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Showing posts from December, 2013

Hatsumōde, the first shrine visit of the new year

Now that Christmas is over, it's time to prepare for Japan's *real* celebration, New Year.
Overnight, as if by magic, the Christmas decorations were taken down and traditional New Year's decorations appeared. I always imagine that thousands of elves, or perhaps kappa?, descend on the city and ruthlessly replace every Christmas tinsel with green pine branches.

I have mixed emotions about Christmas in Japan. The day itself has no religious meaning for me, but I've come to dislike the merciless consumerism that accompanies it. That, however, is precisely why I prefer the Japanese version: it's 100% pure capitalism with no hypocrisy, pious posturing or bickering about Merry Christmas vs Happy Holidays.
It also includes romance: a dinner in a very expensive French restaurant, followed – presumably – by a romp that doesn't exactly feature a virgin birth.
Anyway. New Year.
Japan has many New Year's traditions, including hatsumōde(初詣) or the first shrine/temple visit of…

Autumn at Meigetsu-in, Kamakura

It's a bit too late to write about red leaves, but I promised Kaori I would do an autumn-in-Kamakura post.
What's a blogger to do with such a dilemma? She shifts the focus ever so slightly from the leaves to the temple itself, and crosses her fingers that she'll have enough time to write a decent story.
May I interrupt myself? You do know that December is called Shiwasu (師走) in the traditional Japanese calendar? It means "teachers running", and it refers to the fact that December is such a busy time for teachers that we can't sit down.
That old calendar knew a thing or two.
I went to Kita-Kamakura in late November to visit three temples – Engaku-ji, Meigetsu-in and Kenchō-ji – but I'll focus on Meigetsu-in in this post.

I arrived very early on a Friday morning to avoid the crowds. When I got off at Kita-Kamakura, I hesitated. I would be able to enjoy a people-free environment at only one of the three temples before the buses and flag-following tour group…

This endless cycle of goodbyes

I said goodbye to my friend on a drizzling winter's day. After many years in Japan, she'd decided to return to South Africa.
I will miss her. When I was a stupid, bewildered and at times angry new arrival, she was my main practical and emotional support. She took me shopping for curtains and for an electric blanket when Tokyo's winter turned me into a shivering bundle of misery. She poured (English!) tea and explained about Japanese men, their mothers and their office hours.
She was my senpai, a veteran who had arrived before me, had sustained a successful marriage with a Japanese man, had mastered the intricacies of aisatsu,¹ toilet slippers and garbage disposal.
"No, you're not insane," she reassured me.
"No, you're not unreasonable, but perhaps … "

I visited her home, explored Tokyo with her, bought her baby boy his first book. I watched the child as his Japanese reading ability caught up with mine and exceeded mine. The woman who read him book…

I love bread. My body doesn't.

I love bread. I love bread more than most Japanese people love rice, in other words, with an overwhelming unconditional eternal love. The problem is … my body doesn't. It rejects gluten with a passion that is growing more intense as I get older.
Gluten sensitivity runs in my mother's family. It's never been a debilitating illness – nobody has celiac disease – but the symptoms are unmistakable. To put this as politely as possible, your digestive system ties itself into a Gordian knot and refuses to function. You suffer from bloating, abdominal pain, fatigue, joint pain, headaches. Your intestines resemble the Kan'etsu Jidōsha-dō¹ at the end of Golden Week or the New Year's holiday: traffic jam. Nothing moves.

I find it very hard to resist the allure of bread, but about two months ago I was feeling extremely blah. It's been a tough year with a heavy workload, and exhaustion plus grief after my mother's death started taking their combined toll. My solution w…