Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A Sense of Order

New Year fare 

A highlight of our stay in Japan in January of this year was being treated to a fantastic resataurant lunch by Steve's in-laws. The food and accompanying table settings were out of this world. As I have stated previously, the Japanese people take New Year celebrations very seriously and the food that is cooked, served and eaten is part and parcel of this dedication to ceremony. Each part of the meal, each dish, holds a special meaning. The food we were presented with was beautiful to behold - almost too good-looking to eat. Our son and daughter-in-law explained some of it to us. I remember E. saying that the bow in the photo above was a suitable one for New Year, because it is a simple design and easy to undo; thus it is right for an event that we hope to be repeated many times. (I guess that a more complicated knot / bow that is difficult to untie and / or re-tie, would befit an occasion such as a wedding ceremony).

Japanese people love straight lines. There is an innate and persistent sense of order which manifests itself in arrangements. No arrows or sighs point it out; it just quietly presents itself in corners, doorways, entrances, paths, windows ...

It was pleasant to wander around yet another shrine with Steve's in-laws and note again the sense of place, of history and of order.

Because of language difficulties, it is not possible to 'chat' with Steve's in-laws, however we are still able to enjoy spending time in each others company. (We do lots of smiling and laughing). Time spent with our grandchildren's Obaasan and Ojiisan is always precious.

Friday, 24 February 2012

A Birthday in Kyoto

R. asleep in stroller ... Steve sorts some bread for A to feed the ducks. A crow over my left shoulder. (Crows became a motif for me during this stay in Japan. More on that later).

I'm feeling a mite overwhelmed attempting to describe our second stay in Japan, which was almost two months ago now.

A. looks back at me as I take the photo - maybe she's anxious that I not get too far behind ... or lost. (Not an unusual occurrence for this grandma - especially in strange surroundings).

I have so many memories and occasions to describe. Sometimes, however, impressions and memories need to remain intact; their essence undisturbed. Sharing a memory can remove it from its warm dwelling place; a process of dispersal that risks cooling its immediacy; disassembling and ultimately depleting it.

The notice says Playground Closed. (Due to the New Year Break). A. is sad about that and R. in the stroller, looks a fraction disgruntled as well.
NOTE: Robert holding my grape Fanta can while I take the photo. I LOVE grape Fanta - unable to be procured in NZ. I also love that in Japan there is a drinks dispersal machine literally on EVERY corner. Hot &  cold drinks available. (I got used to drinking coffee from a can - surprisingly yummy. As is the warm, tangy, yoghurt-type drink available from these machines). 

Some memories however, are robust enough to bear articulation .... like the memory of the first day after we arrived in Kyoto (which happened to be Robert's birthday). It was a cold, grey day - to be expected as it was the middle of winter in Japan - and certainly a contrast to the Thailand-heat and beach-resort setting we'd just left behind. 

I was delighted to see a persimmon tree, in context, bearing the bright fruit that resolutely hangs on through winter; as described so often in haiku I've read.

Other memories need to be aired because they are at risk of disappearing into the 'Great Forgetfulness' that most of us humans are prone to in the rub of humdrum, everyday life. Photos serve as a trigger and/or locator beam for such memories.

Mandarin ducks with their iconic 'hairstyle and make-up'.

Leaving the wonderful and lovely E. at home preparing a birthday tea for Robert, we walked with our son Steve and the kids to a nearby park and pond. Nothing startling about that maybe, but just being there with our son and grandchildren, doing something ordinary like walking along the road, was perfect.

After a stroll part of the way around the pond, the light was beginning to fade. On the way back home we made a detour to a small cake shop to buy a birthday cake for Robert. Once we got it home, cream and strawberries were added.

The meal was (as always) amazing. We adore Japanese cooking. We especially love E's cooking. The children were very excited to be celebrating their Grandpa's birthday. They've certainly nailed the 'Happy Birthday' song!

Robert was given a wallet - long overdue and accelerated by him forgetting to take his (shabby) 'old' one out of his pocket when he went snorkeling in Thailand.

... and a Maori legend from Aotearoa / New Zealand finishes the day off nicely.



... jumping into the more recent past; a birthday (or birthdays) back home here in Dunedin, and another birthday cake.

I baked and decorated this cake yesterday for my daughter and her two daughters - all of whom were born in the Year of the Tiger. (Not the same Year of the Tiger, I hasten to add!)

And in other exciting news, our son arrived home from travels and work overseas. Apart from skype-ing, we hadn't seen him for over two years. He hasn't changed a bit. (Except maybe a bit more facial fungus than he used to foster).

... stashing his mountain-bike into the back of his van ...

Since arriving home he has chopped up lots of firewood. Unfortunately this has been a necessary act of kindness, because someone left the freezer door open here in Dunedin and our summer (not that it was up to any great shakes) has slipped into a cold, early autumn. We've had the fire going for the past couple of days.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Tokyo Crush

A sea of people entering Senso-ji temple in Tokyo on New Years Day

Unlike in New Zealand, Japan's New Year's Day is not a day to spend in the sun by lake or sea; or in the back-yard firing up the barbie (barbecue). For a start it is mid-winter and bitterly cold (often it snows on New Years Day). Furthermore, it is a religious festival taken very seriously. It is a day to pay a visit to a temple or shrine.

In Tokyo on New year's Day, we were astounded at the numbers lining up to go through the temple we saw. There was no way that we were going to join that queue. (We left it to the next day when there was hardly anyone; still huge numbers by NZ standards, mind you). Robert and Steve went in and reported that people were literally throwing their offering money which resulted in a constant shower of coins and associated clatter, and often hitting the heads of people who got in between the money and its destination.

Festival of New Year in one part of Tokyo; stalls galore - rather like our local February Festival Weekend here in Dunedin, with its array of craft stalls and food; except, multiplied by millions. 

We were also seeing Tokyo on a national holiday, so didn't get the sense of the normal rush so much as a sense of a leisurely crush.

We back-packed it in Tokyo, our accommodation simple and cheap - but clean enough. (Although the strong smell of cigarette smoke in the room just about made me sick). Futons are remarkably comfortable to sleep on. I think they are a wonderful idea - surprisingly comfortable and space-saving too; if you need space, you simply roll the bed up out of the way.

On our second day there, we had breakfast at a fast-food outlet where the waitresses called out lilting songs of greeting, echoing each other and replying to each other; deadpan; their chorus rising and falling around the restaurant. It was a bit like a chain-gang song. As always we were charmed by the attentive, gracious service one gets in Japan.

We spent the day walking and gazing and locating places to have lunch, or coffee. Robert and Steve worked out the train loop we decided to stick to and we caught various trains to visit Ueno Park and the museums there.

As darkness fell, another train took us in a loop (a bit like a figure of eight fun-ride) around the Rainbow Bridge and associated neon displays.

Shibuya Street crossing

Then it was time to think about the return trip back to Kyoto. It was a rush-trip to Tokyo; but we left the sights, sounds, smell and tastes of the one small part of Tokyo we had explored on New Year's Day, 2012; the Year of the Dragon; happy to have seen it. We headed back to Kyoto; it was like a return home - I was looking forward to getting back there.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Travelling On

A highlight of our visit to Japan, was seeing Mt Fuji from out of the bullet train window. Our son was with us and we were heading for Tokyo. He climbed the mountain in his first or second year in Japan 

The grey days continue here in Dunedin.We are suffering from SAD in the middle of summer - or so it seems. Actually I have resigned myself to the fact that really it is now autumn.

In Tokyo on New Year's Day, 2012. Year of the dragon - bring it on. (My son Steve looking amused & tolerant! Having him with us in Tokyo made our Tokyo experience all the more special).

Here is a poem I wrote after saying good-bye to Mike and Kate at the airport. Like two migrating birds, they have flown north. I miss them a lot. Luckily Chris, who has been overseas for two and a half years now, is due back - next week.

At the St Clair Hot Salt-Water Pool

As I swim, you are both flying.
Air and water, none of us
on solid ground. I swim through
warm salt-water, you two
through cold cloud. I reach out,
my fingers touching blue tile.

I swivel then slowly push through
to the other side. We are all viewing
new ways of seeing; through blue
-tinted goggles, through dull portholes,
into a world held together by its own weight.
Excuse me but are you getting out soon

just I need to know for the showers,
another swimmer butts into my thoughts.
She is a stranger, taking liberties.
Mid-morning rules apply apparently
we are all in this fraying summer together.
I agree to have the briefest of showers

and glance at the clock to check
my progress. I decide, one more lap.
Soon you will be landing,
without surfboards, forced to leave
them behind. All of us then
travelling on, travelling light.

Kay McKenzie Cooke

Monday, 13 February 2012

Slow Lane

winter persimmon, Kyoto, Japan 

You'd think with all this time I've had lately to write, I'd be able to blog a bit more than I am doing. But on the other hand, it probably means that my writing is going well, leaving me no gaps for a post here.

teahouse, Kyoto, Japan

I am still reeling (in a nice way) gladly, dizzily ... from our recent holiday (Thailand and Japan). We skype SEAR on Sundays, and it is a good way to keep in touch and to communicate grandparently joy ... but it's just not the same as being there. The photos bring it all back to a degree.

a New Year arrangement - many doorways or gateways display these - each component (pine branch, camelia, blossom ... the colours of green red and white  ...  symbolise different things. The meanings were explained to us, but I have forgotten them now.

Meanwhile, life here at home goes on. I like to start the day with a walk or a swim. This morning it was a swim. I go to the Hot Salt Water Pool in St Clair. (It is actually more 'warm' than 'hot'). This morning I could hear waves crashing against the outer walls of the pool. The tide was high and the rollers enormous. I was in the  realatively calm waters of the Slow Lane with another swimmer, who should have been in the Fast Lane. I had to keep working around her swift traversing. I hope my annoyance at her being in the wrong lane didn't raise my blood pressure and undo all the good work!

New Year's Eve. A very cold NY Eve. Steve ringing the large New Year bell at his neighbourhood temple in Kyoto - he rang it three times, each time waiting until the bell was silent again. One peal each of his two children and one for his wife

While on the subject of bells - the other day two bell-birds (korimako) visited the trees outside our back door. This is a sure sign that autumn is here. They seemed to be asking, if we sing nicely, will you put out some sugar water for us again again this winter? They sang beautifully, then went on their way. Of course I will, I said.

a roaring log fire helped keep us warm as we waited in line to ring the New Year bell; I refrained, feeling a mite shy in front of all those lined-up locals. The log used to hit the bell looked very hefty - I was sure I'd miff it (and commit a clanger!)

'It is a custom among most Japanese to visit shrines and temples during the Japanese New Year’s Eve in Kyoto where they pray by the light of bonfire. “Joya no kane” is the name of the Japanese bell-ringing ritual which brings the old year to an end and ushers in the new. Giant temple bells known as ‘bonsho’ made of copper are struck with a large swinging beam at a spot that is decorated with lotus petals. The bell is struck 108 times on the New Year’s Eve in Kyoto to free people from the 108 Buddhist sins. ' (taken from an article in AsiaRooms)

We had our Dunedin grandchildren to stay on Saturday night. Taking them to the Gardens to run and play (and visit the aviary) brought back memories of taking our own children there - many years ago now. 

Clocking Out

 I have been neglecting this blog for some months. I think perhaps I should face facts and accept that it is indeed time to retire this blog...