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.