Volume 2:: Home Videos

So there was a little more editing in this volume but still working on the cinematography side of things (hard to do when you are chasing your subjects). This is our summer vacation, essentially. From mid-July to yesterday.

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City Mall//シティモール

One of my favourite jokes about the Goto City Mall is that it lives up to its name, which transliterated from katakana to English reads shitty. It is essentially a grocery store with a big 100 yen shop, a Mr. Donuts and an udon restaurant, plus a small variety of shops upstairs. According to one of Jason’s friends, it is where people on Goto go when they are sad. It is also the biggest/only shopping centre on the island. And it is where we go when we get bored/hot.
The heatwave is unrelenting so we escaped to the air conditioned comforts of the City Mall today via bus. IMG_1065IMG_1066IMG_1068

It’s fun for the kids as there is a small arcade (with older games but it doesn’t really bother the kids as old games are better than no games), a toy shop, and a bookstore upstairs.
Which is why I usually don’t bring them since the main draw for me is Mr. Donut’s iced coffee and the 100 yen shop. But I figured that they deserved a break from melting into the tatami so I brought them along and forked out change on demand (the good thing about always being, um, financially challenged, my kids really do know the limits of my wallet so after a few games they declare themselves done). Nico beat me in air hockey 9 to 1 somehow then Colette and I went on to play a metals game that features an animatronic dinosaur with a missing arm.
We spent several hours at the mall today, spanning the arc of the hottest hours. We had our donuts and yakisoba and then went for a walk in down a mountainside road before returning back for some kakigori (shaved ice). And when we left the City Mall, the kids complained that they had had a terrible time (which is code for they are sad to be leaving because they had an awesome time and are just trying to guilt you into returning). Going there is not something we can do often because the fun/novelty of the place would be quickly extinguished with even weekly visits, but for today I was really glad to have such an enjoyable shelter from the sweltering summer.

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How my garden grows//どのよう私の庭が成長する


One of the biggest transitions I made when we moved here a year and some months ago was to leave behind a huge vegetable garden and begin container gardening again.
I have always grown something but when we moved to Florida that something became our food source. I learned how to battle caterpillars and ants and drought. I managed to make tiny seeds become giant, flourishing plants. And I learned how to use the bounty of okra and peppers and tomatoes and eggplants and how to be overjoyed with the one watermelon that survived the raccoons. It was one of the most challenging and educational projects I have undertaken in my adult life. And I was smitten.
Then I moved to a tiny house surrounded by concrete except for a small strip of hostile rocky dirt between our neighbour’s tiny house. And it is dirt that they prefer to be dirt as they will spread poison over the soil at the first sign of life. So I returned to containers, except for a small rectangle of the dirt that the previous tenants had used as a flower bed and remains untainted with herbicide. The first year I was ambitious and bought too many plants from the bonneted farmer on the street corner. They were okay in the beginning but my heart was not into it and they became consumed by weeds.
I did discover the art of growing from clippings and filled the flower bed with hydrangeas of various varieties, mint and rosemary and basil. And then after much research I found an heirloom seed company that I could order from online and pay for them afterward at the post office. How I restrained myself can only be explained by the lingering heartache from the previous attempt.
The seed packets sat longer than I realized as I am not very good with keeping track of the calendar pages as they expire. So a couple of weeks ago, frustrated with American politics, I took to the dirt and planted my seeds. Simple selection of Okinawan okra, cherry tomatoes, purple peppers, and sesame seeds. As I mentioned yesterday, it has been a really long summer with no sign of relief so I don’t feel it is too late in the growing season.
Today I transplanted the seedlings into bigger containers, deep buckets for the okra, long rectangles for the tomatoes and peppers. The sesame will go into the flower bed as the mint and shiso have given up their ghosts for the year and the hydrangea will be transferred to pots. The sesame will grow tall until it produces the seed pods that I will have to net in order to harvest my seeds. They will be a little unwieldy before then and the neighbours will probably titter and fuss but that is okay. I will have my little harvest in before they can find their poison.
Perhaps it will be a long time before I have another garden like I did in Florida. Most likely it will. Until then I will have to make due with whatever dirt I can get my hands into.

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夏休み// Summer Holidays

Oh my. I am not going to lie. This summer is breaking me. And I am from Florida. We would probably not be suffering so much if we had something fancy like an air conditioner. But we don’t. We don’t have a car either. Or a bike. We do have highs in the mid-to-upper 90s. We also have crazy beautiful beaches, blue skies everyday, a non-stop symphony of cicadas, popsicles, and the pool.
All elementary schools in Japan have a pool after a few drowning incidents a couple of decades ago alarmed the nation to the fact that kids were not learning how to swim like they used to (back when they had more free time and were less urban). So it was mandated that every elementary school have a pool. When we lived in Nagoya, the pool was on the school’s roof. Now the pool is a few blocks away from the school, sandwiched between two Buddhist temples and a mountainside graveyard. During the summer holidays the pool is staffed by neighbourhood volunteers who essentially just sit on the side, making sure that everyone showers and nobody drowns. And, because it belongs to the school, there is no admission fee. My oldest two go down there during the day with their friends and in the late afternoon, the younger two get their turn.


Today was no exception, though I had switched roles with Jason for the afternoon since I had a migraine and needed to sleep it off. When I woke, the kids informed me it was time to go so we went. A couple of older boys were playing in the pool and shouted their hellos to Aki and Haru. When the kids were finally in the water, the boys adopted Haru and helped him to get over his timidity. By the time they were finished today, all of the kids were doing cannonballs, even Haru. I stood to the side since I forgot my swim cap and watched dragonflies couples dancing over the water and the occasional giant black butterfly dip down towards the rippling surface. In the graveyard the frames had been erected for the Obon lanterns that will hang there from tomorrow. And walking home, the children’s cheeks sun kissed and steps slow from exhaustion, I realised that we had had a proper summer break moment, a moment that would be remembered over the vast amount of time we have spent melting on the tatami mats.

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Random Bits of Us:: July version

Last month, I got a new to me iPhone and have been accumulating little clips from life here on Gotou following around the four primates who call me mom. I plan to improve my cinematography and editing skills so hopefully these monthly mixed tapes will become progressively more watchable. Until then, they are probably just of interest to blood relatives and close friends but I thought I would post it here on the off chance that you wanted to see nine minutes of shaky videos clips all smashed together.
Hope you are well. xo
July 2016:: Random clips of us

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Let’s Play// 遊びましょう

We are in the middle of the rainy season so that means when the clouds break, we are out the door and usually to the park. This last Sunday was one of those days and we went to the nearby seaside park with this little rocky stream running through it. It was a very small break but the sky was blue, the dragonflies were on patrol, and all of us felt much better after getting some sunshine on our skin and dirt under our nails.

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Green Persimmons// 青い柿

kakiThis year the persimmons decided
they were tired of being autumn fruit
They wanted to know what it was like to
have the full summer sun ripen their
skin orange, to have a bird other than
inky crows rest amongst their limbs
If they could have talked with the loquat first
they would have seen the folly of their
idea but they were ignoring the loquats since
they had refused to answer any correspondence
the persimmons had not noticed the gardeners
and their saws, taking down the branches of their
old friends almost bare except for a few
long ridged leaves, more yellow than green
So the persimmons went ahead with their plan
and flowered in the spring, assisted by
pollinators who had hatched early in order to get
as much business done as possible before the
summer heat made it tiresome to fly
The scheme was going along well, they saw swallows
building nests and dragonflies, not red ones
that patrolled the autumn skies,
but blue ones, green ones,
summer ones
The fruit grew and grew and though they knew something
was a little strange, a little off, they ignored it and
dreamt instead of long summer days, of children
in shorts with skint knees, holding sparklers,
the silver and gold light bouncing off the driveways,
Of being harvested along with watermelons and corn,
of being considered a treat, so early in the year
Then the storm came, a storm they had not anticipated
In the first few hours, they managed to hold onto most of the fruit
but as the gale winds raged on, their strength waned
Those who could hear tree-speak would have been saddened that
night to hear the weak cries of the persimmons:
can’t hold on, can’t hold on, can’t hold on


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About the rain… // 雨について。。。

In Nagoya, my home for three years, there is a display at the municipal science museum showcasing the annual rainfall in the city. They used test tubes and blue beads to depict the amount of rain. Most of the tubes were empty save a handful in June for the rainy season and a couple in September when a typhoon came ashore. The kids and I counted and did some quick math: 356 sunny days. Nagoya is a concrete desert so it is incredibly hot in the summer and incredibly cold in the winter with strong winds blowing through in between. Prior to living in Nagoya, we were on Gotou for two years. Two years of hail, thunderstorms, ceaseless rain, hail, constant cloud coverage. 356 days of sunshine seemed worth the blistering heat and the bitter cold.
We came back to Gotou fully aware of what we were getting into but it does not mean that I do not complain about the weather. It does mean that the rare days of blue skies and warm breezes make me dance with my children and sing silly made-up songs that embarrass the older ones. I am trying to accept and appreciate the temperamental weather. We live on an island in the sea: it is part of the deal. Gorgeous beaches, delicious food, cozy small town life, and a magnetic for every cloud that travels up and down the East China Sea.
As part of my effort to embrace the erratic climate, I am documenting it and learning how to describe it. Japanese is useful for this purpose since it is brimming over with rain-based terminology. Look at this list of words used just for describing the intensity of the rain:

弱雨 じゃくう jakuu weak rain

小雨 こさめ kosame light rain

小降り こぶり koburi light rain

微雨 びう biu light rain

小糠雨 こぬかあめ konukaame fine rain

煙雨 えんう enu misty rain

細雨 さいう saiu drizzle

多雨 たう tau heavy rain

大雨 おおあめ ooame heavy rain

強雨 きょうう kyouu severe rain

横降り よこぶり yokoburi driving rain

吹き降り ふきぶり fukiburi driving rain

篠突く雨 しのつくあめ shinotsukuame intense rain

集中豪雨 しゅうちゅうごうう shuuchuugouu severe localized downpour

I was looking over these words today, trying to accurately describe the heavy rain that had been coming down since midnight. I stood outside, immediately soaked, looking at the flooded garden next door. What is the difference, I wondered, between severe, driving, and intense? And since the storm seems to be just passing over us, does it qualify as a severe localized downpour, even though it has been pouring down for over twelve hours? I think what I should do is combine all the terms into a new kanji that will represent Gotou’s specific rain. Most likely if I studied Gotou dialect (Gotou-ben) more, I would find that there is already an entire set of words designed just for island weather.
Of course that would require going outside to find someone willing to teach me Gotou-ben and, well, it’s raining.

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Out of sync (aka Gotou time)// ずれる (五島の時間)


It is Thursday night, almost Friday morning, and I am drinking whisky before taking a long soak in the oversized sink that is my tub. It’s been months since I dropped in here. It feels like years, it feels like seconds. Time does not run on a straight track: it bends and contorts, it fades and saturates. I have struggled to keep up with clocks and schedules my entire life. All of my dreams involve being free of such constraints on my natural relationship with time.

Here on the island, there is not a single clock that shares the same time. At the school where I teach, the classroom clocks are progressively five minutes faster than the neighbouring classroom. So I leave the office at 9:00 and take ten steps and it is 9:05 in my first class of the morning, meaning that I am late. At the end of the hall it is already 9:15. The students in the furtherest classroom are the first to eat lunch and the first to get ready to go home. They are often waiting in the foyer for the bus while the kids in the first classroom are still singing their good-bye songs. It is the same all around the island. Downtown, the shops all respect their own clocks though most of the shops close at 6:00. So you’ll see the metal shutters lower on one shop at 5:47 then the one down the way won’t lower until 6:10 and across the street they close up at 6:14. Every one is punctual with their mismatched time but you must calculate the different time zones before going shopping. Like I know the fabric shop locks up at 5:51 on the dot so I have to go by before I get off work, which is either 6:00 according to my classroom clock (I set it to match my iPad) or 6:12 according to the clock in the office or 5:55 in the neighbouring classroom.

The result has been that living here has only compounded my detachment from conventional time and in an indirect way, affected my ability to make regular appearances here.
Also, I was unsure if I wanted to commit to this blog. But I have spent the last two months evaluating and reevaluating my plans and motivations and now feel much more comfortable dropping in here. This will occur at timely intervals but according to my own clock, with its erratic hands. Not that you were worried. No, it is me that worries about such matters and I am only explaining all this so that I will post something and break the silence.

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A Love Story // 愛の物語

In the late 1930s, Martin and Daisy left the tobacco farms in southern Georgia for promises of better pay down in Florida. They were but sixteen and seventeen but times were rough for the children of sharecroppers so when they eloped, their families were relieved of additional mouths to feed. They made it just over the border to a small place called O’Neil where they got employment with an oyster farm. They had grown up on neighbouring farms doing everything together, fishing in the creek and learning to smoke behind the curing barns so it was only natural that they stick together in this new adventure. Martin was good with his hands and often got pocket money fixing clocks and engines. Daisy’s main strength was her endurance: she would be always be the first to show up and one of the last to go home. Despite the improved wages, the couple could barely put away any savings after they had taken care of the basic necessities. This bothered Martin because now Daisy was his wife and he felt bad seeing her thin, naked fingers pulling oysters out of the mud. One day they were walking home and Daisy spotted something shining along the roadside. She bent down thinking it was a coin only discover it was just a plain steel washer. She polished it up on her shirt and fiddled with it all the way home, tossing it in the air or balancing it on the tip of her index finger. At home, she put it on the dresser and had completely forgotten about it until about a week later when it was presented to her by Martin. He had taken that stray piece of hardware and worked on it every night until it was as smooth as he could manage. Daisy did not recognise it when he slipped it on her finger. And though she had told Martin up until that point that she did not need nor want a ring, once that band of metal was on her left hand, she knew it would never come off. This is just a temporary ring, Martin said, just a place holder until I can buy you the diamonds you deserve. Daisy gave him a kiss and packed their lunches. Years passed and eventually Martin got a job at the local paper mill and Daisy stayed home to raise their sons. Martin continued to work on machines on the side until he had enough business to open his own garage. His reputation as a mechanic was stellar within the small community and just a year after opening, he was able to finally give Daisy the wedding ring he had promised her over a decade before. She immediately replaced the plain metal band with the dazzling diamond and wore it every day. For about a week. Then she started taking it off, just to do the chores at first, then when working in her flower beds, then when going shopping. Within the first three months of receiving the ring that Martin had been working so hard to buy for his lovely Daisy, it was back in the padded velvet case it came in and the plain metal band was back on her left hand.

When I was a child, I used to go through Grandmother Daisy’s tiered jewellery box with my cousin and we would try on all the costume jewellery that our grandmother had collected over her long life. There tucked at the back of the bottom drawer was that diamond ring, heavier than all the cheap glittering bracelets and clip-on earrings that we used in our wild imaginings.  I was just eight years old when my grandmother left this world. My father was proclaimed to be the executor of her will and went through the jewellery box to divvy up everything according to my grandmother’s instructions. My oldest cousin, a recent newlywed, got the diamond ring. Her sister and my playmate got the full set of clip-on earrings. My older sisters got the rest. When it came to me, I was handed a small cardboard box. Inside was the metal band, just as plain as it always had been on my grandmother’s knotty finger. I was quite upset at first, having hoped for the fake ruby ring that my oldest sister had received. It was not until I moved away to college that I began to wear the ring, a small symbol of home that was so modest it was almost like wearing a secret. Like my grandmother, I have a hard time taking it off. Though I scorned the inheritance at first, I realise now what a great honour it was to receive her ring. It was not just something my grandfather made for her out of love, she was also giving me, her youngest grandchild and notorious bookworm, a story, the best story she knew. It is a story I think about very often as I go about my days, keeping it alive by sharing it with my children when their small fingers turn it around and around as we walk down the street, holding hands.
And now with you.
There is so much love in that plain ring you see up there. So very, very much.

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