The Soba House

I FIND myself in a soba house. Besides the chef I’m the only one inside. It’s dusk on the outskirts of Osaka. Sound fills the room: the news on the TV; the crackling of oil coming from behind the bar; the low, continual hum of the vent and the swirling of a deep bowl of water, dunking like a washing machine.

There’s a small room behind me with wooden rolling pins, a scale, and other miscellaneous items, I imagine, to make soba. Everything’s covered in a thin layer of flour, like a village in the morning after a gusty night of snowfall. It’s cool inside, and the dark blue noren flows gently outside the front door.

The wall behind the chef is fully exposed with wooden racks containing unique cups and bowls and plates of varying sizes and hues, emanating from a green, blue, earthy nature. Steam rises from the pot where the soba cooks. I sit at my table, enamored by my surroundings, sipping a light green tea.

The chef wears a short blue t-shirt dusted with flour over a white long sleeve shirt. He brings me the soba and tempura and I notice flour covering his shoes and apron. He changes the channel to sumo wrestling.

I take a sip; the broth is clear and tastes like lemon. It’s nourishing on this cold evening. The noodles are light and chewy. I found this place on a whim looking for dinner; coming here has made my day.

This soba shop, where it’s me, the chef, the sound, the sumo — it’s normal — yet to me is anything but; it encapsulates the experience of being in a foreign place that starts to feel like home.

The line between normal and unfamiliar becomes hazy. The mind expands. Horizons broaden. The simple becomes extraordinary and an extraordinary day, rather simple.

I moved to Japan for moments like this.

You stumble into these sorts of places, unassuming on a weekday, and life attains a newfound sort of meaning… what does the chef think of me? Who knows. He smiles. Perhaps he’s gladdened. Maybe he’s curious. Maybe the thought of me has never crossed his mind. He continues. Outside, the wind blows.

The sun sets. Within these four walls, harmony ensues. Maybe earth is one big soba house. Maybe life really can be this simple.

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