Another entry for the prompt of travel/Adventure today at dVerse.
Haibun: Making Udon
“If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is to keep moving” Paul Kornfield
A week later during this trip to Japan, my guide sensed I was on a mission of not just “seeing” Japan. He suggested we go to the senmaida (thousand rice paddies) at Noto peninsula. The terraces were always in need of repair and frequently, urbanites would trek out to volunteer to help repair the terraces. It was a cold rainy day and to be honest, I would rather have stayed in the hotel room – but I could not let down my guide (Nikko) or, myself. We drove out to the senmaida and as I stepped outside of the van, my heart stopped. Perched precariously on a steep hillside, looking as if it would tumble off into the ocean below, was the terraced paddy. Already people in brightly colored slickers were standing in the cold water with small holes repairing holes. We went and spoke to the “Head Voluneer” and I was put to work. I’d rather have been planting rice! But knowing this work would make it possible to plant the rice gave me impetus to start moving. Hard, cold, backbreaking, wet and muddy – I can think of some other words but will not use them. But after a hot shower back at the hotel and a dinner which included that local rice, I felt satisfaction in my soul. I had helped to maintain employment, lives, customs, a culture….another piece of my soul fell into place. The smell of salt air and cold water, the chatter of families – all combined to make me warm inside.
The next week, Nikko suggested we go to the suburb in which he lived about a 15 train ride from downtown Tokyo. He assured me it was not one of the suburbs full of gaijin (foreigner) but instead, a bedroom suburb for Tokyo filled with multigenerational Japanese families. We quickly rode from the city through the Japanese style cement houses, many brightly painted. Amazingly, fields of green crops rested between the clustered houses – buckwheat, wheat, and soybeans. He wanted us to have lunch at a small restaurant where the owner handmade udon noodles in the old way. He knew I would want to see and taste.
The owner and his wife went to the restaurant everyday. Outside the restaurant was his family’s farm – several acres of buckwheat or soybeans at different seasons. A small patch of cucumbers, melons, squash, corn, tomatoes – were just being planted. The owner happily let me watch him mix udonko – udon flour – with sea salt and water in a huge bowl. Carefully he pulled together every scrap and shaped into a ball which he covered with plastic wrap and then placed the bowl on the floor. Putting on clean socks, he began to knead the dough with his feet. It is a tough dough and the body weight makes it easier to knead. This was done several times with resting between the kneading. Finally he rolled it out and cut into perfect strips and cooked me a bowl of noodles, vegetables, and miso. Soon I was using my chopsticks to convey the fresh doughy noodles into my mouth, alternately raising the bowl and sipping the rich miso broth. He saw how much I enjoyed my meal. Nikko told me he said that if what he did made others happy, then he was happy. All the holes in my heart healed in that moment. I again remembered why I loved to cook – it made other people happy. I realized that was the reason for this journey – to regain hope, happiness, joy of sharing without stint. A bowl of noodles changed my life. Yes, it truly did. I look at the world around me – then and now – I don’t have to stay negative and angry and crazy. I can feel pain at life, but I don’t have to let it obsess me. I make udon today, as I was taught those years ago. And when I feed the noodles or any food to people and they are happy, then I am happy.
small green buckwheat plants
under pale spring sky – watching
them grow my soul grows.