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Monday, June 22

Where Monkeys and Irises Totally Go Together

Living in a society where your neighbors are often so close that they can reach out of their own windows to touch your house, it is of the utmost importance to be considerate and polite. To do this, you have to live your daily life while trying hard not to let either sound or visual disturbances escape from your walls. If you are outside, you are outside quietly, with perhaps a slight boy and low greeting to the oft passerby which they will sometimes return in the same quiet fashion and other times walk on by as if they don’t even notice your existence. If you are inside, you are inside quietly with the radio or TV down, but better yet to just read a book quietly. And on days and nights like these where the weather has turned warmer, but not necessarily warm enough to close up the house and turn on the air conditioning, it is difficult to keep sound and lights from spewing out of your windows and assaulting your very-much-next-door neighbor, especially at night. Now add an infant into the picture.

This is pretty much the picture of our day-to-day lives.

When we first moved in, we did the traditional gift giving to our neighbors where we discovered that few speak English. Our neighbor to the left seemed to speak the best English and to this day they will often invite us somewhere or bring over some Japanese specialty made for us. It was rice balls last week with salmon, tuna and ume inside. These neighbors are separated by only our very small yard. When they hang clothing on their downstairs porch or upstairs terrace, they can look directly into our living room and dining room. Now if a Japanese person lived next to them, the curtains would never be open for them to see inside. But as an American, and specifically one from the open country, I can’t stand to have the large sliding glass doors closed and the curtain shut over top of them. I leave everything open as I was bred to do and they pretend not to notice our existence so close by as they were bred to do. And thank God they do because I often forget to bring clothes with me for when I get out of the shower and have to make a run for the stairs. In these cases, if they were looking… they certainly wouldn’t miss a freaky, pale white birthday suit in their peripheral. So I’m thankful for the relationship that has emerged between us.

I’m also very thankful for their frequent invites. Which brings me to last week. It is the rainy season here, so when my neighbor first suggested we go to the Iris Gardens, we both knew it would be best to wait until the following week to check the weather report before committing to any specific day. On Tuesday, my friend pops by with a bright yellow windmill she found in Kamakura for Kimono Pipsqueak. We settled on the following day which was to be the sunniest of the bunch. Now she speaks very good English and my Japanese is so-so when it comes to numbers so I thought we were clear on the time: 12:30. Both naptime and lunchtime would be past, hopefully quelling any potential crankiness. So when the doorbell rang at 11:30, finding me propped on the couch with a book and sandwich and enjoying a quiet moment, I was a bit shocked. Our doorbell is an intercom style with video, so I knew it was my neighbor arriving much earlier than I expected. I shoved everything I could grab into the sink or closet before rushing to get the door and hoping I wouldn’t be judged to harshly for my own appearance. It took us only moments to realize that we had both misunderstood the other. No matter though. I invited her in and told her we would go wake KP a bit early and get ready to go. She was all too excited to get a peak at him in his room and help with his lunch as I threw things into his diaper bag, readying us to go.

In our preparations, she noted that there were often monkey toys strewn about here or there. I don’t know why we have so many. We just do. She asked if KP liked monkeys and I said yes… or well… he at least seems to like his mother making ridiculous monkey noises while shaking some stupid toy in his face. She mentioned that there is a monkey park here in Zushi and wondered if we had ever been. Since I had never heard of such a place, nor even expected it in our small beachside town, the answer was an emphatic no. It took her only moments to decide that we would add this place to our plans for the day.

With me driving and her directing, we ended up in the small mountains that surround and cut through Zushi, driving narrow, winding roads until we reached the top of one such mountain. After a short walk, we come up to a series of cages with everything from doves, to rabbits, to guinea pigs, to some other strange birds of which I can’t translate (they looked like little fluffy white chickens) and finally a gorgeously plumed peacock While I was honestly enthralled, KP barely acknowledged their presence. It seems he is learning his Japanese traits young. We left the cages behind and walked over to the edge of the mountain, where a huge circular monkey cage sat overlooking the ocean far below. Tan monkeys with their bright pink bottoms hanging out played on the log rafters, climbed the metal side walls and frolicked on their floor far below, tossing cabbage leaves here or there as they went. Again, the reaction from KP was… less than animated… but at least I now know of a place that some day he just might show some excitement over. After enjoying the view for another moment, we headed back to the car.

The drive to the Iris Gardens took me down some roads I knew of and a few I didn’t, but allowed me to make some connections that will give me shortcuts I previously didn’t know about. We didn’t even make it past the ticket boxes before we were stopped by the first group to fawn over the little gaijin baby in our mix. I think it took my neighbor aback for a minute, but she recovered quickly and would spend the rest of our time there merrily pushing the stroller around the garden paths, eager to talk with those who stopped to offer a flattering comment or two to her and the baby. I got many bows at the same time, and the translations usually came a moment or two later, once my friend thought the baby had his fair share of compliments.

Often, I would find myself some distance from my friend and baby as they got swept up in chats and I got lost in the beauty of the gardens. Everywhere you looked, there were varying shades of purple and white lining the garden beds. Women in period dressing and galoshes stomped through the muck, plucking dead or dying blooms from the garden, ensuring that the picture was laid out immaculately for the garden guests. We guessed that there had to be at least 100 different varieties of irises in the two large gardens. After completing our walk through both gardens, my neighbor asked if I was tired. It is the very Japanese thing to do to get some sort of refreshment after any task… even if it was a task strictly for entertainment/enjoyment purposes. Not one to turn down ice cream, we wandered over and grabbed ourselves refreshments, then found one of the few empty benches where we could sit and gaze and enjoy.

We got home late in the afternoon and went our separate ways. It had been a wonderful day spent walking and talking with her. Later in the evening, as the dusk began to settle, KP and I would find her on her porch, removing the day’s now dry laundry. She wouldn’t look over and we wouldn’t either. It was back to our invisible wall of separation until we would get together… another day.


Ginny said...

I really enjoy your posts and your excellent observations regarding your life there in Japan. This post in particular was written superbly. Thanks for sharing!

Kimono Karen said...

Thank you so much, Ginny! That is very kind of you. Glad you enjoy reading this. I do it mostly for myself, but it is always so nice to get such sweet feedback.