09.05.2011 - 09.05.2011 19 °C
BGM: "No Woman No Cry" by Bob Marley
After a restless night on a hard tatami floor in our sleeping bags, we naturally awoke with the sun and the familiar screeching of bulbuls happily plucking cherry petal remnants off the trees behind our now empty apartment. I did a double-take while I stretched. Our room was stark bare: no curtains, no furniture, just a few bags of trash and a small pile of remaining things for my husband to sell at the recycle shop.
Our water had been turned off so I ladled some reserves from the bathtub into the toilet to flush it (works like a charm!) and scooped more into the sink to wash my face. I then set the lawn chairs on the patio with a small can of Georgia coffee in each cup holder. My husband stumbled out with me into the fresh, morning air and groggily zipped up his hoodie as he sat down facing me, Mr. Prickly Chin. We had a lot of final cleaning to do, but otherwise, our work in this town was finished. My interview in Shiga Prefecture was all set up. Chances were really high that I'd already landed the job. The last thing to do was say goodbye to 8 beautiful years in this serene prefecture of soft gray beaches, rustling rice fields, emerald river valleys and holy mountain slopes. What I would give for a final bike ride with him along the sparkling Tone and Kokai Rivers! But the bikes were sold. It would be at least another two years before I would ride another one.
I found myself murmuring something incoherent about wanting a final taste of Iseya rice shop's onigiri (rice balls), made from locally-grown rice. My husband knew how important Iseya rice balls were to me. Ever understanding, he smiled at my temporary insanity as white-eye birds encircled the shrubs below our patio. I watched the tall, aging sacred bamboo plumes swaying beyond his gaze. How I would miss their elegant beauty. We used to barbecue on this patio, watch rainbows, lightning storms and fireworks from here. Better than a TV. We were hoping to make Toride our permanent home (like, kids-and-retirement permanent home). We had a business, friends and a life, here.
A small earthquake shook us out of our melancholy and we decided to put off work for a few hours and simply enjoy the sunshine. Hiking boots laced, we walked up the hill, up behind the post office and into the public garden plots where we always enjoyed the colors of the changing seasons. It was spring, now. Chrysanthemums and marigolds had given way to vivid, eye-popping sprays of wisteria, azeleas, poppies and other lovely flowers.
Wisteria in bloom
Snow peas, green onions, cabbage and some lettuce were being harvested. I scanned the landscape with my eyes, committing every sound, every color to memory. My heart was breaking.
Onions and poppies in flower
The prayer ribbons on this shrine look as dismal as my emotions
Our hour-long walk made us hungry, so my husband told me we'd be going to Fujishiro Town and my eyes lit up like matches, knowing what that meant! ISEYA RICE BALLS! :-)
Iseya Rice Ball Shop (Fujishiro, Toride)
Made from rice grown right there in southern Ibaraki, Iseya's generous, lovingly-packed rice balls are the taste of the land. These hand-formed fluffy white beauties are always fresh and bursting with savory goodies like "torikara" (seasoned deep-fried chicken) or our all-time favorite, "nanoha" (steamed canola flower blossoms and stems mixed with egg bits). The shop sits right on the corner just across the Joban Line train tracks near the east exit of Fujishiro Station. The building jiggles a little whenever the high-speed Hikari trains zoom by, but that never phases the friendly, hopping aunties in smocks running the show. These rice balls have been a huge hit with students and businessmen alike for decades. With our precious package of wrapped goodness, we found a place in the warm sun at a nearby park and savored every wholesome, nourishing bite.
Simple, filling onigiri rice balls -true champion food if you ask me.
The day was growing late and we finally completed the monstrous task of dismantling our life in Ibaraki. We reluctantly handed the apartment keys to the real estate agent, who gratefully accepted our potted plants as a thank-you, yet respectfully begged us to consider staying. We loved this apartment, but it was time to move on. Gen, our communally-adopted cat, was probably sleeping peacefully in our neighbor's room. I wanted to say a proper goodbye to Gen, who gave me nothing but love from the first day I met him.
Neow, neow, neow-neow, nyau. ("Thanks for everything, Gen-chan!")
Puppy the Wonder Subaru had sunk down a few inches from the weight of all our things crammed into it. Collectively, over 99% of ALL of our belongings had been donated, sold and pitched. I originally thought I'd be crushed by the loss. But honestly, I felt surprisingly free and unchained by my culture as a result (I was never much of a materialist). But even that remaining 1% was nearly too much for little Puppy. Besides my clothes, all I kept were: 2 small backpacks containing my bead collection (for my hobby), my tent, some watercolor sketch pencils and paints, 8 books (mostly JLPT test prep texts), the jewelry box my mom gave me (the glass one that miraculously survived the quake), a few precious gifts many loved ones have given me over the years, and my laptop. Everything else that I'd owned and wanted to keep but couldn't, now existed in digital format as a .gif file. (Now that was a hard concept to wrap my head around!)
And with that, we loaded up on gas, shipped off a painting to my Mom, and rolled down Route 294 towards the expressway in Moriya City. It was already dark, so the only things to see were familiar chain stores still open at that hour: a ramen shop here, an okonomiyaki restaurant there, places we wanted to see but never did... The furniture shop where we got our beds, the Nitori we always bought our cookware at -everything was gone, now. And soon we would be, too.
One Last Roll Through Town
First stop: fuel for ourselves! We pulled up to Lleno in Moriya, our favorite Italian/Japanese restaurant that always offers a reasonable set meal of pasta or meat entree with dessert and all-you-can-eat vegetable bar. The chef at this tiny out-of-the-way oasis of flavor and charm had a magical way of making everything taste like my grandparents' cooking (both of them studied cuisine in France). My husband told the staff we were leaving for Kansai and they gave us a beautiful, delicious goodbye-present: Tsukuba pork antipasto platter. It was delightfully bittersweet. Every dish pulled at my heartstrings, begging me to stay.
Antipasto Platter (Thanks, Lleno)
Lleno's (pronounced /Jay-no's/) seafood genoese with fresh-baked bread.
"Please come back again," dapper Mr. Kitamura, the attendant, told me with a heart-melting, saddened smile. We promised that if we ever returned to Kanto, our first meal would be at Lleno's.
Cream cheese mousse with berry and whipped cream topping.
Ah, this was going to be tough.