I think July was the worst month for humid heat when I lived in Kyoto. That’s not to say that August was much better, but by the end of August you could feel a whispering of aki in the air. I wonder if that still holds true.
Of course I had no air conditioner in the 1970’s. I depended on a fan kept within a foot of me when I was in my geshuku room. And I’d hightail it out to get some kakigōri at the peak of the day. Back then there wasn’t the enormous variety that you see now. It was simply strawberry, lemon, and a Kyoto speciality of Uji green tea with either dango or anko or both. That one was always more expensive and seemed very extravagant to me.
I also was grateful for all the hankachi I had to daintily (?) pat the sweat from my face. I never once had to buy a handkerchief because they were such a common gift. You always had to carry one because public bathrooms had no paper towels or other devices for drying your hands. For that matter, toilet paper could be iffy as well, so you’d always have both a hankachi and a packet of tissues in your bag. Since tissue packets were given out at train stations with ads written on them, you never really had to buy those either… at least not in Tokyo.
Commuting to work by jitensha was definitely a plus in the summer. Kyoto is pretty flat and you’d feel the wind on you as your pedaled. And upon arriving home, I’d head for the public bath each night and then turn on the fan and lay out my futon, of course with just a taoruketto in the summer.
I still love my taoruketto and think it is one of the better ways to sleep on a hot summer night!
aki – 秋 autumn
geshuku – 下宿 boarding house. Rare, these days, but poor students usually lived in these. It would usually be one room, a shared toilet area and a nearby public bath.
kakigōri – かき氷 shaved ice. Nothing like a snowcone though. We’re talking major upgrade from that!
dango – だんご dumpling. In this case they are small white mochi-like dumplings.
anko -あんこ red bean paste
hankachi – ハンカチ handkerchief. Very popular in Japan. I wonder why we Americans don’t use them as much.
jitensha – 自転車 bicycle
taoruketto – タオルケット a summer blanket made out of cotton towel material. They are wonderful on a hot summer’s night and are often given as gifts.
I am from the generation who grew up with the mantra “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” (It was a little bit shocking when we all turned thirty and realized we could no longer trust ourselves! ) But I quickly learned that in Japan, oyako could be friends.
Take Rie, one of my students who was just a year younger than me. She spoke Eigo well and I’d inquire about her weekend. One day she told me she’d been to a hosuto kurabu. I was immediately intrigued. Japan was pretty well known for hostess clubs where women in beautiful or sexy gowns would coyly entertain otoko as they plied them with drinks. They weren’t prostitutes but they weren’t lily clean either in some cases. Hostess clubs could be very expensive. They were the domain of business men who tended to entertain clients there.
But what the heck was a host club? I’d never heard of them, and Rie was happy to fill me in. She said that these clubs were for women and had handsome young men who would dance with them and shower them with attention. Rie then casually dropped the bomb that she had gone to the hosutokurabu with her mother! Her mother!
Picture me really shocked at age 22. I went nowhere with my mother if I could help it and I couldn’t imagine hanging out with her outside the home and, well, a host club? I was startled by Rie’s casual comments and dug for more. Rie said she liked her mom and they hung out regularly, like friends. Unheard of; her mother was over thirty, after all.
After some time in Japan, I began to see the relationship between parent and young adult child was totally different. Japanese parents respected their young adult children and saw them as complete adults–adults who sometimes knew more than they did. To my own parents, I was a “kid” until the day they died. In fact, they always said that I’d always be their “child.”
Post-war Japan brought so many changes and at a high speed. One of the more difficult ones for older folks was the profusion of “katakana words” or English words for things. New things often had English names and the older generation couldn’t keep up. So it would be the younger generation that would help them with the bombardment of change and new words such as: shanpū, nekutai, makudonarudo, arerugī and hundreds more.
I’m close with my own daughter now like Rie was with her mother. It’s a different relationship from the one I had with my mother. I wonder if it is because of the technology boom that has made her sedai the ones with the—for example—phone knowledge. I do turn to my kids sometimes with questions about my overly-intelligent phone. To me, they are fully adults and have knowledge that I do not have.
So here I am comparing the relationship between generations citing post-war Japan and new-tech America. If this makes any sense at all. Dō omoimasuka?
oyako – 親子 parent and child. There is also a rice dish called oyako donburi, which is chicken and egg on rice. Get it?
Eigo – 英語 English language
hosuto kurabu – ホストクラブ host club
otoko – 男 man or men
katakana – カタカナ syllabic alphabet. Compare with hiragana. It is used primarily for borrowed words like the ones below.
shanpū – シャンプー shampoo
nekutai – ネクタイ necktie
makudonarudo – マクドナルド McDonalds (hamburger chain). It’s a mouthful in Japanese! Which is why it gets shortened simply to maku マク these days.
arerugī – アレルギー allergy. I bet it took you a minute to get that one!
sedai – 世代 generation. Used to specify a certain age range.
Dō omoimasuka - どう思いますか？ “What do you think?” A question hardly ever asked in Japan.
I watched an interesting dokyumentorī on the NHK English channel. It’s a bit slow, but I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in Japan. Some of it felt so incredibly natsukashii to me. The colors of the Showa Era in the 1970s were very distinctive and it reminded me once again of the ubiquitous karā bokkusu.
Color boxes were the best friend of any student trying to live cheaply. You could put them upright or on their side. They worked for books, as a pantry, clothes etc. They were yasui and came in a variety of sizes. Of course I had a green one. And an orange one. The colors were almost neon in their intensity.
The current asadora had a shot of a Showa room this morning that could have been my room. I could swear I had this very table.
Being a curious type, I tried to find out more about the color box. It first appeared on the scene in 1970 and came from a company called Kuroshio. Apparently it was one of the first pieces that required at-home construction with a screw driver. The chairman of the company saw colorful plastic goods in a depāto and thought it would be a nice change if furniture (mostly wood up until that time) could have those bright Showa colors as well. They had instant appeal among young women who thought they were kawaii.
Timing was everything here! They were a huge hit and eventually were sold around the world. With the current “Showa Boom” maybe the original iro are in again! Sorry, but those colors are still kind of hideous to me.
dokyumentorī – ドキュメンタリー documentary (the kind you see on tv)
natsukashii – 懐かしい nostalgic. This word gets a LOT of use in Japan.
karā bokkusu – カラーボックス color box (used for storage and favored by students)
yasui – 安い cheap (adjective)
asadora – 朝ドラ literally morning drama and refers to dramas that are broadcast in the morning (duh)
depāto – デパート department store
kawaii – 可愛い If you use one word to translate it, it is “cute.” But it is simply so much more and has unique parameters which is probably why it has been exported from Japan in reference to manga, Hello Kitty goods, etc.
Kyoto has the best tofu in Japan. No joke. There are still plenty of mom and pop mise that make it each day and even more resutoran that feature tofu. I’m guessing it would take over a year to try them all out. Maybe five years. I’m surprised that nobody has written an in-depth book on Kyoto tofu. It could probably be an hyakkajiten.
For summer, the obvious choice is a dish called hiyayakko. It is simply cold tofu (a soft kind) garnished with green onion, katsuoboshi, perhaps a bit of shōga and eaten with soy sauce. There are a lot of variations with the point being that cold tofu is simply so refreshing on a hot day. Needless to say, the quality of the tofu counts big time here!
One summer day when I was riding my jitensha down some side streets in Kyoto, I noticed something curious at a small tofu shop. It was obviously tofu, but in a shape I’d never seen before. (Wikipedia calls it “dome-shaped.”) The top of it was dusted with some green flakes of aonori. I wondered what it was and asked the shopkeeper who told me it was called karashidōfu or mustard tofu. He also told me how to eat it.
You take your ohashi and gently cut it in half. That exposes the dollop of mustard inside of the tofu. Next you add soy sauce and swirl the mustard into it. And eat! So refreshing!
I wondered about the yurai, but I didn’t find much information from Ms. Google. It may have originated in Gifu Prefecture about seventy years ago. So it isn’t all that old. But if you should ever be in Kyoto during the summer it is worth looking out for.
And of course, here is where I get to gripe about modern times. I bet you can find it in a sūpā and I bet you can find it in many other cites in Japan. I hope you don’t find it in the winter. But we humans are now so intent upon getting what we want when we want it and where we want it. Kind of takes the “special” out of it.
I have not seen this kind of tofu in America. Yet. Have you?
They say that in the summer you should think of cold or scary things to keep you cool. Perhaps a ghost story to make you shiver deliciously. Or in these more modern times, you can try going to sleep with the sounds of water dashing down a mountain taki.
To keep myself cool, I go back to the omoide of a very cold winter’s day in January. I’ve woken up and am already shivering in my small apartment which has no central heat and indeed no space heater either. And no hot shower or even a bath at all. It’s 1979 and I’m living at the foot of the mountains in northern Kyoto.
It’s the first week of January and my local sentō has odd hours due to the New Year’s holiday. This morning they have asaburo. This is a rare event since usually the sentō is open from around 3 PM until 11 PM. I’ve never done asaburo before but I’m desperate to warm up. But first I have to get there. I reluctantly crawl out of the futon and get dressed.
The area is rural and has some magnificent old farmhouses. No doubt they all have their own baths and the local sentō is quite a walk away. Snow had been falling and it’s a quiet morning. Peaceful and beautiful–and cold.
I walk out of my apartment building, turn right and head down our tiny street to the intersection of three tiny streets. One leads to Midorogaike. One leads to a bus stop, and the one I need to take leads to KamigamoJinja after meandering for some minutes. It’s still very quiet as I pass our tiny grocery that is good for milk and bread. They won’t be opening today since it is still the New Year’s holiday. The road is covered with snow, as are the trees and roofs. It’s a quiet winter wonderland and I’m the only one out.
After walking for about seven minutes, I come to the block that houses a few shops. I breathe in deeply as it seems the soba shop is preparing dashi. There is simply no smell like it. Even today, the smell of dashi brings me right back to this street. The buildings are all old here; I could be back in the MeijiJidai with this scenery. Maybe even the EdoJidai. The appearance of a samurai would not be at all jarring.
And after I walk past the soba shop, I’ve come to the bath. And… snap. As soon as I enter the changing area, I feel the warmth from the steamy water.
And I need to stop reminiscing right here because this is all about conjuring up COLD memories this morning. Oops.
taki – 滝 waterfall
omoide – 思い出 memory or memories. A word that is used very often in Japan as omoide are considered very precious.
sentō – 銭湯 publicbath. I will probably talk a lot about it in this blog because it was my life for many many years.
asaburo – 朝風呂 a bath taken in the morning. Traditionally, baths are always in the evening. With the advent of shower heads, the idea of a morning shower was introduced… and at first seemed a little bold. Like, why would you need a morning shower if you had bathed at night? So, when the public bath had asaburo during the week of New Year’s it was very special and different.
Midorogaike – 深泥池 The name of a pond in Northern Kyoto, but also serves as the name of the area around it. It literally means ‘deep muddy pond.’ Rents were a bit lower there because it was a hangout for ghosts. Really. But it was a nice place to live!
KamigamoJinja – 上賀茂神社 A very famous shrine in the northern section of Kyoto. You could google it.
dashi – だし a Japanese broth used for miso soup and other cooking. You can buy instant or make your own. If you walk through the streets early in the morning or right before dinner time, you can sometimes smell it cooking. There are so many kinds, but the smell evokes pure deliciousness for me.
MeijiJidai – 明治時代 The Meiji Era (1868-1912) By the way, this is an utterly fascinating era since it is when Western culture started to be more prominent in Japan.
EdoJidai – 江戸時代 The Edo Era (1603-1868)
samurai – 侍 I can’t even. You know this. Okay, warrior. Did you really not know this?!
Hachigatsu is always a poignant month for me when it comes to Japan. Both my first and second trips began in August.
That first trip was August, 1976. I don’t remember what day it was, but it was with the Associated Kyoto Program (AKP). As a group, we traveled from New York City to Tokyo—with a surreal layover in Anchorage—and then missed a connecting flight to Osaka and spent the night in a classy Tokyo hoteru, possibly courtesy of the airline? I was the odd loner from a daigaku that was not a member school of the consortium that ran the program, but my professor had led the program a couple of years previous to my year so I was permitted to join. The other students knew each other since there were five or so of them from each school. I did know two of them from my summer at the Middlebury Language School. That wasn’t nothing, thankfully.
My second trip, I made alone. It felt like a do-over because I’d ended up dropping out of the AKP program due to…well, I’m just not going to tell. But I went home to Kansas in April instead of June. And I was frustrated that I hadn’t done Kyoto very well. So after sotsugyō I worked hard to save okane and flew off on my own on August 14.
Keep in mind, this was 1978. No internet, not much information. Because if I’d known, I would have realized how baka it was to fly into Japan during Obon when everyone and his brother would be traveling. Sure enough, I landed in a VERY crowded Haneda Airport. What the heck? I had thought I would just be able to saunter over to a counter and get a kippū to Osaka. The lines were very long, though. It was not looking good.
Suddenly a middle-aged otoko approached me. He’d seen me eyeing the line for Osaka. He asked me if I needed a ticket. I said that I did. He said that he’d take care of it and he somehow got us on standby. That was nice. It was still looking dim, though.
But miraculously, some hours later, both of our numbers were called and we were able to get on the hikōki. I’m not sure why this was, but neither of us had gone through customs yet. So when we arrived in Osaka and before we went through customs, my new “friend” had a request. He himself was coming from Taiwan, he said, and he said he’d bought too many cigarettes and would I mind holding them and taking them through customs for him.
Naive as I was, alarm bells went off! What was going on here and was I going to be smuggling? But he’d been so shinsetsu. Readers, I could not say no. (I am and always will be a total wimp.)
So, I agreed. And felt like a nervous wreck as I went through customs. What was really in that bag?
After we got through customs, I found my “friend” and said, “Here you go. There was no problem.” (I was probably still quivering.)
He laughed and said, “Oh, you can just keep them. I really do have enough of them.”
So… what was that all about? I will never know. But it was a stupid risk to take and I wouldn’t recommend that anyone do what I did. But maybe, just maybe, he really was just a helpful guy!
Hachigatsu – 8月 August
hoteru – ホテル hotel
daigaku – 大学 university or college
sotsugyō – 卒業 graduation. Note that in Japan entrance ceremonies are a bigger thing than graduations. That is, it is harder to get in than to get out!
okane – お金 money
baka – バカ stupid or stupidity. This is the word that my five year old son taught to his kindergarten classmates in New Jersey so that they could understand Japanese. He refused to learn English for awhile and had a language crusade going on. American mothers would come up to me and ask, “Oh, is baka a word in Japanese?” What does it mean?”
Obon – お盆 an important holiday in July or August (depending on the region) where ancestors are honored… and everyone takes a vacation back to their hometowns or Hawaii etc. Google it.
In the late 1970’s, as is true now, gaikokujin came to Kyoto with specific goals in mind. I met Robert, studying to be a Zen priest at Daitokuji. My friend Pat was destined to become a Japanese art history professor. Those studying Chado were many. Japanese gardens? Oh, yes. Cooking? I didn’t know anyone doing that, but I think they do now. Have I forgotten martial arts? There are always those, though purists in karate would go to Okinawa. Textiles? Absolutely, be it the wearing, designing, dying etc. of kimono, that was another approved route.
So, what was my bag? (Or my groove, maybe?) Well, I didn’t exactly have one. Since nariyuki had brought me to Nihongo and then Japan, the only thing I really wanted to do was learn the darned Japanese language. Actually, I was determined to learn to read it and that meant memorizing kanji and then making my way through different books with three dictionaries at my side. And a cup of tea, of course.
It meant starting my day at a kissaten with the ubiquitous morning set–and grabbing a shinbun from the rack near the door to try and read.
I quickly found a fun topic. Just kidding. It wasn’t fun, but my visa sponsor got me to help him with his work for the anti-nuclear power movement. So there I was reading newspaper articles in Japanese on genshiryokuhatsuden and being a covert part of the hangenpatsu movement. Later I would go on to translate a book calledGenpatsuGypsy. Though I’m not sure what happened to my translation (it is rumored that it circulated in Australia) I did get to meet the author and slightly astounded him with my list of shitsumon which showed him how closely I’d read his book. There I was, in my early twenties, translating a book on nuclear power. Not exactly why most foreigners go to Kyoto.
This necessitated me learning how to say maverick in Japanese. I think I’ll use the word kawarimono for that!
Later I’d try dabbling in a few of the more traditional arts, but mostly I just left it to fate to determine what to tackle next. No regrets!
gaikokujin – 外国人 foreigners. This is the polite form. In Japan, the shorter the phrase gets the ore casual or even rude it is. Because of that, it isn’t exactly polite when this gets shortened to gaijin. But it very often is shortened to the dismay of some.
Chado – 茶道 The Art of Tea, or the way of tea, or the study of the tea ceremony
kimono – 着物 It is not a bathrobe! It literally means thing that you wear, but refers to a proper Japanese kimono.
nariyuki – なりゆき fate. Literally how it unfolds is how I go… or something like that. A sense of destiny beyond one’s control.
Nihongo – 日本語 the Japanese language
kanji – 漢字 Chinese characters. If you learn them, it will help you slightly in a Chinese restaurant, too
kissaten – 喫茶店 coffee shop, but now refers to an old style coffee shop as opposed to a cafe. Us old folks like this style much better. Hipsters do not. Yet.
shinbun – 新聞 newspaper
genshiryokuhatsuden 原子力発電 – nuclear power. It’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it? Kind of fun to just casually reel off… 😉
hangenpatsu – 反原発 “against nuclear power.”
shitsumon – 質問 question
kawarimono – 変わり者 maverick, someone who is different
If you take a walk anywhere in Japan in the months of July and August, it’s possible to identify where the ichinensei in your neighborhood live. Look out at the balconies of the apāto, or the small yards of the homes. If you see a morning glory plant in a pot, then you’ve found a first grader.
First grade is an important grade in Japan. It is not about the academics, but rather it is about teaching children to live in society. After entering school they learn about themselves, and then about their families. After that they learn about their own school, and the circle continues to widen out to the world. To do this, they also have themes that cover all subjects. In the autumn, we were surprised to see the role of donguri. They counted them, sung songs about them, read about them, picked them up and helped clean the area around the school of them, and then used them for art projects. It turns out that you can get a lot of mileage out of an acorn.
We had moved to Yagumo, an area in the Meguro Ward of Tokyo, in the middle of the school year. I enrolled my daughter in first grade at the Yagumo Elementary School, wondering if she’d be the first foreign girl there. But it turned out that years ago there had been a British child, and since my daughter spoke Japanese they were amiable and welcoming. As her okāsan there was a slew of preparation I had to do. I received a stack of past class newsletters to review, and a math set that needed to have labels put on every piece, some of which were smaller than dimes. You had to write your child’s namae on tiny labels and then put them on every single item. There was no way that my clumsy Japanese script would fit on those labels, so I cheated and put her very unique first name on the tiny pieces. As for the stack of newsletters, I did give them a glance and did my best, but all of them were hand written and difficult to decipher. I was amazed that the teacher would send home this newsletter each week. It told the parents exactly what they’d studied in school that week, and what the shukudai for the next week would be. It was illustrated with seasonal pictures and also had shout-outs to children who had made some kind of achievement. I imagine it is all done via the internet today, which is sad in some ways, though more ecologically sound.
Japanese children do not have a long natsu yasumi. The school year begins in April and is divided into trimesters. The first trimester runs from April until the third week of July. Then they break until September 1. A 40 day natsu yasumi seems more effective than the American system since children have less time to forget what they have learned. And because it comes mid-school year, instead of at the end of the school year, teachers are able to give shukudai.
Yes, homework. The first graders got piles of worksheets to do to review what they’d learned in their first trimester of school. They also had projects. And even though it was summer vacation, it wasn’t like they weren’t going to school. In fact, they went to school pretty regularly for swimming lessons. Almost every Japanese elementary school comes equipped with a swimming pool. In the cities, Japan is always pressed for space, and many of these pools were found on the roof of the school. This is where the Yagumo Elementary School pool was located and my daughter, along with the rest of her class, trotted off for swimming lessons each day of the summer. It was just expected that children would be around for these classes, and they were scheduled at different times during the week. There were regulation mizugi and caps to be bought and labeled, and a whole list of instructions for what and when a child could eat before swimming class. Shana came home the first day with an attendance card and proudly showed me her sticker. The goal was to fill the card with stickers and achieve good attendance and to also get a rank in swimming. (There are ranks for everything in Japan, not just karate.)
One of the bigger homework projects involved a morning glory plant. Each first grader had nurtured their plant from seeds, starting back in April. I guessed that Shana would not be able to participate in this project because we’d moved to Yagumo in June and she didn’t have a plant. I was wrong. It turns out that the teacher had one for her. When I asked the teacher how she could possibly have known that she’d get a transfer student (very unusual in Japan) two months after school had begun, she happily informed me that she had three “extras” that she secretly was growing herself in case they were needed.
Each day the plant figured into her homework. It was used for observation. She had to draw pictures of the flowers on it at different times of day. It was used for math, as she counted the blossoms and then did math problems based on the different colors. For me, the scary part was keeping it alive over the summer. I don’t know what kind of penalty a mother would get if she and her child killed the teacher’s morning glory, but luckily these plants were pretty hardy and even the rowdy boys in her class brought them back proudly at the beginning of September fully intact. It was eye opening to see how one plant could be used for so much. Watering the plant each day and determining how much water was also the child’s job. So they learned to nurture something, with a built in guarantee that the plant was hardy and the job was doable even for a six year old.
During the summer, Shana also had a few days of usagi duty. The school had a rabbit, and each day a sixth grader and a first grader would be responsible for feeding it. The school often paired sixth and first graders together since the first grader would learn the ropes from an older child, and the older child would profit from being in a teaching role. She trotted off to the school, lettuce and carrots in hand.
The last reason that she had to go to school was for a week of rajio taiso. And that’s another post I’ll make this summer!
ichinensei – 一年生 a first-grader. At an elementary school, but is also used for the first years of junior high, high school, and college, though usually modified to indicate which level of school.
apāto – アパート apartment
donguri – どんぐり acorn
okāsan – お母さん mother
namae – 名前 name
shukudai – 宿題 homework
mizugi – 水着 bathing suit
usagi – ウサギ rabbit
rajio taisō – ラジオ体操 radio exercise. Explanation to come….
You hear about the New Yorkers who have never been to the Empire State Building. Possibly my parents fell into that category. And even though I live in Amherst, famous for being the home of Emily Dickinson, it took years before I visited her home/museum, and then just once was enough.
This month there is a very famous festival in Kyoto called Gion Matsuri. It is literally celebrated the whole month with the highlight being a procession of floats held on July 17. On the two nights before the 17th, downtown Kyoto becomes something of a street fair and if you’re young, you do want a date for that night. Girls and boys alike will be wearing yukata. The procession is certainly worth seeing. Ikkaidakedesu. It will be hot as hell and humid as hell and crowded as hell. Total jigoku. I know I went at least once or twice… and then I know I skipped it, unless I had a visiter who had come especially to see it. I do love the accompanying hayashi that is played and just the sound of it makes me smile.
I am a reader of a bulogu that is written by a grouchy old Japanese man who is a native of Kyoto. Kinō he wrote that he would not be going to see the procession and rather testily said that the natives of Kyoto didn’t go because most Kyoto-ites only attend their kinjō festivities. Neighborhoods are of utmost important in Kyoto. There will be neighborhood jinja and otera for your everyday needs. (Of course there are also some famous places for specific and special needs; if you are taking a college entrance exam, you’d want to pray at Kitano Tenmangu.) But basically, he says, the festival is for both Japanese and foreign tourists at this point, unless you’re one of the neighborhood folks who hold it.
So, if I was in Kyoto, this year, would I go to Gion Matsuri? To be very honest, unless the weather felt much much cooler than usual, I would not. But during the month of July I’d be sure to walk through the back streets where preparations were being made and catch some of that action. The back streets of Kyoto are where all the good stuff happens!
Gion Matsuri – 祇園祭 One of the three big festivals that happens in Kyoto. This is a summer festival. Google it.
yukata – 浴衣 cotton kimono that is worn in the summer or for sleeping
Ikkaidakedesu – 一回だけです “Just once.” or “I’ll do it just once.”
jigoku – 地獄 hell
hayashi はやし – the flutes, drums and bells of Gion Festival
bulogu – ブログ blog
kinō – 昨日yesterday
kinjo – 近所 neighborhood
jinja – 神社 Shinto shrine
otera – お寺 Buddhist temple, i.e. don’t use this word for a synagogue.
Living with cats means sometimes living with mice. I live surrounded by fields and woods so it is inevitable that my indoor cats will sometimes, somehow, find them in my basement. Usually they bring them into my bedroom at night. Alive. (One of my cats gave me a look like, “Well, if you have a pet, why can’t I?” And even took a nap with his “pet.”)
Though I never saw any nezumi in my home in Japan, we sometimes heard noises in the ceiling above us. My husband would laugh and say “nezumi no undōkai.” It’s kind of cute to imagine it that way, isn’t it?
Curiously, it seems that there is not usually a distinction drawn between rats and mice in Japan. There’s one word—nezumi—that covers both of them. This used to baffle me. But, when I asked, people would just shrug and say that a rat was an ookī nezumi. For the record, I do not think rats are cute so it does make a difference for me and I’m glad we make that distinction in English!
When I had my daughter and began to collect ehon for her I found that kawaii mice were often featured. One of my favorites was a series featuring a kazoku of 14 mice. I was instantly charmed by the asagohan story. And I’m very happy these have been translated into English. I highly recommend them if you have a child in your life! The author is Kazuo Iwamura.
nezumi – ねずみ mouse or rat
nezumi no undōkai – ネズミの運動会 literally “a field day for mice” or a sports event for mice. Undōkai are a whole other topic and they happen in the fall, most popularly at the elementary school level.
ookī – 大きい big, adjective
ehon – 絵本 picture book
kawaii – 可愛い If you use one word to translate it, it is “cute.” But it is simply so much more and has unique parameters which is probably why it has been exported from Japan in reference to manga, Hello Kitty goods, etc.