Friday, October 27, 2006

The Candy Lady

It constanty surprises us the warmth of the Japanese people around us. Even though we are "gaijin" they often make us feel welcome and take us into their homes and their hearts. This is a story of one of those brief, yet memorable moments that happened to me a few years ago.......

The early hours of a fresh winter morning found me trudging from home on my way to the train to Osaka. I was laden with a large camera bag and a heavy backpack swearing that I really should learn that I can live for three days with less than five pairs of shoes and half my wardrobe. My coat, scarf, woollen hat and gloves were doing little to keep away the biting cold. I tramped through the narrow track patched with snow between the vegetable gardens on the way to the station. It was early, even for the Japanese, except for maybe one that day. Tending to the leeks in a garden, the folds of the earth resembling the creases in her face, was a stooped-over little nonagenarian Japanese woman. She looked up at me in surprise.

In cute old style Japanese she asked me, "Now where are you off to today dear?"

"I'm going to Osaka" I replied. She looked surprised. I don't think she fully expected me to understand.

"Why are you going there?" she asked.

"Oh, I'm just going on a trip. I've never been there" I replied, glad that I could now speak enough Japanese to easily hold an exchange like this.

She looked in the direction I'd come from a little puzzled and queried, "Well, where do you live?"

"I live in Akane-cho", to which she looked surprised as the suburb only consisted of a few streets.

"So do I," she replied, her eyes first betrayed a little surprise and then softened as if looking at a loved one. Her wrinkled bony, yet strong hands reached into her apron and pulled out a handful of candy. "Now you look after yourself for me won't you dear," I was instructed as I had the sweets thrust upon me. I suddenly felt like I was ten again and this was my grandmother dishing out sweets as I was on my way out the door to play with my friends. Although my family were so far away, I felt welcomed, as I had so many times in Japan, into the bosom of another family.
I bid her farewell and then hurried onto the train station. The tears in my eyes were partly from the biting cold and partly from the happiness created by a sudden, unexpected warming in my heart.

Friday, October 20, 2006

More about that devil

A while ago I wrote about the Japanese equivalent of "While the Cat's Away..." I said it was "Oni no inu aida ni sentaku" or "Wash your clothes while the demon isn't around".

A friend of mine has since given me some more information on this saying. She says;
That means, to "Refresh myself while the demon (ogre) is
away" or "Wash my life in the demon's absense" in direct translation. This
proverb is usually translated into English as "When the cat's away, the mice
will play" because the image of the demon is a cat for a mouse. In other words,
in Japan, the image of the demon is a husband for a wife.

In Japan, generally, husbands are
bossy to their wives, so the wives are obedient to the husbands, on the
. Sooooo Japanese wives intend to refresh themselves while the
husbands are away on a business trip or something.

Another proverb might prove the
above opinion. "Teishu genki de rusu ga ii". This means, "It is best for wives,
both husbands' health and their absence". Japanese wives definately like their
free time, like me. That means enjoying travelling, theatres and learning

I think
what you thought is natural, because Australian men are kind to their wives.
Australian husbands aren't the demon!

Thanks a lot for that Nakai-sensei!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Festival Floats

Festival Girls

Monday, October 09, 2006

Tsushima Autumn Festival

A couple of weeks ago, dad came for a brief visit. Luckily he's been to Japan a couple of times now, so there wasn't the usual pressure to experience as much of Japan as possible in a few days. He's been to many places but hadn't yet experienced a Japanese festival. I thought it was about time to change that.

We jumped on a train and headed off for Tsushima. While it was quite an easy journey, I still felt the stress of being a guide and going somewhere I hadn't been before.

When we arrived to Tsushima, it didn't have a festival day feel to it, but we trudged off to the shrine anyway. On the way, we saw one float, or portable shrine being taken out of storage and polished. The float was 300 years old the local men informed me.

Even before we saw the impressive vibrant red gates, we knew we were going in the right direction due to the flute music playing a festival song that was drifting down the streets. Like in the story of the Pied Piper, I'm drawn to that sound.

Towering above the small festival crowd were two startling floats. Sitting in the bottom level, hidden by exquisitely embroidered curtains were the source of the music. Children playing taiko drums beat the rythym for cat-stangling sounding flutes. Perched high above them were puppets clad in colourful traditional clothes. Hidden between the two levels was a dexterous puppeteer.

Dad and I then followed one of the floats as it was wheeled through the streets. Once a corner had to be turned, the men tilted it to a precarious angle and very slowly, with lots of grunting swung it around.

We were befriended by one of the shrine pullers. He told us a little of the history of his float and poured us beer. I tried to refuse the beer, but was told that it didn't matter if I didn't drink, I still had to drink that day in order to purify myself for the Gods. Well, if that's not a good excuse to drink.....

Beer in hand, we watched the magic of the puppeteer. A brush loaded with fresh ink had been placed in the puppet's wooden hand and its manipulator had hidden from view in the floor below. The music began once more and the puppet began to move. With more co-ordination than I think I have, the doll carefully wrote the God's name on a mounted piece of paper. Once the calligraphy was complete it was let fly and handed to the Shinto Priest who later gave the offering to please the god.

I really have fallen in love with the festivals in Japan. I think it's due to the sense of history, tradition and the true feeling of celebration; celebrating life, celebrating the change of seasons and celebrating the fertility of the land.

"Diseased in the Head"

Oh my! What a week!!!

Wayne and I got to see a side of Japan that quite frankly, I hope we never have to see again. A Japanese hospital. Not because it was a Japanese hospital, but just because it was a hospital.

It all started on Tuesday night, with my big strong and usually healthy boy being very sick and a funny shade of green. On Wednesday I got him to a general doctor who then sent him off to emergency who then admitted him to stay in the hospital. It was all very scary.

Luckily, the doctor at the hospital was so sweet and cute, oh and could speak enough English to make us feel comfortable.

He did had a funny way of putting things though.....

He told us that it was an inner ear problem that was making Wayne sick. We had thought as much. But I think the stocky little doctor wanted to make sure we understood, so he continued with lots of enthusiasm;

"It's in his head, he's diseased in the head. He has a mental disease."

Had I been feeling any less stressed and freaked out, I would have asked to get that in writing.

The boy has now been released from hospital, much to our relief. He'll still go to the hospital everyday for a few more days and be put on a drip for an hour or so.

We're just so touched in all the support we've had from our friends here, friends and family back home and from my work. It's so comforting to know that we're not alone and help is always close by.

Bye for now from the woman whose husband is "diseased in the head".