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Living In Japan

When we first accepted the assignment to live in Japan our thoughts were of travel, culture, food and experiencing as much of the country as we could and, of course, the day to day events of working in an environment unlike anything I’m used to. As time went by I came to realize that living here is defined by the street we live on. The photo is of our street. It’s narrow and it ends in the garage ahead. That's our house on the right; it’s a little big for just the two of us and everyone is amazed that we have five tatami rooms.

We live in Otsuki, a small town swallowed by the growing city of Koriyama. This is farm country where people live small town lives; where some of the young people admit to being embarrassed by the rural way of life. It is such an open and trusting community that, when people come to the door, they walk in and announce themselves. Although inside the house they never pass the genkan unless invited.

Our Street.  Click image for more photos

In the house next door there are two grandparents, two parents, three boys and three dogs. We have watched the youngest boy grow from a young, awkward child to a pretty good baseball player. He practices in the bank parking lot across the street with his brothers and friends. We have found many a baseball in the yard or on our roof. He likes to practice his ‘halloo’ whenever he sees us; and every school morning we hear someone yelling for him to get out of bed.

To one side of us lives an elderly couple, they like to grow flowers and fruit trees and listen to baseball on the radio during the summer. They feed the birds fruit during the winter when snow covers other food sources and they frighten them away from their fruit trees in summer with spinning CDs hanging in the trees.

Down the street lives a young couple with a daughter. The mother leaves for work at the same time I do and when we first moved in I would see the infant girl riding by in the car seat oblivious to things around her. Now the infant cries we use to hear have changed to the shrieks and shrills of a delighted little girl playing with her papa. We watched as she became a toddler, now toddling in the garden while mama digs among the vegetables and the little girl plays at helping. Now, in the mornings, as the mother drives by on her way to work, we can see the little girl, alert and curious, closely studying everything around her.

One street over an elderly women lives alone. She is always busy with her garden and each season sees her drying vegetables and fruits for the winter ahead. There is always something drying, either layered in baskets on the ground or hanging from her porch roof. The old woman sits inside under her kotatsu and surveys her garden, waving and chatting to the neighbors passing by her tiny home. On occasion, we see a man, probably a son, checking on her, bringing her groceries, and helping in the garden.

On sunny days, in every season, the neighborhood is alive with color and sound. Women chatter together as they beat the dust out of rugs and futon. Blankets, rugs, sheets, and laundry can be seen flapping and airing in the breeze; hanging on clotheslines, fences, balconies, railings or anything available. There is always a variety of smells in the air from food being prepared in neighboring kitchens.

Each summer, as we anticipate the seasonal arrival of the cuckoos, we watch an old man on a tall, three legged step ladder trim his trees. We’re always amazed that he has survived another season without serious injury. We know his tree trimming correlates with the arrival of the local farmer’s wives, selling sweet corn and other vegetables out of wheelbarrows and the backs of pick up trucks.

We have watched the cemeteries slowly fill, new monuments installed, as younger generations now tend the graves; leaving food, flowers, and sake to ease their ancestor’s transition from one world to another.

We have settled into a certain ease with the rhythm of the seasons and the day-to-day routine of life. We have reached a comfort level with planes, trains, and taxies we never thought we would achieve.  We know when the sakura will bloom and when the trees will turn in autumn.  We know when the rainy season will begin....and end.  Even though we dread the arrival of the bitter winds of winter; there is a tug at our hearts when we think of leaving.

Upon reflection, I guess you could say we have lived in Japan.