December 14, 2012 at 6:46 am

brian and Mr. Henmi (2)

by Terumi Kuwada, Past President of the NAJC

The recent NAJC Heritage Tour was primarily intended for Japanese-Canadians who had never been to Japan, had limited Japanese language skills and who had a wish to learn more about their ancestral roots. The tour was open as well to other Canadians who wished to experience Japan.

Fifteen individuals from Western and Eastern Canada, mainly of Japanese Canadian ancestry came together on October 2, 2012, in Japan to begin a journey of a lifetime. With lower than expected participants for a viable tour, the Tour Company fortunately teamed us up with a group of Japanese Americans to make up the required numbers for the first phase of our tour. What a wonderful experience it was to be together with new friends, enjoying the culture and history of Japan.

The Japanese American group mainly consisted of a couple (Mr. & Mrs. Teizi Henmi, from New Mexico) who were celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary and had brought along their three adults sons with their families to celebrate this special event. One night, at a beautiful Hot Springs Hotel ( Lake Biwa ), following a sumptuous meal of various Japanese delicacies, we enjoyed a night of karaoke. Brian Mitani, a Japanese Canadian from Ottawa and a long time judo enthusiast stepped up to the mike, and talked about a song many judo participants sing at tournaments. This prompted Mr. Henmi to step forward as a fellow judo enthusiast to join in this familiar song, Yawara, made famous by Doug Rogers, a Canadian Olympic Medalist in Judo. And so began a special connection between the Japanese Canadians and Japanese Americans throughout the trip, with our common historical, and cultural bonds. Many thanks to Greg Shimizu, a Japanese American from California, who always helped all of us disembark from the bus, to ensure safe landings.

It was an amazing 8 day tour that included the Kansai Region (Osako, Kyoto, Nara and Kobe) and Hiroshima. The days were full of new sights and adventures (temples, castles, parks, shopping areas, bullet train rides, ferry rides, cooking lessons, etc., etc.) sprinkled with much laughter and joy amongst new friends. We saw tourists dressed as Maikos (geisha in training) and later in the Gion District of Kyoto, saw true geishas, who were treated like celebrities by many tourists. We learned how to make soba noodles, so articulately mastered by the chefs of this noodle house in Kita Hiroshima. We even got to enjoy the fruits of our labour, albeit much enhanced by the master chefs, who could make any noodle look good.

Sake making was another eye opener to the precision and dedication that Japanese craftsmen undertake in honing their products. We toured a sake brewery in Kobe that left many of us awe-struck, not to mention the array of products we left with. Some of us, during our “Inaka” experience were again given an opportunity to see a professional sake maker process his speciality sake. This sake, during the initial phase produces a non alcoholic drink, which the sake maker bottled for all of us on tour to sample. This generosity and friendliness was so much a part of many people we encountered in Japan who welcomed us with warm hospitality.

An added bonus for some of us was visiting a house that was 150 years old, had been damaged under 3 metres of wet snow and which was being restored to its original design and structure by a very capable and humble individual, who again was most gracious in showing us many aspects of the restoration process. As a dog lover, I was most taken by the owner’s dog, Sam, a well trained and friendly Newfoundlander, a rarity in Japan where most of the dogs weigh about 3 lbs.!

More to come in future articles!

Note: Three NAJC Heritage Tours are being considered for next year: March Sakura viewing in Kyushu, Tokyo and region in the summer and Kansai with Inaka experience in the fall. In addition, there may be a special trip to Hawai’i in July led by Ken Noma. Stay tuned for more details.