My Trip to Nagamatsu Byouin

For those who don’t live in Japan or haven’t any experience with it -reading the title you might think I went on some wonderful trip to visit ancient shrines along a wonderfully scenic river or tucked into a forlorn little valley shrouded by mists.

I wish.

I woke up this morning with the worst sore throat I’ve had in years. So bad that I was close to tears. It had been creeping up on me all week long. Started out as just an irritation that grew worse each day. Yesterday I had an inkling that something might not be right when my joints started to ache and I felt so run-down. More than just tired. Terrible sore throat and body aches usually equal strep. I knew it was time to pay Nagamatsu-sensei a visit.

Byouin-the Japanese word for “hospital”-however even small clinics are commonly called byouin also.

Nagamatsu Byouin is one of the small local clinics about a ten minute walk from the house-named after the doctor that owns the clinic. A curious little man. I have often wondered what he is really like.

He runs a small clinic that has been here for years-some love it some hate it. A friend of mine cringes every time I tell her I’ve been there. Swears he is just a quack. I have had only good experiences there.

By good I mean-he heals me. I went to another clinic once (twice I think) because well, frankly I was a little worried after my friend tried to deter me. Both times I ended up having to make a second trip to the doctor. The second trip was always to Nagamatsu Byouin.

If you want fast service-Nagamatsu Byouin is the place to go. No frills, no chit-chat-in and out service. But-I can’t complain because the first visit cures whatever it is I had.

This is today’s medicine haul- four kinds of tablets and some liquid that I have to mix in a cup with water and gargle.


My “English” notes on the stickies. I know the antibiotic, the liquid and the white envelope with “pain and fever meds” but I’m not sure what the others are for. Hubby did the talking today because I couldn’t talk. Or think.

The whole visit took me about 15 minutes. I like that-in and out. Especially when I’m feeling really terrible.

Today’s plan of osoji was cancelled. Hubby went alone to the in-laws to help clean windows. My genkan floor still needs cleaning but it can wait I suppose. I hope the gods of new year will forgive me for not cleaning it.

I worked a bit on two blankets that I am making. The grey and white one is a baby blanket for a great-grandchild that I am sure will be coming along soon (I’m getting a head start). The rainbow one is for another grandchild that is several years old already. I started it a while ago and just stopped working on it. The yarn is a bit difficult and every once and a while I need to lay it aside to take a break.

I think we will set up the kagami mochi tonight and hang the shimekazari over the genkan door tomorrow — after I’ve swept it. I did get the deep closet cleaning done so I think that counts.

Now to get up from under the cozy kotatsu and make a steaming pot of curry for hubby. I don’t think my throat can handle that so it’s rice gruel for me.


Spring for Christmas Day

December 25th here today but you would think it was early spring. I’ve not been out to the garden for a while and the weather was so nice that I couldn’t help but spend some time tidying up.

The passion flower, a voracious vine that I think is in the clematis family, has now fully covered the old rickety trellis that I patch-worked together.

At the end of last winter I pulled out the vine and trashed it-or so I thought. I needed space for the carrots and peanuts which never really grew- I planted them too late.

Anyhow-the vine has made its comeback and I’ll just leave it.

The sun shone so warmly and invitingly that despite being under the weather I dug out my old flowered garden boots, the long-handled bamboo garden rake and my clippers. I set to work gently trimming the long tendrils that had grown over our old brick wall into  Mrs. Umbrellas walkway.


The potted rose needed cutting down before the really cold weather arrived. I noticed that the pepper tree was still producing. It gave me a nice little bucket of peppers to throw into my scrambled eggs.

Piles of momiji leaves covered new grass sprouts. The little tree is now completely bare. Some of the leaves were mixed into the garden and the rest are packed waiting for tomorrows trash haul. A few potted plants were refreshed and the patio freshly washed down.

What a lovely couple of hours spent quietly puttering about the garden. I felt satisfied to have accomplished a bit more of New Year’s Oshoji – the New Year’s Cleaning.

I rested for a bit on the garden bench and just gazed out over the valley. A few scattered cranes winged their way over rooftops. Karasu cawed back and forth from perches on the tippy top of electric poles.

Other than an occasional auto coming up the lane, it was so quiet.

A bit of crochet and an afternoon nap rounded out the day. I’ve been trying my hand at knitting and I’m not very good although the more I practice the better I get. Any knitters out there-advice is welcome.

This week will be all about preparing for Oshogatsu-the Japanese New Year celebration by doing general cleaning. Wednesday we head over to the in-laws to wash windows and help out without whatever else needs to be done.

I have to sit down and write the nengajo or New Year cards. In Japan it’s a custom to send out New Year cards to friends, family, customers and others with whom you want to keep a relationship but perhaps don’t see often. Last year I made cards but this year I don’t have time. We bought pre-printed nengajo.

2017 will be the year of the rooster-so we’ve got our rooster nengajo all ready to be written and mailed. Well..we will. Soon. Tomorrow I hope.


Everywhere You Look-Christmas Cake

Cake frenzy is almost here. One more day and you won’t be able to park anywhere near a cake shop. There will be no open parking spaces for miles around.

No Japanese Christmas would be complete without Christmas cake.


Christmas cake is THE star here on Christmas. I wondered how this custom came about so I did a little research.

“After World War II, American soldiers led the work of rebuilding an occupied Japan. The Japanese economy was in shambles and food shortages were common. Even rarer were sugary sweets. The sweet treats from the U.S. that the Americans handed out were a memorable luxury to a people still recovering from the ravages of war. Sweet chocolates, above all, given by American soldiers epitomized the utmost wealth Japanese children saw in American lives,” cultural anthropologist Hideyo Konagaya wrote in a 2001 paper on the history of the Christmas cake published in the Journal of Popular Culture. Sweets fed a longing for wealth and a desire to Americanize” full article here

The custom started because American Christmas conveyed an image of prosperity to the Japanese. It was never about religion.

The most popular type of Christmas cake is a type of sponge cake filled with strawberries and whipped cream and frosted with whipped cream. There are usually strawberries on top of the cake along with maybe a little Santa ornament. They are actually really good- specially with a hot cup of coffee.

I read in the article that most cakes are red and white because the Japanese flag is white with a red circle in the middle. So while Christmas cake and “Christmas” represent American wealth and affluence..the cake remains nationalistic. Just interesting information you learn if you dig.

We have never ordered a Christmas cake. They are  fairly expensive-a little cake will cost you 3,000-4,000 yen (about 30-40$$). My husband being a diabetic can’t eat much cake anyhow and my hips don’t need more than half a Christmas cake. Just saying’.

Mother-in-law orders one on occasion and then we go over and have coffee and cake with them. I never say no to an invitation of coffee and cake.  🙂

As you may know, we have a little dog. I stopped by the pet shop a couple of weeks ago and saw that they had a counter set up advertising Christmas cake for dogs!

See this photo below? I took it in the pet shop. All these delicious looking desserts are for DOGS! Not sure if cats might like them too.


Eighteen bucks for a large sized doggy Christmas cake. With the tax almost 20$.

Japan never ceases to amaze me. I have a blast just walking around in the mall by myself sometimes and looking at all the unusual and different things. Cheap entertainment. Life can’t be all work.  🙂


Our Church here in Japan

Last Sunday our pastor held a special service for the children that attend the kindergarten that is attached to the church. The children are mostly from non-Christian homes- Japan is 1% Christian. For the kids to even be attending the kindergarten in the first place is awesome.

If you talk about “Jesus” around these parts most people have never heard of him or have sort of heard of him. They know absolutely nothing of the Bible much less who Jesus was. Not long ago I had someone ask me if Santa was the Christian god. Really.

Our pastor has his work cut out for him trying to explain Bible stories that are so culturally different people can’t imagine what he is trying to tell them. Even in their own language. Many times there are no direct translations of words so it’s hard to get the point across.

On Sunday pastor stood in the front and had big colorful picture teaching cards that he held up in front of him while he told the nativity story to the children and some parents that came.


Without visuals it is really difficult to try and tell children about the various Bible stories. Pastor did a great job telling the story with a fantastic animated voice. The kids really listened to him. So did the parents.



It isn’t easy for Japanese to become Christians. Their culture and  religion is ingrained into every aspect of their lives. That’s all I will say about it. Things are the way they are here and I have seen that God is blessing this church.

Christians now a day spend too much time arguing over what is and isn’t the way to lead others to Jesus….and not enough time loving. There is a lot of love in this church. It isn’t the kind of church I imagined God would pick out for us but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt it is where we belong. It is an Anglican church. Many things are different from what I am used to but that’s OKAY-the point is we have fellowship with other believers in JAPAN. We concentrate on loving each other and helping our community where we can.  I’m thankful.


Japanese word of the day–Ganbatte….

Ganbatte- a very common and deeply meaningful word in the Japanese language. It can be used in many different situations. It conveys a spirit of – do not give up, persevere… Etc. one of the many things that I’ve come to love about living in Japan is this spirit of rallying around those who are facing difficulty. I’ve faced many trials while living here and when friends and family know of my difficulties they bolster me up by saying ” ganbatte!”. They don’t say- ” oh, poor you” or ” I’m so sorry” etc… Oh, no- they rally behind you and hold you up and tell you to be strong and endure! Don’t give up! Keep going! — when I understood the deeper meaning and intention I grew to love this ideology — it’s not just a ” word” there is a whole positive and supportive spirit that is behind it.


Japan has many favorite words and phrases. Motainai is one of them.

If I were to translate it -it means something like “waste not want not” but …a little different. You can use the word in a variety of ways. I use the word quite frequently because it kind of fits my frugal personality. Actually, it really fits my frugal personality.

When we moved into this house it was full of furniture, dishes, futons and everything in between. My husband’s- brother’s- wife’s (how’s that for a mouthful) parents owned this home (now deceased) so we were able to pick and choose what we wanted-the rest was dumped! You have no idea what a blessing it was to us as we left most of our earthly possessions behind in Saipan.

I think I kept more than what we actually needed. There was this old wardrobe that I kept because I thought it might come in handy someday. It sat around bothering me for a while …and then…I needed a sewing space.

Living in such a small house it was hard for me to decide where I was going to set up my sewing corner. I moved it around here and there-the clutter bothered me. Clutter in a small space makes me feel tired.

Then I had an idea-!

The wardrobe is actually 2 pieces. The section where you hang clothes rests on top of 2 drawers and comes off. So-I took off the top section and removed the hanging bar. It was then basically just a big wooden box.


I bought a piece of wood from the do-it-yourself shop and used “L” brackets to install a shelf.


I purchased the organizers from Daiso and –viola–a sewing space! The drawers sit on the opposite wall and hold my material. I made a patchwork curtain for the whole thing and it hides everything inside. I just started putting it together. After I get the other organizers in I’m sure it will be perfect.

Small space living can be a challenge.



Ladies Group Party

Today was the annual LG holiday party.  This has gotten to be the highlight of our year. I met these ladies the year we moved to Japan and we have been meeting weekly ever since which is actually something rather out of the norm around these parts.

Christmas isn’t really a holiday here and truth be told I’d rather not put up a tree and such but it really blesses my guests so I go ahead and decorate the artificial tree we bought when we moved here. I set up the little snow village under it that I’ve had for years. That village brought my grandchildren so much fun when they were little. Gosh how they loved playing with it.


We always do this party as a pot-luck with a gift exchange “American style” by writing our names on slips of paper and tossing them into a box-and then drawing out a name. You buy a gift for the person that you “drew out of the box”.

Japanese stye gift exchange is somewhat different- it goes like this- you buy a gift for a set amount and bring it to the party or gathering. All the gifts are placed together and numbered. The numbers are also written on slips of paper and put in a box and then everyone draws a number out of the box. The number you draw out is the number of the gift that you “win”.

I’ve seen some strange things happen with Japanese gift exchange. Once a friend of mine “won” a pair of men’s socks. I asked her…so, what will you do with them? She said that she would re-gift them. I dunno-that’s no fun. Our group has really come to love the “American” way of gift exchange. The first year that we did it they reported that shopping for a specific person was much more fun and it made the event special.

img_6620_editedThey always enjoy the tree and the decorations. I cleared the regular table out of our TV tatami room to make room for our party. This is an 8 mat room-kind of standard size. Rooms in Japanese houses are multi-functional. It isn’t unusual to clear out a room to make way for a gathering.


Opening  the doors between the tatami room and the kitchen makes the space bigger. Our old home is very simple but I love it and I’m really thankful for it. The white “thing” in the right corner is a kerosene heater. I had two on today to keep the rooms warm.



The cozy clutter of a old-style Japanese kitchen that I have honestly come to love. It’s comforting to me somehow.


One of the ladies brought a mashed potato Christmas tree salad she fashioned. Under the broccoli are mashed potatoes!

My gift was awesome. I was given this interesting kanji book that I love!


It shows a kanji on one page and a picture of what the kanji means on the other page.

The kanji below is “moon”- tsuki.


Then there is “shadow” – kage.


Here is “person”- hito.


In the gift bag was also a little glass plate panted with pretty flowers.

We always have some sort of activity- this year Mrs. A taught us how to make this little basket. Harder than it looks. I made the green one.


At around 3:00pm everyone left and I began the clean-up.

Our tatami room, the party set up put away.


Now for the set up of the kotatsu table. The rug goes down. Then the chairs. After that the kotatsu table frame.


Next, the blanket is put on the frame.


Last, the table top gets set on top and we have a cozy place to sit in the evenings which- is where I am writing this post!

We have a typical old home where nothing really matches. The rug doesn’t match the blanket and the curtains (in the other room) don’t match anything but that is one of the things that I have let go since living here- the need to be “perfect” and coordinated. At one time in my life that was something that used to stress me. Not any more. Actually-I suppose we could have things that matched but I buy things that are in our budget-meaning the things that are all coordinated are far more expensive. We are trying to live as minimalist as we can-because we enjoy that life-style. There is a freedom that comes with being satisfied with what you have. We love our cozy little space.


Just sort of today’s diary post…nothing fancy. No eloquent words- I’m too pooped for anything fancy tonight. Wonderful day today…I’m blessed and very thankful.



Old Houses

Our narrow little lane seemed a bit wider today. I noticed that some of the brush had been cleared from the side. Upon closer inspection I saw what had been hidden under a tangle of vines and bamboo grown out of control.


The old house had been buried under thick vegetation for years. In the six that we have lived on this little lane it was the first time that I had seen more than just the toilet pipe sticking out of the bushes.


This is what the first homes built in this area looked like.


There is no insulation in the walls. They were hot in the summer and cold in the winter. There is one next to it that is still in fairly good condition on the outside. At least twice a year I see a group of elderly folks cutting the grass and cleaning up around yard. I’m sure the house isn’t habitable anymore. A while ago I saw a mother cat and her kittens had made a home here as she was carrying them one by one inside through a hole in the wall.


Right across from our house there is one of these old homes.


It’s been two years now that Mrs. K has passed away. She had lived here all her life and was almost 90 when she died. Often when I am in the front garden in the morning my gaze rests on her home and I remember her beautiful voice as it came lilting into my garden. She was a karaoke teacher and used to practice singing  in the early morning.

Part of our house still has these type of walls- as the original home was actually one of these. It had been remolded a bit many years ago. The newer part is about 45 years old…the older parts 70 or so.

Hubby and I were chatting this morning over tea. He recalled his childhood winters. Of course there was no central heat in the house.  The ofuro (Japanese soaking tub-or bath tub) was not attached to the house-you had to walk a bit across the yard to get to the wood slat shack it was housed in. There were gaps in the wood walls and the winter wind whistled in making bath time pretty chilly in cold weather. He remembered one winter there were little piles of snow inside along one wall where the wind had driven snow through the cracks. When he was old enough it was his job to start the fire and heat the water for bath time.

How starkly opposite of how I grew up and yet here I am…living in rural Japan…without central heat all these years later. Life is interesting sometimes-isn’t it?