Coffee lovers: She drew the curtain on her life with her favorite coffee.

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コーヒー     “Thank you for your kindness to my mother while she was alive. I really appreciate it.” The man bowed down deeply. I was very shocked to hear the news that Mrs. Shinoda suddenly had passed away. He was her son.

     The third Sunday morning is the cleaning day in my neighborhood. It is a kind of volunteer activity and local residents clean around their houses, for example, gathering fallen leaves, and empty cans, bottles, and cigarette butts. After the cleanup, there is a brief meeting, in which the residents get new info, such as a fire drill, the local art festival, the sport meet, and so on. So, we received the sad new about the death of one of our neighbors last Sunday morning.

     Of course, not only me but also others were shocked to hear of Mrs. Shinoda’s sudden death. But the news had a special meaning for me. She and I had a curious coincidence, which goes back over ten years…

     My short essay appeared in the Chunichi, a local news paper some while ago. Actually, I do not remember exactly what I wrote at that time, but it was about coffee. A few days after the article was in the paper, I received an envelope from the newspaper company. When I opened it, I found another envelope. It was a letter from a reader, Mrs. Kawade in Showa-ku. She said that she also loved coffee and was impressed by my story…She and I have been pen pals since then.

     We have tried to meet each other a few times, but our rendezvous is always disrupted by something. One day I received an interesting letter from her. It said, “I believe that Mrs. Shinoda is one of your neighbors. Actually, she and I are friends!” My apartment is on the fifth floor and The Shinodas’ is on the first floor in the same building. I was surprised and went to see Mrs. Shinoda right away. She also loved coffee, and we became friends. Since then, we always said, “Let’s meet Mrs. Kawade together someday!” But we cannot achieve it…

     She was a terminal cancer patient. So, she was not able to go out by herself lately and often asked me to buy some coffee beans. I used to deliver what she asked at her room. But one day her daughter visited me with some money. She told me unexpected things. She said, “How much should I pay you?” First, I could not understand what she meant and replied, “Excuse me, but what do you mean?” She thought that her mother had not paid for the coffee beans. According to her, her mother’s dementia was progressing. So, she and her brother did not give money to their mother. But they found many bags of coffee beans in their mother’s room and asked her how she got them. Then they knew about my existence.

     Actually, I did not notice Mrs. Shinoda’s dementia. Whenever I thought she bought too much coffee beans, I asked why. She always replied, “Oh, many of my friends visited me last week. So, the coffee I bought the other day has gone. And I’m going to have them this week again. I need lots of coffee!” I kept on believing her words. Besides, she always paid me correctly. When I told her daughter about that, she was nodding and said, “Yeah, she used to live that way. Probably, she believes those past experiences are happening now. I’m wondering where she’s hiding her money…” Anyway, I apologized and promised her not to buy anything if her mother asked me. That was a few weeks ago. Since then I had not seen Mrs. Shinoda…

     On the cleaning day, not only Mrs. Shinoda’s son but also her daughter was there. So, I extended my condolences to her. According to her, soon after her visit to my apartment, her mother’s condition got worse and she was hospitalized. Her mother could not eat or drink anything a few days before she passed away. But when she asked her mother, “Do you want to have some coffee, Mother?” Mrs. Shinoda smiled, nodding, and then sipped coffee before she was gone. “My mother died as if she fell asleep. She no longer needs to suffer from any pains. She drew the curtain on her life with her favorite coffee. She was lucky. Thank you for your kindness.” She said that and smiled.

     “You still have lots of coffee at your mother’s apartment. I’ll buy them if you like.” I offered. But Mrs. Shinoda’s daughter said with a big smile, “Thank you, but you don’t need it. All of my family love coffee! They’ll be gone soon!” Mrs. Shinoda’s passing was a blow for me, but her deathbed episode was relieving for me. I’m going to offer incense sticks of coffee aroma to her grave…

The Tai Chi Training Camp in Toyohashi 2014: Congratulations, Satchan!

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1926730_599608880160996_25541487563107799_n-a     “Satchan!” I called out my friend’s name when I found her in the hotel’s lobby. She was sitting with her teacher. Where was I? I was in a hotel in Toyohashi to attend a Tai Chi training camp, which was held on October 4 and 5. Satchan was there to take a test for becoming a shihan( Tai Chi master.)

     The Tai Chi training camp is held every October. I’ve joined it since I was a beginner and this was probably the seventh time for me. The participants practice Tai Chi together and learn theory with some actual movements. In addition, there is an examination for becoming a Tai Chi master. Actually, not everyone can take the test. Test-takers have to fulfill all the conditions: having already the pre-master certification and five years further after taking it, a membership of Tokyo head office and a recommendation letter from their teachers. It takes at least ten years to qualify for taking the test after starting to do Tai Chi. DSCF0741-a

     Satchan met all the conditions. That was great! Actually, there were more than 80 people who were going to take the test this time! Wow! Mr. Kawamura was also included. He and I are learning from the same teacher. So, I came to the place not only to practice Tai Chi and meet my friends but also to cheer him at the test this time. DSCF0746

     Actually, I did not know that Satchan was going to take the test there until I found her at the hotel. I had thought she would take it at another opportunity in Tokyo because she had not mentioned anything about her participation. It might be because she and I are not “Tai Chi” friends. We are “English” friends. I mean, we got to know each other through English classes. I did not even know she was also doing Tai Chi when I started. That is why, we seldom talk about Tai Chi when we meet. Interestingly it was the first time for us to see each other in uniform, which is originally for karate but is our school’s (Yang Ming-Shi Simplified 24-Form Tai Chi) official costume. DSCF0771

     The test-takers were divided into two groups. Satchan and Mr. Kawamura were in the  latter group. Besides they were standing next to each other. So It was lucky for me because I was able to take photos of them once. All the examinees looked nervous before their names were called, but once the test started, interestingly the audience seemed to be more nervous than the performers. Fortunately, all of the candidates passed the test. Congratulations!

Change in the Field of Health and Medicine: Anyway, I went to buy oil for cooking after the class…

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20141002_192419     At that moment, all the students in the classroom let out a scream. Raising a hand and mouth dropping open, I stared at my teacher. It was one scene at an English class, which I started to take at Chukyo University this week. Actually, the course had already begun at the beginning of last month. I was a little nervous to enter the room before the class because I did not know what the class and my classmates were like. Hoping to relax myself, I took a deep breath, and then opened the door timidly. But it was soon revealed that I already knew most of my classmates. The room was filled with greetings as if I was in a class reunion.

     The English course is entitled “Life in Our Changing World 2.” Oh, I must have missed #1 in the first semester! The course description on the leaflet says: Nowadays, our lives and the world around us are changing faster than ever before in history. People are living longer, yet they are also suffering from new diseases. Now countries are forming and old countries are breaking up. Scientists are making new discoveries and creating technologies – some useful, some dangerous. Even our way of thinking is changing: we used to read long novels, but now we surf the Internet. On this course, we shall look in detail at some of the changes that are so dramatically affecting our lives, and discuss their significance.

     In line with this, the topic of that day was change in the field of health and medicine. For example, dairy products, such as milk, butter and cheese, were thought to be good for our health because of their high calcium and protein content until about 40 years ago. But people started avoiding them as they were afraid of taking too much cholesterol. Now it is known that they do not affect people’s cholesterol levels directly. We produce cholesterol inside and stress rather than dairy products elevates its levels.

     Okay, let us go to the beginning. What happened at that moment? The teacher said to the class, “Raise your hand if you use olive oil at home.” All of them raised their hands and waited for what was coming next. “Extra virgin oil changes to trans fatty acid after heating…” said the teacher with gravity. “Whaaaaaaaaat?!” “Reallyyyyyyyyyyyy?!” All the students made a big exclamation in surprise.CAM00369

     That is, cold pressed olive oil also can be transformed when it is heated. Meanwhile, olive oil extracted by other ways such as heat or with chemicals will not change when it is heated. So, we should use cold pressed olive oil like extra virgin for unheated food such as salads, and use cheaper olive oil (in general, non-cold pressed oils are cheaper) or other kinds of oils for cooking. But the teacher added, “You shouldn’t think about it so seriously. Look at Italian and Spanish people. They don’t mind it so much, yet Mediterranean diet is generally healthy.” 20141002_192450

     After studying about oils, the teacher gave the students a new scientific discovery: Brain repair may be boosted by curry spice! If you cut your skin, the wound will heal gradually. Of course, this is as long as the injury is not so serious, though. And if your brain is injured, what would happen? The damaged cells will never heal again. Brain cells are never regenerated. However, researchers in Germany have found recently that a substance called aromatic-turmerone contained in turmeric could encourage the growth of nerve cells, which is thought to be part of the brain’s repair kit. We might conquer some brain diseases like Alzheimer’s in the near future. In addition, curcurmin, another substance in turmeric is also known for its anti-cancer, liver-protective and –repair benefits. Oh, should I eat curry more? Anyway, I went to a grocery store to buy oil for cooking after the class.

Nagoya Castletown Trivia 2 : He’s stuck in Murasaki…

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20140920_133543-a     This is the continuation of the former article – Nagoya Castletown Trivia 1: The Lost Purple River and the Phantom White River

     In the middle of the Edo period, the Tokugawa Shogun Yoshimune imposed strict rules throughout Japan due to fiscal austerity. The constraint extended over samurai warriors, who were controlled by the Laws for the Military Houses called Buke shohatto in Japanese. That is, he prohibited the nation from enjoying dressing up, extravagant ceremonies, festivals, going to the theater and so on. 20140920_135113

     However, Tokugawa Muneharu, the domain lord of Owari, which is now called Nagoya, disobeyed him. He ignored Buke shotatto and Yoshimune’s order to stimulate the economy. For example, he walked around in richly decorated costumes, held big festivals, built many theaters, and developed red-light districts. That was why, this area’s economy boomed and many people, artifacts, and cultural activities were pouring in from all over Japan. 20140920_135442

     Moreover, Muneharu encouraged warriors to take on other jobs as a sideline. Actually, warriors were suffering economic hardships despite their high status. They were able to enjoy leisure activities by this additional income. Most of them earned money as teachers. There were many small private schools called terakoya here and there in the Edo period. Merchants, farmers, many people learned reading, writing and arithmetic there. It was not only men but also women who studied at these schools. 20140920_140217

     The most popular textbook for reading among girls was The Tale of Genji. Girls went crazy over the imperial love story of the Heian period. So, it is no wonder that someone conceived of creating something related to the story to gain new students. There was competition between schools like in the present day cram schools. Ah, yes! That monument of Murasaki Shikibu (the author of The Tale of Genji) in Denko-in Temple might be one of the advertisements! (If you do not know what I am talking about, read my former article, please! ) At least, Mr. Fukada thinks so. That is why he believes that the name of the Murasaki River is derived from another origin, not Murasaki Shikibu. According to him, murasaki means ahead (saki) of the village (mura). Oh, I see…20140920_140225-a

     Now, there used to be an entertainment center in this area by the Murasaki River, which does not exist anymore. It had many theaters and was also a major red-light district. People called going to the area “go to Murasaki,” at that time. Many warriors indulged in sex with prostitutes. And if someone became hook on a certain woman, they said about him, “He’s stuck in Murasaki.”

     The tour participants left Tsutamo, the restaurant, and went to the site where there used to be the stone monument of Murasaki Shikibu, and Shirakawa Koen Park, which used to be the enclave for the families of American soldiers in the postwar time, and then arrived at a shrine called Wakamiya Hachiman. 20140920_140408-a

     Wakamiya Hachiman was built in the 10th Century near Nagoya Castle, but was moved to the present place for its castellation in the 17th Century. Actually, there are other shrines in its grounds, such as Goshin-i Shrine, and Sumiyoshi Shrine. Goshin-i Shrine relates to sewing. That is why it has a memorial service for broken needles once a year and has many stone monuments engraved with names of apparel companies, such as Brother Industries, Organ Needles, and Kanebo. Sumiyoshi Shrine was built in 1959for preserving nine wind-up dolls, which had been rescued from the fires of the war. You can see the dolls once a year on November 15, which is its ritual day.

     I was able to learn many things about Nagoya’s history through the lecture and tour. The lunch was also wonderful. I had a great time!

Nagoya Castletown Trivia 1: The Lost Purple River and the Phantom White River

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       “Nowadays, eels are one of the endangered species, but there were many broiled eel restaurants around there for lumber dealers in the Edo period. That was why the area used to be called Kabayaki-cho, which means broiled eel street. Actually, some of them seemed to serve catfish or snakehead fish instead of eels,” said Mr. Masao Fukada, the owner of a historic Japanese-style restaurant, Tsutamo, which celebrates its 100th year in business this year.

     I took part in an interesting class for learning the history of Nagoya last Saturday with some of my friends. The class included the restaurant’s boxed lunch and a walking tour. The presenter was Chris Glenn, who is a popular DJ of ZIP-FM, one of Nagoya’s local radio stations, and is the deputy director of NITA (Nagoya International Tourism Association), the organizer of the class. Kyoji Kikuchi, a TV personality in Nagoya, was also in the class. The participants learned many historical trivia about Nagoya’s downtown, Sakae, and had delicious lunch and an interesting walking tour. I had a great time! 20140920_121020-b

     The history of Nagoya City started with the castellation of Nagoya Castle in 1612. The center of this area was Kiyosu located in the north of Nagoya until then. There was a massive movement of people from Kiyosu to Nagoya to make a new town. Not only people but also almost all temples and shrines were redeployed. The exodus is called Kiyosu-goshi. The street where Tsutamo stands became an entertainment area at that time. 20140920_121536

     According to Mr. Fukada, the name of his restaurant derives from the protagonists’ names of a drama called Ippon-matsu-dohyo-iri, which is a touching-human story of (O) Tsuta, a waitress, who helps Mohei, who has been fired a sumo-wrestler. It was popular when his grandfather started business.

     Nagoya’s downtown was a water-rich area which was a reservoir of the Kiso River in the Edo period. There used to be a river called “The Murasaki” and many springs around there. Tsutamo still has three wells, and the water, which is always 17 degrees, is used for their ponds inside. The Murasaki River had been a fresh stream in the Edo period, but it had stagnated by the Meiji period. So, somewhere down the line, people started to call it “The Shirakawa” to wish its restoration. Shirakawa means white river literally, and its name remains still now, such as Shirakawa Koen Park. 20140920_103212

     Speaking of Shirakawa Koen Park, it is an urban oasis which houses Nagoya City Science Museum and Art Museum now. But the place was an enclave called Amerika-mura, or the American Village, for the families of American soldiers in Nagoya after the war until 1958. Mr. Fukada would often get food or money with his friends by shouting “Give me chocolate!” to them. He was also able to enter the area and was amazed by the difference in the lives of GIs and Japanese people those days. “Their futon had four legs!” 20140920_130028-b

     Now, why did the river have the name of the Murasaki? Murasaki means purple in Japanese. Actually, it seemed to have nothing to do with the color. There is an apartment building near Tsutamo, but the place used to be a temple named Denko-in with a stone monument called “Murasaki Shikibu-no-hi” until the end of the war. The temple was moved with the monument to Meito-ku in the east of Nagoya because of the town relocation project in the postwar period. According to a legend, the river’s name was derived from the monument.20140920_133112-a

     Murasaki Shikibu was a Japanese female novelist at the Imperial court in the 11th Century, and is well known as the author of The Tale of Genji. Why did the stone monument with her name exist in the temple? She lived in Kyoto far from Nagoya in her time. Actually, there is an interesting story: 20140920_131609-b

     One day, a noble-looking woman passed by this area and was taken into care by villagers. She told them that her mistress had died in the capital and she was on her way home. But she decided to stay there for a while to mourn her lady because she was moved by their kindness and the purity of water in the village. After three years, she drowned herself in a stream leaving a message: The period of mourning for my mistress is over. I’m going to her place. Villagers built a monument for her by the river and named it Murasaki Shikibu-no-hi because the person whom she had served was Murasaki Shikibu…

Really?

(To be continued…)

Churchill in Love: I thought it had Churchill’s bedroom scenes!

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チャ     “A Yes vote for Scottish independence on Thursday would go down in history as a political and economic mistake as large as Winston Churchill’s decision in 1925 to return the pound to the gold standard or the failure of the Federal Reserve to provide sufficient liquidity to the US banking system which we now know brought on the Great Depression in the US…”20140914_143033-a

     The chief economist of German financial giant, Deutsche Bank, warned Scottish people about independence from the UK last Friday. I do not know whether Scottish people accepted warnings like his or not, but they finally chose to remain as part of the UK yesterday. I am wondering what the result will cause from now on, but at least it seems that we were able to avoid a world crisis.

     By the way, I went to see a play last Saturday about the politician who was referred to in the German economist’s warning to Scottish people. The title was Churchill in Love. Yes, the protagonist Winston Churchill was a high-flyer during the interwar period. But “in love”? So, I asked the actor who played Churchill when I received a flyer for the play, saying “Not ‘Churchill in Nagoya’?” But he replied, “Ha ha! No, no. It’s Churchill in Love!” with a laugh, and then added, “It’ll be the first time for me to have a bedroom scene.” Whaaaaaat? Churchill in a bedroom scene? I bought a ticket on the spot. 20140914_123326-a

     The flyer had the plot: In the summer of 1959 Sir Winston Churchill and his family boarded on the luxury yacht Christina at the invitation of Aristotle Onassis and his wife, Tina. Also invited on board the yacht was the mercurial opera diva, Maria Callas. What follows is a tempestuous cruise into the heart of deceit, desire, and disillusion as the aging Churchill and his family, seek to avoid any hint of impropriety. Love and lust wage war in this historical meditation of one man’s long love affair with his wife and another man’s descent into desperation. 20140914_125705

     Hmm…What will happen on stage? I was excited as I walked to the theater, which looks more like an old warehouse than a theater. It is a 42-year-old building named Nanatsudera Kyodo Studio which is located in Osu, Nagoya. An army major was standing in front of the building when I arrived. He was the actor who was playing Major Lang. Before the curtain-up, the play had already started. In fact, he and an actress who was playing Churchill’s wife came and went between the stage and the audience seats inside to enhance the mood.20140914_142300

    Actually, there was no bedroom scene played by Churchill and his wife. Instead of them, Ari Onassis and Maria Callas played love scenes. I was relieved. You know, Churchill was in his 80s. Love has different kinds like ancient Greek identified: familiarity (storge), friendship (philia), sexual and romantic desire (eros), and divine love (agape). The play depicted that Ari and Maria did not know true love or how to love someone from the heart. But they just pursue eros, one form of love. So, they also knew about love, which was just different from Churchill’s. Anyway, the play was interesting with thrilling episodes of those historical famous characters!

Gone with PB&J: It was a golden harmony!

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20140911_132901-a     You must be American or have American friends if you know about PB&J. For the readers who do not know about it, it means peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and is one of the American staples. I am not American and have never been to the U.S, but I love them!

     The first time when I had PB&J was when I was taking an English class at NHK Cultural Center several years ago. My teacher made some sandwiches of peanut butter and blueberry jam for us when I visited her house with some of my classmates. She was Japanese but had experience of staying with a family in the U.S. when she was a high school student. Peanut butter and blueberry jam together? To tell the truth, I hesitated to reach out for it. I was not able to imagine what taste it would be.

     Anyway, I got the courage to try this new food. Hey! I was surprised when I had a bite. The rich taste of peanut butter and the flavor of lush blueberry jam filled my mouth. It was a golden harmony. I was staring at my half-eaten bread with wide-open eyes while relishing its taste. It’s delicious! I went nuts over peanut butter and jelly sandwiches right away. Since then I have sometimes bought peanut butter and made some, but had not eaten them for a while until recently.

     Luckily I had an opportunity to have some last Thursday, when it was the final day of an English course at Aichi Shukutoku University. Like other universities in the Nagoya area, they offer many different varieties of classes to the public, and the English course was one of them for the intermediate level and had six lessons:
Lesson 1 – Asking about hypothetical situations
Lesson 2-Comparing society and yourself from today to the past
Lesson 3-Using Words differently (Vocabulary building)
Lesson 4-Thinking creatively and coming up with new ideas
Lesson 5-Discussing current issues
Lesson 6-Talking up relationships and snack time20140911_132936-a

     I enjoyed myself learning many things with my classmates at the course this summer. Now, look at “Lesson 6”! Yes, snack time during class?! I have had coffee with my teachers and classmates “after” class, but it was the first time for me to have coffee and snacks “during” class! Andy, the teacher from the U.S. brought many items: A bottle of coffee and of tea, a big can of cookies, and his handmade PB&J sandwiches! I also brought a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Miniatures and of Doritos Jalapeno & Cheddar Tortilla Chips (to make my teacher homesick), but Andy’s PB&Js were the best! I had a wonderful time as if it were a picnic! There was a terrible storm outside, though.

     Actually, I was feeling a little bit lonely at the same time while enjoying the food as if the summer was going with this class. You know, I took the class from the end of July to the beginning of this month. I do not know why, but I feel sad at the end of summer. The thundershower was signaling the end of the summer as if it knew my thought…

     When I posted these photos on my facebook wall after the class, an American friend, Betsy left a comment: I grew up on pb & j and occasionally tuna fish sandwiches, but that was fancy. Glad you liked them. I still eat them at least once a week! Wow! Once a week! I love PB&J, but do not eat them so often! For Americans, PB&J may be something like onigiri is for Japanese people!