Looking forward. Bound and Rebound.

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I’ve been told I am a pretty positive person.  I’ve had people say they admire my “zest for life”.  I’ve been congratulated on my ability to bound, bound, bound and rebound.  I’ve been told I’m funny, open, and friendly. I’ve been admired for starting over, starting things up, and for not having a nervous breakdown in the process

On the flip side, I’ve  been told I am incredibly selfish, that I am not a good person, that I am a bad wife,  a crappy mother, and an inconsiderate friend.   I’ve been told that most things I do are  wrong or hurtful.  This is the great paradox of being human.  As we go through life, we learn that not everyone is going to see us in the same light.  Often we  will have a different impression of someone than perhaps our friend or neighbor has.

People in our life change and morph as we go.  I may think you are blue (because you were) when you are truly orange (because you became that way when I was not observing).   We slowly discover that the truth about who we are , and where our own true self lies somewhere in between.  And the true “us”  is not always revealed to those we meet.

The most positive person may be struggling inside each night wondering how they got into their current situation.  The most selfish person may be not really selfish, but at their wits end, trying to deal with many things we know nothing about.  We judge, and we judge, and then we judge some more. And sadly, it seems that often, the people we look to most for approval and guidance are the one’s who hurt us with their judgement most of all   Because no matter how much we struggle and we try, those are the people who think they know us inside and out.  But perhaps they only know the “us” that suits their purposes.  The “us” in their mind.  At times we may feel like a tight rope walker.  We must balance between who we truly are, and the image that people project upon us.

Often, you will find the people who judge you the harshest, are also the one’s who have not been actively listening to you for a long time.  They have not seen you as you are now, they only see their idea of you.  These people are unable to move forward, they are paralyzed either by choice or by some internal struggle, or some past grievance .  There are those who have walked side by side with us through our entire history.   History is something each one of us writes and rewrites in our own version.  In the worst of times, this version suits only our ego.   At the best of times it is rewritten to try and accommodate and make peace. It changes, depending on the author, the year, and the cast.

There are so many expressions we use in life, “Life is short”, “If it’s meant to be it will be”, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink”, “Everything happens for a reason”.  We try and find purpose and we try to reason away why life takes certain twists and turns.  As life marches on, if we are wise, we start to see that we have little or even no control over most things.  We certainly have no control over how other’s treat us, only if we choose to continue to accept their treatment.  There are point’s in life where we realize that despite loyalty, blood, history, or any of the above, we must choose ourselves.  We must make the “selfish” choice to live in peace with ourselves.  The selves we have grown to appreciate and like.  We must choose forward not backward.

My father always said, “You are the only person you can count on”.  I used to find this expression to be very sad and sometimes accused him of having a  sour outlook on life.  Now that I am as old as he was when he said it, I realize the strange truth in it.  I realize that unless you truly have your self and the worth of who you are, you will never successfully be able to appreciate anyone or anything in your life.

I’ve noticed over the past decade, with all this moving about and starting over, I’ve unconsciously chosen the life motto of “There is a reason your windshield is bigger than your rear view mirror, what’s in front of you is much more important than what’s behind”.

This does not mean you should forget those who have shared your road.  This means stop putting it in reverse to rehash things that have already happened.  Bring those passengers on your journey who want to be in your car now and then and appreciate the road you’ve shared, but leave the flat tires behind you.   I think you either choose to live in this camp and move forward or you are stuck on the side of the road, constantly spinning your tires, gravel spitting angrily where you are stopped.  Eventually you will run out of gas and no one is going to want to help.

I will be 47 in a few days, If I am lucky, I’ve only traveled half of my road.  But one never knows.  I’ve had so many amazing passengers along the way.   I want the road ahead to be filled with people who appreciate me, who wholly and genuinely want to spend time with me not because they HAVE to but because they WANT to.  I say, bring on those who zest for life, who will share a story, who will listen and be listened to.  Bring on the adventure.  Bring on the Love.  This is a call for those who want to move forward, I’ll see you on the road!

 

 

 

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Home is wherever I roam

17991222_10154304738171651_319592049236632803_n[1]In a time long ago, in a land far away, I was a young woman in love.  Madly and deeply in love.  Lucky for me, this love was returned.  And so,  as love stories go, we began planning a life together.  This life included hopes and dreams, houses, children, and vacations with family.  This life included staying in New England and watching the years roll by side by side with familiar faces looking in.  Sitting on our farmers porch in rocking chairs.   My love did not have a love for traveling, but he loved me and he encouraged me to see everything I could and report back to him.  Everything was good and life was so sweet.

Then one day, cancer came knocking on the door.  It knocked very loudly and though we didn’t want to let it in, it barged in anyway.  Several years passed and slowly it kept creeping it’s way into our lives and in the end, it stole the one I loved.  I was a young woman.  I was 25 when I held on and watched my love take his last breath.  With that last breath I was pretty sure my life was over.  I watched all my dreams plunge into the darkness.

After losing Bill,  I began having a recurring dream.  This dream went on for over a decade and still returns to me every now and then.  In the dream, I am traveling to a city I had never been to at the time.  Sometimes it was Chicago, sometimes Paris, and sometimes somewhere that only exists in dreams. I would be walking around  the city, and suddenly Bill would appear. Maybe in a coffee shop, maybe riding his bike, maybe even eating a slice of pizza on the corner.

I remember feeling total shock, and even betrayal.   I would begin crying and ask, “What are you doing here?  I was there when you died!”.  He always says something like, “Honey, I told you I was just going away for a while”.  Every time I awoke from this dream, I was  filled with a tremendous amount of joy, relief , sadness, and confusion.  For those of you who have lost the most important people in your life, perhaps you understand.  Perhaps you’ve had similar dreams?

I dream in bright colors, I always have, and my dreams are vivid and incredibly real.  I have awoken sometimes angry at my husband for things he has done during my dream state.  Luckily, he always laughs at me and makes me smile and all is forgiven in the moments of entering the real world again.

At one point during my “Bill’s still alive” dream series, I had perhaps  the most realistic and vivid dream I’ve ever had.  I dreamt that I was following him at a distance across roof tops in Asia.  I had no idea where I was.  I could not identify any particular location.  I just knew that it was Asia.

It was a misty evening, the sun was just going down,  and each roof contained beautiful trees and lush flowers.  But most striking , was that there were many enormous statues of Gods and Deities.  I remember being frightened and yet fascinated as I approached each one.  It was magical and terrifying at the same time. Somehow, I was able to jump from roof to roof effortlessly.   I remember wondering, “Where am I and how did I get here?” Strangely, this was the only dream where I never caught up with Bill.  I could only see the back of him, in the distance, always just out of reach.  And it is the only one I remember in such vivid detail that it is like a movie that has been playing in my head for 20 years now.

When I first moved here, to Japan, I went to visit a local Buddhist Temple.  Here, they have a gigantic statue of Buddha and it is painted an incredibly lush and deep green.  It sits on a pedastol and is 45 feet high and it is over 500 years old.  The minute I came through the trees and saw this majestic and powerful image, I gasped and began to weep. (Luckily I was alone and no one else was visiting the shrine).   I was instantly transported back to my dream.  All the years of carrying these images in my head and it was like I had finally realized where I was.  I had finally realized where I was meant to be.

We all start out with a plan. We want things to be neat and tidy. We lay the groundwork and we work at it.  But, the more we experience life the more we realize that plans are made to be broken and that we often have no control concerning where our path is meant to lead.  Sometimes , we learn very early that life is full of great loss. We can let that destroy us or we can use it as a super power to fuel us and to heighten our senses and try and enjoy all the moments, no matter how small.  We learn that we have no control over other’s paths or how they act toward us.  We only can control how we act, in each moment.

I guess I felt compelled to tell you this story today, because I am about to embark on a journey back “home”. This story reminds me that  when I was 25, and I was unsure of how my life would continue, or if it could continue at all.  Even then,  I was dreaming about the strangest corners of the earth.  Perhaps I was always meant to roam, and having my frist partner be someone who understood this need in me and  the fact he was able to nourish it was a true blessing.  Perhaps this dream was a foreshadow of my life today and maybe the reason I did not catch Bill was because this was the destination waiting for me and me alone.  Dreams can also lead us to our destiny I suppose.

I have only been in Japan for  three months, but it has changed me in so many ways. It has opened my eyes like they have never been opened before.  I see things differently, shapes, colors, actions, people and beliefs.  All different.

It has been over 14 years since I’ve lived in Massachusetts and it has been over 20 now since I lost Bill.  I love Massachusetts.  It  is a place where part of my soul will always feel nourished.  It is where I spent time with many of the great people of my life, many who are gone now.  My path has taken me to many destinations since leaving,  and I have been fortunate to meet so many people along the way who have shaped me and my life.  Life, as it does, continues to bring  joys and sometimes sadness.

I have been the most fortunate in love.  I  have found a man who has given me laughter, love , adventure, support, and a beautiful child.  He is far more than I ever dreamed of or thought I deserved.   I thank my lucky stars every morning when I watch him lean over and give me a kiss before leaving for work, as he thinks I am fast asleep. I savor this moment.

The young woman, the one with a broken heart, still lives inside me she is part of me and always will be.  But she lays deep within so many other layers.

When people ask me  where I want to live eventually,  I have no answer.  How does one choose a place when each place they’ve been has shaped a part of them and been their home?  The bigger question is, how do I stop running across roof tops and finally settle down in one spot? Or even more so, will I ever?  The young woman who dreamed of the home with a porch on the front has grown into a middle aged woman who realizes that no building or location can truly be her home any longer.  Her home exists in her memories, in her experiences, in her daily talks with her little boy, in her husbands eyes when he looks at her.  Home is wherever she roams.

I have become the anthropologist I always wanted to be.  I am a true gypsy.  I am home.

 

“Hey, you get off of my rice paddy”, and other things I may or may not understand.

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Konichiwa everyone!  I’d like to introduce you to my new friend Hiroko.  He is a rice paddy farmer in the small town of Magome.  I met him while walking around in a daze of amazement and love for Japan.  He climbed right out of his rice paddy to come talk to me and my two friends right after he nodded that it was okay to take a photo of him.  Then he promptly told us while flashing his tobacco stained smile to get the f&*k off his street.

Okay, that isn’t exactly how it happened if I’m  being honest.  He did swiftly climb out of his rice paddy, ask us where we were from and then point repeatedly at the tourist village we had just dropped down from while talking rapidly in Japanese.  We asked him if he wanted us to go there and each time he smiled and nodded vigorously.  So, there are a few options here, a)  He was trying to be kind and thought we were lost, b) he is completely sick of stupid white women trying to take photos of him, or c) He was trying to recruit us to go get some more hoes and help him out.  We decided it was b, and politely said  “excuse me ” while bowing our way back up the hill.

Once again, I have no idea what happened there.  And this is the story of my life lately during a large percentage of my day.  Yet, weirdly, I have never been happier.  I think I am living proof of that old saying that “ignorance is bliss”.  It’s like living in a bubble where you can just automatically assume that people are saying nice things to you because they are smiling.  And if they happen to be calling you a trash smelling, meat eating, jolly rotten cow, you can feel just as good about yourself than if they were saying you seem like a supermodel who just won the nobel prize for peace.

In an effort to be polite to the locals, I started Japanese classes last week and am really getting into it. Hopefully this is going to slowly help me understand more. Okay, maybe I’m not really  THAT into it, but I can say about 5 things now.  Every morning I pass by a hundred school children or so and I ramble on and on saying, “Ohayo gozaimasu” and they giggle in my face and yell “HELLO” while poking at one another.  I truly love the pride on their little faces when they realize they know how to say something to me in English.  They giggle and jostle in their little yellow hats before they get onto the bus while pointing at the weird western lady, probably wondering why I’m so round.

I thought I’d try and use google translate at the supermarket the other day to find out if I needed a store card to get sale prices.  A frustrating 10 minutes later, the poor woman at the service counter looked like she wanted to use a samurai sword on herself and we were no closer to solving the issue.  The thing is though, people here will continue on and on and on and on with you until they have helped you or answered you the best they can.  I can’t say I had this experience living in Montreal where if people found out I did not speak French they would hang up on me sometimes in an abrupt manner and I’d be left with my mouth wide open.  I spent countless hours on the phone with utility companies where they would pretty much act as if I were blessed to be giving them my money.

There are times, when this lack of communication is really troubling though.  For example, my landlady (who lives next door)  popped by last weekend to tell me there were “dangerous children in my windows”.  This later turned out to be my son and his sleepover buddies (who were apparently way more danger seeking than my son who usually needs encouragement to cross a monkey bar…. unbeknownst to me).  They  had found their way onto our roof while I was downstairs cooking pancakes.  This poor woman was terrified looking on from next door while the boys yelled “Konichiwa” at her.

Being unable to fully understand her, I assumed that the boys were just yelling out the windows and, of course,  this is what they said they were doing.  No confessions were forthcoming. Not until two days later when I got a letter from my management company in english telling me children on my roof were strictly prohibited, did I realize the seriousness and the terror of what had happened.  I’m pretty sure she thinks I am on drugs, to say the least, and now I have to climb 25 stairs every 5 minutes when there are kids over so they don’t plummet to their death or give her a heart attack.

Every day is a school day, and every day I’m figuring it out a little more.  But, for now, I’m happy to stay in my little air conditioned bubble and smile and wave boys….smile and wave!  I think I’ll go up to the roof and have  a few drinks now.

 

Walking With Big Feet in a Land of Tiny People!

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Go with the flow. Roll with the Changes. Keep Calm and Carry on.  One day at a time.  And so on, and so on, and so on.  For those of you who have been expats , even when you love the place you live (which I do) from the start, there is always those extreme ups and downs in your mental state.  The moment you realize you are literally half way across the world from all the people you care about. The moment you realize you truly don’t speak the language and that no one understands you either.    The moment you realize that, yes, you have to walk another 3 miles even though your feet are blistered because YES, you TRULY do not have a car!

Then there is this, imagine waking up one day only to realize that not only do you have the biggest mouth within a five mile radius, but you also have the biggest feet? Your feet are so big that when you go out to a local shop and pick up the XL flip flops your entire big toe is still hanging off the end.   And lets not even talk about how big your ass is.  You already knew it was bodacious and bubbly, but then you held up a pair of XL pants and realized you might need TWO pairs of those stitched together and they would probably still be snug?   And despite the fact that you walk 13KM a day most days and up various San Francisco sized hills, it seems to be getting BIGGER???

Hence, welcome to my life in Japan, where I am officially a giant.  This weekend my husband, son, and I went to a teeny little local noodle shop.  The owners looked rather perplexed to see us sitting on their little stools hunched over. In a shop where there were only about a dozen stools, we seemed to take up a majority of the space and that included  the 8 month pregnant  woman sitting behind us.   After we paid our bill and were making to leave the elderly noodle matron walked us to the door and continuously mimed “watch your head” to Paul, for fear that he might tear straight through her support beam on the way out.   People often stop in the street to stare at him and little girls on the subway hide their faces.

I can’t help but constantly hearing a Godzilla like roar in my head when I walk through a crowded area trying to navigate around people.  I also feel like when I sit down on the train a huge crashing sound might occur and the  bench may tilt.  The people next to me shift ever so slightly to give me enough room.  Are they worried that I might eat them?  As Westerners we sure do love some good red meat after all?

Of course I am joking, sort of, kind of, to some degree.   However, it has been fascinating being the biggest person I see each day.  It has also got me thinking about our obesity problems in North America.  Living in a country which thrives on small portions and walking and riding bikes everywhere , I take note that literally less than 1% of people I see are even slightly overweight.   I suppose good genetics have something to do with it, but it does call into question the sedentary lifestyle most of us lead in North America and those giant restaurant portions.  I am as guilty as anyone.

A “typical” Japanese breakfast consists of small portions of rice, grilled fish, miso soup and pickled vegetables. Compare this to eggs, toast, bacon, hash browns, and toast or a big bowl of sugary cereal.  It might tell us a few things?  Vending machines contain coffee, water, and green tea with no sweetener. Yes, you can get a COKE if you want, but these seem a lot less popular.   It truly is “food for thought”.

Do I hope to become “smaller” in my years here?  Of course I do.  I am a woman, who like, every other woman is never truly happy with their bodies.  Sure, I’d love to get back to my smaller self.   But the other bad news is, every single dish I run into is chock full of carbohydrates. Noodles.  Rice.  Mochi.  Pancakes.  I wonder, if I eat all this instead of the normal salad lunches I am so fond of, will I actually LOSE weight?  I truly feel like Alice in Wonderland where black is white and white is black.   I am curious how this will all turn out and if drinking the tea is going to solve everything.

The other day I realized that I have no short pants or shorts and I have been sweating profusely in the newly humid weather.  I went out to see what I could find, knowing full well that nothing in this country will fit me.  I came across a shop that had lovely light cottony drawstring pants. Just looking at them made my body temperature drop at least 10 degrees.  And low and behold, they fit me!  I scooped up three pairs.  Later I put them on , they were so comfortable and cool.  Suddenly, I realized that I might be wearing the Japanese version of pajamas. But then again, I might not be?  This is the moment I decide I will be “the dumb foreigner” because I will NOT part with wearing these pants.

At the bus stop this morning I was describing the pants to the lovely Japanese women who send their kids to my son’s school.  I had them in stitches with my explanation about how I wore them all day wondering if people were staring at me. And they kindly reassured me that Japanese people do not care at all what I wear.  That is EXACTLY what they said.  Then they asked me if I liked “Jazzercise”.

This got me to thinking about the strange couple I saw this weekend wearing pink animal pajamas with a giant tote full of stuffed animals between them.   And then there are the dozens of little bo peeps I’ve seen, the cherry blossom drag queen,  the lady I saw in the 100 yen store who was grossly overweight, wearing a pink wig with a tiara and a sparkle dress (she was the 1% but she looked like she was not from here). And what I realized was this, no one was staring (no one except me).  No one cared. This was “fine”.

So, perhaps what I realize is this.  I am okay.  I can be a giant in a land full of tiny people.  I can wear pajama bottoms.  I can let my flesh hang out if I choose.  No one is going to care, and even if they do , they are WAY too polite to talk about it.  Bring on the turquoise wig, the tiara, and the little bo peep pants! Momma’s going dancing in her pajamas!

 

 

 

 

Sharknado vs. Tatami Table

Ohayo gozaimasu !  We officially made it through our first two days of living in our new home.  I thought it would be  a perfect time to introduce you all to a few things that have been puzzling and torturing me for the past 48 hours.  First off, please take a long look at these photos.  I don’t think I ever truly understood the word “dichotomy” until I moved to Japan.  No where else have I seen such complete contradiction within the same moment, space, or culture.

Want to take a bath?  You THOUGHT you knew how to do this. Plug tub, turn on water , fill tub, turn off water.  WRONG!!!!  Now, there is a very complicated system of digital buttons you must press in a precise order.  Want to call your husband and ask him to bring you a glass of wine?  No problem,  press the “call button” and you can blast your voice throughout the whole house.  Want to reheat the water once you are in for a few minutes? SURE!   Want to have your bath ready for you at 7.am. ?  It does that too?

This is all really great, with the exception that there is a small Japanese lady in there (and they do make them small here) who is constantly talking at you in a language you don’t understand.  Also, sometimes you just want to get it over and done with and taking the time to figure this out is mind boggling (as I heard yesterday while Paul cursed in the shower while accidentally pressing the intercom button and then proceeded to curse in Dutch because the Japanese lady would not  shut up and let him be the whole time).   Note to self, NEVER take  a bath when guests are in house.

Oh, and lets not forget, you need to also have a control for the tub in the living area.  Yes, we would not want to be unable to access the tub temperature when you are getting ready to sit down for a little bite to eat or to read a book!

Now, lets talk toilets.  You know you want to.  I’m sure many of you have heard about the very complicated toilets here and YES, they do everything but make you a sandwich.  Try going into a public rest room and being in there for a small eternity because you need to be Sherlock Holmes to figure out where the flush button is.   But good news! If you are the easily embarrassed type, you can push a button and have a little ditty play to cover up the fact that you are taking a dump (but really?  everyone KNOWS what you are doing once the music starts).

Here comes the “dichotomy” . You may also encounter a “squat toilet” when you are out and about.  And this is exactly what it sounds like.  Squat over a hole and do your business.  Many of these do not come with toilet paper and lets just say that aiming takes ALOT of  practice.

We have come to name our new household toilet “SHARKNADO”.  This thing has a motion sensor, so any time you walk by not only does the lid open in a menacing fashion, but a blue light comes on inside the toilet bowl and lights it up and then the thing “prewashes” (no one wants a dirty bowl).  It truly does bring the theme of  “Jaws” to my mind each time. I will not even BEGIN to tell you how many buttons are on the panel to try and control SHARKNADO.   Lets just say that I am starting to appreciate the term “you are so anal”.

When one of us forgets to close the bathroom door, you inevitably can hear another one of us screaming in mock comedy as you hear the toilet start up because we walked by.  Cry’s of ,   “It’s trying to eat me”, or “HELP, it’s attacking”.  Devon has even drawn a picture  of the toilet with us running away screaming, “I HATE SHARKNADO” and posted it on his bedroom door.  It’s all pretty funny I must say.

There are other surprise electronics, but I don’t feel like talking about them at the moment.  Remember, I am a woman who did not own a smart phone until I moved here and would prefer to be alone in the middle of the wilderness to a casino,  so this is all kind of mind blowing for me at the moment. I am tired.

Let me end this entry by inviting you into my new dining area, the tatami room.  There is nothing in here but a table and legless chairs and a place to hold a simple flower arrangement. Apparently you can perform a tea ceremony in here , the act of meticulously and artfully making and pouring a pot of tea which could take up to several hours while you and your guests kneel.

Anyone seeing the contradiction yet? Okay, it’s six a.m. and I feel a strong need to visit Sharknado.  If you hear music playing, stay far away. Sayonara 😉

Living life with “Makato”

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I was brought up Catholic.  Period.  I wore the frilly white dress and promised to give myself to Jesus when I was eight years old.  I sat in a scary confessional booth in the dark, confessing my sins of eating too much candy and taking the Lord’s name in vain.  I did 10 hail Mary’s and started again the next week.

All through my youth, and into college, I went to Mass and I learned all about the creeds and the prayers. I studied the bible, I learned and mostly believed the reasons behind the rituals.   When I was young, I  found a lot of comfort and sense in it all. I was also perpetually scared that I was a sinner and I was going someplace dark and scary.

There are of course , all the jokes about “Catholic Guilt” which are sadly not jokes, but harsh realities.  Having married a man who knew nothing about the Catholic Church or about  growing up in an Italian /Irish/American family, he is to this day puzzled why I even utter the words, “I feel kind of guilty”.  Apparently, people who grew up in Holland and participated in Dutch Reformist religion did not have such guilt shoveled upon them. Nor does he understand the concept of the  hell and brimstone that I was exposed to.   He never had to go to confession with sweaty palms or to worry about dropping the body of Christ and potentially damning himself on a daily basis.  He finds it all a bit weird.

Let me say this, before anyone gets offended, I  totally respect my family and friends who still give their hearts to the Church  and who are heavily involved with it’s message.  I get it.  I also have the same respect for my friends who are Jewish, Muslim, Islamic, Protestant, Wiccan and so on and so on.

Like many people of my generation, perhaps, I fell out of love with the Catholic Church a long time ago.  It started off selfish and slow.  There was college, theology classes which had me questioning things, and Sundays where I would rather be in the mountains hiking or canoeing than inside a church.   Then there was the fact that my brother “came out” and I realized that not only was he “unacceptable” but also that they had “special programs” for people “like him”  to try and convert them into being UNGAY.

Needless to say,  I found this very upsetting and highly ridiculous.  I think the final nail in the coffin for me was all of the scandal that happened in Boston at the turn of this century.  I could no longer believe in this institution that had so many rigid rules and judgements, yet was protecting monsters.  I just could not find the love any longer.

For many decades, I have felt a bit adrift.  I have found myself a visitor of many different religious groups, fascinated by all but belonging to none.  I was a bit of a religious “peeping Tom”.  Nothing made sense to me so completely that I could commit.  I kept thinking about how religion causes most of the pain , most of the war, and most of the misunderstandings in this world.  I kept thinking how people who commit to one, often think that their way is the “ONLY ONE” and how this causes them to become blinded or to put judgement upon others.  I tried, maybe not hard enough, but my heart was not in it.  I could not find my way back to any church or any one religion.

Having always been an addict of anything that takes me to the woods, or the mountains, or the ocean, I began to feel that maybe Nature was my religion.  Maybe, my prayers could just  come from the heart and be given up fully under the sky or beneath the trees, and that would be enough?   Maybe if I lived by the basics of “Do unto others as you would have done unto you”  I could  fulfill my need to give something to “God” or the “powers that be”.

In the hundreds of hikes I have done and in the thousands of hours I’ve been blessed to be outdoors, in the quiet beauty of nature, not once have I ever failed to take a moment and Thank the “powers that be” for allowing me that very moment.  Not once have I failed to stop and think about how I can be  kinder, or better and how I can give back for having been given the gift of one more day on this earth.  Each time, I find myself stopping and feeling the power that surrounds me.  The power of those who have passed from this world, the power of nature, and the power of Karma. So, as I got older I realized, it was okay for me, as myself,   not to be part of a “church” or an organized religion.   I decided to accept Nature as my church and basic kindness, gratitude, and consideration as my religion.

And now, I find myself in Japan, in the middle of a  very big and very bustling city.  Yet, I find that at every corner there is a place of nature, in the form of a shrine.  A pocket of Peace and tranquility.  I will be honest, the first time I walked up to one of these Shrines, I felt tears in my eyes and I felt a strong sense of love in my gut.  I felt respectful and awestruck.  And I  had no idea why.  So, I went home and I began to research the Shinto Religion and I realized that low and behold, it’s basic principals were in line with what I have been practicing for decades.    And more beautiful to me, is the importance of combining religion with a heavy dose of respect and love for nature.

Yes, I get it, I’m not Japanese.  And , yes, I realize I am not a practitioner of this religion …not officially.  However, in my short time here, I have been invited more than once to come and to pray with total strangers.  Strangers who speak not a word of my language.  I have had people share their knowledge with me about the rituals and the meanings behind them, with pure love and without judgement.  Not to convert me, but to inform me.  To simply share with a stranger. I have been allowed to not feel ashamed if I want to try a ritual, and I may not get it right.

Below, you can read some basic Beliefs held by the Shinto religion. I find it amazing that Japan is a country with barely any crime.  People leave their purses unattended while they go pick up a coffee.  Cell phones and wallets are immediately returned to the owner should they drop them on the metro.  And, Japan has one of the lowest homicide rates in the world.  Call me crazy, but there is something to be said for taking to heart  the simple nature of what you read next:

“Those who are sincere will naturally tend to behave in ways that cohere with the great, official ethical traditions of the world’s religion. Sincere people don’t steal from others, or lie to them, or try to murder them. Sincere people do not do things that undermine the fabric of society or bring harm to the community or family. Sincerity is the grounding of all ethical thought and behavior, in this view. Even were the religion to have long lists of dos and don’ts in its archives, only those with sincerity in their hearts will be prompted to live the rules.

This is partly what is meant by the phrase kannagara-no-michi which, in the ethical context, refers to the idea that virtue is inseparable from the rest of life, especially life lived in harmony with the natural world (enlivened by kami, or the gods). Beauty, truth, goodness, morality – these are all connected, inseparable from each other. Those who live life with the perspective outlined above – with an aesthetic sensitivity, an emotional sensibility toward the world, and with a sincere heart will behave morally almost naturally”.

It is said,  “one must try to see with the heart into the natural beauty and goodness of all things”.  Now that is something I can get behind and try and incorporate into my daily life, how about you?

 

More Pig Intestines Anyone?

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Do you ever find yourself singing a song you don’t actually know?  It is a perseverant song that will not leave your head?  Maybe it’s not even in a language you understand?  Well, welcome to my world lately.  Due to living in our tiny, ghetto type apartment with our college sized fridge, I find myself having to go to the local supermarket each and every day. As  I walk in, inevitably they are playing one of two songs. EVERY SINGLE TIME.

It’s either a really catchy, really dramatic Japanese tune which is about long lost love or the love for eating cow’s tongue (I’ll tell you when I learn more Japanese).  I’m pretty sure it might be the theme song for what would be equivalent to a “tela-novella”.  The other song, lovely enough, “It’s a small world” on hyperspeed, in a loop, in Japanese.  Yup, this is my new life people.

And if this were not over-stimulating  and awesome enough, I have the added bonus of not recognizing pretty much anything in the store besides fruit, veg, and a few meats.  How about those really nice looking rolls for your husbands sandwich that when you cut into have chocolate inside, or bean paste, or some sort of cream that looks like (well never mind) .  Thank GOD he loves chocolate!  How about that shaved pork you bought which would be just right for the stir fry, which …oops….is pig intestines and tasted like what would be inside the intestines, you know , just before it exited?

Here’s me, standing in front of a huge shelf of “sauces” with my google translate out trying to decipher just one.  Awww….screw it, I’ll just buy 3 and see which one doesn’t kill us or render our taste-buds dead for a week! YAHOOOO……GERONIMO!  Here’s me,  Buying a snack for my son, which appears to be popcorn but in reality when I open the package are tiny shrimp that have been freeze dried and potentially soaked in hot sauce for a week.  GOOD JOB MOM!

Then there is always the moment when you are dining out and you feel so proud because you have figured out that you can point to something and it shows up at your table.  Then you realize that it shows up, and you are now eating a cow’s tongue. Oops, if I am talking funny for the rest of the day and find myself yelling out “MOO”, who’s to care, nobody knows me here anyhow, right?

As you can see, my culinary journey has certainly been a multiple choice quiz which varies between a) fascinating, b) disgusting, c) delicious, d) clueless, and e) terrifying.  For those of you who know me, you know I will try anything once (and this applies to many aspects of life not just food).  So, I wonder how my less adventurous friends would fare with life in Japan.  You know who you are, I love you, but your affinity for chicken and white bread and plain pizza abounds and I’m pretty sure you may not want to visit.

I realize this blog is not nearly as deep or maybe as interesting as the past few, but I’m busy.  I need to go to the Max Value and act like I am in a Japanese soap opera.  I need to wheel my cart around while dancing up the aisles and while everyone looks at me wondering, “Isn’t that Gaijin  in here EVERY day and isn’t she always looking at the same sauce, what the HELL is wrong with her”.  And right after I do that, I am off to eat “Salad Cake”. Yes, I am going to pay money for someone to serve me a salad that is disguised as a cake.

Only in Japan!  ONLY in Japan!