Friday, April 30, 2010

Sometimes I Can't Help Gawking . . .

Like every time I walk past a man who is wearing worker pants. And you thought I visited gardens to check out the foliage. I have yet to see a man who looks bad in a pair of these pants. At least from the waist down.

I spend an unbelievable amount of time trying to decipher ads posted in train cars. This is one of the few that made perfect sense to me.

I make it a rule not to gawk at my fellow train passengers but, as someone once said, rules are made to be broken.

That's Chip (or maybe Dale) dangling from a cell phone tucked inside a businessman's pocket. Apparently I broke my Do Not Gawk at fellow passengers rule twice this week. So far.

It was impossible to look away when Godzilla gave birth to twin girls on the top of a hill in Kurihama. It looked like a breech delivery. No wonder she was roaring.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Rubbing Statues with Reiko

Spring has been unusually cold, rainy, and howling windy. Coordinating an umbrella with my party wardrobe and eye shadow is a real pain in the patootie but what can you do? Raindrops pitterpattered in the Sumida River the day the Ikebana gals went to Asakusa by boat, the JAW party planners scrambled to find an indoor venue for pinata bashing at last Friday's Fiesta (apparently pinatas are verboten in the Officers' Club although I don't recall my officer having a say on that rule), and Reiko and I postponed our jaunt to Kurihama on account of nasty weather. The last was a good call because the weather was glorious on the following Monday when we met in front of the Keikyu Kurihama station.

Only four train stops (10-15 minutes) down the coast from the central Yokosuka train station near the base, Kurihama is home to Yokosuka's high school, Godzilla, and scores of intriguing shops and restaurants. Why haven't I spent more time there?

Reiko was studying a map inside a glossy trifold brochure when I spotted her outside the station. I love maps in general and maps with dotted lines in contrasting colors make me swoon. We chose the shorter, two and half hour hike, knowing full well it would take us longer because one of us tends to dawdle. Our route would take us past two shrines, through Flower World, and down along the beach where, on July 14, 1853, Commodore Matthew Perry came ashore, cleared his throat, and hollered, "Open your ports to the ships of other nations! We want to trade some of our stuff for some of your stuff. Your people want Krispy Kreme donuts and we want Nintendos!"

The first interesting thing we saw was this statue of Sugawara Michizane riding a bullock. Reiko is rubbing the bullock to ward off senility. I wasn't sure if the bullock preferred rubbing or petting so I did both. If I can find a place that sells those hats, we're going to have a Conehead theme party when I come back to the States.

This statue is on the grounds of a Tenjin Shrine about halfway between the train station and Flower World. There are more than 11,000 Tenjin shrines in Japan. All of them are consecrated to Sugawara Michizane, who was a prominent scholar and an important government official during the Heian Period. His jealous enemies, many of whom were members of the Fujiwara family, conspired to have him exiled to Kyushu (the southern island) where he died in 903 CE.

Here comes the good part. The weather took a turn for the worse right after Sugawara died. Torrential downpours and major lightning flashes resulted in the deaths of several members of the Fujiwara family. When people started thinking Sugawara's wronged spirit was responsible for the devastation, the emperor set his mind to assuaging the angry spirit. Soon a proclamation was passed declaring that Sugawara Michizane was henceforth to be worshipped as Tenjin, or 'Sky Deity'. Yup, he was posthumously deified.
We ambled across the yard to examine another statue, this one showing a dog and her puppies inside a circle formed by the twelve signs of the Japanese zodiac. Reiko said this is where younger-than-us women come to pray for an easy childbirth because -- learn something new every day -- dogs seldom have difficulties delivering pups. As I was digesting this tidbit, Reiko spotted a fairly new sign off to the side of the statue. The sign, I'm paraphrasing, said "News Flash! It has recently been determined that women who are not pregnant can rub this statue and pass the benefits along to their daughters and/granddaughters." Isn't that nice?

I'm hoping I didn't rub it the wrong way.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Boy & Oh Boy

I haven't filled you in on my day in Kurihama with Reiko, or the Japanese and American Wives' Club Fiesta, or the recycled kimono sale, or my trip to China Pete's with Sue, or my latest driving adventures, or Katie's decision to intern at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or the banana au lait mushroom-shaped cookies Reiko found, or my recent conversations with Dr. T. But you will just have to stop back for all that (if you care) because today . . . drum roll . . . my James is celebrating his 24th birthday. That's him below with his girlfriend Emily. We are very excited that they'll be here in June for Matt's graduation.

The rest of today's post is for James' godmother, Aunt Cathy, who isn't on Facebook so hasn't seen the pictures from Matt's theatrical debut in "Back to the 80s". He plays Michael Feldman, a frightfully arrogant high school senior who eventually gets his comeuppance to the delight of the entire audience, including the actor's mother. It seems appropriate to be posting these pictures on James' birthday because Matt drew so many aspects of his character from his memories of James at 15 and 16.

He's the captain of the football team and gets himself elected class president by stealing the nice kid's campaign ideas which he presents to his classmates in the form of a rap song. (This is after he sings "Footloose" but all my pictures of that scene are blurry because it's a big production number with the entire cast dancing behind and around him.)

He and the nice kid (my friend Mimi's son Andrew) have a singing duel (above) over Tiffany. Matt wins. The song they sing is "I Would Walk 500 Miles." They are very funny in this scene.

This is another funny scene. Just as the nice kid is inviting the girl to go for a ride on his new bike, Matt comes on stage in a big cardboard car and sings "Get Into My Car." He is really hilarious. I spend a lot of time during intermission informing other audience members that the school provided all the costumes. Some people thought he borrowed the purple track suit from his dad's closet . . .

This is my favorite scene. The two girls are singing the Debbie Gibson song, "Lost in Your Eyes," while Matt changes his facial expression and strikes J. C. Penney catalogue poses in time with the music. You would recognize at least half of those facial expressions because he borrowed them from his brother, uncles, and cousins.

This is the prom scene, after the computer nerd beats him up. I don't have any good pictures of the Star Wars dream sequence when Andrew plays Luke Skywalker cavorting with Princess Leia and Matt shows up in a Darth Vader costume, wins a light saber battle, and skips off the stage arm-in-arm with the princess.

This is the end of the show. The girls are serenading him with "Hey, Mickey, You're So Fine" and then he sings a few bars of "Get Into My Car."
I'm fairly certain he tapped into his "What's for dinner? I'm starving" vein for this scene.

And this is when he's probably dredging up memories of the "I can't believe Santa didn't bring me a PlayStation2" Christmas.
So there you have it. We miss our family more than ever this week. After the final show tomorrow night, I'll get back on track and fill you in on all the things we love about living in Japan.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dress Rehearsal

A purple and chartreuse fluorescent jumpsuit with matching jacket. I nearly choked on a mushroom-shaped cookie when he came strolling through the door in this ensemble. He'll be wearing it to school tomorrow to attract an opening night audience. Something tells me he won't want to walk to school in the morning . . .

Opening Night . . .

. . . is less than 48 hours from now. The excitement is building. Tickets will not be sold in advance so Stage Mother #1 and Stage Mother #2 will reprise their misspent youths and camp next to the theater door at dawn three days running. Stage Mother #1 has been fasting for two weeks to save enough pennies to purchase a DVD for Aunt Sandy.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Something's Fishy: Matt's Spring Break

On Matt's last day in Okinawa, he remembered he had borrowed my camera for the trip.

From what I've been able to deduce, the six thousand begonias on the steps of the Churaumi Aquarium reminded him of me which, in turn, caused the camera-in-my-pocket penny to drop.

He seems rather enamored with the Edward Scissorhands approach to landscape architecture.

But he can't decide whether to be James Dean or Johnny Depp.

I'm titling this one "Catching Some Ray on Spring Break".

If anyone out there has a fish report due this semester, I now have 193 potential illustrations for your consideration. Sigh.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Expanded Horizons: Gardens and Public Transportation

Just as I never made the transition from SuperNintendo to Nintendo64, denying Mario the certain joy of racing diagonally across my television screen, I was left standing by the side of the road when someone - a nefarious cabdriver I bet - invented zone rates for metropolitan bus systems. The "exact change only" rule came into vogue around the same time. Since most transit authorities never got around to posting a fare schedule anywhere near a bus stop and since I would rather walk ten miles across a desert landscape than risk the indignity of being chastised by a bus driver in front of all those passengers who did not have the benefit of my superior education yet somehow managed to unravel the bus fare mystery, my bus riding days drew to a screeching halt in 1974 or thereabouts.

That's not entirely true. Twenty years later I spent four pleasant months riding buses in Baltimore, an eminently people-friendly city, at least in my memory. Riding the bus in Baltimore, especially changing buses in the heart of town, gave me a chance to rub elbows with all sorts of interesting characters while saving my family money. When people-watching and fiscal responsibility collided ("We're eating peanut butter sandwiches this week because you met a lady at the bus stop who needs a new winter coat?"), my bus riding days were officially terminated. By someone I don't recall electing king, but there you have it.

Enter Reiko. Last week she showed me how to use my PASMO card -- the prepaid card I use to ride the trains and subways -- to enter and exit a bus. I don't have to earn a doctorate degree in bus fare terminology because the card reader on the bus automatically deducts the correct fare. The driver did not chastise me. None of the other passengers solicited me for new clothing.

Now that my explorations are no longer confined to the three-mile radius of any given train station, the world is my oyster. First stop: Yokosuka's celebrated Iris Garden.

We will have to come back in a few weeks to see the irises in bloom. Reiko says we are not allowed to help the volunteers prepare the iris fields. Volunteers must apply at city hall and attend training sessions before they are allowed to groom city parks.

And we won't want to miss the wisteria when it's blooming. "What are those yellow plants to the right of the arbor? They look like weeds."

Reiko says the plant with the yellow flowers is the source of canola oil.

We find very large rhododendrons blooming on the hillside overlooking the garden.

We are surprised these daffodils are still in bloom - the ones outside my kitchen door bloomed in January - but they look charming next to that patch of grape hyacinth.

Some sort of yellow globe bush catches my eye. The flowers look remarkably like cherry blossoms except, of course, for the fact that they're a sunny yellow hue.

Speaking of cherry blossoms, the trees in the Iris Garden are about a week behind the ones on base. Something else to file away for future reference . . .

Reiko is a champ at combining exercise and pleasure. We have made a pact to go on a two-hour hike in Kurihama for our next adventure.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Cherry Blossoms in Downtown Tokyo (#4)

Tokyo Midtown Tower was built on the land where Japan's military headquarters - think Pentagon - stood less than a decade ago. The developers, bless their hearts, set aside ten acres of that land for a park. It boggles my mind that this urban oasis is just three years old. Takako decided we ought to stroll through the park before visiting her painting at the art museum.

There are several varnished wood boxes dotted across the landscape between the skyscraper and the path leading to the park. Takako lifted the lid off one of the boxes so we could peek inside. "These are whirlpool baths. The water is turned on in warm weather so people can soak their aching feet." I file this away for future reference.

The park also offers public art, a playground, an open field, and a traditional Japanese garden with a shaded seating area.

And in Japan of course no park is complete without cherry trees.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The National Art Center in Roppongi

When Takako mentioned that her Yorkshire landscape painting, the one I saw in Yokohama back in January, would be on display at the National Art Center in Tokyo, I started checking train schedules. How could I not witness this major milestone in my Shonan friend's life? Will I ever again have a friend who paints at all let alone paints well enough to have her work exhibited at a national art museum? Unless one of you is keeping a big secret from me, I sincerely doubt it.

The National Art Center is in Roppongi, just a block from the newish Tokyo Midtown Tower where we exited the subway. I made careful note of the directions in case Dan and the Blonde Wonders feel like checking out the Musee D'Orsay exhibit that's scheduled during their visit.

Takako's painting was in the next to last gallery of an exhibit spread over 27 galleries. Mimi's stomach started growling somewhere between Gallery 12 and Gallery 13 so we picked up our pace, posed in front of Takako's painting, and sprinted back to Midtown Tower for a delicious lunch at an Italian restaurant.

That's Takako, Yuko, Elizabeth, "Neo", and Mimi.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Cherry Blossom Viewing Party #3: Shomyo-ji

Of all the cherry trees I have seen this year, this one just inside the entrance to Shomyo-ji in Kanazawabunko takes the cake. I am so grateful to the Japanese members of JAW (Japanese and American Wives' Club) for introducing me to Shomyo-ji last week. Kanazawabunko is just one train stop from Yokosuka by limited express, and seven stops if you happen to be riding on a local train, so it will be easy to get back there to watch the seasons unfold.

After entering the outer gate and admiring that cherry tree, I followed a picturesque lane to the inner gate.

Shomyo-ji was built in 1258 by Sanetoki Hojo, a grandson of one of the Kamakura Shogunate regents. The name Hojo might ring a bell (ding!) since the infamous Masako Hojo was the wife of the first Kamakura Shogun and the mother of the second and third shoguns. And it was one of her Hojo relatives who committed suicide in the cave we passed at the beginning of our perilous camellia hunt.

This is a view inside the temple grounds looking back toward the interior gate. You already met Erin on the Minobusan trip. She was a little giddy at Shomyo-ji because the big boys were in school and Seth was at the daycare center.

Shomyo-ji is a rare example of a Jodo garden, a design that's based on a diagram of a mandala depicting the pure land where Buddha is thought to live. This garden is someone's idea of heaven on earth. I can see their point.

While my companions were busy snapping cherry blossoms from every possible angle, two women inching down the steep bridge caught my eye. I watched them surreptitiously. I wished I could hold the old lady's arm. I felt sorry for myself. I missed my mother. Poor, poor Peevish.

Then the old lady whacked her daughter with that cane and insisted on gripping the railing herself. Giggle. Boy, I really missed my mother at that point.

Hey! I do believe Saint/Daughter is wearing my peasant pants.

Oh, there's a pretty cherry tree across the pond. Are those little schoolchildren on a field trip?

Aren't those little blue and yellow hats darling? Why is the little fellow in the orange coat pointing? Is that a turtle? Good grief, I see at least six hard-shelled reptiles.

Here's a couple more sunning on a rock. Cherry blossom season must be nearing an end because the blossoms are starting to fall like snowflakes.
Those dozens of turtles are not exactly my idea of heaven. They're more my idea of Jurassic Park. But if anyone needs a turtle picture to illustrate a school project, I'm your aunt.
Before I forget, Sanetoki Hojo initially built Shomyo-ji as a shrine for his deceased wife but it was converted to a temple when he became interested in Buddhism. In 1275, a year before his death, Sanetoki added a library (bunko) to hold his extensive manuscript collection. This is the oldest library in Japan and is now a museum holding many artifacts from the Kamakura Era.

After we'd had our fill of cherry blossoms, turtles, and scenic views, we played some silly games in a field next to the temple. Sheryl and Meagan are racing while balancing ping pong balls in ladles.

Convenience store bakery products were suspended from a clothesline that was jiggled and jerked while we tried to remove the packages without using our hands. Mimi spent a long time under that clothesline.
We hiked about a mile to the restaurant where we had lunch. It was a traditional Japanese restaurant with locked shoe cubbies in the lobby.

This - because Ancient Mariner will be curious - is what we had for lunch. I did not remove the lids from the custard (upper left) or miso soup (lower right) but I ate everything else plus a scoop of ice cream for dessert.
This was the final event of the "social season" to be hosted by the Japanese members. They certainly ended the year on a high note. We get together twice more before disbanding for the summer but the Americans will host.


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