I am so nervous. Every ten minutes or so, my eyes tear up. I am trying so hard not to let the anxiety take over, but today is a big day for me. We are meeting my daughter’s Japanese family today and it feels like a first date.
Last year, Haley spent six months in Japan, the first four were on tour with the Young Americans, the last two she lived with the Watanabe family on the outskirts of Toyko. They loved her, and because I do too, I had to meet them.
At ten this morning, they sent Keith to retrieve us from our hotel. Keith is an American who lives with his Japanese wife here in Toyko, he works at the school Ayako owns and is the best English translator they have. He came in to Shinjuku station, and walked to our hotel. Turns out he was nervous too. Keith led us back to the station and helped us find the line to take us to Mizue Station. This was within walking distance to their school. Ayako (mama) met us on the streets and introduced us around the school, we saw the class rooms for the youngest – age 0-1; then the 2-3 year olds. They all waved and smiled. We then joined Yukiko (mama sensei) in her office on the third floor of a local office building for some tea.
Next stop was the 4-5 year olds. As we passed by them, one of them pointed and yelled “Haley sensei” I smiled and said, “no, Haley sensei mama” They weren’t convinced, everyone said how much we look alike. I asked if I could meet Mutzki – he was Haley’s favorite. When I went over to him and asked if I could take a picture with him, he pouted. One of the Japanese teachers went to talk to him, turns out, he misses Haley and wanted her there, not me, I made him sad.
Mama and Mama Sensei piled us in to their van and drove us to Katsushika City. We visited an old Shinto Temple there, we got our fortunes from the mechanical dragons, cleansed our hands in the fountain, lit incense and threw coins in to the box to pray for good luck. Then we were able to enter the temple itself. Filled with mystique, beautiful carvings, a Tori gate and monks chanting, it was very Eastern, not too many believers there, but an ancient feeling with all the dragons watching over us.
Lunch was next on the agenda after a quick stop in the restroom. It was a traditional toilet cut in the floor like a trough, you straddle it and try not to get your clothes wet while you pee. Fortunately, this wasn’t a new experience for me…1) I’ve been to Africa and 2) we often are offroad, I can squat.
We had lunch at Kawachiya, a freshwater fish restaurant that served eel and carp, among other things. We had eel, eel heart, koi, octopus, and some very interesting other things. I couldn’t describe it all if I tried. Not all of the items are things I would eat again, others were delicious. The meal went on for hours and then we walked down the longstanding souvenir shops. The narrow walkway was lined with vendors, mostly food sellers, there were huge glass jars filled with cookies, dark green rice balls with red bean paste, mushed rice pods on a stick with a sticky sweet sauce, green tea ice cream. I have discovered that my taste and that of the Japanese are not the same when it comes to desserts, give me a good old chocolate bar anytime. But…we tried it all and ate with a smile.
Our return trip included a stop at the 100 Yen store, and then the long train ride back to Shinjuku station. Shinjuku Station is home to 2 million passengers a day; Haley asked me yesterday…”didn’t I tell you to stay away from Shinjuku?” “You did? Why?” I could see her shaking her head thinking I never listen to her, she is probably right, what I would have heard was blah, blah, blah, Shinjuku…so when I was looking for a hotel, I thought, Oh! Shinjuku, I’ve heard of that before!
I can’t begin to describe what it is like to discover you have a family in an alternate universe. I am so appreciative of Ayako and Yukiko for making us feel so welcome, that anxiety I was feeling, it went away as soon as I met them.
Great day, great to meet family, so glad we took the time, truly a highlight of the trip!