Last night I went to my next door neighbour’s for dinner and she invited me out for a walk she was going on the next morning. She said they were leaving at 8am, but I had nothing else planned and knew I’d just bum around in my pyjamas all day if I stayed in, so I decided to tag along.
We met up with two of her friends: the mother of one of my favourite students, whom I’ve met a few times already, and a lady who used to be the head of the local kindergarten (Mrs K). I’d never met her until today, but I immediately loved how animated and chatty she was. She’s very well-traveled, which apparently is rare for a lot of Japanese people, especially those who grow up in the countryside, and it’s amazing how different people are when they’re in tune with the rest of the world. I’ve found that the people I know who have never left Japan, i.e. everyone except one guy at the BOE, appear to be amused by my presence and rarely get past topics such as whether I can eat certain Japanese foods or how the weather in the UK compares to Aomori. I know they’re just trying to make conversation, but it’s really hard to just have a normal one that doesn’t involve what I think about such and such special Japanese thing. So it was really refreshing to just talk about stuff that’s happened in the news, and she told me about an awful bus crash that happened in Nagano, killing 14 passengers on a ski trip. Not the most joyful topic of conversation, but a welcome change from talking about how skillfully I can use chopsticks!!
It was a gorgeous morning, cloudy but calm, and the falling snow just made it more beautiful. We went round the back of Mrs K’s house, trudged up a steep hill and suddenly we were in the middle of the mountains. I would never have known this was a 15 minute walk from my apartment! They said the last time they took this route they encountered a 30-strong family of monkeys, and had to make a hasty U-turn to avoid any trouble… Luckily this didn’t happen when I went!
Mrs K invited us back to her house, and it’s probably the most lavish house I’ve had the pleasure of visiting in Japan. She had obviously done well for herself, and her house was beautifully decorated with rows of plants and pictures hanging on the wall; most looked liked souvenirs from her travels, including Mont Saint-Michel and Neuschwanstein Castle. We stuck our legs under the kotatsu, drinking Kona coffee and eating fancy chocolate biscuits from the UK. She said she’d make me a monkey out of socks (the one she already made was very cute) as a good luck charm for the year, and gave me one of those fancy oranges with a padded net protector thing. I ate it when I got home and it was probably the best orange I’ve ever had, so now I finally understand why people pay so much money just for a bit of fruit. Although I’m not sure if I’m willing to shell out 5 quid for that just yet. Maybe when I’m rich and retired…