Thoughts of life in Japan during official holidays for the New Year – January 1st through 3rd – bring back fond memories, getting together with relatives that we did not get to see much the rest of the year. I did not wear the traditional kimono but my parents did. Regardless of the type of clothing we wore, we were all dressed to the nines for the occasion. As children, we received o-toshi dama (envelopes of money) from our parents, aunts and uncles; and played special games with cousins, such as karuta (card games) and hanetsuki (somewhat like badminton with hagoita paddles).
Each year, leading up to the New Year’s Day, my mother was especially busy cooking the osechi ryori, made with traditional New Year’s recipes. These dishes are neatly placed in ju-bako boxes. These boxes typically come in stacks of three, and are made with lacquer finish. The purpose of osecchi ryori is so that it can be enjoyed during the holidays with little additional, if any, preparation.
As you can imagine, each year, the time leading up to the New Year’s holidays is a hectic period in most households. I remember my mother not only cooking up a storm and buying other food items that also go into the ju-bako, but making sure that the already-clean house was spotless. Interiors of Japanese homes are known for their beauty in simplicity. Our house was no different. Any ornamental object that was on any surface was first removed; both the surfaces and the objects were thoroughly dusted; and, lastly, they were all put back in their proper places.
I just realized that I could take myself out of Japan, into the country of my childhood dreams, but it is nearly impossible to take Japan and its cultural influences out of me completely – probably because I was already an adult when I left the country. In areas of my life where I have 100% control, I have been noticing that I am truly my mother’s daughter. No, I do not cook three meals a day, every day, like she did. In fact, unlike when our children were young, I don’t cook at all. Today, I am the self-designated dishwasher because David, my husband, is a chef; he calls himself “nothing more than a cook” but he is a superb chef to me. And I like to keep the kitchen nice and clean for him at all times so that he can enjoy creating whatever dishes, and whenever he feels like. He often makes my favorite Japanese dishes, reminding me of my mother’s cooking. He can make as many dirty dishes as he needs to, and I’m perfectly fine cleaning them every time.
It was not always like this, however. After all, who has ever heard of people who don’t mind doing the dishes, right? Well, I began not minding doing them at all after a serious car accident in 2004. For several months, I lost use of both of my hands. For someone like me who values privacy, having a 24/7-nurse care was no fun – although most of them were wonderful people. That’s when I realized how precious it was to have the ability to get things done, using my own hands. Because of the after-effect of the injuries, the warm water on my hand still feels wonderful every time.
As an adult, I was not always like my mother in terms of keeping my environment neat and clean. When our children were growing up and I had a full-time job, there was not enough time in a day to do everything. To compensate, we used to hire maids to keep the house clean. That did not last for more than a few years, however, when a couple of them stole our valuables. In fact, as it turned out, one of them was doing the same at other people’s houses as well and was being sued. Items stolen out of our household were never recovered. This is the very reason I like robots – rather than humans – to keep our household functioning and clean. Robots do what they’re created to do. They never complain, slack off, demand health-care coverage or higher wages. When they stop working, we simply replace them with new ones which often have improvements built into them. No emotions or ill-feelings involved. Human dramas are interesting only for a few hours in fine movies; not in every-day life.
When we used to have carpeting, we had Roombas which worked fine. After the 2008 fire, we chose to have nothing but hardwood floors. That’s when we found out that, on non-carpeted floors, Roombas are not effective in that they leave a thin film of dust, which is noticeable under certain angles of the sun light.
Today, one of my most favorite is a floor-cleaning machine which I still call Mint, which was its original name. The company that made Mint was then bought out by iRobot and the same machine is now called Braava. Unlike vacuum cleaners, most of which require humans to work with the machine, all I do is set the Mint – enabling me to focus the majority of my time on our business. We’ve had Mint since February 2011. By replacing its rechargeable battery approximately once a year, it is continuing to work fine. It sweeps and mops. We run it in different sections of our floors every day. We have two Mints – and they take turns rotating their work week.
You’d be amazed how much dust is being accumulated within a household every single day. One of our adult children is allergic to household dust. As a result, it has always been important for me to make sure that he’d never get sick when visiting our house.
Happy New Year!