A Day of Delights with Three Little Ladies
Dear Family and Friends,
What is it like taking a day trip with three older Japanese women? Yesterday I found out. My friend Reiko San invited me to join her and her friends on a trip to Fukushima Prefecture. All three of them were in their late 70s, were rather short, and loved to talk. I towered over them, very much the “gaijin”, but not feeling out of place.
On the train, the three of them chattered like young school girls. They seemed to compete over who could tell the silliest stories. Their voices were loud and full of giggles. Normally, trains are very quiet. But no one seemed to mind four older women enjoying time together, away from their many serious responsibilities.
I mostly sat and listened, amused that they talked and laughed non-stop for well over two hours.
I also greatly appreciated the scenery.
The farms and mountains were stunning. Many places were still bringing in the rice harvest.
Others where bulging with apples more than ready for picking. Persimmon trees also dotted the landscape. Needless to say, Fukushima fruit is famous.
When Reiko San originally invited me, she said we would go to the Fukushima Prefectural Art Museum and then to a nearby local onsen. I was thrilled. I appreciate seeing art whenever I can. And a nice hot soak is always a welcomed treat.
But as soon as we were seated on one of the several trains we took, Reiko San announced that it would be one or the other. “No time for both. So, which is it?”
I was surprised and rather disappointed. So, I started asking questions. Maybe we could find a way to have both: art and a bath. The other two simply sat quietly, politely smiling. Not being used to anyone questioning decisions, Reiko San thought my questions were demands. They were not. It took a few dramatic exchanges before we agreed on a brief look at the museum grounds, maybe lunch there, and then on to the spa.
The museum visit was indeed brief. The lunch there nice, but more than we needed. However, going there was a good incentive to return later, probably on my own.
Then we headed to the spa town. We followed what our generation most often does; we did not rely on Google for information. Rather, we talked to locals. They were more than delighted to help us, and then to chat. They even went out of their way to make sure we were headed in the right direction.
The onsen village was lovely. Old buildings had been converted to hotels or shops.
There was a restored water tower.
And the former village head’s home had become a small park with a lone persimmon tree and free foot baths. Many locals came and spent a long, quiet time soaking their feet and reading, doing computer work, or sleeping.
We decided on a local bath. It was in a very old building with a beautiful ceiling.
The water was hot and delightfully soothing. But even there, we did not stay long. I have found that Japanese trips with friends are often a quick, superficial encounter with place, contrasted with unending, unrelated chatter among participants.
Another part of the ritual of a day trip is that everyone brings something for the others. I did not know that, so had nothing. But I surely will the next time.
Another ritual occurs on the way home. No matter how full you might be from lunch, you have a snack. I was simply not hungry, but the others ate and continued chatting and giggling as they rubbed their stomachs and said over and over again how full they were.
After that, the door was open to tell personal stories. One woman told about her grandson who became uncontrollable after his parents’ divorce when he and his father returned to live with her. He is a constant problem. Another has a mentally challenged son, now an adult, who lives with her. He has simple jobs, but his mom often fills in for him.
The other lady’s job was fascinating. She works with Japanese nationals who were born in China during WW II and forced to stay there when the war ended. Until recently, they lived their entire lives in China, often marrying locals. But in their 70s, they were repatriated. They came here not knowing the language or the culture, and some without family. And now they are in nursing homes. I asked why they returned to Japan. “Because they always wanted to,” was the reply. Such deep inner identity with place is something alien to my American pioneering spirit.
After dipping into their personal worlds, they had permission to fall asleep, which all of them did.
I got off the train before the others. I left them all snoring. I knew they would be all right since they were heading to the last stop. The conductor would get them off the train if they were still snoozing.
Unless it is hiking, I do not usually go on day trips with others. But I found those three ladies fun to be with.
They obviously enjoyed our day, too. We promised to meet again before the end of the year. If not for another day trip, surely for a Year End Party. We want to celebrate the happy times we shared in 2023. And we hope for good health and free time to do more together, and maybe with others, in the year(s) to come.