I have been drifting around north Japan for 9 days, my belly and brain somehow thrashing out a route together. This morning, I woke up in Tendo, an onsen town on a rice plain in Yamagata prefecture.
Cold and cloudy at 7am, the weather forecast was for snow – for the next seven days. I decided to limit sightseeing to a roadside coffee shop.
I never visit coffee shops to drink coffee – that would be too obvious. Eating, reading and writing are three common motivations, probably in that order. Today I went looking for chit-chat, and I was not let down.
Two cheery little ladies work the counter of Kappoku, one taught me the word honobono (heartwarming), I shall call her Honobono; the other lady………errr……..wore earrings.
As often happens when I meet strangers in Japan, we ended up talking about natto – the love or hate marmite of Japanese cuisine. Honobono was impressed I could eat it, congratulating me on kokufuku – overcoming my initial dislike of the stinky sticky stuff.
“Have you ever tried yukiwari natto?”, Honobono asked.
“What`s yukiwari natto?”, Earrings asked her. The two ladies debated its existence.
Earrings said she had to go shopping, while she was out she would look for some.
While Earrings was away, I chitchatted with Honobono. A bright-colored picture postcard of 3 children waiting at a bus stop attracted my attention. The artist was Nakajima Kiyoshi, and the drawing was “honobono”, Honobono told me.Next to the postcard was a souvenir donkey. Explaining this caused more of a problem, she knew who it came from, but not where. For a long time, we debated which country (either Paraguay or Russia, Honobono concluded).
Earrings came back and put a shopping bag full with two packs of yukiwari natto and three trays of miso-tare natto on the counter in front of me.
“Here`s a souvenir”
I had to take it. I could not offend – perhaps it is Yamagata custom for coffee shop staff to give natto to first time visitors.
I did feel a little guilty, the natto cost more than the coffee. I decided I had to leave before they offered me the postcards and donkey too.
Before making an exit, I quickly went to the bathroom. When I opened the door to come out, Earrings was furtively fiddling with the shopping bag. She wants the natto back, I thought. But when I sat down, I realised the bag had grown – she had opened it to shove two apples down the side.