Friday, December 22, 2006

Ichinensei Jack O'Lanterns

Hope everyone is enjoying the holiday season! I'm a very happy camper, as Fearless Husband is home safe and sound.

I'll go back and do some catch-up later, but for now, here's an adventure following the Okinawa journey. Maybe I can get Thanksgiving posted before Christmas...we'll see!

When I got home from Okinawa, I was in a huge hurry. Miyuki had asked me, months ago, to visit her school and carve pumpkins with the "culture class." I'd said yes, of course, but when Halloween came and went, I figured it just wasn't going to happen. I was wrong. Miyuki wanted me to come on Friday, November 17th. When I told her I might be late, or might not make it due to my trip to visit Emily -- but perhaps I could find another Navy spouse to go instead -- Miyuki blanched. Turns out teachers must get permission at City Hall to have a "guest teacher" (I thought I was just going to be a class visitor!) and Miyuki had gotten permission for me specifically to come to the class on Friday, November 17th. The parents all knew I was coming, and would blame Miyuki if I didn't show. Miyuki could even lose her job if parents complained! The way the flight/bus schedule worked coming home from Okinawa, I could get back to Sasebo, but just BARELY in time for the planned class visit. Barring a flight delay, I was going to make it -- and Miyuki's relief was HUGE.

Miyuki picked me up at the bus station that afternoon, and took me straight to Hiu Junior High School. The school is very large, with perhaps 3,000 students. There is virtually no parking -- all students walk to school (no school buses), and teachers jockey for the few tiny spaces. Since Miyuki had me with her, she was allowed to park right in front of the school, a privilege which thrilled her. From the outside, the two wide four-story buildings one in front of the other, backed up against the mountainside, are pretty impressive. There is a gym building off to one side and a large, fenced, packed-dirt space spanning the entire building front for various sports. Except for the big, bare sports space, it might be any kind of structure, from a not-very-pretty old hospital to a government administration building. However, once inside the big double doors, it's obviously a school. There is the international school smell of chalk, old linoleum, and sweat, and kids' voices echoing faintly down the halls.

Just inside the door are hundreds of approximately 18 x 18" cubby holes lining the walls. The first set of cubbies have no doors, and hold generic, "one-size-fits-all" rubber slippers, the rest of the cubbies belong to the students and teachers, for their shoes. Yes folks, it's a Japanese school, and EVERYONE changes into slippers to walk around inside. The floors are all wood or linoleum -- no tatami mats here -- but "outside shoes" and their attendant bits of dirt and mud are not allowed into the school. All Japanese school children wear uniforms in junior high and high school. Some elementary schools and kindergartens have uniforms, and even the ones with no uniform require the students to wear little hats in the school color. Normally, the boys at Hui Junior High would be in mandarin-collared black jackets with brass buttons and matching black pants, and the girls would be in navy blue pleated knee-length skirts, navy blue vests and white shirts with Peter Pan collars buttoned right up to the top (this is a little more modern than most schools, where girls usually wear a classic Victorian sailor blouse with the bib on the back and the knotted kerchief in front!) However, this particular day was a special sports day of some sort, so the students were allowed a huge treat--which meant they could wear their matching red, white and blue track suits and blue-trimmed white t-shirts from gym class if they chose to do so.

We went to the teacher's room, where all the teachers have their desks. Other than a hot plate and a small fridge in one corner, the room was wall-to-wall desks. Miyuki is lucky, as she has her desk at one corner of a desk block, so she has a desk to her right and one directly facing, but the aisle on her left. Miyuki has a "homeroom" of about 35 seventh grade students ("ichinensei" -- literally "first year students"), but she is not to keep anything in that room. She has no desk in the classroom, and is expected to stand at a podium all day as she teaches, and not to ever sit except at lunch--something we might expect of college professors, but not usually of American junior high school teachers! Miyuki teaches English, Morals and "International Cultures" class, in addition to her homeroom class. I was introduced to Miyuki's head teacher, a kind gentleman who nevertheless did not rise to meet me, but nodded regally from behind his desk as Miyuki bowed low (as did I, only half a beat behind).

Miyuki took me through the hallways and up several flights of stairs (one building is four stories, one is three, and there are no elevators) and down a breezeway. As we walked, the students we met were obviously very curious about me, and they were all eager to say "Hello! Hello! HELLO!!" and giggle behind their hands when I answered them. Two young women came bounding up to us as we walked, darting in front of us and walking backwards so they could talk to me. "Hello! My name is JUDY!" exclaimed one. "Hello, hello! MY name is Judy!" insisted the other. Miyuki laughed and told me that in English class, she let them pick American names, much as American students have French or Spanish names in their language classes. Our destination was a classroom that was obviously used as some sort of woodworking shop. There were banks of windows on the two long sides of the room, with scarred wooden worktables and wooden stools. Band saws and other power equipment were clustered to one side ,and there was a big trough-style sink.

I'd purchased seven big American-style pumpkins at the base for Miyuki back in October, and she had them waiting in bags. I'd also bought six of the cheap little "pumpkin carving kits" for her, but had told her I would need a bigger knife for cutting the tops off. She'd provided me with a 3" fruit knife...not exactly what I had in mind, but I made it work. The children came in, and automatically divided themselves into six groups at the worktables, a few of them donning aprons brought from home to avoid staining their school clothes -- even a couple of the boys donned aprons, and no one seemed to think twice about a young man in red and white gingham. It surprised me a little, as so much here, especially clothing and toys, is so very gender-specific. Most of the girls clustered at the front table, greeting me over and over ("Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello!") while a few told me their names, and asked me slowly "what is your name?" This is their first year of English instruction, and they don't know many phrases beyond "What is your name?" The boys were more aloof. At one point, there was a knock on the window, and we all turned to look. It was Rumi, the young woman who introduced me to her dead parents! I recognized her, thank goodness, and made a big deal of greeting her by name and talking to her. If she'd had a tail, she would have been wagging it. The whole class looked at her with a new awe and respect, as she not only KNEW the Americaijin, but seemed to be FRIENDS with her! Rumi walked off to class with a little swagger in her step that was lacking before. Hurray, Rumi!!

Miyuki had printed some "classic" Jack o'Lantern faces on white paper, and briefly told the class that they could, if they chose, hold the paper against the pumpkin as a template. I remembered that several times in the past, Miyuki has complained that Japanese students strive so hard for perfection, but often miss out on creativity and experimentation, so when she introduced me, and then translated my simple speech of welcome and instruction, I made sure to tell them that in America, there were many different ways to carve a pumpkin, and they could use the templates or not...and they could come look at the pumpkin I would be carving at the front of the class if they chose. Then I began slicing the tops off the pumpkins and setting the students to scraping the insides clean.

Let me tell you, I've never in my life seen such clean pumpkin hollows. They were so very serious about getting the pumpkin shell as clean and tidy as possible, to please me! The various groups kept bringing me their pumpkins to show me the insides. After the first group was sent back to scrape more, the rest waited to come up to me until they'd scraped the shell smooth and clean as a glass bowl! With each clean, smooth shell, I said "Good job!" or something similar, and the entire group would BEAM, and repeat "goo-du jobu!" to each other on their way back to their seats.

One group was very serious about trying to match one of Miyuki's templates, but the other groups were amazing, trying all sorts of things. Two groups realized I'd finished one face on my pumpkin, and decided to carve a second face on the other they emulated me, but to an extreme! The boys who did multiple faces on one pumpkin made two "right side up" and two "upside down". I'm not sure if that was on purpose or by accident! When I asked them about it, they looked at one another for a moment, then one boy grabbed the pumpkin and showed me one face. "HA!" he cried, as he twisted it to show me another face, right side up. "HA!" a toss and a twist, and another face revealed. A rhythm developed, and his whole group chanted as he twisted and tossed the Jack o'Lantern. I had them repeat it so I could film it. Too funny! The girls' pumpkin with multiple faces included a cut out "ghost" that could be removed or replaced from the pumpkin, and a "panel" on which they each signed their names in romanji. One girl from this group took the shreddy pumpkin guts and some of the trimmings from carving the various faces, and made me a "pretend" o-nigiri (rice ball) in the shape of a kitty cat, and brought it to me on a tray of newspaper for me. After the pumpkins were carved, we played "Halloween Bingo" where I held up big laminated cards with drawings of witches, ghosts, etc. and called out "three witches" or "one haunted house!" The students repeated each phrase in English as they marked the various images on their photocopied "bingo cards". Then they lined up in front of me, each one saying solemnly "Tu-ri-ku Tu-ree-to!" in exchange for a piece of Halloween candy from the big bag of American chocolates.

A bell rang, and after a chorus of bows, "arigatou gosaimasu" and "bye-bye, bye-bye!" the students scattered. Miyuki asked me to wait while she left briefly, and so I sat. As I waited, students converged on the classroom -- not for a class, but to clean! Japanese schools don't have janitors. Instead, at a certain time each afternoon, the entire student body stops and cleans the school from top to bottom. Students put chairs on desks, others sweep, still others mop, some dust, some use squeegies to clean the was astonishing! And, they were unsupervised, but still were diligent and hard working!

Afterwards, Miyuki took me to meet her homeroom class, which includes all sorts of activities, such as singing instruction, preparation for various class competitions, and helping students "rate" themselves on how they've done each day and what they should prepare for the next day. Each student has a special notebook in which they write the homework expected for each class each day, upcoming tests, etc. They also rate themselves on how they've done in various areas, such as class participation, discussion, citizenship, teamwork, etc. The rating is not for a grade or for anyone else's eyes, it's completely for personal reasons, to help keep track of where one needs to concentrate and improve -- a circle means "adequate," a circle within the circle means "good," and an X means "needs improvement!" I was fascinated with the books, and asked if I could take a photo of one young lady's pages. An indignant boy immediately insisted to Miyuki that I take a photo of his book as well, as his was "much tidier than hers, and a better example!"

Miyuki offered my pumpkin to the class, for one "lucky student" to take home. Before I could ask how she would decide who got it, she shouted in Japanese, and threw her right hand into the air. The whole class rose as one when she shouted, their right hands flying into the air as well. Several sat down immediately, and Miyuki shouted again, flinging her hand. This happened several times, lightning-fast, with a wave of kids sitting down each time, before I realized what they were doing. It was Ro-Cham-Bo, or "Rock, Paper, Scissors"! When Miyuki tossed a sign into the air, the students who were beaten sat down. The students whose symbols tied or beat Miyuki's continued the game. No one tried to cheat. No one looked to see what others were doing. There were no pauses in the intense rhythm, as kids immediately sat upon losing, disappointed but not angry, eager to see who would win. Very quickly the contestants were narrowed to two besides Miyuki, and she bowed out, allowing the two to "shoot it out" to find the winner. At the end, the whole class applauded, and the two final contestants bowed to one another before sitting, with the winner beaming happily. I wish I'd realized what was happening fast enough to make a video!

I loved every minute of my day with Miyuki at school, and hope to do it again soon. Miyuki gave me a quick ride home, before returning to school to grade papers and work up the next day's lessons. At least this year she is not also coaching badminton after school for two to four hours every evening, and also on Saturday and Sunday--Japanese school is seven days a week! Miyuki gets two Saturdays and two Sundays off each month, and as a result, the other teachers consider her selfish and "not a team player". And parents can call her and ask her to come in early or stay late, or come in on a day off or a holiday, if they don't want their kids at home and underfoot, and Miyuki can't say no. Can you imagine? I hope to have more Japanese school adventures for you this winter.

More always, click on the photos for more. Here are a couple of bad but funny video clips:

Thursday, December 21, 2006

A Glimpse of Christmas at Our House

Here you go. Real adventure coming soon (Miyuki's school, Thanksgiving), but in the meantime, here are a couple of photos.

I know, the "snow" is pink. But it was the only sheet I had that I was willing to use as a tree skirt. Behold, the world's dryest Christmas tree. I think they cut them in the US in September and put them on a slow boat to Japan. Yes, Virginia, that IS a Christmas tree on a tatami mat floor. (For those who care, there is traditional tinsel, even if I didn't manage the popcorn and cranberry strings, and the lights are multi-colored. The lights are always multi-colored. We keep a diverse tree, thankyouverymuch.)

I do have to admit...I Photoshopped out the cord for the star. It's pretty ugly, and since we have no outdoor outlets, the black cord travels down the wall and into the house via the mail slot. Oh well...I love my star, with its gentle glow and its star-shaped holes. All my neighbors aren't quite sure what to think, though.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Okinawan Hibiscus, Awamori & Shisa

(As always, click on the images for larger photos!)

I took the free shuttle from the base to the airport last Tuesday morning, and flew to Okinawa to visit my cousin Emily. Though I'd packed summer shirts and skirts, I was kind of stupid and wore a black tunic and dark pants for travelling. Okinawa was HOT! Em picked me up at the airport and immediately took me out sightseeing.

I was fascinated by the differences between Okinawa and the mainland. It's MUCH flatter, of course, and much warmer. The air is ocean-scented, and there are glimpses of incredibly beautiful turquoise water here and there. Flowers are EVERYWHERE, even though it's November. Em said that in the spring and summer, the flowers are astonishing. I was pretty astonished at the November abundance of vast masses of vividly-colored hibiscus, bouganvillea, cosmos, and many other flowers whose name I didn't know. The buildings are relatively low, and are boxy and square and mostly concrete. They're mostly painted in "Key West" colors -- lots of white trimmed in coral, peach, teal and pale turquoise. One reason there are so many concrete buildings (as opposed to the many wooden buildings in Sasebo) is due to the almost total razing of the island during WWII.

We went to a lacquerware factory first, which was totally cool. I had no idea what lacquerware really was until now. The various dishes, cups, platters and bowls are carved in single pieces from light, strong dried wood. Then the wood is coated with lacquer, which is made from several things, including powdered turban shells found in Okinawan waters. The lacquerware is almost all black and maroon -- very traditional. Some is left plain, some is painted, some has designs of mother-of-pearl inlaid into the lacquer, some has designs in relief on it. The relief pieces are made by rolling out a very thin "dough" of lacquer paste of a single color. The design is cut out of the "dough" and pressed onto the lacquerware piece. Details are pressed into the dough while it is still moist. Some designs are simple -- a red hibiscus blossom with green stem and leaves and a yellow stamen -- and other designs are really complex -- a landscape with trees, mountains, houses, etc. in many different colors. The design is pressed and rolled once it's put on the bowl or platter or whatever, so the edges are rounded and it seems part of the piece, not laid on afterwards. It was all really amazing, and now I'm really afraid I might have given away or thrown away good lacquerware, thinking it was plastic! I did buy two soup bowls (plain black with maroon interiors, no designs) and two pairs of chopsticks (both black with painted designs--Fearless Husband's with cranes, mine with wisteria blossoms). NOT cheap, but they are lovely artisanal pieces we'll use and treasure. I ACHED for a delicate lacquerware ceremonial tea set, and for an inlaid "family-sized" bento for picnicking...but both were FAR outside my price range.

Then Em took me to the Ryukyu Glass Factory. She sent me a clear oval glass plate with a swirl of cobalt and sky blue in it a couple of months ago from this particular factory, and I was really looking forward to seeing the place. The outside of the building, including the big support pillars and the wall along the walkway and stairs, was totally covered in vividly colored clear glass bricks. It was lovely! The glass blowing had stopped for the day, which was so very disappointing, but we did see some of the glass furnaces roaring away. Two of the artisans invited us into their work area so we could peer into the annealing kiln and see all the newly made vases and bowls slowly cooling down (if they cooled in the open air, the surface glass would cool faster than the inner glass, and the pieces would shatter). We had a great time in the huge shop, and I had to restrain myself from buying everything I saw! The glass industry in Okinawa started with Okinawans melting down the many, many soda bottles left by the American forces. At first, the pieces were utilitarian (like the well-known glass floats for fishing nets), but the craftsmen began to make pieces with vivid colors, and branched into more decorative work. Most of it is thick, and much of it has bubbles in the glass. It reminded me a little bit of Mexican glass, but with a much larger range of colors and shapes.

I bought a set of four coasters for me and FH, a lemon-yellow glass trimmed in bright green to add to my collection, and a couple of Christmas gifts. On our way out, we went to the "factory seconds" discount store, so Emily could play the "ping pong ball game." For 300 yen (about $2.50) one is given five ping pong balls to toss into a wooden pen filled with glass pieces. If a ping pong ball lands in a piece, you "win" that piece! Em claims to have "won" several pieces. Of course, I had to tease her about how "free" were the pieces -- how many times did she have to pay 300 yen to get all the "free" glass? While I was with her, she did win two pieces and spent only 600 yen, which pleased her very much. I tossed five ping pong balls of my own, but won nothing. As a consolation prize, one is given a little tube of clear glass with a flattened center, to use as a chopstick rest.

We headed for Emily and Dave's house after the glass factory. They have a darling little house with a tidy yard edged in tropical plants. The house has a living room/dining room/kitchen in one big room downstairs, along with a toilet room and a bathroom/laundry room. Upstairs they have three bedroooms, one with tatami flooring. It's a little smaller than our house, but it's nicely laid out and they've done a really nice job with it. The shelves along the stairway are lined with beautiful and unusual Okinawan pieces of pottery and carving, each of which was fascinating. I was exhausted, so we stayed in that night. Em made some rice, and served the curry she'd made during her "cooking lesson" a couple of days previously. It was delicious, and I enjoyed a huge big bowlful! Molly, their little dog, and I became great friends, once I scratched behind her ears. She was very pleased that I wanted to sit on the floor with her, and it wasn't long before she was pushing herself into my lap. I slept really, really well that night!

In the morning, we took our time getting going. I enjoyed puttering around, checking e-mail and drinking coffee. We finally got moving (poor Em, dealing with my slow start!) and we drove around looking at all the gorgeous flowers and getting glimpses of the turquoise waters. Em drove us by "Okinawan Hollywood" complete with a miniature "Hollywood" sign on the hillside and several big resort hotels. It seems one twenty-minute scene from an American movie was once filmed on that stretch of beach, thus it was considered "famous" by the locals! We then went to Ryukyu Mura, which is sort of a replica of a pre-war Okinawan village. There were thatched-roofed huts (including the Holy House, above, guarded by the clay shisa dogs, and covered in fluttering strips of paper upon which were written prayers), lively aisa dancing with drums (see the video at the bottom!), sanshen playing (a three-stringed instrument with the round "banjo-head" part made of snake skin--see the video at the bottom!), weaving demonstrations (one could pay to learn to weave their patterns if one wanted to), Okinawan tea, pancakes and doughnuts (tea = yum, pancakes = ok, doughnuts = greasy balls of sawdust -- YUCK!) a pottery factory, a water buffalo turning the crank of an old-fashioned sugar cane press, etc. I found it all fascinating! A couple of the actor-types had on makeup, including one in the photo with Emily to the right who had drawn lines on her face to indicate wrinkles, I guess. But there were also plenty of older folks with their own home-grown wrinkles!

The little old woman serving the tea was particularly adorable. Okinawans are some of the longest-lived people in the whole world, and this little granny was in her 80s, but spry and strong and cute as a button. I bought some of her tea, and she was thrilled! She stood up on the raised platform and stuck her hand straight out almost into Emily's sternum. Em was astonished, then realized the obachan (Japanese for old auntie -- literally "older sister") wanted to shake hands. Then the obachan turned to me--and suddenly grabbed me in one of the tightest hugs I've ever had! She kept giggling and hugging me really tightly. I have to admit, that it was my first human contact since I saw FH last, and I got a little teary-eyed! (And look at the strength in those arms around my neck!) The guy who'd been playing the sanshen came and took my camera out of Emily's hands, and snapped a photo of us. As we left, we saw some of the old "formal" dancing being performed. The women wear very vivid cotton kimono made of an Okinawan fabric called Bingata, and huge round red "lotus" hats. The two women move in unison in very, very slow, stylized movements, accompanied by sort of eerie singing and sanshen playing.

We got a bite to eat at a Mexican place (!!) and talked a bunch...then headed to the beach. Near the beach were two "croquet courts", both filled with elderly folks playing a game with mallets, wire hoops and hard wooden balls, on a neatly-trimmed, rolled-flat grassy expanse. The equipment and manner of play looked identical to the croquet game we know, but the wicket pattern was completely different, and I guess the rules are entirely different as well. Em said there were courts like this all over the island, and that several times a week, the elderly played this game. We nodded and smiled to several folks, and exchanged greetings with a few. One old man wanted to know if we were interested in croquet...then rather than accept our assurances that we did find it interesting, he shook his head and insisted we must like "baysu baru" instead! Em suspected he just wanted to say "baseball" to us, and thus the conversation. We walked down the steep steps to a little cove, and did some shell-hunting. I kept filling my hands, then having to drop some as I found even better ones! I could have beach-combed for hours! Unfortunately, I left my shells outside at Emily's, meaning to rinse them clean before packing them, and forgot them entirely! Oh well! I snapped a couple of good shots of the sunset, and we headed home to Em's house.

That evening, to celebrate Dave passing his PT test, we went out to a yakiniku -- a place where you order a platter of raw meat and veggies and cook them in a grill set into the middle of the table. It was a much bigger restaurant than the yakiniku I like in Sasebo, with LOTS more choices! We took off our shoes at the door, and sat in a booth that had tatami seats at floor level, but a deeper "pit" under the table for our legs. Dave ordered for us all -- two kinds of beef, some very thin pork (sort of like bacon), Japanese mushrooms, asparagus, tomatoes, long onions, a plate of mixed veggies, and a little pot of garlic cloves in oil that we simmered on the grill until soft and delicious! We talked about ordering some seafood as well, but decided to see how full we were...and we were very glad we hadn't ordered any more food! The grill in Sasebo is gas or propane, but the grill in Okinawa used long tubes of charcoal, so the grilled flavor was very different. Of course, we each had rice as well, and lots of water. Dave also got a bottle of awamori, which is an Okinawan rice liquor. It's a lot stronger than sake, but's poured over ice, and is 60 proof I think. You can drink it straight or mix it with water...I mixed mine with LOTS of water. It was a fantastic meal, with great food and great conversation. We had a great time, but had to finally go, as they were closing the place!

Thursday, we got a relatively late start again -- Em thought she was waiting for me to be ready, I thought I was waiting for her. It was pretty funny! We got some Okinawan soba at Em's favorite place for breakfast/lunch. The thick soba noodles were served in a huge bowl of savory broth, with a slice of fish paste (fish sausage is what Em's Okinawan friends call it, whereas my Mainland friends call it fish paste), a slice of absolutely delicious red-cooked pork, a little lump of pork spare ribs, and a scattering of scallions. There were maybe five little bites of meat, but it was soooo good and very filling. One of the condiments on the table was a little bottle of awamori filled with tiny chiles. You add it to your soba for a kicked up flavor--it gave a strong hint of the liquor, and a LOT of heat! I loved it, and may have to order some to use at honme. Then we headed to a folk museum Em liked. Even though there wasn't a whole lot of English on the display tags, there was enough to get us through. Fascinating stuff about the old ways of the Okinawans--about their textiles and agricultural ways, about their tombs shaped like wombs (circle of life!) and sunk into hillsides,how the families, even to this day have a funeral picnic in front of the "womb" as if they were sitting between the implied thighs of the earth, about the spirit houses built to hold the remains of the dead (with windows for the spirits to come and go--ancient spirit houses very square and plain, more modern spirit houses made of glazed pottery and very elaborate), about their whole way of life--and both tragic information about the war, and interesting information about how innovative they were, learning to recycle and use the materials the Americans discarded, such as aluminum and glass.

After the museum, we went to a pottery village, where a whole group of potters have set up studios and shops, and share the one huge wood-fired step-kiln. We wandered into two of the shops, and I found several things that would have made great Christmas gifts (including a fantastic sake bottle with a dragon that FH would have LOVED--the head was the spout, and the body looked as if it writhed in and out of the body of the pitcher) but luckily for my finances, they didn't take plastic and I didn't have enough yen to get what I wanted. The pottery was COMPLETELY different from the porcelain in my area, much more rustic, much more "hand made", a lot like the Seagrove pottery FH and I saw on our honeymoon. I really loved it! Then we went to a store that specialized in shisa, the dogs that guard everything from homes to temples to hotels. The two dogs sit on either side of the entrance (they look a lot like temple dogs, but are not the same). The male has an open mouth to capture the good spirits, and the female has a closed mouth to hold the good spirits in and protect them. They have tons of versions of the shisa dogs, including a fat one with a jug of awamori and an awamori cup. Em really loved that one, so I bought it as a thank-you gift for her and Dave. I also bought a pair of shisas for our house--Em is going to mail them through the free MPS, as they were far too heavy to carry home!

We were going to go to a concert given by one of Emily's friends that evening, but it was an hour's drive away, and none of us really felt like going that far. So we walked to a neighborhood izakaya, which is a Japanese drinking establishment with a menu of small dishes, sort of like a Japanese version of a tapas bar. They often don't open until 9 or 10 at night, and stay open until 4 or 5 in the morning! There are cubby-holes along one wall, so one can buy a bottle of awamori, then put one's name on a tag around the bottle's neck and put it in a cubby until the next visit. We sat on benches and stools made from tree-trunks, at a table made from a slab of heartwood. It was quite brightly lit, and relatively small, with perhaps six tables, two little tatami booths in an alcove, and a bar that looked right into the tiny kitchen, with perhaps five tree-trunk stools. On one wall was a big salt-water aquarium, and on the other wall was a television showing a DVD of underwater scenes. The yukata-clad waitress took our order and brought us a bottle
of awamori, and an ice bucket, water pitcher and three glasses, all made at the Ryukyu glass factory. We shared little platters of various snacks--some seasoned fried potatoes, some chunks of fried chicken, some great fried squid, and a platter of tofu champuru -- stir-fried cabbage, carrots, onions, and the best tofu I've ever eaten. We talked on and on, about Dave and Emily's plans after they leave, Dave's various business ideas, the possibilities of the two of them opening an izakaya in the US, etc. It was another evening of good food and great conversation.

Had to get up really early Friday so Em could get me to the airport by 7:30am. On the way to the airport, we passed literally hundreds of people of all ages lining the streets and waving fans--teenagers, little old ladies, businessmen in suits, office ladies in tight little skirts, etc. Some had yellow headbands and yellow t-shirts, others had orange headbands and t-shirts. Each group held banners and placards proclaiming their candidate as the was an election day! I've never seen so many people on the streets for an election! They streamed out of side streets, covered bridges and sidewalks, lined the overpasses, waving and smiling, exhorting voters to get out the vote! Even with all the campaigners, we got to the airport in plenty of time. Before I left, Em and Dave gave me a simply gorgeous little sake set--a pitcher and two little cups, made by one of the most famous of local potters. His kiln has been designated a national treasure, and the three ironstone pieces are simply gorgeous--rich chocolate brown with a design of leaves carved into the dark glaze to reveal the lighter clay beneath. The sake pitcher has a little pottery marble inside, which is supposed to make the sake taste better somehow, but we aren't sure exactly how!

I got back to Sasebo by 1pm, JUST in time to get picked up at the bus station by Miyuki to spend the afternoon at her school, carving Jack o' Lanterns with her ichinensei (seventh graders, literally "first year students"). Yes, Halloween was long past, but that didn't stop us! More on that interesting afternoon soon, I promise. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you...wishing you all the blessings and happiness you desire. FH should be home soon, and we hope to actually have some adventures TOGETHER for a change. Yippee!

Videos (the sound isn't great--the Aisa drums played havoc with my camera's microphone!):

Sunday, November 12, 2006

We Interrupt Our Regularly Scheduled Programming... bring you this news bulletin. For now, my domain ( points here, to Adventures in Japan. But eventually, though this blog will continue to exist, the domain itself will be for my freelance graphic design business. In the meantime, you might get momentary breaks from Adventures in Japan for announcements like this one.

The big news--drumroll please! The Book is at the publishers!

For those of you who don't know, I've been helping a blogging friend with her new book. She trusted me with her witty, hysterically funny, occasionally poignant, brilliantly written words, and I put together a layout and book cover. Yes, she's in New England and I'm in Japan. The cover photography was done in North Carolina (by Dad, a professional photographer), the illustrations were done in California, and the proofreading was done in Colorado. Truly an international (and electronic!) project. Perhaps one day, we can all meet face to face--other than Dad and me (of course), the rest of us have never met except via cyberspace. Hey, maybe can meet on Oprah!

Motherhood is Not for Wimps is at the publisher now, and should be available (we hope!) on and via Liz's website by December 1st. Visit Liz's blog at and bookmark it-- you won't be sorry! To see the book cover, click here.

And now, back to your regularly scheduled Adventures.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Moonrise over the Onsen

I've talked a lot about my Japanese friend, Miyuki. She's really an amazing person and a great friend. She started out as my "Know your Cho" volunteer, but we really hit it off and became friends almost instantly. We've spent a LOT of time together...she's taken me on several "tours" of Japanese grocery stores, and I've taught her to cook a couple of American dishes. We watch DVDs together with the English subtitles on (it helps her understand what's being said) and we hit the pause a lot so I can explain nuances. We have half-day adventures together quite often, and I'm so grateful to know her!

Miyuki teaches English, Morals and "Cultures of Other Countries" at a local junior high school. She has a "homeroom" of seventh graders (ichinensei--literally "first year students") and supervises them in many activities--for example, she had to coach them in a multi-part song for a singing competition they recently had. She also must supervise a "club activity" after school, as each teacher must. Her "club activity" is badminton--a sport she claims to know nothing about, but she has the help of a student's father, who was a competition player...he takes the bus from Nagasaki every weekend to work with the children. Miyuki's day starts at 8am. Classes are over at 4pm...and she has "one-on-one time" with students who need help with studies or just need to talk. Then from 5pm to 7 or 8pm she supervises badminton. She leaves the school between 8pm and 10pm each weeknight--depending on when the principal leaves. The teachers do not leave until he does. Saturday mornings often have academic classes, and there are "club activities" for four hours on Saturday and again on Sunday. That's is 7 days a week, and even includes a week-long overnight camp every summer, supervised by the teachers. If a "club" is doing particularly well (the Hui Jr. High volleyball team is in the nationals!) they might practice 8 hours a day on weekends! Miyuki told me the other teachers consider her very selfish and "not a team player" because she has insisted on having two Saturdays and two Sundays off out of every month. Today (Sunday), when we parted at 1pm, it was so she could go to the school and spend four hours with her badminton students.

Perhaps 30% of the 7th grade students go from their club activity to cram school until 9 or 10 at night. By 9th grade, Miyuki says 90% or more of the students are in cram school, to get into a good high school. So kids go to school every day, and on weekdays are often not home until 9:30 or 10:00 at night! They choose one club activity...and that's the only one they concentrate on (badminton, volleyball, baseball, music, soccer, drama, etc.) Most do not change from year to year, so their one club activity is their only "hobby" for their entire school career. Miyuki said when she was in school, she played the French horn in the band, and went to cram school three nights a week. So...she played French Horn from 7th grade until graduation, with no other extra-curricular activities! Very different from our "smorgasbord" of kids' activities in the US. And with her crazy schedule, I am thrilled and honored that she chooses to spend her few hours off work with me!

Miyuki's family sends me little dishes all the time--an amazing beef and potato stew with konnyaku noodles (konnyaku is a sweet potato fiber/starch that can be made into all sorts of's translucent, makes great noodles, and is completely free of calories!), a plate of six delicately fried little fish her father had just caught that morning, a plate of the freshest sashimi I've ever eaten (squid, an irridescent fish that is not found in the US, a little 'salad' of horse mackerel tossed with bits of fresh ginger and green onions, and a little smear of fresh wasabi), a traditional autumn soup dish called odon (broth, konnyaku noodles tied in bundles, a whole hardboiled egg, a thick slice of daikon radish, and various shapes of fish paste in various flavors--a patty, a cylinder, etc.), and today, a little bowl of nabe. Nabe is basically a soup..but it can be made in a group situation, where a simmering pot of broth is put in the middle of the table over a heat source, and each person puts in different raw ingredients (seafood, meat, veggies). One fishes out what one wants to eat, and at the end of the meal, the now-flavorful broth is shared. Shabu-shabu is a kind of nabe, but the meat is barely swished in the hot broth before being eaten...thus the name is for the sound. Shabu shabu = swish swish, then eat! I was asking about the differences last night, so Miyuki's mom made me a little nabe this morning and sent it to me, warm, via Miyuki at 10am! It mostly looks really delicious, with carrots cut into flower shapes, meatballs, a little Japanese clam, mushrooms, greens, etc. I'm not so sure about the fish tail I see in there...but I'll try it!

I have sent them spaghetti, shepherd's pie, and smoked turkey, and they have been thrilled. We've laughed at how they crave American foods, and I crave the Japanese foods! Turkey is very hard to come by here in's sold in pieces, NOT whole, and is very, very expensive. Chicken is the same...rarely sold whole. We discussed holiday meals, and the big "meat" meal for Miyuki and her family is roast chicken at Christmas. (They are Buddhist, not Christian, but more and more Japanese are celebrating Christmas as a gift-giving, family-gathering holiday. It's also two days after the current Emperor's birthday, which is always a national holiday.) I am really excited--I've invited Miyuki and her parents for a traditional Thanksgiving spread at my house, and they are thrilled. It should be fun!

This weekend, I got to spend a little time with Miyuki's parents, and with her sister and brother-in-law and their 18-month-old son. They invited me to join them on a family trip to an onsen--a Japanese traditional bath house. I have to admit, I simply am not confident enough to do the public nakedness thing yet, even with the sexes separated, so I told Miyuki I would love to join them, but I was too embarrassed. She assured me that I could have a private bath if I wanted to...that it was ok. She told me to bring a towel and some face soap, and clean underwear...and laughed when I tentatively suggested a bathing suit.

They picked me up and we drove for about 40 minutes to the onsen. It was on the same grounds as a lovely hotel, with grass-surface tennis courts and a golf course, all overlooking the harbor. The sun was beginning to set, and the light was golden and rich. In front of the onsen was a long, rectangular "pond" about 18" high, with wooden plank seating around the rim, and round stones sticking up out of the bottom surface. It was a traditional footbath, and we all shed our shoes, pulled up pants or skirt hems, and stepped in. The mineral water was hot. REALLY hot! I didn't know if I could take it at first, but got used to it quickly. We nodded and smiled at the others sitting around the tub, each of us gently rubbing our feet over the smooth river stones sticking up from the bottom surface specifically for foot massage. As her parents chatted to the other people, Miyuki told me that the footbath outside and the baths inside were traditionally social gathering places for the Japanese, as they rarely have social events in their own private homes.

After our legs were good and red, we dried off and slipped our shoes back on temporarily to go inside the onsen. Off came the shoes again (of course) and we all padded into the airy reception area. LOTS of people were completely barefoot, so I felt a little better about my habit of wearing sandals. Miyuki's sister, brother-in-law and little nephew had reserved one private room, and I had another one. A silent man handed us each keys, and showed us to a flight of stairs that went outside and down to the building housing the private baths (we got leather slippers to make the trip from building to building). Miyuki showed me my little private room, with sink, bench, shelves for my clothes, a hook for my towel, a teeny closet with a toilet, and the bath....oh, the bath!!

The bath room was stone, with a place outside the tub to shower off (you are expected to be completely clean before getting into the water!) with two stools, two water basins and a hand-held shower head. The bath itself was completely made of stone, with a step inside because it was deep! It was filled to the brim, and when I got in, the displaced water overflowed through a channel at one end of the bath to a drain. If the water in the bath dropped below a certain level, more hot water came in automatically, in a waterfall from a corner opening. The wall along the bath was a block of windows overlooking the harbor, and the flowers on the grounds below, with wooden "wings" to give privacy from the other private room windows, and they slid open completely, to allow the cool breeze and birdsong into the room. The bath itself was big enough that I could sit in water up to my neck, or float stretched out without touching any of the four sides! Again, it was very, very hot. I had to get out twice during my 45 minutes and rinse off with cool water--which I discovered afterwards is also traditional. I am not sure if the water was "natural hot spring" heated or not...many onsen in Japan are, due to all the volcanic activity, but I think the ones in and around Sasebo are manually heated. The water is full of minerals, with the percentages posted on the walls (couldn't tell you WHAT minerals, as it was all in Japanese, of course) but it's supposed to be very healthy. My skin does feel good today!

I hope I can get to the same point as the Japanese women, who are oblivious to the differences in the human body. The very young, the very old, the wizened, the stick-thin, the really fat, those with terrible varicose veins, those with big scars or birthmarks--they all bathe together, sitting in the hot water up to their necks and socializing. No one cares how fat or thin or wrinkled or hairy or whatever you're just a human being. The men (from what I'm told) do the same on their side. There is a large indoor bath on each side, which leads to an outdoor bath for each on deck overlooking the harbor. At this onsen, men and women are completely segregated (unless a couple or a family wants to share a private bath) but that is not always the case...some onsen are mixed use, and no one cares.

After I luxuriated in the water and watched the moon rise over the harbor, I got dried off and dressed and headed to the common room to wait for Miyuki and her family. There was a big tatami-floored room for bathers to relax in after their baths, complete with coin-operated massage chairs. It's traditional to drink milk after a bath, but I have no clue why...especially as so many Asians are lactose-intolerant. Odd. I sat on a little outdoor deck and watched the almost-full moon over the harbor as gentle music played softly, then joined Miyuki and family inside. Her parents used the massage chairs briefly, and I enjoyed playing with Miyuki's nephew and getting to know her charming sister and brother-in-law. We had a light supper at the in-house restaurant (I had green tea, edamame, and pink rice studded with tiny azuki beans and bits of octopus--delicious!) before heading home.

Oh..the name of the onsen and hotel was Japanese for peacock, as there are many on the grounds. When I spelled out the hiragana and asked Miyuki for a translation, she said "Ummmm...the bird with fancy wings...a cockroach." Her mother doubled over with laughter in the front seat--she may not have much English, but she knew "cockroach!" Miyuki corrected herself, "oh, not cockroach--peacock!!" and we all had a good laugh. But all the way home, every few minutes, we heard from the front seat "hee hee hee...cocka-roach onsen....cocka-roach hotel...hee hee hee..."

More soon...

Thursday, November 02, 2006

The Price of Being a Military Spouse

The Hong Kong trip has been cancelled. Sad, but true. For good reasons, to keep Fearless Husband and the other Sailors safe--driving the boat through the middle of a typhoon is probably not a safe thing to do, so I'm glad they aren't going to do that.

But I'm sad. I was really looking forward to seeing FH. (Oddly enough, I miss my husband!!) and was so very excited about exploring Hong Kong with him. But the chance will come at some later date, and he should be home before too much more time has passed.

Only got a partial refund on my plane ticket, which is very frustrating...but a good lesson for me about the advisability of spending more and getting a fully refundable ticket next time. It's part of the price of being a military spouse, I guess. I knew what I was getting into when I made the choice to marry FH. Schedules change. At least he is not far, far away in a hot, dry and dangerous climate like so many others serving their country. I get to see him lots more than many other military spouses get to see their loved ones.

So, in the long run, I am a lucky woman. Besides, learning to be more flexible is something I've needed to work on anyway!

And maybe, with the extra time at home, I can find more time to add more photos and adventures next week! Stay tuned...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Meeting Rumi's Dead Parents

I'm trying to catch up....I'm sorry for the delay! I'm headed to Hong Kong in about two weeks to see Fearless Husband, and I am so excited! I'll take lots of photos, and promise to post them and our adventures there before the end of November! We're hopeful that he will be home for Thanksgiving, and again for Christmas.

Back in June, I had one of the most foreign experiences I've ever had in my life. Miyuki invited me to join her on a trip to a temple with Rumi, a 12-year-old 7th grade student. Rumi’s parents are both dead, and she had asked her teacher, Miyuki, to join her as she went to say prayers at the temple where her parents "sleep".

Rumi is shy and awkward and just darling--very eager to please. She and her 14-year-old brother are being shuffled back and forth between two aunts and an uncle. No one wants them, so they spend one month with one relative, then get sent for one month with another relative.

The brother is really going down the juvenile delinquent road, according to Miyuki, but this little girl is still bright and bouncy. She doesn't show her sorrow at all...but I'm afraid in a couple of years she could become a very hard case. Her mom died of cancer three years ago, and then a year ago her dad died of a heart attack from "overwork and stress." I want to adopt them both! But I don't think FH would jump for joy at the idea of adopting a 12 year old and a 14 year old, neither of whom speak English!

Going to the temple was not sad at all though. The temple itself was simply a two-story, relatively non-descript building on the main road. The only thing that distinguished it from its neighboring shops was a particularly fine tile roof. We found parking (amazing!) and walked up the stairs to the front door on the second floor. Inside, we took off our shoes and put on leather slippers before moving through the main temple room, with a beautiful gold-leafed statue of Buddha at the altar area at the front of the room. We went down some narrow stairs, past a photocopy machine and some boxes and stacked newspapers (like an office storage room) into a plain room with fluorescent lights and a wooden floor…very much as if we’d walked through an American church and into the fellowship hall in the basement!

The room might have been a fellowship hall, or a classroom or an office, except for the fact that it is the resting place for the remains of hundreds of people. Shiny black cabinets trimmed in gold line the walls and march in long rows down the length of the room. The bottom part of each cabinet is a closed cupboard; the top is an open shelf/alcove, lined in gleaming red and gold paint. Each shelf has a little tiny golden altar, some silk flowers, a little book with the names of the deceased written in it in flowing and beautiful calligraphy (each person receives a new name at death), a little dish for burning incense, and a little dish for offerings. The bottom closed cabinet holds the ashes of the dead for that family. All Japanese are cremated. There is not enough land for them to be buried whole. Lots of containers of ashes can fit in each cabinet, so the family stays together even after death!

Some offering dishes had cans of beer for the deceased, one shelf had soda and candy--Miyuki said it was for a child who’d died. A modern disposable lighter was placed beside each incense bowl. Rumi lit some incense, looped the prayer beads over her folded hands and said a prayer. Then Miyuki said a prayer, and then I said a prayer...all silently. The whole time, when they weren’t praying, they were both laughing and talking in normal, happy voices.

Miyuki said I should "introduce myself to Rumi's parents" when I said my prayer. It was not the way Americans act at cemeteries, full of sorrow and longing. Instead, it was as if we were really visiting her parents, and I felt as if my prayer should have begun “It’s very nice to meet you!” Then they both laughed and talked about how surprised Rumi's parents were going to be to meet an American. It was very upbeat, as if her parents were on a higher plane, but they were ghosts, not far away in heaven—as if her dad would enjoy being offered a cold beer, and her mother would be ducking her head in shyness to meet an American.

During the three day Obon holidays in August, Miyuki said that Rumi would host a memorial service for her parents in the main part of the temple...but people here do not go to regular services. There are no "weekly services", just funerals and memorials at the temples, weddings at the shrines, and visitors to both temples and shrines whenever anyone feels the need to pray for strength, hope or luck, or for the spirits of the departed. During Obon, families make trips to the resting places of their ancestor's ashes...some in the city, some far out in the country. The spirits of departed ancestors are invited "home" and offerings are given of new rice and other food. Many people picnic at the outdoor cemetaries, eating what they've first offered their ancestors. At the end of the three day festival, lanterns are lit and floated down the river in huge numbers, to "light the way back to the underworld" so no ghosts stick around to bother the living. The river filled with lanterns in the twilight is an amazing sight.

I felt so odd in the fellowship-hall-mausoleum, like I should whisper, and I was embarrassed that I had bare feet in the provided leather slippers, because I’d worn sandals to the temple. Miyuki said bare feet were no problem, but 99% of the people I've seen have had socks. The young women wear knee-highs peeking out at the tops of their stiletto-heeled boots, and everyone seems to wear socks or stockings. I'm going to start carrying a pair of socks or knee-highs in my handbag for when I wear sandals. I wonder if it's sort of too casual to go barefooted, for health reasons, cleanliness, etc. The traditional Japanese outfit includes tabi socks with the zori--the wooden thong shoes like clunky flip-flops. Tabi socks are like mitten socks, with a single divider between the toes for the thong, and they button up on the inside of the ankle.

Miyuki and Rumi were giggling and laughing, and didn’t seem to think that my bare feet were a problem at all. Miyuki asked if I wanted to take a photo, which really surprised me. It turned out that made Rumi very proud, as she was the "owner" of her parents’ altar, and could give me permission to photograph her parents “home”. So I'm thrilled to have photos of that...but of course I didn't take photos of the Buddha in the temple. (That’s frowned upon.) They even directed me as to what photos I should take, so I have one photo of Rumi's parents' shrine, one photo of a line of little altars, a photo of Miyuki with Rumi in front of the altars, and one of me and Rumi ("Say Cheese!" insisted Miyuki in English!)

My heart goes out to that little girl because of her current situation of being tossed from aunt to uncle once a month...but her laughter and pleasure at “introducing me” to her parents seemed somehow healthier than our American obsession with grieving for many years after death.

More soon...

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Great Tree Massacre

Now that things have eased off a little bit with my freelance work, and Fearless Husband is back at sea for a while, I hope to get caught up with some adventures. Please forgive the long delays! Current news: FH is on his Fall Cruise. He has a very full schedule, as the LPO for his department, work as a career counselor for younger Sailors, a college course, and work towards several certifications. If things work out, I hope to meet him in Hong Kong for a few days. Life's good here for me, though I miss my husband! I'm now co-president of the ship's Family Support Group, which is keeping me busy. I'm still doing freelance work, and working part time for the base newspaper. I've also been asked to help the Officers Spouse Club with a brochure and some publicity for a "Samurai Day" they're putting on. I hope to spend some time this fall at Miyuki's school, volunteering with her classes and learning from them as well!

Here's an adventure from earlier in the summer that I've meant to write about, but kept putting off. (Notice first of all, in the photo above, the amount of greenery to the left of the house--the little bit you can see of the trees in my tiny yard--and also the shaggy look of the pine tree in front of the house. Do me a favor and don't notice the terrible view of me in that photo!)

When we signed our lease for our house here in Japan, it was spelled out that we would be responsible for the weeds and sporadic grass in our tiny little yard, but that our landlord would be responsible for the trees. As a matter of fact, we were very specifically prohibited from doing anything at all to the trees.

Our yard is quite small. On the side of the house, we have a driveway shared with the neighbor directly behind us--the driveway ends in our neighbor's tiny carport. One side of the driveway is the high wall that supports our next door neighbor's house and yard, keeping it from tumbling down the hill onto us. On the other side of the drive is a stretch of gravel along the side of our house, that is (ha ha ha ha) supposedly big enough for two cars.

Beside the front gate from the street to our front door is a 3 x 3' area with several large rocks, two tiny azalea bushes, and one very Japanese pine tree. On the other side of the front door are three little boxwoods. One can walk on a very narrow sidewalk between the camellia-lined fence and the front of our house to get to the little fenced yard (our house is L-shaped, and the yard is in the crook of the L). The yard itself is perhaps 10 x 15'. Behind the house is enough room for one not-very-wide person to walk...and this area is also gravelled. So, I don't have much yardwork to worry about.

Our teeny yard has five teeny azalea bushes and five small trees. When we moved in, the camellias along the fence were in bloom. They seemed a little severely trimmed to my American eyes, but I figured they'd fill out eventually. The trees were not very tall at all, but were pretty bushy. In America, I don't think I've ever thought about trimming back the trees in any house I've ever lived in, and I probably would not have thought twice about trimming these trees.

But we're in Japan.

In June, on the days it didn't rain, if I thought about the trees at all, it was to be grateful for the shade and privacy we were afforded by their bushy leaves. Then everything changed.

I got a call from the housing office, to let me know the tree trimmers would be coming to my house in a few days. I thought to myself "gee, I should do something about the weeds and grass in the yard before they come..." then promptly forgot about it. So I was a little surprised one morning to open my bedroom curtains and find two elderly gentlemen in my yard in gardening uniforms, complete with hats, boots and white gloves (almost all the Japanese uniforms seem to come with white gloves, including flagmen in the streets).

I was fascinated to watch these men at work. They plucked every single blade of grass and every weed by hand from both the yard and from every square inch of gravel around the house. The trees were trimmed to a most astonishing my American eyes, they had been destroyed. The two men spent two days plucking grass blades and carefully trimming the trees from their aluminum tripod ladders. They bagged every leaf in small, neat transparent plastic bags, and trimmed every pruned limb into 30cm lengths before tying them into neat bundles. I offered both men water, and exchanged bows and "ohayou gosaimasu" (good morning) with them several times, peeking out often to watch them at work, and to observe their short, formal and deliberate tea and lunch breaks. They both worked with great dignity and a slow but unstoppable sense of purpose.

When they finished, they swept the bare dirt smooth with homemade-looking twig brooms, bowed to me one last time, and left with the bags of leaves and bundles of sticks. (If they'd left me the bundles and bags, I would have had to space them out when taking them to the trash pickup, each of us being allowed to leave only two bags of leaves and two bundles of sticks per trash day.)

It took me a while to get used to the newly nude trees, and the huge increase in sunlight in my little yard. But the trees have leafed out quickly and well, and look great now. I'm almost dreading how bushy they will get before my tree men come back next June! I've learned since they left that the trees in my yard, especially the pine tree in the front, have been trained over years to their current shapes, and are quite valuable. They must be trimmed in order to maintain their shapes (like my front pine tree) and also to keep them small (in the case of the trees in my yard). Since I am perched on a pretty steep hillside (like many houses here) and also cheek-by-jowl with my neighbors (like almost all houses here), it's important to keep the trees in check so their roots don't push through the retaining walls and their limbs don't threaten my home or my neighbor's homes.

After watching Typhoon Shanshan hit us head-on, and observing the up-to-90 mph winds from the windows of my house, I am very grateful for the Great Tree Massacre. Sure, I saw a few little branches and a lot of leaves on the ground throughout my neighborhood after the big winds, but I saw no downed trees, no big limbs on the ground, and very little storm damage. Bet there won't be much damage if we have an ice storm, either.

I think I'll remember this lesson!