Two women greeted me from behind the counter. They had pudgy, pretty faces with stout bodies hardened by shovelling snow.
I ordered a horsemeat curry. The shorter, more exuberant lady prepared it in the kitchen, formerly the living quarters for the station master`s family.
They were both proud of being from the Tsugaru region, in Japan`s backwoods, on the northern edge of Honshu island. The bubbly one told me about the notorious Tsugaru dialect:
“You would not understand us if we talked normally (in the Tsugaru dialect). We are only speaking standard Japanese for your benefit. In Tokyo we get mistaken for foreigners. Hearing us chatter, bus drivers grunt and wave us away. Department store clerks ask us: `Is Japanese ok?`”
Their broad, contagious smiles suggested they were enjoying the exotic company. They even invited me to stay – to help them shovel the snow steadily accumulating at the cafe entrance; the 3rd time they`ll shovel today. I had a train to catch so I promised I would help when I return – in August.
When my train was due, they climbed the snow-packed stone steps to the platform with me. “Hebana,” they called out. “What does that mean?” “Sayonara.”
Sitting on the warm, empty train, I looked out the window. The bilingual ladies were waving with both hands, palms facing upwards, pausing to take a deep bow.