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.


Bon Odori

Last Sunday Rob and I had a date night and, as we often seem to do here, we inadvertently stumbled on a fantastic cultural experience. Unbeknownst to us, it was the festival of Bon Odori. We had gone to the beach to have a cocktail before going to the Royal Parasol Indian Restaurant (guess whose turn it was to pick the dinner location). There we ran into some beach friends who told us about the festival, and the fact that there was going to be a very “Hayama-style” party for it on the beach. One of my beach friends explained the festival to me. Apparently all last week the ancestors of all the Japanese could come back home to visit. Then on Sunday, they had to go back to wherever they live now, so everyone throws a party to send them off. (She also told me that her husband is a Buddhist monk, which I think is so cool and makes total sense because he has always looked really serene.) Anyway, farther down Morito Beach a stage was set up, strung with paper lanterns and surrounded by bamboo trees. People were streaming down to the beach in their summer kimonos and doing festive things like smashing watermelons with baseball bats.

All dressed up to dance.

Good clean Bon Odori fun.

Once it got dark, lots of people came to talk ceremoniously on stage and then they motioned us to take several big steps back. Rob and I had no idea what was going on, and out came about twelve diminutive older ladies in matching kimonos. They stood in a circle all around the stage and when the music began, they began to lead us in a dance around the stage! I love communal dancing, so I was thrilled. After a few minutes of just taking in the incredible spectacle of hundreds of Japanese singing and dancing under the lanterns in the warm night, Rob and I jumped in. The dances were simple and elegant, lots of pretty hand motions. The group-movement effect, and especially craning my neck to watch someone who knew what they were doing, reminded me of country line dancing. We saw lots of our neighbors in the dancing circle, nobody pointed at us for being the silly white people dancing (as far as I could tell anyway), and I really felt like a part of Hayama. I’m not sure if any of my ancestors had managed to visit in the past week, but we sure gave them a send-off just in case.

The band warming up. Missing from the picture was the guy playing the traditional Japanese instrument, the Sapporo bottle.

Everybody dance now.

And much to Rob’s relief, we still made it to dinner. Curry and naan were enjoyed by all.

Rankin Taxi

So last weekend Rob, Chip, and I inadvertently stumbled upon the Reggae King of Japan, Rankin Taxi. I’m not sure if that is his real name.

Taxi-san. Note the mosh pit.

We had been at our favorite Hayama beach bar, LAH,  having cocktails (they have margaritas! Real frozen ones with straws!) when a very friendly fellow named Tosh (like Peter) told us we had to get to another bar, Oasis, to see the king of Japanese reggae. I didn’t even know there was a Japanese reggae scene, much less a king of it. It was closing in on Chip’s bedtime, but I felt we couldn’t pass up this cross-cultural opportunity. Oasis was packed and Rankin Taxi was worth the visit. He is definitely the first Japanese man I have ever seen wear a paper crown. Chip was mesmerized. Rankin Taxi sang in Japanese except for the refrain to one song which was “Catch…and release!” What a natural resources management term has to do with reggae I might never understand, but the music was really catchy. Taxi-san was accompanied only by a guitarist, and it made for a lovely, mellow sound. Sometimes reggae is a little apocalyptic for me, but I really enjoyed this. Rob took a video, which you can see here (or on his flickr page).

Rob did some research when we got home and found this article on Japanese reggae, too, which is very informative. It makes it sounds like the dancehall variety of reggae is more popular in Japan. Rankin Taxi was definitely more sway-along than dancehall. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, globalization never ceases to amaze me.


As far as I can tell, it is the brief summer vacation in Japan. There are not nearly as many schoolchildren in their smart uniforms walking around all day (Rob and I joke that the Japanese don’t actually spend all that much time in school, they just spend all their time walking there), the beach is packed daily, and there are lots of festive things going on.

Last week was the Hayama hanabi, or fireworks. Apparently one doesn’t need an independence day to shoot off fireworks; every beach town around here has a fireworks display at some point in the summer. Thousands of people came, many of them dressed up in their summer kimonos. As I should have expected from the Japanese, the fireworks were impressive. The show lasted almost an hour, and featured lots of cute novelty fireworks like stars, hearts, and smiley faces. They also somehow shot fireworks into the water, from which they exploded. I tried to capture it on my cell phone camera, but the effect might be diminished.

Fireworks reflected in Sagami Bay

If you squint, you can see how there are fireworks shooting from the water beneath the one in the sky.

There are also matsuri festivals going on in all the neighborhoods. Paper lanterns are strung along the streets, and men don very very short kimonos (I tried not to see whether or not they wear anything underneath) and carry shrines noisily through the streets.

Sadly, I only got a picture of the men in the longer kimonos

I’m not sure what it all means, but it’s very picturesque.

Of course, as soon as Japan starts taking some time off, Rob goes back to the grind. The idyllic shipyard period is over, and the sailor is back to sea. I try very hard not to complain publicly and in writing about being married to the navy, but this part really stinks. I know it’s his job, but it doesn’t make being without him, and being a single parent, any easier.

Fortunately Chip is particularly delightful lately. He has learned all sorts of new tricks: pointing (which I think is considered very rude in Japan), waving hello and goodbye, looking alarmed and pulling his hand away when I say “hot!”, kissing (although the finer mechanics elude him; he just kind of lunges at one with his mouth open and his tongue out), nodding his head very non-rhythmically to music, “swimming” in the ocean,  and doing the downward dog yoga pose (I have NO idea where he learned that and I am trying to get a picture of it). He also seems to be increasingly ticklish.

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.

Independence Day

Yesterday we celebrated Independence Day by visiting one of the unforseen and far-reaching consequences of July 4, 1776: the Denny’s in Hayama. It is a long and winding road from Lexington and Concord to a Grand Slam breakfast in  Japan, but such is the inexorable march of freedom.

Chip, Rob, and Freedom Toast

Egg sandwich, yogurt...and salad.

It was a very nice breakfast, although my egg sandwich had something resembling spaghetti sauce slathered on it. Notice, too, Rob’s side order of bacon: a single slice presented on a lettuce leaf.

The sun was shining, a remarkable achievement during the rainy season and further proof that our Creator has endowed us with an unalieanable right to enjoy the beach on July 4th. Chip and I did just that while Rob and the Navy neighbors took our non-American neighbors on a tour of modern American diplomacy–the Fightin’ Fitz and the carrier GW, which is home for the holiday weekend.

The flight deck festooned for the 4th.

That evening, we cooked out again with the neighbors, and Rob bought fireworks at the convenience store, something that one probably couldn’t do in the states. A complete fireworks set included bottle rockets, sparklers, fountains, and flare-type fireworks. We shot them off on the beach with the neighbors. No one lost any digits, and a good time was had by all.

I love the 4th of July. It’s always been my favorite holiday for many reasons: they read the Declaration of Independence on NPR, we always cook out, fireworks, no school, and it’s the birthday of two of my favorite things: America and my Dad.

So, happy birthday to a real, live nephew of my Uncle Sam! We miss you, Dad. And despite the fun of drinking sake at a cookout, we miss you America, too.

I thought that for the holiday I would celebrate with a round of Engrish, another consequence of America (although perhaps a teeny bit of credit is due the British).

At a food court in Yokosuka...


You're welcome and OK!

Sage advice from the Hakone-Tozan railroad

At a Hayama beach bar.

Grandma and the Blow-up Doll

Not in Kansas anymore.

Chip is thrilled because his Grandma Betty has come to visit. That means he gets to get up nice and early and play with his  jet-lagged friend. Grandma also happens to be very generous when it comes to things like sharing ice cream.

Grandma, can I eat this?

My mama and I have always loved beach combing. When we would go to the Outer Banks in the summer we would walk for what seemed like miles up and down those clean, wind-swept beaches exclaiming over fragments of shells or bits of sea glass that we found. So Mama was delighted when she saw our not-so-clean Morito Beach, with its heaps of detritus coughed up by Sagami Bay.We have scavenged the flotsam and jetsam and found innumerable treasures: shells and sea glass, and two starfish, crab parts, interesting dead fish, bits of china, little plastic toys, half of a set of dentures, a blue boot and a black high heel, and her:

Where did she come from? How did she get thrown into the ocean? How long was she in there? She has barnacles in places that no woman should.

If only the blow-up girl could talk. Being Japanese, I’m sure that if she could she would wish my mother the pleasantest of stays in Japan.

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