Wednesday, 27 July 2011


Sunday was one of those days where I was reminded I live in a foreign country. Not in the you're-a-strange-furriner bad way, but just a day I was reminded just how different the customs are here from what I grew up with.

Sunday was the seventh anniversary of the deaths of U's paternal grandparents. (I'm not sure about the specifics, but special Buddhist rites are held at certain times after a death - particularly 1, 7, 13 years after) Although the rites can be held in the home (at the family alter) or in a temple, U's family chose to hold them at one of the special halls at the cemetery.

Bright and early Sunday morning three generations of U's family met at the cemetery. We sat in a nondescript waiting room with a few other black-clad families, supping tea from the automated tea machine. The screen on the wall indicated which family was in which hall when. Each family was attended by a Buddhist priest, whose robes were the only spots of colour in the room. Our priest knows the family well and didn't even blink when he saw me sitting beside U. He greeted U's father (the eldest son) and the two disappeared behind a partition for a few minutes to sort out the sordid financial details.

Soon enough it was our turn and we went into the hall. There was a flurry of activity as U and his uncle brought out the large framed photographs and U's mother and youngest sister unwrapped the tablets inscribed with the posthumous Buddhist names. These were all arranged properly, the janitor popped in new candle tops and lit them, and the Buddhist priest started chanting as we took our seats. Partway through the ceremony we all went up one by one and placed three pinches of incense chips onto a pile if cinders.

Being the partner of the eldest son of the eldest son (eeek!) there weren't many family members in front of me for me to watch, but I managed to get my bows and incense pinching done properly, apparently. But there was more still to come.

We were rushed out of the hall, the next family waiting and the janitor bustling about with new candle tops and more incense. We clambered back into our cars and drove through the cemetery. U's mother and youngest sister collected a bucket of water and ladle, and we went to the grave. The grave had already been cleared of weeds, so we placed bouquets in the holders and ladled water onto the stone monument. The priest (with a different colour over-robe) arrived with new name boards, which were placed into the back of the monument, and the smaller name tablets (from the family alter at home) were unwrapped and placed at the front. More chanting was followed by all family members placing a few sticks of incense in front of the monument. The priest bowed and left, and the rest if us posed for a picture in front of the grave (no peace fingers!)

Then back to the cars and off to the restaurant near U's parents' place. The restaurant had readied a basin of water and bowls of salt. We threw pinches of salt over ourselves and washed our hands (to "cleanse" ourselves) and then went into a private room within the restaurant. The framed photos of grandpa and grandma were set up and presented with food and sake. After the men in the family (except for U, who had to drive us home) had had their fill of beer and we had all stuffed ourselves, we walked through the parking lot and back to U's parents' place.

As soon as we walked through the door everybody disappeared off to change, and U's mother set out tea, coffee, and even more food. We relaxed and chatted, and U's mother and I began discussing cremation and funeral rites. She couldn't understand the concept of total cremation - how would you then recognize your loved one's bones? I tried to refrain from shuddering as I told her that for me the idea of passing around the bones of a dearly departed family member (part of a Japanese funeral) was a rather gruesome prospect.

But, despite how strongly different the whole experience felt for me, U's family never once made me feel uncomfortable (well, except for both of his aunts and their cousin all grilling him about when he is going to propose!) I dressed the part - black skirt and top, pearl necklace. It was U who didn't quite fit in - for some strange reason when packing for the weekend he grabbed a blue shirt instead of the necessary white one. His entire family enjoyed ribbing him about that! When asked he said simply that it was his favourite shirt... Um?! So he and his mother had to go through his old clothes and find an old white shirt that he had outgrown (the collar button wouldn't close but better than one of his father's shirts where the arms were too short!) And he also left his jacket at home - when asked about that one he tried to use the "cool-biz" excuse, but he was the only non black jacketed guy in the entire cemetery! Who's the furriner now?!

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Somedays are... Tuesdays

I've been wanting to try my hand at Lulu's great idea for Somedays are... Tuesdays for a while now, so here goes!

Somedays I wake up well in the morning, but most days I'm still tired and crabby.

(ummm, I think its supposed to be the other way around, but unfortunately that is not the case... Let's try this again)

Somedays I am overwhelmed by all that I have on my plate, but most days I think of a couple other things I'm tempted to add.

Somedays I despearely want to jump to the next (or rather the next-next) step, but most days I am totally content with where U and I are.

Somedays I question what I am doing and wonder about my professional future but most days I love my job and feel valued.

Spilt milk and cookie crumbles

I was half asleep this morning, waiting for the snooze alarm on my phone to go off and tell me it really was time to get up, when I heard a thump and then a loud crash from downstairs. I jumped and yelped "there was a noise downstairs."

U lead the way downstairs - he hadn't heard the noise so I think he was expecting armed robbers it something. No robbers, but there were fragments of broken china scattered across the entire room. The drying rack had collapsed (no earthquake apparently can be blamed), sending its contents to the floor. Luckily most of the plates (including the gilt edged Wedgewood) that his parents gave us on Sunday were already safely put away, so the carnage was cheap, if not small.

What has me most upset, however isn't the plates. It is the fact that I now have to give ib and buy a new drying rack. The one we had been using we bought at Ikea. It is the same as my dad has in his kitchen, the same as I had in my kitchen in Boston. I was surprised by how emotionally attached I was to the drying rack, until I had to justify it to U and found myself blurting "it is the one thing in this kitchen that reminds me of the kitchen I grew up with! You have lots of things, but in this foreign kitchen this is the one thing that is the same for me!"

Huh... Kinda took me by surprise too.

But the problem was the rack didn't quite fit on the counter. I hacked off on of the supports so that it half rested on the ledge behind, but U (and our house guests a few weeks back) would knock it over and complain it was dangerous.

The more they complained, however, the more attached I became to the blasted rickety rack. I knew it wasn't the best option, I knew it would likely collapse some day and cause an avalanche of dishes. But I wasn't willing to let it go, wasn't willing to get rid of what I had apparently decided was my link to home.

But as U, half asleep, pulled out the vacuum cleaner and began picking up shards of china, I realized that sometimes you have to admit defeat. Sometimes that is just the way the... plate... shatters.

Time to go shopping. We need a new drying rack. I don't suppose Nittori sells any covered in red maple leaves?

Thursday, 21 July 2011


- cool rainy days
- mid-week dinner out (for our 2nd anniversary)
- fabric shopping
- car trips
- cooking with fresh homegrown ingredients
- mandarin orange popsicles (I have a suspicion I've mentioned these before... mmm!)

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Heat exhaustion

This morning I went into the work kitchen to have my morning coffee, hoping that the caffeine would wake me up and allow me to spend the day editing the translations that have been putting me to sleep at my desk the past few days. One of my coworkers was boiling the pot of water that he'd put into a thermos for us to use throughout the day (the usual electric pot has been replaced by the less energy-consuming thermos for the summer). Or I should say he was TRYING to boil the pot of water… he was having a little trouble with the cords... Couldn't seem to sort them out as he kept confusing himself with the two ends (one going to the pot, the other going to the electric outlet). It was rather comical and I couldn't help but giggle.

The poor man turned to me with an overly-exaggerated pained expression on his face and said "I don't think my brain likes the heat!" We both laughed and he continued. "I just can't seem to think straight these days. takes so much more mental effort and I just don't have it in me…"

I know how he feels.

The heat (and lack of over-airconditioned spaces due to electricity shortages) has sapped me mentally and physically. Not only do I not feel like doing anything, but concentrating on anything for more than a few seconds seems to take a huge amount of effort. I'm hoping that at least a part of it is just that I am tired – we had visitors staying with us for a week and between working and having late nights out with them I haven't been sleeping much. But I have a three day weekend starting tomorrow and U and I are planning a mini-getaway. Hopefully that will recharge my batteries a bit and I'll be better able to battle the Tokyo summer.

In the meantime ice packs slipped into my folded hankerchief and self-medication with mandarin orange popsicles will have to suffice…

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Wordless Wednesday - Living room window

This is what our living room window has looked like pretty much since we moved in.

Today I finally got around to hemming the curtains.

And then I got creative...

Monday, 4 July 2011

Long time no blog!

Or perhaps I could better title this "I'm melting... MEEEEEEELTING" in my best Wicked Witch of the West voice.

Yeah, I don't like the heat so much. Not that I've ever been a fan of the overuse of the AC that used to happen in Japanese trains and department stores (going in and out would give me a headache as I went from one extreme to another) but with temperatures in the high 30s last week and the AC staying off at work, well I haven't been a happy camper. By the time I get home in the evenings and throw some food together I haven't been able to think much past collapsing on the couch.

It doesn't help that our bedroom, on the second floor and with lovely east-facing windows, gets very warm in the morning. It has no AC unit and even two fans is just not cutting it. We were both being woken up early all last week and sleeping very poorly. So we went out yesterday and bought reflecting film for the windows ans a little window AC unit. The latter isn't up and running yet, but this morning was a bit better and I felt much more rested.

Part of power-saving attempts at work mean I am now working Tues - Sat (instead of Mon - Fri) and although working a six day last week was tiring I'm enjoying having today off - coffee and a translation project at the local coffee shop before I head back home to hem the rest of the curtains.

Here's to beating the summer blahs!