Sunday, April 3, 2011

the nesting dolls

The oddest items, events or scents can trigger powerful memories of my childhood in Nishinomiya, Japan. The family was home on furlough when I was born in 1958 and we returned to Japan in 1959 when I was about ten months old. I'm told that I learned to walk on board the ship as it crossed the ocean. Maybe that's why I don't get seasick?

Sometimes it is as simple as hearing the Japanese language spoken. Hearing it makes me smile. I spoke fluent Japanese as a small child. My English, however, was atrocious. That created problems when we returned to the States - more about that later.

Today, the trigger for memories of Japan were some kokeshi (Japanese wooden dolls). I came across them as I unpacked one of the last boxes I brought to Pennsylvania in late July. These kokeshi were painted red and green, one nesting doll set was boys, the other was girls. The Japanese celebrate Boy's Day, which is coming up on May 5th, and Girl's Day, which just passed on March 3rd. There are many, many boy/girl doll sets in Japan.

The dolls I came across this morning were nesting dolls, which means if you opened one up, a smaller doll was inside. As I handled them, the old paint flaked off just a bit. This flaking of paint made me feel very tender inside. I immediately had the thought that my own paint was starting to flake a bit too.

Sometimes I wonder how much of my personality was shaped by those early years in Japan. Yamada-san was an older Japanese lady who lived in a small house attached to our slightly larger house. Her adult daughter and grandson lived there with her. Yamada-san took care of me, her grandson and my sister. All three of us were born within the same 10 month period, so it was like having triplets, I'm sure. How did she do it? She fed us Japanese food. To this day, the scent of soy sauce or the taste of ginger brings a warm, satisfied feeling to my soul. She must have loved us very much.

I put the dolls on the secretary where I could see them every day. They'll make me smile, I know, each time they catch my eye.

2 comments:

jonesnori said...

I wonder, too, especially when I catch myself covering my mouth when I laugh, or bowing when I leave a Japanese restaurant. And I buy my ramen by the case.

Your sister,

Nori

OyaSophia said...

Yes, I often wonder how much of my behavior is determined by the formative years spent with Yamada-san.