January 2001 Archives

1999 and 2000 registered

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1999 and 2000 registered record high unemployment levels: 4.7%.

Restructuring and bankruptcies as a result of the economic decline had over a million people out of work last year. Jobs are hard to find for those who've been "involuntarily unemployed." Sogo, a major department chain, let go 179 people. Only four of them have found new jobs.

While Japan is bemoaning its high unemployment, America is celebrating record lows. Last year's average was only 4%. Not much difference between the two countries, is there? To put it into perspective, in 1992, Japan's unemployment was about 2.5% while America's was 7.5%.

Japan's economy is not improving much and the trend towards higher unemployment doesn't seem to be changing. Certainly the government will want to do something to "fix" the problems.

In Singapore three years ago, the goverment stopped granting visas to foreign workers and encouraged employers to hire Singaporean nationals. Will Japan choose to do the same? I guess we'll wait and see.

Keio, one of Tokyo's

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Keio, one of Tokyo's suburban train companies, recently instituted late-night, "women only" train carriages in an attempt to give women a safe haven from Tokyo's infamous gropers.

This isn't the first time segregated cars have been run through Tokyo. In 1912, a rash of groping prompted women-only cars, and after WWII there were "women and children" cars on some train lines. These cars were discontinued in the 1970s.

Keio surveyed its riders and over 1600 women were in favor of "women only" cars for late night use. But after only a few weeks in service, Keio is rethinking its policy. Why? They received five dozen messages from men complaining that the practice is sexist. Will disgruntled men win out over women's safety and peace of mind? Time will tell.

We celebrated the lunar

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We celebrated the lunar new year by trudging through the slush to Tokyo Daihanten, a dim sum restaurant in Shinjuku.

It was a great holiday treat. I love stopping the carts as they trundle through the restaurant with their loads of steamed buns, shumai, gyoza, shrimp cakes, fried daikon patties and spring rolls. A few rounds of dim sum (called "yum cha" in Japanese) with some tea and a soup makes a filling meal.

As we were finishing up, the Chinese chef came over to ask (in English) if we had enjoyed our food. We got to chatting and found out that he had lived in Chicago's Chinatown for three years. Small world. When he asked us which place we liked best among Chicago, Tokyo and Hong Kong, he shared his view:

"Hong Kong to eat, America to live, Japan for the salary." True wisdom.

I've never seen so

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I've never seen so much snow in Tokyo.

"We're going to have a big snowfall tonight," my friend Kristen mentioned on Friday at lunch. How intriguing. It rarely snows here.

She was right. It began snowing late on Friday night and continued all of Saturday. By Saturday evening, five inches blanketed the ground.

Public services suffered. Japan's postal service doesn't deliver "in rain, sleet or even snow." The garbage collectors didn't even attempt to make their rounds. Fortunately, the subways were still running, though there were delays on trains at ground level.

Tokyo doesn't seem to have any snowplows, but trucks and buses have wheel chains for traction. The streets quickly turned to cold, grey slush. Sidewalks didn't fare much better. Not many people have snowshovels.

But they do have umbrellas which they carry to ward off falling snow. Unlike a tightrope walker's parasol, an umbrella in a snowstorm doesn't do much for balance. Umbrellas may be useful in a light snow, but they are dangerous when everyone is slipping around.

I'm not even going to mention people driving up the hill past our house.

The movie theatre experience

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The movie theatre experience in Japan is a mixed bag.

Ticket prices are outrageously high. We spent 1800 yen per ticket (That's about $17) to go see 13 Days last night.

Popcorn, my favorite movie treat, is disappointing. It's not freshly made and it tastes like its wrapping. But the concession stand sells ice cream and beer as a compensation. Most people bring their own snacks including burgers and fries.

Despite the high prices and bad popcorn, people flock to the movies. So if you are seeing a popular film, you'd better plan to get there early to stand in line. Seats fill up quickly. If you want a prime seat in the middle section of the theatre, you must pay a "reserved seat" premium, which brings the ticket price to 3000 yen per ticket.

The seats themselves are very comfortable, overstuffed chairs with drink holders. They are, along with the excellent sound systems, one of the better features of the theatres.

If you're late for the movie, it's OK. Movies are preceeded by ads and trailers. Last night's film had 20 minutes of trailers before the feature began. Except for the seating problem, there's no penalty for tardiness.

We don't see too many films here. We save movie-going for our overseas trips.

Jonathan's is the Denny's

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Jonathan's is the Denny's restaurant of Japan.

Jonathan's decor screams "family restaurant." The walls are pink textured wallpaper with a stained wood chair rail. Watercolor paintings and mirrors add spots of color. Brass poles and frosted glass offer privacy between sections. Potted plants in baskets hang from the ceiling. You've been in here before.

But open up the menu and you know you're not in an American restaurant. Some sample dishes:

  • Pork kimchee nabe stew
  • Salmon with fish egg garnish
  • Boston clam doria

The meal portions are large so I've never managed to have dessert at Jonathan's but the photos of the ice cream desserts are very tempting. I'm not sure whether I would be able to decide between the vanilla soft serve on a bed of cornflakes or the prune parfait. Mmmmm.

Japan deregulated its phone

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Japan deregulated its phone services and now we are seeing the rate wars beginning.

NTT East has routed all local phone traffic in Tokyo until now. They've been charging 10 yen for a three minute call. But their new competitors are charging only 8.8 yen for three minues and one has gone to 8.7 yen. NTT dropped its rates to 8.8 yen.

A new company is rocking the boat in the long distance seas. Fusion offers flat rate long distance: 20 yen for a three minute call anywhere in Japan. Everyone else charges by distance, so a call 20 km away might be 10 yen, but one to Sapporo might cost 50 yen. Fusion can save you a lot of money if you frequently call far away.

So far, this all looks very good for consumers. But it is confusing to find the lowest rates and the best calling plans. Perhaps what you win is discounted calls is sucked up by the time it takes to do the research.

Soy is used for

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Soy is used for a lot more things in Japan that in America. Every part of the bean is used, and very little is wasted.

Take o-kara for example. This is the fibrous part of the bean that is left behind when it's pressed for tofu. It's a damp, crumbly, pretty tasteless substance. But it's a great digestion aid, so it is transformed into foods.

Unohana is the most common dish made with o-kara. The crumbly fiber is mixed with a cooked vegetables, soy sauce and other flavorings. I think the result tastes a little bit like turkey stuffing, though that may just be a result of my vivid imagination and the fact that I haven't eaten turkey stuffing in a few years.

My breakfast this morning is an o-kara doughnut. It looks moist, like a tofu donut. It's fried a crispy brown and still looks a little greasy. It's very plain, no chocolate icing, not even any sprinkled sugar on top. The taste is similar to its appearance. Moist, greasy and very plain. But not unpleasant.

I feel healthier already.

I make videos as

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I make videos as part of my living. Sometimes I have the most amazing luck with timing music and video.

The video I'm working on now is a fast-paced review of last year's accomplishments for a company. It's bright, with quick cuts, lots of color and a rap soundtrack.

I was asked to incorporate a clip of the company president--a "Hello, and thanks for all your hard work" talking head. Not exactly in keeping with the rest of the video, but the client gets what he wants, so I figured out where to put it, turned down the level of the rap during that section and when the president is finished speaking, the music goes back up.

Just in time for the rapper to say 'Yo, man. You heard what he said." Not planned, but completely brilliant. It stays.

Thank goodness for genki


Thank goodness for genki drinks.

Japanese don't take their vitamins in pills the way Americans do. Here we have vitamin candy and health (genki) drinks.

For the past week or more I've been drinking a couple of "C 1000 Vitamin Lemon" drinks every day. The tiny, 140 ml bottle contains a bright yellow, sweet and salty, lemon flavoured vitamin mix with enough vitamin C to chase away the worst of colds. Only it hasn't been working in my case. I'm supplementing with hot toddies and a vaporiser.

Other genki drinks offer ginseng and special herbs for men, most have a ton of caffeine which is probably the real secret of their popularity.

Not many people were

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Not many people were biking this morning.

One who did attempt the hill near our house skidded and wiped out on the crunchy ice and sleet that fell last night. Her maroon bag toppled out of the black wire basket of the bike, and her possessions slid over the road.

She carefully picked up strewn business cards, a walkman, and cosmetics. Then, checking her dark pantyhose for tears and readjusting her skirt and coat, she picked up her bike and walked it the rest of the way down the hill.

I wear my pink

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I wear my pink pajamas in the summer when it's hot;

I wear my flannel nightie in the winter when it's not.

But sometimes in the springtime and sometimes in the fall,

I jump between the covers with nothing on at all!

I learned that silly song at a Girl Scout summer camp but it's been running through my head recently. With all the earthquakes, or potential earthquakes, here, it's probably unwise to "jump between the covers with nothing on at all."

I wonder what people normally wear to bed in Tokyo.

Helping kids with their

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Helping kids with their homework is fun.

I found a request in my e-mail this morning from the daughter of a friend in Pittsburgh. "What is the weather like in Japan in January? Will you write back and tell me tonight?"

So I prepared a very brief summary of Japan's weather. Because Japan is oriented on a north-south axis, the weather varies from snowy to tropical. I described the snow in Sapporo, the rains in Okinawa and Tokyo's mild, clear skies.

Tomorrow, my answer will be read aloud to a 2nd grade science class. I hope I did a good job.

Being sick gives me

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Being sick gives me a chance to catch up on my reading.

For the last two afternoons (and probably again today), I laid my feverish body on a futon in front of the heater, covered myself with a feather duvet and read until I fell asleep. I've made it through one really bad military thriller and have almost finished an interesting book called "A Return to Modesty" which espouses that sexual modesty and "waiting until after marriage" is not the weird, bad thing people think, but is advantageous in the extreme. (It's a little too late for me, but the ideas are interesting nonetheless.)

I'm hoping that my ill body decides to feel better today. I really hate being so out of it. And, believe it or not, I'm getting tired of reading.

Japanese lunch boxes are


Japanese lunch boxes are really cute.

When you bring lunch from home, it's likely to be some of last night's rice, topped with flakes of salmon or with pickled vegetables. Depending on what you had for dinner the previous night, you may include some bits of stewed meat or vegetables, or even a bit of fried chicken. You'll add in a cup of instant miso soup because no meal is complete without rice and soup.

So you can imagine that the standard, roomy, American lunch boxes might not work so well. Bento boxes are made expecially for the sorts of bits and peices of food that go into them. You can buy very fancy ones made of lacquer and decorated with gold leaf. There are also less costly plastic versions of these elegant boxes.

But what I've seen in the office lunchroom is more kin to the character lunchboxes I carried to school as a kid but considerably smaller. Imagine a cross between a 2-cup sized tupperware and a gift box and you have the right idea.

The oblong box is contoured like an old-fashioned cedar lunch container. Its hard plastic outer shell fits together like a gift box and is decorated on top with cartoon characters or photos of animals. Some have silly sayings in English: "Heart is the time of lunch. Let's enjoy relaxing health together."

Inside is a pull out tray divided for the tidbits of vegetable, fish, meat and pickles and a lower compartment for rice. For diners with larger appetites, three-layer boxes are also available.

There are no pictures of these on the web that I can find, so if you'd like to see one, you'll have to come to Japan and visit any store that sells household goods.

Well, there goes the

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Well, there goes the neighborhood.

Tokyo Metropolitan Police are increasing the number of cells available in local jails, according to an article in yesterday's paper. Due to more stringent laws and tighter control over stalking and molestation, jail cells are full of detainees who must be questioned about their crimes. Questioning takes an average of 34 days during which time the criminal must be housed in a jail.

The number of people in the city jails has increased 2.5 times in the last ten years to approximately 2,4000 daily. The proportion of "foreign nationals" has increased from 10% to 25% of the jailed. That doesn't reflect the population at all--approximately 1% of Japan's residents are foreigners. Perhaps we are as bad and ill-mannered as some Japanese seem to think.

I think its time

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I think its time to re-evaluate video editing software.

I've been using Premiere for the last jillion years. It's what I learned first, way back when it was at the top of its class. But technology changed and Premiere hasn't kept up entirely.

I can't get it to properly control my camera when it captures. For example, I want a bunch of 1 second clips for a project I'm working on. Things start out OK, and Premiere chugs along, telling my camera to rewind, fast forward and play as needed, but after a while the time starts to drift. Instead of getting a clip that contains 1:14 to 1:15, I've got 1:15 to 1:16. Which isn't the right second!

I have 120 of these short clips to grab, and about half of them are wrong. I've worked around the problem for now. But I think maybe I need to investigate my other options.

There are a lot of new digital video editing programs available now, from the very simple iMovie to the more full-featured Final Cut Pro or Edit.DV There's even a new version of Premiere. But I don't relish this investigation. Switching software makes me very cranky. So if I write like a frustrated woman for the next few weeks, its because I am one.

I'm on my way

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I'm on my way to joining a gym.

I've always found gyms to be a bit intimidating--inscrutable weight machines and ultra-fit training partners. But I'm getting weaker and pudgier by the day, so it's time to take action. A couple of aerobics classes each week, maybe a swim and a little weight training thrown in once in a while will help me to combat my desk-bound lifestyle.

Last night, Tod & I passed the Sports Club Tokyo Dome on our way home. "Come on, I'll help you get an application," Tod offered. He knows that I will probably put this off for another few months just to avoid having to get information in Japanese. He made it look easy and a few minutes later, we were out the door with brochures and a sheet of information in English, too.

To join you need money (quite a bit of it) and a passport-sized photo. Tod is apparently quite ready to see me in the gym because he spotted an instant photo booth as we walked along. "Have your photos done. Then you'll be ready to join at any time."

I think the results of my photo-booth session look like an Aphex Twin album cover. But they will do the trick and since I'll stand out like a very pale, very tall, sore thumb in the gym no matter what I do, I guess my ID really doesn't make any difference.

I have no excuses.

Something strange is happening

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Something strange is happening in the world of broadcast news.

Live announcers are slowly being replaced by virtual actors and synthesized voices. Last spring, Ananova hit the scene. She reads the news for the UK's Press Association. Shortly after Ananova began broadcasting, Sprint introduced Chase Walker, an interactive news announcer, to appear via their ION broadband Internet service. We're all familiar with Clippit, the annoying Microsoft paperclip who only heralds bad news. Last month, a new face appeared on the web in France. Eve Solal is looking for a job in TV.

And so technology advances. Yesterday, Toshiba announced a breakthrough in speech synthesis. Their new system can imitate the voice of any person and instantly converts typed text into voices with a range of intonations.

Perhaps someday we'll be loyal fans of a computer-generated newsreader. Walter Cronkite, you're out of fashion.

Trival Difference #428 There's

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Trival Difference #428

There's never enough toast on lazy weekend mornings. Loaves of white bread in Japan are about half the length of American loaves. During the week, this is convenient since we always finish the bread before it turns stale.

By careful purchasing, I can maximise our toast. Loaves are normally pre-cut into 6 slices per loaf. Sometimes I've been able to find 8-slice loaves, which are the normal sized slices in the US. Thicker bread, a 5-slice loaf, makes great French toast but it's gone so quickly. There are 4-slice loaves, but the slices are so thick, I've never figured out what to do with them.

Some weekends, I plan ahead and buy two loaves.

Corporate stupidity is mind

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Corporate stupidity is mind boggling.

I am writing a newsletter and one of my contacts doesn't want to publish the names of the management team. I won't quote her most recent e-mail, but she's worried that things will change.

Things always change. Why not give some information now and deal with the changes in the next issue? That's why there are future issues.

Sometimes, mainly when I look at my bank balance, I wonder if leaving my corporate job was a good idea. But then I have a client like this who reminds me of all the pain and irriation I experienced back then. 12 hours days doing nothing important but everything with urgency. Lunches taken at my desk because I was too busy to eat a proper meal.

I smile at my brilliant decision and pour another cup of tea.

Japanese OTC cold medicines

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Japanese OTC cold medicines are a little bit intimidating.

The rules are different here so Japanese medications are not always the same as the ones I'm familiar with.. Certain cough medicine ingredients that I've taken in America are illegal here, but codeine is easily obtained in cold preparations.

The packages try to make it easy to figure out what's what. I suppose that's so sick and groggy natives don't have to think too hard, but it's helpful for the functional illiterate, too. Illustrations of cartoon people with red circles around their ailing parts, or beautifully shaded 3-D anatomical illustrations with arrows and flowcharts keep the unwary from buying stomach medicine when a headache remedy is in order.

But that doesn't help much when you get to the ingredient list. Can you decipher these?

  • rin [kanji] jihidorokodein
  • dl-[kanji] mechiruefedorin
  • senuga [kanji] ekisu
  • toranukisemu [kanji]

Did you figure them out? I think the first two are dihydro-codeine and methyl-ephedrine. The other two have me stumped.

I took it anyway. I think it helped.

The government of Japan

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The government of Japan recently reorganized itself. It streamlined 23 federal agencies into 13.

Some of the changes made sense. The Education Ministry and the Science and Technology Ministry were combined. Similarly Heath & Welfare and Labor were married. Those all sort of go together with similar goals and probably some overlapping programs.

But some changes did not make sense to me. The Hokkaido Development Agency became part of the new Construction and Transport Ministry while the Okinawa Development Agency joined the Cabinet Office. Why aren't they together? Maybe because the head of the Okinawa Development Agency is former Prime Minister Hashimoto. I'll bet Hokkaido Development's leader is just some guy.

They heralded this in the press as sweeping realignment to correct top-down decision making and to make operations simplers and more transparent. I have a feeling that it really isn't going to make anything easier or clearer than before. No jobs were lost, no policies changed, only office building were shuffled and renamed. So if you knew where to go last week, it might not be there anymore.

As we walked outside

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As we walked outside last night, I felt the air and commented, "It's going to snow tonight, I think."

A few hours later, my weather sense was proven true. We had a nice little snowfall of about an inch or so. Rooves and trees were coated white; roads were slushy.

By this morning the snow had turned to sleet and then to rain. Most of it is gone now, except for little patches hidden in shadows.

But it was beautiful while it lasted.

Tokyo's firefighters are well


Tokyo's firefighters are well prepared for fires and other emergencies, and they proved it to the public yesterday at their annual New Years Fire Review.

In a program organized down to the minute (10:51 March of Firefighters; 10:59 Parade of Fire Apparatus), the city's fire service strutted their stuff. From commendations to stunts to a fire drill, they really put on a show.

"Wow, that was much better than I imagined," Tod gushed after it was all over. "What was your favorite part?"

Although I thought I'd be most impressed with the Edo-era ladder acrobatics which have been performed every new year for the last several hundred years, I have to say I liked the fire drill best.

The firemen ignited some tall concrete structures, using plenty of smoke bombs for good effect, then zoomed around in big red pumpers and ladder trucks to extinguish the blazes. Ambulances carted away the rescued "victims." Helicopters hovered overhead, dropping firemen in on the scene and airlifting people from rooftops. They even flew by and discharged water over the buildings, showering the crowd watching from the bleachers. It was exciting to see all the equipment in use, and oddly comforting as well.

Afterwards, as we examined the interior of an ambulance and smiled at toddlers having their pictures taken with the firemen, we purchased a fukubukuro (lucky bag) from the Tokyo Emergency First Aid Association Toward Excellent Service. Inside we found a some useful first aid supplies, a Bystander's First Aid manual, a kerchief printed with CPR instructions, and an entire box of latex gloves.

Maybe I'm not as prepared as the Tokyo firefighters, but I'm ready now for any minor first aid emergencies or proctology exams.

Last night after dinner,

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Last night after dinner, our dining companion took us down the street and around the corner. "Here it is," he said.

We were standing in front of BoPeep, a tiny walk-in closet of a shop. With just room enough for a single file of customers, the store was crammed floor to ceiling with drug paraphenalia and lifestyle goods: pipes, paraphanalia, gardening books and pro-hemp stickers. What surprised me was the legal-in-Japan mood-altering drugs.

Along wih "herb joints," salvia extract, and morning glory seeds, magic mushrooms imported from Mexico, Thailand and Hawaii filled a display case. BoPeep's lone employee, a youthful man with clear, smooth skin embellished with a few sparse beard hairs, explained to us in a mix of Japanese and English that the Mexican and Thai mushrooms were for laughing fun and the Hawaiian ones were stronger, psychadelic.

The traffic in and out of the store was brisk in the ten minutes we were there. A pair of young women wearing the latest conservative fashions pored over the mushrooms. A couple wearing brand-new bell bottoms and knit rasta caps bought some, too. A burly African man came in, checked the prices, and left.

We weren't there very long but the place, like many Western shops in Tokyo, was a cute, clean and fun reproduction of its US counterpart. Completely charming.

I got lost in

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I got lost in my own train station yesterday.

When the Odeo subway line opened last month, Kasuga station was enlarged to include access to the new line. In fact, the Oedo line forms a perpendicular bridge between the parallel Kasuga and Korakuen stations.

So when I got off the Odeo line yesterday on my way back from Shinjuku, I headed for the nearest Up escalator to get to ground level and home. I put my pass card through the wicket to exit and continued walking through the maze of hallways and ever-ascending escalators, following the signs pointing towards the exit I wanted to use.

Six or seven minutes later (it's a very deep subway line), I spied sky. And another set of exit wickets. Huh? I'd gone through the exit procedure several levels below.

Daunted, but wishing to be truly exited, I tried passing my card through the wicket. *Ding Dong* You are not a winner. Please see the attendant.

I struggled to pull up the right vocabulary to explain my predicament. I had apparently gone though some "tranfer only" exit point and had a further 50 yen decucted from my pass card. I was expected to ride another line only I had no intention of doing that. So the the attendant returned my 50 yen and I was allowed to leave.

Next time I'm in that part of the station, I'll have to be more careful.

Fukubukuro are grab bags

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Fukubukuro are grab bags for grown-ups.

The name means lucky (fuku) bag (bukuro) and it is just that. For a set amount of money, you select a sealed shopping bag full of merchandise. You get at least as much as you paid for and if you are lucky, you get more.

I decided to search for a fukubukuro for myself. Matsuzakaya, an old-fashioned department store, was my target shopping experience. Outside the store, three men beat an uneven rhythm on a giant taiko drum as they whipped the passersby into a frenzy and hawked the last three 10,000 yen fukubukuro. I wasn't quite ready to part with that much money ($100) so I slipped inside to look for more modest surprises.

I amassed a number of small household purchases, but no lucky bag. I left disappointed. At the train station, I had a change of heart and dashed back to Matsuzakaya for a jewelry grab bag.

I decided on a 5,000 yen bag of Monet jewelry. It was a good choice. My bag contained three necklaces, a pair of earring and a bracelet worth at least 20,000 according to the price tags. I'll wear all the necklaces. As for the bracelet and earrings, well, maybe I'll find a use for them.

Fukubukuro are fun. Perhaps next year I'll try for a luxury fukubukuro in the 1,000,000 yen range ($10,000). I could find myself with a new car or a vacation.

When I rolled out

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When I rolled out of bed just now to start my day (OK, I admit that I've been awake for a few hours but lying abed and finishing a book I started yesterday), Tod sleepily asked me to turn up the heat.

The front panel of the heater was blinking. That's an indication to me that there is no gas. No wonder it was chilly in the room.

In this earthquake-prone country there are all sorts of safety features built into the infrastructure. One of them is that when the gas meter feels a jolt, it shuts itself off. Much of the destruction in earthquake disasters is caused by fires, so it makes sense to cut the flow of combustibles.

But we didn't have an earthquake last night. I double checked on the Internet. Not a tremor or a tremble. Rock solid. Maybe a heavy truck rumbled past on the street. They sometimes confuse the meter.

Regardless of the cause, I must go out and reset the meter. There are instructions permanently attached, but it's pretty easy. Look for the blinking red lamp, press the button until it stops blinking and then wait three minutes.

I'm already looking forward to a warm room and a hot shower.

The Japanese have a

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The Japanese have a very nifty tradition for new year's greetings.

People mail postcards (called nenga hagaki) to one another. The post office sells pre-franked cards with cartoon charaters or other scenes and lottery numbers printed on them. The lottery is drawn in mid-January and these cards are very popular--a greeting and a potential gift all in one. 576,908 lottery post cards were sent this year.

But you can buy more refined or personalised postcards at stationery stores or even make your own. We made ours this year using small squares of colored paper and rubber stamps to greet the Year of the Snake.

When you deposit your new year postcards into a specially marked "new years mail" slot on any street corner post box, the post office sorts the cards by address and holds them until new year's day, when they are delivered in a bunch to pretty much every house in the nation. Everyone waits with anticipation for the mail that day. Me included.

The first year we lived in Japan we got one card (from our realtor); last year we received three from friends. This year we didn't have any. What a disappointment. Maybe we'll do better next year.

At 1:00 am, there


At 1:00 am, there were hundreds of people at the temple. Stalls along the walkways hawked daruma dolls, wooden arrows, and all sorts of good luck charms. Food sellers were doing a brisk business with fried noodles, "baby custard" doughnuts, and warm sake.

It seemed as if all the residents of Sugamo had turned out at Togenuki-jizo temple to ring in the new year with a coin in the donation box and a prayer for a successful year ahead. I did the same, offering up wishes for good health and a good year.

My prayers made, I turned away from the temple and headed for the main attraction at Togenuki-jizo, a meter tall Jizo statue that's said to cure illnesses.

Tod, Brendan and I stood in line to have a chance to visit Jizo. When I reached the head of the queue, I tossed some coins into the box, picked up a washcloth and a dipper of water then gave Jizo a bath.

I poured water on the head, hands, and shoulders of the statue hoping for good health in all those parts. I gave Jizo an extra splash on the nose for Susan, Brendan's wife who was at home with the kids (and a head cold). Then I used the washcloth to pat Jizo dry.

As the next people in line began to bathe Jizo, we left to buy a wooden arrow to bring us luck this year, then headed home on the one night of the year that trains run all night.

Happy 21st century. Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu.

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