"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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"A delicious coffee been to you"

Hello Everyone!

(Subject is a slogan at a cafe)

I haven't written in a while but I keep thinking of things to talk about to you.

One of these things is the Global Artist Movement art gallery that I participate in every year.

My piece for the event this year is called, "Tomoe" based on an ancient Japanese symbol that holds a special, spiritual place in my heart.  This symbol can also be found on the wings of the Tomoe moth, which is called Spirama in its scientific name.  But for the gallery I named the piece it, "Rinpun" instead which means, "scales of a moth's wing."  Why?  Because people kept thinking my painting was just a pixelated photograph, or a painting based on a computerized image, or that I'd painted over some blown-up pixels.  No, it's supposed to be each and every scale of the Tomoe symbol on the wing of the moth.  I thought if it was called, "Rinpun" then there would be less of a chance of people mis-interpreting it.

I carried my painting to the gallery by hand, stopping first to stay a night at a friend's house so I wouldn't have to make the whole journey in one day.  (The gallery is in Toyota, and I live in Tamano, if you have a map on hand, it is pretty damn far!)

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Sakura Adventure

"I'm going to take you somewhere tomorrow.  I'll pick you up at 9.  It shouldn't take too long."

These were the only words I was given from my new friend who decided to take me out on a surprise.  I wasn't too sure exactly what was going on, but willing and ready for any adventure.  I interpreted "No too long" as a chance to wear a skirt and some jewelry. Right before nine I got another message saying, "It might be muddy because of last night's rain" and  quickly changed in to thick jeans and hiking boots.

Living here 6 months already, I thought I knew everything about my town, but my new friend Andrea showed me I was wrong.  She drove me to an area not 10 minutes from my house, on the other side of a hill, and we got out of the car in to the crisp spring morning air.  On the hillside, little shoots were poking up called "Tsukushi" and "Warabi" which are both edible.  The rice fields were full of purple flowers called "renge" which help to keep nutrients in the soil before the growing season.  The sky was doing it's spring thing of both threatening to rain or become brilliantly hot and sunny at the same time.

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I keep forgetting to thank everyone who bought my calendar.  The money was donated to and  I hope these groups can protect habitats in the US and Japan.  Yossi matched all of the money so I ended up raising 16,000 yen.  Thank you so much!  (Thank you image)

Spring has come and I'm late introducing you all to a new holiday I'm advocating.

In East Asia there wasn't any problem of re-appropriating pagan holidays or calendars that didn't quite match up over time, so the original calendars of Japan based on the sun, moon, and stars also designated where holidays fell.  Instead of months, dates were kept by the angle of the sun.  Here's a Chinese image of this calendar:

The 12o'clock position is the Spring Equinox, which was like the old beginning of the year.  Likewise, the Fall Equinox lies at the bottom, with the two solstices at the 3 and 9 positions.  Between each of these celestial events lie five more significant days and you can see how they are based on the angle of the sun.  Thus the year was categorized.

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"Yell Party"

Tsuneyama (Mount Tsune) rose in the middle of what used to be Kojima island.  The Seto sea near Okayama city sports a number of very large islands.  While Kojima may not be the most profitable and interesting of places, especially during the era of warring states, it served as a sort of buffer between the sea and Okayama castle.  The Ueno clan decided to take it over in 1486 and spent a few years building a castle there.

The way the mountain raises straight up from the flat land below with a view from the top that includes both ends of the small mountain range and all the way across to Okayama city makes it understandable why it would be the perfect place to build a castle.

Now, however, the sea has been filled in with reclaimed land.  Kojima is no longer an island, the canals of Kurashiki no longer can carry goods all the way to the sea, and Tsuneyama castle has been left to rot away under the weight of trees and ivy.

I live at the bottom of this mountain, where the land would have made a sandy beach.  According to the "Hazard Map" they gave me when I moved here, I'm in danger of being flooded out if a giant tsunami ever breaches the sea wall.  However I think I'm just high enough, and just far away enough from the wall, that I'd have lots of time to run up the mountain before the water got to my house as the rest of the land around me returned to the ocean.

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