Shimoyake, Snow, Kagura, and the Postal Lottery

Snow in Inagaki

Shimoyake is a term familiar to all Japanese, but its English equivalent “chillblains” evokes images of Jane Ayre at Lowood School in the winter. My first experience with Shimoyake was about 30 years ago when we lived in a drafty Japanese farmhouse with traditional Japanese “heating” (kotatsu and woodstove). I learned to live with its annual appearance, and then for the 20 years we were in the States I was shimoyake-free . My first winter back in Japan, my toes were assaulted again. Heating in Japanese home is notoriously poor A winter’s tale: cold homes, poor lives in wealthy Japan | The Japan Times Online and in spite of solutions for small spaces, most residential construction does not incorporate sufficient insulation. The floors are really cold and walking around in slippers and socks isn’t enough to protect the toes of those susceptible to shimoyake. I’ve tried a few folk remedies and have followed the advice of the NHS (UK Nat’l Health System), but every winter about this time, my toes turn red and swollen and sometimes even crack… and then become unbearably itchy as they get better. I am more interested in prevention, but since it’s too late this year, I’ll be asking my local Kanpo(Chinese medicine) shop for his remedy today. I can always try some of the remedies listed here, but I’ve got to get them under control soon because I am supposed to run a 5K on the 19th. I am running pretty regularly, but my pace is pretty slow because of swollen toes. I am also starting to use Hokaron (disposable hand and feet warmers),  but I hate adding this type of stuff to the landfill/ incinerator. Woe is me.

Canal in Saiki on a snowy day

We had snow! It’s a pretty rare occurence here on the Pacific side of central Kyushu. Everyone was so excited even with less than 1 cm accumulation – lots of miniature snowmen and kids throwing snowballs. It lasted a day and facebook friends that live in Saiki posted lots of photos. In northern parts of Japan, especially on the west coast bordering the Japan Sea, there has been record-breaking snowfall and accumulation. Goof for the Snow Festival in Sapporo, but devastating for many- collapsed roofs and a n umber of casualties. I wonder how they deal with shimoyake!

Yesterday Jiro and I drove up to Beppu and visited Hyotan Onsen– the same hot spring I went to after taking the JLPT (no, the results haven’t arrived yet!), but this time he and I took a hot sand bath. It was so relaxing and comfortable. I expected it to feel like being buried in the sand at the beach as a kid, but the sand is dry and heated from below-my muscles all relaxed and I actually fell asleep for a few minutes. Afterwords we went took a regular hot spring bath. We are so lucky to live in an area with so many hot springs.

On New Year’s people exchange postcards similar to Christmas cards in the West. Most people use postcards issued by the post office which are printed with lottery numbers. In mid-January a lottery is held and the winning numbers are printed in newspapers and online. The top prizes (3500 winners) are things like a digital television, tickets for international or domestic travel, and a laptop. The lowest prize(71,000,000 winners) is for commemorative New Year’s postage stamps. Two cards we received had lucky numbers and I redeemed them for two sets of stamps with images of dragons for the Year of the dragon. I think I need to start sending cards so we get more and increase our chance of winning.

2012 New Year's commemorative stamps
Kagura dancer

Last Saturday Saiki held its Second Annual Kagura Festival- a full day of kagura dancing by local dance troupes. Kagura is traditional folk dance theater that portrays ancient tales and legends of gods.The dances are often performed in this area by Shinto priests and many towns practice and perform these dances at Shinto festivals. It is said the the local Daimyo, Lord Mouri, in the 1600’s loved kagura and arranged an annual gathering of all the kagura performers in this region. Now the city of Saiki is working hard to revitalize this area and build a sense of community between the 5 regions that were merged in 2005 to form the current municipality of Saiki. Even on a cold February weekend, there was a huge crowd enjoying the dancing and eating local foods.

My work with Kojiya continues. We were planning to go to New York in March to meet some people involved in food preparation and to scope out some possibilites, but they have been inundated with domestic orders since appearing on yet another national TV cooking show. Being a family-run business, they don’t have a large enough staff to fill the orders and they had to cancel their trip. Our next plan is to go in August and to hit both the East Coast and the West Coast. In the meantime, I am working to develop some more recipes and will do some more research for them.

Ba-chan has improved but is still in the hospital. She no longer requires oxygen but is still on an IV. She really wants to some home and has tried to leave the  hospital on her own, removing the IV and then falling out of bed. It is so hard to watch, but she is getting better and hopefully can move back to the care home within a week or so. Once the weather warms up, we’ll bring her home for a day.

3 thoughts on “Shimoyake, Snow, Kagura, and the Postal Lottery

  1. Judy February 6, 2012 / 4:45 am

    So glad to see this blog entry. Thinking of you.
    Love, Judy

  2. Christine Gutierrez February 11, 2012 / 6:36 am

    I was pleasantly surprised to see that you are back to writing. The description of “shimoyake” really concerned me: it sounds horrible! My first thought was to recommend sheepskin boots, which I wear in the winter. So nice to slip them on in the morning, (no need for socks) then later in the afternoon as the weather cools down. They are quite fool-proof around here. Or perhaps down booties, the kind sold for wear at base camp on Mt Everest. I would think these would work. My google of the term brought me to YouTube, where an American living in Japan can be seen describing his condition and showing his toes. Evidently its called “pernio” in the States. Well I hope you find a preventative cure for this and that you can get through the season with few discomforts.
    Good to hear from you.

    • katezawa February 11, 2012 / 7:47 am

      Thanks for the comments-no promises, but I will try to keep up with writing this year. The days are getting a bit warmer, so hopefully the floors will not be so clod. What gets me is the unexpected coldness- showing up to teacha group of kids at their house and the room we use isn’t heated before I get there so I end up standing in stocking feet on the cold. bare floor for 20 minutes till the room warms up. Thanks for your concern. I will look for some warmer slippers.

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