Last week my dear college friend Ann texted me and the other three women who make up my annual college girls trip travelling buddies. The five of us have been friends for more than 30 years and they mean the world to me. We all live in different cities and states so I deeply cherish whenever I get to see them. What Ann texted made me smile.
It looked like something from a daily devotional she might use and was titled “Find your moai. Her personal message with it was, “how ironic…there are five of us.” You see, a “moai” is a group of five friends committed to one another for life. The word is Japanese for “meeting for a common purpose” and originated in Okinawa, Japan. There, community support groups provide social, financial, health, and spiritual care and are considered one of the leading factors of the famously long lifespans Okinawans enjoy. In fact, the region has one of the highest concentrations of centenarians in the world. Hello moai!
The info in Ann’s message went on to suggest one “identify the people in your life who make you feel most valued and supported and invest the majority of your energy in those relationships.” Even though I see these women once, maybe two or three times a year if I’m lucky, I get it. They (along with others) are my moai and moi feels blessed to have them.
More Than Sushi
It seems I’ve had a lot of Japanese influences in my life lately.
I recently blogged about the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” and its Japanese method of decluttering and organizing and how it’s changed my current “I’m moving” situation.
I’ve also been following my two nieces Monica and Tessa as they travel around Japan to see my Japanese nephew-in-law Takeshi’s family and show Tessa and Takeshi’s new son his dad’s homeland. Monica has posted lots of interesting observations, the kind I just LOVE, and I thought I’d share some…
- They don’t drink soda in Japan.
- Rice is served with every meal.
- There are no single-story homes and all houses have clothes lines because dryers are extremely rare.
- You give up your seat IMMEDIATELY for an elder, disabled person, or pregnant woman on a bus or train. Even an elderly person gives up a seat for a “more” elderly person.
- You stand on the left side of an escalator unless you are passing.
- Everyone is thin!
- Japanese don’t wear sunglasses outside. (what?!)
- You need to get used to constantly taking your shoes on and off everywhere you go.
- Taxi cabs are spotless. Spotless windows. Spotless seats. They smell fresh and drivers are “dressed to the nines.” Doors also open automatically for you when entering and exting a cab.
- Bus drivers wear masks and whisper where they are going so as not to awaken sleeping passengers.
- There are almost no public trash cans to be had. One hangs onto their trash until one is found.
- No one says “Bless you” when you sneeze.
- Public bathrooms are equipped with buttons on the wall that make the sound of running water when you push them to make your toileting experience and those next to you more discreet.
For Goodness Sake
Something else interesting that I learned long ago is that you never pour your own Sake. It is part of a Japanese etiquette rule called “o-shaku.” In general, it is considered much more polite to pour Sake for others but never directly for yourself, resulting in an atmosphere of social interaction and common courtesy. No worries though, as the small Sake cups traditionally used in Japan allow for everyone to have the opportunity to pour and receive. When receiving Sake, lift your cup off the table, hold it with two hands, and take a sip before setting it back down. What’s not to love about this tradition?!
All of these endearing customs demonstrate how deeply connected and rooted Sake is to Japanese culture. Known as the “drink of Gods” in Japan, Sake has ancient and important ties to religious ceremonies, traditions, and beliefs. It is said that if you get to know Sake, you get to know Japan.
All this talk about Japan got me thinking; I wonder what my dad would think of all this. A United States Navy vet, he fought in WWII and the Japanese were enemies of America. The mere mention of Pearl Harbor may have made him cringe, but I have no doubt he would be so proud of my niece and would love her husband. Still, how times have changed, right? Change is good.
Being the information nut that I am, I also researched just a tad about the “Land of the Rising Sun.” I just can’t help myself!
The name “Japan” is actually the English word for the country. The Japanese names are Nippon and Nihon, both of which mean “the sun’s origin.” Japan is said to see the first Earth’s sunrise every day and the terminology also refers to the island nation’s position from China.
Japanese history and culture is connected to China also in its system of writing called Kanji, which means Chinese letter or character. Invented by the Chinese and adopted by Japan in the 6th Century, Kanji characters convey meaning not just sound and were originally drawn as pictures from nature. There are said to be more than 5,000 Kanji and by their ninth birthday, Japanese students are required to know nearly 2,000 of them. The first picture or Kanji or Japan means “sun” and the second one means “base or origin,” hence “the land of the rising sun!” The Japanese flag also depicts this image, with the red circle in the middle symbolizes the sun as well as “brightness” and “warmth,” while the white background signifies honesty and purity.
I don’t know about you, but I just love learning these types of things. I’m hoping I haven’t gotten any of it wrong but am counting on my niece to correct me if I have. Tessa lived and worked in Japan for many years, met her husband there, and was there during the 2011 tsunami. I would love to know more and needless to say, I know just who to ask!
So, sayounara! Oh wait, that’s not correct. Believe it or not, Japanese people don’t walk around saying what we commonly think of as “goodbye” in Japanese. That’s because “sayounara” has a strong sense of finality and is only used when you think you might not see that person again or at least for a very long time. So at the risk of being disrespectful or just wrong, I’ll end by saying “thank you for reading this blog today,” so how about just “arigatou.” I’m pretty sure that means “thank you” in Japanese!