One of the things I’ve enjoyed most about this trip is stopping, slowing down and ‘living’ somewhere for an extended period. We did this for a month in Hoi An and when we arrived in Japan we were excited to live in Kobe for a month.
After travelling in south east Asia for quite a long time, Japan has been a real treat. Wide footpaths, quiet streets, cars that stop when you cross the road, traffic lights that are obeyed and delicious, delicious food.
If we arrived in Thailand by accident, Japan can only be described as the opposite. I was about eight or nine years old when I sat in the small library at my country school and attended my first ever Japanese lesson. It was a night class attended informally by some kids from the school and their parents. I distinctly remember singing the Japanese alphabet and learning the trick of distinguishing the sound each character made. And as I’ve fumbled through reading Japanese characters over here now, I’ve been amazed I can still recall the tips I got during my first Japanese lessons.
It was something I did with my mum and although those lessons were short lived (I think the one Japanese person in town returned home), it sparked a lasting interest in Japan.
And now we are finally here – and not just here but making ourselves at home in small neighbourhoods outside the tourist centres. Many of our neighbours look upon us with a polite interest but my broken Japanese and their broken English doesn’t communicate much more than mutual respect.
We stayed in a converted Japanese teahouse – a beautiful but very small home that we made our own in Oji-Koen. We slept on futons in the two rooms of the house that doubled as our lounge rooms and bedrooms separated only by a thin sliding door. “Oji” as we affectionately call it is a great neighbourhood. Home to lots of parks, the river, second hand shops and pop up shops – it was a great place to make ourselves at home.
Like many neighbourhoods in Japan, Oji is ridiculously safe. Kids as young as seven walk 15 to 20 minutes to school by themselves – almost unheard of in Australia. Bikes line the streets – unlocked and our little nursery down the road closes and locks its doors at night, but puts a small plastic barricade around the plants which remain untouched by prying hands.
Ruby has enjoyed the freedom of riding with her pocket money to the second hand shop and choosing new toys to add to the collection.
Eating out in Kobe is not easy – especially as a vegetarian. Inflexible menus and little English made us reliant upon point menus and “Kore wa nan desuka?” What is that. Whenever we eat out I repeat this phrase over and over until we find dishes that meet our satisfaction. And although it is more difficult than receiving the English menus we have been handed many times on our travels, there is a real sense of satisfaction and reward when it comes off and we all receive meals we enjoy.
Life in Japan right now can only be described as similar – yet different to home. Some days we do much the same things that we would do at home – school, park, shopping and picnicking but we are immersed in a completely different and intact culture…and it’s really fun.