Keeping Vigil

I finished teaching a week ago and my grading is all done. I expected to be in the Pacific Northwest by now, enjoying the long days of summer. But Jiro’s mom is clinging to life here and we are keeping her company and comfortable.
We take turns staying the night but Jiro ends up staying more often than I do. I am here most of the day since I don’t have any other obligations right now. I spend the days reading, practicing kanji, i-padding, and have even started prep for my classes next term. I wish there was wireless here so I could use my laptop more easily to get online materials. There is a ton of stuff that needs to be done at home- in particular weeding, but it can wait.
We are continually amazed at Ba-chan’s strength. She has had nothing but an IV for close to three months now and she is so frail and tiny. She has periods of alertness and responds with her eyes and nods of her head. There have been a few times when her blood pressure has fallen dangerously low, but her heart is strong and she has been able to stabilize each time.We are waiting with her, accompanying her on this side of her final journey.
So many times over the past few years she said she was tired of living and wanted to be with ji-chan…but clearly she isn’t quite ready. She always hated asking others for help, yet now she is completely dependent. All we can do is be with her. I have read hospice sites to find out what to expect during this time. She could be hours away or maybe weeks. It’s her journey and we are just witnesses.
We had her moved to a private room a little over a week ago, she gets a visitor or two a day, she sleeps more and more very day. Sometimes she is restless, but most of the time she is still. She says she has no pain, but the nurses sometimes suction her lungs which I know is very invasive and painful.
The trees outside her room are home to a zillion cicadas that are humming so loudly, reminding us that it is summer and it is hot. I am sure that sound will be forever linked to this time.

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Has it really been over 2 months since I last wrote?????

I don’t have much time tonight, but want to get something out there. Middle of the rainy season. and already two typhoons have come and gone. It’s been a long spring and although there is a lot going on, the mood has been pretty somber around here and writing about it never seems to help.

The biggest change has been work. I am now teaching English 4 mornings a week at a small university. Each class only meets 90 minutes a week, so progress is slow for the students. Like undergraduates anywhere, most just want to do what is required and have no motivation to spend extra time or effort. I am adjusting my expectations and trying to have fun. It’s a 45 minute drive so I’m enjoying podcasts on my commute and trying to figure out ways to engage the students more. One frustration is that many students are not used to working on computers, so some students can’t access the online practice and resources I set up. Of course, this job is taking a lot more time than I anticipated, but it’s working out. It’s good to have a focused diversion from the day-to-day.

Because I am working I have less time for exercise and kanji study. I am still running three days a week, but I am less active than I would like to be. I need to figure out a way to fit kanji study into my daily routine. I guess that’s the problem.. life is less routine than before. Jiro’s mom has been on a steady decline since the end of April. She hasn’t had anything to eat or drink in over a month. She is alert and desperately wants to come home. She is on an IV and we have brought her home a few times for a couple hours. Her throat muscles are weak and she cannot swallow well, she has also lost her voice. We visit her every day for an hour or so and try to keep her spirits up. Kai came back earlier this month to see her- she was really happy to see him. She hasn’t smiled in so long, but she was beaming when he visited her. She made us all laugh when she whispered loudly with a lot of effort: “Kai, when are you going to get married?” We are not sure how things will progress or whether she will gain enough strength to start eating again. The last time she ate, she developed pneumonia. Right now. all we can do is visit and spend time with her.

I guess the uncertainty of Ba-chan’s condition is what keeps me a bit down, but also we have been to two funerals this month and it’s raining and…so the reason I haven’t written is that I don’t want this space to be negative. Maybe writing a bit about it will move us past this rough patch.

Here’s the good news: Kai came to visit for 4 days! I am getting ready for a 6-week visit to the US at the end of July! We caught the snake that was living in the kitchen (it never appeared when Jiro was around and I was too afraid to catch it on my own)! Nina moved to SF! Jiro will be in a show at the Portland Japanese Garden in November!

April is the start of everything

Long post warning!

Nanohana

I’ve always felt that September is the time of year when things begin- no doubt the result of growing up in the US as a daughter of teachers and then a teacher myself…I still feel the cycle of the US school year and about now my brain is telling me it’s the final stretch before summer.

Matsuri cherry blossoms

But all around me things are just gearing up. Graduations took place a couple weeks ago and the stores are featuring school backpacks(randoseru), calendars, student desks, and  bicycles. The sun wakes me up earlier every day, the uguisu (jpn bush warbler) are singing, and the cherry blossoms are blooming. Winter was long and cold this year and all of a sudden it’s spring. It does feel like a beginning.

I’m finally getting over a cold that lasted over a week. Lots of early nights and low energy days. This week I started my new job at Nippon Bunri University teaching English to freshmen and sophomores. I only had one class this week and will meet the rest of the classes next week. I am really looking forward to meeting my students and starting a regular job again. It’s only four mornings two preps a week, so I should still have plenty of flexible time. I’ll keep my conversation classes here in Saiki. The best part of the job are the two long breaks (not paid, of course)- 2 months in the late summer and 2 months in late winter. This will allow me to get to the US every year and maybe Jiro and I can actually travel next winter.

Parade Dance (taken by rl)

In the class I met last week there are about 20 students, about half the students are Japanese, the rest are Chinese and Korean- everyone speaks Japanese and some English. Because the classes are organized by year in school rather than by ability or previous experience, the range of proficiency is significant. My goal is to provide enough practice for everyone to develop their communication skills- would be easier if the classes met more than once a week. I set up a website and blog, so hopefully they’ll explore and practice outside of class.

Last weekend I participated in the Spring Festival parade- it’s the third year I’ve joined a local merchants’ group and danced. The only downside to participating in the parade is that I never get to see all the other groups. Our group is pretty eclectic- musicians include shamisen, djembe drums, bass guitar, and electric guitar; dancers include African -style dancers, Japanese folk dancers, and the rest of us-including several elementary school kids and a group of adults with disabilities. The musicians perform on the back of a flatbed truck and we follow behind and dance every couple of blocks. Pretty crazy fun. The sun was out, the cherry blossoms were in full bloom and crowds of families enjoying the festival food and music.

Local sushi special "yukinko" shiitake and daikon sushi

Last year I set two goals for myself:  to get fit and to improve my Japanese literacy. I had three things to accomplish, pass the JLPT Level 2, participate in a 5K and pass the 3rd level in Tai Chi. At the end of  February I finally finished all 3!

I took the JLPT in December and in February I received the surprising news that I passed- it was really tough and I felt pretty discouraged after I took the test, but I must be pretty good at guessing on multiple choice. I think I’ll wait until 2013 to take the next level. The test was a good way for me to focus on learning more kanji which has boosted my literacy. Eventually I want to do freelance translating (perfect portable job).

In early February I ran my first ever 5K- it was held in Ume, the mountain town we lived in 25 years ago. Luckily the course was pretty flat so it wasn’t too strenuous. I do my regular runs along the riverbank with no elevation change, so I was worried I might not be able to run uphill for an extended stretch.  I finished in 32 minutes + and received a 2Kg bag of rice for participating and a bento lunch. I’m now signed up for another run here in Saiki on the 22nd. I think I’ll try to participate in all the local runs- there are 4 or 5 a year.

Ba-chan and Mio

I’ve been practicing tai chi for about 3 years now. Physical coordination is not something that comes easy to me so it’s taken me a long time to learn the basics. The three basic forms taught at our class are nyuumon (introductory form), shokyuu (first level) and the 24-step form. After three years I decided to attempt the test to pass the first three levels (5, 4 & 3). One of the other students worked one-on-one with me for about 4 lessons and on the last Sunday in February I went up to Oita and took the tests. Another first-ever experience, performing a routine in front of a panel of judges- I passed and succeeded at the third goal of 2011- a little late, but satisfying nonetheless.

This year I started a drawing class- it’s actually just a drawing studio with time and space available. I’ve never spent any time drawing, and I’ve always felt a little embarrassed by my inability to render anything recognizable on paper. I’m attending a colored pencil drawing class and have been sketching tools and fruit. Last year I took a lot of photos(Flickr photo a day project) and by the end of the year I started feeling bored with photos and realized that my photographs don’t convey any sense of me. I am not into post-processing and although I enjoy looking at beautiful photographs and want to have photos to document some experiences, I really am not interested as I thought I was in using a camera to interpret my personal experience. I feel inspired when I look at illustrated handwritten travel journals and want to create my own. A friend in Corvallis who passed away a year ago talked a lot about “taking visual notes” and  her work and words continue to be an inspiration to me. Again my lack of physical coordination and underdeveloped fine motor skills will ensure that progress is slow.

Marathon Prizes- bags of rice!

Ba-chan is doing better. She recovered from pneumonia but since then she has only been allowed to eat pureed foods.  She finally received the okay from her doctor to start eating finely chopped food starting next Monday- I think she’ll be much happier eating recognizable food rather than small bowls of colored goop. A couple weeks ago I picked her up and took her to Jiro’s niece’s 6th grade graduation. It was a beautiful day and Ba-chan was really happy- she couldn’t stop smiling. Mio (Jiro’s niece) has been a leader of her class and we are really proud of her. She starts junior high next week- school gets serious in junior high- most teaching is to tests and there are lots of rules, regulations and inflexibility.

Last week we met a couple of Jiro’s friends from Hawaii, Hiroki and Setsuko Morinoue of the Donkey Mill Art Center in Kona. They came with a landscape architect from Kumamoto and another friend from Hawaii and we all stayed at an inn in Beppu.

tokonoma at Shono-sensei's house

We visited the home of Shono Tokuzo- sensei, the son of Shono Shounsai who was the first bamboo artist to receive the Japanese Living National Treasure designation. The home was built on a terraced hillside after World War II and it may be one of the most beautiful homes I’ve seen in Japan. The buildings are set on the periphery of a large pond and the magnolia, cherry, and digwood were all blooming. Shono-sensei and his wife maintain the grounds themselves. Shono-sensei harvests all the bamboo he uses in his work and doesn’t use any dyes or lacquer- exquisite work!

Shono-sensei's home

 

 

My work with Kojiya continues to keep me busy and I am learning a lot. I started an English blog for the shop and we are hoping to increase their international presence. We’ll be in the US in August to do some workshops- in New York and on the West Coast.

Jiro leaves for a weeklong trip to Oregon tomorrow. This is the first time he is going away and I don’t have ba-chan duty. I’ll be busy with work- he’ll see  both Kai and Nina. Nina just finished three months at the Kushi Institute– we are eager to see what direction she is headed now.

 

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.

The Start of 2012 and what I’ve been up to.

A little late on the good wishes, but I hope for a prosperous, healthy and joyful 2012 for all my friends and family. I am looking forward to lots of adventures, making new connections and venturing to places I haven’t been before. Nothing planned yet, but I’m getting itchy feet.

Kagura Dancer at Onyujima Tondo

Things are always pretty hectic at the end of the year. With only a week between Christmas and New Years’, it seems I spend all seven days in the kitchen preparing and eating food.  We had a nice gathering with the local out-of-towners on Christmas Day, played board games, ate good food, listened to holiday music and exchanged funky gifts. On New Years’ I made lots of traditional dishes: kuromame, konbumaki, nitsuke, namasu, kinton, lotus root balls, and yuzu daikon-My new favorite recipe  (in Jpn)is for the lotus root balls-I usually  make them as patties. No pictures of the New Year’s feast, though-after completing a Flickr 365 project of 2011, my enthusiasm for taking photos has waned, and I took the day off- but I  did sign up for a 52 photos group…) we had Jiro’s mom home for one night, she was so relaxed and clearly enjoyed being home, but the support she needs at night is really too much for us. It seems that we’ll just be bringing her home for day visits in the future.

After Jiro’s mom returned to the care facility, Jiro and I drove  up to Usa in the northern Oita Prefecture to visit old friends. We lived in Usa when Kai was born and our friends there all have kids around his age. Several of them are now married and have kids of their own! When we lived there we did a bit of farming-shiitake and rice, and our friends there are still growing their own rice- I think I’d like to do that again…It was good to get out of town and we enjoyed the drive- stopping to take a couple hot spring baths and visit a couple old Buddhist sites in Ajimu.

Tondo Bonfire

His mom has not been doing so well the past couple of months. She had pneumonia caused by aspiration of food in mid-December. She was pretty sick for three or four days, but recovered. Then yesterday she had a mild stroke , and although she was weak, she seemed to be okay. This morning she got another bout of pneumonia and is really weak. She is now in the hospital on oxygen and an IV- I am praying that she will be in better shape tomorrow. It is so hard to see her gradual physical decline. She really wants to come home and I think she is losing her will to keep going. I haven’t felt this sad in a long time.

But, there is also GREAT news today. The translation and writing project I’ve been working on since the end of October is finally done. I am pretty pleased how it came out. The web designer was really easy to work with and she created a site that exceeded everyone’s expectations. I already noticed one editing miss of mine and am sure there will be more. I am continuing to translate recipes for them and hopefully we’ll be going to the US this year to introduce shiokoji to the US market. Lots to be excited about. Kojiya website

Also I’ve been asked to teach part-time 4 mornings a week at a university in Oita- the hours are really convenient for me. If all goes as planned, I’ll be teaching the first term  (April to July) and maybe even the following term in September. It’ll be nice to be working with college-age students again. Now I’ve got to get some new clothes!

Last week I went with some friends to the Tondo festival on Onyujima- a small island just a kilometer or so from Saiki Harbor. Tondo festivals are held in January in towns across Japan. A huge  bonfire is built using straw, bamboo, and everyone’s New Year’s decorations and it is set on fire- people pray for good health and success in the new year. On Onyujima there is a kagura dance prior to the bonfire and the local kids play taiko. Bowls of udon with the local specialty gomadashi sell for 100 yen and of course there is also the typical Japanese festival food- yakitori, fried chicken and french fries- at typically high prices- 300 yen for a bag of fries!

Mountainside Statue at Sen no Iwa in Ajimu

We are having our coldest winter weather this week-there were even a few snow flurries on Wednesday, but spring comes soon here in southern Japan- maybe in two or three weeks. Jiro’s planted about 25 fruit trees in a large field near here- I’m thinking I want to plant pumpkins in the rows between the trees to help keep the weeds down. Keeping busy!

 

 

 

End of year and holiday season

Early November Ryougoji

After a creepily warm autumn, the temperatures have finally dropped below 18°C  and it is starting to feel like winter. Until last week I was still waking to the buzz of mosquitos. The fall colors arrived late and seemed a little less showy than in previous years, and the camelias and

Fall at the base of Shiroyama

narcissus are blooming in the warmer parts of the garden. One of the dahlias even put out a blossom last week. Weather forecasts say to expect a colder winter than usual, I guess it will arrive later this month. Nights and mornings are cold enough that we need to light the kerosene space heater now and there’s always a pot of hot tea on the table.

I’ve got no excuses for neglecting the blog, I just haven’t felt like writing. Sorry to those of you who check in and see the same heading week after week.

Thanksgiving dinner was the highlight of November. We’ve shared the meal with the Asari family of Kojiya for three years in a row now- I think we’ve passed the threshold for establishing a tradition. A couple other expat friends have joined us and it definitely feels like a holiday. The Asaris got a new commercial oven this year, so I was able to order a larger turkey (12 pounds) and roast it at their house. I even found frozen brussel sprouts, Japanese kabocha works fine for pumpkin pie, and I made cranberry sauce from dried cranberries. It’s tough being so far away from my family during the holidays, but we’ve come up with a good substitute here.

I took Level 2 of  the JLPT on December 4th. It was really tough, I took a couple practice tests beforehand and did fine, but the actual test was quite a bit more difficult. If I pass it will only be because of extremely lucky guessing, but I think I’ll take it again next year. the results don’t come out until mid-February, by that time I won’t care. Regardless of my score, I am becoming a stronger reader and am motivated to keep improving.

After the exam, I joined a friend and three of her friends and went out to dinner and then to a hot spring bath at Hyotan Onsen. I hadn’t been there since before Kai was born- of course, it’s been upgraded. A perfect way to end the exam day! We lived in the hot spring town of Beppu when we were first married and took hot spring baths every night-wish we lived closer to a good hot spring now.

Shiroyama castle wall

Working pretty hard on the Kojiya website content- we’re aiming for the end of the year for the launching of their English site. For those of you in Japan, think about coming down to Kyushu to take a workshop in using shiokoji or making miso next year!

The kids sent a holiday package with advent calendars, winter teas, chocolate and almonds for Jiro’s Christmas truffles and chocolate almonds, and a copy of Mother Jones for me. Thanks to them, it feels a little more like Christmas. We’ve got several gatherings over the next couple weeks. In Japan, it’s customary to go to Bonenkai (literally: forget-the-year party), end-of-the-year parties. On Christmas I may have a few people over for stew and cornbread and a day of board games. We won’t have a tree and Santa’s not going to be stopping by, but I definitely want to share a meal and hang out with friends.

It’s been a rough year for Japan and the nuclear disaster still is worrisome….I can’t see any benefits to nuclear energy, the dangers are too great. The news from Fukushima continues to be depressing. Sunday marked the nine-month mark since the earthquake and tsunami, lots of damage still to deal with and infrastructure that needs attention, but the Japanese government is discussing the purchase of new fighter jets. Aaah

My hope for next  year and every year is for the end of war…

Stay warm this winter.

No promises, but will try to write more soon.

 

 

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.

persimmon

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.