Thursday, February 23, 2012

Borrowing What We Need

Today I saw Studio Ghibli’s film The Secret World of Arriety. It was just released in the United States and it was not easy for me to wait when I knew elsewhere in the world people were watching it.

The film is an adaptation of the classic book “The Borrowers” by Mary Norton. Borrowers are tiny people, the size of fairies, who live near humans and borrow things to survive. They are careful to borrow only what they need.

The movie was delicious – a feast for the eyes. Would we have expected any less from Studio Ghibli? I think not. What I found delectable was the juxtaposition of east and west. I have a particular fondness for this sensibility. Traditional Japanese art living quite successfully along with western beauty. It’s not surprising that I should like it. I have a passion for Taisho Period art and literature. Takahisa Yumeji is an artist who has captured a place in my heart painting portraits not dissimilar to those of Modigliani. Natsumi Soseki blends cultures in his writings. The cultural tension in them captivates me. Each borrowed something from another culture to make something new and unique. Studio Ghibli nailed this combination.

It is kind of funny to think that yesterday during a romp in the woods with friends, some of our party built a fairy house. It even had a back door! 

Watching the house come together I was reminded of the May Day festivities at Blithwold Mansion last May. 

Discussing the fairy houses that were constructed that day, I was informed of some of the rules of fairy house building.

1.     Take only things that are available from the surrounding area.
2.     You may not pick anything or cause any material to stop it’s growth process to be a raw material.

Today I feel like I would like to be a Borrower. Finding inspiration all around me and taking what I need to make something new, something wonderful and something special to share with the world. Sometimes you borrow to make it through the day. Sometimes what you create helps someone else get through the day. Like Sean in the movie, my heart feels stronger after being inspired by Arriety.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Change of pace

Sometimes I need a change of pace. While I have found ways to sneak the activities I enjoy into my life as often as possible, I still find a need for something “special”. Sometimes that “special” just can’t be the things I regularly turn to for joy.

And so it was on the first day of vacation. We just couldn’t get excited about the obvious choices. So I suggested we put our coats on and play a game we haven’t played for a long time.

We have the great fortune to live near a river that has an intriguing rock in the middle. The rock is split down the middle and has a fairly large gap between. Years ago, we developed a game of throwing snowballs at it and trying to get them to land in the gap. I’m pleased to say that there is no snow for snowball, but there are small rocks.

Our game developed - especially after someone asked us who was winning.

5 points for hitting the rock
5 points for hitting a tree
10 points for landing in between
10 points for ricocheting
5 points for every great noise

That isn’t the whole list. We didn’t tally. That would be too complicated and would have taken away from the joy of the game. At least it would have for us. For each success we gave a high five. Our hands were quite cold and sore from all the high fiving.

Sometimes we threw and the rock went off course. Sometimes it hit a tree as it went. The resulting sound was lovely. Sometimes it even sounded like a tune. The willowy tones were light and fairy-like. The hollow thunk of the decaying tree resonated.

We had started the afternoon with the doldrums. We ended with rosy cheeks and big smiles. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012


On Friday night I enjoyed throwing beans out the door. Yes. I did. I have looked forward to Setsubun this year with particular relish. 

Setsubun is a Japanese observance that I truly enjoy. February 3rd is said to be the beginning of spring. To prevent bad luck from coming to them, people participate in Setsubun observances. Shrines and temples generally have events in which someone dressed up as an Oni (commonly translated as devil, but a little different from the western concept. Monster works as well) is warded off by throwing beans at him. While throwing the beans people say "Oni wa soto. Fuku wa Uchi" meaning "Devil outside. Fortune come into our home." People born in the years corresponding with the current Chinese zodiac are invited to dress as the oni. (That would be you dragon year people.) Throwing soybeans at them (mamemaki) is thought to drive away bad luck. 

While not everyone partakes in these activities, I enjoy them. This fact makes it all the more surprising that there are years I miss this celebration. At homes, especially those with children, people have their own mamemaki. Sets with masks and soybeans can be found for sale in most department stores in Japan. In my home we take turns being the oni and throwing beans. We have several masks from years past. Luckily, roasted soybeans can be found in the natural food sections of many grocery stores here in New England. 

It's great fun to throw beans at each other. We follow the tradition of saving out some beans to eat. Each person eats the number of soybeans as their age. You can see one person here had to eat far more than the other.

Perhaps one of the reasons I love Setsubun is that it is simple. It doesn't require large amounts of preparation. Yet I find myself refreshed and ready for a new season. Setsubun's focus on banishing the bad speaks to me deeply this year. 

New Year's, Chinese New Year and Setsubun - three chances to feel a fresh start this year.