Letters From Japan
Lucia and company at the Tea house in 1990. Seen rom left to right are: Lucia, Lucia’s mom Jeanne Robson, Lucia’s dad Bob Robson, Obaa-san, the grandmother of the Nakatsu family, her daughter-in-law and kneeling Shizuko Osaki.
East meets West: In 1970 Osaki-san helped Lucia feel at home in Iwakuni, Japan. In 2002, Lucia was able to return the favor and take her to some of her favorite places in southern Arizona.
In 1970 Lucia had the opportunity to live in Japan in the Nakatsu family’s tea house and wrote letters to her family back in Florida.
The Tokaido Road, written 20 years later, and republished in December ’05 had its beginnings here.
The Tokaido Road started here for Lucia at the Nakatsu family’s tea house in Iwakuni, Japan where Lucia lived in 1970. (The two daughters are Shizue on left and Atsuko.)
Lucia returned in 1990. Seen from left to right are: Lucia’s mom Jeanne Robson, Lucia’s legs, Lucia’s friend Shizuko Osaki, and Obaa-san, the grandmother of the Nakatsu family.
Below are excerpts from Lucia’s letters. New letters will be posted from time to time. Many thanks to Lucia’s mom Jeanne Robson for saving and transcribing them. Thanks also to her old friend Masaaki Hirayama for contacting the Nakatsu family and identifying the folk in the photos.
Excerpt from February 1970:
On a typical day I get up (ashamed to say it) around 9:30am. It’s so cold I hate to leave the warmth of my futon. Fold up the futon and bedding and store it in the floor-level cupboards. Get dressed, light the heater and hibachi (A large blue ceramic pot half-filled with sand), cook breakfast, sweep, dust, and straighten up. Mrs. Nakatsu (my landlady) washes her porch down every day no matter how cold the temperature is. My porch is lucky if it sees a damp rag once a week. Of course, she also polishes the mailbox, airs the family bedding, does the wash, mends, shops, cleans, cooks, lights the evening fire under the family’s bathtub, etc. etc. ad infinitum.
Dusting my little tea house is time-consuming. There are 528 panes of paper in the shojiscreens (yes, I counted them), each with its dusty little sill. Every week or so I blow in their direction. Actually, I have to keep things pretty neat. Can’t be losing face as a slob.
Then I read, study Japanese, write letters til noon. Lunch is usually noodle soup. At 1pm Masako comes for an hour of English. The other day she brought her samisen, a Japanese guitar, to play for me. (As I was riding my bicycle home one day Masako’s mother literally chased me down the street to ask me to tutor her daughter.)
At 2pm I shop for dinner, run errands, go to the post office, etc. I love the post office. Behind the bank-teller-like grills is a raised platform covered with tatami mats where a kettle warms on a big ceramic hibachi and the postal employees drink tea in their stocking feet. So very civilized. Also, they deliver the mail twice a day, seven days a week. At 3pm it’s time to soak with the neighbors in the public bath down the street, and at 4pm I start wondering about dinner.
Two nights a week I teach conversational English classes at the U.S. Navy base. One night a week I take Japanese lessons from a neighbor who lived in Hawaii. Osaki-san comes to teach me doll-making on Wednesdays, plus, there are movies in town, (M*A*S*H* is popular because of the scenes shot in Japan), so evenings are generally filled. I can also go to the theater on the Navy/Marine air station. So comforting to sit in the dark and inhale the aroma of military boots.
Not very exciting, but even running errands is interesting because they take me to so many exotic places. I went to the Kintai Bridge area Saturday in search of a Valentine card. I found a fascinating antique shop with a drawer full of old Japanese prints. I also have a card at the base library and though their collection may be sparse, they do have six shelves of books on Japan, so that’ll keep me busy. All my love…
(Previous posting) How about if I tell you about my tea house and garden. My living room is about 12’x12′ with 2 1/2′ along one wall being taken up by the Tokonoma, or alcove, with a scroll, flower arrangement, etc. displayed there, and two shelves and small cupboards above it. It’s a “six-tatami room, or six tatami mats worth of floor space. A tatami mat is about 3’x6′ and rooms are built to accommodate them… such as a six-tatami room or an eight.
The bedroom is four and a half mats not counting the huge closet and shelves which have sliding doors. Also, sliding paper-paned screens separate the two rooms. The porch that runs along two sides is about three feet wide, with floors of polished cherry wood. It’s separated from the interior rooms by paper shoji screens, the bottom panes of which slide up to give a view of the garden. They’re called yuki no shoji, snow–viewing screens, because you can see the snow in the garden while sitting on cushions on the floor.
To reach the benjo, or water closet, I go from my porch to the Nakatsu’s porch via a plank and in through their side door. The WC is smaller than the average closet. It consists of a hole in the linoleum tile floor with a porcelain rim to catch the splatters. Toilet paper is neatly laid out in a pile in a shallow basket (the sheets come like sections of paper towels and aren’t a whole lot softer. One American put them on the table as dinner napkins till she found out to here embarrassment what they were)
The only other “furnishings” in the WC are an ash tray and a vase of fresh flowers. There’s a plastic bucket with a nozzle hanging by the side door. You wash your hands there and dry them on the towel hanging next to it. I know that some dark night if I don’t step in the hole I’ll at least lose a slipper down it. Better’n Caripito anyway. At least here the chickens are penned in the backyard and the WC is spotless. I will have to get used to ducking to go through doors (since they’re all 1/2″ than I am), and to slurping my soup since they don’t serve spoons with it (or napkins either), and to shuffling in slippers that come off if you lift your feet off the ground.