Late afternoon

afternoon sun, stitching, teaToday I have been quiet under the kotatsu. I stitched up a hankerchief and played with the idea of a new spring sashiko kit. The sun shone brightly and Tanaka-san went out for a ride. She, too, has been quiet so I was happy to see her in the sunshine, wheeled away in a bright purple hat but with her face to the sky.

As the late afternoon sun dwindles from my apartment I think about where I was two years ago when the Tohoku earthquake hit Japan. That leads me to think about where I was five years ago, and then 10. Life changes suddenly sometimes.

My heart aches, so as the afternoon sun dwindles I sit quietly on the tatami and I stitch.

Kotatsu warms by heart. And feet.

Exciting things are happening over here at Saké Puppets. I was interviewed by the Japan Times and I’m hosting an English Craft Club quilting class this Sunday. But most importantly, I got a kotatsu.

It is mine, wrinkles and all. I’m the kind of girl who puts on her clothes with the hope that the warmth of her body will undo the creases, so honestly wrinkles don’t bother me.

What is this contraption, you ask? A short-legged table with a small space heater attached to the underside. Come to think of it, it is bit like the daschund I had as kid. You stick your toes in its undercarriage and hope for the best. Then cover the whole thing with a big blanket, and you’ve got yourself a little winter nest.

I might let the kotatsu swallow me up to the chin. I’ll see you in the spring.

Snowy Yamagata

Lately I’ve been touting the blessings of spring, but deep down, my heart belongs to winter.

A few weeks ago Dan and I took a weekend trip to Hijiori Onsen, a tiny town in the mountains in northwest Japan. We took the Shinkansen to the last stop, then a bus for an hour, and we found snow. A lot of it. 

The morning greeted us with fresh snowfall, so we took stroll through town. It was quiet except for the sound of the river.

I was happy to spend the afternoon at our ryokan, tucked under the kotatsu. Through the window I watched the snow fall and tried to study Japanese, alternating sips of beer and green tea. When I needed a break from kanji, I stitched. Occasionally we raced to the window to glimpse a pair of hawks fishing in the river outside.

Hijiori Onsen is a hot spring resort town, and our ryokan had 3 different baths. Our first afternoon, I had this one to myself. The next morning I sat in a copper tub with the windows open and let snowflakes flutter in.

We stayed two nights, and both dinners were absolute feasts. Regional specialties included beef yakiniku, duck nabe (soup), mountain vegetables, and really good rice. We cooked our beef and duck nabe over a table with coals set inside. On Friday night, dinner ended with a dance. More photos of our two days of kaiseki can be found here on Flickr.

The owners at Yuyado-Motokawarayu ryokan were extremely welcoming. If you get a chance, stop by and say hello.


Cold Weather Firsts

It has been chilly here in Tokyo.  Don’t worry, I’m not going to complain about the cold — since it is currently 21 degrees F (-6 degrees C) and snowing at my parents’ house in Minneapolis, and that’s after, according to my dad, “it had warmed up overnight.”

Here is the forecast for Tokyo this week:

Fear not, Americans — this is Celsius.  OK, so maybe it is not that cold…

That’s more like it.

But my parents house in Minneapolis is cozy, and my apartment in Tokyo is not.  The building is poorly insulated and my curtains sway with the breeze, get my draft drift?  50 degrees F (10 degrees C) feels chilly when you are inside.  I bought a pair of legwarmers and actually wear them.  And not ironically.

A drafty chill is the norm around Tokyo during the winter months, but there are plenty of other ways to keep warm.  This weekend I got to try a few for the first time.

Nabe 鍋 is a traditional winter dish, a one-pot soup or stew that cooks right at the table and is shared with friends or family.  Perhaps a little humble and unassuming, this soup pot of friendship warmed me right to the core.  You get to watch the broth bubble and then poke and pick out your favorite bits.  It was delightful.  Ours featured spicy sauce and soy milk, tantan tonyu nabe 担担豆乳鍋.  I probably just made-up that word, but it doesn’t matter because the soup was delicious.  Sorry for the poor cellphone photo – I was too excited to take the time to get a real camera.

My other cold weather first this weekend was to cuddle under a kotatsu 炬燵, a small table with a heating unit underneath that you cover with a heavy blanket.  Don’t even ask me about fire hazards, because all I know is that the kotatsu is my new love.

Doesn’t it look cozy?  A friend has a kotatsu with a pit underneath where you can dangle your legs and play anonymous footsie games.  There are a few months of winter left, so I’m thinking I can justify finding a kotatsu of my own.  If it works out, you won’t hear from me until spring.