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Connie: Birthday Udon

March 25, 2011

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my favorite novel is Murakami Haruki’s “Kafka on the Shore.” The main character travels to Takamatsu as a runaway, figuring it’s a place where no one will think to look for him. While the novel doesn’t describe much of the city in detail, or perhaps because of this, I’ve wanted all year to go there. I wanted to see what that place was like so perhaps the next time I read through I’ll have a clearer picture in my head.

I was surprised when I received a message on facebook from the Japanese student going to study abroad in Minnesota next year asking me if I wanted to travel down to Kagawa (the prefecture Takamatsu is in) with him. Not only that, but the day he proposed we go on was familiar. It was actually my birthday – though he didn’t know that, and apparently I’d almost forgotten myself. I couldn’t believe the coincidence!

It turns out my friend was headed to Tokushima prefecture, which is next to Kagawa. He had two Japanese friends with him who agreed to go with so they could eat the delicious udon noodles, which is famous Japan-wide. There were 5 of us total: my friend going to Minnesota, his two friends, my English friend and I. The drive from Saijo was roughly 3 hours. It didn’t seem so long. On the way there we conversed a lot, and the scenery is beautiful. It’s entirely different from what is in Minnesota – lakes and trees are replaced by mountains and the ocean, and of course traditional Japanese houses scattered about the green fields.

Our first stop was at a rest area in between the largest island, Honshu, and the island on which Kagawa is located, Shikoku. The spot was beautiful and the weather was warm and breezy. It smelled like the sea. The bridge we were halfway through crossing was stunning, and I kept thinking of one of the characters from Kafka on the Shore saying, “I need to cross a big bridge,” referring to leaving Honshu and entering Shikoku.

The first thing we did upon crossing the bridge was search for our first bowl of udon. We pulled in at a convenience store and the two young men in the car went to ask where the best udon place was. My friend got back in the car with all of the directions memorized – he recited them three or four times just to annoy us. They must not have been very good directions, however, because the place was incredibly hard to find. Even with the car’s GPS we got lost several times. When we finally pulled up I could see why. It was tucked between regular houses in what seemed to be the worst location for any sort of business.

However, this seemed to deter no one. Word of mouth must be fantastic, because the line waiting for this tiny shop was huge. The shop itself was miniscule. There was only room for maybe 5 or 6 people inside, but there were plenty of benches outside. “This is really Japanese style,” my friend said. “Eating udon outside like this.”

As for Kagawa’s udon, it truly was wonderful. I must admit, though I like udon, it’s not my top choice in Japanese foods. In Kagawa, however, it might be worth the drive from Saijo. Not only was it delicious but it was incredibly cheap – I paid 230 yen for mine, roughly $3 including the tempura on top.

Between bowls of udon our group went to Ritsurin Park. It’s a lovely garden with several walking courses and beautiful ponds all over. You can buy feed from vendors and feed the koi fish that swim in the ponds. Those fish will come in swarms and stick their mouths right up against the rocks trying to suck dampened feed from the surface. My friend was transformed into a kid again while he fed these things. One moment he would said, “Gross!” and then the next he would hand-feed them. Then he would break off huge chunks of the food and challenge them, “It’s too big! You can’t eat it! HA! …Oh, you ate it!”

This friend also stopped to talk to a high school girl we saw painting the landscape. Apparently they were there as an art class doing a project during spring break. What a beautiful landscape they had to paint! All the girls I saw painting were also very talented. My friend snuck up behind one of them and took a picture of her painting. I wonder if she noticed – he wasn’t exactly quiet when he said, “Wow! So skillful!”

There were tons of cats in the garden. There are several scenes in Kafka on the Shore in which characters engage in dialogue with cats. So I meowed at them. And they meowed back. I felt very accomplished, even if that’s silly. I talked to a cat!

Between the park and our next destination we fit in another bowl of udon. The first bowl was better, but the second was nothing to turn your nose up at. This was around 3pm, so needless to say, I wasn’t very hungry for the rest of the day.

Finally we headed into the heart of Takamatsu. We found the sea again. It was a lovely area, and the whole bay in front of us was spotted with sailboats. It was at this time that all of us seemed to become quiet and self-reflecting. I wish I lived near that place so I could go every day and straighten things out. I felt so clear-minded there on the shore. I stared at the mountains and wondered, “Did Murakami ever come here? What kind of forest is Oshima’s cabin in?” I wonder what the others were thinking about?

It was probably one of the best birthdays I’ve had. I’ve never really been able to do the kinds of things I want to do on my birthday. There’s always something in the way. But this year I had the random chance to do something I’ve dreamed of doing. Though the city was different from how I pictured it. I’m glad I got to go. I’m also glad I got to know a little about the person coming to study abroad in Minnesota next year. I’ll have to show him somewhere interesting back in the States!

 

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