Officially Spring

Well, the calendar says that it is officially spring. Anyone that reads this blog knows that my garden is the first place I go as soon as the weather warms up. It hasn’t warmed up as much as I’d like-but we’ve had a few really nice days here and there so I’ve been outside getting my little plot ready.

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I cleaned things up and got carrots, spinach and komatsuna seeds in the ground. The Snap Peas are coming along now-they have finally broken through the ground and are getting bigger by the day. You can see them over by the netting. The lettuce is growing nicely and I stuck a green pepper plant in the ground too.

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The weeding got done and while I was at it I moved some of the ox-eye daises that had seeded themselves in a spot where I didn’t want them to. That spot is reserved for my new tomato beds that I’m going to put in. Soon. As soon as hubby gets me the wood.

I set up a birdbath. A little early I know but I’m excited about getting the garden going.

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Gardening helps me a lot. I’ll be honest with you-it isn’t always easy to live in a foreign country. I miss my family. A lot. I have friends here but culturally, it is different. People don’t really open up and they aren’t as likely to want to develop deep relationships so everything stays rather superficial. That is hard for someone like me. Gardening, crochet, sewing and now embroidery have helped me to fill the void and at the same time I “produce” something that can be shared with others.

I think that’s why I really dislike (anti) social media…it is so superficial…

But, I digress….

Everyone else in the neighborhood is outside participating in the spring season in much the same way. Tractors can be heard humming throughout the fields and across the little valley. I really look forward to rice planting season. When the fields are planted and filled with water the frogs move in and the whole area comes alive at night with the sounds of what seems like a million croaking frogs. As I walked around the town I saw the farmers gearing up, getting the fields ready for the annual rice planting activities.

Just about everywhere I looked gardeners were out weeding and digging and just enjoying being outdoors.

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My heart is a bit heavy this spring. Every year since we have moved to Japan I always took my annual trip up to see the kids near Tokyo around this time of the year…but…they left Japan last June and I can’t do that anymore.

I had noticed that I felt out of sorts and about two days ago I realized that last year at this time I was enjoying being with my daughter and her family. Actually, I’m crying writing this post. It is really, really hard not having any of the kids or grand-kids around. But that’s life. We can’t stay near them forever. That isn’t reality for most people.

While I do like living in Japan-there are always two sides to the coin. It is a beautiful country with many awesome reasons for wanting to live here. The reality is that living here comes with a price. At times that price can be a little heavy to bear.

But– the sun is shining at the moment. The rains have stopped a bit so I think I’ll go pick some lettuce for dinner and rejoice in all the Lord has so graciously provided for all those that I love near and far. Later I’ll think some more about my garden planning and perhaps work on an embroidery pattern design that I have in mind for a granddaughter. I was actually thinking of opening an ETSY shop but I’m too busy to make things to sell! Everything I make goes to family and friends!

This post was rather all over the place. That may be the new norm here. Writing like this helps me. The rest of you can come along for the ride.

🙂

 

 

 

Hina Matsuri, Rickshaw Rides, Planting and WIP

The weekend was busy!

On Friday a group of us gals visited the historical home of one of the five coal mine kings of our area. This entire area was once a wealth of coal mines owned by 5 men who are known as: The Five Kings of Coal Mining.

One of them was this man-Santaro Hori. In the photo he stands proudly with his wife, daughter and son. His villa is still standing and well cared for. The family has donated it to the town as a historical landmark and museum. He was a very wealthy man-multi millionaire in his time-during a time when that was an impossible dream for most.

His former home is usually not open to the public-at least not the entire home. They do hold classes in some rooms. You can take a Japanese patchwork class or origami classes. I believe they also have Tea Ceremony lessons.

During Hina Matsuri the home is opened to the public and you can walk through it. There are no furniture left in the home but it isn’t difficult to imagine how grand it must have been.

Before I continue I have to tell you that I had a “catastrophic failure” according to my computer when I was transferring the photos of the house from camera to my laptop. Indeed-I accidentally erased ALL of them. So….here is a link to a post I wrote last year about this home. You can have a look at the photos I took there. It really is a beautiful home–>Touring Saijikan.

At any rate- the gals and I decided to view the Hina Matsuri display there. The first collection you come across when you visit is the patchwork display inside the over 100 year old storage building turned display room.

I love looking at all the wonderful handiwork. So beautiful! There were a couple of ladies on hand giving demonstrations in ball making.
The balls have a Styrofoam base and the material used are all vintage kimono scraps.

Very interesting to us crafters! We left the patchwork display and went on to view the Hina Doll display which was pretty much the same as last year’s display-fortunately you can view the display on last year’s post.

This year I learned something that I didn’t know last year. I remembered wondering what this was:

I thought it was a chute of some kind. Mrs. NI said-chute? Oh,no. This is an indoor access to the window shutters. This home was “state of the art” back in the day-they didn’t have to go outside to close the shutters. They could do it from the inside of the home. She demonstrated for me-she works here as a volunteer so it was okay.

Interesting!

We walked along the beautiful corridors down to the doll display. The home is so lovely!

The kimono display marked the entrance to the display room.

And that marks the end of the photos because the rest are deleted!

We decided to visit two more places that had Hina Matsuri festival displays-the local coal mining museum and another smaller museum in town.

As we were leaving the historical home the local rickshaw driver was outside and asked if we wanted a ride! There were free rides today for the ladies! So…why not? We hopped on board and away we went!

Actually it is such a shame that I lost all those photos because the coal mining museum was awesome. I had never toured a coal mining museum before and I was fascinated by the old photographs. What a grueling job that must have been. I saw photos of men, women and children who worked in the mines. I was shocked at many of them because they worked completely naked. The women had a covering on their bottoms but the men were completely naked. I asked -why? I was told that the mines were extremely hot and being naked was the only way to bear being in them. Things changed later on and safety requirements were established requiring clothing and safety equipment. The equipment is on display and all I can say is-having seen the breathing apparatus needed I would never want to work in the mines. It was quite horrific looking.

It was an awesome day and I learned much about the past history of this area.

The following day was absolutely brilliant and I was able to get out into the garden and get some work done. I got some lettuce planted.

I got the snow peas in the planter boxes and I potted a few pansies.

Very satisfying!

I’ve also been working on a load of crochet projects! Not the best photo-sorry. I just threw them in a heap onto the tatami!

We are definitely in early spring here-such a fun time of year!

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.  🙂

 

That time of Year Again

As I’ve said before the time before New Year is a busy time in Japan. Wrapping up the old and getting ready for the new. There are a lot of year-end parties going on- although I don’t have any on my schedule to go to. Hubby does.

My year end schedule consists of getting the osoji ( big cleaning) completed. It is customary to do a general cleaning and get did of this year’s grime before ringing in the new year. Not that we have a lot of grime to get rid of. I will say that old Japanese houses are magnets for dust and mold though. No matter what I do I just can’t keep this house clean.

This past weekend was spent on osoji activities. Three closets were cleaned and rearranged and we even got the pole installed in the big futon closet that we use for a clothes closet. Japanese homes are lacking in closet space. They have big huge closets that are meant for storing futons….but not for clothing.

We now have a huge pile of futons and other items that are bound for the dump. It is difficult to throw out these sorts of items here and I suppose that is why many homes here are liked high with junk because it’s so hard to throw them out. It’s not cheap to get rid of garbage in Japan. The futons need to be dumped because they are old and dusty and beyond cleaning- they belonged to my sister in law’s mom.

The supermarkets have kagami mochi on display…. these were cute. More about New Year traditions later…

Tonight we went out to our favorite family restaurant and four big sumo wrestlers were there for dinner.

They sat in the next booth. You can see the traditional hairstyle peeking over the booth divider.

They were nice enough to take a photo with me…I’m actually a fan of sumo wrestling. I have a friend in town whose son is a famous sumo- Kaiyo Hiroyuki. There is a big statue of him in front of the train station.

Looking forward to getting the cleaning and such behind me. Pardon the rather blah post. The daily grind is exhausting even here.

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The Autumn Fog

We have officially entered the doldrums here. Kyushu autumn and winters are one long dreary affair. Of course one can do things to brighten the days , which I usually do. But if you relied solely on the weather you’d be out of luck.

These days are wonderful though for conjuring up all sorts of stories. There is this certain mystery in the air. I especially love it when a thick fog hangs over everything. It sets the imagination rolling. Makes photography a lot of fun.

Yesterday morning was such a morning when the entire area was shrouded in a misty haze.

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It hung so thick that you could barely see past the garden wall. I never noticed the cobwebs until now when little drops of moisture clung to the fine strands of web making them visible against the foggy background.

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I could even make out all the webs that clung to the neighbor’s house. I never knew there were so many. Amazing, when other things are hidden the hidden things come to light.

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I’ve made my peace with spiders since moving here. I used to be terrified of them like many. I’ve learned to view them differently. In Japan spiders are our friends -eating harmful insects for dinner and keeping them out of our dinners. These pictured here are harmless garden spiders. We have resident house spiders-huntsman spiders. Everyone has them just about. I give ours names and they become less frightening to me. Right now we have Sharley and her children living with us. My husband named her. She is quite large-about as big as my hand but skinnier. I know-I can hear some of you gasping. I assure you that’s just how I felt at first. You’d be surprised at what you can overcome and learn to accept when you don’t have a choice. Japanese never kill house spiders. That would be bad luck.

While I was out photographing the garden I heard shuffling coming up the road. Then I heard someone singing a marching song so I hid behind the bushes (really). I figured there was an interesting photo op coming up.

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I was not disappointed. It was our neighbor. His wife is almost completely blind and she also still walks the road. It frightens me- I always worry about her. This is her husband. I don’t know them personally as they live a ways down the road but my other neighbors tell me that they are probably the nicest people in the neighborhood. I’m thinking about bringing them a fruit basket or something for Christmas. They don’t celebrate Christmas but that’s okay.

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He was singing his marching song as he shuffled slowly up the road. I heard him continue to sing it as he disappeared into the mist….

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Planting Winter Vegetables

I took time out from my catch-up. I think also I needed to get out and see the beauty and peace our creator has for us in this world. It’s been a while since I’ve explored the rice fields and cottage gardens where I love to wander.

There is a little service road that runs across the tops of the rice-fields from the farmers market. On one side there is a bamboo thicket and on the other the rice fields. It makes for a lovely little walk.

Today I saw the ancient gardener planting her winter crop. It gave me such joy to watch her work that I almost went down and asked if she needed help. I watched her and thought, work is good for us. Especially working outside. When you have a big garden to care for you have no time to complain about things that don’t go your way.

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I watched as she slowly hoed the ground. Little by little she loosened the soil until it was loose enough for planting her seedlings.

Not seeming to care about anything except her garden chores. I was lost in the moment with her.

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Working the soil with her hands not caring about anything except getting the seedlings in the ground.

There is so much on my heart right now. So much I want to say to thousands of people but it would be useless. Instead I’ll just say this. An honest day’s work is worth it’s weight in gold. Complaining gets you no where. We don’t always get what we want but if we are wise we know how to live and prosper under any conditions.

As I watched her work I felt such a deep appreciation for the simple things in my life. I too work in the dirt. Many times my hands look like hers and I love that. I love it because it means that I’m not wasting my time-I’m working the land and doing something useful.

Imagine what would happen if everyone would do something useful? Something to help someone else-something practical in love.

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Fascinating, unusual and shocking facts about gift-giving in Japan

I’m sure that most have heard about the culture of gift-giving in Japan. There are some things that you may not have known…..I just wrote an article about this topic on Taiken Japan……here is an excerpt:

 

“From the biggest shopping mall to the smallest tourist stall one can find all manner of items intended for gift-giving. Some are so exquisitely wrapped that you don’t even want to open them! There are whole companies dedicated to producing prepackaged gift items. In many department stores you can find a display section with an assortment of boxed gift items. The varied assortment of items surprises many foreign visitors. Most of the items aren’t exactly what most non-Japanese would consider “gifts”. Gift items can include boxes of laundry soap, bar soap, shampoo and conditioner sets, instant coffee, assorted juice sets, hand towels and nori (dried seaweed)!”

To read the rest of the article click here:

Fascinating, unusual and shocking facts about gift-giving in Japan

 

Higan-the Autumn Equinox

The day of the autumn equinox is a holiday here and I’ve always loved that because Autumn is my favorite season.

There is a saying in Japan:

“The summer heat or winter cold doesn’t last after Higan.”

Higan is said to be a turning point in the season and it is- as far as I have observed.

Higan or Ohigan is actually a Buddhist tradition observed on both the spring and autumn equinox. It is similar to Obon. It’s a time when families visit cemeteries to pay their respects to ancestors.

I’ve noticed that it is also a time when merchants turn the tide from summer to autumn wares.

I love it simply because it is the official start of Autumn.

The equinox, when summer officially hands over the keys and bids a final farewell. The last threads of summer were washed silently away in the mist. Not even a leaf stirred. There was no sound except for the ever present caw of the giant crows-karasu.

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Even the scarecrows stood reticent guard over the elementary school rice field as  giant black karasu sat perched above on the electric lines…. eyeing up the persimmon trees that were now dotted with orange fruit.

As I walk about town I see that several of the persimmon trees have already been ravaged by the birds. During this time of the year it’s best to avoid walking under a persimmon tree. There are several that grow up over the walls above the sidewalk. Smashed fruit and bird-droppings smear the old concrete walks beneath them.

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It seems that Higanbana have sprung up everywhere over the past few days. A sure sign that autumn has truly arrived. In ditches, lining the edges of rice fields and poking up in clumps in hedgerows and road-sides. Their spindly red blossoms add bright autumn color to our landscape.

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This is also the time when moon viewing is at its best.

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There is actually a moon-viewing festival here. Everywhere actually. It is a Japanese traditional festival called Otsukimi that usually takes place on the 15th day of the 8th month of the traditional Japanese calendar which is different from our modern calendar.

Otsukimi dates back to around the year 710 and was mainly celebrated by aristocrats who held moon viewing parties and read poetry, drank sake and generally had a great time out in the cool autumn evening.

Observing Otsukimi is wonderful. Traditionally round white mochi (rice dumplings) are eaten during this time and it is common to see decorations of the full moon hanging in the night sky while rabbits below pound rice into mochi. Americans talk about the “man in the moon” but Japanese say there are rabbits on the moon. I had no idea until some friends in ladies group explained the meaning of the rabbit/moon motifs.

first day of Autumn
my heart is pounding wild
Ah! The full moon

Matsuo Basho

The big cemetery across the valley reminds me that Higan is here. A week before the spring and autumn equinox the huge Kanji character “dai” is illuminated on the mountainside.

I can see it clearly from my back garden.

The “dai” blazes across the valley as the harvest moon illuminates the tops of now fading azalea leaves. A slight cool breeze gently stirs the faded bamboo sunshade as crickets chirrup from one side of the garden to the other. Sitting quietly in the dark I smell the earth and the tangy aroma of autumn fruit.

It is good to be alive but it is good to be reminded that everything changes.

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. 

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airing out the yukata
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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. 

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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!

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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