Sunday, January 4, 2009

Christmas and New Years

UPDATE: Pictures! And more paragraphs.

I've been really busy for this entire holiday, starting with just before Christmas when I caught a horrible cold and was out of it for 3 days. I don't usually get sick very easily, but before when I was living in Tokyo I managed to catch a strange bug several times that had me throwing up for about 24 hours straight before vanishing just as mysteriously as it had appeared. I could never figure out any variations in my diet that might have caused a reaction or food poisoning to explain the affliction away. Maybe it's just that I'm not used to the bacteria here yet.

A pond in a big park near my house, beside a bread cafe that my host mother enjoys bringing her dogs to.

Christmas isn't that celebrated in Japan, and the event goes by more or less uneventfully. It's more of a couples' holiday, so unless one has a significant other to go and do romantic things with like wait in line with 200 other couples to ride a ferris wheel or walk around a pretty indoor shopping mall and admire the lights, one probably isn't missing anything by staying in. However, Christmas lights, called "illumination," are a big deal here and extremely showy and ostentatious displays (at least to my eyes) attract oohs and ahhs from the Japanese folks who drive by them in their cars. As well as lights decorating the downtown district and a grand and very eye-caching display above Nagoya Station, neighbors in suburban districts seem to compete with each other for the most colourful display. Often a house will be completely decked out with lights, and then a few houses down a competing abode will flash and flicker with animated reindeer and Santas, not so far away from another glitzy maison.

I spent my Christmas in front of the kitchen table television with my host family and grandparents, eating sushi and Mos Burger fried chicken (similar to Kentucky-style) followed up with Christmas cake.

Delicious sushi.

My host father and his mother.

My host parents.

My host grandparents who live in the attached house next door and frequently feed me and my host sister when my host mother isn't around to.

Aforementioned Mos chicken, apparently a Christmas tradition for the family. (Mos Burger is a fast food outlet like Wendy's.)

Christmas cake, vanilla with strawberries and whipped cream icing. Much better than fruitcake, amirite?

Edible sugary snowmen. This one was shortly consumed headfirst.

People keep asking me what the "daily food" is in Canada, or what sort of rice-equivalent thing we eat every day. I don't really think we have one, or at least with my weird dietary habits I can't remember having the same thing at every meal. I usually say it's bread, since bread isn't so common or popular in a culture that makes mini-dinners for lunch boxes instead of sandwiches. That is to say, meatballs and scrambled egg and sausage along with the obligatory bottom half full of rice. I've started to joke that the Japanese shushoku is cake, since in the past two weeks or so I seem to have eaten it every day. People always bring over cake as a sort of housewarming gift for inviting them over, or we bring it to other people and all take part in consuming said treat. The Japanese have really good pastry, though, and the cake usually comes in various types of slices like melon or tiramisu, all fancily decorated and what you'd expect to find at a high-end pastry shop. Anyway, I'm trying to limit my sweets.

As I began to get better, I took a walk around the neighborhood and bought some new makeup at the nearby drug store just to get out and about. Japanese residential areas and business areas are weirdly mixed, so even though I live in a suburban area, I'm never far from a slightly bigger road with a variety of shops and stuff. There's a CAT bulldozer rental business and a Yahama store that sells pianos within a 10 minute walk of my house.

Street beside a baseball field. Entry prohibited except for the high school teams that play there.

A busier street with CAT rental shop to the left.

Houses and random empty fields, there seem to be a lot of these. I don't know if they're farms in the off season or just places where nothing's been built yet.

Whyyy is it yellow?

Another field near my house. It's not like it's a park, there's a fence all around and the middle is overgrown. Who knows?

A small park with a playground. Japanese parks don't have grass, only the big ones. Usually the ground is gravel or dirt.

I live on top of a hill. Yay clouds!

Just before New Years I ended up visiting Kyoto for the fourth time with my host mother Tae-san, my host sister Hana, my host mother's older sister Fu-chan, and Fu-chan's calligraphy teacher friend. We took the Shinkansen in the morning and ate breakfast at a Lipton cafe, the same brand that sells all the ice tea products. It seemed an okay enough place, though I was surprised to find one existed. The European-style cafes I've been to here are all very nice places that serve various meal sets that allow you to choose between drinks and main dishes with salad and things on the side. The lunches make for very light meals, and there's usually more cute little pieces of cake on display up front.

Just in front of Kyoto station, near the busy part of downtown Kyoto proper.

We took a cab to visit Sanjugendo. Having visited previously with my real mother, this was my second time at the temple holding hundreds of golden statues and various wooden carvings of Japanese gods, as well as a giant Buddha. Oddly enough, I noticed the information signs about the gods were different, the English version not being a direct translation of the Japanese. I couldn't read the Japanese well enough to know what was being said for sure, but there were a lot of things mentioned that weren't included in the English version below. For example, I saw a mention of the Italian Renaissance that simply wasn't present in English. As well, the English signs had a lot of information about the mistakes the Japanese had made when adopting the Buddhist deities from China and India, such as gods that had erroneously been combined together or had their names mistranslated and thus their appearances skewed. I wonder if the Japanese signs lacked this for fear of offending somebody?

Sanjugendo's garden.


We also went to some sort of small out-of-the-way female temple where the others prayed for good luck and bought fortunes, but I just took pictures and kept out of things.

A traditional-looking result of my photography.

A visit to Kyoto always includes a visit to Kiomizu Dera. As I've probably mentioned before, the the way up the hill towards the temple is lined with little shops, and I bought a pretty blue necklace from Kyoto Glass Works and a Japanese bag, one of the first and only times I've allowed myself to spend a bit since coming here. We didn't go into the temple itself after having been there so recently, but we did have lunch at an Italian restaurant on the way back, spaghetti and pizza and mango juice, the latter of which is delicious and readily available in Japan.

A steep path leading up to a restaurant on the way up the hill to Kiomizu.

We also walked a bit in the main part of the city on our way back down. I've been here with my real mother as well, albeit in the evening with pretty red lanterns present along the water.

That evening we stayed at Ichinomiya, a place outside of Nagoya that the Japanese classify as the countryside. It does have many farms scattered about, but compared to my Canadian city, the station area, at least, seemed downright urban. This is the home of my host mother's older sister Fu-chan and her father Ryuuji. The house is 43 years old and thus not heated at all, with very thin walls at the entry way. The front door isn't much of a barrier to the cold, and the temperature is comparable to outside. Individual rooms are heated by space heaters as you are using them, and thick blankets are used to keep you warm at night. One of the exchange students that went to Tokyo with me lived in such a house along with his host family who I became close with, so I've had experience with it before. However, out of all the modern conveniences that I enjoy in Canada, I'd say heat is one I've usually taken for granted. I hadn't been feeling well due to lack of sleep from the night before, so I passed out around 9 pm and didn't wake up till 1:30 the next day. I took the opportunity to play the piano, though unbeknownst to us one of the pedals was depressed, resulting in little sound and apparently broken keys. Luckily my host mother discovered this quirk, though I didn't get another chance to play after that as we were leaving.

That afternoon my host sister and host mother and I returned to Nagoya, where we spent the night and cleaned the house the next morning. My host father was working that day, so we went to the hair salon with the dogs and he was kind enough to cut Hana's and my hair. I didn't change my hair style, but I got it trimmed and thinned. One thing about asian hair is that it's very thick, so hairdressers here tend to go wild with the thinning shears. It feels really nice to have hair that's light and easy to dry without being so unruly. I always beg North American hair stylists to do the same when I'm getting my hair cut, but they're never quite enthusiastic enough. My host father also used heated curlers that curled my hair in less than 5 minutes and achieved quite a nice effect. Apparently they're only $40 or so, so I may have to resist the temptation to get some for myself.

Yay new hairstyle.

I once told my host father that a lot of male stylists in Canada were gay and it was rarer to find a male stylist working in a salon. He seemed rather amused by this, since he told me that in Japan the distribution of male and female stylists is about equal. He has since happily relayed this Canadian fact to the other stylists he works with, with the reaction usually being "not me!" and a sort of put-out bemusement.

My host mother and sister and I waited at the family's older house in Kasugai for Katsu-san to finish work. When he arrived we drove with the dogs to Ichinomiya, getting lost and ending up in nearby Gifu-ken.

Upon arrival I got the chance to play the piano again, now with full sound capacity though rather out of tune. For New Years we watched a music special on TV, ate a very traditional Japanese New Years dinner, stuffed ourselves with chocolate, and waited until midnight. A news broadcast informed us that the phone service would cut out around midnight from so many people calling their families and relaying New Years messages to their business associates and acquaintances to express the desire for good relations throughout the coming year.

New Years feast, though all Japanese meals have a million dishes.

My host family as well as my host mother's father and sister.

Annoying but irresistibly cute doggie Mocha.

The household shrine. My host mother's mother died when she was young, so there's a picture of her above the alter. Her father also made an offering of rice, though I'm not sure if that's regular or just a New Years thing.

I was pretty tired by the time it hit midnight, so I looked outside at the stars before going to bed and was surprised to see a considerable amount of cars and people. I assumed they were heading back from somewhere, but I was informed by my host mother and her sister that people often go to shrines after midnight to pray for luck in the New Year. I fell asleep shortly after, my New Years messages failing to reach their intended recipients.

1 comment:

  1. You'll never know when you'll need the services of a bulldozer rental.