Finding Beauty with Imperfection

Category: English Page 1 of 2

Setsubun 2018

Setsubun is held on February 3rd. Last year, I went with Miki and Dina to a Setsubun festival. This year, Setsubun was on a Saturday. On Saturday mornings, I normally have a session with my English student, Manami. Instead of having our traditional class, I suggested we go to Kamakura and visit the Hachiman-gu Shrine for the Setsubun Festival. (A Julia School field trip).

Setsubun means “change of seasons” and celebrates the upcoming Spring. Beans are thrown as a means of purification.

One of Dave’s coworkers translated the website for me on Friday night. She told me to be inside the perimeter of the ropes near the Shrine required a special ticket. The tickets would be passed out at noon on Saturday. The website recommended arriving early because the line could be very long and the tickets would run out. Manami and I decided to meet in Zushi and take the train together to Kamakura around 10am. We arrived at Hachiman-gu Shrine by 10:15.

Manami asked the official where we needed to wait for a ticket. He directed us to the line. Believe it or not, we were not the first in line!

We waited patiently. Fortunately, the day wasn’t too cold. Every minute that passed the line grew and grew. By noon the line was double sided!!

Shortly before noon, we were given our tickets.

However, we still had an hour before the ceremony started and two hours before they would throw the beans. We took about 45 minutes to warm up in a little waiting area before the events began. We returned to the area and waited patiently and secured our spot.

Soon it was time for the official party to arrive.

The official party continued to grow! The members included business owners, Miss Kamakura, and politicians.

The ceremony included a blessing of the crowd. The wooden boxes hold the packets of beans that will be thrown to the audience.

The official party members then entered the Shrine. That permitted Manami and me to be even closer to the front of the Shrine!! The large guy in the middle is the owner of the famous Kamakura dove/ pigeon cookie. The lady to his left is a famous Tokyo reporter. The ladies in the beautiful Kimonos are Miss Kamakura. We were so close to the front! Perfect for catching lots of lucky beans!

Finally, it was time to toss out the beans! Throwing the beans drives out demons and allows for good fortune to enter. Look at the crowd! Good fortune for everyone!!

Before living in Japan, I could never imagine such an orderly crowd. Another reason why I love Japan. Everyone is polite even when trying to catch good fortune beans! We caught several packets of soybeans. Enough for both of us and plenty to share. Each person must eat the same number of beans that corresponds with their age. Dave and I both enjoyed our respective piles of beans!

Manami also ordered us special sushi rolls to eat called “Ehoumaki.” I brought it home for Dave and I to share. It is important to eat the roll in the direction of the God of Happiness and Wealth. This year, Manami told me we should eat the roll facing south-south east. As I was opening the roll, I noticed the compass on the wrapper. It also pointed to the SSE. I used the compass on my iPhone to ensure we were facing the right direction.

It was such a special day. I enjoyed the opportunity to experience a Japanese custom in conjunction with my English session. As the first Julia School field trip, I think we were very successful!

Sakura Dreaming in the Snow

We awoke this morning to a light dusting of snow. It was slushy, messy and not as pretty as the snow last week. I snapped a few pictures to document the occasion. Two snows in one Japan winter!

This next picture is of my two Sakura trees. Both are starting to show their buds. I’m hoping the cold temps will slow down their blooms a little bit. It’s too early!

Speaking of Sakura, the talk has already started about the Sakura bloom forecast. I have seen several forecasts. The forecasts are split between the peak bloom being the week of 3/24 and 4/1. I’m keeping my fingers crossed for the week of 4/1 so our friends who will be visiting can enjoy them as well.

Besides talking about the peak bloom, Sakura items are starting to appear. At my English class today, one of my students brought us special Sakura mochi.

The mochi pancake was filled with red bean paste and wrapped in a pickled Sakura leaf.

It was surprisingly delicious! Mochi and red bean paste are not usually my favorite. I’m beginning to enjoy them more, but I never buy them for myself. This little treat was really good. The salty flavor of the pickled Sakura leaf balanced nicely with the sweetness of mochi and red bean paste. It also helped that I washed it all down with an Asahi beer in a decorative Sakura can! The beer was cold, refreshing and had no taste of Sakura.

Wishing you a very happy Friday and for my friends in cold weather, I hope Punxsutawney Phil doesn’t see his shadow! Happy Groundhog Day! Kanpie!

Long Way Home

Two things were notable during my English class this afternoon. First, my students loved the cakes I brought back from Nagasaki for us to enjoy during tea time. Second, one of my students gave me a huge hug when she saw me. “Sensei, good to see you!” It feels good to be missed!

After my English class, I decided to take the long way back to the train station and walk through Tsurugaoka Hachiman-gū Shrine. I haven’t been to visit in a few weeks and thought I might have a chance to see a little fall foliage. And who knows what else, I mean it’s Friday!

Check out these crowds! While I was there I observed three weddings and a plethora of school groups.

I walked up the stairs to the top of the Shrine to make my Christmas wish. (Layla, these stairs!) ??

After sending off my Christmas wish, I was ready to find Fall foliage. It was my lucky day! Fall foliage and vermilion bridges.

Plus, a Torii gate.

I found a very secluded spot. The serenity was amazing.

I had to wait patiently to capture some of these pictures without too many people. Like I said, it was crowded.

As I walked back to the train station, I did a little Christmas shopping along Komachi Dori. It was a delightful afternoon doing things I enjoy: teaching, snapping pictures, and shopping! Happy Friday!


Today was hectic. As hectic as the day before a two week American vacation should be expected to be! 

1. I needed to meet with my friend who is emptying our dehumidifiers while we are away. Yes, that’s a real concern. Thank you, Jenn, for keeping our house mold free! 

2. I had my Thursday English class from 10-12. Followed by a mani/pedi rescheduled appointment from yesterday at 1:00pm on Main Base. In between, I wanted to drop off two bags for donation at the NMCRS. They are only open the first and third Thursday from 9-1:00. 

I packed mani/pedi clothes and shoes just in case I needed to change in the car from teacher clothes. Being a former swimmer, I can change easily and modestly just about anywhere! 

Things became hectic when English class ran late. I was cutting it close getting to my salon appointment on time and I needed to drop the donation. While stuck at a train crossing, I slipped off my skirt and put on my slouchy pants. At the next stoplight, I called the salon to say I would be about 5 minutes late. No problem. After dropping my donation at 12:57, another car was backing up. I used these 30 seconds to change from a teacher shirt and cardi to a comfy tshirt. At 1:03 I checked into my appointment at the salon. 

Whew. The appointment was relaxing. I drove the Hooptie over to Dave’s work and left it for him to drive home and I took the train. Finally at home, I sat down on the couch. I was proud of my well managed day. I pulled my hair into a pony tail and touched my ears to make sure my birdie earrings were still there. This is a habit I easily do a dozen times a day. Nope. The left one was missing. My heart sank. Dave gave me the birdie earrings easily 11-12 years ago. I was so sad. I checked my closet and shower. Nothing. I sent Dave a text, breaking the bad news. When he came home, he brought in my bag of car changing teacher clothes. I searched through. Nothing. We ate dinner and I explained my day. As I was cleaning the dishes, he grabbed a flashlight. He went to the car to look for my earring. I reminded him to look for the backing, too. Not even five minutes later he came back with my left birdie earring. I’ll be honest, I cried when I hugged him super tight. I was so happy. 

I can add this to the list of things my husband has found for me. 

1. I lost one of these earrings within the first six months. He found it. 

2. I lost two diamonds out of my wedding band as we were leaving for vacation. He found them when we returned! 

3. And now, the second time I lost a birdie earring. 

He has officially won the title of “Eagle Eye” and obviously, my heart forever. 

Ps. I’m so excited to vacation! See you soon! 

Delayed Gratification 

Even though my Tuesday night teaching gig ended three weeks ago, I didn’t receive payment until today. I worked in a trip to Yokosuka today to pick up my earnings and was delighted to see the hydrangeas blooming in the park next to the school where I taught for six weeks. 

Here are a couple shots with the building in the background. I taught on the second floor of the short building in the foreground behind the tree. The building in the background is an apartment building. 

The size of some the hydrangeas were impressive! 

I honestly didn’t expect much payment for this little side gig. However, I was pleasantly surprised not only with the hydrangeas but also with the compensation. Delayed gratification paid off. 

Proving yet again, good things come to those who wait. 

PS. Subtract 4x¥500 for my round trip train ticket each day I taught. Subtract 2x¥4000 for the two dinners Dave and I enjoyed together on two of the four nights I taught. Suddenly, my compensation is nil. None the less, time with my husband & a chance to see hydrangeas- priceless. 

Japanese Cucumbers 

A cloudy Tuesday can’t even compare to the beautiful day I experienced yesterday. Today was filled with errands. First, I dropped off “Julia’s Baked Beans” at Dave’s work for the potluck. Then, I met up with Dina For our bi-weekly Costco outing. No time to explore much after that because I needed to prepare the cookie dough for the bake sale at Dave’s work on Thursday. This all happened before my Tuesday evening English lessons in Yokosuka. I agreed to sub for six weeks for three Japanese children’s English lessons. After today, two more! These are not my favorite. The highlight of the lesson is when they are over, Dave and I ride the train home together.  

But, I digress. This post is about Japanese cucumbers. As I’m happily riding the train back to Yokosuka and avoiding traffic, I’ll tell you about my latest discovery of favorite Japanese vegetable. Yes, the Japanese cucumber. They remind me a lot of English cucumbers because they are long and skinny. They seem to have skin more like homegrown American cucumbers because they have the little white spines. The best part is the delicious crunch! 

Here was the pack of eight I picked up at Costco. They were ¥680 or about $6.50. I don’t know if that is a good deal compared to cucumbers in America. In my opinion, they’re worth every yenny! And a better deal than the package of American Cherries grown in CA for ¥2,280 or about $22. I didn’t buy the cherries! 

I can easily eat an entire cucumber in one sitting. It like to slice them and then add garlic salt and dill weed. 

I think they would be a nice accompaniment to happy hour Roxanne’s house in VB on Friday night. I know my friend, Sue, would love them. And I know my father-in-law wouldn’t. Next time Delaney and James are here visiting, I will have plenty available to dip in Ranch. My mom would enjoy cucumber sandwiches on Japanese bread! I almost feel nostalgic/ home sick thinking about who would enjoy the cucumbers! Ha! Love and miss you all! 

Salty, Sweet and Sour

I had a full house at my English lesson today with my Japanese grandmothers. One of them went to Hakone last weekend and brought us back plum candies. Not to be overshadowed by the Sakura, Ume (Plum Blossoms) are beautiful in the spring. The candies are made from the fruit. From my understanding, the plums are pitted and then pickled with a mixture of salt, sugar, and vinegar. The result, is a gummy, salty, sweet, and sour (tangy) piece of candy. Here is the package. According to Google Translate, it says “Han Hwa” – clearly, no help. 

The plum candy is pictured below. Notice it has a slightly moist texture. To understand the texture, imagine a moist, dried apricot. 

A picture for perspective. They were small, approximately an inch in circumference. They tasted very differently from candy I prefer to purchase (not chocolate). However, in a strange way, they reminded me of natural sour patch kids. 

My grandmothers asked me to describe the taste to them in English. I said, “sweet, salty, and tangy”. They didn’t understand tangy. Tangy to me means my geographic tongue will hurt. That obviously would be lost in translation without me sticking out my tongue. And that would be so weird. Could you imagine? So, to save us all the pain of translating, I went with sour. 

As you can see, I have five remaining. Who would like a sample!?! Tempting, I know! 

I Thought You Would Get a Kick Out of This

I was asked to be the substitute teacher at an English class in Zushi. It is about a 15-minute drive from my house. It is a little bit more of a hectic drive than normal because I have to drive behind Zushi train station. In this area, there are a lot of pedestrians and bicyclists on their way to the station to catch their train. So many people combined with the narrow road sometimes makes me feel like I’m driving on a sidewalk! Also, on this route, I have to cross three different sets of train tracks. Often the traffic is blocked at these crossings making the drive take a little longer.

The class is two hours long. The structure of the class includes each person discussing an incident from the past week for ten minutes. After each person has talked, I read a story selected by the teacher. The story is loaded with a variety of idioms. I explain the idioms and then ask questions to check for their understanding of the story and idioms. One of the idioms from the story today was “to get a kick out of something.” One of my questions to each student was to tell me a time they got a kick out of something. Each shared with me an antidotal story, which were very entertaining.

The road leading up to her neighborhood was lined with beautiful Sakura. 

I thought you might get a kick out of a short video I took driving up the street. You can really hear the Hooptie engine revving as I climbed the hill! I know the video takes a little longer to load. I hope you are able to view it nonetheless. I think you will get a kick out of the Sakura tree blossom tunnel as well as me driving on the left side of the road! Please enjoy.

Shinjuku Seven Lucky Gods

The “Shichifukujin” or Seven Lucky Gods pilgrimages are quickly becoming one of my favorite adventures. The pilgrimage reminds me of a modern day urban scavenger hunt. You must find the Seven Temples/Shrines, stamp your temple book and retrieve your cute figurine. All of this while using Google Maps, a map found on the Internet and if you’re lucky, a little bit of broken English from a monk. Or as in case today, a monk who spoke no English but was great with giving directions in Japanese while pointing at a map. I’ll come back to that story in a little bit.

This is my third Seven Lucky Gods adventure. First in Meguro and then in Zushi. Each time, I receive information about the God’s meaning. I will share what information I was given today, which may vary a little bit from what I have told you previously.

Dina and I set out this morning to Shinjuku. Shinjuku is located on the northwest side of Tokyo. It was a little over an hour away. Here was our route.

Yesterday, I marked all of the temple/shrine locations with a star so it would be easier to navigate between them. We started at the bottom and walked toward the center cluster. Then walked to the temple on the far left. Then we took the train to the two temples on the far right.

At our first temple, Taiso-ji, we collected Hotei and purchased the boat the Gods would rest upon. Hotei: God of family, peace and protection from illness and disaster.

From here we walked towards the Hozen-ji Temple. However, we were sidetracked along the way by an amazing bakery.

I enjoyed a delicious chocolate croissant. I felt super lucky it was chocolate and not red bean paste!

Around the corner was the temple.

Here we collected Jurojin. Jurojin: God of long life and protection from illness.

Our third stop was at the Itsukushima-Jinja Shrine. It was literally in the corner of an intersection. There was a Koi Pond, Tori Gate and Shrine. Yet, no person was present.

We decided to continue our journey to the fourth temple, Eifuku-ji Temple. We thought perhaps we could ask at the fourth temple where to go for the third stop.

As I learned in my previous pilgrimage, one must be bold and knock on a door or ring a bell or even just walk inside the temple. Feeling brave, Dina and I went into the temple. There was a small doorbell next to a cushion. In English, it said “bell.” So, we pushed it. Simultaneously, there was a motion detector that kept going off when we moved. Behind the closed doors, we could hear someone moving around. In fact, it sounded like he was doing gymnastics. So, we waited. And rang the bell again. And waited. And rang the bell again. Finally, a monk came out not because he was responding to our ringing. He was doing his monkly business and we startled him so badly we thought we might have helped him finish his path to enlightenment. He almost fell over. We tried not to laugh. He recovered immediately and promptly came over, greeted us, set out cushions for us to sit upon and then went to stamp our books. It was incredibly hard not to giggle. When he returned, before we could even ask how to get to temple number three, he took out a map and started explaining how to get there, in Japanese. Very fast Japanese.

To summarize, we were at the purple dot and needed to got to the small blue dot. We had been at the large blue dot in the middle of the intersection. Again, all in Japanese with finger pointing and charades.

Before leaving, we collected Fukurokuju. Fukurokuji: God of health, happiness, and long life.

The other strange part of the conversation was that the monk was so happy to give us directions he almost forgot to give us Fukurokuji. We finally asked and held up our fingers showing little God. More charades…  Ahhhh, hai!

Perhaps, the funniest part, we actually made it to the Itsukushima Temple. Here we collected Benzai-ten. Banzai-ten: Goddess of music, arts, and speech.

Plus, a few early cherry blossom pictures!

Our fifth stop was at the Inari Kio-jinja Shrine. This shrine was so tucked away!!

We collected Ebisu-jin. Ebisu-jin: God of prosperous business.

My favorite picture at this shrine was of the banana at the alter. It seems to be glowing!

To get to the final two temples, we took the train to save a little time and warm up!

Our sixth temple was at the Kyo-o-ji Temple. Here we collected Daikoku-ten. Daikoku-ten: God of grain harvest and wealth.

At this temple, there were many cute statues.

Inside the shrine, we were greeted by a monk who encouraged us to open the window and shake the mallet three times for our wish to come true. So, of course, we shook and wished!!

Our final temple was Zentoku-ji Temple. This temple is dedicated to Bishamon-ten. Bisamon-ten: God of protection from disaster and evil.

The completed Seven Lucky Gods of Shinjuku.
We never received an explanation of the boat during our adventure and so, I looked it up when we returned home. One explanation is the Seven Lucky Gods travel together on a treasure ship (Takarabune) and visit Japanese ports on New Year’s Eve to dispense happiness. Also, the symbol on the flag of the ship is the Chinese character for BAKU. BAKU is a fictional creature said to devour or prevent nightmares. Children are told to place a picture of the ship with the Gods under their pillow on the evening of January first. If the child has a good dream that night, they will be lucky all year.

It was a fun and successful day exploring another part of Tokyo. Honestly, I was pretty impressed with our navigation skills and ability to find all seven Temples/Shrines.

Washi Eggs

My Japanese student, Manami, and I meet once a week in order for me to help her with her English conversation and pronunciation. I find the time we spend together very enjoyable. Manami tells me each time how much it helps her to hear English from a native English speaker.

We met this morning and she arrived with a very special surprise. Her mother, Atsuko, who helped me make the Japanese tea box, made Washi Eggs with Dina and her daughters last Friday. Atsuko sent Dina and email inviting me to come along. Here is the sweet quote from Atsuko that Dina sent to me.

“Dina Julia has no plan today how do you think to come together, eggs are not enough but she stay home is so lonely.”

Unfortunately, they were meeting during my Friday afternoon English class so, I wasn’t able to tag along.

Fortunately, for me, Atsuko is very kind and super sweet. Atsuko made me six Washi Eggs and had Manami bring them to our session today. Atsuko is very thoughtful and they are beautiful.

In case you are unfamiliar with Washi Eggs, they are made by blowing out the yolk of an egg and then covering the hollow egg with washi paper. Washi paper is a thin Japanese paper used when making origami. The washi paper is glued to the egg and then a varnish is applied to seal the paper and create a shiny finish. The final step involves adding a small hook in order to hang the decorated egg.

One more thing to tell you. I loved my Japanese Christmas Tree with the small cell phone charms so much that I ordered a table top birch tree so I could continue to appreciate my charms throughout the year. Since it is no longer Christmas, I renamed my tree. It is now known as the “Japanese Tree of Happiness.” Here is a picture of my “Japanese Tree of Happiness” with my six Washi Eggs!

At first, the differences in the size of the egg and cell phone charms bothered me. Then I realized, the “Japanese Tree of Happiness” portrays wabi-sabi. Finding beauty and happiness with imperfection.

While Manami was here today, I showed her my “Japanese Tree of Happiness” and told her I was going to add the Washi Eggs. I sent her the picture and asked her to share it with her mom, Atsuko. Her mom was pleased to see I enjoy them and that they make me happy.

I took close up pictures so you can see the detail and appreciate the beauty. Notice the paper was cut into strips and then glue precisely in place in order to align the patterns.

I truly love and appreciate the gift I was given today. It was very special. I am adding “make Washi Eggs” to my list of things to do while living here in Japan.

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