With few Christians in Japan, Sunday is not a day of worship. It is, however, the only day most people have with their family. Until a couple of years ago, students had school on Saturdays and even now they have school sports practice every day except Sunday. The workweek for most men is six days long, so the weekend is actually just one day, and we are not ones for wasting it. It is my opinion that the reason why so few people in Japan have yards is that they don’t want to lose their only day off to yard work.
Our Sunday usually starts with a big breakfast. When I can get imported whole-wheat flour and butter, we have pancakes, but otherwise it’s a traditional Japanese breakfast. Miso soup, a glycemic-index-busting bowlful of white rice, small chopped pickles, and fresh tofu from the tofu truck are standard fare. Even my son gets excited when he hears the strains of music from the small truck that sells tofu. People crowd around just as we did as kids in Canada around the ice cream truck.
Sometimes we add a grilled fish to this — most Japanese families will grill a whole mackerel, but I have to admit this makes me queasy so I cut off the head. Grilling isn’t done outside on a barbeque; it’s done in the fish grill under our stove. The stove reminds me of the Bunsen burners we used in high school chemistry — just two rings (ever tried cooking a traditional Christmas dinner with just two burners?) on top of a small fish grill.
With a hearty breakfast in our tummies, we like to spend Sunday mornings in the water somewhere. Japan is long but not wide, so no one is ever too far from the sea. We’re only a 20-minute walk from the beach, and most summer Sundays will find us knee deep in sand under the watchful eye of our resident volcano, Sakurajima. We actually start going early in spring, when the little-necked clams are plentiful. There’s nothing like eating miso soup with clams you dug up yourself during low tide earlier that day.
The sea is still warm enough to swim in come October, but you would be hard-pressed to find someone willing to brave the onslaught of jellyfish. That’s why fall and winter are time for onsen (natural hot spas)! Due to the lava running under the mountain range from our volcanoes, there’s a plethora of spots where you can soak your weary bones. From inside a fancy hotel, to a beach where you get shoveled into warm sand, or co-ed holes in the mountainside, there is no shortage of places to get naked and relax. Getting your kit off with random old people, not to mention your family, can be a little intimidating at first, but you do get used to it. I have gotten pretty good at using a small towel to hide all the important parts. (I wonder if that is something I could use to pad my résumé.)
Of course, all that water builds up an appetite. One thing Japan does really well is lunch. Almost every restaurant has a lunch set, which comes with soup, salad, an entrée, rice or bread, and a dessert. Ten dollars is the average price for a lunch that would usually go for three times that price in the evening. Lunch comes with quick and attentive service, which luckily requires no tipping. Sunday lunch, with no dishes to wash, is my favorite time of the week.
Whether home for a lie-in or out and about, most people in Japan stop what they are doing early Sunday afternoon to watch the national pastime on TV. No, not baseball. Not sumo, either. What then? Karaoke, of course! Everyone loves Nodojiman, the show that travels around to different locales in Japan (and sometimes Asia) looking for the best singers. It’s the original American Idol.
Sunday afternoon is the time for driving. Tokyoites try to get out of the city, and suburbanites head in, making Sunday afternoon one of the heaviest times for traffic. My favorite destination is the Kirishima mountain range. From grass-boarding to glassblowing and everything in between, there is no shortage of nature or family activities. I especially like the Open Air Museum, which features a huge park in which you can find art that blends in with its surroundings — better than anything I’ve ever seen. There’s an indoor museum for rainy days, featuring fatalistic modern art by Yoko Ono and an interactive exhibit of a set of furniture that can be played like drums.
No matter how much you stuff yourself on lunch, everyone is hungry by suppertime. There’s nothing quite so Japanese as going to an outdoor stall for ramen noodles or chicken on a stick. Finish it off with a nice glass of shochu (Japanese vodka) on the rocks, and there you have my perfect Sunday!