The first time I met my brother-in-law (Steve)’s grandmother was at her house and beautifully maintained Japanese garden as we’d been invited over for plum picking. At the beginning of every summer my mum would buy a basket of green plums to make umeboshi (dried plum) and plum juice/wine, so it was a treat for us to be able to pick the plums ourself. It was at lunch time when Steve’s grandmother asked my parents and I where we live. We said “We live in Yokohama” and she said “That is very haikara”. ‘Haikara’ is an old word that was often used in the 1900′s to describe something or someone who is westernized, or modern and fashionable. It came about when Japan started international trading after 200 years of seclution during the Edo period and in doing so became foreign influenced. Yokohama was one of the first ports open to international trade, so for her to say that living in Yokohama is ‘haikara’ made real sense. It just felt so magical to hear that word for the first time from someone who actually lived the moment! I became an immediate fan of Steve’s grandmother. And to be honest, for her to live in a traditional wooden Japanese house just outside of Shibuya is so much cooler than anyone in Yokohama.
Last year, at the beginning of February, Steve’s grandmother passed away. She was about to turn into 101 years old in the coming month. Everybody who gathered seemed at peace knowing that she lived a long loving life. No monks, no prayers, but a room full of flowers. (I loved Steve’s mother’s free thinking of not being tied to the expectation of what things should be like). And Steve’s grandmother’s hard-to-believe 100 year old spotless porcelain doll-like face just looked so beautiful surrounded by flowers. It made me think of Ophelia.