One of the odd things I’ve noticed is that there is a collective hatred against celery among kids in Japan, who deem it too bitter to be likable. This comes as odd to someone who grew up in American snacking on the low flavor but otherwise satisfyingly crunching vegetable and always heard about broccoli and brussel sprouts as the evil veggies children refuse to touch (but even then, that generalization hardly seems accurate). That’s not to say kids refuse to touch it, but it has to be prepared right. When we do gumbo classes to teach kids in Matsue about their Friendship City relationship with New Orleans, the kids feel assured of the celery not being too offensive because they skin, finely chop, and saute them thoroughly and discard any unnecessary portions of the innocent vegetable. When it’s sold in stores, it’s more common to find it sold by the single stalk than the bundle.

The thought of eating it raw, much less covered in peanut butter ala ants-on-a-log, came as one the greatest shocks among many in a class I gave last summer about the role of peanut butter in US culture–which, if I do say so myself, was brilliant.

As a CIR (Coordinator for International Relations on the JET Program), I often give very general introductions in Japanese about the US at large, and if I go to an elementary school, it’s usually a brief presentation. With presentations at community centers I usually have a longer period of time to work with and go into more depth. However, twice a year or so, I get to design my own classes about American culture topics at the Matsue International Community Center.

These have been as broad as a six week “road trip” across the cultural geography of the US, to a three-part class diving into my liberal arts background by presenting the history of Japan as seen through high and low art forms of the US, to a one-shot class presenting Christmas and other winter holidays as celebrated in the US with a special focus on how Americans like to prepare hot cocoa. Like the idea of peanut butter on celery, the idea of marshmallows in cocoa never occurred to many of the Japanese participants, but they found this idea much more appealing.

Seeing as I’ve given many, many presentations to a variety of audiences in my time here as a CIR, I’ve had my share of both feeling like a rock star and feeling terribly awkward. My Japanese is usually very good and has improved with daily use, but there are times when I don’t express myself as clearly as I’d like. There are times when the reception is so good that we go overtime with questions and discussion, but other times when there is a heavy silence and no indication of whether my audience is listening respectfully or sleeping with their eyes open. It doesn’t bother me now as much as it used to, and I’ve noticed that people don’t always smile when they’re engaged in and enjoying something.

On that note, it’s February–that means JET interviews are coming up soon, aren’t they? I wonder if I have any nervous CIR hopefuls digging through the internet for advice on how to pass the Japanese portion of the interview, psyching themselves out like I was doing three years ago?

To those hopefuls, I say, “Relax! You’re going to be stared down by an audience with a genuine interest in what you have to say, but the way you read their body language will betray that completely. You’re probably going to make mistakes with your Japanese, but the important thing is to communicate effectively, not to be perfect. Your professionalism already got you to this stage, but to leave an impact, you’ve got to relax and be easy to get along with.”

And, go figure, that’s the same advice I’ve give incoming CIRs who pass the interview stage. After all, starting work was only slightly less nervewracking than the interview itself.

Now I’m mostly nervous about scaring kids with stories about celery.

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Although the most common English translation is “snow crab,” the Japanese term is much more complicated. I also feel “snow crab season” fails to capture the craze in that happens every winter, especially here in the San’in region with entire train trip deals are themed around pigging out on these crabs.


Although Matsue has its own crab craze going on as part of the Dan-Dan Shoku Festa and other parts of Shimane are just as capable of catching and celebrating the winter crab catch, Tottori is really where the crab branding takes place. Snow crabs–typically called Zuwai-gani go by many different names throughout the country, but whatever you call them, Tottori is a top producer. Here in the San’in region, the big name that gets thrown around a lot is Matsuba-gani, supposed named because its long legs resemble pine needles or because fishermen used to burn pine when cooking them. They are harvested in the Sea of Japan, and not to be confused with Benizuwai-gani (red snow crab), which are harvested at a deeper depth in an earlier season and have softer, sweeter meat–but they are also a San’in favorite.

Matsuba-gani does not represent the entire species, either. These are only the males, where are the smaller females with denser meat are called oya-gani are popular in miso soup, a homemade Tottori favorite. Males that have already moulted are called Wakamatsuba-gani and tend to have meat that is more soft and moist.

There are various ways to prepare and eat Matsuba Crab when they are in season around November-March. Boiled, cooked with rice, grilled, you name it, but what I hear most adoring talk of is eating very, very fresh crab raw, when the meat is slick. There is a special process to eating it this way which can be instructed at crab festival events, but I do no such experience to speak of–I don’t have enough crab madness myself to reserve a space at these crab extravaganzas.

I have, however, had a few chances to eat crab meat miso soup, but I cannot recall what kind of crab they were. I’ll just wrap this up by saying that everyone knows Tottori is amazing for crab, but these little guys from Izumo go down like big, sticky potato chips.

February in Matsue means it’s time to feast, in the “let’s go gourmet!” sort of sense. Throughout next month, Matsue will celebrate its 13th annual Matsue Dan-Dan Shoku Festa. The name is a pun, so let’s delve into linguistics for a moment:

まつえ暖談食フェスタ
まつえ is “Matsue” written in phonetic hiragana instead of in kanji, as usual (松江).
暖 is “warmth” and read here as dan.
談 is “conversation” and read here as dan. Pairing them together is like “warm conversation” and sometimes people translate the name of the festival as “heart-warming.”
だんだん, Dan-Dan, is Izumo dialect for “thank-you,” one of the most commonly heard and actively used Izumo phrases.
食 is “food/eat” and read here as shoku.
フェスタ is short for “festival.”

So you could call it anything from “Matsue Festival for Food That Brings About Warm Conversation” to “Matsue Thanks-For-The-Warm-Food Festival” but I find “Dan-Dan Shoku Festa” is most catchy.

There will be gourmet events going on at hotels and restaurants throughout the city throughout the month, but the three “Dan-Dan Gochisou Ichiba” (Dan-Dan Feast Markets) are the most bustling with activity and variety. In addition to food stalls common at events throughout the year or that come from out of town specifically for this food festival (from as far as Miyazaki Prefecture, given the Kojiki myth connections!), you can expect live entertainment and visits from local characters like Shimanekko, the mascot of Shimane Prefecture fighting in the top ten spots for mascot of the year so several years but still has not quite made #1 (keep at it, Shimanekko! Your dance is the best!).

This is a photo from a different event, but I see these guys a lot and thought their product was tasty. Meat-wrapped rice balls aren’t unique to the San’in region, but these “Niku Maki En-Musubi” are made with Shimane beef and Shimane-grown rice. This is also a pun: Niku (meat), Maki (wrapped), Musubi (a term for rice balls), En-musubi (see below).

I’ll bet the Matsue Young Warriors will be there again. They’re always coming up with seasonal shows and displays, and last year they taught the crowd about Matsuba crabs. Even outside of a busy event with lots of visitors from out of town, it feels very normal to see a samurai sitting in your local JR station.

This year, the Feast Markets are on the following Sundays:

February 1:
10:30am – 3:00pm, in front of JR Matsue Station

February 8:
11:00am – 3:00pm, Kyomise shopping area, Minami-Tonomachi shopping area, and Karakoro Art Studio (north of the Ohashi River and southeast of Matsue Castle)

February 15:
11:00am – 3:00pm, Tenjinmachi shopping area and Tatemachi shopping area (Near Tenmangu Shrine, sort of between the JR station and the Shimane Art Museum)

The homepage is in Japanese, but you can see more details and maps here.

One of the (literally) biggest things visitors and locals alike anticipate is the “En-Musubi Hot Pot of the Seven Gods of Fortune.” The first year, I was not fortunate enough to be one of the 800 people served from this enormous hot pot, but last year I certainly felt lucky to get there in time. They certainly do not skimp on the seafood!

Photo from the Dan-Dan Shoku Festa Facebook page (click photo for source).

Speaking of seafood, this year the “Buri-shabu” at the Feb 1 market has my name on it. There is also a month-long crab event going on, but that requires special reservation, and we’ll talk more about crabs in the next entry anyway.

Besides the hot pot, there are plenty of other specials making liberal use of the catchphrase “En-musubi.” It’s been a while, so let’s break this phrase down again:

縁結び (sometimes written phonetically as えんむすび)
縁, en, is a phrase translated in many ways, but often loses its nuance when translated. It can be any kind of tie of fate or relation, be it between romantic pairs, friends, business partners, or even your relationship with Mother Nature. Used like “I have en with that person” as opposed to “that person is my en.” People pray for good en, but this is more about relations and encounters rather than generalized luck (運, un).
結び is a noun based on the verb 結ぶ (musubu, to bind or tie).
Therefore, 縁結び is like “binding fates” or “ensuring good encounters” but often given the rather limiting translation of “match-making.”

En-musubi is a big San-in catch phrase for many reasons based in local mythology, but especially because Izumo Taisha is where the gods throughout Japan gather to discuss En-musubi each year, which is kind of a big deal.

And since En-musubi is applied in any way possible here, of course it applies to food–sometimes in clever ways like in the case of zenzai, but at other times just by creating a lunch special and calling it the En-musubi plate.

Besides those various February En-musubi specials, there will be a sweets market at the first Feast Market with an En-musubi theme as well. That’s got my name on it, too.

I had always liked rice–although for most of my life, that meant wild rice of some variety, or if it was white rice, then it was the kind you could just throw in the microwave, add soy sauce to, and mix up with whatever meat or vegetables are being served with it. Why, I even recall making a single serving of microwaved white rice to eat as a snack sometimes. That became harder to do after my first trip to Japan, where the rice is served and kept a shiny bright white, eaten with something on top in the same bite such as a pickled vegetable or crumbled seasoning, or simply as it is–because it’s good exactly as it is. It is wonderful exactly as it is. I don’t really need to stress the importance of rice in Japanese culture here (because I’ve already done that before), but suffice to say people care about it being served properly, and although all rice is supposed to be good, some rice is simply better than others, and many prefectures are fierce about their pride in their rice. Nita Mai (“Nita Rice”, from a district of Okuiizumo town called Nita), is one such variety of luxurious tasting rice–I received some as a gift instead of buying it myself to try. And yes, the cool summer nights and clean water do indeed make for special rice. Makes for special sake, too.

Click for source and more photos

Click for source

You’ll notice Japan has a lot of “Top 3” lists. There’s not really any ranking within these lists–if something is in the top three, it does not mean it’s a kind way of saying third place, it means it shares first place with two others of its kind. Of course, you’ll notice that has expanded into “Top 100” lists, at which point I think it’s getting a little out of hand, but there are probably already hundreds of “Top 3” lists to begin with. I guess it just means that you can find a “Top 3” list to suit any of your needs.

And if beauty onsen happen to be among your needs, allow me to introduce you to one of those “Top 3”, Yunokawa Onsen, south of Lake Shinji and five minutes away from Izumo Airport! (Not be confused with Yunokawa Onsen in Hokkaido!)

Click for source

This post is following up two other posts introducing the other places associated with this myth.

This post is following up two other posts introducing the other places associated with this myth.

I cannot take credit for this discovery–rather, Princess Yagami herself was said to have found spied this onsen on her way to Izumo, and she happily refreshed herself from the long journey so she could look beautiful in front of her husband–but we all know how that worked out. Stories go on to saw that she stopped there on the way back as well and nursed her broken heart, but was able to start fresh both body and soul afterward–with lovely silky smooth and springy skin, of course.

But hold up… where in the Kojiki did it say that? Or in the Nihonshoki, the more political history-book like of the two? Or was it in the Izumo Fudoki?

This legend is much more recent, perhaps as late as the Edo period. A lot of people were coming up with new interpretations of the Kojiki around those times, so in wider culture, you tend to be left with a mash-up of interpretations about just which kami is actually which kami. Although there have been movements to go back to the original text and reanalyze it in purely linguistic methods (which, depending on whether you’re reading for the character for their meaning or their sound, could give you very different results!), the interpretation of the Kojiki has constantly been evolving, and this piece of cultural canon is so attached to the original Kojiki story that, at least in terms of general cultural use, it’s not worth trying to separate them.

The crystal clear water is rich in sodium and calcium, and it is classified as both a sulphate and chloride type onsen. Chloride onsen tend to warm up your body even faster, so although this lets your skin soak in the minerals, just make sure to stay hydrated and don’t pass out! But that applies at every onsen, though you’ll notice some are especially hot while others are more lukewarm. At least when I went, it was just right for a rather lengthy evening soak outside in the cool night air.

Nestled among the mountains, it’s the perfect spot for a quiet onsen getaway, though if you’re just in for a brief stop, there is a day-trip onsen for ¥500 at Hikawa Bijin no Yu. On your way out, be sure to stop at the Michi-no-Eki (like a rest stop, only much nicer) next to the statue of Yagami by the entrance to the onsen area. Izumo is also famous for ginger, which also has body warming properties, so in addition to ginger products on sale, they also serve ginger curry–that way you can warm yourself up from inside and out! The ginger tea or candy is easier to take home, though~

I must be a bit biased because I continue to mention Tamatsukuri Onsen almost every time I mention an onsen–the bath of the gods may not be in this particular “Top 3” list, but it was listed as one of the “Top 3” onsen in Sei Shonagon’s ever-famous “Pillow Book” record of courtly Heian life. That means we have two top onsen just south of Lake Shinji which the gods are said to frequent, and they’re a very short car-ride away from each other.

Photo from last year's Daichakai taken by the very talented Bernice. Click for more photos!

Photo from last year’s Daichakai taken by the very talented Bernice. Click for more photos!

One of Japan’s three biggest tea gatherings takes place at Matsue Castle and the surrounding area on the first weekend of October every year, and both tea aficionados and novices come together to taste tea from a various of schools and observe their ceremonies. The Matsue Castle Grand Tea Ceremony, a.k.a. Matsue-jo Daichakai, will take place on October 4 and 5 this year, from 9:00am to 3:00pm–or until wagashi run out!

Speaking of wagashi (traditional Japanese confectionaries), it’s not only the various tea schools that will be making special preparations, but the wagashi vendors will also be preparing specially designed wagashi for this event. Those flavors, textures, shapes, and colors will vary across each tent, as will the tea being served. Although matcha (powdered green tea) will take center stage, some schools will instead serve sencha. The sencha schools might appear to have more of a Chinese twist, but two years ago one of the schools prepared koucha (red tea, or more commonly known in the West as black tea) with a distinctly British-Japanese flair!

There will be 11 schools of tea to choose from, each with their own tent. A ticket for one ceremony purchased at the venue is 900yen, or a ticket for three ceremonies will cost 2200yen when purchased in advance from tea vendors throughout the city (800yen tickets are also available in advance). The schools are:

Omotesenke
Urasenke
Mushakojisenke
Sansairyu
Fumairyu-Fumaikai*
Fumairyu-Daienkai*
Urakuryu
Ogasawararyu
Soshinryu
Hoenryu
Hayamiryu

(Recall Lord Matsudaira Fumai is the father of Fumai-ryu)

Comparing the different ways of preparing tea–be it in dainty ways or in warrior-like ways–is one of the best things about having so many schools all together at once. There will also be some special tea ceremonies held at the Matsue History Museum (just northeast of the castle) on the following Sundays from 9am to 3pm so you can try to catch some later that you couldn’t fit in during the big weekend: Oct 12, Oct 19, Oct 26, Nov 2. As much as I’ve liked the space in the history museum for tea ceremonies, I would hate for any tea lovers–or people curious about tea–to miss out on the atmosphere of the first weekend. This page from Bihada Sabo is in Japanese and a little old, but they have some good photos to give you an idea what the event is like.

My plan? Hopefully on Saturday I’ll get to squeeze in three ceremonies for schools I haven’t tried yet, though I might or might not be fitting in a naginata event nearby for part of the morning! There is always such a big line for the koucha ceremony if they have one, so I might head out early and try to get in on the first one. I’ve tried Soshinryu before, but it would be fun to see another sencha style, and round it out with matcha. Not sure which school to go with, but being in Matsue, I supposed one can’t go wrong with one of the Fumai-ryu schools.

As for Sunday, my time is spoken for–the large schools, like Omotesenke and Urasenke, trade out between different teachers/classrooms for who will take responsibility on what day, and my class will be serving tea in the Omotesenke tent. For me personally, that will mean serving wagashi and cups of tea to the guests for most of the day, but I’ll also have a chance to do the o-temae–the preparing of the tea in front of everyone! This will be my Daichakai debut!

I’m a little nervous, but I’ll do my best! Come and see me, and enjoy whatever other tea style styles your fancy while they’re all rounded up together at your convenience–beginners as well as experts welcome~

Side note: This year’s Little Mardi Gras parade in October 5 in the afternoon. Start your day with tea and end it with jazz.

Although I have the opportunity to admire and savor them on a near weekly basis in my tea ceremony lessons and normal rounds around town, I’ve had the pleasure of handcrafting wagashi (traditional Japanese confectioneries) a couple times here in Matsue, a city famous for this craft since the Edo era (we’ve got Lord Fumai to thank for that, of course). These classrooms are not hard to get in on–Aoto-sensei, from Saiundo, teaches a class regularly at Karakoro Art Studio. This is one of the most popular classes offered there on a near-daily basis. The themes of the sweets change every month to match the seasons, but you can usually expert to learn to make two sweets with two basic techniques (and receive a third prepared by the masters). There is a short video of the classroom experience here.

Although you wouldn’t typically make them there yourself, one of my other favorite places to watch the craft in action is at Kissa Kiharu, the cafe inside the Matsue History Museum. Itami-sensei is legendary!

He’s making a fig themed wagashi in this video, as figs are big around here. I’m having trouble finding pictures that do justice to his Izumo Nankin (a local variety of goldfish). My humble wagashi cannot compare, oh sob! I just have to drown my artistic inadequacies in more sweets, though this is a comparatively healthy way to indulge.

Not a handcrafted Matsue wagashi, but a Matsue craft based on a handcrafted wagashi

Not a handcrafted Matsue wagashi, but a Matsue craft based on a handcrafted wagashi. That said, this is the first wagashi I ever crafted, with more photos of the process and results here.


sakura2

With the exception of the middle one, all of these were crafted and consumed by Yours Truly.

You probably don’t need to be a health nut to know that ginseng, a human-shaped root full of ginsenosides, is an expensive health product, lauded for its stimulant properties and powering up the immune system–among other systems. Although there is American Ginseng, it doesn’t pack quite the same punch as the Asian variety, commonly known as Korean Ginseng.

I bring this up, of course, because it doesn’t only grow in Korea. Ginseng production is big here in the San’in region, too.

Originally cultivated on Daikonshima (a large island on Lake Nakaumi) in the 17th century, it was sold through an operation lead by the samurai running the Matsue domain as part of an economic recovery plan for the region, it was at its height of popularity around the 1830’s and 1840’s, and it later became a privatized enterprize. When the samurai rain things, they imported ginseng and grew them in the volcanic soils of Daikonshima (also known for the peonies the volcanic soil is so good for). All of the ginseng produced was collectively processed and prepared for sale. This was known as Unshuu Ginseng* (unshuu ninjin, though ninjin is also confusingly the word for not-so-special carrots), known both then and now as a high quality, well-recognized variety. Shimane is still one of the top three producers of ginseng in Japan today.

Mural of Matsue history inside Matsue Castle

*Unshuu (雲州) takes the character for “clouds” from Izumo’s name (出雲) and combines it for the word for “province.” You find these –shuu names for a lot of old provinces throughout Japan. In Japanese, the readers for the characters might change depending how it is combined with other characters.

Why is ginseng production such a big deal? Setting it’s historical popularity as a health supplement aside, growing ginseng is not an easy venture. It takes six years for the ginseng plant to reach maturity enough for the roots to be harvested, and the plant sucks the soil dry of its nutrients–it can take 20 years for that soil for to be suitable for cultivation use again! If you’re a small-time farmer just trying to scrape by, growing this is not a effective use of your resources and time.

That’s where Yuushien Garden comes in for modern day Unshuu Ginseng production. I’ve mentioned this garden many times before as it is my favorite in the region and its peonies are amazing, but I’ve always glossed over the ginseng end of things. But on a not so crowded day, it’s fairly likely you’ll be served a free sample of ginseng tea before you even make it to the ticket booth.

In addition to tea, you can get this supplement in a variety of forms–in soap and beauty products, powder form, even sake! They’re available at various points throughout the walk-through garden course, most notably at the Unshuu Ginseng museum at the end of the course.

It comes in highly potent, sticky form!

Although these are in a form you can purchase and take home with you, I was very excited when I was interpreting for a delegation one time and we got to go to Yuushien for lunch–I had always been intrigued by the ginseng tempura, and I’d finally get a chance to try it! That was not all, however–in the set course of inventive and decorative items they served us that day, they used ginseng in almost everything. I apologize that I did not take pictures that day, but suffice to say that I found it worth spending some extra money on to be able to have it again someday–this coming from someone who has very frequent kaiseki (very fancy multi-course meals) at ryokan around the city. This page is in Japanese and the pictures are small, but it might give you some idea. I can tolerate the tea, but I find the taste of ginseng much more pleasant in in a form you can eat.

That said, I still have yet to try to the ginseng ice cream the garden serves. Someday!

After visiting the horses and fishes around Nishinoshima, I headed to the big island of Okinoshima. Among my adventures there was a sea kayaking trip. It wasn’t quite as sunny as when I went scuba diving and there were more waves, but the four of us–a couple fellow JETs, our guide, and myself–got to explore several caves and observe the creatures living in them. That was in addition to all the explanations of unique geological formations the island is known for, but rather than reexplaining them all here myself the official homepage of the Oki Islands Geopark should provide a more useful and enlighting explanation beyond “cool looking rocks! Lava did this!”

Yoroi-iwa, “Armor Rock”

So! On to the kayak tour!

This is at the northern tip of Okinoshima–people don’t live on this little island, but birds nest here, and in seems there used to be customs of swimming to this point for some kind of ritual or festival. Or just to show off your swimming skills, maybe.

Speaking of birds, this guy was part of a nest inside a cave, but he’s still a little clumsy at flying! We watched him fall in the water after a not so graceful flight attempt across the cave, then he swam in front of us for a while before hopping around the rock walls again. His hopping wasn’t very graceful, either. Ah, and the mom and dad birds weren’t so pleased with our visit when they came back later.

This sea slug (or sea hare) wasn’t very thrilled to see us, either. See that purple ink? It’s a last line of defense. Had it have been in the water, you’ve have lost sight of it in a cloud.

Now if we were lobsters, this stuff would gotten all over our scent receptors and made it difficult for us to smell the tasty sea slug. Cool, huh?

We also saw a number of other fish, jellies, barnicles, crabs, and even caught some good glimpses of sazae–turban shells, a local specialty both on the shores of the Oki Islands and the shores of the mainland.

Click for source. Not one of my favorites, but I tolerate them in some dishes like sazae curry or sazae rice.

See look, no sight of sazae! Just harmless little bite-sized pieces.

I much prefer the other local specialty that we saw plenty of, though I’ve only tried kame-no-te (“turtle hands”) once in soup form.

Click for source. Not actually related to turtles, these things grow in groups like barnicles.

Alas, I did not have any more kame-no-te on this trip, but in addition to squid (a major part of local industry) and an assortment of very fresh sashimi, I also tried oysters for the first time in recollection. Although they do serve them raw, right after we got the suggestion for the daily special from our sea kayaking guide, I opted for fried oysters (kaki, not to be confused with persimmons) in curry. Apparently curry style is the best way to serve something one is unfamiliar with, but I’ll stick with normal curry in everyday life, thanks.

That’s a lot of oyster. I prefer shijimi clams, though…

Next time, let’s just stick to some light sight-seeing.

This is a short and silly little folk tale from Matsue, around Lake Shinji. Eel is one of the Seven Delicacies of Lake Shinji (宍道湖七珍), especially in summer. The birds who make an appearance in this story are also a very typical part of the Lake Shinji scenery.

Photo from Naniwa Honten, one of the more famous restaurants along the banks of Lake Shinji. Click for source.

A long, long time ago, there was an old couple, and one day, the old man said to the old lady, “I’m goin’ out to catch some eel for a tasty dinner tonight. Set up the grill while I’m gone.” With a smile, she saw him off.

He lowered his fishing line into the water and laid back and waited, relaxing at the banks of Lake Shinji. For a long time, nothing happened. A bird circled above him, cawing, “The eels are all asleep! They’re down in their holes! They’re all asleep!” However, the old man paid them no mind and continued to relax and be patient.

At last, there was a tug on the line. “Now I gotcha!” he smiled and sprang to his feet to grab hold of the pole. He pulled and tugged and soon an enormous eel sprang out of the water. “Gotcha!” he shouted as he let go of the pole with one hand to grab hold of its slimy body. As the eel wriggled around and shot itself upwards out of his grip, he grabbed on with the other hand.

Again, the eel surged upwards to try to wriggle free, and as one hand came loose, he grabbed higher.

The eel spurted itself higher. The old man grabbed higher.

Higher and higher.

The old man didn’t even notice when they had gotten so high that his feet had lifted off the ground. Soon enough, he noticed that Lake Shinji was below them, looking further and further away, smaller and smaller, as he and the eel went higher and higher.

Meanwhile, the old lady was starting to wonder what was taking him so long to return home. She grew anxious, then grew worried enough go out and look for him, but she caught no sight of him.

For days, he did not return. With a heavy heart, the old lady thought, “Perhaps he’s never coming back. But where could he have gone?” She began to cry.

At that moment, a large bird swooped down towards her and dropped a piece of paper, which floated down into her hands. Curiously, she took a peek, and saw that it was a woman’s handwriting, yet the words of her husband. It read:

Dear, I caught a big eel the other day, but while tryin’ t’ wrangle it, it shot up towards the sky. I’m still tryin’ t’ catch the dang thing!

Note: Seeing as he is preoccupied catching the eel, your husband was unable to let go and write this message, so I have taken his dictation. Signed, a heavenly maiden.