Back in North America…

I arrived back in Boston late Sunday evening from Japan after 18 hours in the air: Snippets of, “West Side Story,” still brilliant after all these years, and about nine hours of sleep.  Plenty of time to get a pizza delivered from ever-dependable Armando’s and watch “Homeland’ and Bill Murray’s wry Christmas special.

While the nation and world were riveted by Islam this week, within that context I saw patients, reviewed my latest piece, wrote, and tried to get a good night’s sleep.

My piece on the state of Japanese whiskies will be out on 1/4/16 in “Whisky Magazine,” the U.K.’s #1 Sprits magazine.

Writing about whisky for the U.K. and also in “Whisky Advocate,” out in March, I’ve learned more about the single malt, vintage whiskies of Scotland.   They speak with terroir, but when you think about it?  It’s more the barrels, malt, and aging that are talking.  Because top whiskies are emerging in Japan and Taiwan.

Being back in Boston means hitting Thai Vegan Cafe and enjoying early winter walks.  The former has a really first-rate kitchen, and with the right business plan could easily compete with burger and pizza joints.  The appetizers and noodle dishes garner a big profit, and to coax flavors from food that isn’t protein?  Well, it’s not easy, and it is the future.

Day Before Start of Week

Yesterday was one of those loopy days of mixed connections, long stretches of time unspooling like yarn after a cat has hit the ball.  Friday high winds shut down train lines from Kanazawa to Yamanaka and Saturday rain delayed flights to Komatsu so guests coming and going from the inn became the preoccupying responsibility of my friend, the inn owner.  He handled it well : Aplomb.

I met with an MD, an internist, who over 90 minutes described techniques he is developing to reduce stress.  Sleep, sleep, sleep!  Wonderful to meet an individual with knowledge and passion as well as focus.  And of course technological prowess that utilizes self-monitoring via app’s on devices.  He consults to the inn where the napping is nonpareil.

The rest of the day involved noodles, my good friend M, a new friend from Brooklyn who is smitten with Yamanaka, and the previously mentioned naps.

This is M’s work: http://http://www.mikahoriemu.me.

I was to eat dinner alone in these posh digs, but chose to eat with M: alla Contadina–smoked duck with a small salad, Margharita pizza, pork from Okinawa.

This morning I’ll be taking several onsen and after my body is as soft as butter from the baths, will head to Komatsu for a long day of flights to Narita, D.C., and Boston.

Let’s hope no missed connections.

 

Yamanaka: Saturday Morning

Sheets of rain are coming down, obscuring the forest, and the sky is the color of skim milk. I’ll be in my yakuta most of the day, I hope, padding between the tatami room where I’ve been placed to the onsen down the hall and down a short flight of steps.  There’s a meeting at ten with two doctors who specialize in longevity, and a meeting at two with a collective of artisans.  But the hope–the dream–is that yakuta, my OE novel about boys run amuck in the late 1950’s, and more and more baths.

I rolled in last night at two A.M. after four hours and just two sake at a hole-in-the-wall in the village with two friends, one old and one new.  Two sake, you heard right.  That’s what happens when the ladies set the tone.  It’s talk and not drink.

Tonight it’s anyone’s guess–acceptance–and tomorrow the plan is, well, there is no plan except to don civvies mid-day in order to return to my other home in the States.

Defined by Japanese Mountains

I awoke in the middle of the night to what seemed to be catastrophic thunder and sheets of rain.  In a black forest above a gorge at the mountain inn.  So best to get up and take an onsen in the open bath overlooking nothing.  Ironic how being surrounded by so few images and decorative objects inspires a letting go, and immediacy that make past and future seem just that.  Being here makes you present.

Yesterday was a lot of work: Interviewing artisans of paper, soy, lacquerware, and pottery.  the potter spoke of falling into the craft while living a year on Okinawa during the Vietnam war and spending all his money.

It was a day of noodles, too: Beautiful cold buckwheat soba with gooey mountain yam and first rate carbonara that evening.  In the soba joint, a man at the next table asked if he could slurp.  Of course, we said.

“The Romans did it,” he said with a big smile.

Rainy Day, Japanese Mountains

Six, that’s right, count ’em, six onsen yesterday, beginning at about 5:30 A.M. and ending just past 11 at night.  My skin is as soft as a baby’s.  Between the baths, interviews with an egg producer who owns a precise replica of an Irish tea room deep in the countryside, and long talks about health and what-we-eat with colleagues and friends.

To say little of the killer Irish club sandwich and a dinner of delicious stewed beef and vegetables.

Today, in the downpour, which is magnificent, numerous interviews await with Slow Food type artisans.  Though with the monsoon-like weather it would also be nice to return to tatami and read Oe between naps and onsen.

In the Japanese Mountains

After about 17 hours in the air, and within four airport terminals, I arrived in a remote mountain village where I’ve been many times before.  The plan is to interview artisans, and deepen an understanding of the culture.  Reading Kawabata helps, and so will reading, “The Paradox of Harmony,” which will arrive soon, and is about displacement, disjuncture, disharmony, and efforts to achieve place, juncture, and harmony while preserving social order.

Pragmatically, it’s been a delightful fried chicken sandwich and Yebisu in Narita, rice balls and steamed pork in the room, and a very late night at a marvelous sake bar with my friend M and several others who seem to be very pleasant indeed.

Three onsen since arrival; one immediately, one at midnight, one at 545 AM, and one in my immediate future.  Let’s hope I can wind down as I am wound up.