Jizo-bon is usually held on August 23rd or 24th, and each neighborhood has its own Jizo-bon festival. While a Buddhist monk chants scripture, neighborhood children, seated in a circle, pass around a large string of juzu beads —one bead at a time—to pray to defend themselves from illness and all types of disaster.
Kamishibai (literally “paper drama”) is a traditional form of storytelling that uses illustrated scenes to tell a story. Kamishibai was a popular form of entertainment during my childhood until television became widespread in the 1960s. The traveling kamishibai storyteller came to our neighborhood to sell candies and tell stories, using a wooden stage to display the pictures for the story.
One time, we stole persimmons from a tree at one of the temples. And we were caught by a Buddhist monk! He tried to scold us but he was really bad at it because he was so kind. Everyone in the neighborhood looked out for us and tried to keep us out of trouble, even if they were not our own parents.
I remember that farmers used to come by to collect the waste from our outhouse to make into fertilizer. They even left fresh vegetables as a thank you payment.
One time, I fell asleep while hiding between the futon blankets in the closet. I slept through the afternoon. When it came time for dinner, everyone thought I was missing, so they went to look for me. When I finally woke up and came out of the oshiire, my parents, though relieved, scolded me. I remember that incident very well.
In the summer, Kyoto is hot and humid. At night, we used to set up nets to keep the mosquitoes out while still allowing a little airflow. We all played games and slept under the mosquito nets. It was like sleeping in tents inside our house.
Our family had many ways to keep warm. I used to sit with my legs under a heated kotatsu table to keep warm while studying. We used charcoal burners for heat, not electricity, because it was not common back then.
Even though my parents were very busy with work, they always found time for the traditional arts: chado (tea ceremony), ikebana (flower arrangement), and shodo (calligraphy). On very special occasions, our noh music teacher practiced with us in our house. Our tokonoma alcove was always decorated with seasonal flowers and special paintings.
Dinners were fun but also formal affairs, where we children learned our best table manners. We all sat in seiza-style, with our legs folded under us. Our father sat at the center and made sure that we behaved properly.
In winter, we often used a hibachi, or portable brazier. An iron kettle was set on top of the brazier, and the hot water always made a “shuu shuu” sound when it bubbled up. We often made tea for guests to drink. I liked to sit on the warm edge of the hibachi, which made my family angry and afraid for my safety.