Monday, April 12, 2010

Hannah Comes to Town part 9

Sunday was the last day of Hannah's visit, and was the day we completed our list of Foods To Eat and finished her souvenir shopping. I'm not sure why it took so long for me to write this post, other than to remember the feelings I describe towards the end of this post. Gomenasai, good friends.

We began the day the right way—covering the bed with plastic, leaving the rabbit with plenty of food and water, and heading over to Mr. Donut for a well-balanced donut. We headed into Kyoto early (remember, those who are keeping track, that it's 400 to Kyoto station) and wandered into Isetan. Kyoto's beautiful train station, opus of architecture that it is, holds a hotel, a theater, an art gallery/museum, and the upscale Isetan department store that hosts upscale shops for upscale brands like Gucci and Prada. It also has two floors dedicated to good eats, including a burger joint at which the employees all have to wear large orange cowboy hats, so it's not all class and couth.

Hannah and I wandered around for a while to find some souvenirs for her and her family. Shopping for souvenirs is always tough; I've never been very good with buying something that is both representative of the place I visited and relevant to the person for whom I'm buying it. Especially when one visits an expensive country like Japan, it can be really frustrating to balance a budget and buying for people what you think they'd appreciate. Still, Hannah did manage to find some items she liked, I bought a cute useless woodblock with a hand-painted picture on it, and we headed upstairs to cross off the last item from Japanese Foods To Stuff Down Hannah's Willing Gullet list.

This last item was ramen. Americans, and likely many Westerners, will forever associate ramen with the stuff you buy in packages or cups, the college student's staple food. It makes for a decent salty lunch or snack, but isn't something you'd ever purchase from a restaurant. Real ramen bears resemblance to its Appalachian hillbilly cousin Cup Noodle in only the most basic form: the noodles are the same thickness and length (forever long) and the soup is usually broth-based. Even basic real ramen, however, includes a couple of slices of pork, spring onions, some bean sprouts or other vegetables which are unidentifiable to my eyes, and sometimes half a hardboiled egg. One bowl of the stuff is enough to be a meal. It's friggin' delish, guys. Friggin' delish.

Hannah and I chose one of the least expensive ramen restaurants in Isetan, the kind at which you chose and pay for your ramen at a machine. The waitress shows you to a seat while the chef gets started on your order. My half-size ramen was a mere 540 yen. Hannah treated me, but I figured I'd let you future visitors know. Ramen is cheap. Ramen is delicious. Ramen is plentiful. According to a quick Google search, ramen restaurants in the states can be found in Denver or New York. I'm sure there's one in California or Hawaii, where Japanese residents and tourists tend to congregate, but all's I'm saying is that you shouldn't discount ramen as real food until you've tried the real thing. Ramen.

Once we finished our noodles Hannah and I skipped back down to the station. We said our goodbyes without tears, but with big hugs. I clowned on the platform as Hannah got settled and waited for the train to start, much to the delight of the other passengers who could see me. Always a good time, watching a mop-headed monkey jig like a drunk toddler. I jigged and waved and hopped up and down until I couldn't see her train anymore.

Sometimes I wonder if I appear cold because I am uncomfortable with long farewells and phrases like, "I miss you already," or "I'm going to miss you so much." I have trouble telling folk that I miss them at all. Maybe it's because I hate to darken the last few moments of fraternization with thoughts of upcoming sadness (that, in my opinion, is completely pointless). Perhaps it's because I don't get truly homesick frequently, or that I don't miss people in the same way; I figure that we'll see each other soon enough, and the wonders of the internet can keep us fairly well connected. Nevertheless, after seeing the one person who took the effort to cross an ocean just to spend time with me disappear with the train, I certainly felt bereft when I finally stopped waving on the platform. I took a side trip back into Kyoto to buy some picture frames (because shopping was supposed to fill the hole in my heart. That didn't work. Also, I needed them), and then headed home. When I walked into my house I found a pencil pouch that hadn't been there before. I recognized it the pouch fabric as one I had pointed out to Hannah during our trip to the Kazari-ya woodblock print shop. I had said something to the effect of "This is the cutest print I've seen in Japan," and hadn't given it any more thought. Inside the pencil pouch was a box of chocolates and a note from Hannah, thanking me for my hospitality and friendship, telling me what a wonderful time she'd had.

And then I sat down on my living room floor and wept.


  1. You should have posted a warning to me at the beginning of this post: Don't read at work. Since I am now crying too, as I did the second my train pulled out of the station.

    On a lighter note, I second your endorsement of ramen. It's nothing like American ramen and is far superior. De-lic-ious.

  2. Someone's building a real Ramen restaurant (alliteration much?) in DC just a few blocks from me. I think it's supposed to open by the end of the summer. Or next summer. No one really knows. FOOD!