Note: Please check my last couple entries; I am posting in chunks because I'm paranoid about posts getting lost. Also, do I not have very many Bleach fans reading my LJ, or do many of them hate Rukia/Renji, or what? I expected much more excitement over that post! Excitement to match my own at the thought of its existence!
After exhaustedly dragging our luggage past our ryokan (traditional Japanese inn), we checked the Magome tourist information office, which told us that we needed to go back down. The only English signage explained that while no bears had ever been sighted on the Nakasendo hiking route in modern times, the Magome tourist information office rented out bells, just in case.
We declined to rent a bell, suspecting already that we would be doing no further hiking, but headed over to our inn, the Tajimaya. It was a lovely old wooden building with a stuffed tanuki in front, blue curtains dangling from bamboo poles, and an amazing old hearth called an irori, with a pulley system dangling a kettle that could be raised and lowered over the coals. It did not, unfortunately, seem to be in use.
Our first thought was a bath, so we scrubbed off, sitting under the waist high showerheads under teeny wooden stools, then crammed ourselves into the rather small bath. To my delight, it had an jet like a jacuzzi. To the delight of the two Japanese guests who eventually arrived at the bath, we were just getting out-- the bath emphatically did not fit more than two.
Though our room was very large and quite nice, with tatami matting, closets full of futons and bedding, a TV (which we never turned on), screen dividing it into two sizable rooms, and a tokonoma with a nice wall scroll and a rather baleful-looking stuffed pheasant, what pleased us the most was that it was air conditioned.
Thus refreshed, we trotted about the town a bit, then returned for our luxurious eleven-course (not counting tea, rice, and miso soup) meal, laid out elegantly in separate dishes. Perhaps the best part was the cube of luxuriously textured tofu with tiny shrimp and a brunoise of carrots and mushrooms-- perfect cubes the size of this typed letter a. I have been watching Top Chef, so I know how difficult that is to achieve. There was also a miso-broiled and smoked whole (smallish)fish, two kinds of sliced seared beef in mustard or soy, eggplant and chicken in tomato sauce, soba, sushi rolls cleverly made with chopped soba instead of rice, a number of pickles, watermelon, and tempura of eggplant, squash, shredded carrot, and a green leaf that might have been burdock, which I held up to the light to see the delicate tracery of veins.
We then watched an episode of the anime Mushishi, which is already one of my all-time favorites, and collapsed into bed.
After a substantial ryokan breakfast including a poached egg made in a heart-shaped mold, the innkeeper asked me in Japanese if there was anything I'd like for dinner that night. Rather surprised, I replied that I liked everything except eggplant. He seemed rather startled, then told us there would be a dance after dinner. Hours later, it occured to me that he]d actually asked me how I'd liked my dinner last night! I proceeded to feel guilty all day over dissing his eggplant.
After insulting the innkeeper, we set out for the other town, Tsumago. Despite being dropped off at its bus stop, it proved surprisingly difficult to find. And boiling hot. And full of (almost all Japanese) tourists. Pretty, but not as restful as Magome. The hiking route looked gorgeously green, but also very hot and full of mosquitoes. I have been breaking out in enormous hives when bitten, it was hot, and Stephanie's ankle hurt, so we had a snack of sweetish grilled miso-brushed pounded rice molded onto a stick, and took the bus back. I fell asleep and we missed our stop, so we ended up doing a tiny bit of hiking after all.
That night, there was no eggplant served for dinner. Some dishes were the same, others were different, all but a gross slimy vegetable were delicious. We ordered a bottle of (somewhat harsh) sake with dinner. I drank more than Stephanie, I must confess.
Sure enough, after dinner the innkeeper gathered us up and taught us a Magome folk dance. Once he felt that we more-or-less (more less than more) had it down, he had us put on geta, which are wooden clogs, and led us out onto the cobblestoned public street, where we danced some more, in a circle, stamping our geta with loud traditional clacks.
Thus invigorated, we sat around the irori and attempted to have a conversation, albeit much hampered by Stephanie knowing almost no Japanese, the innkeeper knowing almost no English, me and a woman whom I think was from Taiwan and an American Worldcon guest not knowing much Japanese, and a slightly drunk Japanese man with an Asahi can not knowing much English other than the names of Japanese baseball players on American teams-- a subject which took up a lot of conversational space.
When the latter asked where I had studied Japanese, I confessed that it was from watching anime. But when I named off anime I watched, I couldn't pronounced Bleach in a recognizable manner. "Hold on," I said in Japanese, "I'll be right back." I jumped up and ran out.
Later Stephanie told me that they had remarked on me being "genki," which translates as "peppy," basically.
I returned with a stack of manga and a figurine of Renji Abarai from Bleach. "Abarai!" exclaimed the probably-Taiwanese woman.
"Shinigami!" exclaimed the Asahi man.
This confused the innkeeper, and required some explanation. Renji is indeed a shinigami-- a "death god" or "soul reaper"-- but as that figurine was from Bleach: the Styling, he was dressed in a school uniform.
The next morning I woke up with no hangover, and the Renji figurine beside my pillow.