In Kobe there is the Kobe International Community Center. One of the services they provide is free weekly one-on-one Japanese lessons. Craig and I have both been going there. My tutor is named Sakamoto-sensei. She is really great. Craig's tutor doesn't speak English so all they do is study from a book, but Sakamoto-sensei speaks English and is happy to answer my questions. She is the person who explained the mystery of whether we were eating animal or vegetable, she translated some English into Japanese for me so I can make fliers advertising my English tutoring skills, and she even recommended a good Japanese shampoo.
A while ago I brought her a flier that had something to do with an exhibit of works by impressionists and post-impressionists that came from the Washington D.C. National Gallery. She explained to me where and when the exhibit was happening and, also being a lover of the arts, volunteered to go with me to Kyoto to see the exhibit. We went on a beautiful Thursday in October. It was so nice to go with someone who could read all the signs and understand all the announcements. Craig and I get along just fine but I think we both suspect we're never doing anything in the most straight forward way.
Here we are outside the museum. It was actually a pretty small collection but all were quite beautiful and, because I couldn't read the info on the sides of the paintings, I really did just study the paintings. Sakamoto-sensei has traveled a lot and has been to France a number of times. She pointed out the places she had been that had also inspired various paintings.
After the museum we went to lunch. She had done some research and had discovered a famous Japanese buffet restaurant. I teased that the owners would see an American walk in and panic I'd eat all their profit margin. The food was what she described as "Japanese mama cooking." It was all really good. No sushi and there wasn't much that was fried. The dishes had lots of veggies and some fish. A lot of it I would describe as salads. There were foot long pieces of gobo (burdock root) that was battered and fried (I think the only fried food there). I had no idea if you were supposed to use chop sticks to eat it but Sakamoto-sensei used her fingers so I knew that was the proper way to do it.
After lunch she showed me around some of the shrines and temples in Kyoto. Craig and I had been there before but it was nice going with someone who knew more about the area. For instance, on the walk up to one temple there are a bunch of sweet shops that Craig and I had ignored. Turns out they give out crazy amounts of free samples so I got to try banana flavored mochi with azuki paste and regular mochi with chocolate - I preferred the chocolate. In one of the temples there was an exhibit of paper cutting art that was amazing. The artist created these really complicated scenes that would include details like whiskers on cats or steam rising from a bowl of soup all by cutting up a single piece of paper. After all the walking around we decided we deserved some dessert for our dinners (we had each told our husbands they were on their own for dinner that night). Afterwards we caught a train back to Kobe.
I know I've said it before but I'm going to keep saying - I owe a lot to people like Sakamoto-sensei who are willing to volunteer their time to teach or simply answer my questions and I totally have to pay-it-forward and volunteer myself when we get back to the states.