My latest adventure actually began with a Japanese gift wrapping course I have been taking here on base. Through this awesome course, I have learned techniques such as peacock, tucks, Furoshiki , no-tape wrapping, mulberry flowers, gift bags and more. It was great fun and is terrific to be able to create such wonderful and unique gift wrapping. I would really encourage my friends on base to take this course. The instructor is a lovely, patient (!), and very talented Japanese lady named Mao, who happens to own her own art gallery in Worth, about 25 minutes from base. The gallery, called “Worth-while” (and it really is!), is located in a quaint little area in the foothills of the mountains.
My new friend Susie and I bravely left the familiarity of the base and ventured out into a world of signs we couldn’t read; bicyclists, cars and pedestrians galore and driving on the other side of the road. Mao had provided us with pictures of landmarks along the way along with excellent written directions. Before long we were in the foothills, taking in the budding beauty of spring and countryside instead of city. Susie, a great navigator, spotted the landmark that indicated the entrance to the parking area for the gallery. The mountain side was so green and lush that I could almost smell the cool freshness before I stepped out of the car!
The small gravel parking lot was beside some quaint looking buildings (one of which, I learned later was a Karaoke establishment) and sandwiched between the highway and a narrow driveway running behind the buildings. As we walked up the driveway, I noticed a large traditional Japanese building behind a small shed-sized building with smoke billowing out of it. Of course, my southern/Louisiana-ness emerged and I thought, “woo-hoo a smokehouse and barbecue restaurant!” I guess you can take the girl out of Louisiana, but you can’t take the Louisiana out of the girl!
We continued walking up the driveway until we found a sign pointing toward the gallery. Following the arrow on the sign, we turned right on to a narrow sidewalk lined with beautiful shrubbery (some in bloom), wisteria and several beautiful pink and white azalea bushes ahead at a fork in the sidewalk. As we reached the fork in the road, we saw to the left, the incredible thatched roof building that was built in the Edo Period of Japan, was the childhood home of Mao and now serves as the gallery.
Approaching the building, we were greeted by Mao’s cat, “Love” and the hanging collage of about 20 drawings of cats painted by special needs children. We arrived at the entrance, slid open the door (screen?), stepped into the foyer and removed our shoes and donned slippers. Mao greeted us and introduced us to her lovely mother, Mizue (who asked us to call her by her nickname, Mi-chan). Of course, I went blank and couldn’t remember the phrase, “Hajimemashite. Paula to mooshimasu” (which is part of a lesson that I have been working on for about a week) and means, “Nice to meet you. My name is Paula.” So… learning Japanese doesn’t do me much good when I can’t remember it when I need to…very frustrating!
Mi-chan was dressed in a beautiful kimono and was so gracious. Let me digress a moment to say a little about the Japanese kimono. I am still learning, but what I have learned is that wearing a kimono is nothing like wearing the kimono-type robes with a tie belt we have in the U.S. Wearing a kimono requires very special types of undergarments, and it is often very uncomfortable. It takes quite a while to go through the ritual of dressing in a kimono. Instead of wearing a little tie-belt, a wide, often stiff “obi” is worn. The obi is typically quite beautiful and is not the same color/pattern as the kimono. Also, unless it is a funeral or sad occasion, the kimono is wrapped around the body with the right side on top of the left. (Interestingly, gifts are wrapped this way also, right over left unless it is a sad occasion, in which case the left side goes over the right.) Now, when I see a woman dressed in a kimono, I have a new appreciation of and respect for her and the tradition she is carrying forth.
After the introductions, we browsed through the gallery of original Neko (cat) art made by Japanese artists. I couldn’t help wishing that my cat-loving daughter, Megan (owner of 3 black cats), was with me. There were so many interesting pieces, my favorite being a painting of an orange tabby cat, whose eyes looked so real and incredibly alive. There were ceramic cats, cat coin purses, cat coffee mugs, cat knick-knacks, cat bowls and cats made of cloth. Wow, very interesting. I wish I had more time to stay.
As we were paying for our merchandise, I told Mao that we were looking for a place to have lunch. Her mother brought out a publication of dining options in the area and gave it to me along with a booklet about sights to see in Okatuma, a city to the northwest of the base…so very thoughtful. Remembering the imagined barbeque restaurant I saw on the way up the hill, I asked if that was a restaurant and was told yes, it was indeed a restaurant, a Japanese restaurant. I really wasn’t too disappointed that it wasn’t a smokehouse style barbeque restaurant because, based on the location, I imagined that this might just be the most authentic Japanese restaurant I had dined in yet…and I wasn’t wrong. However, I was still curious and when I asked about the shed with billowing smoke outside the restaurant, Mao explained that it was…a foot bath!!!!
…to be continued