Mourning in Japan 

The air smells like incense. It has almost every day for the last week. One of our neighbors died on Tuesday, so the family's house has been draped in mourning since then. It's a very haunting scene.

A black-and-white banner hangs above the front door to the home. A small stand holding two basins, one of water and one of salt (considered purifying agents), stands between the front door and a sheltered wooden sign announcing the name of the deceased, birth and death dates, and information about the proceedings. The name and dates also appear on signs on the nearest major road. The funerary accoutrements will remain in place for approximately seven days, the duration of the initial period of mourning. After that, they will come down, leaving the family to mourn in a less public manner — save for the smell of incense in the air.
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Black on White 

A friend gave me a bag of satoimo today.



Satoimo are probably better known in America as taro root, the basis of the Hawaiian food poi. Here, they're most often boiled, peeled, and served in miso soup. I have a new Japanese-language cookbook that rather conveniently has a bunch of satoimo recipes in it, so I made one of them tonight.



This is satoimo no kurogoma miso ae, taro with black sesame and miso dressing. It was quite tasty the satoimo themselves have a mild flavor that went nicely with the stronger black sesame. And a Manhattan.
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First Hints of Autumn 

The leaves are already starting to change color here. Last weekend, this was the scene around an old farmhouse located in the village that makes up part of the city museum.


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Moldy Housing Blues 

My face has been feeling pretty gross over the last few days rather itchy and tight, like the skin is too dry. The fall flowers are blooming, so I'd been chalking the grossness up to allergies. Upon further consideration and a look at the tatami after I picked our futons up this morning, I think I've identified the culprit: mold.

You'd think that living in humid Maryland for eight years would have taught us everything we needed to know about controlling mold in our house, but no. That was only a basic education. Japan is so humid so much of the time that things take on moisture very easily and never really dry out. I've heard stories of people leaving their apartments in Tokyo for August vacations and returning to walls covered with mold. There are lines of desiccant products for all areas of your house, including the shoebox that sits in the genkan. We've got some charcoal, but we've never investigated any of the other products. Perhaps we should ever seen moldy shoes? I hadn't, until last week.

Mold is most disheartening to find in the tatami. It gets into the weave of the mats and can only be gotten out by lots of careful scrubbing (with the weave, please) with a rag or small brush and vinegar. Nothing makes me feel like Cinderlawyer quite as much as cleaning mold out of the tatami. There I sit, methodically wiping the mats, peering closely at each newly cleaned patch and watching the rag turn black as I go. Sadly, no cartoon mice entertain me during my labors.

Tomorrow, we deploy the charcoal.
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Harmony 

Lanterns are a common festival decoration. At the city museum's festival today, the road was lined with small lanterns decorated by children from a local elementary school. This one was particularly wonderful.



The kanji is wa, meaning "peace" or "harmony."
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The Real (Tall) Thing 

Beverages that come in tall cans have a sketchy reputation in America, at least where I'm from. They're usually full of cheap malt liquor or beer. They can often be found lying in the gutter, surrounded by the brown paper bags used to conceal them from the eyes of people who might happen upon the people drinking them. Which is why these amuse me tremendously:



The all-American drink, now available in tallboys!
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School's Out! 

Like all kids, young oni are happiest when school is out for the day.



Actually, these boys are preparing to dance Onikenbai as part of a local junior high school's sports day.
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Not What It Sounds Like 

I can't believe we've been here over a year and only mentioned our primary grocery store in passing.



Here's hoping the bar associations I belong to don't hold our frequent trips here against me!
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Races with Trains 

Every week, I ride my bike to the other side of town a few times. The route runs under the shinkansen tracks, then turns to run parallel to them for a while. Often, a train will come along while I'm riding, preceded by its magnificent roar. It's a race I never win, but for those few seconds that we run along together, it's pretty cool to feel like its companion.

Bullet trains are at the same time common and exotic. Tens of them pass through Kitakami, and thus right by our house, daily. We see many of them while walking the dogs or just looking out the window. They're as much a part of daily life as the commuter and freight trains, prefectural and city buses, and other road traffic. On the other hand hello! They're bullet trains! They set the air abuzz as they approach at hundreds of kilometers per hour, and are audible before they're visible. They roar overhead on elevated track, filling the space beneath with sound. They're sleek, beautiful, and they nearly blow you over as they pass through a station without stopping.

The shinkansen will always win the race against the girl on the mountain bike. Frankly, I'm just happy to be there, sharing space with these gorgeous machines.
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Rainy Season, Part Two 

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.
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