Imagine living in the Warring States period of Japan, when one day your neighbor swears fealty to your lord and they have a celebration together, and the next day they're sending an army to kill you.  Imagine men growing up under these warring lords, their role models being warriors, which is just another heroic name for murderer.  Finding peace with your own death in battle was an aesthetic principle.  It had to be, or what other way could you justify that kind of madness.  With no beginning or end to war, death in itself had to be an honorable aim.  Imagine being a woman married to a feudal lord, fearful each day that your husband will die in battle and you will be left with absolutely nothing.

On top of Tsuneyama (Mount Tsune), Princess Tsuruhime's husband and sons decide to end their own lives rather than be killed by their enemies.  But the princess is trained in the arts of war, and she decides to go down fighting instead of slitting her stomach with her husband's sword.  She gathers an army of 35 women to challenge the enemy to a duel, a duel that ends in tragedy, but their moment of bravery has not been forgotten.
Now we stamp our feet and sing a song of prayer.  In part, this festival is a way to connect to our past, our roots.  In part, this festival is a way to celebrate our love for this mountain that stands above us.  The people of Utogi and I gather together for an exclusive dance.

Collapse )

Magatama and the Eclipse

I'm having tea with a friend outside of a Magatama shop.  We walked here from a cafe that had indoor seating, but I'd rather be out in the rain where I feel safer from catching diseases.  Behind us, a glass display shows various stones worth more than my month's salary.

Magatama is similar to Yin-Yang.  They are stones in the shape of a tadpole, with a hole through the center of the "head" and the "tail" curving inward.  Kind of like one half of a yin-yang symbol.  When my friends held the tea party for me, the fortune-teller who read my palm wore two Magatama, one as a necklace and one as a bracelet.  He said they were his power stones.

I didn't really care at the time.

So suddenly these very lovely looking young ladies enter the courtyard.  It's been decorated with a hundred colorful umbrellas both as an art installation, and so no one gets rained on.  As they move together in a group, a filming crew follows them.  They get their pictures taken and make some kind of an announcement.  My friend and I watch idly, but we're engaged in other conversation.  My friend went to a Magatama workshop where she made a necklace and she's busy telling me about how she doesn't like it and never wears it, but her husband wants her to wear it because he paid for the workshop.

She stops talking.  Something's going on behind us.  The filming crew has approached!  Without any introduction or anything, a microphone is put in my face.

Collapse )

Dake-san (English version!)

This is a long bit of prose about my hiking trip.

They say Mount Dake is in the shape of Buddha, reclining on his side.  His head lays toward the East and the sun rises behind his crown.  Some people who are particularly devout, start the day by facing the mountain and clapping twice toward this figure in prayer and gratitude.

When I set out to climb the mountain, I wasn't quite sure where I was going.  I downloaded a map of the area's topography and hiking trails, but I hadn't taken in to account that roads and homes had been built since then.  Seeing the mountain up close, it was just another hill among the others, and I wasn't sure if I was really going the right way.  Suddenly I saw a statue of Kannon, the Bodhisattva of mercy, standing tall at the intersection of two country roads.  As I made my way toward her, I found a sign pointing up the hill saying that the hiking trail was near.  After a long morning of walking and searching, I'd found it!

All the way up the hill, my eyes fell across the flowering gardens of quaint farm houses and butterflies scattered in front of me.  Soon, large branches of trees began to close in over my head, cutting the heat from the air and letting just the wind blow in.  Cool and refreshed, I was in good spirits when I arrived at the hiking trail.  I don't know if this joyful energy was because of the beautiful countryside, or if it was just my own excitement at being able to navigate to an unknown place on my own two feet.

Collapse )





朝ごはんが終わって、山まで歩こうと思いました。きれいな田んぼ、静かな川、個人の庭、歩きながら目のごちそうになりました。 山の近くに来たら、道を迷うことを心配しました。きれいな青空のしたに、私の背中が汗だらけになりました。やっと看板が出ました。



帽子がなかったら、そんなに長い冒険ができないと思うので、取りに行ってよかったです。 日差しが強くても、帽子の陰から花をみたり、写真を撮ったりしました。














Collapse )

"Slow Bread"

Hello all.

(The subject is from the package of bread I bought.)

The warring states period of Japan lasted for 150 years.  When I was younger, in college, knowing only my small groups of people, this was but a fact in a book with no emotion behind it at all.  But now that I'm older and I've seen the ugly side of the world, it's unthinkable for me to imagine living at that time, in constant fear that your neighbor might go to war with you the next day.  Even in today's world of relative peace, there are black patches in society where one violent act has spread to cause deterioration and corruption, where instability in one area causes instability in another, where discrimination is fostered to be used for political gains.  At least, I think to myself, in my quiet neighborhood, I never have to worry about anyone killing me, even by accident or by "accident."

Collapse )

Matsue City

While the rest of Japan probably spent Golden Week in quarantine at home, I headed off to Matsue city where I'm spending two months on a business trip helping out a school that has merged in with my company.

Matsue is squished between two giant bodies of water.  See here: 

Lake Shinji is freshwater but turns brackish as some of the sea water gets up the river from Nakanoumi.  This has resulted in a lot of different kinds of fish, eels, and shells that can be taken from the lake.  There are lots of little clams that people gather and put in their miso soup.  I think the geography is really interesting and I was super excited to go exploring.

On the map, my new apartment looked like a straight line from the station.  It didn't mention the two rounds of stairs and the fact that I'm living on top of a hill.  When I got there, I was surprised to find that my company has put me in a house!  I've got two floors, two bedrooms, a parking lot, a storage shed, and all appliances included!!  Being at the top of the hill, the view is kinda amazing.

Collapse )

"This door will not open in conductor-less"

(Subject was written on the window of a train.)

There's a legend in Japan called, "Kaguya-hime," or Princess Kaguya.  Inside each segment of a bamboo stalk is a hollow formed by a divine spirit, so that a bamboo tree is simultaneously both a tree and a divine vessel.  Inside one such vessel was born a princess called Kagu-hime who's mother was the moon.

This was the last thing on my mind when I was ripping bamboo out of the side of the mountain a month ago, but recently some local people put on a play where Kaguya-hime isn't just a fairytale, but a multi-dimensional superhero sent from space to Earth to get everyone to stop polluting the earth and use bamboo instead of plastic.

Collapse )

Happy New Year!

Dear all,

Thanks everyone for all your Christmas cards, birthday messages and emails, and everything.  I've been very lighthearted and not the least bit lonely during the holidays!  My card wall is now full of personal messages, even though they came late!!!


This is a story about my little hero, Haru-chan.

We gathered, as we always do, at the small, local shrine that rests unobtrusively near the top of a steep hill.  This tradition is called, "Hatsumode," the first visit to the shrine of the year.  Yossi and I have a ritual.  We pray at the shrine together, and then we walk once clockwise around it while holding hands.  Then we're served half a sip of sake from the shrine priestesses.  Every hour on the hour, a man sitting by the fire lights a cracker that soars up in to the sky and thunders across the valley, making me jump out of my skin.  Even if I know it's coming, it still makes me jump.

This all takes about 10 minutes.  After that, we jump in our cars, turn on the heaters, and go off for lunch.  Once in a while, we'll run in to someone that causes a bit of a chat for a while, but that didn't happen this year.

This year my 5-year-old niece, Haru-chan, had a camera with her.  I asked what we should take pictures of.  She took me off to the side near a stone stairway and we took pictures of the Shishi stone guardians of the gates.  I looked over my shoulder.  What is this stairway going down?

Collapse )