musings travel

Around the World in 80 Days: Day 41, The Watanabes

Meet the Watanabes.  They are adorable.  Actually they are the epitome of adorable Japanese people.  I describe them as a 70 year old couple placed (not trapped) in late 20’s/early 30’s bodies.  They are super sweet and talented people and they are very active in the community.  I wish I could have had more time with them.  They know some English but usually I use my translator app to communicate.  I love when their faces light up as we understand something together.  Here’s their website(It’s in Japanese so see if you can run it through google translate.)

Here they are at the art fair selling cookies and crackers that they made.  Wataru on the left and Katachi on the right.  I bought one of everything.  Look!

Most of these are sweet but some are savory.  I have it from an inside source that the making of these cookies is so precise that there is some suspicion that these two are actually robots from the secret government project “XJ-2000 Oni-Infiltrator.” It’s crazy because these two are so life-like… and they said they were from Tokyo…

They went through the trouble of listing the ingredients of the cookie, printing it, and putting it on each package.  (Do humans do that?)  There’s a silica gel packet in each one to absorb moisture too.  (Silica gel seems like something robots would have on hand instead of things like toothpaste and toilet paper.)  These cookies are very detail oriented and that’s an understatement.  Wait till you see what else they do!  Sweets first though.

Walnut cookie.  Slightly crunchy and airy.  Not too sweet, which my cankles appreciate. About the size of a quail egg.  Loved it.

These are miso crackers.  I’ve come to love miso and have eaten miso ice cream from the soy factory a couple of times.  Also found that the Japanese will eat a whole clove of roasted garlic with miso paste on it.  I ate about 5 cloves one night at a bar.  Take THAT mosquitos.  These crackers were hard and crunchy.  Great for a savory snack.

I think these are toasted soybean flavor.  Sweet cookies that taste similar to sesame if you were to ask me.  These are some of their softer cookies.  A+ for presentation.  They’re different but I like them.

Butter cookies.  Similar to shortbread in texture.  Chocolate and vanilla.  Quite good!

Can you guess what flavor these cookies are?  Small and crunchy.  I love these.

Ummmm.  I forgot what these were.  I think maybe soy sauce?  They have the salty sweet thing going for them and they are the crunchiest cookies of them all, kinda like ginger snaps.  I love them of course.

Lemon poppy seed.  These are all gone.  I ate them.  I ate them all.

This is anko bean bread.  In contrast to the hard cookies this bread was very moist.  Really nice.  And seriously, it’s like these were all made by a machine.   Wataru said she would be baking cookies for the art festival and I was surprised to see these very painstakingly detailed baked goods at her table.

Speaking of precision, earlier in the trip the residents were invited to see the house they are restoring.  They took it down to the foundation and beams and have come quite far with their work.  Lots and lots of work.  We traveled over a very windy and steep footpath to get to their place.  It’s right next to a river and even closer to a cemetery.  We joked that they would never have to go very far.  I asked how they were getting materials to and from the site.  They can get a truck pretty close but everything still has to be hand carried a little way.  It’s not like they can back right up to the house or pull into the garage.

I thought I got a nice picture of the smiling Watanabes in front of that house.  Dang it.  They plan on running a cafe out of the first floor once they complete it.

Hand assembled shoji doors.  They will hand paper them too.

Standing inside on brand new tatami mats.  I was interested in the thin windows up above that joined the two rooms.  Decorative, but perhaps also for air flow if shoji doors are closed.  Katachi Watanabe in front smiling with Wataru behind.

A small and delicate (but precise) art installation in the traditional cove you’ll find in each old Japanese house.  One might usually see ikebana here.

Back at the art festival, Wataru had an unusual (yet precise) art piece submitted.

Exposed to the elements was this delicate drawing of this nut that she collected previously.  To put it simply, this piece is about the cycle of life.  When she did the drawing she thought about where the nut came from and how it came to be in the place that she found it.  This display is in the inside of a tree trunk with carefully arranged rocks.  She’s interested on how the weather and elements will affect it.  (Sounds like something a robot would do to try to understand life.)  I think if the wind were to blow her piece away, while it may not have been her plan, she’d be ok with that.

Here’s a detail of the drawing.  It is photo real.

I managed to talk her into trading a piece with me on Sunday.  She brought several drawings for me to look at that were all incredible.  A collection of glass marbles, a composition of mostly used pencils, a dandelion, some lemons… all in life-like detail.  The pencil drawing of pencils had to have taken days, maybe weeks to complete.  I didn’t choose that one because I didn’t think it was a fair trade if you look at time for time.  She had way more time invested in that piece.  I chose the lemons and I still think I got the better deal.

The image does not do them justice.  I feel like I could squeeze the sliced lemon right into my eye and complain and rub it until it was bloodshot.  They are the exact size of an actual lemon.  (Another attempt at understanding the nature of living things.  Probably an assignment from the unnamed government agency who sent these adorable robots into Onishi to befriend the locals and ultimately serve them coffee.  A sinister plan if I ever heard one.)  Wataru chose one of my favorite fans.  I am happy it is going to her home.

I learned more about the Watanabes later in the evening.  They came to Onishi from Tokyo in February so they must have bought the house and got immediately to work.  Tired of the big city, they desired the slow peacefulness of a sleepy town.  I was surprised to hear that they hadn’t lived here for years – they seem so suited to this place.  Their big hearts equal that of all of the other wonderful people I have met here, even if they were manufactured in an underground secret lab protected by armed guards and multiple passwords.




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