Saturday, September 24, 2011

Best Fire Extinguisher Ever!

Sometimes translation is hard. English to Japanese. Japanese to English.

A lot of the time phrases just turn nonsensical, sometimes they turn hilarious, and sometimes they turn fabulous.

Every Friday I park at this parking garage and it makes me happy. Why? Because there's a fire extinguisher on each level, clearly marked.

Yeah, baby, yeah!


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Plan C or Maybe D

I'll start off by saying my husband and son are really pretty darned good about not leaving dirty laundry laying around the house. Usually. Every once in awhile, I don't know if it's the position of the moon in the sky or a shift in atmospheric pressure, but they'll forget to walk the twenty or so paces to the laundry room to toss their clothes and instead leave them on the floor.

Which wouldn't be an incredibly big deal except the cats sometimes get it into their heads to pee on dirty laundry. Which I actually kind of understand ("Ooo, look this smells bad, must be a new toilet."). But when they do that, you can bet one hundred percent I'm the one who has to clean up the mess. Also, the dog has been known to gnaw the end off a sock or two.

So, overall it's better not to leave a worn pair of jeans or socks or shirt on the floor before you head upstairs to go to bed. And, like I said, usually they're both pretty good about it. You see, I have my methods:

1) Straight up ask - "Hey, could you pick up your clothes and throw them in the laundry basket?"

Believe it or not, that doesn't always work.

2) Bad cop - "I don't know how many times I've asked you nicely to pick up your stuff, but @$#%(*."

I know. I know. Sometimes that doesn't even garner a response.

3) Woe is me - "Listen, I just walked in the door, I have to make dinner, and fold clothes. I have to walk the dog, feeds the cats, and get stuff ready for lunches tomorrow. Could you, pleeeease..."

Yep. This past week, even *that* oldie but goodie didn't work. So I "leveled up" so to speak.

My husband has this habit of waking up in the middle of the night, coming downstairs to watch the rest of the recorded program he fell asleep watching in the first place, and then coming back to bed around four or so.

I figured when he woke up and came downstairs this should get his attention.

Flawless. Or so I thought. It'll make an impression AND he'll realize he forgot to toss the clothes in the laundry AND while pleasantly giggling to himself he'll go and do just that. Problem solved.


The next morning the curtains were open when I woke up. So the day went on as usual. That night when he shut them my masterpiece was still pinned there. He didn't say anything. I didn't say anything.

Two days later it was very obviously the elephant in the room, so he finally asked.

"What is this?" I explained to him my clever little plan.

He goes, "Oh, you should have just asked. I thought you were drying my jeans and socks there by some new method and I was afraid to touch them."

Touche', my dear. Touche'.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Oh, the Irony

You'll get a giggle out of this.

Today was J's first day back to high school after summer vacation and he almost got himself suspended. Yeah. That's what I said.

Now, let's see if you can figure out what the big offense was.

Here's a photo.

No, he didn't bring the dog to school. And no, he didn't wear his ipod to class (if you noticed the dangling earphone cord).

It's his hair.

During summer vacation he lightened it (guilty). But even after he did it I could hardly tell. I mean if he'd spent all summer at the pool it would have gone much lighter anyway. My hair would go all sorts of blond in the summer as I guess happens to a whole lot of people. Not in Japan, mind you.

So his first day back to school and the other students were all pointing and whispering behind his back all day long. Poor kid was so nervous he couldn't even eat lunch. No one would come near him because they were afraid they'd get in trouble by association (Side Note: I taught him the word "pariah").

Then the teachers started laying into him. I told him to mention the "it lightened in the sun" if anyone asked and he did, but he said that just made them angrier and more screamy. Toward the end of the day he was saying things like, I had a bad dream and woke up and it was like this. Boy, that set them off even more.

So what is absolutely ridiculous is they demanded he dye it back.

I was ticked off. My first plan was to bring in all his childhood photos that I would scatter about the office showing his hair color (no, I didn't dye it from age zero) and demand apologies.

Hello! People. Get a clue. Not black.

But Plan A had two flaws. 1) It would piss off every teacher in the school and his life would be hell from now on, and 2) he actually did dye it, or lighten it so we're not free from guilt. (Although seriously, his hair lightened was still darker than the above photo. Which is too light by school laws.)

So J and I discussed it, discussed the wording the teachers used and came up with Plan B.

Plan B is he dyed it as they'd asked. But instead of some medium brown like it had been before he went jet black. Beetle black.

Elvis Presley black.

Thank you very much!

So today he went to school with extremely black hair. What they want but very obviously not his natural color.

...and he'll probably get in trouble for that too.


Saturday, August 06, 2011

Buddha Statues and a Surprise

I've been visiting a bunch of local temples recently. Part of it is research for the book (I !must! finish by the end of the year!) and part it is a longtime hobby of mine. Buddhism, Buddhist history, temple architecture, gorgeous gardens, and ancient stone statues -- I love it all.

Today I climbed two mountains, visited two temples and saw hundreds of Buddhist statues. The last temple, of course, was situated on the highest mountain. It was hot. So, so hot. But I prevailed. I made it to the top only to discover the Extra Special Kannon statue was closed up for the day. There was nothing to see.

So I headed back down. Happily, on the way I discovered something that not only made the trip worthwhile, but also reminded me why I think Buddhism is a hoot.

First, I'm going to make you look at some of the photos of statues I took.

This was tiny and unique. Homemade, obviously. And a wee bit creepy.

This one was just cute and had a very non-Japanese feel to it.

They had two of these wooden Kannon statues that were absolutely stunning. Life size and I don't know how old. I couldn't believe they weren't behind climate controlled glass. Poor little bug-eaten things.

Found a head.


Now for the highlight of my day. I came across this little assortment.

Let's see, we have a jizo statue, a tanuki and a hotei. A motley crew to say the least.

But wait.

Down there...

...under the jizo, there's an offering of a cup of water and...

...two candle holders.


If we look a little closer...

Something is stuffed into the candle holders.

Hello? Is that ... and ...


I just adore the playfulness of Buddhism.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Something Strange from my Garden

Last year I planted a butt-load of daikon radishes. I planted tomatoes, eggplants, and green peppers too. And then I spent my days working up menus with all the fresh veggies I was going to harvest. Boy, I couldn't wait to eat them. And as it turned out the bugs couldn't either. My entire crop was devoured before I even had time to Google how to non-toxic-ly beat the pests.


This year I didn't even try. So Imagine my surprise when about a month ago I saw the top of a daikon coming up in my flower bed. Dude survived!

I kept my eye on it. Watered it. Talked to it. Plucked off bugs and tossed them into the river. I also dreamed about how I'd serve it up when the day came to pick it.

But then something happened.

Something changed. I couldn't put my finger on it, but something was amiss.

This, my friends, is a daikon. It's not my daikon, but it's what a typical daikon (the type I planted) looks like.

And this is a photo of the puppy I harvested today. Not terribly off, you say.

Until you see what it looks like to scale.

WTH is up with those stemmy, leaves going everywhere?

Closer examination shows that those stemmy leaves are covered in little pods.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Sure, we're 300 kilometers from Fukushima. But there is fallout around here. France just turned away a bunch of green tea they said was way over the safe limit for drinking. That tea came from my prefecture.

So maybe it's possible: Mutant Daikon!

Or, if you don't like that one, I have another theory...

Let's return to the pods.



Whether I'm worrying about radiation or body snatchers, doesn't look like I'll be getting much sleep for awhile.

I'm just wondering if I should eat the thing though...

Friday, May 06, 2011

A Robe of Feathers (the story) - End Notes

I first heard the Hagoromo myth (A Robe of Feathers) soon after coming to Japan. I was an exchange student in Shizuoka and the story was said to have taken place on a beach not too far from where I lived at the time. I learned there are several versions (and even an old and popular Noh Play based on the tale) and while they all differ slightly, they are more or less the same.

A fisherman comes across a celestial being bathing in the ocean early one morning (or late at night depending on the story). He sees she's left her feathered robe hanging on a tree. He takes the robe. The angel pleads to him to give it back or she can't fly home. They make a deal and she dances naked (I'm assuming) for him. He returns robe, she flies away.

Except for the naked part it's not really that good of a story.

Here's a perfectly SFW drawing of the sexy lady.

You'll notice she has a soccer ball. She's also the mascot of Shimizu, a used-to-be-its-own-town-until-it-merged-with-Shizuoka that has it's own soccer team.

So anyway, I knew the story had been to Miho Beach lots.

Then a few years ago a lady came up to me at work and said something about me liking folktales, right? Sure. And she handed me this ancient little text. She said she had it on a bookshelf and wasn't interested in it. The tiny text was pure gold. It was written before the war and had a half dozen Japanese folktales in it, but they were all different versions than the ones we hear now. (I really need to find that book again, by the way. It's lost on one of my bookshelves.)

The A Robe of Feathers story was particularly interesting because the fisherman didn't give the robe back. He hid it and proceeded to spend years promising to give it back to the poor angel while in effect he kept her hostage for most of his life. A true horror story and reminiscent of the original Grimm tales.

Now *that* was the version I wanted to use in a story.

That said, my story ("A Robe of Feathers") is more about a thirty-something, grandpa loving, girl stalking, deco chari building man-boy. The Hagoromo myth was just icing on the cake.

Here are a few photos I took of the tree that supposedly held the magical robe.

And here. The tree is said to be 650 years old.

Here's one where you can see the little shrine at the base.

Back lit by the morning sun. We went really early to take some of theses shots. Yes, I looked, no bathing angels. But the place is really stunning.

Here's one of the famous prints from the artist Hiroshige Andou.

And here's a real photo taken at the beach around roughly the same spot.

The tree was in the news recently when it was discovered a ground's keeper had been weed eating a little too close to the roots. It had been going on for some time and evidently some serious damage had occurred. I haven't been recently, but I'll have to go check it out. I haven't heard anything else about the trees imminent demise, so I'm thinking it's out of danger. I'll let you know.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

A Robe of Feathers - End Notes

My father asked me to do this a long time ago, and I've had a handful of requests since. And then again another just recently, so I've decided to give it a go.

That is: once a month I'll spend a blog post or two on one of the stories from A Robe of Feathers and Other Stories, shedding a little light on the mythology/superstition/folklore or why on earth that story came to be. A kind of "end notes" to the tales. Especially for anyone not familiar with Japanese culture or thought, I've been told that this might be an interesting -- possibly enlightening? -- thing to do.

I'm game!

Today I'll do the introduction. And since I'm staring at a stretch of holidays (Golden Week), I'll put up the first installment tomorrow or soon thereafter.

If there is one thing I have loved and will always love about Japan, it's the way the culture blends reality and fantasy in a very natural and non apologetic way. It's an idea I've always had trouble explaining to people back home. How if I was with a group of friends discussing politics and someone said her dead grandmother had just paid her a visit during the obon festival no one would bat an eye. I was just no good at conveying the surreal-ness of those all too frequent situations. Voila'! The short story. And so trying to capture that feeling in short story form is basically where the idea for A Robe came from.

Even at the time of writing the stories, sending them out, and seeing them published in magazines, I didn't know exactly what they were. They didn't feel like fantasy. And later my agent agreed saying he believed for a story to be labeled fantasy it would have to be set in a fantastical world. My stories aren't. They're all set in Japan, past and present. The settings are real; however, what goes on inside the story can be a bit out there. I like magical realism, but the more I read about that category it didn't seem to fit either.

So in the end I made up my own genre -- mythical realism.

Every story in the book takes some aspect of Japanese culture (or folklore or superstition or history or mythical creature...) and presents it in the context of a short tale. You'll find sadistic bean washers and debonair devils, as well as a thousand-stitched belt and decoration bicycles (deco chari).

Not only will these posts offer inside information about the stories and myth, but I'll also put up scans of artwork I did for the piece or photos I've taken of relevant objects/places related to the story.

And to get us started...

The title story "A Robe of Feathers" is based on the Japanese tale Hagoromo. I'll go into more detail about that tale and the different versions of it in my next post, but for now just know there is a tree in the story where an angel hangs her robe of feathers while she frolics in the ocean early one morning. The entire event is said to have happened at Miho no Matsubara, only a hour's drive from my house.

Here is a photo of the sunrise behind the actual tree. If you look real hard you can see the angel bathing out there.

Okay. No you can't. But if I were any good with Photoshop you could.

I'll leave it to your imagination. Which is a lot of what A Robe of Feathers is...imagination. But the facts are there and I'll be telling you more about them with these posts.

Otanoshimi ni~!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Tiger Mother-in-Law

Anyone who reads this blog knows about my mother-in-law. And I guess it's no fault of her own that she must uphold the mother-in-law creed and keep her cheeky, addle-headed daughter-in-law in line. Yes, we've butted heads.

But she is also pretty cool too.

This little known fact came to my attention the other day.

My son came in from school with two pieces of cloth that needed to be hand sewn onto his gym shirts. I suck at this sewing thing. Majorly. But he needed at least one done by the next day, so I decided no matter how long it took I was going to do it. And I was going to do it grandly.

That was the plan.

And, indeed, it took nearly and hour and a half -- and many bloodied fingers later -- while I carefully stitched tiny stitch after tiny stitch. And I finished.


When you're concentrating on those tiny stitches you don't see when the whole thing goes askew or folds over. I nearly cried. I apologized to my son and told him to look at the bright side: at least I didn't sew the front to the back.

I called my mother-in-law who is pure awesome in all things sewing, gardening and cooking.

She said she'd gladly do the next one.


Yep. I was like WTF? But I didn't ask how long it took (then I'd really cry). I mentioned my attempt and she demurely suggested if I wanted to she'd redo it for me. I'm sure she thought I'd say no. Instead I said, I'm bringing it over this weekend with a platter of sushi! I'll even wait to unstitch it until she gets a good gander. You know, everyone needs a good laugh once in awhile. Even mother-in-laws.

And so I dub her the Tiger Mother-in-Law.

Another example, I stopped by today and she said she was goofing around in the kitchen and made this:

Candies orange peels. She already had some in a Tupperware for me to take home.

And -- no surprise -- they're delicious!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Quake Book

2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake

This is the product description of 2:46: Aftershocks:Stories from the Japan Earthquake

"In just over a week, a group of unpaid professional and citizen journalists who met on Twitter created a book to raise money for Japanese Red Cross earthquake and tsunami relief efforts. In addition to essays, artwork and photographs submitted by people around the world, including people who endured the disaster and journalists who covered it, 2:46: Aftershocks: Stories from the Japan Earthquake contains a piece by Yoko Ono, and work created specifically for the book by authors William Gibson, Barry Eisler and Jake Adelstein.

“The primary goal,” says the book's editor, a British resident of Japan, “is to record the moment, and in doing so raise money for the Japanese Red Cross Society to help the thousands of homeless, hungry and cold survivors of the earthquake and tsunami. The biggest frustration for many of us was being unable to help these victims. I don’t have any medical skills, and I’m not a helicopter pilot, but I can edit. A few tweets pulled together nearly everything – all the participants, all the expertise – and in just over a week we had created a book including stories from an 80-year-old grandfather in Sendai, a couple in Canada waiting to hear if their relatives were okay, and a Japanese family who left their home, telling their young son they might never be able to return."

ONE HUNDRED PERCENT of the price you pay goes to the Japanese Red Cross Society to aid the victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. If you'd like to donate more, please visit the Japanese Red Cross Society website, where you can donate either via Paypal or bank transfer (watch out for the fees, though!) or the American Red Cross Society, which accepts donations directed to its Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami fund (but only accepts donations made with U.S.-issued credit cards).

And of course, if you like the book, please tell your friends, and tell them to give generously as well! Thank you! Japan really does appreciate your help!"


I actually follow OurManInAbiko on Twitter. We've even talk a little. But I'm not very good at reading back Tweets and had completely missed his call for short essays/art/photos having to do with the March 11th Tohoku Pacific Earthquake. As a matter of fact, it wasn't until he mentioned the deadline had passed that I visited his blog, read his Tweets, and figured out what was going on. I timidly asked if I could send something and he said since they were still editing to go on and get something in.

It was funny I woke up before 5am to start writing my piece and when I checked Twitter and told him I was up and raring to go he said he hadn't even been to sleep yet. Now THAT'S passion. I'm sure there were a lot of sleepless nights (and not just from all the aftershocks) for him and the entire crew at #Quakebook. They did an amazing job.

And now it's out. I just bought my copy and I think what I love most about this is that 100% of the proceeds go to the victims of the earthquake. I see my essay (Signs) made it in along with quite a few friends who live a whole lot closer to the epicenter than I do. I can't wait to read what they've written or see what they've contributed. If you'd like you can order your copy here. You can also learn more about the project here.

Saturday, April 09, 2011


We're back in Japan after our week long, super-chillaxing vacay in Hawaii. Sometimes just stepping away for a few days really does help. That is until your back home and your mother-in-law knits her brows and tells your son it's going to rain his first day of school and since he has a 30-minute bike ride there and back he must dress head to toe in a rain coat, hat, and gloves as well. Why? Because all the radiation will be falling from the sky. I'm thinking ,where the hell are my flip flops and pina colada?!

Back to vacation.

Here are some random photos I pulled off my camera. No order and no story. It's kind of a sampling.

We stayed at the Hale Koa, a lovely military hotel with loads of chatty, friendly people. I had almost forgotten what it was like to say good morning to someone and have them answer back. On the down side people who work the registers in the PX should worry less about the state of their fingernails and more about the customer who's standing there grinning furiously at them. No complaints though. Top notch joint with two great restaurants.

Look! Trees!

Here's a sunset at Waikiki Beach, literally a 1-minute (if that) walk from the hotel. I tried to get out there every night to take pictures. Once -- much to the delight of everyone in the restaurant -- I had to bolt during a meal and run to catch it.

Here's another...

And here's one of my favs: my mom and cousin I-forgot-his-name. We all loved him though. He was funny (his timing superb), a fire spinner (somehow I don't think that's the correct word for it), and an artist. He was also very, very short. My mom is short and he had to stand on his toes to look taller than her. That's why she's laughing. That and his muscles. I've got more photos of her with hot Polynesian men than is decent.

Me and M. Riding in something going somewhere.

This little baby was served at the Barefoot Bar (on the beach, of course) and touted to be Hawaii's best Mai Tai. Everyone was drinking them. They were surprisingly stronger than I thought they would be. Very delicious though. The local beer wasn't bad either.

Hanauma Bay. Saw some amazing fish, took some photos of them (I need to get those developed). I also used up another one of my nine lives (a post in and of itself). But I'm not bitter (stupid undertow). Hanauma is breath taking. And you can see colorful fish as long as your arm.

I was worried because the forecast called for rain every day. But nope. Perfect weather. And speaking of perfect, one thing I learned about Hawaii is that all you havevto do was lift your camera, point and click. Perfect.

Remember I mentioned the Barefoot Bar? A great place to sit, read, write, stare at the waves or listen to the musicians who played short gigs during the afternoon and at night. After the luau (twice a week) all the dancers, singers and performers would come over and party with the guests here. I liked it better when it was quiet, near empty, so I stayed away from the luau parties. Although I did hear them until midnight or so. They sounded like fun.

At the Hilton next door they had fireworks one night. Of course, guests from all the hotels up and down the beach gathered to watch. They were nice, but seriously no one does fireworks like Japan.

Oh, and I thought I saw two famous people while there. One was Bill Gates. I could have sworn I saw him walking up and down Waikiki one evening with a very old woman (his mother?). Of course I'm probably wrong. But when I mentioned it, my mom insisted she saw him too. This ticked my dad off to no end because I didn't notify him earlier. I think he wanted to go shake the man's hand. Yes, I'm very glad I didn't mention it to him earlier.

Also saw this guy who I thought looked just like Donald Sutherland [Thank you! Pat for the catch. I had the show right (M.A.S.H.) but totally the wrong actor.]. No? No? He does, doesn't he?

Probably one of the biggest highlights though were the sea turtles. J and I absolutely loved them. We saw one in Hanauma swimming around and this here is Elizabeth. She was on the North Shore resting. They have volunteers that stay out there all day to make sure people don't harass the poor things. Despite that there was some nutcase local who was swimming around trying to "help" three other turtles onto the shore. The volunteers were trying to shoo him away but he wasn't having any of that. Sometimes people suck.

Both J and I decided we'd love to have jobs/enough money to enable us to sit out there and keep an eye on turtles. Don't tell anyone but he bought a really cool pair of pajamas with sea turtles all over them. I was pretty jealous, but since he saw them first and called dibs, I had to settle for a really adorable turtle stuffed animal instead. Not bitter.

Out of nowhere, this, my friends, is a noni. Loads of health benefits. Smells nasty!

And last but not least, the boy-child. Not sure he'd appreciate me putting his sun tanning pics up, so here he is on the beach the first night there. Jeans and long sleeves, soon shed for bathing trunks and short sleeves.

Did I mention how perfect the weather was?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sunset at Waikiki

In Hawaii we're staying at the Hale Koa, a military hotel. I was raised an Air Force brat so being back in this kind of environment is extremely nostalgic to me. Even more than being back in the States it feels like being home. A visit to the PX and that special PX smell brought back memories, made me feel like a kid. I was just waiting for an MP to step around the corner and ask me what I was doing.

Sad note: Their are quite a few wounded men and women here. Today I saw a young man with shrapnel burns across his face. And here I was I thinking my heart couldn't be torn out any more...

In lighter news: There was a prom going on and the kids all looked amazing. My gawd (!) the cleavage. Since they don't have prom in Japan my husband asked, Are all these people getting married? It was cute. Speaking of cute. The prom's theme was Hello Kitty which just this side of surreal.

Great seeing mom and dad. We laughed so long and hard over dinner I choked on my shrimp. I miss that most of all. Not sure what our plans are for tomorrow. I personally just want to sit under a palm tree and write and read. Maybe nap a little.

Here's the sunset on the beach we watched while eating dinner. Still haven't had my mixed drink yet. But this will do instead.