It's amazing the kind of turns a simple morning can bring.
This weekend the JETs had a seminar in the city (boo).But my partner in crime, Alexis, and I decided to stay over at a friend's house Friday night so we could explore Matsue more the next day(yay!). Walking to our cars from her house on Saturday morning, we spotted a store that looked quaint and welcoming. Naturally we decided to pop in.
We were greeted by an intelligent looking, quizzical older man. "Hello" he said. "Do you like tea?"
And that's how our auspicious conversation began. He stoked the fire on his charcoal hearth and began making tea, explaining how he bought all his tea water from a special mineral spring up north for fifty yen a liter. He told us about his life- how when he was 24 he began working as a salaryman only to quit four years later, much to the chagrin of his wife. After spending some time as a bona fide beggar, he went back to college to study art and has been making a living as a woodworker ever since. His wife complains that he is a わがまま or an egoist, but he says she married him anyway because he was too handsome. Named 下柳田さん- Mr. Yamanagita (quite a mouthful if you ask me) he is sixty-five years old and from Nagasaki- young enough to have missed the worst of the aftermath of the bomb. He said he likes to watch customers very much and is good at observing traits about them, and proceeded to give Alexis and I a personality synopsis.
And the funniest thing was he just wouldn't stop giving us presents. It started out with tea- cup after tiny cup of delicious tea. Next came food. "Do you like kim chee?" he asked, and proceeded to give us two packages of home made kim chee. When I asked him about his art, because I had studied some woodworking in college, he pulled out two small stirring spoons and gave them to us, explaining that the wood was special in Japanese culture- believed to be protective to the bearer. I asked him about a small tea leaf holder that was a beautiful rich black color. I had never seen such a gorgeous wood that felt so light- usually dark wood has a lot of sap and is therefore quite dense. Yamanagita-san said that it was a special dark wood from the heart of a persimmon tree and that if I would use it he would give it to me for free. "It's a matter of pride" he said. "I cannot accept money. No customer wants this one because you can't see the figure of the wood. Plus, I just made it as a test for my other works." Now this is a beautiful hand carved piece of art. I'm sure it was worth a good amount of money. But he would not accept anything. He gave Alexis one too, saying "This one is missing its inner cover so I can't sell it either. Please take it." I tried to buy something else to say thank you, but he gave me a reduced price which kind of defeated the purpose. He showed us all his woodwork, explaining the different kinds of trees and materials. We even got a hand-written business card and many urgings to return.What was supposed to be a five minute stop to a cute store turned out to be a morning of conversation and friendship. Walking out of the store, presents in hand, I was completely happy. It's not often in the world that two twentysomethings from America can make friends with a retiree in Shimane, Japan. There is a a saying in Japanese, 機会があったら見つけてください that basically means "Take advantage of the opportunities you find". I am glad for the opportunity to have this one conversation.