Who are the People in your Neighborhood?

My kids grew up watching and adoring Mr. Rogers. His ultra calm manner drove me a little crazy in those days, but now, I have more appreciation of his appeal.

Yesterday, he came back to visit me as I took a long walk in our neighborhood here in downtown Kyoto.  Roger’s opening song played relentlessly in my head, “Won’t you be my Neighbor?”

There’s an elementary school next door to us that  was holding an all-school rally and competition.   The playground was thronged with kids wearing either a red, white or blue hat.  The events went off like clockwork and continued the entire day, each one announced with the beating of a large drum .  The kids were giving their all and knew exactly what was expected of them.  I opened my window wide as the children did a school wide cheer, song and dance to kick off the event. It was impressive!

There were hundreds of kids, somehow staying all in unison. I decided to go down to get closer.  Here the kids are practicing their moves.img_7894

Whenever a teacher needs control, the kids are told to squat and do so immediately.  You see this when kids are on field trips or waiting at a train station.  Order is instantly maintained.

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From an early age children learn how to neatly place their shoes when taken off.  I still haven’t managed to teach this nicety to anyone in my family.

I didn’t want to make any parents uneasy, as I photographed their children, but no one seemed to mind.  The kids here have a lot of freedom that parents gave up decades ago in the U.S.  I see them walking alone after school, going to stores or riding their bikes.  No one gets chauffeured. Moms bike the littlest ones to school, but they’re soon taught to be independent.  The country seems relatively safe from predators as far as I can tell, and that goes across the board.

After getting my fill of the competition, I continued on my way.

The store window of a ceramic shop.
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The window of a small specialty shop selling glassware.

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My  most exciting discovery came towards the end of my walk.  I noted a beautiful traditional style building just as an exquisitely dressed gentleman was exiting.  I was curious and came closer. ( Yes, curious about the gentleman, but I’m talking about the building.)

The saleswoman/owner? beckoned me to come in  which I was only to happy to do.  “Gallery,” she told me.  She’d gotten my interest.

Come into my parlor

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I discovered that upstairs in the building, high quality kimonos are made.  The first floor, where we were, is used as ceramic gallery.  I really have no words to describe the elegance of the space, so once again, here are some images.

The center courtyard where some of the ceramics were displayed. Note the size of the lantern!

She happily showed me an incredibly elaborate,  fabulous yuzen kimono made for her daughter’s wedding, and now proudly display at the end of a very long room.

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By this time, I was sated by the beauty, the evening had gotten cooler and I remembered a wonderful Korean tea shop close by. I  settled down for an exotic hot cup of Korean tea (made with many kinds of roots), and a homemade piece of pumpkin cake just to celebrate the season and the wonders of my “hood”.

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Confession

The urge to show off comes from a primitive, childish part of me that I don’t like too much.  I sometimes  volunteer information while in Japan that no one has asked for, partly to be helpful, but also partly to show my expertise. As limited as that knowledge really is, it’s always more than a first time visitor has. It would be a lot more impressive if I spoke in fluent Japanese to someone while a English speaking person stood by.  Then, I’d have something to be proud about!

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I spoke out  again today when I saw an American couple shopping in a small used kimono store. They debated each other for several minutes about which lavishly brocaded obi they should buy as a souvenir.  They couldn’t agree, but the woman persisted and ultimately got her way, telling her husband exactly in what room and on which table at home it would be placed. The defeated husband then spotted  an item on the table in front of all of us and  wondered out loud what it might be.  Ms. Know it All, without missing a beat, and without being asked, informed him that it was an old  bag used in the filtration of  sake called sakebukuro,  used a century or two ago, dyed with persimmon juice to increase it’s strength and anti bacterial ability.  sakebukuroI added that the same bags would be used repeatedly. They were impressed with my knowledge, as I expected they’d be.  I could have told them more, but that seemed to satisfy their curiosity and my need to show off and speak some English.

I occasionally tell strangers, if the opportunity arises, that I live part time in Kyoto. It’s definitely the equivalent of name dropping, which I personally find detestable.   Maybe I do it to hear myself say it, because I can barely believe what I’m saying myself. But, truly,  how different is it from a Donald Trump boast?  Usually right after I’ve disclosed this fact, I feel very foolish for oversharing.

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So, Father forgive me, I’m just so pleased to be here, that at times I can’t contain myself!

Nothing But Flowers!

When I was in my early 30’s trying to figure out what to become in my life, I had a brief flirtation with the idea of opening a store called Nothing But Flowers.  Even before David Byrne wrote the song.  In my 40’s, still a bit adrift, I traveled to Surrey, England to take a month long course designing flowers at the Constance Spry School of Flowers deep in the lush and lovely English countryside.  Following that, I worked for a time in a few flower shops but realized  that it wasn’t an ideal fit.  However, my love of flowers is always simmering on a front burner.

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Imagine my pleasure when I unexpectedly walked into a blockbuster ikebana flower show at a department store just a few blocks from my hotel in Tokyo.  It was mobbed with hundreds of very excited, chattering  women, but I had a decided height advantage for a change, so I was able to take it all in, with just the slightest bit of pushing.

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The Sogetsu School of ikebana is pretty wild, using natural and artificial materials, wild colors and a seemingly take no prisoners attitude.  Some astonishing arrangements can be large enough to fill a hotel lobby. They can be loud and theatrical, and unrestrained, but also fabulous.  This show  of what seemed like over a hundred arrangements, pushed me to think of using different materials when I try this at home.  Most likely on a more modest scale, unless someone wants to help me gather branches and palm tree debris.

I’m posting just a “small” number of the photos I took .  Hard to believe all this material was gathered, transported and made its way to the 8th floor of a central Tokyo department store and  assembled on site!  This was the 90th Anniversary show, so I guess they went all out.  I found it only by chance.  How lucky!

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Monkey Business Trip

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I’m back in Tokyo.

In spite of all my preparation, I showed up at the airport prepared to fly the wrong airline.  As soon as the woman behind the desk at ANA began tsk tsk tsking, I knew I had a problem.  She could not find a  record of my reservation, then looking further, noted that the reservation had been canceled weeks earlier.  I, on the other hand, only held a preliminary reservation I had printed out months ago, put in a folder and carried with me,  confidently presenting it to her at check-in, without checking it over myself. It was worthless.    Upon closer inspection, in small print it read, “preliminary reservation.” It turned out I was supposed to fly JAL, but hadn’t seen the email my husband had sent to me weeks earlier noting the change in airlines.  Fortunately, I got on the ANA flight.

The missteps continued.  I noted a little while after I went through customs, that I no longer had one of my carry on bags.  A quick telephone call by a woman working at the information desk, located it immediately for me.  It was found in customs and they were holding it.  Ms. Lovely-as-can- Be left her desk, walked me back through a locked door into customs and quickly located my bag.  Only in Japan would that have been handled so efficiently and with such nice, understanding smiles.

I’m so used to losing things that I no longer get very upset about it.  I figure I’ll be able to work it out one way or another, but of course this time, I was quite relieved to have my carry on safely at my side again. It did turn out my credit cards had migrated to that bag, but don’t tell my husband. The fact that I’d had two close calls in one day sent up a red flag for me to be more cautious.

I did as I’d planned today and spent several hours browsing at my favorite Japanese department stores.  Feeling somewhat jet lagged I didn’t want to take on anything too taxing.    I headed as usual to their higher floors where the most interesting Japanese products are displayed and there’s a good likelihood of discovering a wonderful artistic exhibit. It made for a fine intro back into the many layered world of Japanese consumerism.

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It astonished me to find, on an exhibit dedicated to mingei,  several pieces of ceramics by the legendary master Kawai Kanjiro, openly displayed and actually for sale.  This small display was the Thrill of the Day.  His pottery was shown adjacent to the this broom maker, another mingei product, painstakingly hand crafted.

img_7724 img_7722One of my favorite paper/stationery stores, Itoya, was remodeled in my absence, from head to toe.  Below is a small sample of the colored washi they carry,

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After completing my rounds in Itoya, the clouds began threatening rain.  Sated, I happily returned to the hotel and spent the rest of the day researching my plans for tomorrow.

The Summer My Husband Learned to Swim

She appeared at our poolside almost as an optical illusion.  Blonde, very tall, muscular and incredibly fit, in a skimpy bikini, looking like a walking, talking, smiling ad for the benefits of cross training.  She came to our house to give swimming lessons to my grandchildren.  We tried not to look surprised as she introduced herself. At the end of an hour, she had my grandkids cutting their way up and down the length of our pool like sleek fish.  She smiled a lot and offered constant praise and enthusiasm.  We were definitely impressed.

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After two lessons with my grandchildren, my daughter casually turned to my husband, “Dad, why don’t YOU take lessons with her?”

My husband’s first instincts to a request to do something are generally negative.  This time, there was no hesitation.  “Not a bad idea,” he replied.  Within minutes, he’d scheduled a lesson with Wonder Woman.

Heretofore, I would have described my husband as a lethargic swimmer.  He’d take a few slow, strokes then gradually stop moving.  He rarely used his legs, and barely used his arms.  When it came to floating on his back, he’d immediately sink like a lead weight.

Within two lessons, Wonder Woman (WW) had him swimming laps and easily finding buoyancy on his back. I watched some of the lessons from an upstairs window as he followed her every move. I’d never seen him try to please anyone the way he tried to please WW.  I marveled at his transformation.

The highlight of the lessons I observed was when WW instructed him how to kick and use his legs while swimming.  At the shallow end of the pool, she flipped over on her stomach.  Except  for the narrow piece of fabric between her legs, she looked naked.  Gloriously naked!  Here was a woman who celebrated every inch of her body, and a man who was only too happy to join in the celebration. WW has a  butt unlike any I’d ever seen at a beach or pool.  My husband’s eyes were glued to his instructor.

That was the day he learned to truly Swim.

 

Now, whenever he can, he swims and practices daily.  Happily.  Eagerly.  With passion.  I cannot recommend a WW enough for a male whose stroke has lost its zip.