Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Grave visiting

Tetsu and I are going off for the weekend to Morioka, the town where I first worked when I came to Japan and where Tetsu and I met some 34 years ago. Though I visited Morioka three years ago, Tetsu hasn't been back for nearly five years. Our purpose? I guess to go visit our family grave.

That sounds pretty weird in English, but in Japan this is a very large and important part of the culture. Ohaka mairi, visiting a grave, is a regular activity and taking care of the family grave entails many responsibilities. Family graves are handed down from eldest son to eldest son and many generations of ancestors' ashes will be set inside a family grave. After a person passes on and funeral services are over, there is another memorial service 49 days later ending the mourning period. The family will visit the grave together. Another memorial service and grave visiting will be held a year later, and then three years later and then 7 (I'm getting fuzzy here.... I'm not really sure of the dates...) and these regular services will continue until the 33rd year after a person's death.

But that's not all. According to Buddhist teachings, spirits will return to the family grave during Obon (festivals held in summer) and also in autumn (just a few weeks ago). At these times also families will come from far away to go grave visiting and also to have a nice gathering with living members! Some of my friends make it a point to visit their family grave monthly though most people limit visits to 3 or 4 times a year.

In our case, Tetsu is the second son of the family so he does not get involved with taking care of the family grave; his older brother does that. And because Tetsu is Christian, we chose to have our own family grave made in a Christian part of a Morioka cemetery. I'm afraid we had to make a decision about graves early in our marriage when our eldest daughter passed away when she was only a couple of months old. Our daughter's grave is in Morioka and eventually Tetsu and my ashes will be interred there also. (I doubt Takumi will take over the traditional role of caring for his family's grave... but you never know!)

It has never been too important to Tetsu and me that we visit the cemetery regularly (obviously not since we haven't been there in over three years.) A lot of that is because as Christians, we have always considered our eternal home to be in heaven... not in a grave someplace. And my own American family had never had the custom of visiting graves so I've been slack in my Japanese-wife role. My own grandparents were buried in the Midwest and my mother has NEVER been back to her parents' graves in Indiana.

The custom of caring for a family grave has its own headaches... paying temple priests for yearly prayers, going to the cemetery and washing the stone or weeding the area, burning incense and bringing flowers. I have talked to ladies who have said that they cannot ever become Christian because they are married to the eldest son in a family and therefore they have the duty to care for the Buddhist family grave. I don't really understand this logic but I know it is a real concern for people trying to make a decision for Christ.

Not too long ago I was telling Tetsu's mother that Takumi had suggested that someday Tetsu and I might want to consider retiring to America. I don't think so!

And Obaachan's face clouded over...

"Oh dear. You couldn't go to America could you? Because that would mean that you would have to leave the baby's ashes (our daughter's) all alone in Japan. How sad."

I assured Tetsu's mother that we weren't thinking of leaving Japan but didn't mention that we hardly got up to Morioka to visit the grave even while living here. Obaachan sat and thought about our family grave awhile and then brightened visibly.

"Are the baby's ashes in an urn? Oh, then you could take the urn with you when you retire to America! The problem is solved. I am so happy!"

I just thought it interesting how the Japanese culture revolves so much around the grave and ancestors and family responsibilities.

To make a long story short (it's not short yet!) Tetsu and I are leaving tomorrow morning to drive 6 hours up to Morioka where we will visit the family grave (and we are taking water and buckets and scrub brushes with us to wash it down.) And then we will go to a lovely hot spring resort and spend a relaxing weekend! Maybe a visit with friends, maybe a little sightseeing. We will be back late Sunday night. The cats will be fed by two neighbor girls. Choco will go stay at the vet's for three days. SOOOO.... no blogging for awhile. I'll report in when we get back!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

I'm off on a busy Wednesday workday. Mi will have to be lonely today. (The other animals don't seem to miss humans as much.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Happy Village projects

I am getting no farther on my Bargello. I got waylaid with a few other projects...

Most of my English classes have four of five children in a class. I have a couple with three children and one right now with only two children. Right.. I TOLD the parents I would only teach a class if I had four children, but it starts out that way and then someone quits. I always get to feeling that I shouldn't cancel a class just because the ones who DIDN'T want to continue are no longer there and the class has only children who DO want to continue albeit a small class. So I end up with classes of two or three. (Bad business move, but I'm not in it for the business....)

But when one of the three or the two can't come then what...? The kids know me as a sucker. In one class I only had two students last week. In another class only ONE student.

"Tanya-sensei, there are only two of us today. If we continue in the book then ****-chan will get left behind. Let's sew."

And you know me! I'd rather sew than teach English! But I don't have that many projects that can be whipped out in minutes for a sudden change of schedule. The one project that has proven to be great fun and a quickie is Happy Villages.

The REAL Happy Village project calls for collecting 10 solid fabrics and cutting them into shapes according to directions. Tiers... blocks... stair step cuts. But I didn't have the time to do that with the children.

"Here is my basket of scraps. Choose what you like and start cutting them into squares and rectangles. Now glue them on this batting (from my leftover box). Now start cutting triangles. And here is some yellow. Make lots of little squares for windows."

For no preparation and the children having no idea of what they were doing we got a couple nice little Happy Villages. A smaller size than what the book recommends but big enough for a quick hours class.

The work for me though is to freehand quilt these before the next class. That's what I was doing yesterday and what I'll have to do this afternoon.

After quilting I sewed the collage onto black felt and hid the raw-edges with yarn. This would really be another sewing class for the children to do themselves... but I'm SUPPOSED to be teaching English. I can't use up another class for sewing!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bargello progress

I've been working on the Bargello quilt this weekend but I really have no idea where it is going. I found a picture of a quilt that I liked and had hoped that I could figure out strip placement on my own. Of course that is not as easy to do as I'd hope and I got lost. That's okay... It is hard to go too wrong with a Bargello quilt. Still... while the rainbow colors may be there I don't think anyone is going to get a connection beyond that.

At this point I was just trying to get a flow of colors going up and down... Now I'm trying to put in some divider strips but I'm not sure if I am enhancing things or making the quilt more muddled. And oh, that black is strong isn't it! (But batiks go so well with black...)

As I'm still getting confused with my strip making this make take a few more days. And I have a few full days of teaching before I can get back to this. I hope I don't forget what I was trying to do. It is kind of fun...

And while I sewed, Tetsu spent the weekend planting flowers and moving bricks near our driveway. I had asked him to remove a dying tree and get rid of a wooden planter that had termites. He put his artistic talents to work and designed a brick planter instead. Good gardener, great husband!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Indigo dying

Yesterday, Tetsu and I went off on a drive again. (If nothing else, having the GPS makes us FEEL like we can go anywhere. We still get lost though...)

I wanted to go to the next prefecture over to a silk weaving town... I had heard that silkworm raising and the making of silk thread were famous there. We did find a museum of sorts but missed most of the sightseeing areas in the rest of the town. I guess we didn't look in the right places and the GPS isn't a tour guide!

Since I was at the museum and there was a hands on corner I tried my hand at indigo dying. (Supposedly you could dye silk scarves and T-shirts but that became pricey. For the experience, a simple cotton handkerchief was fine with me.)

Indigo is a traditional dying process all over Japan and the dye is made from dried plants that have been cured and left to ferment... The lady in charge of the corner was trying to explain about how craftsmen tend their indigo vats but I was anxious to get to the process. I'm sure rubber bands weren't part of the traditional tools but I was given a box of rubber bands and some plastic gloves and told to have a good time putting bands where I wanted.

"You can never make a mistake."

It was a fairly simple process of dunking the fabric in the dye (don't fall in! Don't let go of the fabric!) and letting it oxidize and then dunk again for a deeper color. Finally go outside to rinse it in the tiered pools of running water and Voila! An indigo handkerchief!

The day was beautiful and the mountains were green.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Piano covers

I've been working on the bargello quilt but couldn't even find my design flannel so I can't put things up on the wall well. With a bargello quilt I'd say a design wall is a must. (But do I want to clean out the closet in order to find my flannel? I do NOT!)

I had my camera along with me when I went to the kindergarten the other day and I took pictures of the kindergarten's pianos. One year when Leiya was still in kindergarten the principal asked if the class could make a piano cover as a parting graduation gift to the kindergarten. There were enough children in the classes that we decided to make two piano covers and I suppose I was one of the leaders of the project though I don't remember much about it.

We took a vote. Do we want to make House blocks or Tree blocks. And we couldn't decide so we made both! Each mother was asked to make one or the other and embroider their child's name somewhere on the block. And this is what we came up with. One reddish piano cover of House blocks, and one greenish piano cover of tree blocks. Can you spot the block I made with Leiya's name on it?

The kindergarten still had two pianos that were naked so the next year the graduating class made two more covers (Mrs. Furui must have headed that project.) They chose apples at their theme. Sorry I could only find three pianos as I was heading out the door... There is another apple piano cover somewhere in that kindergarten!

All the piano covers are looking pretty faded and worn these days. I may need to retrieve them and do some repair work... They give the kindergarten a homey, handmade atmosphere.

(Why is it that the top of a piano attracts stuff? In my house too!)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Typhoon 15

Yesterday, Japan was hit by Typhoon 15. August and September are regular months for typhoons. They are amazingly wild, scary things that swoop down on us but are then gone in a matter of hours leaving most of us unaffected. (Though I'm sorry to say that in some areas rivers backup, landslides occur and property is damaged by flying debris). Unlike earthquakes, we get a warning a few days before and thus anything that can be blown about is brought inside and storm windows are battened. Farmers are not happy about typhoons because crops can be ruined but most of us think of typhoons to be ridden through and soon they will be a thing of the past.

It started raining here on Tuesday. Typhoon 15 was tracked and scheduled to "land" on the coast of Japan Wednesday morning. It would have been a good day for me to stay at home and stay cozy but I had a full working day. Stand out in the rain and the wind at the crosswalk (not many children walking to school). Bring Choco into the house and put her in her cage/kennel. Not a very comfortable place for long periods of time, but better than being outside in the typhoon. Vel and Cleo were locked in the sewing room allowing Toi and Patora to come in out of the cat house, too.

Once I got to the kindergarten it was announced that all schools were closing at noon so English class was shortened. I used the extra hour to go to the fabric and yarn shop and purchased yarn for Tetsu's Christmas vest this year. (Wow! Shopping early!) And I taught until 5:30 when the typhoon was at its strongest so I really had to grip the steering wheel to keep control of the car on my way home!

Even Tetsu came home early and rechecked doors and windows, closing curtains in case of glass breakage. We went to bed amidst howling and drumming on the roof. (And were awakened by another earthquake at midnight.)

But this morning the world is bright and beautiful. The air fresher, the colors glittering, the sky a deeper shade of blue and the leftover "typhoon" clouds the only indication of all the excitement yesterday.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Hopscotch Butterscotch quilt finished!

Someone wanted to know what the red rice is. Julie who lives in Tokyo mentioned it in her comment yesterday.

Red rice is different from regular Japanese rice and is made of mochi rice... which is extra sticky rice (Japanese rice is sticky anyways). The rice is mixed with red azuki beans and then steamed together and the beans turn the rice a slight pinkish color. On top of all is sprinkled salted black sesame seeds. The very popular dish is called sekihan, and it is served at all celebrations. Birthdays, festivals, weddings. I'm not sure of the origins or why it is considered celebratory food but it might have to do with the red and white color, which Japan associates with joy and celebration... (picture from the Internet)


I finished the Hopscotch Butterscotch quilt! Yeah! A first finish since summer vacation. This is basically made of Leaders/Enders but I didn't really make a dent in my leaders/enders bin. My two inch squares reproduce! (And my strings, and my 3 1/2 inch squares.) I will take this to Mrs. Furui who will pass it on to the Ronald McDonald House.

Now, I have a question...

Someone has asked me to make them a rainbow quilt. I have the rainbow colors with all the batiks that blog friends have given me... but I can't find the "perfect" pattern. The friends who have asked for a quilt run a home for foster children called Rainbow House and I have a feeling they are thinking of a quilt with a rainbow going across the sky or something. I am thinking about Bargello but I've never seen a true rainbow shape in Bargello. Do you have any suggestions?

Or I may just go gradation with a common pattern... Let people use their imagination with rainbow...

Because the Hopscotch Butterscotch quilt is crossed off my list I can start working on something else again. Yeah! Patchwork is endless! (And aren't we happy about that!)

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Respect the Eldery Day and Gyoza

Today is "Respect the Elderly Day". It is a holiday for most of Japan but since Tetsu works at a convalescent home, of course it is a busy day for him. Families will be coming to visit their elderly parents, speeches will be given and some sort of program is offered. Unfortunately, Tetsu was called away at 3:00am this morning and he went to the home for a few hours, came back at 6:00 and slept on the sofa until 7:30 and now is back at the convalescent home dressed in a suit to speak with residents' families.

I'd feel guilty playing around with Tetsu working so hard on a holiday so I decided to wax some of my floors. It is a nice sunny day. It is still hot. The floors haven't been waxed for a year (because in spring when I usually do them we were pulling ourselves together after the earthquake and later I wasn't able to crawl around on the floor.) I am able to crawl around on the floor again so I have moved furniture from the entrance and the dining room and given the floors a first waxing. I'll let them sit awhile before doing the second coat... I have a feeling I won't get to the living room floor today. Too much furniture! Too much crawling around!

Yesterday afternoon, Tetsu and I attended a Gyoza Matsuri... Pot stickers Festival! The neighboring city is famous for its Chinese pot stickers and whenever we go out to eat Chinese ramen noodles we always order gyoza. I'm pretty good at making my own though it takes a lot of time. And I have a favorite place where I can buy handmade frozen gyoza, so you can see we eat a lot of gyoza! But yesterday we surpassed our usual consumption.

There must have been 10 or 15 gyoza booths at the festival, all famous brand names in our part of Japan and each booth was selling 4 gyoza for 200 yen... about $2.50. Yum! Delicious! Each shop has its own specialty, its own special sauce, its own way of making gyoza.

Some wrappers were sticky, some transparent, some were stuffed with more vegetables than meat, some used a lot of garlic. Though vinegar and soy sauce are the most common sauce for gyoza, some sauces used red peppers, some used miso.

We tried so many! Do I dare admit that I ate 24 gyoza yesterday?! Yes, I did! Stuffed!!!

There was no need to eat dinner last night, that's for sure!

Back to waxing the floors! I need to work off some of yesterday's gyoza!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

A vet visit

I took three cats to the vet this week. Chip and Toi were scheduled for their regular vaccinations. On a whim I decided to take Mi with us (if I could find three cat boxes) just because she has never been vaccinated. Mi is our kitty with Feline Aids and we have been careful not to expose her to viruses etc. But she does live happily with all our other kitties and I wanted her checked by the vet.

Oh my, what a racket! The only thing unfortunate about my vet is that he is about a half an hour away from us. 20 years ago when we lived in the next city over, he was close but WE moved away. I like him so much that I pass many other veterinary offices on my drive just to see him. Choco, of course has never minded the 30 minute drive in to see the vet, but the cats! They do not like the car, they do not like the cat boxes. Three cats yowling for 30 minutes to and then again from the vet, gives me a headache!

All cats are healthy. And Mi was vaccinated too just because she spends time with the other cats and might be in danger of picking up a cold from one of them... Mi purred and rubbed against the vet and nurses the whole time. Chip was scared stiff and climbed in my arms trembling. Toi was very blase about the vet's office.

"Hmmm. This is an interesting place. Have I ever been here before? (Yes.) Maybe I'll just give myself a bath on this nice blue table."

Toi is not the smartest of our kitties (but he's the meanest!) He seems so relaxed and "dorky" until he spots Cleo or Vel. I love Toi's orange ears that show a little pink beneath them.

Toi is living happily in the cat house outside. He's very blase about that arrangement too. As long as he gets a lot of food (he is also our BIGGEST kitty) and a cushion to sleep on, he is happy.

Three cats for vaccinations, filaria medicine for Choco, a month's supply of expensive cat food for three cats who have urinary tract problems... My bill ran high! And I still have three more cats that need their vaccinations later this year. GULP! (but I do put aside funds for vet fees every month.... I'm trying to be proactive rather than reactive...)

Sara, who wanted a reference for the Tessellating Cats quilt. I've tried to send you an e-mail but it keeps being returned to me. You'll have to contact me again a different way!)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Elementary school Sport's Day

I've just come back from the elementary school's Sports Day, probably the biggest school event of the year. Though I used to attend when my children were in this school (and ran around doing PTA jobs) now I'm invited to attend as a guest and I get to sit under a tent and drink cold tea.

So here are a bunch of pictures from this morning.

The school grounds all decorated up with international flags flying.

The tents are set up by the different residential areas where the kids feed in from. There are also school tents there for each grade, teachers and guests.

These are little sellers booths... private enterprises that float from event to event, setting up at school fairs and city festivals. Let's see, there is one booth selling snow cones, one selling french fries, another selling super balls that are swimming in water and have to be caught. I don't know what the last booth was. When I went by, families were still concentrating on the sports events. At lunch time the lines for these booths snake around the school grounds.

A typical event for the younger grades is the bean bag toss. All grades are divided into the Red Team and the White Team and throughout the day the two teams compete for points. On the other side of the playground the Red Team was throwing red bean bags into their basket at the same time.

This looks like tug-a-war and in a way it is. Bamboo poles are set out on the playground and at the bang of a starter gun the teams race to pull the poles to their side. As each pole gets claimed the team members race to another pole to help their teammates bring in still more poles.

This was part of an obstacle course. The children were racing around the track, jumping over hurdles and then crawling THROUGH these old carp kites that had once seen better days flying on Boy's Day. It took some skill for the children to make it through the whole kite without getting lost inside.

This event is the highlight of the day for me. This is called Kumi Taiso and I think I heard that it is a take off from Swedish gymnastics. The fifth and six grade classes (both boys and girls) start off in different solo positions that they perform at the sound of a whistle.

After two or three positions the children group into pairs...

And then into trios....

As the group gets bigger, the pyramids get taller...

Until 30 some students in each group form a tower!

Someone told me last year that when a group of Japanese exchange students did Kumi Taiso at their school in the States, the American principal about fainted. Oh my gosh! Are these kids insured?! I think they were asked not to perform again.

It may be dangerous but it certainly gives the children a sense of accomplishment.

And the last event that I stayed for was the WAVE. This was pretty good teamwork too. 60 some students all crouched on the playground with hands and arms knitted together as they made wave after wave after wave.