Thursday, January 31, 2008

You've come a long way, baby!

I am here but sort of on the exhaustion end of the spectrum. Not physically but let's just say if a cat has 9 lives then Lemi is using up one each week... which actually doesn't say much for the future but anyway I keep running her back and forth to the vet.

SO... not much sewing though I am trying to keep a normal schedule of teaching. Also not much in the mood to take pictures so that's another reason I didn't post.

But the night before last when I was cooking dinner I did grab the camera for a quick pic. Does anybody even want to see this! It is a squid and I'll have you know I cleaned it, cut it up and ate it for dinner. So what, right? I feel I've come a long way that I can now buy a squid and know what to do with it and do it without being too squeamish. I recall a time when I lived in a city by the sea and would go shopping daily at the local seafood market. What an adventure! As I walked between the stalls the fish mongers would call out ,

"Sister! Sister!" (they always refer to their customers by a name that is obviously flattering. A grandmother might be referred to as "Young Miss") "Look! Our fish are so fresh they're still moving!"

Heaven forbid that I would ever buy a moving fish and take it home to watch it die or kill it myself. Those fish mongers don't know how many sales they lost from me from that one, usually fail proof sales pitch!

As for the squid, when I first got married and we lived with Tetsu's mother, she made some fantastic deep fried squid. After a few months, Tetsu and I were on our own and one day I decided to make Mom's recipe.

Buy the squid. Hmmm. Look at all those tentacles. Have to get those off the body of the squid so chop them off. Oh yuck! Now I've got a squid with a crew cut! How do I get the "head" apart from the "body"? (Of course what I thought was a head wasn't.) Squid innards are gross and do you mean to tell me that I've been eating them! (Squid innards make up into a delicacy). Skin the squid. Dang it all this thing is slippery! How many times am I going to pick it up off the floor?

By this time I was practically in tears.

Look at all those suckers! Did we eat those suckers? I give up. I'm calling Tetsu's mother!

"Mom, I'm trying to make squid for dinner (and I've already spent two hours and haven't even got it cut up yet!) It has all these little rings on it!" (Remember, I was only a bride of a few months and really didn't speak Japanese very well. How was I to know the word for suckers on the tentacles? I don't even know what they are in English!)

"Yes, Mom. Rings. You know, lots and lots of rings. What are rings? Well, like you wear on your fingers. My squid has hundred of rings!"

I don't remember what Tetsu's mother's advice was but at some point I did get the squid cut up and was just deep frying it when Tetsu came home. But I was trying to deep fry a wet, slimy squid in hot oil and the thing was spitting and hot oil was splashing everywhere. Tetsu ran in and turned off the stove and told me never, ever to try to make deep fried squid again!

That was many years ago and for the other night's dinner, I knew exactly what to do and had my deep fried squid on the table in 30 minutes.

You've come a long way, baby!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Welcome to Mars!

I have got to run so I've only time to show a couple pictures. Don't you just love the texture on this?! And the color! I thought this looked like something out of this world. I've never seen one before so am I just behind times or is it a new piece of produce hitting the markets? This, by the way, is a Cauli-ccoli, which seems to be a cross species of Cauliflower and Broccoli. I haven't eaten it yet so I don't know what it tastes like. Just admiring it and taking pictures!
"Take me to your leader!"

Monday, January 28, 2008

Kimono remake

I feel guilty that I am a quilter but am not showing much in the way of quilts lately. I am hand quilting and I am barely keeping up with my 365 Challenge, but not too much news in either department. And to add guilt to guilt, I was upstairs in the sewing room where I had promised I would be making more Wonky Hearts but instead I remade another kimono!

Tetsu's mother sent more kimonos over to me last week so now I have almost two boxes! Some are not really usable, things like heavy wool kimono coats that are not long and look just like old-fashioned wool coats but have a distinctive low square neck. I don't think I'll ever be able to wear those or sew them up into something else. They'll probably sit in the box another 10 years. Also some lovely heavy lace kimono jackets but I can't see me wearing something like that either. So you see some things do get life re breathed into them at my sewing machine and some things are going to get tossed someday.

I knew we would see Tetsu's mother on Sunday (yesterday) so I suddenly decided Saturday morning that I needed to make something out of one of her kimonos to show her. Saturday morning I dismantled a kimono (that, a job in itself) and then I proceeded to sew it up using a pattern book from the library. These books are enough to make any budding seamstress quit right there! All the pattern lines for all the patterns in the book are printed on one or two pieces of paper. This tangle of lines have arrows pointing here and there trying to tell you which of the 10 styles featured in the book is the right line! And of course you can't cut up the dumb piece of paper. That would mean you could never make any of the other patterns (besides which, remember it is a library book!) You have to trace your chosen lines onto another piece of paper and then cut out what you need. Headaches I'm telling you!

"Dang it all! Where is the style 8's right, front body piece?"

I finally did find all my pieces, traced them all onto paper, cut them out and then got to start cutting kimono fabric. Chose the simplest pattern possible and this is what I ended up with. I think it came out very well. Can't say too much about the model. She looks a little worn from her sewing session, but Tetsu's mother was very pleased that her kimono was getting used again.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

My Bag

Yesterday I went grocery shopping and had my camera so... The other shoppers must have thought I was crazy! Look at the cute little shopping carts we get to push around. And in my basket I have 1 liter of milk. That's as big as the containers come! Also check out those eggs. They are sold by tens not the dozen in Japan.

One thing that has always seemed like a necessity to me in Japan is the bag boy system. No such thing here in the land of the rising sun. The shopper goes to the check out line and places her basket full of groceries on the table (no conveyer belts). The cashier will scan each item taking it out of the basket and placing it in another basket and the shopper will pay, take the receiving basket to another table and bag the groceries herself. The conscientious cashier will have put the potatoes and canned goods at the bottom of the basket so in order to get them into the bag first, the shopper has to take the lighter groceries out of the basket first and place them on the table to repack the heavier items in the plastic bag first. To me this seemed like just an extra step that could have been avoided if there had just been a bag boy around.

When Takumi was in jr. high I suggested to him that he go to the local supermarket, tell them about U.S. bag boys and offer his services. He could bag groceries, carry them out to the car for the customers, bring the shopping carts back to the store (in Japan you can't leave your cart in the parking lot. Shoppers have to take the carts back to the store entrance.) Pretty soon, shoppers would be flocking to the supermarket and then Takumi could get his friends involved and he could become an bag boy entrepreneur. I recall that he just rolled his eyes at me and alas, there are still no bag boys in Japan.

But, someone started a global warming campaign in Japan and now many people carry around their own "My Bag". I know, this is normal in Europe but not in America and the idea is just catching on in Japan. I have a nifty little compact My Bag that unfolds and unzips and can fit right in the receiving basket at the check out counter. The cashier places all my items in my bag carefully arranging the heavy things in there first and after paying I pull the draw strings, slip my arm through the handles and toodle off to my car. No stop at the bagging table, no carts to push back to the store (it's a pretty sturdy bag) and no plastic bags once I get home!

Another plus is that each supermarket will give you a little card and every time you use your My Bag, they will stamp it and when the shopper has collected 15 to 20 stamps (depending on the store) the card can be turned in for a discount as a reward for helping save the environment. I have quite a collection of cards that I have to riffle through before I can find the right one to be stamped but I'm trying to do my part in reducing plastic production by using My Bag.

I need to go buy bread and tofu today so I'm off again with My Bag!

Friday, January 25, 2008

Lunch boxes

I was just finishing up English on Wednesday at the kindergarten when I noticed the children were just getting ready to eat their lunches.

"Stop! I want to take a picture of some your lunch boxes!"
so all the kids obliged as I wandered around and picked out a few lunch boxes that I wanted pictures of.

"Oh look! You've got hearts in your box!"
"Wow, yours looks delicious!"
"Oh, this is too cute to eat!"

Of course I should have kept my mouth shut because pretty soon all the kids were begging me to take lunch box pictures. I finally settled on a lunch table picture and that seemed to make everyone happy.

As you can see, Japanese mothers can go to a lot of work to make a lunch box (called obento) for their children. More and more, kindergartens are going towards a "school lunch" usually made on the premises and served warm. Parents are busy and obento making can take a big chunk out of the morning routines. The pre-school that I also teach at serves a lunch instead of asking the parents to provide the mid-day meal and this is probably the norm. Mifumi Kindergarten where I go on Wednesdays, has always requested that the mothers prepare a lunch box for their children. The kindergarten Principal's policy is that lunchtime is an important connection between the parent and child during the day and so the mothers are encouraged to take into account the child's likes and dislikes and to make lunch time as enjoyable as possible.

When my kids were in kindergarten I actually enjoyed making an obento for them everyday. There are hundreds of books and magazines that specialize just in obento making and I have purchased a few in my time. There are books for making obentos for your husband ("give him a good balanced meal"), for the high school girl ("filling but not too heavy so that she doesn't get a reputation for being a big eater"), for the high school boy ("volume, Mom, volume!") and for the kindergarten child ("as pretty and colorful as possible!"). Kindergarten obentos can be made of tidbits of leftovers and a little imagination.

Most of the obento boxes at the kindergarten on Wednesday were made of aluminum so that they can be put in an obento warmer machine (plastic melts) and then the children can have a warm lunch during the winter. Many of the kids had little separate "tupperwares" of fruit for dessert or a salad. All children bring their own silverware and chopsticks sets and since this is all wrapped up in a colorful handkerchief for carrying anyway the handkerchief serves as a place mat. I think the cups are brought from home and left at the kindergarten during the week. I see all the kids have their toothbrushes at hand.

So, what were some of the kids eating on Wednesday? I think I saw wieners, some dim sum, salmon slices and chicken nuggets. A countless array of vegetables, some simmered down in soy sauce so I don't know what they were. Lots of sweet egg omelets and a few deep fried shrimp. Black seaweed is popular for cutting out and decorating the white rice. Oh and of course rice balls. Lots of rice balls. Not too many sandwiches but a couple. You certainly won't see a peanut butter sandwich with a bag of potato chips and cookies when a Japanese child opens his lunchbox. I tried that once when Takumi was in kindergarten and he came home crying that the kids had told him that he hadn't brought a real lunch. Just snacks!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Yuuki Tsumugi

Last week I wrote about my friend and student who made the pretty knitted blanket. I mentioned that she had a lot of interests and that she "dabbled" in weaving. That was completely wrong! I meant that she has been dabbling in yarn weaving these past few months on a small weaving frame (which I have borrowed and not used for the last week) but Mrs. Ide was actually a professional weaver of Japanese kimono cloth. I asked her to write a little about what she was doing and her thoughts, and I interviewed her and added a few details. Please read her interesting story.

My name is Miyoko Ide and I like knitting, quilting and sewing. I especially have an interest in weaving Yuuki Tsumugi (Yuuki is a place name, tsumugi is a type of weaving) and I spent some time learning to weave. I spent about 10 years weaving kimono cloth in my own home everyday.

Yuuki Tsumugi is a kind of kimono cloth. It has been specified by the Japanese government as a Japanese Cultural Asset and the cloth measures 39 cm. by 1300 cms. It is completely made by hand. The weaving pattern is made up of tiny hexagon shapes (we say tortoise shell shapes) and to be officially called Yuuki Tsumugi, the fabric must be fine enough for 80 to 120 tiny tortoise shell patterns to fit across the width of the fabric.

Yuuki fabric is made by a collaboration of craftsmen. A spinner will make the thread taking it off the silk cocoons. Depending on the design, the next craftsman will measure and separate the thread into bundles and then bind the bundles tightly, millimeter by millimeter. The thread is then dyed by a dye worker. Next the warp threads are set on a loom with each point of the dyed pattern set perfectly aligned. Finally the cloth is woven by the weaver.

Weaving a roll of kimono fabric is very complicated and involves a lot of time and concentration. Just as the warp threads are aligned to create a pattern, the woof threads must be perfectly aligned also or else the tortoise shell pattern won't show. The weavers must have very good eyes and they work each thread into the pattern with a fine needle as well as with their fingers.

I spent about 6 months learning how to weave Yuuki cloth. The first three months I learned how to work a loom and made a roll of plain kimono cloth. Next, my teacher showed me how to arrange the woof threads so that the pattern would appear and after three months of studying with her, she felt I was ready to weave alone. I arranged to have a loom set up in my house and I worked on a patterned kimono for the next six months.

Some very fast weavers can weave a roll of kimono cloth in about three months, but it usually took me from six months to a year. You can see why Yuuki cloth can be so expensive. One roll will cost more than $1000 and some very intricate designs can run $3000 or $4000! Nowadays there aren't many people who can weave Yuuki cloth and the dyeing is only a skill that is passed on from father to son.

Even though Yuuki is very expensive it is not considered formal wear. Women will wear a kimono of Yuuki cloth when they go to a tea ceremony lesson or to Japanese dance lessons and even when they go out during the day, but we wouldn't wear a Yuuki kimono to a wedding or a child's entrance ceremony to school etc. More elaborate and finer kimonos are worn on those special days.

I hope that many people will enjoy the experience of wearing a Yuuki kimono.

And finally, here is a picture of Mrs. Ide when she came to my house this week wearing one of the Yuuki Tsumugi kimonos that she wove herself.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Lemi is better

A quick note to let you know that Lemi is sitting on my lap and is much more with it this morning. Tetsu has taken night nurse duty two nights in a row and I have taken Lemi to the vets two days running for medication and treatment. Right now Lemi seems to just want loving and only seems to want to sit on a lap so yesterday I didn't get much else done. We are thankful that she seems to be holding her own.

Thank you for thinking of us and sharing your stories. I'm sorry that any pet owner has things like this to face but it is a comfort to know others have had the same agonizing thoughts.

Lemi will be spending the morning in her intensive care box while I'm at the kindergarten but I think she's feeling good enough that she'll just be mad at me for locking her up. This time I'll be grateful for her anger!

And here is a not too great picture of Lemi coming out of her intensive care box. Couldn't get out of there fast enough so that's a good sign. Cleo is up there on top keeping the box roof and my quilt warm.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

...a hard decision

This is not a cheerful post today. I think I need to get some fun in my life just so my blog doesn't wallow in disappointments. Animal lovers, beware. Truly, if someone else were blogging about this I'd probably skip this post.

Our Lemi isn't doing too well. We've fixed up an "intensive care" box for her and are keeping close watch but...

This is an emotional subject but let me tell you of my dilemma. We once had an extremely old dog that did not have a peaceful passing. I feel guilty about that because I could have stood my ground and insisted she be put to sleep. My vet knew my feelings but when it came down to making the decision I couldn't take her in for the shot. Euthanasia is not the norm in Japan though it is not all that uncommon. The vet will do it for you if you ask but it is not suggested from his point. The problem is that Tetsu is of a different mind than I am. He agreed that the old dog should have been put out of its misery but at the time we didn't think the process would go on as long as it did.

Now with Lemi. I think both of us and the vet think that Lemi's life isn't going to last much longer. She is 13 and has been in poor health since October. The other animals are cruel to her (part of nature, survival of the fittest) and I don't blame them but her life is not easy. Do we put her to sleep? I say, we need to think about it and it would be better than watching her waste away. Tetsu is adamantly against putting her down if she isn't in pain. "Dying is part of life Tanya. Humans put their animals to sleep not so much for the animal but because they don't want to watch the process." Tetsu may have a different view of death just because he works in a convalescent home and sees it daily, monitors the residents' last hours. (No he is not in the medical field but it is a small home and he is part of all the decisions, calling family members, staying with the deceased etc.)

This is just another difference in cultures. Japanese may see me as cruel since I consider euthanasia an option. Also with putting down an animal, my vet and most in Japan require that the family members be present at the moment claiming that it is the owners last responsibility to see the pet off. I honestly see their point. This is a heart breaking situation for me but it does go along with Tetsu's idea that life and death should be taken together.

On the other hand I consider many pet owners as cruel since because they will not do anything to ease a pet's passing and watching is so painful that the animal is left to die alone in the dog house or sometimes is even thrown out in the hills, a quick death and the owner doesn't have to watch. (I know, this is getting hard to read.) Historically Japanese took their old people to the hills and left them too so this isn't just cruelty to animals. It is part of the thinking.

That doesn't have much to do with our decision. Lemi isn't suffering. She may even get better but all the signs point the other way. She is both Tetsu and my cat and we both love her equally. Tetsu takes as much care for her when he's home as I do and maybe even more.

So do I take Lemi in and make the decision or do I wait and watch? I'm waiting and watching today. I guess I'll worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes.

Monday, January 21, 2008


I had a quiet, reflective weekend, thinking about what I'm doing with my life, what I want to do. Why? Because someone suggested that I apply for a certain teaching job but I guess I really don't want to. I'm sort of happy with the way I have my life set up now, teaching some but not too much, being housewifely at times, making things I like with my needle... Do I want to increase my workload and cut back on other things? No. Should I? Probably yes. Two kids in college... Tetsu would be thrilled if he didn't have the complete burden on his shoulders. Am I being selfish? Am I just afraid to go out in the world? If God gives you a door shouldn't you open it? But my feelings just get low when I think about changing what I have right now. Tetsu doesn't push me, and actually said he didn't think I should apply but maybe he's just being a considerate husband...

I'm afraid I only have cat pictures and one mystery picture to show you today. The cats are enjoying the quilt when I'm not around. I have gotten to the white part of the quilt and am enjoying the decorative quilting. Lots of swirls and feathers. The white fabric has a brown pattern on it so actually my normal quilting thread didn't show up but I had half a spool of light brown thread in my drawer so I'm using that and it is showing up nicely. I hope I have enough thread for the whole quilt.

And the mystery picture. Did you know what that constellation was at the top of the page? I'm getting pretty low on pictures if I start showing you things like this. It is the inside of my thimble! This is the thimble that I use on my left hand, the one under the quilt that pushes the sharp tip of the needle back to the front of the quilt, so it gets a workout. I'm not sure how many thimbles I've gone through in my quilting days, but this is by no means the first. One thimble may last me three or four bed cover size quilts before I get a hole in it. I'm still laboring on with this one by checking the position every time I put it on, but eventually what will happen is that the tip of the needle will slip into one of those holes and the needle will break. At that point I'll get out a new thimble. I don't know why, but having a thimble with a hole in it gives me a sense of accomplishment, like, "I really am a quilter!". Of course it may just mean that I'm hard on thimbles...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Center Test

Today in Japan the high school students are having their "Senta-shiken" the National Center Test for University Admissions. It is a two day test given to all high school students who want to go on to college and is somewhat similar to the U.S. SAT and ACT tests. (I think.) One day is for language and social studies, the next day for math and sciences.

Most universities will accept students from a combination of the results of their Center tests and from entrance exams scores given by each university. Both tests are rigorous and high school students have been studying on their own and also going to cram schools in order to prepare for these tests for months. One big difference between the U.S. tests and the Center test is that in Japan this test is only given one time a year (today and tomorrow!) and if for some reason you miss it...

"Sorry kid. You'll have to try again next year. No college for you this year!"

Unfortunately, this test is given every year around the middle of January which means there is sometimes snow and storms and transportation can back up.

"That's too bad too kid. Unless the whole city has shut down, weather is not an excuse for being late to the test!"

It is also the season for influenza so if the student isn't feeling well today... As you can see the rules are strict and rigid. Another thing about the Center test is that the students never learn the results. The scores are sent directly to the university and everyone sits on pins and needles hoping that the scores were high enough so that the student will be considered by the college.

And after all that information I must tell you that neither of my children ever took the Center test. Leiya avoided it this year because she's been in a high school in Ohio and is planning to go to college there too. Takumi...? Well, he graduated from Japanese high school but had already decided to go to the States before the Center test. BUT... He had applied for the test a few months before (just in case he changed his mind) and he had paid the $300 fee to take it. Tetsu and I thought that since we'd paid for it, he ought to at least get the experience of taking it.

The day of the Center test, Takumi and his best friend arranged to go together to the test area. This is where having an American mother went against Takumi. Most Japanese mothers will take special concern about their son's or daughter's health from a few days before the test, drive the student to the testing area on the day (start early in case of snow) and wait for hours (maybe with head bows and prayers being sent up?) then bring the student home, feed him or her something warm, make sure he or she gets a good night's sleep and do the same thing the next day for the second part of the test. I mean we are really talking about a very important couple days in a student's life! In Takumi's case, he said he was going with a friend and I said

"Oh, fine."

and that was it. An hour or so after he left, I got a phone call.

"This is Takumi. Now, don't get upset. I'm coming home now." (his test was supposed to last all day.)

"What! Why? Where are you?"

"I'm right outside the front door. I didn't want you to faint if I just walked in the door. I'm calling from my cell phone." (such a considerate son.)

He'd gone to the wrong testing district! His friend was testing in one part of town and Takumi was supposed to be testing in another part of town. So much for that test.

Although I had taken a blase view of my motherly roles in preparing Takumi for his test, I was furious that he hadn't had enough sense to check about the place he was supposed to go! He couldn't understand what the problem was. He'd already made the decision to go to the States. The test wasn't important for his own college entrance. But to me, I was sending this kid off to America in a couple months to live on his own in another culture and he wasn't even responsible enough have the wits to get to the right place in his own language!

Ah, memories of the almost taken Center test...

Takumi has turned into (or maybe he always was) a very responsible son and if there have been any similar incidents while he's been in the States, I certainly haven't heard about them!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Mrs. Furui

I had a fun day yesterday with my patchwork friends. We showed the few blocks we'd made for the bazaar quilt and delegated the next blocks to those of us who had finished the first blocks. Mrs. Furui spent the whole day making cardboard templates for anyone who had an inkling of what they wanted to do next. This always happens. She's the only one of us who is exact enough to make accurate templates and honestly doesn't seem to mind so I'll say,

"Mrs. Furui. I want to make an 8" tree block. Can you make me a template?"

And she gets her ruler, her pencil, her stack of saved cardboard and starts figuring. Mrs. Furui rarely gets any sewing done though our patchwork meeting is always held at her house. She is also very organized and so she is one of those people who can say

"Hmm. I think we made that block six years ago..."

and she'll go to a box and find the templates all labeled and marked with a paper pattern, sizes, and sometimes even fabric that was cut but not sewn. That's how it was yesterday. I made a request, she found her templates and I quickly made a block with fabric that had already been cut and was waiting. Ahh... To have such organizational skills!

Here is Mrs. Furui making a template for someone else. Great picture of her isn't it? We had so much stuff spread out on the table that she had to resort to using the floor! She's always got her head bowed over some project, so actually this is a fairly accurate image of her!

And this is one of Mrs. Furui's most recent creations. You can see why she doesn't get that much patchwork sewing done. She is always making something lovely and intricate like this! I think she is planning to frame this and she is hoping to make two or three more of the same little girl in different scenes! This is a combination of crosstitch and petit point and we all drooled over it!

Thank you Mrs. Furui!
(last picture taken of the two of us about 3 years ago!)

Thursday, January 17, 2008


I have an early day today (and tomorrow) so I'll have to make this short.

I have a very nice friend (and student) Mrs. Ide, who is multi-talented. She is a patchwork friend though we don't really make things together, just share and admire each other's work. She has done stone carving and made the little family chops that every Japanese family owns for signing papers. She does water color painting and makes lovely cards to send to her friends and family. She has dabbled in weaving and doll making. But probably her first love is knitting and crochet and she is always making some lovely sweater or vest or jacket from yarn. She uses metallic yarns and furry mohair yarn, heavy crinkled yarn and variegated yarn and turns out some fantastic apparel in a very short amount of time!

Last week Mrs. Ide said her yarn closet was overflowing so she was trying to use it up by knitting and afghan stitching a blanket (I've never done afghan stitch but it works up beautifully) and on Tuesday she brought her completed blanket to share. Isn't this a wonderful, colorful, fun blanket! Just right for taking a nap on the sofa! And so soft! Oohh! I want to make one! (as if I don't have enough projects going!) Well, most of my leftover yarn is from Tetsu's sweaters and vests that I've made and he won't wear anything but blue, brown, beige and gray so I'd never be able to make such a colorful blanket but still my head churns with ideas.

Not this year, Tanya. Stay on track and finish the four quilts you are working on!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Old kimono continued

I said I was going to show you some of the kimonos I brought back from Tetsu's mother and while I was looking at them I realized there were a couple that I even had pictures of! So... I don't know if you are interested in old pictures but here are a couple.

This little dot is actually the Watanabe family crest mark and it is embroidered on formal black kimonos on the front shoulders and on the very center of the back just at the edge of the collar. Every family will have a crest and some of the older houses will have it displayed somewhere and it will always be on the gravestone. Can you see how absolutely tiny these stitches are? It makes for a very striking mark against the black silk. Actually I'm not sure what it represents as I can't find a connotation between our family name and the mark, but some crests will obviously be of a pine branch if the family name has to do with trees etc. I'll see if I can find out more about family crests.

And I'm pretty sure this picture taken on my wedding day of Tetsu's mother and myself (28 years ago!) is of the kimono that is sitting in this box with the family crest mark.

Here is a picture of a haori that is worn over kimono (and I'm going to leave it in this form and see if Leiya wants to use it. I like to wear haori over jeans and a turtleneck sweater). And look. I think that it is the same haori that Obaachan was wearing in this picture taken with Tetsu's father. No date on this picture and I never met Tetsu's father so I'm thinking Obaachan must have been in her 40's at the time. She is 84 now. When I first met Tetsu's mother she never wore anything but kimono. She said Tetsu's father felt strongly that a woman should not be in western dress, so all the years that he was alive she never wore anything but the traditional outfit. After he died she lost interest in keeping herself looking so proper and once she started wearing slacks she realized how easy western dress made it to move around, so the kimonos were relegated to the box.

And here is the most recent picture of Obaachan taken during New Year's with Tetsu.

Thank you for wandering through the past with me.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Old kimono

On Sunday, Tetsu and I visited his mother, and took her out to lunch. I was wearing the shirt I'd made from my neighbor's old kimono and Obaachan (Tetsu's mother) was very surprised and thought it was from one of her old kimonos but she was pretty sure hers were still in a box in her closet. When we got home we hauled out the box.

Obaachan had given me a couple of her old kimonos a few years ago and I passed them along to a friend who used them in patchwork. The ones she showed us Sunday were her valuable kimonos, hand woven things made of silk, some for formal wear, some for wearing only to funerals etc. Kimonos are expensive and it is a point of pride and maybe snobbishness to wear only the best kimonos and obis (belts) that have been hand painted or embroidered or woven. When I say expensive, I don't mean a couple hundred dollars. We're talking about thousands for just one kimono not to mention the brocade obi, the silk underclothing, the hand woven decorative ties etc. etc. Even on Sunday I could hear the pride in Obaachan's voice as she boasted about how much this or that kimono cost, how Tetsu's father bought it for her when he'd made a lot of money on some business deal. To me it seems somewhat vain to put so much worth into clothing but to Obaachan, it is proof of what high status she once belonged to.
As I oohed and aahed, she casually said,

"Take them. I don't have any used for them anymore. No one will ever wear them. They'll just get thrown away someday. Some recycle shop may sell them for a piddling. You take them and make something you like."

"But Obaachan, that would mean cutting them up. That would ruin them. I might not even be able to make something wearable. I'm not very good at sewing."

"It doesn't matter. They sit in a dark box for thirty years. If you can make something and wear it even once it is better for the kimono. I don't need them anymore."

So Tetsu and I repacked the box and I brought it home. On the way back Tetsu said,

"She didn't give you those kimonos the time before because they were so special to her. I wonder why she's decided they aren't special to her anymore. I guess she figures she really won't be around that many more years and she'd at least like to know that you appreciate them."

A sad thought, but maybe so...

I looked through the box again and admire how beautiful the patterns, the weaving, the tiny stitches are. But knowing that some of these kimonos run thousands of dollars can you see why I'm hesitant to cut into any of them? My scissors freeze before I even sit down at the box. It's true though. Not many people wear kimono anymore and certainly not anyone I know. Some of the hostesses at bars maybe, the girls at weddings. But these rich, dark kimonos of Obaachan's are things she wore after she was married, not something a young girl like Leiya would wear (maybe once!). And besides, to properly dress in a kimono you have to have a "dresser" someone who knows how to tuck and tie etc. One just doesn't throw a kimono on and go out to lunch. Nowadays (for funerals) women will go to a hair dresser who also has a license in kimono dressing. That reminds me, you have to have your hair put up a special way too.

What I'm trying to say is that no one I know will ever wear these kimonos. If I made a dress or a shirt at least they would be out of their box. But they are too valuable for me to start playing around with. So I finger them.

I'll take pictures in the next couple of days and show you a few. In the meantime, I did cut into two yesterday. They had tags on them so I knew they weren't that expensive. Probably store bought. My sewing is so bad, but sort of interesting. Maybe Obaachan will approve. Maybe I can work up the courage to use the others...

Monday, January 14, 2008


In the first week of January I wrote about kadomatsu and how the New Year decorations would be burned sometime this month. Well, for this part of Japan, the burning day, called Dontosai,was yesterday.

Sometime last week we got a notice from the neighborhood council that on Jan. 13 the children in the neighborhood would be coming door to door to collect New Year's decorations and in the evening the bonfire would be lit, so everyone come and enjoy. I'm afraid Tetsu and I aren't good participants of this custom for one reason, because we never have New Year's decorations, and for another, because we aren't drinkers so don't really enjoy the party atmosphere. When our kids were little they went a couple of times but I never have.

Yesterday returning from visiting Tetsu's mother, I noticed that here and there in the farming areas the Dontosai bonfire piles were being set up and everyone was getting ready for the big night. I suppose while the children are out collecting New Year's decorations the menfolk are setting up the bonfire with wood, branches and bamboo poles cut from the surrounding forests. The kadomatsu were being dismantled (have to be economically sound and the burnables separated from the unburnables) and the other decorations of straw, paper and wood were arranged on the wood pile. Not only were there New Year's decorations, but also trinkets that had sat on the family Shinto altar all year and were no longer "effective". New trinkets, lucky charms and decorations had probably been bought at the shrine at the beginning of the year so the old ones are returned to the gods by the rising smoke. While all this business is going on, the womenfolk are busy cutting vegetables for soup that will be served to everyone and also making little red and white rice-flour balls which everyone eats later in the evening to ward off evil spirits in the New Year.

Last night around 6:00 I took Choco and my trusty camera and went to check out the neighborhood Dontosai. The bonfire had been lit in the late afternoon but people were still milling around and keeping warm by the red ashes. Someone spotted me and brought me a bowl of vegetable soup so I tied Choco to a tree and joined the group and chatted with a couple of people. The red and white rice-flour balls had been stuck on tree branches and were being warmed by the fire and there were also long poles of bamboo that were stuck in the embers here and there and had been filled with osake to warm. Bamboo is an amazingly versatile plant, and a few poles had been sawed down into sections that could be used as cups so most people were having a jolly good time drinking warmed bamboo flavored osake in the freezing cold night while watching the sparks fly.

I guess my attendance was appreciated only because I was the only one there who had thought to bring a camera so someone asked me to take a couple of pictures of the volunteer fire"men" that were required to participate in the event. We have a district volunteer fire brigade and each neighborhood has to dispatch two members. I don't know what they normally do but on Dontosai they dress up in their silver suits and poke at the burning logs and I hope are not drinking too heartily of the osake.

Dontosai, a nice way to warm the dark cold night, and the hearts and bodies of the neighbors!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

In the doghouse

You may remember way back when, I wanted to sew a shirt for myself using an old kimono given to me by a friend. I had even found a pattern book in the library and traced the pattern to some butcher paper (in Japan they don't sell patterns on tissue like McCalls and Butterick!) But I had so many things I needed to do that the pattern has just been sitting for nearly a month. Well yesterday since I felt good about the When-oh-When I went ahead and made the shirt! I am not much of a seamstress and figuring out the sewing directions in Japanese is always a challenge but this is the result! I like big baggy shirts where I can wear something under them (besides they hide bulges and flab better) so I think this will suit my wardrobe well. It has such a pretty, dark blue woven pattern that will go great with my regular fashion statement of jeans!

So most of the day was very productive and I was in a good mood. I decided to really do some cooking and cleaning in the evening so I made up some home made croquettes which to me is quite a lot of work. Boil potatoes, cook up bacon, onions, clams (and de-shell them), mix them all together and make them into patties to be covered with bread crumbs and then deep fry. Sounds good doesn't it? Sorry, I DON'T KNOW!!! Choco found the patties way back on the counter while I was vacuuming so NO DINNER!!! She ate all six croquettes and was just cleaning the dish with her tongue when I discovered her up on the counter!!! Talk about angry! I would have like to have thrown her out in the snow but that would just mean more clean-up work for me when I brought her back in later so into the doghouse she went. Do you think she looks like she's sorry for ruining my dinner? Tetsu and I had soup, broccoli and rice for dinner, Choco went without! (And no, the onions which dogs are not supposed to have, didn't seem to upset her.)