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Thursday, April 24

How I Made My Brother Stink Like Garlic

Whenever we have friends and family visiting us, we try hard to cater the visit to exactly what they might like to see and do here in Japan. This means that we often repeat places we’ve been more than a few times before. This isn’t actually a bad thing, particularly when we are talking food and my ever ravenous stomach, which constantly craves my local favorites. It isn’t even bad to go back to the same tourist spots over and over again. For me, it is all about making the visit as special and memorable as possible for the particular person visiting.

My brother just left a few days ago. His visit was short, which I really fretted over considering my energy level of late is more diminished than it used to be. I still wanted him to see everything, but not kill myself in the process of getting everywhere in the small stretch of time allotted for his visit. Fortunately for Kimono Bro and myself, there is plenty of history in the area immediately around my Japanese hometown.

After picking him up at the airport and making the hour and a half ride home, it was dinner time. Knowing that those 24 hours of travel are a damn-near killer to even the most seasoned travelers (of which my brother is not yet part of said group), we kept it very local with lots of time spent trying to keep him moving of his own volition for the first time in the stretch of a long day. So we walked all around our little beachside town, meandering in and out of the side streets to give him a taste of life here until we reached one of our favorite dinner spots, Matchpoint Curry Bar. Why not throw my kid brother headlong into Japanese food with some of the best curry around and a side dish of raw tuna and avocado salad? For someone who is not found of curries in general, he polished off his dish neatly and even made sure to take the last bite of raw fish, another unique addition to his American palate. And let’s not forget that we ordered him a nice cold sake to wash it all down with, followed by his first Sapporo. When he agreed that it was a pleasant start to his trip, we figured we could really let loose on novel tastes during the next few days of his visit. But for this first night, he was noticeable exhausted, so after a short stop for another local beer at a tiny closet-sized bar, we brought him home to tuck him in for a good night’s rest.

By the morning, he was revived and raring to go. Again, we stayed relatively local, which is pretty easy when historic Kamakura is only one train stop away. Kimono Bro is a history buff like myself, so he is only too eager to let me pass along all my useless Japanese history knowledge jangling around in my brain to him. The warm day gave us a great time to make the walk up to the Hachiman Shrine via the Komachi-dori shopping street (where we stopped and tried bites of food from the many vendors offering samples of everything from pickled vegetables, osambe crackers and other various unrecognizables) and then back down on the paralleling main street. After staring at plastic food case after case, we choose a tonkatsu restaurant where we could both polish off one of the set meals, an easy feat for a pregnant lady and her ever hungry brother. Filled with all the regular Japanese meal usuals like miso soup, rice, pickles (of which my brother still doesn’t agree that they should be called pickles), complimented by the hot towel, we headed back to the train station to go see the ever popular Daibutsu, or Big Buddha. It doesn’t matter how many times I go there, I’m still impressed. And every time I pay the 20 yen and go inside to rub his belly. My brother used this as a perfect opportunity to try to figure out how they made such an impressive sculpture cast in 1252. His mind is always ticking and trying to figure those things out, while mine has always been so intent on just marveling in the beauty of what is in front of me. Of course, no trip to the Big Buddha can be made without a stop for sweet potato ice cream, of which I like to get it mixed with green tea ice cream… a taste that my brother feels I must have acquired in my time living here, because of his belief in its inedibility.

After this long morning and afternoon of exploring, we headed back to the house to grab the car and go meet KH for a small tour of Yokosuka base and the city, and the evening’s planned grub at our favorite yakitori stand. I insisted at dinner that Kimono Bro drink all the chu-hi that I normally would and he was only too obliging. Filled with yakiniku, quail eggs and whatever else we added to the plethora of yakitori we ordered, the lateness made us call it a night and prepared for another day of exploration.

Now, you see, my brother is not much of a traveler. He has a wife and two beautiful kids and that keeps him pretty busy with working and keeping bread on their table. They take their yearly vacations, but never has he had the chance to travel out of the country like this. And the credit should be duly passed here, that it was indeed his wife who pushed him the hardest (even manipulating him a bit) to stop him from being a husband, dad and provider for a few days and take the opportunity laid out in front of him. Pretty much everyone in our family and his wife’s family were willing to pitch in a buck or some babysitting time if only he would book the flight. I must admit that, when he did (only five days before leaving, I might add… my family is so opposite me on planning fixations), I was simultaneously shocked and thrilled. In all the time that we have lived here, I have tried not to push anyone towards making the trip. It was our choice to move here, and I never want people to feel obligated to visit… no matter what the level of the relationship is. My dad has no plans to ever come back to this side of the world (after a tour that took him to several places on this side of the world in the 60s) and I completely respect his decision, because it is his to make. Only in the privacy of my own home and with my husband have I ever stated that I would be sad if my brother didn’t come. He truly has a love of history and the world around him as much as I do, which is the only reason I felt it so important that he make the trip. Now was I ever going to tell him that? Hell no! But that fact that he finally came and I got to share this with him gave me pure glee. It was made even better by how much he truly loved every single minute of it, even remarking how he would stay if it wasn’t for a family at home. It wouldn’t surprise me if he actually made a future plan to return. But that’s way in the future.

I digress… back to his second day. My plan was to get him to the Pacific Ocean where he could put a hand or toe in (too chilly to immerse yourself at this time of year). Zushi beach would be the obvious choice, but he had already seen that. So I decided to make a trip to a place I had yet to visit, Enoshima Island. The only thing I didn’t realize about Enoshima was that it isn’t really a driving island, but entirely a walking one. That would have been fine on any other day, but we actually had more planned for the afternoon, which didn’t allot us with the time to hike over the mountain in the middle of Enoshima to see the other side. I couldn’t let that be an end to his touching the ocean, so we did find a place where we could walk down to the rocky shoreline. Here we stood looking for a good hour just staring at the sea creatures clinging to and inbetween the rocks. He got to put his hand in, while we stood debating the depth of the water there. What we had gauged at about 7 feet was proven incredibly wrong when four Japanese men and women can trundling down the stairs in scuba gear, shimmied up to the edge and then one by one jumped into the dark water, which completely submerged them. Sure they weren’t the tallest Japanese people, but that water had to have been much deeper depth than previously guessed for them to be swallowed in as they were. After watching them disappear into the depths, we walked along the walled coastline down to where fishermen lined the ending pier and giant birds swirled eerily low to our heads. Along the walkway, there was an odd sign that showed foot reflexology, followed by a path of miscellaneous sized stones and logs just beyond. Of course we could read nothing on the sign, but it was all too tempting not to take off our shoes and walk it. I made it not more than a few feet, but biting back the pain, Kimono Bro actually made it down the whole walkway. Triumphantly, he reshoed his now bruised and sore feet as we laughed our way through the first half of the day.

The next stop of the day was to Toys ‘R Us in Yokohama where he planned on checking out the oddities found there and buying a few things for his kids. I’ve been to this store many times, but the toys just never get more normal and more laughter ensued as we made our way up and down the aisles. What was particularly amusing were the children’s kitchen knives, plastered with Disney characters, that we found. Could I have only recorded our conversations about our observations, we would have had the next big Cosby comedy act in our possession.

It was getting late, so we made our way back to the house to meet up with KH for dinner. Keeping it local, we visited the Chinese-Japanese restaurant down the street that we frequent about once a week. It was time for Kimono Bro to sample so true Japanese ramen. We gave him our top two picks – garlic or mushroom, but really pushed him towards the second. The first has actually been denied further contact EVER with KH’s digestive system. There is so much garlic in this dish, that the person who dares order it will smell like garlic stank for the next three days. This is no exaggeration. Another friend went to the same place to try this lovely dish and his wife has also considered it a forever denied dish. Guess which one my darling brother opted for. As he placed the order, the waiter actually laughed at him before telling him he wouldn’t be kissing his wife for three days. KB laughed back and said she was halfway around the world. Of course, the laugh would be on him when he woke up the next morning, opened the door and that old garlic whoosh went flying though house to haunt him for the rest of the day. He would find himself brushing his teeth the next morning for triple the usual time, only for the garlic taste left in his mouth to get worse with every swipe of the brush. His heart would speed up over the next days due to its supreme squeaky cleanness.

Despite the stink that he carried home from dinner that night, he still had a perfect second day in Japan. And there still was a whole Tokyo weekend left in front of him.


Lisa said...

I can't tell you how happy I was to learn that he was making the trip over there to visit you even after your Mom decided to hold off until after the baby came. What a fantastic gift to himself, not to mention to you too! You too will have the memories of this visit to last you a life time, I'm sure!

Kristen said...

Manipulating - I did not! Not me! :) Thank you again for giving him an adventure he will never forget. And who knows I may be next!!

Mike S said...

Don't ya just love showing folks around the place? The perfect excuse for revisiting some of the more amusing tourist stops.

The Buddha, Enoshima, and the Train Museum near Hachioji were favorites of my kids.