Friday, July 28, 2006

We're Back!

It's good to travel, but it's even better to come home, even though (still?) it's raining here, just like when we left.

You can read about my triathlon here.

You can see vacation pictures here.

We really missed the cat and he really missed us.

Monday, July 17, 2006

We're Off!

Yay! Vacation! We leave in 20 minutes. I am not sure if I will be able to make updates. We're not bringing the laptops and I'm not overly inclined to spend my vacations in an Internet Cafe.

Thanks to everyone for making my birthday nice!

From Mom and Bud -- money and a pair of sandals with a dragonfly motif and two bathroom books (went into Chris' bathroom, since he spends WAY more time in there than I do)

From Aunt Den -- two bottles of nice wine, loads of DiCamillo bakery goods and some cash, too!

From Sly -- fancy toes and fingers (mani and pedi to make me vacation-ready)

From Eiko -- silver zori and bag (for kitsuke), fresh peaches and a gift of money
("from your Japanese Mommy--go have a good dinner, so you are healthy for your race!")

From Masako-san--an adorable windchime and a beautiful picture frame

From Chris -- TWO cards (one cute, one really sweet) and the chance to pick out some jewelry in Tokyo or Hawaii, also a trip to Shiroi Mori Bakery and no comment made when I ate cake for dinner three days in a row. He makes everyday like my birthday, anyway.

Sunday, July 16, 2006


I am thirty five. Another year, another layer.

The Layers
Stanley Kunitz

I have walked through many lives,
some of them my own,
and I am not who I was,
though some principle of being
abides, from which I struggle
not to stray.
When I look behind,
as I am compelled to look
before I can gather strength
to proceed on my journey,
I see the milestones dwindling
toward the horizon
and the slow fires trailing
from the abandoned camp-sites,
over which scavenger angels
wheel on heavy wings.
Oh, I have made myself a tribe
out of my true affections,
and my tribe is scattered!
How shall the heart be reconciled
to its feast of losses?
In a rising wind
the manic dust of my friends,
those who fell along the way,
bitterly stings my face.
Yet I turn, I turn,
exulting somewhat,
with my will intact to go
wherever I need to go,
and every stone on the road
precious to me.
In my darkest night,
when the moon was covered
and I roamed through wreckage,
a nimbus-clouded voice
directed me:
"Live in the layers,
not on the litter."
Though I lack the art
to decipher it,
no doubt the next chapter
in my book of transformations
is already written.
I am not done with my changes.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Toranomon (Tiger's Gate)

We spent the past weekend in Tokyo, poking around and meeting up with Seto Sensei and his lovely spouse, B. Except for Fran Sensei, we haven't seen any other of our friends in two years. People have been terrible about staying in touch. Sometimes, it's suprisingly painful but most of the time, we just get on with it. It was so good to see SS and B, well worth the trip (a zillion times over).

Saturday afternoon, we were in Tokyo, in Minato-ku. Toranomon is a subway stop in the suburb. The word translates literally "Gate of the Tiger". Our main objective was to visit Japan Sword (where we got a personal, extraordinarily comprehensive and educational tour of the shop and the museum (full of world-class antique swords) above it. We walked away with a few brochures, a lot more knowledge about swords and fittings, and a genuine collector's item: a 300 year-old tsuba (hand guard) featuring a dried fish (fish jerky!) motif. I need to write the shop a thank you note, it was an incredible experience. The museum part of the shop is open--that is, items are not not encased in glass and you are encouraged to take your time and look (but not touch) closely.

On the way to JS, I found this interesting arrangement of a recently refurbished Shitno shrine, with an office building built around it. At one point, shinto shrines numbered about 190,000 throughout Japan. In recent years, there's been consolidation, dropping that number to nearly half (100,000). Most shinto shrines are located in woods or forests. Toranomon's was smack in the middle of an office block, yet still managed to retain a sense of sacredness and serentity. But if you illegally park your bike, serene or no, you'll get a BICYCLE PARKING TICKET! You can look at the flickr album here. Please note that the garden shots were taken at the New Otani Hotel, located in Asakasa, NOT near Toranomon. "Gee Music" got pictures, because I call my youngest brother-in-law "Gee."

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


The Japanese have this big fascination with the four seasons. They take such pride in the cycles of nature that it is almost as if they've cornered the market on it. Nobody appreciates the seasons as much as the Japanese! No one has such a wunnlafool spling or wintah or summah or fallu! It borders on retardaculous. It occasionally gets on my nerves.

Anywhere you go, people always ask "Where are you from?" In NORMAL countries, this is then followed by "What brings you here?" However, in Japan, land of used-panty/porn vending machines, fifty ways of sorting trash, and squid-and-corn pizza, the next question almost always is: "Do you have four seasons?"

WTF! Okay, so some places don't have four seasons. I'll give them that, but really, the implication is "Do you have four seasons of Japanese Quality? I bet not." In case you were wondering, Japanese Quality Seasons mean: Fucking Cold Winter, Fucking Rainy Spring, How the Fuck could Someplace so Cold in Winter has such a Fucking Hot Humid Summer(!), Fall with Fucking Oban and every Fucking thing in Japan Fucking Shutting Down for a Fucking Week, so Fucking Forget about Getting Any Fucking Thing Fucking Done, m'kay?

When I first got here, I would say I was from Buffalo, New York and (after explaining no, it's not NYC and yes, NYC is like TOKYO, except with less good manners and even less squid) and tell them "We only have two seasons-winter and road repair. Alas, this joke was lost of the oft-literal minded Japanese, mostly because they do road work year-round. Yes, even in winter, under seventeen feet of snow. Seriously. They would feel sorry for the poor gaijiin, hailing from a hometown that only had two seasons. I got tired of following up with "Jordan desu, jordan desu!" (it's a joke, a joke). So I just would say, yes, yes, we have four seasons and no, we don't put corn and/or squid on our pizza during any of them.
After being here for two years/eight seasons, something ocurred to me yesterday,while looking out the window at the rain that had been coming down nonstop for almost seventy-two hours-- the Japanese may not realize it, but they really have six seasons. They even a special word for those two "mini-seasons." Start with Haru (Spring), then you get Tsuyu (Rainy Season aka The WHOLE FUCKING MONTH OF JUNE and a GOOD PART OF JULY) then Natsu (Summer), then Aki (Autumn) then Tsuyu again, then Fuyu (Winter). Ah, but you say, what's the difference between Haru Tsuyu and Aki Tsuyu? I'd rather get caught in a Haru Tsuyu rain, which is drizzly, falling-straight-down affair and sometimes is even warm, than the Aki one, since it is like being machine-gunned with very cold liquid bullets and as anyone, even a bakagaijin, knows, umbrellas don't stop bullets.
My kimono sensei describes Spring Tsuyu rain as "Tsu tsu" and Fall Tsuyu as "ZaaaZaaa!" Zaa Zaa is a stronger onomatopoeia, indicative of more of a drenching, penetrating type of rain. Oh shut up. I'm in a land where they think pigs go "buu" instead of "oink", so it makes perfect sense that a autumnal monsoon goes "ZaaZaa". Actually I love the plethora of onomatopoeia in the Japanese language, aside from sounding cool, their usage in conversation makes me seem more pera pera (fluent) than I really am, but that's something to write about at another time.
So about Spring: Early Spring is Cherry Blossom and Cherry Blossom Viewing Party season, which has degenerated from the pastime of royalty to an excuse to sitting on a blue tarp in a park with seventy jillion like-minded Japanese and getting drunk off your ass. Late spring, as you've deduced, is rainy. Late spring is also Bug Season. Gazillions of spiders, crickets and the ocassional mukade (a big-ass, poisonious centipede the size of those ropes you used to have to climb in gym class) invade my home. Chris and I take turns working Insect Escort, armed with a broom and a dust pan. We try to be humane, but we end up with more war dead than we do freed POW's, but not for lack of trying. Genji the Cat gains ten pounds from the 24-hour mushi viking (bug buffet) and spews at least that much gero (vomit) from eating those bugs which are poisonous. After Bug Season and the ensuing Clean Up Cat Gero Season, comes Fungal Season--the mold appears. It shows up everywhere, books, shoes, walls, the cat, everything can (and does) get moldy. It's a war in here and I follow a bleached-earth policy-- I basically hose everything down with a mixture of Clorox and water, applied with one of those two gallon garden sprayers. It's my own personal Oriental Apocalypse Now and I love the smell of Sodium Hypochlorite in the morning (and afternoon and evening). The smell drives Chris right out of the house, but this can sometimes be considered a benefit.
Then somebody flips the hot/humid switch and without warning summer really begins. Last year, on July 7th, I was wearing a sweatshirt. By July 10, I was trying to wear as little as possible without getting arrested. That's just how it works, via a switch. Honest. Summers in Misawa are hot and short (like me!). It tends to be humid and if you are a gaijin, you spend an inordinate amount of time sweating, like Kelly (28 june 06 entry). In addtion to failing to understand why a place so cold in the winter gets so hot in the summer, I also fail to comprehend the reason why the Japanese don't seem to get the schvitz as badly as we do.
I'll write about Fall and Winter some other time. This is getting long and boring.
Despite all the meteorolgical vargaries, trials, and tribulations, the Japanese NEVER complain about the weather (it's okay, the 'Mericans make up for it). My first summer in Misawa (04), there were two weeks in August that were record-breakers. Temps from about 100 to 110 Farenheit for two weeks running. Unheard of. By way of practicing my Japanese I would say "Otenki ga atsui, desu neh?" (It's hot, isn't it?) Most of the answers were "Chotto." (a little bit). The closest I ever heard to a complaint was "This is very unusual." No, 110 in the shade is not unusual, IT'S FUCKING HOT!