Standing in the middle of u-shaped, konoji counter, the landlady conducted conversation with a family of 3, all sat on low stools on a corner. When I entered, she immediately gave me a broad smile and called me over to join them. The warmth of her welcome made me feel like a distinguished guest.
Unfortunately, except for my umbrella nothing about me is distinguished. Along with other foreign travellers, I just sometimes get treated like royalty. This is nice, but can be spoiling – like giving a kid chocolate cake with every meal.
The restaurant, called Tamaya No Kakurega (The Mausoleum Hideout), is in a 180 year old wooden building connecting onto a miso factory. It was the oldest and most impressive building I saw in Yonezawa. Out in the suburbs, it survived the fires that destroyed thousands of buildings in Yonezawa 100 years ago.
The landlady stood in front of a small fire used for cooking sticks of konnyaku, devil`s tongue. I felt comfortable sitting with her, as if I could ask her whatever I wanted. She was my Mum for the afternoon.
From the counter, I could see out through an open door onto a garden and a large pond; a gardener was busy trimming the trees with nail scissors.
The landlady told me that ponds appeared all over Yonezawa when the let`s-eat-hedge-Lord was in charge. Carp were raised to provide food. Later I read that carp were first imported into Yonezawa from neighbouring Fukushima.
Perhaps sensing an interest in history, without any warning, the landlady, eyeballing me the whole time, launched into a short recitation:
I had no idea what she meant. In a way, I hoped she was not speaking Japanese.
The words come from a famous quote from His Hedgeness 200 odd years ago. I did not understand their meaning, but I was impressed by the power of the delivery and the feat of memory.
Later I saw the quote on a plaque in the centre of town. I took some time away from my trip to prepare the following translation for you:
“You get nowt for nothing in this world sonny Jim.”
It might need touching up a little.
Lunch by the way was iced, ukogi hedge-flavoured noodles sprinkled with seaweed flakes and served with wasabi. Delicious.