Hokusai Exhibit

Standard

Throughout the months of July and August a collection of Japanese art by the (famous) artist Hokusai was exhibited in Kitakyushu at the Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art – Riverwalk Gallery.

The collection is part of William Sturgis Bigelow’s collection of Japanese art which is normally kept at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston.

I was surprised that Hokusai’s work isn’t kept here in Japan. I had a lot to learn.

In a nutshell, Bigelow was one of the founders of the MFA in Boston and a collector of Japanese art. He donated his vast collection (he had the money to purchase just about any art piece he wanted) to the museum. After 120 years these art works have finally come “home”…just to visit though.

My lady friends and I decided to take the train to Kokura to see the exhibit.

Today was the final showing-the museum was crowded. Of course there were no photos allowed inside the museum-well, not of the actual artworks.

There were these cardboard cutouts of three of his works that you were allowed to photograph. We had a little fun with those.

The collection was awesome. There were prints in frames all along the walls. There were some of his original “manga” books in glass cases. There were also three-D cardboard cutouts  that were in glass cases. I guess these cutouts were popular during Hokusai’s time.

There were several beautiful scrolls and the original wood-block used to print the famous Mt. Fuji print from his “Thirty-six views of Mt. Fuji”.

I left with a few souvenirs-a book of all the prints in the collection, including photos of the manga books and scrolls. I also bought two prints of his works. I’m going to have them framed. The book is beautiful-a nice large “coffee-table” sized volume.

We had a lot of fun exploring Kokura city. We had lunch after visiting the museum and our restaurant had a view of Kokura castle.

Kokura is a beautiful mix of the old and the new with the castle at the center of the city near the Riverwalk.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We also really enjoyed the various programs that were featured on stage in the mall center. It is a huge mall complex and you can see the castle from it.

It was a nice day. I’ve convinced hubby to ride the train to Kokura with me once and a while so we can bum around down by the river and explore all the interesting sights and sounds of Kokura city. I’m going to see if I can find a calendar of events for the mall complex and the Riverwalk area.

How fun! I’m excited to add Kokura City to our list of places to go!

お土産 – Omiyage and Japanese “gift” giving

Standard

When I was first introduced into the Japanese culture one of the things that really surprised me was all the gifts I was constantly getting from Japanese friends and family.

I mean literally boxes full -and not just for a special occasion. I’d get small gifts from people who had traveled someplace, even if it was just a short trip. I got gifts when I attended weddings or funerals. I got gifts for seemingly no reason.

I didn’t really understand this whole ” gift- giving ” issue at first. It can be rather bewildering to foreigners who aren’t used to the whole idea of giving gifts but, when you begin to understand what’s behind it- it can get overwhelming – really.

The Japanese custom of gift giving is a bit complicated. I don’t pretend to know every single thing about it but I can tell you what I’ve learned so far from experience.

There are two gift giving seasons throughout the year.

御歳暮 (Oseibo)- is the gift giving time that happens before New Year.

御中元 (Ochuugen)- is the gift giving time around Obon in mid- August here in Kyushu.

During both of these times it is customary to give gifts to special friends and family. We are always reminded by my MIL to give oseibo to FIL. Not that we need reminding. The typical gift is a food item. The stores are full of boxed gift sets of coffee, cookies, crackers, Japanese pickles, mochi, little cakes- you name it.

IMG_6170-1.JPG

I’ve often gotten gifts of a box of juice or some other refreshing summer food/ drink during ochuugen. I’ve also gotten things like a box set of dish soap or laundry soap. The box contained two little bottles of dish soap and a sponge. The laundry soap set contained small boxes of powered and liquid detergent. It might seem strange to get a gift set of laundry soap or dish soap but the idea is to give something useful. The gifts aren’t meant to be personal.

Other gift sets I’ve seen at my MIL’s house: towel sets, washcloth sets, a boxed set of sauces, tea.

The variety of boxed gifts is endless. There are special shops where you can purchase specially boxed gift sets. Most of the local stores have a section of boxed gifts you can choose from.

手土産 Temiyage- gifts that are brought to someone’s house when visiting.

You usually don’t show up at someone’s house empty handed. Again, the typical ” gift” is food. I have a friend who brings a small gift every time she comes over. It might be some cucumbers from her garden. A jar of homemade jam or even a couple of potatoes. We do this when visiting family too. Again the ” gift” is most always a food item but, it doesn’t have to be a store bought prepackaged gift.

引き出物 Hikidemono – gifts you get for attending a wedding or a funeral.

We have attended several weddings and funerals in the past few years. Unlike western custom- where you usually give a household item as a wedding gift ( toaster, set of cutlery..) in Japan the obligatory gift for a wedding is money- specifically 300, 500 or 1,000$$. We always fall into the $500 range. It gets really expensive attending several weddings in a year when you consider the ” gift” , dress code, etc.

We haven’t attended any weddings that haven’t been family.

Last year we had three weddings we had to attend. In appreciation of the guests the bride and groom give a gift to each person ( or couple). Most times the gift is something like a set of pottery, perhaps tea cups or bowls- something like that. We’ve gotten some really nice gifts from attending weddings!

We also give a money offering at funerals and receive a ” thank- you” gift in return. Some of the thank you gifts have been: tea, dish soap sets, dried seaweed/ fish sets.

There are also gifts you get from friends and acquaintances that I’ve no idea the name of. Sometimes you might get gifts from students if you teach or gifts from people that you’ve done favors for.

There is also Valentines Day – where women give chocolate to men. The men don’t have to be someone you are romantically involved with. If you work in an office it is pretty much expected that the women will have a little something for ALL the men in the office ( at least for their immediate male coworkers).

On White Day the men give the women a gift or chocolate but, it’s usually between lovers- and not general.

Then there are omiyage.

Omiyage お土産- gifts that you buy for people while you are on a trip. Omiyage are OBLIGATORY – yes… that’s right… you don’t have a choice. Well- you do but, to not bring an obligatory omiyage would cause stress in an important relationship between you and the individual so…. It’s just better to bite the bullet. I can’t tell you exactly who you have to buy omiyage for but if you live here long enough I guarantee you’ll have your own list of people who are entitled to an omiyage from you.

Our list is long and growing. It’s to the point now where we usually have to set aside 2-300$$ just for omiyage. Lucky for us we don’t travel much. Lucky also that at times some of the people on our list travel with us- which means we don’t have to purchase gifts for them.

Again, the usual gift is a food item although other types of gifts can be given. On our recent trip to Saipan we had 2 suitcases full of gifts going and returning. In Saipan we bought things like: boxed sets of chocolate covered macadamia nuts ( a very popular gift item to bring from the islands) gift boxes of fruit and nut jelly, t-shirts, a clock, gift soaps, card sets, stationery sets, pencil sets, other confectionery sets.

Yes- it gets expensive but it’s part of the culture and NOT bringing back the obligatory gifts would cause some really uncomfortable feelings between us and people who have given us gifts or done us favors.

You see- the gift giving works both ways. NOW when I get a gift I think ” oh boy, I need to remember this so I can return a gift”. When you get a gift it is pretty much expected that you’ll give one in return.

I think I actually need to get a notebook and start jotting these things down because I’m sure I’m overlooking reciprocating gifts.

So anyhow- We still have a whole pile of gifts that we need to deliver from our trip to Saipan.

Whispers of autumn

Standard

IMG_5764.JPG

IMG_5765.JPG

One of my friends is what I call ” a lay-researcher and scholar”. She loves to study- anything and everything. One day last year she came over with this copy of an ancient almanac that is used in Japan. It is based upon the Chinese almanac but it has been modified to fit Japan’s seasons.

The almanac revolves around the four seasons of Japan. I found it to be very interesting and it is giving me much insight into cultural aspects that I never really thought about before or had the opportunity to learn.

The almanac is based on the Chinese lunar-solar calendar. Besides the 12 lunar months (moons), the year is also divided into 24 solar sections as determined by the path and position of the sun. Each “section “lasts around 15 days and they help farmers to plan their planting, harvesting and other activities.

The sections describe the seasons, weather, and changes in nature.

IMG_5785-0.GIF

The 15 sections are further divided into 3 more sections- totaling 72 in all.

The book pictured above is the almanac wheel- in book form.

Being a nature- lover I found this almanac fascinating. Not just that but- helpful to learn about the nature that surrounds us here.

The top most photos ( which should be in the opposite order- sorry) are pages from my almanac book ( a gift from my friend) . They show the start of autumn. Notice on pages 124-125 you can see the dates ( which are written Japanese style – the ” long way” from top to bottom) 8-12 ~17. The pages tell of the seasonal changes that normally happen within these dates. The dates fall in the autumn season. The very first whispers of autumn start to be heard around the 7th of August.

Pages 124-125 tell of the higurashi- an autumn cicada ( semi). There are several kinds of cicada in Japan and they emerge at different parts of the summer. The higurashi emerge at summers end signaling the first inklings of autumn in the air.

There are many different haiku that are associated with the 72 sections of the almanac.

Higurashi means- “evening cicada” or in another dictionary ” clear toned cicada”.

.日ぐらしの涼しくしたる家陰哉
higarashi no suzushiku shitaru ya kage kana

a cicada
cools it down…
shade of the house

.日ぐらしやついつい星の出やうに
higurashi ya tsui-tsui hoshi no deru yô ni

a cicada chirrs–
there! and there!
stars appear

The above poems are by Shinji Ogawa ( I think)

aki mo haya sono higurashi no inochi kana
Already autumn, And time for the cicada To spend its last days
Yosa Buson

Today, as I walked home from a long trip to the store I noticed changes.

I saw the tips of several momiji were starting to fade, their leaves no longer bright green. Some had tinges of orange already.

I noticed the sun was different. The light wasn’t as bright and the shadows fell differently.

Indeed- whispers of autumn.

I always imagine this time of the year as two women sitting together under a tree in a field. One, the Maiden of summer sits in her bright yellow dress printed with sunflowers. Her companion, a beautiful older woman, clothed in robes of deep russets and oranges and golds, her grey- streaked hair swept softly up and away from her delicate face. Both sit and share cups of tea while the Maiden of summer recounts days of sitting beside cool mountain streams, dangling delicate toes into sweet rushing water during the heat of the day. She laughs as she remembers evenings filled with fireworks and the smells of yaki tori and roast corn.

Her companion nods and smiles and as she reaches for her teacup, a small, cool breeze blows tiny dried leaves into a miniature whirlwind. Her eyes scan the forest beyond the meadow. As her glance lingers over delicate leaves they turn, ever so slightly, a subtle shade of gold.

They linger like this for a while until it’s time for the Maiden of summer to bid farewell to her companion….

I love these times… when we can see the changes happening. The time when the Maiden of summer and her companion sit together and enjoy each other’s company. Each bringing their own subtle beauty to the fields and woodlands.

I look forward to the next several months. We are so very fortunate in that our season of change is long and gradual. Time to slow down and savor each precious moment.

Obon season is upon us.

Standard

IMG_5736.JPG

Obon- the season of remembering our dearly departed.
Depending upon where you live in Japan- Obon is celebrated in either July or August. In our area it’s August 13,14 and 15.

I have to say, I love Obon season. It is a time when we have many family gatherings. There is lots of activity happening -from visiting relatives to pray at their family butsudan ( a type of mini- shrine or family altar) to bonodori ( dances) and going to the cemetery.

I know- it sounds morbid but it isn’t, really.

During Obon the butsudan is laden with offerings. Usually food and drink. It is common to see fresh fruit beautifully arranged in cello- wrapped baskets, small bottles of sake, beer, juice or whatever the departed loved one enjoyed while they were alive.

The stores have mountains of displays at this time of ” perfect” looking fruits specially packaged for Obon. There are also piles of colorful sugar flowers.

IMG_5734.JPG

They are also for placing on the butsudan. The general rule is – you place whatever the departed was fond of. I’ve even seen cigarettes.

Special lanterns are placed next to the butsudan during this time.

IMG_5733.JPG

IMG_5735.JPG

They aren’t cheap. I’ve seen price tags of 200$$ and upwards.

If it’s the first Obon season for your loved one ( hatsubon) things get expensive. The butsudan is elaborately decorated like in the first smaller photo. You will have a house full of friends and relatives for three days and they come and go at no particular time so you must be ready to receive them virtually at any time throughout the morning, afternoon and evenings for the Obon season.

You will also have a ceremony with a priest that will be attended by family and friends ….with food. Lots of food.

Of course you’ll have refreshments ready for all the guests that visit during the three days.

As I said, it is a huge expense. Your guests will come with a money offering though, to help with expenses.

IMG_5737.JPG

I don’t know what others give but we usually offer 30 for relatives for a hatsubon and around 20 for friends that have a hatsubon.

This is also a time of wearing colorful yukata or cotton summer robes ( they kind of look like kimono) and geta ( wooden Japanese sandals).

Not every home has a butsudan. The butsudan is usually kept in the parents home or in the home of the eldest son or daughter( if there isn’t a son) and it will hold the いはい ( Ihaii) of all the deceased family members. The いはい is a name plate that is crafted at the time of the funeral. There are different materials they are made of but they are all basically like the photo. I’ve seen some lacquered black and the names painted on in gold.

IMG_5738.JPG

The ashes are never kept at home. They are brought to the cemetery and the neck bone ( which is believed to hold the ” spirit” of the person during life) is brought to the main temple- wherever that may be for that particular family. Our family main temple is in Kyoto.

As a matter of fact- ashes of the deceased are treated with utmost care and reverence. They can never be separated or divided up. When my dad died my sister, my mom and I each got a small portion of his ashes in a small urn. I don’t talk about that here because it seems to be rather tabu.

IMG_5731.JPG
Pictured above is a lively bonodori.

We have a hatsubon in the family this year- at a cousin’s home. We will all go and help with the massive food preparations and such.

Last weekend we had to attend the 49th day of death for the same relative. There are auspicious days on the ritual calendar. I don’t pretend to know what they all are but I know that 49 days after a person dies there is a special ceremony where relatives and friends gather at the deceased’s home with the priest and sutras and prayers are chanted.

I always find these interesting. I observe them from the ” foreigners” point of view. Last Saturday I observed the priest. He seemed to be genuinely dedicated to his calling. I could tell by carefully watching him. I watched as he meticulously and carefully sat in seza – sliding onto the zabuton in a reverent and ritualistic way. I watched as he deftly changed his silk outer robe, sliding one arm then the other out of it and ever so carefully folding it and placing it on his satchel. He took out the ” priests apron” and donned it just as cautiously- as if it were a holy thing, and not just ” a piece of cloth”. He then picked up his sutra booklet that he had laid aside on the butsudan, and touched it to his forehead. Closing his eyes, he bowed to the butsudan, laid the sutra book on top of his outer robe that lay a top his satchel. I saw he used the satchel as sort of a small shelf or table to hold the sutra book. I saw that several times before at different rituals. As he lit the two tall capers, one on either side of the butsudan, and he struck the bell, everyone fell silent and got ready for the ritual.

I didn’t understand the words of the sutras but I heard in the priests tone of voice he chanted them with all his heart. He was the same priest that presided over the funeral. He will be the same one that will preside over the Obon rituals.

Anyhow- these things are interesting to me. I don’t understand many of them but I don’t judge any of it. I just observe and do what I can to help . I never just sit. I always try to lend a hand. Many times I’m not exactly sure what needs to be done so I take over the dish- washing. That’s ok.

So next week we will be very busy. Actually I’m already busy. Tomorrow is shopping day for Saturday’s ” let’s learn Saipan island cooking” day that we are having for the parents of the kids we are taking to Saipan on a student exchange. We leave week after next. There is lots to do!

And… We have a typhoon headed our way… And possibly more if those two that are hitting Hawaii come towards us.

Hopefully not- life in Japan never stops- not even for typhoons!

Summer fireworks for the dogs….

Image

About two weeks ago we received a post card in the mail. Well..I should say our dog received a postcard in the mail-an invitation to the summer fireworks festival on the grounds of his beauty-shop / dog hotel / dog playground. Since it is too far for him to walk (his legs are too short) and he doesn’t drive, so he asked us to come along. ;)

What a fun atmosphere! The staff worked hard to provide a lot of fun for everyone. There were BBQ pits set up with roasted corn, sausages, squid, and BBQ sticks. They had a teppan going and were making yakisoba. There were fresh tomatoes and cucumbers on sticks, ice-cream and snacks, cold tea and beer and other refreshments that you could purchase.

Our little dog Chibi was beside himself with all the activity and all the other dogs!

I had no idea everyone (every dog) would be so “dressed up”.

There were dogs with dyed hair and bows and yukata! Yukata are summer robes that are often mistaken by “foreigners” as kimono. Yukata are simpler and made of cotton.

Do you see the dog with the pink tail? She was so cute! Her tail was so fluffy and when she walked around it seemed more like she was strutting!

The playground was full. Chibi does not always mind his manners so we thought it best not to let him run around in there….no telling what may have happened.

What really made me laugh was …dogs in strollers! Now that’s pampering your pooch!

We hung around until it got dark, watched a few fireworks and then took Chibi home. He yammered and pulled on his leash the entire time we were there…while most other dogs behaved. That’s our little Chibi….we love him but he has no manners. He was totally exhausted when we got him home. Not to mention me and “papa”.

Fun experience. Now that we know what it’s like we plan on gussying chibi up next year! No stroller though- he will have to walk…

Jabuchi-family summer camping and things as they are.

Standard

This post will be two-fold. I want to tell you about our family camping trip but I also want to give an accurate description of Jabuchi campground so that others planning a trip there will know what to expect. There is not much information about it on the web in English-so I am hoping this post will help someone decide if this is the right place to stay for their camping experience.

Long post but I hope you enjoy the stories…..

Our long awaited family camping weekend has come and gone. Funny how it seems like it takes forever for an anticipated event to arrive but, once it does, it passes by ever so quickly.

I try to practice being mindful so that I can savor the moments. I tried to do that on this trip. I say “try” because I’m not always successful every moment.

Several days before the camp were spent in a flurry of activity. Well, at least for some of us. Some of us women that is. We went shopping-what a food haul! Wow. I was wondering what army we were going to feed. I spent a half day before -cooking up several batches of island-style coconut tityas (tortillas). They are eaten with chicken kelaguen-another island favorite. I BBQ’d the chicken at camp and made the kelaguen there. It was a HIT.

Any way-we got all the shopping and preparing out of the way and like I said-there was a LOT of food. I’m used to camping a bit different so this whole experience was one that I had to just accept and make my mind up that I was not going to sit and compare it to my many past camping experiences.

I grew up camping in the wild with my dad. We used to pack his old canvas tent, propane camping stove, old army cots and sleeping bags, canned food and sausages and some of mom’s home-made German sourdough into the old green station-wagon and head up into the north woods. There was no toilet or let alone “bath”. We dug a hole for a toilet and jumped in the lake to take a bath. We even camped in the dead of winter. Taking a bath was done with a damp washcloth inside the tent next to the gas heater.

We gathered firewood and buit ourselves a campfire and dad had one of those tripod things that you could stand over the fire and attach a cooking pot to.

We roughed it but it was a blast!

This camp was much different than what I was used to. First off -we stayed in a (luxury) cabin.

There are eight of these nice cabins and three smaller “huts” (wood buildings with nothing in them but a sleeping room) that sit along a river up in the mountains not far from Mt. Hiko in Miyako. The cabins are right along the road. They aren’t set into the mountain. The road isn’t that busy so that was a plus but I”l be honest and say it was a disappointment that I had to get over. I was hoping for more of a rustic environment-but, that’s the way it was so I had to just accept it. The area is quite beautiful though.

The campground is owned and operated by the government. It is very well maintained as you will see from the pictures. It is definitely not rustic camping.It is more of a get-away spot for people who want to be out in nature but -not really. I guess you could say it’s for city folk who want to camp but not be inconvenienced.I think it is also great for people who have little kids and want to “camp” but don’t want to be totally stressed out doing it.

The inside of the cabins are beautiful but in a simple way.

The cabins have a sleeping loft with five futons that are slung over the half wall. Downstairs is a small mini-kitchen with a single electric cooking burner, a rice cooker, a microwave, a hot-pot to heat water and a small fridge. There are a few pots and pans and some plastic plates, cups, bowls..etc. The cabins have wall AC units and a fan. The tub/shower room is very nice (very clean) as well as the toilet room and wash-basin area. All were very, very clean and well maintained.

The upstairs loft can sleep about eight to ten people comfortably. We had a few more up there. It was cramped. There were about eight more people sleeping in the kitchen area. We had quite a large group.

The futons are THIN. Really thin. I felt like I was sleeping on the hardwood floor. I think I slept about two or three hours. I woke several times during the night with a (child’s) foot draped over my body or my head. Not ideal but-that’s the way it was so I lay there trying to enjoy the sounds of snoring and campfire smoke smell that clung to hair and shirts remembering the laughter and fun of the evening.

Each luxury cabin comes with the use of a beautiful BBQ pavilion.

Along one wall is a long concrete sink with several faucets and a counter area. This is where all the cooking was done-and cook we did…ALL day. BBQing and chopping and making all sorts of “camp food”. Honestly- I’ve never seen so much cooking at a camp before! Despite the cooking for an army-everyone seemed to be enjoying it. Everyone helped with something and had fun while doing it.

We had an armed camp guard that made sure there was no loafing around. (lol)

We didn’t stand there and cook all day, some of us played in the river with the kids or explored the area. Some preferred to sit at the BBQ pavilion nibbling and drinking and chatting and watching us play in the river.

The river is cool and incredibly clean. The rocks were beautifully worn from thousands of years of water rushing over them. There were so many little fish! I noticed that the thing to “do” was to bring a small plastic fish tank and a butterfly net. Dozens of kids were excitedly scooping up fish and dumping them into their plastic aquariums. All the fish were let go again later.

The campground was full to capacity. It is usually booked full for the season well in advance. I was thinking that the cabins might be a nice place to lodge if you had a group that decided to go hiking on Mt. Hiko because of its close proximity. That would probably be fun. I’ll have to keep that in mind next time the kids come out. That would make the hiking trip that much more fun and special. I have no idea when the season closes for the cabins. Some of the cabins here aren’t open all year round because of the snow/road conditions. Either that or they aren’t worth keeping open because there aren’t many campers at that time.

The roads coming up here are narrow and get snow-covered during winter. They aren’t plowed either. Next to that guardrail it goes straight down the cliff.

I enjoyed walking the little path that went the length of the cabin area. There were several giant Japanese swallow-tailed butterflies. I tried to take a photograph of one that landed on a flower. It fluttered up over my head and around again and almost landed on my face.


There were many different species of butterflies – everywhere!

The kids were spying on the wild animal that was lurking beneath the next door cabin…..

What a ferocious animal it was too!! We hid behind the BBQ pavilion so that it would come creeping out from under the cabin and we could get a picture of it….

Jabuchi is also famous for a small waterfall. If you follow the path down towards the office area you will come to a set of steps that lead down the side of the hill and into a cavern-like place where the river cascades down in two gushing “falls”.

It’s actually a really cool place. The water falls into a rather deep pool and then flows on downstream rushing over rocks and boulders and centuries-old crevices sculpted into the rock by the force of the water. The falls area looks like a large basin that was carved into the surrounding forest and if you look up a canopy of trees encircles the basin and makes it seem as if you are in a bowl-looking up through the trees. Off to the left is a small thin waterfall. A single thin stream of water that falls down upon a large rock that has also been shaped by the constant pressure running over it. This small, thin waterfall was magical. I don’t know how to describe it. It was this beautiful anomaly that was mesmerizing to behold.

I wish I could have captured the essence of it in my photograph.

w3It is difficult to tell from the photo but the distance from the rock to the top of the cliff where the water comes cascading down is actually quite high. If I took a picture with someone standing up there -they would appear pretty small.

There was a path that led up into the forest for a bit. It was not very long at all. The stairs led up and around and down to the other side of the river and a few cabins that were nestled beside the falls. I wanted to get some pictures back there but the cabins were occupied and I didn’t want to intrude.

Part of our “package” included a campfire. No, you can’t make your own campfire. Within walking distance, up the road a bit is a fire pit. The “office” will build a campfire for you that you get to light. They collect and pile all the wood for you and kind of stand back and supervise to make sure no one gets hurt.

As soon as it got dark we all hiked over to the fire pit for our packaged campfire experience. If you want a campfire it costs an additional 4,500 yen (around $45).

But…what’s a family camp without a campfire?

It took a while to get the fire going-but I think the men had fun engineering that whole thing-adjusting the wood and fanning the embers as they started to glow. A group of kids from the neighboring camp ran over and offered sparklers to help-throwing several lit sparklers into the middle of the wood pile.

As our fire began to consume the pile pf wood we had a lot of fun sharing stories-some ghost stories (of course…what’s a campfire without ghost stories) and wild animal stories. My brother in law (who had a “few” under his belt) wanted to know how the American Indians danced around their campfires (he had seen it on TV) so I made a show of teaching him (and a few others) a mock Indian fire dance complete with whoops made my slapping my hand over my mouth…it was fun and hilarious as they all joined in. I was then taught Japanese fire dancing. It was just a lot of silly fun.

The cabin area took on a different personality at night. Who knew what creature was lurking around some dark corner or staring at us with luminous eyes from deep within the forest?

Now, all the kids needed to hold someone’s hand to run back to the cabin! Who knows? That man-eating cat could be hiding behind a rock ready to pounce!

One by one the kids were taken into the cabin to have a bath and get into summer pj’s. Futons were spread and spaces were claimed…and before you know it the sounds of little snores could be heard. Speaking of snoring….hubby and I were sitting in camping chairs on the left side of the BBQ area with our backs to the hut that sat next to our BBQ place. Suddenly we heard several loud snorts that for a moment we honestly thought were coming from a wild boar. The mountains around here are full of them and they can be quite dangerous. Our eyes grew big….hubby got up to inspect and I saw him cocking one ear and walking towards the hut…could there be a wild boar hiding under it getting ready to charge us?

Everyone in the BBQ hushed…holding our breath we watched as my brave husband fearlessly crept towards the next door hut….

…then I noticed that the window was open. The snorts were coming from within the hut that was occupied by several old men who we had seen having an “old-man’s camp”. Their BBQ area was on the opposite side of their hut-I had seen several cases of empty beer and sochu bottles stacked up-lol. It looked like they were having a grand-old man’s time. BBQing sausages and drinking and laughing.

No worries-no wild boar was about to come charging. We all had a good laugh and carried on with our “camping”.

Long about midnight, as soon as the tub room was free, hubby and I went in and had our nightly bath. It is common here for couples to bathe together. Most tub rooms are large and can accommodate at least 2-3 people. Bathing is a family affair here in Japan. It is wholesome and “clean” (no pun intended) and for us a wonderful time of sharing. After a long hot day of outdoor fun the bath was relaxing and wonderful. We donned our camping pj’s and went up to the loft to see about finding a place to crash for the night.

The next morning-as soon as I noticed the sun coming up over the trees (which must have been before 5 am) I made my way downstairs, carefully avoiding stepping on slumbering campers, and brewed a big pot of coffee and then returned to the bath to sooth my aching bones from sleeping on a hard, thin, futon.

Gosh, drinking that cup of coffee while sitting outside on a cool rock over-looking the river was… delicious!

Little by little everyone helped to pack up the camping “stuff” that was just everywhere. The cabins have a check in and check out time. Check in is at 1pm and check out is at 10am. The big cabins with the bathrooms and such are around 148.00 a night. Something like that. We shared all expenses as a family and it came to $80 bucks a family. Not bad at all considering all the food we had and the cabin expense (plus the campfire).

We packed and hauled the supplies back up to the cars. Most of the group went to a river for the day to let the kids splash around. Hubby and I went our own way….we got lost for several hours on the way home. I mean that literally. We had NO idea where we were. After several stops to ask two farmers, an old lady tending her garden and a young gal waiting outside an ancient looking train station we were able to negotiate the small country roads until we found the bypass that led us home. We were lost in the Japan countryside and it was glorious! We actually had a wonderful time being lost.

Of course I took pictures.

We actually had a wonderful time. New experience for me and I enjoyed it. I’m thinking of several possibilities for this area…retreats and such. My wheels are turning. :)

Here are some more pictures that are right off my other camera-unedited in any way.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Off to the next adventure!

The giving tree is giving again…

Standard

For those new to my blog-in order to understand this post you may have to back track a bit to this post:

The giving tree

So since that day we’ve kept obosan trimmed. Not too long ago hubby actually took a saw and cut him really short because as soon as the warm weather starts he just shoots up-branches sprouting every-which-way.

There are three trunks that grow out of the same root system and they form sort of a triangle. One day hubby came home with a triangle-shaped piece of wood and nailed it to the top of the three longish trunks.

I thought-what in the world….

He says- “bird feeder”

“Bird feeder?”

“Yep”

I looked at those three sticks with that triangle piece of wood nailed to the top and I just bit my lip. Not really my style but, well, I’ve learned over the years to just keep quiet about certain things.

I mean-I can’t have everything my way. I want my husband to do things around the house that he thinks look nice or are fun and creative. My mom was the sort who controlled everything. Dad never really had a say in anything and I saw sometimes that he felt uncomfortable in his own home. It was not till they were really elderly and mom stopped caring much-that he got his own space in the basement.

So..I looked at it and said

“bird feeder”

We bought some bird seed and sprinkled a little on the top of the triangle shaped piece of wood and that was that.

I kind of forgot about it. Well-I mean…I putter in the garden everyday, almost, but I just ignored-“the bird feeder”.

Spring came. Everything started sprouting and blooming. One day I went out to the garden and I saw that Obosan had started sprouting little leaves all around that triangular piece of wood. I thought to myself…”humm, that may look interesting”.

Sure enough, branches started to grow. They came sprouting out all around that little piece of wood to form a tiny forest of branches….and no sooner had they begun to sprout leaves when the birds took notice.

We have the best time early in the morning, peeking from behind the curtains, coffee cup in hand, watching the birds have breakfast!

I’ve been keeping the branches trimmed so they don’t grow out of control.

It’s the neatest little “natural” bird feeder I’ve ever seen!

Hubby is so proud of it and it gives him so much JOY! Me too. :)

The giving tree is giving -again!

I’m going to find a cute little sign to hang from it. I’ll think of something creative.

My little garden is always changing. We have had SO MUCH RAIN that some of my flowers just died-drowned I think.

The ones that I have out there now seem to be tolerating all this rain.

I’ve also started a couple of little water gardens.

I’ve got some climbers out there and mostly just easy to care for plants.

I wonder if we will have a summer or we’ll just continue on slogging our way through clouds and rain all they way to fall.