Sunday, February 26, 2012

Letters from Matt #4: Haramachi, Japan: Fear in My Eyes

Letters From Matt are letters from my brother, Matt, from various of his domestic and international travels. The letters span decades, and I share them on Living Rootless at intervals, in no particular order. 

8 July 1990
Haramachi (now part of Minamisoma), Japan

Dear family,

… Today was a beautiful day. I went to the beach with about a half a dozen students and friends. The people here are so nice to me. (But I have to be careful – last night at a party, some girls asked me what my blood type was.)

We went swimming in the ocean. I got sunburned on my face and legs. I can feel the heat now, especially on my legs, as I lay on my futon writing this letter. The waves were enormous, frothy, and crashing down on me – filling my nose and mouth with salty water. After getting out, my skin was sticky with salt. Many Japanese were surfing today. One of our friends brought two surfboards. He offered for me to try, but I had already swallowed enough ocean for the day. Maybe next time.

One of the girls made lunch. It’s amazing how carefully prepared Japanese food is. She made egg salad sandwiches with white bread - sounds simple, but she sliced the crust away from each sandwich and arranged them neatly and tightly; packed in a box as if they were made for astronauts.

She also made fried chicken drumsticks. The skin and meat from the smaller end of the drumstick were peeled upward so as to leave bare bone on one side that could be used like a handle for eating without getting your fingers greasy. It was like a popsicle sort of. The end of the bare bone was wrapped in foil to be sure no grease touched your hand.

After a nice long day at the beach, we went out to a restaurant. While we ate, they taught me some Japanese phrases like – Anata wan han sai des? means how old are you? and biru kudasai means I’ll have a beer, please. The latter phrase could be quite useful, so in gratitude, I taught them a couple expressions such as I drank like a fish and I’m going to sleep like a log

Oh yeah, at the beach I started to build a sand castle. The girls were very curious of my strange, child-like behavior I guess, but they started to bring me water to help make the sand wet for me. Then a couple of guys built a wall around it. When finished, it was about a meter tall (we’ve gone metric in Japan; so sorry) with towers and flags, a moat with a drawbridge. When we left, the tide had just begun to slosh water through the gates and into the moat. It was cool.

Last night, at my suggestion, all the adult students (mostly female between the ages of 18 and 28) joined in a party to celebrate Independence Day, a farewell to a student leaving for Australia, a birthday, my one-month anniversary of Japan life, and Tanabata.

Tanabata is a Japanese holiday that has something to do with some sort of stellar convergence that happens once a year on about July 7th. Anyway, part of the tradition is to have a tanabata tree, a leafy top section of a bamboo (which grows abundantly in these parts). The tree is decorated almost like a Christmas tree with little pieces of colored paper folded into many different shapes. Then everybody writes a wish on a piece of colored paper and attaches it to the tree. This ritual, along with the stellar convergence, is supposed to make all of your dreams come true.

Well, anyway, one of the girls brought a Tanabata tree to the party, along with lots of little pieces of colored paper. She showed me how to fold the paper into a paper balloon and I and others made a wish to place on the tree. It was fun.

The party, at my suggestion, was held on the roof of the school, one of the tallest buildings in town. The moon was full. You could see the shadows of mountains in the distance, a few kilometers away. (So sorry, metric again neh. Eeeeee. I think I’m turning Japanese neh.)

G*, a girl who I’ve got a crush on, brought a big plate of sushi. She fixed a big plate for me. Oh no!!!!!! The raw fish kind of sushi is no problem. I even like it kind of. But she honored me with the more expensive delicacy of raw salmon eggs wrapped in seaweed. 

Salmon eggs --> Human delicacy. Photo credit: Randy Johnson
Because of the way it is here, you are supposed to put the whole thing in your mouth all at once. Somebody sensed the fear in my eyes so they rushed the video camera and spotlight over to me. The whole group watched the barbarian almost gag on what they consider heaven. All I could think of was, yeah, I’ve seen this stuff before in jars in the sporting goods department at Sears – used as FISH BAIT! 

Salmon eggs --> Fish bait. Credit: OLX.

I almost threw up, but didn’t. My honor was left intact and I soon recovered after a few beers. …



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