It’s not by chance that Betty and I are friends and share this blog. We have a similar outlook. We were both made both sad and angry by the BP oil spill, and both, in our own ways, are funneling that towards something unexpected. She turned that anger into a brilliant post on the beauty of happy oceans she’s been witness to. I spent the weekend traveling to a nearby island by Dutch bike.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ll still have to drive my car tomorrow. But for this weekend, to visit a traditional Japanese inn, or ryokan, I wanted to do as much as possible under my own steam. The journey still involved a diesel-powered ferry, but for a trip to Kyoto without an airline ticket, it seemed like a fair trade.
I’m not going to say it was easy–door to door, from my home in Seattle to the front step of the Fuurin-Oka Japanese inn on Bainbridge Island–was easily 18 miles over two days, with many hills in-between. But the novelty factor was high, and getting out of the car felt good, if only for a couple of days. It’s better than nothing.
The first new experience of the trip: Biking on to a ferry. I’d been on ferries dozens of times, but from within the safe hard shell of a car.
This was totally different. It involved biking to the front of the line of cars, and because it was kind of last minute, hustling to get on the boat before the huge swell of cars took over the lanes. I won’t likely forget the ferry guy shouting, “GO, BIKES, GO!”
It was totally worth it, and the long, sweaty ride (which involved lots of walking the bike up steep hills, hoping each was the last) was made better by knowing that a traditional Japanese bath was waiting on the other side.
My trip to Dutch Princess School is in a few weeks. I’ve finalized hotel reservations . But one of my favorite things to do even before one trip is finished is to start thinking about the next one. I love trip planning, and having the next destination on the horizon eases the sting for that inevitable downer day when I’m back at the office, trip finished, sitting next to my coworker (who has a laugh like a jackhammer). It’s good to have the next trip in mind.
For me, the next destination is–I hope–Japan, and Kyoto, specifically. I’ve wanted to go ever since I read Kate Walbert’s The Gardens of Kyoto. I’ve never been to Japan, so when I remembered this ryokan that I’ve wanted to try–just a 30-minute ferry ride from Seattle–it seemed like a plan.
Ann, the owner, greeted us. She was so warm and welcoming, but gave us our space, too. She seems like a genuine and joyful person, and she deserves a place as beautiful as Fuurin-Oka–which is saying a lot.
The building is essentially one tatami-matted room with traditional futons on the floor, the sitting area you see above, a small kitchen, and the bathing area, which consists of the traditional outer chamber, WC for the toilet, and a separate bathing/showering area.
While I was there, I finished At Home in Japan: A Foreign Woman’s Journey of Discovery by Rebecca Otowa. I’ll admit that I was initially drawn to the incredible picture of her on her wedding day, wearing what looked like a Victorian beekeepers’ bonnet (you can see a photo on the NYTimes review page).
But I was drawn in by her frankness at the challenge of being a gaijin running a 350-year-old farmhouse. My favorite passage might be where she describes the house from its own perspective:
“I am one of the lucky ones. All around me, houses my age or even younger are suffering the pain and indignity of being reduced to a heap of gray wood, splinters of bamboo, plaster dust, and broken tiles. Even the stones which once proudly held up the pillars are dug out of the earth and taken away. In place of the previous old house, the occupants, who are usually the Original Families (people who belong here, who don’t come from outside), put up some kind of new structure–I would hesitate to call it a house–with no verandas, no tatami, no beams, no roof tiles. The wood struts are woefully puny and insubstantial. I know these neighborhood upstarts won’t last, not as I have lasted. I miss the old houses. They were my neighbors, my fellows, my friends.”
As Seattle heats up for the summer, and seems even more clanging, booming, and aggressive than normal, I was grateful for the elegance and respite I found this weekend.