goodbye to november

i visited my brother in his hospital yesterday. he looked good and said he actually felt better than last week, so that we could have a long chat. i'm relieved that he’s most likely to go home before christmas. he'll soon be free (at least for a while). yes, today is already the last day of november and we will soon have christmas and the new year. but every japanese cannot help but think about momiji 紅葉 this time of the year. the word, momiji-gari 紅葉狩, reminds me of the famous title for a kabuki play (based on a noh play).

momiji-gari (literal meaning is “momiji hunt” and actual meaning is “viewing scarlet maple leaves”) is kind of our national obsession, and it is our essential and seasonal tradition that still shows our naturalist side, which i don’t want to lose. so i went out momiji-gari with my mother. we had just a pleasant walk, viewing colourful momiji leaves in my park, as it was. on my way home i saw a kingfisher flying to the branch of momiji near a small pond that is a winter scene of my park. it was a lovely sunny morning and i managed to mark the end of the autumn 2008.
in the mean time, i spend 3 days in tokyo last weekend. i met up my girlfriends in a busy pub near shibuya station. before getting there, i had a tiny accident – the kitten heel of my short boot got stuck in a groove of the platform (merde!!) and broke when i got off a bullet train and walked on. it was not groovy, really. i’d forgotten how crowded tokyo was until i found myself struggling to keep my way. but our reunion was fun. the more excited about our girl talk we got, the louder our voices rose. i had 2 hours. though it was too short for them to fill me in, it was bad enough to increase my crow's feet.
the main aim of my tokyo trip in fact was to visit gotenba with louie, my son, and chiharu, his fiancée, to meet with her parents. they’ve finally decided to tie the knot next year. it was a perfect autumn day for a drive from tokyo to gotenba in shizuoka prefecture. many other people also appeared to think so. the highway's heavy traffic worn mr piano-man, my ex-husband, out. i felt sorry for the driver. still, it must be worthwhile for him, too. we viewed the most magnificent mt fuji on the way. i’d never seen mt fuji that close and that big before.

chiharu’s father, a young-looking retiree, grows crops, tea plants and various fruits and vegetables as one of his hobbies. and in the background of the garden he designed, mt fuji stood out clear against the flawless blue sky. that was kind of the scenery of sheer bliss. and her mother whom i’d met once before, is a lovely person and one of a few working mothers in the village. she seemed to have slaved over a hot stove all morning. she served us home-grown tea and homemade sweets, using home-grown ingredients.

as we left the house for lunch since they booked a table at a nearby hotel restaurant at the foot of mt fuji, her mother handed me a huge shopping bag. i was curious about what’s inside. guess what? there were many boxes of local specialties and delicacies: for example, a fresh real wasabi, which is no longer seen in our fridges (i’m sure many people have no chance to see a fresh one in life, so i show you my pics) in each bag of mr piano-man’s and mine. our brief visit went like: we got there; finished all the plates on the table; bagged plunder half an hour later and then quickly left.
in retrospect, mr piano-man and i could've been like bandits, i’m afraid. yet, how could i never say no when her mother also offered us bags of home-grown peanuts, rice and fresh yuzu picked from their garden? we japanese almost cannot have a new year’s feast without yuzu. meanwhile, louie looks forward to helping chiharu’s father out to farm and harvest next year. it sounds like lohas, don't you think? her parents have epitomised that. i am extremely envious of their lifestyle!



buenos aires revisited

(i've just called louie, my son, to wish him a happy birthday. he sounds funny as always. he never means to be funny, though.)
4 years ago today, i arrived at ezeiza airport in buenos aires – alone. the flight from osaka via toronto took me more than 20 hours. it was exactly a half around-the-world trip. the two cities are situated in the same latitude, but north and south. so the seasons were completely opposite: from early winter to early summer.
tomás, my young porteño amigo, picked me up from the airport. then, he drove me to juncal in barrio norte. i returned to the same apartment hotel, where i had lived for four month until early september. “hola!”-- the familiar face handed me the key and a postcard. it was from pete and the apartment after i left. the receptionist had kept it for me. unfortunately, as the 9th floor was occupied by somebody, i went up to the 5th floor this time. but the décor was same, the two were identical since the two belonged to the same owner.
as soon as tomás brought my suitcase in and made sure that i was happy with the new apartment, he stood by the door, already gripping his car key, and said: “you must be tired after the long journey. i’ll leave you to take a rest.” in fact, i was exhausted. but i didn’t feel like resting. i was exited, rather i was delirious. i looked out from my window and recognised that the tall sycamore, which, i only remember, was completely bare, grew fresh green leaves in el instituto italiano de cultura’s garden adjoined to my building’s backyard.
the jacaranda was covered in bluish purple flowers here and there, all over the town. i was back in buenos aires to work on some magazine features just like i was doing in london, which made me feel so content about becoming a porteña again. i didn’t need to find myself at a loose end anymore there. i went out. “buen dia”-- i bought myself a tiny bunch of jasmine from a street vendor. well, that’s gardenia, not jasmine, but the name is confusingly different in latin america. no matter what the flowerer is called, its sweet scent wouldn’t escape me, still now.
i’m going up to tokyo this weekend to get together with my children and girlfriends. you, too, have a great weekend!


great solacers

i didn’t really want to hear of any more news about the global gloom of economy, telling us to save money, if any, for a rainy day. it was a rainy sunday. but we had spells of bright, calm and warm weather (around 2o centigrade!). a typically sunny day of november is called “a fine little spring day 小春日和” in japan. indeed, it was spring-like and the sun was inviting everyone to be outside. still, the air was autumnal, fresh and clear, and the colours of roadside-trees as far as i could see from my window were red, yellow and brown. how could i resist going out? even when i got something to work at home, it must be a great shame if i did not take a long walk in my park on such a fine little spring day.

the reasons i can live in this (sort of like culturally barren) middle-class suburbia are my mother and my park. as i’d always lived miles and miles away from my mother before, i am happy about living within striking distance of my mother’s flat now. also, as i’d almost always lived near a park, i chose to live here within shouting distance of a park when i decided to settle in osaka. my park is not as fashionable as urban oases like central park of new york or hyde park of london. it is, however, the largest lush green area in this city. it has cascades, a huge pond (we don’t call it a lake) and lovely paths along them. people would go there for walking, running, walking their dogs or taking pictures of birds.

the park lays there for flora and fauna, too. it provides birds a perfect sanctuary. i now know which branches a beautiful kingfisher would perch on in winter. i saw a raccoon family gingerly popping out of a bush by the pond for the first time in september. crows and cats are the modern inhabitants in the park that are only on the increase among them. crows have become urban trouble-makers in big cities for rubbish disposal all over in japan, because they can live on a “mixed-diet”. as for cats, people would go dump their cats there when they no longer want to or cannot have them at home. on the other hand, many people have found solace in feeding those cats, who have multiple names that vary according to their feeders.

when i walked in my park on friday, i found a sakura 桜 tree in blossom every autumn, but there were only a few momiji 紅葉 (japanese maple) trees changed colour, while cherry leaves started to fall. so i headed for another park some 1 km away. i remembered its maples would usually turn red earlier than momiji. i was a little too late to get there, actually. i missed its best. but, all the foliage was still glowing with scrumptious colours: cardinal, vermilion, burgundy, crimson and amber. as i was walking back home, i was thinking about last year when in convalescence -- back then, i felt increasingly appreciative of the autumn i was able to enjoy again. a walk on a lovely day always gives solace to me. i was hoping that my brother, too, was having a pleasant and peaceful autumn day before his hospitalisation next week.

on thursday, my brother and i had visited our mother together to inform her that he was diagnosed esophagus cancer. we did our best to play it down, though. her shock seemed miner than when she got in my case. that was a real relief. she appeared to have learned to be fully aware of the possibility since i fell ill last year, which was utterly shocking news to all my family. as i’ve survived, i can be something that makes her believe her children will certainly make a speedy recovery. yes, she should believe it. he is my brother. i do believe it, too. my heart, meanwhile, aches whenever i imagine how sad a mother can get when she finds herself useless before her child left in a critical situation.

after my brother left us, my mother looked heavy-hearted, though we both tried to look as normal as possible. she handed me a pinch of saffron threads she grew and harvested for me this year, too. i simply hope that she will plant bulbs of saffron for me next year and this little happiness will last forever. after wondering around the globe alone, family values are my quite recent discovery, as it were. especially, i treasure the closest ever bond with my mother and another with my daughter in my entire life. i should make her paella, using her saffron. or, some seafood stew like bouillabaisse would be nice to bring her on a cold evening. i would make either one when shion, my daughter, stays with me next time, hopefully soon.


soul-searching november 9

i received the bad news first on wednesday. it was a sad day. i learned that the result on my brother’s medical tests was not as good at all as i’d hoped. when i talked to him on the phone, he was in good spirits as usual, though. he’s got to be ready for a long fight against cancer. my brother’s always a gentle soul, but i detected a bit of irritation in his voice. i know very well how he feels. he must be angry about himself having neglected to have check-ups even when he noticed some symptoms. maybe, all i can do now for him is care for him as his only sister.

on the previous night, an expat friend of mine phoned me from london. we had a long chat, exchanging gossips and updating information about our own lives. naturally, who’d be the next american president was among our topics. she said she didn’t want barack obama to be elected because his grandmother (step-grand mother to be precise), sisters and brothers (half-siblings) live in the slums of kenya and fellow african people’s high hopes would be big trouble for his future as president. -- how? i couldn’t help feeling sad as i heard her making such remarks. she was very generous friend of mine who was always there for me when i lived in london. but, yes, i remember our own world views were different.

the good news followed the bad one, though. barack obama (a brief but pretty lengthy biography of him on the guardian here) was elected as the new american president. if i were a voter i’d unconditionally stand by him: mostly because he seems to be scrupulously fair with everyone and, unlike usual fat cats, he shows a great deal of respect even for those who disagree with him; partly because i’m interested in his mix-raced and multi-cultural background and, needless to say, he is one of black (half) americans who were born to fight for unreasonable discrimination even in this 21st century. his, and all the unprejudiced americans’ triumph pleased and relieved me no end.

at the same time, it worried me over his safety. i already begun to fear that he should be the highest-profiled target for some crazy white-supremacists, as i watched the video of his impressive victory speech on the election night in chicago. anyway, he stood still before the sea of his ecstatic supporters, including emotional jesse jackson with tears in his eyes. barack obama’s inner equilibrium was incredible. it was the most beautiful and moving speech i’ve ever heard in my life. directly or indirectly, we all did share his victory. the scene of his speech became “a night to remember” for us. i was glued to the video on my pc for some 17 minutes. i was touched. i played it over and over again. what a historic night!

when barack obama visited berlin in july, he was cordially welcomed by berliners and 200,000 people turned up to hear his speech in tiergarten. and i noticed that in his victory speech he quoted the fall of the berlin wall. that was certainly a night to remember, too. on the 9th of november, 1989, when the wall came down, i was in london with my little kids. we were watching live tv news captured the euphoria of all berliners. then, the tension of the cold war faded out. meanwhile, my family eventually fell apart and my life, going back and forth between london and tokyo, changed a lot. and 10 years later, i was alone in berlin. i was there to share and celebrate the 10th anniversary of the fall of the berlin wall with berliners.

why? because i was a simpleton, like those local residents of a japanese city, obama 小浜 (means “tiny beach”) of which pronunciation happens to be the same as american president-elect, who gatherd to celebrate his victory with hula dance (what a joke!). in early september, 1999, i flew to berlin from tokyo and for 3 months i lodged with marianne, who was a costume designer, in her spacious apartment near savignyplatz, belonging to the posh neighbourhood. to tell you the truth, celebrating the anniversary was a pretext for my berlin trip. although i genuinely had sentiment towards the fall of the berlin wall, i wanted to leave tokyo, or rather, just wanted to change my spiritless tokyo life, feeling that everything i did came to naught.

in berlin, marianne’s apartment was full of inspirations. i roamed around the city day after day. i loved galleries in mitte. i loved tiergarten. i loved taking #129 buses and s-bahn between savignyplatz and hackescher markt. i truly loved berlin. i met new people. i went to see exhibitions, operas and concerts with them or alone as much as i could afford. before flying back to tokyo, my sentimental journey was supposed to culminate with the special night of november 9th. actually, it was a bit of disappointment – i was there only to find berliners’ indifference to the celebration. they had to deal with reality first. the whole city stayed normal, except for the people hired to work for the celebration, well, for celebration’s sake.

marienne didn’t even mention the berlin wall that day. one of americans i met at the goethe insititute, pete, who lamented over his country’s unpopularity among germans (already in 1999!), flew home before the anniversary. it was drizzling but unseasonably a mild night. i went out alone to see what was happening at the brandenburg gate. when i got there, the celebration was officially over and the crowds already started to disperse. berlin’s symbol of freedom looked a little fragile in the misty rain. what a night... i’d never imagined the 10th anniversary of the fall of the berlin wall would turn out like that. but yet, no matter how things went, no matter what my motivation was, berlin provided me time and space for soul-searching. i needed to look back at my past 10 years in order to see where i was standing and where i was going.

19 years passed. the world has become more complicated than ever since the berlin wall came down. i really hope barack obama’s new america will regain its popularity from the rest of the world. and 9 years have raced by since i bade good bye to berlin. i’m reflecting on my personal life -- how many times have i started over since then? did i go wrong somewhere? are my children happy about me now? is my mother contented with her life much involving me? and, oh, my brother, when he came here last week for his cancer confession to make, did he expect me to cry? (i didn’t, in front of him) – november 9th has become, somehow, a day to search soul and heart for me.

wow. i's so nice to find your comments on my last post. thank you so much for kind words, which mean a lot to me. my brother is as strong as me ;) i'm sure he will win his fight!


the moment of truth

i’ve been waiting to hear some important news since this morning --- the news of two unrelated results that i will have to accept. i am no doubt getting more nervous as time passes.

one result is on the american presidential election, which i’ve no involvement, actually. but it is so much to do with the whole world, so that it can remotely affect even my life. that’s for sure. another one is way scarier to hear. last friday, my brother came to see me, saying “i’ve got something to tell you”. whenever i hear the line, it’s nothing good. my brother, the best role model of family-man: a devoted son; a loving father and a gutsy affectionate uncle to my kids, is always and exceptionally caring to me. this time, he is the one who needs to be cared by the family. he came to me to tell this straight from the clinic he’d visited: “i’ve been diagnosed with cancer.”

he has gone to a medical university hospital with his wife this morning to find out how risky his cancer condition is and what treatment doctors can give him. i know it’s not exactly our dna’s fault. anyone can be a cancer patient these days, can’t they? despite the medical survey and research, i feel as if my family is doomed: we lost our father to cancer and i’m a cancer-survivor, too. although my mother is no stranger to bad news like “cancer announcement”, we haven’t told her yet. i’ve started praying to god again for him since last friday, like i did for myself last year. please, please don’t take an ordinary family life from my brother, please let us go on this way, or even better way…


the moon in lagos

gosh. it’s already november. i can’t believe that we have only two months to go before the new year. but the low temperatures are still double-digit numbers (celsius), though. i go anywhere in light cotton top and pants during the daytime. lots of osakanians may be dying to show off their new woollies, i guess. “jack frost” seems to be having a whale of a time someplace else. in england, perhaps? i’ve noticed that the london’s weather has turned wintry, nippy and even had some snowflakes recently.

when lived in london, i quite liked finding fern frost patterns on my kitchen window and frozen petals in the garden on cold mornings. a crisp air could sharpen my senses. nonetheless, thick or wet weather made me go crazy missing a sunny place. and, i actually tried to escape from damned dim days. there were several holiday destinations i fancied. algarve, where there was a distinct possibility of sunny spells, came across my mid first, since i’d never been to portugal before. as it turned out, my instinct proved myself right. november in lagos, not the one in africa but in the algarve region, was a seashore paradise.

i stayed at a villa-styled hotel on the cliff and my room had not only a perfect ocean view but a perfect kitchenette as well. people would think it’s ridiculous if i said i’d love to cook on holiday. but i do. so the first thing i did in lagos was food shopping at a local supermarket. at the check-out counter – i found myself having no money with me. silly me. i’d left my wallet in my hotel room. while i was in a panic, i recognised the faces of a youngish english family, who took the same plane from gatwick airport and stayed in the same villa as mine, queuing up right behind me.

i explained the circumstances to the father and politely asked him if i could borrow some cash to pay and told him i’d returned the money as soon as i got back in the villa. but he refused. fair enough. who’d want possible trouble on holiday? to be fair, i was a complete stranger. after the awkward moment of silence, a man showed up, introducing himself in english as the shop owner. “where are you staying?” he asked me. i told him the name of the villa. “you can take the stuff with you” said the owner, “no problem. i’ll collect the money later.” i felt like shedding my tears over his kind offer. “obrigada,” i repeated my first portuguese word. i appreciated his trust in me. he made my day.

during my stay, i dined out at a small restaurant sometimes, while i kept visiting “my supermarket”. and also i shopped at a local fish market that inspired me to cook a cheap and cheerful spaghetti alla pescatora, which normally would cost me a lot in london. the only problem was, the fishy and garlicky aroma didn’t easily go away from my room. oh, i shouldn’t forget to mention the natural beauty of lagos: the crystal blue sea and the numerous grottoes that lagos especially boasts. not to mention the mediterranean climate i loved and the gorgeous praias (beaches) along the atlantic ocean with fewer holidaymakers.

there were many other ways in lagos to find life’s simple pleasure by doing nothing, like sunbathing on the white and soft sandy beach (if you don’t mind the cold water, you can swim in november!), strolling into the washed-out coloured town, or looking up at the moon in the starry sky. though i had a chance to visit the dramatic southwesternmost point of europe, cabo de são vicente in sagres, for me it was purely a joy to take the same street on my way to the beach or on my way back to the villa, walking by the house where the branches of bougainvillea hung heavy with flowers in the full bloom over the stuccoed fence.

one afternoon, when i was walking along the marina, i heard someone whistling some sentimental but very familiar melody somewhere. i stopped to wonder what the melody was, looking for who was whistling the tune. as i saw a yachtsman busy pulling a rope on his yacht, i recalled that the tune was japanese: the old but popular song for schoolchildren, “kojo no tsuki (moon over the ruined castle)” composed by 滝 廉太郎 rentaro taki. the melody filled me with nostalgia. but, how and where did he get acquainted with that japanese tune? there could’ve been an interesting story behind his whistling the tune. i was too shy to ask the yachtsman, which i still regret even now. november moons always tell me i really should’ve.