I had really wanted to title this post "My pre-trip Expectations and the (at times) better-than-expected Reality" but that's a little long, don't you think?
What I really wanted was a quilting tour of Japan. I researched and planned, packed and re-packed, scoured the internet and racked my memory, all for the things i knew i just needed to do one more time. Though I made the decision myself to leave Japan in 2002, I've had mixed feelings about that choice ever since. Whenever life wasn't going how I wanted, I'd let myself fall into daydreams of "what if I'd stayed.." To say I'd been viewing Japan with rose-colored glasses is a gross understatement. So I knew from the start that my expectations for the trip would be a little unrealistic and I tried to brace myself for the shock of going back and the reality of seeing Japan/Hokkaido/Tomakomai for what it was. Physical vacation aside, it was a very big emotional trip, thank goodness I had my paper journal to capture the deep thoughts and stunning realizations. I made a list of things I wanted to do while I was there: Go to every quilt/fabric shop. Go to every local quilt show. Tackle the 100 yen shop. Check out used bookstores/recycle shops. Sit around and quilt with the ladies. Help Mrs. K. finish the wedding quilt she started for me. Go to some onsens. Eat Sapporo ramen (with butter and corn).
Of that whole list... at least I went to an onsen.
If I look at the trip from the perspective of what I didn't do, then yeah, I could get disappointed. Missing that quilt show in Sapporo was tough. But I took a few deep breaths and looked around. What I was doing, all of the mundane everyday unplanned stuff ended up being a lot more fun and more rewarding than I could have imagined. I met a lot of people. I changed some people's views of what an "American woman" was like. I got a personal tour of two women's complete quilt collections. Yeah. No regrets, it was awesome.So, speaking of quilts..
All of the quilts in this post were made by Kikuyo Kubota (Mrs. K.). Hand pieced. Hand quilted. I don't even think she has a rotary cutter. She draws all of her sewing lines on the wrong side of each patch with a pencil. She completed a correspondance course and has her "quilting instructor" certificate hanging in her living room. She is talented, dedicated, and patient. She's called me every month for the last 5 years. I thought we'd done a pretty good job of keeping up with each other. But somehow I wasn't listening, I didn't understand, or maybe I just didn't want to accept it. She told me two years ago that she had diabetes. She told me her eyesight was getting bad. I asked about my wedding quilt and she said she couldn't see very well and it was getting hard for her to work on it. I naively thought that if I went there it would be like it was before. I thought we could finish the quilt together.
When I arrived and we were leaving the airport, she needed to grab my arm to go down the stairs. She told me what was wrong with her eyes but I didn't understand the vocabulary.. we looked it up when we got home-- cataracts. This was tough for me to accept. I know cataracts aren't the end of the world. She's having the lazer procedure in a few weeks. But she couldn't quilt. I traveled all the way there and the only thing I really wanted to do was sit and quilt with her every day, and she couldn't quilt. I wanted to show her things and she couldn't see them. My little Moo cards-- just a blur. I could see it hurt her not to be able to see and share things with me. I almost felt guilty sitting there piecing my diamond stars every night after dinner, but she was happy to have me there and I was happy to make her happy.
We filled our days with social engagements, shopping trips, cooking and household chores. I didn't even bring up my wedding quilt until I had been there a week. She hadn't been able to work on it in almost a year and had tucked it away for safe keeping. She looked for two days but couldn't find it. I was sad about that too. Sad I couldn't appreciate all the work she had done for me, and sad that I could see the pain she felt because she couldn't do it anymore.
I'm lucky to have her for a friend. She is funny, thoughtful, and generous. In a lot of ways we're a lot alike. On the outside their lifestyle may seem like nothing special, but in a lot of ways her home reminded me of how I grew up. She stretched every penny and happily told you how far it went. Her motto is "ecology and economy" which she'd cheerfully repeat as she reused plastic wrap or emptied the food trash into the compost bin. She reminded me of a lot of things about myself that I had forgotten. That alone made the trip worth every penny.