Day 1: A Pilgrim Lands in Japan (4 March 2019)

After 19 hours of flying time, I touched down at Kansai Airport. KIX, its airplane code, is located on a man made island about 30 miles south of Osaka Japan Rails (JR) station. If you are a train enthusiast, Japan is the place for you. Photos of the Lufthansa flight at the moment of landing and the JR map of the Kansai region (Osaka, Kyoto, Kobe, Okayama, and Wakayama) are provided below. I boarded the 10:46 Haruka for Kyoto.

As I may have mentioned, you can easily obtain Japanese currency by using the ATM at the post office office or 7-11 (you’ll recognize the sign) on the 2nd floor of Terminal 1. No need to get currency before coming.

Fukiko met me at the Kameoka train station. She made lunch and dinner which included scallions and spinach from her own garden – that is farm to table! That’s Fukiko digging up spinach from her garden.

Her home has been in her family for several generations. When her parents died, she came “home” to live in order that the home remained in family hands. She will pass along this home to her daughter who lives in Germany. If her daughter decides not to return to Japan, Fukiko’s brother’s son has promised to move his family here. She indeed puts life into the phrase, a house is not a home. I wonder how many of us feel this way.

In between lunch ( a hot bowl of sunuki udon, chicken, an egg, topped with Fukiko’s scallions) and dinner (teriyaki tuna, crab and seaweed salad, spinach mixed with sesame – just like my grandmother’s), we went over the koseki of my grandmother’s and grandfather’s family. See the photo of dinner below. 80 more days of this cuisine! Fukiko is holding a lacquer cup with sake brewed in her village – delicious at room temperature.

I felt like a guest on Henry Louis Gates’s Finding Your Roots program. The Yanai City Hall provided two separate records, each three pages long. One record was of my grandmother’s family and the other of my grandfather’s. The connection between the two was, of course, my grandparents, both with the family name Kuniyuki. In a population of 110 million Japanese, only 420 families currently have this last name with most living in Yamaguchi, southern Honshu, and Kagawa, one of the four prefectures of Shikoku. Takamatsu where I will be going tomorrow is the capital of Kagawa.

Yoshi, my maternal grandmother, was the fourth daughter and the youngest of seven children. Iroku, my grandfather, was the first born son in a family of seven. His brother, Tomozuchi, who migrated to the US and known to my sister and me, was the fourth son and youngest in his family. Another surprise was that my mother is recorded in this koseki meaning that she was a Japanese citizen! I had no indeed because my grandparents never wanted to talk about the past. The kosekis only went back as far as 1830, the birth year of my maternal second great grandfather (Kuniyuki Dikki-zo) who relocated from Kobe.

Without more information, we could not determine how closely related my grandparents were. Was my grandmother’s father (Kuniyuki A-kichi, born in 1852, son of Dikki-zo) a cousin of my grandfather’s father (Kuniyuki Tamizo, born in 1861) but whose father is not recorded? A mystery for further search when to travel to Yanai on 16 May. Besides finding my grandmother’s home, I plan on staying a few days to visit our families’ gravesites and to get a feel of the city. I included a close up of my grandfather’s, grandmother’s, and mother’s entries along with the Hanko (official seal) of Yanai City.

What remarkable and courageous people to have left their families for America. I am humbled and honored to walk in their footsteps and make the pilgrimage.

This morning before breakfast, Fukiko invited me to pray at her family’s shrine – a daily ritual in traditional Japanese families. Afterwards breakfast started with a fruit salad topped with homemade yogurt, dried orange peels and blueberries. Voila, a photo of Fukiko.

Stay tuned. Off to Takamatsu tomorrow morning.

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