Thursday, July 31, 2008


Natsu Matsuri

We recently had our neighborhood summer festival. It is a charming little event held at the local preschool, organized by the neighborhood association and one of the highlights of summer for us this year, since we are usually in California when it is held. The two day event kicked of with the parading of the "mikoshi" through the streets. The portable shrine was hoisted up onto the shoulders of several men (Yes, Toshi was actually one of them!) and they carried it around the neighborhood. It would be too boring to simply walk through the town, so they are all the time lifting the mikoshi up and down, walking in circles, back and forth, shouting "washoi! WASHOI!" The men carrying the mikoshi are followed by two teams of local elementary school kids, wearing matching hapi coats, carrying miniature versions of the mikoshi. Next came the large taiko drum, played by the older kids, on the bed of a small truck which had two long ropes attached to the front and was pulled through the neighborhood by the remaining kids - including Mina and Sam. Before the group headed out, the children were all given bells of various sizes and colors. They had been attached to a large board, each one assigned a number and the children picked numbers out of a box to see which bell they received. They tied their bells to themselves and the entire procession jingled as it walked. In case, the cries of "WASHOI!," taiko drum and jingle bells were not making enough of a ruckus, there is also a loud speaker blaring recorded festival music attached to the truck. As we walked through the neighborhood, people came out of their houses to watch, place coins in the offering box, and sometimes squirt us with hoses to cool us off. There were two breaks along the route and everyone was offered drinks and snacks; the men dancing around with the heavy mikoshi were fortified with sake and beer. Toshi thought he was going to be sick with all the alcohol and exertion before 11 AM. Once we returned to the preschool yard, the children were given onigiri rice balls to take home for lunch. Toshi was served cold somen noodles and more beer. Thankfully there was a lull after that during which Toshi promptly passed out on the couch in the air-conditioned living room. That evening, we returned to the festival area where games were organised for the children. One was a ring toss and the other was a rock, scissors, paper showdown. Five of the neighborhood elders lined up and the children had to win five matches in a row to get a prize. Mina advanced to the fourth man in the line up but lost with a weak rock in her final contest. Still, she won some bubbles in the ring toss. Every household in the neighborhood is given a kind of raffle ticket for a chance to win rice, potatoes or consolation prizes like tissue or dish soap. A few local organizations had set up booths selling curry, cotton candy, and hot dogs on sticks (not corn dogs, no cornmeal, just the naked wieners). At one booth you could fish for "yo-yos," really a water balloon attached to a rubber band, that you can bounce on your hand. There were no fish this year. Thank goodness. After awhile the "bon odori" started. Ladies in "yukata," summer kimono, made a circle around the large taiko drum and began the simple, traditional dancing. Mina enjoyed falling in line and trying to mimic their movements, so much so that at the end of the evening one of the dance leaders presented Mina with a folding fan. Perhaps the best part of the festival was not the event itself, but the week after the festival. Every time we pass someone walking through the neighborhood, they comment on how darling Mina looked in her purple yukata, or say that they saw her dancing. The festival gave us a chance to cement our ties to the community. We saw the twin girls whose piano lessons immediately follow Mina's and actually had the opportunity to talk with them for awhile. Mina had a chance to play with a few of her neighborhood friends, something she can't often do. I made a new friend through a friend of a friend, someone who had been wanting to meet me, but never had the opportunity to approach me until I was standing around the festival watching the children enjoy themselves. It is a community event and having a strong sense of community is something I truly appreciate about my life in Japan.

Sunday, July 20, 2008


Still . . .

Sam wanted to go to his grandparents house. I was walking him over, passed Obaachan on the way. She said, "Oh, there is some fish for you at the house, ask Ojiichan about it." We get to the house, go inside, I try to ask Ojiichan about the fish, but he moves on to something else, okay, maybe he didn't hear me. I return to our house. Fifteen minutes later, the doorbell rings. Ojiichan is at the door, he shoves some fish at me and says, "hiMONO jaa na ku te, HImono . . . FISH." I apologize and say thank you . . . two things I must do about 15,000 times a day in Japan. Frankly, I am still not sure which is which, but it seems I was talking about thread instead of fish because of my poor intonation. Still. Eight years in and counting and I am still unable to communicate effectively.

On the train home from school, Mina's friend was telling her mother that so-and-so had "American Jelly" in her lunch box and she wanted to have "American Jelly" too and could they please go to the store and buy some "American Jelly" today. Finally, I had to ask her mother, what the heck is "American Jelly?!?!?!" AMERICAN JELLY, you know, "sakuranbo?" OH!!!! CHERRIES!!! For the life of me I could not hear "cherry" from their pronunciation. Then of course the mother was embarrassed by her poor pronunciation and I had to fall all over myself insisting that is was my bad ears!

I still cannot hear the difference, let alone utter the difference, between "obaachan" (which is grandmother) and "obachan" (which is aunt). This may not seem like a big deal, but it can be tricky because I could unknowingly offend someone if they think I am trying to say something about their age!

So, Ojiichan heard me, he just couldn't understand what the heck his crazy, foreign daughter-in-law was talking about. Maybe he should start a blog.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008


Japanese Youth - Always Good for a Chuckle

Sitting across from us on the train today, I noticed a young lady. Probably a university student, she was plugged into her i-pod, had her beautiful glossy black hair cut into a stylish bob, was wearing some funky shoes and carrying a metallic bag. Then I noticed her T-shirt, printed with trendy English, boldly declaring "Life is better blonde!"

Wednesday, July 02, 2008



I have passed the 100 mark for books received from! With the seven books I found in my mailbox yesterday, I have received a total of 104 books. Of those books, I have read 47 from cover to cover. Out of those 47, 39 have been sent back out to other book moochers. I cannot say it enough - I LOVE bookmooch! I have been a member since September of 2006 and the site has seriously improved the quality of my life here! It gives me access to a wider range of titles than what is generally available at the limited number of stores that even offer English books in Japan. Plus, the fact that is costs only postage and the willingness to part with unwanted used books of my own, allows me to indulge my book lust and try authors or titles that I would not be willing to buy. Because most of my mooches are international, I usually receive three book mooch points for every book I send out. This means that for every two books I send out, I can receive anywhere from three to six books in return - three books if I request them from other countries at a cost of two points per book and six if I find books I want from other members in Japan, because it only costs one point to mooch a book from within your own country. The book I have enjoyed the most from my mooch pile is Judi Hendricks' Bread Alone. I don't regret any mooches I have made, but I wasn't able to finish Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking. Bookmooch has become my main source for reading material. Of the 30 books I have read this year, only 7 of them came from sources other than bookmooch, six were from friends and only one was purchased outright. As for all the books trapped in my "to-be-read pile" that includes so many books it can't really be placed into a singular pile? Well, Kathleen Norris said "just the knowledge that a good book is awaiting one at the end of a long day makes that day happier." I couldn't agree more. Thanks to bookmooch (and Ken who introduced me to the site), I can look forward to many happy days ahead.

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