Replica of the Original / Unexpected Forms / Warm in Every Way

After a formal introduction to The Princess’ mother, Naoko-San, we drag our luggage to the back room where we will be staying. Here we find an altar honoring the ancestors of the Yamada Family tucked within a recess in the wall.
After a formal introduction to The Princess’ mother, Naoko-San, we drag our luggage to the back room where we will be staying.
Here we find an altar honoring the ancestors of the Yamada Family tucked within a recess in the wall. Attending this sacred station, fresh apples and a bowl of rice sit in offering. At the opposite wall stands an old cabinet adorned with photo portraits of the Princess’ grandparents.

Within the cabinet, disparate collections of traditional artifacts and modern kitsch contend.

The rest of the house consists of a long, open room with a kitchen at one end, a living room area at the other, and a dining table inbetween. Along one side of this room runs a hallway connecting the living/dining/kitchen area with the bathroom, entryway, and back room which we have elsewhere described.

Also extending from the hallway is a staircase leading up to the three main bedrooms, one of which, of course, belonged to the Princess in former times, though has since taken on the character of a storage facility for her mother’s and younger sister’s substantial clothing collection. Her sister, though married and moved out, still resides in Hiroshima with her husband. Between Naoko-San and her two daughters, there was, and still is, a lot of shopping happening in the Yamada Family.

The Yamada Family home, like most houses in Japan, is essentially a long rectangle. The reason for the proliferation of this particular shape dates back to the days when property taxation was based on the amount of space the front of your house occupied along the street. Though the tax system has since changed, the aesthetic of the Japanese home remains rooted in this tradition.
We decide to head out for a quick spot of tea with Naoko-San. The Yamada Home, being situated downtown, is just a few blocks from the major shopping mall, and also the redlight district through which The Princess had to walk to get back and forth from her house to her high school when she was a young lass. Good times. Between these two districts, we settle on the mall as the best place to go for tea.
One thing I immediately notice about Hiroshima, when compared to Kyoto, is that the volume level is noticeably higher. Also, of course, there is a distinctive lack of antique architecture, everything having been built after 1945. Even the castle, which we will soon visit, is but a replica of the original.

Within the mall, all is a flood of noise and shoppers. I notice that the “Irashyaimase” which shop keepers call out to their potential customers, and sometimes also random passersby when business is slow, has repositioned itself in the nose. In Kyoto it sounds as a soft greeting; in Hiroshima as more of a mild whine.

At this point, most everyone has shifted to holiday mode, and are flocking to the major outlets to take advantage of special once a year sales, and to purchase “omiyage,” or souvenirs, for the family members with whom they will soon be reunited.
We even encounter an enormous video game arcade, it’s interior awash in the flicker of digital worlds. Though arcades have more or less vanished in the States, here in Japan they remain in full stride.

We even see a poster which I can only conjecture is announcing the grand prize winner of the “Worst Band Name Ever” competition.

We eventually wend our way to a donut joint to which Naoko takes The Princess as a tradition each time she returns.

Though there are many insanely over-sugared specimens awaiting my selection, I settle on an old fashioned donut, and we take our seat.

During our meal, an obachan stacking plastic cups accidentally knocks a stack of them onto the floor. They clatter loudly and scatter across the cafeteria. I immediately arise and assist her in retrieving the fugitive drinking vessels. The Princess and a few others join in, and we soon have the situation under control.

However, the embarrassment which the obachan felt during all this, having essentially disturbed numerous customers by failing to do her job properly, is too much for her to bear. She quickly stacks the remaining cups, and makes a beeline for the door, her face beet red.

Japanese society places a lot of pressure on people to fit in and be perfect, far more so than in the U.S. It is possible that my efforts to help her only increased her embarrassment by drawing more attention to her mistake. Perhaps it would have been more appropriate to have simply pretended like it never happened, but I’m not really sure. In foreign places, courtesy can take unexpected forms.

We grab some groceries before heading home, and I am informed that the prices have tripled for Oshogatsu. However, since I always buy organic at home, they still look pretty cheap to me. One major plus for veggie eating in Japan, I notice, is the massive selection of tofu. There’s a whole section devoted to it!
Yet oddly, there is no Tempeh. Weird.

One downside to Japanese products, I have come to notice, is the insane amount of completely unnecessary packaging attending every item. Portions are small, and almost always individually wrapped. In a country as physically small as Japan, and with a population density so high, I cannot help but imagine that garbage must be a very serious problem here.

Japanese culture features a huge reverence for the earth, and yet certain practices such as this seem to exist in irreconcilable and inexplicable conflict. Of course, coming from Portland, one of the few cities in America to have banned the use of plastic bags at grocery stores, my guess is that the U.S. in general is probably drifting through the same treacherous shoals.

Upon our return, Naoko-San brings a bowl of piping hot nabe to the table, and we eat ravenously. Every time the contents of the bowl begin to vanish, new ingredients and fresh broth are added to the medley and brought to a fresh boil via the heating-plate beneath the bowl.
The effect is a never ending cornucopia of morphing Japanese soup.
Every bite is delicious!

Naoko-San is an excellent cook, but she probably gets help from her cat.

With dinner devoured, we migrate to the kotatsu to relax and drink tea.

The Yamada Family home, I learn, has an unfortunate propensity to leave the T.V. on most of the time, however since I can’t understand much of what passes across its screen, it is fairly easy to ignore.

Most everyone else is ignoring it already anyway, as we all have too much to talk about to waste time on cable access. It’s mostly just on to add background noise, I guess.

And then there’s the kotatsu!

For those of you not yet in the know, the kotatsu is quite possibly the most glorious piece of home furniture ever devised. You may find yourself thinking, “A coffee table with a blanket attached, so what?!” But oh no no no–do not be deceived by mere appearances, my poor, blind, kotatsu-less friend.

True enough, this low sitting table does somewhat rival the coffee table in its proportions, however size is where the comparison ends. The top of the kotatsu merely sits upon the frame, allowing a “futon,” or thick comforter blanket, to be employed as a sumptuous addition to its cozy design.

Yet even more important than that what goes atop the kotatsu is that which is equipped underneath! Built into the underside of the tabletop lays ensconced a heating device which glows with warmth.

Since all this heat remains trapped beneath the futon, the effect is heaven on earth. The experience of sipping tea wrapped in the warmth of a kotatsu, surrounded all the while by friends and family, is an experience warm in every way. Words cannot describe it.

We eat delicious morsels depicting the zodiac of the new year, this time the Horse, and sip tea late into the evening. Hisako’s parents are wonderful people, and I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to meet them.

We finally muster up the will to exit the kotatsu (no small feat, I assure you!), and head for our room. Naoko-San presents us with brand new, fancy guest mats, pillows, and futons, doubtless superior in quality to all others in the house, and purchased expressly for our visit.
We happily lay them out, curl up inside them, and are soon fast asleep.

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Ten Thousand Shrines