Thursday, March 31, 2011

I am not a nice person

I am not a nice person. I'm anti-social on the best of days. That's probably the main reason why I don't have many friends in real life. Or in any life, actually.
So you can only imagine what a miserable human being (though even that's debatable, according to some) I am when the days are not good. And the days haven't been good for some time now.

It's been a week since Mister's father passed away. We're dealing with it. Mister suddenly found himself in charge of his father's small business. I am holding down the fort at home - a task I am neither suited for nor used to. But we're managing.

Next month (that means on Monday! yay!) I'm starting a new job, our house is half built, our cats are healthy and fighting with each other as always. Gasoline is now readily available again. The same cannot be said about dairy products, though. Mister misses his milk and I long for yogurt. We gave up on lettuce, cabbage and other leafy vegetables. We started buying bottled water for the cats. Other than that, it's business as usual.



I've always been a terrible blogger and an even worse commenter. These days I don't feel like reading at all. Anything. All my energy is focused on getting up in the morning and keeping my nasal passages clear long enough to make it through the day. Yes, it's that time of the year. Hay fever. Though this year it might be radiation sickness. I don't know. And frankly, I don't care.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Shinto style funeral (long)

Mister's father passed away on March 23rd, and last weekend we had the funeral ceremonies. They were held according to the shinto tradition. While many (if not most) Japanese funerals follow the Buddhist way, the Ikedas tend to stick to shinto. Why? This family's custom, I suppose.

I wasn't planning on writing about it on here, but a couple of my curious readers convinced me it might be worth it. It's not something that many people know about. And that's true. Until last week, I had no idea what a funeral in Japan might look like and what's expected of surviving family members.

So, I will write about it.

If you do not wish to hear about losing a loved one in Japan, please stop reading now. Instead, why don't you visit some of the excellent blogs listed under the Japan Blogroll header?

For the rest of you, this is how it went.

When Father passed away and doctors disconnected the machines from his body, we were asked to leave the room. A team of nurses dressed in plastic protective gear - gloves, coats, etc showed up. They brought with them an electric shaver and make up, and asked us what kind of clothes we wanted them to put on Father.

I felt sorry for them, because never before have I seen nurses preparing the deceased like that. As far as I know, in western countries, the body is taken to the morgue without any make up or hair dressing.

While the nurses were preparing the body, we informed the doctors which funeral home we wanted them to contact. They called the place to send a hearse. By then it was already after midnight.

When the nurses got done with the make up and dressing, it was time for a "farewell ceremony". As we had said our goodbyes to Father when he was still alive and conscious, we declined to participate in this performance. Needless to say, that didn't go over too well with the other people there.

We drove to the funeral home, and when we got there, we waited for the body to be displayed. We lit incense sticks and made noise using a singing bowl (rin?). After that Mother and a guy from the funeral home sat down and planned the funeral ceremonies.

The funeral itself had two parts. The first part - otsuya was held on Saturday. The cremation took place on Sunday.

The ceremony room was decorated with flowers - white, yellow, blue and purple. A shinto altar with wooden trays (sanbo), on which offerings of fruit, fish, rice and sake were presented, was set up displaying a large back-lit portrait of Father. The casket was white and decorated with a rope (shimenawa) with white pieces of paper (shide) hanging on it. It was positioned east-west, with the head towards the east, and feet pointing to the west.



The first part of the ceremony was for family members only. We gathered around the body and honored the deceased the shinto way - two bows, and two silent claps (we didn't actually clap like you'd do it at a shrine, here no noise was allowed), and then one more bow. Then we were given pieces of wet tissue to ritually clean the body. We just rubbed it on Father's hands and face. After that, everyone came up to the body and said something to Father. Some said it out loud, and some whispered in private. Then the men lifted the body and placed it in the casket.

The second part of the ceremony was open to anyone. Everyone was dressed in formal mourning clothes - pitch black suits with white shirts and black ties for men, and black dresses with jackets for women. The rules regarding funeral attire are very rigid and you can't just wear any black clothes you happen to have in your closet. You'll look stupid and out of place. Ladies can wear kimono, plain, with no patterns, either dark gray or light purple. Black kimonos seem reserved for immediate family members. School age kids wear their school uniform.

When the guests arrived, first they deposited their envelopes with money (koden) at the reception desk. In return, they got a bag with a souvenir. Not sure what it was, something that Mother selected from the funeral home's catalog. The bag was black with the funeral home's logo on it. Then the guests proceeded to the ceremony room for the memorial service.

The shinto priest conducting the ceremony wore purple robes, black lacquered wooden shoes (asagutsu) and a ritual black hat. He was introduced as belonging to Takafuji shrine.

The priest started with the oharai (waving a branch with shide) ritual to purify the room. There was a lot of praying, chanting and bowing. He instructed us when to stand up, when to sit down and when to bow.

After he did his bit, we all lined up to offer tamagushi (branches with shide attached to them) to Father. The immediate family went first. Then we stood to the side and as other people offered tamagushi, when they finished, they bowed in our direction and we bowed back to them.

After that, Mother gave a speech, and then the eldest son (Mister) spoke.

After that, we (the immediate family) left the room and positioned ourselves by the exit. There, we said thank yous, one by one, to everyone as they were leaving the room.

This was the public part of the ceremony.

After that, the family and relatives got together for dinner. The casket with the body was moved to the room where the meal was served. In front of the casket, two small dishes with rice (uncooked) were placed. When you came up to the casket, you said your hellos to Father and you moved a grain or two from one dish to the other. A place setting and food was also prepared and positioned next to the casket for Father.

Dinner started with a toast - a spoonful of sake in a tiny cup.

After that, the immediate family, instead of eating, grabbed bottles of drinks and ran around pouring juice, beer and what not. It would be rude for guests to pour their own drinks and it was the immediate family's responsibility to make sure that everyone was chatted to, acknowledged and that the guests' glasses stayed filled up.

When the guests left, after saying goodbye to Father, of course, the servers cleared the dishes, and we moved to a guest room right next door and read condolences from those who couldn't attend the ceremony. The casket with the body stayed in the same spot for the night.

The funeral home can provide accommodation for those family members who come from far away, or who don't want to go home for the night. The accommodation was a two room suite, with a kitchenette and a full bathroom. Mother, brother in law and his wife stayed there and Mister and I returned home.

The next day we went to the funeral home early and had breakfast there. When arriving, we had to say hello to Father and move grains of rice from one dish to the other.

Being the eldest son's wife, I had to wear a plain black kimono that day. Younger son's wife was lucky and could keep her own clothes. But Mother and I had to be decked out in traditional garb.



The casket was moved once again to the main ceremony room. More guests came, the same shinto priest appeared and we did more chanting, bowing, and purifying. It proceeded just like the day before - after tamagushi offerings, we stood to the side and bowed to others as they bowed to us. However, this time, when we were done, we placed flowers inside the casket. Then the casket was closed. After that we were handed items from the altar - I carried a tray of rice, sake and a glass, Mister carried Father's portrait, brother in law - the urn in which Father's ashes were going to be deposited, Father's brother - the sotoba (grave marker), and Mother -  the spirit tablets (ihai).

We all went downstairs and everybody else followed us and bowed to us. The casket was put in a car and we all went to the crematorium. The guests followed in a rented minibus, or in their own cars.

At the crematorium, the casket was loaded onto a high-tech cart with a computer screen displaying the name of the deceased. Mother was asked to verify the name and then we followed the cart to its final destination. We carried the items from the funeral home, and as we went by, people bowed and waited for us to pass.

The priest was waiting for us in the last room. We set up the altar again (that's why we were carrying all this stuff) and offered tamagushi one more time. Then the door opened and the cart deposited the casket there. The door closed.

We were asked to go upstairs to have sandwiches and coffee while we waited for the ashes.

It took about 40 minutes. We were called to return downstairs and there, on a marble table, was a pile of bones. The head was separated in the corner.

We were all handed chopsticks and two people at a time would pick up a bone with their chopsticks and place it in the urn. This was repeated until only the head was left. The guy overseeing the process crushed the bones in the urn and made space for the head. He showed us the teeth and other features. Then he closed the urn and wrapped it in a white sheet.

We formed our procession again, except that this time brother in law was carrying the urn with ashes, and we returned to the funeral home.

There, the urn and Father's photo were placed in the dining room and we had a meal. Again, a place setting and food was set next to the urn with ashes - for Father. Again, the immediate family was running around serving drinks.

When everyone was fed and ready to go home, the immediate family lined up by the door and thanked everyone, one by one, for coming. When everybody left, I could finally take off the kimono and wear civilian clothes.

Then we took the ashes and went home. Two ladies from the funeral home came with us and set up a home shrine for Father.



We had to clear a room downstairs, because there was no other suitable space available, as the altar had to face south.

Here's what it looked like:





After 50 days (49 if done the Buddhist way) we will hold another ceremony and either transfer Father's ashes to a cemetery (if a space was booked and paid for - that can be quite difficult as there aren't enough shinto cemeteries around), or we'll continue keeping them at home.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Show Me Japan Vol.1 Issue 19

This week's edition of Show Me Japan is hosted by the wonderful Lisa of Ichigoichielove.




We are taking this break to mourn the passing of a very dear and special to us person.

We'll be back with our regularly scheduled programming next week.

In the meantime, please visit Ichigoichielove and show her Japan!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Show Me Japan Vol.1 Issue 18

Due to the extraordinary circumstances of this week, Show Me Japan is one day late. 
Therefore, it will stay open for entries all through Monday (which is a public holiday in Japan). 


IMPORTANT: Please enter a link to a specific post on your blog, not a general link to your entire blog/website. Thank you!


Welcome to the 18th edition of Show Me Japan. 第18回 Show Me Japan へようこそ。

You can see previous editions here. 前回の”Show Me Japan” エントリーはここです。

FAQ page in English and Japanese is here. 英語と日本語のFAQはここにありますので、初めて参加される方は目を通して頂けると幸いです。

Below is a random selection of photos from last week’s participants. 前回の参加者中からランダムに選んだ写真を以下に紹介します。

The widget to enter your links is at the end of this post – below the photos. ”Show Me Japan”にエントリーする際のリンクを貼るウィジェットはこの記事の一番下にあります。


 From Muzachan - to visit her blog, click on the photo.



From Bigger in Japan - to visit his blog, click on the photo.



To visit Blue Shoe, click on the photo.



To visit Spam From Japan, click on the photo.



To visit Japan-Australia, click on the photo.



If you participate in Show Me Japan, please be so kind and include a link back to this blog in your post. エントリーしたポスト中で “Show Me Japan”のリンクを貼り忘れてないか確かめて頂けると幸いです。バッジに “Show Me Japan”のリンクを加えて頂ければ至極幸いここ極まれりです。


Thank you for participating and have a wonderful weekend.
それでは参加者の皆さん、よい週末を。




And now it's your turn!!!



Due to a sudden family emergency last Sunday, this issue of Show Me Japan has been left to rot here on the blog. 

I apologize to anyone who has not receive a comment and a re-twit on their entry. 
Please forgive us. 

We will work hard to catch up with anyone we missed during last weekend. 



Show Me Japan Participants

1. kyushudan
2. Jon
3. lina
4. Haikugirl
5. Alice Vyxle
6. Yoshi, Japan
7. Muza-chan
8. David
9. David LaSpina
10. YOUSUKE
11. YOUSUKE-2
12. Jay Dee in Japan
13. bird
14. MerEdith
15. robert athens GR
16. sixmats
17. Ichigoichielove

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Let's go out and make a snowman!

From all this cesium that supposedly falling over here! :-)

Seriously, it was a cold day today and I have the worst case of hay fever known to mankind. I wear a mask EVERY year from about March to October. This year I feel like scratching my eyes out and permanently lodging an asthma inhaler in my lungs.

The face mask is NOT to protect me from radiation, but to save me from a certain death by pollen.


In other news, I managed to buy toilet paper today. Yay me!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Blackout

It’s dark, cold and quiet. I have three candles burning, but that’s just enough to keep me from going crazy. Definitely not enough to keep the room bright. 

The cats are hiding and Mister is sleeping.
We just had dinner by candlelight. No, it wasn’t particularly romantic. It tasted a bit weird, actually. Probably because I made it in the dark, too.



The dishes are still piled up in the sink. I will do them when the lights are back. And so it begins.

Welcome to our scheduled blackouts in the Kanto region! Unlike other areas in Kanto that have them during daytime, we are in the unlucky bunch that gets to sit in the dark in the evening.

At least, so far, it’s been pretty uneventful and it hasn’t been shaking that much.

I went to the store today and saw ice cream all ready already for the power outage:


The rest of the store was pretty bare, though:


The fancy stuff on the right is still there. But not at this place. Here, almost everything was gone:



Luckily, thanks to the tireless efforts of my wonderful friends, we have enough food. Enough to share even! Thank you soooo much!!!

We'll manage. And it will get better soon. It has to.

We are NOT leaving

After the recent nuclear plant developments, I have been asked time and again when I am leaving Tochigi.
The answer is - I am not leaving.

The morning panic of March 15th is over, things at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima seemed to have stabilized, radiation levels are falling, life goes on, we are staying.

Why?
Because NOTHING is happening. Really.
As hard as it is to believe, and I know the media has you thinking about some sort of end of days scenario, it's still liveable.

I'll check what's going on at the store tomorrow. I filled up the car yesterday. We got our first battery shipment - yay! - And thank you so much!!!

So unless the long awaited Tokai earthquake decides to blow before Friday (gotta be back at work on Friday), we are on schedule to normalcy.

True, there are shortages as most goods go north, but nothing can be done about that. Those people need help a lot more than we do.

And here is yet another reason why we have no real plans to leave Japan:


I've been saying it since the beginning of this story, by next Monday life for folks outside of Miyagi will be more or less back to normal. This is Japan, people, not Haiti.

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Tohoku quake as seen from Tochigi

To put things in perspective: we are 108 km north of Tokyo, about 120km from those nuclear power plants and about 250 km from the hardest hit area of Miyagi.


People have been emailing me and asking: "So, what was it like?" and "Can you describe what happened?" and "Where were you when it struck?" and so on ad nauseam.

This is what one of my friends refers to as "tragedy porn" - the sick fascination with death and disaster. The same reason why people slow down to look at car accidents.

Anyway, I wasn't really going to write about the quake, because I thought that everything that needed to be said has been said already. Multiple times. By hundreds of bloggers all over Japan.

But when CNN interviews a guy who lives in f*cking Nagoya and calls him an "eyewitness to the events" or some such nonsense, it seems in a way justified that my readers from overseas want to know more details.

Ok, so here we go.

On Friday, March 11, 2011 at 2:46PM I was in a classroom with a group of students. I ignored the first tremors, because that's what you normally do here - there are small earthquakes almost every day. You stop paying attention to them.

But this one didn't go away. It got worse. I screamed. One of my students grabbed my hand and said "run outside". And then had enough clear thinking left to remind me to take my bag. The power went out.

We were upstairs and running downstairs was difficult. The stairs were jumping. Literally jumping.
We ran outside and the whole neighborhood was literally swaying. Like somebody has loaded up a whole swath of land onto a boat, or something.

We grabbed our cellphones and realized there was no reception.

After a few seconds it got quieter and I told my students I was going back in to clean up and get the rest of my stuff. It shook a bit, but not that strong.

I had to pee and went to the toilet, sat down and the building started to shake again. Of course.

When I went out again, I saw that the traffic lights at the nearby intersection weren't working. But literally seconds later a cop on a scooter arrived and took charge.

I got in the car and decided to avoid big roads. But everybody else had the same idea, apparently.

When I reached the corner of Heisei and Route 4, it was a different world - there was power and working street lights.

Took me about 3 hours to get home, the place was a mess. But nothing that couldn't be dealt with rather quickly.

Utsunomiya didn't sustain a lot of damage, and in our part of town we were very lucky - all life lines were working: electricity, gas and water - all OK.

And like someone said it on Twitter, here is one headline that you'd never see:

Millions of lives saved by good Japanese engineering and strict government building codes.

That's true, the real damage came from the tsunami. The devastation you saw on TV was caused not by the quake, but by surging water. The quake itself, while super strong, didn't cause that much damage.

So from now on, I promise not to complain about Japanese buildings. They are bloody cold in winter and hellishly hot in summer, but they can withstand a magnitude 9 earthquake.

OK, that's it. Now go back to your fear mongering mass media and read, watch, listen about the impending nuclear disaster. I'm going to bed.



More about the quake on our blogs here and here and here.


This is a short clip of our daily reality: closed gas stations, a 500 meter line to one gas station that is open (gasoline is rationed now), closed train station (still no train service in Utsunomiya and environs), closed restaurants and empty store shelves.



PS. Don't send your prayers my way, they won't do us any good. Send me money instead. I want to buy a Panasonic GH2, so I can shoot better videos.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Earthquake update - We're OK!!!

Yes, it's still shaking, but so far we are OK.

Show Me Japan Vol.1 Issue 17

IMPORTANT: Please enter a link to a specific post on your blog, not a general link to your entire blog/website. Thank you!


Welcome to the 17th edition of Show Me Japan. 第17回 Show Me Japan へようこそ。

You can see previous editions here. 前回の”Show Me Japan” エントリーはここです。

FAQ page in English and Japanese is here. 英語と日本語のFAQはここにありますので、初めて参加される方は目を通して頂けると幸いです。

Below is a random selection of photos from last week’s participants. 前回の参加者中からランダムに選んだ写真を以下に紹介します。

The widget to enter your links is at the end of this post – below the photos. ”Show Me Japan”にエントリーする際のリンクを貼るウィジェットはこの記事の一番下にあります。


 To visit Birdman's blog, click on the photo


To visit Bartman's blog, click on the photo


To visit Bridget's blog, click on the photo. I'm on a "b" kick today, apparently.


To see what Ichigo is all about, click on the photo to visit her blog.



To visit Japan Dave's blog, click on the photo.





If you participate in Show Me Japan, please be so kind and include a link back to this blog in your post. エントリーしたポスト中で “Show Me Japan”のリンクを貼り忘れてないか確かめて頂けると幸いです。バッジに “Show Me Japan”のリンクを加えて頂ければ至極幸いここ極まれりです。


Thank you for participating and have a wonderful weekend.
それでは参加者の皆さん、よい週末を。




And now it's your turn!!!


Thank you for participating and let's hope for a peaceful week.

Due to the obvious special circumstances, the entries in this week's Show Me Japan were not re-twitted. I apologize for this and ask for your understanding.




Show Me Japan Participants

1. lina
2. Haikugirl
3. Spooning with a Schoolboy
4. Kawaii Culture
5. Alice Vyxle
6. Naked girl
7. A Modern Girl
8. Japan Australia
9. BiggerInJapan
10. David LaSpina
11. Muza-chan
12. BiggerInJapan
13. Yoshi, Japan
14. Jay Dee in Japan
15. Ichigoichielove
16. LifeyouTV
17. TDP
18. bird
19. Spam From Japan
20. Spam From Japan
21. Blue Shoe

Monday, March 7, 2011

Job in Japan available

My school is looking to hire a full-time native English teacher to teach kids and adults.
We are looking for somebody who is in Japan already and has a proper work visa, however, my boss could also renew a visa.

It's a quiet, small school in Utsunomiya. If you don't have any prior teaching experience, don't worry, I can train you, and I am pretty good at what I do, you will be, too.

Even if you are not currently in Utsunomiya, that's OK, we can help you with finding suitable accommodation.
Personally, I think that Uts is a great place to live and I have no intention of leaving this town.

If you are interested and would like to get further details regarding working hours, salary and all that other pesky stuff, please email me ASAP at budgettrouble.blog (at) gmail.com



Friday, March 4, 2011

Show Me Japan Vol.1 Issue 16

Life is still crazy busy. But even though some days I don't have enough time to stop and fart (it's THAT busy), I still have my priorities straight at least.

No matter how frantic things get, there's always time for Show Me Japan.


IMPORTANT: Please enter a link to a specific post on your blog, not a general link to your entire blog/website. Thank you!


Welcome to the 16th edition of Show Me Japan. 第16回 Show Me Japan へようこそ。

You can see previous editions here. 前回の”Show Me Japan” エントリーはここです。

FAQ page in English and Japanese is here. 英語と日本語のFAQはここにありますので、初めて参加される方は目を通して頂けると幸いです。

Below is a random selection of photos from last week’s participants. 前回の参加者中からランダムに選んだ写真を以下に紹介します。

The widget to enter your links is at the end of this post – below the photos. ”Show Me Japan”にエントリーする際のリンクを貼るウィジェットはこの記事の一番下にあります。


From Tokyololas - click on the photo to visit the blog.


From Anzu - click on the photo to visit her blog.


From David@Ogijima - click on the photo to visit his blog



From Spooning with a Schoolboy - click on the photo to visit Caroline's blog.



From Super Happy Awesome - click on the photo to visit Alice's blog.




If you participate in Show Me Japan, please be so kind and include a link back to this blog in your post. エントリーしたポスト中で “Show Me Japan”のリンクを貼り忘れてないか確かめて頂けると幸いです。バッジに “Show Me Japan”のリンクを加えて頂ければ至極幸いここ極まれりです。


Thank you for participating and have a wonderful weekend.
それでは参加者の皆さん、よい週末を。




And now it's your turn!!!


Thank you for a wonderful weekend filled with plum blossoms and see you again next week!





Show Me Japan Participants

1. Haikugirl
2. lina
3. Japan Australia
4. The Soul of Japan
5. Badboy
6. bartman
7. BiggerInJapan
8. LifeyouTV
9. David LaSpina
10. Loco
11. Spooning with a Schoolboy
12. Yuri
13. Jay Dee in Japan
14. sixmats
15. David
16. Bridget Beaver
17. YOUSUKE
18. Ichigoichielove
19. bird
20. TDP
21. Nobu (Tokyo snap)
22. Muza-chan
23. SurvivingInJapan
24. Yoshi, Japan