying to find out how to navigate a taxi from a tiny town in the countryside and order food at the one postage stamp bar that was willing to serve foreigners. It was entirely terrifying and well outside of my comfort zone.
I’m fairly sheltered, living in Tokyo. Either folks have some rudimentary English or it
simply doesn’t matter. The checkout clerk at the giant grocery store we go to doesn’t care if I can chat with her, and most of the folks we talk to frequently are either native English speakers or are fluent enough to make no difference. I’m entirely spoiled as an expat and I damn well know it.
So this past weekend worked and stretched my limited Japanese skills. Saturday morning was almost miserable, but by the time we were heading through the airport I was cheerfully mangling the language as needed. I regret not being able to read all the signs and learning all the stories from our travels, but there’s always next time. This trip was amazing. We made some memories, we found some of our roots, and at least I got a fresh view of where I want to go in the future.
And if anyone wants to send me some kabosu marmalade or candied peels or hot sauce or something, I’d be super okay with that…