Saturday, 25 April 2015

the food of life

We have arranged to stay with Kiyoka and her children in Matsuyama this evening, so after cooking tea in a little park, we find our way in the dark to her home.  Thanks to the wonders of Google Streetview we know that she lives in a 3-storey building with parking on the ground floor, opposite what looks like a funfair junkyard.  Sure enough, out of the blackness leer the faces of large plastic cartoon animals.  We find our way up the dark staircase to the appartment on the top floor.  Kiyoka is a smiling cheerful woman who makes her living from music.  She sings and plays keyboards and teaches piano too. A single mum, she lives in this relatively large flat with her three kids.  We stay three nights but rarely see them - are we scary? are they shy? Kome is the youngest, still at school.  Kiyoka's eldest, Liu, works nights, but we chat to him before we depart.  Her daughter we only see glimpses of, coming and going.
one of Matsuyama's toy cars
We realise that this is not a typical Japanese family.  But then, would we find a typical one hosting us through Couch Surfing? We doubt it.  Kiyoka has a busy schedule but is clearly keen to spend time with us - she wants to improve her English, despite the fact that it is already good and she often sings in English. When she plays it's jazz, soul, funk or bossa nova, so she also sings in Portuguese.  We go out shopping with her and she takes us to a sushi restaurant which is a real treat for us.  It's not a fancy one - a franchise where the sushi rolls around on a conveyor belt.  You sit in a booth and take what you fancy, or as Kiyoka shows us, order on the small touch screen, to get something freshly prepared.  You pay 100 yen per plate.  The plates are added up at the end of the meal.  Simple, even for novices like us.  That is if you can actually get the food off the conveyor belt before it's turned the corner....
how to catch that sushi
The city's hot tourist spot is the Dogo Onsen.  It's the oldest spa in the country, although even our house in Hebden Bridge is older.  The problem for Japan is that most of their old structures are built of wood and don't last.  Oh, and the fact that they started a war in 1940 with those noisy blokes across the water and got heavily bombed for the trouble.  Japan is now a country of concrete cities and roads and riverbanks.  It increasingly looks to us like the role model for China's construction/development/destruction.  The onsen building is very elegant, and has all the typically pleasing features of traditional architecture - dark wood, sweeping roofs and curving eaves.  We haven't been in an onsen yet so we go off to have a look.  It's kind of touristy around the building and we watch as couples arrive in matching traditional robes and slippers, seeming to have just walked down the street from their nearby hotels.  It all looks a bit twee so we give it a pass.

One morning Kiyoka sits down at her piano and starts playing.   She needs to practice a song for a lunchtime performance. She sings along with a light but firm voice.  Pop, jazz, soul - she comes alive at the keyboard.  She tells us that she only took up piano when she was eighteen, having already learnt to play saxophone.  She taught herself and then studied the electric organ.  She clearly has the musical ear.  To remember a tune she just needs a prompt of the lyrics and away she goes.  We sit and enjoy the privilege of this private performance.
with Kiyoka and Liu, the least shy of her children

No comments:

Post a Comment