It’s almost November…how did that happen?

day after the torrential rains and rising river: check out previous post for contrast

Not sure why I’ve been avoiding writing. I often think of lots of things to write about when I am running, but I never seem to follow through. But I think I will have more time to write now because there has been a huge change in our life.


Two weeks ago, we moved Ba-chan to a care facility. We had been talking about it for a little while and had consulted with her social worker. She had been declining over the summer and was communicating less and less with us. The hardest part for me was dealing with incontinence and her associated shame- we tried so many different strategies- but nothing seemed to work. The past month, she was moving less and sitting in one spot for extended periods of time. We were concerned that she was withdrawing and getting lost in her own head. A few weeks ago we left her for 45 minutes while we had a visitor at our place. It was around her bedtime and we left out her pajamas for her to change. She usually is able to get changed on her own if we set out her clothes. When we went back to check on her, she was crawling on the floor in the dark, completely confused and scared. We turned on the lights and she was like a small child… We got her settled down and I helped her get changed and into bed. I knew then that she was not in good shape and we set up visits to care facilities to check them out to find a good place for her.

Inagaki during rice harvest season

Everyone had told us that it was hard to find a place with openings and we would have to wait awhile. We got on the waiting list at two places and two days later we got a call back from the place we really liked. It has an on-site day care program, so she can go to planned activities for 5 hours every day. She also gets physical therapy once a day. They do her laundry, serve good food and she has a private room. I was a wreck on the day we took her. She really didn’t want to go- “Do I have to go?  I really want to stay at home.”  She only went after Jiro told her that she was moving there for physical therapy and that when she can walk more steadily, she’ll be able to come home. It was so hard to leave her there. she was so sad. I cried all the way home. BUT when  we went to visit her a couple days later she was more talkative, initiated conversation with us, and  was trying to walk more. She was more like she was a year ago. I am sure the stimulation of having people around all the time has helped her keep more engaged. It was really reassuring. Since then I’ve visited her several more times and although she still wants to come home, she is making friends and is smiling more. The staff deals with her incontinence in a matter-of-fact way and hopefully she feel less stress about that. I think when she was at home, she was always trying to hide her messes and spent a lot of energy and emotion pretending?? that there wasn’t a problem.

As for us, it has made a huge difference. I can leave the house and not be worried about her falling or doing something dangerous. It’s been two weeks now and I am finally feeling like a huge burden has been lifted. Everything happened so quickly- we weren’t expecting to find a place until at least  next spring. I am now trying to figure out what I am going to do for work. I am considering teaching a few more classes but am networking to see what’s out there. Any ideas or leads?

View of Saiki from Ryuuozan

I am working with the koji shop, Kojiya, on a big project. They are expanding and want to target the English speaking market. So I am helping with their website content and they will finally be publishing an English version of their cookbook that I translated. They are also making several You Tube videos in Japanese and want to make some in English. I’ll keep you posted.  I’ve also helped a friend who runs an online business selling crafts from Oita with some translation work recently. I’d rather do translation than teach English, but I need more experience before I can pick up more work. We’ll see.

I’ve been keeping pretty busy around here. I got in our winter garden and everything has sprouted- lots of greens, daikon radish and kabu. As I was planting, I remembered that less than three years ago, Ba-chan was still gardening a bit—now it’s my garden. I had left one garden space right outside her residence for her to tend to, but she never made it out  this year. I think I’ll plant flowers there, so it will be nice when she comes home to visit.

Taiko at the starting line at Tour de Saiki

I participated in a cycling event here in Saiki. I rode the short course- 26 km along the coastline of Saiki. It was a beautiful day and the riders were rewarded with a huge kaisen donburi (fresh sashimi rice bowl) at the end. Lots of fun and great exercise. I also hiked a local mountain here Ryuuozan (Dragon King Mountain) 317 meters. The view from the top was great- I hadn’t seen Saiki from the south before- really beautiful. The trail was well-maintained which is unusual for these local mountains, but I had to use my walking poles as spider web whackers. There are several mountains in Kysuhu with this same name and in Saiki there are two-although the kanji is different. I found a couple websites (here and here) that introduce hikes in Oita and it’s been fun exploring. Oooooh, another translation project.

I’ve  also become involved with some local activism against dredging up industrial waste from a pulp plant that closed 40 years ago. There are plans to fill in a bay off Onyujima with the sludge and then dump waste from construction projects there, too. This plan was approved 15 years ao, but was stopped by opposition of the local residents, but there are plans to start up again. I’ll write more about that as I learn more.

Also, the Japanese government has come up with a plan to distribute rubble from the disaster areas all over Japan including rubble that has low-level radiation. Several regional governments are refusing to accept the rubble, but many people think that the burden of the waste should be shared by everyone in Japan,not just Fukushima. I don’t know why they don’t just dump everything in the 30 km exclusion zone- as noone will be able to return there for at least another generation… It seems that the money spent transporting the waste could be better used to support the evacuees and their resettlement.

shinto priest blessing at our home

Closer to home: In our neighborhood there are about 20 homes. Most of the families have lived here for several generations. There are only two families with children and most of the people are over 60. Four times a year women from the neighborhood gather to pray for safety, good health, good harvests and to avoid natural disasters. A Shinto priest comes and performs a ritual and then everyone shares lunch together. The responsibility for hosting rotates throughout the neighborhood and in September it was our turn. I had never attended one , so I really had no idea what to do and Ba-chan was no help. So I asked several people and never got an entire explanation from anyone. After asking 5 or 6 neighbors, I was able to piece together what  I needed to gather to set up an altar for the Shinto priest- one bottle of sake, one sho of rice, two sea bream, 3 types of seasonal vegetables, another small dish of rice, and 7000 yen…I also had to serve lunch to everyone, but luckily the local custom is to order boxed lunches. Until a few years ago, this gathering (Murabito) was an opportunity to show-off your cooking and everyone tried to outdo each other. So I ordered lunches, made pumpkin muffins and had lots of fresh fruit. A few neighbors showed up an hour early and helped me get it all set up. It went well and everyone left satisfied, Whew! Ba-chan enjoyed having everyone there, but she  didn’t really participate in the conversation. It was interesting to hear the local gossip about people who aren’t even alive anymore, I heard stories about Jiro’s grandmother-she was really fashionable and a little arrogant. The neighborhood has decided to end this tradition once the current rotation ends- another tradition that is dying out.

Autumn sunset



Enjoying the fall, can’t wait for the leaves to turn red and yellow and orange.

6 thoughts on “It’s almost November…how did that happen?

  1. Susan October 29, 2011 / 4:25 pm

    Wonderful to hear all your news Kate! I remain amazed at what a compassionate and giving daughter-in-law you are. We miss you tremendously, as always.

    • katezawa October 30, 2011 / 9:53 am

      Hey Susan, great to hear from you. I’ve been thinking about you and your family a lot this fall. I hope things are going well. Miss you all, too.

  2. Oyomesan October 30, 2011 / 9:15 am

    wow – I am sorry – but happy for you – that Ba-chan reached another stage in it all and has had to leave home….it must have been so hard to see her confusion and stress.
    But I firmly believe that there does come a point when professional care is better and I think she will be happier with strangers dealing with her “embarrassments” rather than you.

    I often come home and wonder how I will find Okaasan – some day I think there will be a crises and now I am just happy it is burned saucepans and dirty underwear .:-))

    • katezawa October 30, 2011 / 9:59 am

      The hardest part about her decline is that is isn’t a gradual slope… she definitely has good days and seems perfectly fine, but it never lasts for more than a few hours. I am always hopeful, though.
      But her good days have become less frequent and her bad days have become worse. Yeah, burned saucepans, that was three years ago for our ba-chan.. about 2 years ago she stopped cooking altogether and now she can’t even cook rice in the rice cooker. And this is a woman who was known for her cooking- huge banquet-size meals for all the neighbors and field hands. Good luck to you.

  3. Charissa November 10, 2011 / 2:40 pm

    My heart goes out to you guys! This sounds so hard. I’m glad Ba-chan seems better in the facility. Miss you both!

    • katezawa November 13, 2011 / 12:35 pm

      The new normal is super comfortable. We are getting used to the freedom. Jiro just got a kayak so we can go out on the river together. Now he just needs to take a day off.
      All is well here. Miss you, too.

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