Typhoon

So you may have heard about Typhoon Hagibis.  It hit Tokyo on Saturday, and my family plus a friend who took shelter with us since his place was near a river, hunkered down to ride it out.  We didn’t lose power or the internet, nor were we evacuated unlike thousands of others.  We were fortunate and we know it.

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Photo credit: vhines200 on Visualhunt / CC BY-ND

Tokyo, in general, didn’t suffer from too much flooding.  There was some flooding, mainly near rivers, since the storm came with a massive amount of rain.  But Tokyo has a seriously amazing flood control system under the city, alongside the water mains and subway tunnels and so on.  It’s so impressive that you can actually schedule a tour of it if there’s no rain predicted.

However, the typhoon wasn’t the only exciting natural disaster we got to watch here in Japan!  We had a tornado!  An earthquake!  A volcano erupted!  It was just one of those days where the planet was throwing a temper tantrum.

We were incredibly lucky, and we know it.  Our neighborhood had little damage and even though it was almost deserted in the streets on Saturday, Sunday was really lovely.  I learned a lot about Japan’s disaster response and recovery abilities.  It will take a while for many harder-hit locations to fully clean up and recover.

But thank goodness for rugby teams.  Turns out they’re pretty handy to have around.

Gnome food

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Sensoji Temple is a Buddhist temple and dates back to 645 CE

So last week my son and a friend of ours and I went off to Asakusa to take some photos for my Patreon photo essay and generally hang out, do the hometown tourist thing. The main tourist thing over there is Sensoji Temple (which is certainly impressive and has a pretty cool history, and I think it’s worth braving the crowds.)

There are plenty of smaller shrines and what-have-yous nearby, and we stopped into one such place to get out of the crowd for a moment, and while there I thought I’d be respectful and wash my hands as you do. Well, I dunno if y’all know this, but I’m not actually Japanese, and I don’t instinctively know all the things about Japanese culture. So I started out wrong, and the older woman manning the small building selling charms (or prayer things or… tourist pamphlets or something,) yelled at me. It wasn’t in a super aggressive way, and I’m pretty sure she kept all the nasty epithets in her head, but still. I really only realized she was addressing me because my friend translated for me.  So, I corrected myself and tried to smile and nod to make it clear that it was an inadvertent slight due to lack of information, and everyone moved on. Mostly. 

It was maybe 10 seconds of the day, out of several hours of picture taking, food eating, and awesome tiny coffee shop finding. Still, my brain keeps flashing to that one moment and its. sort of sitting like lead in my gut. I know I should let it go and accept that humans like myself are, you know, only human. But still. I know that my Anxiety Gnomes are going to use the moment as ammunition for years to come. It’s telling my brain that I shouldn’t even bother trying because I won’t get it right.

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I managed to ignore the whole “I don’t belong here” mental whisper long enough to visit another temple with my family over the weekend, but that whisper is still there, making me crazy and keeping me awake at night.  I know it’s bullshit, but… *sigh* Maybe I’ll do better next month. Or next year. Or someday.  How do you cope with this sort of thing?

Golden

Well, this past week was Golden Week here in Japan.  What that means is that most offices and schools at least are shut down for the week and many, many people travel. We did our traveling early this year when we went to Oita with family, but we still IMG_1163managed to have some fun around town.  We saw some friends (who must love us- they brought me some Cafe Bustelo!) and found some new places practically right next door.  We did manage to get a tiny bit out of town, though, and went to Odawara Castle, which was pretty awesome.

Today is technically still Golden Week, even though it’s Monday.  This year, instead of being just 5 days off, has an extra day off in honor of the abdication of Emperor Akihito.  Quite literally the end of an era here as Heisei ends and Reiwa begins.  Fun fact: the timing of all this is very deliberate.  The era changed over at the same time as the fiscal year.

So today we’re taking it slow to ease back into regular life.  My husband went to a movie and we’re meeting up for lunch.  The Boy is doing some spelling lessons, but we’re skipping the math and essay writing.  I’m working on some edits and on getting Caroline into some trouble in another book, but I’m not stressing too hard about it.  The weather is warming up and we have the balcony doors open to enjoy the breeze.  On the whole, not a bad end to a spring break.

vacation

My family spent this past weekend in Oita prefecture (which you’ve seen if you follow my Instagram.). The trip was partly to spend time with my husband’s cousins and family, and partly to track down my father-in-law’s birthplace in rural Japan.  It was a whirlwind of kids and busses and hotels and exhaustion, but I think it was rather worth it.

We did, indeed, find where my father-in-law (and uncle, who was with us on this trip) lived for a time.  It’s now an empty field in Matama, across from a temple that Uncle remembered clearly.  My husband and his cousin got to walk where their fathers walked as children, and that’s pretty damn cool if you ask me.  Meanwhile, The Spouses took The Kids to the beach where we ended up helping some people catch razor clams.  The Boy decided that the clams must be sharp, so mostly just poked around finding crabs and jellyfish, but the younger two had no such qualms and snagged the clams as fast as they popped out of their holes.

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Just outside the train station in Beppu.  Welcome to the ‘onsen capitol of Japan!’

Then off to Beppu for a stay at a ryokan.  I found futons to be pleasantly comfortable, but my poor husband doesn’t do well with them.  We saw cats and tengu and steaming hand baths beckoning tourists to visit the onsen behind them for just a few coins.  We bought local bamboo housewares and food made with local citrus to which I am no hopelessly addicted.

The hardest and scariest part for me, personally, is that I was traveling with a group of people who were all multi-lingual to some degree, but the two primary languages of the group were English and Korean.  Only my husband had any real Japanese.  As such he ended up with whatever group needed the most fluent person at the time, leaving me with the others.

I am in no way fit to be an interpreter and was barely comfortable buying coffee and saying thank you to the hotel staff.  Suddenly I’m trying to find out how to navigate a taxi from a tiny town in the countryside and order food at the one postage stamp bar that was willing to serve foreigners.  It was entirely terrifying and well outside of my comfort zone.

I’m fairly sheltered, living in Tokyo.  Either folks have some rudimentary English or it

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This is a historic onsen bathhouse, and that’s literally all I got from this sign…

simply doesn’t matter.  The checkout clerk at the giant grocery store we go to doesn’t care if I can chat with her, and most of the folks we talk to frequently are either native English speakers or are fluent enough to make no difference.  I’m entirely spoiled as an expat and I damn well know it.

So this past weekend worked and stretched my limited Japanese skills.  Saturday morning was almost miserable, but by the time we were heading through the airport I was cheerfully mangling the language as needed.  I regret not being able to read all the signs and learning all the stories from our travels, but there’s always next time.  This trip was amazing.  We made some memories, we found some of our roots, and at least I got a fresh view of where I want to go in the future.

And if anyone wants to send me some kabosu marmalade or candied peels or hot sauce or something, I’d be super okay with that…

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Kabosu. So delicious!

or not…

I think I wasn’t just being particularly airheaded yesterday.  I seem to actually be coming down with something, and it’s hit my brain particularly hard.  No writing of any sort seems to be happening right now.

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So no blog post this week, folks. I will say, though, that if you still want to pick up Spiritkind at the launch price, you should hop on it quick.  The special discount price ends Thursday.

I never even noticed

I was going to write about my Writer Goals for this year here, but I have to put it off a week.  You see, I went to a museum exhibit with my family last week, and it gave me a few things to think about that I wasn’t expecting.  Let me back up.

As you are no doubt aware, anime is a big thing.  I’ve been watching anime since before I even knew what it was.  Mostly things about determined warriors trying to save the world or the universe of the princess, or all three at once.  I did watch Sailor Moon, though, I won’t lie.  Basically, there was one thing that threaded them all together for me: the fight of good against evil.

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Sakura, looking at her own poster, from the exhibit.

Well, Cardcaptor Sakura wasn’t one of the shows I watched.  I probably would have if it had been on TV, but I didn’t even encounter it until much later, and honestly never watched it until The Boy saw it on Netflix and decided it was his new favorite.  The basic premise is that Sakura accidentally releases a pack of magical cards, each one capable of wreaking considerable havoc.  In order to clean up her mess she has to go out and find— and capture— all the cards.

Even still, it was just another magical girl adventure to me, though the fact that she was in elementary school was a bit of a new twist to me,  and I didn’t pay much attention to Sakura or her friends as they rounded up errant Clow Cards and solved problems.

Until I went to the exhibit and right at the front of the exhibit— before the fun projection movie we sat through with the cute mascot character, and well before the room full of extremely well made costumes to reflect Sakura’s nearly infinite wardrobe or the original manga artwork— it was pointed out that there was no villain in the show.

I was staggered.  Four years of manga issues, 70 episodes of an animated TV show, and there wasn’t a bad guy to defeat.  Sakura and her friends were fighting battles near constantly it seemed, much like any other show of this sort, but once I started thinking about it I realized that was accurate.  Her job was to collect the stray cards by counteracting their powers.  There are rivals on occasion, and definitely a few life-risking challenges, but mostly there are allies and friends and once I started thinking about the episodes I’ve seen, she’s basically a Disney Princess, making friends with everyone she meets through the power of kindness and positivity.

It’s a reasonably long-running urban fantasy adventure story with no evil force actively working against our hero.  She’s garnered fans around the world, and the amount of merchandise and books sold and art inspired by the characters is just stunning, and I’m humbled and inspired by the whole idea.

And now I have a goal to get my characters their own museum exhibit someday.  So maybe there’s a writer’s goal for you this week after all.

Already?

Welp, it’s New Year’s Eve as I write this, and there is SO MUCH cleaning and getting ready to do. I have a few resolutions, but I think I’ll consider them a bit and write about them next time.  Today, I’ve got my family around me, and a whole new country to experience for this holiday.  Today is for staying close to home and family.  Tomorrow we’re heading to Kamakura to explore a bit and celebrate a whole new year.

So until next week– year– I’ll just say that I hope that you find health, contentment, and lots of great books in 2019.  Happy new year!

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Akihabara

I honestly don’t know what to write for this post today.  I spent my weekend mostly just hanging out with family and friends.  We bought The Boy a desk lamp.  He asked to do some school on Saturday morning, so we did that.  We made Science Cookies— simple shortbread cookies that we weighed before and after baking to document any possible changes in mass since his science unit is discussing measuring right now.  Science, for the record, can be super delicious.

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Photo credit: Japón Entre Amigos on Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-SA

We did run over to Akihabara to meet up with some friends who are in the business of geekery and were over there for work.  If you don’t know what it is, Akihabara is sort of a destination for all things geeky in a Japanese sort of way: anime, manga, video games, and all the related toys and foods and posters and art books and, well, merchandise that is associated with it is for sale and on display.  There are more girls in costumes selling things then I’ve seen about anywhere outside of an *ahem* more adult sort of district.

I could get into the history and all that of the place— and it is pretty interesting— but if you’re unfamiliar with the place all you need to know is that it is now somewhere across between Times Square and a traveling carnival, with an unrelenting theme of crowds and anime style.  It’s also probably the most tourist-dense place I’ve been so far in Tokyo.

The thing of it is, though, is that it’s only a few blocks long.  It’s not even more than maybe two blocks deep, either.  The crowds thin dramatically once you pass an invisible line in the pavement, and suddenly you’re just in Tokyo, albeit with a bit more emphasis on the entertainment industry.  The temple I mentioned a few weeks back was a fairly easy walk from the main strip, but the people there were a distinctly different sort of crowd: more calm, more polite, less inclined to stopping suddenly and pushing across the stream of traffic to get a better view of something.

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So it’s not much of a shock that on our way from the mobbed JR station to our friend’s hotel a few blocks away, we not only left the mass of humanity but also passed a tiny postage-stamp park with a historical marker in it.  It seems that the river (which I hadn’t even known about before, though I’m not surprised by) that runs past Akihabara also once ran past one of the major roads through Japan, from Kyoto to what was then known as Edo.  My husband told me that in the evenings when it’s not oppressively hot and soupy (and probably even when it is, if I’ve learned anything at all about the longtime locals,) young guys gather there for Tokyo-style rap battles.

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We didn’t see anyone there when we passed on Saturday, but I did get to check out the sign and took some photos of the backs of some found-space shops and cafes that are squirreled away in the arches of the train bridge.  I learned a little more about my newly adopted hometown, and, after a few stops for business, I got to have my first okonomiyaki. The restaurant was on a floor full of restaurants in what seemed to be an otherwise normal office building smack dab in the center of the Otaku Mecca.  A small, hidden-n-plain-sight oasis of quiet.

So I guess what I’m saying, really, is that when you’re traveling, it makes sense to dig a little deeper, even at the tourist sites.  Because you never know what you’ll find just off the beaten path.

Influenced

You are no doubt shocked to learn that I am pretty heavily influenced by Japanese folk tales in my writing.  Yes, I’m a longtime anime fan, but well before I discovered the joys of giant robots and magical girls, I knew Hokusai and Fukurokuju.  My grandparents had, in my father’s lifetime, lived in Japan for a while and brought home with them not just art for the walls, but the songs Dad learned in Kindergarten and everyday household stuff like cups and jewelry boxes.

F43A050A-8531-452F-9E7B-10AF557D1A63 (1)So it should come as little surprise that I’ve got an eye for evidence of the more old-fashioned stories in my new hometown, and this weekend I was surrounded by them.  The Boy and I walked over to Skytree Tower last week, using a park as a less congested route, and came across a series of murals.  There were men being confronted by yokai, a woman being murdered, critters dancing under the moon that I am guessing were tanuki…

The Boy?  He was not so impressed.  There were no giant robots or rocket ships in any of the murals.  I feel like I’m failing him, but he’s definitely his father’s son, so I’ll take it.  I took photos of the text that accompanied each picture so that my husband could tell me the stories, but we haven’t gotten that far yet so I’m still free to make things up.  What story should I think of next?

Summer

Holy balls it’s hot here, you guys.  Like, melt into a puddle the moment you step foot outside hot.  Even the hallways in the apartment building are hot and they’re theoretically air conditioned.  It’s get your errands done early in the day hot.  It’s carry an insulated bag for your milk hot.  It’s so hot nobody even wants to wear their skin let alone clothes hot.  And it’s not just the temperature that’s got everyone sweating.  It’s so humid that stepping outside feels like wearing a damp wool bag over your whole body.  It’s so humid that the laundry takes forever to dry on the line.  It’s an itchy, prickly, sticky, soupy heat.

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My kakigouri was lemon, but The Boy prefers melon flavor.

That said, there are ways around it.  You can stay in your apartment with the AC on and play video games (or write!) all day.  The only trouble is that you start to feel a little stir crazy after a bit— especially with an active 8 year old boy involved!  If you can survive the walk, head to a mall or a shopping arcade of some sort.  Always pleasantly air conditioned there’s usually enough to do to spend a few hours.  We could try to figure out how to get to a beach of some sort, but wed have to go buy swimsuits first, and then get on the train for a while, and… well.

So instead we’re settling for a combination of the two above options, with a few others thrown in.  The Boy has developed an instant love of kakigouri and melon soda, and I can’t blame him.  There’s always ice cream, as well.  We each have folding fans we carry around, and can I tell you how much I love my new parasol?  Love.

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Finished setting up!  Now’s the calm before the crowds…

There are benefits to summer, though.  Fireworks and summer festivals and the abundance of produce at the shop across the street.  I enjoy the sound of the cicadas in the odd quiet moment, though I know they drive some folks crazy.  I do wish we had a little space to grew some plants, but then, we do have a small balcony and now a potted rosemary, so we may be closer to a container gardener life than I’d thought.

It’s hot, sure, but I’m finding that I’m enjoying the season anyway.  At the risk of melting every time we go out, I still like to walk to the market and see what’s there, and discovering what’s going on at the park we walk through to get there.  You never know when you’ll find a festival, and where there’s a festival, there’s probably kakigouri.