We haven’t spoken much about our time in Japan. By all means this is not because we had nothing to say, nothing to reflect on instead it’s quite the opposite. Japan is as it ever will be an intriguing and mysterious island for travelers arriving from a western perspective. A few hundred years ago I imagine it was even more shocking, for we have a world of bindingly interconnectedness. After we left Japan, the only country that came close to the particularly alone feeling that is Japan was Ireland. Japan stands out, culturally, geographically and as a place to move through.
I’ve lived to see the innovation and capitalistic strength that has set Japan onto the world stage. The war was long over by the time I squirmed out from the womb but Japan has infiltrated our landscape in a way that few back in the forties would dare to believe. Yet, being surrounded by the products of Japan’s efficiency and export economy has not had the effect of bringing any sort of intellectual, historical or cultural understanding of what is Japanese. When we began in February to talk about the places in the world we’d like to try to visit on this journey, Japan landed at the top of the list. So, we dug through our minds and eeked out a few loose connections that we had to the far flung island.
I’d been working in fine dining as a Chef in NY for a few years, short by any stretch of the imagination for old-school Chefs, but I had managed to make a great many friends and connections in that short period. After I’d let my restaurant know I was leaving I pulled Nafumi, our Wagyu beef supplier, aside and told her about our plans. We’d been ordering from Nafumi for over 3 years so it just seemed natural to ask her. I spoke with her on the phone more than much of my family. As soon as she learned of our interest in Japan and our supposed itinerary she insisted that we come over for dinner and discuss how she could help us in exploring Japan. Nafumi had always been a hard lady to bargain down prices, so I chose not to argue and welcomed the opportunity for a new friend.
We spent a lovely evening at her house and enjoyed a nice braise over terrific wine. She made a commitment that she would ask all her friends and see if she could find us a place to stay or two while we were there. We were shocked and thankful and left her home glad to have such a wonderful new friend and advocate for our adventures.
Time compressed and shoved us all the way to Seoul before we realized that we hadn’t done a good job at finalizing our plans in Japan. We had found a intriguing farm to stay at but that was about a week and a half away and we were leaving Seoul in a few days. Time was getting short. We began barraging Nafumi with follow up emails within a few days of realizing we were getting too close and needing to purchase tickets. The prices were creeping and for any of you that have ever traveled to Japan, you know how it is; for those who’ve yet to go, save all you can. We didn’t hear from Nafumi for a few days and started to panic. We quickly booked a flight to Tokyo as we needed to leave Seoul and be in Japan with plenty of time to find the farm we wanted to visit.
The next day, I get an email from Nafumi. “Ok, Wayne. You are good in Kagoshima.” She goes on to explain that her friend Yoshi is available and willing to ‘host’ us. We quickly called the airlines and changed our flight from Tokyo to Kagoshima. We were on our way to Japan. Into the arms of a total stranger. We only knew he was nice and would pick us up from the airport.
For the last few days in Seoul I put all that out of my mind and didn’t really think about it until we were on the plane to Japan. Who is this guy? What will he be like? Are we intruding? What are we getting into here?