Sushi

We both woke late that next morning.  It was January 13th, Danielle's birthday!  Unfortunately she had to go to work that day but we were planning a trip to Kyoto for the weekend, leaving early Saturday morning until Monday -- Monday being a national holiday.

But this day she had to work and her working hours were, if I remember correctly, about 11:00 a.m. until about 7:00 or 8:00 p.m.  After she had left for work I did attempt to go back to sleep but I must admit that I was far too excited to sleep.  This was the first day of my dream trip and somehow my old body wasn't going to waste it sleeping!

I got up and began the day poking around Danielle's apartment.  It consisted of a bathroom, kitchen and bed-sitting room.  The kitchen was large with room for a table but, being on a budget and not requiring a table and chairs, Dani hadn't bothered to get one.  Her bed-sitting room was quite small -- so small, in fact, that the bed was in a loft accessible by ladder.  Under the bed portion was a large low square table, the sort one sits on the floor, cross-legged, at.  Right beside the table is where she kept her stereo and telephone, writing materials, books, etc.  The apartment was as cute as a button, but I have to admit that sitting on the floor was not the most ideal for my old bones -- and this was only the beginning; had a month to get used to it.  And I did.

When I looked out the window, I could see that all of the other apartments in the area were similar in that they all were two-story buildings, each had a small balcony with a small washing machine on them.  Yes, each apartment comes with a washing machine and a cold water tap.  They drained down through a small gutter and then underground.  Very ingenious.

And the bathroom -- the bathroom was fun.  It consisted of two rooms, actually, one for the toilet and another for the sink and bathtub.  There was a switch on the wall just outside the bathroom and, about five minutes before one was ready to have a bath or shower, you flipped this switch in order to begin the process of heating water.  Once the hot water began to flow, there was no shortage of it and it lasted as long as you'd like for your shower to last.  But there was no pre-heating in a hot water tank, as we do here, and so no wastage of fuel to heat water that is just sitting in a tank.  The bathroom was tiled completely and with no shower curtain... all water draining on the floor and in the tub.  Beautiful tubs!  They were short, yes, but sooooo deep.  When you sat in the tub the sides came up to your shoulders, so you could really soak once in.

Well, finally, I had had some coffee and a shower and felt much better.  I was anxious to get outside and investigate a little bit, and so I decided to go for a walk.  I remembered that Danielle had written to me, after she had been here for just a weekend, that there was a 7-Eleven store very close by.  Before she left for work that morning I had asked her how I'd find it and I could tell, from the way she described it, she was concerned I'd get lost.  Finding one's way through the maze of footpaths in this apartment compound was no mean feat.  However, her instructions sounded simple enough and I decided if I did it slowly and imprinted landmarks into my mind I should do just fine.

I had no difficulty finding my way to the main thoroughfare and, sure enough, bold as brass, there stood a 7/Eleven store in downtown Tokyo, Japan!  I was very curious and so I ambled along to investigate it a little.  When I entered the shop the person behind the counter stared at me as he served another customer and I could feel eyes on me the whole time I was in the shop.

I wandered around and noticed that about half of the store was alcoholic products and another huge portion of the shop was ready made fast-food products in steamers, just waiting for people to come in to buy portions.  And then there were the usual aisles and counters with food products on them.  I stared at them and recognized nothing.  I even picked a few things up to try to figure out what they were, and still could not recognize anything familiar.

The majority of Asian people are lactose intolerant and it was obvious in the 7/Eleven store, for there was just one small cooler that contained a very few small half-pint cardboard containers of milk and a freezer that had just dixie cup sized Haagen Daas ice cream.  There was no choice.  I decided that I would return to this store on my way home to pick up ice cream to celebrate Danielle's birthday when she came home that night.  I left the store after making one small token purchase, so the shopkeeper wouldn't worry too much about my presence of just poking around and generally being nosy.

After exiting from the 7/Eleven, I decided that if I stayed to this one street then remembered to return to the 7/Eleven on the way back, I couldn't get lost.  If worst came to worst, I could always find a telephone and call Danielle to rescue me.  And so I began walking in the direction that appeared most interesting.  After the first or second block I noticed ahead of me a shop that had English signage, stating that it was a take-out place for fresh sushi.  Ah ha! thought I, Danielle loves sushi and so I can get some special sushi and go back for ice cream, and that will be her special birthday supper when she gets home!

Now I ask you, if you saw a shop with large English signage out front, would you not expect that at least one person in the shop would speak English?  You guessed it, not a one.  In this society where, when meeting people, one generally acts in a humble manner there is me walking into a fresh sushi take-out shop just as bold as brass.  As you walked in the front door there were two or three chairs pushed up against the window wall and then there was about three or four feet of space for the customers.  Separating this area from the cashier and the food preparation area was a small counter and a very large glass-fronted display cabinet.

Have you ever seen the plastic food items that are said to be so real looking?  Well, they are.  Behind the glass in the cabinet before me was a display of sushi like you've never seen before.  Five or six different platters of sushi, very colourful and very real looking.  But it was all the plastic stuff -- a beautiful array of colour to make your mouth water.

After the lady at the cash register had finished looking after the customer ahead of me, she looked at me and said something.  I stepped in front of the glassed-in display and pointed to one of the platters of sushi, a somewhat smaller one that had perhaps a dozen pieces on it.  She spoke again to me and I let her know I didn't speak Japanese.  It was all very funny and I suspect if there had been an outsider there, who spoke both Japanese and English, they would have been having a great time witnessing our mass confusion:  me speaking in English to say I couldn't speak Japanese but would like to order this tray, and the cashier explaining at great length whatever it was she was trying to say.

Finally she went into the back room and was gone forever.  I think perhaps hoping I would give up and leave.  I wasn't going to give up, not now -- not now that I had made a complete fool of myself, but had found the perfect birthday supper for Danielle!.
Finally she returned with another person who apparently had some rudimentary knowledge of English and, with sign language and much chattering in both our respective languages, it appeared... by, finally a light going on in my mind, I pointed to the large clock on the wall... it was going to take 30 minutes for them to make an order for me.  Phew! finally, an understanding!  And so I repeated about a half dozen times, at the same time pointing to the clock and sweeping an imaginary minute hand around a half hour, that I would be back then.  I pointed to myself, pointed to the door, pointed up to the clock and waved past 30 minutes on it, and then pointed to the spot directly in front of the cashier.  All was clear.  Clear as mud, I think, but I knew what I had to do and, to me, that's all that mattered right then.

So I left the shop and continued on my walk.  By this time it was very late afternoon and dusk was just on the horizon.  I believe there was just about an hour of daylight left and thought I'd best get back to the apartment when I picked up my sushi order so that I didn't become disoriented in the darkness.

I had a lovely walk, actually.  I went around the block looking at all of the homes in the street behind this main thoroughfare.  Yes, I walked around the block three times!  It appeared that the building material of choice for residential single family homes was wood.  And these were lovely homes, what I would refer to as middle class.  On this particular street they were all detached and very charming looking, but rather small.  Each yard had an enclosure around it.  Some of these enclosures were wroght iron fencing, some were stone walls, others had brick walls and some were wooden.  As I passed by the driveway portion, it too was enclosed but I was able to see the front gardens of these homes.  Not one of them had a blade of grass growing.  Not a blade.  Not one.  It seemed so very strange to me.  And, in fact, you could make out the broom markings from where they had been swept. &nbasp;The ground was a hard packed and swept surface.  Usually there were hedges and/or shrubs around the edges and all other adornment was in large pots that sat on a step or up on a verandah with a colourful splash of blossoms spilling out.  Very little growth, but it was January and pretty cold.  Not below freezing, but definitely a winter season.

Thirty minutes later I gingerly and expectantly stepped back into the sushi take-out shop.  The moment I showed my face in there all work came to a sudden halt and all faces were turned, in total surprise, to look at me.  "Uh oh," I'm thinking.  "They really were thinking I'd disappear and not come back.  Maybe they don't want to sell me sushi.  I wonder what I'm supposed to do now?"  Well, not knowing what to do, I decided that I should just assume my order had been understood and just wait for them to come up with it.  So I sat down in one of the three chairs, as if waiting, and just settled in.  Many people came into the shop, said a few words and a bag would materialize.  They were handed the bag, they paid some money and off they went again.  I guessed that most people must telephone their orders in and then stop by to pick them up, maybe on their way home from work.

Yes, on their way home from work -- I looked out the window and it was beginning to get decidedly darker and darker outside.  The young lady behind the cash register was, I decided, purposely ignoring my inquisitive looks.  Finally, after a half hour, she appeared with My Bag of sushi and gestured to me.  I went over to the counter, she showed me the bill, I paid for it and left the shop.  I think they were all very relieved when I finally did leave.

And then back towards 'home', into the 7/Eleven store to purchase the dixie cup sized ice creams at such an inflated price I nearly choked.  When I say 'dixie cup sized', I'm speaking of the very very little ones.  All right, so it was a premium kind of ice cream... but conversion into Canadian dollars made them $5.00 each!  That's right, no kidding!  Oh well, how often is it your daughter's birthday in a foreign country when you're visiting?  So I paid and was happy to pay and turn around to head back to her apartment feeling it had been an extremely successful day!

I arrived safely back at the apartment with no problem and didn't even take one wrong turn.  I put my purchases in the refrigerator and settled back to read up in my tourist book about Kyoto, where we were going the next morning, until Danielle returned.  The first thing she did upon returning was to have a soak in a hot tub and, as she exited the bathroom with her robe on I presented her with a large plate of sushi.

The look on her face was of utter astonishment!  And I am laughing as I write this because, as she sat cross-legged at her little square table under the bed loft, wrapped in her terry robe, on her 26th birthday, she looked at me so seriously and said, "Mother!  How did you do this?"

Well, I was so surprised by this question.  What did she mean?  Obviously, I had gone out and purchased it.  How would anyone 'do this'?  And so I asked her, what exactly did she mean and how did I do what?

She said, "You can't just go out on your first day in Japan and buy sushi at a take-out restaurant!  How did you tell them what you wanted and  pay for it?"

What a silly question.  How does any mother provide for her children's supper, especially a birthday supper in a foreign country where they don't speak the language and stand out like a sore thumb wherever they go?  "It was very easy," I lied.  "I just walked up the street and ordered it at the take-out place and brought it back here!"

She was dutifully shocked but I do believe that eased down into pleasant surprise and she realized that her old mum still had a spirit of adventure in her that would mean I would do just fine in Japan and she needn't worry so much.

The sushi was 'okay'.  I have to admit that I didn't much like it, but it wasn't so bad.  Danielle loved it.  Of course, the ice cream went down very smoothly and we both enjoyed that to its fullest.  It was a nice birthday supper!



The ancient Daruma dolls
of Takasakiís Shorinzan Daruma Temple.

Darumaís are round, hollow Japanese wish dolls in the shape of an egg.  They are a symbolic representation of Bodhidharma, a Buddhist monk and founder of the art of Zen.  According to legend, Bodhidharma lost his limbs while attaining this pure Zen state, therefore the doll is lacking limbs as well.
The dolls are most commonly red but can also be found in yellow, green and white.  Their painted faces feature a mustache and beard, skillfully brushed to resemble Bodhidharma.  Using black ink or paint, one fills in a single, circular eye while thinking of a wish, and, should the wish become realized, the second eye can be happily filled in.
Because of their low center of gravity, the Daruma doll returns to its upright position after being tilted on its side.  As such, the doll has become a symbol for optimism, persistence and strong determination.




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