Mrs M’s mother has about ten brothers and sisters, so there is no shortage of cousins to go round, and one of them has been through something of an upheaval of late. Apparently, the cousin’s husband moved out of the house they shared with their two children and her parents, although their differences now appear to have been patched up, because, like many other Japanese families, rather than buying a house second hand, as it were, they have bought the land instead and are building on it, with the help of one or two relatives who also happen to work in the building trade.
Tatémaé takes place not when the building is ready to be lived in, as I had supposed, but when its wooden frame has been completed, and it is still possible to stand on what will later become the first floor, with no walls as yet to obstruct the view. When we arrived, a rudimentary flagpole was being erected on the uppermost roof beam – the erection of which is the signal for tatémaé to begin – and approximately twenty-five cardboard boxes of various shapes and sizes were being lifted one by one via a ladder to the first floor. By now a large crowd had gathered – getting on for a hundred people, by my reckoning – some of them relatives, some friends, some neighbours, and others simply curious passers by.