[The American Years]

Sunday, June 24, 2007

We moved. We've been moved. We were moved. Movers helped.

On our way to Japan we were packed by an American crew and unpacked by a Japanese one. On our way home, it was the opposite.

And for as kind as the American crews are, I am still embarrassed for all the Japanese people who come over here. The efficiency of the Japanese crews is amazing.

When our goods arrived at our new house here, I instructed the crew that we keep shoes outside. That they must take their shoes off when they enter the house. It was difficult for them to get their heads around. How were they going to bring goods in the house, and stop to take their shoes off as they do.

I wish I had video of the Japanese crew carrying out our couch. It was two guys carrying a couch toward the front door. Nothing strange there. Until they reached the entry way where the shoes are kept, they paused, one at a time, to step into their shoes blindly while carrying the full load of the couch. I would have loved to show that to the American crew. "It can be done," I would have said. Then I would have added,"...and you know what? Nobody gets tipped in Japan."

Another source of embarrassment for me. Japanese people come over to America and get subpar service (by their standards) for which they have to pay extra.


OK. Back to Japan. More data to share.

Japanese people, for all their healthy ways, do eventually die. Though I just heard the oldest documented person alive currently is a 114 year-old Japanese woman.

For the body of the departed, cremation is the only way. Not a whole bunch of space available in Japan to lay out full graves, so their cemeteries have stacked up urns.

This cemetery is in Kyoto. The big stones are the family markers, surrounded by smaller stones around containing the ashes of the family members. I took the picture below of the turtle because it was my favorite family marker.

Now how do they get there. In a hearse, obviously. But a hearse in Japan doesn't look like the one you and I are used to. For one, they are smaller. I guess smaller people, in smaller boxes require smaller cars. Secondly, the Japanese usually go for Buddhist rites for their departed. So the hearse becomes ornate, like a Buddhist temple.

This one it typical, thanks to Miss Tracy for the contribution!

Below is one we saw in Kyoto. The natural wood look is not common, so it must be super fancy. Kathleen and the kids and my brother Daniel are there.

A video of the the hearse being loaded. (Listen for the bell. It's a sound known across Japan as the bell of farewell for the departed. I didn't know that when I set my cell phone ringtone to the same sound...)

One more thing about hearses. It's a childish superstition that when a hearse passes by you have to cover your thumbs. You make a fist with the thumbs inside. If you don't, the superstition maintains, you will not be able to see your parents on their deathbed. Pretty grim superstition to lay on kids.

It has something to do with the thumb being the 'parent finger'. I never saw anyone doing that, but I've heard that adults do the same, just to be sure.

Mata ne.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Sugar, sugar

Remember my post about Japanese bottled green tea? I wrote in praise of it. No calories, no sugar, no fake sugar. Just cold green tea, and it is delicious. I listed it as one of the things I was going to miss about Japan.

A couple of people wrote back to say that such tea was widely available in the states. So my spirits were lifted.

Since we've been back, I've been on the lookout for it, hoping that maybe America had caught on to the magic of plain old cold green tea.

Not so. There are green tea drinks in my local store, but they are all sweetened.

Even in the designer fancy pants tea aisle, there are such things as 'diet' tea. Can you imagine? The assumption is that tea MUST have sweetener in it. But nothing unsweetened!

I'm in Kentucky, close enough to the American South that 'Sweet Tea' is a common drink. When you order iced tea, you get asked 'sweet or unsweet'. And the answer is almost always sweet. A yankee might ask, "Why not just get tea, and then sweeten it yourself with those handy little packets on your table?"

Silly northerner. It doesn't taste the same. It really doesn't. If you like sweetened tea, boil the sugar into the water. It makes a big difference.

So, I'm praising Southern sweet tea, but condemning the sweetness at the same time.

Oh conflict of conflicts! Boredom of boredom! How bout some photos for the fun of it.


Near Nagoya there is one of the ceramics centers of Japan, called Seto.

We got a chance to take a ceramics class in Seto during our last week in Japan. It was just like that scene from Ghost, except our experience was much more tasteful, and Patrick Swayze only stopped in for a second. However, unfortunately he wasn't dead.

We had a great instructor, who stepped us through the thing patiently. Under his guidance, we made some great pieces. But when he left us to try by ourselves, we failed miserably. It was still fun.

One of Kathleen's completed pieces, now in our home.

On the bottom of handmade ceramics is the name of the artist or the studio that produced it, typically in Kanji (Chinese Characters that are used for people and place names). We, as foreigners, don't have kanji for our names; we use the phonetic alphabet that is used for foreign words. Well, for the sake of our ceramic creations, we created ceramics names. (Nommes de Wheel?) I chose Kyo Jin, which means Giant. Kathleen chose Typhoon Flower. Her name can be mispronounced in Japanese to sound like Katrina, which the Japanese have heard of. (Typhoon = Hurricaine.) And she likes flowers. So it's there, on the bottom of her creation. Very rare one-of-a-kind handmade rice bowl! One of only a handful of pieces made by the exclusive Typhoon Flower ceramics studio!

Until next time...