Sunday, September 30, 2012

Oh, by the Way.........

..........it is supposed to snow early this week sometime........flurries = snow = fear of falling down and that = unhappy me!!

Winter again........all ready?  NNNNOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!

Yummy Cabbage Recipe

I have a new friend in the wife of my husband's new honourary assistant.  She is from Rwanda and is a gem of a person. Today we lunched together and while she is MUCH younger than I am, we hit it off and had a great time.  We grocery shopped in the afternoon and then she decided to come over and show me her favourite way to cook cabbage.  It is YUMMY!  Here's how to do it:

Chop up half a head of large cabbage or a very small cabbage into very fine strips, similar to cole slaw strips.

Cook in a lidded pan with minimal oil of choice until slightly tender.
Finely slice a small onion and add to the mixture in the pan, cooking for another 5 minutes to soften the onion slices.

Add half a small can of tomato paste, stir until completely mixed with cabbage and onion.  Keep heat on burner at about medium, enough to cook thoroughly but not hot enough to burn the cabbage.

Add 2 heaping tablespoons of smooth peanut butter, plus a cup of water, and stir in thoroughly.   (My friend added salt as well but it isn't necessary.)

Bring mixture to a boil and as soon as it boils it is ready to eat!

3 guesses what we are having for supper tonight and the first 2 don't count!!!


Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Season of Solitude

Tonight I have spent some time reflecting on the past couple of years. (I mean what better thing to do when you are trying to avoid washing a whole slew of "new" dishes that arrived in the morning, right??)

The past 2 and a half years has been incredibly lonely in many ways.  Yes, I have been very busy doing what priest's wives do, I have had a wonderful time over the past 2 years, thanks to the internet and inexpensive telephone plans, enjoying friendships with friends I rarely ever see due to geographical distance.  Being housebound with a broken ankle for several months last winter provided great chances for visiting with the church folk and enjoying their company on a more personal level.  My husband and I have new friends due to the events around that time.  It is all good.

And yet.......I am lonely. Not from lack of human contact and not from lack of activity.  I am not bored.  I am simply lonely.  On the outside I am busy enough each day. My contacts with friends far and near, new and old, have increased and deepened.  This lonely is more of an intensly "inside" lonely.

God has provided my every need both physically and emotionally over a tough couple of years.  He has been there for me to talk to and I am conscious of his presence at any given moment.  He is faithful and I am enjoying him.  But still, I am lonely on the inside in a deep way.

My husband has been an amazing care giver, friend, and an all around great guy. He encourages me in everything I do and understands better than anyone how difficult it was for me to give up my life and ministry to move to this new town.  He has been supportive in every way.  But still, I am lonely on the inside.

This kind of lonely is different from the loneliness that accompanys severe depression.  I have been there and done that.  Depression loneliness is a negative, overwhelming kind of choking sensation that can drive a person right over the edge.  This inside lonely is not that.

This inside lonely is a paradoxical kind of lonely.  There is a peace that accompanies it.  There is a contentment that comes when you know that something is okay.  Right now I know that it is okay to feel lonely.  There is a serenity in knowing that right now I have just the right amount of people in my life, just enough activity, just enough around the house busyness. There is a hollow feeling in me, but it is a warm hollowness, not a bleak cold hollowness that signals something is very wrong. This is an odd type of lonely. It is loneliness "in the midst".

It is as if God is saying that this lonely is good for me right now.  The pace of my life has slowed tremendously since I've been here. There has been time to think and meditate and fast and pray.  There has been time to reassess where I am at with God and where he may be at with me.  

This loneliness has stripped me of my ability to chatter for the sake of chattering, of blithering on about nothing just to keep a conversation going, of feeling I need to be any particular way to satisfy any other particular person...a good lesson for a priest's wife.  It has helped me to refuse to do "busy work" to con myself into thinking I am doing something important simply because I am always busy.

It has made me content with my own company again....a gift that I lost for a few years and is good to have returned to me.

It leads me to believe that there is some kind of change coming in my life....at the right time, when this season of my life ends and a new one begins...next month? Next year? Next decade?  Whatever the changes on the horizon this peaceful inner loneliness seems designed to help me make some kind of coming transition.  I am going to need the serenity that has taken hold during this time of strange loneliness. 

Whatever is going on is wierd, but in an ultimately good way I suspect.

Ahhh, Yawn, Scratch Scratch....Yeah....That Feels Better!

What a difference even one good night's sleep makes after too many weeks of stress and busyness!  Today is a good day!  We feel refreshed and ready to roll once again.....my husband is busy working on his sermon and preparing for classes next week and I have had a marvellous time with my cousin today.

I rarely get to see any of my many relatives even though we are only living a very few hours apart.  I didn't grow up around them and don't know them very well, so today's visit was a special treat.  We visited, we had lunch out together and we talked and talked.  It was great.

My cousin delivered 6 boxes of "stuff" from my dear auntie who was a missionary in Africa for over 40 years.  She is preparing to move to a seniors' residence soon and so is downsizing like crazy.  She decided to send some of her lovely things to us.

Among the many items are several that deeply touch my heart.  I now have a set of my grandmother's dishes that I will use and use.  I remember them (the dishes AND my grandmother) from when I was younger and we drove what seemed at the time like so very many hours once per summer to go and visit her and grandpa.  It is very special to have their lovely dishes.  I inherited their 1939 Monarchy's Royal Canadian visit china some years ago but it isn't in great condition.  The set I received today, with such great gratitude, is in mint condition.  What a treat for a china lover to receive.....a small family heirloom sort of thing.  Wow!

The other WOW is receiving auntie's wooden carvings from her years in Africa.  There is a family of elephants and other African animals, some wooden heads and faces, a set of 3 fishermen in a boat and a fellow climbing a palm tree in search of dates.  There is a lovely bright painting of a fisherman and a beautiful scene of water and shore plants painted on a calabash.  I will treasure these items always.  I am privileged and honoured.  My husband has received a miniature menorah from auntie's trip to Israel several decades ago so he is quite thrilled with it.  As an "Old Testament" guy it is very special to him.

There are sets of never used tea towels and dish washing cloths that have answered my question as to what to do with my old raggedy ones.  There are VCR tapes I can use until the last of my taping devices fails and I am forced to get a PVR.  There are tapes of my auntie singing hymns.  O so many things.  What a treat. It is Christmas in September and I am very happy to have had a good sleep last night so that I can enjoy my presents.

Thank you Auntie for the many good gifts and thank you cousin for delivering them and staying for a wonderful visit.  

Sometimes life's surprises are very good indeed. 

Friday, September 28, 2012

We are Home....We are Tired...Do NOT Phone Us in the Morning!

What a long wonderful week it has been.  My husband survived mild food poisoning from his lunch on the way to clergy conference but rallied sufficiently to enjoy most of the sessions.  The camaraderie is always good at the conferences and he so enjoys them.  He was feeling quite well today, other than the aforementioned tired and we shared the driving equally coming home.

I had a good time in Moose Jaw.  Got a lot of shopping done for small items like vitamins and rice cakes and other little 'round the household' types of things I either can't get here, or can't get the brands I want, or can't get the prices I can afford.  You know you live in a rural area when Moose Jaw seems like a shopping mecca despite the mall being 2/3 empty of merchants.

Saw a handful of friends........could have seen more I know, but I discovered a deep need to sleep and sleep some more.  It was grand to be able to do it.  So enjoyed seeing the few friends I did see and next time I will see other friends as well, but that sleeping thing took over and I was done in, done for, done like dinner.

We are hoping we can sleep in a bit in the morning.  Hence the title of this post....and no it is NOT directed at any person or persons in particular....it is just the way we are feeling tonight.  If we could figure out how to disconnect the phone in this funny house with the funny wiring and funny phone connections we would do so, but we can't and so we try to be patient when the phone rings at inconvenient times....like at 8am on Mondays when my husband is supposed to be off work completely, for example.

My cousin is stopping by for lunch tomorrow and to bring us some family "things" from my auntie who is moving into a seniors' residence soon.  It will be fun to see my cousin.  It wil be fun to see all the things auntie has apparently sent along.  Other than that all I have to do is prepare the church bulletins and my husband has a sermon to write.  It will be a typical working Saturday as they all are when your spouse is a priest.  My cousin's visit will be a welcome distraction.

Perhaps after I get some work done around this house and tidy up a bit and get through the regular weekend services etc., I will think of something profound to post....something pithy.....something brilliant....or........just.......something else.....

Monday, September 24, 2012

Away We Go.......Again.........

The fall weather is amazing this year!  It is warm and sunny, there are light breezes, and no cold, no rain, no snow, no ice forecast for the next 7 days.  I am SO grateful for a later start to winter this year.  It may arrive with a vengeance, but at least for now we are safe.  (O, that sounds so noble doesn't it?  "We" are safe!  When what I am really thinking is "I" am safe...one broken ankle and all noble concern for others, once the ice hits, is long gone. I admit it....)

We are going to be taking advantage once again of this glorious weather and take another road trip.  Yes, it is a mandatory one for clergy conference many hours away, but still, what a great day it will be to be driving again.

My husband is going to be at a wonderful monastery for the conference and I am going to be in an equally wonderful hotel an hour away, visiting all manner of friends and enjoying myself....supper with my BFF tomorrow evening, running errands, going to a wonderful second hand book shoppe operated by another friend, shopping for some decent dress pants, a wonderful time Thursday with a great friend from church choir days.......I am so excited!!!! 

On a sad note, our Bishop leaves us this week for his new position elsewhere and so in some ways the rejoicing for the clergy at conference will be somewhat subdued.  The other sad note for me is that I can't stay longer at my little hotel and take time to visit more friends.  But, that is okay.  A couple of days is better than no visiting at all.

So, off to pack and get to bed.  Before we head to our various events tomorrow we have to take 3 hours at the start of the day to go to the college so my husband can teach his course. We won't get on the road from there until noon.  I get to find a way to amuse myself for 3 hours in a town of about 800 people..........yeah......well, maybe the bakery will be open for coffee.  I can sit in there and drink tea and read a book, or walk over to our church and play the piano if no one else is there.........yeah....I enjoy my own company immensely and it will be no problem at all to amuse myself for that length of time even in a tiny town.

Okay.....time to pack up for our next adventure. YIPPEE!!!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Update on Toru

I forgot to mention what eventuallly happened to our beloved Gunma interpretor, who I named Toru for purposes of public blogging.

Toru worked harder for years than anyone I ever met to learn and to improve his English so that he could leave Japan and go to university in North America.  He loved to speak English....all the time.........on and on.......forever and a day........speaking...speaking...speaking....NEVER stopping to listen....just speaking....speaking....speaking........  He was so busy talking he had no time to listen when native English speakers attempted to assist him with some badly needed corrections.

The discovery of English idioms added to the fun....and the frustration, but sometimes he was hilarious without meaning to be.  He wanted help remembering an idiom he had heard somewhere earlier for a small, possibly grubby, out of the way restaurant, the kind we would refer to as a "hole in the wall".  When Toru decided to practise this idiom he asked my husband if he would care to join him for dinner at a "little hole in the street"!!  I had visions of the 2 of them walking down the road and disappearing into a pothole somewhere.  hahaha

Anyway, after several years of study, upset, praying, hoping, practising, reaping scorn from his family, discouragement and many failed attempts to be accepted into university, we received an email from Toru about 3 years after we returned to home from Tokyo.  He had at last been accepted into a very fine Christian university here in Canada and would be in his first year of undergraduate theological studies.  He graduated several years later and has done very well for himself.  

We are very proud of him!!  Toru never gave up on his calling no matter what it cost him in time, finances, work and humiliation.  The man drove me insane when we lived in Japan but I am so very happy for him.  He deserves good things in his life and now it is finally happening. From me, Toru learned a few phrases of English. From Toru I learned that sometimes you have to continue to appear as if you are beating your head against a solid wall in order to fulfill what you  know is your destiny on this earth.

Way to go Toru.  I salute you!! CONGRATULATIONS!! You never gave up on the God-inspired vision for your life.


Church Uniforms

This morning the new Salvation Army couple in town attended our church. They are here for several years with a mandate to bring spiritual counselling and family crisis intervention to our town rather than to simply run the thrift store.  They are a neat couple!!  We went for lunch together after the service and laughed and laughed together.

I noticed that 3 of us at our table had a type of uniform on.  My husband had his black shirt and clerical collar while our Salvation Army friends wore black pants and white shirts with dark red and gold epaulets bearing their denominational name. 

In many Christian traditions there are certain colours or articles of clothing that immediately identify the wearers', both clergy and laic, "Sunday church" of choice.

In the tradition in which I was raised, the women always wore dresses and hats to church, gloves as well when I was a very small child.  Their husbands wore suits and ties.  The quality of the fabric was excellent: thick coloured or flowered cotton for the women's dresses and worsted wool for the men's suits.  Accessories for both genders were fabric and colour coordinated.  All the shoes were dress shoes. These of course were unofficial uniforms, but uniforms they were nonetheless.  My tradition was the epitome of "Sunday best" and "Sunday to go meeting" outfits. 

In my huband's theological schools there tended to be students and staff from other traditions than the one I grew up in.  Perhaps the uniform there reflected people from denominations of less monied backgrounds.  These uniforms were, for the most part, pure polyester.  Beige and black dresses with pastel trim worn with plain coloured flats for the women, and for the men baby blue, beige and grey polyester suits with glaring white shirts and thin ties. Scuffed shoes dominated. The women sported minimal make up and a number of the men had slicked back skinny hair. 

A church down the road from one place we lived had a congregation that sported huge cowboy hats and boots on its men, big hair and a ton of makeup on its tightly blue jeaned women. 

Printed cotton dresses and bonnets for the women and black suspendered woollen pants are worn by people in a denomination near our present location.

For me it seems that no matter what the uniform, on any given Sunday morning, I can spot a church go-er of nearly any denomination from a mile away.  There is something that stands out, some clue, something more subtle than a Bible in their hands. 

Sometime I would love to do some kind of research project that would give evidence as to why and how these "uniforms" came to be. It would be most interesting.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Dawg Tired

I am so tired I can't even think straight.......hmmmm, maybe not thinking straight is a poor way to judge how tired I am because I can barely think straight at the best of times.

The final fundraiser of the week was this morning's pancake breakfast.  All I had to do was sit by the church door and take money and count the patrons, just like at yesterday's luncheon.  BUT I had to get up at 5:30am in order to be there on time fully awake and fully showered and fully dressed.  Yawn..........Since I didn't fall asleep until 1am it was a very short night indeed.

This fundraiser got off to a slow start but once the crowd arrived the hall was nearly full with well over 100 patrons once again. 3 late arrivers had to be turned away as we ran out of food in the last 10 minutes, but they were not upset at all, particularly not the youngest boy of the trio:  it meant he would get to go to Mickey D's instead. hahaha  Very cute!

After the fundraiser I made another batch of pie crust and made 3 more large pies:  peach again, another green tomato pie, and an apple/pear combo.  This week's green tomato pies are for giving away and my husband gets ALL the rest of them.  4 pies out of 6 is a good batting average for my pie obsessed husband. Oh, and I am forgetting the wonderful apple pie he received from our neighbour across the street.....wow, lucky guy!

Then we decided to complete a special fall pastoral letter that has to go out next week, got the parish list and addresses finally updated as much as possible, found envelopes, printed off address and return address labels, and shut down the office for the evening.

My beloved husband made me a wonderful fresh peach yogourt shake for dinner and a fresh grape one for himself.  Delightful; filling but light.

2 church services and lots of driving in the morning, followed by possible envelope stuffing for the pastoral letter if no one else is around to do it....and that is likely with the amount of hard work the rest of the congregation put into the food fundraisers and funeral lunch this week.  Have to do the laundry as well so I can iron on Monday and get packed up for clergy conference Tuesday through Friday.

Is it too much to hope for that the following week life will slow down a bit, particularly for my husband at work?  Probably.......in October we have a pub night, a thanksgiving pot luck, a Back to Church Sunday event, congregational meetings and a Diocesan Q Event weekend seminar near Regina that my husband is involved in.

So maybe there will be a few days in November in which to rest?  Nope....we have to return to Kelowna to do a memorial service for my husband's mother and then put major work into preparation for Advent, there will be many papers for my husband to grade that will be coming in from a course he taught in May, as well as papers from his present college students and more episcopal search committee meetings out of town.

Maybe a rest in December?  Nope.......Advent, Christmas, Christmas banquets, family Christmas visits out of town, a special Synod for the election of a new Bishop......

Guess having a rest will have to wait until next year sometime.

It is no worse a schedule than any other priest and minister that we know and it amazes me how much grace is accessed to keep them all going year after year.  God is good.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Final Installment: Desperately Trying to Return to Tokyo

The music teacher was proudly bearing one of the local tiny, perfectly round watermelons for which the area is famous.  It would be terribly rude to take it and run so what could we do but join her for another cup of tea.  Dell and I were trying to be uber polite and not panic but no one else seemed to understand we had to leave, and leave immediately, for the train station.

Then, as Hiroko was chuckling at the snoring Toru, I saw the lights come on in her brain that if she didn't get us to that train station in time she would be stuck with the until that moment hilarious, Toru, for the entire night....at her house....in her guest room.  As the light dawned, she abruptly excused us all from the surprised music teacher with her only half consumed cup of tea and we careened in her van to  a closer station we hadn't known about.  

At the station we said our goodbyes quickly and were very surprised when Miho the Mute, our shy little country girl, burst into tears and gave us each a huge hug...."each" NOT including Toru. The Japanese not being a huggy bunch, we were also quite shocked when Hiroko followed suit.  Hugging instead of bowing.....quite a beautiful end to a trying day. I suspect Hiroko's hug was relief based after the day we had together....no common language, too much food, a useless clumsy interpreter and nowhere to go that interested Hiroko or the girls in any way.

Waving as we tore through the station door we headed for the ticket agent and the departure platform.  The agent was watching television and it took a bit of frantic convincing that we needed him NOW to get him to come over and stamp our tickets before our train arrived. Sort of the Green Acres of Japan, Yabutsuka is.

We stood on the platform discussing our day and trying to ignore Toru, who had now added hiccuping and retching to his repertoire of bodily dysfunctions.  After a couple of minutes we noticed there was a second track opposite our platform and there was a man standing on it lifting up his pack in preparation for boarding a train that was apparently imminent in its arrival.  

Waaaaaaiiiiit a minute........there is only one more train due to arrive tonight....our train....the one returning to Tokyo.....  That man on the OTHER platform is obviously catching it.  He is over there on that platform and we are over here on this platform. He is local and knows the train schedules.  We are foreigners who thought there was only one track and one platform at this station. Hmmm.....what is wrong with this picture? 

In a split second one exhausted old man, his chubby panting wife and their carsick overfed Japanese interpreter were hoofing it, hell bent for election, for the stairway to the connecting overhead bridge between the platforms.  It is wonderful in these types of situations that the risers on Japanese stairs are lower than their Canadian counterparts and can be flown over 3 steps at a time. (Normally I just fall down the stairs a lot here, having never adjusted to the difference, but tonight I was on fire from desperation!!)  Dell and I each grabbed for one or more pieces of Toru's belongings, pointed his little pigeoned toes toward the stairs and screamed, "MOVE IT!!"  Thank God we made the correct platform just as the train rolled in.  

Dell and Toru slept most of the way back to the city despite a few more small glitches along the way, while I waited out an asthma attack brought about by a day of stress and the final run for the train.  It was a full 4 hour trip back to Mitaka and my poor, wee, stressed out bladder didn't get a chance to empty the entire time, there being no washrooms on Japanese trains. Ahhhhhhhh sooooooo!!!!

We got into our home station at around 1am, the last train into our station until morning rush hour.  Toru and I had of course forgotten that we had used our rail passes incorrectly all those hours ago when we were leaving for the day's adventures. Of course it would not be accepted for exit from a station we had entered with it 16 hours earlier with no exits from that station in between to cancel it out.  I put my rail pass into the designated slot and proceded to waltz down the exit chute where I should have been able to retrieve it from slot #2 and walk through the now opened gate. The ticket was coughed out as expected, but the gate didn't open.  

In these kinds of situations you are supposed to take your rail pass back through the chute to the ticket agent and straighten out the mistake.  Well, Toru the Twit was coming down the chute behind me and was so dibbled he hadn't even remembered to put his rail pass into slot #1!  He lost his balance trying to balance all his bags of stuff while grabbing at the non-existent rail pass he assumed was in slot #2, slammed into me and we both crashed right through the exit gate onto the floor on the other side.

Fortunately no one else was in the station at that hour of the morning to witness the debacle of our embarrassing, unceremonious, ungraceful, painful and completely illegal exit.

Only the ticket agent was there and he was otherwise engaged:  stamping the special tickets allowing Dell and his 2 invisible friends to exit the station. Same ticket agent, same invisible friends.  We could have taken our tickets and rail passes back the next day and tried to explain in our terrible Japanese what had happened and regained my nearly $150 worth of prepaid rail pass for further trips, but how would we be able to properly explain weak bladders, forgetulness, stupidity, and above all else, how would we be properly able to explain Toru....??  

We couldn't face it.  My rail pass has a lovely picture of Mount Fuji on it and will be a nice, if expensive, souvenir.

Final Japanese Adventure, Installment 3: Go Where You Wanna Go, Do What You Wanna Do....Yeah....Not So Much....

Hiroko knows we are Christians (although when I am with Toru my attitude makes this a highly disputable fact) so she was bound and determined we were going to let her take us to a museum that is filled with paintings and poetry by a famous Japanese Christian quadraplegic artist/poet, Tomihiro Hoshino.  We agreed because she was our host for the day.  We have learned that we do not argue with our hosts in Japan.  It is most important for the host to take the guests somewhere that is in line with their interests, hence the western style pasta restaurant. We drove through Yabutsuka marvelling that here the tallest buildings are only 4 storeys and there are so few bicycles and pedestrians compared to Tokyo. There are so many blocks of residences between the business sections that almost everyone drives everywhere.  Didn't see any transit buses, although that doesn't mean there aren't any.

It was only 2 pm, we assumed the museum wasn't too far away as Yabutsuka is quite small comparatively speaking, so Dell figured if we could spend an hour there then he could suggest we all take a little break to walk around areas familiar to him from his first visit to the area.  He planned to sneak me off to see the snake museum too.  Well, shucky darn, as we say in the countryside. It didn't work out that way. It turned out the museum was up in the mountains, half way to Nikko. (place of origin of the 3 monkeys of "hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" fame) It is only 47 km to Nikko, only 39 to the museum, but guess what the speed limit is....it is 40km per hour in the uninhabited areas (clue...there are no uninhabited areas here), and 20 km per hour through teeny villages that teeter on the tops of the cliffs beside the highway and appear as if they could plunge into the gorge at the first puff of a mild breeze.  Over an hour to the museum, an hour in the museum, a half hour to drink coffee in the van after touring the museum, plus over 90 minutes back down the mountain and our other plans had to be kissed goodbye for all eternity.  

The museum is a lovely  building with a large silver statue out in front.  A statue of the artist?  Nope!    A statue produced in his honour?  Double nope!!  It is a statue of a bean.  

Yup, a bean.  

It is a great huge silver broad bean up on a pole about 2 storeys in the air. The Japanese people standing around us were taking photos of it like crazy so we assumed it must have been sculpted by another famous Japanese artist.  Triple nope!!!

So maybe it holds some other deep meaning to them?  Like, beans: a source of new life?  The source of life's nourishment?  A source of PROTEIN??  

Maybe there would be a plaque at the bottom of the statue to explain what a big bean had to do with Tomihiro Hoshino's art and poetry.  Yes?  Quadruple nope!!!!

Wrong on all counts.

No one knows why there is a giant bean statue in front of the museum.
Not the staff, not the ecstatic picture takers and certainly not us. 
This is Japan.  It doesn't have to make sense.

The museum itself was filled with Hoshino's delicate water colour flower paintings, books of his thought provoking poetry and fascinating videos about his life, but it was obvious Hiroko was not remotely interested in any of it and was there only for our sakes.  So we hurried along, allowing her to get outside quickly for a cigarette. Miho and Nozomi hadn't even bothered to come inside the museum, opting instead to lay out on the van seats and sleep.  Everyone but Dell and I seemed completely worn out after our "long" mountain drive!  However would they cope with a trip through the Canadian Rockies??  At only 20 km per hour the drive to the museum had seemingly taken forever.  At 20 km per hour it HAD taken forever.  It HAD, it HAD!!

By the time we drove down the  mountain again I actually felt just a wee bit sorry for Toru.  As irritated as I was all day being stuck with this stumblebum, he was in pathetic condition by the time we arrived back in Yabutsuka.  His previous 15 minute attempt at translation during lunch, his pre-trip exhaustion and hauling all his junk around in the fresh mountain air had made him intensely car sick.  Sigh....  We opened all the van windows to get him some fresh air and and zipped our jackets up to stay warm while he bravely groaned on and on while clutching at his stomach.  At this point we had been in the cramped van for about 7 hours total and the day wasn't over yet. 

When we finally got back to Yabutsuka, Hiroko drove Dell past the old pension where she and her now ex-husband took such good care of Dell in '96.  Her ex still lives there and Dell would have so loved to have seen him again, but it would have been most impolite to suggest it considering his and Hiroko's present marital status.  Another disappointment.

Then Hiroko drove us a few more miles to take us to the first building project Dell ever worked on in Japan:  a small veterinary clinic and attached residence. The vet hasn't seen Dell or heard from him since '96 but he was home and his face lit up like a candle when he saw him at the door.  He even remembered Dell's difficult last name.  He took us on a tour of the clinic and of his home.  It was a happy reunion. Toru stayed in the van groaning and the girls remained lost in sleep....it certainly removed them effectively from having to listen to Toru.

After a happy visit with the vet, (no translator at all at this point, but joy at a reunion doesn't need much in the way of translation), Hiroko took us to the Japanese version of Mr. Donut.  Other than a few seaweed sprinkles on the creullers the store is somewhat Canadian in its ambience and foods.  It was nice to be out of the van.

Toru and the girls eventually joined us....o joy.....  Hiroko chuckled at Toru when he dropped his donut on the floor.  Hiroko chuckled at Toru when he drank half of Nozomi's coffee before he realized it wasn't his own cup 'o' Coke, Hiroko chuckled at Toru when he dropped his bicycle key in the mens' toilet.  The day seemed to go on and on and on forever for some reason, and I think the reason's name is Toru!

At this point we were tanked up with pastas and salads, coffee, melon sodas, dried mangos and now donuts and creullers.  Urp!!  No wonder Toru felt ill.

So where did Hiroko take us to bring our visit to a close:  Of course!  The soba restaurant where she works!!  When poor little Miho realized we would be expected to eat yet again her eyes glazed over and she moaned audibly....the first sound out of her in nearly 9 hours.  It was the first indication we had that she had not become a mute since the last time Dell saw her.  I admit I felt much the same way and had to give up eating before I was half way done slurping up my bowl of buckwheat noodles in fish broth.  The octopus tentacle was the only other food I could manage to finish but it was the best part of the meal so that was okay.

Toru, who continued to claim he was car sick, too car sick to do even one more word of translation....had he actually done more than 15 minutes worth of translating the entire day????.....downed a $20 bowl of soba, and then an equally priced plate of tempura with nary a problem.  The more he ate the more Miho clutched at her own stomach and groaned, although she hadn't eaten a bite.

I took Miho's groans as an open invitation to chat and finally convinced her to remove her new book from its wrappings.  She half heartedly pointed at pictures in the book and tried a few of her English words, but it was really Dell she wanted to share it with.  He started to  read some of the book to her but she clammed right up again so finally he took out a piece of paper and pencil from Toru's travelling collection and started drawing his own pictures like he had done when she was 3 years old.  Her little face finally broke into a huge smile and they had a wonderful hour of drawing pictures together.  Nozomi emerged from her own silence to present me with a brightly coloured fanny pack she received when she cashed in her Mr. Donut coupons earlier in the afternoon.......you know, the Mr. Donut where we stuffed the remaining cm's of empty stomach cavity with fat and sugar....right before we had to cram in soba and broth.........After trying so hard part of the afternoon, with no success, to assist her in resurrecting her high school English, I felt quite good about receiving a gift that her mother had not put her up to giving me.

We were trying to explain to Hiroko, sans our interpreter who now had his head down on the restaurant table and was snoozing quite comfortably, that we absolutely HAD to get going to the train station to catch the final train of the night to Tokyo, when another lady Dell met on his first visit there arrived to see him.  Word of his presence had flown through town.  Hiroko remembered him, the veterinarian remembered him, the soba shop owner remembered him and now the local music teacher was arriving for tea and a visit just as we were desperately working our way out of the restaurant so we would have at least some chance of getting to the train station on time.......NOOOOO!!!!











One Down, One to Go.....Fall Church Fundraisers.....

Our church women here pulled off a most amazing and wonderful luncheon fundraiser once again and I can only pray none of them will have to be hospitalized from the amount of effort put into pulling this off.  It was fabulous and worth every second they poured into the preparation of pulled pork, cole slaw, baked beans and buns.  It was delicious to say the least!  We had a great turnout, just under capacity for the hall and I dare say we made some good money this year.  Don't know if it is the great autumn weather or what, but everyone that came in the door seemed so happy, so laid back, so impressed with their lunch.  ACW ladies of our church, I salute you!

Tomorrow is the annual pancake breakfast so over we will go at 7am to enjoy a fresh crowd of people and some more good food. This time it is the mens' turn to cook and serve the meal and I hope that every one of the ACW ladies is able to attend and enjoy being taken care of for once with no work required on their part.

Installment 2: Arrival in Yabutsuka

The landlady Dell stayed with at the pension in Yabutsuka in 1996, Hiroko, was waiting at the station with her college aged daughter, Nozomi, and her 8 year old niece, Miho.  Miho was only a very little girl when she used to sit on Dell's knee and communicate with him by drawing picutres. Now she is competing for tallest 8 year old girl in Japan. Gone are the little pigitails and gingham dresses and in their place are the typical box haircut and Japlish slogans on the clothes. Her bright yellow jacket, manufactured by the Tom Sawyer Company had a jolly little nihilisitic poem on the back that could bring a person to tears on a bad day.  Both Miho and Nozomi were very nervous about meeting Dell's wife for the first time, although they well remembered himself from when they were smaller kids.  The silence was painful but Dell handled it in the best way that men do when faced with people behaving in ways they don't understand:  he completely ignored them!  Hiroko covered the silence tactfully and hustled us into her waiting mini-van to go touring.  

This was a bit more difficult than it sounds because of dear Toru. He arrived at our house yesterday........no, wait, it was only this morning....it only seems like yesterday....toting a large umbrella he didn't need because the sun was shining, a gigantic hockey bag containing his college paper grades, his degree from university, his teaching certificate, his baptismal certificate and a pencil!  He also carried a tattered plastic carrying case containing his photos (possibly for identifying his body after I choked him to death for stress relief???), his pocket protector, a cell phone and had more pencils jammed into various pockets in his shirt and jeans.  Around his neck was a video camera with which he planned to record his day in Gunma.  (Sidenote: he quickly lost interest in chronicling his adventures and the entire recording consists of Dell and I in one of the train stations looking very lost and very old and very frustrated as we stuff our faces with mackerel.)  Why absolutely NONE of these things could be conveniently (comparatively speaking) packed into his otherwise nearly empty gigantic hockey bag is a question I didn't dare to ask him because the answer would have been responsible for the first foreign woman in history to commit hari kari!  The 3 of us dragged all Toru's "stuff" from train station to train station, tourist site to tourist site, restaurant to restaurant, ALL DAY! Had we not, what with Toru's very bad memory, his various items would have ended up travelling alone and unsupervised on various trains throughout Japan.

Hiroko is a smart gal.  She had Toru's number in about 3 seconds and had a grin the size of Manhattan as we loaded all his gear in to the rear of the van. Hiroko was great with Toru.  She talked to him every time she knew Dell and I were ready to snap, she alone convinced him, when he actually remembered to translate our conversations to each other, that he did NOT need to include his own editorializing, nor to attempt to do a word for word translation. She didn't get upset when he allowed her to pay for his every meal, drink and museum addmission without ever once offering to pay for his own.  This little fact cost ME a fortune because I felt honour bound to pick up the tab for lunch to make up for his social gaffs.  At least for that one day Hiroko was able to chuckle over his complete lack of social skills and finesse.  

(Side note: Q. How can you tell I am in Japan with Dell??? A. Because we have Toru as an interpreter!  Shades of downtown Calgary in the '70's meeting all his "friends". How does this sort of thing happen everywhere we go?  All the time??  All over the planet???) 

Anyway, Hiroko took us to a pasta restaurant where we knew we were in the countryside because the portion sizes were the closest to Canadian ones that we have seen in the past 5 months since arriving in Tokyo.  Hiroko and the girls ordered 3 kinds of spaghetti:  one with meat sauce, one with bacon and broccoli and one with octopus and seaweed...hey, this is Japan don't forget. They also ordered a thin crust pizza that makes Canadian thin crusts look thick as bircks, a huge tuna and veggie salad, yam paste and iced cream desserts, tea , melon sodas.....oink oink oink.....guess the total cost wasn't so bad considering how many dishes and condiments were ordered. Poor Miho and Nozomi sat through lunch without saying a word....mind you with Toru blithering on incessantly how could they?  They speak no English whatsoever and Toru had apparently given up his translating duties before the melon soda reached his lips.

Since Miho has a keen interest in learning English, Dell gave her a great book to use in her education.  But, the Japanese do not open gifts in front of the givers. That, plus being rendered mute from shyness, meant she didn't open her book in front of him.  So much for Dell's idea to use the book to initiate some kind of verbal response.

Hiroko seemed terrified to meet me, the first foreign woman she has ever seen in person.  There are a handful of English teachers in Yabutsuka, but they are all men.  I was equally nervous due to the language barrier and because I knew Toru wouldn't be listening half the time to do any interpreting between us. He was too busy stuffing his face with food and yawning audibly.  BUT I had received excellent coaching from our Japanese secretary back in Tokyo, so when Hiroko asked me traditional questions that the city people rarely bother with any more (eg Q. Do you think you prefer Yabutsuka or Tokyo?  A.  Yabutsuka), she was suitably impressed with my answers.  Dell had hoped for some time alone to wander about the town on our own, but it would have been terribly rude for Hiroko to "abandon" us, so that idea went the way of the dodo bird. She asked me what I would like to do and I said I was keenly interested in the famous snake centre there.....sigh. Since I had answered all the other questions correctly she assumed I was kidding because it is unseemly for a woman to want to see snakes, so I didn't get MY wish for the day either.  All I got from her was a snicker. I really do like snakes and it would have been a great opportunity to dump Toru for an hour because he turns ghostly white at the mere mention of the word "snake" and would not have come with us......blast it........  

So here is what we ended up doing......


A Final Japanese Adventure, Installment 1: Travelling with Toru

From letter of April 2001

Friday morning we were up at 5:30am, stumbling about like a couple of drunks.  (Why do we do this to ourselves every Friday????  Oh, I know why...it is the day we can use our super duper cheap train tickets!)  The ticket agent told Dell that the semi-express train we wanted to catch to cut nearly 2 hours off the 4 hour journey to Gunma-ken left at 6:40am so we were delighted when, for once in his miserable life, our interpreter Toru actually arrived ON TIME!  This is a miracle of Cecil B. deMille proportions, I kid you not!  Too good to be true?  Yup........the train left at 6:40am all right....from the station an hour west of us where we were to TRANSFER to it AFTER leaving Mitaka at 5:40am on the local.  Although, you know, I am kind of grateful Dell got this particular bit of information screwed up because it kept us from having to arise at the ungodly hour of 4:30am.  

Just getting out of Mitaka in the first place was interesting enough for the entire day:  our interpreter and I stress each other out something awful and by the time we walked together the 10 minutes to Mitaka eki we both had to piddle from the tension.  In fact, the tension, on top of the exhaustion from an early rising, had both of us using our rail passes to clear the entrance machines as we raced past Dell to get to the washrooms....BOTH of us forgetting, as we left poor Dell in the dust, that HE had the special train tickets we were actually supposed to use!  Sigh..... While Toru and I were busy "relieving our stress", poor Dell was standing all alone at the ticket agent's window attempting to convince him there were actually 3 people on the ticket so he would need 3 dated stamps on it instead of just one for the only person visible to the agent.  By the time Toru and I emerged from our respective washrooms either the agent had been into the sake and could "see" Dell's 2 apparently invisible friends for himself, OR he had decided DELL had been into the sake and he wasn't about to argue with a foreigner so drunk so early in the morning. He had stamped it 3 times and off we went.  Unfortunately Toru and I inadvertently created a problem for ourselves by using our regular passes to to get into the train system when we wouldn't be using them to leave the system elsewhere in Tokyo later in the day........

The first leg of our journey went well.....slowly, as we had missed the semi-express and got stuck on a local that stopped at every station, but well.  Toru wasn't his usual loud and embarrassing self because he was so tired, so we were doing well the 3 of us.  He assured us we would be at our transfer station in lots of time to catch the NEXT semi-express that would still cut 90 minutes off our total time....and we were.  Unfortunately being there in lots of time didn't mean we caught the semi-express because Toru was SO tired he misread the time and swore to us up and down that we had time to grab a snack for the journey before going up to the train platform.  We found a small cafe, purchased some seaweed wrapped rice with mackerel and some drinks.....and arrived topside just as the final semi-express of the day pulled out of the station without us. What to do.........we hemmed and we hawed and we spent many minutes talking to the locals on the platform.  It was a long and crabby 4 hours to Gunma-ken and our destination town of Yabutsuka, where Dell worked the very first time he came to Japan. 

Well, to be honest it is a little bit less than 4 hours, unless you do not know that once you reach the rural area outside Tokyo the city trains that took you there are actually 2 trains attached in the middle.  At some point in the countryside these 2 trains will come to a station where they separate and go in 2 different directions:  one to your destination and the other to the nearest maintenance garage. If you are continuing travelling past the point of separation you have to get out of your seat, walk to the end of the train that is proceeding onward and find a new seat.  You must do this at light speed because the 2 trains unhook very quickly and depart from the station even more quickly, so if you do not move into the proper part of the train  you will find yourself in 5 minutes time in the aforementionted maintenance garage surrounded by a group of extremely surprised maintenance mechanics, some of whom have never actually seen a foreigner before and have only heard stories of their incredible stupidity.  When the same group of foreigners arrives once again on their way home late that same evening, having made the same mistake twice, their incredulity knows no bounds....not because the dumb foreigners did it twice, but because those dumb foreigners are in the company of a native Japanese interpreter who was so tired he slept right through the very clearly spoken intercom announcements on the trains that explain exactly what the passengers are supposed to do. Sigh........at the risk of sounding most uncreative and repeating a phrase oft used in former emails:  HOW DO I KNOW THIS????  Eventually we made it to our destination.  How we accomplished this we have no idea to this day because our interpreter was totally useless in the train system.  I was piddling like crazy at every station, restaurant and public building ALL DAY!!


During occasional periods of time when none of us were fretting over our situation the trip was quite interesting. We left Tokyo about 90 minutes into the journey and entered Saitama-ken.  It was impossible to tell when exactly this occurred because there was nothing to indicate we were out of the city except for a change in the colour of the garbage cans.  There was no break whatsoever in the streets nor any ebbing of the constant collage of office buildings nor in the number of people. We first noticed the change half way through Saitama-ken when the landscape suddenly changed from the usual clay-tiled apt.s and shops to large landfill sights with burning ovens.  Saitama-ken has the highest levels of dioxins in Japan because of the amount of garbage being burned in that prefecture.  There were an increasing number of market gardens jammed between houses that looked older than in our area of Tokyo, shorter and grubbier buildings the farther north west we went and this unofficially announced that we were in the countryside.  The rails for the trains were a smaller gauge and the stations much tinier the closer we got to Gunma-ken.  There wasn't much in the way of open land at all, some green space between the houses was about all.  There wasn't much completely open land. In the 4 hours on the train we never once lost sight of streets and people.  Japan is "jammed up and jelly tight" as the old song goes.  It was interesting to note our feelings when we did see some nearly open land. Dell and I found ourselves agreeing with Toru that it "sure is great to get out of the city and see the country".  The green strip behind our house at home in Canada is only slightly narrower than the open land between towns in Saitama-ken. Wow.......

Thursday, September 20, 2012

It's All Over But the Salsa

Once I got my act together this afternoon everything flowed along just fine.  I did more work between 3:30pm and 6pm than I did the rest of the day in total.

All the cards are hanging on the wall, my downtown chores are completed and the table and countertops and island are cleared of fruit and veggies.  Pies are made:  green tomato, peach and plum so my husband is a happy man.  The salsa will have to wait until tomorrow afternoon but that is okay because I want to find a better recipe as well as a great one for green tomato salsa.

My reward was to be taken out for dinner to the one restaurant here I can stand to eat at.  It was delicious!

4 of our church women spent nearly 9 hours in the church kitchen today making pulled pork and other delights for our fundraiser tomorrow.  What dedication!  We took them over a bit of a gin cocktail to thank them for all they did today....and yesterday....and will do again tomorrow....and the next day for pancake breakfast.  If we all survive this week we want to have ALL the women over who helped with all the kitchen extravaganzas this week and give them some kind of treat to thank them for everything they have done.  They are amazing!

Today I accomplished all but one of my goals and still had time for 2 long phone calls with friends and family, as well as getting a few more emails written.  

It was a good day to get me geared up for the big luncheon fundraiser at church tomorrow....praying now I can force myself to arise Saturday morning in time to get to the pancake breakfast.  Perhaps if I can do that then THIS Sunday morning our early rising time will seem less of a shock than it usually does. Oooh, I am so NOT a morning person....

Feeling Overwhelmed and Behind in Your Daily Tasks? Toss the Works and Go Blogging!

I am exhausted today.  Life has been crazy since we returned from BC after the passing of my mother in law.  My ankle is not holding up as well as hoped right now.  I am taking a medication that leaves me with daily headaches for the first 8 days and I am only on day 3 of an 8 week course of treatment.  My  living room floor is covered with boxes of "stuff" we brought home from my mother in law's apt. that we have to sort through and deal with......yeah....in all my husband's spare time.......yeah......  My kitchen table is cluttered with beautiful sympathy cards and notes that need to be displayed properly for awhile before they go into the scrap book.  The countertop on the island in the kitchen has completely disappeared under a giant mound of fresh fruits and vegetables that MUST be dealt with today before they lose their freshness and start to rot; this involves a lot of peeling and pie making, chopping and salsa preparation...I am tired just thinking about it. I have to walk downtown at some point to do some errands.  A friend is to call this afternoon for a long chat on the phone and I should schedule in my work around it. I need to take some time to consider that and do some planning.

So far today I have done little:  opened the church door for the funeral director to remove some things left over from a huge lovely funeral we had here yesterday.  (350 folk in a church hall designed for 130...it was crazy wild and for us in the kitchen it meant most of us were still cleaning up and doing dishes well after 6pm)  I have picked out the hymns for one of our churches for Sunday.  I ate breakfast.  I stared at some dishes left by the kitchen sink from dinner last night.  I answered an email. I read a newspaper.  I opened up all the doors from the alley into our breezeway and church basement so that the gas line workers can complete a gas leak repair we discovered at 11pm yesterday and that required their digging up the alley until about 3am....the alley right beside our bedroom wall.  I pondered the 2 food fundraisers we participate in with one of our churches in the next 2 days. I made the bed.

My sleepless husband had to be in our other town before 9am today to teach a 2 hour college class, race off to the local ministerial meeting there, an afternoon of pastoral visits and mediation and then a parish council meeting after supper.  His busyness is very structured and mine is not.  Hence he accomplishes things and I do not.

So since I have so much to do and don't know where to start, I figure it is time to just sit back and do some blogging.  Perhaps in a few seconds when I am done a course of action will become clear.

Or not........

Yawn..........the option of a nap seems good just now.........

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

AAAAARGH!!!!!

Were so proud of ourselves last night.  Got to bed relatively early knowing we had to get up at 7am for my husband's first day of teaching at a local college.  Were proud of being so grown up and responsible as to prepare in advance for earlier bed time with earlier than usual rising in the morning.

Were sleeping soundly and well......until 5:03am.  What happened at 5:03am?  I will tell you what happened at 5:03am!!!!!!! 

Did you get the part about FIVE O THREE AM? As in  AM???

At that horrendous time of the morning the phone rang.  Since my husband is scheduled to do a funeral tomorrow for a very loved parishioner we wondered, as we both raced toward the phone, if it was someone in the family having a crisis.  Or perhaps it was someone with a new crisis, a tragic disaster in the middle of the night.

But no, it was neither of those things.  

What it was, was the local radio station trying to find the name of the presider over tomorrow's funeral so they could announce it on this morning's newscast.

They needed to get this name at 5:03 am.

Of course we didn't go back to sleep.

So much for being well rested to start his first dayof school. My poor husband....

AAAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGHHH!!!!!!

 

 

Monday, September 17, 2012

Kabuki-za...Final Installment...the Last Act

The last performance was music and dance.  For each play a group of musicians sitting behind a rice paper screen played a short melody in order to set the mood for each scene.  Traditional Japanese instruments are used and I wished all evening that I could see them as the music was so interesting and different from anything in North America.

In the final performance, featuring a highly respected dancer of many years, 20 musicians sat in a line on a two-tiered low riser with their instruments.  They became the backdrop for the performer.  The instruments were amazing just to look at.  Go to your search engine and type in "traditional Japanese musical instruments" and you will be able to see for yourself.  Fascinating!

The performance was billed as a dream sequence where the dancer is remembering happy childhood times with his father at the seaside and seeing the lions at the zoo. It was to end with a famous flag dance.  Again, my western ignorance, but I could not for the life of me figure out where the seaside and the lions came into it.

Here is what my sadly untrained eyes observed:  one tiny man about 50 years old, balancing unsteadily on ancient wooden shoe/sandals called geta.....they are like balancing on 4 inch high stilts.  To the wandering melody of the instruments he hopped on both feet to the front of the stage and then hopped back to the musicians at the back of the stage.  He did this about 50 times......maybe it was only 20 but it seemed like 50..... Then he did it all again on one foot. Then he hopped in a circle on the other foot for a couple of minutes while waving his arms.  That was the end of our day at the seaside and the zoo with him and his dad apparently, since that is when he stopped dancing and the audience broke into wild applause and numerous calls that I suppose would translate into Bravo or somesuch word of praise.

Okay, I didn't get it......not a bit....not a little bit....not at all.....

Then he began the final dance on the bill:  the flag dance.  This dance was worthy of a half page writeup on our playbill.  From the description we thought we would see all kinds of dancers on the stage waving myriad flags in brilliant colours. The dance was choreographed in honour of a particular area in Japan and we thought it would be a real bang up performance.

But no..........it was performed by this same fellow, minus the geta on his feet.  He was waving a white flag in each hand that looked seriously as if he had torn a white bedsheet in half and attached each half to a stick.  He jumped around in no discernable pattern for about 60 seconds, madly waving the flags, the audience went crazy, little old men hollered out his name, the lights came on and the curtain came down.  End of performance!  End of 5 hours of performances. Time to go home. Whaaaaaa????

In any Japanese theatre audience, at any given time, you will notice at least 1/3 of them sleeping peacefully through whatever is happening on stage.  The lady sitting directly in front of me couldn't have been awake more than 1/4 of the time.  In the dim lights of Kabuki-za we could see heads nodding, bodies curled up in seats and hear the odd quiet snore. It is no wonder that a people so stressed out and dominated by authority to employers, societal rules and time constraints take advantage of the dark peaceful theatres to catch up on their rest.  Even I find myself falling asleep on public transit with the best of them. There is a lot of performance pressure here, even for my pathetic foreign self.

After the theatre let out we fought our way back to the subway station with a thousand other people, in the rain.  As we got closer to the subway doors we saw a rain induced sight to equal the beauty of the painted kabuki stage sets:  pop, pop, pop...hundreds of multi-coloured umbrellas opened as people raced to the subway entrance.  It was like watching a gigantic beautiful flower opening under elapsed time photography.  

Then the crush of people entered the subway doors, mud spattered kimonos flapping and the same umbrellas collapsing again as they pushed their way into the stairwell.  It was starting to snow.....

We arrived home at on the last train of the night, our umbrellas collapsing under the weight of the sodden snow.  What an amazing experience. We hadn't understood one thing that had been performed at the theatre, but it was still fascinating.  Japanese culture is fascinating.  We could live in Tokyo forever and never understand it.

And that is the appeal of Japan......

Kabuki-za....Installment #4...Intermissions

At each of the 2 intermissions we took advantage of the break to peel our knees out from the inside of our ears, (did I mention that the seats are as tiny and as crowded together as they are at the concert hall in Mitaka?), then we tried to stand up without keeling over from leg cramps and without falling over the seats in front of us (a whole 6 inches of space), and did some quick marching to the washrooms.

I have learned a good trick about using public washrooms in theatre venues here that is most helpful in long line ups for the womens' loo!  Japanese women can be even slower in the loo than their western counterparts because it isn't all that easy to get your clothes arranged for squatting over a 4 inch wide porcelain floor trench, high heels and all, to do what needs to be done. Direct aim is also somewhat of a problem with such narrow trenches and I don't even want to think about what I am likely transporting all over Tokyo on the bottom of my shoes after visiting such places.  Anyway. as you are about to to enter the waiting area there is nearly always a large washroom off to one side for wheel chair patrons, although it is very very rare to see anyone anywhere in Tokyo using a wheelchair in a public space.  This is when being a dumb stupid foreigner comes in handy!  I simply wait until my place in line brings me to that doorway, fling it open and march right in.  When I come out there is generally a bevy of Japanese women sent to explain to me, in their best and most offended Japanese, that my fully mobile self using that washroom is NOT the done thing!  However I just shrug and tell them, "Gomenasai, Nihongo-wa wakarimasen!" (Sorry, I don't understand Japanese!), smile brilliantly and walk away.  Handy dandy trick, this one! Works every time.  The women around me are so embarrassed for me due to my ignorance about how I have just embarrassed myself, but do I care?  Maybe my mind does, but my foreign teeny tiny bladder is never remotely apologetic.

The second intermission is for eating a box lunch.  They are available for sale in the lobbies of each tier, but a good friend of Mitsuko's had sent along fabulous obento boxes.  They were beautifully crafted and painted wooden boxes filled with rice and seaweed, enarizushi,  diakon pickles (eaten with rice and seaweed at nearly every meal the way a Canadian farmer eats beef, potatoes and bread), and tiny dried smelt.  The smelt are eaten, eyes, heads, innards and all as they are so very tiny. They taste so fishy and yet are so very good.  In Japan they are sold, dried and crispy, in packages similar to our Cheesies snacks and are good when paired with dried green peas.

Our obento benefactor would have spent at least $100 for these boxes of goodies.  The bookmark and Canadian post cards I sent back with Mitsuko as a thank you were an embarrassment in comparison.  

Dell bought us tea in wee paper cups. The tea bag is in the cup, pinched into a small soft plastic trough in the bottom.  If you want stronger tea you reach under the cup and squeeze the bottom of the trough.  It is like stirring the tea bag in a pot of tea with a spoon.  Very cool!!

3 and a half hours into the evening but the performance wasn't over yet!

Kabuki-za....Installment #3....the Plays Begin

The widely advertised and nearly worshipped theatre length ramps are simply walkways for the main actors to enter the stage area and pause momentarily at a few strategic points for their fans to clap and sigh ecstatically over them. It seemed to us that they didn't do anything of great interest while timpsing about on the ramps, so not being able to see them very well from our seats was no big deal.  

Kabuki theatre actors are all men.  This particular opening play had been especially rewritten so that the central role could be a woman's, the star's specialty role.  Dell rented earphones to get the script in English and we are not sure what would have had to have been rewritten.  In Kabuki there is a good deal of stillness on the stage, rather than a lot of movement in the group scenes and anyone could have simpered down the silly ramp in a kimono, waltzed over to centre stage, swung his sword in a series of arcs to represent killing the bad guy and slinked off again....man, woman, child....E.T. even....

It didn't take long for the 2 of us to realize that the small nuances in acting style that excited the rest of the audience for the full 5 hours were going to be over our heads.  It was humiliating to have to realize that, as ignorant foreigners, we simply didn't get it.  Not a bit....not even a little bit....not at all....

The celebrated main actor in the first play was a 4th generation Kabuki actor and was receiving his special stage name that evening.  It was apparently a momentous event where all the other actors talked for about 90 minutes about how they "have enjoyed working with him and he has made his family and Kabuki proud."  The speeches reminded us of those given at an open mic at a north American wedding reception.....after the toasts to the bride and groom have been swallowed.  The one speech we found very interesting was given by the oldest member of the troupe:  an 87 year old man who had done kabuki with the new star's great grandfather.  This man was still acting and doing an awesome job.  He got all the funny lines in the first play.  The honoured star's son, about the age of 8, was also in one of the 3 plays and is supposedly very talented, so a 5th generation of actors from this family is guaranteed.

To us, kabuki is a bit like Shakespeare...a lot of dialogue to set the scene and plot, interspersed with some well choreographed fights and "cloak and dagger" type soap opera "stuff".  There isn't a lot of substance, nor even much of an understandable point to some of the plays....at least not that would be understood by westerners....but we had a wonderful time observing the brilliantly patterned and coloured kimonos, frightening looking stage swords and elaborate wigs worn by the actors.  Those as well as the white face paint must take painstaking hours to prepare and put on.  The sets at first appear disappointingly plain but are deceptive in their simplicity.  It took months to paint the tatami floor mats, rice paper room dividers, etc. onto large pieces of rice paper to make the sets of houses and stores and streets look real with minimal props to add to the scenes.  What an amazing art!  In the first play we thought a group of about 10 actors were sitting on a long black bench, but at the scene change when they stood up, so did the bench seats!  The actors had been sitting on the backs of 10  black trousered stage hands who had held their curled up positions on the stage and carried the weight of the actors for over 40 minutes without displaying any sign of discomfort that would have given them away.  

Stage hands appear all through the plays to bring props to the actors mid-scene.  Kabuki is representational theatre rather than realism theatre.  It is bright, beautiful and much of the dialogue is presented in ancient, formal Japanese.  One old timer in the line-up outside was practising his English before we got into the theatre and was apologizing to me that I wouldn't be able to understand the ancient language.  I sighed and tried to look solemn as I tsk-tsk'd and muttered "ah sooo desu-ne"  In other words, "I understand how that is.", more literally translated, "'Tis eh?" I didn't have the heart (nor the Japanese vocabulary) to try to explain that I wouldn't understand the dialogue even if was in present day casual Japanese either.  Sigh....ignorant foreigner....