Merry Christmas

It’s Christmas morning, the sun is shining, and Mt Fuji is visible from the window.

This year, Mayuki woke up at 7am, so she’s obviously growing up. She came running to me with her stocking.

“Look! Santa left me some chocolate! And a Lego Friends set! Oooh, look! Pocket money! A 500 yen coin! All shiny! And a satsuma!”

We took the presents through to the living room, where she looked at her presents under the tree.

“Right, time to do my homework!”

She has holiday homework from school, which she started yesterday (after she got home from school), and she’s planning to do a bit every day. So far, so good. We had breakfast, and then I got out the snacks and chocolates I bought for the family. Remarkably, some were the same as the ones in Mayuki’s stocking. Can’t think why that happened.

“Oh look, those are like the ones Santa gave me. I’ll put mine with them.”

“Well, those are yours, so they don’t have to go in the family bowl.”

“No, that’s OK.”

In a little while, I will make Christmas dinner, and after dinner we will open the presents. I think it’s going to be a good day.

Merry Christmas

It’s 7:30 on Christmas morning. The sun is shining, the air is clear, Mt Fuji is capped with glistening snow.

And Mayuki is still asleep.

It’s going to be a good day.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

(I can’t say “Happy Holidays”, because it isn’t. At least not here.)

Vaccination Stories

Today, Mayuki has to go for her first booster jab for her Japanese encephalitis vaccination. We hadn’t booked it, but there were slots today, so we made a quick appointment. First, however, we had to convince Mayuki that this was a good idea. She remembered last time, so she wasn’t initially enthusiastic, but after Yuriko reminded her that she hadn’t actually passed out last time, I spent about half an hour convincing her that, although the injection did hurt a bit, it would stop her getting ill.

I don’t know how far she understood, but she did come round to the idea, and agree to go to have the injection.

Then, while she was waiting for Yuriko to get ready, she drew a picture book.

This book is the story of Moko-chan, whose mother told her to go and have her booster jab by herself. She was crying on the way to the clinic as she thought about the needle (picture of crying Moko-chan with a thought bubble of the needle), but then she realised that she could throw the needles in the sea. (Smiling Moko-chan, with thought bubble of needles going into the sea.) So she went to the clinics, gathered up the needles, and threw them in the sea.

But then, Mayuki added, the other children at kindergarten told her that she should have the vaccination, so she went back to the clinics to have it properly.

Apparently, the Moko-chan stories are very famous in America, and Mayuki just made them up today. This story is number two, and tomorrow she will make up number one. I’m looking forward to it.

English Practice

Yesterday at dinner time, Mayuki decided to pretend that I was an American customer who didn’t speak Japanese. She bowed properly to me, and told me about the dinner in English, staying in English when she talked at the table as well. She kept it up for quite a long time before she “went home” and talked to her toys in Japanese about her day.

Obviously, it’s great that Mayuki wants to practise English, but if I have to pretend to be American, I’m not sure about it…

The immediate motivation seems to have come from talking to my father by video chat in the morning. She was explaining, in English, how she wanted to go back to America, and even said, in Japanese, “I have to practise English soon!”. So I think we will have to look into arranging another visit a bit sooner than we originally planned.

Mayuki’s Make-up

Yesterday, I got home rather late (the same as tonight), but Mayuki was still awake (the same as tonight). However, yesterday she was sitting quietly in a corner of the living room, doing something. I started to go to see what it was, but she said “Don’t look!”, so I left her alone.

A bit later, she showed us what she had been doing.

She’d given herself nail varnish with a pink felt tip, and eyeshadow with a blue one. She’d done a really good job of it, as well.

Of course, this led to an explanation of the fact that felt tip pens are not good for your skin, and really hurt if they get in your eyes, but Mayuki had managed to do both her upper eyelids without poking herself once. The eyeshadow was well done, as well; we were quite impressed. She probably won’t do it with felt pens again now that we’ve told her it’s dangerous, but we’ll have to look for some children’s eyeshadow for her.

The mystery is why she wants to do this. Yuriko doesn’t use much make-up, and neither do her friends at kindergarten. If nothing else, Mayuki is making it obvious that she is her own person…

Obedience

I’m off work with flu today (with a direct instruction not to go in), and after spending the morning in bed I’ve just got up for a bit. I think I might go back to bed fairly soon, though.

But, since I have a bit of time, I want to write a bit about Mayuki.

On Tuesday, Yuriko went to the parent-teacher interview at Mayuki’s kindergarten. I was in work, so I couldn’t go, but that doesn’t seem to have been a problem. Apparently, Mayuki’s teacher started off by saying “I don’t have any concerns, and I don’t really have anything to discuss”. Mayuki is, apparently, enthusiastic about the activities, doesn’t demand the teacher’s attention all the time, does as she is told, and loves pretend play.

And then there was the restaurant visit a little while ago where Mayuki finished up by announcing, “I’ve had enough dessert now. I want more broccoli!”.

Of course, Mayuki isn’t perfect. I’d like her to realise how much it upsets Yuriko when she doesn’t eat the food cooked for her, and participate a bit more enthusiastically in video chats with the rest of my family, but I think those will get better as she gets older.

Talking of eating, there was an incident a little while ago that made me very happy.

Mayuki wanted to eat pancakes for breakfast, and Yuriko was making them. I also wanted to eat breakfast, but Mayuki was sitting in my chair.

“Mayuki, can you move to your chair so I can sit down?”

“But I want to sit here!”

“I can’t sit down if you do.”

“I sat here last time.”

“Daddy wasn’t here then,” Yuriko reminded her.

“You can sit in my chair,” Mayuki suggested.

“No, I can’t. It’s too small. Please move to your chair.”

“No, I want to sit here.”

At this point, the pancake was ready, and got served. Mayuki ate in silence for a little while.

“I’ve just had an idea!” she suddenly said. “Why don’t you bring the chair your students sit on?”

So, we moved Mayuki’s chair out of the way and brought one of the folding chairs I use for my students, and we all ate breakfast at the table.

The reason I was so happy about this was that Mayuki thought about the problem and came up with a solution that got everyone what they wanted. I didn’t particularly want to sit in my chair (I’m a grown adult, I don’t have “special chairs” any more), I just wanted to sit at the table to eat. Mayuki did want to sit in that chair, though, and her solution solved the problem. It also involved thinking about things that were not immediately in front of her, and doing proper problem solving, which is an important skill.

I think this sort of negotiated solution to disagreements is much better than Mayuki simply doing as she is told. It’s a technique that she can use as an adult, and that I can use when she grows up. It also teaches Mayuki to think about what other people want, and how she can make that happen. So, I like the fact that she talks back and makes alternative suggestions.

Basically, I don’t want her to be obedient, I want her to be considerate.

The report from kindergarten is very reassuring in this respect, because it suggests that the way we are raising her is actually working.

Merry Christmas!

It’s 8am, and Mayuki is still asleep. There’s no snow on the ground, but looking out of the window I have a beautiful view of the snow on Mt Fuji. In Japan, where almost no-one is a Christian, everyone wishes you a Merry Christmas (but it’s a normal working day).

So, Merry Christmas!

Visit Tohoku! Aizu

I’ve been to Tohoku again, this time on a family trip in the middle of July. We spent two nights and three days in the Aizu region of Fukushima Prefecture. Yes, that is the Fukushima Prefecture that has the broken nuclear power station. However, it’s one of the largest prefectures in Japan, and the Aizu region is at the other side, a hundred kilometres or so from the nuclear power plant. In terms of radiation, it’s safe, as evidenced by the fact that this is where a lot of the people who used to live near the power station have been evacuated to.

The Aizu region is in the mountains of southern Tohoku, and apparently gets a lot of snow in the winter. While we were there, the temperature was generally pleasant, although there were occasional showers that held our sightseeing back a bit. On the up side, the train ride from Koriyama (where we got off the shinkansen) to Aizu Wakamatsu (where we were staying) was very pleasant, winding its way along mountain valleys, and through occasional tunnels. Mayuki certainly enjoyed herself, but I don’t think that was primarily the scenery; she was having much more fun climbing all over us.

Yuriko and Mayuki in front of the Aizu mascot, a stylised red cow

At Aizu Wakamatsu station, in front of the Aizu mascot

The original plan was to get the bus from the station to the ryokan where we were staying, but that left us about 45 minutes to kill at the station. Fortunately, there was a festival/market being held just outside the station, and Mayuki decided that she wanted to go there, and eat shaved ice and fried noodles. This is hardly a local speciality, being standard festival food in Tokyo, but that is presumably why Mayuki wanted to eat it. Since she was enjoying it, and we were on holiday, I decided that we would get a taxi to the ryokan, so that we didn’t have to worry about the times. We left the festival as they were starting to clear up, and got in the taxi just as it started raining, so the timing was perfect there.

The ryokan where we were staying, Kutsurogijuku Shintaki, is in Higasiyama Onsen, on the edge of the town, and the area is very pretty, in a steep-sided forested valley, with most of the ryokan along the river. Quite a bit of the ryokan was accommodating evacuees, so the number of tourists was fairly small. That meant that we could book the open-air bath by the river on both nights of our stay, and go in as a family. Mayuki really enjoyed that, and since no-one else was there, she could play without Yuriko getting worried, or having to avoid bothering other people.

Me, Yuriko and Mayuki, with a samurai.

People in samurai costume walk round the town and pose with tourists for photographs, free.

We spent our full day looking around the town of Aizu Wakamatsu. This was the centre of one of the important domains of feudal (Edo-period) Japan, and is famous as the site of one of the important battles around the Meiji Restoration, in the late 1860s. There is a very well-known tragic story associated with it, as well. The domain had a number of groups of samurai, divided by age, and the White Tiger Group was made up of boys aged 16 to 17. When the domain was attacked, they were sent to relieve one part of the army, and attacked unexpectedly. Many of them managed to escape through a tunnel to a hill overlooking the town, but when they got there they saw the castle wreathed in smoke, and thought that it had already fallen. All but one of them committed suicide. The castle had not fallen, however. As a result of this, Aizu Wakamatsu is strongly associated with samurai.

It’s also associated with a number of traditional crafts, and we spent quite a lot of our time looking at those. One is lacquer ware, and we visited a shop with centuries of history, full of beautiful items. Another tradition is a particular style of cotton, while a final one is the manufacture of candles with lovely pictures of flowers on. We did quite a lot of shopping, partly to support the local economy, and partly to get presents for the people we would be visiting in the UK.

Apart from the samurai, the region’s other claim to fame is that it was where Hideyo Noguchi was born and raised. He was a famous Japanese scientist (a bacteriologist), and is the face on the current 1000 yen note, so he’s become very well known. He trained as a doctor in Aizu Wakamatsu, and we had a break at a cafe in the building that used to house the hospital where he pursued his initial studies.

Around that time, Mayuki fell asleep on me, and I was also getting a bit tired, so we debated going straight back to the ryokan. Yuriko, however, wanted to go to see the collection of Edo period houses, which were on the way back, so we did, getting there just before closing time. They were very interesting, in part because these were houses for more ordinary samurai. One was, admittedly, the former house of a chief retainer, but the chief retainer to a domain lord is a long way down from the shogun. One interesting point was that the toilet reserved for the head of the household had no ceiling, so that assassins could not hide between the ceiling and the roof.

I really like the traditional Japanese architecture, from an aesthetic viewpoint. From a practical standpoint, I’m not good enough at sitting on the floor to really be comfortable living in a house that was all Japanese style, and I’d need to find somewhere to put my books, but if I can ever afford an actual house somewhere in Japan, I’d like to have a Japanese-style section, not just a Japanese room.

Yuriko and Mayuki taking up a lot of space in the upper deck lounge of the tourist boat

Away From The Crowds

On our final day we went to Inawashiro, a small town on one of the larger lakes in Japan, Lake Inawashiro. The first thing we did was go out on the lake on the tourist cruise. We were the only passengers on the boat, so we went to the upstairs lounge and took it easy, enjoying the scenery and the commentary. The fact that we were there on a weekday outside high season probably partly accounts for how quiet it was, but I fear that the nuclear accident may also have been scaring people away.

From the boat, we went to a late nineteenth/early twentieth century house that was built for a member of the Imperial family. Yuriko finds these really interesting; I find them very similar to a lot of houses in the UK. Indeed, the main difference between this house and my friend’s house that we stayed at in the summer is that my friend’s house is bigger… After we’d looked around, Mayuki enjoyed watching the ants hunting for food in the lawns outside the house, before we got a taxi to our lunch stop.

Yuriko and Mayuki inside a reconstructed farmer's house

The cones are not historic

This was also on the shore of the lake, and as well as the restaurant it had several museums and similar. One was the Aizu Folk Museum, where several houses from the region had been reconstructed. These were farmers’ houses, so they were smaller than the samurai houses, and much more practical. Most only had one tatami room, with earth floors elsewhere, but they had upper floors, both for living and storage. Mayuki really liked one of the houses, and went round it three times. There was a route marked out, so that at busy times people would keep flowing, but Mayuki was able to go in whichever direction she wanted.

The other museum was the Hideyo Noguchi museum, because this is where he was born. If I understood the explanations correctly, it is literally where he was born; one feature of the museum is that house, and there was no indication that it has been moved and reconstructed. A famous part of Nogushi’s story is that, when he was eighteen months old, he fell into the hearth at home and burned himself very badly, so badly that the fingers of one hand fused together. Because the house is in the museum, you can see that hearth, and the story made a really big impression on Mayuki. She kept wanting to see the hearth again, and asking about the accident. When we got home, we bought her a picture book biography of Noguchi, and she still asks for it to be read. When Noguchi was in his early teens, his friends got together to pay for an operation on his hand, which was a success, and that is what set him on the path to studying medicine.

After we’d seen the museums, we still had a bit of time before our train, so we went to the big glass shop across the road and had a drink in their coffee shop. While Yuriko looked around, Mayuki and I “painted” the milk and syrup pots using the paper on the end of the straws. When we’d finished, we put everything back the way it had been, and Mayuki didn’t even need much prompting.

Mayuki fell asleep on the train back, but woke up when we got on the shinkansen, and immediately started crying that she didn’t have a packed meal like Yuriko and me. So I took her to find the lady with the trolley, where I bought her a drink and a box of chocolate almonds. That cheered her up, and she happily took bits from our meals to eat, in between dozing a bit.

It was a very nice part of Japan, and apparently it’s glorious in autumn, when the leaves on the mountains all change colour and get reflected in the lake. I’d like to go back, but I don’t know whether we’ll get round to it; there are so many new places to go. In any case, I can recommend it to people visiting Japan.

A Wedding and The Grand Shrines of Ise

Last weekend we went on a little trip. One of Yuriko’s cousins was getting married in Gifu (near Nagoya), so we went to that, and then extended the trip a bit to go to Ise and visit the shrines. The wedding was on Sunday, so Yuriko and Mayuki went to Nagoya on Saturday to stay with Yuriko’s parents. I was, as usual, teaching on Saturday, so I got the shinkansen early in the morning, getting up at half past five. Apart from that, however, the journey went very smoothly.

Mayuki in a blue dress and tiara

I'm a Princess!

The wedding itself was very nice. Mayuki was all dressed up in the dress she picked out for herself, and informed me on several occasions that she was a princess. She was quite lively when I arrived, but was happy to go into the ceremony. That was Shinto style, in a shrine room inside the wedding complex. Mayuki started getting a bit sleepy during it, and climbed on my knee. Then, while the miko were dancing, she fell asleep. She stayed sound asleep to the end of the ceremony, and all through the group photograph, and as we made our way to the reception hall, and sat at our table. Then the staff brought a bed for her, and as I went to put her in it, she woke up. Of course.

Her first reaction was surprise. “It’s not the kami’s place anyone. It’s turned into a restaurant!” She got into the restaurant aspect, eating quite a lot of her dinner, and using the bed as a place to play, and dance when there was music. At a Japanese wedding reception, there are very often performances by some of the guests, and this one was no exception. One of the first was an event at which the children (elementary school and under) would help. The staff came round to tell us in advance, so I was able to warn Mayuki in advance, and get her to agree to help.

What she had to do was help burst a balloon that contained a lot of heart-shaped balloons. Before they did that, though, the MC asked all of them questions, and she asked Mayuki how old she was. “I’m three!” she said, very loudly and clearly. Obviously, she hasn’t quite got around to being shy yet. Mayuki was very taken with the balloons that came out, and spent the rest of the reception playing with them. Towards the end, when all the emotional and sentimental speeches got going, I decided it was time to take her out of the reception hall, and go and play with the balloons in the corridor. I have no idea where she gets all her energy from, but there was a lot of playing involved.

We all spent that night at Yuriko’s parents, where Mayuki made the most of the fact that it’s a house, not a flat, so she can run and jump up and down on the floor without Yuriko getting stressed or annoyed.

On the Monday, we set out for Ise. The second typhoon of the season had gone over during the night, and it was still wet and windy, but Yuriko’s parents gave us a lift to the underground station, so we had no problem. The train to Ise, however, was delayed en route by about an hour, because the winds were too strong for it to travel. By the time we arrived at Ise, shortly after one, the wind had gone down quite a bit, and the sun was out.

The Grand Shrines of Ise comprise 125 shrines in total, of which two, the Outer Shrine and the Inner Shrine, are the most important. The long-established custom is that you visit both, but visit the Outer Shrine first. Conveniently, the Outer Shrine is about five minutes’ walk from the railway station, so there was little problem doing that.

Mayuki picking up stones

Stones are very interesting

The shrines are very simple, and set in natural woodland, which makes them extremely pleasant to visit. Mayuki enjoyed running around and picking up the stones and gravel on the paths, while Yuriko and I enjoyed the fact that it wasn’t very busy on a Monday. There were signs telling us to walk on the left, but not enough people to make it necessary.

The two main shrines are simple wooden buildings with thatched roofs, rebuilt every twenty years, surrounded by four layers of fence. The outermost layer is of planks, so that you cannot see through it, but the inner layers are of posts, so that you can see a bit. There is no worship hall, so most people go through the first fence and venerate the shrine in front of the gate through the second fence. However, if you’re a member of the sukeikai, as I am, you can go one layer further in.

First, you have to sign your name in the visitor book. Then a priest leads you through a small gate, and purifies you while you are still outside the second fence. At most shrines, this purification is done with an onusa, a wooden baton with many paper streamers attached. However, at the Ise shrines they do it by scattering salt from a small bowl, using a small branch of sakaki (the evergreen tree closely associated with Shinto). After the purification, the priest leads you round to a gate through the second fence (not the one that most people pay their respects at), and then to the centre of the area between the second and third fences, where you venerate the shrine from in front of a torii. Then the priest leads you out again.

Mayuki was being squirmy through all of this, and as we tried to leave, we found out why. She wanted to write her name in the visitors’ book as well. Our attempts to persuade her that it was not necessary failed, so in the end we asked the priests for permission, and they said she could. She made a definite effort to write her name; although the characters were not right, it was obvious what she was trying to write. I’m not quite sure what the next people made of her signature, though.

In addition to the main shrines, there are 123 smaller shrines, and three of these are up a hill just across from the Outer Shrine, so we visited those as well. Mayuki was in a good mood, although she wanted to be carried, but instead of clapping twice she patted her head and stomach, like a monkey. Luckily, I think the kami have a sense of humour.

We were staying at the Jingu Kaikan, which is associate with the shrines, and very close to the Inner Shrine. The room had a nice view, and the food was very good, so Yuriko and I were very happy. After going to the big bath, Mayuki discovered that a vending machine in the lobby sold her favourite blue ice cream, so she was very happy as well.

One of the services the Kaikan offers to guests is a free early morning guided visit to the Inner Shrine. That started at 6:30, so I left Yuriko and Mayuki to get more sleep. It was extremely good. The weather was perfect, not too hot, but sunny, and with the fresh air of early morning. As we arrived at the Inner Shrine before 7am, it was not very busy, although there were other people there. The guide told us quite a bit about the shrine as we went round, and while I knew quite a bit of it already, there was a lot that was new to me. For example, the next rebuilding of the shrines will happen in 2013, but the bridge over the river was rebuilt last year. This is because the first post-war rebuilding was supposed to happen in 1950, but Japan didn’t have the resources to do it then (and there was some resistance to doing it while Japan was still occupied). However, the bridge was getting unsafe, so that was rebuilt on schedule in 1950. The main rebuilding happened (obviously) in 1953, so the bridge, which was originally replaced in the same year as the main shrines, is now replaced three years earlier.

Similarly, most of the offerings to the kami at Ise are made by the shrine from the products of its own lands. The exception is the sake, which can only legally be made by a licensed sake brewer. All the shrine’s sake is bought from one brewer, Hakutaka in Kobe. Before the war, many brewers offered sake to the shrine, but as the war progressed and conditions in Japan got harder, most of them stopped. Hakutaka was the only one to keep up offerings all through the war, and now, to repay that, the shrines get all their sake from the company.

I have to say that I like these sorts of developments of tradition. You can’t work the reason out from the tradition as it currently is, so the history is important. No-one would have decided to do things this way if they were designing the tradition from scratch, so it gives the whole thing a natural feel, which is very appropriate to Shinto.

Mayuki posing at the bottom of the stone steps up to the Inner ShrineAfter breakfast, I went back to the Inner Shrine, this time with Yuriko and Mayuki, and Mayuki enjoyed collecting stones and running around again. We went to pay our respects at the Inner Shrine as well, and this time we asked the priests if Mayuki could write her name before we went in. Fortunately, they gave her permission, so she carefully wrote her name once more, and then joined us, walking into the inner area and venerating the shrine properly. For a moment, it looked like she was going to imitate a monkey again, instead of clapping properly, but she thought better of it. By many accounts the Inner Shrine of Ise is the most sacred shrine in Japan, so maybe the atmosphere suggested to her that she should not play around there.

After that, we went to the tourist trap street outside the shrine for lunch and souvenir shopping. It is a very nice tourist trap, and after lunch Mayuki stressed Yuriko by insisting on walking barefoot, but we did manage to get some nice souvenirs. While Yuriko was doing her last bit of shopping, a young woman started a taiko performance near the shop, so I took Mayuki to see it. She was rapt, turning to me once to comment that the drumming was fast. I enjoyed the performance as well, and there’s a taiko group fairly near to us, so that’s another possibility for Mayuki’s musical development.

As we headed to the station to go home, black clouds moved in and the good weather came to an end. All in all, we timed it very well.

Hair Brush

Mayuki’s hair brush was finally delivered a couple of weeks ago. This isn’t a brush for Mayuki’s hair. It’s a brush made from Mayuki’s hair.

A red lacquer writing brush box, with a wild boar design and writing in gold

The box for the brush

These brushes are a Japanese custom. Apparently, many years ago, the best writing brushes were made from the first hair cut from babies. This was because the hair was of the right fineness, and, because it had never been cut before, all the ends had a natural taper, rather than being cut off sharply. At some point, certainly long before our time, this stopped being a practical issue, and a writing brush made with your child’s hair became a standard commemorative item with which to celebrate a birth. Ours was paid for by us and Mayuki’s non-Japanese grandparents, who may just about remember agreeing to that. Obviously, it took us quite a long time, but there are good reasons for that.

The box, however, is not one of the good reasons. The Japanese writing says “Birth Commemoration Writing Brush”, and the image of a boar is because Mayuki was born in the year of the boar. It didn’t take long to decide on those details. It did, however, take a little while to decide on the overall design of the brush, because they had a lot of options. The most expensive were entirely gilded, but those looked too gaudy, so we went for this option instead. It had quite a few options inside the box, and they did take some time.

The open box. The brush, also red lacquered, is visible, as is the inside of the lid

The brush and the lid of the box

The first problem is getting the hair for the brush. As you can see, you need quite a lot of hair to make the brush, and it takes a while for a baby to grow enough hair for you to cut that much off without leaving a bald baby. (Many years ago, babies were shaved bald in Japan, which probably meant that you could make the brush a bit sooner. Not any more, however.)

Then there are the things on the inside. First, the design above the brush is our family mon, or mark. This is a Japanese tradition, a bit like coats of arms, except that it was never official or regulated. Any family could have a mon, if they wanted it, and could choose anything they liked, as long as it hadn’t already been taken, and didn’t look too much like a very famous and important mon. Most Japanese families have one, although there is a default one, two crossed feathers, that is used in the absence of anything else.

Obviously, the Chart family does not have a traditional mon, and the dictionaries of “mon by family name” that you can buy in most shops don’t include “Chart” as one of the options. That meant that I had to design our mon from scratch. It is made up of three “musubi-fumi”, arranged so that they form a hexagon. A musubi-fumi is a folded and tied piece of paper, as used for writing notes and poems in classical Japan. “Musubi”, which means “tied”, is also used for relationships between people. Finally, three musubi-fumi could, in Japanese, be described as “mimusubi”, which, with different characters, is also the term for the power of life and growth. A nice bonus is that I think the design looks very nice, and the musubi-fumi was not, apparently, used in many traditional family mon (although the element appears in the dictionaries; that’s where I found it), so ours should be distinctive. Incidentally, most Japanese mon are in the public domain, because they’re old. I designed this one a couple of years ago, so it isn’t. So that took a bit of time.

Then there’s the writing inside the box. Most of this is fairly standard: Mayuki’s name, our names, and her birth date. That didn’t take much thought. However, there are two other things. First, there are eight characters, a short message, on the shaft of the brush. The catalogue provides a number of possibilities for people who don’t want to come up with their own, but I did, of course, want to come up with my own. It says “芯の愛が包まれる”, which means “The heartwood’s love is enfolded”. 芯 is the character used for the heart of a tree, or a brush, and includes the character for “heart”, as in emotions.

Inside the lid, you get twenty characters, and again there are options. This one really took time, because I wanted to write a tanka for it. A tanka is a traditional Japanese poem, often described as thirty-one characters. However, if you write it with kanji, you can get the number of characters down a bit, because many kanji stand for more than one syllable in some words, and it is the syllables that you actually count. It’s not easy to get it down to twenty, but I managed it. The final tanka is “筆先が命の道を画いたら真心以て自由と歓喜”, which is read “Fudesaki ga inochi no michi o egaitara, Magokoro mochite jiyuu to kanki”, and translates as “As the brush traces the path of your life, From devotion, freedom and joy”. The tanka starts with the character for “writing brush”, and the second part (the shimonoku, as it is traditionally called) includes all three kanji from Mayuki’s name, in order. (It starts with the first, finishes with the last, and the middle one is… a bit after the middle. There are limits.)

Writing those also took quite a bit of time.

The last bit that took time, and delayed this blog entry, was getting the photograph of Mayuki into it. You do that yourself, and it wasn’t hard, but I only got around to it today.

So, this is our new family treasure. We showed it to Mayuki, of course, and she wanted us to take it out of the box so that she could paint with it. No, Mayuki. It is your brush, true, but you’ll understand when you’re older.