Another Pass

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Apologies for my short blurb about my trip. Here is my feeble attempt to rectify any shortcomings:

The Good Doctor, a medical sales representative (hereinafter: ‘the Drug Pusher’), and Mr. Nakai were planning a trip to Fukushima Prefecture. Since the Good Doctor calls me one of his children I got an invite. The invite list worked out fairly well, since the Drug Pusher is a former student of mine and I have eaten at Mr. Nakai’s restaurant, called ‘Nakai’, a couple times.

Nakai is known for good soba, various specialty foods, and high quality sake. Eating at his restaurant is kind of like going to college. He will give you a thorough lecture on what special ingredients he uses and why; regarding drinking, he is also a fountain of information. All of his alcohol is what we call jizake (地酒), or local sake, which come from small-scale, high-quality breweries around Japan. He tells us he can’t drink sake at all, so he merely tastes the brews and then spits them out. (I have my suspicions that he doesn’t always spit, though.) I believe the main purpose of the trip was to learn about sake and pick up several bottles of special types.

Secondary purposes were many. The Good Doctor is quite an accomplished photographer and had his eye on Fall colors. Each morning, he went out around 4:30am to hunt for good photos. He snapped a couple of interesting images that will appear in our photo contest next month. Fukushima is in the North and very mountainous, so we got a lot of colors: greens, reds, oranges, yellows, and browns were all available.

Mountainous areas in Japan are also known for hot springs, called onsen (温泉). We soaked in comfortable 41 degree water a few times. This is a very relaxing practice, particularly just before dining on local specialties, enjoying a few drinks of sake together, and settling into futon with poofy down comforters for the night. One place was a tall rectangular building built into the side of a cliff over a mountain river. From the opposite side of the canyon it looked like the onsen in Spirited Away (a fun movie for almost all ages). Fortunately, no polluted river gods or white dragons came to visit us.

We also saw many old kura (蔵) and minka (民家) as well as spending one night in a minshuku (民宿). Minka is merely a term for old, traditional homes, which translates literally as: people’s homes. Minshuku are similar, but they are a type of traditional inn. Both of these types of buildings have a main structure of heavy timbers, walls and floors of essentially kindling, and reed roofs. Having a little scouting and camping experience, I would describe them as the perfect campfire, but scaled up to house size. Fires in Japan used to spread rapidly, particularly in cities. Traditional methods of firefighting consisted of hastily deconstructing your house until the fire passed through and then rebuilding. Because of the light construction it didn’t take long to break things down or put them back up. But there is still the problem of ones belongings, which is where the kura come into the picture.

Kura are fireproof buildings which are used for storage. Providing one had enough money, they would construct a tall narrow kura near their house. Before tearing down their house they would load personal belongings into the kura and bar the metal doors. The white plaster walls of the kura were not the most aesthetic feature, so many ways to decorate them developed. One interesting method is to construct attractive wood casings that hang on hooks in the walls. These are designed with quick release pins, so they can be popped off quickly; the last thing you want is burning wood attached to the outside of your ‘fireproof’ building, because you will find out that ‘fireproof’ has no meaning.

Old buildings often had the character for water written near the peak as a kind of ward against lightning and fires. In Fukushima I found numerous other symbols on the opposite side of kura. I believe these symbols may be kamon (家紋), or family crests. I plan to research this later based on notes I scratched down, but you will have to wait awhile for this, since I am a bit overwhelmed right now.

Overall the trip was fun, but it is one of those vacations that leave you needing a vacation. Unfortunately, I have no chance to rest before Sunday.

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