Sunday, June 20, 2010


The End of the Affair

I do believe my love affair with Japan has ended. Next month I will leave Japan for summer in California 11 years to the day after I departed LAX to begin my adventures here. I have been waiting for this trip since, well, since last September if I am honest. It was a long, cold winter and I don't do winter well, so it was easy to blame the frigid temperatures, my chapped, red hands, and the fact that I could see my breath in my own kitchen every morning for the slightly anti-Japan stance that I had been carrying around for a few months. I also sometimes blamed culture shock, knowing the beast to be cyclical in nature, only the cycle never turned. I hoped that having guests come to visit, would shake me out of my blues; excited by the opportunity to see Japan through fresh, new eyes. Instead, I was surprised to find myself without comebacks to their criticisms or counterpoints to their critiques of life in this country. I am afraid I was not a very good hostess. Though I enjoyed the bloom of Spring, it did not hold the glory this year that I used to write home about. I would go to take a picture of flowers and notice only the dingy, grey cement in the background. I would aim my camera at the clouds, only to be foiled by the endless wires. I am frustrated by the schools and their voluminous lists of rules. I am frustrated by the people who don't follow the rules and ride their bikes on the footpath causing what feel like brushes with near death for my children at least on a weekly basis. I am tired of being a foreigner in the place that is supposed to have become my home and I am even more tired of people calling my children, citizens of this nation, foreigners and complimenting them on their Japanese ability. I know I am ready for a break; I can only hope that absence will make the heart grow fonder.

Saturday, June 12, 2010


Something's Missing

Summer is within reach. It is a fact that keeps me sane when coupled with a copy of my flight itinerary. It has been almost a year since I have been home and though the nearness of the yearly migration helps me through everyday, having been away for so long has me on edge. It is as if I need to come up for air after having been submerged in what is still, yes still, a foreign culture to me. I miss all the usual suspects: my family, Mexican food, the California climate and browsing in bookstores. This time around though, I find myself missing all kinds of less obvious things. Here is a sampling of what I have been pining for: sidewalks, efficiency, trying on clothes, convenience, backyards, "bless you," clothes fresh from the dryer, artichokes, NPR, a garbage disposal, driving, being literate, diversity, swimming pools and hugs. Five weeks and counting.

Thursday, April 15, 2010



There must be some comedian using this word as part of his shtick on Japanese TV because I have been hearing it everywhere. It is coming out of the mouths of high school students on the train, mothers at the school, the station master, and even my own daughter. I am not completely sure how they do it, but they manage to give the word four syllables when they say it. Something along the lines of "Wa ou uu wa!" It makes me completely insane! Particularly coming from my own offspring. I cannot tolerate it when she says "juan, tsuu, surrey!!!" or sings "ha pee baasu dey tsu yew!" If you are going to use English words, then please, PLEASE, use English pronunciation. That or stop making fun of the way my people speak Japanese.

Friday, April 02, 2010


A Ruined Season

There is a raging wind outside and I know it is beating down the cherry blossoms who were just daring to shyly show themselves after today's rise in temperature. It has been cold. The trees had not really gone into bloom and now, what petals were there will be strewn on the ground tomorrow. I understand that the allure of sakura is all about their fleeting loveliness, that they are a symbol of flux, a reminder of the cycles in everything. Still, I had been waiting for the glory of the cherry trees to renew my faith in the magnificence that exists in this world. I needed the blossoms this year. I longed for that week of stunning splendor. As I listen to the force of the wind rattling the house and the world around, I can feel actual anger rise up in me, met with sadness. Am I mourning flowers? I will try not to read too much into the fate of the cherry trees this year, and satiate my hunger for beauty with daffodils instead.

Sunday, March 21, 2010


I Get By With a Little Help

The last day of the school year. Mina and I are rushing to the station. It is Saturday, so the train schedule is different and I am afraid she is going to miss her train. We walk up to the gates. "Mommy, I don't have my train pass. . . ." I was just walking her to the station, so I didn't have my purse. "I don't have any money!" I say at a volume approaching a shout. I turn and find a man who lives up the street from us, and just happens to be fluent in English, pulling a 1000 yen note (about $10) from his wallet and I haven't even asked him to help us. I don't even know this man's name. I know where he lives, I know his dog's name, I think he works with the US military, I remember the first time he asked me, "How's it goin'?" like a native, but I don't really know him. Here he is, without hesitation, saving my butt. After Mina returned from school, we made a batch of chocolate chip oatmeal craisin cookies for him and I didn't even have to write the thank you note in Japanese.

This situation reminded me of some ideas I had written down in a notebook and came across the other day. I will share one of those posts with you now. It is about four years old, yet falls under the exact same heading . . . I Get By With a Little Help.

A rainy day. Delayed trains. The three train loads of people waiting on the platform are going to cram onto the already crowded approaching train and we are going to be amongst them. "You'd better collapse the stroller," one mother says and we all start in at once to free Sam from his belt, take off the rain cover, grab the umbrellas hanging from the back, juggle my bags around (because as if I weren't already carrying enough, I've decided to mail some books out today) and fold up the stroller just as the train doors open. I've got Sam, another mother takes the stroller, yet another has my bags and a third takes Mina by the hand. Mind you, they all have their own daughters to look after, but I am the only one with a younger sibling on hand, so they have all rushed to my aid, and thank goodness. As the train speeds us to the next stop (where the majority of passengers will get off and we will be able to breathe again), I notice that someone has placed a shower cap (a shower cap?!?!?!?!) over the wheels of the stroller to prevent them from getting anyone dirty. I resign myself to the fact that I will never feel like I have my act together around these women and thank my lucky stars they are my friends.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Noisy Car Go Away

It has been a firm policy of mine to refrain from patronizing anyone that comes through the neighborhood announcing their presence with a loud speaker. You would be amazed at their number. I am. There is the guy collecting used/broken/unwanted electronics (whom I have been told is a con man), the man selling laundry polls (Can a person make a living selling laundry poles? How many laundry poles can he hope to sell on the same block in one month? Apparently several because I know his spiel by heart). There is the faintly nostalgic call of the sweet potato seller (from whom I admit to purchasing one potato for the experience - the smell, the cart, the potato hot off the rocks, the weathered grandfather who could have stepped out of the distant past). Then you have the nationally recognized two tone whistle of the tofu vendor, the garbage collection truck blasting out music as it makes its rounds and the over-enthusiastic politicians screaming at you to vote for them, waving white gloved hands through the windows of their campaign vans as they announce their platforms at shoulder clenching volumes (this, by the way, would explain why there is no legislation regarding noise pollution). I always swear that I will never vote for someone who interrupts a child's nap, a family dinner, my reading hour or train of thought with their cacophony, however it is an empty threat since suffrage is a privilege I do not enjoy in this country. So, when I heard the tinny melody of Moonlight Sonata come and go down my street . . . it was with great hesitation that I took my wallet out of my purse and headed out to the green grocer's truck. There was no fruit in the house. As I made my way around the corner to where the truck was parked, a neighbor greeted me with a bright smile and the exclamation "mezurashii!" "This is unusual!" It was raining so there weren't many people out. I picked out some fruit and the grocer asked after my mother-in-law, because I live in a neighborhood where everyone knows everyone, even in a city as large as Yokohama. It was then I realized that this truck and its annoying tune help create the sense of community that I so enjoy here. Every Tuesday and Thursday evening he provides an opportunity to come out, exchange greetings, catch up, find out who's cooking what for dinner and interact with the people surrounding us. I can now appreciate the value of what is really offered to us by the vegetable man. He isn't just selling broccoli and bananas, he is protecting us from personal isolation. For that, I can forgive his noisy jingle piercing my home and I probably will not be so hesitant the next time I feel the need to reach for my purse when I hear Beethoven. There were sliced apples on the breakfast table and mandarin oranges in the kids' lunchboxes, but I still don't need any laundry poles.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Another Daydream Gone

Today I noticed that a building I loved was torn down. I would see it almost everyday as we pulled into the station. It was very close to the tracks, on the ocean side, an old, run down two-story, painted white, obviously neglected and empty. I think the only thing that loved the building, besides me, was the ivy that grew all over, covering the outdoor staircase, enclosing it in a protective layer, almost obscuring the windows. The all-important windows. You see, the second story featured two sides of long windows, providing a 180 degree view of the world around it. It is rare to find a house with a lot of windows in Japan. These windows were the kind that have been around for a very long time, so long that they were slightly warped little squares of glass, set in checkerboard panes. When I would see the sun shining into the windows lining the sides of the second story, I would imagine myself up in that room, curled in a comfy chair, reading a book, the smell of the ocean coming in on a gentle breeze. Isamu could train watch from the comfort of his own home. Perhaps this little building wasn't even a home, I think it was owned by the train company, but I wanted to live in it.

Monday, October 05, 2009


Cameo - #1

On a train between Shinagawa and Kawasaki, an Italian Greyhound was sitting in a striped bag on the lap of a Japanese young lady. His name was Pierre. A dog with an identity crisis. She could have at least named him Giovanni. . . .or Taro.

Friday, October 02, 2009


Sweet Potaoes Coming Out of our Ears

Pulling sweet potatoes is a right of passage for Japanese children. Most preschools organize a field trip and the kids get all dirty and bring home the fruits of their labor. My children's school offers them all kinds of wonderful opportunities, but sweet potato pulling is not one of them. I noticed a sign up at our local subway station advertising the chance to pull your own sweet potatoes, right in our backyard! I roped one of Sam's friends into the plan and we met at the station bright and early to try our hand at harvesting. I was so excited, you see, it was my first time too. I imagined the children tugging and pulling, laughing and falling back on their bums as they unearthed the precious potatoes, simultaneously realizing that that food doesn't come from the supermarket and that it takes labor to get it there. Well, when we got to the field, most of the work had already been done for us. All of the entwined vines and leaves that grow above ground had been chopped off and a small power shovel had come along each row and loosened the earth around the potatoes. The kids walked up to the stubs sticking out, lifted them up and watched the dirt fall off the sweet potatoes. Voila! Satsuma imo! The kids loved it, but I was ready to complain, what the heck?!? What happened to breaking a sweat?!?! It was so much fun for the kids and so easy that they kept pulling and pulling and in about 15 minutes we had two large plastic bags full of sweet potatoes. Stop! Stop! We have to buy these you know!!!! The price was right, 300 yen for one kilo, but we ended up with 10 kilos of sweet potatoes. TEN! I maybe buy five sweet potatoes over the course of fall and winter, what on earth and I going to do with 10 kilos! I think these farmers have a scam running. They make it easy, so you pull out 20 potatoes before you know what has happened. On the way home, the kids and I delivered sweet potatoes to several friends and neighbors. We gave half of the remainder of one bag to Jiji and Baba and the other half to Aunt Yoshiko. That still left us with more sweet potatoes than I have consumed in the entire time I have lived in Japan. We made sweet potato cakes, had them steamed in all their natural glory, cooked them cubed with the rice, Mina has had sweet potatoes in her lunch box everyday this week, sweet potato tempura and sweet potato fries. I am sweet potatoed out. Then, after school the other day, Mina's friend's mom tried to had me a bag of, you guessed it, sweet potatoes. Sweet lord.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


Never Too Early for Communication Gaps

After school today, Mina was babbling randomly as she was supposed to be doing her homework and I was playing around online while I was supposed to be giving my daughter my undivided attention. Something sinks in, she needs to take something to school tomorrow. Oh lord, please don't tell me I have to go back out again after I have just changed into my comfys! She needs lots of colors. I think she has to take balloons? Huh? What? When? Why? They have to be all in a row in the book and it is going to look so pretty. I ask her, you need to take balloons to school?!?!? No! She replies, FUSEN! Isn't that balloon?!?!?! She is stumped. I am stumped. I see the wheels turning, she walks over to the bookshelves and is scanning, scanning, what she is looking for is not there. She walks back to me and says, "Like the thing that is sticking out of the blue book that has all the maps!" Oh! Post-its! You need Post-its! Good thinking, Mina! She didn't know the word for Post-it (is there a generic name?) and she couldn't remember atlas, but she got her point across and, yes, I just happened to have some she could take to school.

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