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japanshin

Hello all.

The subject was written on a little girl's shirt.  Profound.

So I have some news for everyone.  Let's go with the fun stuff first.

Yossi and I went house hunting.  The last time we were house hunting was when we'd just gotten engaged.  He'd told me he didn't care at all what kind of place, so I could make up the conditions for the realtor.  After finding a couple places I liked, Yossi became concerned that none of them were close enough to the station, or near any restaurants.  It turns out I care about the inside, and he cares about the outside.  We ended up having to compromise.

This time, we both went in with our conditions. Yossi's were - it needs a parking space, and to be near a station.  Mine was - It needs large windows that let in the sun, a balcony big enough to put chairs out, and next to a mountain.

The realtor gave me an odd look, went to go through his files of apartments, then came back a bit hesitantly and did that Japanese beating-around-the-bush way of bringing up his burning question.  "So uh... you said... next to a mountain..?  And that would be because.. well..."

"I like hiking!" I said.

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japanshin

Hello all.

Subject is from a little boy's T-shirt.

Two stories today.
This first one I wrote in February but couldn't bring myself to look at it again until now:
--
Today a little boy broke my heart.

I've been going to a certain school once a week because no one else was
willing to take a 2.5 hour commute at 7am on a Saturday.  At first it was
going to be a temporary thing, but a replacement was never found.  Then I
became the manager and realized how hard it is to get a replacement for
that area.  I ended up going there for 2 years.

Very suddenly, last week, a replacement was found and I had the hard task
of breaking the news to my students.

I told this little boy I wouldn't be able to be his teacher anymore.  I
told him I had to go back to Kobe where I live.  He rolled his eyes and
didn't seem to care.  After the lesson started, though, he kept looking at
the clock and saying things under his breath like - 30 minutes left.. Only
20 minutes...  10 more minutes...  Was he that eager to leave?

After the class finished, his Dad came to pick him up.  I gave them both a
card.  I asked the boy if I could hug him and he seemed embarrassed so I
didn't.  Dad bowed and thanked me.  Then he forced his kid to say some
embarrassing goodbye words.  Finally they left the building and got in to
their car....

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japanshin

Subject was found on someone's handbag.

I haven't written in too long...

I'll just share a story here from New Year's and get back to updating you guys on my life later.

http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000CalifAdven.jpg
http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000NewMexicoParty.jpg

So it's the last day in Albuquerque and I need to do laundry.
I woke up early, but it wasn't early enough.  Nat-chan was waiting for me.  
'Do you remember what you promised?'  5-year-olds are big on keeping
promises.  She has tissues laid out all over the floor and blue and purple
gel paints at the ready.  'Manicure!'

I let her paint my nails, and then my toenails while I write addresses on
belated Christmas cards.  I'm able to get hers done quickly, and then she's
not allowed to touch anything until they dry.  But 5-year-olds like to
touch things.  I let her at the coloring books while I get on with the
laundry.  I put all my things in the wash, but I'm not sure which of
Yossi's is dirty or not.  I look around for Yossi and get distracted
translating something for Oto-san, explaining to Mommy-in-law for the
hundredth time that she doesn't need to clean the sheets, bringing out some
things to the garage that I'll be leaving behind until I go to the USA
again....  But I can't seem to run in to Yossi.  Where is he?

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japanshin
28 November 2017 @ 01:02 am

Happy Thanksgiving!

This year's Thanksgiving coincided with Japan's Labor Day, which means I to go home early.  I spent my extra bit of free time making cookies for my mountain friends to thank them for their support for me during the Rokko Juso hike.

There is a rumor going around that I've moved already and I just want to say that that is not the case!  I was giving you guys a year's warning, in case you'd like to come visit me and stay at my house.  I won't go anywhere until next summer.

One of my ways to say goodbye to Kobe was to do the Rokko Juso Hike.  As I mentioned in my last email, the hike covers the Rokko mountain range from Suma to Takarazuka.  It's 56km (34.7 miles).  The start time is 5am, and there are timed checkpoints similar to a marathon.  You must be off the mountain by 10pm.  The first time I heard of this, I thought the whole idea was ridiculous.  The whole point of hiking is to enjoy the mountains, right?  And you can't do that if you're rushing yourself trying to go as far and fast as possible to reach certain checkpoints.  However as I joined my hiking club and met so many people who'd done it (often multiple times) I started to think of it as a milestone that I'd have to accomplish at some point.  And when I realized I'd be leaving Kobe and my beloved mountains here, it became something I had to do.

Well, November 12th rolled around and the day was upon me.

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japanshin
14 October 2017 @ 09:09 pm

Hello everyone.

The subject above is written on my map of the Rokko Mountain Range, next to an add for outdoor wear.  Actually, it doesn't just leave off in the middle of the sentence.  The whole sentence is "For those who don't let a little rain or common sense get in the way."  Which may be the actual legitimate English ad campaign.  However, in the Japanese ad, the first five words are in a huge bold font, and the second half of the sentence is in tiny print you need to squint to read.  I'm pretty sure it was the Japanese design section who made that decision, and so I consider it worthy of one of my Engrish subject titles.

But let's get on with this, shall we?  So I've been carrying around this map of the Rokko Mountain Range.  Why?  I'm planning on hiking all of it.  Haven't you already done that, Jen?  Yes.  But this time it's going to be in one day.  With a huge group of people.  It's almost a race.  56 kilometers, with checkpoints you have to get to on time.  17 hours is the absolute maximum you are allowed to spend on the trail.

The date is November 12th and it's called the Rokko Juso.  I was accepted as one of the participants last month, and they've recently sent me a lot of maps and info in the mail.

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japanshin
12 September 2017 @ 11:08 am

 Hello everyone.

I just wanted to say,

this is my last year in Kobe.

It took me a year to come to that conclusion.

Next year, I'm moving to Okayama.

Kobe, sandwiched between the mountains and the sea, home to 1.5 million people, with transportation access to anywhere in Japan - it's hard to think of a more ideal place to live.  A long time ago I stood on top of a mountain with a friend, spread my arms to the buildings, the skyscrapers, and the harbor, and thought to myself, "I am Kobe!"  That thought's stuck with me since then.  Kobe is something in me.

If you want to come visit me in Japan, doing so in the next year will probably be best, before I move to less accessible places.

I could have lived here forever.

At first, it was things like how close everything is.  On my day off, I could go to Kyoto and visit an ancient temple, or see a musical in Takarazuka, or have a barbecue on top of a mountain.  I can make Tokyo a day trip.  I can fly to Okinawa in a couple hours.

Then, it was how easy it was to meet new people.  A big city of people all densely packed together creates amazing networks to get you in touch with people like yourself.  I met Takiko at the international community center, the Japanese lessons led me to find my husband, my network during the CELTA course led me to become a part of the artist community.

And finally, I began putting down roots.

It's the little things every day that water those.

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japanshin
14 May 2017 @ 10:18 pm
Mount Aso:
https://gbank.gsj.jp/volcano/Act_Vol/aso/map/eng/volcmap04e.html

Long, long ago around the time when Homo Sapiens first came in to existence, a massive volcano erupted in Japan, forming a wide plateau of rich farmland and sensual hot springs. This hot spot of seismic activity had been erupting for thousands of year before, and the earth there now is like an infested wound that has broken the skin so many times, and healed over, and broken again. Is Mt. Aso just one mountain or a conglomeration of 12? There are stratovolcanos, pumice hills, cinder cones, ridges of past volcanic rims, standing like mountains over here, destroyed and crumbled there. The end result is endless, breathtaking beauty.

And danger. It's theorized that the recent earthquakes in Kumamoto didn't do as much damage as they could have, because of the magma chamber absorbing some of the shock waves. (Making the volcano much less predictable.) But that doesn't mean that the roads we took there were smooth sailing. You could see big rifts on the sides of hills where the topsoil literally just fell off the mountain, baring the rock. Crumbled roads are still impassible. Hiking trails are closed off with ropes. They've re-opened the major tourist route (meaning everyone takes the same route resulting in terrible traffic) but the ropeway gondolas are out of operation.

Which makes me wonder....
When I volunteered in Tohoku after the earthquake/tsunami combination that killed 15,900 people, I felt like this was IT: the one big terrible disaster that happens in your lifetime. The thing you tell your grandchildren about and they stare at you and wonder at the suffering of man that they will never know for themselves. But with global interconnectivity, now problems happening halfway around the world can become your problem too. I was talking to some friends in Kobe who told me about how they moved here before "The Disaster." They're talking about the Hanshin earthquake in 1995. For me, "The Disaster" is the one in 2011. For people in Kumamoto, it was last year. For people in Japan who haven't lived through any of these, I wonder which disaster they think is "The Disaster". . .

Anyway.
http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000Aso.jpg

I went to Mt. Aso for sightseeing.
Which is the best we can do after a disaster. Go there. Spend money. Support the economy. Smile. Learn. Share a story with someone.

My favorite story is this. Like I said before, long long ago, there was a chamber of molten rock that rose up from the center of the earth and as the earth cracked and parted before it, hot liquid moved in to the fissures. These tendrils of magma cooled and hardened there, even harder and stronger than the earth around them. As the thousands of years brought rain and wind to tear in to the soil and slowly wash it away, these spires of rock stood strong and tall. Now ridges of hills sport towering dikes in the Aso area, creating a stunning landscape. Walking among them inspired feelings of some ancient time and brought to mind the frailty of mankind in comparison with these geological forces. Certainly I'm not the only one who was thinking of this, as I found a Buddhist stupa on the side of the hill near some formations. The weathering the stupa withstood from the earthquake only augmented the feeling.

I'd like to go there again and explore some more.
Here's an unrelated picture of some karst formations and a cave:
http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000Karst.jpg

Jennifer

P.S. Subject is the same of a bar in Osaka. Sounds depressing.
 
 
japanshin
Japanese Aesthetic and Maiko

http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000KitanoOdori.jpg

The guests file in to the theater on a walkway under which water flows and koi meander silently. This is not the kind of great hall that you'd find in the U.S. where all modern methods of acoustics are built in to a matching style of architecture. This is something traditional. Not traditional in the way of old, ornate opera houses where the rich sat on lacy cushions, but traditional in the way of Japan where cleanliness equaled purity, where the rich could afford moments of silence and tranquility. One didn't show off a garment by strutting through marble halls, but by that one sleeve edged in purple that stood out among the weathered wood and dark stones and drew the eye to the wearer much more effectively.

In this theater, everything is art.
The guests are offered a refreshment of tea before taking their seats. The lady serving the tea is in the center of the tea room and every motion of her hands has been practiced over and over to perfection. Her graceful motions betray her education, her intelligence, and the heritage that she bears by choosing to continue the traditions of the tea ceremony.

We are allowed to keep the plates that our sweets are served on.

My friends and I pass through the garden on the way to the hall where we have secured seats in the middle rows. I noticed how often Japanese architecture is often like an assortment of containers arranged around gardens with raised walkways traversing between them. And high walls. Always those high walls containing it all. I feel something obsessive about it. Someone's compulsive need to tame the wild of the outside world and only let it what is safe to be seen. Manicured versions of native plants. The engineering of the water system. The wood of the walkways all chosen for their perfect grain. Each stone on the path carefully chosen. It's nature, natural in the sense that nothing stands to augment it, and yet somehow nothing is natural about it. Again,art.

And then we are sitting in the darkened theater. Musicians pluck at instruments based on a five tone scale. It isn't something you could sing to or remember afterward, but augments the mood of what's happening on the stage like a background voice that hums, screams, trembles, sighs. The lack of a consistent beat or melody awes me. How much practice must you have to be able to bring such sounds together to fit with voices on a stage?

And the Maiko come on to the stage. Their faces are painted white, their lips red, and red tints the corners of their eyes so that every glance in every direction is framed perfectly. The makeup coats them like a mask and they move their heads like dolls, transcending humanity. The story is a melodrama, but the actresses don't make a single facial expression with anything more than their painted eyebrows. Instead, all expression is through the hands. Each gesture is representing an emotion or a desire. Easier to see from the back of the theater than turning lips or sparkling eyes, the hands give life and emotion to the stage.

I found this really fascinating!
All the lines are in an older, Shakespearean version of Japanese, so I expected to understand very little. However the gestures and movements of the eyes made the meaning of the words so clear, much clearer than if I'd been a Japanese person trying to make sense of a Western musical. It makes me wonder more on how much of gesture is language and where that line is. As in sign language, one particular symbol has one particular meaning, and just as there are people with terrible handwriting or speech impediments, there are people new to sign language or amateurs at the fine art of Japanese theatrical movements. It's a lot different from the haphazard gestures we use while speaking or the scripted motions of a play. Motion and meaning aren't necessarily combined, but the movements I saw on the stage that day spoke to me like words.

The shamisen player was a cousin of a friend, which was how I was able to procure tickets. After the show, we went out with her to have tea and she told me a little about her experience.

It was a great day out.

Jennifer
 
 
japanshin
Hi everyone!

There's been a lot going on at work and I haven't written here in a while. Maybe all of winter...

So I decided to share some winter stories with you:

http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000Snowfun.jpg

The sun reflects on the white powder that the morning storm strew across the hills. The city never saw it, but I knew it must be there and I asked Yossi to take me to the snow. The sight of rice fields, brown and dead the night before, are now shining and white, connected like a river flowing down between the trees toward the town. The sky is clear on one side, but still dark with clouds on the other. For the moment, we're in the sunny part. It's not a silent day of frosty air, it's noisy with birds picking through the things that have fallen from the trees and the drip dripping of snow melting from the edges of things and falling down. I'm sitting on a hillside, taking pictures. My husband is sitting in his car, trying to get it to move. It's stuck. I didn't ask him to get the car stuck in snow, I just asked him to take me to see the snow. I don't really know why his car is stuck. I've driven through worse in Colorado. If he just turned the tires that way, then that way, and then floored it, I'm sure he'd be fine. But I'm willing to let him figure it out on his own because I'm enjoying myself talking pictures.

We made a snowman at the side of the road. What is the point of making a snowman? He's not real, he'll melt anyway, he makes your hands cold and your breath comes out in heavy white wisps. The point of making a snowman is to make other people smile. So as they turn around the bend in their warm cars, their children will point at the window and say 'Hey look a snowman!!' Maybe they'll be inspired to make their own snowmen. Maybe it will remind someone of their childhood. Maybe they'll be impressed by the tall hat we gave it. In any event, it will surprise people and make people smile to find a snowman where they least expect it. That's why we like making snowmen.

Another story:

http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000MakeMochi.jpg

Speaking of things you'd least expect, let's say you're going on a short hike with some friends on a frosty February morning. It's a steep slope and just as you start wondering if you should have brought something for energy, you round the bend and find a large group of people pounding rice in to mochi and stirring up zenzai soup. Only 100 yen per bowl! We weren't sure whether we'd try selling it to outsiders or not, but the happy faces of some of these people were priceless. At one point, a field trip of softball players showed up, and their coach let each kid have a bowl of zenzai. Seeing the soft, young faces of the teenagers, some of the older ladies started giving out our mochi for free. One each. Part of me was touched, the other part of me thought it was a little unfair. Why do only young people get free mochi? What about all the other people walking up and down the trail? But I guess the kids must have inspired some motherly feelings among the older ladies in my hiking club.

I love Kobe because of events like this. Look at what can happen when people come together to create something! You can get someone to work hard by handing them money, or you can get someone to work hard by giving them a sense of community, duty, responsibility and rewarding them with smiles, laughter, and some food.

Another story?

http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000Ichigogari.jpg

Did you know strawberries are self-pollinating, but if bees don't do the work, the fruit ends up misshapen and deformed? Yossi's boss took the whole company on a trip to Kochi and one of our activities was strawberry picking in a greenhouse. While most people were busy eating strawberries, I was busy chasing bees around trying to get them to pose for photos.

Laughing and eating with the women at Yossi's company, I realized that his boss is succeeding in making a sort of community out of his business. With the money from the company, these people's lives are flourishing. Kids are growing up and going to school, one person hosts a barbecue, another person buys a house. . . Yossi's boss looks at all these people smiling together, pulls out a cigarette and steps to the side to watch. He's created something here. I didn't ask to be part of this community, but somehow all of us are here on a road trip together. I may not agree with everything his boss says, but I have to give it to him for creating something more than just money.

http://www.randomisgod.com/pictures/000CompanyTrip.jpg

(Subject from the wrapping of some kind of wafer with sesame seeds in it)

Jennifer
 
 
japanshin
08 January 2017 @ 11:39 pm
New Year's, the biggest holiday in Japan, has never struck me as being a religious event until this year. Certainly, we always pray at the shrine, but it seems like a sort of minor, token ordeal compared with all the cooking we do at home, the family gathering, giving the kids their presents, making rounds to see all the relatives. . .

Then, suddenly, Yossi's grandmother passed away the week before.

It wasn't a sad event so much as a sigh of relief. She had been at the point where she couldn't remember the faces of her family. She could no longer eat and her time spent listlessly in a bed reminded me of a movie I watched once about death, where before you die, you chose your favorite memory to take with you and recall nothing else. She had her last memories with her and was ready to move on.

Knowing that I would be seeing Yossi's family soon, I knew I had to prepare for what kind of Japanese customs there are surrounding a death in the family. The first thing I did was go to my grandmotherly friends and ask them what to do.

The first woman told me the Japanese phrase for 'My sincere condolences' is 'Goshushosama degozaimasu.'
After committing that to heart, the second woman said you would never say that to someone in your family. It's too formal.
They all agreed that I should not say 'Happy New Year's!' to anyone. In fact, I should be careful not to express any celebratory phrases at all. Meaning my birthday was probably out of the question.
I had some candy canes that I was going to bring as a souvenir from the USA. When I showed them to my grandmotherly friends they all gasped and warned me against it. Red and white are the colors of happiness and celebration. You would not dare give them to someone who's family member has just passed away.

Instead, a couple of the ladies said I should give money. You can buy an envelope dressed in black and white cords. Depending on how close you were to the deceased will determine how much to give. On the front of the envelope you write 'Goreizen.' They went to work drawing a picture of it and showing me how to write the kanji. However at the same time, two other ladies said that since the funeral is already over, the time for giving money has passed and it would be seen as rude to provide it so late.

They were also divided on whether I'm still allowed to send my New Year's cards, as Yossi's family is in mourning, and I'm part of his family, but I'm personally not in mourning.

I was at a serious loss for what to do. . .

Then one person said to me wisely, "Ask your mother-in-law what to do. Just by asking her, you will show her that you share condolences with her. And she will be happy to tell you about her customs. In fact, it might even help the situation for her."

All the ladies in the room agreed to this and I thanked them all for being my grandmothers.

So I packed the candy-canes as a snack for the car, I bought a special envelope just in case, and I didn't send any more of my New Year's cards but I brought them with me just in case. I was looking forward to asking my mommy-in-law what to do.

So what happened? Nothing I expected at all!

Instead of driving straight to the Hina's, we decided to stop by Yossi's uncle's house. His uncle had been in charge of the wake, and so he had taken a week off of work. Usually he's working even on holidays, so Yossi hadn't seen him in 3 years. We really wanted to meet up. On the way to his house is Yossi's aunt's home, and they're always having a party there. As we drove in, a horde of 7 kids were running around together outside. When they saw me they started saying 'Hello.' What else was I supposed to do? I took out the candy canes and gave them all away.

Then Yossi's aunt came out, dressed all in black. At first I thought maybe Japanese customs were so strict that you have to keep wearing black the whole mourning period. I wondered if I was ok wearing my bright red winter coat, but then I remembered Yossi was beside me wearing a pink sweatshirt so I must be ok! As we talked, the aunt mentioned she had to be on her way. I realized she'd just dressed up to go somewhere. And then it turns out she's coming with us? I had no idea what was going on, but I wasn't sure how to ask. Then we all got out of the car at Yossi's uncle's and the person who answer's the door is Yossi's mom! Also wearing all black. What's going on? Isn't the funeral over?

We were all ushered in to a room where Grandma's ashes were being kept. I looked at Yossi, my eyes hopefully conveying my question 'Is it ok for me to be here?' and his eyes giving a firm answer 'Yes, just follow me.' We sat down in front of Grandma and fruit was put at her altar where a giant picture of her smiling face sat, staring down cheerfully at all of us.

Suddenly there was a knock at the window. The window? It was a sliding glass door which was opened in haste and a priest came in wearing deep purple robes. My eyes looked over at Yossi again, but this time there was no answer. What I found out later was that we'd all become involved in a Hoji.

After a person has passed away, ceremonial services are performed on the 7th, 49th, and 100th day after death. It just so happened that Yossi and I had arrived on the 7th day, which he hadn't thought of either, and when we told everyone we were going to his uncles, they just assumed it was for the Hoji service. When I heard that the funeral was over, I thought that meant Grandma was already in the ground, but apparently her soul still may be lingering over the ashes, so until these ceremonies are finished, she will be in the uncle's house under her smiling picture.

At first I was intimidated to be in the presence of a real priest. Everyone was at their utmost polite, and I wasn't sure if I could follow accordingly. He gave me a look, then asked my mommy-in-law who I was. Usually I'd butt in and answer myself, but I didn't know which form of the word 'wife' to use, and I was wearing an awfully conspicuous red bulky coat. I let everyone else talk for me. We all sat down in seiza position. And then to my surprise, the priest apologized for coming early and started talking about how cold it was and how busy everyone is these days. We served him tea and chatted with him until everyone had gathered. No one mentioned Grandma at all, but my aunt asked if this season was busy for priests and he said off-handedly that yes, a lot of old folks can't handle the change in weather and kick the bucket. I was kind of shocked to hear these kinds of words coming from Japanese people's mouths.

Finally I got up my nerve and apologized in the politest way I know about my horribly red coat. Yossi mentioned under his breath that he was embarrassed, too. Everyone just smiled at me and said not to mind. I felt immensely better after that.

The ceremony started. I expected a lot of sitting while the priest spoke in a language too religious for me to understand. Yes, that's exactly what happened for the first five minutes, but then we were all given sutra books to chant from. My karaoke skills came in handy here and I was able to chant along without knowing at all what I was saying. I loved listening to the priest's voice. He was vibrating his vocal chords deeply, in a way that made the room seem to vibrate. I could imagine all of our voices making these vibrations in the space around us, and including Grandma, connecting with her through out voices. All the while she smiled down at us from her picture. I didn't feel any sense of sadness or mourning, just a kind of cheerful respect. I tried to calm my mind and just feel the vibrations, but I was so nervous about following the words and doing the right thing that I couldn't keep focused at all. I have some ways to go if I ever want to get better at meditation.

So finally the chanting was over and we offered incense to Grandma while saying prayers for her. The uncle made a mistake and put his incense in the wrong place. Someone else made a mistake and put the incense box down the wrong way. Yossi was hesitant to let me try, but his mom gave him a nod and I took my turn praying for Grandma. I didn't make any mistakes, but at that point I didn't think it mattered anymore. How often do we get a chance to perform these ceremonies? How can Japanese people even be expected to remember? After the ceremony, everyone began asking the priest a lot of questions like how often to pray, and how long to keep the fruit on the altar, and how often to add a bit of rice to her food platter.. . The priest had to pull out a guidebook to answer some of the questions. Yossi's mom was bummed that she couldn't visit a shrine for New Year's, so the priest told her it would be ok to visit a temple on New Year's eve instead and hear the gong ring 100 times before the stroke of midnight. None of us had ever done that before, so we mused it over. I realized that I wasn't the only one feeling awkward and out-of-place. And I realized the reason the priest was so friendly and informal. It's his job to make these situations as smooth and comfortable as possible.

So I started asking my own questions. What are the little white balls under her picture? Apparently they're mochi that the uncle makes every day to give to Grandma in place of a meal. While her soul is still hanging around the Earth, she need to symbolically eat symbolic food once a day.

Finally, the priest left. Grandma's fruit was divided up among us. I wondered if it was ok to eat food that had been symbolically already eaten by the dead. . . Anyway, I took it. We all went outside to say goodbye when suddenly Yossi realized he hadn't been able to chat with his uncle as originally planned. We went back in the house and asked to sit around together for a bit. Yossi's uncle invited is back in to Grandma's room! Again, I felt awkward, but I started looking at her picture and her urn not as this ritualistic Japanese cultural phenomenon, but as just some lady in the corner laughing and watching us. A part of the family. With that in mind, we chatted a while until we all started yawning. Then finally we went on to the Hina's.

Does it end there?
New Year's eve, I didn't tell anyone about my birthday, but they surprised me with two cakes. I don't have any pictures because I honestly wasn't ready for it at all.

New Year's day, I knew we weren't going to be visiting a shrine, so I got up like any other day-- to find the traditional New Year's food prepared and ready at the table. My niece's mom even went out in the garden and gathered sprigs and berries to garnish our plates with. Everything on the table was red and white! After a hearty breakfast, we went to the park to fly kites. It felt like a real New Year's to me! Only it was missing the religious element. Maybe that was something that I don't pick up on because I'm not Japanese. I didn't feel like anything was missing from our holiday time. I wonder how the others felt.

As is our custom, Yossi and I took a road trip involving hiking, adventuring, and hot springs. At one point I wanted to go to a botanical museum. You had to walk through a temple to get to the museum, and I felt Yossi's hesitance at treading on sacred ground. All the people around us were here to pray for the New Year. To my non-Japanese eyes, I just see them as sight-seers, having fun, getting their fortunes, letting their kids run around the temple grounds. But suddenly I had to separate out the 'fun' from the 'religious' from the 'celebrating New Years.' It's okay for Yossi to go to a Buddhist temple, but it isn't okay for him to bring mourning to a Shinto shrine. Yossi is forgiven for wearing pink and eating auspicious food, but you should not exchange holiday greetings with him. I could see that us walking through the temple grounds were okay, but I thought it probably wasn't okay for him to be around all those people celebrating the New Year. We took a jog around the perimeter instead.

When I got back to Kobe, I found some cards for Yossi from friends who didn't know about his Grandma. I'm still not sure if I should let Yossi see them. Or should I wait until 100 days has passed? Thank all of you who gave me cards, I put them all over my room and they make me smile. But with Yossi's situation I realize how each New Year's card is in some way slightly religious. And the cards in my room sent from my friends around the world are not religious in the least bit, they're about love, peace, generosity, best wishes... I'm not Japanese enough to see what a paper in the postbox has to do with a shrine and life versus death.

I went to work last week. In the US, I probably wouldn't have said 'Happy New Year' a week after the event, but because this is Japan I said it in a big loud voice in English as I walked in to my school. It's nice to find places where English and Japanese can overlap, even if the holidays are completely different. I felt like my outburst was a friendly way of participating in a culture that isn't mine. However, my manager took me aside a few minutes later to remind me that one of the staff's father had passed away the summer before and my words could be interpreted as very rude.

It hit me again that the New Year's holiday in Japan is actually grounded in religion.
I suppose this is how Japanese people feel when they realize Christmas isn't all just about Santa.

A bit of culture shock. But a good learning experience.

Jennifer