Tag Archives: Clutter

Curio Schmurio

I spent a night at my son’s before I left for Japan, so he could easily give me a ride to the airport the next morning and use my car while I was gone.

There are so many logistics involved in a one-month trip, and the more stuff you have, the more thinking and planning it takes.  My car—much as I need it and love driving—falls under the category of stuff.  I couldn’t leave it parked outside my house; it might have been reported as an abandoned vehicle and towed.  My first plan was to leave it in my brother’s driveway, but that would have made getting to the airport challenging because he was already transporting my sister-in-law and two nephews and their baggage in his small car.  I could have taken an Uber or a taxi from there, but Vince said he’d be happy to use my car, which gets better mileage than his minivan.

I know I’m not alone in struggling between liking my stuff and wanting to heave it all out the window and run away forever.

Yesterday I acquired the ultimate piece of stuff, an antique curio cabinet that has stood in successive generations of my family’s homes, most recently my aunt’s.

Why, oh why, did I take it?  It’s a lovely but useless piece; the worst combination of both fragile and heavy.  But there’s a strong tug of nostalgic value.  I have childhood memories of gingerly opening the glass front and taking out the trinkets my grandmother kept inside.  Once a year or so we would do the same at my aunt’s, and she would tell stories about the origins of the cut-glass pickle boat or the bisque Christmas ornament of a roly-poly little man we called Happy Fat.

Molly, my cousin, said she always felt the curio cabinet was a ball and chain.  “We could never run around the house without mom yelling, ‘Be careful of the curio cabinet!’”

It’s a symbol to me, this curio cabinet.  A symbol of my ties to ancestry and place, but also of being stuck in Minnesota and never being able to escape its gravitational pull.  So I’ll try to sell it.  Some nice gay couple may want it for their Lalique collection.

I struggled the day before I left.  Why was I leaving?  It was summer, which is so fleeting and precious in Minnesota!  Summer is our reward for getting through the long winters.  Why wouldn’t I stay, and spend time with my son’s girls?

Of course I went, and here they are examining the Japanese food items I brought home a month later.

People aren’t stuff.  But, like belongings, they make it difficult to run away from home, temporarily or permanently.

I came across this quote from Henry David Thoreau:

There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and no happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself….

I’m not sure what it means, or what it means for me, but I do know I’ve got Post-Trip Depression Syndrome (PTDS) and maybe Thoreau—the ultimate case of someone who chucked it all and went to live in the woods—can help.

My travel to Tokyo was completely smooth until I exited Hamamatsucho Station with my suitcase and attempted to find my hotel.  I had chosen not to pay for a portable hotspot or data, so I was going off printed directions, which said the hotel was a 10-minute walk from the station.  How hard could it be?

An hour later I was trudging down the same tiny alley for the third time, squinting to scry English anywhere but mainly to hold back tears of frustration and anxiety.

I was also hoping a stranger would feel sorry for me and help me find the hotel without me having to ask for help.

Finally I walked a half block farther than the city blocks I’d circled four times.  I saw something that looked like a hotel and … it was my hotel.  Whew.

Here’s another quote I totally get, from the travel guru Rick Steves.

Fear is for people who don’t get out very much.


Lynn observed that Japan is a country of many contrasts, one of which is the aesthetic of simplicity when it comes to interiors.  Traditional Japanese rooms tend to have nothing but a table and chairs, an alcove with two or three items like a vase with a flower arrangement in it, and maybe one piece of art on the wall.  This is us in a reception room (what we in the US would call a living room) we visited in a traditional house in Nara:

By contrast, Japan is also awash with stores and vending machines that sell little plastic things.  My last moments in Japan consisted of trying to spend down my yen in the airport gift shops.  On the top floor of Haneda airport there is a mall with one store after another selling everything plastic.  It was all about “characters.”  Pokemon.  Godzilla.  Anpanman.  Hello Kitty.  Totoro.  Kiki.  Sirotan.

Sirotan is a cute baby seal.  Cute is big in Japan and is charming in small doses.

Charlie has a Sirotan stuffed toy.  In the Sirotan store at the airport, one could buy innumerable stuffed Sirotans of every size, along with accessories and costumes.  There were Sirotan towels, hats, aprons, toothbrushes, key chains, pencil cases, lunchboxes, backpacks, sippy cups, chopsticks, pens, fake food, and on and on.  Ditto for every other character.

So there’s this contrast between the traditional simplicity and the tsunami of cutsie plastic things.  There were even toy vending machines in the train stations, in case you can’t make it to your destination without a plastic toy.

I succumbed to the cutsie charms of the shops and bought two Sirotan soy sauce plates and three Anpanman plastic cups.  I told myself, “I need these for when the kids come over.”

In case you aren’t familiar with Anpanman, the animated character who is even more popular than Hello Kitty, here is what Wikipedia says about him:

During WWII, Anpanman’s creator Takashi Yanase faced starvation, which made him dream of eating anpan (a bean-jam filled pastry). Anpanman’s head is a bun made by Uncle Jam. His name comes from his being a man whose head is made of an anpan. When translated into English, Anpanman means “bean bun man.”  He doesn’t need to eat or drink, as the bean jam in his head allows him to sustain himself in this manner. His weaknesses are water and anything else that makes his head dirty. Anpanman was born when a shooting star landed in Uncle Jam’s oven while he was baking an anpan. When Anpanman comes across a starving creature or person, he lets them eat a part of his head.

Sometimes I feel like my head is stuffed with red-bean jam.  If only I could eat it and feel refreshed, or give it to starving people.

It’s easy to notice things like the epidemic of plastic things when you travel.  Charlie and I ate mostly takeout food from convenience stores, and we generated piles of throwaway plastic ramen containers, cellophane wrap, and plastic cups at each hotel.  I avoid most but not all plastic waste at home by cooking with real ingredients.

But as I write this I am sitting in my son’s kitchen while the two girls watch TV in the next room and, lo and behold, there is a TV show about shopping for plastic things.  It’s just a mom, dad, and two girls who are playing with Shopkins, a plastic toy, and saying over and over, “Go to Target by July 19 to buy the new glitter Shopkins!!!”

I guess all these toys and accessories can go live on the Great Pacific Plastic Island when children become tired of them.  Maybe a new superhero—Garbage Dump Man!—will arise to purge the world of plastics for our children and grandchildren.  The plastic island is currently twice the size of Texas, so I hope he (or she) comes soon.

Today I am back in my own home, after a month in nine hotel beds and four nights at Vince’s.  I’ll begin to tackle the trip in retrospect now, as is my way.

But first, I’m having some red bean jam on toast for breakfast.