Saturday, January 26, 2013

February 19, 1954 A February Letter, The Robe, Images of Noh and Sewing

Dear Mother & Daddy,

"Yesterday was such a busy day that I didn't get my letter written.  We went to see The Robe with our friends from Kobe College and were gone most of the day.  They have a little girl smaller than Ann and a baby so the children all stayed at their house with the maids and made a party out of the day.  They had a good time and so did we.  I liked the movie very much and it was well done but it didn't make as big an impression as the book did. It was in English with sub-titles in Japanese and there has been some criticism from Japanese Christians that the translations left out a lot of the important points.  The pictures in themselves should teach a lot and the Japanese are swarming to see it.  All of us on the row sent our maids together to see it and they were impressed.

B took Bob to see Conquest of Everest and thought it was wonderful.  That was sort of a bribe to get him to go to the barber shop.  He hates to waste the time.  Every day he comes from school with his pockets crammed with all sorts of things.  He collects anything that is loose, bright or unusual--in fact, anything.  Although the Japanese keep their own yards spotless they throw their trash in the sewer, on vacant lots or any available spot outside their wall.  There are several such places near the kindergarten and Bobby gleans most every day.  His is all boy.

This is examination time all over Japan.  Students are taking final exams to get out of one school and entrance exams to get in another.  They even give little ones exams before they accept them in kindergarten.  This is the one time of the year when the students really get down to business.  This could be a great nation if all students worked as hard all year as they do before exams.  They admit they don't study much the rest of the time.  If they can pass a final exam in a course they get credit for it even if they have never been to class.  It doesn't make sense to us.  We feel sorry for the professors who see how wrong it is but they can't do much about it.  The students pay to take entrance exams and if they fail they lose that fee and have to take another exam at another school and pay for it too.  On registration day over here the place was alive with women.  I was told that they were there to persuade someone to let their child register since he had probably failed the exam. 

B and I have just finished "Sayonara Means Goodbye" and we enjoyed it since it takes place in this area.  All the places in the story were very familiar to us.  I think the writer is trying to teach us a lot but I don't think a foreigner could get the point at all unless he had seen how the Japanese live or had been a student of Japanese life.

We saw our first Buddhist funeral procession the other day.  We were walking in the country and heard the clang of cymbals and people chanting before we finally saw the long procession of black kimonoed mourners, priests in brocaded robes, men carrying baskets of flowers and the coffin draped with a gold brocade cloth.   In front were men carrying long poles with white paper streamers.  The names of friends and relatives of the dead man were written on these.  They were walking to the shrine to pay homage and then the body would be cremated.  Some of the men were carrying gifts of food for the dead man's spirit--rice cake, oranges and vegetables.  These were arranged beautifully on little wooden stands something like a cake stand.  We had the camera and started to take pictures before we realized it was a funeral.  We didn't have the nerve to take any more after we saw what it was.  It seemed disrespectful and I'm sure those in the group would have resented it.

A neighbor gave a Valentine party for the children last Saturday.  She had made pink ice cream and big heart cookies.  They had a Valentine box and all took Valentines.  They played games and had some children's movies.  It was a nice party.

Last Sunday B and I went with some friends to see a Noh play.  It is the oldest form of Japanese theater and stems from Buddhism--as everything here does.  Our friend told us what was happening all the time and we enjoyed it in spite of the cold.  The big building had no heat except little charcoal bowls and it was a cold rainy day.

I have had one lesson in flower arranging but it so inconvenient to get there that I think I'll join another class and may not get started in it for awhile.  Every painting lesson is a picture but it is a formal Japanese picture.  B asked me the other day when we were going to paint some real pictures and almost insulted me.  I really enjoy my lessons.

I finally finished my silk tweed suit but haven't worn it yet.  There were enough scraps left to make Ann a jumper and it is almost done.  We have plenty of clothes except maybe shoes, to take us through this year but we hope to get enough new ones so we won't have to buy hardly anything next year.

The children talk about all of you so much and they will talk your ears off when we get home."

                  Love to all,


NOTE:  The black and white images are from Japanese Theatre in Highlight, by Francis Haar, text by Earle Ernst.  Tuttle-Tokyo, 1952.  Image of flower arrangement is from Flower Arrangements of the Ohara School, featured in an earlier post.


  1. Ann, the photos are amazing! Thank you for posting them, and I enjoyed reading the diary entries as well. They give a sense of the time and place, as well as personal notes.

    Sandra Lynn

  2. Thank you, Sandra. I'm so glad that you enjoyed the photos and I look forward to reading more of your posts as well!


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