April 30, 2006

Boy's Day Decorations

We got out the Boy's Day decorations today. May 5th is Boy's Day. Actually it is kodomo no hi or Children's Day, but since we have a boy in our family we call it Boy's Day. (Girl's Day is in March.) Families who have a boy decorate. These decorations were Papa's when he was a little boy. Notice that it is just the armor.

There is no doll underneath (see, no eyes). Department stores sell them. Even Toys "R" Us (we have two or three). We put ours on the landing on the stairs. Usually people put them in an alcove called a tokonoma in the washitsu, a room with the grass mats or tatami.

This isn't a good picture. I'm afraid I couldn't get a good angle or far enough away to take the picture. That's the way it is here sometimes. You have to go outside to take a picture of something inside. I'll write more later and show other decorations.

April 29, 2006

Packaged Bamboo

Here is packaged bamboo. The package on the left contains strips in a liquid. The other package is air packed and contains chunks of bamboo. It's hard to describe what it tastes like. The bamboo I've eaten has usually been firm, but not what you call crunchy.

A Kind of Pea

This is soramame. One kind of green pea. I dug out an old American dollar bill and a quarter to put next to them to show how big they are. In case you don't know the size of an American dollar, it's 15.5 cm long. I bought a package of ten soramame pods. You can buy them already shelled. When I brought the pods home Big Sister said, "Oh those stink." I haven't noticed. Soramame can be boiled lightly in salted water until tender. How do they taste? They taste like a green pea that lasts longer ('cause they're bigger.)The outside is a little tough. A good source of roughage, I guess, though my children pull it off and don't eat it.

April 28, 2006

Hanging Out

What a difference a day makes. Everyone is taking advantage of the sunshine today. Futon look rather flat, don't they? To make the bed more comfortable, pads made of thick cotton or foam are used under them. The pads are usually stiff so they are harder to put over a balcony to air out. Baba (grandmother) places hers in the sun on a chair in the garden. We live upstairs and I don't really want to carry them down the stairs so I put ours next to a sunny window. Big Sister and Little Brother have "up beds".

Airing Out

Some people have western beds or what my children call "up beds". Futons (bed mattresses), however, are still the most common bed choice. They are aired outside on sunny days. They are usually hung over the balcony or clothes line (pole) in the garden with the rest of the laundry. It has been such a wet winter and spring this year. There have been very few sunny days. These days the sun peeks out only once in a while. It looks like someone was reluctant to put her beds all the way outside, worried that it would rain again. We're all desperate for a good airing out.

April 27, 2006

Rain Protection

April showers are supposed to bring May flowers, but they are already blooming in Tokyo. These are azaleas which are pretty hardy flowers. White ones, though, can get bruised by constant rain. A gardener is trying to protect them by putting this umbrella over them. I've seen this done for peonies. I haven't seen any in bloom yet. As you can see by the reflection, the sun came out a little today. Exactly at the time I took this picture.

Rain Chain

See the metal thing hanging at the entrance of this house? It looks like a chain of badminton birdies. It's a rain chain. Or at least that's what I call it. Rain trickles down it from the roof. Not all houses have them. I've seen water cascade down one. It was raining so hard it looked like a bubbling water fountain. Of course, I was drenched standing there watching.

April 26, 2006

You may never have seen anything like this before. I hadn't before I came to Japan. These are bamboo shoots or baby bamboo. This is the season for them and I've seen them in every grocery store I've been in recently. I never take my camera with me when I shop because I have to carry my groceries home. (I walk everywhere.)

I've been advised to ask permission to take pictures in a store. Yesterday I saw these bamboo shoots at an outdoor market. I had my camera with me so I asked if the shopkeeper minded. I drew a small crowd. Everyone watched and snickered as I took these pictures. Fortunately, it turned out to be a paying crowd. Some of them bought vegetables from the shopkeeper.

These bamboo shoots were huge. I didn't have a tape measure with me (imagine the laughs that would get). I estimate the biggest one to be around 46 cm in diameter and 28 cm in length. Maybe you can figure that out in inches.

We eat bamboo shoots, but I usually buy them already cut up. Pieces are sold in a bag of liquid to keep them fresh. I took the picture of this small bamboo grove in town last year. I just wanted to show what it looks like when baby bamboo grows up.

April 25, 2006

The Gift

When you go to a wedding or a funeral here, you give an envelope of money to the couple or to the family of the deceased. You are then given a gift. Over the years, some people have started using a service that allows their guests to choose their gift from a catalog. We recently went to a wedding and chose this from the catalog we received at the reception. It was delivered just the other day. We've needed one for years. I am so happy to have it because it has rained a lot this month, and the rainy season will start in June. Do you know what it is?

I'll tell you later.

April 24, 2006

School Days: The Lunch Mat

Elementary students have hot lunch at school. Parents pay a fee for it each year. The food is wheeled to the classrooms on carts, and the children eat at their desks. Before school starts, a cloth mat is made or bought to put on the desk under the lunch tray. The mat is about 30 x 45 cm. It is folded and carried in a drawstring bag that is hooked to a strap on the randoseru or public elementary school bag. Students usually use the same mat every year unless the design gets too young for them. This one is looking pretty old and worn. Snoopy is cool for all ages, isn't he?

School Days: The Public Elementary School Bag

When I first came to Japan, I was walking down the street with another teacher. We were suddenly surrounded by little school girls carrying these bags. He exclaimed, "They look like they're wearing mailboxes!"

Girls carry red ones. Boys carry black. Over the years, more colors were made available. The bags are called randoseru. They are made of leather and they are very bulky. Nowadays, they are more lighweight than the old ones. The back has a little bit more padding than it used to. The straps have always been adjustable.

First graders look overwhelmed especially with these huge bags on their backs. In our neighborhood, they wear a bright yellow hat and put a yellow cover on the outside flap of their randoseru. It is a signal to everyone to watch out for them. By sixth grade, the bags look rather small on big students. They can be a rather tight fit by then. Junior high students get new bags. They choose their own style of bags and they don't have to match everybody else's. I'm sure that little bit of freedom is appreciated. Junior high students wear uniforms whereas elementary public school students don't.

School Days: Desk Box

A box of crayons, a box of colored pencils, scissors, a protractor, a ruler, tape and a bottle of glue or a container of paste are kept in a box in the desk at school. Protractors aren't usually used until the third grade. Sometimes a package of origami paper is used in class and is kept in the box. Pencil cases are put on the desk during class and are taken home each day. This box has a top that is used when it is carried to and from school during the first and last week of school.

April 23, 2006

School Days: Emergency Hood

Along with indoor shoes, students need their emergency hoods on the first day of school. The hoods fit into a case that slips over the backs of their chairs. The hoods are padded and fireproof. They are quickly taken out and put on in case there is falling debris or flying hot embers. An identification tag and 'in case of emergency information' are in each hood. See the round metal brads on the side of the hood? Those are there so that the children can hear instructions. They have safety drills from time to time.

On September 1st every year, there are emergency drills all over Japan. Even in offices. Children have safety lectures and drills. On that day at some schools, mothers are required to go to meet their children and to walk home with them. As the mothers wait on the playground, everyone comes out of the school wearing a hood.

Even the teachers and principal wear hoods. The students sit with their classes on the ground (usually in the hot sun) as mothers stand in line to greet the teacher and meet their children.

Another School Year

School starts in April here in Japan. There is about a two week vacation between the old school year and the new one. Cherry blossoms bloom during that time.

Children walk to school. They have a lot of things to carry the first week of the new school year. Each has its own bag. There is usually a schedule that tells students what to take each day.

One thing they have to have the first day is their indoor shoes. When they get to school, they take off their street shoes and put them on a shelf at the entrance. They then put on shoes that they only wear indoors at school. They are usually slip-ons made of canvas and rubber. They are kept at school on the student's shelf at the entrance. They are brought home on Fridays to be washed and dried. They are carried in bags like the ones in the picture. The one on the left is an old style. The new styles like the one on the right are cooler, huh?

Parents take house slippers to school for PTA meetings, class observations or open houses. They take off their street shoes and carry them in a plastic bag. I am sure that most people have a pair of slippers especially used for school visits. I have a pair that folds up and easily fits into my purse.

April 21, 2006

Another Spring

This is Ethel. She made it through another winter hibernation or, rather, brumation. She is seventeen years old. She is older than Big Sister and Little Brother!

In 1991, I took two baby turtles like her to my niece. I traveled 13 hours on the plane with them under the seat. (I called first to see if I could take them.)

The agricultural customs agent at the airport looked at them and said, "These turtles are coming home, too!" I know I looked puzzled because he continued, "They probably came from over in Louisiana." That's next door to my home state, Texas.

Turtles like Ethel can live more than sixty years. Ethel's sister, Lucy, only made it through four winters. Ethel and I have made it a long time here in a foreign land. We must be doing something right!