Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Meeting the Neighbors

February 19, 2006

My "Know Your Cho" volunteer Miyuki took me around to meet several of my neighbors today, most of whom seem to be older. She also confirmed my suspicion that this is a relatively well-off neighborhood. There are lots of kids who walk by my house, but I think they live a few houses away, all except the rather pitiful little 2-up-2-down apartment house across the street from me, which houses at least one young family with two little girls. All the neighbors bowed a lot, all smiled at me so sweetly, and all spoke directly to me, even though they were talking to Miyuki and she to them...then she'd translate. They were so polite to look at ME, not at her!

I had small boxes of chocolates to give, as it's important that the new resident bring small gifts to his or her new neighbors, not the other way around. I was glad I'd learned the Japanese for "oh, please, go ahead!" which is very's "dozo". I had to say it each time before they accepted the chocolate--it was part of the ritual, I guess! "Here is a gift for you!" "Oh, no, I couldn't possibly" "Oh please, go ahead!" "Gee, thanks! *grab*"

One neighbor is Idai-san (Mister Ee-day, basically). He was short and elderly, with beautiful deep-set eyes that turned down at the corners and a weathered, seamed face. He told Miyuki to tell me very specifically not to let people know that my husband was at sea and I was alone, and that I was not to open the door to strangers, as Japanese door-to-door salesmen are very persistent. (Yeah, I'm so very frail and vulnerable--ha!) He warned me specifically of the Japanese spice salesmen, and said "do not let them into your door!" Japanese doors open outwards, so it's kind of way to see who is at my door without opening the door at least halfway. And all of them, including one woman who proudly told me she was sixty (and her front door proclaimed her profession as an "architect designer", though her office was elsewhere) told me to visit often, and to come to them if I had any difficulties, or if I got scared on my own. Even a wizened, tiny, stooped old lady told me to come to her for help, as she peered up at me from beneath her dowager's hump!

The architect designer woman was VERY proud of recently turning sixty, and told me her two children (ages 32 and 40) recently both married..and how old was I, and did I have children, and how did I feel today, and did I often get sick...funny lady! The people across from Idai-san had had a death in the family, and were receiving condolence calls. They had a white sheet with black stripes and fancy pleats draped over their front window, and a sort of deep valance of white fluttering across the front of their tiny porch, with black trim and black kanji characters. But the husband went inside to get his wife, and she came running out with her apron on (guess she was cooking for funeral guests) and smiled and bowed and bowed more, wiping her hands on her apron and professing her desire to be of help to me.

Idai-san also pointed out a little electronics store, and told Miyuki very seriously that I was to come to him if I needed any repairs and he would make sure they dealt with me honestly. I think they would do so anyway, but I think he needed to be "a strong man" for me. Miyuki showed me the park where I am to take my garbage, and the nets to secure my garbage bags at the park, and which kind of trash goes where.

Idai-san followed us to the trash area, and was very serious about telling Miyuki to tell me to secure my trash so that the "neku" would not get it. I heard the word, and said "Oh, cats!" before Miyuki could say anything. They both turned to me in shock, and then both beamed, as if the baby just said "mama"! I said "neko toh inu" which means "cat and dog" and that absolutely delighted them both, and Idai-san practically broke his neck nodding and grinning that yes, indeed, the cats and dogs would get into the garbage if we were not careful...and I was not to feed any feral cats! As we walked back to the house there were two young mothers with three small children...they were painting something large and emphatic on the street at the stop sign in bright fluorescent yellow paint. Miyuki said they were "diligent mothers" and that the sign said "slow down, children are here!"

I'm very excited and pleased to hit it off so well with Miyuki, and I think it's great that she's "only a five minute walk away" as she says. Granted, that walk is probably longer for me, and it's VERY steep, but if she expects me to walk with her, of course I will, and I will get more used to walking the neighborhood. I really love my little neighborhood! Oh, and the man right behind me, with whom I share a driveway--it turns out he works at the base with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force! So if absolutely necessary, either of us could get a ride with him to the base. He speaks very little English, but like most Japanese, he understands far more than he speaks, and almost all Japanese understand some written English. I still want to learn to take the bus though, just in case.

Miyuki has lovely thick hair with a little wave to it, and a round, sweet face with squinting eyes and a dear smile with a crooked tooth...and she hugged me twice, so tight and warm it was like getting a hug from Mom! That is NOT Japanese, and I think is a product of her open and generous nature...and the fact that we really hit it off and she stayed to talk at my house for an hour afterwards!

I planted my two little hanging window box pots with little yellow and hot pink Gerbera daisies and something tall with lots of little yellow and hot pink flowers, and something else tall and fragrant with slightly silvery leaves and slender spikey flower heads. When I hung them, three neighborhood ladies turned and saw me hanging out the window to do it. They all called "konnichi wa!" and then when they saw the flowers, they all bowed and called out "arigato gozaimas!!" I guess they were thanking me for being a good neighbor and not leaving the empty, ugly containers hanging without flowers. I think that the more I do to make my house pretty, the more my neighbors will feel as if I am working with the neighborhood team. I bought a larger container to go by my front door, which seems to be the thing to do here. I still have two ranunculas and two Gerbera daisies to plant, and I will put them in the new container. I also got a garden hose and a thing to roll it up with. I love ranunculas...and had them in my wedding bouquet. I think their multi-petalled heads are softer than roses, more cozy somehow, but not as loose and wild as peonies. There is just something about them. They make me think of the Philadelphia Flower Show--and my memory of going there as a kid with Mom is one of my best.