Check out Part One: here.
After saying “Ciao” and “see you soon” to our new Italian friends, we got back to waiting for our host to make his appearance. We were enjoying ourselves too much to even be bothered. Several minutes later, and finally he arrived.
We greeted each other in Japanese and headed up to the apartment. Around the corner we went to a little alleyway that led to a small community of walk-ups, laundry lines hanging like Christmas lights, and bicycles parked outside old yet decorative doors. It was the perfect atmosphere for true local living.
As we got to our door, our host pointed to a steep staircase that led up to the fourth floor. If this had been our first day backpacking, the sight probably would’ve made me cry. But, luckily, after hundreds of miles of walking, jogging, and even sprinting to and from trains, up and down flights and through the narrow passageways between the crowds, we were trained for the backpacking Olympics. Or at least that’s what it felt like.
Until the third story.
“I better have a rock hard ass after this adventure,” I said out loud, “because I could feel my muscles with every slight movement.”
When we finally got upstairs, the apartment was a pleasant surprise. It had a loft-type feel with décor straight out of Home Goods. We saw a poster: “Brooklyn 86th Street” and took it as a good sign, considering that’s where we grew up.
With a quick tour, he showed us to our bed. We had been warned that it was a small room, but we knew we could handle it. I mean, we did spend four months living out of our Toyota Highlander so as long as it was bigger than that, it’d be perfect.
Well, it wasn’t exactly bigger. He pointed to a closet door in the living room and slowly slides it open. There it was, our bed inside the closet. Just the bed. In a closet.
“Well, I guess you haven’t really traveled in Japan until you’ve slept in a closet”, we thought.
We put our stuff down and headed to the rooftop. It was the other part we were looking forward to because it was possible to see Mt. Fuji on a good day. Unfortunately, it was pretty cloudy and Fuji was nowhere to be seen. But, fortunately, we didn’t care.
We had a 360-degree view of the entire town which was surrounded by mountains and hills peaking in and out of the clouds. We were in awe and couldn’t believe our eyes. After a few deep breaths and taking it all in, we decided to go exploring.
The streets were so calm and there wasn’t a single tourist around, just how we like it. Arriving in Japan was initially shocking, as we began to stick out amongst the crowd and could see no foreigners in sight for the first few days. It quickly transformed from shock to complete enjoyment.
We loved feeling like we had really been enveloped in the culture. Being so far from what we were used to was actually a highlight of our travels. It got to the point that we enjoyed it so much, that when we began seeing more than 5 tourists in one place, we would get highly uncomfortable and jolt in the other direction.
This definitely wasn’t the case here. As we roamed the streets, we came across another older couple. This conversation sounded vaguely familiar to the first one we had as soon as we got off the train.
They pulled us aside and with hand gestures and Japanese they asked us “how the hell did we get here??” After a few short explanations, plenty of smiles and even more bowing, we said farewell and continued on our way.
We passed by a barbershop and immediately stopped. We have such a limited space for our belongings that some things had to be left behind. Boris’ razor was one of them. Getting a little itchy with the beard and also longing for a Japanese experience, we entered the shop to see if we can explain to them what we wanted.
As we entered, two men were smoking, watching a Sumo match, and once again were surprised to see us. They were excited and quickly agreed to a very cheap shave and cut, the old fashioned way. Every man should experience a real, hot towel shave at least once in his life. Hell, maybe even a few women would benefit as well.
After turning Boris from a wild beast into a smooth young man, we headed to find our new friend’s restaurant.
Drizzle filled the air and the street lamps lit up creating an illumination in the damp sidewalks below our feet.
“It’s going to be a good night.”
After some searching and walking into a few wrong restaurants, we finally found it.
As soon as we entered, we could tell this place was the real deal. It was as if we had been transported from Japan to the mountains of Italy with a few short steps and a twist of a door knob. The décor was so warm and inviting.
We were immediately greeted by a Japanese woman, who we later were introduced to as the owner’s wife. Within a few seconds, our new friend arrived and greeted us with open arms. He quickly sat us at the largest table and joined us for a conversation.
That conversation lasted an hour before we could even look at the menu. It was as if we had been reunited with an old friend and the words just flowed so naturally. We all felt so comfortable with each other and could feel the relief of being able to have a conversation with someone who actually understood us and vice versa.
Our eagerness to learn another language has never been so great. We spend our days googling translations and our nights watching Japanese reality TV hoping to pick up enough for even a few minutes of conversation.
And, as much as we had improved in that short time, finding a way to have a real conversation still was proving impossible. So, even though, this conversation wasn’t in Japanese, and was with an Italian living in Japan, it was enough.
After looking at the time and hearing our tummies grumble, we placed our order.
“Just give us whatever you recommend that’s vegetarian”.
We try to steer clear of dairy products, even our beloved cheese most of the time, but when in Rome. Or, in this case, Shimizu. We couldn’t say no. We saw the brick oven in the background and our mouths were watering in anticipation.
As the food was brought out, our eyes got wider and it was once again confirmed just how special of a place we had come to. You could feel the love in the food and the flowing conversation only added to the enjoyment of the experience.
The rain was coming down at this point and we didn’t have any umbrellas or rain gear. We hoped we could stay long enough for it to stop so we wouldn’t have to get soaked on our way back to the Airbnb.
After delving deeper into the conversation, our new friend shared with us his plans after he closes the restaurant. Him and his friend, the other Italian we met, would head to their ritual onsen, and then afterwards meet up with another Italian friend of theirs and get some drinks.
“Onsen?” Our eyes lit up. We had just talked about trying to find an onsen a few hours prior. It was one of the few things we really wanted to do in Japan, but had no idea where to start.
“Can we come?” Boris asked without skipping a beat.
“Sure!” Without hesitation, it was settled, we were going to an onsen.
This night was going better than we even thought. We were feeling a little under the weather from the changes in temperature and the long days of hiking through the concrete forests, that we knew it was exactly what we needed. And what better way to experience it than with the locals?
Check out Part 3: here