Monday, 1 October 2012

By the time that was done we were ready for supper. A glass-fronted lift, affording stunning views of the harbour, took us to the top floor of the same building. The meal awaiting us there was without doubt one of the most extraordinary and delicious of my entire life. Attended to by waitresses in radiant silk kimonos, their hair sculpted, with knitting needles jutting out like in Madam Butterfly, the first course was tempura; battered, deep-fried fish with exquisitely refined dips. Then came the legendary local speciality – Kobe beef, arriving in raw, paper-thin strips, ready to be boiled in a simmering casserole placed on a special cooker inside the middle of the table. Each sliver takes a few seconds, after which it is dunked in a superb sesame-seed houmous; the vegetables get a similar treatment, in soy sauce. Because the process is quite slow, one’s appetite actually seems to increase; but a bowl of rice with splendid soup for the next course put paid to this phenomenon. For dessert i had melon, my companion knowing that normally i don’t eat ice cream.[1]   

St James, Patron of pilgrims, Freiburg, eastern Germany
   On our first meeting, one of the things we talked about was her pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago, or Way of St James, to Compostela, in the spring of that year. It is said that there are upmarket restaurants in towns along the Camino where, if people are obviously pilgrims, they are refused service, because such high living contravenes the humble spirit of their endeavour. So quite what St James made of my Kobe experiences i don’t know! In any event though, and whatever food is placed before one, gratitude is a key characteristic of men and women who no longer live in caves. After reciting my usual grace quietly, i asked my friend, who happens to be a Protestant Christian, how people might express this in Japanese. There turns out to be a generic phrase: Itadakimas, meaning ‘i receive’, the implication being that one receives from someone, hence gratitude. Among other phrases i learnt from her was Okage Sama de, the nearest Japanese equivalent to the Arabic expression ‘Al hamdu li la-ah’, or 'Praise the Lord' in English, which contains a meaning of 'shade', as if one is expressing thanks for being under the shade of God's hand. Another particular word that interested me was Kamikaze, and specifically whether it is used in the first chapter of the Book of Genesis in Japanese.[2] We also talked a bit about the 2003 film ‘Lost in Translation’, which she quite liked, but i thought was a turkey; not half as funny as it thought it was, and - despite being set in Tokyo - drawn out over two whole hours without a single three dimensional Japanese character. To borrow a telling summary of the execrable Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy[3] sewage that discharged itself later that year; “That’s two hours of my life that i will never get back.”

Family shrine in houe where i stayed, Kobe
   On top of not letting me near the bill for all this, she gave me a beautiful Japanese book with illuminated scripture quotations, so i proffered the illustrated English language guide to the Shrine of Namyang; i also had a photograph of a statue of St James from Freiburg and a card with another message from Blessed Teresa of Calcutta to give to her[4].

   She then took me by train to the station where we had arranged to meet the gentleman who had offered to put me up. Saying our ‘sayonara’s, we agreed to meet up in Osaka on the next evening for a baseball game, before the departure of my coach. My host, studying theology in Kyoto since his retirement from teaching, brought me by car to his house and showed me to a wonderfully Japanese room, with the family shrine[5] on one side, and a very comfortable bed rolled out on the floor. I had a wash, after which we shared a can of beer, making me ready to sleep very soundly indeed.

[1] Mary’s Meals is very good at educating people of the folly of our spending priorities in the developed world. According to UN estimates, the amount Europeans spend on ice cream every year, around 11 billion euros, would be enough to ensure clean water and safe sewerage for the population of the entire world, and still have 2 billion euros left over. Similarly, Americans and Europeans spend $17 billion a year on pet food. The estimated amount needed to ensure basic health and nutrition for everyone in the world is $13 billion. You do the math.
[2] Meaning ‘divine wind’, originally the word Kamikaze was applied to major typhoons which intervened to save Japan by dispersing Mongol invasion fleets under Kublai Khan in 1274 and 1281; the Japanese never had to yield to the Mongol yoke. My interest was aroused, because the phrase ‘divine wind’ is sometimes used in English translations of the Book of Genesis: “In the beginning God created heaven and earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep, with a divine wind sweeping over the waters.” [Genesis 1:1-2] ‘K’ however confirmed that this is not the term used in Japanese translations. Interestingly though, she said that Japanese people retain a strong feeling of reverence and indebtedness to the pilots who carried out Kamikaze missions in World War II.
[3] Moles are not really circus animals.
[4] “The Joy of Loving Jesus: May you keep the joy of loving Jesus in your hearts and share that joy with all you come in contact with. That radiating joy is something real, for you have no reason not to be happy because you have Christ with you - Christ in your hearts, Christ in the Eucharist, Christ in the poor that you meet, Christ in the smile that you give and in the smile that you receive.”
[5] Although he was Catholic, this shrine was a treasured remnant of his family’s Buddhist heritage.

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