Day 22: Ready for my Close-up (and Farewell Meals)

A typhoon that had been threatening Kyushu weakened and changed course so we were left with some clouds and light rain for my last day in Ichiki. A local TV station, MBC-Kagoshima, which had profiled my visit to Komasa Shuzo last summer, found me again for a piece on my internship at Yamato Zakura. This time the interviewer was new anchor Yanagi Sachi, who I had met last summer since she is the sister of my translator, Akiko-san.

day 22 mbcday 22 mbc

Her and her crew arrived at 6am to film me washing imo in the rain. I wasn’t allowed to wash all of them since we were on a tight schedule. We then went inside for them to film me mixing the moromi for the cameras. After this we had an interview with Tekkan-san and I. I was surprised, because Sachi-san has always been quite reticent about speaking English, but her English was surprisingly good. Perhaps she’s a bit shy, but when pushed into a professional setting with no translator available, she can step up and get the job done.

day 22 sachi imo


After the interview, I cut potatoes for the cameras and we had a final series of interview questions while the oba-chan who expertly cuts potatoes works in the background. Interview over, we said goodbye to Sachi-san and her crew before having breakfast with Tekkan-san’s wife.

Over breakfast we were able to watch Game 1 of the World Series. I’ve clearly fully acclimated to Japanese life – when David “Big Papi” Ortiz hits a late inning home run for the Red Sox, I shout “すごい!” (“Amazing!”) . I’ve managed to stay in Japan so long I’ve missed the first 2 rounds of the baseball playoffs and most of the government shutdown. I couldn’t be more disappointed with the former or more pleased with the latter.

day 22 worldseries


After breakfast I pack my belongings, which now consists of 28 bottles of shochu and nearly 20 maekaki (traditional aprons like Tekkan-san is wearing in the photo above). I’ll need to figure out a way to decorate my apartment with these aprons. My luggage is overweight so 5 bottles need to stay in Japan. It was surprisingly difficult to make that choice. After packing Tekkan-san casually hands me the day’s newspaper. I’ve never read a Japanese newspaper, so the context is difficult to catch, but apparently this is the lead story in the local section and is quite long relative to usual articles in this paper.

day 22 paper

When lunch time rolls around, we go for a goodbye lunch at Lan-Lan, the most famous maguro ramen shop in Ichiki. When we walk in, business stops. Everyone smiles and waves. They’ve all seen the paper. The owners are pleased that I’ve chosen their restaurant (even though Tekkan-san made the choice). Once the food comes I understand why they’re the most fmaous. In addition to the typical sliced raw maguro, there is a deep fried slice of maguro (on the left side of the bowl in the photo below) that’s as close to a rich salty chashu (the pork slice that adorns most ramen bowls) as you could imagine coming from a fish. I have to say it tastes even better than the chashu you get in many ramen shops. It was just the right amount of crispy, tender, and savory.

day 22 ramen

After lunch it is time to say goodbye. I wander around the distillery giving my regards to everyone . They’re all so incredibly friendly and thankful for my help and all try to return my goodbyes in English equally as broken as my Japanese. The oba-chans were just sitting down to afternoon tea when I poked my head into their break room.

day 22 obachan


The oba-chan in the center of the photo is a delightful older Ichiki resident originally from Tohoku (where the tsunami hit two years ago). She’s tough, agile,  only works the days she wants to, is wickedly fast with her blade, and somehow manages to communicate with me without speaking a word of English. She’s quite proud of herself over this accomplishment too. She’s clearly the leader of this group of part-time seasonal workers.

On the left is the woman who showed up every day to cut potatoes an generally putter around the distillery – always in full make-up and often in fashionable clothes that made me think she must be the shacho’s wife for the first 2 or 3 days I was working there. When I asked Tekkan-san if that was his mother he laughed and said, “No, my mother is a princess. She wouldn’t touch imo.”

On the right is the hardest worker at Yamato Zakura (after Tekkan-san). Younger and stronger than the other oba-chans, she does all of the heavy lifting, cools the rice, mixes the koji (two of the hardest jobs), and is tireless in her actions. if something is amiss she’ll run to find the solution. It’s hard to tell if she’s in her 50s or 60s, but I can’t imagine many women that age running around their workplace regardless.

The three of them were very sad to see me go and very pleased to learn that I planned to return again next year so we were able to say “Ja-matta” (see you later) instead of “sayonara” (goodbye). Saying goodbye to Tekkan-san’s children proves more difficult. The older boy has taken to me and his younger brother finally smiled at me the last day. He even waved when I waved goodbye. That’s progress from a child that would cry upon sight of me for the first 3 days of my homestay.

day 22 family

Luggage packed and in the car, Tekkan-san and his wife drive me to Satsuma-Sendai, a Shinkansen station near Ichiki. It is a warm goodbye as we realize we’ve become very good friends and will see each other soon. It’s been a life changing experience for me and he also feels incredibly inspired by my visit. Now when he washes his imo every morning he will think of me drinking shochu in NYC and it will encourage him to work harder so his shochu can be available in the US.

day 22 train

I take the train a quick hour and ten minutes to Hakata Station, get to my hotel in short order, and have time for a quick nap before meeting Sakaguchi-sensei, Mai-san, and others for a goodbye dinner at a motsu (intestine) izakaya. We drink beer and Nishi Yoshida’s shacho brings  some of his private stock of mugi shochu. His sister arrives later direct from the airport where she’s returning from the US. She’d been in NYC between seeing her before my internship and now the day it ends.

day 22 party

It’s nice to see everyone one last time before I have to return to life in NYC. I’d love to stay out late drinking, but I have a 7am flight to Narita so I call it an early night after a quick stop by Bar Rev where I give my regards to Yamaguchi-san (without even having a drink).

I’m going to miss these people. Even as I write this several days later, I am feeling nostalgic for my time in Kyushu. It’s become such an important part of my life in such a short time. But I know I’ll be back soon.






One Response to “Day 22: Ready for my Close-up (and Farewell Meals)”
  1. Comradde PhysioProffe says:

    This has been an awesome set of posts chronicling your visit to Japan and shochu internship!

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