Monday, November 7, 2016

Postcard from Japan: Thursday, November 3, 2016

Yasuyo-san and Jennifer

I guess the day after my mother-in-law's birthday was another quiet day because I only have one picture that I took.

My mother-in-law used to teach English classes for the YMCA.  After she retired from that she had at least two free-lance classes she taught with two different sets of students.  When she retired from those, around the time she turned 85 or so, she still had a lot of those students who would come and visit her at the apartment or she took on new students.  All these students were middle-aged or older.  Everyone from housewives to a man who was a silk merchant in Paris, to a woman whose husband was high ranking general in the Japanese army.  These people I remember from my last trip here 11 years ago.

Yasuyo-san is one of her newer students.  Evidently she had been extremely poor when her husband took off and left her with a small son.  She worked for a long time at menial jobs trying to save money and has, within the last few years, become more financially stable since her son is living at home and helping out with money.  I assume my mother-in-law was paid for the formal classes she gave.  But for the classes in her home students bring food for both of them.  Usually there are leftovers for a meal or two the next day.  Mama-san made a huge pan of cha-han (fried rice-- she always put chopped lettuce in it) and kept pushing Yasuyo-san, who is very petit, fine-boned and thin, to eat it; she brought a bottle of red wine and Osembe, Japanese crackers.    Yasuyo-san kept talking and talking and not eating--- it was a comedy of watching these two, not errors.  I spoke English to help Yasuyo-san but we kept reverting "back" to Japanese, then English, then more Japanese, then remembering to speak English again.  It was a lot of fun.  Evidently now Yasuyo-san's hobbies are singing karaoke with a group and drinking wine.  After more than half a bottle, she rode her bicycle home....

The hotoke-sama in my mother-in-law's bedroom, a shrine
to those who have died (her two sons at the top).  Each
morning, fresh hot water, green tea, and salt are offered.
During the day, any gifts or vegetables, fruits, bread,
candy, etc., that are brought into the house are offered
 in order to give thanks and share the bounty.  The
nostalgic smell of incense is always present in the
morning along with the ringing of bells.
My mother-in-law isn't poor or in need of extra money; she teaches because she loves teaching and talking to people--- she's truly a social extrovert.  Some of her "classes" remind me of Jerry Seinfeld's show--- talking and talking and talking about absolutely nothing but laughing the whole time.  (Her husband was an American army officer and so, after her husband died in the mid-1950s, she has received US Social Security benefits.  This was extremely important money as it was the sole support she had to raise their two sons with her mother's help.  She used to go to the US to visit her two sons every August [I was married to her youngest son, Richard] until both of them had died of cancer in the US and, emotionally, it was too hard on her to do that annual trip.)  She lives very simply and rarely goes outside because her legs are so unstable.  And yet, she is constantly moving around her apartment cleaning, going through drawers, making meals.  She doesn't have any hobbies, except people.
Fresh flowers are always below the shrine,
especially roses.

Another small shrine sits inside a glassed in shelf along with a photograph of Obaa-chan, grandmother, my mother-in-law's mother.  I met her only once in 1986.  She was already almost 90, always wore dark kimono, drank a huge bottle of beer everyday, had lots of wisdom to share (wished my language ability had been a lot better so I could have understood a lot more of what she said), and laughed a lot.  She was 94 when she died.  My husband was devastated when she died and that he had missed seeing her just before her passing.  (In Japan, you generally say that someone has "naku narimashita," disappeared, when they die rather than "shini mashita."  Close to our "they've passed away."

Obaa-chan, grandmother.

No comments:

Post a Comment