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Archive for the ‘My Nostalgia’ Category

Almost 40 Years Later (40年後)

Almost 40 Years Later (40年後)

Every time I go back to Japan at an average rate of once a year, there are new highways, new subway line or new high-rise, etc. and I always have to reorient myself as I navigate the cities.

My hometown, Yokohama, has changed so much since I left in 1982 it looks like a totally different city compared to what it was back then.

Still there are certain places and things still staying the same, which I’m selfishly holding onto for my own nostalgia’s sake.

Yamate Jubankan is a French restaurant on the bluff, opened in 1967.  Together with the Yokohama Foreign General Cemetery (外人墓地)across the street, this is one of a popular sight seeing spots in Yokohama, which both signified the historical transformation of a sleepy fishing village into an international port city becoming a gateway for much of the Western culture into Japan after 250 years of isolation from the world.

My grandparents visited the restaurant shortly after its opening and had a picture taken in front. I discovered the photo when I was going through my fathers belongings after he passed away. So almost 40 years after the photo was taken, my husband, Kenny and I went back and got ours taken.  They look strikingly unchanged!

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The other day my friend Alexia asked me if I had a Japanese ear cleaner.
“What?  A Japanese ear cleaner?”
She says, “You know, the one made of bamboo.”
Oh, yes, the ear cleaner, the “mimi-kaki.”  Of course I have one.  Alexia’s ears are tickling, and she wants to poke it with the mimi-kaki.

When I was a kid, one of my favorite things was to put my head on my grandmother’s lap while she went digging in my ears with one of those bamboo ear cleaners with a little fluffy thing on the other end that sweeps off the residues of ear wax.  Sometimes she would accidentally poke my ear canal, but it mostly felt ticklingly good.  I would be fascinated by the stuff she would excavate from my ear.  I think this ear cleaning ritual had some comforting effect for us Japanese.  Only a few years ago, I heard there were what they called “mimi-kaki cafes” sprouting up in Tokyo, where stressed businessmen go to get their ears cleaned by some yukata- (summer version of Kimono)-clad young women.  They claim, “Nothing more than ear cleaning!”  Ear cleaning for comfort . . .

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Rainbow in the valley

Rainbow in the valley

As I was driving back to L.A. from my mountain retreat the other day, a light rain storm was passing through the area.  Driving through the hills on the Interstate 5 in scattered showers, the sun was also shining through the clouds creating a rather magical sight.  I remember how my grandmother used to call this a “foxes wedding”  (きつねの嫁入り) when it’s sunny and raining at the same time. Apparently, the Japanese used to blame the foxes for anything unusual or inexplicable, or foxes were often likened to con artists.  I think this is a bad deal for foxes.

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Perhaps I’m gradually pushed into the category of “older generation” which is qualified by a tendency to reminisce the good old days.

When I was growing up, our family had certain customs for this time of the year.  Some part of it may have been unique to our family, but I think most households did something similar.

The custom is we cleaned the house thoroughly before the year ended.  We’d purge a lot of things we no longer needed; organized everything in the house; cleaned the windows, and vacuumed every little nook of the house.  On New Year’s Eve, our house would be spic and span, have some fresh cut flowers nicely arranged, potted cyclamens, the New Year’s decoration (お飾り) and the kagami-mochi (鏡餅) all placed in their appropriate places.  We were ready for the New Year.  I was always very much into this whole process.  When I come to think of it, it was us, the women in the family who did most of the work, though.

Even after I left Japan, I’ve always tried to do this cleaning thing at the end of the year, but lately I’ve been aware it causes a lot of stress.  I don’t know if it’s physical aspect of it or my life as a whole has gotten to be so cluttered that I feel completely overwhelmed to face this process.  Really, if I wanted to do a complete job of purging, organizing and cleaning, it would require a whole week!  First it’s the physical space:  my apartment and my office.  Then I have to do my cyber space: i.e., my computer desktop, hard drives, the email inbox, and how about all my social networking sites, that are still not completely up to date!?

As much as I still like to be clean and organized for the new year every year, I’m definitely cutting corners now.  I have to let go of my perfectionism in order to maintain my sanity and my physical wellbeing.   This time I purged the closet, de-cluttered the living room and my office.  My husband did the sweeping, dusting and mopping, thank God.

I feel ready for 2009.sunset1

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Cherry Blossoms in Tanzawa 丹沢山の山桜

Wild Cherry Blossoms in Tanzawa 丹沢山の山桜

My Dad loved the mountains.  He used to take us to the Japan Alps during the summer for short trips.  As we (mom, my brother, and myself) were all wuss about hiking, he never took us on anything more than a little stroll down some paths for sightseers.

His favorite place to hike, though, was Tanzawa Mountains, located northwest of Kanagawa Pref., only about an hour and a half drive from Yokohama where we lived.   I have some fond memories going there for weekend camps and day trips, but usually only as far as our family car could get us.  He had some friends he would go up to hike, but I never had a chance to join him as I was a young and peppy city girl.  I didn’t start hiking until I was well into my 30s.

My Dad passed away in April of 2001.    As he had donated himself to medical research upon his death, we didn’t receive his ashes back until almost a year later.    One of his wishes was to be buried in his favorite mountain.  So in April of 2002, his friends asked me to join them on a hike up the mountains to go sprinkle his ashes.  It was a drizzly day in early spring, but the mixture of deep green, the new green, and different shades of pink of the wild cherry blossoms (山桜) made my hike so magical.  I felt as if I had stepped into Kaii Higashiyama’s world.(東山魁夷)

I finally made it to go hiking with Dad on his favorite trail.

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The Great Buddha of Kamakura

The Great Buddha of Kamakura

Growing up in Japan, I wasn’t really around any religious practice of any sort except for a few Buddhist customs such funerals and memorials, Shinto rituals like weddings, and of course, Christmas.

As far as Buddhism was concerned, whenever some relatives passed away, I would dread the funerals because it meant we had to sit on our knees and listen to boring sutras seemingly forever.   By the time the service was over, my legs were asleep and I couldn’t walk.

On the other hand, my paternal grandparents lived in Kamakura, where there’s one of the two Great Buddha in Japan (The other one is in Nara).  Their house was a few blocks behind the Kotoku-in Temple around narrow streets.   I don’t know if I actually got to see the Buddha every time we visited my grandparents, but my memory fondly associates them to the Great Buddha.

When I was about 20-years old, I happened to pick up “Siddartha” by Herman Hesse and first had an inkling that I would like to learn about Buddha’s teaching.  Then it was another 15-years or so later, I was actually introduced to Buddhist practice of insight meditation, Vipassana.  Though Vipassana is a Theravada Buddhism, which wasn’t so common in Japan, it felt like finding a home where I belonged.

I’m not an ardent practitioner by any means, but I definitely resonate with Buddha’s teachings, and the image of Great Buddha in Kamakura has a very personal association for my spiritual practice to this day.

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