When GeoEx Played Cupid in Kochi, Japan | GeoEx
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When GeoEx Played Cupid in Kochi, Japan

By Don George | February 6, 2024

Japan Al Pascia

It’s February, and as intimations and illuminations of romance surround us, I’m inspired to share the time GeoEx played Cupid — or at least assisted Cupid — in rural Japan.

Among the highlights of our Journey Through Ancient Japan trip are culinary adventures in intimate, off-the-beaten-path restaurants on the little-visited island of Shikoku, in Japan’s Inland Sea. One of these special feasts occurs in the town of Kochi, where we stop for lunch at a four-table Italian-Japanese restaurant called Al Pascia.

Al Pascia exterior
Japan, Al Pascia Interior
Al Pascia interior

On our very first visit there, in 2013, we were greeted at the doorway by the chef, Nakauchi-san, and his college-age serving assistant, Saori-san. For the next hour we savored a fabulous meal that was a fusion of Japanese and Italian cooking: salad so fresh we thought it must have been picked moments before we arrived, a pea soup of astonishing depth and flavor, exquisitely seasoned grilled chicken, and robust Italian wines. As we ate, we all enthused that it was a fabulous feast, with flawless service, but Nakauchi-san and Saori-san remained extremely reserved and nervous throughout, wanting to make sure the entire meal went perfectly.

Al Pascia salad and soup
Al Pascia grilled chicken

We returned the following year and again had a wonderful feast and told Nakauchi-san and Saori-san how much we appreciated the great cooking and service. As we came back a third year and a fourth year, we began to converse more easily with them, joking with them and asking questions about their lives. By the fifth year, Nakauchi-san told me that they were so excited that we were coming that they both hadn’t been able to sleep the night before.

At one point during that fifth visit, Saori-san motioned for me to come and talk to her. “Don-san,” she said in Japanese, “your group has given me so much courage to speak English, and to meet Americans, that I have decided to visit America this summer!”

I announced this to the group and while Saori-san smiled and blushed, we all told her how delighted we were to hear this and what a great time she was sure to have.

The next year, as we were approaching the restaurant, I told our group about Saori-san’s plan to visit America the previous summer and how we had helped inspire it. Everyone was eager to hear about her trip, and as soon as we had been seated, I asked her in Japanese how her American adventure had been.

Her eyes opened wide, then she smiled and blushed and said in Japanese, “You remembered?”

“Of course,” I said, “and we’d all love to hear about it!”

She turned an even deeper scarlet, then looked at us all with a huge smile on her suddenly sun-bright face. “Thank you all for asking!” she said in halting but perfectly understandable English. “I had the most wonderful time in your country!”

Her eyes were shining. “I went to Minnesota for two weeks,” she said. “It was so wide and beautiful, and I was able to speak English with people.” She paused, then said triumphantly, “And they understood me!”

Her entire being was beaming now. “Everyone was so nice! And I was so impressed with the warm kindness of the people and all the space of the land. Your country is so beautiful and nice!”

We all applauded, and she smiled and blushed some more, and then she remembered that she was supposed to be working and rushed off to the kitchen.

As the flavorful feast progressed, Saori-san was speaking readily with all our group, smiling and laughing and recalling encounters from her Minnesota trip. She seemed like a flower that had blossomed exquisitely, and at one point she knelt by me and whispered, “Don-san, I feel like that trip changed my life.”

When we returned the following year, Nakauchi-san was as gracious as ever and the food was as wonderful as ever, but Saori-san wasn’t at the restaurant. Nakauchi-san explained that she had entered a special study program and wasn’t able to work at the restaurant.

Then the pandemic came and we weren’t able to return to Kochi and Al Pascia for four excruciatingly long years.

When we were finally able to return last spring, I was delighted to discover that Saori-san was working there again, and we had a grand reunion with her and Nakauchi-san. Our lunch once again featured the freshest salad and most delicious soup, along with a beautifully prepared sea bream, and lots of hugging, laughing, and catching-up stories.

Japan, Al Pascia restaurant
Nakauchi-san and Saori-san

Saori-san was effervescent, conversing even more easily than before with all of us, and I was marveling at her transformation when, about halfway through the meal, she motioned for me to come to a corner of the room. With a big smile, she took my hand and said, in Japanese, “Don-san, I want to tell you something. I married an American last year!”

“Wait, what?” I exploded in Japanese. “You married an American last year?”

“Yes,” she said. “His name is Skylar and I met him because after I returned from my trip to the States, I joined an English conversation club here in Kochi. One day when I went to our monthly meeting, Skylar was there. He was traveling through Japan, and happened to be in Kochi on the day of our meeting. He found out about it and came there.

“When we met, we looked at each other and there was some kind of special feeling there. In the months afterwards, we continued to correspond and found ways to see each other. Our relationship just grew and grew — and finally last year we decided to get married!”

She had the biggest, brightest smile.

I gave her a bear hug and then called for everyone’s attention and recounted her amazing story. We ordered more wine, and then, for the first time ever, Nakauchi-san and Saori-san accepted our invitation to share a toast with us.

We raised our glasses and I made a toast to celebrate Saori-san’s marvelous marriage. Then another member of our group raised his glass to celebrate Nakauchi-san’s extraordinary cuisine. Then a third member raised her glass and said, “I want to celebrate the bridges that we are building right now, and that this trip has been building for ten years now, bringing Japan and America together in the most amazing ways.”

She drained her glass and gave Saori-san an exuberant hug.

Then Saori-san cleared her throat. As all eyes turned toward her, she was trembling a little, but with a clear voice, she looked at us all and said, “I want to say thank you. I can’t tell you how much I owe to you all, to your groups. Every year when you kept coming here, you opened me up to speaking English and to meeting Americans. And now I am married to one!”

She paused, as if this was still a little astonishing to her too.

And then she turned to me.

“And Don-san, I want to say thank you to you. I truly feel like you have changed my life.”

Tears welled in her eyes and in mine, and in Nakauchi-san’s too.

“Saori-san,” I said, “I want to say thank you to you. Thank you for your openness and your courage, for your spirit and your heart. Your story is exactly why I do what I do, why GeoEx does what it does, to try to bring the world closer together. But this is the first marriage we’ve ever made!”

Nakauchi-san laughed and hugged us both. Then more hugs and toasts followed, and no one wanted to leave.

Now I remember this celebration and think: None of us could have imagined in 2013 how that first lunch at Al Pascia would so dramatically change lives. We can never really know what the effect of our steps will be, where our paths are going to wind. The best we can do is walk with love and embrace serendipity – and then let travel and Cupid work their mysterious, marvelous alchemy.

Japan, Saori-san and Schuyler
Saori-san and husband Skylar

**********

Do you have a romantic travel tale to tell? Please share it in the Comments section below! We love to hear from you!

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Loxie Lou Davie
Loxie Lou Davie
1 month ago

Thanks for sharing that lovely Valentine’s Tale with us!! I do so enjoy your blogs!

Diana
Diana
1 month ago

What a wonderful story. Thank you

Cheryl Mueller
Cheryl Mueller
1 month ago

What a beautiful, heart-warming story, Don! Not only does Travel change lives, as a leader, you change lives because you are such a wonderful person that you exemplify love, congeniality and good will. I’m glad I got to realize that in the online writing seminars I took with you during the pandemic! Merci, merci!

Byrdie keeler
Byrdie keeler
1 month ago

Thank you don for another heart felt story. I too travel to open my heart and foster friendship in the world byrdie keeler

Robert Masello
Robert Masello
1 month ago

A lovely and touching tale, Don!

Linda
Linda
1 month ago

This was such a beautiful story with such a happy ending. Congratulations, Saori-san.


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