Rice and rain

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Sayaka and her husband Masahi picked us up from the airport and chauffeured us around their prefecture for Saturday afternoon and all of Sunday. I could hardly believe their generosity. Although Sayaka and I have a very friendly correspondence, we've only met once. She really is a fantastic person.

Masahi works for the Oita department of agriculture and fisheries, so he is familiar with the loveliest parts of the countryside. We drove around the Kunisaki peninsula on Saturday afternoon. The color of rice as it matures for harvest is the most vivid yellow-green.

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We stopped at several old temples and drove through countless tunnels and admired all of the farms and local produce. We even went past Usa, where legend has it that the clever Japanese had a lot of manufacturing plants in the 1950s. Instead of stamping their plastic toys "Made in Japan" they put "Made in Usa" before exporting them to America.

Sayaka came out to dinner with us and introduced us to several Oita specialties: toriten, tempura-style fried chicken; kabosu, a sour citrus fruit that's great in sauces or in drinks; and chicken sashimi. I was really surprised at how delicious raw chicken is...actually it's cooked tataki style, seared on the outside and raw in the middle, then sliced very thin. Mmmmm.

Sunday was a day of intermittent, intense downpours, but it didn't stop us from heading to the Oita coast. Masahi drove us to Saiki and then we boarded a ferry for the tiny island of Oonyujima. We drove around the island twice, stopping once for a terrific seafood curry lunch (We had to wait a while as we arrived two minutes after a group of 30 who had been on a fishing tour) and once for soft cream (soft-serve ice cream) while we waited for the ferry back to Saiki.

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Sayaka and Masahi treated us royally. They came prepared with maps, guidebooks and pamphlets for everything in English. It was truly a treat to see so much of the countryside, though I'm afraid I was a terrible conversationalist during our rides. I was too entranced with gazing at and thinking about the passing landscape to devote much brain power to talking. If I had talked I would have been babbling all the things I was thinking--memories of other rural places, wondering about growing seasons, comparison of architecture. I think it was better for everyone that I kept all that in my head. :-)

Back in Oita city,Tod & I decided to go for a walk after dinner and while we were out, encountered a grandmother and her two grandchildren catching crabs along the castle moat. She showed us her technique: quickly press down on the back of the crab, then pick it up by the sides of the shell. I was too slow to get the pressing part, but she was really skilled at it and caught one for me that I got to hold. I'll bet she's been doing this since she was a kid. It was heartwarming to see her passing the torch to her granddaughter and grandson. And to us...

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