Of course you want your kids to be bilingual when you’re in a foreign country or married to a person from a foreign country. I was no exception. To give myself some credit, I never did think it would be kantan. And there were so many ways to “do” it.

Living in Rhode Island in 1988, soon after moving back to the US from Tokyo, I met an older Chinese woman. She had five kodomo and four of them were teens or in daigaku. Her youngest was three years old. She griped to me that she was actually paying college tuition to have her older ones learn the Chinese language. She was determined that the three year old learn Chūgokugo then and there. Outrageous to have to pay money to teach them a language they could have learned at home, she’d say. But apparently three is the age where they realize that the outside world is speaking something different from what is spoken at home. And that’s the first stumbling block for many.

The Monbushō supports Japanese citizens living outside of Japan by providing free kyōkasho and a correspondence course. I’m sure it is quite different now, but for my daughter it meant tape cassettes and workbooks. And when we lived in New Jersey, it meant going to hoshūkō. She liked it and we all liked getting lunch at a Japanese bakery afterwards.

First grade textbook

Back in the early nineties the Japanese shōgakusei were passing around manga and learning American history through a multi-volume set of manga. The teachers at their American school would be impressed by their knowledge. They had no idea it all came from a manga.

This is what it looks like. Sensory overload for me!

The other day, my daughter told my bored grandson to go read his library books. He stated that he’d finished reading all of them. She scolded him for only taking out graphic fiction this time around. I had to laugh. What goes around comes around.

I said I had one word and only one word for her. Ribon! Or I could spell it as it is in English….

Ribbon comes out monthly and is over three inches thick. Buying it in America would cost me upwards of $10 (more like $20 now). And darned if she wouldn’t finish reading it in thirty minutes or less! It seemed like an incredible waste of money to me, but she insisted she had to have it each month and truthfully I was impressed that she could read it so quickly.

But it was those manga that kept her Japanese alive and made her avid to read more. And… as a librarian I thoroughly approve! Her reading level stayed on an elementary school level, but considering she had an American mama and was living in Japan, well, I will take it.

  • kantan – 簡単 easy, siimple
  • kodomo – 子供 child, children
  • daigaku – 大学 college, university
  • Chūgokugo – 中国語 the Chinese language
  • Monbushō – 文部省 The Japanese Ministry of Education
  • kyōkasho – 教科書 textbook(s)
  • hoshūkō – 補習校 Literally, supplementary school, but refers to the Saturday school held overseas in areas where a Japanese population necessitate it. They range from being small cultural schools catering to part Japanese children all the way to very serious endeavors meant to ensure that Japanese children living temporarily outside of Japan will not fall behind in their studies. Don’t even ask me about parent roles. They are expected and way beyond PTA’s of America.
  • shōgakusei 小学生 – elementary school students
  • manga 漫画 – graphic fiction or frankly, comic books

It’s here

Just resign yourself to this

It feels almost trite to write about the rainy season in Japan. What could I say that 1000 other people haven’t said before me? Yet, it’s a whole freaking season so not to be ignored either. And friends in Kyoto tell me it has arrived.

Here’s what I can say. It isn’t the same every year. My first full year in Japan I got dire warnings about this season–that it would rain every single day, kabi would grow on my toothbrush, my shoes would never ever dry–and on and on and on. So, I had these expectations–and then… nothing. That is to say, my first few years in Japan the tsuyu were atypical and not bad at all. It took a few years for me to have the experience of a honkakuteki tsuyu. And then it really was rain every blasted day.

Products to fight mold during the rainy season

Mold did not grow on my toothbrush. But my kutsu were consistently damp no matter what. The biggest issues I had were sentaku and buses. I had no dryer and there was no way to hang laundry out to dry when the rain never stopped. You’d hang it inside, but even inside was damp and it could take days to dry.

The buses were torture for me because back then not all of them had air conditioning. And absolutely no nihonjin would open a window if even there was a remote possibility of a raindrop coming through the mado. It was like a steam bath and I couldn’t understand how people wearing suits weren’t sweating up a storm. Most of them looked serene.

I know what my homestay father would have said. He would have blustered out one of his “wareware nihonjin wa” statements where he’d explain the national character of the entire Japanese population. He’d often tell me what the otenki would be like for a given day and say smugly that only the Japanese could understand Japanese weather. (Personally, I thought it was more like he could understand the weather forecast and I could not.)

So, after experiencing a few of the more typical rainy seasons, I too began to steel myself for a month of rain. These days people have dryers or laundromats for their clothes, but I bet shoes still stay damp. I think that I do not miss tsuyu at all.

  • kabi – かび mold. You really do need to watch out for this during the rainy season. There used to be stories about how young mothers would find mold growing on their babies’ backs. I had trouble believing that ever really happened….
  • tsuyu – 梅雨 rainy season. The characters literally say “plum rain.” It sounds so poetic, doesn’t it. Ha!
  • honkakuteki – 本格的 genuine, the real thing
  • kutsu – 靴 shoes
  • sentaku – 洗濯 laundry
  • nihonjin – 日本人 Japanese person or people
  • mado – 窓 window
  • wareware nihonjin wa” – 我々日本人は “We Japanese.” It’s a pompous or slightly academic way to start a sentence when you are going to describe some national trait of the Japanese people.
  • otenki – お天気 the weather

Old men in the summer

As the weather starts to warm up, I start thinking about underwear. Particular underwear that ojīsan wore. When I landed in Kyoto for my second stay, it was hachigatsu of 1978. Hot and humid, as expected. And there seemed to be more fans than air conditioners. Doors and mado were open and when the evening came, many old men came out to sit in front of their shops after being indoors during the heat of the day.

And I remember walking past this one Chinese restaurant. The old man there would pull out a small stool and sit there in his ragged white drawers and undershirt, fanning himself with an uchiwa. It became a common site for me.

And darn, English Google! It seems to think that momohiki are a fashionable type of trousers. Maybe that wasn’t the word for them. More googling and I’m trying suteteko. Nope. I’m laughing. How our world does change! I need to try this search in Japanese. Okay… not much better at all. I add the word Showa to my search to give it a time period to try.

So that’s how hard it was for me to find shashin to show you.

This was what I always saw my giri otōsan wear on summer evenings in Fukui. And when he retired, it would be a summer day-wear for him, too. They seemed very comfortable and suzushī.

I wonder if old men in the rural areas of Japan are still wearing these. I bet they are….One of the less romantic signs of summer, but still… works for me!

But I’m weird that way!

  • ojīsan – お爺さん old man or grandfather
  • hachigatsu – 8月 August
  • mado – 窓 window
  • uchiwa – うちわ hand -held fan
  • momohiki – ももひき a kind of underwear
  • suteteko – ステテコ another kind of underwear
  • Showa – 昭和 era from 1926-1989. Most people are nostalgic about the last forty years of it, though those war years are not to be forgotten.
  • shashin – 写真 photograph(s)
  • giri otōsan – 義理お父さん father-in-law
  • suzushī – 涼しい cool. Note that there is a different word for cool to the touch or cool as in stand-offish. Suzushī is used for weather situations.


Here’s where we can find a generational divide. There’s a river called Kandagawa in Tokyo. I just did a google search (in English) and the word Kandagawa brings up some anime. Or a chef by that name. That is not my Kandagawa nor that of my generation. For us, it immediately brings up an uta and a certain seikatsu and seishun.

Kandagawa – a gritty city view of it

In 1973, the folk movement was flourishing in Japan and a group called Kaguyahime was singing Kandagawa. For many a binbō student, it resonated deeply as it described our lifestyle. And yes, it was my lifestyle as well at that time. I have surprised Japanese people during conversations by describing something as “very Kandagawa.” It might have been when talking about the public bath. Or a tatami room in a wooden building. I miss those days, inconvenient as they were. And I’m not alone. There is a huge nostalgia for the Showa style of lie that had fewer choices, but a simpler way of being. Here are the words of the song:

Maybe you've already forgotten
How we went to the public bath down the lane
With our red hand towels as mufflers
You said, "Let's go together" 
But you always made me wait 
My damp hair was frozen down to the roots 
I rattled the small soap 
You held me 
And said, "You're cold" 
When we were young, I wasn't afraid of anything 
Only your tenderness made me afraid 

Maybe you've already thrown away 
The drawing of me you made 
With the twenty-four-color set of pastel crayons you bought 
"Make it good," I said 
But it didn't look like me at all
 I can see the Kanda River from out the window 
Of my three-tatami room at the boarding house 
You looked at my fingertips 
And asked, "Are you sad?" 
When we were young, I wasn't afraid of anything 
Only your tenderness made me afraid 
Credits: http://megchan.com/lyrics/index.php?title=Kaguya_Hime/Kandagawa 
A public bath in Kyoto circa 2016. Slowly they are becoming extinct….

For those of us who remember going to the public bath with a partner and separating as you entered the women’s side and he entered the side for men— and trying to coordinate leaving at the same time, it is particularly poignant. You’d finish bathing and step outside hoping that your partner had either finished a few seconds before you or would step out momentarily. In fuyu it meant the difference between staying warm and being cold again, which defeated some of the purpose. And you’d walk home together, perhaps stopping for some oden. But that’s another story.

The original version, though many singers have covered it since.
  • Kandagawa – 神田川 a river in Tokyo. Kanda is a part of Tokyo, and kawa means river. Very straightforward. If you’re riding a train through Tokyo you may see it from the window. Very urban. The Kanda area is where all the used bookstores are and was a favorite lodging place for students back in the day since it was cheaper to live there.
  • uta – 歌 song
  • seikatsu – 生活 life style
  • seishun – 青春 youth. Often combined with jidai, which means era or period to talk about younger days
  • binbō – 貧乏 poor. What did you think it would mean?!
  • Showa – 昭和 the period from from 1926-1989. Of course most people are nostalgic about the last forty years of it, though those war years are not to be forgotten.
  • fuyu – 冬 winter
  • oden – おでん a type of food that is sold by street venders and in bars (it practically cries out for beer) and now in 7-11 and other stores. It has an unmistakable smell to it due to the fish products it uses. A lot of non-Japanese fail to see the charm of it. But in the winter, before many homes had heat, it was a great way to warm up before returning to a stone cold room.

The Carrot

This is a story I have told often. It is a story that brought an aha moment. Not just an aha moment, but an aha moment when I realized that I’d wronged someone else. Most aha moments seem to be about a self-realization, or an intellectual or philosophical revelation. This one was an aha moment with deep remorse. Those are the ones that stay with you.

Kyoto is a university town. It is often compared to Boston, and they have a shimai toshi relationship. Kyoto values the students because so much of their income comes from these students. The school I was teaching at catered mostly to college students, but had a unique set-up that brought in all types of people, mostly mavericks. There were no real classes at REC. We taught conversational English through having conversations. There were kyōkasho, but the teachers were free to go off on tangents, and only used the kyōkasho with very low level students, or when met with a wall of silence. Students came in anytime during the day, signed in with their names and English level, and then took a seat in the waiting room. REC was first come, first served. We teachers took a look at the sign-in sheet and took in either one student or a group up to four, if they were at similar levels. A lesson with just one student would last for 20 minutes. The time increased depending on the number of students one teacher took. All lessons were together in a big room with round tables. It looked a little like a kissaten without coffee or snacks, and there was a comfortable noise level.

Sakamoto-san and I at a holiday party.

Sakamoto-san was an unusual student. Most of our students were college-age, or college graduates. We had shūfu and older women coming in early in the afternoon or morning. We had a few elementary school age kids, and some very enthusiastic junior and high school kids. They were mostly onna no ko. And we had some otoshiyori, who amazingly had learned their English solely from watching NHK public television English lessons and broadcasts. Sakamoto-san stood out purely because of his educational background. That is, he appeared to have almost none at all.

In 1979 English was a mandatory subject in junior and senior high school. Anybody who had graduated from high school would have had six years of English. This did not mean they could speak it but it usually meant that they had a rudimentary grasp of bunpō and we could—by speaking slowly and writing down words—communicate with them. I suspected that Sakamoto-san had gone to a technical school, or had stopped his education after graduating from chūgakkō, which is when gimu kyōiku ends. He was in his late twenties and he usually came in after work, still wearing his suit. Yes, a suit, but a cheap one. I guessed he worked in some kind of service industry.

Sakamoto-san’s English level was the lowest of anyone I had taught. Though I would try to make conversation with him, it simply wasn’t possible to get very far. I would usually give up after five minutes, and turn to the kyōkasho. He simply needed practice and repetition. It was interesting that he’d chosen to study at a school like ours which was geared towards conversation, because he wasn’t at that level.

That night, we struggled to have a friendly conversation. I liked Sakamoto-san. He seemed nice and funny. I thought I’d enjoy his company if only we could communicate. I think he was amused by my efforts to communicate with him, and appreciated the effort. But soon enough, we got to the textbook.

After checking the notes on his records, we started a new chapter. I was happy to see that it was on colors. Everyone knew colors. This couldn’t be too difficult a lesson and I knew how I could jazz it up. So we started out with some sentence repetition, and color identification. Then it came time for me to ask him questions:

"What color is the sky?” I asked.
“The sky is blue,” answered Sakamoto-san. 
“What color is grass?”
“The grass is green,” came the answer.

This was going well, and I continued in this vein. When I came to the color orange, I asked an obvious one:

“What color are carrots?"
“Carrots are red,” said Sakamoto-san, stammering a little over the r sound.
“No, carrots are orange,” I said, since they are. (This was 1976.)

I wondered why in the world he’d said red. That had seemed like an easy one, but after correcting him, I moved on to another question.

The thing is, I remember something in his eyes. It’s something that others probably saw in my eyes over and over again, as I struggled to learn Japanese. It’s a reflection of the inner struggle and frustration that a person feels when they have something to communicate but realize that they are unable to do it because they don’t have the necessary language skills. I saw that moment in his eyes but I ignored it. Had to get through the lesson. And so we continued.

A couple of weeks later, on a free shūmatsu, I was riding my jitensha through a yet unexplored area of Kyoto. Kyoto is one of the easier cities to explore in Japan. It’s flat, and it is built on a grid. Even without a map, it is hard to get lost. I simply started out on a big street near my house and went north.

Eventually I came to what looked like a big farmer’s market. It was right on the street, so I hopped off my bicycle, and walked through it. I was always interested in finding new take-out foods, since I wasn’t doing much cooking in those days. And markets usually had take-out stalls.

The market was crowded, but not so crowded that I couldn’t leisurely stroll and stop to look without blocking the way of busy shūfu who tended to rule in these places. I was struck by all the yasai. So many shades of green, and they all looked so fresh. I couldn’t even imagine what kind of vegetables they were. Living in Kansas had given me no great wealth of knowledge to draw on, and I wasn’t any kind of cook at all. As I walked and marveled at the variety, I suddenly saw something red amidst all the green. In fact, it was no wonder I was drawn to the baskets of ruby red vegetables. The color and brilliance of it is almost indescribable. Ruby red said it best. Ruby red carrots.

When I returned to Kyoto in 2016, I made sure to take a photo of the red carrots

The minute I realized that these ruby red vegetables were carrots I stopped dead in my tracks. I was looking at red carrots for the first time in my life. And I was mortified. All I could think of was the look on Sakamoto’san’s face when I blithely corrected him about the color of carrots. Why hadn’t I stopped to give him the benefit of the doubt? Why hadn’t I asked him why he thought they were red? And mostly, who was I to assume that everything in Japan was the same as it was in the United States? I was deeply embarrassed and felt like the biggest fool in the world. I’d thought I was a relatively sensitive person.

Obviously I was a total idiot.

Packaged curry made with Kyo-yasai

So, the red carrots are something I have never forgotten. That moment of seeing them, and the aha moment when I realized that I’d made a wrong assumption. Years later, I was still wondering. Red carrots were a specialty of Kyoto. They are in a category of vegetables native to Kyoto called kyo-yasai, or Kyoto vegetables. Orange carrots are the norm in Japan, too. So, why did Sakamoto-san say red? Had he grown up on a Kyoto farm that grew red carrots? Was he from a traditional family and was he proud of kyo-yasai?

Back at work, I anxiously awaited Sakamoto’san’s next visit. It took a while before our paths crossed again, and we sat down together at a table to begin our lesson. I was eager to tell him that I knew why he said carrots were red, and I knew that I had been presumptuous to tell him he was wrong. I wanted to apologize to him. I needed to apologize to him. And as I sat there, I realized that there was no way to explain this to him in simple English. I could only give it my best try. And, so I did. I told him I’d seen the red carrots. I told him I was sorry that I didn’t know that carrots could be red in Japan. I told him it was the first time I’d seen a red carrot, and that I was so very sorry for presuming that carrots were orange. I explained over and over again. Sakamoto-san smiled. He wasn’t understanding a word of it. But he was smiling because he could see that something was important to me, and he wanted to give me some assurance that he was listening. It was a moment that I could not undo, nor make up for.

Sakamoto-san continued to come to REC to study English. He didn’t improve much at all. But he was a constant reminder to me to slow down and take the time to listen and ask questions. I tried to throw my
presumptions out the window and I think I became a better person for it.

***And as I write this in 2022, I see all kinds of carrots; my Trader Joe has purple ones, white ones, etc. But at the time, it was as surprising to me as it would be to see a purple hamburger…. (which I hope I never do see….)

  • shimai toshi – 姉妹都市 sister city. Kyoto has a number of these relationships. For the US, it is Boston.
  • kyōkasho – 教科書 textbook
  • kissaten – 喫茶店 coffee shop
  • onna no ko – 女の子 girl, young girl
  • otoshiyori – お年寄り senior citizen
  • bunpō – 文法 grammar
  • chūgakkō – 中学校 junior high school or middle school
  • gimu kyōiku – 義務教育 mandatory education. In the USA, it is until age 16. In Japan it is until the end of junior high school. This makes a lot more sense, right? Think about it.
  • shūmatsu – 週末 weekend
  • yasai – 野菜 vegetable(s)
  • kyo-yasai – 京野菜 a term for the speciality vegetables grown in Kyoto which include round eggplant, red carrots and much more. Google it.

Would You?

On one of her visits to Japan, my mother made the following comment: “If I lived here, I’d never cook.” As a New York City dweller who always cooked, this is kind of funny because NYC certainly has its share of take-out available. Or delivery. But it is simply nothing compared to the huge variety that Japanese depachika and shopping streets provide.

Persimmon and turnip salad next to chicken liver.

Yet, I hardly availed myself of this option, either. Because Japanese cooking uses the same seasonings over and over, each household develops their own ofukuro no aji based on the proportions used. I’ve already talked about the difference in flavor between Kansai and Kanto, but it goes further than that. In my own household, I tend to season in a Kansai type way, but perhaps a little sweeter than most. So that’s what my kids are used to as well.

And then there’s the whole discussion about whether takeout food is even healthy. I think Japan fares better in that respect, if only because there are so many options. Take a look at the makaroni sarada pictured below. That’s the label on it, but can you even see the makaroni? Proportion wise, I think it has less macaroni and more healthy ingredients than a macaroni salad in the USA would.

Macaroni salad at Nishiki market

One thing I WOULD buy eagerly in Japan would be deep-fried items. Often I’d see venders right outside a supermarket doing the frying right before my eyes. So, I’d know it was freshly fried and hadn’t been sitting there for a few days. A sure hit with customers. Pictured below is a chocolate korokke. A novelty item, no doubt. Nope… not interested!

Chocolate korokke which I never tried
  • depachika – デパ地下 refers to the basement of a department store. There you will find what amounts to both a supermarket and a food hall. Not to be missed.
  • ofukuro no aji – お袋の味 the taste of mom’s home cooking
  • Kansai – 関西 Western Japan
  • Kanto – 関東 Eastern Japan
  • makaroni sarada – マカロニサラダ macaroni salad
  • korokke – コロッケ croquette

Nodo Jiman

Every Sunday I watch a terebi bangumi from the public tv station in Japan called NHK. I have been watching it on and off since 1976 when I was introduced to it by my homestay kazoku.

Back then if it was noon on nichiyōbi, almost everyone was watching it. It’s an amateur singing contest. Each week they go to a different locale in Japan and introduce the town and show what is special about it, followed by the introduction of two guest judges who are professional singers. And then the participants come on stage to sing and get judged with one chime, two chimes or a series of chimes telling them they’ve scored high enough to be in the final round of judging. At the end one tokubetsu shō is given and then the grand champion is announced from the six or seven who’ve gotten top marks. Simple, but addictive! I don’t think there is any better way to get a taste of real Japan.

Of course the format has changed some over the years. And during COVID it was cancelled entirely for a while. So it reflects genjitsu Japan as well. A few weeks ago there was an jishin just as the show was about to begin (it is broadcast live). And news pre-empted it.

I could probably write a book about Nodo Jiman, but for now I’ll stick with yesterday’s broadcast.

100 years old!

Everyone is always properly attentive when an otoshiyori comes on stage to sing, often accompanied by a mago. It isn’t unusual to have participants in their eighties and even nineties. But yesterday was very special because a gentleman who is 100 years old came on to sing. He wasn’t half bad. The announcer asked his usual questions.

"To what do you attribute your longevity?"
"I sing everyday!"

"And what goals do you have in your life right now?"
"I want to reach hyakutōban!"

And everyone laughed. Let me explain. 110 is the number that one calls for the police or in an emergency. It’s sort of Japan’s 911. So he made a great pun by saying that he wants to call the police or–in this case he wants to reach age 110. That’s probably possible in Japan.

And of course he was awarded the special prize. Nobody could top that one! Sasuga!

  • Nodo Jiman – のど自慢 song show. Please read the wikipedia entry here. I can’t explain it in a few sentences and do it justice.
  • terebi bangumi – テレビ番組 television + program
  • kazoku – 家族 family. Note that if you are asking someone about their family you want to put an honorific in front of it and say gokazoku
  • nichiyōbi – 日曜日 Sunday
  • tokubetsu shō – 特別賞 special + award
  • genjitsu – 現実 reality, actualities
  • jishin – 地震 earthquake
  • otoshiyori – お年寄り the elderly. Honorific o of course!
  • mago – 孫 grandchild
  • hyakutōban 110番- Number 110 – the police number you call in an emergency in Japan
  • sasuga – さすが “indeed!” or as you might have expected

This post is not about clouds

Yesterday I saw a kumo climbing the wall in my office. I do not like spiders. But I hesitated and could not kill it and let it go on its way. Why? Because it was 10 AM and seeing a kumo in the morning is good luck. And I can’t seem to let go of some of these adages that I learned in Japan. So, beware, spider, if I see you again in the evening!

When I gave birth to my daughter in Tokyo, I was in a byōshitsu with three other mothers. This turned out to be wonderful. Two of them had just given birth to their second babies so they were filled with useful tips and advice. We had a lot of time to chat because back then you stayed in the byōin for seven whole days.

The hospital where my daughter was born. No computer back then and the toilet was down the corridor, far far away!

The calmest mama of us all was a day ahead of the rest of us and she fretted out loud a little on exactly when she should check out of the byōin. It would be fortuitous to check out in the morning, because the morning was good luck for checking out of the hospital, she informed us. However, she was going home to her giri okāsan‘s home and if she checked out in the morning, her giri okāsan would feel obligated to prepare lunch for her and she didn’t want to trouble her. I’m pretty sure none of this is a itabasami that an American new mother would have!

Speaking of good things, the expression Zen wa isoge fascinates me because I think I understand it, but I’m not sure I really do. I guess it is a call to action and to not hesitate when one is taking worthy action? Or does it mean that if there is one donut left you’d better grab it quickly? Well, no. But it is an excellent adage to remember when you’re starting to hesitate to do something that you know will help others.

Good translation!

Now, where did that spider go, I wonder?

  • kumo – くも spider. It also means cloud, but you can tell from the context, i.e. in this case, would I really have a cloud climbing up my wall and want to kill it? I think not.
  • byōshitsu – 病室 hospital room. Byō is illness and shitsu is room, so….
  • byōin – 病院 hospital. Byō is illness and the in denotes an institution
  • zen wa isoge – 善は急げ “Do good things fast” or “Don’t hesitate to do good”
  • giri okāsan – 義理お母さん mother-in-law
  • itabasami – 板挟み a dilemma. Literally it means stuck between two boards

Cotton Life

When you go to a foreign country, you expect to discover and learn new things. You find yourself changing in ways that you would have never predicted. Going 100% cotton was one of my adjustments.

I don’t think I ever thought all that much about the content of my yōfuku in America. I bought what looked nice or was well priced. A tee-shirt was a tee-shirt and jeans were jeans. That was the bulk of my wardrobe and still is today. But in Japan, I learned the value of cotton.

The simplest explanation is the otenki. Kyoto is just so darned atsui and mushiatsui that cotton was going to be the best option. And it was prefect for layering during the cold winters. And that was what I found in shops when I started cautiously delving into clothing. I say cautiously, because my size was so different from the typical Japanese women’s size back then. Until I was pregnant and really needed to shop, I didn’t. And then when I confided in my Japanese giri onēsan, she kindly sent me all of her maternity clothes! She was just as tall as me, and had some items that were surely tailor-made.

When my musume was born in 1984, nuno omutsu were still what most mother’s were using. My giri okāsan sewed 100 of them for me. One of the nicest gifts I’ve ever received. Cotton of course and I still have a few of them with blue puppies scampering across them. She had two granddaughters already and perhaps she was hoping for a grandson, but that wasn’t to be…yet.

Japanese diapers

My own parents sent baby clothing from America that had fire-retarding unknown content to me. It did not breathe. I stuck with the Japanese baby clothes—of course, all cotton. And on summer nights I’d religiously insert gauze hankies into her pajamas to absorb ase and change them out during the night every few hours. Yes, I really did those things. Cotton ruled!

And cotton held up well. Our washing machine only used cold water and I hung everything out to dry. The smell of cotton clothing imbued with sunshine and fresh air is always an upper to me!

Hanging laundry while pregnant in Tokyo….
  • yōfuku – 洋服 clothes. Western style clothes. There’s a different word for Japanese style clothing.
  • otenki – お天気 weather
  • atsui – 暑い hot
  • mushiatsui – 蒸し暑い humid
  • giri onēsan – 義理お姉さん (older) sister-in-law. If you put giri before mother, father, sister, brother etc. it turns it into an in-law
  • musume – 娘 daughter or young woman
  • nuno omutsu – 布おむつ cloth diapers (as opposed to disposable diapers which are kami omutsu)
  • giri okāsan – 義理お母さん mother-in-law. If you put giri before mother, father, sister, brother etc. it turns it into an in-law
  • ase – 汗 sweat