Summer gives us one more reason to be skeptical of the weathermen
. They are the ones who declare the opening and close of rainy season. The rainy season, tsuyu
, is supposed to last from early-to-mid-June until mid-July throughout Japan (except Hokkaido). This year, the Japan Meteorological Agency declared tsuyu over
in Tohoku on July 19.
Over, huh? Then why are we sitting inside, huddled in our warm dotera
, on the third day of constant rain that we've had in the last two weeks? If the last two years are any measure, we get more rain after the rainy season than we do during. Both years, there have been smatterings of rain throughout tsuyu
, usually in the form of brisk afternoon showers reminiscent of New Mexico's desert storms. It's only after the end of the rainy season is declared, however, that we get strong daylong downpours, sometimes two or three times a week. Sometimes, they last for twenty-four hours or longer.
Tomorrow's forecast is for rain; the day after is for rain "at times." We don't trust the weathermen to tell the truth about such things, but relying on our own experience, it seems that we're in for a damp couple of days.
Here's an interesting test of your language skills: how quickly, and through what means, can you deflect the solicitors?
Last year at this time, I had a very limited arsenal. Someone would come to the door wanting to talk me into something. All I could do was look uncomprehending and say, "I'm sorry, I don't understand." Again. And again. Sometimes, the solicitors would ask a few basic questions about where I was from and how long I'd been in Japan (testing?) before trying again to push their agenda, but we always ended up back at the Blank Look of Incomprehension and Gomennasai, wakarimasen. Inartful and more than a little embarrassing, but so it goes. I was new.
Now, I can tell them something that will get them to go away. Sometimes it's true, sometimes it's only almost true because I can't quite pull the proper word to mind. I'm also confident enough to be a little more forceful about it, which is not to say that I'm rude. Or that I can't have a laugh with a solicitor about it. A couple of weeks ago, a newspaper salesman came by with the the following spiel:
Newspaper Guy: Hi, I'm from Newspaper. You can't read the newspaper, can you?
SKD: That's true. I can't read the newspaper. I'm sorry.
NG: Where are you from?
NG: How long have you been in Japan?
SKD: Oh, about a year.
NG: Your Japanese is very good.
SKD: Oh, it's really not so good. And I still can't read the newspaper.
I had a harder time convincing him that a subscription would be lost on us than I would have at the same time last year. It's a nice measure of how far I've come, though, to know that the Blank Look of Incomprehension is there as a fallback, rather than a default when communicating.
A friend gave us a couple of goya
this weekend, one green and one white. Goya
, or bitter melon, is a staple of Okinawan cuisine. It's very bitter but refreshing, and tastes of quinine and grass. Its juice is refreshing when mixed with shochu
and soda in goya
sours, and its flesh can often be found in chanpuru
, Okinawan stir-fries.
I made goya chanpuru
for lunch today. Besides goya
, the chanpuru
involved eggs, tofu, thinly sliced pork, ginger, and bean sprouts.
Last Friday night, our ward held its Bon Odori
. Bon Odori
, or the Bon
Dance, is a community event associated with Obon
. According to Buddhist custom, Obon
is the time when the spirits of the deceased return to visit their families' household altars. Bon Odori
is a joyful dance that commemorates the ancestors' sacrifices, and traditionally involves people dressing in yukata
and dancing around a stand built especially for the festival musicians. This was our first time to participate in the event, so we dressed up in yukata
and went out to join the dancing.
As it turned out, only a few adults wore traditional clothing ¡½ mostly, children wore them (so cute!). The children seemed pretty excited by us, cheering us on as we circled the drummers with the rest of the dancers. We'd strategically positioned ourselves behind a woman who'd clearly been dancing these dances for decades, so we were able to catch on reasonably quickly. Some of the dances were easier than others, with the Kitakami dance being one of the easy ones. As we understand it, the music and movements of each community's dance tend to represent the activities and traditions for which it is known. We can only deduce that whatever goes on in Morioka is really hard, because the dance that originated there was the most difficult.
Early in the evening, one of the ward leaders came over to chat with us, ending with a request that we stay until the end. We had already intended to, but his request made us feel a little suspicious, possibly because he was one of the guys who sprang the yakudoshi
speech on me. We learned the reason when, at the end of the evening, we won the prize for "Naisu Fuufu
" ("Nice Couple"). Even more than the dancing, the announcement caused the children to cheer wildly. As they waved and shouted congratulations at us, we were touched by their infectious joy. The celebration reminded us how grateful we are to be part of this community.
We received new checks from our bank in America today. Much to my dismay, after numerous communications in writing with the bank, my name is misspelled on them. I'm used to this sort of thing, after thirty-three years of it. I'm certainly not used to having my name be the easy one to spell, but in Japan, it is.
Like Spanish, Japanese has only five vowel sounds and no 'th' sound (setting aside Castilian pronunciations of the /s/ sound). Unlike Spanish, Japanese also has no /v/ sound. They've tried to create one in the katakana syllabary, but it's quite inelegant: vocalize the 'u' sound as 'vu,' and stick whatever vowel you need onto it to make the correct sound. As a result, our last name of Davis, so easy and common in English, has no 'standard' construction in Japanese. Depending on which document you look at, our surname could be pronounced Dehvuisu, Devuisu, or Deibisu. The latter is most in keeping with Japanese pronunciation.
Likewise, Matthew's given name has been up for debate. He prefers Masshu, but almost no one does it that way. He usually ends up being Mashuu.
As for me, there's really only one construction to use: Sutefuanii. Lucky for me, like Spanish, Japanese doesn't have that pesky 'ph' combination to muck things up. Sure, there are more u's involved than in English, and an extra syllable or two, but I'll take the extra stuff in my name over the 'ph' any day.
During our meandering around the festival areas last weekend, a friend and I caught the end of this performance:
really is the festival that keeps on festing. As we mentioned in last month's post
, some communities in Japan celebrate the "Night of Sevens" on July seventh, while others celebrate on or around August seventh, the date of Tanabata
on the traditional Japanese calendar. Judging by the prominence and elaborate nature of the decorations that are out now, it seems that the bigger celebrations occur on the traditional date.
Here in Kitakami, Kaminari-jinja
is all dressed up for the festivities.
In Esashi, bamboo branches festooned with prayers and big, colorful streamers line the streets.
The streamers are quite beautiful when the wind catches them.
Girls (and Boys) in their Summer Clothes
, lots of people come to the festivities wearing traditional clothing. Most often, they're wearing yukata
, a lightweight kimono
tend to have simpler patterns and less decorative obi
(belts) than women's yukata
Last week, we finally had some time for an overnight stay at a hot spring. We'd originally planned to go to the northern Iwate coast, but a recent earthquake
had damaged the area, and we felt it was best not to go get in the way of the cleanup efforts. Instead, we headed inland, to an onsen in the mountains of Akita Prefecture.
Checking the maps, there were basically three routes we could take to cross the central mountain range to our destination. The expressway is by far the quickest way, but it's pretty straight and has lots of tunnels. The scenery is nice
, but not great. The other routes offered narrow twisty roads that climb high into the mountains for spectacular views. We weren't in a hurry, so we chose the tiniest, windiest road on the map and set out.
Making that plan, we didn't think about the fact that seven weeks earlier there had been a major earthquake
— and we were looking at going right through the heart of the damaged area. As we neared our first-choice road, we saw the signs: "Route 342 Closed".
There were other ways across the mountains, so we weren't worried. We consulted with the toll collector, who indicated he thought our second choice road would be open. So we backtracked a bit and took some side roads up into the mountains.
As predicted, the scenery was spectacular. As not predicted, it also became more sinister.
Well, we were still better off than this guy.
But, we did have to drive around some severe road damage.
Despite the damage, we were making good time and had almost reached the road we wanted to take, when we came to a crossroads. There was no need to check the map, though — every route except the one we came in on was closed. We consulted with some construction workers to find out how to get to Route 398. "You know 398 is closed, don't you?" they asked. "You should take the expressway."
Sigh. So we headed back to the expressway, back to Kitakami, and across the mountains. After we left the expressway on the other side of the mountains, we had plenty more amazing scenery.
And we had clear sailing on our chosen route into the mountains, all the way up until we were a few short kilometers from our destination and came across yet another "Road Closed" sign. More backtracking, more consultation with locals, and another half hour of driving, and we eventually made it to our destination.
The return trip was somewhat less eventful — by then, we knew what areas to avoid — but we did find a place where the narrow mountain road, walled in by the mountain on one side and a steep drop on the other, took a hairpin turn at the bottom of a hill. They need guardrails for safety, but I guess they don't want drivers getting overconfident.
Happily, our brakes were in fine condition and we made it home safe, sound, and ready for our next adventure — whatever it may be!
It's Michinoku Geinou Matsuri
time again, so there's lots of dancing going on at various places in town. Yesterday, this Onikenbai
group performed at Suwa-jinja