Saturday, September 30, 2006


Miyakin is a bakery/sweet shop here in Misawa. The shop is adorable and has traditional Japanese sweets or Wagashi. They also have European-style baked goods. I love Japanese sweets and Miyakin is one of the prettiest shops I've been in. It's my favorite place to get goodies here in Misawa.

I haven't been very well the last two weeks, and it's been wearing on me, physically and emotionally. After yet another trip to the doctor's, I was so upset I needed something to cheer me up, so I went to Miyakin. You can see what I bought at Flickr.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Lonesomely clings the Dragonfly
to the
underside of the leaf
Ah! The Autumn rain.

September in Japan brings the rice harvest, tsukimi (moon viewing), typhoons and dragonflies (not necessarily in that order).

The rice harvest is self-explanatory, I blogged about tsukimi last year, and have already bitched about the typhoons, so let me write about dragonflies.

There are dragonflies in Japan. (No way! Way!) They start appearing here and there in summer but there's just clouds of them in the early fall. Around this time of year, lots come to hang out in my yard. The like the sunny spots on my garden wall and like perching on the points of my gate. They're not afraid of anything, so I can get up close to take (out-of-focus) pictures.

Dragonflies belong to the order Odonata, derived from a Greek word, odon, meaning " tooth," possibly referring to the teeth on the mandibles or tusk-like shape of the insect's abdomen. There are In Japan, there are 214 species and subspecies of dragonflies.

Dragonflies can't sting, but bigger ones can bite. The bite doesn't hurt, but it's disconcerting to have a large dragonfly stuck to you. Don't expect your husband to come to your aid, either. He'll just run into the house, leaving you to pry off the bug yourself.

Here in Japan, Dragonflies are called Tombo as well as Katsumushi (victory insect).The word katsumushi is written with two kanji characters. The first character has the meaning of "victory" and the second character has the meaning of "insect." Tombo is what I hear all the time, I think Katsumushi is archaic. In looking up the definition of Tombo in Japanese dictionary, I discovered one of the meanings of the word is "to suddenly change direction". If you've ever tried to chase a dragonfly as it zooms along, you can appreciate how fitting that definition is!

Dragonflies are fast! The fasted fliers have been clocked at 36 miles per hour. Aeronautic companies have studied the insect, in order to improve airplane designs. They're cool bugs.

In Japan, tombo are revered and respected, being symbolic of happiness, strength, courage and success. They are a common decorative motif. During the 11th century noble Japanese families used the dragonfly as ornamentation on everything from furnishings to textiles. The dragonfly was chosen as a part of a Samurai family crest as well.

The Tombo was believed to be the spirit of the rice plant and a harbinger of rich harvests. Makes sense, since they appear around the time the rice is ready.

Interestingly enough, in Japan, the dragonfly also functions as a pyschopomp, as the mythical creature Shoryo Tombo (Dragonfly of the Dead), which is associated with the Japanese festival Bon. During this Buddhist festival, people honor their ancestors. The spirits of the dead, carried by Shoryo Tombo, return home to be reunited with their families.

A Japanese folktale has it that an Emperor was bitten by a horsefly which, in turn, was eaten by a dragonfly. The Emperor honored the dragonfly by naming what is now Japan Akitsushima which, during that time, translated to “Isle of the Dragonfly”.

My Japanese friend, Kei Mahoney, told me about her father's secret technique to catch dragonflies. You hypnotize them! Get up close to the dragonfly (not too hard, they're not generally afraid of you), then using your index finger, point at the dragonfly. Make an uzumaki (spiral) in the air with your finger, sort of going around the dragonfly's head. The dragonfly will be fascinated by this and you can cup it up in your hand if you are fast enough. Works really well, too! My Japanese neighbors find it hysterical to watch me do this, because I get all excited if I catch one. If I miss, the dragonfly will get royally pissed off and dive-bomb me, sending me running for cover. Either result provides much autumnal entertainment for the neighbors.

There's also another capture method, called Buri, which utilizes the tendency of the dragonfly to attack its prey in mid-air.

In buri, a thin silk thread is weighted at both ends and tossed up. The dragonfly attacks it, and is pulled down by the weight, where it can be captured. The earliest known record of buri was documented in 1831 by this illustration, from Kodera.

I've never seen buri done.

Monday, September 18, 2006


September is here, bringing along Typhoons and the sideways rain I've come to know and love. Good day to stay indoors and watch movies and eat toast and drink tea.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Ryusendo Caves

On September 9, Chris dragged my sorry, been-sick-for-a-month ass off the sofa and out of the house to Ryusendo Caves. My oldest brother in law, Timmie (sounds like Teme, which can be loosely translated from the Japanese as "asshole"--which Timmie is certainly not) is a geology major, and Chris and I were sure he would have enjoyed the trip as much as we did.

We think Ryusendo means Dragon Water(s), since the characters in the name are Ryu (Dragon) and the same "sen" seen in Onsen. There was also a dragon-motif theme going, so it's a safe guess.

Ryusendo Cave is one of the three largest stalactite caves in Japan and has been chosen as a national monument. The length of the cave is currently noted as 2,500 meters, but exploration is ongoing and it has been estimated that the size may be 5000 meters - or more. The outside temp where we entered was about 23 degrees Celsius. The cave itself was a constant (and chilly) 15. (that's about 79 and 39 degrees Farenheit, respectively)

There's a huge spring that has created several deep pools inside the cave. The pools really don't have imaginative names, just numbers. Although the Japanese do refer to one large pool as the Emerald lake. Hate to tell you Asians this, but Emeralds are GREEN not BLUE, so as such, you folks should have named the it "SAPPHIRE LAKE"**.

Anyway, the waters are unpolluted and startingly clear--in the deepest parts, you can see nearly 121 feet down due to the extreme clarity of the water. They had lights suspended in the water, giving off a distant, eerie, and tiny blue glow.

I was quite suprised that the Japanese visitors seemed to just fly through the cave, not really taking time to look ckosely at much of anything. Chris and I took twice as long as they did, due in part to wanting to get our 10 dollar admission-fee worth.

Speaking of flying through the cave, there were also bats. One bat, the Japanese Big-Eared Bat, is a National Treasure. Despite being such an invaluable cultural assest, Chris was not impressed and ducked when one did a fly-by. Bats don't bother me, but I mistook a droplet of cave condensation for Bat Guano, which does bother me, particulary when deposited on my head.

There was also another smaller cave we went through. This secondary cave was discovered in 1967 and has a lot more formations than the big Ryusendo cave. Pictures were not allowed. Interestingly enough, this cave has educational (if cheezy) displays scattered throughout, making it the first museum in the world to be housed in a natural cave.

Pictures on flickr.

**The Japanese word ao (青 n., 青い aoi adj.) can refer to either blue or green depending on the situation. Modern Japanese also has a word for green (緑 midori), although this was not always so. Ancient Japanese did not have this distinction: the word midori only came into use in the Heian period, and at that time (and for a long time thereafter) midori was still considered a shade of ao. Educational materials distinguishing green and blue only came into use after World War II, during the Occupation: thus, even though most Japanese consider them to be green, the word ao is still used to describe certain vegetables, apples and vegetation. Ao is also the name for the color of a traffic light, "green" in English. However, most other objects—a green car, a green sweater, and so forth—will generally be called midori. Japanese people also sometimes use the English word "green" for colors. The language also has several other words meaning specific shades of green and blue.

Saturday, September 02, 2006


Preoccupied with the world, who thinks of death, until it arrives like thunder? - Buddha

I found out a few days ago that a Gilbert Dorsey (aka Kenny)a former co-worker passed away, quite unexpectedly. He had just celebrated his 46th birthday.

My favorite memory of Kenny is the time we showed up to work dressed the same. We laughed our asses off everytime we saw each other that day and so did the rest of our office.
Once she stopped laughing, Amy Bayes took this picture of us in our office corridor (note the whiteboard, both Rasheed and Tammam got their US Citizenships that month, too). Happy days.

Kenny was a really decent person who struggled a lot, yet remained sweet and cheerful and possesed of a great sense of humor, which is why I don't feel bad admitting that after reading the email regarding his demise, my first thought was "Oh my God, they killed Kenny! The bastards!". I'm sure Kenny would have found it hysterical. Kenny, you were a good guy, a regular mensch. I'll miss you.

Friday, September 01, 2006

prastic brustells

I have been not been in Japan long enough to be fluent (this is also due to a concerted lack of effort on my part) in the language, but I've been here long enough to screw up my English.

I told Chris today that I needed a new hairbrush because "the prastic brustells (plastic bristles) are coming off the one I have."

Neither of us could believe it when that came out of my mouth.