In 2018, after I finished My Fair Lady on Broadway, I left the theater and went straight to Philadelphia to play a very different, very traumatized character in the M. Night Shyamalan Apple TV+ series Servant. At the end of that shoot—and such a nonstop run—my husband and I decided it was time for a trip. We’d always wanted to explore Japan; of course, I’m not sure whose idea of a nice, relaxing vacation it is to go zigzagging around various Japanese cities toting two jet-lagged children, 6 and 11, including a son who refused to sleep on the plane.
Our first day, we visited Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market at 5 a.m., then went to see the Yomiuri Giants baseball team play in the Tokyo Dome, where women in cute yellow outfits poured us what we thought was beer but turned out to be whiskey and soda, which kind of set the tone for the trip. We were intoxicated by the place, and the days blended into a magical, if underslept, dream. Two weeks in, after trying to cram in every sight on my list, we were even more fried than before we’d left. Luckily, this was when we’d planned to meet someone we knew and loved from My Fair Lady. Minami Yusui is the most amazing Broadway performer and was the dance captain of the show, and when she discovered our trip coincided with her visiting her hometown, Kanazawa, she insisted we come see her.
We took the Shinkansen bullet train across the island of Honshu, with Mount Fuji going by in the window. After dragging these kids around Tokyo, Kanazawa was like falling into a giant pillow. Minami’s mother had booked us a hotel, memorably under my first name only, and the next morning we walked through ancient streets until we found Minami with her parents, waiting to greet us. She had told me that her dad was a famous kimono painter, but I didn’t comprehend the extent of it until we toured his studio. On the first floor, we saw drying fabrics, paints, and brushes in an immaculate, serene space. On the second floor, we encountered around 30 employees, each one sitting on a tatami at an individual station and working on their own highly intricate step of the kimono design—and all in total silence. Her dad was a serious presence, presiding over his talented employees in a super-stylish vest, and Minami’s mother was the world’s most elegant force of nature. When we finished the studio tour, delighted and inspired, out of nowhere multiple cabs showed up. Minami’s mom instructed, “OK, it’s time for lunch! The boys will all go in this cab; the girls, go in here.” We were all like, “Great!” For weeks, we’d been struggling to keep it together, and suddenly everything was figured out for us.
The restaurant, Shogyotei, serves Kanazawa kaga-ryori, which is many courses of seafood and local ingredients. The children were the most adventurous eaters they’d been on the whole trip, now that there was an audience of elders to impress. As lunch ended, Minami and her mom said, “OK, you need souvenirs!” I had mentioned I was interested in buying a yukata. Cabs showed up again, and then we were at a shop, with Minami’s mom specifying which patterns and obi were best for me. We gratefully placed ourselves in her hands, and I left with two gorgeous cotton yukatas, while my husband, at her insistence, got a samue, which is this cool-looking traditional monk lounge suit.
Minami and her family gave us this sort of concierge experience all day. We saw some of the oldest architecture in Japan, sampled the culinary gold leaf Kanazawa has made for 1,000 years, toured the Omicho Market, and ate conveyor-belt sushi that was the best I’ve had in my life. Generally, Japan is a quiet place, where the only people making noise on the subway are your kids, so after two weeks of probably making a faux pas every 30 seconds, to get ushered from one magical cultural experience to another is something I will never forget.
I don’t know a lot of people born and raised in Japan—never mind in a small port city in Ishikawa Prefecture. To be there with Minami and get a sense of how huge her journey was and what lovely, generous people she comes from was so special. It was so beautiful, it almost makes me cry to think of it now.
Lauren Ambrose stars in the second season of Yellowjackets, streaming on Showtime from March 24.