What’s up at Mrs. N’s house?

The past two weeks or whenever I last wrote a blog post…we have meandered into autumn here.

The temps are finally aligning with the season. Sitting here at my little writing desk that overlooks my garden and the valley beyond I’ve got the engawa doors rolled wide open and  I feel a bit chilly. Wonderful! I don’t know what it is about that first autumn chill that seems so comforting and cozy but I just love it.

We are keeping an eye on a typhoon that seems to be headed our way. Although typhoons in this part of the world are normal-we have been fortunate so far that we have not had anything beyond what we in Saipan call a “banana typhoon”.

For those that don’t know- hubby and I spent the greater part of our lives living on the small and remote island of Saipan. It is where our children and most of our grandchildren were born. About half the clan still lives there.

Saipan-The Most Beautiful Island You’ve Never Heard Of

Anyway-“banana typhoons” are only strong enough to blow over the banana trees-which aren’t difficult to blow over. A real typhoon to us is one with sustained winds of about 90 MPH with gusts over 100 MPH. A typhoon like that will give you a run for your money. Strongest one I’ve ever experienced was Super Typhoon Kim in 1986-winds were clocked at over 220 mph. Knocked us flat. No power or water for 4 months. Most places on island went longer.

At any rate-I spent the past few days texting back and forth with my best friend who lives in Florida-before and after that terrible hurricane they just had. Praising God that they were alright even though the eye passed right over them. My other very good friend also lives there-in FT. Meyers, They were also ok even though there was destruction all around them. I attribute that to all the praying we did. That took up pretty much most of my time these past few days.

Of course the daily chores still got done.The cooking can’t stop.

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Hubby’s daily breakfast and lunch bento-plus the aftermath….

I got some baking done. I don’t like to bake during the hot months. Without air-conditioning in the kitchen it gets way too hot.

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Speaking of air-conditioning I was watching some US news on YouTube and the reporter said-“we still don’t know when electricity will be on so that we can use basic services like air-conditioning”. I thought….good grief…seriously air-conditioning a basic service? Most of the rest of the world lives without it. All of the tough years living on Saipan taught me so much. I am so thankful. I don’t need much to survive and be content.

I also got the tatami cleaned. Everything was moved out of the way and I vacuumed every inch slowly to make sure it got a good cleaning. It is really important to maintain your tatami mats in order to avoid “dani”-dust mites that love to take up residence in your mats. They bite kind of like fleas do. I didn’t know about them when we first moved to Japan but I found out. I am clean but now I’m super clean. You have to be diligent in-order to keep the millions of bugs away. Japan has more insects than I have ever seen.

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Our little dog -Chibi managed to snore though all of the vacuuming.

I also managed to knock off a crochet scarf during the evenings. I’ve got three more projects I am working on but took a break to produce something “quick”.

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Sometimes when I have bigger projects I am working on I like to stop and set them aside and make something that I can finish in a jiffy. Why? I don’t know-I think it’s because of the need to see the finished product…

With autumn comes moon viewing, a popular custom in Japan. I was outside about a week ago when the moon was full and took an autumn moon photo. The moon was actually huge and it was so lovely to stand in the cool night air listening to the crickets chirp while looking for the “rabbit on the moon”. In Japan there isn’t a man on the moon…there are rabbits!

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With the autumn come all the lovely seasonal foods. My father-in-law gave me a kabocha squash from his garden and hubby brought home some chestnuts from the farmer’s market.

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I boiled the chestnuts and had a lovely break just sitting, enjoying my garden, a cuppa and some fresh chestnuts. We boil them and then use a knife to cut the soft shells in half. I scoop out the nut with a tiny spoon.

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While I was having my little chestnut snack the doorbell rang. It was a deliveryman with a package for me. I tried to remember what I had ordered? Nothing!

I opened it and what a surprise!

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Inside was this awesome crochet accessories bag and a beautiful skein of yarn!

It’s a really nifty tote-it stores your yarn, hooks and accessories and it has slots in the top so that the yarn can thread through from the inside. My best friend in Florida surprised me! It’s my birthday at the end of the month and she sent me this gift.

How awesome is that!

Tomorrow is Friday already and I’ll prepare for the Shabbat and a possible typhoon this weekend. Looks like Saturday and Sunday will be wet and windy.  Looking at the weather app it says “heavy rain and wind” for Sunday. That means we will have to spend part of the Shabbat securing the outside because we can’t do it all Friday. Gah.

It has been an active typhoon season around the world and we just started.

FYI- Hurricanes are called typhoons here.

Well then-looking at the clock I see it’s time to get supper on….stay safe out there everyone…lots of planetary upheaval going on!

 

On being prudent…

Something I have not written about here yet- the possibility of war in our region.

I think at first most of us hoped this issue would die down like it always has in the past. As the days and weeks went by it seems things started to go from bad to worse.

Yesterday Mr. Kim decided to test an H Bomb that caused a magnitude 6 earthquake. It was a bomb five times more powerful than what was dropped on Nagasaki- according to US news.

I just saw that in addition to all the fire-power we already have deployed out here, B-1 bombers were deployed from Guam today.

So… You know, you sit here and try and take this all in. My favorite aunt wrote a memoir of what life was like for my mom’s family during WW2. We are German and so my mom and her family lived through the bombings and all the horror of the Nazi era. No – they didn’t support Hitler.

At any rate- the way this is playing out is eerily similar to my aunt’s memoir in that no one really took things seriously in the beginning. Before they knew it bombs were dropping.

So here we sit- trying to digest what is playing out before our eyes. Hubby is a very rational man. He rarely ever gets ruffled about anything but tonight we sat and talked about the real possibility that war could break out in the region. We also talked about how we should prepare for this possibility.

Leaving is not an option. Ever. We would not even consider leaving family behind.

I don’t have much more to really say about it at the moment other than we are beginning to realize that it looks very much like a regional war will breakout in the area and we are praying and seeking guidance on how best to prepare.

Never a dull moment.

You know it’s the beginning of autumn when….

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The stores have already begun to display and promote autumn inspired merchandise. I love it. Packages are decorated in autumn momiji and everything starts to feel festive. CraftyTokyoMama and I are sitting on the edge of our seats anticipating the cooler temps and beautiful scenery.  Japan summers are scorching.

As I’ve said before- Japan “does the seasons” so wonderfully. There is an intensiveness about each season that comes across so vividly.

We walked into the supermarket this morning and as soon as we entered the store the familiar smell of yaki-imo drew us in immediately.

Yaki-imo are roasted sweet potatoes grilled over a charcoal fire. Below is an internet photo of a sweet potato stand outside a supermarket. The stands are inside or outside. Just depends on the store.

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People get pretty creative about how they market yaki-imo.

Another internet photo below. This is from Tokyo. Around here we have the stands mostly in front of stores or in the entrance. Living in the countryside everyone grows sweet potatoes in their garden so I guess there isn’t a big demand for traveling yaki-imo salesmen.  The fellow in the photo below was quite creative in how he decided to market his potatoes. I’m not sure I’d want to drive around in this truck though. It’s a wonder that this is allowed! But…then again…this is Japan!

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So-yes, we were welcomed by the familiar autumn aroma of yaki-imo. Piled right next to the potato stand were the newly arrived cans of autumn themed beer.

We took a walk around the neighborhood after dinner. Mornings and evenings are now wonderfully cool.

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The narrow little lanes were quiet and peaceful. There were lingering aromas of dinner and we made a game of guessing what folks had to eat as we walked past. We smelled curry for sure. Further down someone had grilled fish.

This little plot is one of my favorites around the neighborhood. I love the wild look of the little orchard and garden plot. I’m reminded of some fairy-tale of long ago.

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I saw that the kaki (persimmon) trees were bearing fruit. In a couple of months they will be laden a beautiful orange and then soon after the stores will have wonderful packages of dried kaki….delicious!

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There are several varieties of kaki and you can’t eat all of them. Some are only good when dried. I never ate a persimmon until we moved to Japan! I guess we just never had them in stores in Saipan. I never remember seeing them in Wisconsin either.

My hydrangea are drying beautifully. I love the dried flowers as much as I love them when they are fresh in spring. They have a different kind of beauty at this time of the year and I never cut them off. I just leave them through the winter months and in the spring the skeletal remains dissolve in spring rains as fresh flowers emerge.

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With the cooler weather I always get a boost of creative energy. I love this old rice storage cabinet but it is old and has seen better days. The outside of it was kind of grungy and made of metal. It had rust spots here and there and I have always wanted to fix it up a bit.

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The other day we were in Daiso and I saw some shabby chic looking sticky paper. We used to call it “contact-paper”. I bought a few packs and several hours later…..

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My old little rice cabinet got a cheap Daiso make-over. I now use it for our mini coffee-bar. I love it! It turned out cute!

The creative mood is coming back as the weather cools. Next up I think the garden needs some autumn color…..!

My knee is healing up nicely now-just in time for wonderful autumn walks.

The End of Summer Tomatoes

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Standing all straggly and limp I could see that the tomato vines had lost their summer oomph. They were still producing flowers but the straggler tomatoes that were hanging from limp branches were barely hanging on. Most split and wrinkled before I could pluck them off.

Last year I made the mistake of waiting too long to rip out the vines. They dried to a crackling brown and when I went to take them out the leaves disintegrated into fine pieces that really set off my asthma.

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I didn’t think it was THAT hot outside until I got out there! It took me six hours to cut all the vines down and clean up the side beds a bit. It was just about the hottest day of the season. There was no wind. Even the grasshoppers were keeping still. Gosh it was hot. I think I drank a gallon and a half of water and took frequent breaks on my little wood bench that I had sitting in a shady spot.

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But it was so lovely quiet out. I deeply appreciated the fact that I had a little piece of earth to work. I collected a little bucket of the last of the last of the tomatoes. I even took the green ones-they aren’t bad if you cook them.

Without electric garden tools everything is done by hand including the trimming. I get down on my hands and knees and pull the tall grass out until it’s nice and short. ‘Course I do take my hand tools and dig up the weeds and such.

Opting out of motorized tools gives one the chance to really appreciate the work being done. Working alone in silence offers much time to think and pray. It gives you time to notice the tiny visitors tramping up and down flower stalks and dangling from thin, silky threads.

There is one old crow that always watches me from his perch on the tippy-top of the electric post. He dived-bombed me once- narrowly missing my head with a huge load of yellow and white poop that gave an audible slap as it landed just at the edge of my garden boot. I felt the whoosh of his wing as he flew low over my head.

Crows are very territorial and I’m pretty sure it’s the same crow that sits up there everyday and makes low guttural bird growls as he tilts his head sideways and spies on me while I putter in my garden.  He has the habit hopping around on the roof. You wouldn’t believe what a racket that is. Drives little Chibi nuts.

He was up there squawking at me while I cut down the tomato vines.  He and his friends enjoyed quite a few this past summer.

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I left the sad little eggplant. It has produced a few for us and there is still something on it so I figured I’d just leave it be. The green peppers are growing strong although we don’t seem to eat that many of them. They don’t grow very big here.

It was satisfying to get this work done today. The only thing about garden work is that it never ends. Not that I mind.

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I’m thinking about what winter vegetables I can plant. Haven’t really decided yet if I want to or not.

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Took this photo for my mom. Here I am in my favorite garb-retro garden.
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Taking that cold shower after the garden work was done never felt so good.

I still had enough energy to put up a small loaf of bread before I started on dinner.

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I wanted to leave you with this beautiful print by someone named Qian Xuan. While Qian Xuan isn’t a Japanese name, looking at this print I see that it embodies the early autumn that I experience.

When I came across it I realized that this is more than just a beautiful print to me…I recognize this now. I “feel” this. I know these little creatures because they are my garden companions. The green “pointy” grasshoppers are playmates to little Chibi. Both dog and grasshopper play tag and pounce on each other under the bushes.

By the same token when I see paintings or photos of the Wisconsin countryside my heart remembers a place I once called home. Same when I come across palm trees bent over a white sand beach.

Just rambling thoughts about how life takes twists and turns that you never expect.

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This is supposed to be the last of the summer heat. I for one am looking forward to cooler days and long walks.

Flora Thompson

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Author Flora Thompson. I knew nothing about her-but the excerpt that was included in the review that I read and it resonated with me so much so that I had to have this book.

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This particular book is edited by Margaret Lane who so admired Flora’s work that she researched and complied previously unpublished writings of hers. In this edition Ms. Lane has written a lengthy introduction which, I am finding is just as wonderful as Flora’s writings.

The introduction gives the reader a history of Flora’s life.
Flora lived in the 1890’s in the north Oxfordshire countryside. The daughter of  poor parents she grew up virtually uneducated past an elementary education however, she had an unaccountable gift for writing and a poetic streak that turned every ordinary experience into something precious.

She was a naturalist and spent hours walking in the woods and forests and then writing the details of those times of solitude with such vivid detail that you are sure you smell the Heather and hear the crackle of leaves.

She wrote of the ordinary lives of people during the 1890’s in such a way as to make the reader feel as though they themselves had the experiences.

The most amazing thing to me was that because of the circumstances of her life, Flora was not able to pursue her writing talents until much later in her life. She married a man who thought she was silly for wanting to be a writer often demeaning her for it. She was able to get a small job writing “romance” stories (which she really didn’t like doing) but because she was being “paid” for it-her husband allowed her to continue writing (while reading that I was thinking…wow what a jerk she married).

And it wasn’t until the later years of her life that she wrote a minor classic.
Throughout those difficult years she had one friend, a doctor/writer that she met by writing a review of one of his works. Through all the years they stayed good friends and he never stopped encouraging her.

This book is not on the “best sellers” list and you probably will not find it on your local book-store’s shelves and my review of it here probably falls flat.

Truly, this is one of my favorite books.

The struggle of her life growing up poor and possessing this wonderful gift…and not being able to use it-absolutely touched me. Couple that with the fact that she is a woman after my own heart-who was inspired by the natural world around her.

It’s a book that I find myself taking outside to my little patio that faces Mt. Fukuchi. In between reading I sip coffee and look wonderingly at the mountain and imagine what her life must have been like.

Someone put together a website for her you can find it HERE.  

The book is more than just a “good read” to me. I am touched by the life of this author and she probably could never have imagined that someday a woman after her own heart would be sitting somewhere in Japan, reading her works and pondering.
But then again….never could I have imagined myself sitting in Japan on a little patio, in a quaint little Japanese village….reading Flora’s book, or any book.

That also sets me to pondering.

Life, we just never know what it will bring.

Flora Thompson 1876-1947

— TRIBUTES —

“James P Norris was brought up in a country cottage in Chilton, Bucks, which he describes as a ‘semi-feudal’ village. He feels a great affinity for Flora, particularly as his father was the village postman. He wrote the following verse as a tribute.”

FOR FLORA THOMPSON — ENGLISH WRITER

You were of my kind
Of my people of my soul
Of the hidden violet, of the wild rose,
And the lark sang above you
Over those flat fields
Where the golden beads of wheat
Whistled softly in the wind.

Your blood was of the labouring people
Your heart was in the heart of England
And though the flowers were fragrant in the fields,
In the cottages the women
Scraped and saved their pennies
To give their children life
While the winter winds blew hard against their doors.

You did not know the words
That trembled in your mind when you were young
You did not know
You were marked by the love of words
To create the texture of your English life
So that we could take from you
The power in your aspiring heart
Which bid you, against the odds,
To shake your words at us
As hawthorn blossom in the Juniper wind.

And when the words came from you
And the wild rose bloomed
And labouring men gave off their sweat
In the English fields
They became a tower of history
Because you lived amongst them
And kings became small
As village men and women worked and loved
Under the English sky
In the lark songed wind.

James P Norris

Challah

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My first-ever handmade challah.

I observe the Shabbat (Sabbath) beginning Sundown Friday to Sundown Saturday. For a long time I have wanted to try baking challah- not that we must have challah on Shabbat it isn’t a commandment. It’s just that I think that a loaf of challah is so beautiful and makes the Shabbat dinner table look so pretty.

There is also a lot of symbolism in challah that I think reminds us of why we observe the Shabbat.

It takes a while to produce a loaf. Bread-baking takes time but that’s ok because I didn’t want it to be a fast activity. I wanted to take my time and savor the process.

Some of the things that I thought about this afternoon while I was preparing my challah:

There are seven basic ingredients is challah: flour, sugar, water, yeast, eggs, oil,  and salt. The number 7 reminds me that we are commanded to rest on the 7th day.

I made my challah into a three strand braid. The three strands reminded me of this scripture:

Ecclesiastes 4:12  And if a man prevail against him that is alone, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

The number three also reminds me of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit.

The bread itself reminded me of the command to remember  Yeshua’s sacrifice and resurrection. It also reminded me of the scripture:

Matthew 4:4 But he answered and said, “It is written: ‘A man does not live by bread only, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’ “

This particular recipe called for 6 minutes of kneading so I embraced that part of the process and used the time to pray. I think I went a bit over time in kneading. I had a lot to pray about.

I also spent time contemplating the upcoming month of Elul and the 40 day period of repentance and introspection until Yom Kippur- the Day of Atonement.

The table looked so beautiful tonight-so much so that my husband asked many questions. This “loaf of bread” was the catalyst that opened up some very good discussion about faith.

I used to think that participating in rituals like this was not necessary and actually they aren’t. Our salvation isn’t based upon whether or not we bake challah on Shabbat. However, today I found that this task of mixing and kneading and contemplating ….it really enriched my Shabbat. I could see that it gave something to my husband also- who is just in the beginning stages of learning this new faith.

I adhere to the Shabbat, Feast Days and other mitzvot alone here. There are many ways we can observe the Shabbat even if we do not belong to a congregation.

I just read an excellent blog post about observing the Shabbat alone-you can find it HERE.

 

 

Mists

I woke this morning around 6:30 am and went about my morning ritual of opening the engawa curtains and letting the morning light in.

Standing a moment, I drank in the peace of the morning garden and then gazed out over the valley and Mt. Fukuchi beyond. This morning the valley and Fukuchi San were blanketed by fog. Actually it had already dissipated a bit as the sun was making its way up over the mountains.

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This was the first morning that I had seen the mist this season and as I was cooking breakfast I made a note to check the ancient Japanese calendar.

Sure enough-exactly correct.

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What is most interesting to me is that someone in the past had such a keen sense of the subtle changes of the seasons and noted them down. Makes me wonder how many other things aren’t noted.

We no longer hear the shrill morning cries of the cicada. They have gone silent. They have such a short life span above ground. Their larva survive for up to 17 years underground before emerging during the hot summer months to a life span of only about a week or so. Incidentally the song is loud enough to cause permanent hearing loss in humans should the cicada sing just outside the listener’s ear.

There is a haiku by Matsuo Basho that I love:

Nothing in the cry
of cicadas suggests they
are about to die

They sing with all their might after having lived in darkness and seclusion for years and years even thought they have but a week or so to enjoy life in beautiful sunny gardens.

They always remind me to choose joy no matter what the circumstances.

It is Friday morning here. I am going to go bake challah for the Shabbat and enjoy the slowly cooling temperatures.

 

Obon- Come and Gone

 

A little bit about obon for those who don’t know what it is.

Obon- the season of remembering the 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.

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Households have a family altar called a butsudan. This is where the photos of deceased ancestors and “name plates” are kept. The butsudan is usually kept at the eldest son’s house or the parents house if they are still alive and serves that family including grandparents, great grandparents and everyone included.

A few photos of our family butsudan below. This butsudan is about 170 years old and has been in the family for all those years. My husband said that it could be older-he is actually going to check the records to see who it originally belonged to. It is hand-crafted and about a year ago some repair work was done on it. The company that did the work offered to purchase it because it is very rare. I won’t mention the price they offered but all I can say is that it would have built us a nice little house. Of course-this will never be sold.

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This is the priest who usually comes to say the ritual chants.He has been a friend of the family for years.

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The butsudan is not where the ashes are kept. The ashes are placed in an urn either at a grave as in the first photo above or in the local nokotsudo- literally a cremains storage. They all look similar but different. Basically there are little compartments that open to house the urn with the cremains. In the countryside they tend to be modestly designed as in the second photo.

internet photos below

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Obon is more than just a time of remembrance in Japan it is believed that during Obon the ancestors come back to earth to visit family. On the first night of obon a 迎え火/mukaebi – “welcome” fire is lit. In some places the temples actually light a huge fire but mostly the welcome fire consists of lanterns.

If it is the first obon or “hatsubon” for a deceased loved-one a large lantern is hung outside the genkan. The butsudan is also  more elaborately decorated  with many rented lanterns and baskets of offerings. These are very expensive. I was shocked at the prices. One lantern-purchased can cost around 3-400 USD.

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photo from this website

There is a cemetery across the valley -tucked into the mountainside. They have a huge “DAI” in the form of lights strung through the cemetery grounds. The Cemetery is a branch of Daimonji temple in Nara-thus the “DAI” shape. During obon they light up the DAI and we can see it blazing from our back patio.

Other temples and cemeteries do different things but in one way other the other they light the welcome fire so the spirits of the dearly departed can find their way back to earth.

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the cemetery across the valley

Also during obon お供え “osonae” or offerings for the ancestors are placed on the butsudan and at the nokotsudo. The offerings are varied but usually consist of things that the deceased liked-cans of juice, beer or little bottles of sake. Perhaps some cigarettes. Favorite snacks. The stores sell specially packaged fruit assortments to fit on the butsudan or you can buy pieces of fruit and arrange your own as my mother in law has done in the photos above.

There is a special type of sugar/starch sweet called rakugan 落雁 that is a popular offering.

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These aren’t really made to be eaten. You can buy them in assortments prepacked or singles. At the end of obon they are taken to the local temple and burned in a ceremonial fire. My husband said that when he was a child they would sneak some and eat them-times were hard back then. Candy was not something they enjoyed much so a “stolen” rakugan was a special treat. Of course the adults knew what was happening but no one said anything about it.

In every village a designated area is set up for ceremonial dances called 盆踊りbonodori. Usually everyone that attends- dances. There is a group of dancers that practices the bonodori and they lead everyone who comes.

Bonodori are held by village and are for all the families having hatsubon that year. I can hear the taiko drums at the bonodori in our village if I stand outside in the evening.

The nokotsudo are also laden with offerings during this time and people go there or to their family grave plot to pay respects, pray, light incense and remember-it’s called 御墓参り/ohakamairi- or going to pray at the cemetery / nokotsudo.

Obon is also a time that the family gets together for a meal. This was the first year that our family didn’t do that. Okasan (mother) just had her surgery and ottosan (father) wasn’t so well so obon slipped by rather quietly this year. We were going to take ottosan to the family cemetery but it was raining and he is already unsteady on his feet.

It felt a little strange not doing the things we always do on obon.

We are praying for a speedy recovery for okasan so that we can plan family time at our favorite onsen in Yamaguchi. She seems in good spirits so we do have hope.