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Yokohama and new Japanese family
September 18th, 2009 by Kate

Our next door neighbors back in Phoenix, Masato and Megue, are from Japan.  Megue (sounds like segway but with an “M”) actually works lives and works in Japan and very generously offered her apartment to us when we visited the Yokohama/Tokyo area.  This was an amazingly kind offer in so many ways.  Tokyo area is one of the most expensive places in the world to visit, and on our budget we would have been unable to stay very long if we had to pay for accommodations.  Megue’s apartment was wonderful too – it was in a great location in Yokohama just a few blocks from the Japan Rail lines, the waterfront park, and right in the heart of Yokohama’s Chinatown – which is one of the largest Chinatowns in the world and absolutely MUST be the nicest.  We loved the neighborhood, quickly (and surprisingly) learned to navigate the streets and alleys, and became “regulars” at a few stores and food stalls.

Chinatown Gate in Yokohama - our neighborhood away from home!

Chinatown Gate in Yokohama - our neighborhood away from home! But the best part of staying at Megue’s was getting to meet some of her amazing family. Megue is one of nine children, her father was emigrated from China and her mom was Japanese. A number of her siblings, and their children, live right in the Chinatown area. Megue had arranged for us to meet her sister in her sister’s home for a “simple” Japanese tea ceremony – which we were totally excited and honored to be invited to. Megue’s sister, Yoshie (pronounced Yo she a) has an absolutely beautiful antique-filled home on a hill that overlooks Yokohama. In 1910, when Japan opened its borders to foreigners after being closed for 300 years to trade – this hill was where the foreigners built lovely homes in all kinds of international styles with a slightly Japanese flair. Many ambassadors have homes in the area, and there are even still some embassies located here (the Korean embassy is right up the street!). Yoshie and her husband, her husband’s parents, her nephew and niece, and the great grandmother all have homes right next to each other – kind of like the Wells/Bell compound in Phoenix (but a bit more grand!). The “simple” tea ceremony was anything but – Yoshie’s mother-in-law and her family owned a formal tea house, have a formal tea garden in their yard, and Yoshie studied the tea ceremony for twenty year!!! (Miss Susan – the entire time we were there for the tea ceremony, Phoebe was wishing you could have been there- you would have been in heaven!) Yoshie wore a beautiful summer kimono, served us an autumn “sweet” (the sweet you are served is determined by the season) and then served us tea – Jeff first, then me, then the girls. While she was very formal about the process, Yoshie and Megue were wonderful about telling us some of the meanings behind this elaborate ceremony. Yoshie also studied ceramics, and we were honored to be served our tea using beautiful pots and bowls she had thrown herself. After the tea ceremony, Yoshie presented the each of the girls with their own summer kimonos!!!! The girls were so excited I thought their heads were going to pop off! Yoshie had saved her daughter Kaori’s kimonos from when she was a young girl (I have a feeling Kaori probably had many fabulous kimonos as a child) and Yoshie wanted to give the girls summer kimono (they are lighter weight, made of nice cotton instead of heavy, lined silk). We spent a good hour learning how to tie all the different belts and cords (Miss Susan, I think we’ll need a refresher lesson when we return!) and learning how to fold them. Buying kimonos were one of the few splurge purchases we were going to make on the trip, but the ones the girls got are extra special because they received them from Yoshie.Yoshie fitting Tessa in her kimono

 

Phoebe & Tessa in their new summer kimono

Phoebe & Tessa in their new summer kimono

Amidst all the tea ceremonies and kimono fittings, Yukie (Megue & Yoshie’s niece – pronounced U-key-A) and her totally adorable daughter Suiran (age 7) and son Ranmaru (age 11), came over to greet us and bopped in and out of the house (as I mentioned earlier they live next door and kind of function like we do with Mom/Grandma Eileen next door).  Tess and Phoebe were so happy to have kids to play with, and after Ranmaru got over Tessa being “a giant”, they all got along like they had known each other forever.  Yes, there was a total language barrier (Ranmaru’s English we think just consisted of “AHHH – Giant!”  and Suiran’s “What is your favorite color”), but they all chased and colored and laughed and ate ice cream like there was no tomorrow.  After we all went out to a huge family meal of Chinese food (at yet another nephew’s restaurant), Phoebe felt so at home with the kids that she had a real, honest-to-goodness Japanese sleepover at their house!

 I felt SO indebted to this lovely family for their hospitality and generosity that I invited them over to “our” apartment for dinner a few nights later – Jeff and I both thought it would be fun to cook them Mexican food.  They were all excited about the prospect, but decided that the apartment was way too small so arrangements were made for us to return to Yoshie’s home to cook the big family meal.  We had to make a few menu adjustments as we went along – finding ingredients for Mexican food was a bit more challenging that we thought.  So we settled on a Mexican appetizer – salsa and guacamole with chips (we found chips!  They were tortilla chips made in Belgium of all places – but tasty!), an Italian dish that I’m really good at and that feeds a huge crowd – Chicken Cacciatore, a big salad, a fresh ciabatta loaf (go figure!) and Jeff made a totally delicious apple crumble with vanilla ice cream for dessert. 

 We fed 16 people a sit-down Mexican/Italian/American dinner in a Japanese kitchen with an oven that was smaller than my microwave at home and that only had Japanese characters on it -  in Celsius no less!  All I can say is… I ROCK!

 It was one of the most fun evenings I have had in years.  We ate, laughed, drank too much wine, and shared funny stories about children and travels and life.  We left their home that night with invitations for the kids to come back when they are ready to study abroad, doggie bags full of treats, and the feeling that we have family in a far away land.

A very old tea house in a park in Yokohama where Yoshie sometimes does formal tea ceremonies.

A very old tea house in a park in Yokohama where Yoshie sometimes does formal tea ceremonies.


5 Responses  
grandma eb writes:
September 20th, 2009 at 11:04 am

What a wonderful adventure this was…WOW!!! YOu told it so beautifully Kate. Any pictures?
I was in Chinatown in Yokohama with Koga San and our icibana (sp) teacher. She was delightful and that was the first time I had ever had shark fin soup. Yummee.
I did not see the elegant part of town…too bad. Perhaps next life for me…
Are you going to go to Kyoto?
Missing you terribly but doing ok. I copied some of your strories for Garnett and she loved it. Spoke to Krissy and she said Jack reads them for bedtime strories.
We must skype soon. Love you lots, eb

Theresa writes:
September 23rd, 2009 at 7:58 pm

Move over Emeril Lagasse, Kate cooking a feast in an easybake oven! Kate want an adventure can’t wait to her hear more of the adventures and wonderful people you all are encountering. Take Care! Theresa

Susan Ritchey writes:
September 24th, 2009 at 4:51 pm

Hey Wells Family,
I can’t tell how much I wish I had been there for your Japanese experience. The Japanese are so friendly and willing to help. I hope you took pictures of the tea house and garden.You are rithgt, I would have been in heaven! We will have to do tea when you get home and do a comparison. Best of luck on your further adventures.

Sam writes:
October 1st, 2009 at 4:19 pm

Wow, that sounded just absolutely amazing. I mean really, WOW. I totally wish I could have been there. I can’t belive it still that you guys are in Japan!!!!!!!

izze writes:
December 2nd, 2009 at 6:45 am

i can’t belive you went to japan!i wish i got to where a kimono!are you going to france?you are so lucky you get to take a trip around the world!

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