Monday, January 29, 2007

easy like sunday morning

D. and C. came over for our first Japan Sunday brunch. It was so nice that I hope to make it a much more regular occurrence in the future - brunch is just not a concept here. I tried my hand at my first tofu quiche, first tasted at D. and M.'s post-wedding brunch last year. It was so good that I bought the cookbook that the recipe is in, Vegan Vittles, but hadn't gotten around to making it until this last Sunday. Excellent! Rave results all around, and very easy to make. I. also whipped up some tasty blueberry pancakes and roasted potatoes.

After we watched H's videos and then trooped off to Shibuya to see Iron & Wine's free in-store appearance at Tower Records. They were lovely, much lower-fi and less rock than the show the night before. Lots more intimate. All in all a super day.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

a night of rock

Went to see Iron & Wine with Calexico at Club Quattro in Shibuya. It was quite expensive, but I&W is all I've been listening to this year, so I was eager to go, and besides, it was my birthday.

Arrived at CQ in hectic 'Buya, and went up to the club on the 4th floor of a Parco building. It's kind of weird to go to a show in a department store, passing displays of golf clubs and rock tees, but well. We went in to front, stashed our stuff in the thoughtfully provided bank of lockers, and went into the dark smoky club. The usual mid-sized rock venue. It had been awhile since I had been to a show like that.

I&W started promptly, just Sam on his guitar and his sister Sarah singing backup. Very nice, they played several old songs and a few new ones. Sam Beam is a poet. I mean that in the most complimentary sense. As the new songs came out I was hanging on to each verse, watching the lyrics form.

Calexico came out and I really enjoyed them. I was surprised, because I hadn't cared that much for them on the radio, but they were good solid rock, and impressive in all their instruments and music nerdery - they had a couple of trumpets, an accordian, a stand up bass, the usual guitars and drums, a harmonica, a lap steel guitar, and some kind of xylophone. No wonder the show was spendy - hauling all that shit had to be insane! They are, as their name implies, a mix of American and Mexican-influenced music, with tones of indie, mariachi, Chris Isaak crooning, and the desert. They had some good imagery and the token Chicano guy played some mean horn and sang in Spanish. They also did a shout out to Mano Negra, singing "cuando llegare", which can't hurt things. I&W came on stage to sing with them from their album "In the Reins" that they did collaboratively.

Over all, I really enjoyed it, though I&W was a bit amped up, more "rock" than on their albums. They made up for it the next day, though.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Gleaned this word from "Julie with Julia: My Year of Cooking Dangerously", by Julie Powell, about cooking every recipe in Julia Childs's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking". Decent book, great word. She's from Texas, I assume that's where she got it - it means "askew or awry". I think she spelled it with a "k" in the book.

Monday, January 22, 2007

sennen no koe

For my birthday, mom got us all tickets to Sennen no Koe in Omotesando. 千年の聲 - Voices of a Thousand Years, a Buddhist chanting group from the mountains of Toyama. At first, it was strange to see a Buddhist group in this performance hall instead of a temple. But the incongruity faded as we watched, and I remembered that American Gospel groups often performed concerts - they don't need churches to sing well, or to be holy. Also, the theatrics were minimized. There were a few lights and the costumery was elaborate. But, after all, their voices dominated.

First a monk came in to light some candles on stage. Then, a procession of monks in varying colorful robes entered, holding assorted musical instruments and other accouterments. Some were holding canopies mounted on long gilded poles, assumedly to shelter the most important monks from the (non-existent) elements. The most striking instruments were the large conch shells that some blew into, striking because I had never seen the like in Japanese music. But Toyama is a sea-bordering province, and this group, as the name suggests, is old as dirt.

Perhaps most interesting was the role of women in the procession. There were a number of them, also chanting, but at one point in the ceremony, the whole lot of them (about 20) walked in formation along strips of white cloth, blindfolded and wearing broad straw hats. It didn't seem to be a virgin-gift thing, as the women varied greatly in age. And when they reached the congregation area, they removed their own blindfolds.

Metropolis says that this ritual is representative of the cloth bridge to paradise, allowing women to enter a usually off-limits area. So I guess it's cool in a way, because it's an inclusive ceremony, although it stinks that they're not generally allowed in the first place. I'd love to know more about this... guess I'll have to get out my kanji dictionary and try to muddle through the program.

We also ate at It's Vegetable! in Kinshicho, a wonderful vegetarian (and almost entirely vegan) Taiwanese restaurant. The food was so good that I kept forgetting to take pictures before attacking it. Standing out were the cashew chicken and the sweet&sour pork.


Met D. in Ikebukuro in order to try a Chinese veg restaurant there, Roran.

Unfortunately, upon arrival, we discovered it closed. On Saturday. Great business plan, guys.

We ended up eating Indian food at a place called New Delhi and talking animately in the bowels of the station, trying to keep warm, before hitting up the Disc Union and then the mangakiss next door to take advantage of the drink bar, the three of us squeezed into one booth, sketching and drinking.

After, in the station, we came upon a statue of an owl in the entrance of the station, which prompted a discussion about the town's name, Ikebukuro. To my knowledge, the characters were those for "lake" 池 and "bag or sack" 袋. Lake Sack. Very poetic. But the owl statue, whose belly people were touching for good luck, reminded me that owl is also "fukuro" in Japanese. Could the town actually be named 池梟- Lake Owl? Much prettier. But no - after doing some character lookup and sign-checking, we realized that the first translation was the right one, and that owl is actually "fukuroU", long o, and that the statue was just a play on words. Still. Lake Owl sounds nicer, don't you think? That's how I'll think of Ikebukuro from now on.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Annoying sexist assumptions accepted as general knowledge, aside from the obvious ones about housewives and work status, Japan-specific:

-Men walk faster than women (it's common to see on a map something like: "walking time for men: 15 minutes. walking time for women: 20 minutes").
-Women enjoy cake and sweets and men don't.
-The existence of "ladies' set" meals, lighter and a better deal. Usually, men are NOT PERMITTED to order this set.
-Women drink less than men and so should pay a smaller percentage of the bill when going out for drinking parties.


Monday, January 15, 2007

chubby guys in silk loincloths.

We went to Ryogoku to check out the 2007 January Tokyo Sumo Tournament. It was my first time to an actual tournament - last year I checked out an NHK special presentation with mom and C.; this was the real deal.
I was able to buy tickets easily at Family Mart by using their "ticket pia" kiosk machine and entering the "p-code" (found on the sumo website). I got the cheapest assigned seats, Arena 3, for 3600 yen.
Also availabe for purchase the day of the match are general admission tickets - these don't guarantee seats but are a bit cheaper at 2,100 yen. They can only be bought at the stadium, and I wasn't sure if we would be able to get in, since there are a limited number available. Turned out that the arena seats were half empty - all the box seats were full - and there would have been no problem sitting with general admission tickets. We went on a Monday - I think if you go during a weekday, you're good to go. So that's what we'll do next time.

At first it seems like a normal train station. One grey platform, a pedestrian row of molded plastic chairs lined up, empty now, next to a drink machine promising “best lifestyle heart” and “Pocari Sweat”. Nondescript buildings surround. The sign reads “Ryogoku”. Then, as passengers disembark, they might notice something different. Such as the unusual number of very large men wrapped in kimonos and topknots walking around the area. They might then see the large portraits of wrestlers staring down at them from the station walls. An aroma of chanko-nabe, the fattening stew that wrestlers in training eat, might float to their nostrils from the row of restaurants flanking the station. And the foot traffic is all going in one direction. Off to the right. Toward Ryogoku Stadium.

A hulking grey and green building, it still manages to be low key, rising only a few stories in a squat dome, and shielded largely by a concrete wall on the station side. A few officials patrol the perimeter, and a simple black and white sign ushers tournament-goers to the main entrance. There, a few larger-than-life portraits adorn the front of the building, of wrestlers standing and in action. There are a few freestanding structures – a ticket booth, what looks like a guard booth, and a strange tall, thin tower, from which the beating of a drum is emanating. This drum, called the yagura-daiko, announces to the surrounding area that the tournament is taking place. The tower and the area around it are garlanded with strips of paper, braided straw, and bamboo slats in the Shinto tradition. For Sumo is a Shinto sport.

This becomes even more apparent upon entering the area. After finding seating in one of the four sections – designated east, west, north, and south – the spectator is treated to many sights. The seating, divided into arena-style chair seats and Japanese-style cushion-on-tatami seats (down front and considerably more expensive) scoops down toward the center ring, over which hangs a wooden “roof”, constructed and carved in the Shinto style and festooned with tassels denoting the season. Portraits of past yokozuna (grand champions) line the perimeter of the ceiling. Richly costumed referees oversee the proceedings, wearing ornate kimonos and tall sculpted hats reminiscent of a Shinto priest’s. Other simple kimono-clad attendants are in motion constantly, making sure that the ring, delineated by rice sacks sunk in the packed clay, is kept clean and pure. They keep busy sweeping a circular pattern into the thin layer of sand atop the clay with straw brooms between each bout. They aid the wrestlers in rinsing their mouths and wiping their bodies before each match. They also keep full the buckets of salt next to the ring. The salt is thrown by wrestlers into the ring in order to purify it before each match; those sitting up front not only have the privilege of sitting on the floor, sometimes next to other naked wrestlers watching the match, but also get the occasional stray sweat drop or salt granules flung in their direction.

Once in the ring, the rotund wrestlers, dressed only in silk loincloths and elaborate hairspray, continue the rituals. They lift their hands, palms up, above their heads to show the gods they are holding no weapons. They squat, then rise sideways on one foot, then the other, stamping mightily in order the drive the devil out of the ring. They glare meanly at each other. Each motion, each nuance, is symbolic and is performed with great deliberation. Though the wrestlers are admittedly and deliberately fat, they are also usually very muscular, showcasing in their nudity their immense toned calves and strong arms. During the period leading up to the actual fight, you can hear the spirited cries of the audience, calling out to their favorite. “Koootooomitsuki!!!” a man will yell out lustily. And a higher, childlike voice: “Ama, ganbare!!!”

After several minutes of staring and posturing, the wrestlers lunge, grappling and straining to make the other falter. One toe outside the ring, one elbow touching the ground – is all it takes for the winner to be declared. Matches are short but action-packed. The men, sometimes greatly different in size, struggle to get a good hold on their opponent, sometimes ripping off the decorative paper strips hanging from the front of the loincloth. Finally, and sometimes violently, one bests the other, sometimes throwing his opponent, WWF-style, into the crowd closely packed around the ring. If the match is especially exciting, the crowd up front will show their jubilation by raining their cushions into the ring in a huge, match-ending pillow fight.

If, after watching the matches, the visitor still isn’t sated, they have the option of purchasing a number of souvenirs, including a boxful of chocolate shaped wrestlers. They can then relive the experience at home, biting the head off a sumo giant and declaring themselves victorious

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


When I lived in Portland, I worked part-time for the Smart program, reading to and with kids with underdeveloped reading abilities. It was a great job, and being with those kids made my day. Here are some impressions about that time from 2001.

I'm still reading at SMART, and I love it every minute. I get to hang out with children for 6 hours a day, 2 days a week. There are a few who are standoffish, but there are those who dance and sing with me, show me the treasures in their pockets, perch on my shoulders or hang round my neck piggyback. They make me entirely happy! The other day Carlos stood in front of me, hands on hips, showing me his belt and his five year old dance stance, and sashayed around the room. In a moment, he was leading me around too. bum-ba-bum, bum. dum de de de dum. Sharhonda shrieks and runs in circles, hugging stuffed animals and drawing elaborate pictures. And Celest - at first I thought she was a little precocious, but she is my hero! She came in singing country - "she don't know she's beautiful, no, no, she don't know she's beautiful" and told me that country music makes her dizzy and her heart warm. I read with a little girl named Verenice, who is brand new and does not speak any English. She's in first grade, Celest is in kindergarten. They don't know each other. I was reading with Verenice when Celest walks in, and walks right up to Verenice. "I like your ponytails," says Celest. Verenice stares at her, uncomprehending, with frightened eyes. I explain, in halting Spanish, what Celest has said. "Celest," I say. "Come over here." She does. "Celest, Verenice, Verenice, Celest." They stare at each other. Still Verenice is wide eyed. A moment more. And then Celest, the most unhispanic kindergartener I know, says "hola." Verenice, quietly: "hola". And they part ways. My heart fell to the floor that moment!

Monday, January 08, 2007


Used when someone says something that clears up an uncertainty or makes something obvious. Means, "oh, right", or more annoyingly, "I knew that".

Saturday, January 06, 2007

star cloud note

I was wondering how to type these icons - seems like all Japanese people know how. My sister C. taught me.

Using the Japanese keyboard, for star type "hoshi"
ほし... and press space bar until you get ★。
For cloud it's "kumo"
and space until you get ☁。
And for note it's "onpu"
and space until ♪。

There are others too like sun ☀、rain ☂、etc.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

back in Japan

Being back after a short vacation freshens my eyes. Here I am smelling the incense offered to my ancestors and drinking coffee with funeral sugar. Walking around the neighborhood with empty streets - not because everyone's mourning Ford but because it's the New Year, and everything is closed save a few convenience stores. Decorations of bamboo and straw and paper festoon the entrances of the homes and closed shops; a couple in long coats slowly ride bikes down the long street.

Happy New Year.

Monday, January 01, 2007


Ah, Corvallis. The unescapable. Even though my family has relocated and we no longer have a presence in this town, it's still my little town and it's still full of familiar faces. You can't walk through the streets without running into someone or recognizing someone. The population is 50,000 strong, but it's still small enough to know a little about a lot of people.

I rolled into town and into the Beanery, an old haunt mostly because I worked there and it's such an establishment that it's hard to stay away. Right away I ran into K. and his family, a little funny because we both now live in Tokyo where we're really not very likely to meet accidentally; but the first 5 minutes in Corvallis and there he is.
After grabbing coffee, I headed to China Delight to meet T., who incidentally also worked at the Bean at one point, but not how I know him. Lately he's been training at massage school and is very into kung-fu and other martial arts. I ordered the sesame tempeh, of course - my number one Corvallis food craving - and we caught up. At the next booth, I nodded to a guy I recognized - an older guy whom I couldn't place at first. Then I realized - he had been in my swing dance class I had taken while in high school. I remember him stepping on my feet.

Then off to J. and M.'s apartment on Witham Hill - almost like living in the woods, so cold and green there. They were housebound with the flu, but still managed to get up the muster to play some coffee-table quarter stakes Bingo. Great kids - to be married this summer and maybe headed to grad school for MFAs in the fall.

And finally to see dear B., play Scrabble, and sit around being us. My best friend.

Even though so many of us have moved away, still, so many of us are drawn back there and we can still meet in the old places. There was some common wisdom when we were kids, living here in high school, that the town was unescapable, and that we would be stuck here if we didn't try like hell to get out. At the time it seemed like a curse, doomed to smalltowndom forever. But now it's pleasant to meet, now that so many of us have gotten out, it's good to come back, to reconnect, and to revel in the same smalltowndom that we so abhorred when we were 15.