Sunday, November 24, 2013

Kiso Road Day 1: Testing the limits of Japanese hospitality

Shortly before coming to Japan, I read this article in Smithsonian Magazine. The writer and a friend (who happened to be an American fluent in Japanese) spent the better part of two weeks hiking along the Nakasendo (中山道), the road that connected Kyoto to Edo (now Tokyo) during the Edo period. Some of the towns along the way have been preserved to look roughly as they did back in the day (only with more souvenir shops), and are popular among Japanese tourists. Apparently autumn is the best time to make the trip; Gus was too small last year, but this year we felt up to the challenge.

Our definition of traveling light has expanded a bit, to include things like a collapsible plastic baby seat (the blue and white thing).
As well as a baby.
Gus likes the Shinkansen.
The first night, we went to a town called Narai (奈良井), where we stayed at a place called Aoki (あおき). We arrived just as it was getting dark, and Aoki was on the opposite side of the (quite small) town from the train station. As we were walking there, it got dark and we saw a small truck on the road. The driver rolled down the window and asked (in Japanese) if my husband was Mr. Craig. Apparently it had taken us so long to show up that they were getting concerned. The online listing described Aoki as a minshuku; a Japanese-style inn where you eat your meals in a shared dining room with other guests. Actually, it was an old couple with a spare room that they rent out to visitors. They did make us some pretty awesome food, though, including trout that grandpa had caught in the river earlier that day, venison roast, and horse sashimi. Yes, we ate raw horse meat. It was pretty tasty.
The sliding doors of our bedroom were (ironically?) decorated with horses.

So, what did we do to test the limits of this nice old couple's hospitality? Baths are an important part of the minshuku experience, and they had a nice wooden one. Apparently wooden baths are a big thing, and this was big enough for all three of us. So we all took showers and climbed in the bathtub and relaxed for a while after dinner. Gus was having a good time sticking his face in the water and blowing bubbles, and found it really entertaining when I did the same. When we got out of the bathtub I looked back (to make sure we hadn't forgotten anyone) and discovered that, well, Gus had left them a present. The kind you don't usually leave in the bathtub. So we all took another shower, and I scrubbed Gus really thoroughly. Craig got the job of going out and explaining to this nice old couple that our son had just pooped in their bathtub.

The old man replied "kimochi ii desu ne!" (気持ちいいですね!). This literally means, "it's a good feeling", and we're not sure if he meant to say that Gus must have just felt so happy and relaxed that he couldn't help himself, or if he meant to imply that defecating in the bath just feels really good. We didn't ask.

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