Konnichi wa from Japan! Son and I are here visiting his paternal grandparents like we’ve done each summer since he was four. Though TANABATA WISH is set in the big city of Nagoya, I wanted to give Sky a chance to experience Japanese country life. Just like not all of America looks like Los Angeles or New York City. Not all of Japan looks like Tokyo or Nagoya. For one weekend during her summer adventure in Japan, I send Sky and her family out to her stepfather’s ancestral home in Ishizu. No spoilers, but there Sky meets someone who helps open up her mind and teaches her that sometimes you can find a deep connection with someone even when you can’t speak their language.
My in-laws don’t live in Ishizu, but their town is very similar to it. Likewise, the Kitagawa home is not my in-laws’ home, but it is based on some of the older homes of extended relatives that I have been to. In this scene, Sky and her family have just come off the small country train into Ishizu.
We troop single-file through a series of narrow streets.
“Car!” Mom yells when headlights suddenly illuminate the alleyway, which Tom informs us is actually a two-way street.
I step off to the side, and my right foot disappears into air. I grab onto Mom to keep from falling into a deep gutter. Finally, the alleyway turns into a slightly wider street as we head out of the tiny town into the countryside. We walk along a raised, narrow, one-car-width street with rice paddies flanking both sides. Rice paddies filled with mosquito larvae, apparently. I have three nickel-sized welts on my calves by the time we get to a concrete bridge. A house, which looks like a mini version of Nagoya Castle, sits on a tiny piece of land surrounded by rice paddies.
“Here it is. The Kitagawa family home for the last four generations.” Tom puffs up his chest and leads us over a small bridge straddling a large ditch. Or maybe it’s a moat.
“You think Obaachan keeps piranha in her moat?” I whisper to Mom. “You know, to keep Number-One-Son-stealing foreigners away?”
“Skyler Elaine,” Mom chastises, but I catch her smile.
“Holy crap, her house is huge,” I say.
The house rivals the size of my house back in Phoenix. It even looks like my house a little. Same white stucco walls. Only our tile roof is peach, not deep gray, and it doesn’t turn up at the edges. Plus, we have normal windows and doors, not giant sliding ones.
In case you were wondering what this scene looks like IRL, here you go. Though they grow other things too, this area cultivates a lot of rice. That’s what is growing all around the house in the picture. The rice won’t be harvested until the fall, but you can see this season’s crop is well on its way. With all that standing water though, mosquitoes are a huge problem in the summer. Unfortunately, they find me an exotic, tasty treat. The little black circles near the base of the wall in the rice paddy are otamajakushi (tadpoles). When my son was little, he looked forward to his temporary bug, lizard, frog, and tadpole collection he got to have each summer at his grandparents' house. Sometimes these “pets” would escape into the house (yiiiiiiikes!), but that’s a story for another day.
If you are interested in Japanese culture and more behind-the-scenes stories from TANABATA WISH, stick around and look for my daily posts on social media. If you want to acquire your own copy of TANABATA WISH and take a Japanese vacation vicariously through my work, go here. It is available in paperback and eBook. Want to take it for a test-drive first? Go here. Ja mata ne!