Search This Blog

Friday, September 29


The prodigal husband returns tonight after a week away. Yes, he ditched me to go to Okinawa, a tropical island south of Japan. Okay… maybe it was for work but I can’t say that I didn’t feel jilted. We thought about me going but he was working such long hours and I would be all alone… not like he didn’t leave me just like that here in a foreign country or anything. Right before he left, he was giving me emergency information in case I needed help while he was away. This I found incredibly humorous. The only person that knows where our house is located is also out of the country in the Philippines. If I needed help, I would call these other random acquaintances and what… tell them as I lay bleeding and unconscious the directions to my home? As a person who takes many precautions (yes, I am dripping with sarcasm), I didn’t mention this sooner so no one would rush to their local United Air counters, buy a $1,200 ticket, jump on a plane, fly 15 hours and do me in. Seriously, I do realize there is a need to be safe when writing about your life on the internet, but somehow I think it just may be a bit too much for anyone to go through that kind of hassle for little old me.

It’s remarkable how quickly people adjust to their situations. At the beginning of the week, I was out and about exploring a different part of the area and wanted so much to call someone and tell them all of the things I am seeing. Of course, since I only have one person I can call and ramble out nonsense (in this country, I mean – love my friends who ramble as much as I do back home but also can’t call you in the middle of the day as that is the middle of your night and I can just imagine the pleasant corollary I would receive) and he wasn’t around, I got pretty lonely and depressed. It made the country of Japan a whole lot bigger and me a whole lot smaller in a matter of seconds. Tuesday was spent with Atlanta, whose husband was also away with mine, and it made the day so much nicer and me not to feel so forlorn. Wednesday I have my class so it is generally an errand day and nothing seemed unusual. Thursday, I was totally at peace with being on my own and spent the day with Tony Soprano and doing things around the house. Then of course today, I needed to clean the house up, buy groceries, plan for dinner and start acting like a wife again. How quickly the week passed, and with it all of my emotion about being alone and a little scared.

The perks of this past week:
Sleeping in
Staying up late
Spending a whole day in my pj's
Peanut Butter M&Ms for breakfast – every day
Oreo’s and Kraft Mac ‘n Cheese for lunch
Chef Boyardee Pizza for dinner
Nutty Bars morning, noon and night (KH is a healthy eater mostly and would die if I ate all this crap in front of him) (Damn it was good)
Shopping and not having to sneak the bags in and hide them in the closet
Not washing dishes for a whole week!
No laundry for a week!
Listening to the IPod as loud as I want
Having complete clicker control
Living it up as a bachelor essentially, a very unhealthy one

The downside:
Things that went bump in the night (I searched closets looking for the Boogeyman for a half hour the first night)
Taking the trash out every stinking morning
Only having the scent of Kimono Hubby on his pillow to remind me that I am not alone in this world

While the downside looks like it is a much less significant list and that I prefer being alone and living like a guy, the meaning behind it is by far filled with more love than one can imagine. I’d even give up the Nutty Bars if he asked me to! (Just not the peanut butter M&Ms, God, please.) I’m so glad he comes home tonight.

Wednesday, September 27

Ikebana Arrangement #5

Just when I was starting to feel confident about Ikebana, Sensei decides to shake things up. I am now learning my second style of design, Slanting. While this immediately sent me into panic mode and I mustered one of those deer-in-the-headlights looks, I am feeling more secure in the class and no longer mind speaking up to say I don't understand... an improvement over my previous behavior of sinking down in my chair as low as possible and hoping I was actually changing my colors to blend in with the scenery enough that I could crawl out of the room without further notice.

Of course, after a fifteen minute lecture in Japanese, I still wasn't sure I understood the style but it seemed like such a wonderful speech that I went ahead and gave it a try.

The result... Sensei said it was beautiful and one of the advanced students said she would never believe the creator was a beginner. These people obviously will accept anything.

Slanting Style - Arrangement #5

Tuesday, September 26

Doing It City Style

My friend Atlanta and I had planned to meet up and head to Tokyo and spend the day shopping. Downpours beginning at 9 dissuaded us from this plan. As I have mentioned before, there is always something us waiting just around the corner. Instead of Tokyo and the world of outdoor knockoff markets, we left the 'country' and drove to Yokohama for some serious upscale shopping. We spent the day doning our umbrellas to run from one mall to another. I even bought several Christmas presents! In our haste to get to the next buildings, I kept trying to capture the beauty of Yokohama, even in the misty, hard rain, while holding an umbrella against fierce wind that threatened to turn it inside out like so many discarded umbrellas we saw along the sidewalk.

The area of Yokohama we were in is called Minato Mirai 21 (MM21) and includes the famous Landmark Tower. That's the tall building that shrinks in as it reaches up into the sky. Atlanta and I discussed the fact that we have no idea why this building is so famous. But it is. And so I saw it. As I was curious as to the novelty of it, I did some research and it turns out it is the tallest building in Japan.

Huh. Cool.

Moving on... the area called MM21 was previously an area of large shipbuilding docks and port facilities. Approximately two decades ago, an attempt was successfully made to reclaim the land and the open space next to the bay for this "mega development" project that would revitalize Yokohama into the metropolitan city you see today.

This area has a little bit of something for everyone... the businessman in their amazing skyscraping office buildings, the rich housewives with their fancy malls, and the young crowd in search of the best culture and cuisine. (We, of course, ate at the Kirin Beer House. We grunt at culture.) There is even an amusement park in this area that includes the striking ferris wheel, "Cosmo Clock 21" which you have probably seen in a picture or two. Interesting statistics about the clock: it's 369 feet tall and 328 feet in diameter; each of the 60 cars seats 8 people which means 480 people at max capacity; it takes 15 minutes to go around once and on the weekends there is usual about an hour wait. We did not take advantage of the rides due to fear of becoming one of those statistics you here about on the Discovery Channel where two American chicks bit it in front of a surprised audience when the ferris wheel rolled off its stand and into the Yokohama bay during a particularly typhoon-like day. Nor did we choose a ride on the roller coaster. In fact, crossing the bridge was enough of a ride when the wind and rain picked me up and sent me Mary Poppins-ing down the street.

Honestly, it was a perfect and beautiful rainy day. And night. And my face still hurts from laughing.

It IS That Bad

Photographic evidence. See! Now I need the Aniston tan and maybe I wouldn't look so ghastly. And so very sad.

Monday, September 25

That's What You Get

Every twelve weeks, one could find me heading to the nearest salon to rebrighten my blonde coif. Back home in Virginia, this appointment cost me almost $250 including tip. I feared what would become of my hair once I got here. Turns out, I had every single right for that concern.

My first visit to a salon here cost me $165, including tip. While that is not as much as I was spending previously, it is more than I can budget when I no longer have a job and therefore do not contribute much more than my beauty to the good of the household. Not only that, but for that much money, you seriously could not tell that I had just highlighted my hair. There was a bit more sheen there but those pesky dark blonde roots still glared angrily at me at over an inch and a half off my head. I'm just not into the ghetto look. Steps had to be taken.

Going back to the salon and doing it again was apparently not going to do me any good if highlights aren't really highlights. After years of having my hair highlighted, I felt that I was surely an expert on how to do it as I have - like 'watched', you know. I bought the kit, went home and died away.

And oh my God did I die. A little inside. Bimbo bright blonde is what I got! There were highlights all right... as in on my entire head. And a friend mentioned something about hot spots... now I know what they are. My initial take was that if my hair was down, it wasn't so bad. A little on the fakey gold side but doable. And if I just actually styled my hair for the next month instead of being the slacker babe that I am and tying it into a knot on top of my head every day, I might be able to get away with it. Only when it is up like that do I look like a leopard. I asked Kimono Hubby nicely (read: badgered) what he honestly thought and he said it wasn't bad, just very blonde. So I left it. I mean, he's still thinks I'm hotness, so we're moving on!

Then we were out running an errand last night and I just FELT the stares.

"The staring at my hair!!!" I hissed.

"No one is looking at you," as if I can't turn heads.

I huffed and puffed and finally dragged him into the hair product aisle without his knowledge. He tried to run when he saw where we were but I caught him by his ankles and forced two boxes up towards his face.

Pleading... "Which do you like better... the natural neutral blonde darker shade like Jennifer Aniston or the pale golden shade like Reese Witherspoon????" I think I was even shrieking... only a little.

After all day harassment about the dead hairs I have on my head, to say he was annoyed would be an injustice to his true position.

"DARK, dammit!" And off he ran in the direction of the book department. He later confessed that he still didn't care but he knew he could escape if he just said something... anything. I hate being shut up.

But I had my answer! Now that I had it, well... I just wasn't so sure he was right. And I debated it the whole way to the counter, at dinner, driving home, going to bed. I just don't understand why he gets so upset when I just want to have a simple 9-hour long conversation with him.

Just about to drift off last night, I actually decided that maybe the hair wasn't so bad after all of my fretting. I would leave it.

Oh, but life is never so simple when you are me.

I was out hat shopping this afternoon. Hat after hat I looked in the mirror and I realized the horror that truly was my hair. And how it didn't match a single hat! Empty handed, I stomped back to the car, headed straight for home, and got out that box of dark goodness.

Oh, yes - I did.

The result... blaaaah. DARK blonde. Now I am Team Aniston all the way, but I just can't do her hair. Did you know this is my natural hair color? No one has seen it for years and years. I know God gave me this hair color and all but it just isn't right! I have corrected it all these years without telling him... because who am I to judge his decisions? Yet here I am again, right back where he wanted me.

I'm honestly so horrified with myself and my fried hair and what I have just done (twice, dumbass!) that I can't even bare to show you a picture yet. I won't even look in a mirror - it's that un-me.

For the love of God! Someone find me a hair stylist anywhere near Tokyo who can do my blonde hair and make it look pretty like it used to! I'm giving it three weeks and then I am flying back to my hairstylist in Alexandria.

Ok, maybe not. But I'm going to threaten it a lot.

And the next time I talk to ANYONE back home, I am having them make me a hair appointment for Christmas. At least once a year, I'm going to look normal.

Gold Stars To All The Fine Japanese Drivers Out There

It has now been 64 days since I have been a resident in Japan. Only today did I see my first accident. Quite unprecedented coming from the DC area. I have found that people here are seriously courteous, patient and safe drivers. Today’s accident was not one you would even call bad. One truck, stuck on the steel railing with no other cars involved. No ambulances. Nothing but the shock of seeing an accident as if I haven’t seen one before. Quite amazing when you take into consideration how narrow and crowded the roads are and that on any given one block stretch you will wave your way around pedestrians, bicycles, motorbikes, parked cars, tiny dogs, poles and other cars. I even once had to work my way around a registered and insured 4-wheeler. That’s something you just won’t see back home. And with all of this going on, every single person is constantly looking out for every single other person around them, never turning their eyes away from taking in the entire scene in front, behind and beside them for one minute. Amazing, yes? I think all Americans should come here and not that aggressive driving out of them. I never thought it would happen to me but you would be flabbergasted to find that I have come to drive like a safe little granny-type. Yet only a month ago, I thought they were nuts to give me a license to drive. The one who listened to Disturbed when she drove in DC because it helped make her more aggressive. Smart.

Of course, there are others in the household who haven’t yet left their DC gangster roots behind, but I’m sure my nagging will help that. Surely. Doesn't it always?

Wake Up! Or It's Slice And Dice For You!

Traveling back down Blue Street last night (nicknamed that because of the blue stones embedded in the street), after eating one of the hottest meals I have ever let pass my lips at our favorite Thai place (we ordered medium hot and I think we should stick with the mild hot… at least at this place where they are very chili heavy-handed) (notice I am rather big on the parenthesis today?) (What’s up with that?), we passed a souvenir shop that I have often window shopped at. They carry kokeshi dolls, watches, clocks and various other small chintzes. As I glanced in the window, this time my eyes fell upon something new! Something exciting! A Samurai alarm clock! It was love at first Samurai sighting. Seeing the sale price, Kimono Hubby okayed my obvious whimsy and after spending the next few moments jumping up and down, I ran in to purchase my prize.

For the first time ever, my new alarm clock went off this morning and I didn’t grumble. Not even the tiniest bit! I laughed! My Samurai clock had started playing its very loud and triumphant horn music, said something to me in Japanese (which I am hoping wasn’t anything crude.) (But then again, what do I care if I don’t understand it?) (It somehow makes whatever it is saying okay when you haven't a clue what that is, doesn’t it?) Clearly off track today… when he stopped speaking, I could unmistakably hear the swish-swish-swish of his Samurai sword as he announced it was time for me to “Wake up! Or I’ll slash you like you were sushi!”

Coolest. Clock. Evah.

Sunday, September 24

Looking For Your Religion?

Who knew?! The Jehovah's Witness are alive and doing quite well here in Japan!

I was sitting down to write out thank you cards when our doorbell rang. I pressed the intercom and said "konnichiwa" and got a stream of Japanese back at me. I said "wait a minute, kudasai" (yes, I mix English and Japanese constantly) and went to the door. The minute she realized I wasn't from around these parts, she summoned her husband over who was working the other side of the street. He asked if I knew of Jehovah's Witness from America and I said yes. He put away the Japanese booklet he had and pulled out his only English copy and handed it to me. He then asked if I would like a visit once a month. I said that I would first rather read the information.

Now before you ask... no. I do not want to become a Jehovah's Witness. But I do like a good read. Plus, I am always curious about other religions... particularly those that seem so out of place in the land of the rising sun.

But if any of my fellow neighbors here are interested, I can point the people at my doorstep to yours. You just let me know.

Saturday, September 23

I Think I Prefer The Electric Guitar

Thursday was my initial event with the Ikebana International Kamakura Chapter. We met as a group and took a train to Daibutsu for the performance. This gave me my first opportunity to talk with other members and maybe make some friends. All of the members were much older than myself, so it looks like while I will enjoy learning new aspects of Japanese culture with this group, I don’t see myself meeting any new BFFs.

When we arrived at the event, it was quickly recognized that the Americans I had come with were about it for the day. The entire room was filled with Japanese women dressed in elegant kimono or fancy suits. I knew to dress up but we were told that we would be sitting traditionally Japanese style so avoid any short skirts. Shoes were removed to enter the tatami room where the performance would take place and placed in a shoe cabinet. Women wandered here and there either barefoot or in their hosiery.

The only seats left when we arrived were in the first four rows… cushions spread along the floor where you kneel down and then sit back on your legs underneath of you. For Japanese women who have practiced this seating their entire lives, this position is not a challenge. For the Americans, they understood that we are just not comfortable that way. An effort is to be made to perhaps keep your legs folded to the side and if you absolutely can’t Indian style will work but you will never find a Japanese woman sitting that way. I try to observe the customs here and initially sat in the proper Japanese way. After twenty minutes however, my legs began to go numb and I, along with the rest of the Americans, squirmed myself into various positions throughout the two hour performance. I fared better than some. Many Americans had to take extra time to uncrumple themselves and get their legs to again stand and support themselves.

Biwa is a type of Japanese string instrument, similar to a guitar. There are two types, one called Heike-Biwa and the other slightly larger one on the right, Satsuma Biwa. Biwa performances are rare these days as it is an old art form and as so many things, just not practiced by the younger generations.

Meet Kakusho Nakamura. He is either 83 or 93-years-old, comments were made with regards to both, and became a Biwa performing artist through skills taught by his grandfather. He speaks English and has widely travelled, sharing his talent with people in China, Australia and the United States. He is also an author and has written several works on the anthology of Satsuma Biwa. He was very eager to share his understanding of what Biwa is with us and mixed both Japanese and English into his description. There was an interpreter who also shared parts that weren’t entirely clear which was very helpful as his accent was often thick and the English wasn’t always recognizable at first.

With seats only in the very front rows, that hadn’t left us with much of a choice. We choose the second row but after the first row didn’t fill, the Japanese women encouraged us to move up to the first row and make ourselves comfortable. (How in the hell, may I ask??) Once Mr. Nakamura was explaining Biwa to us, he would often look down at the person directly in front of him… ME… and give me the head nod that ‘yes, I am understanding all of this.’ Of course I didn’t. But I nodded anyway.

Mr. Nakamura began the performance using the Heike-Biwa and seated Indian style with the Biwa resting on his lap similar to a guitar. Once the performance began, I honestly feared for a spell that this was all I would be hearing on this day. The best way to describe the sound of this performance was that it was relatively like an Indian chanting and interspersing it with plucking a chord that made a strained, high twang sound followed by the clap of wood on wood when the bachi (large, pick-like device) struck the Biwa after each chord. For an untrained ear, this performance was relatively slow and completely impossible to follow. The paper explaining it told us that we were listening to “The Tale of the Heike,” a story about the rise and the fall of the five generations of the Taira clan that lasted for about seventy years. I honestly got about none of it. And I wasn’t the only one left slightly bewildered.

Once the performance was finished (we knew because others started clapping), he picked up the other Biwa, the Satsuma Biwa, changed his seated position to one like the women around him because this Biwa is larger and needs more room. He still plays it similar to a guitar but with an even larger bachi, that he had handmade and told us was the largest in the world. As there is no one to dispute this, we gave him his dues.

This performance was much more likeable. The sound was the same but the message was faster and there was more to the chords after he paused in his chanting. The first part of the story with this instrument was another story about rivalry and the second, he retold Shakepeare’s Macbeth. As this was something I have read and understand, it actually made that part extremely enjoyable and I understood much more how the music told the story without even understanding all of the words. Isn’t that how opera works too? I swear I remember learning that from Pretty Woman.

So ended the performance and it was time for lunch. We were served traditional obento boxes, a cookie called a raisin-wich which would knock your socks off and water or tea. The obento box had two layers, one with about 15 to 20 different bite-sized pieces of food, of which I only recognized three! A snap pea, a piece of carrot and one shrimp. Oh, and I recognized some egg too. The rest, well… I tried it all and still couldn’t tell you what it was I ate. Some pieces I ate the whole thing and others I only had that first initial bite before calling it quits. The saving grace was that the bottom part of the obento was filled with rice, of which I ate every morsel, coming this close to licking the box. Eating is always an experience here. You just never know what you may get.

Lunch ended, a fundraising auction was held, and we used the Japanese facilities and then made our way back to the train. Every single one of us looking forward very much to next month’s event.

Coming Off My Cold Med High

I have so much to tell you, dear internet! Unfortunately, I came down with a nasty cold/flu bug on Thursday (thanks to my friend's adorable babies - which I may or may not still have the fever for after they sneezed their mucous-filled noses on me multiple times on Tuesday) and spent the past two days moaning and groaning from my bed while Kimono Hubby took extra special care of me. He even made my favorite cup o' soup... with extra noodles! I then proceeded to disperse of said soup but it was the thought that counts. I'm a horrible patient. (That drinking plenty of fluids crap... grrr.)

After two days I feel alive again and can even sit up straight and play on the internet. Of course, the cold meds still have a fierce grip on my brain so writing anything worthwhile is out of the question.

Coming soon... Biwa performance! By a 93-year-old partially deaf, constantly grinning, amazing and talented Japanese man! Pictures to be included.

Wednesday, September 20

Ikebana Arrangement #4

Moribana Upright - Arrangement #4

Life's A Beach

The attempt was made to go to the Hayama Modern Art Museum. Sadly, it was closed. On Tuesday. We don’t know why. There is a theory that it could be because the previous day was Monday and a Japanese holiday. Museums are usually closed on Mondays but open on holidays. So they may have closed Tuesday instead. Just a theory though.

Never will a day be a total wash here in this yet undiscovered land for me because there is always something right around the corner to see and do instead. We just calmly turned and left the museum parking lot and headed to the beach. And Denny’s!

Denny’s is nothing like back home. It’s nice! Perched on the ocean and a wraparound balcony to sit on, enjoy your meal and take in Hayama’s loveliness. And parking there is free if you eat there… which my friend and I took full advantage of. To get down to the beach was only a short walk away; and it was absolutely breathtaking. Of course, any beach is the perfect place for me. You just can’t go wrong when staring out at the vastness of the ocean and smelling the salty, green air. You just get… lost.

Not surprisingly, there was a shrine. On the beach. A gorgeous shrine of which a traditionally dressed couple came out carrying the smallest baby wrapped in their kimono. I can only assume that they were performing some sort of baptismal ritual. After they passed, we removed our shoes, threw in some change for an offering, rang the bell, clapped three times (all of which are rituals when entering a shrine) and then passed into the room. The ocean breeze blew threw the room as we took a seat facing the altar. Not surprisingly, my friend and I do not practice Shinto so we didn’t stay long. We didn’t want to disturb the sanctity of the room. We said hello to a priest (not sure if that is the correct word actually) and then went on towards the cliff and down the steps onto the beach.

The beach is purely broken shell which was often difficult to walk on. Note the torii out in the water. And a lighthouse to guard sailors away from the rough shores. Once we found a spot to sit and just enjoy the view for a bit, I quickly forgot about the difficult walk across it. After rolling my boot cut jeans up as goofy as possible, I put my toes into the ocean for the first time on this side of the world. The water was perfect. Warm and purifying to the psyche. I can’t honestly say that we didn’t do much there but simply sat and talked and breathed in the ocean.

I could have stayed there all day.

My skin on the other hand could not. Darn my father for passing along Irish blood. Within fifteen minutes, my next was getting bright red, forcing us back to the shade of the tree line away from the jagged shore and its white-tipped, Pacific waves.

It was actually rather difficult to find an appropriate amount of shade as the trees have seen their years of weather beatings. They slanted hard in the unforgiving wind and the needles of the pines grew like a flat top high above.

Lunch time was approaching so we headed back to our car and Denny’s. Like I said, this is very different from the place back home that I will only eat at in the dead of the night when I am too drunk to care. The menu had about six burger type foods, none in buns, with various sides from French fries to rice to Japanese vegetables. There were also traditional Japanese meals on the menu. I opted for the shredded pork with ginger on top of cabbage that came with miso soup and rice. We enjoyed a fabulous tasting meal at a place previously shunned, while watching the ocean battering the shoreline below and hiding under the safety of an umbrella. Denny’s may be my new favorite spot. (Just please God never let them put the ‘Moons Over My Hammy’ on the menu.)

Back to the car with our validated parking ticket and a new respect for Denny’s, we headed home. Got a little lost, but eventually found our way back.

I just don’t know what to do with myself. This life seems to be getting rougher and rougher.

If Japan keeps treating me this way, they may force me never to leave. Kidding, Mommy!

Tuesday, September 19

Beautiful Possessions, Beautiful People

Maybe I can't buy clothes here because I can't fit them, but no one said I couldn't fit into... furniture! (HAHAHA for those of you who will really get this as a joke! Sick-o's.)

This past weekend there was another furniture fundraising sale (they happen about every other weekend). This one being held for the Red Cross and I did indeed help set up for the sale. Which meant that I got to check out everything first!

Prices were dropped on Sunday and look it this pretty little cabinet that practically jumped into my box car, begging to go home with me. It is not actually a Japanese piece as one would expect I would buy living in Japan (don't worry... not done yet), but instead a replica of a cabinet from the Ching Dynasty of China's highly respected history.

It is a wood stained very dark, almost black and then painted with a yellow background and red and gold butterfly accents. I absolutely fell in love with it.

It reminds me of my dear aunt who sadly left my life too quickly. She had a love of butterflies. For the rest of my life, I will never forget that. Or her. Any time I see one, painted or just fluttering about, I am reminded of the wonderful presence she was in my life. It's almost like she is reaching down and touching my soul. Did you ever love and admire and respect someone so much that you will just never be able to let them go, even when they are gone and have been for a very long time?

On top of the cabinet, if you look very carefully, you will see another cherished possession. A lavendar painted music box from my mother with butterflies on it. It plays "Wind Beneath My Wings" and makes me cry when I play it.

There aren't many things I will drag around the world on my adventures. But these two will always have a seat right beside me on the plane. Along with the memories of the beautiful people behind behind them.

Monday, September 18

Off The Path In Zushi

The heavy rains ceased around 1:30 pm. I quickly grabbed my shoes and headed for the door, remembering an umbrella as it most certainly was not done for the day. I walked up the main street cutting through Zushi and done the shopping street. I had seen an antique shop and a pottery store some time ago that I had been wanting to visit. I also needed to pick up something to make for dinner while I was out, making the trip not only fun but productive lest anyone think I’m not working hard enough. I went to the shops and found many beautiful things. Not surprisingly, everything was very expensive and it ended up to be a window shopping trip only. (See, I really have improved!)

As I left the shops behind and headed back towards the butcher, I recalled that there was a shrine not far away that I had yet to visit. Altering courses, I headed in the direction I knew would find a rather large Shinto shrine.

To enter a shrine in Japan, one passes under a torii gate which designates that you have crossed onto holy ground… from the physical world to the spiritual world. The gate is sometimes the only indicator that you have entered a shrine.

I passed under the torii and found myself in a quiet, park-like area. There was a man on the path ahead sweeping up the fruits of the trees that had fallen but otherwise the area was empty. I slowly walked around, snapping pictures of the scene and noted that a few more people came into the shrine but all passed quickly out the other side, using it as a shortcut and barely noticing the beauty to their left and right. One man came in carrying his tiny, baby daughter, climbed the steps to the shrine, rang the bell and said a very quick prayer before leaving again.

As I walked around the park, the man who was sweeping came up to me and asked if I spoke Japanese. I of course cannot but he announced that his English was very bad in almost perfect English (they are always so modest). He told me that the last time he studied English was 60 years ago. He also shared that this was his favorite shrine and he visits there every day at 5:30 a.m. and then again in the evening to sweep and clean the area. I’m thinking that he is not a paid employee but really just loves this shrine and does it out of the good of his heart. How amazing.

He shared that the name of the shrine was Kameca Oka Hachiman and when I asked that he spell it, he used a stick and wrote it in the dirt. So the spelling may be off slightly as I tired to copy down quickly what was already drying and disappearing at my feet. I learned that the shrine was built about 1925 and it is a shrine to the hero of the turtle. Flanking the shrine steps are two turtles of which I can’t remember what the Japanese word he shared with me. He also showed me two statues and called them kami inu. Inu means dog and I thought I understood kami to mean Korean but now I am thinking he meant the god-like figure of the Shinto religion. Either way, it was lovely to have someone take the time to work at explaining the beauty around me and not just avoiding me because of his concern for his English speaking skills. I hope to see him again some day soon.

Unfortunately, I had an appointment with a butcher and had to be on my way and leave this spiritual place behind.

I simply cannot explain the beauty of having these shrines sprinkled throughout the cities here in Japan. If one can’t find serenity here, you just aren’t keeping your eyes open.

Sunday, September 17

Rain, Rain, Go Away, Come Again Another Year

Why is it that every time I plan a day where I am going to walk through this beautiful town, do a little shopping at the market and then hit the antique store, that I wake up to the sound of thunderous rain on the roof? Oh, yeah. Second rainy season everyone neglected to mention until it actually arrived.

No umbrella can stop the white sheet of rain that blankets Zushi these days.

Saturday, September 16

Where The Chanting Of "Su-MO, Su-MO, Su-MO" Would Not Go Over Well

On the train to the Sumo Tournament in Tokyo yesterday, I was reminded how much I had to make up for from the last trip I had planned. I still refuse to take full credit for the fiasco that was but I did feel it was important to get us there this time. Considering eight other people were relying of the directions I had given them, and they were all traveling on separate trains as they had missed getting to the meeting point on time. When we actually walked out of the underground subway and found we were in the right place, I received my due praise and have since redeemed myself.

As we walked the short distance to Ryogoku Kokugikan Stadium, we passed many of the outdoor festivities including a small band of boys who were banging on a drum. When we first heard it, we thought they were just playing, but as we got closer, we realized that the odd, slow dum-dum-dum melody was actually being played in a form. We passed what I thought was a beggar although he certainly wasn’t dressed the way I expected for a day spent with a tin cup or bowl in his case. Kimono Hubby guessed he was a monk. But why would a monk beg? We may never know.

As we arrived at the main gate, the sidewalks were lined with people waiting to catch a glimpse of their favorite wrestlers of the day. Of course, since we have no experience with Sumo and no nothing of who anyone is, nor could we read the brilliantly colored long flags that line the pathway telling us the names of today’s champions, we just meandered into the gate to find our seats.

After some small directional help to the right door to enter, we found our seats and took our first look around at our surroundings. On the lowest floor are the priciest seats with some of them hundreds of dollars. For that much money, we were actually glad to be in the cheap seats which are actual chairs. The pricey floor seats are the traditional Japanese pillow on the floor style. I can’t imagine spending a whole day (yes, those crazy Sumo dudes begin their tournament at 8 am and end at 6 pm) with my legs wrapped under me. The walls are lined with pictures of the grand champions which we all desperately wished we could read.

The less experienced wrestlers go first with the bigger and better wrestlers after lunch and the very best around 4 pm. We arrived around 1:45, took in the scene, watched a few of these lesser matches and then went in search of whatever grub they serve at these things.

The first stand we saw was your traditional American type… French fries, hamburgers, hotdogs and then some things that were meant to be American but the names frankly grossed me out so much that I blocked much of those moments out of my memory. A little further, we found what we were looking for. A stand filled with bento boxes and Japanese beeru. On the other side of the stand were the usual trinkets you find at any sporting event including keychains, mugs with Sumo positions, towels, signed characatures, chocolates shaped as Sumo, cookies shaped as Sumo. Okay, maybe not so much with the usual. We just picked out our bento boxes (the Americans you see are indeed with us), beerus and headed back to our seats to start the show. (Would you care to share a bento? Not Mentos... bento!)

While I do not understand everything about Sumo, this is what I can tell you. The first wrestlers of the day are hustled through, one match after the other with no delay in between. There must have been close to twenty matches in the first set and another twenty of the better wrestlers in a second set. As they come out to be introduced, they line up and come from two sides of the stadium, wearing beautifully colored ceremonial aprons which are discarded to leave behind only the silk loin clothes. These do indeed leave little to the imagination.

Matches tend to last only seconds. As the wrestlers get better, there is more pomp and circumstance prior to wrestling. They enter dohyo (ring), they face one other, pull the beaded strings from their loin cloth out of the way, sink down, bang their big knuckles on the lines in front of them, get up, lift themselves onto leg with the other out (the higher, the better), slap their heavy, muscular, wobbling thigh with a significant sound, repeat the same on the other leg, leave the ring, get some chalk, throw it (the crowd goes wild – but a polite wild), go back to the starting positions and do that several times until the crowd urges them on with cheers to start the match.

Cheering is very different than at home. It is quietly done… lots of oohs and aahs and clapping, a bit of the name yelling, but mostly you just sit rather quietly and take in this fine sport. We found one group of people in the entire stadium that help up a banner for their favorite. Not your typical American event with people painting their bodies in ghastly colors and screaming out obscenities but we found ourselves throwing in our own football commentary and cracking ourselves up. Yes, we covered our mouths so as not to laugh too loudly and impolitely.

Winning was pretty easy to figure out. Either you must force your opponent out of the small ring or you must force any part of them besides the soles of their feet to touch the ground. With only about a five meter wide ring, there isn’t much room for error which is why the matches are so short.

I personally love the chalk throwing part. As the wrestlers got better, they threw it higher and higher. It was such a taunt and I found myself feeling very bad for the ‘taunter’ if they lost their thirty second fight after all of their initial hoopla.

The best fight was when two wrestlers came out, had each other on the edge of the rim, both had legs straight out in the air, and then both fell off the meter high ring platform, legs still out and landed with a massive thud on the side of the dohyo, taking a few people out with them. Wow. That had to hurt.

When the wrestlers are done with their match of the day, some would wander around the arena. They were happy to let you take a picture with them and I even caught two enjoying an ice cream cone together. (He caught me right as I was snapping... so I ran away before he picked me up and threw me down, Sumo-style, into the Souvenir stand.)

While we were expecting quite a ceremony at the end, what we got was the final winning wrestler of the day being presented with a sword. He did some type of dance which resembled much of the stretching prior to each match and then headed out of the ring. That was it. One minute tops. Not what we expected when we were told to make sure we stayed for the ceremony. Incredulously we waited, but that really was it. When the workers came out and started removing the pillow seats and sweep up, we reluctantly headed out of the stadium.

It was an amazing thing to see though. We were left very hungry at this point as it was dinnertime. A handful of us caught a train to a part of Tokyo called Roppongi which is where all the good clubs and restaurants are. It looked like Times Square with its screaming lighted advertisements on every building. We found ourselves a really good Indian place to eat called Moti. After filling up on samosas, vindaloo, mutton, butter chicken, basmati rice and two types of nan, we stumbled with our full stomachs back to the train for the ride home. Kimono Hubby and I were completely exhausted and so happy to find that this time we just happened to catch the right trains quickly and were home in only an hour and a half. We didn’t have to switch at every other train which was greatly appreciated. Neither of us were up to figuring anything out by that point. It sure isn’t the Metro they’ve got going on here. But in time, I think we will get it.

Friday, September 15

Big Dumb Dummy Dumb-Dumb

Am really dumb. Sometimes. So I was typing the previous post all nice and pretty like when I accidentally deleted the whole stinking blog. Yep. Dumb. It took me a little while but I figured out where it went and I got it back up and running. All while you lay snuggled in your beds.

Then a funny thing... while I was putting it back, I discovered what the problem was with the comments for the past month. Yes, I ignored the problem for a whole month and only fixed it now because I happened to come across the answer. Haaa.

So I sincerely apologize and appreciate every single one of them! I read them all and I even wrote a few responses.

Sorry for my ineptitude but the problem has been fixed. Well, kind of. You see, am still incompetent. Actually, that isn't the only problem. I have to publish comments myself so they won't automatically show up when you enter it. I can't figure out why just yet but I will work on it... maybe next month. But I promise not to block your comment unless you call me a dummy. Because only KH can get away with that without losing teeth.

Write away, my friends!

Seasons and Change

Last week the heat could have fried an egg on the pavement.

Come Monday, it started to rain. Every day. Heavy. Sheets of rain pouring over the mountains in front of our house. It would stop around 3 pm and things would dry off as best as the atmosphere would allow, only to start the cycle again just before sunrise. With the rain came air as cold and damp as you would have expected in early April. People shuffled down the narrow streets holding their umbrellas over them, fighting the wind, all bundled into long rain coats and extra layers. The difference in temperature was simply unbelievable.

It stopped raining on Thursday afternoon and by Friday the skies were clear again. The sun arose with the fierceness of the past month and I expected the temperatures to rebound to their previous swelter.

That didn’t end up to be the case.

And it seems that their will not be an Indian summer like those of my past. This is the time back home that people see the leaves begin to change their color, but nothing of that sort is happening so far here. Expect the air. While that sun does its best to scorch down on you as it has been doing, there is a new wind that blows with its own ferocity, rivaling the energy of the sun.

I took a walk along the ocean today and could feel the change on my ears with the thud, thud, thudding of the wind in them. No longer the soft ocean breeze it was just a short few weeks ago. This new wind comes from miles away, where storms fight their way over the Pacific towards us, and eventually force themselves hard onto the coastline with accompanying mighty waves that crash with more force than I had seen before, leaving a fine, cold mist on your face. The new wind that blows over the shoreline tries hard to push me back away from its shores, as if trying to prove it will soon be threatening us with winter.

As I walk away from the water’s edge, the sun again forces it rays past the wind’s menace until the two manage to find their perfect, temperate balance with one another.

And thus begins that favorite time of year of mine. Where you pull out your cozy sweaters and lap blankets and curl up with a hot tea.

It seems so strange that this year there will be no bright yellow maple and deep red oak leaves falling at my feet to kick aside as I walk down the uneven, brick sidewalks of home. There will be no pumpkins on front porches and Indian corn to hang on the door honoring this favored season.

Home. This is the time of year I think the most about home. When I can reminisce into a deep reverie… listen to country music without feeling any burning embarrassment… or just sit and breathe in the scent of the trees as they shed their crinkled, summer weathered leaves.

As the years change, I seem to have a new place to live almost every year. It makes me constantly re-evaluate what home is… and where it really lies. I don’t know if I will ever find the right answer.

For now, it’s simply the time to drink in this latest home. And time to discover what is sure to be the perfect fall in a far off, eastern world.

Wednesday, September 13

Trying Hard to Buy A Friend Or Two

One of the biggest challenges I have faced since I moved here is making new friends. Because I have such great ones back home! Really the very best! You all have set the bar at the tippy top.

You’re right… enough with the sucking up. I do love you. But not enough to make myself gag.

Seriously, it has been very hard to meet people. Plus, I am a bit off-the-wall and sometimes don’t leave people with the best first impression. I have been told this time and again before and will likely hear it again. It’s something that I have come to terms with and doesn't hurt my feelings at all. (Nope, I no longer cry at night... not at all... not really... ok... just not much.) Before I moved here, I remember one comment in particular, "they’re gonna hate you.” Yes, those were the words exactly. I thought about that a lot. While I refuse to change who I am or pretend I am something that I am not, I did at least try to tone the myself-ness down a bit.

Now that I am a better version of myself (or at least appear so to the untrained eye), where do I meet these exciting, new friends?

Today there was a welcoming event for all of the groups that you can get involved with while here in Japan. I had talked with a lot of people before going to this and had an idea of what groups I was interested in. I want a group who is interested in travel, learning something new, making new friends… just plain interested in the experience of living in a foreign land and not doing it alone. There was only one group that met those requirements. Maybe not totally but it is closer than nothing at all.

And so I dropped some yen and am now a member of the Ikebana International Kamakura Chapter. And that is how you buy a friend, my friend.

You say - I am already in Ikebana? Well, Ikebana International is actually about Ikebana. When the organization was established, it certainly was. But now… well, not so much. There is honestly just not that much interest in Ikebana to have a whole group thing. I mean, there are only seven people in my weekly class, and that is including me. I totally know what you are thinking… how could they not be interested?

The organization meets once a month for a social event and lunch. The first event is next week and I am already signed up. It is a Biwa performance at Daibutsu (The Great Buddha - for those of you who aren’t paying attention). No, I don’t know what Biwa is. But the pictures from last year looked really cool, dude, so like, I’m totally there. I’ll let you know next week what it actually is. Unless you are not as lazy as I am and look it up on the internet now. Then would you tell me, pretty please?

Other cultural events include:
An couple of Ikebana shows – surprise, surprise
Embassy visits in Tokyo
Japanese dance performances – last year it snowed and the pictures were so amazing. Must remember to do a snow dance for this year…
A Hawaiian Luau & a Christmas party
Indigo Dying & Tsumugi weaving – cannot wait for that one actually, when I learn what a tsumugi is. Love that word... tsumugi. Rolls off the tongue.

All this and I get to make a friend or two! Well. Hopefully. If they don’t hate me.

Oh, man… I’ve got to quit already.

Monday, September 11


God Bless each and every brave and honorable person that lost their life on September 11, 2001.

God Bless each and every family or friend that lost someone on that still unbelievable day.

God Bless each and every American for having hope and for never letting go of it.

I will never forget.

Future Franchising A Definite Possibility

The hot has returned outside. For the past few weeks, I thought that heatwave was broken. It was back with a vengeance this weekend however. This didn't keep us away from our favorite yakitori place. Do you remember the one I told you about? The tiny room where the smoke from the grill fills the place? (Note the smoke stack that sends smoke out directly over the door... where it comes right back in.) Well, we are completely addicted and have been going almost weekly now. We have tried many other yakitori stands but the one in Yokosuka is by far the stand out number. Saturday night, we hopped on a train and headed there for a nice, fancy, romantic dinner. This time, I brought the camera. Miki, the friendly yakitori-griller girl, recognized us right away and handed us our appetizers, something like bruschetta but with more kick. We ordered draft beers (you never ask what kind of beer it is and I'm not sure they would know even if you did). A first at and they asked us small or large. I assumed we have always ordered large in the past. Oh, how very wrong I was. The beer was bigger than my head. But as the night was bordering on unbearable, those big mugs were a sight.

We ordered a large amount of yakitori, everything from the quail eggs to pepper to tomato to pork belly and back to the quail eggs. Miki started grilling away as the place got more and more filled with the smoky haze. We sat and watched her work and pondered the possibility of opening our own yakitori stand back home some day. I'm sure the United States government would totally let us open a business that is obviously breaking so many health regulations.

As the cooking continued, it also started to get even more intensely hot than out of doors. You know the scene in The Wizard of Oz where the wicked witch starts yelling, “I’m melting, I’m melting”… well Kimono Hubby was looking pretty witch-like (see Exhibit A and the disgustingly drippy forehead) so we ate as quickly as one can force hot pieces of food into their already overheated bodies. We slammed down the rest of the beers and scurried quickly to the door, pushing patrons out of the way in our haste to again breathe air. I honestly don’t know that I have ever sweat so much in my life (and I hate that word too... sweat...).

We quickly put the notion of stopping at a bar for another drink out of our heads. I couldn’t stand the thought of how I must smell musty from my own excessive nastiness mingled with the scent of fried liver… or worse balls… whatever unrecognizable meat it was that the next group ordered. We just went home and showered and watched TV instead.

It’s actually pretty great getting old and being completely fine with calling it a night at 9 and heading home to your pj's.

Saturday, September 9

A Bulk-Sized Post

It’s no secret how much I hate reality television. But it there was ever a show meant for Kimono Hubby and I to be on, it would be Amazing Race. Because we can bitch and moan and criticize with the best of them. That is precisely how we spent our day today.

We do like to explore and while not thrilling on any level, we heard there was a Costco not too far away so we decided to take our first driving field trip. What should have taken about twenty minutes, turned out to be over an hour and twenty minutes. We got lost. Again. But this time, we did actually get there.

We see the Costco sign glistening in the sunlight above all the other building and turn on to the street. The parking lot, like so many others here, is placed at the end of a steep ramp on top of the building. And it is packed. Packed like how we expected Japan to be, one on top of the other, sardine-style packed. Costco was bad on Saturdays back home but this put Springfield’s Costco to shame. After finally deciding just to sit tight and wait for someone in a row to pull out, we manage to get into a parking spot and start the long walk to the entrance. Cart in hands, off to the escalator we go… which is actually a moving walkway, on an incline, that you take your cart directly on with you and it freezes. Stops totally. It doesn’t roll into the person in front or behind you… just sits patiently until you reach the top or bottom. Another modern Japanese science miracle in our small, sheltered world. (Sorry - blurry - couldn't stop laughing.)

We have our membership card from back home but they are much more thorough here and make me turn it over and actually show them the picture *gasp* just to prove it’s mine. Then they hand us our coupons (with pretty pictures so we can read!) and we are on our merry way.

It’s just like any other Costco back home. Photo center on right, sale items on the left, electronics ahead (which would only be useful while living IN Japan), clothes in the middle (none of which would fit as usual), appliances and knick knacks down the right aisles along with cleaners. We did have a little laugh when we saw people checking out some silverware. All that technology and they are finally figuring out how much easier a fork is? Up to this point, we are feeling right at home. Even though we still couldn’t figure out which containers were trash bags so we gave up and kept moving. There is a bakery with the usual cakes and breads and bagels. And then things take a turn to the wild side.

We have been to fish markets in town and I have never been able to purchase a thing. Full, intact octopuses, complete squids, fish of all shapes, sizes and colors laying there staring at you with their big, dehydrated eyes. I can’t skin a fish! Did you know that? So we can’t purchase any of this stuff until someone decides to explain how to clean it. The Japanese just cook the whole darn thing and then pick it clean with their chopsticks. Considering Kimono Hubby still can’t hold his sushi in one piece with them, I am pretty damn sure that we don’t have a shot at fish bits.

There were some regular meats. If you call this monstrosity of a slab of bacon regular. Pork much?

On to the vegetable aisles. And not a thing that we can recognize. Luckily, as the people who own the Costco chain are American and understand that most of us are too stupid to learn the kanji, everything is written very tiny like in English underneath. While this sounds like a wonderful thing, after I read a few, I was entirely disgusted and went back to guessing what it was and trying not to notice to truth of the names. I just don’t think I will ever be down with eating smelt… not pickled, not dried, not fried, not anything.

Do you remember the aisle in Costco that always has the wonderful hummus and tzatziki? That aisle has been replaced. I am actually not all that sad because look what they replaced it with… mild or spicy Korean kimchi! I bought a tub. Yes, I did.

On in the direction of the wine aisle we went, and this is where the cultural differences really start kicking in for us. That lady right there… she is handing out Foster’s samples. The beer, kids! That is definitely something you won’t be seeing back home. Behind her is an aisle full of hard liquor. When did Costco get a liquor license? And since when did people start buying Jack by the case? That would be sake in the milk carton. Be careful in the morning when you are making your cereal, eh?

As usual, by the end of our Costco tour, we were exhausted and had to wait in the usual loooong lines. We could see pizza calling us from the other side and it kept us perky and pushing on. The food court was as full as the parking lot was and not a seat to be seen in the sea of black heads. Like we watched other people doing, we parked our cart and got in line to get our food. When we returned with the food to take our cart… it was gone. Yes… what we didn’t watch is that they have a person whose sole job is to move the carts into a logical order as they empty out. If only we would learn to watch for more than that millisecond, we could make it so much easier on ourselves.

After we found the cart, we stood and shoved in our food faces and then headed back to the escalator with our cart. Back at the car, loaded and ready to go, we pull out of the parking lot seemingly on the right track this time. As before, it is never quite that easy.

Of course, we did cut the ride down to forty-five minutes this time.

I’m just happy there is always improvement.