Tane, part III: temple in the woods, Kei trucks, and lunch

I didn’t want to leave Tane when I woke up last Sunday. How could you refuse a view like this?

Bedroom view
Dylan and I spent the prior evening watching Japanese music videos, singing along with Matsumoto-san’s daughter and grandaughters, and showing videos of Dylan’s singing.  I found one of Riko-chan’s activity books, and set to work practicing my stroke order in hiragana, some fill-in-the-blank with particles (neko wa yama ni iku; regarding the cat, to the mountain he goes), and identifying whether part of a sentence would be written with は (“ha” in a word, or “wa” as a particle) or わ (“wa” in a word), or some other pestiferous pairs of へ/え, を/お that are read the same when the first is used as a particle, are otherwise pronounced differently, and have very different functions!

Did I mention it was hot in Tane?  Tokyo’s hot, Shiga’s hot… everywhere in Japan is hot.  Everyone looks at me funny for carrying a metal water bottle and constantly refilling it, as the Japanese don’t seem to drink much water, or carry around water bottles.  However, everyone, whether Japanese or foreign, sweats.  The guys wearing black shirts had intricate salt patterns on their backs by 11 am in Tane.  On the train in Tokyo, most people look like they’ve been swimming by 10 am.  How anyone manages business formal, much less business casual, in this environment is beyond me.

And despite this mugginess, Tane gets about two meters of snow every winter.  I asked the Matsumoto family what they did about snow on their roof—they hire a local company to shovel it off as they’re too old to do it themselves.

No one in Tane seems to be afraid of everything like they are in Tokyo.  Radiation?  Don’t buy vegetables from Fukushima-ken, they might be contaminated, I’m afraid.  Bicycle?  Don’t ride it to work, it’s dangerous, I’m afraid.  In Tane, it’s different.  The vegetables grown here are safe.  The water from the surrounding mountains is safe.  Cycling is safe, and even fun.  Why worry about those things when the town might evaporate?

In the morning, we assembled at a larger temple in the woods, Shoko and Yuki bringing along their host family’s daughters.

Toward the temple
Sculpted path
Adopted family
The temple itself was about 350 years old, built by a famous monk who was a gifted designer and architect.

Leaf buds
A tree at the back of the building was around 400 years old. In the time when this tree was planted, people would use this variety’s leaves to write letters on, so the monk called it a “post office” tree.  (The symbol for post office, 〒, is derived from the word teishin, but I think it looks more like a tree.)

350-year-old postal tree
Inside the temple, each corner had its own small shrine.

Small shrine
The wet garden represented Lake Biwa.

Wet garden
Lake Biwa representation
Further on in a clearing, a dry garden had large stones representing a mountain and a boat traveling through the waters of life.  Steep paths led from the garden up into the hills, and crepe myrtle trees shaded the space.

Inside the structure, Alberto and Shumpei found an irori, a sunken hearth under the tatami panels for heating food and the temple.

Hidden panel for irori
The women and the monk at the temple then prepared tea and sweets for us; the bitterness of the whipped matcha supposed to contrast to the taste of the small desserts.

Tea preparation
Sweets for tea
We left the temple, Clay and José doing their best to be cute.

Group shot
The next adventure: Hiro needed to switch cars outside of town while driving us back to Tane proper, so we boarded a Kei truck. We don’t really have Kei trucks, or  Keitora (軽トラ), in the US—there’s even a law in California that you can only operate them on Catalina Island.  They’re quite a few steps up from a golf cart or an ATV for hauling things around, and are ubiquitous for deliveries and handymen in Japan.  Kei trucks even get about 40 miles to the gallon!

You certainly cannot ride in the back of a Kei truck legally. We certainly did not.

Loading the K-truck
MIT Tane policy: safety second; awesome first.
Abunai, Will Robinson!
Everyone knows you in a small town, and waves hello as you go barreling down the village streets, “こんにちわ!” turning into “konnichiwaaaaaah!

We convened at the home of our host in Tane, Nakajima-san, for a final lunch and goodbye.

Pine support
Window view
Even the lunch assembly was amazing. We ferried dishes up a steep ladder to the second floor, setting up for the final meal of the weekend in Tane.

Setting up for the best. ever. lunch.
Lavender wands
So excited for food
Myoga, a gingery root.

Shiso leaves, which you see in Korean cooking as well.

Shiso leaves
Onions, purple potatoes (but yellow on the inside!), kabocha.

Onions, purple potatoes, kabocha
A lot of Japanese food is flavored with miso, soy sauce, seaweed, or other things otherwise umami (this means everything, including deli meats, at the grocery store has MSG). Herbal seasons don’t usually make much of an appearance, but this meal was an exception. Nakajima-san prepared a chicken soup with a strong tomato/herb stock, tasting almost Persian.  I’m still trying to get the recipe.

Herbal soup.  おいしい!
This was the first time I saw basil appear on a Japanese table. It mysteriously and rapidly disappeared.

Chicken, eggs, onions, BASIL
I really didn’t want to leave Tane, but there was a Shinkansen to catch and… maybe I should have stayed.

On the way out of Tane to the Kawake train station, we passed a store selling granite carvings of lanterns, Buddhas, and lions.  Perhaps Tane could become like in Naoshima, with the abandoned homes becoming art houses and selling sculptures and decorated gourds.  Maybe there’s a way for the town to thrive with the emptiness of the houses as an asset.

The Shinakansen ride back to Tokyo was as easy as the one down. I sat next to alums from the 1970’s and 80’s, who tried to teach me obscure Japanese phrases and joked about baseball. As we headed north, it got cloudier and darker; I just wanted to go back to Tane, to be somewhere with green fields and no fear.

Mountains from shinkanen
More photos here.

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