A Day Off!

After a LONG day today, I found out I won’t have any classes to teach tomorrow.  YAY!!  😀

Tomorrow is Spring Equinox and here in Japan, it’s a holiday for most of the country.  The thing is just because it’s a holiday for everyone else, that doesn’t mean it is for me.

I’m the type that if my students want to have class, we’ll have class.  I figure if I don’t work, I’ll just be sitting at home doing nothing.  (Though there are TONS of things I could be or should be doing!  LOL)  If I teach a class, my students are happy and they don’t have to be alone on their day off.  (Yes, there are lonely people in the world.)

But last week, one of my Tuesday evening students told me her sister was going to be visiting tomorrow since it’s a national holiday.  (No 8pm class.)  Then I had a phone call about an hour ago from my friend who organizes the other two classes on Tuesday nights.  He said that since it’s a holiday, we’d have no classes.

So, do I have any plans for tomorrow?  No, not really.  It’ll probably be the usual stuff.  If the weather is nice, there’s laundry to do, dishes to wash… need to clean the cats’ litter boxes and organize my work expense receipts from last month.  There’s never a dull moment around here.

OR I could skip all that and actually take a full day off.  Wake up late, watch movies on cable, pop some popcorn and enjoy my holiday, right?

Guess I’ll decide what to do tomorrow!  **happy sigh**  🙂

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A Day of Rest… (I Wish!)

Sunday usually would be a free day for most people, but it was NOT that today.

Had to be at the community center soon after 9am to get ready for our annual neighborhood meeting at 10am.  (Was asked to help with reception and check-in.)  The meeting ended up being 2 and 1/2 hours, discussing plans for the upcoming year and looking over the budget from last year and this year.  Lots of opinions, not too many clashes… over all, a good one, and about 150 people were in attendance.

After it finished up, 20 or so members of the neighborhood planning committee set things up to have lunch.  We all chit-chatted about everything under the sun, packed up, cleaned up and got home at around 4pm.

From there, I got a call from a ramen shop owner I’m friends with and went to see him.  Stayed for dinner, was planning to come home early, but his wife came and I ended up staying much longer… like until 11pm.  (So much for coming home early!)

So, many apologies for a rather boring blog post.  It’s been a LONG day and I have an EARLY morning and thinking about all those warm, fuzzy blankets on the bed… well, I could fall asleep quite easily right here in front of the computer as I think about them.

To those of you who have just started your Sunday, may you have a wonderful 18th!  To those of you who are in my part of the world, may you have a peaceful sleep!

Good night from southern Japan… 🙂

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… 🙂

An Early Morning, A Cloudy Day, A Buddhist Funeral Service for a Little Bird

I think I wrote about my friends’ animals that are presently here at my house… and one of the parakeets that died in my hand the other day.  (Not my pet, but a sad day regardless.)

My friend had sent me a text a couple of days ago, asking if I could contact a local pet funeral home about a service.  The service was this morning.

Had to wake up rather early.  Went by to pick up another friend before going to the funeral parlor… she’s a friend of this other friend, too, and wanted to be there to kind of stand in.  We got there and the service started at 8:00am sharp.

Yes, a Buddhist funeral service for a bird.  For some reason, it didn’t seem so off-the-wall.  (Am wondering… are services held for pets in other countries?)  As the smoke from the incense rose and filled the room, the Buddhist sutra was chanted by the others there, including my friend who knows it all by heart.  (Her parents are very faithful Buddhists.)

As I sat listening for those few minutes, my mind drifted… thoughts of life, my own pets, pets I’ve had in the past, thoughts of how I can recite The Apostle’s Creed in Japanese, but have no clue how it goes in English.

The short service ended, we chatted for a while and then the funeral parlor owner and his wife took us to another house they own on the side of a mountain nearby.  There’s a house and, next to it, he built a crematorium.  (Explained that they built one there instead of their original neighborhood because of protests from local people.)  The tiny little bird was placed on a metal net, more incense was offered and then Pon (the bird) was slowly put into the furnace.

My friend and I were led to the house next door, into a small living room.  We were asked to wait there for about 30 minutes.  Usually she and I would be chatting about everything under the sun, jumping from one topic to the next.  But we were both rather quiet and she kept talking about how sad she will be when her own cat passes.  (No, he’s not sick or anything… is still young and as healthy as any strong, young cat might be!)  I kept trying to change the subject and was successful most of the time.  Not sure why she was being so blue about her healthy cat… perhaps that’s what funerals do to people sometimes.

After the 30 minutes, we walked back over to the crematorium.  The metal wire was out of the furnace and the only hint that something had been there were the tiny, TINY bones… a perfect little skull and a tiny beak.  The owner took tweezers and gently placed the bones into an urn.  The urn into a box, the box into a bag, the bag to take home until it can be handed to my friend who is away.

We rode back in the car with the owner and his wife, got back and they served us some coffee.

It was nice, all in all.  Just somber, which is normal, right?

After I got back home, I saw my neighbor from across the street, standing in front of her garage.  She looked a bit teary-eyed… my stomach did a flip… not a good flip since I knew their dog, Chappy, had been very sick.  Sure enough, I walked over to her garage and there he was, lying on a blanket, covered in another, breathing weakly.  She told me she had called her husband and he was on his way home.  The two of us sat next to him on the concrete, petting his cool body, telling him that daddy was going to be back soon if he could hold on a little longer.

I later learned Chappy had passed away about 30 minutes after that… and, yes, he waited until his daddy got home.  He was such a good dog and will be missed…

The Time Has Come to Say Goodbye…

Graduation season is fast approaching in Japan.  Many of the local high schools had their ceremonies yesterday and today.  The junior high schools will have theirs next week (I was told) and the ones at the elementary schools & kindergartens will be during the week of 11th.

Yes, graduation is held right before cherry blossom season… just before the buds on the trees burst open and you can sometimes see a little hint of pink.  The start of the school year is at the beginning of April when the cherry trees are blooming and the world is ready for a new chapter.  🙂

We had the final classes of the school year today at the elementary school.  The 5th graders made ice cream sundaes, following simple instructions in English… then eating their “original” sundaes in silence with big smiles on their faces.  🙂  (It’s not like they are allowed to eat fruit and ice cream at school on a daily basis… so, yes, they were quite happy!)

The 6th graders gave short speeches in English and I made popcorn for them as a “Good job!” treat.  They had all been practicing so hard for the past two weeks.  Some had to take their notes up to the front of the class with them, but 85% of the kids had memorized their speeches word-for-word!

Watching and listening to them today, my heart was filled with so much pride!  Many of the ones who would gripe and complain during class about how hard it was to pronounce English words or what use was there to learn another language if they couldn’t use it every day… they were the ones who tried their best and were beaming when they said their final, “Thank you!”  (Yes, this cry-baby almost lost it a couple of times…)

After all that was done, I went back home for a quick lunch and then went back to the school… I had been invited by the kids to attend the “Sawakai”.  Not sure what this would be in English, but it’s a special event/party held by the 6th graders for their parents and teachers to show their appreciation and to say thank you.  There are games, the kids sing songs, everyone eats a snack together, there’s usually a video presentation and today the kids gave a performance using Japanese taiko (drums).

There were very few dry eyes in the crowd during that show… watching the kids work together as a team, keeping in sync with one another, listening to each other… it was VERY moving!

So, their graduation will be in two weeks.  Several of the kids asked me today if I was going to be there, to which I replied, “Of course!!  It’s your special day, right?  I wouldn’t miss it for anything!”

I’ll have to be sure to take a couple of handkerchiefs… 🙂

No Bubbles in this Bathtub…

It’s the middle of winter.  The day has been extremely cold, snowflakes being whipped around by the chilling wind.  You finally get home to a freezing house (no central air/heat in Japanese houses)… what’s the first thing you want to do?  Take a hot and relaxing bath!!

If you’ve ever been to Japan and have had the opportunity to stay in a Japanese home or at a Japanese-style inn, you’ve probably taken an “ofuro”… the Japanese way of taking a bath.  (“The ONLY way to take a bath!” I’ve heard my mother say.)  🙂

Thought I’d add a picture to help with the explanation.  This is a room which is completely separate from the toilet.  The toilet is usually in a smaller room, all on it’s own.  Before you go into the bathtub area, there is another space/room which is the changing area.  In some homes, this space is where the washing machine is and there’s usually a sink where you’d wash your face, brush your teeth, etc.

From there, you’d go into the bathtub area.  In this space, you can get as crazy as you want with the water and it won’t matter!  As you can see in the picture, that space next to the tub is where you wash yourself.  There’s a special seat (See the one with a hole in it?  That’s the chair.) and there are special basins that you use to dip the hot water out of the bathtub to wash and rinse.  And, of course, there’s a shower head for those who want to simply take a quick shower before soaking.

Now, the bathtub itself is now always very long.  (In many cases, the older the house, the shorter the tub.)  But the tubs are quite deep, so much so that when you sit in the tub, the hot water would be at shoulder-level or a little higher… unless many others have taken a bath before you.

Yes, you read that correctly!  Everyone in the house uses that same water to soak in.  (It’s not like everyone’s washing themselves in the same water since they should be clean by the time they get in the tub.)

The tub has a heating unit, so that if the water begins to get lukewarm, you can heat it up again without having to add more hot water.  Pretty neat, right?  But, because of this heating unit, it’s a no-no to have a bubble bath.  (The soap messes up the components of the unit.)

A place for rest and relaxation... but no bubbles, please!

You may notice in the photo that the water is not clear.  Well, there are special powders which you can add to the water to help you relax.  They come in various scents (types of trees, flowers, etc.) and in various colors.  There are types which are said to help aching muscles and others that are supposed to help warm the body from the core and keep you that way throughout the night.

If you ever get the chance to visit, I hope you can experience taking a bath Japanese-style.  Everyone deserves to take an authentic “ofuro” at least once in their lifetime!  🙂