Japan 2: Graveyard visits, Deer kicking, Bathing

There’s a part two?? I promised there would be another part over half a year ago. Sure, I’m slow to the uptake, but I deliver. Eventually. I should make that an additional bullet on my resume.

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 Use these transferable skills for your job hunt and you’ll be guaranteed a call-back. Of rejection. 

Graveyard

The last time I went to Japan was with my whole family on the 50th anniversary of my great-grandmother’s death. My parents, sister, and I headed to a small town outside of Hiroshima to visit the family grave. If you are wondering if my family was affected by the nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima, I have no idea. All I know is my great-grandmother had stomach cancer at the same time as her sister and both passed away shortly after, leaving my obaachama all alone. A reasonable hypothesis was that they were both affected by the radiation. Around that time my obaachama was studying music in America. The rest of my family is a complete mystery, however. 

 I don’t remember the name of the town we went to, but I do remember thinking it was the most silent place on Earth. The streets were empty with no resident in sight. Not even the faint whisper of chatter filled the air. Nothing. We hiked up the mountain, the only sign of life being a television that was left on. Everything felt surreal. We finally arrived at our destination, a Buddhist graveyard, where we met the Buddhist monk watching over our family’s grave. 

The surreal reality was shattered when the monk’s son greeted us with his family. He was a physicist from Texas with an American wife and baby boy. I’m not sure how you go from Buddhist monk’s son living in a peculiar village with no inhabitants mid-afternoon to living in Texas after majoring in Physics. To each its own, I guess.

After the monk greeted my family and I, we sat in a large room with a giant gong, I kid you not. The next half hour consisted of the monk chanting with incense and the occasional ring of the gong. Also, as a side note, Japanese people sit on their legs a lot of the time. The position is called seiza. And let me tell you, sitting in this position after a good five minutes hurts. Sitting in this position for half an hour on a tatami mat hurts like hell. Tears in my eyes, I glanced over to my dad whose jaw was tightly clenched. I could see the pain in his eyes. I never understood the point of this ceremony until my mom sent me a link expanding on post-funeral traditions where a monk performs an honor ceremony every so often for the dead. http://www.jsri.jp/English/Jodoshu/ceremonies/funeral.html

Once the ceremony was over, my legs somehow still intact, we headed over to the family grave where we cleaned the tombs with water and burned incense. Weeds were plucked from the gravel surrounding the family gravestones. While the incense was burning, my obaachama set some food on the grave for her ancestors and we all made a silent prayer. As we left, my obaachama grabbed the box of food for us to eat. “They’re not going to eat it, why let it go to waste.”

 Miyajima Island

Since we were in Hiroshima, we went to visit Miyajima Island. This island is known for its shrines and expansive forests. Itsukushima shrine was out in the open water and as the day progressed, the tide would bring in water and eventually cover the base of the shrine. This caused an eerie effect as the shrine appeared to be floating on water. Deer roamed the island, occasionally one will walk into a shop for a drink of water or beg for food. Otherwise the locals and deer were co-habitants and kept to themselves. 

Before entering the Itsukushima shrine, my mom had us rest and eat some snacks. There were little resting areas under the trees where the deer would lay and nestled in the ground were benches. We set a bag of snacks down and planned the rest of our day. Negligent to the food, a deer had cautiously walked over to peer its head inside the bag. Before we had the chance to shoo away the deer, my six year old sister had a very different approach. 

At this time of her life, my sister was one of the cutest things you’d ever seen. There was always a smile on her face as every photo of her was a sassy pose accompanied with a peace sign. Her cheeks were plump and permanently pink. Dark hair often sporting pigtails and enough energy to run her own power grid. My sister enjoyed hugs and would often refer to me as “Sissy”. Now she refers to me, “Oh, it’s you.”

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MOVING ON IN THE STORY. This adorable dumpling also had fight. When I say fight, she was eager to spar in Tae Kwon Do from a young age and would often try to land high kicks on her opponent’s head. Seeing her beloved food about to be consumed by an animal other than herself, brought about a rage I had only seen a few times in my life. A barbaric scream pierced the outskirts of the shrine as I turned to see this little six year old aim a high kick at the deer’s face. Whether the kick landed, I do not know. I do know that we immediately left the area with a fuming child at hand. 

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The residual anger took several hours to leave my sister. Inside the shrine, I made the mistake of lying to her that we have no snacks left since the deer had eaten it. I received a mix of incoherent screaming and a swift kick to the shin. 

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Outside of the jinja*, my sister and I wondered about the ocean floor. Since it was mid-day, the tide had yet to come in, allowing us to walk around the sandy bottom. Tiny seashells littered the sand and an occasional crab would scurry by. The crabs were about one inch tall and were fun to play with. I was having fun catching crabs and would chase after my sister since she was scared of the crabs. 

The second I looked away to examine the crabs, I glance up and see my sister nowhere in sight. Panicking, I skim the landscape and see a tiny figure headed straight for a stone wall. The stone wall was a good 15 feet high, with land on top where visitors were taking pictures of the shrine. I sprinted after her, but before I could reach her, my sister was climbing the stone wall. By the time I got to the wall, she was 6 feet off the ground. I had my arms outstretched above me, determined to catch her in case she fell from the wall. I started screaming for my mother who was on top of the wall. An old man passing by – Master Roshi? –  saw my sister climbing up the wall and started panicking as well. At the bottom of the wall was me screaming at my sister to get down and at the top of the wall was an old man yelling nonsense in Japanese. Un-phased, my sister reached the top of the wall then continued to sprint passed the visitors. Before this 6 year old demon could cause any more panic, my mom caught up to her. Miyajima was an eventful island to say the least. 

*shrine

Bath House

On the same trip, my parents, sister, and I stopped at a bathhouse. We settled in our rooms and were given a set of robes to wander around in. We donned our brightly colored robes then set off to soak in the baths. Men and women were separated, naturally. Women to the left and men to the right, though, in the morning, the order is switched. My mom decided to take a post-dinner soak while my dad and I ventured throughout the hotel looking for other activities.

Outside of the bath house, two older women were seen talking to another man. As my dad and I drew near, one of the older women saw me and said, “You two make a cute married couple.”

I about gagged.

“Oh no, we are not a couple! He’s my dad!” I corrected her in Japanese. I was 16 at the time and let’s just say, no wrinkle in sight. The best description of my dad is, well, weathered and tan.

“That makes sense,” her friend continued, “I saw him kissing another women so she must’ve been your mom.”

Let’s think about this real fast. I am half Japanese. Undeniably Caucasian features, like a nose bridge and BROWN hair. Not dark brown, either. They saw an older white guy kiss my JAPANESE mother. Later that afternoon they see my older dad and me walking around. The only conclusion is that he is my husband.

“No, my dad is NOT cheating on me with my mom.”

The next morning I decided to take a wake up bath. I mean, what else is there to do? Remember when I mentioned they switch the order in the morning. Well I completely forgot and didn’t bother check the kanji hanging up above the entrances. Strolling into the locker room, I about un-dress when I realize three guys were staring at me. Awesome. I’m THAT foreign chick. The one who knows public embarrassment to no end.

National Diet

Japan is a constitutional monarchy as we all know. Or as we learn after a Wikipedia search. The National Diet is comprised of the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors. When I was 20, my obaachama insisted we had to visit the representative of her area and went as far as getting us into a meeting at the National Diet held by the Prime Minister. Guests could watch the meeting from the balcony seats, above all the cameras.

In Japan, I’m a bit tall. I’m actually a monster. My legs have been known to knock over tables and barrel down those in my path. The seating arrangement at the balcony of the meeting room, was tightly packed. To properly sit, I had to situate myself at an angle to prevent my knees from banging into the chairs in front of me. I sat back and rested my head on my hand. I had no idea what was going on in the meeting and the jet lag was catching up. I was aroused from my dosing by a security guard who insisted I must stay awake for the cameras. He awoke me a couple more times before my obaachama escorted me out since the meeting was of no interest to her. I really hope the cameras didn’t catch a dosing 20 year old awkwardly hunched over the seats.

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