We are scheduled to say farewell to Japan on August 1st.  During our very last weeks, I went to Tokyo for a weekend, we spent our last national holiday taking a day trip to a pottery town, we had good-bye dinners with friends, and we went to Okinawa for a long weekend.  In between all of that we listed our things on Craigslist, the Sayonara Sale website, and “Mottainai” Facebook page, and got our friends to help us take unwanted items to the recycle center and resale shops. 

I went to Tokyo for my girls’ overnight trip from Saturday to Sunday, July 14-15.  My friend Satoko was going to take the midnight bus home (leave Tokyo at midnight, arrive Osaka at 6 am!) until I found us an Airbnb room to share.  This turned out to be the last day I spent with Satoko.  Awww.

Tanba: Pottery town.  An historic place.  One of six ancient pottery kiln locations in Japan.  “Tanbayaki” is ceramic pottery ware made here.  Pottery studios dot the roadside, landscape and hillsides.  As soon as I got home from Tokyo, I had to rise early the next day, Monday, July 16, for a day trip to Tanba.  Jay, Mari, Hiroko and my family of 5 drove to this pottery town about 2 hours away.  We rented a car and Hiroko came with us as our travel guide.  Having a native person in the car made for a very pleasant drive for John.  It was so much better than my navigation which always ended in tears.  This is one of Hiroko’s favorite places so I really wanted her to take us.  We went nearby to visit Sasayama Castle, which turned out to be a very nondescript castle of great importance.  Tokugawa Ieyasu ordered the building of this castle.  It was built as a distraction technique and as a way to drain the local lords of their resources.  Tokugawa then seized his chance to invade Osaka Castle and solidify his rule over Japan.Later, while we adults went pottery shop hopping, the kids went to an artist center to make their own pottery.  Halyard apparently didn’t want to get his hands dirty so he just painted a ceramic cup.  Kaiyo made his own cup and Avalon made a bowl and a plaque with all of her friends’ names on it.  The ceramic creations needed to be fired in a kiln so they couldn’t be delivered for 2 months.  Furthermore they need to be delivered to a Japanese address.  Hiroko offered to have the finished pottery sent to her house.  She said she would send them to us in the US.When it was time for lunch we all sat down in a soba shop.  Soba is Japanese buckwheat noodles.  They are served hot or cold.  It was a blazing hot day outside so cold noodles sounded refreshing.  But Halyard and Kaiyo ordered theirs hot anyway.  Our soba order filled the table.After lunch we had special kuromame (ku-roe-ma-mae) soft serve ice cream.  Yummy.  Kuro is black and mame means bean so it was black bean ice cream.  Tanba is known for its black beans.  Hiroko told me gourmet shops and chefs from Kyoto come to Tanba to buy their local black beans.Tanba had some great manhole covers, including a huge one in the middle of a street.  Mari laughed at me standing in the middle of the street risking an accident in order to take a good photo of it.Later in the week, Thursday, July 19, we planned to go out with Jay and Mari again, this time to a Buddhist enclave for shojin ryori – Buddhist vegetarian cuisine.  It’s actually vegan.  This place is called “Kanga’an” and it served the most beautiful food I have ever eaten.  Hands down it was like eating a work of art or a floral display or some kind of natural wonder.  The grounds were beautiful, too.

Kanga’an claims to have one of the only bars in a Buddhist temple and indeed a swanky bar with seats for about 8 was located outside the main area.  Of course we had to go there for an after dinner drink, or two. Jay invited his advisor friend Professor Yang to join us.  It so happens that Mr. Yang is headed to Riverside, California next June to begin a teaching and researching position at the University of CA, Riverside (UCR) next summer.  Well it so happens this is my hometown and UCR is my alma mater.  It’s a very, very small world after all!  So we will definitely see our professor companion again.  He’s looking to move into a neighborhood very close to my parents.  Maybe his daughter will even go to my same high school.These kind of crazy, unbelievable, too-amazing-to-be-true, coincidences happened during the two years that we lived in Japan.  The fact that one of Halyard’s good buddies in Osaka moved to Japan from Irvine, the next city over from our house in Newport Beach, and the fact that one of the Osaka International School staff teachers had grown up near us in Orange County, and even went to grammar school near our house, was unbelievable yet not uncommon.  I can’t even count the number of incidences like this!

More photos from Kanga’an: