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Saturday, November 24

Delayed Announcement: Tokyo International Film Festival 2007

You have no idea how much I wanted to get out of doors this weekend and do something… see something! I had plans, people! Big ones! Well, here is the thing. Remember Tommy? Remember how I thought he was gone thanks to a mountain hike in Kauai? Turns out that he never left and has actually been severely stuck in one spot for – oh, say – two and a half months. And another and – he has spawn. Yes, there is a Tommy, Jr. right behind him. Needless to say, the pain and discomfort are finally getting to me so badly that I can’t stand to be in my own skin. The last thing I feel like doing is heading out of doors where people besides my husband would see me squeezing my legs together in pain or even grabbing myself inappropriately every few steps. There is an end in sight. I’ve tried to do this on my own, but my docs both here and back home have encouraged me to opt towards the surgery route. It’s just a minor procedure… go in, go under, remove, go home. Then I should be back to normal soon. Whoopee. I can’t wait.

On to much more fun subjects… like the Tokyo International Film Festival! Did I tell you? I went! So what if it was last month just prior to Halloween and I didn’t mention it before?! I’m telling you now! And it was awesome.

A dear friend here took the day off of her crazy intense job and got us tickets to see two viewings at the Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills theater – Peeping Tom and Enlightenment Guaranteed. Although I am taking a class on how to be a movie critic this semester, I am not actually a critic nor will I ever likely be. So I am not going to try to delve into this film, except to say that the first, Peeping Tom, was a Japanese suspense/horror movie, which I thoroughly liked despite being left slightly confused as the credits rolled. The director did a teach-in for the movie, where he tells you about the movie and opens the floor up to questions. This is actually quite a funny concept for Japan… opening the floor to questions… because the Japanese are quite unlikely to voluntarily raise their hand and ask a question. They really only would ask a question if they were asked directly to ask a question. So you can guess that the question and answer portion of the program was a bit quiet. There was an English interpreter for this part, but I was much too busy gobbling up the greatest invention ever… caramel popcorn! We had bought some when we came in for the flick. Back in the states, you get extra fattening butter on your popcorn. Here – they squeege gobs of gooey caramel into you bucket! Way better if you ask me! I ate so much my poor friend had to push my hand away from the bucket just to get some for herself. (Hint for next time, my friend… get your own! That stuff is just too damn good to be willingly shared.)

There was a break between the first and second films so we headed out into Roppongi for some lunch. Like I needed more food after my bucket o’ goodness, but I did manage a healthier soup, sandwich and jasmine tea. For Erleuchtung Garantiert (Enlightenment Guaranteed), sadly there was no popcorn as there was to be a particularly excellent dinner at an Indonesian restaurant, Bali CafĂ© Putri, nearby that had outdoor tables providing a view of Tokyo and its shining red and white tower (Try the Arak Beras!! I have no idea what it is, but it is soooo good). The movie… one of the best I have seen in a very long time! It is actually a German film about two brothers and their trip to Tokyo. If you liked Lost in Translation, this is better! Laughing is acceptable at a Japanese theater, but the guffaws that were coming out of me were not. I had to suppress myself several times. From a foreigner’s perspective, it is more than a little amusing. While I don’t have a Japanese person who saw the film to ask, I think that some of the scenes were a bit uncomfortable for them. This is just one of those matters where varying cultures can view one tiny incident in so many differently significant ways. These poor German dudes… I get it! If you are into foreign movies, make it a must see.

A day of frivolity come and gone, it was wonderful to spend so many hours traipsing around such a hip and trendy district of Tokyo. As we headed back to the train, I stopped to take a picture of the shadow cast by a giant spider statue in the middle of the area. While it may have not been a tribute to American Halloween traditions, it certainly felt like a nod to them… meant purely as the icing on that fabulous, fall day.

Wednesday, November 21

It is any coincidence that AFN (Armed Forces Network) television here in Japan has started running a new commercial about the Asian Bird Flu only this past week? You know… the week leading up to Thanksgiving and all of a sudden… BAM… you’re fearing for your life thanks to commercials about an Asian pandemic? I think not.


Does this mean that I no longer have to make the bird today?

Tuesday, November 20

A Time for Thanks… and for Awareness

Obviously, enjoying American holidays in a foreign land has its frustrations. But it also has its moments of inspiration. I don’t get to sit at the big old family table back home, but I get to have friends join me at my table. I don’t get either mom to make the turkey for me, but I get to appreciate the hard work that they both have always gone through to make the stupid bird. I don’t get the warmth of being surrounded by the familiar and the loved, but I get to seek inside myself for the familiar and the loved coming from the foreignness that surrounds me.

For this Thanksgiving holiday, I think it is time to assert my awareness of what I am thankful for as provided by my Japanese hosts:

1. Reverential bowing. As a person who doesn’t like to be touched much unless you know me pretty well, this is the most wonderful greeting I can imagine because respect is so very chock-full in every inch you give to the other person. This tradition has been so embraced that I actually bowed when I met someone new in the states on the last visit. They didn’t quite get it, but did get quite the giggle about my personal evolution.

2. Drinks to quench any type of thirst, both the physical and the mental. On every corner, there is a vending machine. I have tried more drinks than I ever could have imagined were available on one island country. You can even buy alcoholic goodnesses like chu-hi, sake and beer in many of the vending machines. My goal is to try everything before I leave although some clear favorites have me skipping new samplings lately for the old.

3. Food worthy of the Gods… or Buddha. Despite both KH and myself having some small issues with increasing blood pressure because of the high sodium content in Japanese food, it is just heavenly. Where else in the world can you get a better bowl of hot ramen? Sure the Chinese invented it, but the Japanese perfected it. Not to mention my other favorites… bento boxes, yakiniku, yakitori, soba, udon, gyoza, shabu-shabu, okonomiyaki, oyakodon, katsudon, tonkatsu, tempura, sushi, sashimi, corn/mayo/potato pizza, seafood pizza, miso, tofu, natto, sweet red bean paste, those little baby water lily buds, Japanese jello, mochi… I think I could go on and on here for days.

4. Simplicity and elegance in the ideals of beauty. When I first arrived here, it often seemed that they way people decorated was stark. The buildings are square, unadorned boxes that I used to think lacked character. Inside, to my untrained eye, whole rooms would appear vacant and impractically unused, as they remained entirely empty but for a painting on a far wall. Now I see the beauty in the uncomplicated and empty spaces. Color and objects are used so quietly and sparingly. You will not find intrusions into your life, at least not by any garish aesthetics.

5. Acceptance. When you live in a foreign country, particularly one that has a dark past with the United States, you wonder if you will really feel accepted. In my time here, I have felt nothing but acceptance with kind and warm receptions greeting me everywhere I go. Only once has someone moved away from me on a train, an older gentleman who moved a few seats away. Not being able to know what he was thinking when he did so, I can’t even confirm that it was because there was an American next to him that he moved. In all other instances, I have found that the Japanese people are happy to talk to me if they can and will often even seek me out like the man who wanted to sing the Star Spangled Banner on the streets of Kamakura with my family.

6. An undeniable and utterly beautiful culture. In everything to see and experience here in Japan, it is infused with an ancient culture of which I can only dream to totally understand before we leave here. West influences may be changing things, but there are so many that hold dear to the traditions of their past. Many people spend much of the month of August visiting the graves of their ancestors. Many still know the art of kimono and wear it with pride. These things may have seen adaptations in the past years, but they are inherently Japanese in their core. It is in the distinct subtleties of changes that Japan shows their love for a celebrated history and their wish to grow with the modern world. Yet, they remain instinctively, and in my humble opinion, blessedly Japanese.

Wherever you are from, if you have the time I would love to know… what are you thankful for this Thanksgiving holiday?

Friday, November 16

For those who ever mocked the Japa Capa

I filled up the Capa’s gas tank for the first time today since Saturday, October 13th. The total to fill it? $24.18. For those of you who are counting… that is 35 days of driving pleasure on one tank of gas that cost a mere two thirds of what I would spend in one week when I was in DC. Take that, my mocking American friends, driving American gas-guzzling hogs. I shall never again return to the land of the guzzler. I’ve been spoiled forever by my funny-looking, but very cheaply run, Japanese automobile.

Saturday, November 10

Japanese Peculiarities #2

Jobs in Japan take on some interesting forms. I have often wondered if there is such a low unemployment rate here because people are sometimes given such ridiculously small jobs just to keep them out of unemployment lines. Are there even unemployment lines here? I honestly have no idea, but I have never seen one or heard about them.

The greatest thing I notice about these jobs, that foreigners see as tedious, redundant or even a bit meaningless, is that the man or woman doing them always takes such great pride in it. For everything they do, big and small, it is down with such care and awareness. Perhaps this is all a testament to the fact that Japanese society is so conforming and therefore so cohesive. Every person does their share and every person reaps the rewards. But sometimes what is so odd to me is still the job they are doing or often how they are doing it.

There is the ever present traffic director working either on some street corner, or directing traffic around a construction site or even the traffic guy that directs people out of the department store parking lot. You will find them wearing their ever present, pristine white gloves as they point you to and fro. Is it really necessary to have a traffic director at the entrance and exit of every department store? If you can’t handle getting out of the parking lot, perhaps you shouldn’t be driving. There was the guy last week hanging from the power lines right off of my balcony for several hours. Everything he needed for the hours that he hung there were in a basket in front of him. If you were this man, wouldn’t you get tired of hanging there and instead just crawl back down the ladder to get the next tool, actually using the excuse as a guise for rest and a cigarette break? There are the people that drive around at all hours with their loudspeakers on top of their trucks spewing out political or sales garble or whatever it is they want me to understand but can’t. Is spreading this information really so necessary and influential to the buyer or constituent that they need to start at 7 in the morning and work until sometimes 9 at night driving slow up and down each street so you are sure to hear the message for a good twenty minutes?

And then there was my favorite job last week. On the main route through Zushi, a crew was resurfacing the road. Typically when they are doing road work, there is also a white gloved man pointing you around the site. This time, when a man was actually necessary, there was no one. Instead there was a man with a canister and a tube shooting out some sort of flammable gas. Do you know those temporary strips they put down before they paint the road? This guy was burning them off with his little tube. This seems perfectly acceptable right? The problem was… he was doing so less than two feet from my tailpipe! As the light had changed, I had made my way past the intersection to a stop. This man rushes out behind me and starts shooting the flammable substance directly behind my car. If he was feeling tired, he could have sat down on the read bumper while he worked. The hell? Is this safe?!? I watched flaming pieces of material floating around in the breeze behind my car and couldn’t help but worry about the next time I step on the gas. Would it be enough to ignite my car and consequently myself on fire too? The man was wearing protective gear, but I wasn’t and my car that also shoots out flammable gas sure as hell wasn’t.

Remember the guy last year with the open flame in the back of his truck as he drove down the road? And remember the guy lighting a cigarette as he drove down the road on his scooter? I seriously think someone needs to reconsider using open flames on the roads here.

Sunday, November 4

Katsu's

Taking a break from studying for finals next week, we headed out for dinner with some friends last night to Katsu’s Restaurant and Bar here in Zushi. Arriving there, we were told there were no English menus and without pictures or plastic food to point at, we were left to the mercy of the one waitress with a good grasp of the English language. (Later, this waitress even went on to express her wonder and question how so many gaijin had even heard about this place that was off the beaten path for the usual foreign explorer. She was thrilled to hear that our Japanese realtor had pimped them out.)

“On our menu…,” she started to run down the list, “we have fish. We have risotto. We have pizza. We have pasta.”

With that glowing recommendation, we ordered the fish, the risotto, the pizza and the pasta.

Any other specifics we left to the choice of the waitress and her favorites.

The fish turned out to be a red snapper sashimi salad. The pizza was the traditional Japanese pizza with sauce and mozzarella on crust that resembles a wafer. The risotto was a rich and creamy gorgonzola. The pasta was a linguini with red clam sauce. And a second fish dish came to our table, grilled to perfection with Enoki mushrooms and a tasty glaze adding to the fresh flavor. All of which were portioned for the four of us to share and all were truly excellent.

Topped with several Asahi beers, we finished our meal and braced ourselves. You see… ordering like this means you have no idea what the final bill will be. At 18000 Yen (about $80 a couple), this was a pricey meal. Totally worth it, but not a place we will be eating at so casually in the future.