You can guess how doing a lot of traveling would affect an introvert, right? And before you say “Christina, you aren’t an introvert!” Let me stop you. I like to think of myself as an introvert with extroverted qualities. Can I talk to random people that I meet in public? Yes, of course. Do I want to? Not really. I can put on a show when I need to but I wouldn’t say I enjoyed it much. Small talk is the bane of my existence. Ugh. And when I don’t need to? What do I do then? I read. I do jigzaw puzzles. I stay at home, alone mostly. I avoid text messages. I shut down social interaction as much as possible to rebuild my stores. Haven’t seen me on social media in a while? Now you know why. I take ‘taking a break from social media’ to the max. I unplug or ‘hibernate’ as I like to say.
After a month long traveling bananza which included planning the trip, talking to friends, long flights, short flights, talking to new people, adapting to new cultures, and engaging with randos. All the excitement of traveling and seeing new things, eating new foods and never really being alone was a lot. No. Really. It was a lot. My capacity for socializing was full and overflowing by the time I returned from my magical birthday travels. If you missed that post, you can read about it here.
Fortunately there were only a few items on my itinerary for August and nothing for the whole month of September. I was ecstatic. I started the month of August with a few belated birthday celebrations. Of course, my Japanese mom and sis wanted to celebrate with me. So we spent the day in Kobe at the Kobe Winery. We toured their facility and tried out the wine.
I feel like I need to add a bit of context to this next statement so that if you judge me you can at least understand why I say what I say. Before I moved to Himeji, my experiences with wine were few and not that great. In short, I thought wine was gross. I preferred to drink dark beers or dessert wines. Those were my jams. But then I moved within 100 feet of a wine bar called Amane and within five feet of a girl who loved good wine. Needless to say, she introduced me to my first Cabernet Sauvignon and it was a wrap. We’ll revisit this wine loving girl and our vineyard adventures abroad in a future post. But you’ve already been informally introduced through my last post about our island adventures to Okinawa and all the birthday travels. Yeah. That girl.
So trust me when I say that the wine at Kobe winery was, meh. It was just OK. It wasn’t mind blowingly good but it also wasn’t the worst wine I’d tasted either. We were all underwhelmed by it. But it was still a good experience. And, as I learned later, it was a great first vineyard/winery experience because it served as my baseline. We could only go up from there, and boy did we. Stay tuned for that adventure.
As I mentioned in previous posts, our days together were full on. So instead of simply visiting and touring the winery we also attended a pottery class where we learned how to make ceramics. There were a few locals who frequented this workshop. We met one local whose granddaughter was there visiting from Washington. She was a great help in translating and explaining the Japanese instructions that we were given on how to mold and form the clay. Both her English and Japanese were phenomenal. You could tell that her grandma was proud of her language abilities. I can only remember the one girl but I know there were two kids. How do I know that? Instagram told me. And I vaguely remember a shyer little sister.
We also enjoyed lunch at Kobe West, a BBQ restaurant located on the winery grounds. We had a blast cooking our own lunch of meat and veggies and catching up on each others lives while overlooking the vineyard. In the picture below, you can see the worker dropping off all the cooking supplies that we would need for lunch. You can see the meat and veggies (covered), the tongs, bowls, cups, chop sticks, sauces, and spices. It was a delicious meal. We did good. We didn’t burn anything and were only temporarily put off by the amount of smoke when he first lit the stoves.
A few nights later, my adult English students treated me to the Himeji Castle Beer Garden. I’m not really sure what its given name is but I called it “The Himeji Castle Beer Garden” because you had a clear view of the castle and all its grounds and buildings. This Beer garden is located on the roof of the Egret building, positioned behind Otemae Park. At night, the park was overshadowed by the bright lights of the castle. It was an awesome view and a great experience. Definitely my first time going to a beer garden but my students made sure that it was a memorable evening. If, you’ve never been to a beer garden then I can tell you that its a great experience and I highly recommend that you go and have fun. Its my understanding that you pay a flat rate for entrance. Once you’re inside there’s an all you can eat buffet. And if you’re so inclined there’s also an open bar. There’s no time limit so you could stay there from the time they opened until the time they shut everything down and ask you to leave.
My students force-fed me food and beer until it felt like I would need to be rolled back to my apartment. In typical Japanese fashion, when my glass was empty, someone would refill it. And when my plate looked a little light on food, a pair of random chop sticks would drop food on it to refill that too. This class was by far my favorite. Not because of this trip to the beer garden but because they were and are rowdy, hilarious, and not shy about anything. They were/are my favorite because they were brave! They made mistakes when speaking English but were brave enough to keep trying and trying. In my experience a lot of Japanese people are shy but some simply refuse to use their English for fear of making mistakes. This class was different. It was full of extroverted ‘know it alls’ who weren’t afraid to make mistakes, ask questions, and be corrected. They also frequently helped and encouraged the shier students to communicate and it was marvelous watching their confidence build with each interaction. They asked the most pointed questions and had amazingly accurate memories. One of my favorite students kept a notepad and frequently took notes. That night I saw her notes from our first class together, months before. She’d written down my name, my birthday, favorite foods, hobbies, number of siblings, etc,. She’s a sweetie and has since been adopted as my Japanese mom #2. In a recent trip back to Himeji with mom, she actually told my biological mom that she was my Japanese mom but we’ll leave that story for a future post. You can see her seated down front in the strip dress.
A few nights later, friends and I gathered outside of our favorite wine bar for a night of belated birthday festivities and muffins from Costco. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before or not but trips to Costco were a big deal. My first time hanging out with my Japanese mom and sis was an hour long trip to the nearby Costco. So we all were looking forward to those sweet chocolate muffins. All the Aussie teachers and a few of the American teachers came to sing, eat, and enjoy the festivities. From Amane, we went downtown to a Purikura store called Purikura Kan Himeji. This place is usually frequented by teenage girls. So we were probably the oldest people there but we didn’t care. There, you could take pictures in the many photo booths and customize those pictures using different filters. We took our pictures and enjoyed one of the last nights that we’d all be together, as many of the teachers were at their contracts end and would leaving Japan. I was stoked and overjoyed by all the places I’d been able to cross off my “Dream Travel list”, all the new and old friends that wanted to help me celebrate my birthday, and the rest/hibernation that was soon to follow. I felt truly blessed.