Clickety-clack, clickety-clack. I felt a wave of nostalgia looking at the view outside my window.
Vivid emerald green rice paddies stretched into the distance, the stalks of the plants gently swaying in the wind. The beautiful contrast between the blue sky and white clouds seemed to ease my aching heart.
I had come back to my home of Kagawa.
I had left for Tokyo to become an idol, but ultimately I never showed promise as a singer. I began to work as a pin-up girl, but, perhaps due to recent trends, even here most of the jobs were taken by popular singers, and I ended up spending my days doing nothing but boring part-time jobs.
As a final chance in the entertainment industry, my talent agency encouraged me to become an adult video actress, but I refused. I had a boyfriend, after all, and he too said that it was going too far.
I had been living with him for about five years.
When we had first started dating, we had both said we wanted to get married, but as the years passed our feelings on the matter began to differ. Ultimately what decided things was him cheating on me.
“I’ve met someone. Could you move out?”
It was the first time I’d ever been told such a thing. But it was really happening. I had been dumped.
I gathered my things and left Tokyo behind.
Kagawa has the smallest land area of any prefecture in the country. This factoid is something that quickly pops up if you look up the place.
Kagawa is famous for udon. Apparently it was now being called the “udon prefecture,” but I didn’t care about that. I mean, what did Kagawa even have besides udon?
Plus, I hate udon.
Looking around the train, I see there are very few people on board. I spy a high school student and a mother with her child, but unlike similar figures in Tokyo they reek of the countryside. I’m in the countryside.
“Next stop Sakaide. Next stop, Sakaide.”
With the onboard announcement, I stand from my seat. I had had come back to the home I hated.
Sakaide is a tiny town. There in a tiny town in a tiny prefecture was my home.
Facing the sea, Sakaide had apparently once prospered as a port town, but today it was completely dead. I guess there were also some big salt pans, but I’m not interested in those and don’t know much about them.
After walking about 30 minutes from the station, I spotted a noodle maker’s. My home.
The closer I draw, the stronger the scent of udon boiling in water grows, oddly stimulating my empty stomach. I hate to say it, but Kagawa udon is delicious. Even I, hater of udon, am forced to admit it.
As my house comes into view, the familiar sign for the noodle maker’s also becomes visible. God, I hate the sight. I had always hated this town. It’s deep in the countryside and has nothing at all to offer. That is why I had yearned for Tokyo and why I had detested being stuck in this backwater.
“Then why did you come running home, eh?” I sighed. No matter how much I hated this place, it was my home and I didn’t hate my family. It was the countryside I hated.
Pulling along my luggage behind me, I head for my house.
Passing through the entrance to the shop, my grandmother, in the midst of bringing a glass of water to a customer, shows surprise on her face.
“Mika-chan! You’re home?! You didn’t call or write; I was so worried!
“Um, yeah... I’m home. Sorry for not calling or anything.”
After apologizing to grandma, I turn to look at my grandpa.
Boiling piping hot noodles, he doesn’t say a word, even when he looks up at me. Grandpa has always been the silent type.
“I bet you haven’t had lunch yet, have you? Mika-chan, have some udon.”
Seating me, grandma cheerily disappears into the back of the shop.
Unchanged for ages, the shop was filled with old, worn tables and old, worn chairs. On each table was placed shichimi, soy sauce, and disposable chopsticks.
There are three or so customers in the shop; all male, of course. They slurp their noodles with delicious abandon and greedily gulp the broth, savoring it down to the last drop.
Noodle maker’s like ours didn’t originally serve food on site. Apparently, however, they started after core fans would keep asking to eat fresh made noodles at the shop and the makers eventually gave in. Our shop, too, refused these requests at first, but then began serving food around the time I entered elementary school.
Calling out to my grandma, she replies from the back of the shop.
“Masako’s at her part-time job. I guess she’s busy; she said she wouldn’t come home until late.”
Even after moving to Tokyo I had kept in contact with my mother and my mother alone, and I wanted to talk to her as soon as possible.
“Mika-chan, wha’d’re you having?” my grandmother called out, and I responded reflexively.
Most udon places in Kagawa offer dai, chu, and sho – large, medium, and small sizes. A kake-sho was a small kake udon – simple udon noodles in broth. This terminology didn’t always work in other prefectures, though.
I once ordered the same in a Tokyo udon shop out of habit and became quite embarrassed by the people looking at me as if I said something strange. Another reason why I hate Kagawa.
Before long grandma brings out my udon. As the place is a noodle maker’s, we don’t even have toppings like tempura or oden. All we had were green onions, tempura scraps, and raw eggs.
“Here y’are; ‘s hot now so careful you don’t burn yourself, alright?”
My heart tightened at my grandmother’s words.
Looking down, I see glossy, shining angular noodles in golden broth. In Tokyo, darker broths are the norm, but here gold is mainstream.
The fragrance of dashi wafts up together with the white steam, further whetting the appetite of my empty stomach. The udon I hated so much now looks like a feast.
...I didn’t always hate udon.
I loved it in elementary school, and watching my grandpa and grandma work, I wanted to be like them. After I entered junior high school, however, udon came to seem decidedly uncool. And in my mind, the sight of my grandpa and grandma working so hard also seemed lame.
Breaking apart the disposable chopsticks, I begin slurping noodles. The familiar flavor spreads throughout my mouth, the delicately salty flavor emphasizing itself just enough not to be too much on my tongue. The dashi has good bite and the supple noodles slide smoothly down my throat.
Tears began to stream from my eyes. The food I had distanced myself from by saying I hated it was wrapping me in a gentle embrace. I was the one who was uncool. I was the one who was lame. I had known it. But I couldn’t admit it.
“Grandpa, grandma, I’m so... so sorry-y-yeee...”
Without saying a word grandma gently hugged me.
The truth is that I love this town.