Jabuchi-family summer camping and things as they are.

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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.

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Off to the next adventure!

The giving tree is giving again…

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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.

Cultural exchange day

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I – along with several other “foreigners” were invited to participate in a discussion with local townspeople.

The topic was centered on what it’s like to be a foreigner in Japan. Our experiences, things that surprised us when we first got here, how we manage to cope with living in a foreign country..and more.

To be honest, when I was first invited to come I thought
“oh, no. I’m going to feel like a monkey in a zoo”.

You see, sometimes it’s hard always being “different”. Sometimes you just want to fit in. You want people to stop craning their necks as you walk past. You want little kids to stop surrounding you while you try to shop…trailing behind you parroting “harro, harro, harro”!

You want the counter person to look at YOU and speak when you try to ask a question, not your husband, who just happened to follow you into the yarn shop.

Most of the time now I don’t think about it anymore. I noticed that about myself just recently. When I first got here I had a phobia about going out alone. I didn’t really want to admit that but, it’s true. It was so hard being stared at, so hard always sticking out.

Especially when you are an introvert. Introverts do not want to be the center of attention. I’m not trying to sound full of myself. I sure hope I don’t come off that way.

I don’t even think about it anymore. Things are familiar now and I’m at ease here. People still crane their necks and stare. Little kids still tag along behind me in the mall at times but now I can speak some Japanese and that helps.

So anyhow-I decided to be a good sport and attend. I’m really glad I did because it was actually really fun.

The room was packed. By the time we got started they were breaking out extra chairs for people that were still walking thru the door.

I was really surprised at how many people wanted to come and listen to us and share their thoughts and ideas.

They called this a “love, peace and friendship” conference.

Represented were: America, Canada, Jamacia, Korea and Saipan.

Some of the questions solicited funny answers. One of the “foreigners” in our group said he was most surprised by the wash-let toilets here. Most toilets, no matter if they be out in public or at home, have a bidet. The first time I used one it was a little intimidating-lol.

I said I was most surprised by how genki the elderly are. Genki can be used in several different ways but here it means that the Japanese elderly are fit and active and generally in great shape. It isn’t unusual to see a seventy year old cruising around on their bicycle. Our eighty-four year old neighbor still rides around on his moped. Often when I go hiking some elderly person passes me up on the trail!

We sat up at the front for a while and answered questions and then we were each assigned to sit at a table and chat with everyone sitting there.

Aside from being fun, I thought this was also important. It was important for us as foreigners, I think, because it gave us a chance to be heard as a group. It gave us a chance to meet many of the town’s people and it gave them a chance to talk to us!

Many said they have seen us around and wanted to talk, to say hello and welcome…but were too unsure or shy or afraid to! Most could not speak English very well so they had been afraid of a communication fail. This was a really fun way of introducing us to people who we otherwise might never have had the chance to meet.

There was one ancient lady at my table-the cutest little thing..she was thrilled to be able to talk to me and ask me questions about my life. I was so happy to give her that joy.

Everyone else that was there had a similar experience.

I got to meet some new “foreign” friends too!

I am so glad I stepped out of my comfort zone. I think that’s the only way to go forward. When I let go of my anxiety and preconceived ideas and thoughts I always have a good experience. Had I let my “monkey in the zoo” thoughts deter me it would have been a shame, really.

Chotto soko made ちょっとそこまで

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Chotto soko made-ちょっとそこまで
“just down the road” “just out for a bit” “no where in particular”

We’ve had nothing but rain. Rain, rain and more rain. We really have not had much of a summer so far. As a matter of fact-I have to keep reminding myself that it’s already about the end of midsummer. Part of me keeps waiting for summer to arrive!

Come to think of it-I have not even heard the semi singing their shrill song. Semi-Japanese cicadas are one of the signature sounds of summer here. It’s actually been very strange not hearing them. I have kind of a love-hate relationship with them. I love hearing them during those first hot days of summer because then I know that summer has officially arrived. After a while when more and more of them have emerged from the earth the sound is deafening. Really. There have been times when I actually have to plug my ears because my eardrums feel like they are going to pop from the vibrations.

I think I heard one so far. Kind of worrisome actually.

The typhoon that came thru our area took an abrupt right turn and puttered and sputtered on down below us. We didn’t get much of anything from it. Rain and a little wind. We had already been soaked through and through from all the rain we’ve been getting since the beginning of spring.

So, today, when I saw that the forecast called for sunny skies and temps in the high 70’s to low 80’s no one had to tell me twice to grab my trekking shoes and rucksack and hit the road!

ちょっとそこまで

With the rainy weather we’ve had I’ve barely gotten out of the house. I decided today I’d leave early in the morning and spend the entire day walking at a leisurely pace up to one of my favorite places- Ryokyo waterfall by the entrance of some of the hiking trails that go up the mountain.

I packed up a quick lunch, filled my water bottle and hit the road. The only chores I did was a load of wash. Everything could wait! I didn’t want to waste such beautiful weather on chores when I could do them another time.

I took our android tablet with me and used it to take pictures. The photos are raw-I didn’t edit them at all.

It takes me about 45 minutes to walk up to the falls if I walk at a brisk pace. Today, I took my time. I wanted to see everything! I took time to notice little details.

I’m glad I left early, I didn’t want to care about the time today. I just wanted to relax and enjoy the beautiful day.

I wanted to enjoy wanderlust and I did. I felt myself let go and just be. To really just fully be in the day-not just physically but mentally. I didn’t want it to be one of those days where my mind was thinking about chores that needed doing when I got home or things left undone.

I didn’t have that problem today-the glorious day pulled me into it the moment I stepped out the door.

The rains had left everything so green!

Everything, the fields, the trees the rice paddies such a deep emerald green. It was so refreshing to my senses. So calming.

Cottage gardens were bursting with produce.

The walk up to the falls is always so charming. You have to walk through the end of town a bit but after you pass the Eneos gas station you are pretty much in seventh heaven.

I never tire of Japanese architecture. I love the old-style roofs on the old farmhouses.

I walked past the ancient pond, serene and still. Several ancient koi swam up to greet me as I lingered at the ponds edge listening to bull-frogs and watching ducks paddle lazily as dragonflies darted here and there over the water.

I paid a visit to the newly rebuilt shrine. The old building had burnt to the ground last year. It was really a shame. The old shrine building was several hundred years old.

There are all sorts of little lanes and paths that beg for exploring.

You never know what delight you’ll find when you wander down one of them.

I visited my friend up at the waterfall. She lives in my “dream house”. Her home / quaint little coffee shop is located at the bottom of the falls area. The air is filled with the sound of rushing water from the falls and gushing river.

She planted dozens and dozens of hydrangea bushes that line the road leading up to her place.

We chatted a few minutes and then I wandered around in the falls area and walked for a bit in the mountain.

I ate my simple little lunch slowly while listening to the sound of the waterfall, watching little bits of “something” (from the trees) falling from the tree-tops.Whatever it was, it was beautiful -swirling gently through the filtered rays of sunlight that shone down through the bamboo and pine trees. I watched as clumps of it floated down stream.

I noticed a brown snake decided that it was a nice day to sun bathe.

There are some cabins in the woods that belong to the local town. They are rented out (cheap) during the summer months. There is usually a crowd during the month of August when the Obon holidays come around.

I made my way back home. Down the mountain path. Down the road past the ancient pond and the koi who once again greeted me to say “see ya later”. Past the Torii gate to the shrine. Past Eneos and into town.

My little dog Chibi was glad to see me as I stepped into the genkan.

I’m really hoping for some more nice weather. I have many more adventures I need to go on….next week calls for rain…again.

Typhoon Neoguri- coming up our way

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We’ve been tracking this storm for the past few days.

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Since moving here we’ve had several typhoons blow through. None of them hit our area very hard at all although, there was some greater damage around other parts of Japan.

I’ve lived through some pretty mean storms on Saipan. The worst one was Super Typhoon Kim in 1986. She packed wind gusts of around 210 mph. The storm took 15 hours to pass us and caused catastrophic damage. We had no power or water for four months. We were lucky. Some areas took much longer to have services restored.

We’ve also had many smaller storms that us locals call ” banana typhoons”. Named so because they are only strong enough to knock over a few banana trees. So far all of the typhoons we’ve experienced here have been banana typhoons.

The worst part of the storm being huge amounts of rain – O-ame ( big rain).
More like torrential rains that cause extensive flooding and landslides.

We’ve been having torrential rains ahead of this storm. The rivers are maxed.

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It’s making landfall in Okinawa as I write this.

There are some storm chasers there that have been giving sporadic reports. ICyclone They are hunkering down on Miayko-Jima.

We shall see what this storm will bring us. I checked our bug-out bag yesterday and made sure it was up to date. In a while I’ll go outside and start securing all of my garden stuff. I’m going to try and figure out a way to secure my climbing rose.

It’s incredibly humid. We’ve had absolutely pouring rain for the past several days and today we’ve got the sun peeking through heavy cloud cover as this storm makes its way up to us. If this keeps up I’ll go for a walk after chores are done.

Stay safe people of Japan!

Getting ready for the Saipan trip and more…

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Yesterday was the second of several “training” days that I’ve volunteered to do for the BOE. We are taking a small group of children to Saipan next month for a home-stay- student exchange trip. I was asked if I could teach the kids a little about the culture and customs of Saipan.

The first weekend in August I’ll teach their mothers how to cook local (Saipan) food. We did that two years ago and it was a huge hit.

Next weekend I’ve been asked to participate in a question and answer session. I guess, from what I understand, the kairanba (I could be spelling it wrong in English) went around the community advertising a question and answer session between locals and “foreigners”. The kairanba is a community newsletter that goes from house to house.

I was told that there will be a few other “foreigners” there-but I’ll be the only woman.

My first thought was to decline the offer to attend but, then I thought,”be a good sport”.

Anyhow-it might be fun. I’m just wondering what sort of questions I’ll be asked. I’m going to have to remember to temper my responses to difficult questions. The older I’ve gotten the bolder and more outspoken I’ve become.

Weekend after that we are going camping with the family. Something I’m really looking forward to. I hope the weather holds up as we’ve had nothing but non-stop rain the past few days. Apparently there is a typhoon on the way.

I love the way the rain makes the rice fields and the area look though. So green and lush.

We have had a really cool wet summer so far. Japan’s hottest month seems to be August so we could still be in for some scorching days. Last year it seemed that one day in late may we woke up to scorching heat that got worse and worse. We had about a week (only) of “rainy season” and went right on into a full blast, hotter than hot, summer. I’m thankful for the relief this year. Japan has some of the hottest weather I’ve ever felt in my life. Summers can be down-right miserable with high heat and higher humidity. Right now I’ve got the windows open listening to the rain and I’m wearing a light sweater.

We have barely used our bedroom AC so far. That means a lower power bill-fine with me.

Nothing like a hot cup of coffee on a cool rainy day.

the crematorium

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I’m not really a person who is easily “creeped out” by things but I have to say I had an experience two weeks ago that I really don’t need to have again for a while.

Unfortunately, we had a death in the family. It was in and of itself a very tragic death. I won’t go into detail because of privacy issues but suffice it to say that it came as a shock to everyone. The funeral was gut-wrenching. There was a lot of emotion that was shown, not something that seems to be usual here. I’ve been to a couple of other funerals since having moved to Japan and I was a bit taken aback by the lack of emotion that was shown.

This one was quite the opposite.

A little bit about Japanese funerals here.

Japanese funerals start with a ceremony that is most always at a funeral home which has the “set up” for a Buddhist funeral-something that can seem really elaborate to a Westerner.

I’m sorry the photo is a little blurred-I found it on the internet. I wouldn’t have the guts to take a picture at a funeral-it’s rather frowned upon in our area and anyhow, it isn’t something I’d want to do.

I wanted to show you how elaborate some of the funerals can be. The one we went to was similar to this photo. There is a temple-like wooden structure that sits at the back of the presentation. At the funeral we went to-a huge statue of Buddha stood in front of the temple structure.
The flowers were arranged to look like a flowing river.It was very pretty and must have taken a long time to create.
The plain unpainted wood coffin sat on a trolly in front of the flowers. There were long narrow tables set up in front of the coffin for the incense burners.

In front of all that was the priest’s chair and huge bowl-bell.

We spent almost the whole day at the funeral home. Breakfast is served to the mourners in a Japanese style room. The food is traditional Japanese style “funeral food” consisting of simmered vegetables (carrots, mushrooms, small potatoes, burdock). There were some sweet beans and miso soup and some other rather plain food. No meat or fish. Lunch was also served. The food was similar.

After the ceremony with the priest some of the immediate family go with the coffin to the crematorium. The most immediate family members ride in the hearse and the rest of the funeral party (party?) are shuttled by a bus that’s provided by the funeral home.

The crematorium was a-ways from the funeral home, out of the city and high up on a hill over looking the valley.

I had no idea what to expect as it was the first time we had gone to the crematorium.

We arrived and filed silently out of the bus. One of the staff gestured in such a way as to let us know that we should go inside and wait for the coffin to be carried in. We were ushered into the lobby. I looked around. There were no decorations. No flowers. No Paintings or anything that might be comforting to look at. It was stark. The floor, walls and ceiling were granite, I think. Pinkish red granite. The atmosphere was solemn. Mournful and….to me…it seemed empty, hopeless. The end.

We waited as the coffin was brought in and arranged in a small room across from the lobby. There was nothing in the room but an altar like counter that the coffin was placed behind. On the counter was the deceased’s photo and an incense bowl.

We all lined up in silence to say our final good-byes. This room was as stark as the lobby. I had such a strange feeling there-finality. There was none of the hope that is present at Christian funerals. No, this was indeed mournful. Mournful and sorrowful as I’ve never felt it before.

We were instructed to stand over against the right wall after we had paid our last respects. The crematorium staff closed the coffin for the final time and wheeled the trolly through a set of huge,metal, rolling doors and into a lobby area that I can only describe as being- “futuristic looking ” metal doors set several feet apart against the wall. The whole thing reminded me of those science fiction movies you see.

The doors slid open silently and automatically. I had peeked into that area while we were waiting for everyone to pay respects and I thought-that place looks scary-I hope we don’t have to go in there.

We did. We all filed in after the coffin.

Here is a photo I found that looks pretty much the same as what I saw. The room was rather large and had about six doors along the wall.

I’ll be honest and say it was eerie. The coffin was loaded onto an automatic trolly that, on the push of a button wheeled into the first chamber and then automatically transferred to the chamber where the body would be burned.

The coffin was in the first chamber and we gathered around to say a last good-bye and then-(and I was shocked) the services director asked the deceased’s wife to come forward and push the button that would close the door and begin the cremation process!

I saw the deceased’s wife physically recoil. She had this look of utter shock and horror on her face and refused to do it. I thought to myself that it was terribly insensitive of the staff to ask her to do that considering how tragic the death had been. Her adult son stepped forward and pushed the button. I stood there in shock and thought-dear Lord I don’t ever want to do this.

The button was pushed and we stood in silence. I heard an automated whoosh and then the sound of the casket being transferred into the burning chamber and then, silence.

We were led to a large Japanese style room to wait for the cremation process to be completed, about two hours.

Coolers were brought in, beer flowed, sake, sodas, tea, juice. Snacks were passed out. Some chatted. Some laughed and told stories from days gone by. Old men snored on couches, ties askew and suit-coats draped over armrests. I sat in the sofa area and observed. I snoozed a bit and then took a walk around the room. Along one wall was a huge window that looked out into a Japanese garden.

Two hours later we were summoned. We walked back the way we had come and were led into yet another lobby area that seemed to be on the opposite side of the building. I guess the other end of the burning chamber. As soon as we walked into the lobby I smelled the distinct odor of burnt wood and something else. The only way I can describe it was that it smelled like a kiln-like burnt bits of pottery or something. It was strong and irritated my nostrils.

Once again we lined up. I couldn’t imagine what for. We were almost at the end of the line so I couldn’t see what was in the room we were all filing into but the closer we got the stronger the burning smell became.

We got close enough that I could see into the vault-like room. I saw a big pan like thing on a trolly. I could only see part of it. In front of it was a counter-like altar with a photo of the deceased. Two lines had formed, one on either side of the pan. The pan was big-at least six feet long and three feet wide. As we entered the room my husband gently pulled me to the side and looked at me almost apologetically and said-it’s ok. You can wait here. My gaze followed him as he walked to the side of the pan and picked up a set of large chopsticks and then I saw….

On the pan were the remains of the deceased-right out of the burning chamber. I was …shocked. There lay most of his skull, parts of the large leg bones…other parts of the larger bones and rubble. Family had lined up to use the large chopsticks to pick up pieces of bone and put them in the funeral urn.

I was just not prepared for that. I’m not squeamish really but, I was just not prepared for that.

My husband participated in placing some of the bones in the urn and then we walked back out to the lobby and waited for everyone to have their turn and in silence the whole group was led back to the bus and back to the funeral home where the priest was waiting to perform another ritual over the deceased’s ashes.

Tables had been set up and sushi was served along with some other finger -type food. The men drank beer and sake and tea was poured for the women. After about an hour everyone said their good-byes to the widow and left with an armful of flowers that had been carefully bundled in paper by the funeral home staff. The flowers were pulled from the funeral arrangements that had lined the wall.

Life in Japan isn’t always peaceful and “fun”.

Simple and wonderful- the silent dance of fireflies…

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Don’t you just hate it when you spend an hour writing a blog post only to discover that the moment you clicked “save draft” you lose your internet connection and subsequently your entire post gets flushed down the cyberspace toilet?

Hence the “late” post.

sigh….ok-I’ll try again….

Take-2

I am continuously amazed at how much more satisfying life is when it is lived simply with intention and focus.

We do not have to make life such a “big deal” in order to enjoy it.

Hubby and I are minimalists and I have never felt as satisfied as I do now.

I know both sides of the fence as I was once married to a millionaire family.

We slept in a bit this morning and then drove over to the in-laws to visit my father in law and give him a gift for Father’s Day, homemade banana pound cake ( one of his favorites) and a Japanese summer lounge outfit, also something he enjoys.

The four of us watched the World Cup soccer game – Japan didn’t do well but it was fun watching the match together- cheering, shouting, yelling giving game advice to the TV set…

Making memories.

Later, I cooked the two of us a simple lunch at home and then hubby went off on his own for a few hours to relax while I got to try out my comfy new camping chair I bought for my ” chill spot”.

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For the first time in a long time I actually sat for several hours and just read outside in my new chair. I fell asleep for a bit until a huge ( HUGE) bee hovered near my ear. I found out that I could still go from zero to ninety in ten seconds flat.

Later on it was Chinese for dinner at the mall about ten minutes from our house and then it was off to our magical place to encounter ……

the fireflies……

We are so blessed to live where we do surrounded by the Japanese countryside.

It was almost dark as we left the restaurant following the main road a little until the roads began to narrow and we entered the valley that was snugly nestled between several low mountains. It was almost dark but I could still see enough of the area around us. Old Japanese farm houses protruded from hodge- podge cottage gardens that were bursting with produce, flowers and bamboo bean poles.

We drove past old rock walls lined with pink, teal and purple ajisai ( hydrangea) which are in full bloom at this time of the year.

Our area is full of rivers and streams and as the darkness began to cover the mountains I saw the reflection of lights from the farm houses in the streams that ran beside the road and through the fields. Hills that gradually rise up into thickly forested mountains make up the landscape. I could make out the stepped rice paddies that had been expertly formed into the sides of the mountain. Farmhouse lights and black shadowy images of the mountains reflected off the rice paddies.

I could see that a thin layer of mist was starting to form over the rice fields.

A few minutes later, in complete darkness, we turned off the main road and onto a narrow lane that cut through the heart of the sleepy little valley. Here and there a streetlight shown golden light through the darkness but, mostly we drove with only our headlights to light the way. Up ahead I could see the sign that indicated we were near the old shrine where we would park.

Gingerly making our way in the dark, down the tractor path that led to the lower rice paddies, we walked in step to a thousand frogs singing their night songs.

At the bottom, the sound of a small waterfall joined the chorus of frogs…..and somewhere a trickle of water as the stream gently gurgled over river rocks.

We stood, in the dark, hushed. A thick layer of mist now hung over the lower paddies-and then we saw them. Twirling and swirling and dancing. Floating and pulsating in unison. A thousand fireflies in their silent luminescent dance.

Growing up in Wisconsin we had fireflies here and there. It was nothing even close to what we have here. My camera isn’t able to take photos of them so I collected a few photos from the internet that will give you a bit of an idea of what I’m talking about.

Now try to picture those, here.

This is the little river at the edge of the lower paddies.

We watched as they floated over the river and drifted, ethereal, upwards between pine and bamboo trees that were gently swaying in the cool night breeze. The little river meandered along the edge of the paddies and disappeared into the forest which was dotted with twinkling lights.

Hotaru (fireflies) only live in clean, fresh waters and their life span is about two weeks long. They come out about the same time that the mosquitoes do and for that reason we didn’t stay long.

Whoever remembers to bring bug spray?

Batting and swatting and scratching, we made our way back up to the car and down the narrow lane. From the car window I could see twinkling lights here and there as the river ran alongside us for a while.

Since having moved here we have gone every year to watch this magical display. Each year we have gone is like the first time. The wonder and awe never fade.

It makes me ever so thankful that I have eyes to see the simple. That I’ve learned to be satisfied with the simple and humble things of life.

The work of our Creator’s hands is a marvel to behold and I never tire of seeing, watching and exploring this beautiful planet that is our home.

And it’s good to be home…

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This trip to see my daughter was different than the others I’ve had there. I had more time to ” think” as I was babysitting the kids while daughter and her husband were away on training. I went for my jog/walk when the kids went to school and after I had a domestic role- cooking, cleaning, shopping – versus just coming for a ” fun” visit. It gave me a taste of ” living in America” again… and it made me realize that …I just didn’t belong anymore.

I haven’t for a long time.

I felt like a fish out of water as they say.

Walking around in the large ” American” type supermarket I missed the small markets where we shop now…the fish mongers calling…the old folks carefully inspecting vegetables….the ladies at the mochi and tofu counters bustling about in their aprons. The quaintness of it all.

Walking around base I missed the little cottage gardens and narrow streets lined with all manner of flower pots and sleeping cats and old men sweeping the street with homemade brooms made of twigs.

I even missed the hodge- podge assortment of buildings and gardens and shrines and such… all mixed up together in a soup of old and new that seems to blend so perfectly.

I missed it all.

I love America but- from afar.

That day that I jogged along the fence border on “the inside” I realized- deep in my heart- that it was to the other side of the fence where I belonged now. It’s been over three years that we’ve been moved back to hubby’s hometown and I think I sort of teetered for those three… not really knowing in my heart if I really belonged here.

Jogging along that day- not even thinking about it- suddenly I realized where my home was. It was sad in a way because I knew I’d never go back to where I was born. I’d never live near my sister and despite our differences- I’ve missed her dearly. On the other hand it was a deeply comforting to ” know” – to be finally settled.

I let something go that day and it was a relief.

So here I am again- living life the way we do here.

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Preparing to make another batch of ume jam. Puttering around the garden which was a complete disaster but will give me a chance to redo some things which I love doing anyhow.

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Back to hanging the laundry – which happens to be inside at the moment because it is rainy season here.

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Almost back to reality.

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I’ve been gone for a while- had to go ” up north” to watch my grandchildren while my daughter and her husband went off for training.

I’ve spent the past ten days in “Mayberry” as I call it- actually a US Army installation.

It’s a different world in here. As soon as you drive through the gate you feel that you aren’t in Japan anymore- but your not quite in ” America” either. It’s a bit surreal. It seems almost like a movie set to me. One moment I’m in Japan with its narrow streets, small buildings, rice fields and such..and suddenly as we drive through the gate the roads widen and everything transforms.

There is grass! Japanese yards don’t have grass. There are big spacious houses with high ceilings and tall door frames. Japanese houses have short door frames and low ceilings.

In the store on base I notice all the bright colored clothing. Japanese clothing tends to be dark colored and plain- so unlike the bright, fun clothing I see at the store here. Everything’s so different that it’s almost a culture shock.

This morning I went on my hour jog/ walk around base. I took the sidewalk that runs alongside the border and the fence that separates this world in here from the world ” out there”. It was so strange- I never thought about it before but today for some reason I noticed it so clearly. Such a stark difference.

Almost every house had laundry hanging outside on the veranda. The streets were narrow, I could see delivery trucks and people walking or riding bikes. There were mopeds whizzing about…normal life in Japan. From where I was – inside the base- it was like looking out into another world.

Suddenly- my heart wrenched and I knew… It was to that outside world that I belonged now. Here I was, jogging along- looking for all the world like I was a part of this…. When really… I was just a visitor.

My life, my heart… was out there….it was such a strange sad feeling but at the same time comforting to know the truth. It was one of those revolutionary moments in your life when you have a paradigm shift that only you can really understand.

Tomorrow, early in the morning I shall slip back out through the gates… and dissolve into ” that world out there”. Back to the reality that I now know to be my life. Back to hanging wash, walking to the farmer’s market and eating only fresh food. Back to open windows and living in tune with the natural world and whatever temperature the outside air happens to be. Back to whizzing mopeds, old ladies on old bicycles and plain clothes.

Back to the place where I was placed- for a reason.

And I’ll be thankful- thankful for this experience and thankful for what I have- my little garden and my dog and my darling husband and my mountain view.

This is life. Raw, uncut. In everything- give thanks.