How I Found The Spirit of “DanShaRi” – My New, Favorite Japanese Word

dansharipicMy acupuncturist worked her magic on me but kept muttering over and over about how tense I was compared to my session just two weeks prior.  Finally, after the session I told her that we were about to move to a new apartment in Tokyo, and it was just plain stressful.  Adding to the stress was the fact that this would be our first move without babies.  When we moved into our house six years ago, we had small kids – ages 5 and 8.  We had an entire room in the house stuffed with their toys and books.  Being a writer and writing teacher myself, I get very attached to books.  In addition, my mother, a career kindergarten teacher, calls herself Grandma Book, and when she closed her classroom in the U.S. and moved south, she sent five packing cartons full of children’s books.

But fast forward six years with kids ages 11 and 14, and most of the books and toys had to go.  I spent a lot of time on the floor one weekend in early May just going through a lot of books and remembering them.  Crying. Feeling. Mourning a little, even. Some special books, the ones my kids really remembered and loved, they wanted to save and keep on their shelves, and I certainly allowed that.  In the end we had at least ten trash bags of toys to give away and five suitcases full of books to donate.  In my heart, I knew that other kids would be able to love the books and toys as much as my babies and I had loved them, but letting go of them was tough.

That’s when the acupuncturist, listening to my tale of woe, taught me a new Japanese word.  “Dan-sha-ri” she told me.  “That’s what you’re doing: Dan-Sha-Ri”.

She wrote out the Kanji for me, and it’s really three Kanji put together to make up the very connotative word.

Dan the first Kanji, means to refuse.  People are supposed to refuse to collect more THINGS in their life, or refuse to block the flow of their lives with stuff.  Sha means to throw away things – get rid of unnecessary items in the home.  And Ri means to separate – separate what’s actually valuable from your possessions – your stuff is not your life; you and your memories and the people you love are your life.

When put together, the word DanShaRi means to let go of possessions, but also to free yourself from them; to poetically purge what’s cluttering your life and let go of it gracefully.  The result is intended to be a lighter and free-er person.

Yes, I spent some serious time on the floor stressing and crying over my children’s bygone childhood, but I admit now, three weeks later, that I do feel lighter for the exercise of it.  My children are growing into such fine young adults, that I find I don’t need their baby stuff anymore.  I can carry the memory of their babyhood in my head and in a few photo albums without having to carry the actual, physical trappings of that babyhood – which also means that I can fully enjoy the present.

I am grateful to my acupuncturist at Theracua for treating the whole person a few weeks ago, and not just my joints and muscles.  She made the process of DanShaRi in my life a whole lot less stressful and more of a thankful experience.

Sometimes the connotative, on-the-fly nature of Japanese has just the right word for the situation.

blog matsuri pic

Education for Expat Kids – or: So I Entered A Blog Contest

Japan flagThis blog is lucky enough to be listed on a great site for expats across the globe called Expats Blog.  In fact, look at it on May 21st (don’t worry, I’ll remind you) and I’ll have a featured interview on the site.  But for today, please go look at it to see my entry in their blog contest.  The theme of the contest is International schools, a subject near to my heart since I have one child at Nishimachi and the other at The American School in Japan (ASIJ) so I can’t help but compare them sometimes.

For the contest, bloggers had to write about education abroad and/or international schools, but I wanted to focus on a more specific aspect of the kids’ schooling rather than writing a post about general education in Japan.  I chose to write about Japanese language skills.

I haven’t written much about our language abilities lately, but suffice to say, I’m rapidly becoming the dummy in the house as the kids’ language skills – writing, reading and speaking – improve rapidly with daily instruction and weekly tutor support.  But, as you will see in the post, the kids are learning different Japanese.  My son is learning Japanese as a foreign language at ASIJ and my daughter is taught more natively at NIS, which has a strong bilingual program.  It’s an interesting contrast as my daughter chats easily with friends, while my son corrects her grammar.  They’re both learning beautifully, but differently.  It’s neat to watch.

In entering these Expats Blog contests, I am eligible to win prizes.  One of the prizes is for comments on my post on their site.  So please click to read the post (here) and then, if you’re so moved, write a comment.

If you normally enjoy my posts, then you will really enjoy this one on Japanese language learning in international schools.  Give it a look and let me know what you think.  Expats Blog is a great site – and a wonderful place for expats to go for information.  I’m thrilled to be listed on their site!

Beat the Heat with Food and Attitude

I have come to realize that in Japan, there is more to temperature than environment. In the U.S. we tend to flock to pools or air conditioned zones to get away from the oppressive summer temperatures in some areas, such as my current summertime location in Washington D.C. But in Japan, it can be quite different. In a big city such as Tokyo, the heat can be crippling when combined with the extreme humidity. However, the worst problem is that people are out in it. There’s no such thing as going from the air conditioned house to the air conditioned car to the air conditioned office. Public transport is the most common way to work, and people have to get there somehow – most often by walking – and then walking from train to work. In addition, this particular summer, with the electricity crisis happening all over Japan and the government looking to reduce usage, the trains are even warmer than in past summers. The most common sight in Japan is the little towel. People all over pull it out of pockets and mop up sweat on their faces and brow. It’s one way to grin and bear it. The perfect gift for a summer resident of Japan is this towel. My husband sometimes carries two of them.

There are such things as cooling foods, almost guaranteed to lower the internal body temperature. One such food is the ever-popular shaved ice. It’s a staple of the Japanese Matsuri (festival) and can be found in shops throughout the cities in the hot months. The Japanese people do not like things as sweet as Americans do, so there’s most often more ice than syrup in the Japanese version, which is even cooler. Smoothies, ice cream, gazpacho soup – they’re all foods that cool internally. When I am in Japan in the summer, I have observed skyrocketing sales of ice cream. The Japanese believe that it cools one’s temperature significantly and don’t mind the indulgence. Of course their portions are significantly lower than an American’s idea of an ice cream cone. The Japanese people drink less plain water than Americans, also. They believe in the cooling power of tea – green, black or barley. I don’t think jasmine tea is as popular for a cooling function, but it is available.

Beyond food, sometimes “cool” really is a state of mind. The Japanese government, for the first time, is approving Hawaiian shirts as proper office attire in this summer of SUPER cool biz. To me, this is a recognition of the power of mind over matter. When wearing one of these lightweight, cotton shirts, one can’t help but think of palm trees, cool breezes, and delightful beaches. The Japanese are a stoic people who have a strong sense of national pride and want to do the best they can to help their country. Most of the expats who reside there feel the same. And if helping the country involves wearing a printed, cotton shirt to work, then let’s all go purchase a few.

These are a few ideas to beat the summertime heat in Japan. When all else fails, please do head for the beach or the pool or even the aircon. In the meantime, mop your face, drink heartily and think cooling thoughts. Good luck!

This Post is part of Loco in Yokohama’s Blog Matsuri