Thursday, September 16, 2010

Friends Across the Sea

Was it really eleven-and-a-half years ago that Rick and I went to Japan?

Japan was both a big deal and no big deal to Rick. Big in that he loved it. Not so big in that he had been there many times before, traveling for business. He found it beautiful, with much to admire in the work ethic, the technology and the wonderful people he had met.

Me? I'd never been there -- but I had made some wonderful friends in America through Rick's work (and would later meet many more). We had talked about it -- wanting to see Naoki and Kanako who had left several years before. And of course I knew a bit of its history and had always been fond of Japanese art and line.

One day in the fall, after getting back my mammogram results, there was a blip in the radar -- enough so that I was sent to a surgeon and a biopsy was scheduled.

That morning, Rick took me to the hospital, we did all the prep, and I went in to have the final mams that would tell them precisely where this anomaly was.

Can you spell "terrified"? This was the disease that took my mother and aunt. I didn't see the potential for a positive (in a good way, not a medical way) result, but only flashbacks.

They did the mam. Couldn't find it. Did it again. And again. And again. Ten times, two views, as I recall it (or maybe ten altogether; moot point.) Then they sent me home and said to come back in six weeks.

It was shortly after that I decided to go to Japan. We'd talked about it. I had at least a reprieve (as it turns out, so far, so good!). I was tremendously grateful for that and I wasn't about to waste that time, just in case it came back.

All I can say about that period is that is was simply amazing. We visited temples, were in awe and sadness at the Hiroshima museum, and reveled in the steamy Japanese onsens or natural hot springs.

Most of the time we stayed in the homes of friends; on the few times we weren't, we stayed in Japanese ryokans -- the equivalent of an inn, B&B or small hotel, sleeping on the floor on downy-soft futons.

Despite the fact that it was February, most of the days were snow-free (apart from a short stint in the mountains) and we even saw some pansies in bloom.

We covered some ground during that trip, from Tokyo to Yamagata in the mountains, then off to Hiroshima and then to Otsu, where we stayed with Naoki's family. It was a wonderful time, filled with sightseeing, good conversations, delicious food and connecting with friends.

I became a fan of most every flavor I experienced -- and now when Rick makes sushi and other Japanese dishes, it reminds me of our moments in Japan.

Naoki and Kanako and Naoiki's parents were wonderful hosts. Being with them reminded us of how much we missed our Japanese friends -- although we were continuing to meet new people as they came to Michigan.

We saw Naoki once after that, when he came to Michigan, working for the Japanese government. A few days ago, he called to say he'd be here again! Could we meet? Well, yeah!

So, after finishing a birthday dinner with friends the other night, we crossed the street to the Marriott and saw not only Naoki in the lobby, but also Toshi, who had come to Michigan several years after Naoki, doing the same job as "delegate."

What a reunion! We talked, shared photos, took photos, and walked about East Lansing.

We took them to see Greg's current chalkboard painting at a local bar, and just reveled in one another's company.

Do you remember in my post about connecting with my childhood friend how I said that it felt as though time hadn't passed? It was indeed the same. We were all a little older, and they only carded Toshi at the bar. (At 40, we thought he was quite lucky to be carded!)

Their visit is short, but who knows? Perhaps one day, we'll see them both again, and longer.

(A postscript -- Naoki had to move on with the governor of his Japanese prefecture to Detroit, but Toshi stayed in town and last night he came over to Rick's for a late supper.

He said he was missing Japanese food and Rick was making domburi, which is a chicken dish with a sauce of mirin, sake, maybe a spot of sugar and some other things I can't recall! It's served over rice.

Toshi, being a skilled donburi maker, showed us his way of preparing it -- similar, but with subtle differences. (I have to say that although this photo is so out of focus, I love it -- there was such joy and fun in that kitchen.)

And it was indeed delicious.

After, we looked at each others family pictures on the computer, savoring one more visit. It was indeed lovely.


Ruth said...

Food . . . Fun . . . Friends! It couldn't be better. Your friendships are golden. It's a tremendous thing to maintain them over long periods of time. The reunions are incredibly powerful and sweet.

So Naoki hobnobbed with the governor, wow.

~*~Patty Szymkowicz said...

Lovely post Jeanie and Japan is on my 'bucket list'!
It's so true about good friends, one just picks up where we left off no matter the years that have passed...very special indeed!

Joanne Huffman said...

How wonderful to have and to keep such good friends and international connections. It's a blessing for all of you.

Herzblatt said...

You share wonderful memories with us....I love the Japanese food, although here in Germany you normally found only Chinese restaurants...But I know, that it is no real Chinese food...They cook for Europeans, so their meals are very different to meals in China.
My mother was in China and told me about all the little Chinese "hole in the wall-restaurants", tiny houses or small windows, sometimes only a roof with a fuming kettle under it,and there they only cook one meal that you can buy along the road...take with you or eat just there.And she told me that it tastes very very different to all the Chinese meals in restaurants here in Europe.(They don`t cook dogs..*lol*...)
But unfortunately we haven`t got many Japanese restaurants,only in big cities like Berlin...
Sushie is offered in severals restaurants but I suppose Japanese food isn`t only sushi.....Tell your friends they should come and open a restaurant in Cologne.....We would be good guests and I am sure, a lot of Germans, too!!
Best wishes

Annie said...

Omigoodness, Jeanie. What a totally heart-warming post. No skimming either. I read every single word and felt totally hugged by the time I reached the end. Such is the embrace of real friendship.

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