When I was a child, we had a classic iron stove at home. Something like Europeans used to have before the war. We had such stoves at elementary schools as well. Every now and then we fed them with scoops of coal, and poured water into a tin tub on top for humidity.
The winter in Tokyo is cold and dry because of the freezing wind from Siberia. The windows collected moisture and offered the safest place to scribble for kids. One would see, on every window of schools and houses with kids, the traditional Japanese calligraphic portrait; he-no-he-no-mo-he-ji. One can draw a human face using these seven Japanese letters (a Japanese alphabet reperesents a syllable). "He" for an eyeblow, "no" for an eye, "mo" for the nose, and finally a big "ji" (which also means "letters" ) for the outline and the hair. I don't know if "henohenomohe" means anything. It sounds very strange even for us.

I don't see henohenomoheji's on windows any more. Such stoves are antiques now. We can't boil water on top of air conditioning systems. There is one thing which I miss. Sometimes beautiful orange or yellow shining grains could be found in coal. I used to break the piece to collect the shining grains. My mother was not happy at all when I damaged nice blocks of coal into powder with my hands totally black. Later I undertstood that these beautiful grains were sort of young amber. They were trapped in coal to be burnt instead of becoming jewels.

by Machiko Kusahara

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