Through Shoji Papered Glasses

I feel like the princess and the pea, except, I’m the pea and there are a dozen blankets of all shapes and sizes piled on top of me. Okay the princess and two peas – me and B have sourced every unworked blanket in the house to keep us warm. Our breath billows like clouds in our tatami mat bedroom. We hear the school kids voices passing through the shoji screen, cuing us for the day. I take a few moments to see the way the light passes through the reed screens on the windows and feel gratitude for being right where we are. I’m still under 10 inches of warmth, obviously.

I love waking up to all these beautiful Japanese details. Our day lies on the other side of that shoji paper window and I’m conscious of the experience of seeing life from a new perspective. Life flows differently here. There is an appreciation that exists that is palpable. And a privacy. But for the lack of entry lights and front porch sitting, you can see the hand of each person as you walk by. The way they have scrupulously cared for the tiniest of gardens and cleaned out the gutters in front of their house. The way they have hand-tied their bamboo pole fencing and made perfect, raised rows in their garden. In a city elsewhere if you saw a parking cover constructed of bamboo poles, rope and spare corrugated plastic you would probably assume some things about the people who live there and hurry by. But here it somehow looks ingenious, thoughtful and well-done. There’s a guy around the corner with two lamborghinis in his garage. Why, we have no idea. But he lives here and the neighbourhood trash pickup is right outside his door and the guy with the garage built of bamboo is on the same street. There is great pride and attention given to what you have.   

Every day at three the elementary kids walk home from school together en masse in their yellow raincoats and caps. They pass right by our house and practice their English with us and play with H and D. On all the corners of the main streets elders from the neighbourhood come out with their fluoro vests to guide all the students home with safety cones and light sabres. Your friendly neighbourhood Jedis. (We saw the Last Jedi this weekend, by the way- incredible!)

There is a heightened awareness for others here. From mass use of masks when you’re sick, to delivery workers removing their shoes at the entry while hefting a refrigerator in. It’s not everyone, but MOST people are so kind you want to cry. And I have! So many people have helped us over and above what was necessary. It’s a bit tricky with the kids though. Everyone wants to give them stuff! Luckily theres a nice way of saying thank you that means no. When we first arrived and were staying in a guest house, they would disappear and return home with the most random stuff – a flute, a fancy colouring book, glass figurines, bananas and pears. They had discovered a beautiful soul in the apartments next door who just couldn’t resist their charms! We had a little chat about that and it seems to have improved since. Mostly. But still, stuff just shows up sometimes!

This generosity extends to the road. Yes, I’ve been honked at. Once. But people really look out for you! You can be waiting to turn onto a main road and someone will stop mid-go to let you in. At a two-way stop, they will not budge til you go first. Even when it’s clearly their turn (clear to me at least). Yes, okay, I’ll be greedy and go first then I guess. Selfishness is not the norm here. Dozo is the way!

No, people in Japan are not perfect, but I think the whole world could use a bit more of their take on community love. We feel this incredible fortune to have our children experience this while they are young. To be looking out for others and showing kindness and respect for people, and things as well. One day, I put one shoe on the raised platform of the house in our entry to grab something just out of reach. You should have seen the shock on Dakota’s face! In utter disbelief he said, “Mom, what are you doing?!!” I think it’s starting to sink in. He still asks people for their balloons, but he will not disrespect the hallowed ground of our home with a dirty shoe. A step in the right direction.






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