Category Archives: 一期一会

“It’s a present for you”


Since January I have been walking every day, spurred on by my faithful yet tyrannical FitBit. As well as opening my eyes to all the beauty I hadn’t realised was around me, I’ve also built up a repertoire of local walks. One of my favourites is a park about a mile from my home. Although the walk there and back is along a busy road, the walk around the park is beautiful and I go there often.

On the way to the park there is a tiny shop which sells small antiques and secondhand items; a lot of them are glass or ceramic and not so expensive. A few weeks ago I noticed a small square relief of Madonna and child. The shop wasn’t open every day, but the Madonna was in one of the glass cases outside the shop, so I kept taking a look at it and gradually decided to ask if I could take a look at it and ask how much it was.


One day the shop was open and I asked the owner to show it to me. It was only ¥1,000 and I bought it.

Since that day the owner has always said hello when he sees me walking past. A few days ago I was walking past the shop again. He had opened one of the display cases and handed me an even smaller round Madonna and child.


“This is Maria too,” he said. “It’s a present for you. I’m Buddhist.”


Just another day in Tokyo

2 windchimes

May 4th is みどりの日, or Greenery Day. A national holiday, and part of the string of holidays known as Golden Week. We have been having some wonderful weather recently, the kind of warm, sunny days that in the UK in August would make a lovely summer. I spent most of today at home, with all my windows open. I did some laundry, I did a bit of spring cleaning, I just enjoyed being at home.

My neighbours were also at home. Now, I have lived here for almost seventeen years. I have never had a conversation with any of the people who live next door, but I am aware of their activities daily. Their house is quite large, and an elderly woman lives on the first floor. The second floor is home to a couple in their fifties, I assume either the son or daughter of the elderly resident downstairs, and their spouse. They are sometimes visited by their son, a man in his late twenties, and his toddler daughter. I am wary of these people, because they can be inconsiderate to the point of being quite antisocial. I have seen the visiting son try to start a fight with a delivery man. Last year they arranged to have their house encased in scaffolding during Golden Week, with no notice given to neighbours. Someone regularly plays the piano after 11pm and uses a hairdryer at 2am.

One of the things that makes the second floor residents happy is wind chimes. The photo at the top of this blogpost is their balcony, and you can see that they are well into the swing of summery behaviour already; plenty of greenery, a mosquito-repelling implement and wind chimes. Wind chimes plural. Because if one wind chime can enhance a summer’s day with a pleasant, occasional tinkly sound, then surely more wind chimes will enhance the day even more. Last week the first wind chime was up. Today I opened my windows and noticed that there was clearly more than one. I went outside to conduct surveillance and confirmed that we had moved into plural wind chime territory. Today was not really wind chime-friendly weather, since it was quite a blustery day, and so the soundtrack of my day was the frantic jangling of these wind chimes. Their record is five, we clearly have a way to go yet.

Tokyo Tower May 4th

I went out to church this evening; Monday evening means Evening Prayer and our newly-founded Rosary Group. A calm after the wind chime storm. Tokyo Tower was lit up on Greenery Day in every colour except green, and as usual there were a lot of people taking photos. Because it was a national holiday there seemed to be more tourists than usual and the area was quite busy.

As I was closing the church doors I noticed a couple sitting on the steps in front of the building, and someone approached them and asked if she could take a photo of their dog. Wondering what was so special about this dog that made it photo-worthy I looked closer and realised it wasn’t a dog at all. It was a goat. Even better, it was a goat wearing a wedding dress. I went back into church to tell my friend. ‘Come outside, there’s a goat wearing a wedding dress.’

I, too, asked if I could take a photo. I also asked if I could pet the goat and was told it was safe to stroke her back, but to not try to touch her head (which was adorned with a rather fetching floral arrangement perched between her horns). I learnt that the goat’s name was Mero. So I patted Mero’s bum, and took a photo:

Mero the goat

Neighbours with an over-fondness for wind chimes, Tokyo Tower lit up in a rainbow of colours, and a goat called Mero, wearing a wedding dress. Thank you, Tokyo. Especially for the goat.

Words I don’t know in Japanese


Recently I had a conversation about a lot of things that have happened in my life. The where, when, why and with whom don’t matter, the things we talked about aren’t what really matter. But one of the thoughts that remained with me was a word I heard for the first time that evening. Or probably I should say, the not knowing a word I heard for the first time that evening has remained with me.

The word is uragiri, 裏切り (うらぎり) and means betrayal. You can see a kind of primer of different calligraphic styles at the top of this post. It’s a compound of 裏 (うら, meaning ‘back’ or ‘behind’ ) and 切る (きる, meaning ‘cut’).

I told someone about a relationship I had had a long time ago, a relationship that had been very important in my life, a person whom I had loved very much. It was a long, convoluted story, it was messy and probably not such an unusual situation. I was explaining my part in it, what remained for me, and their reaction was this word, in Japanese. That it had been a betrayal of me, of my trust and my feelings, and I suppose it was, but I had not framed it as that. I suppose by the end of it all I knew what I was dealing with and it was more a matter of scale than the naming of the treachery itself.

My reaction to their reaction was two things:

I thought, hmmm, I have never wanted to roll over and be the victim here, the person who was betrayed, because I knew I had known I was being lied to and I had continued. The scale of it was unknown to me, but the basic dynamic was not. I chose to trust, even when, with hindsight, I can see that it was not the smartest thing to do. I knew better for a long time, I have to admit that. I learned a lot about myself, about other people, and at the time I did not want to, and now I do not want to give another person an acknowledgement of such power in my life. No. I was complicit in this, and I choose to frame it as such.

But at the same time I thought, gosh, I have lived in Japan for over twenty years. I started learning Chinese and Japanese over half (ahem, almost two thirds) of my life ago, and I have never heard this word before. I love learning new words. I find the etymology of words fascinating. Whether it’s the Latin root of an English word or the meaning of the kanji in a Chinese or Japanese compound, I like to know. I like to break it down, look at it from different angles, see how it’s used.

In this instance, though, I didn’t know the word, I had never heard it before, and the not knowing for so long made me happy, grateful. I don’t think it’s a word I use in English, and I didn’t think I could tell you the word in French, Spanish, Latin, Chinese . . . I checked and all the words were new to me, though I think if I had seen the European ones in context I would have been able to take a guess.

What a gift, to not know a word like that, and what a gift, also, to have a conversation which showed me that. And now that I know it?

I won’t be using it any time soon.