Dennis Bagstevold


A Weekend in North Chiba Pt.1

I spent this past weekend visiting my girlfriends parents.
We relaxed, talked, walked, made mochi and drank sake. 
It came to be one of the best weekends I've had in Japan so far. 

※ Day 1

A river separating the center of the town.

A river separating the center of the town.

Exploring Sawara

First we went to Sawara (佐原), which is the closest city to where we would spend the night. It's a small and flat little urban area and it acts as a social and shopping hub for people in northern Chiba. It lays just next to the river which separates Chiba and Ibaraki and the setting was just perfect, the weather was getting warmer, the sun was out and people were just strolling about. There we would meet A's mother and explore the hub's main streets and shops.

This month the shop owners in Sawara were putting their Hina Dolls on display in their stores, following the Hinamatsuri (Doll's Day) that is celebrated yearly on the 3rd of March. There are various dolls but the one we saw were to represent the head representatives of the imperial family. Ohinasama being the female, and Odairisama being the male counterpart. The event is said to celebrate femininity, with families buying a set of dolls when a first daughter is born. The dolls then gets handed down to the generation and is carefully taken care of. I was previously unaware of this event and its meaning, ignorant as I was I only recognised the dolls, which I found quite creepy, from various media and the 'Japanese Dolls' Emoji (🎎). However, I was positively surprised by the events meaning, and happily followed along with A's mother who took a picture of each pair that we found, which would be added to her photography collection.

When walking around in the shops, we accidentally managed to join Japanese tourists on a guided tour of an old building. The shop's women of several generations welcomed us in with smiles, huddled together in front of a heater as an older man proudly presented their belongings. First in Japanese, then in English for me. As we got further in, he asked me were I was from and smiled brightly when I he heard the answer, "Ah Sweden! I've been there! It's beautiful, but cold, is it not?". After showcasing the backyard in full with its original well, toilets, walls and temple, we stepped back onto the street. As we did, I could hear the proud man behind me report to the women that a Swede had joined the tour with them audibly gasping, which made me chuckle a little. I love people who casually spread happiness like that.

Later after checking out some of the aged stores and buying some souvenirs we decided to take a break in an elegant and modern teahouse, hidden inside one of the older buildings. With the three of us craving coffee, almost sighed in chorus after being seated and the waitress apologetically emphasising that this was a teahouse. Nevertheless, as we lacked energy to find a new place, we decided to take a break and try their servings, with the sun gleaming in from outside. Then finally after stoppping to get a gift for the office and visiting the grandest one of local supermarkets, which sights reminded my very much of where I'm from, we headed back to the home for dinner.

Dinner Time

There is something special of getting welcomed into a old family home. It's different than going home to a friends place, it's different than visiting someone in a new apartment. It carries the love, weight and history of several lives. Every inch has it's own story, every dent or mark has it's accident, and there's this sense of relief when stepping in. The squeaky floors, the pictures on the walls, the dusty hard to reach places, all the clocks ticking in sync with each other.

Last time which was also the first time I had entered this house. Back then I was nervous and jittery. I didn't know what to expect, how to be treated or what was going to happen. As I've been switching places to live 4 times throughout my 1 year and 3 months in Japan, nothing has really felt like home. This isn't my home either, but the feeling comes really close.

We took the time to sit down and chat with each other in front of the gigantic TV. Then when the food was prepared, we dined in the diner room. My Japanese is still very limited and thinking that I have no other choice than to talk in Japanese often makes me inexplicably nervous. It's very strange someone who really enjoys babbling like me. It almost feels like I can't breathe. However, while sitting in front of the TV with the family, I wasn't worried. They knew me, and I knew them. We all knew the limitations of our language barriers, but we were ready to work together to go beyond them. The silliness of Japanese television also helped in between the silent pauses.

When sitting down to eat on the tatami floor, the father thankfully gave me an extra spare pillow, either from previous experiences with foreigners or remembering me being unable to sit in the Japanese style the last time I visited.

The food was fantastic and fresh. With all the finished lunch boxes and fast food I've been consuming lately, I almost feel like I've lost a basic reference for what food is supposed to be or look like. As It reminded me of smorgasbord (or smörgåsbord), which I haphazardly explained to everyone in my mix of Japanese and English. 

As we sat there we talked about memories, relatives, haikus, culture differences, both me and girlfriends plans and our future, it struck me. I was using a lot more Japanese than I remembered I did the previous time, and when they talked, I now understood almost everything that they were saying as well. It was hard for me not to grin like an idiot after the realisation, which I excitedly told my girlfriend about after dinner.

Thank you.

Thank you.

※ Next post will cover the second day with more photographs! 
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