Huddled together, these hibiscus on a hill overlook the city as it awaits the arrival of Typhoon 1812, Jongdari. This is, I think, the closest typhoon to swing by us. I went out for a jog to evaluate, really FEEL the weather, to see if going to hockey in Yokohama made sense. I also took a very scientific survey of real Yokosukans going about their business to see what they would do in my shoes…I asked three people, would they go to Yokohama and drive back as the winds reach max? Or stay home? (I just actually wrote this all in Japanese for you, it’s so pretty, I hit “save draft” so I wouldn’t lose it, and guess what? It turned into ????????! urgh! I checked what I wrote in the translator and my Japanese (the Japanese I asked REAL people) was ok! Darn. Oh well. Here it is in boring Romaji letters, which are maybe better anyway.)
Anata no iken ga hosh?desu. Watashitachi wa kon'ya aisuhokk? no rensh? ni iku. Kaze wa sudeni tsuyoidesu. Watashitachi wa ikubekidesu ka?
I asked a postal carrier, the gate guard, and the woman at the konbini where I bought eggs and milk (American pre-storm tradition upheld!). They all said “dame da yo!” This kind of means…not such a good idea. But I still needed to huddle with my family and make a final decision. I arrived home and found Sam had been proactive and was already in position, in the car. We went inside. Sam led the talk.
S: So, we need to decide if we’re actually going. Who thinks we should go?
A, B: (raise hands)
S: (Checks team messages for updates. 5 kids are not going, not safe. Even kids on the first line.)
A: (Checks phone for real-time ground inundation and flooding risk assessment. Sees map with colorful swirl for hours going over travel path.)
S: Who thinks it might not be a good idea because the winds are already getting strong?
A, B: (raise hands)
S: But who still thinks we should go?
A, B: (halfway raise hands, halfway want to go)
S: Mom, that’s your American pride. What do you really think?
B: Yeah, put your Kit Carson factor down for a minute.
A, B: (no hands raised, sheepish looks)
S: OK, Kit-Carson-American-pride-decision-making aside, no one thinks we should really go. Dad, we have a decision. Let’s go play Magic.
Tomorrow morning Ben and I leave early for a kendo tournament, then somehow manage to get to hockey practice, and a going away party. Not sure how this is all going to work. Public transport definitely involved for Sam getting to practice. We still only use one car, which is kind of amazing. Most people who travel like we do have two large cars. And not 20 years old! In fact, I don’t actually know anyone who travels as much as we do. Google timeline is really cool – it tracks your location and transport methods (car, train, bike, feet, etc.) daily and provides statistics. Anyway…I’m happy to be home for an unexpected few hours and able to post a few pictures of the last couple adventures. I think you’ll most enjoy the Parks and Rec album because I actually annotated it with the crazy stuff the boys have been saying this week. They have really been making me laugh. We don’t watch any TV shows but they roped me into this one and I think it is HILARIOUS! It’s so awkward, but SO FUNNY! It’s our reward for getting chores done. (Note to parents – there are particularly mature shows in the mix, so be forewarned.)
What else have we been doing? Awesome camping trips, the latest to the land of my people in the Nobeyama highlands. We stayed by the headwaters of the Chikuma river, where snow-runoff filled the clearest stream I’ve ever seen. We slept to the sound of the river, grilled steaks, ate lettuce-flavored ice cream, hiked in the drizzle the next day, and packed up in the brief period of sun between cloudbursts. That all sounds idyllic except for a few bits of the story I’m leaving out.
One of the guys, Sam’s friend, couldn’t come at the last minute so the group dynamics were different and I battled brother rivalry as we set up camp. We closed the camp-out with a bang, too, when rock-splitting (which was otherwise fairly injury-free) managed to slice Sam’s finger and arm. But, no eyes were damaged, and all was handled calmly. I actually really enjoyed having a quiet project to do as we did a final sweep of the campsite – bandaging fingers on a camping trip is kind of a tradition. I have a finger that still has no feeling along a hockey stick-shaped scar from when I was camping in Victoria and was trying to cut tape off a stick. In any case, this place is GORGEOUS, and Sam did end up finding the crystals he was looking for. I kept praying that he would because that was one of the reasons I was so excited to drag him from home and into the woods once again. This area is known for crystals in the granite.
The icing on the cake, though, was our friend Tetsuya finding a CAVE with a rock museum inside! WHAT?! you say? Yes. A cave, the only one in the world, the sign advertised. And sure enough, it was. My description would not do this place justice, nor its sweet proprietors, who also run (along with their cats) a dusty ryokan and onsen in a marshland preserve. We will be back. They also apparently do some deer hunting because they had a very protective, specially-bred, deer-hunting dog on guard outside. We walked for 1km through (UNDER) the hill, and past many specimens of rock from around the world, as well as the mining of crystals right in that hillside. Unbelievable. Tetsuya, though, as you can see, is not in this group photo. He, the only one who speaks Japanese, elected to remain with the van. Why? we wondered. What did he learn from my stunted conversation that I somehow missed? Was it the bats we saw flitting about? Sylvana asked me several times, “Alli? Where are we going?” “Alli? when will we get out?” I did my best, but honestly, I didn’t know. And this was during the week when the world’s attention was focused on those 12 soccer boys in a Thai cave. I had faith we’d emerge soon, but believe me, I was thinking about earthquakes…
This video is a real hit with kids. It’s trying to wake Sam up. Enjoy.
We also got Dave away to Hakone, finally! This area is only 2 hours away, but when you go, you want to have time to really explore. Time is hard to find, though, for Dave these days. We grabbed a night and went for it! I got reimbursed for the ropeway and pirate ship rides we couldn’t do last time (tsuitenaiyo!) and felt like this time we were golden. Still, weather was sketchy. We had to do outside things on day 1. A must-do is the Old Tokaido Road, a section of road that people used to travel from Kyoto to Tokyo. This section is still preserved, and one place I love is a tea house where people rested after going through the checkpoint – the Amazake Chaya.
Since I’m in survey mode, I think this typhoon-styled hair (me, right now, back from a jog) is my best look. Dave and the boys give it a 3 out of 5. My baseline, they say is 1.5 out of 5? So, indeed, it’s an improvement. What do you think? Dave says “the messy look isn’t ACTUALLY messy.”
Driving home from kendo tonight, under the starry sky which has been obscured by June gloom, a collage (or collision?) of memories drifted by. It’s been so long since I have posted anything or even responded to “recreational” emails that my dearest friends are actually now sending brief pings “Alli? are you there?” And of course those who are most dear, I write to least often because I have so much to say, and I need white space in my mind and life to sort it out. This place is like a perpetual camping trip, though, in the best of ways. So many people around, opportunities to drop in, chat, play, and run amuck, so there’s really no private time or white space unless you’re deep in the night…
This is a farm near the hockey rink. These are tomatoes which didn’t make the cut. Japanese vegetable stands are perfection. Sumiko gurashi are cute little stuffed pet animals that Ben and his friends just love. They are the leftovers, forgotten in corners, the tapioca that fell off the spoon and got covered in dust, brought to life as the cutest round little pet toy accompanied by a tiny little dog-house. These tomatoes reminded me of sumiko gurashi – leftover, forgotten, yet they couldn’t be more perfect in the setting sun.
So dear friends and family, I am sorry. I hope this collage of memories allows us to reconnect with a laugh and a smile despite the passing of time.
As we drove home, Ben was manning the growing playlist on my phone, and with each song a new memory flitted by, because the playlist is the soundtrack of the past year. So many hockey tournaments, driving us into the frigid mountains early in the morning, along the rivers feeding rice patties and framed by bridges connecting modern cities. So many sunsets over the ocean, glimpsed through the chain-link fence encircling the elementary school where we practice.
Lingering on the topic of kendo for a minute, tonight I thought (as I sometimes do) what the heck am I doing here? I’m in a dojo, I have practically zero coordination and I’m trying to learn this ancient art in a language I don’t know. And you know what? It’s extremely hard. Physically exhausting. What in the world am I thinking? I’m 47 now. This is a full contact endeavor, in heavy gear. In the Japanese summer. But eventually we always find our way to an appreciation of friendships, and funny reflections on the bench outside the konbini (convenience store) where we buy cold drinks and a little snack, and more milk for this family (we really need a personal cow). Tonight we were laughing about how one older sensei is always a bit off on the drills. We’re the foreigners, so it’s hard to figure out what we’re supposed to do, but we’ve got the hang now for many of the routines. However, this one sensei always throws us off because he’s doing something different. On the konbini bench, warm tea hydrating and calming me after the frenzied shiai (practice battle), Ben said, “I realize something now: there’s always an upside and a down side to everything. Maybe he’s had too many good strikes to the head and got a concussion.”
A moment from the camping trip. One of many, but one of my favorites.
We headed up, and as we pulled through the main gate we planned what question we wanted to ask the guard. This is something we enjoy doing, just to connect with these hard-working folks who spend endless hours in a tiny cube checking IDs. Usually we ask what their favorite song or artist is. Tonight the guard said “John Williams, he writes a bunch of great scores.” One night I’ll never forget. We had visiting friends (from Bainbridge Island!) with us, Dave didn’t want any questions. It was late. Not time for games. But we couldn’t resist. Hailey suggested “What’s your favorite cheese?” Ok! We asked. The guard paused, reflected for a second, and said “You know, funny you should ask. I’m actually somewhat of a cheese connoisseur.” (WHAT?!?!?! You know I’m just dying laughing at that point.) From there we gathered that he likes a particular kind of bleu cheese, from California. Best on the planet. Reyes bleu cheese. Try it, if you can find it. That’s what Hayes said that night two months ago.
School got out on Thursday, and my friend and yoga sensei, Silvana (from Argentina), happened to be in front of the commissary when I scooted in to buy yet another rotisserie (pre-cooked) chicken to feed my family something that approximated a real dinner. I invited her to take her two boys camping with us, and in a matter of 90 seconds we had a plan. “Let’s just go” she said in her beautiful Spanish accent. I love it. We’d sort the details out later, but we had an escape plan. Our two families have boys similar ages, but they didn’t know each other. We also figured that would sort itself out. We crammed into my car, 6 of us, two tents, a fire pit, tons of snacks (because you can’t let teen boys go hungry if you hope to EVER kidnap them again for a camping trip!), sleeping bags, and eventually firewood, too. We had SUCH a great time checking out two different lakes near Mt. Fuji. First night in a tent (we were up all night expecting to hear the sound of bears or rain but it was literally the quietest night I’ve ever spent outside despite the earthquake we felt as we tried to drift off), second night in a fancy yurt (because one boy didn’t get that word in a spelling bee, and we’d never tried one, and so we decided we needed to give it a shot). We found friendly Japanese people at both lakes, apologized for crazy loud teenage boys by giving out a plethora of American snacks that Sam bought at the commissary (because he was being a pill, and I decided his punishment was to shop with me – boy did he turn that into a win – $240 in DingDongs, chips, marshmallows, PopTarts later and he was a happy boy, and so was I – time with my boys is the most precious punishment ever!) Here’s the link: although be forewarned – I have not had time to edit out the crazy pictures yet. (Actually, the truth is I have gotten a bit overwhelmed with pictures such that I have lately moved to a one-shot policy. I give my self one shot to get the shot, no filters, no retakes. Whatever I got, that’s it. Apologies, but it’s the raw feed 🙂 )
This is on the way to the barn where I help my dear friend Tomoe every Tuesday. The road is very narrow, but sometimes I’m rewarded with a view of Fuji as I down the last of my coffee. Tuesdays are always really hard because they follow two midnight returns from hockey Sat and Sun, then kendo on Monday. But as I caught this fun scene of machinery cramped onto the trail of a road, I heard “Ahhhleeee!” This sweet lady farmer knows my name!
Maybe the short wash cycle after kendo is the best time to reach out and share a few collage memories. The washer is spinning our hakamas dry, and I’m feeling a bit spun out, too, as June marches along and one friend after another moves away. But today marked the start of something new which reminds me of times past and the shoulders of giants upon whom I’ve stood (Judy Levine, I owe you a long note!). Today two teens I adore (Sam and Sammie!) launched an advanced math summer school for 7 middle schoolers, and we have another group of 7 elementary school students testing out an advanced math curriculum which we hope might be used next year. To my left, just past the kitchen counter, is a little one-room schoolhouse in our dining room. This morning we pulled out our long, Craigslist-purchased, IKEA table to the full 10-person length to accommodate all the kids. And we tightened the screws on the benches so no one would wreck while studying. 😉 Along the wall is a desk and some shelves I rescued from the garbage truck – my neighbor and dear friend is moving, and it’s her son’s old desk. Tired, older computers line the wall, and books and puzzle cubes populate the shelves. The kids studied then spilled out into the neighborhood to play, eat tacos, watch a movie and go bowling. Dave will not be entirely pleased that I’ve commandeered the dining room in this manner…but he’s away for several weeks, and maybe when he sees the happy faces and learning he won’t notice…??? Nah. You know better. 😉
Paper lanterns, new (old) chairs, new and old friends, marshmallow sticks which can do 6 at once, Ben manning the music from his YouTube playlist on the other side of the dining room window screen, and a camping dinner of sausages.
A few nights ago we had a bonfire to welcome new neighbors and send off our friends across the road. Matchje is my fellow collaborator on school advocacy matters and is an inspiration every day. She was the first to welcome me with cookies, and finds a way to humbly serve so many people despite the many demands on her time. She’s the kind of wife and mother who always has a dinner plan, and not only that, a lunch plan for her teen boys, and a math pathway in mind for middle and high school, and by the way, considers it relaxing to measure linens so they can be properly labeled for sale in the thrift store. She is amazing. Truly. I’ll close with this. When they arrived at the bonfire, which was dressed up for the occasion with a few little paper lanterns, a folding table, and plenty of s’more stuff, Matchje had a spare folding chair for me. As we placed it around the fire I realized a tradition had been borne: neighbors bring me chairs when they move. I have 2 stools from Gerry, a dining table chair from Paul and our friends have paper lanterns from us. Chairs, lanterns, desks and shelves. Thank you for your friendship here, and thank you for holding us dear enough to say – hey Alli, for goodness sake, where the heck are you? Know, dear friends and family, that I love you and have your letters and notes close to me and was waiting for a time when I could truly connect with you. I realize now that time rarely comes when you live in perpetual camping trip 🙂
New-year intentions are in mid swing… atoshimatsu is “cleanup”. Decorations are restowed, laundry done, clothes to be donated set aside, leftovers enjoyed. It’s also time to consider mindset, shifting back into the mode of work and school, obligations, how many, which ones, etc. Conversations with the boys on this topic are often, regrettably, a bit one-sided. Today was different, though. I asked for an appointment with Sam, and when it was time to chat he engaged willingly, from repose on his favorite couch.
We reflected on some things I mentioned last night from a book I’m reading, written by a Samurai for his students 375 years ago. Musashi* had retreated to a cave where he expected to die of illness. In his book, he talks about rhythms. The carpenter shifts between making tools, teaching tradesmen, and building houses. The warrior shifts between serving his lord in battle and retreating from service. The merchant who becomes wealthy and enjoys a good life, or corpulent because of wealth and paying for others to do his work. Shifting from being in harmony with others, and not being in harmony.
It’s time to shift back into work and school mode, but how do we shift between rhythms of laziness and effort without resentments dragging us down? To make the shifts easier we can hold out inducements; getting up with the alarm is easier if you know you have some couch time awaiting before the breakfast/school/homework cycle begins. Think about how good it feels to be independent, not reliant on someone else controlling you or labeling you as lazy, or unmotivated.
Parents do this all the time without thinking about it. We use labels to help us (and others) relate to our kids…he’s the self-starter, she’s the crazy one, he’s sensitive to scratchy clothes and loud noises, she’s a picky eater. These are the “business cards” we hand our kids from a very early age. But might it be better to resist doing this? Labels are confining. We should be asking questions, and encouraging the kids to figure out the answers. We only know a portion of who our children are. They evolve and amaze us as they begin to define themselves. Even the most basic personality traits (like introversion vs. extroversion) have plasticity, potentially changing over decades. (And a personality continuum limited to one dimension like this is flawed at best…but that’s a topic for another day.)
Ben is eating berries at the counter, Sam is making lunch. We circle back to the morning’s conversation.
Sam, I’m struggling a bit with investing time in going up for hockey tonight when I know how it will go. It’s a late night, too. How do you deal with that? How do you stay committed?
Honestly? That’s interesting, because Dad and I were just talking about how hard it is to overcome your inertia sometimes. That couch…How do you break a rhythm of relaxation?
Repeated effort. Substitution method.
The (former) hobo philosopher speaks. He no longer looks hockey-hobo with long hair, but we had a laugh thinking about how hobo he looked for a long time. What I found out later, at THAT hockey practice I was resisting, is that the hockey director’s WIFE wanted to take a picture of Sam to her hairdresser to get her hair cut like his! She liked his natural flow very much. I explained that’s “hockey flow” 🙂
I am so grateful I have the luxury of being at home with the kids. Yesterday was a snow day here (January 22). It gave me a day to catch up on sleep lost over the past week. I also found this draft post from earlier this month!! I have been noticing that while certain conversations or days are really trying, the next day they’re usually funny. I’ll try to maintain my sense of humor in the moment, even when a simple snowball fight somehow turns into festivus! (I told the story of a snowball fight turned street rumble this morning to a friend and she described it as festivus. Does anyone know what that means?)
This morning… “You know, Sam, it takes a lot of effort for mothers to give up a desire to feel needed by their kids.” Sam replied, “Well, if you want to feel so needed, why don’t you grab me a bowl and some milk.”
It takes great effort to be a patient coach, not giving orders but walking beside them as we figure out how to do this together. Holidays (and you know what? A simple snow day!) are so important for that relationship recalibration, a chance to find a rhythm for the next phase of the year.
PS. I cleaned out old clothes from Sam’s closet. I found his three pairs of grey tactical pants. He wore those EVERY day last year. They fit me fine, so I grabbed one and wore it to the gym over my tights. One of my good friends saw them and commented – “hey I like those pants!” I have a pair set aside for her now, too 🙂 You can imagine how much I enjoyed laughing about Sam’s newfound position as the style-setting hockey guy for 40-something ladies!
(*The 17th century samurai who wrote The Book of Five Rings for his students.)
This morning is the perfect counterpoint to last night’s vigil. My alarm sounds off at 5am. I cannot remember for the life of me why in the world my alarm is going off when it is dark out. Then I remember that I had planned to run 11 km to catch the first sunrise of the New Year’s, as is Japanese tradition. (hatsu hinode) As soon as I remember that, my heart rate increases and there is no turning back. I throw on smoke-scented clothes from last night’s fire (from 4pm-midnight, so very aromatic!), throw down coffee and fizzy vitamin C drink, grab a granola bar and a headlamp, and many layers. It is only 4 degrees Celsius, but clear. I know I will be plenty warm running down, but once at the beach I want to look for more pottery fragments for my stockpile to write kanji and names of friends who linger in the kitchen chatting. We sign those like a guest book.
Above is Hashirimizu, a sleepy fishing village near where we practice Kendo. We drive by this little bay every evening after practice to grab a dessert, or a second dinner for Ben!
Although I’m leaving about 9 minutes later than I’d hoped, the jog goes according to plan and it seems like I will catch sunrise right where I hope to land, on my favorite beach. I see many revelers out this year, compared to last year. Skateboarders are out joking around and laughing by the vending machines, maybe getting some coffee, many older people are riding their bikes down to the beach to catch the sunrise, and other people are parking their cars anywhere they please while they wait for the sunrise. It is like running a marathon with fans along the way.
As I trot through the last tunnel on the way to the beach, I squeeze past a mother and three children. As soon as I look left, ready to say happy New Years in Japanese, I realize that these are some of my Kendo friends! I actually ran into them last year, at Hashirimuzu Shrine after sunrise! The tradition is sunrise, then shrine, then home to eat special New Year’s cuisine, which mothers typically cook up in advance so they don’t have to cook for the first three days of New Years. Of course many people now buy the “osechi ryori” instead of cooking all of it. A mother I chatted with at the bus stop later bought half and is making half.
Two years in a row is quite an amazing tradition to fall into, and an extremely serendipitous way to start this year. As I was running down wondering about my timing, I decided that I would be happy to be wherever sunrise caught me instead of me catching sunrise by plan. I’m really happy that that I was caught in a chance meet-up with my friends! I feel a sort of kinship with that family, and a few others in the dojo, who are part of the Japanese Navy.
I hope each of you had an equally happy start to your New Year. The 15th century samurai philosopher, Musashi, speaks of rhythm in his Book of Five Rings (Christmas present from Dave – thank you!). For example, and I’m not doing it justice because it’s from memory with a belly full of roast, potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, turnips…but in any case, the rhythm of the merchant growing wealthy, or ruining himself with wealth, the rhythm of the warrior defeating enemies or being defeated, the highest state actually being one of emptiness, devoid of ego, able to process all stimuli intuitively… That sense of being in the “zone”, being willing to allow sunrise to catch me where ever I happened to be, is what I hope for all of you. The faith that this year will afford you the grace to rise to all challenges and the comfort of many joys.
This little garden is perched to the side of a staircase leading down to the shrine. There are about 150 stairs, clinging in the forest which borders a large community park. They lead down into the back of a fishing village. Only those with reason to scoot between the fishing village and the Japanese Self Defense Academy high on the hill where old war-time batteries are preserved have any reason to know about these stairs. I have been down them before, but never noticed this tiny garden, neatly locked up, brooms stowed on the side of the shed, soil tilled, little stoves ready to cook or burn compost for warmth? Or maybe cook some rice the old way,as I do on Wednesdays? Who owns this land bordering the park? Who tends the garden and locks the gate?
The above little creatures are Kappa. Like Musashi’s writings, and many things Japanese, I really can’t do them justice here, the folklore is too complicated. Suffice to say they’re a cross between elves and trolls? Look them up. Maybe they’re good-hearted, maybe not? I have seen their kind in all the forests that I’ve run through, usually carved into logs or painted on a stone. I love that there’s a tiny shrine to them behind the larger historic shrine at Hashirimizu. I think it’s wise to pop in at a Kappa shrine, contribute a few coins in acknowledgement, and say hello with a wink.
(P.S. Dave is taking a roast out of the oven, and I am starving and so eager to eat it. I mention to him that I really enjoy dictating my notes now and then. There’s a totally different feel to extemporaneous commentary, definitely in-the-moment writing. Like accepting your first snapshot as a matter of personal policy, no retakes. I do that sometimes, too. It helps to keep albums pruned. Writing this way forces me to be very genuine and transparent. Then Dave says, “So you like being a dictator?”)
Sam and me, playing catch with a super-moon at sunset on New Year’s Day. Love you, Sam. Thanks for joining me!
PPS – Speaking of going with the flow, and deciding upon a title for this post, and alighting upon “rhythm”…I just realized that as I returned to base I was greeted by taiko drummers! This particular performance is worth watching once because it replicates the sound of a train. It’s entrancing…enjoy.
A backyard fire, splitting wood, The Boss, Ballard beers, bourbon…all things known and good. The Promised Land draws to a close and ignites tears. Memories of friends no longer near, family far away, dear ones passing. A vigil it becomes, as friends drift in to the scent of white cedar, and share the losses this year has brought. Burdens unloaded as sparks ease over the woodstack, gently closing 2017 with hope for a New Year. A torch will light the way from vigil to vigil here on this court, where friends quickly become family. Thank you for standing the watch. Here’s to being the first to kick-start 2018!
And Dave…thank you for taking us on this experience of a lifetime. Ambassadors for the land of the free and the home of the brave. Love you! Happy 16th anniversary!!!
In reviewing the post frequency this year, I realized that I tend to post twice – evidence that I have good intentions for about two weeks, then three months of racing around to hockey and kendo tournaments, with a few camping trips thrown in, and thus no opportunity to reflect over a Saturday morning coffee with you. But, today, Christmas Eve, that is what I am doing!
(By the way, it’s easier for me to throw a link up on our messaging app (LINE) so if you’d like more frequent chats, far-flung friends and family, please download the app and send me an email. I’ll give you my user ID. Those of you on LINE who shoot me a note, thank you! It is always great to be connected with you back home. I also switched to Google Photos for archiving and sharing. The links below take you to albums with annotations throughout, so for now the “album” link above goes through 2016 only.)
This kanji means “stay outside,” which is the Japanese way of saying “do not enter.” I found this piece of wood in my dear friend Tomoe’s stash to be burned. It was right by her wood stove in her barn. I grabbed it, didn’t even dust it off, and asked what it meant. I loved the double meaning as that seems to be a recurring theme for my adventures here – stay outside. Explore. I am rarely in my seat at my narrow desk, nice as it is, with a great view of our yard from a little solarium in the kitchen area. Today is Christmas Eve, and I’m enjoying taking a few moments to reflect on the past few months as an opportunity to reconnect with all of you during the holidays. We miss you and love you!
The Japanese language continues to be fascinating, and frustrating, but I can mo get around pretty well and develop real friendships. It takes some commitment to the place, the people, and the language to merit remaining friends past the first year. It seems that for most people, the “novelty” of knowing a foreigner wears off and they subconsciously decide if that foreigner merits retention in the tight circle of friends, which are akin to family. Groups – whether sports or in business circles – have deep roots and layers of loyalties. You don’t just “join”, really. Membership is not earned with a registration or monthly payment, or even employment. I am grateful to all those who have genuinely adopted me as a friend, a true friend. I am very lucky. I remain engrossed in learning the language because truly communicating and developing friendships requires a knowledge of Japanese as few speak English outside of the city centers. Plus, it’s just a fascinating language. For instance, the word for “pine” is “matsu,” which ALSO means “wait,” which seems to correlated to “pining away” for something or someone. See how addicting it is? Stuff you mull over while driving to and from hockey.
Dave got me an early Christmas present – this Dutch oven so we can make soups over the fire. I really want to make tonjiru, which is a pork and vegetable soup we enjoyed at a kendo party last week.
Speaking of my dear husband, he has been working very hard finishing up a Master’s degree so that he doesn’t lose step while here, plus work. He has not had time to adventure as much as the boys and I have. But just as he has every year, he’s ensuring the Christmas spirit is not lost in the hub-bub. We watched White Christmas a couple nights ago and I keep singing “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas!” I really miss the snow. We also watched Mary Poppins earlier this year, which the boys loved (and which made me laugh out loud despite initial protests against watching an older movie with my scarce chance to see a movie, which is about 3 times a year! Guess who Mr Banks reminds me of?????? ?
) Thanks to Dave for keeping the classics close. He’s a classy guy, through and through. I love you. Congratulations on surviving 16 years with me this New Year’s Eve.
Alli’s irons in the fire…instead of boring you with details on all of these I’ll just list them. These are all the fun things that make this feel like home, a community, not just a post for 3 (or more) years.
Lately, I have found myself explaining to Dave, after an adventure takes 3 hours longer than expected, “one thing led to another.” That is how this fall has been. You know how you walk by a tiny unmarked path through the trees and just wonder where it goes? For a second you contemplate whether you’ll take it or not? (Or maybe for some a small shop, or record store, or book store…) When you’re living in a foreign country for a defined period of time, I almost never say “nah…I’ll pass.” What if it turned into a memory of a lifetime? How would I NOT camp out on top of a mountain I’ve noticed for months with a group of astronomers? How would I NOT go sailing on a tall ship in Yokohama, joining in helping an organization start up an international sail training school for high schoolers? Add those all up and you can imagine what the kaleidoscope of my brain is like, storing up so many disparate memories. All year it’s yes yes yes! The year of yes. I just explained last night that for two weeks I’ll be comfortable saying that “tabun” (“maybe”). Please enjoy below some highlights from all the adventures spawned by saying yes…
One of my favorite memories of the fall, a hike with boys in the Nobeyama Highlands before the early November hockey tournament. More pictures can be found of mountain ranges, rice patties, even some video of the drive through small farm towns in the link below.
The boys are continuing to enjoy ice hockey with their Japanese teams. As in the US and Canada, the intense focus on winning as the kids mature into their teens makes the competition for ice time equally intense. Sam’s junior high team is a combination of PeeWee and Midget players (age 12-15), with a fairly wide disparity in skills from first line to third line. There is no “league” per se, so all the games are played in a tournament setting. We commend Sam for remaining committed to the sport he loves despite not being a top dog. He keeps working at it on and off the ice, and patiently waits for an opportunity his line to contribute to the team. For an excellent perspective on how to coach without focusing on the win as the objective, but rather individual player development, check out Blair Becker. That said, the new head coach hired to help Shin Yokohoma’s team is really making a difference. I can see a clear movement toward setting up plays vs. relying on one or two skaters to move the puck up the ice, only to get stripped as they try to shoot deep in the slot. I spent an entire game (when I was goal judge at one end of the ice) analyzing the tactics that the Jr High team used to employ game after game. I’m no hockey coach, but as an informed mom who spends a lot of hours driving around the mountains of Japan (sanmiyaku = mountain range), talking to the kids, ensuring that we’re not pushing their involvement but rather following their lead (setting up the play for them?)…I am happy to see that they are getting good coaching. Sam is also doing well in school and has a bunch of friends. He’s enjoying the freedom of biking to school, not tied to a bus and faster than walking. School is still not very interesting to him, but he has a few excellent teachers (shout out to Ms. Hindman and Ms. Swanland, social studies and geometry, respectively). They proactively communicate, appreciate his personality, and ensure that the tasks of learning are amenable to Sam getting them done. We still have an extensive white board recording system, briefings daily with Mr. Sam, and various ways to be sure things don’t fall through the cracks…it’s a process, but each year it gets better. And we have to remember he’s a year younger than everyone else although he’s easily on par physically. Sam continues to be a funny gentle giant with tremendous patience. He actually said recently, “I must be a real challenge for parents. I’m very patient, stubborn, AND lazy.” He’s right! But he’s only lazy about stuff other people think is important, not his own objectives, about which he’ll go without food or sleep…
Sam with the guys. And me. Proving that Japanese hockey players are NOT SHORT!
Sam playing forward this time – first time ever!
Using several different graphic design programs to model 3-dimensional space ships, houses and trees to populate games, both original (created with a buddy of his who loves coding in Java) and also Minecraft.
Sam also competed on a robotics team this year in a jousting competition. This is the final practice before heading to Tokyo to compete.
Sam started Aikido a month ago and is really enjoying it. His sensei, a man and wife team, are excellent teachers. Very strict, but joyful. I watch on Tuesdays and often hear loud clapping and laughing when a student begins to get it right. Very different atmosphere than kendo, although no less difficult! Sam’s sensei, Hattori-san, always says “ENJOY YOUR LIFE!” Very typical aikido mindset. Very appropriate for a gentle giant. He’s learning powerful defensive moves, plus sword work, which will eventually be combined. This sensei is licensed to do the black belt exams, which are transferable anywhere in the world. We’re lucky to have found him here, at the right place and the right time.
As you can see, his interests span a very wide range of things, all of which he’s intensely focused on. Now he’s into drawing and has a variety of sketch pads, pens and pencils. This is the most recent picture of Sam…
Ben’s team is doing well. He’s among the oldest on the Mite/Squirt combo team. Next year he moves up to the Squirt/PeeWee combo (the age ranges are a bit different here – it’s grades 4, 5, 6 next year for Ben). He started younger than Sam and is naturally very nimble, so he’s enjoying being a top scorer and is put anywhere on the ice they need him forward-playing defender to center. The last game we went to, against the Yamabiko Busters out in Suwa lake (3 hour drive for a scimmage!), the game was really tough. We were getting beaten badly, but Ben kept driving hard hard, forecheck, backcheck (on full international size ice rink), shooting, and even some passionate outbursts when teammates didn’t seem to be pulling their weight. He’s got drive, fighting spirit and focus. In the last few minutes of the game, he shot from the far side of the circle (far left side) and took a shot that was so far away that the moms and I had time to lament out loud that it would not make it in. “Too far away but good shot!” we said. To our astonishment it went in top left!!! For a hattie! Amazing end to the game. Ben’s buddy Jake, the goalie, had a great game defending more than 60 shots on goal with more than a few spectacular slides and glove saves. Ben continues to be a self-starter at school, a solid contributor to class, enjoyed by his teachers, and a top student. He’s learning to manage his exuberance pretty well, but it’s hard because he has a magnetic personality, loves to laugh, and has a ton of energy. I was recently watching a video of him at 12 months, in Kailua Beach Park. Sam was going over obstacles on his bike (at age 4.5) and Ben was just starting to walk. I was still excited, exclaiming “Look at this WALKER!” and just as I said that on the video, I noticed Ben take off running. I checked twice to see if it was on high speed fast forward. It wasn’t. Ben was running at the same time he learned to walk. He hasn’t slowed down since!
Ben scores in the first few seconds of this video. You can see his little “celly” (celebration) behind the net. This is Thanksgiving morning.
Ben in Evan’s lucky skates! Thank you, Debra, Arun and Evan!!! And many thanks to Liz for this awesome picture.
Speed skaters practicing in Suwa Lake. Very cold, but peaceful and a great rink to get some speed on (duh, right?!). The ice even cracked a bit underfoot, like a river.(This is actually not a lake, although Suwako (Lake Suwa) DOES sometimes freeze in the winter. This is a speed skating rink, man made.)
Practicing at home with lots of defenders!!!
Visiting the Tokyo Budokan for our sensei’s hachi-dan shinsa (exam) on Nov 30. He is 7-dan now so he was testing for 8-dan. Only 0.5% of all the sensei who test make it. He has been trying for 13 years. Amazing man. He also practices aikido, judo and is a Sumo wrestler. A lovely man with a bright spirit and intensity about teaching. He is also very encouraging. We love you, Ubukata-sensei!
Earlier this week we enjoyed a December holiday hike through the Kamakura hills. These hills sheltered Kamakura, ancient seat of Yoritomo’s shogunate, Japan’s first military government in the 13th century. The Kamakura area is protected by small (but sufficient) hills on three sides and the Sagami Bay. Old roads (now trails) show how people traveled into and out of the city. In the winter, when leaves fall and spider webs are less prevalent, it is fun to explore these trails on the Miura Peninsula where we live, especially with a local guide/friend!
The rest of the pictures give you a snapshot of the year, but each also does link into an album with notes I made at the time 🙂
Black Friday hike along the Morito River headwaters…and many attempts to get a family picture!
Thanksgiving morning – Kanagawa Championships (Ben’s team). Early morning for the two of us, but some good videos and a great outcome for the team.
Thanksgiving with hockey friends and neighbors:
Typhoon Lan (mid October):
Trail runs to find places which the family would enjoy…
A quick paddle before hockey practice, working hard to outrun a huge container ship 😉
Late August, just back from 3+ weeks in Washington getting our house ready to rent. We escaped to the beach several times before school started.
Also late August, I’m walking home from the SRF (Ship Repair Facility) annual summer party.
Last weekend before school started…we went on a MOST unusual “campout” with an astronomy club on the peninsula across Tokyo Bay from us. The boys really enjoy teasing me about this one… We have since gone actual camping with them…nice nice people!
Thank you for enjoying all of these experiences with us! We love hearing from you and wish you a very happy holiday with friends and family. All our love, from Japan.
Alli, Dave, Sam and Ben
Mom, this better be a REAL camping trip, not like the last one.
The afternoon sun is streaming in on my passengers as we head home from this REAL camping trip in Chiba. The reunion with our astronomy club friends (of Nokogiriyama cafeteria campout fame) in the hills of Chiba was cold, and the boys were now looking forward to getting home. I was looking forward to feasting on a little more fall foliage in the Yoro Valley. We’d already done one walk in the woods, shot pictures of retired, forlorn picnic tables set out for those wanderers enjoying some shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing” as it was coined in the 1970s. Taking in the forest atmosphere for mind, body, soul. The boys thought that was probably it. Then we were going to go straight home.
The moon shot was taken by Ben with his cell phone. He was very enchanted by working hard to capture a moonshot through a telescope lens. You can click on the picture above for the rest of the story and the campout pictures.
I had another idea, that wasn’t going to be too hard, I thought. We’d walk along the scenic Yoro River on our way home and maybe see a waterfall. But in order to make this happen I need to find a parking spot very quickly in the busy village, jump out and head straight for the river. There is no time to study instructions with boys angling to get home instead of another walk. They found skipping stones and soon were so engrossed that they had to be torn away from that pasttime to walk further along the banks of the river.
It would have been a really pleasant stroll through delicate canopies of red and yellow maple leaves if it weren’t for two boys trying to shove each other down the banks into the river below. Every river crossing is comprised of stepping stones which also present opportunities for shoving matches amidst the tentative forest bathers. For them, it’s a respite. For my boys, shinrin-yoku tends to be more of a contact sport. I tried to get a nice family photo, too…Ben launched himself to the ground just as I snapped it. Sam said…
Yes, once again the boys have worked their magic and managed to exhaust mom to the point that even she is just dying to get in the car and go home.
All was soon fixed with jumbo candy apples and chocolate covered bananas. As I nursed some irritation about yet another walk foiled, a song came on which seemed to speak to the moment, crossing the AquaLine over Tokyo Bay. Fix You by Coldplay. Mom needed to fix her internal register. I didn’t mind the $70 each way to drive on a bridge/tunnel. Why should I mind boy nonsense? No outing will be perfect through and through, although the most recent trip to Nobeyama set a high bar for everyone having a wonderful time. With mindsets adjusted, bathed in the warmth of the sun, we found ourselves stuck in a traffic jam. Google hadn’t warned us of this. We were starting to get a little hungry so we dove into our stock pile of s’more materials like raccoons into a trash can. Another great song came on.
Hey Ben, what was the name of that song that we heard on the way back from Chiba when we were camping? I think by the band you like? Maybe the name Going Home? we were feasting on smores when that came on.
Yeah that’s it. Thanks buddy.
The amazing thing is on the way to this star-gazing camp-out, the song A Sky Full of Stars played just as we were about to cross the AquaLine. Spontaneous soundtrack for a memorable trip.
Ben likes: The Score
Sam likes: Coldplay
The boys both had hockey tournaments this weekend in two locations about 3 hours apart, which is either opportunity, or challenge, or both! I was so tired after getting home at midnight that this morning I cleaned out the car, built a fire and made pancakes. Then just relaxed by my fire, and ate the fluffy, buttery pancakes as they came off my pan…not even landing them on a plate, until the seahawks started flying over, eyeing them. I yelled at them “These are NOT for YOU!” then realized my neighbors might be wondering about my yelling and flapping arms. They gave up but the large killer hornets arrived soon after. I was NOT giving up these pancakes. I waved them off and they seemed to not really relish the smoke of my fire. Of course these threats meant I should eat more pancakes… One thing led to another, the fire got stoked, the batter got replenished, and finally Sam came out and said “What are you DOING?! Are you INSANE?” He rescued me. I split wood, raked leaves, and enjoyed being STILL for a while…well, not still, but at least not on wheels driving at night!
I hope you enjoy the photos and stories in the album I created…click on any of the pictures to get there.
We are blessed by two very mature and fun boys. Their ability to adapt and absorb as much out of an experience as possible, even when it’s challenging, is greatly admired. Sam in particular this trip…he has fortitude, endurance, patience. Even though he doesn’t get as much playing time as he might like because it’s an older team with very skilled players, he understands this dynamic, the intensity of the players, the desire to win the tournament. He chooses to join in with them and go to the tournaments nevertheless. Bear in mind that the investment of time is often without the benefit of fully understanding what the coaches are saying during lengthy chalk talks and video game reviews. We have wonderful friends on this Japanese team, both expat (Canadian and Chinese) as well as Japanese, of course. Sometimes we question our commitments to these exhausting ventures, but in the end we are always reminded by weekends like this that growth opportunities rarely arise while relaxing in your backyard. Unless, however, your belly is swelling on the most succulent of pancakes! 😉
Last night the boys and I enjoyed a really memorable campout. It was an unusual campout with an astronomical society. We enjoyed fireworks and stargazing from atop a mountain reached by gondola. While it was wholly different than I expected, the experience was absolutely wonderful, and we are so thankful for new friends! The full story is found at the linked photos below. Have a great week, friends and family! We love you!
The journal notes which follow are thoughts drafted with a pen on paper, old-school, while flying over the Pacific during the last leg of our flight from Travis Air Base to Yokota Air Base on Aug 11, 2017. Our visit to Washington was definitely a working vacation – lots of sweat and effort to turn over our home within 5 days to new tenants. All the laughs and adventures visiting with friends and family definitely overshadow the strains of pulling it all together! Capping it all off was the adventure of finding a way home, ultimately choosing space-a uncertainty over a pricey ticket which would have gotten me back in time for my kendo grading exam. Sorry to have missed that, but my reflections over the Pacific solidified my sense that it was the right choice in the end. I hope you enjoy this recap…and thank you for staying in touch with our family from so far away. You never know when we’ll show up on your doorstep 🙂
I emerged from dozing under my navy fleece to the bright glare of the overhead lights on the KC10 refueling plane lending us a ride back to Yokota, Japan after nearly a month in the States. As we passed over the Aleutian Islands, a young reservist in her green flight uniform was handing out snacks. I eagerly thrust my hand up with a smile and made toddler-style grabbing motions because I wasn’t coherent yet at all. I LOVE CHEEZITS! In my opinion, nothing beats space-available travel on a military plane, but the boys were out to convince me otherwise. They prefer commercial, but after this flight I think their margin is slim.
Yesterday, the boys were giddy with excitement as they plugged into the on-board WiFi and charging ports of our Delta flight from Seattle to Sacramento. I had coughed up $257 each so we could catch a military space-a flight back to Japan from Travis Air Force Base. They were in good spirits despite the lugging of bags only to end up going nowhere – they had gotten another day with friends, unfettered down time, blackberry picking to make cobbler, and now a flight with ACTUAL TICKETS. We knew when, where and on what plane.
Two days prior, we were not selected for a flight after spending the night waiting for roll call, sleeping like hobos on the floor amidst empty Starbucks coffee cups and snack wrapper trash. You can only make cold tile floor so comfortable, so Ben and I lined up the three hockey bags and tried to make a twin bed. When I roused from a doze, I sensed that I had been asleep perhaps a little. Enough to function I guess.
When we marked present at 2:30am, we were the only ones hoping for a seat on the flight leaving Seattle. By roll call at 5:30am, though, 44 people had arrived and also marked present. All were competing for 27 seats, those remaining after all the duty passengers had been accounted for (people on orders, moving, etc.). So, we shoved our cart full of gear away empty-handed and regrouped. I searched flights, debated options with myself, and dialed Delta. For $2352 we could be in Tokyo in 17 hours. Seemed attractive after humping 122 pounds of luggage (all but 43 pounds of which were sports gear – hockey and kendo). But just before providing my credit card I realized that a cab could take us back to our friends, the baby pigs, the island, a bed, some sanity, and time to rethink the plan. There needn’t be such urgency. I hung up after apologizing to the agent, called Paul, our long-trusted driver, and said simply “we’re at baggage claim, can you come get us, please?” It’s a little odd arriving at baggage claim after not going anywhere, but we were happy to pile into the Suburban and make our way back to the ferry. Soon, Sam and Ben were out cold, slung across hockey and kendo bags as the ferry eased back to Bainbridge.
A 3 hour nap left us wide awake, but not rejuvenated. I stumbled into the kitchen at Kumiko’s and made coffee, starting the day for the second time since we left at midnight. I began researching options to get us on a military flight, perhaps through another air terminal. I found a flight from Travis in northern California, plus a few other flights west which stopped first in Hawaii, then Guam or Alaska. I also researched freighter travel…I really really want to do that sometime… Direct is great, especially on the fast KC10 refueler, but I wasn’t going to be choosy this time. The $800 to get to Travis was worth it. However, the on base lodge was totally booked. I had tickets to Sacramento, a car booked for the leg from the airport to the air base, and a plan to mark present at the terminal the night before. Sleeping arrangements would have to unfold.
At the SeaTac gate we hunted for working outlets to charge our phones. The lady to my left offered one she’d found in the wall which actually worked. We struck up a chat when I saw a big sticker “MILITARY” adhered to her laptop. After a stint as an Army artillery officer, she now works for Amazon, but is an aspiring opera singer. After she moved on, a young man sat down and noticed my AMC (Air Mobility Command) bag tags on my backpack. Thinking nothing could top the unusual occupation of the seat’s prior occupant, I rather distractedly answered his queries. My attention became riveted when he mentioned that he works as part of the air crew. AT TRAVIS. Realizing we were headed to the same place, I offered him a ride share in our car, which I’d already arranged. He gave me some excellent tips for optimizing space a travel. I continue to be amazed at how NICE the people at Travis are despite it being a very busy hub. I’m sure they get endless calls from eager travelers.
The flight, a bit rough even by my new friend’s standards, offered a chance to meditate in prayer on our good fortunes, and all the people we love, both in Japan and Bainbridge. While out jogging a few days ago, I ran nearly through a leaf suspended on a spider thread.
[IMPORTANT INTERRUPTION…BEN WAS JUST INVITED TO SIT IN THE JUMP SEAT DURING LANDING! YOU CANNOT DO THAT ON A COMMERCIAL PLANE, BOYS!]
The leaf, suspended by the web filament, recalled a sense of suspension in my soul. I have strong ties, to two homes. Dave and I enjoy adventure and have some perpetual unrest, yet we share a desire to answer the questions which are inevitably posed by both friends and strangers with more conviction: Where is home for you? Do you want to go back to Bainbridge? Where do you hope to go next? It occurred to me that one doesn’t need to choose. One can be suspended by many bonds, to many homes and people. The casual question imparts a demand for clarity, a choice, but any response thus far has felt rather contrived, stock. The kids seem to have absorbed this life effortlessly now, drifting from couch to couch,home to home, sleeping anywhere, anytime, even in a sun-filled loft in the middle of the day. Home is where you find it, where you build your nest today.
As the Sacramento-bound plane pitched through thunderstorms over Mount Shasta, I gave thanks for the many people who love my family and have shown tremendous generosity. In giving love, it is easily received. Like draining a battery allows it to more fully recharge?
Thank you to Arlo and Kumiko for folding us into your lives and home. We worried a bit about the boys being accepted back into their web of connections, and being with you allowed them to ease right back into the flow. Fires, cocktails, naughty kitty cats, perfect steaks, stick shift practice, tetanus shots, and piglets, what an amazing time! We’re thankful for the new family enjoying living in our home for the next two years. (As we cleared trails for the two young boys, we made a few video greetings which you’ll see in the album.)
Neighbor Kai popped over often to lend a hand, and Kumiko and her son Kai helped me clean walls, baseboards and bathrooms, and filled holes in the drywall for painting. Sam landed nearly immediately with Alex and his family the first week we arrived. Sara washed Sam’s incredibly fragrant sneakers and dried them on her new favorite contraption. Thank you! Welding camp was a huge hit for Sam and we look forward to having his metal crafts in our garden in a few years. Ben stayed with his buddy Julian probably half the visit, resuming their banter like only days had passed. My mom and Richard invested themselves in helping us pull all the details together for restoring the house. They drove up from California for a month and immediately dug into getting lights and sprinklers going, fixing everything in sight, and coordinating with contractors.
Upon landing in Sacramento, our new AMC friend, Rory, found us at baggage claim and took us up on the ride offer. We stuffed 5 people and all our gear into a tiny Prius and headed to Travis. Unfortunately, no rooms had opened up at the lodge. Rory heard me on the phone and offered “I have a spare bedroom with queen bed, a futon and a couch if you want to crash there.” Totally floored, I began to discover what motivated this kindness. His family had also gone on crazy space-a adventures. He knew what it was like to drive through the night, wait for roll call, and take circuitous routes. A plan emerged – drop Rory off to check on his fish, go to the terminal, mark present, hook up with Rory and gather intel on the KC10 the next morning, then grab dinner and crash. Rory used his behind-the-desk connections to find out if possible plans to carry haz mat cargo to Yokota would preclude passengers. Still looking promising, we went to Chipotle and grabbed our backpacks for the night. I smiled to myself, happy he was impressed that we’d packed 72 hours of stuff into our carry-ons. “You guys are better than the officers we transport,” he said. You don’t want to be stuck with bags inaccessible in the cargo bay during an unanticipated stopover. We fed his koi fish, talked about Kim Jung-un, “fire and fury” and slept. This morning he dropped us off enroute to an appointment. The morning sun warmed grazing cows and illuminated the golden hills of Vacaville as we approached Travis’ back gate. How to thank Rory? We exchanged contact information and I fully expect he’ll show up in Yokosuka for Coco Curry, on us!
Roll call was a relief as all hopeful space-a pax were selected for the flight. I think the key to happiness is hoping you DON’T get a seat so you have to go through Alaska first 😉 The KC10 is a powerful plane and we enjoyed feeling it surge into the air a few hours later. The boom operator invited us to go checkout the refueling area in the belly of the plane. Imagine a widescreen TV of the sky at your feet as clouds roll by. The “boom” (operator) is only 21 years old and is trained to guide a hose into a plane needing fuel at 575 mph. In turbulence. Another female crew member is a reservist in college studying agriculture science (she enjoyed my piglet castration and rooster spurring stories!). This is her part-time job paying for school. She’s 23. Now, as I look around the plane at the active duty and retired military members, I feel a sense of family. With all due respect to my kids, charging ports, windows, and WiFi are great, but you can’t sleep on the floor of a commercial plane. You can’t visit the boom’s lair. You can’t watch landing from the jump seat. In fact, you can’t even see the pilots. And no one drops CheezIts from heaven, right into your grabbing hands. I’d trade WiFi and windows for this experience any day. Thank you, Travis, and AMC.
We’re reconnecting our filaments to Yokosuka now as we figure out the hockey and kendo schedules, and reluctantly note the first day of school (Aug 28), but we retain strong ties to Bainbridge and beyond. We have fond memories and know the weeks will fly by as we look forward to seeing friends and family again. I am blessed that my phone was full of messages asking when I’d return to Japan – I’d been on WiFi only for weeks so had missed data-dependent text messages. As I type this journal entry, I’m enjoying reconnecting with the shrill call of cicadas and the scent of pepper trees, stimuli which are no longer so foreign. Please come visit us?
We arrived just in time for the illumination – sunset was beautiful there. There was a huge party and many temporary tables set up with music. People were eating with dogs underfoot and shaking martinis while snapping selfies.
On Thursday I ran off base to check out a trail I’d been meaning to explore in Oppama. The run up to Oppama is about 6K so not too far. I planned to explore a trail to Higashi-zushi but got intrigued by another trail going south, back toward base. I thought it would be amazing to do a ridge run all the way back to Yokosuka. I ended up running into a dead end but it was pretty cool to run along a ridge line above at least two cities (Taura and Oppama), connecting two train stations with a trail run. Amazing. I’ll have to try the approach from the opposite direction sometime. I was covered in webs, though. Spring spider season.
Oddly, some beautiful clouds settling over a little island offshore inspired me to take this run off base to enjoy the cooler weather. I was explaining this connection to the clouds later and got some odd looks. Apparently, “cloud” and “spider” are both “kumo.” Different kanji, but the word is the same. Crazy how these words end up weaving a web around me. Good way to remember vocabulary, though. I won’t soon forget KUMO!
Rarely does one word define an entire week, but here that seems to happen with some regularity. Maybe it is because I’m investing quite a bit of energy into herding words into sentences. Maybe I learn a new word, and my life ends up orbiting around that newly-discovered planet. A few weeks ago it was hetakuso, meaning “unskilled.” My kendo sensei says I’m unskilled. I think he’s mostly teasing, but he’s also correct.
Being willing to accept the notion one is hetakuso at something, or many things, can be very liberating. Growth is possible, expectations are not high, and continued work is rewarding. Others appreciate humility, too. I was recently elected to a school advisory council. There were only three candidates for three positions. Still, I was a little disappointed that I had slightly fewer votes than the other two. Since, I have thought about my candidate bio, and what people know about me, several times. Maybe my slightly shorter, tighter bio was off-putting? It was meant to convey professionalism, but possibly, in this context, it came off with a touch of hubris. More hetakuso-infused humility needed?
In Japan, it is relatively easy to organize volunteers. The humility of spirit here means no one feels that they are above a task, and no work is too menial to attend to with diligence. On our hockey team, for instance, at the beginning of the year the parents gather in a circle (standing) to discuss needed roles on the team. The team manager asks with a slight bow if a specific person will take the role. That person bows in response and indicates that he or she will. It is all done quietly and with humility. Each position (team support, public relations, tournament planning, etc.) usually has a partnership arrangement – one parent from an older student about to move to the next category, and a parent of a younger child in an apprentice role. The transitions seem relatively smooth that way. At kendo, each practice begins and ends with a focused message from the top sensei. It’s about adjusting mindset, and the Japanese build in opportunities to do that every day with opening and closing gestures. They also often convey attention to a conversation by frequent nodding or verbal acknowledgement. These small but meaningful parenthetical gestures seem to help train the mind to focus on the here and now. I’m thinking about way to infuse some of this cultural mindset of humility, mindfulness, sense of community and shared mission here at school organizations because we are really struggling to engage parents and encircle the school with more helping hands.
I felt particularly “hetakuso” two weeks ago at kendo. During a practice fight (shiai), sensei did a crazy whirling vortex move which launched my shinai (shinai rhymes with samurai, and is bamboo sword) out of my hands and clear to the ceiling of the gym. Everyone was fighting so no one really noticed – they were very busy with their own partners – but I stood there just amazed that I was a warrior without a weapon. It had happened so fast, and then it went so high in the air that it took forever to come back down – across the gym. Rather humiliating. I scampered to get it and resolved to hold on tighter. It’s tricky because you’re supposed to relax arms and wrist, but have a tight grip. As I said, I’m not coordinated. That level of refinement in muscle control is not my forte. He attempted to dislodge it again, but aha! He didn’t win that time. He tried again, but I kept my shinai in my grasp. Later in the practice shiai (fight), though, my guard was down and guess what? Yup. Shinai to the sky.
Sensei was incredulous. “Ni kai!” Two times?! “Hetakuso!”
However, the next day I was reflecting on my lack of skill and how funny it was to be looking all over for my shinai. In a battle that would be pretty much a dead end. But if I don’t keep my sense of humor about things, and take myself too seriously, I won’t keep pursuing these activities. Although I do get frustrated, I try to focus on the privilege of learning from these masters and developing friendships with the mothers and the children at the dojo. It’s not just the martial art we are learning, but also customs, culture and language. We’re very lucky they have taken us in. I am confident that our dedication and hard work make this relationship possible. Later, I entertained a chuckle or two at my own expense, thinking about how ridiculous it must have looked to lose my shinai twice.
The next week I was sick on Monday so I had to miss practice. I was very tired and still recuperating by Thursday, but wanted to go if I could. And go we did, because Ben and I really enjoy learning from the sensei. And because it helps us keep our Japanese growing, and because hilarious things always happen when you put yourself in a situation that is entirely unfamiliar. Kendo is an intense endeavor, and we are just scratching the surface of what is a lifelong pursuit for some. By the end of practice, though, we were wiped. During another practice fight with another sensei, it was more like a comedic act. I kept trying to hit but failed and flailed miserably. I kept hitting the shoulders instead of the top of the head. Form was suffering, but I wouldn’t give up. At one point, my sparring partner happened to stub my toe with his foot (that really hurts – you fight barefoot so the feet take a beating.) It became truly funny, though, when we got our shinai stuck together! Mine went right through the bamboo slats of my opponent’s shinai! Unreal! How does that happen!? We stopped, laughed and untangled our weapons.
The next day I was riding and continuing to work on circles to the right. Ever since I hurt my right knee in November, it has been difficult to steer well to the right on horseback. I must sit asymmetrically after several weeks of favoring my right knee. The horse always falls out to the left. This isn’t such a big deal at walk or trot, other than being bad form, but at the canter you really don’t want to careen into a fence or tractor. So I’ve been intent on figuring out what I’m doing wrong. On Friday I resolved to do everything evenly, shoulders to toes, and just turn my head to turn the horse. This horse is very sensitive to these slight changes in weight, and it worked well. I began to feel like I was making progress. I started up a quick conversation about the challenge of
going to the right with my riding sensei’s son (whose horse this was) and said “watashi wa migi ga hontoni hetakuso!” or something like that. I’m really unskilled to the right! He looked at me quizzically, then said “Ole (the horse’s name) mo migi ga hetakuso.” Huh. Hoooonto?? (this is like “reeeeally?!”) Ole is also unskilled to the right? It’s not just me?
Hetakuso + hetakuso = good pair
No wonder we get along well.
Spring break is over, and the time off has allowed us to revisit priorities and push through the finish line on this year’s commitments. I’m looking forward to continuing to help build a volunteer program at the elementary school (called JOSHU, Japanese for teacher assistant) and working with other parents on programs at the middle school. I’m also very much looking forward to visiting my horse friends again! One of the irons in my fire (or do I have several fires going all at once?) is to help start a pony camp so base kids can get out into the nearby inaka and play with cute ponies this summer. I actually do have many fires going, and had to start – for the first time in my life – a note card at my desk with all of them listed so I can keep my head on straight. Some of the hot irons include working with groups on base to start a summer wood shop and strategy gaming club for Sam, a club or elective course in computer science hopefully with a tenant command for middle schoolers, and a roller hockey league for all ages, in addition to the pony camp, JOSHU program, PTO and School Advisory Council activities. As we filled our plates at brunch, I mentioned I would like to take Japanese classes to augment my very gypsy-style approach to learning (i.e., talking to friends and strangers). Dave picked up his plate and said…ummm…as we put more on the plate, something needs to come off. Ok… 🙂
Last night between Ben and Sam’s practices there was a brief meeting with parents to introduce some new families just joining the team. I managed to understand much of the introductions, and even introduced myself and the two boys in Japanese without stuttering too much. Relieved and proud of myself, I moved on toward the vending machine for some tea to warm me up for the next hour or so. (On weekends, hockey practice or scrimmages for boys in different age brackets requires about 6-8 hours each day, from leaving at 2:30pm to arriving home 9pm or later.) Suddenly, I heard a huge commotion, saw motioning hands and children hollering excitedly. I should have known it would involve Ben somehow. In the ensuing seconds of trying to decipher excited Japanese, I realized one common thread “CUP NOODLE!! CUP NOODLE!” Ben had managed to dump a full, just cooked, cup noodles in the stands. Oy. While waiting for the 3 minutes for the noodles to steep, he was doing some squats with another guy and had a little accident with his foot. I used his hockey socks to help mop up the seafood broth and two other dads (coaches) grabbed tissues to help us. It took a team of three to clean up the disaster. After I got done huffing a bit while figuring out how in the world this had happened – he’s very careful and very reliable with these Cup Noodle things he loves – we went and got another one. This time the BIG size. I sat by him the whole time as he ate this time, monitoring. Then I went to sit with some Japanese parents on Sam’s team and related the story in very bad broken Japanese with sign language to clarify. They taught me a few new words.
odoroite – surprise
tetara totsuzen – suddenly (while you were doing something)
jiko – accident
oosawagi – uproar
koboreta – spilled
Disasters are far more fun when you pick up new vocabulary. 😉 That said, Dave finds it interesting that his developing Japanese vocabulary has much to do with foods and culture…and mine? Well…I think it just reflects living with boys and adventuring. Of course there will be accidents and uproars. Right?
Cherry blossom viewing – hanami
It has been a long time since I have shared any notes about life in Japan. I am sorry. It’s been a bit of a blur, frankly! The past three months have been very full. I enjoyed opportunities to travel for ice hockey tournaments with Ben – to Nagano and Gunma prefectures. (Dave stayed home with Sam for his practices and also some work commitments.) We also visited Nozawa Onsen in February as a family for a winter getaway. We were immediately impressed by the incredible powder skiing and quaint, mountain village, hot springs, onsen-cooked eggs, ramen, soba and playing in the snow. The kids have wonderful memories of our visit there and we plan to go back next year, and hope that some dear friends from Bainbridge and Japan will join us.
(These pictures are linked to albums in Google Photos.)
As March unfolded, I grew ever busier juggling transitions on all fronts – it is the end of one school year here in Japan, and leveling up for all the kids to the next grade. Thus, ice hockey teams change, goodbyes are said as folks leave for new jobs (one coach is now in New Jersey!), team managers migrate, and new schedules demand regrouping, translating, deciphering, and lots of white board notes! Our kendo family also had to switch dojos for a bit to allow for graduation ceremonies in the regular elementary school gym, so that entailed many text messages, map comparisons, and parking logistics. As a family, we have been very busy pushing through the third quarter of the school year, too. Sam missed three days of school due to a stomach illness. Catching up was…well…let’s just say the white board was busy.
It has been a logistically challenging time for me, the public relations and operations manager. An inordinate amount of time goes into simply showing up at the right place at the right time! It’s cause to celebrate just arriving. I try not to think about just how much time goes into that, or I would feel very worn out. When I did finally acknowledge that a full Saturday morning was invested in pinning down the ice hockey schedule for one month (only four weekends of practices and games!), I laughed and decided that when I get back, if anyone allows me to manage a team…I will enjoy sharing riddles instead of straight-up directions for the next game. Google translate is vexingly hilarious. Instead of saying “next game is at Sno-King” the translation provided by Google is more like “please assemble at the general runway before the emperor with the white cloaks”.
This spring break was going to be about making a break for it, going on long drives as a family, exploring more of our surrounds, more to the south and east where it might be really prohibitively hot this summer to enjoy traveling around. I wanted to visit Kyoto to see the cherry blossoms, too. Dave said Kyoto was super hot when he visited last time he was here (last summer) so spring seemed like a good time for that trip, on a high-speed shinkansen. I thought the boys would love that. But as the time drew closer, and friends were making plans for trips to nearby Thailand or Korea, it looked less and less sure that we’d be able to break free even for an overnight due to Dave’s work schedule. The USS Reagan is in port, and it’s busy getting the ship ready for its next underway.
Shoganai. Ukeireru. Acceptance. Be content where you are.
While I was running yesterday (Wednesday April 5) on base, on a beautiful sunny day (13 Celsius is perfect weather – I’m getting accustomed to thinking in Celsius) I enjoyed noting how far along the cherry blossoms are to mankai (full bloom). There is some variation, but I would say not quite there overall. I thought about spring break, and if the boys might be disappointed. There’s much to love right here, though. For instance, pulling 40lbs of weeds for me so that we can enjoy a hanami matsuri (cherry blossom festival) right in our own garden. (Sam is not a huge fan of weeding. He had some choice quotes which really got me laughing.) They have been enjoying peanut butter and banana smoothie rewards for work done (the same ones I made often in Hawaii). We’ve also been eating through the fridge and pantry so the shelves are bare enough to clean (well, that’s the story I tell Dave!), weeding out the closet, and delivering spoonfuls of frosting right out of the can to boys playing street hockey. These are good memories. And they’re right here at home. We also checked out a Hawaiian-themed restaurant with terrific pancakes. The boys would love to return for garlic shrimp dinner…like the shrimp trucks we remember from Hawaii. They’re also really enjoying some Marvel movies – Ironman1, Ironman2, Thor, Spider Man. I’m a bad mom – I haven’t made a point of going to the movies or watching many with the kids. I just haven’t found them to be all that great, compared to nature films or documentaries (geek!). If we went anywhere for entertainment, it was usually to concerts – I love live music. BUT – but! It is so fun watching a few movies with them, and it’s a good bonding experience for the two boys. So movies, snacks, down time…what could be better? They think I’m insane for worrying about their spring break. They may be right…
However…we do live in a foreign country and I always have the itch to explore. So…
Tonight I took the boys on an excursion to a hilltop park nearby to check out the cherry blossoms. Last week, in the midst of the pre-break frenzy, I needed to cut loose for a bit and clear my mind. I ran for the hills, literally, and visited the cherry trees at Kinugasa Koen just prior to full bloom. I caught the park in the morning, with few visitors. It was peaceful, and as I suspected the hundreds of trees were not in bloom yet, just a few flowers on each branch. Last week, the park was decorated with paper lanterns, the food trucks were on standby, paths swept clean. But the trees were not quite dressed. It was like catching a glimpse of a bride before she emerges.
Today, exactly a week later, they were nearly full bloom when we visited the park at yuugure (evening time). It was very peaceful (except for my companions!). Sam made a few videos to share with friends who he’s working with on a Minecraft server to build floating islands. His specialty is crafting custom trees. Custom digital trees? The guy who resists hiking despite being on the trail since birth? This perplexed me. But I realized a few things while walking through the park at dusk with them.
I used to think that traveling all over on space-a flights and road trips with them as young children would instill in them a love of adventure. It did, and yet it didn’t, really. No one was eager to move here to Japan. They are people, and they have opinions, relationships, attachments, just like we all do. We cried together as we considered what we’d be giving up in the move last August. But as we find ourselves somewhat tethered here to our new home over spring break, instead of launching further in exploration, they are content. They are happy. Very happy on our own patch of grass, tossing hockey pucks in the air and finding the first worm of spring.
Tonight on our dusk sanpo (walk) downhill, back into civilization in search of ramen, that all the adventuring made them “more adaptable.” How right he might be. They do quickly adapt, and become comfortable. And my boy who resists hiking has a profound appreciation for nature and variation in trees. He knows a spruce from a fir, and develops far better and more intricate trees for Minecraft users than the standard tree. Amazing. This week I am being offered a gift – that of time – to get to know them, and assimilate who they are, who they have become, into my own mind. I need to keep appreciating them for who they are, and resist the urge to prod them to become who I think they could and should be. We parents feel so responsible for herding the chickens toward the best stuff…but chickens have a way of finding the best stuff on their own. I will always remember one hen (yes, Wheat!), who needed to be hand-fed for months after adopting her, and absolutely refused to eat a worm that I found for her on one of her first forays out into the garden. She insisted on digging and scratching on her own, a centimeter from this writhing worm by her toes. Amazing.
Boys. I love you. Bloom as you wish, when you wish.
The Japanese feel that hanami – cherry blossom viewing – is a time to celebrate new beginnings. I like that. New Year’s has always felt rather arbitrary to me, just a calendar date. Who says you’re really ready for a new year to start? But with buds developing, then blossoms gradually emerging, over a month you can mesh your psyche with the emerging blossoms to become ready for a new year. I like the visual cues. The petals are so papery that I think dawn and dusk are actually the best times for hanami when the petals aren’t overblown in the bright sunlight. It’s also more peaceful, allowing for reflection on the fleeting beauty. The Japanese also consider hanami to be a reminder that life is fleeting and precious, just like the petals which float from the branches within about two weeks.
I hope spring is emerging with hope and joy for you, too.
With all our love,
Dave, Alli, Sam and Ben
This is a love letter of sorts, because it is from deep within my heart to my forever friends scattered around the world, and my new Japanese friends at the rink, in the barn, and in the dojo. I would like to introduce my new friends to you in this post of gratitude, which I’m starting in November, a time for giving thanks. I am finishing it on New Year’s Day, reflecting on a very full year.
I hope to translate this letter myself in three years, to ensure the meaning is exactly right. Perhaps I will seek help translating portions of it early, so that it can be shared soon. Either way, it is excellent motivation to keep learning Japanese, so I can speak to these wonderful people in their language. As I write, I am thinking of you, my new friends, how I met you, and how I knew instantly, despite my very limited language skills, that we would be very good friends.
Hockey manager, mother of team captain, and friend, Minako, thank you for checking my understanding of LINE messages, for ensuring I know where the rinks are, and for welcoming me to the hockey family. You have helped me figure out what to buy to make ramen, how to politely introduce myself to individuals and groups, and how to navigate socially. In other words, when I’m trying to say “take care” I asked you how to say that in Japanese? Is it really “mata ne”? Or is that too casual? And another night I texted you from my refrigerator:”Minako, can I still eat this onigiri? It’s been in the fridge for three days.” “NOOO! But, you could possibly take the raw eggs out, heat them in the microwave, and feed them to the birds! Do NOT eat it, you will DIE!” Or something like that. J
Jooba sensei…Tomoe-san, thank you for allowing me to dig into barn chores with you every Tuesday. I enjoy my time working in the barn as much as I do actually riding. Being a part of your barn family is a great privilege and honor. I am thankful for your friendship and teaching, and also for my new friends, Miwa and Keiko. It has been a very interesting journey learning how a light touch, proper balance, posture and timing can be effective. I relied on power to manage a strong-willed and anxious horse in Washington, but here I get to see a different way, one of softer influence and courtesy. Our routine of cleaning, then riding, then having lunch together is a joy, and I look forward to every Tuesday. I positively will NOT book anything else, no matter how interesting (even something as nerdy and cool as analyzing a data set!) on Tuesdays.
Kendo dojo…thank you for welcoming me into your family. Ben and Sam have really enjoyed getting to know your children, and I feel like one of the Kannonzaki mothers, even if I can’t keep up with you in conversation, nor certainly in putting on or stowing my gear! That will be several years’ journey! Kumiko and Shigel – thank you for essentially adopting two more kendo children. You have been so dear and generous with your time and friendship, helping me buy gear for three hours at McDonald’s on my phone, under the duress of a VERY low battery (3%!). One of the highlights of my memories is getting to introduce you to my horse friends and my kichi friends. I look forward to many more exchanges of friendship and nabe recipes!!! To the entire dojo, and all the patient sensei who work with us each week, thank you. Yoroshiku onegeishimasu. I used to be terrified of Mondays and Thursdays because I know I am decidedly not athletic or coordinated. But within about 6 weeks you helped me along far enough to actually look forward to keiko, and the chance to hone my skills a little more. Thank you for being patient, and hiding any laughter behind your men. I am never 100% sure what you are saying, but I get the general sense pretty well and I can tell it is all positive and friendly. Thank you so much for the welcome! It is a great privilege to keiko with you.
Daijou-sensei, thank you for volunteering to teach Ben and me. Your insistence on correct form during practice is essential to drilling the movements into memory. Ben and I work hard to remember everything, but as soon as we fix one element, another falls apart! You balance being encouraging and demanding, and remind us not to smile in the dojo once keiko begins. We are intent on learning all we can. You clearly put your heart into all you do to support the dojo family. We also have the privilege of seeing you often on Nimitz Court where 8 children look forward to your visits every afternoon for work. Thank you for rescuing countless balls from the rooftops, reminding children not to climb too high in trees, trying strange blue rubbery American snacks (Fruit Roll-Ups) and taking it easy on the kids in light sabre battles. (The force is definitely with YOU!) Ben and I will keep working on our form and kiai. The neighbors really love when we yell “YaaaaAAAAAAA…MEEEEEEEENNNNNNN!”
And one important friend has the uncanny ability to appear within moments when a translator is needed. My friend Yuki manages the grounds crews at the bases. She is very busy, but she stopped by once in October and we chatted in the neighborhood for a while. From that moment on we became good friends. Thank goodness, because I managed to bump into some people looking up at the trees behind the houses a couple weeks ago. I tried to explain that I like to split wood. The men explained they were going to be doing some tree cutting in the spring. I got very excited and showed them my kindling pile (the kids and I bring wood back from around the grounds on base), and asked if I could have some wood. It got tricky explaining at that point, despite my efforts to act out splitting wood. (They may have thought it was kendo, I’m not sure, because they called someone to translate.) Guess who showed up within a minute or two? YUKI! It happened to be her boss that I was appealing to for tree rounds. She explained I’m not actually crazy, not too crazy, and that I just miss my chickens and my countryside. This is the last thing I had been hoping for, after hockey and horses…being able to have fires and split wood. The smell and the physical activity, outside, are so important to me. Thank you, Yuki. When I was thinking about moving, I had a very hard time with missing the smell of fall and fires. I never thought it would be possible to have that here. Your friendship warms my heart, thank you!