1 egg (hard-boiled); 1 tiny saucer of pickled and sliced carrot, radish, cucumber, and others; 2 quarter-sized oatmeal raisin cookies within 1 tiny handmade basket; 1 scoop of homemade jam (apple is “in” this season); 2 thick slices of fresh, lightly toasted white bread all served atop a hand-carved tray. These, along with one cup of syphon coffee, are the ingredients of a simple happiness at Nuku Mori ぬく森 (the local kissaten and carpenter house. Thats right – both). Filling my belly weekly it serves it’s purpose, but my smiles are served from the lady behind the baskets and the counter.
Reiko-san (“Lake-o-san”) was a shot of laughter and sunshine in an otherwise cold and walled-in time for me. Because, well… Yachimata may have ~70,000 people amongst its countless peanut fields, but it doesn’t boast many places to interact with people during the work week. So, when Wada-sensei, my 70 year-old Japanese teacher and retired “salaryman” friend, took me to the red cedar A-framed ぬく森 for a Japanese lesson my world, the open road, my front door, and my mouth (gasp!) opened up. ぬく森 and Reiko-san have given me a place to write, snack, practice Japanese, and meet wonderful people. If you measure success not by how much you serve, but rather how well you serve, owners, Satoru and Shouko, have deep reserves.
In the weeks and months after my hajimete (first time) I’ve yet to meet someone who hans’t heard about me through the grapevine. It seems the community at ぬく森 is small and well-connected – just like the baskets – and when a foreigner makes a local hole-in-the-wall his hangout, people talk.
And since my introduction, every person I’ve met has mentioned one invitation or another. It would appear that I’ll be taken fishing, hiking, cycling, sake tasting, and mochi yanking/ pounding/ stretching this year. I’ll be exploring other cafes as well.
ぬく森 has been featured in a few books on unique cafes in Chiba Prefecture. They have one of the books on display, and it has become a weekly exercise of my Japanese reading ability to locate the cool cafes on my phone’s map. It serves as a destination guide for our long bicycle adventures throughout the peninsula. The cafe map has already come in handy when Ezra and I, after 4 hours of riding through the countryside, found ourselves enjoying the lunch special at a cafe far from the beaten path. These cafes will be revisited in the coming months, but Nuku Mori remains my favorite place to ride to during the week.
ぬく森 is a 15 minute bike ride from my front steps. Leaving the barking dogs behind, I breeze past the station (and hear any number of students gasp “Benjameen!” No, not out of admiration mind you, but merely from the shock that I continue to exist), cross the train tracks, fly down into a shallow rice field valley, up another steep bamboo forrest walled hill passing kids who’ve chosen to walk their bike up, and onto a road barely wide enough for one car, and surrounded by small farms. Bust a left on 409 for a quarter mile, and turn みぎ on 77. At the next intersection you’ll find the ぬく森 and not much else on the street. Inside you’ll find coffee tea, and a whole lot more.