Enter the Rabbit

Shinen omedeto gozaimasu! Happy New Year! So New Year’s has been a very big deal in Japan. I’ve never really been all that thrilled about Christmas, but I do love New Year’s, so I have enjoyed the festive air. The Japanese seem to really appreciate the ever-appealing idea of a new beginning. I’ve learned that on New Year’s they:

  • clean the house (I didn’t actually do this, but I really liked the idea of starting with a clean house).
  • eat a special meal with a lot of pickled things. Again, I didn’t do this, but I did make black-eyed peas.
  • bedeck their doors and gates with tasteful, seasonal decorations like bamboo, pine, oranges, rice straw wreaths, and paper. These are supposed to welcome the ancestors (don’t quote me on this) and ensure prosperity for the new year (I think). Anyway, it’s something I could really see Martha Stewart embracing.

Hayama being a fishing village(/resort town), people also decorate the bows of their boats. Fuji-san in background.

  • Then, after two weeks, everyone takes their New Year’s decorations down to the shrine and burn them. How cathartic is that? I would love to burn my Christmas decorations.
  • People exchange daruma dolls. Don’t be creeped out be their vacant stare–you get to draw the eyes on! You draw one on when you make your New Year’s resolution or wish, and the other when it’s fulfilled. The roly-poly shape symbolizes the ability to bounce back from difficulties on your journey to complete the resolution.

You can see that the daruma in our house has not yet been resolved upon. Its owner must be perfect.

  • Mail! The Japanese send New Year’s postcards, and I got one! I am thrilled but the problem is I don’t know who sent it…

Isn't it lovely? Wish I could read it.

Note the rabbits. This year is the year of the rabbit, and being the trend setters that they are the Japanese don’t wait until the lunar New Year to start celebrating it. Take that, all you other Asian nations still wallowing in the year of the tiger. You might be interested to learn that children born in the year of the rabbit are gentle, serene, diligent, elegant, tactful, and lucky gamblers.
And, finally, it is cold here, but that good kind of clean, clear cold that has yielded some spectacular Fuji days. Fortunately Chip received a lot of Christmas gifts to keep him warm.

All kitted out. It took me three tries to knit the hat, and Chip actually refuses to wear it.

Despite the cold, this morning I saw a man jogging down the beach in only a bright blue Speedo. Now there is someone serious about keeping his New Year’s resolution.


A Perfect Day

Yesterday was perfect. Here is what greeted us in the morning as we went out for an early walk after a rainy night:

Fuji-san, back after a long hiatus

Almost all the snow is gone.

Yesterday afternoon we went to Morito beach, and it was a perfect day: sunny, breezy, pleasantly crowded. The Henry James quotation, “Summer afternoon – summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language,” ran through my head. Herewith, some photos:

Friends, Hayamans, countrymen, lend me your ear...

Morito Beach lifeguards. I don't know which is better: their beanie hats, or the fact that his shorts are skimpier than hers.

It seemed to be the official opening of summer. In addition to the lifeguards there was what seemed to be a very earnest beach cleaning contest in which teams of Japanese children pawed through the sand in a roped-off area, picking up and throwing away whatever they found.

Last night Rob and I went out to the beach bars in nearby Zushi, which is a bit livelier than sleepy Hayama. It was a big sailor scene, and it was the first time, too, that I have seen what might be considered debaucherous behavior propagated by Japanese people (I don’t get to Roppongi much). It was all pretty innocent, really, but there were not the usual amounts of conservative Japanese clothing being worn, and we definitely saw some heavy petting on the beach. Good thing Chip was home with a babysitter. It was great fun; we found a Brazilian bar and danced (sort of). It’s strange and wonderful to be in a thatched shack on a Japanese beach, listening to a salsa-fied version of Akon and watching the sailors and the Japanese men compete for the cute Japanese girls. Good thing the bars all close by 10 pm, otherwise real trouble could have broken out, and ruined an otherwise perfect day.

And Fuji Makes Three

He'll hold this against me someday.

The sailor has finally left for the sea, so it’s just me, Chip, and (thanks to an unbelievably clear day yesterday) Fuji-san. While I was taking out the day’s trash, the neighbors let me know that the mountain was out, so Chip and I rushed down in our pajamas for a photo session. I think Chip would have preferred breakfast, but he did get to see a couple of dogs and some pigeons which threw him into spasms of excitement.

I miss Rob. This is the first time since we’ve been married that he’s gone to sea on me. It’s like he’s in the Navy or something. There’s no one here to leave newspapers lying about, or to fill up the poor trash bin with Coke cans, or to answer my questions about Japanese military history. It is a sadder (though tidier) house without him.

Chip and I have stayed busy, however. Yesterday we explored around Hayama and hiked up a hill not too far from us. It had rained the night before, and the last of the cherry blossoms were wafting down onto the petal-strewn trail. It was also really steep. The view from the top was lovely; very conducive to deep thoughts. As you can see, Hayama is nestled snugly between the “leafy mountains” and Sagami Bay, with Fuji just beyond:

Our hamlet.

Chip endured another photo session, this time perched precariously on a picnic table. (He didn’t fall under this one, fortunately).

Today I had my first Japanese class. The classes are sponsored by the Yokosuka International Association and, bonus, includes child care for the bargain price of 500 yen. The classes are taught by lovely retired ladies, all of whom had trouble transcribing and pronouncing both “Chip” and “Alden,” which came out as “Sheep-oo” and “Al-oo-den-ah.” Together with Rob (“Doh-bat-o”), we might be the most difficult to pronounce family in Japan.  Today we learned classroom vocabulary, greetings, and one of the three alphabets, none of which I remember. I had flashbacks of being fourteen and in French I again with Madame Pluchinsky. I think Chip got the real immersion lesson though, with, his Japanese babysitters.

The movers are supposed to come tomorrow–Rob plans well, doesn’t he? I look forward to a long snuggle with our couch, but I will kind of miss the severe minimalism in which I’ve lived for the past couple of weeks. There’s so much wood floor to slide around on in my new Japanese house slippers.

A Nice Week in Japan

Chip looks so happy because we’ve had such a nice week in Japan. Rob has been home all week, so he jumped through the last of the forty or so hoops it took to get the car legally drivable. What’s more, the trash has been picked up every day (more on that later), we have met our neighbors, I have managed to cook supper in a skillet every night this week, we saw Mt. Fuji twice, and we have internet at home! Yesterday a very polite and quiet man from NTT (Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corporation) came and magically connected us back to the world. To print up our bill for the service, he pulled a little  printer about the size of a pencil case from his briefcase and fed a sheet of paper through it. Hello from the future, I tell you.

So, the trash. I used to get a nagging feeling the night before trash went out in the States. Here in Japan I have that feeling every morning. The trash gets picked up every day, but before it does I have to separate it 13 ways, and figure out what will be picked up that day. Is it “Burnable Refuse” day? “Dry Cell” day? “PET Bottles” day? “Miscellaneous Paper” day? The “How to Sort and Take Out Your Refuse” instruction sheet I received from the Hayama Environmental Office listed the days incorrectly, so I have scurried out every morning in my pajamas at about 6:30 to see what the neighbors put out. I have been a little stressed about it, but the little garbage truck that comes by every day (inexplicably playing “Fur Elise”) has taken all of my trash away. By far the highest percentage of our trash is “Plastics Wraps and Containers.” I read somewhere that Japan incinerates 75% of its waste and recycles most of the rest, since it doesn’t have much room for landfills. I think this is great, but now I feel a little bit guilty that the smoke from Chip’s burning diapers might be why we can’t see Mt. Fuji every day.

On Wednesday we decided that enough of our errands were done that we could go faire du tourisme. So to Enoshima we went. Enoshima is a charming seaside town not far from here with a nice aquarium. The real reason Rob wanted to go to Enoshima, though, was the trains to get there. First we took the Shonan Monorail, which was like the Disneyland monorail except that it was suspended from a track above it. It felt like you were taking a train through the air, or like you were on a very tame, very comfortable roller coaster. The monorail was built in 1970, so it had that kind of nostalgically futuristic charm about it, like the Concorde.

The Shonan Monorail pulls into the station. All aboard for Futureland.

I’ve read that there’s a preservation debate going on back in D.C. now about streetcars, that their wires might block historic views. D.C. should consider a very high monorail.

Here is Chip at the Enoshima Aquarium. He actually seemed pretty captivated by the fish. Then again, he also seemed captivated by the bits of dirt in the carpet.

And here’s a picture of Chip at lunch. Like his mother, he loves his noodles.

This was just after Chip actually fell under the table–he slipped right out of the seat. No harm was done, but I think we single-handedly ruined the reputation of American parents in Enoshima.

On the way home we got to ride another train, a 100-year-old electric streetcar called the Enoden Line–kind of the anti-monorail. The train went (very slowly) right through the old neighborhoods of Enoshima and Kamakura, so close to the houses that one could have touched them from the train. It was very old Japan. 

I guess I should stop teasing Rob about taking pictures of trains, if I end up using them.

It was also a momentous week because Thursday was one of the two days a year the sun actually sets directly behind Mount Fuji when viewed from around Hayama. Lots of Japanese, being the nature- and camera-loving people that they are, flocked to our little Morito Beach to document the sight.

Say cheese, Fuji-san.

Great week!

Pictures as Promised

Good old Rob–got the pictures uploaded! Here is a sampling of out most recent endeavors:

Our house is on the right--it's difficult to photograph.

Just because--Chip at the Navy Lodge

Small cute thing in my arms: Chip. Small cute thing next to me:The Duet!

Mt. Fuji from Morito Beach, near our house.

On the right, Mr. Fuji. On the left, the sun.

Japanese ladies, boot-scooting their little hearts out at the "Spring Festa" on base.

Mr. Fuji

I saw Mount Fuji! It seems like every location around here advertises that from it, one can see Mount Fuji “on a clear day.” It’s like the “George Washington slept here” of Japan. I was doubtful of these claims, especially during the one windy day we were inhaling the remnants of a Chinese sandstorm. Rob and I even have a bet about how many times we will actually see Mt. Fuji here–my guess was 4. But sure enough, the other morning was clear as a bell and there was Mt. Fuji looming serenely over the base. The Japanese call it Fuji-san, and I think it is very respectful to give the mountain its due honorific. So I was very pleased to say “Good Morning” to Mr. Fuji.

Rob and I survived our “Area Orientation Brief and Inter-Cultural Relations” class, and Chip survived his first week of day care. The class was great, although a lot of the content focused on things appropriate to the young sailor on his or her first deployment–please don’t get too drunk, please don’t deface shrines, please don’t assault cab drivers. The Japanese take honor and responsibility so seriously that when an American does bad things Admirals have to apologize, and they just have better things to do. The best day of the class was when they took us to the train station and turned us loose. Rob and I had a nice day in a gigantic department store in Yokohama (we would have done something more culturally-enriching outdoors, but it was 40 degrees and pouring. Besides, as Prof. Longstreth always said, you can learn a lot about a culture from its department stores).  Everything was so beautiful, and so expensive. The whole experience was a bit overwhelming for the eyes. You could get your complete spring Burberry line or a $25,000 kimono. There was almost an entire floor devoted to bento boxes. The basement food stores were fascinating; I sampled cherry-blossom tea and was thrilled to find soft-serve ice cream. Rob was thrilled to find the Japanese J. Press, although not much would have fit him. Not much would have fit me, come to think of it.

The other day we also got our cell phones, so if you are in Japan, call me. Here are the things that I can do on my FREE cell phone (I can only imagine what the one that cost $500 does):

  • Text.
  • E-mail.
  • Take better-quality photos than on my digital camera.
  • Listen to mp3s.
  • Play games.
  • Watch and record Japanese television.
  • Use it as a flashlight–it has an actual flashlight built-in, not just the screen.
  • Receive early earthquake warnings.
  • Get people’s contact information simply by TOUCHING PHONES! No more laborious physical typing in of the name and number into my contact book–whew.
  • Translate things into Japanese for me.

Of course, most of this is theoretical. I haven’t actually figured out how to do a lot of it. I haven’t even figured out how to check my voicemail, actually.

We move in to our house on Tuesday! Days left in the Navy Lodge: 3. Since we didn’t have a bed, this morning we went to a beautiful home goods shop nearby on the train (image Bed, Bath & Beyond but totally clean and with a completely tasteful inventory), and bought a futon. As we have no car yet, Rob hauled the futon home on the train. What a husband. Fortunately, the Japanese are too polite to stare. (I promise pictures of that, too, when I get a chance.)