I wish I could have recorded the welcome party that Eric’s colleagues threw for him Friday night so I could share every minute with you. The people, the food, the setting and the tradition were absolutely wonderful.
We ate at “Wa Ta Mi” (Japanese Dining) restaurant here in Fussa. The whole restaurant was divided into various sized private dining rooms
separated by sliding screens. Some plants were strategically placed here and there but the decor was simple. After everyone arrived, our group was escorted down a hallway to our private dining room. Before entering we removed our shoes and each put our shoes in a wooden locker of sorts. As Eric took his turn placing his shoes in a locker, we all had a laugh when the door wouldn’t close! He had to put each shoe in a separate locker AND turn them sideways to be able to close the door. Wish I had a picture of THAT but we were all too busy laughing. In all fairness, there was one other person, Danny our American “tour guide,” who couldn’t fit his shoes in a locker either.
The waitperson slid a screen open allowing us to enter the room. There was a low wooden table, probably 16-17 feet long with low cushioned benches surrounding the table. We filed in and sat down finding the table already set with simmering ceramic bowls (nabe) of various kinds of soups placed about every 3-4 feet along the length of the table. The nabe set on an open flame burner fueled by a can of bottled gas/butane(?). There were baskets of edamame and shrimp crackers (very good) and a tall vase-like container of lightly salted fried spaghetti (excellent) to munch on throughout the meal.
The servers came and went, almost without notice, shuttling what seemed to be an endless supply of food and drink. Servers would hand the item to a person at the end of the table, closest to the door, and then items were passed down and set all along the table and we served ourselves family style. I sat next to a very helpful ( not to mention patient) woman who guided me through the meal process explaining the food and what sauce(s) or herbs to eat with that particular dish.
I was doing well until a large bowl of raw fish – not sushi – was set down right in front of me! I asked the woman sitting next to me is she could point out which of the raw fish would have the “mildest” taste. She wasn’t sure what “mild” referred to and a great discussion ensued. When she understood, she pointed out tuna (very red) and another fish whose name I can’t remember (light pink in color). I took a big breath, said a silent prayer and tried the tuna first. Gosh, I liked it. The taste of the tuna itself was indeed very mild, but with the little dab of wasabi, it was really good. I tried the second type of raw fish and I liked it too. At that point I decided I should quit while I was ahead and not tempt fate with the other raw fish. I was a good sport and tried everything! Much to my surprise I liked the 2 types of raw fish I tried, octopus, nabe soup, cabbage pancakes and the ice cream/cake covered in a green powdery looking herb and almost everything else I tried. The only thing I didn’t like was a meatball kind of thing in the nabe.
Our new Japanese “family” members are warm, cordial and lots of fun. Communication could be challenging at times, but we stuck with it, figured it out and many times had some laughs along the way. As usual I had a boat-load of questions, like what is this and what is that and how-this and how-that….at one point I asked one of the men about a particular dish and he wasn’t sure of the name of that particular dish, so instead he just said the name of the container…but I didn’t know that and was trying to figure out couldn’t what he was saying. When I finally realized that he was saying “steamer” to make a joke, we all had a good laugh.
In one situation, the woman I sat next to was recommending places to go and things to do. She was showing me pictures (on her iPhone) of what appeared to be festivals, celebrations, etc. She kept trying to get one word across by demonstrating a lifting-from-the-shoulder motion. I couldn’t figure it out for the longest. She was showing me pictures of parades and trying to show me specific floats (by demonstrating that these floats were carried on men’s shoulders). I explained that floats I am familiar with are powered by trucks!
There was much conversation and laughter along with Eric’s colleagues asking questions to get to know him. He was asked if he plays basketball, his favorite sports, what he likes to do in his spare time, what kind of music he likes, his age, etc., etc. Before we left, our host had us participate in a Japanese custom, called Tajime I believe, that is performed at the end of a special event to bring the event to a peaceful, lively close. We held our hand up then brought them down and clapped one time while bowing slightly. The evening ended with respectful bows, handshakes and even a few hugs! We are incredibly blessed to be here, with such fantastic people in such a fascinating country.