It’s A Small World (A VERY Small World…)

Haven’t been at home much today.  I went with a good friend to a big pottery/porcelain festival downtown… one which is held every year for a period of five days.

It was nice to see many familiar faces, shop owners that we’ve bought dishes from.  (A couple of my friends and I are trying to start up a side business, so we go to these festivals on a regular basis.)  The whole group of us wasn’t together today because of conflicting schedules and the vendors we know all seemed to ask about it.

There are times when I wish that I was Japanese… a thought which has passed through my mind my whole life!  But there have been advantages and positives to looking like I do and being a “gaijin” or a foreigner.  And when you’re meeting important people whom you want to make an impression on, it’s not a bad thing to be a gaijin!  🙂

Anyway, getting to the point of today’s title…

My friend and I visited every vendor today and I think there were about 250 vendors from all over the country.  (Most were from Fukuoka Prefecture and other parts of Kyushu.)  As we were getting to the last ones, we stopped in front of one place, admiring the pottery which was quite appealing to the eye, yet very simple.  The seller was from Kumamoto Prefecture, which is about a 2-hour drive south of here (Fukuoka).  He began to explain the area where he lives and that the poster of the pre-fab wall was a picture of his living room… it showed a wood-burning stove and comfortable looking furniture.

I got excited and told him the same exact stove was in the house where I grew up.  He asked where I grew up.

“I actually grew up in Kanagawa Prefecture.”

“Really?  I used to live there, too.  In Yamato City.”

“Which part of Yamato City?!”  (I was really excited at this point.)

“In an area called Minami Rinkan.”

“THAT’S WHERE I GREW UP!!”

You see, that’s like running into someone who grew up and lived not only in Seattle, but in the same apartment complex on the north side of UW near the local Safeway and Ivar’s!!

He and I knew the same stores and restaurants.  He explained where he lived (rented one of the houses usually rented out to military families) and I knew exactly where it was.  It was completely wild!!

The world is a small place!  It truly is!  Yes, all these social networks and the Internet have brought everyone even closer together, but even without these things, we find ourselves in various places and different situations, meeting people in airports, standing in line at the post office, walking from ride to ride at the amusement parks… and when we strike up a conversation with others, one might be very surprised.  It’s not impossible to run into someone who has a very close connection to our own pasts.

Isn’t that cool?  🙂

Here’s to all those who grew up in Minami Rinkan… may we all run into one another one of these days!  🙂

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Graduations Have Finished!! **whew**

The last of the graduations for this week was held today – a total of two kindergarten graduations and one at the local elementary school.  It’s been a long week, to say the least!  🙂

Those of you who have never been to Japan may think it’s strange to have graduations now.  But the school year begins in April and ends in March.  After a couple of weeks of spring break, the kids start the new year.

This is probably my favorite season of the whole year.  (And not just because it’s my b-day month!)  As the school year comes to an end, the Japanese plum and peach trees are usually in full bloom.  Then when school begins again, the Japanese cherry trees (or sakura) bloom… and they are BEAUTIFUL!!

Another reason it’s my favorite is seeing how much all the kids have grown.  The parents are all watching their own children, while the teachers and I are watching ALL the children.  (So, yes, I cried at all three ceremonies… nothing new! 🙂 )  All the kids are full of hopes and dreams and are eager to start the next chapter of their lives.

This year, some of the kids wrote letters of thanks, talking about how much they enjoyed English classes and how they want to continue learning the language in the future.  (I even had a few this time who told me they want to grow up to be English teachers!)  No matter how hectic schedules get and stressful life can become, comments like this from them make it all worth it!!  🙂

It’s my hope that I made a positive impact on their lives just as my teachers had on me!  It’ll be interesting to see what life has in store for them.  🙂

And so, another school year ends.  Am looking forward to seeing the sakura trees in full bloom and all the new little ones who’ll start classes from next month!

It’s White Day…

No, it’s not a holiday.

In Japan, March 14th is White Day and on this day, all the guys who received chocolates and presents from girls on Valentine’s Day are supposed to give back a present to them.  I’ve heard that this custom has also spread to South Korea and Taiwan and parts of China.

When I was in elementary school, White Day didn’t exist in the part of the Japan I lived in.  I think I remember hearing about it once I was in high school and, by the time I was in my early 20’s, it was part of the culture.

After moving down here to Kyushu, I was surprised to learn that the concept of White Day was started by the president of a confectionery company, Ishimura Manseido, which is a big company here in Fukuoka.  He started selling sets of marshmallows.

Why marshmallows?  Well, his company made sweets which were made with sugar and egg yolks.  The egg whites were originally thrown out.  The president thought that was wasteful and made a new creation using the egg whites with sweet potato paste inside.  (Marshmallows with yummy stuff inside.)

So, when he came up with the idea of White Day, his company used the egg whites and made smaller, bite-size marshmallows.  His idea first became popular in the Fukuoka area and spread across Kyushu, then to the Kanto area (where I grew up).

And, of course, when the company started making money for White Day, other companies followed suit.  One started making special white chocolate.  Another started selling cookies.  (Yes, the sweets and boxes and wrapping paper… all white.)

Nowadays, the guys will buy anything from jewelry to candies to clothing to pottery to give back.  (Pottery is unusual, but it’s what one of my friends got this year.)  And the men probably spend more money on return gifts than the women spend on Valentine’s Day presents.

Maybe that’s true in every country… 🙂

The Tooth Fairy and Coins with Holes

I was flipping through the cable channels one day this week and saw a scene of a movie where a little girl had lost a tooth.  She was told to be sure and put it under her pillow and she’d find something from the tooth fairy the next morning.

Memories, memories…  🙂

Even though I lived in Japan, the tooth fairy dropped by my house whenever I lost a tooth, too.  I would carefully wrap my tooth up in a tissue so it wouldn’t get lost under my pillow or drop onto the floor.  In the morning, there would be a ¥50 coin wrapped in a tissue (probably the same one) in the place where the tooth had been.

For those of you who’ve never been to Japan, the ¥50 coin has a hole in it.  (Actually, there are two coins in Japan which have holes: the ¥5 coin and the ¥50 coin.)  It’s unusual to a lot of people and, come to think of it, I can’t think of any other country that has coins with holes.  (Something to Google later, I suppose…)

So, this is what it looks like.

Isn't it pretty? (Source: http://est-baibaibu.seesaa.net)

Thinking back now and how the exchange rate was ¥360 to $1, I was getting all of… 18 cents?  (Don’t hold me to that though… mathematics and I don’t get along very well.  🙂 )  But it didn’t matter to me because I could take that shiny ¥50 coin to the local candy shop and buy up to five things with it.

The tooth fairy did eventually raise the value to ¥100 and that’s as high as it got.

Anyway, when I’d tell my neighborhood friends about what the tooth fairy brought, they were all surprised that I actually got money… and money from a fairy!!  (And I was surprised that the tooth fairy didn’t go to their house.)  When they lost a tooth, they’d do the following:  if it was a lower tooth, they’d throw it on or over the roof of their house, and if it was an upper tooth, they’d throw it under the house.  This was done so that the new teeth would grow in strong and straight.

Just as my Japanese friends were surprised about a fairy who would come and pay for my teeth, my American friends were surprised to hear that the tooth fairy would leave me a coin with a hole.  There was even one boy who, after seeing a ¥50 coin I’d taken to school, said it was “fake money” and the tooth fairy had ripped me off.  (Needless to say, I didn’t like him much after that comment!)

So, I’m curious… how much did everyone else get for a tooth?  Or did you have another custom in your family?  🙂