Wabi-Sabi Sole

Finding Beauty with Imperfection

Category: English (Page 2 of 2)

The Art of Peeling a Tangerine 

Apparently, for the past 40+ years, I’ve been peeling my tangerines incorrectly. I’m sure you’re thinking “there’s a wrong way?” You just peel it and eat it. I thought that as well until a couple hours ago. Until I observed my Japanese grandmothers peel and eat a tangerine at snack time during our English class.

Let me back up and start at the beginning. For snack time after our class today, Junko-San brought in a tangerine for everyone. I was quietly relieved because last week I had to not only struggle through my green tea, but also a red bean paste filled dessert. I peeled my tangerine and made what I consider a normal amount of mess one would expect when eating a tangerine. Here is a reenacted photo of my American messiness.

I really dislike the strings and do my best to ensure I remove as many as possible. I place them all in a pile.

After peeling and cleaning, I looked up and realized how messy my napkin was compared to everyone else’s. Here is a reenacted photo of my Japanese grandmother’s napkins.

Yep, they peeled the tangerine without completely tearing it apart. It was like magic. What about the pile of strings? I realized they had placed them neatly inside the perfectly peeled rind. Attempting this at home, it took me about five minutes to peel the tangerine. I felt like I was a cross between a surgeon extracting the tangerine and a sculptor taking care not to damage the peel. It was very stressful.

Keep in mind, it wasn’t just one of the ladies in class peeling their tangerine this way – it was all five of them! I was a little embarrassed with my brash, although very efficient, American method of peeling a tangerine. Yet again making a spectacle of my gaijin (foreigner) self. 

On the train home, I reflected on the possible reasons for their artistic tangerine peeling ways. Here are a few of my ideas.

1. The Japanese are required to separate their trash and peeling a tangerine in this manner makes it easier to throw away into the appropriate container.

2. Fruit is very expensive and considered a delicacy. Therefore, when peeling fruit it should be done with extreme care and love.

3. Americans are messy. Japanese are tidy. This is simply a tidier way to eat a tangerine.

4. None of the above. I’m simply making an orchard out of a tangerine peel.

Regardless, I will be more mindful when peeling tangerines in public in Japan. However, when I am putting Dave’s lunch together in the morning, I will continue to use my American efficiency. Just grip it, rip it, trash it and bag it.

Japanese Tea Box 

In early December, Dina and I signed up for a class to make (cover) a Japanese Tea Box. I had to delay sharing this experience because the tea box was a Christmas present for my mom and I didn’t want to ruin the surprise. The class was taught by a sweet Japanese lady named Atsuko and was held here on the Ikego base.

Dina and I went shopping for the materials together at the fabric store, Swany’s, in Kamakura. The box itself is provided as part of the class fee.

The first step was to wrap the inside edges with a metallic tape to match the aluminum lining.

In Japan, the tea box is part of the traditional tea ceremony. The tea box holds the items used throughout the tea ceremony. I thought the tea box would be a fun and unique gift for my mom for Christmas. Simultaneously, parents love getting homemade gifts, right? I picked out this fabric to cover the tea box.

The next part involved wrapping the tea box with batting. I was actually able to use leftover quilt batting I had from making tshirt quilts. Yes, I moved batting scraps to Japan. In my defense, it was an excellent use of the scraps!

First, the batting is wrapped around the box and then with a decent amount of tension, the fabric is wrapped around. The last part requires hand stitching of the corners.

The final part to the bottom of the box is wrapping the upper edge with a contrasting fabric. A plastic band is stapled to the edge to help hold the fabric and keep it taut.

The top is made in a similar manner. Atsuko helped me ensure the print of the fabric was centered.

The finished product!

Besides having a cool Christmas present for my mom, another positive result occurred from meeting Atsuko. Earlier this week, I was contacted by Atsuko’s daughter asking if I would be willing to give her private English lessons. She recently took a new job with an International company and needed to brush up on her English. We agreed to meet once a week for our English conversation sessions. Our first meeting was last night, (Thursday) at my house. I met her at the train station on her way home from work. As in true Japanese style, she brought me a gift. Wrapped perfectly.

And inside, little cheesecakes. Very delicious, but more like a moist coffee cake vice cheesecake.

Our first session went very well. I helped her with comprehending a work related email and we talked about her New Year traditions. I’m excited to have an opportunity to learn more about the Japanese culture, make a local friend and build my travel fund.

English Class 

My new English teaching job is from 12:30-2:00 on Friday afternoons. The Japanese teacher of the class is Yasuko (pronounced Yas-Ko). She and I co-teach the class. The students consist of 4-6 Japanese ladies, all grandmothers. The class is a conversational English class. Each students prepares a story, in English, about an event in their life. They read me their story and I help them by correcting their word choice and grammar. Once we have created a smooth story, I ask them questions about their experience. Usually, about half way through, we take a break and have a snack.

The class is held in Kamakura at a women’s and children’s center.

I take the 11:55 train from the Jimmuji station – the station outside our housing area – to the Shin-Zushi station (1-stop). It is a 3 minute train ride. Once I’m in Zushi, I walk about 5 minutes to the Zushi station and catch the 12:12 train to Kamakura (1-stop) about 6 minutes. Once arriving in Kamakura, I walk about 5 minutes to the school. I arrive at approximately 12:23. In keeping with Japanese culture, my promptness is appreciated.

When the previous teacher invited me to her class and to meet Yasuko, she told me two rules. No jeans. No yawning. Got it. Also, she suggested I bring something to drink. Before class, I stop at a vending machine and purchase a bottle of warm green tea. This was my third time buying the same green tea. I realized yesterday that each class I drink about one more sip than I did the previous class. Obviously, I don’t really like the tea, but perhaps I’m starting to like it? Or maybe it’s just wet and washes down my snack. I do not being my own snack. I’m still learning the protocol on who brings the snack and when. So far, someone from the class brings a snack and shares with everyone. I anticipate surprising them with sweet treats very soon.

Last week, we went around the table and each lady introduced herself to me. They told me their marriage status (three are “Merry Widows”), kids, grandkids and hobbies. After each one talked, I asked a question or two. All of my grandmothers have a hobby of gardening. And like my grandmothers, they are always quick to compliment me. Whether it is my smile, timeliness to class, handwriting or color of my scarf, they all give me accolades during our time together.

Today, the ladies told me about an event occurring during their week.  We discussed the jazzy and unique holiday sweater Junko knitted and was wearing. Hisako went to a Violin Concert. Kikumi went to Tokyo to visit her daughter. We discussed what they ate for dinner. Finally, Keiko told us why she missed class last Friday. Her husband wasn’t feeling well and they went to the hospital. In the end, he was fine and they were able to still attend the opera that evening in Tokyo!

After class, Yasuko took me to the room next door and gave me an envelope with my paycheck for two classes and a Christmas present! So very sweet and unexpected. I definitely wasn’t prepared for a gift exchange!

A side note about gift giving in Japan. The Japanese love to give little gifts to each other. The custom is when you receive a gift, to give a little bigger gift in return. You can see how this can get out of hand, similar to their customer of bowing. The school is on break until 1/13/2017, giving me plenty of time to select the perfect gift in return. The gift Yasuko gave me was a small drawstring bag made by her sister. The wrapping was adorable. She placed the bag into a plastic sleeve and then into the gift bag. Stapled the top and added a bow. Kawaii!!

I couldn’t pass up the chance to take a picture of my “lesson plan book” – haha what I use to take notes and write down questions to ask. And my ¥10,000 bill handed to me in an envelope, of course and with my name spelled wrong. This is my first ¥10,000 bill! It looks like so much money. With the dollar so strong right now, it is only about $83.00. Regardless, it is money towards my next plane ticket! Also, my green tea, blah.

At the end of class today, we had a little extra time. Yasuko told me to ask each lady a question. I started with “what will you do during break?” Next I asked, “what is happening in the news?” This was a big one! They wanted to talk about Trump! Oh, boy. The general consensus was they like America and are concerned Trump will change current policy and affect existing relations. To quote directly, “America is our friends. We concern Trump not let us remain allies.”

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