Saturday, July 26, 2014

American Pickers: Iwakuni Housewives Edition

Yeah, so, anyone who has followed this blog for a few months or more knows how I like to go on day trips to experience different aspects of the Japanese culture. Cooking classes, historical sites, etc. With the help of my lovely Japanese friend, Chie, we planned a day in the historical city of Tsuwano with a half dozen ladies. We rented an 8-passenger van from the base car rental place and were going to learn how to make soba noodles and washi paper. But then the day took a brief turn to a tradition of my family's: sifting through junk for "treasures"... something we "Iwakuni housewives" did on this trip, much to Chie's shock/embarrassment/amusement. Let me set the scene...

I come from parents who, when they were first married, entertained themselves on weekends while they were still in college by going to the local trash dumps and digging for antique bottles. They have collected American antiques for years and my Dad, a history minor in college, is even a member of the Company of Military Historians, and collects helmets from the United States Indian War period... complete with real yak hair plumes. A lot of my parents' furniture is golden oak pieces from the 1800's. My father is especially enthralled with others' castoffs... he will pick up anything shiny he comes across on the street because it might be something worthwhile. Coins, jewelry... metallic gum wrappers... some things get tossed back down, of course, but some... especially when he breaks out his metal detector, are worth keeping. Like pennies and quarters. My youngest, Xan, has inherited this trait... he'll b]pick almost anything shiny off the ground to examine it for worth. This is definitely not learned behavior, as no one in our immediate family investigates shiny objects on the street. However, I did inherit this gene with a slight mutation: Stuff off the ground doesn't intrigue me, nor does yak hair, but I can't seem to resist stopping at flea markets when I happen across one. There is something about being surrounded by unwanted stuff that makes me happy. And, occasionally, I find like-minded people and we attack a flea market, thrift store or antique store like brides at a wedding dress sale. Hair pulling has occurred... but I will not go into detail in order to protect the (sort of) innocent...

I thought that being transplanted in Japan might curb my urge to collect unwanted things. The styles I find here don't really match my personal style most of the time... but the treasure hunter in me continues to look anyway. And boy, did that pay off this particular time.

But first, the cast of characters...

Yep, that's me. I never have been able to pull off any kind of headgear. But, bandanas are popular attire for Japanese cooking classes.
This is Chie.... she is smiling because she has no idea what real adventure awaits her. But we do know that she likes to pretend she is Chinese in times of stress. 
Nizar is a fellow photographer.. and, according to our soba noodle instructors, a natural noodle cutter... she's quick and cuts a perfectly uniform width of noodle. Good for you, teacher's pet. ;)  She also collects primate figurines... a fact that will be necessary to know later.
Heard of Iwakuni Explorer? That's Hyla's brainchild... and she enjoys adventures of all shapes and sizes. You might even find a future post about soba making in Tsuwano...
Amy is one of MCAS Iwakuni's two 6th grade teachers... which is a good thing, because her soba noodles were too thick, according to our instructors. Don't quit your day job, Amy.
Britt is an adventurer with a love for Hawaii... and a smokin' hot deal.

Ashleigh loves to travel and has a zest for life... as well as noodles. She, like me, is thoroughly enjoying her time here in Japan.
Stacy is the random Texan thrown in for good measure...  because any good treasure hunting story would be remiss without the random Texan to spice things up. Sprinkle in the fact that she works for an American distribution company for Japanese anime products and things get interesting. She's a friend and former co-worker of Ashleigh's who was visiting for the week.
Of course, we had our day planned out... first we had soba class...

A wasabe grater... who knew?

We had a great time and tried both warm and cold soba noodles, which did, in fact, taste differently with the temperature. And while I happen to be blogging about them, the instructors blogged about us, too: SOBA for the first time! If you open the link in the Google Chrome browser, it will automatically translate the page for you... but the translation doesn't make much sense. Of course, the picture they chose to use is one of me wiping my face. Yay!

Well fed and carbed up, we headed to the next activity on the agenda: Washi paper making. As I drove through the hills to our next destination, a couple of the ladies spotted a Japanese antique store and requested we stop back by on the way home of we had time. Antique store? Really? Sure! But, first we had some paper pulp to play with!

This vacuum systematically sucked the water out of the paper pulp in one swipe. Really fun to watch! 

And then it was time to head home... and past the antique store. We were actually 15 minutes ahead of schedule, so we had 15 minutes to check the place out... and it turned out to be a defunct shop of some kind, not an antique store. The store was no longer in business, but had many of its remaining wares outside on shelves. An elderly couple, friends of the store's owner, lived next door to it and gave us permission to "shop." And shop we did. What was going to be a routine antique store shopping trip turned in to an international episode of "American Pickers"... Iwakuni Housewives Edition. Digging though piles of cardboard, ceramic and spiders, we discovered dusty, dirty, grimy vases, figurines, bowls, cups and so much more. We had also had a "typhoon" come through the past week, so many of the vases and dishes had muddy rainwater in them. But, like any good "pickers" we looked past the dirt and grime to see the wonderfulness (is that a word?) underneath.

Amy runs marathons, so she is in great shape... we sent her in for the dangerous climbing and digging.
Nizar found a monkey to add to her collection.
There were plenty of tiny treasures in this cart... I could have spent a lot more time sifting through it all, but we did have a schedule to keep.
While I was in my flea market mind set, visually scanning one section of vases and bowls to another, I did notice Chie standing off to the side, chatting occasionally with the elderly couple or watching us scatter about like an army of ants on a mission, or both. She would try and translate the questions we all had, but when half a dozen ladies are all chattering excitedly and saying "Hey, ask him...," I am sure it can be overwhelming. I hope she just told the elderly Japanese couple the obvious: We are a bunch of crazy Americans and she has no idea what we are doing, but we are generally good people who just happen to like dirty dishes and are willing to pay for them.

Whatever she might have been telling them about us, Chie was definitely not looking for treasures herself, not at all interested in climbing through cardboard and spiders to see what interesting things she could find. Once we were done "shopping", I asked her about it on the way back to Iwakuni. Here are the facts as I understand them: Most Japanese people are not interested in things that are dirty and covered with typhoon water. Shop keepers work hard to make the merchandise seem clean and appealing, even if its second hand. This explains why Japanese thrift stores have such nice stuff, I suppose. Old things, unless they are hundreds or thousands of years old, are not really popular. "Vintage" isn't cool, it's dated. Chie had never heard of "American Pickers" or the reality show's overall concept. Shows like this do not exist in Japan. The fact that we were having fun and were excited about our treasures was a bit lost on Chie. She may not be hesitant to take us with her on another adventure. What else might we try and cram in to the rental van with us next time? Rusty Coca-cola signs, an old metal Batman lunchbox and an old Ford Mustang grill?

At the end of the day, here is what we all got... for a grand total of 10,000 yen... or about $100.

I took my dusty, dirty treasures home...

... and washed them up. This photo really doesn't do them justice, but you get the idea. The tall, teal vase is about 20 inches tall.

And, in all honesty, I have no idea what these things are worth. I know I paid about $25 for them, and, to me, these treasures and the memories that come with them are well worth the price of admission. Now, if I could just sell this TV show idea to the History channel...

1 comment:

Vader's Mom said...

I had the time of my life and I'm extremely honored to have been the Texan among you all. Giggling the whole time and wishing I had an eye to capture those kinds of finds. The day was amazing!!!