Wednesday, we went to the elementary school April visits a few times a week. We did a brief tour of the classes and had an audience with the principal and vice-principal. The school seemed wonderful, but we didn’t have as much time to spend there as we did in Jo-Chu. We had to rush through the school, stop for a quick Ramen lunch, and be back at April’s apartment in time for Karen to receive a several wonderful gifts from some of April’s students who were in Elizabethtown last year. Around the same time, our chauffer, Ishihata-san, arrived to pick us up in the city van. He was very nice, and helped develop the itinerary which kept growing as we went.
We started out going to the national forest / park on mount Honda. We walked around the lake and discussed foliage and wildlife, festivals, and the multiple sports fields which are tucked into the trees as only the Japanese could make work so well. We then drove to the local temple and got shown the areas of worship and hear about some of the customs… and told what we were and were not allowed to take pictures of. Magnificent! We also stopped by the 800 year old nutmeg tree, which happens to be the oldest nut-tree in Japan. It’s HUGE, and producing an obvious abundance of fruit (nuts).
Then we stopped off at the local onsen for iced coffee, peach mousse, and tea. While there, we discussed the kokopechi dolls and found out they were made in Koori-Machi, and so we were detoured to the house / shop where they are made. We went through a stunning garden and were invited into the house, where we got to look at a large variety of the commercially available lines as well as many unique pieces of art. It was not encouraged to take pictures, but I wish I’d snuck a few in – these pieces were amazing. We all bought a few and subsequently found out that we received a mighty discount… and then a deeper discount. We were fed mineral water and expounded upon as to the virtues of this mineral water…. Through complicated and broken translations (April has only been learning Japanese for a year, and the lady talking to us had to be in her 70s or 80s) we figured out that the lady bottles her own mineral water on the property in addition to painting the dolls. We find out (again and again) about the superb qualities of this water, that it cured one man’s cancer, can thin people (fat Americans) down, and cured this woman’s diabetes. While this discussion is taking place, we are all presented with large glasses of water we are expected to drink… which are then refilled. We also find out she had a vision of the 9-11 attack and tried to warn the US, but the US didn’t listen. She has a drawing dated from May of that year and hands us photocopies of said drawing as well as a video of her on some TV show about it. When we finally leave, we are stopped and handed several large bottles of her mineral water and again, extolled to about it’s virtue.
We then visit the main peach orchard and see the place where 9 years ago the emperor’s son and wife came and got some of Koori’s famous peaches. Famous for a good reason – these peaches redefine what fruit can be! We then are driven to Ishihata-san’s house and encouraged to pick fresh peaches from the vine and then invited inside where we meet his parents (80 years old) and daughter, and are presented with even more tea and a variety of foods from rice cakes to lightly pickled eggplant and cucumbers. We pass around photos and passports and memorabilia while all of us suffering through a language barrier, all with smiles and good humor. Afterwards we were given a brief tour of the impressive vegetable garden, and then driven to the place where Ishihata-san works. We get to see his office and are given hand-made woodblock prints of an image of the old town hall. After a brief time there, we are chauffeured back to April’s (about 6 hours after we initially left) and left with no means of really communicating how grateful we were that this obviously busy and important person took a big chunk of his day to drive us around town and then invite us into his home.
His wife manages the onsen and while we were there for coffee earlier in the afternoon, she invited us back to the onsen after is officially closed, so we could have the whole place to ourselves. Anita and April went to take advantage of this opportunity while Karen and I stayed behind to pack. Part of the reason I chose not to go was because I have an open wound on my toe and don’t want to risk infection; partially just because I was pooped. Anita said the onsen was very relaxing but otherwise uneventful… which is the whole point I suspect.
We are now all packed and ready to go on the second part of our trip… first to Kyoto for 4 days and then to Tokyo for 2 days and then back to the US. During this time I will probably not be able to post updates, but I will keep taking pictures and make notes for the posts to come… I hope you are enjoying this recount of information… it’s important for me to record these events as I know, as it’s happening, that this is one of those trips I will remember the rest of my life… perhaps these blog entries will help me remember more accurately.