winter always comes
we wait, and we remember
winter always goes
Winter in Japan, while not as cold as winters in my Canadian home, can be a miserable time. I once read in a book on the Edo period that winters and summers in Japan were seasons only to be endured. The Japanese winter, at least in this quiet corner of Japan is invasively damp, and the cold is hard to escape. Japanese houses and schools are not well-equipped to repel cold, and people rely on electric heaters, kerosene heaters, heated carpets and the wonderful and seductive kotatsu – a heated table with a blanket that you can tuck yourself into on a cold night, and never leave.
Despite the cold weather, I like winter here. The snowfalls are gorgeous. As the temperature is rarely much below zero degrees celcius, the snowflakes are fat and fluffy, and fall with slow grace. In my thick coat, gloves and hat – overdressed by Japanese standards – I am warm and cozy as I walk. The snowy nights are peaceful. Snow only briefly stays in this city, so I enjoy its ephemeral beauty.
Still, I look forward to the spring, and warm spring days to come.
One of the schools I teach at is a commercial high school. This is the second year it has hosted a gigantic market both inside and outside of the school. The first year, about 8,000 people came, and this year almost 10,000 people came through the gym doors.
Pictures are from the two festivals – last year’s, and the first one two years ago.
yet these leaves linger
clinging through bright days, chill nights
till the north wind comes
An easy walk or bike ride from my apartment is a plain, inconspicuous street of modest little shops. There’s a ramen shop, about three years old, which I’ve eaten at a few times. Green’s Baby, a restaurant/bar with a hand-made, eclectic decor, serves up Mexican and Thai food – and possibly the only burritos in town – along with a local beer. A shop with big windows sells Buddhist altars for the home, and white paper lamps for summer’s Obon festival. The ancient cobbler, Ishikura-san, still fixes shoes in his tiny booth, and I can fancy he’s been doing it for sixty years.
Next to Ishikura-san is Carre, a French bakery. It’s quite new. The shop is simple: a counter, a few shelves, the large oven, and a small kitchen tucked away at the back. Takashi, the baker, travelled to France and to Ireland, so I can chat with him in English if I drop in. He has a new family now, so he keeps busy.
Although there’s no shortage of bakeries here, I like his the best. I will stop in after work for his pan du champagne, although often I’m too late and he’s out of it. I can make do, if I must, with his crusty bread, rolls, quiche or sweets. I rarely leave empty-handed.
I’ve often entertained the notion that the cats I’ve encountered in Japan are the spirits of the dead returned to earth. My favorite temple houses the lichen-covered tombs of nine former lords of this castle town – and a host of wary, feral cats. I’ve tried to count to see if there were nine cats, but the darn things won’t stay still.
This cat found a comfortable and dry resting spot on a damp day in a small cemetery shrine. I wonder who it was, before…