Monday, February 23, 2009

So long, and thanks for all the washcloths.

My student Mayu is quitting English lessons after three years because she's getting older and starting cram school. Cram school takes a lot of time. I'm not offended, because I know that she loves me and that her mom likes me too. She came in a shy little mouse, not knowing any English at all, and now she's so awesome, reading and writing with confidence and ease. She's refused to have any other teacher as long as she's been at the school, and her mom has more than once expressed her appreciation. Sometimes kids quit, and they give a reason to be nice, like they're starting baseball or are busy with other things. Really, they aren't happy with the lessons or the school for some reason and want to quit. I don't think that's the case with Miss M.

So her mom came in the other day and told me that Mayu will be quitting after one more lesson. She gave me her sincere thanks and etc., then gave me a small package, giving me the standard line for giving a small gift like this: "kimochi dake", or "It's just my feeling". There's probably a better way to translate that, but there it is, literally.

Later I opened it, and inside was a Burberry washcloth. This isn't the first time I've received a gift like this, and I know what it's supposed to represent: it's a small, but posh, token of thanks. It's just a washcloth (which most women and some men carry around at all times to, like, dry their hands after using the washroom), but it's an EXPENSIVE washcloth. A designer washcloth.

Still, I can't help thinking...
"It's just my feeling... that you should wipe your nose."
"It's just my feeling... that you should wash your face."
"It's just my feeling... that you should, you know, CLEAN yourself more."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

hugger mugger

I picked up this awesome phrase from Norman Lewis, in the excellent The Tomb in Seville. What a lovely book! He was in his nineties when he wrote it, and it happened in the '30s. It means chaotic hustle and bustle, or, alternately, secrecy and hush-hush.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

In memory of needles

Today is harikuyou (針供養), or memorial day for needles. It doesn't seem to be a well-known holiday, as several folks that I've mentioned it to have never heard of it. It's a day for people to take their broken needles and put them in a block of tofu, then have a memorial service for them at the temple. It seems like it's a holiday for craftspeople, like tailors and seamstresses, who want to honor the service that their tools have given them.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

books all around

Swap your books at

I belong to the awesome bookmooch, a free book trading service that lets you give your read books away for points, then lets you spend the points on books others are giving away. Recently, I was mooched by the Quezon City library, in the Philippines, which is trying to increase its supply of foreign language books for the benefit and enjoyment of the locals. The library used points to "buy" my books, but since it was such a great cause, I sent them the books and also sent the points back to them.

The Quezon City library is only one of many charities listed on bookmooch that people can give points or books to.

I love this service; it combines a few of my favorite things, namely: reading, the post office, and reusing/trading rather than buying new things. Mooch on!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

take their eyes out

Today is Setsubun, or the last day before spring. On this day, it's customary in Japan to throw soybeans out the window of your home, shouting "oni wa soto, fuku wa uchi" (鬼は外、福は内), or "demons out, good luck in!" I guess the demons are lured out by the food, like a magical mousetrap. Another theory says that by pitching the beans out, you're blinding the imps, keeping them from being able to see their way in.

I didn't have any soybeans around, so I used dry kidney beans. I hope demons like kidney beans.