Posts Tagged ‘tradition’

Seven Grass Porridge

2013年 1月 7日

Today is the Seventh of January which is the traditional day to eat nanakusagayu (七種粥・七草粥). Seven Spring greens are gathered and cooked into a rice porridge. Traditionally these greens are:

  1. seri (芹・セリ) – Japanese parsley, dropwort
  2. nazuna (薺・ナズナ) – Shepherd’s purse
  3. gogyo (御形・五形・ゴギョウ), also called hahakogusa (ハハコグサ)
  4. hakobera (繁縷・ハコベラ) or hakobe (ハコベ) – Chickweed
  5. hotokenoza (仏の座・ホトケノザ) – from the Chrysanthemum family
  6. suzuna (菘・スズナ) – Turnip greens
  7. suzushiro (蘿蔔・清白・スズシロ) – Japanese radish greens

As I wrote last year, the flavor is very grassy and not so popular with children. I think this is one tradition that is slowly vanishing. Even my wife, who had to maintain these traditions for the children under her care, has forgotten it this year.

Perhaps we really need to find ourselves a plot of land to grow things. Had I been preparing these in the garden and talking about them, surely it would be on her mind.

Flautist Again

2012年 8月 1日

My father-in-law has two main hobbies: one is pottery and the other is playing the shakuhachi (尺八). Almost exactly four years ago he started teaching me how to play. Almost exactly three years ago I was hit by a car while cycling. One of the saddest parts of that was how it knocked a lot of the creativity and inspiration out of me. After that I put the instrument down for a long time and took care of other, less creative things; however, this week – mostly thanks to my kitten – the shakuhachi is back in my hands.

Monday I made sure I could still make sounds and then practiced the basic notes. Tuesday I ran through several fingering exercises and played one song. Today I practiced all the fingering exercises and played a couple songs. Running out of breath and getting dizzy is the most significant trouble right now. One small problem is that my soul patch is too bushy and makes it hard to keep the instrument in the right location. Judicious use of scissors will correct the small problem. Hopefully daily practice will correct the other.

Full of Tradition

2012年 1月 7日

Japan is a country full of tradition. After living here almost eight years and seeking out culture and tradition, I am still constantly amazed by serendipitous appearances of more traditional activity. Tradition being over-abundant has its downside: in our ever-busier lives, the tedium of preparing for, executing and passing on tradition is causing many to disappear or become only shadowy forms of what they were.

Perhaps this is just one more reason that my wife was delivered into my life. Working in a home for children removed from abusive or neglectful situations, she was charged with providing them plentiful access to tradition. I sometimes tease her about not respecting various traditional arts; however, she has a much deeper knowledge than me. For that matter, I would guess it is much deeper than the average citizen; and it often just comes out naturally, as a matter of practice.

January Seventh is one of five important seasonal festival days called Nanakusa (七種、ななくさ). It is a time to celebrate the passing from winter into spring. Tradition is to make a rice porridge with seven types of young greens in it. There is definitely a strong grassy flavor to it, so I would probably not choose it everyday; however, it was an enjoyable way to celebrate the coming fruitfulness.

When she made this for the children at the home, the flavor was not invited by the young ones: definitely a taste for a mature palate. I imagine this is one reason the tradition is not broadly practiced. Also, most housewives are extremely busy the last week of December and the first few days of the new year taking care of other traditions, so they probably aren’t anxious to put effort into another special day.

Supermarkets sell small kits with the seven essentials in them, so it still carries at least enough popularity to support that business. Finding the greens – especially in the small portions needed – would be a chore without these packages, so they are definitely a nice aide.

Rumors not Exaggerated

2011年 12月 22日

Just like Jon Bon Jovi, I am alive and well. Unlike him, nobody has rumored my death (that I am aware of), regardless of my failure to post much. Recently some ongoing troubles have been destroying my motivation and, for the combination punch, I have been extremely busy. Fortunately this means lots of fun bits to write about; however, it leaves me unable to post.

Winter Solstice occurs tonight and, as usual, I will participate in one of the cutest Japanese traditions I have learned. Eating kabocha (カボチャ・南瓜) – a kind of squash – and soaking in yuzuyu (柚子湯) – a hot bath with fresh citron in it, is said to guarantee one good health during the winter. Perhaps the cutest aspect of this tradition is when a foreigner asks why these items have some special connection to disease prevention, the response is often that they are yellow.

Often in Japanese there is some homophonic meaning behind traditions like this, so one might expect yellow to have another meaning… but it does not. Also, in my Bart Simpson like mind, this always begs the question, “Can I eat something else yellow instead?” This is met with uncomfortable consternation, like so many of my jokes.

Regardless of the ambiguous origin of this tradition, I enjoy getting some tasty and healthy squash in my belly and I really enjoy fresh fruit fragrance while soaking in my 42 degree tub.

Monkey Jizo

2011年 5月 24日

Here’s another short book report from the same folk tale series as Mouse’s Marriage. I bought several books at the same time from the 100 yen shop. They are simply bound, but in traditional style; and on inexpensive paper, but printed to appear like traditional paper. Even Japanese friends are amazed at what can be had for 100 yen these days. Last time I promised I would include photos and – although delayed a little further – I will fulfill that.

Monkey Jizo (or さるじぞう, in Japanese) caught my attention early on. Many of the folk tales, although directed at children, are quite creepy (and I have no fondness for horror), so I found the more innocent appearance inviting. Furthermore, the title prompted all sorts of imaginative ideas about what the covers might contain, yet the story remained elusive until I read it. Let this not imply that the story is complex in anyway however, on the contrary, it is simply a fun children’s story of a moral nature.

Like so many Japanese tales, it begins with a poor old farmer. Working in his field in the mountain, he takes a break to eat mochi with kinako sprinkled on top. Wind blows kinako all over him, and without cleaning himself off, he takes a nap. Monkeys come out to investigate and mistake him for Jizo – a Boddhisatva whose likeness appears in small statues under little shelters along pathways all over Japan – presumably because the speckles of kinako make him look like stone.

According to the boss monkey’s orders, they haul him across the river to place him in a vacant Jizo shelter; however, while crossing the river some events unfold. First, the monkeys sing a silly work song about willingly wetting their willies in order to keep Jizo’s willy water-free. Even though the old man is awakened and humored, he toughs it out, stifling his laughter. Second, midway through the stream, the old man looses a smelly fart, prompting a discussion about the source of the noise and the subsequent odor. With a little help from the old man’s slyly mumbled comments amidst the confusion, it is decided that they heard a shrine bell and were smelling incense. Clearly they are carrying a true Jizo in their estimation.

After ensconcing him in the shelter they cast offerings of gold and silver coins before him. Outwaiting the monkeys, once he is alone, the old man scoops up the loot and heads home to share his tale with his wife. The greedy and nosey neighborwoman listens carefully and badgers her husband into a plan for riches. He agrees but stumbles clumsily through the process, ultimately bursting out laughing at the song mid-river. Outraged by the deception, and prone to rash action – as monkeys are known to be – they cast the man headlong into the drink. He finds his way home, tired and wet.

Reading the ending makes me wonder if Japanese tales have been toned down in the same manner as Western folktales over the recent decades. Did the original tale end in disaster for the husband of the greedy wife?

Rescuing Halloween

2010年 11月 2日

Troubled by loads of paperwork for a not-so-beloved government agency, I have been forgoing most of my social activities recently. Last weekend was no exception. Even though there were some fun parties going on I stayed home; although, I wasn’t so productive, but that’s another issue.

As I was sitting home and reading people’s updates on the internet, I was reminder of something good in the past which was lost. When I was a little tot, we received homemade Halloween treats from some of our neighbors; however, I was still quite young when the fear spread. Announcements were made at school about how people could put dangerous things in homemade goods. Strong recommendations against accepting them were sent out. Over a very short period, they had vanished.

Sometimes I wonder if this rumor mill was stirred up by candy manufacturers. Regardless, what we get now are just the manufactured items.

Here in Japan, knowledge of Halloween is getting around and occasionally there are parties; particularly, around English schools. Trick or Treating is still non-existant because you need widespread participation for it to catch on. Nobody is going out trick or treating if one in twenty houses will have something for them.

Ruminating during my seclusion, I think I hatched a plan to rescue homemade treats and create trick or treating in Japan (if only in a small area).

  • Step 1: get to know the neighbors – Not just the people next door, or the ones who put out their trash around the same time. Actually meet and greet everyone in the neighborhood as much as possible. Seek opportunities to talk to them. (Honestly, step one is fairly well along anyhow – due to my gregarious nature.)
  • Step 2: rally support for doing trick or treating – Starting with the families with children because they always want to learn more about international customs and they have the most to gain from participation. After that, working on the sentiments of neighbors who love to cook; especially, the ones who might enjoy a chance to learn about making something traditional from America. Finally, catching the others in a web of “everyone else is doing it”, which carries far more weight here than back home.
  • Step 3: teach, teach, teach – help everyone learn about making traditional goodies, costumes, and decorations.
  • Step 4: enjoy the fun – and follow up with encouragement the next year and the next.

Can I succeed? I have no idea. Perhaps soon we can be enjoying carameled apples, salt-water taffy, popcorn balls, spiced pumpkin bread, and so on.

Gondolas and Rickshaws

2010年 8月 18日

Gondola 1When people hear ‘Venice’, they often think, ‘gondola’. Considering them the normal transportation for Venice is a bit of a misconception. Normally people travel around by water taxi, water bus, or boat; similarly, to how people in most cities would use taxis, buses, or cars/trucks. Gondolas are really a traditional item left over as a tourist draw. In this sense, I consider them similar to rickshaws, called jinrikisha (人力車), in Japan; which are normally seen around certain temples in Kyoto or Nara. Likewise, both of these modes of transportation carry high costs.

Twenty years ago I took an overnight trip to Venice while working in Sicily. At that time, I heard the price and flatly refused to ride in one. As a matter of fact, I would say you wouldn’t catch me dead in one… unless I was on a honeymoon. Us In GondolaHere we are being escorted around by Eros, recommended by Leslie of Genninger Studio. He gave us a 45 minute tour that kept to relatively small and unoccupied canals, but gave us a taste of tour by swinging past Maria Callas’ opera house and Mozart’s lodgings.

Gondola 2Gondoliers are a select group and are highly skilled. They maneuver narrow canals, sometimes barely wider than two boats. I have never seen their boats touch each other nor any walls or bridges. Their feet, however, will touch all manner of pylons, ledges, or even walls. I have seen some step completely off their boat in motion, leaving one momentarily wondering if they are setting the passengers adrift.

Water taxi drivers are also similarly skilled and given time in September, I may upload some shots ducking under bridges.

I’ll take a moment here to talk about the fact that Venice is sinking. When I was a schoolboy, we often heard tales about how Venice would soon be gone as buildings submerged and collapsed. Growing up knowing the history of Underground Seattle, it was not hard to fathom such a thing; however, the exaggeration was apparently the fault of one vocal person and a lot of wild imaginations.

Reportedly the nominal rate of sinking is 1 millimeter per year, which is one centimeter every decade, or ten centimeters in a century. Perhaps we will be able to visit Venice again in the future. My same school teachers insisted that the seas would rise horribly due to global warming but, decades later, the beaches and tides don’t really seem so different.

It is true that during high tidal seasons, various buildings and squares have ‘issues’.

One Shot

2010年 8月 6日

Apologies to all of my readers. Finally, I will give you a brief glimpse of the wedding events. First, I have been busy and there were delays in getting digital images from the wedding, so I haven’t made the time to write up details here. Second, I totally spaced out and mistakenly thought I had posted a link to some photos. (I think I did that on facebook, but clearly didn’t do it here.)

Wedding DinnerWe had the wedding on a Sunday afternoon and Saturday night we had a party for the relatives. Originally there was talk about wearing kimono for the wedding; however, logistically and artistically it wasn’t working out. We chose a restaurant in an old feudal lord’s home for the dinner party and wore traditional garments. My wife is wearing the same kimono that my mother-in-law wore for her wedding. We changed out many accessories, so it has a different feeling, but this allowed many relatives to recall the previous occasion about 40 years ago.

Shinto weddings typically have the bride in a special white kimono. This kimono is a type called furisode (振袖), coarsely translated as ‘flapping sleeves’. Furisode are for young, unmarried women to be worn on any formal occasion. Typically they have much brighter patterns than standard kimono.

My kimono is very traditional and subdued for a wedding. We wanted me to look appropriately cool, but not distracting from my better half. Many foreigners have a very negative reaction to foreigners wearing traditional garments. Claiming it is a kind of dress-up game or that it looks awkward or inappropriate. We disagree and felt that it gave us a balanced pairing for this event.

When I return from the honeymoon, I will upload more photos and make time for writing up some of the highlights from May.

So Long and Thanks for All the Support

2010年 1月 5日

My regular readers can see that I enjoyed my holidays by my lack of posts. One friend pointed out a few years ago the irony of blogging: when we have interesting stuff to post, we are too busy to write; when we have time, we need material. Anyhow, lots of material backed up… let’s see if I can find time to write.

Last year I was planning to spend the holidays in Japan to experience traditions with my girlfriend’s family and to propose; however, my father went through a pacemaker surgery, so I headed to Seattle. My Japanese holiday season was postponed for a year, but the proposal wasn’t.

One of the traditions, in which my girlfriend insisted I take part, is called oosouji (大掃除) or Big Cleaning. At the end of the year, it is traditional to do a thorough housecleaning to prepare for the New Year. Scrub and wax the floors; wash the curtains, windows, and screens; clean around and under appliances in the kitchen; discard unneeded items; sanitize the toilet room and bath room; etc.

I like a clean house, but I’m not always a big fan of cleaning. Spring Cleaning in America is a quite similar tradtion, so I tried to postpone the cleaning – under the guise of cultural exchange – by recommending we do Spring Cleaning. Naturally, she replied back without pause, “Yes! Let’s do Spring Cleaning, too!”

One of my first tasks was purging photos. I’ve been paying to transport thousands of photos around with me and they clutter up my storage. Well over 90 percent of them sit in boxes because they aren’t worth displaying and I have negatives, slides, or digital images of them, so they can be reproduced. Anyhow, I got them down to one large moving box and need to find time to attack them again soon. Ideally, I’d like to scan the negatives into the computer, and just store a boot box of negatives and a small number of photos.

Mixed in with the photos were postcards I have received over the last 25 years or so, and a few other odds and ends. Perhaps the most amusing find was a few pages of notes from my first trip to Japan in 1989. I scrawled 28 kanji characters with my guesses at their meanings. Providing embarrassment doesn’t take over, I plan to show them to my calligraphy teacher for some laughs. Also, I now have greater understanding of how Americans end up with bad kanji tattoos. The last page contained two sentences written in horrid phonetics with amusing translations.

  • Kino a domo. Arigato Gozaimashte.
  • I had a good time last night. Thank you very much.

The translation is not too bad, but the next one has made us giggle through the holidays.

  • Domo osewa ni narimashite
  • (Good Bye?)

This is a phrase to thank people for having taken care of you and built a good business relation; however, I noted that we always said it when departing the office at the end of a business trip – hence, “Good Bye”.

Correct sentences should be:

  • 昨日はどうもありがとうございました。(Kinou wa doumo arigatou gozaimashita.)
  • どうもお世話に成りました。(Doumo osewa ni narimashita.)

Far Butt

2009年 4月 16日

Tomorrow is ensoku (遠足) with third graders. We might translate this as ‘field trip’; although literally the kanji are ‘far’ and ‘foot’. Traditionally ensoku should involve a lot of walking with some kind of studying and a little eating. Someone decides on a list of acceptable sites for each grade level and schools select the one they find appropriate to their location.

Occasionally they will decide a place is good, but too far and they’ll rent a bus or take the train. Today a teacher was telling me about their trip this week and they had gone by train. I asked if it was enjiri (遠尻), at first the teacher didn’t get it, but when I explained a little she laughed honestly; however, by definition a joke needing explanation is not a good joke. These characters are ‘far’ and ‘butt’, because they didn’t go far on their feet, but rather on their keesters. Of course, once they arrived at their destination, they had to crawl all over the mountainside collecting information.

My girlfriend came over tonight and made a wonderful dinner for three. Nobody else was here, just the portion was enough for three; which means there are leftovers for me to use when I make my lunch for the field trip with the third grade. It is very traditional Japanese food, so I will get astonished reactions from the teachers when we stop for lunch.