News & Blog
We arrived in Japan in 1964 with little more than the shirts on our backs! We brought
only a small trunk and a suitcase filled with what we thought would be our basic needs
for a year here – clothes for us and our 2 year old daughter and 4 year old son, as well
as a few toys for them and a few basic household items. We had no idea what we were
going to need and figured we could just make do with what we had for the year we
planned to stay in Japan.
We were fine for the first month because we were staying with my brother-in-law, David,
and he had enough futon for us to sleep on and we didn’t need many clothes because it
was July – hot and humid. After my husband, Don, got his first paycheck from the
school where he was working we were able to afford to rent a house just down the
street from David. We have moved 8 times during our stay in Japan and this was the
easiest one we ever made.
We were now faced with the job of furnishing our own place on a very limited budget.
There were 3 tatami mat rooms in the house – two 6 mat rooms and one 4 1/2 mats.
One of the 6 mats became my classroom, the other 6 mats was our sleeping room and
living room, the 4 1/2 mats was the children’s sleeping and play room. Luckily, David’s
landlord was a “junk collector” and he knew where we could buy cheap used furniture.
We found folding chairs and a table for the classroom, a small two person sofa and
table and a beautiful tansu in Kamakura for the living room. We really splurged on the
tansu – paying Y5000 for it. It became a real keepsake and has returned to its origin –
our son now has it in his study room in Kamakura. I should also mention that with the
help of this landlord we bought a refrigerator, which didn’t keep anything frozen, for
Y3000 and a wringer-type washing machine with a broken wringer.
With this limited amount of furniture we made do for two years. I wish that we had all
learned a lesson about what is really necessary to live a comfortable and happy life. Our
homes today are crowded with things that we don’t really need.
In 1964-66 we lived in a traditional Japanese house with a non-flush toilet and a drainage ditch running along the road in front of it for the waste water from our bath and kitchen, as well as that of the neighbors. This ditch had a special significance for us on at least three occasions.
The first one was when my husband was parking our car on the narrow road in front of the house, he miscalculated and ended up parking partially in the ditch. With the help of neighbors it was lifted out.
The second time that the drainage ditch was prominent in our lives was when we had a big typhoon and our yard was flooded. There was a small fish pond in the yard in which we had gold fish for the kids. With the flooding, the kids were terrified that the fish would swim out into the drainage ditch and end up in the ocean with the waste water. So, being a good mother, I went out into the storm with an umbrella, trying to catch the fish in a bucket. Needless to say, most of the fish got away and had a happy life until they went into the nearby river and eventually the ocean. Gold fish surely make a good snack for larger fish.
The third experience involving the drainage ditch was when our children found a lost kitten in it and brought it home to be raised by us. Tama, a calico cat, was female, as most calicos are – males are very rare. Several times when she was out playing in our yard or on the road someone would stop, pick her up and check out her gender. If she had been male she most likely would have been cat-napped. According to an old belief these calicos, especially the male, bring good luck. Japanese sailors traditionally had one aboard to protect the ship from any misfortune.
When we left Japan we left Tama with our good neighbors, the Suzukis, where she lived for several months before disappearing. Just before we returned to Japan in 1969 Tama returned to the Suzukis to give birth to kittens. Perhaps she knew we were coming back soon and wanted to be able to present us with a “welcome home” gift. She was so happy, however, at the Suzukis that we left her and her kittens there. She loved sleeping in the sunshine in their tokonoma.