My shortest year yet. 31.12.2013

In roughly five hours I’ll be somewhere down town in Kyoto celebrating the new year. Japan is ahead by 9 hours so actually 2013 will have been almost half a day shorter than 2012, it’s not a big deal – I don’t mind. There was an episode of the kids series ‘Eerie, Indiana’ where the main boy complains about not getting an extra hour (daylight saving or something) and so he gets mad and tries to trick time into giving him back his extra part of the day. Horror ensues as he gets sucked into an alternate universe where him and a girl who tried to do the same thing also exists. He recognises her from a milk carton as a missing person. Anyway, I believed they used the magical powers of teletext to get themselves out of this other world… Ok I’m just saying that this time thing doesn’t mean a whole lot other than a lot of the time you guys in the uk are asleep and I’m awake, but it definitely reminds me that I’m pretty far away from where I was just about four months ago.

This weekend I had my first bus trip, woohoo! It was easy, you grab a ticket as you get on and then pay with the right change as you leave (taking note of the place you got on and how much it says next to that on the board thingy). The bus was super clean and I enjoyed having the time to watch the Kamogawa river on the way down to Sanjo. My neighbour and I went shopping and I got a new jumper, I’m pretty tickled by this jumper mainly because of the curious English on it. I’ve set it as the featured image so, look up.

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I’ve got just under a week of holiday left, in the morning I’m off to a Shrine with my friend Chisato and her family to bring in the new year in a more traditional fashion. I’m really looking forward to seeing people wearing Kimono and I might be brave enough to ring the bell and say a prayer perhaps. I’m looking forward to the year of the horse! New Years is very much a family time so I’m fortunate to be included.

To all of those people I know around the world and in Japan – Happy New Year! I can’t wait to see what’s going to happen.

Lots of love,

Rach xoxox

Aitaiyo Santa-san!! 22.12.2013

So we are on the very cusp of Christmas, woohoo! Who’s feeling festive? I was shopping for 3 hours today and managed to buy nothing except a couple of cards and a hot chocolate. I spent a lot of that time trying to find wrapping paper, I didn’t find any. Lots of people have asked me whether Christmas is a big thing in Japan. Below you can see one of the snaps I took of a main shopping street.

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It’s prrreetty busy down there. There are Christmas decorations, Christmas adverts, and even the persistent drone of elevator music played in most shops is now Christmas themed. One shopping centre I went into wishes you ‘white’ as you go in with no mention of Christmas, another shop’s window wishes you a ‘happy Navy holidays’ and loft which changes according to the season wishes you a ‘happy home’.

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At first we might think… Hey they’ve super commercialised Christmas, a sacred time for family and binging… But don’t forget that without dear old Coke our Santa would be wearing green instead of this new red getup.

There is no public holiday for Christmas Day, and most people have to work. Schools are out but that’s due to terms and more for New Years Eve. Many of my students have got Christmas trees up at home and I’ve even seen a couple of houses with lights on, but it’s safe to say that Christmas is much less of a big deal here, much less. The bigger holiday is New Years Eve, and 2014 will be the year of the horse. People give each other cards and spend a few days with their families, they visit temples/shrines and eat a lot. Presents are bought, and often small gifts for colleagues (omiyage) need to be purchased. One of my students has crafted 150 handmade cards this year and most are for colleagues! I took a snap of some New Years Eve bits alongside Christmas bits below.

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So yes the shops were super busy and everyone is feeling the season but I think it’s more for NYE than for Christmas.

The last couple of weeks have been musically abundant. Someone kindly lent me a violin so I was able to play ‘Silent Night’ with a couple of my students at the Browns English Christmas
Kids Party (they had teeny tiny violins and it was adorable). I took this opportunity to join the folk players at ‘Wood Note’ who play every Monday evening. Wow, how lucky I was, because the week I joined them was the week that a couple of extra people decided to turn up. Harmonica Creams who are a band currently touring Japan after finishing a tour in Spain, had heard about Wood Note and wanted to join us for a session. Such talent! I was very much in awe of their fiddle player, she absolutely convinced me that there are dimensions to playing the violin that a classical education doesn’t touch. Though I enjoyed playing the violin with them and managed to get a few harmonies in there it was obvious that she was in a different league. I want to learn fiddle!!! I want to play more with other people! I want to learn blue grass and blues and jazz and and and… Yes well you can see. I have Mitsumi and Tom to thank for sourcing me with a fiddle for that time.

Another musical treat was watching ‘Nicky Fingers’ DJ at a free party at Honto Records. I met a lot of interesting people that night and enjoyed diverse sets. I met someone I might be performing with at some point and I found out about a few gigs coming up so that’s widened my Japanese music horizon a great deal. (It always feels a bit awkward talking about my social life on here actually, but it’s my experiences isn’t it). I’ll be off to a reggae night on Christmas Eve, so hopefully I’ll be distracted from all the potential home sickness Christmas threatens to bring.

Quick change of subject, I also went to Kurama the other day after feeling like I needed to see somewhere new. It was a very cloudy day so it made for some eerie pictures, it’s a beautiful place so I’ll be going back in the spring for sure, it’s also famous for natural hot springs so maybe I’ll even return if it snows soon.

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Don’t worry about me too much on Christmas Day because my friends here and I will be spending it together (thanks Yasmin and Chris for hosting us!), we will be doing all the traditional Christmassy things. But I will miss my England peeps a great deal.

Love you all loads, Merry Christmas.

Rach xoxox

Matcha tea and David Lynch. 05.12.2013

The first of December was a very special day for me, not only did it mark my third month in Japan but it was a day which left a lingering happiness in me which still glows now. Perhaps it’s my surprise at the eager festive atmosphere in Japan – a country which manages to adopt every holiday it seems. It could be the relief I feel after Mitsumi very kindly helped me set up Internet at my flat. It could even be the buzz of starting my solo teaching full time…. But.. No. On Sunday I attended a Tea Ceremony at Joshoji Temple in the north west of Kyoto, and I’m considering marking it as one of the very best experiences of my life.

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Tea Ceremony is held once a month and hosted by different tea groups from around Kyoto. This particular Chakai (formal tea gathering) was being hosted by one of my students groups. I was extremely fortunate to have been invited to the event, it is not something which foreigners are invited to often and certainly not considered something for tourists – I will touch on this later on in my blogs… Autumn is a special month in Japan due to the Momiji (leaves) and the area around
Joshoji is one if the leaf viewing spots, so when I arrived I spent some time enjoying the colours. I then found the tea reception and ‘signed in’. I was offered a pen but Noriko mentioned I might like to use the special brush pen, ohhh yes I did! My name looks a bit clumsy next to the beautiful kanji…

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We then nipped over to the tea room, I’m not going to mention all the times I take of my shoes or put them on because that happens such a lot here (I now constantly wear slip on boots). Noriko slid open the door for me and we were greeted by two lines of people on either side of the room seated in seiza position. This position means that you’re sitting on your feet, google it. Another one of my students mentioned that some people think Japanese people’s legs are shorter because they sit in this way, but then I don’t know what my excuse is. So we bowed on entry and sat, Noriko then presented me with a few things I’d need for the ceremony, these are below.

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Everything, everything, everything is beautiful. Even the paper to clean your utensils! We were also fortunate to witness a male tea maker that day, apparently they are a lot rarer and there’s only one in that days group. We watched him make tea and then we were served matcha tea. Bow at bowl, pick up bowl, move to your neighbour, bow, pick up bowl, move to your other neighbour, bow, move to the middle, maybe bow again. So the ceremony itself involves a lot of bowing to the hosts and your neighbours and to your tea. I like the bowing culture – it feels safe, like smiling at people; you know you’re being polite and showing good manners, you know where you stand. We were also served a squishy sweet treat made of potato which was called ‘ chiri momiji ‘ which translates as fallen leaves. It was a brown ball with bits of bright orange and yellow on top, delicious. Once the tea was finished we had the chance to inspect all the bowls it was served in, every bowl was unique and valuable. Once the ceremony had finished we could also view all the tea making equipment. Trying to stand up with dignity after sitting seiza for even a short period of time was a struggle, my feet were completely dead. Noriko very kindly advised that I didn’t have to sit seiza for the entire ceremony.

Noriko has been studying Tea Ceremony for 8 years, it’s a lot more complex than I thought it would be, but each step has a logical purpose. As a participant I felt very calm and my mind was completely in the room and on the moment. I enjoyed the matcha and the sweet was extra special. The generosity of the friends I’ve made here is astounding and I feel very lucky. I want to send out a huge thanks to Noriko. Just the night before I had been enjoying a thanksgiving meal too, the food and drink and company was fantastic, it didn’t matter that only one of us was American, we were doing thanksgiving as properly as we could! Our hosts were both generous and very entertaining, so thanks guys. Oh and thank you To my sister for my Christmas tree and to Rebecca Lowing for my first Christmas card!!!

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Oh yeah, David Lynch, I’ve been on a viewing spree and I’m blaming him personally for the lack of Japanese study I’ve done in the last couple of days. I’ve also started watching some Tarantino but I’m not his biggest fan really, though Death Proof was a good recommendation.

On with my Christmas shopping..

Happy December folks, love you.

Rach

xoxox