Japan Trip–Day 15


Morning in Tomonoura greeted us with sunshine and a breakfast of fish, tempura and miso soup.  A cup of coffee in the lobby cost five dollars extra.  We wandered along the shore to the central harbor, watching some small fishboats return with the morning catch


and mingled with a group of Japanese tourists led by a guide through ancient shops offering artfully designed mysterious products. I asked a woman if the brazier over which she was boiling a pot held “ocha” (tea) and she laughed and pointed to a rack of medicinal saki bottles.  After tasting a sample we bought one for Stephen to take to Kayoko.


A tiny alley led to a steep stairway mounting a promontory above the harbor upon which stood a temple overlooking the offshore islands of the Inland sea.  Our guidebook said that the view from this spot was famously described by the sixteenth century Korean ambassador as the best in Japan.


The place was empty of people, a little run-down, but furnished with treasures everywhere the eye could rest.




In front of a little building beside the temple, a plaque in Japanese and English reported that this was the location of the juniper tree mentioned in a poem written by Otomo no Tabito in 731 and collected in the oldest existing anthology of Japanese poetry:

This juniper tree
Still stands at Tomo no ura
My wife is gone
Who once saw it too.

Heading inland through narrow alleys we found evidence of an older style of community: a hand pump for water on a corner



and a tiny hardware store, which Jan suggested might carry some of the small pruning tools I’d been looking for


Inside, the wizened old lady cramped behind a counter had no trouble understanding my sign language for saws and took me to a cabinet in the back holding a large selection at corner-store prices. For my son, I got an exact replica of the little springsteel foldup saw I’d bought in Vancouver’s Chinatown in 1973 that he’s always coveted.  As I paid, her husband came out and gave us two tiny animals he’d carved out of bamboo, which we brought home for the grandsons.

Back toward the hills we entered the graveyard gardens of a temple and sat on the porch looking at its blossoming trees and listening to the chants coming from inside its locked doors.


We hiked a little further to a large Shinto shrine complex up the hill, drank coffee from a vending machine and noticed the boarded up but intact Noh theatre preserved on its grounds, wishing again that we could have a chance to watch You-ki perform.



By way of another temple complex and museum perched on a hillock in the middle of the village, we made our way back to the hotel and boarded the bus for Fukuyama and the return train to Osaka.

Back at Tennoji Station we were greeted by Ryoko, composed and serene in full kimono outfit, an island of wabi in the hubbub of commuters, shoppers and traffic.


She ushered us into a cab back to her mother’s house, where we would have some quiet time with her before meeting up with You-ki, Taylor and Marie who had gone together for the day to Kyoto, and with Emma and Travis, who had spent it shopping in Osaka.

We drank tea and told about our adventures in transportation and then learned something about Ryoko’s life.  Much less extroverted than her mother, she shared many of her graces.  She said she loved to dress in kimono whenever she could find an excuse.  She’d been spending a good deal of time with her father traveling back and forth to Jeju Island, the ancestral home of both sides of the family, where he was tending the ancestors’ graves and preparing his own.  If I understood correctly she said he was planning to retire from a career of working brutally long hours and to spend most of his time there.


Her husband too worked hard and long to support their family, which they hoped would soon be expanded.

Ryoko had learned Korean, both at home and while she lived in Korea studying at University and working at the Japanese consulate in Busan.  Now she taught Korean several hours a week.  She had also studied  English, which was evident in her speaking and writing.  Having seen the copy of my book translated into Japanese, she told me that she loved Shakespeare, especially A Midsummernight’s Dream, in which she had once taken a part.  I told her about the Max Rheinhardt 1930’s film version of the play whose operatic splendor I thought would appeal to her.

Our conversation was ended by a call from You-ki who told Ryoko where to meet  for dinner.  She drove her mother’s car to the middle of downtown through rush hour traffic that moved smoothly on the tollways, and got off near the most impressive building I had seen in Osaka.


“What’s that,” I asked, and she said, “the Hilton,” and pulled into the garage.  This was our rendezvous.  The ostentatious luxury of the atrium was the kind of thing that would both offend my egalitarian sensibilities and make me feel unworthy, but as our entourage assembled under the 30-story hanging sculpture following You-ki’s confident lead, I felt as if I belonged.


After only a day or two separation we all seemed to share the excitement of reunion.  The wine and beer flowed and the sushi kept coming until even the young men said enough.  After dinner You-ki insisted on arranging for a cab to take her and Jan and me along with Ryoko and the others in her car for a lengthy ride to Osaka Castle, which I proudly recognized, because of recently watching  Shogun, as the scene of the defeat of Lord Hideyoshi and the founding of the Tokugawa dynasty.


We got out briefly to admire the illuminated  moat and then dropped Ryoko off at the station. There was no compunction about her taking the subway home across town dressed as she was.

Back at her house, You-ki brought out more wine, though never wetting her lips with alcohol, and suggested that we contine the party with a three part musical “collaboration.”  This was even more out of my league than sushi in the Hilton.  I gulped down my drink and for fifteen minutes felt like an undeserving soul awakening in paradise.

Afterwards You-ki sang us some of the unearthly songs she performed in her various Noh roles.

She brought out her own masks, which appeared as striking and precious as those we’d seen in the museum.



She gave Jan instruction on holding the Noh drum.


By 12:30 I was ready to turn in, but Travis and Emma spent another hour packing their bags for their next day’s voyage to visit her grandmother in Hokkaido.

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