I’m dealing with that jet lag thing again. Keep waking up at about 3am. Last night I faded fast at 9pm, sitting among friends after an insane meal and a single glass of wine. As I begin to compose this post, I am in the middle of my one night stay in Onishi which, due to some tight planning on my part, is very unfortunate and far too short. I’m glancing out of the window in my room at Horiguchi-san’s ryokan. Fresh cool air touches my face and the songbirds and frogs are competing with each other for my attention. An old man passes in front of me, crossing a bridge on his 4:30 am walk. I am overtaken with an insane amount of gratitude and feeling great to be alive today, here, in this tiny town with these incredible people. I don’t want to say that Onishi isn’t remarkable because that feels wrong. It has so many interesting things to offer and places to see like the soy factory, the residency, the flea market, and the special little cracker shop. But is it a destination city for people to come and escape? Not really – there are probably better places for that. This could be Tinytownjapan anywhere but it’s the people here that make it so special.
My journey here was great. That travel stress thing? Practically non-existent. I woke up hours before my alarm and decided I may as well get up and get to the train station early. That alleviated so much stress when it came to making my train connection. When I searched for directions in google maps it expected me to find my next train in an unfamiliar train station in a language I can’t speak or read in two minutes. Catching an earlier train gave me time to laze about, reorganize, use the bathroom and eat a few random things for breakfast. Having traveled here once before meant the route and stops were familiar. I even knew which bus to catch and resisted the urge to confirm that I had the right bus in broken Japanese. Here’s a sign I very much enjoyed while I took down a blue gym in pokemon go and infected it with my fat Snorlax. (I bleed yellow!!!!! Yeah… that’s gross. TEAM INSTINCT FOREVAH!)
I got off the bus in the morning and quickly found Mina. I dropped off my luggage and hopped in the car with her to grab some things at the grocery store and returned to the shop and chatted as much as I could with her while she prepared to open. Torn, I eventually left her to concentrate on her tasks and went to see Yasuko at On Y Va. I’m telling you guys, this feels like coming home! Yasuko and I also talked fast to try to fit two years of life experiences into two hours. She spoke to me half in Japanese and half in English and probably wasn’t even aware that she was doing it but I found that that was helpful, really. As she slipped into Japanese after we were talking English I actually had some context and could guess some of what she was saying. I love how the conversation is peppered with “Sugooooooi!” and a new word I just learned, “Omoshiroi!” meaning “Cool!” and “Interesting!” respectively. Yasuko is especially excited that I get to see Buck Tick, a Japanese band I became nutty about on my last trip. Turns out her husband went to school with one of the band members. They are from this area and many of the locals are connected to them. I cut the conversation painfully short and returned to the cafe for one of Mina’s limited edition lunches.
Back at the Oni Cafe a steady stream of familiar faces came and went. The memories of each person popped back into my head as I turned and smiled at each of them. I didn’t even mind if they didn’t remember me because artists come and go from here in short bursts all the time. How were they to know that every interaction here, no matter how small, was being stitched into the fabric of my being? Mina made a traditional Japanese meal and told me that her Friday meals were now vegan. I was delighted with a completely different flavor from each dish. Impossible to count the calories as I didn’t recognize the food and didn’t ask what it was called, but I ate it all. Mina also roasts her own coffee beans, a fact that I completely forgot about. Coffee here as always a treat. Always.
Tadaaki popped in and I had a brief moment to catch up with him. You might remember him from before as the person who taught me how to make fans. He also made the shirt that I am wearing in these photos especially for me! Tadaaki is unusual and charismatic, even eccentric for a Japanese man. Well, for any man really. He is a local farmer here and keeps the ladies swooning. I was very glad to see him. Always an interesting conversation. I gave him a departing hug and he left the coffee shop. Moments later he reappeared in the door and pulled what looked like a moldy rock out of his front shirt pocket and said, “Here, you should eat this. It’s sweet!” and promptly left again. Everyone laughed at the strangeness of the act. It turns out it was a dried persimmon. I took a small, careful bite with my front teeth and it was indeed good. I decided I would eat it all right then so that I could prevent this problem.
After that I decided to find Kjell, the man who runs the residency. As I walked by the main office it looked completely shut down so I ventured to the cracker shop. You know, the one that makes crackers from water that people have been soaking in? I walked in and said hello. The woman came out and greeted me as I struggled to translate what I would say. She started to tell me in Japanese about the people water and I smiled real big and I said “So desu!” which mean “Yes, it is!” essentially. I started to choke out, “I was here two years ago and I love your crackers.” Then she called out “Texas!” Did I mention that this feels like home? She also indicated that I was much thinner. Amazing. I happily bought more crackers and then she ran to the back and came back to hand me an uchiwa. I am all smiles. I popped around the corner and worked my way to my old studio. I saw Kjell’s truck and sure enough he was upstairs talking to a current artist. He was shocked to see me and apologized that he forgot I was coming but he beamed happiness. We ran around town and caught up a little before I returned to the coffee shop. I remember him as beat down and tired when I was here for the residency two years ago. I was happy to see the change.
Next, Mina took me to Horiguchi-san’s ryokan. I’m going to let the pictures do most of the talking.
As we drove up I was greeted with this sign. It couldn’t be more charming. Earlier I heard Mina on the phone with Horiguchi-san and she was spelling out my name for him. The sound of our “e” is the sound of the Japanese “i”. That’s where the confusion set in. I am seriously considering in turning in a form to officially have my name changed to Sui Anni.
I insisted that no one tell him that he got my name wrong! Ok here’s my room in the ryokan.
This room and my treatment here was very special. I hope to come back to the residency in Onishi and maybe stay here a couple of nights with Ryder. But this was just the room. Wait till you see the dinner!
This experience was amazing. I got to enjoy it with Mina and her husband Jacob, and Yasuko. We were all blown away. We talked about the food, how to prepare it, travel, and funny stories. After one glass of wine at the end of the dinner I started to have trouble keeping my eyes open so we shut is all down at about nine. Breakfast looked similar but with 2/3rds of the dishes. I’m only going to show you two pics from that but they are very important pics.
The first pic is natto. I had never planned on trying natto because everything I’ve ever read about it is that it’s either vile, or it’s an acquired taste. I mean. Look at it. I didn’t notice a smell from it but people say that’s a turn off too. So here I am, at a dear friend’s ryokan, faced with eating what’s in front of me. I had to at least try it. I dug in with my chopsticks, struggled to get the stringy things to stop being stringy, and ate the first bite without rice. It… wasn’t all that bad. I was surprised. It tasted like fermented beans. before you weird out about fermented beans, I’ll remind you that miso is fermented. Don’t eat miso? What about soy sauce? How about beer? Ya like beer? Tea? Fermented. I went ahead and mixed it in with the rice and ate it all.
Now the next thing is something I said I would never try. In the low lighting of the morning, a casual glance at the tiny blue dish registered as shredded daikon. The yellow flashing query light in my brain shifted to a solid green YES so I shoveled about half of it into my rice/natto mixture. It wasn’t until I’d had a few more bites that I noticed something wrong. Yeah. You see them too. Welp. They weren’t bad either. In fact I hardly noticed them. The victory here is that while I won’t actively seek to consume these again, I know now that if a kind Japanese person presents these to me in a meal that they cooked for me, I can confidently eat it all without gagging and bringing shame to my family.
Yasuko came to pick me up in the morning and we toured the ryokan grounds a little before I said my final goodbye to Horiguchi-san. There were no tears this time, thank goodness for everyone involved. I hugged horiguchi-san, thanked him, and told him I would see him again. By the way he’s 82 now but you’d still never know it.
Next stop was the Watanabes. They have finished their house and have turned it into a secret coffee shop. I traded Wataru one of my favorite fans for a very realistic drawing of lemons that she did. She had positioned it in a place of honor for my visit!
Wataru and Katachi did a wonderful job with the house. They are both very artistic and everywhere I looked was a feast for my eyes. Yasuko mentioned that I was going to Naoshima on this trip (the art island) and they got very excited. It turns out they had their honeymoon there!
They are incredibly sweet people and they handed me some more handmade cookies.
Yasuko helped me get one of my pieces of luggage situated for storage and shipping so that I could shed some of the weight I was carrying. The luggage forwarding service is great here! My luggage is being shipped by the Black Cat Carrying the Kitten Company!
This is a company I can get behind in more ways than one. Not only do they have the best logo but my luggage is shipping for $20 to the residency in Fukuoka which is the equivalent to shipping from Dallas to Pueblo, Colorado.
We headed to the coffee shop to hang out for a little while longer. I enjoyed Mina’s and Yasuko’s company for as long as I could and then it was time to go.
These two studied the shinkansen schedule for me and shaved two hours off of my trip to Chiba. Because of that I was able to hang out a little longer. We let the time slip and I almost didn’t make the train but Yasuko got me there with 5 minutes to spare!
I miss these guys already and regret that I only had a day there. I didn’t do that intentionally! Now that I’m back in the hustle of the big city I appreciate my time in Onishi even more. Onishi has been one of the biggest highlights of the trip so far. Why? The people.
So much love, Furaidochikin.