California-born Nancy Singleton Hachisu has learned that to experience the joy of Japanese farm life, you have to stay put.
"Watashi ga rusuban,” my new mother-in-law told me: She would stay home and watch the house while the rest of the family headed to the graveyard. It was the first day of Obon (an ancient festival honoring one’s ancestors), and my rail-thin father-in-law led our procession with a traditional paper lantern fitted with a small white candle, its flame barely discernible in the summer sun. We stopped at the head of the driveway and burned the straw ropes that my husband, Tadaaki, and his father had woven. Their ancestors would come down on that smoke to stay with us for two days. And together with my mother-in-law, we would be there to greet them.
I had come to Japan in 1988 from California to find sushi, and instead found love in the form of a Japanese farmer, whose roots were burrowed deep beneath the house he lived in and the fields he tended. I soon learned some of the family rules: The house must be wiped clean once a day; the fields must be kept weed-free; and someone should always be at home to accept drop-in visitors. Our house, built almost 90 years ago by Tadaaki’s grandfather, must be cared for as if it were a living, breathing entity.