For those of you who read my updates on Facebook, you know I’ve been fighting a cold. As usual, I tried to ignore it for five or six days and then this last week the coughing began. When I went back to the office on Monday, it was slightly embarrassing to be hacking away at my desk (school visits start next week), especially when the two other people coughing in the office were wearing masks. I have made a lot of cultural adjusments, but wearing a mask at work is one of those things I really don’t want to do. So I broke down and went to the doctor, my first doctor visit in Japan since 1987! Well it all turned out all right, I found out I have a cold-related cough and received lots of medicine after a 3 minute evaluation. I was pleased to find out that doctors here prescribe chinese medicines, so I received some bakumondoto（麦門冬湯）and some antibiotics. I also received cough suppressant pills that I was told only to take if I couldn’t stop coughing…I never am sure what duration of time I should consider a “can’t stop coughing” episode. It all came to about $17 (including the exam) with my health insurance and I am feeling a bit better today. I am determined to be well by the time I step on the plane next weekend. I am going back to Oregon to check in with my sister and the rest of my family. It will be a short 2-week visit, but I hope I can be of some help while I am there.
I took two weeks off at the end of December and was ready to go back to work this week. Christmas was nothing special, I made a nice dinner (tandoori chicken, samosas and salad), but other than that it was a just a regular day. I was glad that all the Christmas music stopped in the stores and the focus switched to Oshougatsu お正月ーNew Year’s which is a Japanese holiday that I am not expected to be an expert about. It is amazing to see all the marketing based on Christmas that centers on Santa bringing gifts to children and eating fried chicken and Christmas cake. A truly secular Christmas…. My favorite holiday greeting here(which I’ve heard so much that it no longer sounds strange) is “Happy Merry Christmas”.
Even though Christmas was not Christmas, we really had a great Oshougatsu. We started getting in the mood by getting the house all cleaned up and then we went to mochitsuki- sticky rice pounding. We went twice, once to an organic farmer friend and used brown rice and then to a local farmer friend and made white mochi. It all tasted great and it was a lot of fun. It requires a lot of people to steam the rice, pound the rice and then make the mochi balls..so there was lots of laughing, kids running around and good stories. Typically everyone returns to their hometown for the New Year’s holiday so the people gathered for mochitsuki only get together once a year. The other main oshougatsu preparation is food. We made lots of osechi ryoori-Japanese New Year food. Jiro made konbu maki with mackerel, lots of nitsuke, namasu, kuromame, and kabu no tsukemono. I made gomame, spicy konnyaku and simmered lotus root. Needless to say, it was really tasty. I didn’t take photos, except for the gomame…next year I’ll try to remember to take photos before we eat.
Once the New Year begins, everyone relaxes, visits family and eats osechi for a few days. It is expected that you make a visit to three Shinto shrines over the New Year holiday. We went to a small shrine on the coast in Kamiura with a waterfall, and two in Taketa. We also went for a drive to the coast, and then took a day trip to a Taketa.
I had seen a television special about a dye that is produced there and wanted to go check it out. The dye is called murasaki and during the Heian period only the empress and her court could wear clothing dyed in this color (the author of The Tale of Genji, Murasaki Shikibu took her name from this plant). It is a very beautiful shade or purple, the very small scarves were a bit too pricey, but worth the drive to look at.
There is also an old castle site in Taketa, the castle is gone but the extensive stone walls remain. The views from this site were incredible.
We also went to Fukouji, a temple that we hadn’t been to for over 20 years. There are some old Buddhist carvings of Acala and guardians carved sometime in the Kamakura Period (1192-1333). It was one of our favorite spots long ago and it still is very special.
So it is really 2009, I have been in Saiki for seven months and am starting to recognize what is possible and what is not. I know I have to work independently and my main goal is literacy. Anything else is icing on the cake.
This week I also took a look at previous postings and was not surprised but a bit embarrased to see so many errors… I wish had better keyboard skills and that I took time to edit more carefully. It’s a bit rough, but hopefully readable.