About ten years ago my friend Lil asked if JM and I were interested in volunteering to be language partners. I said yes, and that’s how I met Miyuki and Michiko, two Japanese international students. The funny thing is neither Miyuki nor Michiko was my language partner; they were Lil’s and JM’s language partners. My language partner was IH, a Korean student whom I lost touch with. Apparently she stayed in Canada and got married there too.
When the girls moved back to Japan, we kept in touch via mail, and later, Facebook. I always looked forward to the Christmas cards I received from them each year; I reciprocated by sending them postcards. I’d wanted to visit them, so I worked it in my itinerary to meet them in Fukuyama.
Fukuyama (pronounced Foo-Koo-Ya-Ma) is a city in the Hiroshima prefecture.
This post is dedicated to Miyuki, Michiko, Lil and JM. You all inspire me to try and do new things that I don’t regret. Thank you.
I don’t think much has changed, yet we’ve all put on a decade of experience. It is so easy to converse, joke and laugh about common things we shared, and fill each other out on the milestones we made in between. We talk about gokon, which is group blind dates, and Japanese speed dating. Very interesting topics.
Tako with only the Yaki
Miyuki invites Michiko and me to her parents’ home for dinner. We are greeted by her parents, her sister, and her 2 nieces. Her 2 year old daughter is also present. We make a vegetarian-friendly version of takoyaki, octopus balls without the octopus. We also make our own sushi, with sticky rice, dried seaweed, mayonnaise, egg, cucumber, and loads of other veggies. There is tempura pumpkin (which I love!), deep-fried grated potatoes, salads, peaches, and more.
Miyuki’s family is so generous: I was given hand-drawn pictures, a coin set, offered a gel manicure… and her father even offered me a lava rock he kept as a souvenir from his hike to Mt Fuji years ago (of which I politely declined)!
We have a great time, even through the broken English/Japanese. Miyuki’s family is thoroughly impressed with her English, since they have never heard her use it before now.
Obon Lantern Festival
A few days later, Michiko invites me to check out a lantern festival held for Obon. Obon is a festival held to honour one’s ancestors. Michiko tells me the festival usually starts from the west and makes its way to the east. That’s why it is celebrated on different days during the summer throughout Japan, as if the spirits travel from the west to the east.
I have not worn a yukata (Japanese garment, summer kimono) during my stay in Japan, so Michiko suggests that we dress up for this event. They pick me up from Onomichi, where I stay, and we go to Fukuyama. Along the way, we visit this area… Does it look familiar to anyone?
How about little glowing sea creatures? And a fish that grows arms and legs?
If you guessed Ponyo, you’re right!
This is Tomonoura, the set of Ponyo, a fantasy animation by Ghibli Studio/ Hayao Miyazaki. I do a Google search on this but couldn’t verify that the green-roofed building is part of Ponyo. Though this definitely is the town that inspired the scenes seen on Ponyo.
And now to wearing the yukata…
A very enjoyable experience! My feet don’t hurt as I expected from wearing geta (the wooden sandals). The lantern and sunset are very pretty and Michiko’s family is also very friendly. They taught me some inappropriate words, the Hiroshima accent, which is thought to be very bad-ass because of their association to Japanese gang (yakuza). And very likely of me, I forgot all the expressions.
Though, I do learn something from Michiko’s brother-in-law. You don’t really need to remember the words so much as the number of syllables and the approximate sounds, “Hi, Nice to doo doo doo…”, he says.
I reply, “Nice to meet you too!” And we all break into laughter.
Thank you Michiko, Miyuki, and family for all the fun and good times. Hopefully we will see each other again, either in Japan or Canada!