A silent merging…

This morning was ladies’s group. They loved the new coziness of our meeting room. I worked hard in there last week to rearrange and change it. It went from a purely functional room to a space that is cozy and welcoming.

I managed to merge my library, crafts and lessons into one room that serves all purposes. It was a challenge to make sure that it wasn’t cluttered. I cant stand clutter.

I whipped up some pumpkin bars last night for the “grand opening” celebration this morning. Coffee, pumpkin bars and good company. You can’t ask for more!

It was wonderful to sit together in such a fun space with the windows open, a cool summer’s end breeze gently stirring the curtains and the papers on the table along with the steady caw of a karasu that was stealing a few tomatoes from my garden.

After the ladies had gone home I had some time and energy to spend on tidying up outside.


Our one and only “big” tree has died. These are the last of its stubborn leaves that were finally stripped away by the winds and rain that have been passing thru. I have been cleaning these up for months now. The tree, now bare, is ready to be cut down. I’m both happy and sad to see it go. It was always such a mess to clean up the leaves but, it did provide wonderful shade to the patio during summer.


The clean garden. Still wild though.

It never seems like work to me to putter about the garden. Today I spent time pulling weeds and trimming back the unruly passion flower vine that just won’t go away. I’ve surrendered to it and built a make shift trellis for it. Actually, I let it climb on the trellis that was supposed to be used for the kabocha.

The trellis provides a bit of privacy between our house and the neighbor’s. But it doesn’t really matter anymore because old Mrs. Umbrella hasn’t been there for two years now. Two winter’s ago she fell and her son, a doctor, insisted that she move to his town and live in the nursing home that he owns. So-she did.

She was a character! We knew her daily habits after just a short time of living here. Everyday at around 5am the squeak of her garden tap and the thumping of her plastic watering cans would wake us. Her tap is pretty much outside our bedroom window. About thirty minutes later we’d hear the WHACK WHACK of the bamboo carpet swatter as she beat the dust out of carpets that were slung over the laundry poles.

At around 6:00 am hubby would wander out to the patio to have his first smoke of the day. Standing outside in his pajamas-coffee cup in one hand, cigarette in the other I could hear the  short conversations with Mrs. Umbrella who was still tending to her garden. Back and forth over the wall the conversation went.  She made a point of telling him that she was 83. For three years she was 83.

We would always chuckle at her funny way of talking. She was an elementary school teacher in her youth and she must have been great with the kids. She was sharp whited and rather rough around the edges but…she never left her house without her hair done up and make-up on. Even if it was just to go into her garden.

I was thinking about her today as I was training the passionflower vine on the trellis. I noticed the familiar odor of mothballs that always came from her open windows. When I glanced over I saw her kitchen window open. Her daughter and grand kids take care of the home several times a week. A couple of weeks ago they came over and ripped almost every flower and bush out. I was stunned. She had such a beautiful garden! There were potted flowers and flowering bushes and roses. Her little trees were so wonderfully manicured and everything looked so healthy. But, I suppose…it’s a lot to take care of. I guess I can understand ripping it all out. I was sad to see it go though.

As I made my way around the side of the garden to my own water tap I stopped for a moment and gazed over the wall towards Mrs. K’s house now barely visible through the bushes that have all but swallowed it. She died a little over a year ago and although I never really spoke to her as she rather kept to herself, I miss her.

She was also unique. Many times when I would be outside in my garden I’d hear music and singing coming from her home. She was a karaoke teacher specializing in Enka – a popular Japanese music genre. I actually love Enka and to be out in my garden with the sound of her voice singing so beautifully was such a wonderful experience. I truly miss it.

Each time I saw her leave her home she was wearing kimono….on her way to a give lessons I suppose. She looked so elegant shuffling daintily down our little road in her kimono and zori.

This early autumn afternoon I remembered her as I gazed over the wall towards her traditional old home.

Autumn Enka-Cosmos


The coolness of the afternoon was comforting. I thought about this coolness several weeks ago during the sweltering heat. I knew it would come and it has. I love this time of the year most-when the seasons begin to merge and shift and summer slips silently into autumn degree by degree.







Summer’s End

It’s hard to believe that just a little over a week ago we were in the midst of one of the hottest summer heat-waves that I have ever felt. Steady temperatures in the upper 90’s and 100’s were almost unbearable-add to that …no rain. A few teasing dark clouds accompanied by distant rumbling thunder was as close as we got to any precipitation.

And just when we thought we could not take another day of heat….the rains came. Today we were at a cool 77 degrees…a whopping 25 degrees cooler than last week! Tomorrow it’s supposed to be even cooler.

So now we make the gradual descent into autumn and winter. The temps will slowly dip…teetering up and down for a while yet. The nights will grow steadily colder.

Soon housewives here will change out the light blankets and “towelkets” (blankets that look like huge towels) for heavier mink blankets and down comforters.

Soon I’ll wash and store my light summer aprons and haul out the long-sleeved warm ones. My favorite are the fleece aprons that tie at the neck and lower back. They are so warm and comfy. I’ve never worn an apron until we moved to Japan.

Now it’s automatic, as soon as I walk into the kitchen the first thing I grab is my apron. In the cold months my fleece one is on most of the day.

I’ve said this before but for the benefit of the new readers-living in an old Japanese house means that we live mostly with the natural temperatures outside as we do not have central heating or cooling. We do have a couple of room air-conditioners but this was the only year that I have ever really used them so much. In the winter we have two kerosene heaters-one in the kitchen and one in the TV tatami room. In our bedroom our wall air-conditioner doubles as a heater in the winter. It has dual functions. The rest of the house is whatever temperature it is outside! Last year we had a cold winter and I could see my breath easily in the unheated rooms.

And so now…we feel the changing of the seasons yet again…..

The autumn bell crickets are already tuning up for their nightly concerts.

My water garden rejoiced over the rain and began blooming. My poor little garden must be thrilled. Half of it had to fend for itself because I watered only what was important. I’m looking forward to going outside and straightening up the hedges and tidying up. I think I’ll plant autumn flowers this year. I usually don’t but it was such a hot summer I rather neglected things outside. I think I’ll put some effort into autumn foliage and flowers.

I noticed that some of the momiji are already showing signs of turning color. I’m guessing that this terribly hot summer without rain has something to do with that.

I’m still harvesting tomatoes. We are going to miss them when they are finally finished. We will miss all the simple but delicious dishes I was able to come up with. One of our favorite was this one: I pan roasted the tomatoes until they cracked open. Sometimes I threw in other vegetables -this dish had a few beans tossed in. When everything was just about cooked I added a spoon of garlic paste and a very tiny bit of salt/pepper. Very tiny as we eat almost salt free. Super delicious! Pan roasting the tomatoes really brings out the flavor.


I still go out and collect a pocketful every morning and I can see that the harvest is dwindling now.

I am really looking forward to baking season. I have a small table top convection oven that I use for baking breads, cakes and other treats. No such thing as a nice big GE oven here. I have absolutely no motivation to bake during the hot months. Not in a kitchen that has no air-conditioning. But soon the house and surrounding neighborhood will be filled with the aroma of cinnamon, vanilla and chocolate!

The sewing room has been rearranged and prettied up for the coming cold months when I spend more time indoors crafting….although this summer was so hot that I didn’t go out much either. Right now I’ve got a patchwork curtain in the works.

Ordinary life going round and round and round…….

But…when we get a break in the rain on a day when I have some time….. I think a day of wandering and exploring is in order….



Summer Tomatoes

I planted each seed and lovingly tended it. When the seedlings were about six inches tall I transferred them to the ground.

Last year I put the seedlings into pots and I didn’t have even half of the yield that I have this year. Not even close. They must like the garden much better. I have had buckets full of cherry tomatoes!


The plants go all the way around the little path to the left. They grew so big that I didn’t plant anything else in my little plot.


Each morning after I cook breakfast and bento I go out to water and pick whatever is ripe. I fill my apron pockets.

Our summer has been beastly hot and I’ve needed to water daily. Temps have been between 98-112 F. Last week with the heat index it was 122 degrees F. I think I said that in a previous post.

As I’m writing this I’m wondering why I didn’t add any mulch.

For a few days we’ve had it a bit cooler…around 95. Imagine…95 felt cool. This morning at 9:00 am it was already 98.

As I was filling up my pockets with tomatoes a wasp flew over my head and landed in the water garden to grab a drink. Everyone is thirsty. I drink gallons a day at the moment.


We discovered that our favorite way to eat our tomatoes is grilled. I throw them whole into a fry-pan with a tiny bit of oil on low heat and just let them roast until they are soft and crack open. Sometimes I add a bit of garlic sauce or just a tiny bit of salt/pepper.

We eat virtually salt free so, many times I don’t add anything. Yesterday for lunch I threw a handful of tomatoes and several shishito peppers from my bush into a pan. I grilled them and then I threw in a handful of shredded cheese. I had a couple pieces of home-made whole wheat flat bread with it and a glass of ice-coffee. Awesome lunch!

As I was tending to the tomatoes today I realized something. I realized that my once long time dream of simple living was being realized.

Sometimes people think that “simple living” means “no work”. Nothing could be further from the truth. I do a lot of work by hand. I walk to do shopping and errands. The distances I walk are quite long…sometimes it takes me an hour one way to get to a certain store that I frequent. I am rarely idle because there is always something to do.

Simple life isn’t a life of idleness….but it is a life filled with peace and contentment.

But…. more on that later. The stars of this post were my tomatoes….





Risshuu and the Old Japanese Calendar

The days have been tremendously hot here this past August. We have had it over 100 degrees F on several days. As a matter of fact, temps between 90-95 degrees feel cool to me now. But little did I know that we have been in early autumn since August the 8th.


Today was the last day of obon. We picked up the inlaws and took them to FIL’s family cemetery. Not far from their home is a little hill overlooking a small wooded area and several rice fields.  It holds six or so individual family “plots” which are different from plots in the West.

This is not our family plot-it’s just a photo I found on internet as an example because they are hard for me to explain. MIL banned photo taking at the family plot.


For the first time in a month it rained today. We drove down the narrow little access roads that zig-zag through the paddies and then curve and wind up to the forested area where the little shrine sits near the family plots.

The rains subsided to a light mist and steam rose from the heated asphalt and flooded rice fields. Everything looked dreamy and mysterious blanketed in mist that hung low to the ground.

We helped the elderly folks make their way up the steep, rough concrete slope that led to the plot. MIL arranged the flowers in the stone vases and brother-in-law lit the incense sticks and passed them around. One by one we placed our sticks in the burner that was sheltered inside a glass case.

As the family said prayers my gaze drifted over the granite plots and down towards the misty fields and farmhouses beyond. It could have been a scene from 100 years ago-except for the occasional car or mini truck that crawled through the narrow farm lanes below. I saw the village priest walking towards the shrine dressed in his formal robes. In our area it is customary for the priest to walk to the shrine during special times of the year.

Today, with the mist rising up from the roads and fields he looked otherworldly. His black transparent outer robes floated behind him through the mist.

I noticed that there was a change in the air. The summer cicadas had all fallen silent. I could see that the leaves had lost their brilliant green hue and the rice tassels had begun their change to gold. Despite the zansho (remaining heat) I could see the fringes of autumn creeping in.

I thought about the old Japanese calendar which was based on the lunar calendar. On this calendar August 8th marks the first day of autumn-called risshuu. This is the time in which subtle changes are taking place and the seasons begin their changes-mostly missed by humans. The old-timers were keen observers of the natural world.

As I sat quietly and observed the natural world around me I remembered that the season of risshuu was now upon us and it made sense to me.

This evening I went outside for a few minutes to look at the moon and stars. Gazing up into the heavens I noticed shinryoo (a new coolness) in the air…so unlike the hot breezes of the past few weeks. The tell-tale sound of suzumushi (bell-crickets) came from somewhere in the back of my garden. I suspect soon the koorogi (crickets) and matsumushi (pine crickets) will follow.

Honestly-I would not trade this simple life for anything.




Obon day 1-2016

Last night’s bondori was fun! It could have been quite different but, I’ve learned something these past five years. I’ve learned that if you want to make friends, enjoy your life here and be a part of what is happening around you then you have to make the effort and you have to step outside of your comfort zone.


We ate an early dinner at our favorite “cheap” family restaurant Joyful and then we headed to the in-laws house so that MIL could “dress” me. I could probably put on the kimono myself but there is no way I could put the obi on alone.

The yukata obi is different from the formal kimono obi. There are two short videos if you are interested to see what the difference is- Part One  Part Two.

After I was dressed I helped hubby put his obi on which is a really long piece of material that is wrapped tightly around his hip / belly area. It is wide enough so that it holds the yukata closed firmly. My MIL hurried us along and I could not get photos of this whole process, sorry. In the photo below you can see our yukata airing out in the tatami room. My husband’s yukata and obi are on the right. You can see his obi is very long. I’ve got it hanging over the laundry pole. It’s a normal thing to air out the kimono and such in the tatami room after use. I learned these things from my MIL. I suppose every family does things differently but this is how I was taught. Later everything will go to the cleaners and then returned to the kimono closet at my MIL’s home. She has dozens and dozens of yukata, kimono and all the accessories.

My yukata was cute-shades of blue with purple dragonflies. 

airing out the yukata
yukata closeup

My obi was a shiny salmon color. The other things you see hanging are the various ties and wraps that go around you before the obi goes on. 


The best quick shot I could manage as MIL was shooing us along to get going! This is taken in my MIL’s tatami room. You can see part of the family butsudan (altar) in the background.

At any rate, we got dressed and hurried off to the social hall in the village where my husband was born. Every village has such a social hall which is used for various community events. The bondori is held for all those in that village who have passed away that year.

Dozens of shoes, geta and zori were piled in the genkan and we had to step over them gingerly to remove our geta and find a place to stash them where we could find them later!


A rather blurry shot of the genkan. I was trying not to look like a “tourist” by taking photos and it was a hurried shot. 

I looked into the altar room and there were at least eight photos on the altar. Photos of the deceased are placed on the altar along with offerings of fruits, cans of beer, soda, sake….  (more in my previous post about obon)

Incense smoke and the sound of chanting drifted out of the altar room and mingled with cheerful greetings exchanged between family who had not seen each other for years. Besides New Year’s, Obon is a season of reunions. Family tend to make trips back to the ancestral villages and homes to pay respects, pray and visit loved ones. 

Children in yukata darted about and played happily while the adults first filed into the altar room to pray and then find a zabuton (sitting cushion) and a space at one of the long Japanese tables. Snacks, beer, sake, cold tea and sodas were passed around and the atmosphere became quite festive. Soon the taiko drum started pounding and I could see through the windows that the dancers had begun their circle.

We found a spot on the floor at one of the tables and I could see that hubby was really enjoying catching up with cousins he had not seen in years. We just moved back five years ago so there are several close relatives that live in Tokyo and other far-off places around Japan that he has not had the opportunity to see yet. Last night it seemed like they had all come home. Everyone crowded around him so I moved myself to the end of the table to make room for “all the men”. 

Next to me was my SIL whom I love dearly but, she seemed to be in a miserable mood and just kind of sat sullenly. After about ten minutes I knew I had to make a move. It was either that or be really miserable sitting in “seiza” in my yukata and not moving for two hours while my husband caught up with relatives and my SIL sulked. 

Just a note-hubby does not ignore me at social gatherings but I also don’t expect him to dote on me.I have learned to “carry my own”. 

So…I politely excused myself and headed out to the dance area! I didn’t know anyone out there but I knew that they knew who I was–the foreign wife of Ma-chan (hubby’s nick name). That was good enough to put me at ease. I watched the dancers for a few minutes and it was not long before one of them came over to me, took my hand and gently pulled me into the circle…and there I stayed for two hours! It was so much fun! I don’t know all of the dances but all the women pitched in and called out moves …so that I could learn. I took a short clip of them before I joined them. My hubby is the guy who is smoking. He followed me out for a few minutes and then went back in when I started dancing. It makes him relaxed and at ease knowing I manage to fit myself in to situations and find my place.

It wasn’t always like that though. I have had my share of sitting and sulking in years past. Funny though, as I age and become more sure of my purpose in life (heavy stuff-I know) I have more confidence in just getting out there, making friends and joining the group. Turns out I stayed out in the dance circle for two hours! Hubby and FIL spent some time sitting on chairs and watching us dance. Many others had joined the circle later on.

The program was: dance several songs, take a “drink and wipe yourself down with a towel break” and then dance again! It was around 98 degrees outside and everyone was completely dripping in sweat!

The people that are all wearing the same yukata are part of the dance group that performs at these kind of events for this village.  There are many such groups all over Japan in every village. 

Actually I’m thinking of joining this group.

Earlier, as we were leaving MIL’s house there was a similar group out in the road that was performing the obon dances for a family in my MIL’s village. I shot a quickie as we were getting into the car.

We had such a great time last night. I think it was really the first obon where we had so much fun with family.


Our “selfie”. The yellow lighting made my totally silver/white hair look blonde again….ha.

Tonight we have another bondori to attend however… we have decided to wear western clothing. MIL is tired and I don’t want to trouble her to dress me. I really need to learn how to dress myself….don’t I? I came away from last night inspired and encouraged because while I do need my husband’s help for many things here I also want and need my own “life”. I need and want to make friends on my own, step out on my own and be a part of the community without him having to set it up. Actually, I’ve done that in so many ways already…but it’s always inspiring and encouraging when I do it again…! 

Funny thing is -I’ve always considered myself an introvert….perhaps I was wrong about that.

OK…time for a NAP so I can recharge for tonight’s dancing!


Got my dancing shoes …..

Today is the first day of Obon in our area. August 13-15 is celebrated here as the festival of the dead. It’s actually a Buddhist event for remembering the ancestors. It is believed that the spirits of the ancestors return thru the veil to visit their families during this time.

The first day of obon is marked by a dance festival. If you want to learn more about Obon you can read my previous article here: Obon Season Is Upon Us

We have a Hatsubon to attend this year. Hatsubon is the first Obon of a loved one that has passed. A few months ago my father-in-law’s brother’s wife passed away so it is important that we attend the bondori (the dance ) despite the fact that as I write this it is it is 102 degrees and with the heat index it’s 122 degrees F.

Really. I have a screen shot of the weather app to prove it.

We missed obon completely last year as we jumped on an aircraft and flew over to the island of Saipan to help out with the devastating typhoon that they suffered.

This year we have some make-up visiting to do. It’s customary to visit the homes of relatives during this time to pray and light incense at the family altar.

We decided that since we missed obon completely last year this year we will wear Japanese yukata instead of western clothing. Yukata are the light cotton summer “kimono” worn during the summertime. We are also going to dance tonight at the bondori.

I needed dancing shoes so I ran out and got a pair of comfy ones. These are Japanese wooden geta-and they are worn with summer yukata.

my dancing geta

I have owned really cute geta but I gave them all away when I left Saipan. My girlfriends that saw them all fell in love with them. These are plain geta with a super comfy strap. It is so hot today that I honestly didn’t feel like running to a few different stores to find prettier ones in my size. The shop had some that were nicer but they were higher -like heeled clogs. I can’t dance in those. The dance areas are outdoors and the ground is usually uneven -I’ll end up twisting my ankle in high geta.

These were much better for dancing and I love the soft straps. No blisters this year!

This is hubby and I about 16 years ago on one of our trips to Japan before we moved here. This was obon season and we are both wearing summer yukata.


It’s now 3:00pm and I just glanced at the temperature. Thankfully it’s down to 110 degrees now….HA. It will cool off some before the dance which starts at 8pm. I’m guessing it will get down to about 90-95 by then which will feel blissfully cool!

Ok-I’m off to paint my toenails. Something I only do for obon.



Anniversary get-away

We usually don’t make a big deal out of our wedding anniversary. A quiet dinner in a nice restaurant is about all we ever really do to celebrate. This year we had such a busy July that we decided to do something really nice for ourselves to celebrate our years together.

Both of us love quiet out of the way places. Little hideaway spots tucked into the mountains are just right for our taste. At first we thought of going to Beppu but we always go to Beppu. In recent years it has gotten so touristy and crowded so we said…nah…not Beppu.

About a week before our anniversary date hubby looked at me over his computer screen and said….”come and look at this”. I crawled over (we sit on the floor here) to his side of the Japanese table to see what it was he wanted me to look at. He had been searching for a roykan (traditional Japanese inn) and found one that looked wonderful. It was located in Yamaguchi prefecture-Honshu. Honshu is the island “above” us.

The bridge between Kyushu and Honshu.

We looked over the photos and reviews together and decided to give it a try.

The drive to Ichinomata Onsen Grand Hotel took about 2 hours. It’s actually a beautiful drive that crosses the Kanmon Straits and climbs up into the mountains and 田舎 inaka (the deep countryside) of Yamaguchi prefecture.

Once you exit the urban expressway in Ozuki, Yamaguchi you drive through a small town for a couple of minutes before you have to take the road that leads up into the surrounding mountains. It’s about a thirty minute drive from town through nothing but rice fields, ancient farm houses and forest. There was literally nothing else around. No shops….definitely no convenience stores..nothing but wilderness and farms. It was perfect!

We both noticed that most of the buildings in the area were ancient looking. We guessed most houses looked at least 70-100 years old. Most were well maintained. There were lots of farm houses with beautiful old barns and out buildings.

We saw the sign for the onsen a minute or so before we saw the buildings tucked into the side of the mountain. There was nothing else around and we knew instantly we made the right choice!

We checked in and the service was awesome with a personalized welcome and short orientation of the facilities. I could see beautiful gardens through the lobby windows.  We were escorted to our room by a lovely young lady who made us feel so welcome.

The view from our room was awesome!

early afternoon

We stood for a long time and just gazed out the window. About an hour later we gathered our bath bags and headed down to the private bath that we had reserved. The onsen is really the attraction of most ryokan. Some have private bath facilities that can be reserved. They are totally private-no one peeks in the windows! There are fences and privacy screens around the private bath and around the shared bath facilities. This onsen does not have co-ed bathing although some of the really old onsen do. We have never visited one and don’t plan on visiting one.

We had the private bath for an hour and we took every second of our allotted time. It was so luxurious! The waters have a high alkaline content and my skin felt wonderful after bathing. I did also enjoy the shared onsen early the next morning. It was very quiet with only a few other ladies bathing at 6:30 am.

The ryokan has two floors and all the guest rooms as well as the Japanese style dining room are on the second floor.  The first floor hosts the onsen, a small coffee bar, lobby, gift shop, restaurant and private bath area.

The entrance to the private bath and onsen area.


The hallway leading to the onsen and private bath area and the relaxation room between the men’s and women’s onsen.

total serenity


the small coffee bar and lobby across from the gift shop

side view of the gardens

Our dinner was brought to our room. What a wonderful treat! The photo shows only part of what was brought in! The entire table was filled with little dishes and such. It was more food than we could even eat.


We are definitely visiting there again. As a matter of fact we already have plans for late October. We won’t be going alone though. After telling family about the ryokan it was decided that father-in-laws birthday will be celebrated here. I’m sure the autumn season will be lovely !

Be sure to click on the link to the website as there are more photos there.

What an awesome and out of the way place…a little slice of heaven!


It’s so incredibly hot that I’ve given up most of my gardening except for my tomatoes. Yesterday it was 117 degrees F with the heat index. It’s cooler today, only 105.

Ive raised these from seed and they are doing wonderful. I get a basket of tomatoes every morning. 

My efforts to hand pollinate yielded one kabocha. The first try at growing them. I learned a lot.

I’ve also got seen peppers growing but they are slow this year. Last year we had them coming out our ears. 

The cucumbers are done now. I need to go out and take down the vine. Maybe when it’s cooler……