Treasuring the way of living // Lisa Kawai October 30 2014

Hello Baum-kuchen friends!  Happy to be back to this month’s love letter from Tokyo where autumn is in the air and day after day gets darker. When I first thought of the idea “treasured artifacts", I paused a moment and had a small panic moment since we recently went through “cleansing” our house! We got rid of so many big and small items - from number of rooms (!), clothes, tableware we didn’t use over period of time, to a collections of small gifts and souvenirs that slept in the drawers. We revisited all these “possessions” that we owned and are now left with minimal number of belongings that survived the screening process. We made sure that these objects are reflective of our current lifestyle and values (...with some remaining desires that went into a future wish list!). So sitting in front of the computer, I thought, "oh no…we do not own any family keepsake artifacts for the sake of owning them because we just stopped doing that".  
At the same time, it was clear that what was left in our house were mostly something that we treasure. We treasure them because they reflect our values and aesthetics even though they are not “passed down” from our family. As I started to dig into the question of “what is the significance of treasured artifacts?”, I realized that we may not hold on to tangible artifacts but there are things that we treasure in everyday life instead. This was the culture and way of life passed down by our family, especially from my mother-in-law whom we had lived with for a few years in the past.

In Japan, there still remains a custom that when woman is married to a man, she technically leaves her family structure and joins her husband’s family hierarchy instead. As a new member of the family, being a good wife starts with learning the ways and values of the new family. A newly wedded wife would practice these new customs to absorb and pass them down to next generation. I know it sounds very old school… and yes, this kind of traditional marriage system is no longer too popular among younger generations, but it was still something that my mother-in-law strongly believed in for her family.  
So having experienced actually “living” with her left us with many cultural artifacts we naturally breathe and embrace even after we moved apart from her. I found beauty in certain ways of living which connected really well with me and my husband. I was impressed to be exposed to the way his family viewed the world, which to me was very Japanese. There were many ways of how we live everyday life extends to how we socially behave and engage in harmony with others outside of our home. Here are some examples that are especially apparent in our household that I regard as an equivalent to "treasured artifacts" of our family.

1. Treasure everyday gathering around the table with family and seasonal dishes
First and foremost, the act of gathering around the table with simple homemade dishes - whether it's breakfast, lunch, or drinks over dinner - seemed very prominent in my husband's family. It might not be exaggerating to say that their day revolves around the meals and quality time they enjoy around the dining table. They are true foodies... treasuring food that is simple, quickly prepared, fresh, seasonal, and homemade. Most of all, the gesture of preparing food for yourself and your family to share enjoyment is their key value.

I was intrigued by the concept and especially liked the way my mother-in-law paid attention to presenting them beautifully on the plates. Since the act of eating is not just about the taste of the food, everything that goes in to preparation to the presentation comes from her passion to show care and love to the people she serves.

It was interesting to observe how my husband did not care or appreciate the dishes as apparently as I did when we were living with his mother. He also did not even lift his finger an inch to help her in the kitchen. But when we started to live away from her, he naturally found himself in the kitchen (probably more than I did) to practice what his mother valued. I wonder if it is in his blood or if it is a result of the environment he was brought up in... Either way, as a full-time working couple I am loving our little gatherings, especially our weekend breakfast! Eating and chatting for hours around brunch is now becoming one of our rituals. Snapshots here are from our table in Japanese and Western versions:)


2. Treasure comforting home environment for you & your family member with personalized space featuring favorite items.

My in-law also spends her energy to simply treasure making the home environment comfortable. Her strongly refined taste in her house shows that she is very loyal to her aesthetic sense in selecting what to bring inside of the house. She says that especially in a busy city like Tokyo, the world outside is filled with information, neons, ads, buildings and shops, etc. It is so cluttered that you can easily get lost and sometimes abusively be exposed to unwanted noise making you tense.

Therefore, it is important to surround yourself in your home with what you love to see, be in and feel good for you to relax to retrieve peace of both mind mentally and physically. That is if you live alone a way to take care of yourself. If you live with your family members, create a space personalized to each member to provide a home that is comfortable for everyone. I thought that is so true...

So this is my dedciated little corner in our small studio apartment. A space where I can treasure fresh flowers and nature at home that makes me smile every time I see them or pass by.
And a corner in our balcony for my husband to relax and have coffee. I love that it sometimes becomes our breakfast or little bar space:) Staying true to your aesthetic even at one corner of your own space is key for "comfort", making your home to create healthy and happy life.

3. Treasure house keeping because it is life keeping for you & your family

According to my mother-in-law, it is more than an organized house that you are achieving through housekeeping (much like cooking with your family does far more than filling an empty stomach). Keeping the home neat directly connects with mental sanity of you and your family member, but more important is the gesture that to show that you care (and don't forget to pamper yourself and loved ones). It also directly impacts self-esteem (or self esteem of family members) because most of the time how you live at home influences your self image and reflects what your expression is in the outside world. And because life is about how you perceive the world that you live in and is created by interactions with the people you meet, house keeping is life keeping. Interesting interpretation.

I admit that I can't do this perfectly yet... but even when doing laundry and cleaning if I regard the task not as housekeeping but actually as keeping your life healthy, it adds significance to the act that it is more valuable than just running errands. Especially if it means the tasks are part of shaping my husband's life at the same time. He shows (again!) proactive ambition to take care of these things as well - it is amazing how he just tackles them left to right without any hesitation as if he is enjoying the process… I wonder if is it by nature or nurture...??

All these cultural artifacts that I have learnt and embraced may not be what we usually physically call artifacts. However I feel that they were passed down to me to live with. These treasured values in my husband's family are found in everyday moments and I regard them as beautiful culture assets. Through these loving & caring acts, we are creating an art of living that we want to pass down to our child when we have one some day.

When writing this post I asked my mother-in-law for tips on what we can teach our kids about her treasures in life and if she deliberately taught my husband the importance of these values when she was raising him. She responded in her singing voice:

"Oh not at all.  I was simply having fun living this way for my pleasure, mostly. I never taught him verbally what I believed in but if he learned something out of it as a result I am happy. Lisa, to enjoy living by treasuring your values is the best way to show your kids how to live."

texts and photographs by Lisa Kawai