Sunday December 23 – Nathan (fellow English teacher), his brother Ryan, and I walk to Takagashira Park. The original plan was to play Frisbee but the ground is too wet so we hike up the mountain instead. Sitting on a large rock jutting out the side, we can see the Pacific Ocean, the Bay, and all of Tahara. We contemplate world peace and how we can become more bad-ass. Then it’s off to Toyohashi to visit Nathan’s girlfriend, Miyuki, and her family. We eat shabbu shabbu, which consists of taking meat and cooking it in boiling water and then dipping it into sesame sauce.
Monday December 24 – I get up early and meet Miyuki, Nathan, and Ryan back in Toyohashi and Miyuki drives us to the small town of Seto, famous for its pottery. We have an appointment with a pottery studio where we learn how to throw our own rice bowls, tea cups, and in Nathan’s case Dr. Seuss inspired vases. The sensei will fire and glaze them for us and then ship them to Tahara when they are finished. In the meantime, we wander around town buying up more professionally made dinnerware and eating udon noodles. In the evening we get lost on our way to the onsen, but once there we have a relaxing bath before heading home.
Tuesday December 25 – I get up early and open presents on the webcam, and then make brunch for Nathan, Ryan, and my other neighbor Jason (also an English teacher.) The rest of the day is spent lying around, watching Superbad, and relaxing.
Wednesday December 26 – We get up and catch a train out of Tahara at 6, meet Miyuki in Toyohashi, where we catch a train to Nagoya. Then it’s on a bus to Kyoto. We stop in at Starbucks before checking into our hotel, and then it’s on the city bus to the Golden Temple. After lunch we go to the Path of Philosophy and the Silver Temple (though we decide not to go in since it’s getting dark.) It’s all very lovely but I’ve started to realize that I have a knack for visiting beautiful places in the winter when nothing is in bloom. Versailles in January. Alhambra in February and now Kyoto in December.
We do some shopping for Nathan and Miyuki, eat ramen for dinner, and walk around looking in more shops before calling it a night. And I get to sleep in a bed! Although I have to have Miyuki call the front desk to bring me new blankets since I am allergic to the feather down comforters they left.
Thursday December 27 – We’re up early and back at Starbucks. And then it’s off to Kiromizu Dera, a lovely wooden temple that has an amazing view of the city, (but would be even more spectacular in the spring or autumn.) We have a tofu set for lunch, a dish which Kyoto is famous for, and which I prefer to leave in Kyoto. We walk around looking at some more temples, a beautiful park, and then do some more shopping before catching the bus back to Nagoya. And then two more trains back to Tahara.
Friday December 28 – I spend recovering.
Saturday December 29 – I clean the apartment and buy futons because my American friends (who happen to live in Japan) Keely and Jovan are coming to visit me. They arrive late Saturday night, but I can’t go out to eat with them because I have a webcam date with my rolly-polly nephew Kenny. He’s getting so big!
Sunday December 30 – Keely, Jovan, and I go out to lunch with a lovely couple, the Okuba’s. Later that night we have dinner (more shabbu shabbu) with our mutual friend Yoko and a new friend Keiko and her two young daughters. The great thing about kids is that a common language is rarely necessary. Just tickle them and pretend to eat their arms while saying MMmmm delicious! And they think you’re the best thing since Pokemon.
Monday December 31 – Keely and Jovan go to lunch with a friend while I stay in and rest. All this socializing really takes it out of me. But I’m ready for some more by the time Emiko stops by and we head to the local crepe shop for a snack. Keely introduces me to the owners who spent several years in California, so they speak English AND make crepes. I think I might have found my new best friends here in Japan.
We have some sushi for dinner and then head to Nathan’s for a New Year’s Eve party. At 11:30 we head to Tahara Castle where we wait for the Shinto priests to ring the gong, signaling the New Year. After we throw in our coins and say our prayers for a lucky 2008, we head off to karaoke.