I went to visit the Usa [oo – sah] Shrine with Tash yesterday. The Usa Shrine is one of the most important shrines in Shintoism and is dedicated to the god Hachiman, who is the god of war and the divine protector of the Japanese islands and the Japanese people. Even though this shrine is only 30 minutes from my house, in the 3 years I have lived here, I had never been there before, so I decided to squeeze in some last minute cultural sightseeing before I return to the other USA, the United States of America. The shrine is an oasis of nature, with big trees and overgrown foliage and of beautiful, traditional architecture in an otherwise mundane modern suburban city of Usa.
Omikuji (fortune paper strips) tied to ropes.
Ema (wooden prayer plaques)
On Monday night (July 24), Tash and I headed over to Aki-machi to visit our friend Jessica and to check our her local matsuri (festival).
Local girl (above) wearing a yukata (cotton summer kimono)
The highlight of the festival (below), a fire dance on a boat in the river. According to a local that chatted us up, the fire ceremony is a revived tradition dating back to olden times that pays tribute to the spirits of the river.
Jessica will be going to the University of Arizona in Tucson (about 2.5 hours south of Scottsdale where my family lives) to finish her masters program this August, so I hope to be able to see her again soon.
Japanese Festival Food
Ikayaki (grilled squid)
Takoyaki (Octopus balls)
Yakisoba (stir-fried noodles)
On Saturday night, I went to have a final dinner with the Nishimura family. I used to live next door to them in the inaka (countryside) outskirts of Nakatsu during the first year that I lived in Japan, before I moved to my current house in “downtown” Nakatsu. The two Nishimura children are named Akari and Yuu. We would hang out together once every week and play and I would teach them English and they would teach me Japanese. Mrs. Nishimura prepared a wonderful meal consisting of somen (thin cold noodles), sashimi, and Hamburg steak (a Japanese version of Salisbury steak). The girls made a chocolate cake. Yum! As a going-away present, they gave me a pair of geta (Japanese sandals) and a folding fan. Thanks so much! I hope we can stay in touch and meet again!
Luke and I went to one of my favorite restaurants in Nakatsu, Pushkar, an Indian restaurant in an old, converted traditional house, for lunch today. Pushkar has a real Indian chef and a real tandoor oven as well. They serve up a good mix of Northern Indian and Anglo-Indian classics (in other words, the kind of Indian food we associate with most Indian restaurants in the West). We both had the tandoori and curry lunch set, which came with a minced chicken curry, tamarind seafood curry, mixed salad, a piece of tandoori chicken, a piece of Sikh kebab, and nan bread.
While their lunch menu consists of several sets that are a permutations of different daily curries with salad, nan bread or rice. For dinner, they offer a full à la carte menu of Indian favorites. Some of my favorites are the chicken butter cream (similar to a chicken tikka masala), chicken dopiaza (another kind of chicken curry with onions, bell peppers and almonds), and the tandoor lamb chops. They also make a spinach and cheese-filled nan bread that is worth checking out as well.
By the way, Luke has just started his own blog about Japan as well. Check it out here.
On Friday night, I had my going-away party with my Board of Education. My office bought me a traditional Japanese paper umbrella (和傘 – wagasa) for my going away present. The paper is coated with some sort of oil-based water proofing and is hand-made in Nakatsu. Apparently, there are only a few artisans left in Japan who still make these traditional umbrellas, so it is very special.
I also got to see my friend Chie, who is from Nakatsu originally and now a university student in Tokyo. She was back in Nakatsu for a few days before heading back to Tokyo. The picture is of Chie and I posing under my new paper umbrella.