Monday, January 26, 2015

2015 New Year: Spending time with two amazing Japanese families

I spent the new year in Japan. My plans for the first week of 2015 consisted of watching basketball, and football, reading and running. The spontaneous invitations by two special, dear Japanese families became instant highlights of my time here, as memorable as my exceptional trip to Niseko the week prior.

The New year is the most celebrated holiday in Japan, and a much bigger deal than Christmas. In general, Japanese kids are aware of Santa Claus but not of the Christian concepts behind Christmas like the majority of American children. Christmas day falls during winter break, so the kids are on vacation but December 25th consists of long meetings for teachers (thankfully I was flying to Hokkaido this day). As much as the Japanese are dedicated to their work, January 1st, 2nd and 3rd are the sacred days reserved for holiday.

This year was the first of my three years to be in Japan on January first. I spent New Year"s eve, content, reading a book in solitude, hearing my apartment neighbors casually proclaim "Ha-pi New Yeea" through my thin apartment walls, shortly thereafter I turned out the lights.

My acupuncturist had invited me to spend New Years morning with his family. Their family is tremendous. His family is the most traditional Japanese family I know. His father is a well known veterinarian in the area. His wife is a former Japan Karate champion, later demonstrated body slamming her eight year old son as he was being obnoxious (can't imagine I will soon forget this moment). Her father is a Judo martial arts master. We had a delicious and traditional Japanese breakfast. They patiently explained what all the different dishes symbolized, and they all symbolize something. The explanations of the exquisite food fascinated me.

Tanemura, already wearing a traditional kimono, dressed me in similar fashion, We then went to a Japanese shrine which was an interesting experience filled with lots of Japanese. The Japanese sure love crowds, it does make for some great people watching. (I'm convinced if you want to see true Japanese culture and for some reason only have 2 hours in the country, find the nearest Costco and people watch)

At the end of of the afternoon, as is custom, the parents and grandparents gave money to their children. They even gave money to me! Enclosed in these small envelopes with my name in Japanese. So kind and thoughtful.

Keiko Hirashima, my beloved Japanese teacher and best Japanese friend invited me to her house the next evening January 2nd. A few paragraphs can not do justice to how incredible Keiko is. Her faith journey, sincerity and generosity of her entire being, is a testament to her character. I've been over many times but this occasion was noticeably different, Keiko's entire family and lifelong family friends attended. (after one families father tragically passed away twenty years ago, Keiko and Kazu became mother and father figures for the young children). I was grateful for the invitation especially because the whole family welcomed me, despite my lack of Japanese and having never met any of them. We feasted on amazing Japanese cuisine (this is always the case at Keiko's) . I ate so much, I had to lay down, finding my inner Michael Hinds after huge family meals growing up.

The rest on the couch didn't last long as Keiko's two adorable grandchildren, Ryo and Otto. interrupted my food induced slumber. I had a blast with Keiko's wonderful family!

I'm so grateful for both of these Japanese families and their tremendous hospitality shown to me over the new year.

With Keiko's grandchildren, Otto on the left and Ryo on the right.

The entire gang at Keiko's. Oh to be 6 and take off your shirt when ever you want...

Hangin with Ryo
Tanemura, demonstrating a core exercise Ichiro practices on a daily basis

dressed in a traditional kimono with Tanemura's father, wife and daughter

At the Japanese shrine

traditional January 1st food. (this was breakfast but they eat the same food over the 3 days)

Gift envelope in hand, what a kind family