As the remnants of our typhoon hit the Northwest, we’re thinking of you all there, hoping you don’t have any damage and really just an opportunity to hunker down a bit. Hoping you are all well. It’s Saturday morning here, we’ve just had pancakes and I have uploaded pictures from the last two weeks. We’re about to head out on a sunny walk – 19 degrees Celsius. I have no idea what temperature that is, but it’s about like Bainbridge was last Wednesday! I have your weather stored on my phone as a favorite.
Dave is back from New York where he spent time with family for 10 days. We are happy to have him home and our prayers are with his dad as life continues with Gail holding him close from above.
Over the intervening two weeks, I have been catching glimpses of character traits in myself that are more Japanese than I might have imagined before moving here. Every Tuesday when I go to the inaka and muck the uma goya, and scrub the bakketo, I think about how much work goes into running a barn. I’m only there twice a week helping to scrub buckets, shovel manure and toss hay, so it’s a treat for me to get dehydrated, dirty and smoky (from the stove’s efforts to dispel flies). But for my new friends who are there every day, it’s another day at the barn, another day of toil. Today, on my walk through the fields of the inaka, the countryside which sets me free from buildings and bustle, I considered how they do it.
The answer lies in watching them sweep. Every broom (hoki – pronounced hoe-kee) I have ever seen is the same – long, stiff, reeds banded together and attached to a stick. They look like this:
You can’t sweep effectively if you are doing short, vigorous jabs. You have to pace yourself, using long, sweeping motions (that’s where the word comes from, right?). I changed my pace and found it worked better. Things don’t fly around, they are gathered up. After finishing chores and finally seated in a tight circle for barn lunches, I showed my three friends a video of Sam playing hockey, a word I learned early on from Kumiko (pronounced hoke-ay)
They had been amazed we went all the way to Saitama for “hoe-kee”. I was, too! When they looked at the video, though…it was so funny to see their expressions. It was as if they finally understood this sport I had been talking about my boys doing. “Ohhh!” they exclaimed, hands over mouths, eyebrows raised. “Ohhh! Hoe-kay!” Maybe they thought we were all playing broomball? I’ve got to work on my pronunciation!!!
Back to pacing, though. You can’t do a good job if you’re in a hurry to get to the next job, then the next, and the next, before you ultimately just take time for yourself at the end of the day. I tend to line up chores and work end to end, tightly, and go strong until I’m completely done. I end up frantic, spazzy, hungry, cranky. That doesn’t appear to be the way it is done here, and I can now appreciate why. The Japanese people I have met are efficient, careful workers. They are diligent. You can’t really be meticulous unless you pace yourself. I’m a marathon runner, I should know this. Have a plan and stick to it. Don’t go out fast. Run your own plan. Grab the power gels along the way.
Speaking of snacks…
Here is a little roundup of my ventures out into the inaka this past Tuesday.
As I was raking up the hay (which they grow themselves for the horses), I had occasion to to check out the dark brown earth I’d admired from the tiny road earlier in the morning. The ground is well cared for, productive. The soil is very dark and loose, smooth, almost sandy. The cabbage is planted in perfectly neat rows. I figured they were planted by a machine, but maybe not? These observations will feed a conversation about why routines are important, why doing things right the first time matters. I explained to one of my boys tonight that if you do a poor job prepping your mind for a test, then poor output will be expected. You can’t get good stuff out of the (beloved!) vending machine unless you stock it with good stuff. (The vending machines here – OMG!) Janet and Bill (my riding instructors) also refer to the horse’s vending machine. Unclear with your aids? Well, you don’t know what you might get out of the horse’s vending machine.
Riding around the ring Tuesday, on a quiet older horse which really did not want to do more than walk, I was admittedly jealous of another rider moving quickly with a spry horse. I like harnessing power, and working together with Emmy was a joy. We were often at odds, two energetic beasts with too much going on in our heads, but when we were in unison it was a lovely experience. I should clarify – riding is always a joy. Always. But there’s a certain elusive harmony which keeps those of us who like a challenge coming back for more, and the pursuit itself is a large contributor to the enjoyment. Back to my mount for the day today, Gen, my instructor helped me tune into the minutiae that I often trot right over in my zeal to get “working” – arbitrarily defined by me as trotting and cantering around various ring geometries (although Janet would probably not bestow the term “geometry” on most of my hoofprints). Paying attention to how my balance and the pressure of my seat bones communicates through the back of the horse below me is not something one can rush, nor can an amateur rider really and truly tune into it when other things (like, “ride a proper circle, Alli!”) are pressing concerns. As Gen walked around, carrying me along as I prodded and prodded him, hoping to elicit a hayashi (trot), I enjoyed the view of Fugi-san in the distance, and considered how lucky I am to be immersing myself in the barn life of a new land, hopefully lightening their load a little as they smile at the crazy gaijin’s tales, and knowing that if I am open to it I will learn much from every horse I am blessed to ride. I don’t need to go mach 5… and you know what? The next day I realized you can get a very good workout nudging a horse at a walk…just needed to change my mindset a bit.
And a few more shots from just last week…Mom, I know your rump went to sleep looking through five months of pictures last upload, 😉 so if you want to jump to the album where I left off after last week, use this link. Just scroll back a shot or two to make sure I have that timing right.
It didn’t really hit home (ha!) that our new house is now our home until I was sitting in the stands last night with two new Japanese lady friends (fellow hockey moms) and needed to tell Google maps that my “home” address is not on Day Road any longer. Google just has one option for HOME. I wish it could have other options, such as “HOME FOR NOW” and maybe “HOME FOR GOOD”? We have a small plaque that says “Home is where the Navy sends me”, which is true, but only on the surface. It is still possible to develop deep attachments to a place and its people, the rhythms and scents of its seasons, the profiles of its peaks, the heaviness of the air, the clarity of the sky, the sweeping of its clouds and the length of its days. While I wouldn’t say we are anywhere close to developing deep attachments here yet – it’s only been 25 days since we went through customs – I can see how one would very quickly. And I wish I had more space – literally and emotionally – to adequately distill my impressions, but to start I would say the graciousness of the people and the overall courtesy which defines the culture are captivating. If one immerses oneself in the new land, it is a delight to find yourself beginning to adopt these gentler ways and be rather surprised when fellow creatures from the States act in their usual manner upon departing a yoga class…barreling to the door instead of yielding. (Of all places, right? No sooner than the final “namaste” was uttered…)
This was a very very busy week and weekend. We got our keys on Monday the 12th. Household goods arrived Tues, Wed and Thurs (two different shipments). Boxes exploded all over, stuff piled high on counters, chaos in full pursuit of our sanity. No food in the house because you can’t even get the fridge open 😉 But I am very impressed with how much we’ve wrangled. Concerted effort on Thursday had the kitchen functional by about 9pm, even with a break to introduce myself to neighbors and keep an eye on pucks flying toward the goalie net 😉 Not a lot of space here for mistakes (!!!). Friday saw the boys’ room and the master bedroom begin to take shape. Saturday and Sunday were spent shuttling things all over, creating donation piles and setting up dining, living and office spaces. Dave did a masterful job hanging pictures and decor, and setting up the media so we have a place to relax together as a family. I’ll give a tour hopefully at the end of this week, but a few pictures in the album will give you a sense of the place. My perch for work (and typing right now) looks out over the side yard which is our entryway. I have trees and grass – lots of green – through the wall of windows in the little atrium off the kitchen. I’m in the thick of things, but not in the way, and aware of what is shakin’ out on the cul de sac. A good vantage point. The neighborhood is FULL of kids! It’s so amazing! The boys are really enjoying new friends and Sam is walking all over base hatching Pokemon eggs. This morning he got a Charmander.
The highlight of the boys’ week was this weekend – finally getting to skate with the Japanese hockey club. There are four age groups, and our boys are in the younger two (lower grades – 1, 2, 3; and upper grades – 4, 5, 6). About 20 kids play on both teams, and they practice together, sharing the large Olympic-size ice sheet. You’ll see many videos of drills and the video from yesterday (9/18) shows some clips of a game the upper grades A team (their select team) played against the best team from Tokyo. We have been impressed with the intensity of play, the focus during drills and sustained focus throughout a straight 90 min of practice which doesn’t have more than 1 or 2 quick breaks. Another impression of Japanese people so far – intense, focused, strong work ethic, efficient. Don’t unclip your mask – shoot water in and go back to the drill! This holds true for the youngest kids as well. No flopping around on the ice complaining or whining… The coaches are friendly, many speak English, and all played hockey in college. Sam and Ben are very happy with the serious approach and their teammates. About 7 kids on Sam’s team speak English – parents are expats or married a Japanese spouse. It’s more expensive for sure ($1600 not including tournaments (there’s 4-5 a year) and the kids must buy jersey, blue breezers, blue helmet and hockey socks to match. Practice is only on weekend evenings so that somewhat dominates our weekends, but I guess hockey dominates weekends anyway, right? 😉 On the plus side we get to travel with this delightful group and learn about Japan through a familiar culture – hockey. The kids extend their base of experience and continue building skill in a game they really love. They are so happy to be on the ice – don’t miss the movie of Sam talking about his first practice (9/17).
The highlight of Dave’s week? Probably getting music playing capability set up, and navigating the car up to Yokohama successfully for ice hockey! It’s no joke driving here. People regularly drive 20K above the speed limit. He did a fantastic job paying tolls and dealing with a ridiculous under-the-train-tracks-single-lane-hairpin… I, however, am not relaxing to ride with. I have zero self confidence driving in a city here. Put me on Scottish roads with a stick shift and sheep PLEASE! That was no problem…I’ll get it, though. I also drove the roundtrip yesterday. We’re all fine. ;0
The highlight of my week was finding a barn and a horse to ride! After much searching and disappointment, and the help of a kind translator, I found a barn about 5 miles away (an HOUR by bus and walking!) where I am now regularly volunteering my muscle to help clean stalls and scrub water buckets with the proprietor and her husband in exchange for riding. Language is a challenge, but one can quickly catch on to barn routines by watching carefully, smiling, asking, pointing, and even drawing on my handy whiteboard (yes, I got a small whiteboard to help me communicate – I take it everywhere! and old-school tablet!). My knees weakened a bit when I was shown my mount with this introduction “she is young four years; feet quick; first time out.” I was thinking WHAT?! First time out…today?…this week?…EVER? I nearly said maybe not…but then figured ok, I’ve been on interesting horses before. Read the horse, groom it, get to know it a bit, give it some scratches and kindness, get on, and see how it goes. One foot in front of the other. All did go well, and I enjoyed myself very much in borrowed helmet and half-chaps. I now have my own boots and helmet, and venture out again tomorrow. This time I can figure out the bus schedules (NOTHING in English on those babies! Trains are far more gaijin-friendly.) Last week trying to find my way back was fun – I played some informal chase with a group of young Japanese students (maybe 10 or 11 years old?). I asked for help, we couldn’t communicate well, I gave up, kept walking the direction they pointed, looked back, smiled, then jogged on (needed to get back to base asap to get Ben from school), heard little feet jogging behind me, stopped quickly and turned around with a big smile, surprised them, they smiled as they came to a stop, then we all took up the game again for a few blocks. Kids are kids anywhere. I wonder what they told their parents that night. I was kinda in the middle of nowhere, but still in the middle of everywhere. Very urban but with large fields all around. By the way, you’ll see pictures of this, but the lady who owns the barn works very very hard. She actually grows hay and takes a wheelbarrow out at lunch time to cut hay and bring it back. Everything takes longer. You can’t be in a rush and run a barn that way. They burn cedar shavings in a small stove to keep the flies at bay. I’ll never forget walking into the barn and seeing the sun streaming through the clear corrugated plastic ceiling, catching all the dust like little stars, and the smoke filtering up in the stream of light. It was enchanting.
To wind down from all this excitement I use “Kanji Study” which is the most fantastic free app I have EVER seen. You can practice drawing kanji with help – little guides which you can turn on and off. There are also little videos for each kanji and many descriptions of usage. It is just out of this world. You might have fun trying it? Maybe? The best one is for Android. The drawing practice doesn’t seem to be built into the iPhone version.
We ALL miss our friends back home (see? still calling Bainbridge home) and really hope to get the technology to help us out here. I am enjoying the app LINE very much. It provides the ability to send texts, pictures, video and audio messages and even calls. It’s very clear, easy to use and no wonder so many people here use it. If you’d be willing to download it, look for me. If you don’t find me easily, shoot me an email and I’ll give you my ID. They kids are using Skype to text and send video. It also works well but the video quality is much grainier and I feel like the app is not as intuitive. Give LINE a try? Sam and Ben would LOVE to connect with your kids. Weekends are good – Sat morning here is your Friday afternoon there on the west coast (16 hours behind us). East Coast family – you’re 13 hours behind us.
Ok…as luck would have it, I am also busy with work right now as well and was manic this weekend fitting in deadlines and unboxing. My faith-based business model dictates that I will be given the grace to manage all the work that comes my way, whenever it comes. So…pray for me! 😉
All my love to each of you. Know that as I unpack pictures of friends, hikes had with babes in our packs, I have tears in my eyes. I miss you very much and am thankful for each of you. And I need to print out more pictures to hang around me! Phone is not enough 🙂 Please send me a note and let me know how you are.