Posted in Little things I love about Japan

Kimono…trash?

The other day I was chatting with my friend and neighbor Mrs. A.

She was outside of her genkan sweeping the steps and I did the neighborly thing and said good morning to her.

We made small talk about the heat and such and then she mentioned that she had better get back to sorting thru all the boxes that were piled up in her home. Her mother in law died recently and they were cleaning out her house. She also mentioned that she had a pile of kimono that she sorted through and needed to bag them for the trash….

Trash? Kimono being …trashed?

Yes-she had more kimono than she could ever wear and had no space to store everything and unfortunately getting rid of things like that were difficult. Not many people buy used kimono or obi-the big wide “sash” that goes around the middle and is tied into a “bow” at the back.

There was nothing else to do with them but trash them.

My mind was whirring….I’ve wanted to get a collection of old kimono for sewing projects….should I ask her?

Casually I said….. if she needed help in getting rid of some of them….. I would be happy to help out with that.

Her face totally lit up!

She was delighted to dump them give them to me! Actually she was elated. I don’t blame her-I’ve had items in the past that I didn’t know what to do with and trashing them isn’t always so easy. We have strict trash regulations. Some items need to be hauled away for a fee.

Because I was so “kind” to help her with this problem she gave me a beautiful table cloth and two antique pouches that she found while sorting through everything.

You know what they say about one mans trash being another man’s treasure….

I was able to go through the pile and take what I liked. A couple of them have some slight stains on them but I want them for the material-not to wear.

So-here are a few of the treasures I garnered…..

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These three are in perfect condition. I may keep them and see if I can get matching inner clothing for them. Kimono are never worn as is-there is a whole ensemble of inner wear that is worn under them. Yes-terribly cumbersome but so beautiful! I’m sure my mother-in-law has something that I could borrow if I wanted to wear one of them.

 (close-ups of the material)

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Obi

 

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The blue kimono above is also very pretty. It has a ring around the collar that I’m not sure will come out. Not sure if I’d wear this one but I do like the material and can think of several projects it may be nice for–although I’m not skilled at sewing this kind of material. I may hand sew the projects. I seem to do better at hand sewing than machine sewing!

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This one is my favorite. It is actually one that I’d love to wear, I wonder if I can have it cleaned -there are a few stains on it that I hope come out.

I have wanted my own kimono for years but they are so terribly expensive! Once we went shopping for one-looking around is more like it. My husband always said he wanted to buy a nice kimono for me….that was when we had no idea that a “nice kimono” can cost as much as a small car! My sister-in-law spent 15,000 dollars (yes-fifteen thousand) on her daughter’s “coming of age” kimono.

My hopes of buying a “nice kimono” went out the window! But that’s ok-I will inherit some of my mother-in-law’s dozens of beautiful kimono. If I want to wear one for a special occasion I know that I can. She’s already taking out a few for me to choose from for the upcoming Obon holidays.

We missed Obon last year as we went to Saipan to help the kids recover from that horrific typhoon they had. This year I’m “dressing up” as we have a hatsubon to attend-meaning the first obon for a relative that has recently passed away.

Anyhow-I’m sure some of my “sewing buddies” in blogland will appreciate the photos here!

Posted in House, Home and Family, Japanese Culture, just thoughts, Little things I love about Japan

Sweltering natsu….

I figured since we had relatively mild summers the past two years that we were due for a scorcher. I was right. Our temps the past two weeks have been in the upper 90’s and over a hundred with the heat index. At the moment it’s 107 degrees F. outside. I’m sheltering in my tatami room with our big ole’ clunker AC humming. I actually haven’t used it too much but this heat is extreme.

Yesterday I had to get out of the house. Playing hostess the past month has left me little time for myself. I spent the first three days after the kids left just cleaning and getting the house in order. Yesterday I had a free day. I woke up early, got my chores done and set out on foot by around 9:30 AM. It was already over 100 at that time but the need to wander was overwhelming and I decided to brave the heat.

Actually, when I slid open the kitchen window at 6:30 AM and the singing of hundreds of semi blasted through the screen I knew it was going to be a really hot day. A quick check of the thermometer showed it was already 92 degrees.

I dressed as cool as I could, took plenty of coins for the vending machine and set off-camera around my neck.

I have to say-thank goodness for Japan’s love of vending machines. They are everywhere-even in places where you would never expect a vending machine to be. By the time I finish one drink-the next vending machine is usually in sight.

I wanted to see the dragonflies. This year there are just hundreds and hundreds of them…swarms everywhere you look. Taking the back road I walked down to the rice-fields because that’s usually where they hang out. I wasn’t disappointed! There were clouds of them buzzing around. Several came and landed on my hat and shoulder…they sure are friendly little things. Very curious too as they were swarming around me as I walked. I tried hard to get photos of them but they don’t stay still for longer than a second!

No one else was around…not even the ancient gardeners that tend the little cottage gardens nestled between the paddies. It was just me, the dragon flies and thousands of singing cicadas in the sweltering heat of summer. The rice fields are now emerald green. According to my Japanese weather almanac this is the time of year when foliage is at peak green…and so it is.

I wasn’t far from the farmer’s market so I thought I’d take a stroll over there and see what was going on. Besides the usual seasonal vegetables and fruit there is always something else to see and experience.

Today the main attraction was the Kakigōri (shaved ice) stand. Kakigōri is a shaved ice sweet treat that is flavored with different kinds of syrup and /or sweetened condensed milk. Sometimes it contains azuki-a sweet bean paste. It’s similar to a snow-cone but the ice is of a different consistency. It’s “fluffier”-the only way I can really explain it.

There was a long line at the stand.

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This lady snuck in on the wrong side….

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The ice-cream stand wasn’t crowded at all. I lucked out…I’m not a fan of Kakigōri -no waiting at all for ice cream. Japan’s soft cream is the best I’ve ever had. There is a green tea shop not far from here-up in the mountain. It sells the best matcha ice cream ever. That’s my favorite…matcha!

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The market was fairly crowded today.

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Little old ladies with their rustic sales counters -selling fruit and veggies from their backyard gardens looked all but wilted in the heat.

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I wandered around and stopped by at a few stands to say hello to friends and chat for a moment about how hot the summer was this year! Of course that’s the main topic of conversation now…and the number one phrase floating around is…”atsui des ne”! It’s hot!!

I always wonder about things like this …dried fish and seafood…especially when it is so hot out. I saw a few flies landing here and there….note to self: do not buy any of these products here.

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Stopping by the vending machine to stock up on cold green tea before hitting the road again I decided to take the back road home and stop by the local temple.

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Sitting in the shade of the temple bell tower a thousand semi sung in the height of a summer’s afternoon. It was around 110 degrees F by then.

I realized, sitting there, that I missed these hot days of summer. The past two years it was as if summer had passed us by. These hot, sweltering days of natsu (summer) are the days that I have come to associate with this season …the heat and everything that goes with it. It felt right…the heat, the insects…all of it. I had that feeling you get when you finally come home after being gone a while.

By now I had little rivulets of sweat running constantly down my back. There was a constant drip from my forehead and chin that left little wet splotches on the stone steps.  My cold tea was now lukewarm.

The trees were getting a trim today. Through the branches I could see someone carefully pruning the top most branches of an old cherry tree.

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I sat silently…dripping sweat on the steps and appreciated it all. I mean I deeply appreciated it.

Taking the little path home instead of the noisy road…all I could think of was how wonderful a cold shower would feel…

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Posted in House, Home and Family

Where has July gone?

Whew! We had quite a busy month of July! This is the second summer that we played host to kids and grandkids come to visit us.

From the minute they landed in early July “grandpa” and I were quite the busy grandparents! We took them sightseeing, shopping, visiting. We went to the zoo and to the mountain shrines. We rode the monorail and more.

The first few days after they arrived it poured rain and it was a challenge to keep an active two year old busy! Soon the weather cleared and we were able to get outside.

Not much to this post other than to say….we are getting around to getting back to “normal” whatever that is!

Here are just a few photos of places we visited and things we did of the hundreds that I took while they were here. There is also a photo of the in laws at MIL’s 80th birthday party.

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Posted in Around The Yard&Garden, Japanese Culture

Netsuchūshō

Netsuchūshō  –English : HEAT STROKE

I can’t tell you how many times I hear that word during the summer months. There are a few different words for “heat stroke” but netsuchusho is the one that is most commonly used in our area.

As soon as the rainy season fades into the sweltering hot days of the Japanese summer the word “netsuchusho” is heard constantly. So frequently do I hear this word uttered- that it has become a signature part of summer for me.

 I can’t imagine a summer without these anymore.

Delicate glass wind chimes hang from my back porch tinkling with each hot breeze. I’ve hauled out my stash of hand fans and put one in each handbag that I regularly use. You really don’t want to leave home without a fan or a hankie.

The rice fields are already teeming with red dragonflies. I had several visit me in my garden today as well.  As I was pulling weeds  I also saw several tell-tale holes in the ground-the summer cicada have begun to dig their way up out of the ground. I noticed quite a few empty “shells” stuck to tree and shrub branches. They climb out of the ground and shed their hard exoskeleton which stays glued to tree limbs, trashcans, fence posts and just about any other object they happened to climb onto.

Soon the air will be screaming with the sounds of summer semi (cicada). They are SO loud that at times I literally have to cover my ears because the pitch vibrates my inner ear in such a way that my ears literally feel like they are going to pop.

I was talking to my mom on the phone once and she said-

“What on earth is that sound”?

She was astonished when I told her they were bugs. She said that it sounded like a dozen or more car alarms going off.

I got up very early today to work in my garden which needed a complete overhaul after all the rain we’d been having.

During the rainy season the mosquitoes build up their ranks. You can’t work in the garden without lighting several mosquito coils….another icon of summer here. I do have the traditional clay “pig” that is usually used for burning coils but today empty cans and the big burner will do.

IMG_4718 As I was donning my garden gear-long pants, a long-sleeved, high collar shirt, garden apron, gloves and arms covers and last but not least my Japanese garden bonnet…my husband said…

“mama-be careful….Netsuchūshō” !

Indeed-the temps got up to 101 degrees F ! I was outside before 7AM and it was already 86 degrees. I managed to get everything done that I wanted to do in the backyard. There was a lot that needed to be cut back. With all the rain everything was over grown. I gathered six huge bags of cuttings and such from the backyard.

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We have to buy special “regulation” trash bags. The “garbage men” (sorry for the not-so-politically correct name) will not take any trash that isn’t in regulation trash bags. Each area has their own bags. They aren’t cheap-10 bags for 600 yen.

It was HOT. I’m a fairly strong person but today just about knocked me over. I had to take a break every thirty minutes or so.

I harvested the cucumbers. Checked the tomatoes and staked them. I surveyed the kabocha and saw that my efforts to fertilize might be working so I left them alone. The plan was to rip them out if they were not going to produce anything. I saw that the Japanese bell peppers have tiny peppers growing and my blueberries are getting ripe.

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On the ONE day that I need to be outside, the toilet vacuum truck was making the rounds. To say that the neighborhood “stank like heck ” as a true Wisconsinite would say-is an understatement. Toilet vacuum trucks are part of life in the Japanese countryside. In the summer they are horrid. The entire neighborhood and the house stinks for hours after they have been in the area.

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They were at the neighbor’s house…parked right beside my wall…exactly where I was working.

GAH

So I worked in the backyard until noon, took a lunch break, soaked my head in cold water for a while and thought I might be able to get the front yard done too.

I was out front for about an hour and suddenly I felt dizzy and sick to my stomach….and the word Netsuchūshō came to mind. Just at that moment my neighbor opened her genkan to put something outside and she saw me….

“konnichiwa, it’s hot..be careful…Netsuchūshō”!

Yes indeed I think that is exactly what was going to happen if I didn’t stop right then. My husband said there have been several heat related deaths in the past few days .

I gathered my tools, lugged them to the backyard storage with great effort, sweating profusely. I was getting dizzier by the moment.

Standing under the cool shower was such a relief.

Japanese summers are insanely hot and humid and Netsuchūshō is a word to heed!

Posted in Japanese Culture, just thoughts

Craving to be normal

As much as I love Japan there are times when I hit a wall and I just want to be normal.

I don’t know if I can rightly explain what it is like living in a foreign country.

Not as a JET English teacher, not as a temporary employee somewhere, not as the American spouse of an American husband who was transferred to Japan but as a foreign woman married into the Japanese culture. It is a whole different ball game as many of us know.

It may sound like I am about to go on a negative rant about Japan-I am not. I do need to blow off steam once in a while though.

Normal….gosh, it’s so hard to explain. I guess I’d like to walk into a store and not have to use my google translate app to read the labels. To be able to just converse freely with the staff anyplace-the market, salon, restaurant-without having to juggle between my translator, drawing pictures and playing charades just to get a simple point across.

Not long ago I was at the pool in the locker room and a woman that I’ve seen often in the gym and pool walked up to me and said in Japanese-

“You are really trying your best to learn English”!

I blinked and stuttered…”Ego”? (English?) I wasn’t sure if I had heard her correctly. So I asked “did you mean Japanese”?

Standing there thoroughly confused I asked her to repeat what she just said and she looked at me very crossly and said “ENGLISH, ENGLISH”!

“What”? I asked…”My native language IS English”.

HUMPH-she retorted and turned on her heel and walked away leaving me totally confused. I repeated what she said to my husband and he verified that I had heard correctly. I have no idea what that was all about but to this day she won’t even look at me or acknowledge me.

Normal….I just want to have a normal conversation. The above seems very petty but imagine living like that every single day. Often you deal with issues like this-a simple conversation becomes this huge stressful issue. It’s really exhausting.

And yes-I try to learn Japanese. One of the biggest issues I have is my incessant tinnitus for which there is no cure. Sometimes the ringing in my ears is so bad that trying to distinguish words in Japanese is near impossible. It’s hard enough trying to understand English. I have to ask people to repeat things several times so I can discern the sounds they are making and then try and figure out the words. Hearing aids do not help tinnitus. They just make you hear the ringing in your ears better.

Then there is all the pressure of being expected to conform to family values. We interact often with my husband’s very large family. Don’t get me wrong-I love them! However…because of cultural restrictions and having to conform I have never really felt that I can just be myself. I must be what everyone expects because everyone does that. No matter what I want or feel-it is what is best for the group that matters.

Many times, even though I conform, it’s not good enough. It’s never stated but it is subtly implied.

Or you are asked to remain outside and “wait” while everyone else has a meeting because “tango wakaran” literal translation “word don’t know” or– you don’t understand anyhow so just stay here…

You know what? I’d really like to dry my clothes in a dryer instead of having to hang them all over the house because it is so humid during certain times of the year they will not dry outside. And no-no clothes dryers here. Well..actually I knew one person that had a dryer but it takes around 7-8 hours for the clothing to dry. The machine spins it dry…they don’t have “American” type dryers for home use. You can go to a laundromat if you have time. I don’t.

I think one of the most difficult things is having to endure either being stared at(yes openly stared at) as if I had egg on my face or the opposite-being totally overlooked.

My husband and I were at the mall once and I wanted to stop by the fabric shop. I found what I wanted and went to the counter to pay-hubby was standing a little bit to the side contemplating his toes. I asked the clerk a question in Japanese and she proceeded to answer by looking at my husband and answering him…not me. I was shocked, stunned, angry, hurt. I wanted to scream.

This is the sort of stuff we foreign wives deal with daily. Most of the time I just cruise right thru the day and I’m fine. The abnormality has become the norm-but it wears on you subconsciously.

I don’t even know what set off my frustration today-doesn’t matter really because it is something I carry with me daily to some degree.

Maybe it was thinking about how the doctor laughed at me for saying that I was going to start drinking Cranberry juice to help with my reoccurring bladder infections. As a friend stated-everyone in the states knows the benefits of drinking cranberry juice! Just because the Japanese haven’t heard of it does not make it wrong!

I had to special order it because cranberry juice is not readily available in the stores here- Around 2,700 yen for 2 Kirkland bottles of cranberry juice. That’s around USD $27.00…

Anyhow-tomorrow will be a better day……

 

 

 

 

Posted in Around Town, Japanese Culture, just thoughts, Little things I love about Japan

Walking around Japan

You may or may not have heard of the Japanese island of Shikoku. In case you don’t know, the “mainland” of Japan is made up of 4  islands: Hokkaido, Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu.

There is a famous pilgrimage on Shikoku that thousands of pilgrims have walked and continue to walk.

This website–( http://www.shikokuhenrotrail.com/) has great information about the pilgrimage.

If you haven’t seen it- the PBS show Sacred Journeys had a special about the “Shikoku 88”. You can watch the full episode here:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/sacredjourneys/content/shikoku/

And one more link I’d like to share will take you to a WordPress blog called Grace is Walking Around Shikoku-a personal account of having walked the pilgrimage:

https://henro2009.wordpress.com/posts/

There are several personal accounts written by those that have walked it. Tales of a Summer Henro by Craig McLachlan comes to mind. It’s so-so but I did enjoy reading about his experiences.

Oliver Statler’s book on Shikoku, Japanese Pilgrimage is excellent but it seems to be out of print. I managed to order a used copy on Amazon Japan.

Just a note-I can’t seem to insert hyper links that’s why the raw links are posted.

BUT-this post isn’t really about the Shikoku pilgrimage. What got me thinking about it was my dream of walking it while I was walking around town on Friday. I walk everywhere because I don’t drive in Japan. I do drive but, not here-exactly why is a story for another blog post.

So, I walk everywhere. I walk to go to my various appointments in town. I walk to do my shopping. I have the cutest little shopping cart on wheels-total necessity here for us house-wife types.

I also walk just to wander. Those are my favorite walking times. During the rainy season I can’t really do that much because we get sudden torrential rains accompanied by thunder and lightening and you really don’t want to get caught walking around in “O-ame” (torrential rain).

On Friday I walked to the pool / gym center and then I decided to walk up to Trial. Trial is the Japanese version of KMart, I guess. There is no version of “Walmart” here.

I wear a sports band so that I can keep track of my kilometers and such. Friday’s total walk was 6 kilometers, almost 4 miles. That was just walking to the pool, the store and home. It just happened to be the start of the hot and sweltering Japanese summer-meaning it was the first really hot day. The humidity is around 89-92% during the summer months. I’m always drenched.

Friday’s walk was a challenge, the humidity was around 90%. As I was walking up hill to Trial I kept thinking-what if I was walking the henro trail? Henro is the Japanese word for pilgrim. In order to complete the pilgrimage in around 45 days on foot you need to walk at least 25-30 kilometers per day. I was having a hard time just walking to Trial with my light backpack that I carry my swimming gear in.

On the henro trail you are carrying a pack on your back that contains everything you need for at least 45 days. Could I do that? Maybe?

I don’t know. My hip started bothering me on the way home. I’ve had it checked out a few times but they have no idea what it is. It’s most likely my scoliosis. It’s Sunday and it still hurts. Could I walk for 45 days straight 25-30 kilometers a day?

You might be thinking-why on earth would you WANT to?

That’s a good question. Have you heard of “wanderlust”? The urge to travel or wander. The word’s origins are German, from the word wandern to wander + Lust desire, pleasure.

I’ll admit it-I am a wanderer. I have been since childhood. The reality of it is that I can’t just wander around this planet at will, coming and going as I please always in search of new adventures. Wouldn’t that be grand though?

Yes and no I suppose.

The thing is wanderlust lives inside of me like an unquenchable fire. Now a days a full day of trekking to nowhere in particular seems to satisfy that wandering urge inside me for a time. As I age I realize what I can and can’t do and if I don’t realize it, my hip reminds me.

But…the Shikoku 88..now that would be an experience. There are so many pilgrims wandering around there. I dream about walking and sharing experiences. Talking story while sitting in some road-side shelter or at a temple tsuyado after a long day of walking. Sharing a cup of tea and a mikan received as settai (alms) from a stranger. Slurping udon in a hot noodle shop and listening to stories of the trail as told by the owner while a greasy dust laden fan whirs softly on the counter.

I could wander freely for 45 days. A structured wandering. A safe wandering.

I thought about it as I walked home Friday. I took the back road that runs in-between a narrow bamboo thicket and rice fields interspersed with cottage gardens. The wind blowing through the bamboo trees made a unique clacking sound. I heard chanting and as I turned my gaze across the flooded rice field towards the ancient temple on the hill, the priest began to strike the temple bell. Two white cranes, startled by the sound, looked up from their insect hunt and flapped their wings.

Stopping for a moment, I smiled. I’m not unaware of what’s happening on the planet. The evil and terror but, here in Japan, I can wander. I can enjoy the beauty and wonder of this beautiful place.

Maybe I’ll forever be the pilgrim of short pilgrimages. Leaving early in the morning after chores are done to return home in time to cook dinner. Kind of a part-time pilgrim.

By the way…because so many people emailed me and asked me not to turn off comments they are back on. I just may not have time to respond to your comments right now but you are welcome to tell me what’s on your mind….

 

xo