Thursday, March 22, 2007

Shunbun No Hi

Shunbun No Hi

Today is the spring equinox or Shunbun no hi, which literally means the day that divides spring. Tonight we are invited to the Shinzato’s to share in their celebration.

It’s a beautiful morning and Art has business to attend to so John and I take a short bicycle ride to the Chinese gardens to feed the koi fish and turtles. Entrance to the gardens is free and we pay 200 yen on fish food and I spend a pleasant hour watching John dole out the pellets to turtles and fish. The turtles are foolish and come close enough to be caught and John scoops a couple out of the pond and onto the bank. We laugh and watch them scurry back into the pond with a relieved splash. Hungry and having had enough of turtles we bicycle a few blocks further to Ryubo department store where I am sure we can find a “picture menu” restaurant on their top floor. Nothing suits the both of us and in frustration we descend back down the 8 floors and settle for Kentucky Fried Chicken, where John wanted to eat initially. Art calls my cell phone but we get disconnected and when I try to call back, the LCD panel, with a mind of its own has switched to kanji and is useless to me. I feel suddenly powerless and overwhelmed once again. We bicycle back home but my cell phone rings just before I spot Art’s bright red bicycle helmet moving towards us.

I spend the afternoon working on the wax original for a Sumo wrestler charm while Art tries to decipher the Japanese instructions for his new printer while John fusses over homework.

Tadashi arrives promptly at 6:00 P.M. to drive us to his parents’ home for the Shunbun no hi celebration. I am confused when he presents me with a gift bag, the contents being a beautifully boxed cake. John is delighted by the cake; no questions asked, but I ask Tadashi why? He explains to me that it is because we gave them a gift of baby clothes. In an earlier “blog” I mentioned that Tadashi lived with us for more than a year, 7 or 8 years ago. He is now married to Shoko and they have a 4 month old baby boy, Renta.

I show Tadashi my recent wax carvings of a puffer fish, ginkgo leaf and a goya. He flashes me a bright smile when he sees the “harisenbon” (puffer fish) charm. He and Shoko are divers and I promise to send him one when it is cast. I explain to him that I want to make a “Peace Crane.” I am taking paper with me tonight in the hopes that someone will show me how to make a paper crane to use it as a model.

I feel happy and at home when I enter the Shinzato’s home. After removing my shoes, I step up into their house and am greeted warmly. Exotic aromas fill the house. There seem to be more children than usual and I am immediately hopeful when I see a boy about John’s age lounging on a chair. Tadashi’s sister has three boys and the oldest is John’s age. (It’s probably the age but unfortunately neither boy exchanges a word throughout the entire evening.) I offer to help in the kitchen, but I am motioned to sit at the low table on the floor. I pull out the origami paper and within minutes the table is covered with squares of colorful paper, and dozens of cranes take to life.

There are 13 of us, including 2 babies and one toddler. The women, (all except me) busy themselves in the kitchen and 10 places are laid at a low table in the back room. Serving plates are set down the center of the table and small plates are put on the table before each mat on the floor. Before we sit down to eat, Shigeru, Tadashi’s older brother lights incense sticks and gives one to everyone. We file along the side of the table, bow slightly and offer up a prayer. The incense sticks are placed on the family alter before we sit down to eat. The serving dishes are piled with “fatty pork”, fried tofu, purple sweet potato, seaweed, daikon radishes etc. We are each served individual bowls of a pork and vegetable stew, a bowl of rice and another tiny bowl of vinegered seaweed. I enjoy the evening immensely.

John laughs and plays shanshin with Shigeru. Shigeru helps Art translate his brochure into kanji and we all help Shigeru understand the lyrics to an American/Japanese Rap song. I get to hold a baby! It’s a lovely evening.

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