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.
My face has been feeling pretty gross over the last few days ¡½ 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 ¡½ 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.
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.
, meaning "peace" or "harmony."
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
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.
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
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 ¡½ 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.
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.
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.