Sunday, December 31, 2006


I had a lovely visit to Seattle, another beautiful western city. Went up for the evening to visit with D. and M. and see their new house they bought this year, up near Greenlake. It's a beautiful place, built in the 1920s, and they've made it really comfortable and cozy.
A little drizzly, we nevertheless took a stroll along the lake in search of food. Though our restaurant of choice was clean out of veggie options, we stocked up at the PCC and went home to create delicious sandwiches and play Scrabble.
Along with T., we went to eat at the delicious Cafe Flora, a great vegetarian and vegan restaurant near Capitol Hill. The service was really nice and the food super tasty. Highly recommended.

The next day, the weather turned gorgeous, sunny and clear, and D. and I went shopping for red panties to ring in the new year in the Spanish tradition. A few years ago, when B. and I were living in Spain, we were taught this custom by our friends there, who informed us that by all means we must wear new red knickers given to us by someone else. We brought the custom back to tell our friends, and D. has apparently been following it with dedication every year since, though I have only observed it here and there. We loaded up on sexy underwear for girls and boys, then headed back for one last sandwich before I hit the highway back down South, attempting to take photos of the skyline while driving. Old habits die hard. Driving the little Justy, there was no cruise control, so my attempts at photography were unsuccessful.

Saturday, December 30, 2006


Portland, a cozy mix of friends and food.

Portland is such a beautiful city, and I love it each time I go back. I loved it when I was 16 and driving up from Corvallis to see a show, excited at the city and the cool kids and the zines and the places catering only to youth. And I still love it now that I'm older and not so fazed by the hipsters but appreciative of the liberal views, old buildings, and good city planning.
And good coffee.
And books.
And bridges.
And art.

While in Portland, I ate some good eatin', including the Farm Café and at a little Mexican tienda and restaurant on Lombard in St. John's. I had a beautiful roasted veggie sandwich made by E. at Valentine's near Burnside while listening to boring self-indulgent noise music. Sadly, I didn't make it to Nicholas' or the Delta - too much to eat, too little time. I managed to hit Powell's for a minute, and to walk around the stunning St. John's bridge while visiting friend and amazing illustration artist Davey at his studio. I bought some prints of his there, at bargain prices for such beautiful work.

We ate burritos at the tienda, which displayed many many piñatas, which I excitedly snapped since I spent so much time this winter making them for our Xmas party. Most Japanese people don't have any idea what a proper piñata looks like, so it was fun to be in a shop full of them.

Also got to see dear friend M., whose wedding I attended this summer in Tangent. We had coffee at Tiny's and caught up - M. is in law school at Lewis & Clark, reportedly the best environmental law school in the U.S., and full of idealistic, non-asshole students. Which is really nice to hear after reading about all the cutthroat bullshit over at opinionistas. His wife H., a great painter, is studying to become an art teacher. They're cool and I want to be like them.

Got to also hang out with they lovery-dovery J. and C. The wonderful J. is awesome (I really enjoyed her visit when she came to Tokyo last year) and C. is a cool writer who sometimes does pieces for publications like Bitch magazine. They're cool and I want to be like them.

And I got to see R. and meet her wife S. R and I have been friends since we were 15 and she's awesome. She's a rabble rouser and S. works at an animal shelter and plays with puppies all day. They're cool and I want to be like them.

My friends are so cool and that town is so cool. I really miss it sometimes and think I'll be back there someday.

Thursday, December 28, 2006


Arrived at our house, Kev's house, in Beaverton. It's my second time here and I'm comfortable but Beaverton is still relatively unknown to me. PDX hipsters scorn it as a useless 'burb, and perhaps rightfully so, but I'd like to find out what this town's about if we're to have a house here. Unfortunately, I haven't had a chance this trip to visit the excellent Sunset Bingo parlor, with its excellent collection of Olympic posters that I. drools over.

We've set up our Merry Christmas tree.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


word of the day. A murmuring or whispering sound, like the hushed rustle of trees. Thanks to Marilynne Robinson and her excellent book, Gilead, for teaching me this word.

Friday, December 22, 2006

the skyline unfolds below.

The view from the posh building that I taught in last week.
Though it was beautiful and I felt important, I'm glad I don't teach there on a regular basis. Putting up with the stress and crush of rush-hour downtown Tokyo would be more than I could handle on a daily basis. I much prefer my more low-key existence and the occasionally foray into gogogo hell.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

okay, boke

ぼけてる (boketeru):forgetful or scatterbrained. often applied to old folks but just as easily used on the young and spazzy.

Monday, December 18, 2006

doozo, bozo

One of the twerpy little sayings common in my family. My mom sometimes says it to a Japanese person, who usually doesn't notice or thinks she's just saying "doozo, doozo".

Monday, December 11, 2006


San-chome no yuuhi, recommended by student M., is set in post-war Japan and looks at life in a typical Tokyo neighborhood. The light and photography is excellent, the characters and plot compelling. This won the Japan Academy Awards last year. Highly recommended.

shinro otake

I. and I hit the Shinro Otake retrospective in its last days at the MOT - Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo, located in Kiyosumi Shirakawa. K-S is at the end of the Hanzomon line, a straight shot from our home station on the Den-en-toshi line.

The building itself is very nice, lots of glass and metal and triangular shapes, and very spacious. The neighborhood isn't too built up, so I get the feeling it wasn't as difficult to dedicate some land to this project as it might have been if it was located more centrally.

The exhibition was stupendous - in the sense that I was stupefied. Four floors dedicated to one artist's work, and running the gamut from collage to painting to music and sculpture.

I was really digging it at first, espcially the innumerable sketchbooks stuffed to the gills with clippings (especially since it's a predilection I share). I also really liked a lot of the monochromatic paintings and some of the comics.

But... after a couple of hours I started to get tired. And overwhelmed. As I descended into the sculpture area, where some kitchen-sink diorama-rama type creations were roosting, music began to issue from some of them. The man himself was playing a live noise-ish set. I stayed for a few minutes and watched, but ultimately couldn't take anymore and went to meet an appointment I had made. I. stayed, though, and met Mr. Otake and chatted with him for awhile. Apparantly the man speaks excellent English and is downright nice n'cool.

Fourteen more days til this closes: if you check it out, be ready to dedicate a lot of time to it.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

gas station man

Navigating the freezing drizzly roads this morning on my way to work, I was troubled by the oil light that had been on for a few days. I know my bike, and I know that there's enough oil for a couple of days of light riding even after the oil light comes on. But it had been a couple of days, and I was also running low on gas... though I was running a bit late, I pulled into a Cosmos station to gas and oil up. I usually put the 2-stroke in myself - it's about a third of the cost of having the station attendant put it in for you - but I hadn't had time to go to the motor store and the danger zone was approaching.

I pulled in to the station and was shunted into place next to a pump by an older man. I asked him to fill it up with regular and also to put in some oil, which he proceeded to do extremely slowly and methodically. I didn't mind though - he was a kindly old grandpa type. After getting all taken care of, I started up the bike and put all my gear back in place - gloves, helmet, scarf - and got set to take off again into the miserable weather. But... "wait!" he said. He grabbed a rag and began to swab off the windscreen of my helmet, which was covered in droplets and fairly foggy to boot. He polished it well, then gave me a stern once over. "It's inside too!", and he stuck the rag under the shield, next to my face, and wiped that down too. "Okay," he said, "you can go."

Good old grandpa-man. Made my day.

Monday, November 27, 2006


The Mamiya Brothers: a really funny movie about two nerdy brothers living together and their exploits looking for love. So much better than the average romantic comedy. Lots of moody, subtle humor.


We visited yet another onsen, this time the lovely Tenzan in Hakone. I'd been there once before, about a year ago, and so when C. expressed interest in going to hot springs in Hakone, I suggested Tenzan.

Tenzan is a posh rotemburo, or outdoor spa, sex segregated and with half a dozen baths each set in natural rock pools and surrounded by trees. The really appealing thing about this onsen is the natural feel of everything - the materials are all wood and stone and bamboo, and doesn't feel at all manufactured like some places. The indoor common area is really chill too, with a beautiful low-key tea bar and tatami resting rooms. Best of all, the establishment is tattoo-friendly, imperative since I. was accompanying us on this visit.

Beautiful, and definitely recommended.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


"kusobaba", loosely, "shit hag". one of my lovely mother's nicknames for me.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

excellent movie

Just watched Kamome Shokudo (The Kamome Diner), a Japanese movie shot in Finland. Like Tampopo, this movie revolves around a little indie restaurant and the strange characters that patronize it. Spare and wandery, there isn't much of a plot; yet it's charming and refreshing. I enjoyed it very much.

Friday, November 17, 2006


word of the day: tekitou
Another one I've known for awhile. This means at random, or on the spot, but is used similarly to "play it by ear" or "wing it".

Tuesday, November 14, 2006


The secret is out: residents of certain cities can rent city-owned property very cheaply and have a grand old time of it.

I've known for awhile that it was inexpensive to rent the citizens' center, say, or rooms in other public buildings. A small business that I occasionally teach for rents out classrooms in the beautiful old historic buildings of Yokohama, like the Port Authority building or Yamate 234, and the students and teachers both benefit from the lovely surroundings.

My mom rented a cabin in Nagano prefecture in the town of Tateshina. The city of Sagami-ono owns a small "village" of cabins that the residents can rent - there are two large 15 person cabins and about ten small five person cabins. The residents of Machida, by proximity, can also reserve these cabins, though Sagami-ono-ers get first pick.

We reserved two cabins for a family weekend get together, and after teaching on Saturday morning, I. and I drove out along the Chuo freeway to Nagano to meet with Mom, Dad, A., and J. We arrived after dark, but I was pleasantly surprised by the comfortable-ness of the cabin - it was well made, spacious, and had plenty of amenities. A large wooden table sat next to a big heater under a vaulted roof; a tatami sleeping room was next to the dining area, and the cabin also had a small kitchen with fridge and range, a full bathroom, and a balcony. All this for only 7500 yen. The big cabins, which were already reserved, are an even better deal at 15,000 yen, or only 1000 yen per person if filled to capacity.

That evening, we made a big dinner, snacked and drank and played cards until late.

The next morning, we awoke to a light snow decorating the trees and underbrush around the cabin. After a huge American-style breakfast, we all took a walk around Megamiko - Goddess Lake. The cold had a bite, but the scenery was lovely, the surrounding mountains golden and green with foliage, the water incredibly clear.

The area around Tateshina boasts many attractions, but November is a bit of a down season. Ski slopes were visible all around, but there was not yet enough snow for skiing; there's a farm and a ropeway, but seems to be open only in the spring and summer, when it's not too cold for the animals. We contented ourselves with walking around and enjoying the scenery, and bumming around the cabin.

In the afternoon, A., J., and Dad had to head back to Tokyo, but I., Mom and I drove to the other nearby lake, Shirakaba-ko, or White Birch Lake. True to its name, there are many lovely white birch in the area, their stark branches standing in beautiful contrast to the reddening hills and dark forest floor. We entered a nearby establishment, a recreation center next to the lake, and rented swimsuits and towels for the co-ed outdoor onsen on offer. Luckily, they permitted I.'s tattoos, and we were able to soak together in the baths. With an occasional falling yellow leaf and the errant snowflake, it was an excellent hot spring experience in the bitter weather.

The compound also housed many arcade games, and I tried my luck at the jan-ken machine, one I remembered from childhood, but sadly lost. Better were the several rounds of air hockey we played, and the taiko game I play whenever I get a chance. Taught Mom how to play the drum game, and she did pretty well for a beginner.

Back at the cabin we watched sumo on tv (this round in Fukuoka) and played scattergories around the big table. Another deep sleep and morning bagels and it was back to the rush and congestion of city life.

Thursday, November 09, 2006


I wasn't so enthusiastic about a recent trip to the Yokohama Museum of Art to see the "Idols" show.
I'm not sure what i was expecting - maybe some more interesting and in depth commentary. However, what I got was a lot of pink, a lot of big photography, and a lot of close ups. The exhibit was very pop. True, the idea of the "idol" has morphed a bit in Japan, expanding to include such things as manga characters and kabuki actors. I guess I would have liked the artists to explore a bit further than they did.

I liked some of the video pieces, especially the shorts, but they seemed kind of kankeinai.

I don't recommend spending a thousand yen unless you really want to see 5000 cartoon trading cards and a couple dozen 70s magazine covers plastered on the wall, along with a larger than life shot of ugly old Paris Hilton in barbie pink screaming from the foyer.


expression of the day: kankeinai.

This is one I've known for awhile, but it's very useful. It means: "there's no connection". Often used in an exasperated voice to chide someone for being off topic or making leaps of logic.

Which brings to mind my favorite English parallel, courtesy of my father and his father and mother before him:
"What does that have to do with the price of eggs???"

Sunday, November 05, 2006


word of the day: tensai.
meaning genius, schoolkids often call each other this name somewhat sarcastically.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

sunny days

A student told me that he liked autumn because "sunny days continue easily". I like that. This is my interpretation, with some help from I. in refining it a little bit from my shitty sketch.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006


After hitting the breakfast viking - featuring both Japanese and Western-style food - we were able to purchase the one-day ferry and streetcar passport from the hotel front desk. At 840 yen, it's a good deal if you're heading out to Miyajima for the day, as was our plan. We checked out and walked the two blocks to the station, where we stashed our stuff in the station lockers before hopping on the streetcar.

After arriving at the ferry port, about an hour's journey, we tried the local okonomiyaki at the terminal and then boarded the ferry for the 10-minute ride to the island. Walking toward the beautiful floating torii that is such a famous symbol in Japan, we were accosted by some of the many wild deer that wander around the shrine's grounds and the surrounding area. Signs proclaim: "watch out for deer with horns!" but mostly they're gentle and peaceful creatures, who allow themselves to be petted and may occasionally give a passerby a nudge as a request for a snack, such as the shika-senbei that some vendors peddle at the roadside.

Itsukushima shrine
sits at the edge of the water and is built on stilts and planks, so that at high tide it seems that the whole shrine, and not just the red torii, is floating. After walking around the grounds for awhile (300 yen admission), we hiked up to the ropeway station and boarded the gondola for Mt. Mizen. Changing to a funicular car halfway up, we were interrogated by an old grandpa travelling with his wife and two grandsons. "Where are you from?" he fired off. "Where do you live?" and "What do you think of this place?" His charges seemed simultaneously amused and abashed.

Unfortunately for us, the islands famed wild monkeys did not make an appearance on the mountain. When my mom and sister visited two years ago, they got to witness the spectacle of a monkey chasing a young boy down the hill, the boy clutching a knapsack filled with snacks that the monkey was intent on capturing for himself.

The view from the top of Mt. Mizen is lovely, as is the walk back down the mountain through the Momijikoen - maple leaf park. Here we were able to see koyo - the fiery changing of the leaves, most prominent on maple trees.

Back in Hiroshima, we sought a vegan macrobiotic restaurant that had been discovered online by B. Supposed to be located next to the Kannon-machi post office, we went wandering around Kannon-machi trying to find it. We asked in a big post office only a block from the borders of Kannon-town, but even when an army of clerks pored over maps trying to help us locate the spot, they had trouble finding it. Finally we discovered that it was still a ways away, and procured a crudely drawn map. We went outside and hailed a cab posthaste, and the extremely friendly cabbie helped us to our destination.

The Maison de Croissant (I reviewed it on Happy Cow) is a beautiful little cafe and shop, fronted by tall columns and boasting two levels - upstairs is the gorgeous cafe, with about a dozen tables scattered around a big circular opening looking down into the shop below. Though the menu is limited, our "pita-pan" sandwiches were obviously made with great care and prettily presented. We asked the shop staff - she was the waitress, cook, and sales clerk - about the shop and the food, and she showed us the "kurumafu" - a wheat gluten product made in a wheel shape that had been prepared in cutlet form in one of the sandwiches. This is a lovely place to sit and ruminate while staring out the window into the blue dusk.

Back to the station to catch our train back to Yokohama, stopping to retrieve our bags and purchase some of the famous maple-leaf shaped cakes filled with a variety of yummy and gooey fillings like chocolate, cream, an, and maccha. One of the shop ladies gave us some omake - extras that we happily enjoyed on the ride back home.

Monday, October 30, 2006


Taking advantage of JRtours' great package deals for shinkansen and hotel, I. and I boarded the nozomi for the 3 1/2 hour ride to Hiroshima from ShinYokohama. As we woke up at 5 and left Shinyoko at 7 am, I didn't get much out of the ride down, except for jerky, drooling sleep. I. partook of an inari bento, a train-riding tradition that I'm all too often left out of. Alas, this was the case on this day as well.

We arrived around 1030 in time to hop on the street car from Hiroshima station and ride over to the Peace Park, where we parked ourselves next to the Genpaku Dome (aka A-bomb dome) to await the arrival of B. and M., over from Shikoku. Soon enough they crept up on us, and we walked through Peace Park, looked at the dome, and past several musical groups playing along the river, to the Peace Museum.

Relatively large, the museum is a monument to peace and the dismantling of nuclear weapons worldwide. There is extensive information about the day of the bombing and the aftermath, with some explanations of the people behind the bomb, the science of nuclear weapons, and the long-felt results. I enjoyed the walls covered with the letters of protest from the various mayors of Hiroshima to myriad world leaders voicing heated dissent from subsequent nuclear tests and manufacture of weapons. Especially stirring are the artifacts from victims of the bomb, both those killed and survived. Wax statues of people with their skin melting off, graphic photos of burn victims, and actual bodily remains, including a tongue and pieces of skin, are among the remnants that illustrate the stories of the nuclear targets.

After the sombering but necessary visit to the museum, we lunched at Tandoor, an Indian restaurant located in the Sogo Pacela building (a beautiful building) on the high street. Vegan-esque food was procured and we tucked in happily. After a quick stop at the Jupiter import store to procure salsa and novelty chocolate, we saw B. and M. to their bus and went back to our hotel, the slightly hoity (but not enough to be hoity-toity) New Hiroden, where we fell early into an exhausted 12 hour sleep, not rising until the next morning in time for the breakfast viking that came with the package.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

feeling fall

owls for the new cold weather

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

洟垂らし and 我が儘

Words of the day: hanatarashi and wagamama. Snotnose and selfish. I have some of each in my classes.

Monday, October 16, 2006


On the way to the Nakaochiai gallery in Shinjuku-ku, where we were to meet up with Chris and D., both vegans, we stopped in Ikejiri Ohashi to check out the rumored vegan bento place.
After walking up and down 246 for a few minutes, trying to find it, we finally hit the jackpot only steps from the north exit of the subway. Haotsu-ya is a Taiwanese take-out joint, offering excellent, large, and cheap bentos, vegan style! They have a variety of fake meat-ish dishes, like gluten, seitan, and tofu; and also, my favorite, they have both gyoza and spring rolls. Hallelujah! The fu-manchu sported by the old man working is a definite bonus. As was the (admittedly surly) monk who came in to get food just after I. did - a very good sign. Yummy yummy bentos. I never get to eat them, at least not the store-bought kind.

Chris's work was great, the gallery a really interesting space and very crowded. Both C. and D. loved their food, and I learned a great new expression. D's friend, a girl who lives outside of Tokyo, had a special name for her place of residence: DaSaitama. Saitama, she explained, is decidedly uncool, always striving to be like Tokyo, but never really making the cut. Dasai means uncool, unsophisticated. I told her that I also lived in the borderlands, but she begged to differ. Yokohama, she explained, has its own style. It's content in being itself. Not so Saitama. Thus ださいたま。

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

vegan healing

Meeting new friend D at Hachiko in Shibuya, we headed to the Vegan Healing Cafe near Tokyu Hands. I've mentioned it before and reviewed it over at Happy Cow, and it's good for a decent, healthy, vegan set lunch or dinner - an oasis in a sea of fishy tsuyu.

From there we headed to over to superdeluxe in Roppongi for some art schmoozing. Usually a pariah of uncool, famous for sleazy drunken gaijin and cheesy clubs, Roppongi in this case presents a little more low-key, high-brow club/space.

Monday, October 09, 2006


On the recommendation of "Weekend Adventures Outside Tokyo" by Tae Moriyama, we visited the town of Kawagoe, not far outside of Tokyo, on the edge of Saitama prefecture. Mr. Moriyama waxes philosophic about the kurazukuri, or old black two-story earthen storehouses, that abound in this old trading town.

After a drive of about an hour and a half from Machida, we entered Kawagoe and found free parking next to the Hikawa shrine, from there a quick walk to the main kurazukuri row. This street was really active, full of people looking at the old-time shops selling things like tea, liquor, and dried beans. Small alleys lead to little temples and shrines, one of which was holding a flea market. People thronged the sidewalks and an old market feeling was in the lovely crisp autumn air.

Most notable was the candy street, a few short blocks from the main row. This is a street filled with vendors selling traditional handmade candies, as well as other sweets and snacks like entire pickled cucumbers on a stick and sweet potato senbei. I bought hakka (peppermint), nikki (cinnamon), and candies with tiny flowers and faces molded inside. I also tried the delicious sweet potato soft cream - fantastic.

After visiting the candy street, we took a shortcut through the grounds of a museum, which happened to be the Kawagoe matsuri museum, and happened to be about to start a performance of matsuri dance. We quickly bought tickets and wound our way through the halls to the performance space, a lovely area with 2-story ceilings and huge displays of beautiful colorful floats.

After leaving the museum, we walked to the Toshogu shrine, which is a mini version of the grander Toshogu shrine in Nikko - but is supposed to have the same design, layout, except on a smaller scale. It dates from the 1600s, and is at the same location as the Kita-in Temple, where the 540 statues live. Unfortunately, we arrived just at closing time, so couldn't enter the statue park. We had to be content with peering through the bars at the numerous statues that are supposed to run the gamut of human emotion.

We wanted to try the local noodles made from potato, imo-udon or imo-soba, but couldn't find a place open at the strange hour of 3:30 on a Sunday afternoon. Instead, we opted to eat cha-soba at Kotobukian right outside of the Kitain temple grounds. Decent food, mediocre service.

All in all, a pleasant day with beautiful weather. Kawagoe is certainly a good place to check out to get a feeling for old Japan.

Monday, October 02, 2006


We headed up to Sano city in Tochigi prefecture to visit R and K for the weekend. Deciding to try our luck on the highways, we took the car and some printed-out instructions from the navitime website, and hit the Shuto expressway.
We made good time, and after a few minutes of wandering around looking for the station, we located R and drove to his fresh new crib. No longer an ALT, R has a new job at a cram school and a swanky new pad to go with it. Electric toilet!
After settling in we drove out to the koi pond in the next town to feed the bubbling evil hordes of carp. We also climbed to a shrine on the top of the adjacent hill, and were rewarded with a rustic platform with beautiful views of the surrounding area and the small island in the middle of the pond that appeared to be a haven for heron. From there, a few big-box thrift stores, and finally, Indo-ya, a very good Indian restaurant in Sano that had great vegetarian food for hungry stomachs!
We reposed to R's place for an evening of Scrabble and wine.

The next day, we hit Sano's international festival, where booths from various countries sold crafts and food, and entertainment played steadily on the stage. After snacking on some tasty empandas from the Paraguay stand, I hit the flea market, where I overheard the couple browsing ahead of me conversing in Spanish. I smiled at them when they looked at me, and continued shopping, but they approached me and the man said hello. I answered him in Spanish and we began to talk about the festival, where we were from, and what we did. He introduced himself as Eduardo and his wife as Martha, from Bolivia and Peru, respectively. He then proceeded to invite me to his home in Bolivia after he returned there. We chatted for a few minutes and then went off our separate ways; but a little while later, while a posse of English speakers was hanging out in front of Sri Lanka, Eduardo came over to our group and asked for a picture. I introduced him around, and after the photos, he insisted that we come over to the Bolivian group and meet the crowd there.
There is a large South American population in Sano and in Tochigi, and according to a young man I met, another Eduardo with a beautiful singing voice, about 100 Bolivians in Sano; an impressive figure to me, since Sano seems like such a small town. He said that most of them work in factories. Eduardo senior told me that he had been an engineer in Bolivia; in Japan, he is a construction worker. We didn't get far into it, and I wondered why there were so many of them here; but talking with the group, they mentioned a deep divide in the country between east and west, and political unrest.
After a few minutes of chatting, Eduardo senior, definitely the most outgoing of the group, pulled me and some others out onto the cleared dirt to dance along to the music provided by Peru. Though I made a fool of myself, it was good fun.
We exchanged numbers and invitations to visit our respective homes.
In a final score of the trip, I found a Gocco PG-10 at Hard-off for 315 yen.

Thursday, September 28, 2006


word of the day:
bellwether. Means leadership or forefront of a movement.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006


In other spa news, my mom, sister, and I dipped into Taketorinoyu in Nagayama on the Odakyu line. More traditional than Yunessun, this place is still going for an upscale-resort feel, with many different types of baths and saunas, and various restaurants, massage services, and other amusing pursuits.
I especially enjoyed the ondol-heated floor relaxation room, with doorways into the various hot sauna rooms - salt, stone, fire, etc. This area was co-ed, with everyone wandering around in their snazzy spa pajamas.
A downside was the smokiness of the common areas. I don't want to go to a refreshing, cleansing spa and leave smelling like a club.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

the Yokohama Museum of Art

I went to check out the Yokohama Museum of Art for the first time for the Nihonga exhibit - Japanese style painting by modern artists.

The museum is located pretty close to Sakuragicho station as well as Minato Mirai, and is in a pleasant walking area. Inside, there's a refreshing generosity of space that is often lacking in Japan, especially in the smaller specialty museums and galleries - but a large open entrance hall was welcoming.

The exhibit was really neat - all of the artist were interesting in their way, and included a pretty eclectic mix: a famous comic strip artist, someone who worked with big abstract blocks of color, a woman who painted beautiful screen-style nature paintins with a twist.

My favorite was Fujii Rai, an artist who draws Japanese scroll-style paintings, but does so on the back of standard letter-sized envelopes. He has mailed more than 500 to the museum, each part of a continuous series, each envelope connected to the last.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Yunessun and Hakone

Trying to inject some non-Tokyokohama culture into the Germans' lives, we decided to visit Hakone for a smaller town vibe and a trip to the onsen. The hang-up was: cheaper beautiful old traditional onsen, sex separate, totally nudical; or more exciting, themepark-y coed swimsuit-wearing and considerably more expensive bathing complex?

The drive to Hakone from Yokohama is quite easy; taking the Tomei, it's only about an hour and a couple thousand yen in tolls, at least to Hakone-Yumoto, the location of many nice onsen. We bypassed the town and made for Ashinoko, the lovely lake from which Mt. Fuji can be seen on a nice day. Also the site of Hakone shrine and the floating torii, Cryptomeria avenue, the old Edo checkpoint, and most alluring: swan pedal boats.

Alas, it was not to be! The stupid swans are so expensive... 1500 yen for 30 minutes. You can't even get going before you have to come back and pay more. We comforted ourselves by choosing the more expensive spa and walking around the lake eating chestnut flavored soft cream. Fuji showed its ugly brown summer shoulders, and a breeze blew pleasantly over the water as we strolled over to the vermilion-red floating torii.

Yunessun is a sight to behold. It's very large - the parking lot extends for ages - and boasts 25+ different baths and attractions - a big tide pool, waterfall baths, baths of coffee, wine, sake, charcoal, tea, curry, and many more. There are even waterslides. Most interesting is the Dr. Fish bath, where flesh-eating fish nibble at the dead skin on your feet for an exfoliatory experience.

Massage is available for an extra fee, and the spa uses an electronic wristband system that you can swipe at various locations as a kind of credit card - grab a soda this way from a machine and pay for it at the end of your stay.

Don't forget to download the coupon on their website for 400 yen off, bringing the admission price down to 3100.

I greatly enjoy the traditional onsen, but this is really fun for a change and especially good if you're keen to go co-ed. Note: as with many onsen, they have a no-tattoo rule, but the girl at reception let us in after making I. promise to wear a tshirt that covered most of his upper-arm sleeves.

Sunday, September 03, 2006


Word of the day: Moe.
Some German friends are visiting us, and they have been spending some time in Akihabara, buying gadgets and cruising the goods. Morriz, 19, became enamored of a black shirt with bright pink lettering stating: 萌え アキバ in TOKYO, and bought it without really knowing what it meant.
I wasn't familiar with that character, and that night we went to the okonomiyaki shop across the street from our mansion. The owners, after serving our food and taking our money, started to exclaim at the shirt.
"Ha ha ha!" they said. "Moe!!"
Apparantly moe is a word meaning "crush" or "fascination", and is commonly used by otaku in manga/anime subcultures. This was highly amusing to the shopkeepers.

And a nice phrase brought to you by the same German guests:
It began to rain, just a sprinkle, on the night that they arrived. Of course, at the slightest hint of precipitation - raining or not - Japanese people will pull out umbrellas. Many a time I have seen people huddling under their umbrellas with nary a raindrop in sight, but only a smallish raincloud hovering overhead.
Accustomed to this attitude, I offered umbrellas to the new arrivals.
"Nah", they said. "We are not made of sugar."
This is reportedly a common phrase used in Germany and I like it a lot.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


This sunny Monday found us heading for the beach at Kamakura. Yuigahama, to be specific, a city beach located just off a noisy road; happily less polluted than the beach at Sumoto, we spent a few merry hours frolicking in the waves and ordering takeout food and cokes from one of the many beach shacks equipped with rudimentary kitchens and toilets. Beware - boogie board rental is so expensive! Better to buy your own at Don Quixote than to pay 1000 yen to borrow them for two hours from the extortionists.

Having swum our fill, we ventured back to the main city to see what we could manage to in the early evening - which turned out to be not much. We were able to wander around a temple or two, though. I prefer the Shinto shrines, especially at night. Pared down, lantern lit. Buddhist temples are bright and gaudily colorful, though, presenting quite an entertaining pantheon of gods and guards, deities and devils.

Friday, August 18, 2006


Word of the day: zurui. Some of my students use this on each other when they're messing around before class, playing games.
It means sneaky.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

heading back

Kobe is such a shorter distance from Yokohama than Takamatsu, so we got a late 10am start.
Friend Edmund was spotted in Maibara - someone had obviously stood on that very spot some months before...
Unfortunately, we missed some of our rapid connections and rode way too many locals, finally landing in Azamino about 930 pm. A long day to end our trip.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Awaji-shima and Kobe

Interested in Awaji-shima, the island between Tokushima and Kobe, we had asked the front desk clerk for bus schedule information as the island has no train service. After a lengthy wait, she produced a bus schedule that showed the route from Tokushima station to the terminus in Sumoto. And so the next morning, there we went.
The bus was about 1800 yen and passed through the town of Naruto, past the famous Naruto whirlpools. Awaji island seems to be a sparsely populated tree covered rock, with a freeway running the length of it, linking Honshu to Shikoku.

We alit in Sumoto city. As the LP barely mentions Awaji at all, we had no real idea of where to go. I had a rough idea of the geography of the island, but not even a good grip on what cities or towns might be present. Wandering over to the information counter, I perused the maps and flyers on offer. The two workers manning (and womanning) the station studiously ignored me. Finally, I said Sumimasen! and the person sitting farther away, a slightly portly younger-middle aged man, jumped to attention. I asked him about beaches and told him that I wanted to be in Kobe in the evening. He seemed very relieved that I was speaking Japanese - I think they ignored me because they didn't know what to do. Though there was a beach that sounded lovely on the far side of the island, we opted for one that happened to be only a 5 minute walk from the bus terminal - Ohama.

The sun was brutally hot, and after settling onto our stripped-off Tshirts, we slathered on the sunblock. The sand was incendiary, and the water pleasantly cool. There were even little fish swimming around in the shallows, and the view was decent. However, there was a fair amount of trash floating just off the shore. Unfortunately, it marred the beach experience for me considerably. I hear that this is a common problem in the inland sea.

After a couple of hours, we had had quite enough of the noonday sun and hightailed it back to the bus station, slightly burnt despite our sunblocking ministrations. We purchased tickets for the next bus to Kobe and stocked up on Awaji omiyage, things like sweet potato caramels and sables and sudachi candies.

It took another hour or so to get to Kobe. I had never before been to this city, site of the great earthquake a few years ago and birthplace of Haruki Murakami. We oriented ourselves and located our next Toyoko Inn. Then we set out to look around the city and find something to eat.

Not far from the station, we found a swanky looking dining bar, King Dining O-ja, with fancy high tables, leather zippered walls, and a posh staff. The yobidashi girl standing out front didn't bother to yobi us... I felt a little affronted. Don't foreigners have to eat too?
The atmosphere inside was pretty neat, albeit smoky, and the food was decent and not very expensive. However, the rest of the staff followed the yobidashi girl's example and were patently unfriendly. Based on the shitty service, I would recommend NOT going there and finding culinary refuge in one of the many many other like establishments lining the streets.

After dinner it was getting dark enough to proceed to my mom's suggestion: Mt. Rokke. She had been 20+ years ago and mentioned that it might be worth checking out - so we rode the subway to the ropeway substation and rode the long cable to the top.
Kobe is beautiful at night! Surrounding the harbor in a colorful array of lights, the smallish city glows invitingly from the heights, and the other ropeway pods, lined with blue lights, look like alien ships passing in the night. The herb garden below lends to the otherworldly feeling, with the glass greenhouses eerily emitting unearthly light.

Once at the top, we found it was too late to walk down the mountain through the herb garden - a shame, because it looked so pretty from above. However, the shop was still open for a few minutes and I got some lovely teas, seeds, rose hip candies, and lavender cookies. We wandered around the patio buildings, peering over the edge of the retaining wall at the city below and exploring curlicued ironwork balconies. Lit with small white lights and sparsely scattered with visitors at 9pm, it was a wonderful place to visit.
After a short rest and some more city-gazing, we boarded the ropeway for the descent into nighttime Kobe.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


The next morning saw us checking out of the comfy home base of Takamatsu's Toyoko Inn and boarding the train to Tokushima. The crowded little train bore us along for about an hour before depositing us at Tokushima station, all a-bustle with excitement for the biggest event of the year - the Awa-odori festival. The station was packed with visitors, hawkers, and information booths.
Still too early to check into our next hotel, we called the Jurobei Yashiki to find out the next showtime for the bunraku show. I had never seen Japanese puppet theater but had always wanted to, so when we found out that the show was in a couple of hours, we headed to the bus terminal to find out how to get to the puppet house. Unfortunately, the buses run quite infrequently to that area - perhaps fewer than one an hour - so we opted to take a taxi. It cost, I believe, about 1500 yen.
Bunraku was really wonderful. The spare building was reminiscent of a prarie church, all whitewash and high ceiling and bare wooden planking and long pews, but the smell was of cedar.
The show was short but great, the puppets skillfully handed by teams dressed in head-to-toe black sheaths; but the show stealer, for me, was the fact that, unlike kabuki, the artists were all women. The handlers, the narrator, the shamisen player, even the ushers, ticket sellers, and souvenir shopkeepers were all female. Very refreshing after many repeat visits to the admittedly lovely kabuki in Tokyo, which is of course so male-dominated.

Returning to town in time for the festival, we checked into the hotel and wandered the streets gawping at the dancers and searching for vegetarian food, which was incredibly hard to find. Even Italian places, usually ubiquitous in even small to medium sized Japanese cities, were conspicuously absent. We finally stumbled upon a Doma Doma, packed to the rafters with festival goers, and snagged two seats around the big central shared table, where I had my usual buttered corn, edamame, and garlic fried potatoes. We ate & drank our fill and paid our check.
And danced into the night.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Demon island

After a leisurely start and a late breakfast at dotour, we bought some St. Marc chocolate croissants and bided our time shopping and browsing before boarding the 1310 ferry bound for 女木島 - Megishima - aka 鬼ヶ島 - Onigashima.
In Momotaro's legend, the Peach Boy and his band of animal friends went off to an island to defeat some unruly demons that were making local life miserable. He did so and returned home to his village victorious. This island is where the battle is purported to have taken place. There is even a cave where the demons are claimed to have resided, which also apparently sheltered some pirates way back when. It's unclear to me whether the pirates and the demons ever coexisted, but that would make for an even better story.
We toured the cave, very cool (in both senses of the word) and extensive, and with many strategically placed demons. But Onigashima is much more than just a podunk tourist attraction - the island is actually fairly large, with a year-round population and lots of breathtaking nature. The views from the top of the island are particularly nice, with the various islands dotting the Inland Sea and the clouds high over the water. The swimming was adequate, as well, and all in all a pleasant afternoon was spent.

Sunday, August 13, 2006


After all that travel, we slept in, and plodded downstairs to renew another night.
We had wanted to hit the Noguchi sculpture garden, but it turns out that you need a reservation and that it's only on certain days - so calling in advance is a must.
It also turned out to be a bit too late to go to Megi island, also known as Onigashima, or demon island. Ferries only depart until about 4, last return is at 5ish. We would only have been able to spend a couple of hours, and we wanted more time than that so - put it off too.
Instead, we hopped on the local train and headed over to Ritsurin park, a beautiful garden about 400 years old. The grounds are quite large, and there's lots of wildlife swarming the various ponds, including a bunch of turtles just aching for attention.
We ate the local specialty of sanuki udon, guaranteed vegetarian by the old man vendor, though I doubt it was truly vegetarian, even though he claimed that there was no fish in the broth. We also sampled karin juice, which translates as quince in my dictionary.
Later, a delicious yuzu smoothie at a cafe in Kawaramachi arcade, gazing down as herds of girls decked out in festival gear paraded by.
Dinner was more sanuki udon for him and potato pizza for me.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Kyushu or Shikoku?

Two southern islands I'd never been to. Both have beaches. Both have allure. Which to choose?
Travelling by Seishun 18 kippu helped to make that decision. Dirt cheap, but you can only take JR local trains, or at best, JR Rapid or night trains.
The night trains get booked up months in advance. I tried to secure a booking on the Moonlight Nagawa, the best way to get to the tip-top of Kyushu in one 24-hour period, to no avail. Manseki.
So Shikoku it was.

We left pretty early - around 6am, and got our ticket stamped at Yokohama. From there, it was a steady stream of local trains, changing at such hot spots as Atami, Maibara, and Ogaki. Tired around 2pm, we deboarded in Kyoto to get some lunch at an Italian place in the station.

We finally arrived in Takamatsu at around 830 pm, and wandered around searching for the hotel that we had reserved through the Tocoo system. When we finally found the place and tried to assert our rights with our reservation number, the grumpy man at the counter told us it would be impossible. He didn't have our reservation, he claimed. Muri - dame, he said. How rude. Fuck you, Tocoo. Either that, or the guy didn't want to deal with us.

So we walked in to a Toyoko Inn and asked for a room, and behold! They had one for us. We got a single, double use, for about 7000 yen. A great deal, especially for a walk-in! I highly recommend this place - we stayed at Toyoko Inns for the rest of our trip, and were very happy. They have free internet in the lobby, free breakfast in the morning, and the single room is neither cramped as the LP claims nor is the bed a single bed - it's quite a comfortable double, in fact bigger than some of the "semi-doubles" that I've paid for in other business hotels.

By the time we got checked in and accommodated, it was too late to go anywhere for dinner. There's a Lawson right next to the hotel, though, so I got my usual wakame onigiri and made dinner of conbini-fare.

Travelling on the train all day takes it out of you. I slept an exhausted sleep.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

motorbiking, at night, in a t-shirt, in the summer, through the dozens of little towns inbetween my grandparents' oldhouse and my apartment. lonely dark and hot, kept company by the cicadas trilling in the trees; but then, the pop of firecrackers as i pass a park, and some children in summer kimono traipsing home after a festival, red lanterns lit.

Thursday, July 27, 2006


We took the ferry over from Kowloon to Macau to see the Portuguese-Chinese culture and to get more stamps in our passports.

In Macau, the crumbling buildings manage to look charming rather than menacing and depressing as they do in HK. It's all the scrollwork and marble that gives it a dilapidated splendor.

The Museum of Macau, next to Monte Fort, is excellent. Really interesting displays telling about the history and customs of the area. I like the way the introduction claims that the museum is trying to present the way that the two cultures influenced each other without judging either one as being superior. Touchy, surely, after 400 years of colonial rule, but 400 years is a long time. So much must be ingrained. Nice views from around the Fort, too.

I just want to say that Northwest is a terrible airline, with bitchy flight attendents, horrible food, and incredibly cramped conditions. Fly Korean. Fly Singapore. Fly China Airlines. Even Delta. NWA: saiaku!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


Kowloon, a steamy mess of lights and people and guys muttering "copy watch? copy watch? handbag." at you in the alleys. The streets are teeming and pungent and it's a game to avoid the incessant dripping of a thousand air conditioners raining putrid water from the endless highrises above.
Odors are rising in steam every few feet, from suspect pots, each looking as if some 1000 year old deep sea creature were trying to crawl out, or as if there was a porcine war and this pot is a receptacle outside of the field hospital where many unfortunate, brave hoggy souls have valiantly lost their limbs and have been subject to amputation.
There are drip ducks in doorways and buckets full of turtles and toads outside of restaurants and aquarium stores, and which is which?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

HK island

There is a klatch of Chinese ladies chattering in the hall. I can hear them as I come foggily out of my nap. Then I realize what an inane observation that is. I'm in Hong Kong. Of Course there are Chinese ladies in the hall.
Let me take a moment to tip my hat to the Pacific Coffee Company. Yes, it's probably an evil international chain, but I had never seen it before coming to HK, and they have very good coffee and muffins and free internet. Pacific Coffee Company, where Billy Joel (Just the Way You Are) and Simply Red are the musical currency, though this is by no means unique - we heard these two brilliant artists all over the shopping districts of HK and Kowloon.
We rode the ferry over to HK island and found ourselves a tasty vegetarian restaurant for lunch, after being stymied twice by the non-existence of two other veg places we had the addresses for, from Lonely Planet and Happy Cow. Actually, the first had probably been knocked down as there was construction of a new hotel occuring on the site. The latter's building was undergoing remodeling, so it might still be in existence, but just wasn't accessible at the time. No matter. On Hennessey street smack between the two we found Tung Fong Siu Kee Yuen, claiming on their business card to have been established in 1918. Outta sight! The food was good, the menu large and available in English, the service good enough. I reviewed them over on Happy Cow.
After that, we located the really long series of escalators that climb HK island. I was under the mistaken impression that these moving staircases could bear one all the way to the top of Mt. Victoria - boy was I wrong. I did buy some cute clothes on the way up, though, for about a dollar apiece. The escalator-side city life is really interesting, and you wouldn't know it was there if you didn't know it was there. Tons of restaurants and shops and hawkers flank the escalators and there are lots of places to get off and browse.

We got to the top of the escalators and tried to walk up the rest of the mountain. Big mistake. Soon, tired and mosquito-bitten, we found our way to a bigger road and flagged down a cab, requesting the top of the island. Where there's a mall.

It was beautiful, though. Nice views of HK and Kowloon. After, we took the ropeway back down to the bottom and got on the subway back to our side of the water.

HK, I feel you, I hope you comprehend.

Hong Kong: Arrival

We arrived in Hong Kong pretty late at night and got on the subway to Kowloon, where we navigated our way to our guesthouse, the Cosmic, located in the Mirador Mansions. The first impression of Kowloon was pretty overwhelming - so much action, even late at night - people, tall tall buildings and lights.
Our room was okay, with its own shower-power, but it did fell a bit like a huge bathroom, because it was floor to ceiling white tile. The window was about a foot from the next cement apartment block, so it was much like having no window at all.
The administration was nice, though.
I recommend trying to either get a room with a window looking outdoors, or try the hostel right upstairs. I think it's called the Garden Guesthouse, and the manager showed me rooms with great views overlooking the water.

Monday, July 17, 2006


I feel like I peaked at age 5, and have been trying to live up to that time ever since.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Matsue and the land of my ancestors

My family went to Matsue to inter my aunt Mami's ashes. For the Takigawa Hoys it was the first visit to this town, to this prefecture, and to see the Japan Sea.
We had heard about our ancestor Takigawa Kazumasu, but in planning this trip it was revealed that not only did he retire to this small backwater after Oda Nobunaga lost his war; but TK also established a temple, lugging a huge Buddha across the country to install on the grounds.
400 years of Takigawas are interred in the family tomb, and the old liver spotted monk told us some of our family history after chanting many Namu Amida Butsus for Aunt Mami.
The temple is called 信楽寺, Shingyouji I believe is the pronunciation. Belief in fun temple. That's us.

After the ceremony, we checked out Matsue Castle and went up to Shimane prefecture to wade in the Japan Sea and eat in a little Indian restaurant there called Kashmir Dabar. Again, managing to find something for all of our picky-ass diets. Amazing.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Moving back in time

Flew to Izumo from Haneda after class on Saturday, meeting the rest of my family and Jessica at Izumo airport. We drove to the Tokyu Inn and checked in to our 3 twin rooms, then met up with Asako, Jung, Masayasu, and Satoe for dinner at the macrobiotic restaurant Beehive, a lucky find in such a small and out of the way town. They even had seitan dishes, and the bill for ten people, including drinks, was very reasonable, though the service was sketchy and the table they gave us much too small, despite our reservation days in advance. We gave them a translation of their menu into English, which mom had done so that we could all easily order, but they seemed weirded out and standoffish rather than grateful.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

oh my god, get it out

An insect just died in my ear. For all I know, it's still in there. Motoring through Tana, the bugs were so thick that I'm surely no longer a vegetarian; they were commiting mass suicide by flying into my eyes, embedding themselves in the folds of my sweatshirt, and somehow finding their way beneath my helmet and into my ear, where the frantic buzzing was way too close for comfort. I started having a hissy fit at 50 kph, shaking my head madly and wiggling and writhing in an unsuccessful attempt to turn off the ringing in my ears. Finally, helmet already disengaged, I pulled over to the side of the road and had a full on spazz attack, shaking and jerking madly, clawing at my ear, trying to disengage the thing, which responded by buzzing more insistently. Finally it stopped; I assume it's dead and lodged in my brain.
After that, I got on the big main road, full of traffic and mercifully free of devil-cursed Nature.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


Words of the day: saiaku, saikou. The young people use them.
Meaning: the worst!/the best! Saikou is cool cuz it sounds like psycho. Fitting.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


today i saw a woman walking down the street cradling a baby in her arms and pushing a stroller. i zipped past her on the scooter, turned my head to look at the baby cuddled on her shoulder... and it was a bunny rabbit.
after that, i rode through the fields on my way to work. it's rice season, and the paddies are flooded. swimming amongst the young green rice shoots projecting from the water were a pair of ducks.
my day is made.

Monday, June 12, 2006

visiting Matsumoto

Cassandra and I headed to the city of Matsumoto, in Nagano prefecture, for an overnight visit. Matsumoto is about 3500 yen and 4 hours by slow train via the Chuo line. We started out at 6am and slept most of the way there.

Arriving at Matsumoto station, we hit the tourist information center for maps then groggily stumbled into Doutor to get our bearings and ingest cheese toast and lattes. Fed, we struck out toward Matsumoto castle to drink in the history. On the way, we chanced upon the Mastumoto Kaerumatsuri. The 2 day frog festival is apparantly an annual occurance, and is held on the beautiful Nawate street, which runs for a few blocks alongside a small river and is filled with old timey shops selling name seals, osenbei, and other general rick-rack. We were delighted with all the frog paraphenalia, and also with the live music and kids running around in frog t-shirts and backpacks.

Built in the late 1500s, Matsumoto castle was formerly called Fukashi castle; the name was changed when the castle changed hands. The castle is surrounded by a moat filled with koi and swans, and the grounds are very pleasant. It's required to take off your shoes to enter, so we sock-footed around the castle, touching the old massive cedar pillars and peering through the tiny arrow-shooting windows (yazama) and checking out the view from the moon-viewing wing.

After the castle, we looked at the Matsumoto City Museum, which is on the castle grounds and has a bunch of alternate titles. The admission to the museum is included in the castle admission (600 yen). It had some cool stuff, including local folk art, but we were so tired from our journey that we opted to walk back toward the station and check in to our hotel, the Toco Hyper Hotel. This is a cheap business hotel right next to the station (in the same block as the Doutor) that costs only 6000 yen for a double room. It's a standard business hotel, but it's clean and convenient. Our room actually included a small extra single matress w/o bedding that doubled as a couch. We took a short nap and went back outside.

We immediately found an Indian restaurant called the Royal Hind. They had quite a few vegetarian options. Pretty standard Indian restaurant in Japan - they served ketchup with the samosas. But it was a welcome discovery after predicting that we'd be eating Italian and convenience store rice balls for the whole trip.

We walked back up to Nawatedori, and also walked along Nakamachidori, the old merchants' street. It was pretty dead by 6pm, though the buildings were cool. We continued along to the Jusco mall further up the street, where we got ice cream and window shopped.

We capped off the evening by returning to the hotel. On the second floor of the building is a karaoke parlor and a mangakiss called Wip, which, for some reason, is short for "What's up?" We joined Wip and checked our email and played pool for two hours before turning in for the night.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


I play Memory a lot in my classes - with regular playing cards, ABC upper and lower case letters, and other variations. It's a great game for kids who are weak on numbers, letters, vocab. In Japanese the game is called shinkei suijaku - nervous breakdown. I like this name better.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

John I Love You

A few years ago I picked up a hitchhiker on the I-5 somewhere in Oregon, probably between Corvallis and Portland, but possibly on the way to Washington or down to California.
Driving that particular stretch of Interstate 5 is by now hypnotic; I have travelled that road so many times that only a few landmarks register, the rest passing without concious notice until suddenly, I have arrived at my destination. The 45th parallel sign is one such landmark; the Albany paper mills another. I remember the turf business on the east side of the highway, with the "We keep rollin' a lawn" sign, because Dave once pointed to the tiny shack near the sign, saying he would like nothing better to work there and live forever in that little house.
Also distinct is that almost wherever you pull over along this road, be it at a rest area of just on the side of the road because, say, your engine exploded or you're picking up another hitchhiker, you are surrounded by green. Trees, hills, grassy slopes. It was on such a grassy stretch that I picked up John.
I can no longer remember his real name, but only that he had short dark hair, was somewhat slight of build and wore Oregon/grunge clothing: worn trousers and some kind of plaid flannel shirt. We talked a little bit - destination, that day's weather, his wait and walk, and whatever story he wanted to share: up to me to decide whether to believe or not.
Sometimes talk flags. As one who has been a driver and a rider in these situations, I recognize the ritual and the responsibility of keeping up an interesting stream of chatter if it seems expected. After all, talk is often the reason a driver will pick someone up - for entertainment, to break the monotony of a long drive, to keep from falling asleep. But it's tiring, sometimes, for both parties. If you've been walking and riding for some time, having to decorate yourself over and over for each new driver can be an effort. And maybe the driver just wants to give a ride, without having to get too involved.
As in so many situations where communication is too great an ordeal, music, in this case, was the answer. That day is was Sinead O'Conner's Universal Mother. Soon enough the song "John I Love You" came on. I hadn't even realized that my rider was paying attention; he had been quiet and contemplative for some time, lulled, I thought, by the motion and the endless green. The lullaby played:
There's life outside your mother's garden
There's life beyond your wildest dreams
There hasn't been any explosion
We're not spinning like Dorothy

and he came alive. "This song - it's amazing. Who is this?" I told him, and he listened, entranced.
A little while later, he got out of the car as our paths diverged. "That song," he said, "it changed my life."
It changed mine a little too, I guess, because now when I hear it I remember him and that day and that little green otherwise indistinct piece of Interstate 5.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


I'm an adult now, so I can eat ice cream bonbons Pino for breakfast.

Monday, May 08, 2006

off to the airport

Pouring rain ever so early in the morning, we left our hotel and headed to the subway to go to the airport. Armed with a sheaf of stamped, ready to mail postcards, I kept my eyes open for a postbox along the way, but none presented themselves. Thinking there would surely be one somewhere in Gimpo airport, and anyway lacking the time to search for one not on our route, we proceeded.
Unfortunately, Gimpo airport is quite bare bones, and has very little in the way of amenities. Eating choices are minimal, and there are no postboxes anywhere on the premises. We boarded our flight and flew back home, where we pasted disappointingly Japanese stamps next to the Korean ones and posted them.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

To market, to market

If you're headed out on the town for exploring, be sure to bring tissue paper, because it would really not be fun if you have a poop attack but you don't have the paper you packed because you had a fight with your boyfriend and ya'll decided to spend the day apart and he took your daypack and all you have is your notebook so you have to tear a bunch of pages out and use that.
Would it?

I went to Insadong, previously mentioned, and scored a few more souvenirs, then headed to the old market, Namdaemun, where many inexpensive and interesting goods can be found, such as Bae Yong Jun socks aimed at Japanese tourists, complete with a picture of his dreamy bespectacled face and "Yong-sama" written on them. 1000 won.
From there I hit up the recommended Kyobo books, an excellent and large bookstore with a large English section - but small translated Korean lit section (they only had one thin Hwang Soon-won novella, whom I believe is highly translated) - where I nonetheless picked up Three Days in That Autumn by Pak Wanseo, a modern female writer.
Content with the day's shopping, I headed to meet boyfriend-the-poophead at the appointed time, at which time we once again attempted to check in to the Sheel Hotel. Luckless, we ended up at the Samsung Motel a few blocks away. Adequate, but not wonderful. Also, apparantly the word "motel" has the love hotel connotation, while the word "hotel" does not, at least when spoken. It was clear that Sheel was a love hotel, but only from the appearance - not the name.
After checking in, we went to the nearby convenience store for a dinner of rice, kimchee, cookies, chips, and drinks. By this point, it had started pouring rain, and we got fairly soaked. However, being our last night in Seoul and determined to get as much in as possible, we headed back out into the night.
Dongdaemun, the famous clothing market, is open until 5 a.m. I'm not sure what time it reopens in the morning, but we hopped on the subway and rode the few stops to the area, and proceeded to browse the rows upon rows of stalls in the cavernous buildings. Certain areas were devoted to certain types of products, so one section might have 30 stalls selling ladies' underwear, while another floor might specialize exclusively in ties. We also checked out a slightly more upscale mall adjacent, but found the prices to be too high. Ascending to the top floor, however, I scored a good deal on Korean-style chopsticks and bibimbap spoons - about 1500 won for a set of 5 pairs of chopsticks.
At about two a.m., we concluded the evening and climbed, soaking wet, into a cab that bore us back to Jongno3ga and the hotel and sleep.

back to Seoul

After a leisurely checking out of Hotel Sheel (noon! no 9 and 10 am checking out here! take note, Japan), we jumped on the subway and headed to Country Life for lunch, the vegan Korean food buffet at Shinsa station. Fantastically delicious and very reasonable (8000w for all you can eat). Highly recommended.
From there we headed to Gyeongbokgung, the biggest palace in Seoul. We were just in time upon arriving to witness the colorful changing of the guard at the main gate, with many men in colorful elaborate costumes and interesting instruments and flags. The grounds were expansive, with many different enclosures and sub-palaces for different royalty. The king had his own quarters, of course, and the queen, crown prince, and dowager each had separate sections as well. The buildings were mostly open-plan shells, with little furniture or decor left inside, though the woodwork was elaborately painted. I was again suprised at the relative lack of tourists on such a nice day in Seoul. Occasionally, groups of about 20 Chinese tourists would come along, but quickly dissapated. Nothing like the swarms we had left behind during Golden Week.
More of a highlight, however, was the National Folk Museum on the grounds to the palace, with free entrace that comes with palace admission. It's a large and interesting museum, with extensive dioramas, mannequins, and displays showing various aspects of Korean life and history. Outside is a small sculpture garden including phallic sculptures, zodiac sculptures, and scenes from a traditional village.
I found it very interesting that same sexes of all ages hold hands everywhere. There doesn't seem to be any weird stigma like there would be in the states - we saw old and young women, 20-something men, older businessmen, and all sorts of other combinations. It was really nice.

From the palace grounds we walked past Anguk station and up Insadong, the folk art street. Lots of vendors selling souvenir-y stuff, and very crowded, but not just with foreign tourists. There are several veg restaurants in this area, including the aforementioned Dimibang, as well as Soshim, which was closed by the time we tried to go there, and a Buddhist restaurant and shop that was incredibly expensive. We ended up eating at Little India, about 1/2way down Insadong and on the 2nd floor: mediocre, overpriced curry. But vegetarian. They served the curry with a side of pickled radish, which I thought a strange touch, but no weirder than the ketchup they serve with samosas in Japan.

We tried to check in at Hotel Sheel again, eager to try the Cyber floor, but they were booked up! We went across the street to the All in Motel, which was a tad cheaper but much shittier. I'm not posting their information, it's not worth it. They had internet, though.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

fourth day: Gyeongju

We began this day by taking the bus #11 out to Bulguksa, perhaps Gyeongju's most famous temple. One thing that's remarkable after being in Japan for so long is the spaciousness of Korea. The tourist locales aren't teeming with people! The hotel rooms have space to turn around! There is overall a less crowded feeling to Korea, even in Seoul. Space doesn't seem to be at such a premium, and there is more room to breathe.
After Bulguksa, we headed back to town to visit the tumulus park, tombs of the Silla kings and queens. The mounds are impressive, but not shocking. The park is very peaceful, and seems like a good place to have a picnic. It's a lovely place to stroll around between the rolling mounds and ruminate about 6th century kingdoms. You can enter one of the mounds and get a feeling for how the burial process took place.
We returned to Seoul by way of express bus to DongDaegu (not as nice as our bus from Busan to Gyeongju) and then the KTX to Seoul. We made our destination Jongno 3ga this time, as it's centrally located and is on 3 subway lines. We scoped the area for a few minutes, and passed on Hotel Doulos - too expensive. Next door was Hotel Sheel, a theme love motel, with different decor on each floor. Decor includes cyber, modern, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, European, and VIP. Also Indian. We got an Indian room - we didn't know it when we checked in, but we were very happy with our room. All the amenities of June and Liebe, and great decor. Since we checked in late, we got a reduced rate of 45,000. However, when we wanted to extend the next day and try another theme, we were told that the room rate would double if we wanted to keep it during the day. So we trucked our stuff back to the subway lockers and proceeded with our day. Not that much of a hassle, really. The lockers are only 1000 won and the hotel was really close to the station.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

third day in Korea

Spent the day in Busan checking out the Gukje market in Nampodong. Lots of tiny streets crammed with vendors selling all kinds of stuff, from socks to doorknobs. We also walked around Busan station some more - the area adjacent to the station is the Russian sector. Lots of signs in Cyrillic. Lots of blond heavily made up women.
We decided to head to our next destination, Gyeongju. The cheapest, fastest way from Busan is via express bus from the bus terminal at Nopodong station. En route, we were accosted by a friendly businessman with kimchee breath who wanted to practice his English. Due to Ian's terrible pronunciation, James thought that we were coincidentally headed to Gwangju, 4 1/2 hours away, instead of Gyeongju, 1 hour away. Excited that we were coming to his town, he talked to us animately during the 20 minute ride to Nopodong, and then hung around at the bus station trying to get us to meet him the following day. The mistake was discovered, and James resignedly said goodbye as we headed off to catch our bus.
Arriving in Gyeongju late, we walked around and checked into the lovely love Motel Liebe next to the bus station, with a big sign poking into the sky. Lots of amenities similar to the hotel June, and also 45,000 won. Central, pleasant, recommended.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

korea day 2

We spent the day in Seoul taking the cable car up to Seoul Tower and wandering around Namsan park, for good views of Seoul, lots of nature, and many singing schoolchildren on outings. We also hit the lovely veg restaurant Dimibang, at Anguk station on Subway Line 3. I wrote a review for the restaurant at the Happy Cow website here. Then the KTX, or Korean bullet train, to Busan. This was very pleasant, fast, and comfy. Even more so than the shinkansen in Japan, which is smokier, and of course a lot more expensive.
In Busan, we stayed at the Pusan Plaza Hotel, which we had reserved through the Life in Asia website. It was really tatty, and lacked most of the amenities that the June Hotel had for the same price. (Actually, the bill said it was less, but since we reserved online, I think that LIA took a big cut.) Seems to be geared toward Russian business people and tourists - they had business cards in Russian but not English. I don't recommend this place - check the Arirang down the street or one of the other motels on this street. I bet they would be better, and cheaper.
Style forecast for Busan: high heels and baggy-butt sweatpants.

Monday, May 01, 2006

first night in Seoul

Alighting at Gimpo airport, we headed onto the subway. One of the first things I noticed about Seoul was the smell - the streets are dirtier than Tokyo (but still not incredibly dirty) and there was a mixture of sewer and kimchee aroma in the air! Sewer, of course, stronger outside, but kimchee smell noticable down below. Since we got in so late, our train didn't go all the way to the station we needed, but stopped 2 stations previous. From there, we hopped into a cab the rest of the way and found our hotel.
Stayed in the Hotel June. Not immediately convenient to tourist spots, but on Line 5 so a straight shot to Gimpo airport and only a few minutes by the same line to downtown. We were able to book online without giving a cc, so it was very easy. The hotel is beautiful, a business/love hotel with tons of amenities. The only indication of possible love hotellery is the pack of condoms next to the bed. The room was stocked with a high speed internet computer, big flatscreen tv, DVD player with free video lending, a/c, air filter machine, water cooler, fridge with free drinks, tons of toiletries, whirlpool tub, and lovely decor. The front desk guy was really friendly and helpful and spoke English. The room was 45,000 won, or about $45.
The kimchee smell got less noticable as the days passed and I got used to it.
Today we're looking forward to seeing some sights and checking out some of the veggie restaurants listed on the Happy Cow site before heading down to Busan.

Saturday, April 29, 2006


Just now, I was riding through a small back street on my scooter. I had to slow way down because there was a gang of small children on tricycles stopping up the throughway. I reduced to a crawl and putted through. A little girl turned to me as I passed. "Bye-bye!" she shouted joyfully at me. "Bye bye!" I replied.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

thumbs out

I picked up my first Japan hitchhiker the other night. It was drenching rain and C. and I stopped at a country convenience store at 2a.m. for a soda run on the way to my apartment. There was a man asking the clerks for directions to an all-night restaurant. They gave him directions to Denny's, at least a mile away. I noticed they were giving bad directions, as per usual for conbini clerks in Japan. (Nobody ever knows how to get anywhere in Japan, especially workers at convenience stores. Because they're coming in from another station?) We approached the man outside, who was struggling with a broken umbrella. C. and I proceeded to give him better directions, C. mentioning that it would take him nearly an hour to walk there. After trying to explain how to get there for a little longer, I offered him a ride. We were going that way anyway.
In the car, we talked to him a little bit. I could very faintly detect a whiff of alcohol, but it wasn't strong, and he was very coherent and polite. He looked like a blue collar worker or an artist, not a salaryman - no suit, with facial hair. It never once occured to me that it was a bad idea. It seemed the natural thing to do.

We dropped him at the Denny's next to Tana station. It was still pouring.

Monday, March 20, 2006


I saw the best thing at Rosen today. As I walked through the entrance, I saw a little girl making intent conversation with a tissue-distributing representative of Tepco or AU mobile or some such company. They looked entirely unrelated; she was about 3 or 4 and he was in his twenties and dressed in company uniform. She was waxing philosophic; he was crouched down, listening closely. As I passed, I noticed what appeared to be a mother browsing nearby.
I wonder what it was that she needed to tell him, and what it was that he so needed to hear.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

ms. roy

"You can wake someone who's sleeping. But you can't wake someone who's pretending to be asleep." -Arundhati Roy

Monday, January 30, 2006


I love the escalator system in japan. my favorite way to get up the stairs, especially at the train station, is to walk up the right-hand side of the escalator, free for just this purpose, passing all the static climbers on my left and all of the pure-exertion climbers on the staircase. it's the best of both worlds.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

he's so metal

his name is preston but
he goes by 'malvar'.
which is the name that he uses when he plays
in magic tournaments.
he is often seen
in wife-beater shirts
and otherwise he wears black
and he has a goatee
and leather boots with four buckles
and wears a silver ring on his finger.
he mainly subsists
on pepsi by the caseload
and cigarettes
and i remember that
suicidal tendencies song.
but he is a nice guy
he has a girlfriend
her hair is dyed platinum
deadened by bleach
and i remember that
bleaching my hair in high school
and thrashing to the mosh part
and sometimes cutting patterns into my arm
or my leg
with a razor blade
and sometimes the initials
of thrashy boys
who played electric guitars in their bedrooms
and were sarcastic and funny in class
and did rock jumps in gym class
and once, one named billy
dedicated an air guitar solo to my in
the elevator of his apartment building.