Thursday, December 14, 2017

Autumn Leaves

In Mongolia, Autumn comes and goes within a week.  One Sunday you're on your way to church and you notice the trees next to the Tuul are turning gold.  By the following Sunday, there ARE no leaves.  If you count the changing of the larch, you might manage to sneak some more time into your fall, but it will be snowing before that happens.  By contrast, it seems like Japan's autumn just keeps playing the hits.

I feel like fall officially started the night I went to Sankeien with Flower Boy for tsukimi.  I mentioned a few posts back that the Japanese are the kind of people who think that sitting out at night to watch the moon is a great activity, and I can't disagree.  I like being out at night, anyways - no sun, so I don't burst into flame, and I feel like that magical feeling is stronger at night, although admittedly I like being a little closer to home than Sankeien is when things are over.  Still, the Harvest Moon only comes along once a year, so trek home or no, I made plans to visit this classical Japanese garden with him.
We finally got there around 8 o'clock.  It was kind of sad, because it had been an overcast day, and although we were thankful that it at least hadn't started raining (yet - we pushed up our visit one day because it was in the forecast), we were bummed because we didn't think we'd get to see the moon.  We paid our 700 yen and went in, and immediately started looking around for the music.  There was supposed to be a performance, but we weren't seeing it and couldn't even hear it.  We kept wandering, though, and eventually discovered that the house/museum section was open, and that night, at least, it was free.  And it turned out to be where people were sitting on the lawn, watching a woman play the biwa.
We sat and listened, and I tried to keep an eye on the sky - I still held out hope that the moon would put in an appearance, and I was not disappointed.  It managed to break through the clouds long enough to say hi, and for a few minutes, I stared up at the moon instead of the biwa player (turns out biwa isn't really my thing, anyways - no good for dancing, not much good for singing, either).  But sitting in a classical Japanese garden at night under the moon, listening to Japanese music with friends...that was my thing.
At that point, though, the leaves really hadn't begun to turn - it was Autumn in name only.  The real autumn actually kind of snuck up on me - it seems like I spend most of my time going between school and home.  One Sunday I walked past the park behind my house - I still hadn't been inside because it always seemed to be closed - and some of the trees were almost bare, and it seemed like the rest were never going to lose their leaves.  I almost went to an autumn illumination on the 24th of November, but the day before I went to Tokyo for the Hozuki cafe, and I decided I didn't want to do that two nights in a row.  Priorities, you know?  I'm sure Rikugien will light up their gardens next year, too.
It wasn't until the final day of November, when I was on a field trip with my seventh graders to an exhibit in Ueno Park that I thought, "Oh look, golden leaves!"  (There's a ton of ginko in Ueno, so it's a good place to check them out - I kind of wanted to ditch the kids and go play in the leaves.  Bad art teacher!)  That made for a good weekend, especially with the Chichibu Night Festival.
When I was stalking Tokyo for upcoming events - which, by the way, I think is a thing for me.  I feel like I spend enough time (particularly on Friday nights) reading up on what's happening in Tokyo that it qualifies as stalking.  Sorry, Tokyo - I realized I was going to miss out on some cool stuff by going back to the States (winter Comiket and a fox parade at one of the many Inari shrines around town most notably).  So when I found out I had the chance to see one more festival before I went, I jumped at the chance, even if it was far enough out of the way that it justified getting an AirBnB.

Chichibu is a fairly small town up in Saitama, but they host a night festival the first week of December.  Apparently Sunday was the day to go, but there was work the next day, and although I haven't had a rough day at school for a while, I also don't feel quite comfortable enough to pull a sickie so I can go to a festival (not that I've ever done that, but I was tempted yesterday, since I could have gone to the 47 Ronin ritual at Sengaku-ji).  Which was okay, since Saturday night still had the mikoshi parade, and still had fireworks, and street food.  The yakisoba, by the way, was delicious!
I was actually about to enter the shrine when I heard sounds floating down the street, and decided I would see what was going on.  Cutting through a parking lot I was able to get to the street a little before the first float - and it was huge.  I've been to at least a couple of festivals here at this point, and these were serious floats.  Huge crews were carrying them along, and they had lots of people on them, even on the roofs...
Although the leaves have been taking their time, the cold definitely hasn't.  It was quite chilly waiting on the platform for the train that would take me back to my AirBnB - probably because I don't have a decent winter coat.  When I bring this up in conversation, people look a little confused and say, "But...weren't you living in Mongolia last year?"

I assume most people ask rhetorically, since I almost never miss a chance to talk about Mongolia.  It's true, though, that I came without a coat - my trusty red cashmere was wearing thin long before the end of last winter, and I felt like, really, after 5 years in Mongolia, what could Japanese winters really do to me???

In fact, I remind myself often what the temperature is like back in UB, because it helps me to appreciate that Yokohama is really not that cold.  Unless it's raining.  Or dark.  Or, you know, I've just come home to my apartment.  When I first arrived in UB, I bemoaned the loss of the ondol floors in my Shanghai apartment.  Now I'd give anything to be warming my back against the radiator in the teachers' apartments at ASU.  My apartment - which I love, don't get me wrong - is none-too-well-insulated and heated by an AC unit.  It works well enough that I can't complain, but at the same time, I kind of miss sleeping with a fan year round - even when it's -40 out- because the heating system works that well. 

On the other hand, in UB I wouldn't walk more than a couple of blocks outside in winter if I could avoid it, so I guess there are trade-offs.

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