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.

 

SUMMER

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Art by Kazo Oga

Delicate glass wind chimes tinkling softly while old women fan themselves, engawa doors rolled wide open.

The cicada raise their song in tune with summer’s heat. A curl of smoke keeps mosquitoes at bay.

We look forward to ice-cold watermelon for dessert.

 

(this is a seasonal note-regular posts below)

Alone but not lonely. On being a part-time hermit.

Something I’ve mulled over for a while now was to write more candidly and openly about life here. So far I’ve only been brave enough to give tid-bits. A glimpse here and there of life here. I guess I always hesitate because I didn’t want it to seem like I was looking for advice or help.

I’m definitely not.

I have several reasons for wanting to blog more candidly  and all of them have to do with the writing craft. I’ll just leave it at that.

On with the post….

Confession: I live the life of a part-time hermit.  I actually thought of starting a blog entitled “The Accidental Hermit” but I’ve never really been successful at starting another blog. I always end up back here.

I didn’t plan on living semi-secluded it just sort of happened upon moving here. Have I tried to broaden my “horizons”? Yes.  Am I unsociable ? Not in the least. Do I enjoy part-time hermitude ? I do now. I actually think it fits me perfectly as I consider myself rather eccentric. My husband agrees.

I’ve come to accept the way things are and I’m content now.

I wonder about how many other foreigners find themselves “accidental” hermits in Japan. I doubt that I am alone. It’s just…Japan. It’s an awesome country, really. I love living here. I can completely understand how they have managed to isolate themselves from “outsiders” for so long. In general, and this opinion is only based upon MY personal experience as a middle-aged foreign female with no children living in Japan– I’d say that most indigenous in these parts do not exhibit the willingness to get to know others who are different (as in foreign). They don’t even carry on casual conversations with each other.

They aren’t unfriendly, actually. But it doesn’t seem like genuine friendliness it’s more like curiosity about a stranger in their midst. Taking the time to cultivate a real friendship seems to be rare. In six years I have found two that have actually gone beyond the curiosity stage. But not very far beyond.

I mused about this fact as I was standing in line at gate 14c in Atlanta waiting for my flight to Nashville. We were a small group of passengers waiting for “zone 2” to board. We didn’t know one-another but in that good ole’ American way we struck up a conversation standing there in line. It just really hit me–that never happens in Japan. Strangers do not just strike up conversations with each-other. My husband and I have talked about this fact many times.

Becoming a part-time hermit in Japan wasn’t really that difficult. Since it’s such a big part of my life I thought-why not start blogging about it? Might be interesting for some to read about.

More from the PT Hermitage later.

PT= part-time

 

 

Sunday’s musings…

The Garden:

I finally got around to adding a few more stakes to the tomatoes. They have absolutely gone bonkers. I harvest a little bowlful everyday.

The tomatoes on the plate are what’s leftover from what we already ate today. You would think we would get sick of eating them but we don’t. We are thankful to have so many because we love them.

I picked a couple of cucumbers the other day and today I hunted around on the vine and saw a few babies. Too much rain and lack of sun haven’t been so good for gardens. I’ve had to pick the tomatoes before they got too ripe because all the water causes them to split open. Then the ants come and have a feast on them.

I go out there and check the patch in-between showers and downpours. Yes, it is still raining.

The weirdest thing….my super tall sunflower is growing two more flower heads from the stem.

Is that normal? I have no idea. The one on the left is still a bud but the one on the right has petals already. I wonder if the flowers will mature.

While I was looking at that oddity I saw that the semi are finally emerging. Semi are cicadas and they emerge from the ground as the temperatures rise. This year they are late. I don’t blame them. Who wants to crawl around in all this rain. Anyhow, I saw several empty semi shells clinging to the leaves on my sunflower and tree.

As I have said many times-Japan has a whole host of strange, exotic and dangerous bugs. I’m not really a fan of bugs. I don’t mind them if they stay OUTSIDE where they belong. Kids in Japan think it’s fun to have a large betel as a pet. No thank you. Ever.

Interesting article on semi

Things that make me go…hummmm….

We had to run to our local grocery store. Since it was so close to lunch-time we decided to grab a bento to go. Most of the grocery stores and convenience stores carry pre-cooked meals that are pretty much equal to “home cooking”. Not fast-food- junk food at all.

My favorite at this little store is what I call “obosan bento”. Obosan is a nick-name for Japanese priests. The “obosan” bento is vegetarian consisting of; lotus root, pumpkin, tofu, seaweed salad, taro, rolled egg (egg is vegetarian for me),yokan and carrots.

Just tiny bits of each make up a small bento tray. I usually have a rice-ball and tea together with the bento.

Anyhow-while we were choosing our bento I saw this:

Not an unusual site but this just bugs both of us. Food sitting out uncovered.

I would never buy any of this food. I don’t eat hot-dogs and such anyhow but I mean we never buy any food that is just sitting out on trays uncovered. You find this sort of thing often. Bakeries display their breads and pastries like this. AEON Mall has a large bakery with all sorts of nice looking bread products and pastries but we never, ever buy any of it. Do you know how many times I’ve seen people sneeze or cough on uncovered products? How many times I’ve seen long hair, shirt sleeves, little kids fingers-come in contact with uncovered food? Many times.

Our local TRIAL store has cooked pizza, fried pork cutlet, hamburgers..etc- and all of it is just sitting out uncovered.

My husband was the first to say anything about this practice.. I noticed it but I hadn’t really thought about it like he had. Just makes me wonder about sanitation laws.

Our future tiny home:

I know many of you have been thinking…”I hope she’ll post pictures of what will be their new house” …

The other day we had to stop by the folks and I had my ipad with me. I took a few quick shots so that I could have a few pictures to study while I think.  Actually while we both think. Both of us have been chatting here and there about the changes we would like to make. Are you ready? Before I post these let me just say a few things:

-the folks are in their 80’s

-they are both very ill

-there is really zero storage space in this house

-I think they have stopped caring about what it looks like

Okay-here is the first photo. It is the living room.

As you can see there is nothing to see out the window. FIL hung a bamboo shade up and attached some plastic flowers from Daiso. Behind the bamboo shade is actually the neighbor’s house wall. That’s what the bamboo curtain is attached to. The distance from the window to the neighbor’s home is about…what…two feet?

I am giving them a fire extinguisher for Christmas.

This is pretty much the whole room. There isn’t much more to it. The sofa that is seen on the right side isn’t very long. It sits two and a half people.

Around the left corner of the TV-not pictured here – are the rolling doors to the bedroom that will become an extension of the living room and house my books, sewing machine..etc.

In the next photo below, you can’t see it but, the sofa is right up against the stereo system cabinet …thing. Through the rolling doors mid photo is the genkan or front entrance. Actually, it’s quite a large genkan. Wasted space really. There is a door on the right of the photo-that’s the “kitchen” door. A kitchenette really.

From the cabinets to the opposite side counter in the kitchen it is only about 3 feet wide. More I guess if the space was completely empty of the cabinets. length-wise I’d say it is about 8 feet? Maybe?

The photo below is basically a picture of the “dining” side of the kitchen. You can kind of see part of the kitchen cabinets at the back.

The folks sit at that flimsy little table and eat.

We have been looking around on Pinterest for ideas. There are some great Japanese sites that we have found that match our taste. Besides matching our taste the photos show Japanese homes that are similar to ours which helps. I’ve kind of scratched looking at US homes because they are so different.

Here are a couple of ideas that we want to incorporate into our kitchen / dining area. We like wood and natural products. I had the idea of building a bench against the counter wall with a table to match. We can use the bench not only for seating but for storage too.

A couple of photos from my saved collection on Pinterest.

In this photo they built a counter up against the kitchen “wall” but my husband said he wants to eat facing me so this wouldn’t work. However we do love the shelving built over the kitchen counter. We love the wood too and there is a window in the little cooking area…something we are definitely going to install.

The photo below has a similar set up but with a table. I’m honestly not sure if there is enough space for a table. Yes, it is that small. We love all the wood.

The only window in the entire living / dining / kitchen area at the moment is the window that faces no-where. Hubby plans on ripping out the kitchen cabinets (sort of a pre-fab unit), cutting a window in the wall and rebuilding cabinets around the window. I was thankful to hear that. We have a lot of ideas and we just happen to have a few carpenters in the family.

I’ll share more about the tiny-house remodeling project as time goes on.

That’s it for my Sunday musings. Starting to get back into the routine here but it seems that routine is now changing. I can sense that we have already sort of shifted our thinking to our future home. This morning as I was staking the tomatoes we talked about how next year our tomatoes will be in pots….and that it will be easier for me in the long run.

Yes, indeed it will be. There will be things I shall miss about living here but there will be many things I look forward to living in a newer insulated home.

Not seeing my breath inside in the winter is one of them.

Ha.

At Home in Rural Japan part 1- The Heart of the Rural Japanese Home

My first article in a new series on Taiken Japan.

Before the sun rises over towns and hamlets that slumber between forested mountains, lights begin to flicker in kitchen windows across the valley. In cold weather kerosene or wood stoves are lit, they bring warmth and light as the heart of the Japanese home is awakened by the woman of the house. In summer, windows are opened allowing the cool morning breezes to refresh while releasing smoke from the gas grill as she grills the morning fish.

Welcome to the rural Japanese kitchen.

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE

Healthy Eating-Japanese vegetables

This is a shot of a typical grocery haul for us. Notice all the fresh vegetables.

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I was surfing the net not long ago and came across a photo of a typical grocery haul by a family in another country and I was startled because the table was piled high with packaged foods, junk foods, sodas and other non-nutritious foods.

It made me think about how really fortunate we are to live here. Healthy eating is not something out of the ordinary, it’s the norm. At least for us, in this area.

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This is a picture of my typical breakfast: a grilled fish, scrambled eggs with onions, spinach, mushrooms or some other vegetable. Vegetable miso soup, komatsuna-wakame (mustard cabbage and seaweed) with a vinegar and sesame seed oil dressing, 50 grams of rice from our farm-topped with grated daikon radish in the photo.

Hubby eats the same. We wash it down with hot green tea.

This is kind of a typical Japanese breakfast. Add natto for hubby (I can not get past the smell).

I really enjoy cooking with all the wonderful vegetables from the farmers market.

Fresh spinach gets par-boiled, drained and squeezed. Then I cut it up and top it with dried, shaved bonito (fish).

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Eggplant ready for grilling…..

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Lovey vegetable miso-soup. Ingredients are Chinese cabbage, carrots, onion, wakame (seaweed). I use kombu dashi (a broth made from seaweed) as the base and then I add 2 tablespoons of miso paste. Healthy and hearty!

 

 

New Year at Hosenkaku Ryokan

New Year’s “get-away” was spent at a Ryokan in Beppu. We had a lot of trouble trying to find a place that had rooms enough for our group of 15 people-all family. It was down to crunch time and hubby and I thought that we would have to spend the New Year holidays at home-which would have actually been okay with me because I was still not feeling very well.

Seems like we always end up in Beppu-quite honestly we would have preferred to go someplace else.

The Ryokan was down on the main road near the beach. An older hotel that has been around at least for the past 50 plus years.

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A couple of photos from the lobby. They had the traditional New Year sake barrels displayed.

I decided that I’m going to write a gut-level honest review of this ryokan because it was expensive and all of us really felt that they could have done much better.

The price was 20,000 yen per person/ per night or about $175.00 per person per night. We stayed for 2 nights. Breakfast and dinner was included in the price.

Our large group arrived  and assembled in the lobby. We have stayed at various ryokan in Kyushu and around Japan and most always we are greeted in the lobby by staff  who assist us by giving us a short orientation of the facility and offering help with luggage and such. We got none of that at this ryokan. It had a rather stiff and “business-like” atmosphere. None of the warmth we are usually greeted with.

The usual check-in business accomplished, we lugged our belongings up to the 5th floor and everyone found their rooms. The hallways were dim and drab. Decorated with bamboo poles, rocks and false kawara roofs didn’t do anything to hide the worn carpeting. A quick look around and it was obvious that the place was in need of repair. The hallways were like a maze-twisting and turning with sets of stairs in between them-not very convenient for the elderly who were with us. Especially since there were no railings to hold on to.

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Several halls were completely dark. We weren’t sure if that was because they were trying to save money or because there were no guests staying in those rooms. We were under the impression that they had a full booking. What ever it was, it didn’t do anything to curb the already drab and dull atmosphere.

The rooms were nothing special and they were very dusty and damp.The ryokan website listed room amenities but when we got there things were different. There was no hair dryer or coffee maker. The “free wifi” was too weak to even try and use.  I’m trying to think of something positive to say but honestly the rooms were nothing special. Everyone felt the same.

For breakfast and dinner all guests were served in the tatami – style dining room. When my husband’s family saw the “tables” they were not happy. The ryokan used tiny tray-like tables that most ryokan do not use anymore simply because they are not at all comfortable to sit at-being only about a foot off the floor and a foot and a half wide they really do not lend anything towards having a fun, relaxing New Year’s meal.

I made no comment about the situation- my review is based upon what my husband’s family thought and they are all Japanese-although I agreed with the general consensus.

The meals , although elaborate looking-really were not. The food was mediocre. A mountain of sashimi that was way too much to eat-no one was able to eat all of it.  It got to be kind-of a joke with everyone trying to pass-off their left over sashimi to the person next to them. The “sashimi mountain” seemed to be served with every meal.

The rest of the food was rather tasteless. Dessert was good-a kind of vanilla pudding with a crusty cookie topping but at a New Year dinner it isn’t the dessert everyone looks forward to. The wait-staff seemed overwhelmed and tired and they came across being cold and grumpy.

The children were served fried rice, fried chicken, sausages, salad, cookies and more. My husband commented that he wished he could order a kid’s meal! If my husband makes that kind of a comment then the food must really be lousy.

The first night when we had returned to our rooms the futons had been taken out of the closet and arranged on the floor for us which is a normal event at a ryokan. In the morning while the guests are having breakfast the staff quickly put them all away into the futon closet again…usually…that is. Not at this ryokan though- much to the chagrin of my mother-in-law who was mortified that the ryokan failed at this basic rule of hospitality-especially since it was the New Year holiday.

One of the main reasons why Japanese love to stay at a ryokan is to relax in the wonderful healing waters of the ryokan onsen-or hot springs. I thought well…at least the onsen should make up for whatever was lacking in other areas.

I was wrong.

The onsen was in bad need of repair. Peeling paint, old, cracked and splintered wood seats and a general lack of real upkeep made the onsen experience at the ryokan super disappointing. The floors were actually dangerous. Many places were covered with reddish-colored mold and very slippery. I had to watch my mother-in-law very carefully because I was so afraid that she would slip and fall. I almost took a spill myself.

My mother-in-law usually loves to take advantage of the rotenburo (out-door pool)  if there is one  but the one at this ryokan was …ridiculous. There were zero privacy screens so anyone in any of the other high-rise buildings in the area had full view of everyone in the out-door pools and, remember in Japan onsen are considered “baths” -we use the facilities naked. Swimming suits are not allowed. Of course men and women are separate (in most places). Needless to say we didn’t use the rotenburo.

Kagami mochi display in the dining room.

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I honestly wanted to post a positive review but then it wouldn’t have been honest. We did not enjoy our stay in this ryokan. Hubby said at the end of the month he is going to start making reservations for the next New Year celebration to make sure we get a decent place to stay so we can really enjoy the holiday. Hotels and ryokan raise their prices almost double for the holiday season! We at least want to enjoy our stay and feel like we got our money’s worth.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.