Next week starts Japan's Obon ("oh, bone!") break, which is a three-day Buddhist holiday to remember the souls of one's ancestors. Much of Japan shuts down on August 13, 14 and 15th as people journey to their "jikka" (real home, i.e. their parents' home or wherever their family's Buddhist altar is located) to spend time with family members and pay a visit the family grave, or maybe attend a festival and do the Bon-Odori ("bone odor-ey") traditional dance. Living in Japan for the past 15 years has taught me a lot about what the Japanese are all about spiritually. While I have to admit that I don't know much about Buddhism itself, not being able to tell a Bodhisattva from a Bodhi tree or Amida from Queen Amidala, I have known the Japanese to really care about their ancestors, aka family members who have gone on ahead, to use a less cliched phrase. My wife regularly looks to her dead grandmother for guidance and protection, and every morning my wife or my daughter will burn a stick of incense at the family altar to let the dead known they haven't been forgotten. Just as Christmas has grown into a big part of the culture of the West beyond its original meaning, many of these Buddhist traditions are practiced by all Japanese, even if they may of other religions. The Obon holidays are also a popular time to travel, and the rush of people headed for Narita International Airport officially started this morning. If you live in a place that receives many Japanese visitors like Hawaii, prepare to see a lot more of them over the next few days.
As you might imagine, what we call a kimono in the West has many variations here, such as yukata, a cotton kimono worn in the summer; happi, the short kimonos worn at summer festivals, often marketed to foreigners as "happy" coats; "hakama," a formal kimono that's similar to a tuxedo; or juunihitoe, the 12-layer kimonos worn in the Heian Period 1300 years ago. The word kimono is written with the characters ki (to wear, 着) and mono (thing、物), so it just means "something you wear," and there are many similar words in Japanese, like tabemono (something to eat, e.g. food), nomimono (something to drink, e.g. a beverage), and so on. Only Japanese-style clothes are called with the name kimono; dresses, shirts and other Western imports are always called yofuku, or "Western clothes." There's a Japanese grammatical rule that makes unvoiced sounds (like ki) change to voiced (gi) when they are on the end of a compound word, which can be seen in words like karate-gi or judo-gi, what you wear when doing Japanese martial arts (often just called gi in English, which is a little weird sounding if you must know). One of my favorite flavors of kimono is the jinbei (JIN-bei), essentially a short- sleeved cotton kimono that's equally good for use as Japanese-style pajamas (how I wear mine) as for wearing to your favorite festival or anime convention. J-List stocks several of these cool kimono varieties for our gaijin customers, including a great jinbei we got in stock today.
Here's the world famous gaijin, studying for his test...
Don't ask me why they're trying to make you avoid driving your car off the top of a building. It can't happen that often, even here.
I'm probably breaking some law by showing you the written part of the test. Oo, I'm a rebel.
This is the course we had to memorize. It never changes so it's just a matter of learning to do what they expect, but what a frustrating thing to have to take the actual driving test at my age.
I failed the first attempt, possibly because I went to fast, or maybe it was them trying to bring me down a peg, cocksure American that I was. The Vietnamese girl who was nearly in tears who went before me passed, even though she kept stopping in the middle of the road for no reason. Oh well...