Monday, August 30, 2004

Cherry Blossoms Falling at Oka-san's Tamagawa

I think this needs to be printed in green..only because when I think of Tamagawa I remember the beautiful greenery growing in tiers along the mountainside.  The pictures above are of my son, Kenji, at three months, then again on his visit to his Oba-chan when he was fifteen.  As you can see from the picture, Katsuko-san (Oka-san) was a little bit of a woman, but man was she made of steel.

Katsuko-san was born outside of Tokyo in l903. Women of those years had very little to say about their future.  She was born into a good family and they were eager to marry her to someone with a bit of standing in the community.  Things were not looking too bright however, because although she had tremendous grace, humility, gentleness, alas she was not born to beauty.  So the young years passed and still no marriage proposal...her parents were beside themselves.

Break away to several thousand miles away, in cold Canada, a young Japanese businessman, Enji-san, is trying to learn the family business...which includes the lumber business.  Being young, being male..and being free in a foreign country, he finds himself over indulging in certain areas of enjoyment, much to the consternation of his family.

Well, what is to be done?  The man's family decided to give him an ultimatum...agree to marry a woman of their choice or he would be outcast by the family.  As he was only a third or fourth son...he knew they were serious.  He was to return to Tokyo at once. 

Meanwhile, one Uncle of Katsuko-san knew someone in this young man's he proposed to the man's family that Katsuko-san would make an excellent wife for Enji-san.  Now mind you, neither of them had a say in the matter.

So it came upon a day that Katsuko-san & Enji-san were married...and established a home in Tamagawa=gakuen.  A home built on the side of a mountain, overlooking a huge row of cherry trees, with tremendous mounds of azaleas ablaze with every color.

Takashi (Tom) was born in 1933, his mother doted on him.  Although theirs was not a love relationship, they grew to respect one another and both had tremendous love for their son.  For the first 6 years of his life Tom thrilled at doing things with his dad.  Years later he would tell me the stories that his father had told him.  About discoveries yet to come, like the fact that he knew that television would come into everyone's life the way it has....Tom telling me the story would shake his head saying "all those years ago, how did he know?"  I think, as I told Tom, that his father was a dreamer and sometimes dreamers get a real glimpse of the future - look at Michaelangelino.

Everything changed. War does that.  And not in good ways.  Enji-san was called, because he was a chemist, to join the army and ship out to Korea. What went through their minds I cannot say, the older Japanese were trained to honor their Emperor, to die for him - so if told to go - they went.

Katsuko-san and Takashi were left to themselves at Tamagawa.  She was resilient and resourceful, she planted every type of vegetable seed she could get her hands on.  I think, she knew in her heart, just how bad things would get.  Tom would tell me years later that they survived on yams and daikon to the point that he never wanted those foods on the table. 

One of the first things that Oka-san showed me when I visited Tamagawa for the first time was a huge cave that had been cut into the mountainside, it sat directly behind her house. The opening was covered with cobwebs, being the unbrave soul that I am, I declined to enter that dark place.  But she and Tom had spent many a day hiding in there because of the B-52 bombers that were doing the strafing runs over Tokyo.  This was a place that had protected them, I was at a loss for words to say.

Katsuko-san did not have it easy, every day was a struggle for survival for her and her son.  In 1943, when Tom turned ten, they learned Enji-san had fallen ill and died from the illness in Korea. His ashes were brought home for burial with Shinto rites.  So, no matter which way the war went, they were on their own.  Enji-san's family would not offer help during this period, so this little lady of steel decided to sell some of the Tamagawa property....there were alot of acres.

Katsuko-san sold a small piece, held onto her own, sent her son to a good grade school, then onto college..all the time she was learning to invest, buy houses, apartments...stocks.  She knew what it meant to do without and she was making darn sure it wasn't happening again.

She passed in 2000 at the age of ninety-eight. I'm sure, if heaven exists...she's there tending her garden.

I can close my eyes and I'm back at Tamagawa overlooking from the hill a row of cherry trees in full blossom...the wind was blowing the little pink blossoms as if they were snow - such a beautiful sight.  It's in my memory forever and I just have to smile.






Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Never Drink The Water

Well, I found that time was almost standing still throughout my pregnancy.  It was a time that I missed my family terribly, because of the unknown.

I busied myself with housework, writing constant streams of letters home, my weekly visit to Kawashima-sensei, learning to cook Japanese (which I still do to this day), poor Tom ate all my "experiments" with immense fortitude.  He knew I was trying and never complained.

Our house was a comfortable one, when Tom and his mother bought it they had been very considerate of me.  The livingroom, kitchen, upstairs bathroom were all western style...the dinning room,and two bedrooms were tatami style.  Downstairs there was a small bath room called an O-furo, all tiled with a nice size cedar round tub that one bathed in.  You washed outside the tub on the tile, rinsed off and got into the tub.

Toilets are never in the bath room..totally separate. We also had, in the kitchen, water coming in from the city and also a tap for well water...right next to each other.  Well, I really screwed up rather badly and somehow wound up drinking from the wrong tap.

I have never been that sick in my life.  I actually gave myself dysentry, which is like "Revenge of Montazuma" meets "Godzilla" in your stomach!  I found that I could barely walk, poor Tom had to half carry me to the car so that we could get to a doctor fast.  It's a good thing he did, I had lost almost five pounds of fluid in just a few hours...and was becoming very dehydrated.

One thing - I HATE needles...I try everything to avoid them - but I was half unconscious and could not protest too much when they hooked me up to restore fluids quickly.  I felt much better after that.  The doctor gave me antibiotics and they cured me completely.  He also assured me that the baby was fine and I should not worry. Whew!

I was so exhausted that when we arrived home I went straight to sleep.  Now comes the funny part..when I got up the next morning I went into the kitchen as usual to get a cup of coffee....and I couldn't believe my eyes!  Tom, in a apparent attempt to save me from myself, had used my hot pink nailpolish to completely cover the faucet for the well water.  He was going to make damm sure that his "crazy gaijin" wife did not kill herself again.

This little episode just added fuel to the neighbors tales about us and our "kitchigai" or crazy ways.

The nailpolish stayed on the faucet and I always wondered how Oka-san explained it when she rented the house after we returned to the States.

The picture in my mind of Tom handpainting the faucet with a tiny, tiny nail polish brush is just too funny....I just have to laugh.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Revered Sensei, Irises & Me

Katsuko (Oka-san) was an exceptional artist in her own right..she excelled at drawing people, children, places.  I still have some of her work.  Mostly she exhibited Japanese style water paintings, some done on scrolls...others like the Kokeshi dolls that she painted with a hint of real gold for accent.

She did gravitate towards artistic people in her life and made friends very easily.  One of her close friends was the wife of a renown western-style Japanese artist whose name was Riichiro Kawashima.  When Tom and I were first married Kawashima-sensei gave us as a gift the most beautiful oil was very was a close up of a field of blue irises, varying in shades from light blue to deep blue purple, set against a field of green leaves...all of the art outlined in black.  It was very reminiscent of Vincent Van Gogh's famous Iris in Vase painting.  

After we were married I went to work part time for an American company as a secretary, it was an engineering firm and I worked three days a week.  I also volunteered at Okura & Co. to teach English Conversation Classes to their sales staff, in order to prepare them better for going abroad. 

Everything went well for about five months until I learned I was "with child" at that point everyone wanted me to stop working and concentrate on being a mommy to be.  Well!  You can only sweep a tatami mat so much, before you go insane.

Oka-san came up with the idea that I should go visit Kawashima-sensei as he had mentioned that he missed speaking English in recent years.  He had been a student at one of the art universities in Chicago and actually traveled quite a bit.  This, of course, was before WWII.  He also studied in Paris at a time when the great masters were still living.  The picture above is one that he did in Paris and now hangs in a museum.

So it was arranged that once a week, I would take a taxi to the nearby town of Shibuya, where the Kawashima's had a very modern (for that time) condo.  I was to arrive at lunchtime and share a repast with the artist. When I arrived I was quite amazed at the size of the apartment, it was much larger than I had expected as the Japanese homes that I had been in were scaled rather small in individual room size. 

Kawashima-sensei was a terrific host filling me up with wonderful food, and telling stories of his youth in my country.  He did not have many opportunities to travel now because of his age, he was born in 1883 and was 83 years old when I met him.  He seemed to really enjoy speaking English, he really didn't stumble all that much, he had a pretty good command of the language...which I told him.

After lunch we moved over to an area that he had set aside for his artwork.  Then I understood why the apartment living room area was so large.  That way he could dedicate a good percentage of it to his oils, pallets, large standing easel and many assorted brushes.  He donned a smock-like artist coat, the color was a light blue, and when he turned around he had put on a french style cap set on the side of his head.  I will always keep that picture in my head of him standing at his easel with paint brush extended getting ready for the next stroke of paint.

Sitting there watching him work was a complete joy for me. Every once in a while he would glance over at a small side table that was next to the easel, after seeing him do this several times, I questioned what was he looking for?  Well, it was his turn to laugh..seems he had a small maybe 4"x6" watercolor painting (his and original) that he was copying off of.  He told me that it was easier to first do a small scale in watercolor and then put it into oils on a larger canvas.  He said that sometimes at his age the brushes were telling him where to go instead of the other way around. The painting he was working on was that of a of a happy clown , very colorful.

Art runs in my family too, my Mom, my sisters and I all had artistic talent to draw and Uncle George worked as a topographer for the government for many years.  So I really enjoyed my time spent with Kawashima-sensei. 

Little did I know that the child that I carried within me would one day amaze me with his artistic talent.  I like to think that a little part of the talent that Kawashima-sensei possessed imbued itself within my child during those special days. 

Alot of people wind up on the web so I did a google search trying to see if anyone remembered Kawashima-sensei and yes, I did find the picture above and also a mention that he had once interviewed Matisse and questioned what Matisse thought about Picasso.  He also was friendly with the son of the founder of Shiseido. I had wanted to find out if there are any prints of his available anywhere but so far I can't locate any...but I'll keep looking. 

Anyway, this was a trip down memory lane.....and I find I just have to laugh with happiness at the memory.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Communal Bathing or How Do You Stop A Sliding Door?

The Japanese work hard...but they surely know how to relax when they have time off.  Okura owned several large spa type homes...complete with huge sculpted, tiled pools for bathing.

Tom was in the Metal Section of the Import Division, he worked hard along with about 25 others in the group.  One night, he comes home and tells me that we are invited to have a holiday at Okura's resort, that his whole section was invited.

Not having met too many of his fellow workers I looked forward to the experience with great enthusiasm.  This was in February and as we were not married yet,  I would have to stay with the girls and Tom with the boys for sleeping. Even at our house Oka-san stayed with us to keep things "proper".

Well, the weather cooperated it was glorious, the countryside just glowed with a hint of spring.  All of the guys wanted to try fishing..they had small little manmade pools stocked with fish.  Tom wanted me to try it...oh, well...I wound up throwing my bamboo pole (kinda like a whip - would of done Cat Woman proud!) and catching Maru-chan right in the shoulder of his thankfully thick coat.  It was decided that fishing was  not my forte.

Well, we go into dinner and guess what's for dinner? Marinated Wild'm going to starve...the other choice was still squirming marinated eel.  They kept on telling me "tastes just like chicken".  Well, the rice was good.

The guys decided after dinner to play the most favorite game in Japan .. MaJong - but believe me this is not your Mama's MaJong.  They play hot and heavy, almost to the death!  Little did I know that this was one of Tom's passions.

Not to be outdone, all the girls decided it would be fun to go use the bathouse pool while the guys were busy.  In my youthful ignorance I tagged along figuring I loved pools...I had a bathingsuit with me.

Well, as the girls assembled outside of the bathhouse I noticed  no one carrying a bathingsuit, only towels. I asked one of the girls that spoke English, her name was Kimmiko, what were we doing?  She told me that you take off all your clothes, hang up your clothes, towel and take this little square of a washcloth with you.  You proceed into the tiled area, grab a bucket of water, wash and rinse yourself off before entering the large pool of water.

This poor blonde didn't know where to run. I mean I was raised to view nudity as a necessary evil not something that you put on display for everyone's view.  At the same time, I didn't want to disappoint my husband to be by not trying his customs.

So, being relieved that this was going to be all females, I disrobed and entered the tiled area by the pool.   I followed Kimiko's lead and did as she did.  We washed, rinsed and finally immersed ourselves into the most relaxing, soothing water I have ever had the experience to be in. There must of been about 12 of us mermaids in the pool when we heard a tremendous ruckus coming from the front of the disrobing area.

It seems some of the younger men upon learning that the "girls" were going bathing decided to give up the MaJohn game in pursuit of other game!  Well, the person in charge of the pool area was trying to stop the guys from entering...some of the braver girls leapt out of the pool and ran towards the sliding doors.  One of them had a broom stick and stuck it in the bottom slider...THAT worked!

Here I was didn't know which way to turn..all I had was this tiny bit of a wash cloth - not  enough to cover or hide behind.  Kimmiko was hysterical with laughter at my distress - she didn't mean to be mean they just don't view nudity the way we do.

Anyway, when the guys finally stopped rattling the shoji screens, I ran for my clothes and dressed quickly.  As it turns out, they had bathed together before and the poor men didn't realize that it was out of respect to me the girls had decided not to let them in!

I ran, red faced, to find Tom totally immersed in his MaJong game - didn't have a clue as to why I was so embrassed.    He laughed himself silly after finding out what had happened and actually looking back..I just have to laugh too.




Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Moon Over Mt Fuji

Ah...Honeymoon Days...we had fun..Tom owned a Volkswagon Beetle and we toured Osaka, shrines, castles...the Golden Pavilion .. all the while it was April...Cherry blossoms blooming in marvelous profusion throughout our travels, accenting the beauty of the land.

Tom worked for a Japanese Trading Company called Okura & Co., I think it was the 12th largest trading house in Japan.  Anyway, they owned several large homes throughout vacation area's in Japan.  We were lucky enough to be able to secure one that was on a lake near the bottom of Mt. Fuji.  The sight of that mountain, in the morning light, with mist rising around it at the top it was breathtaking to say the least. 

We shared the house with several other vacating couples and the oka-san of the house served us all dinner in a traditional Japanese tatami room.  We were seated on the floor with cushions at a small square table, four to a table.  The room was very Japanese with sliding shoji doors and on the walls about 12" from the top a wooden railing ran the entire length and width of the room stopping only for the sliding doors. 

The Japanese use the rail to hang pictures on the there is a gap of about 2" away from the wall.  Well, there I sit, admiring the artwork and all of a sudden I see a HUGE furry looking arm swing over the edge of the rail...well, I gasped - poked Tom - he looked said "Don't worry it won't bother you". 

No sooner did that statement leave his mouth then this THING heaves the rest of itself over the rail...I swear it was mouthing..

"coming to get you, coming to get you"... I realized my knight in shinning armor was not going to save me....with that I DIVED under the table.   The other people didn't have a clue as to what the crazy gaigen was doing or why! 

My poor Tom never realized that our marriage vows definitely have and to hold and to kill any ugly bug that comes anywhere near her .. I do so promise.

After, the commotion died down, table righted, food retrieved, frazzeled nerves quieted ,Tom told me that it really was the biggest damm spider he had ever seen too.   We both just had to laugh.

Monday, August 16, 2004

"Flying Taxi's"

1965 Tokyo was a bit ahead of itself when it came to taxi's.  If you can outrace a speeding train and cross the tracks just ahead of it..they will begrudingly let you have a taxi licence in Tokyo.

Little did I know, innocent that I was, that I was literally risking life and limb entering one of these cabs.

First of all, you approach the door and it swings open as if by magic...which is fine IF you avoid being hit by the door.  After all, nothing printed on the side of the cab to say STAND BACK AWAY FROM after rubbing an injured leg I entered the cab.

I still was trying to learn some Japanese and other than "Hai" "Yada Yada" "Eeya" I was out of luck.  So Tom had written down instructions for the driver in Japanese, which I proceeded to hand him.  Just getting him to take the paper & read it was hilarious.

After a short while of hand signals and vigorous head nodding we were on our way.  I had a friend who worked at the American Embassy so I was headed downtown for lunch.

Well, I thought for sure I'd never have lunch again because I was gonna die!  This driver put the metal to the pedal and never let up, we zoomed, we zigged and turned ... at one point we were head to head with a trolley train I swear we were running on it's tracks!

At that point I'm yelling, didn't care if he understood me or not.  The cab comes to an abrupt stop - door opens again like magic!  The driver turns to me smiling and says in halting english..."You ride okay?"  He was so earnest in his smile that I started to laugh....paid his fare and got out. 

Thankfully, my friend had seen me pull up and came out to greet me in front of the restraunt..otherwise I would of been a "crazy gaigin" laughing to herself alone on the street.

I think back and I have to laugh.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Swimming Tofu & Flying Taxi's

Well, I tried to adapt to a role as a Japanese wife and in doing so had alot of hilarious moments..blonde jokes weren't in then but they would of have a field day with me then.

Tom went to work during the week and I stayed home cleaning, cooking and making our little nest comfortable.  Well, one day, the door bell rings I answer the door and there's this little old Japanese man selling brushes & brooms...but not your typical Fuller Brush man.  He had brooms the like of which I had never seen, they were freshly made of some kind of hay/straw handtied.

He spoke no English and I, at that point, no it was hand signals and drawing in the air for communication.  The end result was I wound up buying a broom and paying maybe $8.00 for it.

Tom came home that night and I proudly showed him "my broom".... I told him about the little old man, how much I paid for it and he started to laugh.   It turns out that the broom was only worth maybe $l.00 - I had definitely made the old man's day. 

The lot that our house was built on held 3 other similiar we had become friendly with our neighbors.  Evidently, the little old man had gone from our house to each of the neighbors homes....telling them about the crazy gaijin that had just overpaid him. 

It took a while to live that down.....but I did have to laugh.

Not one to give up easily, one day I was sitting in the livingroom and I heard a had a special sound to became in my mind an icecream truck bell.  I went running outside to the street looking for a Good Humor truck...instead I found a man totally dressed white, white cap pushing a white rolling cart that looked like a portable refrigeration unit.....(get this picture in your head) blonde foreign girl comes flying into street asking "IceCream? IceCream?" This poor man actually backed up from me...shaking his head back & forth going..."Icecreamu?" "Icecreamu?".... He reached over and opened the one side of the container and as I looked in I could see white blocks sitting at the bottom which was filled with water...then I realized - He was the TOFU man. 

Of course I didn't escape without my neighbors witnessing my latest faux pas....they were pulling straws to see who would tell "Tom" first about my latest exploit.  Looking back I just have to laugh.

PS: I'll have to continue about the flying taxi tommorrow.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Setagayaku Maki Cho 15 miles to Tokyo

As a new bride I took my responsibilities for the house very seriously.  I didn't want my Japanese MotherInLaw, Oka-san to find fault with me.  The house we had bought was two stories..partly western style, part oriental with tatami mats, all doors were sliding pocket door, shoes were left at the door and slippers were donned.

We were married in April, with plenty of spring showers and in Japan the humidity leads to mildew rather quickly.  We had a wrap around porch-like walkway on the second story with a heavy wooden banister that I used to dry some clothes up there.

Anyway, one morning it was sunny, my husband says "oh, I spoke to Oka-san yesterday and she asked if you could put the futons out over the banister to air so that they will not get mildew.?"  So sure why not? So I dutifully emptied the sliding closet, lifting, hauling these heavy futons outside and hung them one by one over the rail.  There were alot of soft covers too, so I put them out also.

Later in the day I returned upstairs to retrieve the futons, I started folding the covers and eventually got everything placed neatly back in the sliding closet. Whew! I felt I had accomplished something. 

Early that evening Oba-san showed up unexpectedly, and even though she didn't speak English I wanted to show her that I had done as she had asked.  So I motioned for her to follow me upstairs, we entered, I slid open the door to the closet...she took one look and burst into tears!  I'm thinking Oh My God! What did I do? Maybe they are sunburnt..I didn't think so.

Thankfully, Tom came home at that precise moment, poor man he took one look at his mother one look at my face and looked like he wanted to run the other way.

They went back and forth in Japanese for a few moments inbetween the tears.....and Tom turned to face me so his mother could not see his face...he rolled his eyes, furrowed his brow and made faces no respectable Japanese guy would ever do..saying at the same time "She's upset because you didn't put them back in the same order that she had them"

Well, I had been raised to respect my elders by my parents and I knew that I could not laugh it would never be forgiven....I really didn't want to fight with I told Tom "please tell your Mom that I am sorry I didn't know the proper way to return them to the closet, could SHE be so kind as to show me?" She did.

From that point on we got along great. Oka-san passed on and so has her son..but the memory of his face as a new husband caught between his wife & his mother is priceless....I just have to laugh.


Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Shake, Rattle & Roll

Hi! I'm stuck in the 60's but that's okay alot of funny stuff went on..such as:

The week that my parents were with us in Tokyo was interesting to say the least.  I had decided to keep my two sisters with us and let my parents have a little time for themselves, which was a rarity.  Mom & Dad stayed in a downtown hotel on the llth floor in a very comfortable western style room.

Only problem was, there wasn't a mirror long enough for my Mom to be able to see her hemline and whether her slip was showing (a big no-no in those days).   So up jumps my Mom onto the bed to be able to see herself in dresser mirror - WELL! At that precise moment in time a MAJOR earthquake occurs, I think it clocked in at about 5-6 on the Ricter scale.

You have to get this picture set in your mind...Mom jumps on bed, bed started rocking & rolling to beat the band....Dad didn't know what to grab first.. and Mom believes she's broken the bed! Neither had ever experienced the earth moving under them.

Their building was swaying back & forth..the higher you get the more sway.  It, fortunately, didn't do much damage to their building, our house came out of it with a few small cracks & some broken china inside....but thankfully no one was hurt.

So, I have the luxury of looking back on an earthquake and thinking I just had to laugh.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

1965 Mayhem In Tokyo

In 1965 I was a blushing bride to be of 21 years.   I had fallen in love with my boss and after a whirlwind romance found myself in Tokyo waiting for my wedding day.

I was very lucky that my Dad worked for Air France and arranged tickets for my family to be present at the wedding, in April.

Of course, when my family arrived Takashi (Tom) wanted to show them "his" city.  We went  and saw marvelous sites with no problem.  The war in VietNam was just heating up with more & more men being sent there.  So there was alot of unrest among the students in the city.

My Dad, Mom, myself & two sisters were to go meet a friend of my dad's from Air France for lunch.  We hired a cab and in my limited Japanese asked him to take us to a certain restraunt downtown...oh, boy! Little did we realize that a riot was taking place in that area.   We turned down one street and were completely surrounded by screaming youths carrying banners, stating "Yankee Go Home".

The poor cab driver started reaching over us to close windows and he was shaking.  My dad started grumbling a bit (he's an ex-marine) and I was afraid it would get out of hand.

Suddenly, a couple of faces pressed against the cab's back window and as the young men are yelling "Yankee Go Home" they spotted myself, my two pretty sisters & Mother and yelled "BUT NOT YOU".

That totally broke the tension, we women just cracked up.  These couple of student protesters actually helped us turn out of the crowd onto another street.

Even, today, years later..I think of that "But Not you!" and I just have to laugh.