Jack(a)ass!(u)

jackass
ˈdʒakas/
noun
jackass
Soon after we climbed into the taxi on our way to Kyoto station, the driver suddenly twisted around to look at us and gruffly ask, “You like Trump?”

Initially surprised, Danny lost not a moment replying, “Jackass!”

Jackass?”

Jackass!”

Our driver was fascinated, hearing an English word, he’d never heard before.  He mulled it over for a few seconds, then quietly asked our Japanese friend, sitting next to him, what does this mean?  Our friend, who speaks English quite well, was at a loss to translate.

The driver kept playing with the sound of the word.  Every few seconds he would say, quite loudly, in a deep baritone voice, “Jackass!”

Danny tried to use his newly installed iphone translation app to find an equivalent word in Japanese. So now, from the backseat, Danny kept shouting into his iphone, “Jackass!”  Danny operates complex electrical devices on the theory that if he just keeps pushing enough buttons, usually with more and more gusto, eventually something will work.

This quickly became a call and response exercise, between the driver in the front seat and Danny in the back. They went back and forth, each repeating the word “Jackass.” Each never lost interest in the word.  Each time Danny didn’t get an answer from his iphone, he’d shout a little louder.When the driver heard Danny shout, the driver used it as a cue to repeat the word, I guess so he’d not forget it, or just because it felt good coming out of his mouth.

By this time, we all began to laugh, but the one word dialogue continued for several more rounds.

At last, the app responded.  Jackass is a borrowed English word, with no Japanese translation. It is pronounced jacka asu.  Our Japanese friend provided the driver with a few Japanese synonyms, so he was able to get the gist of things.

As we left the cab, the driver eagerly told us, “Next time I have American passengers, I tell them !”

We suggested he use discretion.

Hanami Overload?

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We (The trees and I) peaked today.  My insatiable appetite for cherry blossoms is seemingly satiated.  Cherrymania was at its most intense today when we traveled a bit out of town to visit the World Heritage Site Daigoji Temple, on everyone’s best-dressed list.  The weeping cherries at this temple are mostly an irresisible delicate pink. They cover acres of vast temple grounds. Many are over 700 years old.   Their dazzling presence casts a spell,  leading you on as if in a hypnotic trance, from one tree to the next.  They’re all beautiful. Each has its own identity, just different enough so that you don’t know when to call it a day.  Our steps were light in the morning when we arrived, but hours later, after taking in so much springtime effervescence, the air went out of the tires! I diagnosed Hanami overload!  At one point, I uttered the unthinkable:  I don’t think I can look at another tree!

What did people do before the use of cell phone cameras?  Hanami is a centuries old custom here, dating back to the 8th century.  Did the earlier observers make drawings, paintings, or just commit the dreamy visions before them to memory?  vintage hanami

Our way of viewing special moments now leaves little to memory alone. We crave evidence. Cell phone cameras make it all possible. Each of us has become an amateur photographer,  getting instant gratification with one little click.   Amusingly, we like the camera focused on ourselves almost as much as on the setting. I watched with fascination as pretty young Japanese women would automatically assume  a wistful, sweet, dreamy, gentle expression when getting ready for a photo. I imagine this is a specific genetic expression assumed when posing in front of sakura, that has been transferred for centuries from one generation to the next.  The women would position themselves so they could tenderly touch a blossom or two, or peak out from behind a lacy branch. Their expression would be impossible for a foreigner to emulate! NO, I didn’t even try.

Below, pink souvenirs of the season.

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As usual, the children steal the show!

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This group of little girls, all dressed beautifully for the occasion, taking delight in what must have been a photograph of themselves.

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This young man won my award for “Knowing What to Wear.”

what to wear

DSC04194We followed the crowds, took our pictures,.  At some junction the procession became tiresome and yet I was reluctant to leave.  We started to feel like the old Alka Seltzer ad from the late 60’s, I can’t believe ate the whole thing.

Before we departed I had to take one last photo of an ancient tree.  It seemed to signify the strength,endurance, yet fragility of this world of ours.big tree

 

A DAY FOR SMILES

I felt like Goldilocks today.  Everything was just right.  Not too cold, not too hot, not too early, not too late.  I’m talking sakura (cherry blossoms)!  This year, our timing is good and it was a day for smiles, not only ours, but, it seemed for everyone else on this side of the world too.

The morning dawned bright and sunny as we followed a friend’s lead to see the weeping cherries in bloom in the palace garden.  My anticipation levels have been off the charts for a few days now and soon after we entered the grounds of the palace, we spotted the blooms and followed the crowds to gaze at the trees and take photos to remember the moment.

I hope these photos convey  the beauty that awaited us.  It is reassuring in these troubled times to see that people of the world take the time to come together to admire and wonder at the spectacular blessings of nature.

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A group of friends from Taiwan.
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Looking skyward.


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This couple and their entourage told us they’d traveled from Taiwan to have a wedding picture taken here.  The woman in the yellow cap was proud to let us know she was the mother of the groom.

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Nature’s lace, weeping cherry branches.
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I wondered how many sakura seasons this gentleman has photographed?  Love that he’s still at it.
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Probably my favorite moment, watching these two life partners, with identical body language. 
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Happiness.

Happiness

Now on to the Cherry Blossoms

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It’s not an exaggeration to state that cherry blossom season in Japan is a Big Deal.  A VERY BIG DEAL!  The Japanese celebrate their beauty in every conceivable way.  Hundreds of trees are illuminated in temples and shrines in the evenings. Lively picnics are held with friends and family under the flowering trees.  Copious amounts of sake are consumed. Food is adorned with cherry blossoms, special foods and drinks are made, and pink is the color of the day.  Very old trees, hundreds of years old, become revered and famous.  Their branches are supported and they even have their own cherry tree “doctors.”

The first time I viewed the weeping cherry tree in Maruyama Park, I wept.  Its presence was overwhelming.

maruyama

Forecast maps put out by the weather service and others are eagerly awaited. They project the dates of the first blooms of sakura in each part of the country.  It’s undeniably the dream of every international tourist to be in Japan for cherry blossom viewing (hanami).  Myself included.  Sites tend to be very crowded, but everyone is in very good spirits and its relatively easy to go off the beaten path.

first bloom

My two previous visits to Japan in April missed their target. We were too late.  Unusually warm weather in mid March encouraged the flowers to bloom early. At their peak, a strong wind shattered the flowers. There’s a message there too, Life is fleeting.

This year I’m taking no chances.  I’m arriving a full week earlier than I did for the previous Aprils when I disappointedly arrived at the tail end of the season. Many years ago, when my visits did coincide with the blossoms, the experience was transcendent.  After a visual high like that, it’s a short step to wanting to repeat it again and again.

The first bloom in Kyoto, ascertained by looking at a particular tree each year, showed its color yesterday.  I’ll be arriving in Kyoto in 3 more days. That means, if we’re lucky, we’ll have at least a week of unfolding blossoms across the city, some early, some late, all splendid.20 petals100 petals 5 petals  Factoid:  The number of petals on a cherry blossom range from 5 to over 100.

This year, I’m ready to inhale their delicate fragrance, nibble pink sweets, wear petal pink nail polish and wrap myself in a generous light wool shawl that was dyed with cherry blossoms an absolutely exquisite pink.

The Second Most Challenging Holiday for a Nice Jewish Girl

Hard on the heels of Passover, Easter would arrive. The window of our downtown Woolworths would herald  the holiday’s arrival by placing  a few dozen pastel downy baby chicks inside the store’s front window to spend their early and most likely final days milling about with their doomed brethren. I was too young to understand the long term implications of this tradition, so each year I would be invariably charmed and delighted with their appearance.

It would not be incorrect to say I craved a lavender chick of my very own.  When I shared my desire with my Mother, never doubting her opposition to letting this small animal into her immaculate house, she would ask me what I’d do with it when it grew up. Stymied for an answer, her question made me back off. As I got older and continued to raise the cute -chick-as-pet idea, she switched tactics to matter of factly state, that Easter chicks all die if brought home. A sobering thought. I wasn’t prepared to deal with a dead chick.

baby chicksOh, but the Easter baskets!  Another visual delectable.  The  stiff pink cellophane that made the inner world of the basket look like a technicolor dream, the woven baskets, the shiny green cellophane grass in which the goodies nestled.  The perky marshmallow chicks. The sugared eggs that held a pastel world within.  The hollowed out milk chocolate rabbits.  All forbidden.  Why?  Because it was Passover too and Jewish children were supposed to make due with disgusting red, orange, yellow and green jellied candies, not-so bad chocolate matzohs, and horrible Manischevitz  canned coconut macaroons, which might have been delicious if they had been baked freshly.  mini jelly slicesAt some point it became ok for me to create an Easter basket for my brother.  As I remember, I put together some wonderful creations.  I also remember, that I never got to eat any of the candy I put in, nor was my brother ever thankful or impressed by my creativity.

My home town always had an Easter parade on Easter Sunday, called the drag. Each year of my childhood, I was allowed to walk in it with my cousin. We’d get all dressed up in  a new dress, hat and spring coat.  If I was lucky, I’d get a fresh corsage to pin on my coat.  This being Massachusetts in late March or early April, it was always too cold or too windy for comfort, but that did little to deter us as we walked up and down Northampton Street masquerading as Christians, but forbidden to eat the candy that everyone else was enjoying.  We’d be sorely tempted to “break” the covenant, but rarely did so.  Such good girls.

It now seems obvious that the conflicting messages I got at the Christian holidays were because my mother, coming from an Orthodox Jewish home, was herself conflicted. She tried to give me a taste of the mainstream culture, which I’m sure she never had. It was confusing, yet tantalizing for a child.  Kind of like saying, look but don’t touch.  At Easter, I got to dip into the world of the majority, probably more so than most Jewish kids, however, I never lost the feeling that I was in disguise, waiting to be called out as an imposter.  These days, I eat whatever I want, but somehow the forbidden marshmallow bunnies have lost most of their appeal.

peeps