Monday, June 29, 2009

Plane is Leaving!!

Well Kids,

It's Monday evening here in Tokyo.  The bags are packed.  The refrigerator is clean.  The wash is done and we are headed home tomorrow.  Yesterday the whole Kono clan including Ken's brother and sister and their children and grandchildren and Ken, Yumiko and I traveled to Haramachi to say hello and good bye to Ken's parents who are buried there.  We had a beautiful celebration in the Buddhist Temple where the monk chanted good wishes for us all.  We gathered at the Kono grave site and bid farewell and then had a grand banquet in a wonderful restaurant nearby.

I will give you an update on our travels when we get back to Pennsylvania.  In the meantime, here's the Kono clan.  (Check out Little Nowo, who is standing next to Yumiko in front.  He's the boy with the white shirt holding Yumiko's hand.  He ALWAYS makes faces - my kind a guy.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Fishermen - Part Two

A few weeks ago I wrote about my dilemma with the fishermen in Arisugawa Park.  They were upset with me because I had taken a few pictures of them without asking permission.  I felt terrible about it and at the recommendation of Ken and friends, I made a 2010 picture calendar on my computer and included photographs from Arisugawa for each month. Yesterday afternoon the Apple computer box came in the mail with five wall calendars inside.  On the front was a picture of a single turtle in the pond and on the bottom it said "Photographs for the Fishermen of Arisugawa."  

Yumiko and I got up early this morning determined to take the calendars and face the fishermen.   I hoped when we got there, my fried Jou who knows all the fishermen would be there to help give us courage and smooth our way.   We got there about 7:45  and there was Jou.  She rushed up saying, "Where have you been?"  She knew I had stayed away because of the fishermen.  She said she had talked with them over the last few weeks and they were no longer upset. She said she showed them the picture book I made for her and they liked it and had fun identifying some of the cats and ducks and birds that were included in the book.   I showed Jou the calendars and told her we wanted to give one to each of the fishermen.  She said, "Come on, I know where they are."  We followed her through the park to one of the wooden bridges where a few of the fishermen were gathered.  She marched up to the head guy and introduced me to him.  He was a rather young man - very outdoorsy and weathered looking.  He looked me over and basically said it was O.K. that I took the photographs.  I bowed and apologized and then took out the calendars.  Jou translated that they were a gift and the head fishermen laughed and smiled and talked to his buddies and they were all very happy.  He then took out his cell phone and showed me pictures he had taken of the turtles.  One of his photos even included a turtle laying an egg somewhere in the park.  It was marvelous.  I told them we were leaving on Tuesday to go back to the U.S.A.  They asked when we were coming back and said they hoped I would come back to Arisugawa.  

We handed around the calendars.  Everybody ooed and aahed and were very appreciative.  I hugged Joe, bowed again to the fishermen and we all said good bye.  It was truly great to bring closure to this episode.  Hopefully, we will see them all again on our next trip back to Japan.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Our Last Wednesday

Yesterday was another incredibly full day - our last Wednesday in Japan.  It began with a trip to Musashi-Kosugi where my photographer friend Katsuko Nakamata lives.  She invited Yumiko and me to come to her house for the day.  She wanted to photograph both of us in full kimono.  We took the train in the rain, visited her beautiful house and garden, had tea and fruit with her and her daughter-in-law.  Then she drove us to lunch in a sushi restaurant with a revolving Lazy Susan.  We went back to her house where she dressed us in layer after layer after layer of beautiful material that makes up a full kimono and we got our pictures taken.  We said good bye to Nakamata San and rushed back home.  

Wednesday was also Ken's last Chinese language class.  Ken has taken lessons in Chinese every Wednesday evening since we've been in Japan.  He has had the same wonderful, beautiful, funny Chinese teacher - Miss Chen - and the same group of three Japanese women in his class all year.  They adore Ken.  The problem with this last class, however, was that he could not make it in time.  Another dear friend of Ken's was here at our apartment all afternoon while Yumiko and I were having our pictures taken.  He invited her to stay for dinner and by the time she left, the Chinese class was just about over.  But Ken wanted to go and say good bye.  So at 8:30 p.m. after dinner, Ken and I ventured out to the language school.  We took a taxi and got there just as the class was ending.  We walked down the hall and all of a sudden I could hear Miss Chen shout out,  "Kono San!!!"  Then there was a flurry of activity and doors opening and Miss Chen and the three Japanese ladies rushed out into the hall and lovingly ushered Ken and me into the class.  They pulled up chairs for us to sit in and then all just chatted away in Japanese and Chinese.  We brought some cookies and Miss Chen ran and got cold bottled water and milk tea and cups.  We had a little impromptu party and toasted Ken's last class. 

After a few minutes we all got up and said good bye.  They walked us to the door.  We all had tears in our eyes.  We made them promise to come to our house in St. Davids or we will never speak to them again.  They all promised.  

Monday, June 22, 2009

We Are Back

It's late Monday night.  Yumiko and I had a TRULY wonderful time in Takayama and Kyoto.  I will be back with a fresh brain tomorrow (not likely) but at least some fun stories to tell.  In the meantime here's a picture of us in Kyoto at one place where "Memoirs of a Geisha" was filmed by Steven Spielberg.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Foot Pain

Ken's walking is still very painful.  The three of us were to go on a final five day trip to Takayama and Kyoto beginning tomorrow morning.  We decided it would be too hard for Ken, so he is going to stay home by the telephone and Yumiko and I will venture out on our own.  We will be back on Monday, June 22 (My sister Julie's birthday.)  I'll be back in touch then.  In the meantime,  here is a photo of Ken's sister Takae San and Yumiko Chan taken today during Takae San's wonderful tea ceremony. 

Monday, June 15, 2009

High School Reunion

On Sunday Ken's high school friends had a wonderful lunch together in a great Japanese restaurant in Kagurazaka. It was a happy/sad occasion saying goodbye to all these good people.  The only problem was that after the lunch the street where the restaurant is located was closed to traffic.  Ken needed to walk a long way down a steep hill to get to the car.  Ever since then he has had such terrible pain in his legs and can barely walk.  I am hoping, hoping, hoping that today the pain will have subsided.  We go back to the doctor's office today, so let's see what happens.  In the meantime, here's a picture of the class reunion.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Last Day of School

Friday was Graduation and the last day of school at Nishimachi.  Eleven 9th graders graduated and each gave a speech in both Japanese and English to a gymnasium full of proud parents.  The girls wore kimonos and the boys wore haori hakamas.  Each one was so articulate and funny and poignant.  Yumiko played in the orchestra.  Here she is with her classmates J.P. and Nicholas.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Peace Offering

Well, dear reader, thanks to my good friends Kate and Maryann and my dear sister Nancy, I feel SO MUCH BETTER today than I did yesterday.  I turned over a new leaf and put together a calendar for 2010 using photographs from Arisugawa Park.  I ordered five copies - one for each of the fishermen.  When the calendars arrive (in about ten days) I will take them to the park with a note written in Japanese (with Ken's help) and apologize for not asking their permission to take photographs.  I have learned my lesson.  Hopefully I will be forgiven.

In the meantime, here's a photo of the Iris Garden taken a few days ago at the Meiji Shrine.  I hope these ladies don't mind that I took their picture too.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Arisugawa and the Fishermen

I'm not sure if I am going to be able to articulate what happened yesterday, but let me try.  This story began when we first got to Japan last August.  Yumiko goes to a school two miles from our apartment.  At first she took the train, but one morning Ken's brother Tokuya San showed us the way to walk, which follows a major street and then up a long hill.  Once you get to the top of the hill you come to the edge of Arisugawa Park.  The school is still another third of a mile from Arisugawa Park, but this story is not about Yumiko's school, it's about the park.  

Arisugawa is one of the prettiest spots on this earth.  It was once the property of a feudal Lord, but for the last several decades the city turned it into a public park.  It is filled with beautiful old trees, a long winding stream that begins at the foot of a waterfall, a pond filled with turtles and ducks and all kinds of fish, paths and bridges and steps that lead up and down and all around.  It is just like you would think an exquisite park in Japan would look like.  Well, I fell in love with Arisugawa and began walking Yumiko to school every single day and often would stop in the park with my camera and my tripod.  I felt so at peace in the park.  I loved that I could take photos of anything and everything and didn't have to worry about talking to anyone.  I had found a beautiful, diverse place that was so Japanese where I could just learn how to be a better photographer.  

One day I met a woman named Jou (pronounced Joe).  I have talked about her before in this blog.  Jou feeds the stray cats and crows and birds.  She knows every cat and duck and crow in the park.  She raised a beautiful daughter by herself and has overcome great odds to become a very happy, lovely woman.  She and I became good friends over the last ten months, so I wanted to make her a present before we go home.  I decided a few months ago, I would make her a book of photographs of Arisugawa.  So, for many weeks, I have been spending at least an hour each morning in the park taking photographs with my long lens and my tripod. Photos of the trees, the pond, the bridges, the pathways and the cats and crows and ducks and turtles.

What I have not mentioned is the group of fishermen who are also always in the park every morning when I go there.  They sit on the bank at different parts of the pond and fish.  They are the same old guys who just love to fish and talk.  They catch the fish and then throw them back in again.  I have wished, wished, wished that I spoke Japanese so I could ask them if I could take their picture.  But I still know very little of the language and so have never spoken to any of them.  I feel quite shy, but I know they know I am there.

Every once in a while, I have been high up on a ledge or down low at the water's edge taking photos and once in a while I will take a long far away shot of the fishermen, but I don't want to be rude, so I have avoided taking their pictures.  However, when I am taking photos, the ducks and birds and turtles are all around the fishermen and I have not been shy about taking those shots.

Well, one day I asked Jou if I could take her picture for one of my photo assignments and she of course said yes.  I told her about the fishermen and she said she would be happy to ask them if they would let me take their picture.  Now we are getting to the point of this story.

I have been away from Arisugawa for the last two weeks.  I never did get to take photos of Jou or the fishermen.  But I did finish the book and had it printed and delivered.  Yesterday I took the book to Jou.  She ran up to me and was so happy to see me because it had been such a long time.  I gave her the book and she just pressed it to herself and was so appreciative.  I told her to wait and look at it when she has time, because I knew she had to go to work.

She then told me that she had talked to the fishermen about me.  The fishermen told her they knew who I was.  They told her they were very disturbed by me.  They didn't like me lurking around the park everyday with my camera and tripod.  They felt I had disturbed their peace.  They thought I was sneaking photographs of them and that one day their picture would end up in some foreign magazine that would denigrate old retired Japanese fishermen.  They thought I was just a very rude American.

Well, I was floored.  I just felt so, so awful.  Tears welled up and I didn't know what to say.  I told Jou that I did not mean to disrupt the peace in the park and that I so wish I could speak Japanese so I could tell this to the fishermen.  I was so embarrassed.  She said not to worry about it.  But you can not imagine how terrible I felt and still feel. 

I walked home without taking any pictures at all.  I didn't even take my camera out of the camera bag.  I was too embarrassed to tell Ken what happened.  I just remained in a bad mood.  The mood continued through lunch and dinner.  I felt so awful.  I went to bed early, but could not sleep - just thinking about the fishermen and how I had become a pariah.

This morning I woke up - not sure what I was going to do, but at breakfast I decided if I was to lift this cloud, I might as well tell Ken and Yumiko.  I told them and Ken said I absolutely have to go back to Arisugawa and talk to the fishermen.  He said he would go with me and interpret as I talk to them.  I told him - NO WAY.  I am not going back to Arisugawa.  I told him he should not tell me what to do.  I confided in him because I knew he would be a good listener, but I didn't want him to find the solution for me.  He said O.K., but then Yumiko said, "Well Mom, what ARE you going to do?"    

I do not know what I am going to do.  It is a problem I need to address.  In the meantime,  I will not go back to Arisugawa Park for a while.  I can, at times be such a coward.  (Anyway, if you click on the bottom photo you will see a fisherman in the far right distant corner.)

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Graduation Dance

It was pouring rain (again) at 6:30 last night when Yumiko left to go to the graduation dance.  She looked beautiful - even if I do have "parental stupidity" as my brother in-law says.  She wore her new dress and a pretty silk shaw.  Her hair was up with a thin gold necklace around her neck.  I walked her to the taxi with umbrellas blowing.  She jumped in and sped off to the dance.

Ken and I ordered a pizza and then just anxiously waited.  Yumiko was supposed to call around 9:00 when the dance was over, but no call.  I fell asleep on the couch until about 9:45 when Ken woke me up and said "She's home!"

 SHE HAD A GREAT TIME!!  In fact a boy asked her to dance.  This boy is about six feet tall - Yumiko is not even five feet.  She has talked about him before and said he often teased her at school.  But this night, he came up to her and said, "Yumiko, would you like to dance?"  She was so surprised and shocked, she just looked up at him skeptically and said, "Maybe."  He looked down at her and said, "All you have to say, Yumiko, is yes."  She took a deep breath and said, "Yes."  They really didn't dance in the classic sense.  Just sort of swayed back and forth in place with her head pressed against his chest for about two minutes until the song was over.  He then thanked her for the dance, and that was it.

She was happy as a clam when she came home and Ken and I were two of the most relieved parents in the world.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Yumiko and the Caterpillar

Tonight is the big graduation dance at Yumiko's school.  She's never been to a dance before, so everybody is a little nervous.  We went shopping and found a beautiful long green sleeveless dress with a halter top and a pretty ruffle at the bottom.  She will wear her first pair of high heeled shoes and put her hair up in a bun.  Yumiko is still quite shy, but I know she will be beautiful.  I'll let you know tomorrow how it all goes.

In the meantime, here is a little caterpillar I found this morning putting the finishing touches on a cocoon.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Hairs on End

I found a great little spider this morning crouching behind a leaf and watching me with his four eyes as I put my lens up to his face.  Just as I was about to get a better shot he jumped and ran away.  Oh, what could have been.....  
(Click on his picture to see his hair stand straight up.)