It was hard to leave Micchan. As an obachan (grandmother) figure, she fit me like a glove. My picture with her reminded me of how small my grandmother was. Those of you who knew her can appreciate how tall she stood relative to me. Someone once called me diminutive. I wonder what he would have said about her. In any case, both Micchan and my grandmother were short but powerful.
Remember, my comment about the walk down to her village. She drove her four guest to the crest of the ridge road in two shifts with a car equipped with a manual gear shift. I took a photo of the harbor a few steps from her minshuku before the drive up the hill. No wonder the fish the night before were so fresh.
Before leaving, she asked every guest whether they had left anything. Nothing, I assured her. In my head, I had gone over my list. But it must have been a short list. I left my wagesa (prayer stole) and my water bottle. Someone out there will be wondering what is the Charter High School for the Arts. Sharon says that I always leave mementos at various places on our travels. I have added to Micchan’s collection.
Our walk went by beautiful landscapes of the ocean. We also met a woman collecting greens by the road to feed her chickens – grass fed, for sure. The fellow in white was on his fifth circuit of the temples. We wondered how many he would complete in his lifetime because he looked pretty young. We also went by a garden with a friendly dog keeping his master company. I really like the look and posture of the Japanese breeds.
As we entered Susaki City, we passed by the ugliest structure so far seen on this trip. I took the photo juxtaposing the farmer on his tractor with the cement factory in the background. Progress? At least, the smokestacks weren’t belching waste into the atmosphere.
Since Sharon has the 2017 edition of the maps, she noted the night before that Nabeyaki Ramen is the speciality of Susaki City. Ayoyama-san enjoys his food as much as I do. When we got to the closest convenience store on our walk into Susaki City, in this case, the Family Mart, we asked where was the best place to try this meibutsu (the local speciality). Hashimoto Restaurant was located several kilometers down the road by the train station. Aoyama-san’s feet needed rest. We called a taxi to take us to lunch. The taxi came and we were whisked away to have ramen.
This version was the mother of all ramen. The broth was rich and flavorful. The noodles were egg based, just the way I like them. As the guidebook described, the ramen is served in a stoneware bowl topped with scallions, fish cake, and raw egg that actually cooks as long as you want in the piping hot broth. No wonder diners have to sign in and wait. This restaurant reminded me of Tampopo, sometimes referred to as the Japanese noodle western.
During lunch, I told Aoyama-san that I left my wagesa and bottle of water at Micchan’s. He looked down for a moment and said, “Micchan will be worried that you left such an important part of your pilgrimage. She will want to send it to you. We should call her to rest her mind. That is the Japanese way.” I responded that she can give the wagesa to a pilgrim who forgot his/hers somewhere. I opined that no call was necessary. He wrinkled his eyebrows.
At the end of lunch, Aoyama-san discovered that his staff (kongozue) was missing. He called the Family Mart where we first stopped for information about restaurants and the train station. Indeed, one of the clerks found it. How many things can we lose in a day?
We decided that he would go to the train station with my staff while I would return to the Family Mart to retrieve his staff. I would resume my walk from that point and meet him at our minshuku.
I arrived at 3 at our minshuku. No sign of Aoyama-san. I took my bath. He arrived at 4:15. Since today is Saturday, train service would have reached his station by 4. Instead of waiting, he took the bus.
We were now pretty much settled in. Baths taken. I was writing this blog. He was writing in his diary. A knock on the door and the minshuku owner handed me what I thought were the controls to the heating system. Aoyama-san overheard the conversation (the “walls” are literally paper thin) and said that I was holding a telephone receiver. Micchan was on the phone.
I handed the phone to Aoyama-san. She was calling about the wagesa. As Aoyama-san predicted, she was wondering where to send it to me. Back and forth went the conversation as my proposed solution was debated – please hold the wagesa for another pilgrim who may lost his/hers. In the end, she said ok and would discuss the matter with her local priest.
Aoyama-san smiled and said, “See I am Japanese and you are an American.” Perhaps now a cousin, once removed.
The day was not all lost. Besides serving a delicious meal, the minshuku owner offered a jar of her homemade umeboshi (pickled plums). All restraint melted. Five eaten at dinner and two at breakfast the next morning. They were the best because they had the right combination of sour/salty and sweet (a bit of sugar).
What more can this rice boy expect? Plenty! But he is certainly happy. To think, two months yet to go. Lots can happen.