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.

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"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.

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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?

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"Enjoy your "And Tea" and what it will bring to you."

Merry Belated Christmas everyone!

(Subject is from a cafe's brochure)

Yesterday was the last day of work for most of us Japanese residents (with the exception of my husband who just works way too much...)  Now I can focus on things like.. Oh crap I haven't sent out all of my Christmas cards yet!  Better get on that...

Every year I take all the Christmas cards I get and hang them up on my wall in lieu of a Christmas tree.  But this year the only card I got before Christmas was a "thank you" card from the World Wildlife Fund for opting on a donation istead of a party favor from my friend's wedding.  But Christmas afternoon, a letter arrived from my aunt Janet.  Thanks so much!  Since my Christmas door was pretty sparse, I decorated it with streamers from a concert I went to.  (If there are any other Yasunori Mitsuda fans in my mailing list, please reach out!)

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"Ruralize. Ahead leading American Style."

(subject was on the back of someone's jacket)

Up north in the mountains, a river meanders down toward a small town built on its very edge.  From the hills, boiling spring water flows in to the river.  The town is there is to catch that interaction and make money from it.  There are various foot baths in the city and there's an outdoor full natural bath at the river's shore.  But if you don't want to be seen in your birthday suit, there are a range of hot springs where you can enjoy a pleasant bath, a traditional Japanese meal, and a wonderful night's stay.  Other activities include fishing or shopping in the small craft stores and galleries.  This place is called Yubara.

When I tell people I went to Yubara, they ask how the hot springs were.

What I say to my students is that they were great!  It's a bit of a white lie, though.  Actually, I didn't step one foot in a spring.  There were other things on my mind when I went there.  Namely, giant salamanders.

I'm not really sure if this all started when a student of mine was researching salamanders and needed to know English so she could go study in Borneo in hopes of discovering a new type of salamander.  I think she was the person who first told me about these Giant Salamanders.

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"Kobe Lettuce Girl's Fashion Prosper"

(Subject written on a shopping bag)

400 years ago, Iechika of the Mimura clan arrived in the Bichuu area with big ambitions.  He was a leader and sided with the powerful Mouri clan to unite the Bichuu area under one rule.  He took charge of the Matsuyama castle, near the middle of what is now Okayama prefecture.

I'd been wondering where the name Okayama came from.  It means "Hilly mountain" or "Hills and Mountains" but there didn't seem to be much history behind the name.  The same with the neighboring prefecture Hyogo.  But a local historian recently told me that after the Meiji Restoration, the emperor specifically made sure that no original names that could be connected with power were used when dividing the country in to its modern day arrangements.  If that hadn't happened, maybe the area I live in today would have been called "Bichuu" or "Mouri" or something.

I led my Kobe hiking group to Matsuyama castle.  I'd been appointed as the sub-leader.  I was in charge of making sure all were accounted for, showing the way, and introducing Okayama to them.  I took it to the next step and learned the entire history of Matsuyama castle with the help of my neighbors, and then gave an opening and closing speech for our outing.

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Kojima Fuji: Tsuneyama Castle Park

How I went from hiking to owning a vegetable plot.

I'm walking up the familiar path to the top of my local mountain, Tsuneyama.  But this time, I'm wearing a summer dress.  I look out of place, a bright yellow spot amidst the mosquitoes, the spiderwebs, the mushrooms coming up from last night's rain, the mud dug up by the wild boars.

A hundred years ago, I might have been more at home.  I saw an old photo of a poster in an informational pamphlet at the library that had an illustration of this mountain showing people going up in down in their kimono to enjoy the cherry blossoms.  Young men drawn as tiny stick figures pulled rickshaws where people could take a comfortable ride in the open air.  There were those old buggy cars putting up and down, and a steam train bringing passengers to the shore below, where shops were waiting to supply them with their picnic before they made their way to the top.  When I saw that poster, I decided I wanted to see it in real life.

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"Enjoy changing in your lifestyle"

(Subject written on a bag.  Change it in for.. what?)

In Shimane prefecture I was sitting in an old house looking at a bedsheet.  The house had been standing for at least a hundred years, and despite that was in great condition.   I'd heard that this was a gallery from a student.  I was excited just to go somewhere new, see some art, and take some tea in the neighboring cafe, but I hadn't realized just how special this place was.   Or how special the bedsheets were.

It's run by a woman named Nobuko.  The house was where her husband grew up as a child.  Now her husband is gone, and when her mother-in-law passed away, she inherited the house.  There's a decline in old Japanese houses recently.  They're old, prone to termites, shaken by earthquakes, and the gardens are difficult to upkeep.  So when an owner passes away, it's usually bulldozed over, and four or five boxy, concrete homes are erected and sold to young families who have no idea what used to stand there before they moved in, or what memories still cling to the earth buried under the concrete.

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