Turning Japanese - My Family Travels


            My mother and I were eating Japanese food when she asked me the all-important question.  My auntie was going to Japan and offering to take me with her.  Did I want to go?  Of course I did.  I had been longing to go to Japan for years.  I eloquently replied, “Umm, yes?”

            I bought clothes suitable for the hot, humid summers of Japan and tried reviewing my Japanese.  Thankfully, I was traveling with translators.  Accompanying me were my mom, auntie, and grandpa, and I knew quarrels would ensue.  Because my eighty-eight-year-old grandpa is always convinced he is right, he and his daughters often argue.  For instance, after spending the night in Tokyo we had to leave for Kyoto, meaning we had to locate the train platform.  We had just come down the escalator, but Grandpa insisted we needed to go up again.  Despite our assurances that the platform was not there, my grandpa remained adamant.  So we ascended, and my grandpa sheepishly admitted his error, earning exasperated sighs.

In Kyoto we went on a tour of Nijo Castle, Golden Pavilion, and the Imperial Palace.  I was blown away by the rustic majesty of Nijo Castle, the opulence of Golden Pavilion, and the austere grandeur of the Imperial Palace.  Of course, these destinations were teeming with tourists taking pictures, myself included.

On the third day, we rode to Hiroshima.  We were staying with my ninety-year-old great-uncle in the rural area of town.  Rice grew between houses, and a bamboo forest towered behind Uncle’s home.  Things were done the old-fashioned way.  Dishes were washed by hand; laundry was hung out to dry; meals were made from scratch.  It was a nice change of pace. 

There were distinctive moments too.  We went to a fancy restaurant where we were served fifteen courses involving some sort of soy derivative.  I had been skeptical, but it was absolutely delicious.  I also discovered the shopping in Japan.  There were plenty of sales, so I scored many items, all of which look quite at home in my American wardrobe.

One outing in particular had the most magnificent view.  Uncle took us to Miyajima, a small island about an hour away.  Miyajima is best known for its “tori,” a red shrine, but the island is also famous for its oysters, pastries, and deer.  Uncle insisted on taking us to his favorite teashop, which happened to be halfway up a mountain.  He spryly navigated the rocky path while I cautiously maneuvered the trail, but it was well worth it.  The view was breathtaking.  I could see the “tori,” pagoda, ocean, and opposing mountains from my vantage point.

Soon it was time to leave.  The flight from Hiroshima to Tokyo went well, but the flight home was a different story.  Before takeoff, I noticed a flight attendant trying to calm an elderly woman.  The woman decided that she had to get off the plane.  She only spoke Bengali.  So we sat on the tarmac and waited for another passenger to translate then waited some more while they sorted through the cargo hold for her bags.  We lost about an hour, but at least I had a story to tell when I got back home.

It was definitely strange being back in America.  Cars were driving on the right-hand side of the road, and small, faded lawns replaced the bright-green rice paddies.  Forks felt heavy in my hand compared to the light bamboo chopsticks I had become accustomed to.  Despite the brevity, my two-week trip had turned me Japanese.  I have already made plans to go back next summer.

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