March 2002 Archives



My passion for sushi waxes and wanes. Over the past four years, it's been waning more than waxing which seems a bit odd since I live where sushi originates. There are a few places that I enjoy, even when all I get is vegetable makki and ebi. One of them is Edokko Sushi in Kanda. It's quite fantastic. The chefs are friendly and the patrons are characters from all walks of life.

Last night, a middle aged man and his cheery, white haired mother sat at the end of the counter near us. As they left, the elderly sushi chef called out to the woman, "Grandma, I work the early shift on Tuesdays and Wednesdays." They were of similar age--was he hoping she'd meet him when he got off work?

Around the bend of the counter, a couple in their early twenties ordered ala carte. The fashionably dressed, neatly coiffed woman looked slightly ill at ease as her date slouched over and ate with gusto while proclaiming opinions about the food. I'd say these two are not well suited to each other.

But the man and woman next to me certainly were. They ate quietly, sharing their selections and ordering things I'd never seen before: a literal pile of sashimi tidbits; a soft, pale beige eel served with ginger and sesame seeds; a gorgeous crab lag twice as long as the plate it rested on. They knew what they were ordering and enjoyed every morsel.

I enjoyed my steamed shrimp sushi and pickled gourd rolls as I people watched.

Rich man, poor man

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Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief. Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief.

What do I want to be when I grow up? I must be going through a career crisis at the moment. Yesterday I spent 7 hours programming and documenting 21 lines of PHP code. It was fun, but difficult. Last week, I had a feature article published in Metropolis to supplement the twice monthly technology columns I write for them. I have leanings toward doing more digital film and submitting something to AtomFilms. And I might get to teach kids' art classes this spring for RBR.

Does any of this fit together? Where are my skills and preferences taking me? Could I earn a real living from any of this?

The Magic 8-ball says "Reply Hazy, Try Again."

Family birthday clusters

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Why do family birthdays seem to cluster together? Are there genetic cycles of fertility? My niece, Helen, turned ten on Wednesday; today is my sister's birthday; mine is in three days. My in-laws have birthdays mainly in late autumn except for my husband and our nephew who share a birthday in early May. It's odd.

It works out nicely, though. Aside from being convenient for gifts and cards (I never forget these birthdays!), it can be fun, too. When I was 9 and Jenn was 6 we shared a birthday party. My friends sat on the side of the cake that showed 9; hers were seated so they could see 6. I don't think we can do that number trick again, but maybe someday we'll share another party.

Robodex 2002

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Yesterday, I headed out to Yokohama for the press preview of Robodex 2002, a robot convention that I'm reporting on. I wandered around snapping photos and taking in what was there. On Saturday I'll go back for some interviews and more photos.

The highlight of the preview was the Robot Parade on the MegaStage. All of the press corps photographers crammed in to get video and stills of the popular robots. I managed to wedge myself right in the front between TBS (a TokyoTV station) and Kyodo (a Japanese news wire). My tiny digital camera looked pretty silly compared to the professional equipment surrounding me, but I truly did not care. I got a few good shots, so I'm happy.

The Robodex staff are dressed in white; they look like nurses. In more than one case, they needed to assist their mechanical charges. One robot shed parts as he moved down the catwalk and had to be pushed back home. Another of the robots wouldn't wake up when called. Oops. They aren't as reliable as they need to be, yet, but they'll get there eventually.

Culinary standards

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Differences in the culinary standard. We're a long way from Rome.

Classic Caesar Salad

romaine lettuce
freshly grated paremsan
olive oil
vinegar or lemon
salt & pepper

Sheza- Sarada

leaf lettuce
creamy dressing

Before/after drawings

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My pre-instruction self-portrait. I did this in about 30 minutes; it was gruelling.

My self-portrait drawn five days later. This one took around six hours but I hardly noticed the time passing.

Drawing jetlag

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Last Thursday, Kristin told the drawing class, "The day after the workshop ends, you'll feel really jet lagged. Like you've been on a long trip."

I thought that was an exaggeration but she might be right. I feel like I've just stepped off a 12 hour flight. I'm tired after all this right brain drawing. Tomorrow I'll show you what I've done. For now...sleeeeep!

PM house needs name

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There's a naming contest going on. The Prime Minister's new residence needs a name.

"It would be good if it will have a name like the White House in the United States. Let's look for one," Yasuo Fukudama, chief cabinet secretary, said on Wednesday.

What great timing. I might suggest something from my list the other day....

Bunkyo weather

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If you're ever curious about the weather in Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo, you can check out Yahoo Japan's Bunkyo pinpoint weather page.

I love this page because it's so granular. Forecast, temperature, anticipated precipitation, and wind are shown in three hour increments. It's updated four times a day and it's almost always correct. I'm looking forward to a warm, sunny afternoon though it's cloudy and grey right now.

I just finished day

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I just finished day 2 of a five day drawing class at Right Brain Research and my brain is switched over into R-mode; the logical left side is almost shut down. I see the shapes of everything--it makes it difficult to type because I notice the spaces between the keys and the pattern of letters on the screen.

Happy Spring!

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Happy Spring! It's official. Today's the vernal equinox and we have a national holiday to celebrate.

Tonight, we'll feast on our traditional Spring dish--grilled mushroom sandwiches with handmade herbed mayonnaise. I hope Tod remembers to buy a new grill today...

Dwelling names

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Intersecting interesting English with strange building names, we get Himalayan Hights. Check out that cool 1950s script typeface.

This is a pretty typical Tokyo apartment building--six blocky stories of yellow brick, dark brown trim, and not a mountain in sight.

I would like to own apartment buildings to that I can give them names. I'd try to base them on some realities of Japanese dwellings.

  • The Ice Palace
  • Mildew Mansion
  • Mini Heights

Poop dick?

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This is, hands down, the strangest store name I have ever encountered. It's a "recycle shop" which is called a second hand store or a thrift store in the US. I had a hard time remembering the English for recycle shop.

"Does that say 'poop dick'?" Tod asked incredulously as he read the Japanese sign above the street. I sounded it out, then discovered a second sign with English to confirm it.

What were the owners thinking?


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My prediction was wrong. The sakura appeared on Saturday!

Our long walk took us along the Kanda river near Edogawabashi. The park there is lined with cherry trees that hang over the water. So beautiful!

The trees should be in full bloom later this week. I wonder if the season will last until next weekend; once they start to blossom the trees get it over with pretty quickly. The local sakura matsuri are all scheduled for early April--about 2 weeks from now--I think the trees will be green by then!

Library cards

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We have library cards.

We took a long walk yesterday and discovered a small library not too far from our house. We stopped in and marvelled at all the books: a huge children's collection, cookbooks and magazines on the first floor; music, novels and non-fiction on the second floor. Mainly in Japanese, of course.

We decided that we'd get library cards. The librarian was a little bit flustered when we wrote our names in English. But with the help of her colleague, she got us sorted out and presented us with cards that allow us to take books from any of Bunkyo's twelve libraries.

Having a library card makes me feel really settled in.

Documented work

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Outdoor workers are often accompanied by a photographer to document their work. In a case like this, it would be difficult to tell in a few weeks' time if the work had been performed adequately, so photos tell the story and prove the work was done.

The sign notes the date and location as well as cryptic notes. This one says ikegaki karikomi nezumimochi 4/m in chalk. Ikegaki karikomi means "hedge trimming" But as far as I can tell, nezumimochi is not a real word. Nezumi means mouse or rat. Mochi is a sticky rice cake. Perhaps it is a gardener's codeword for a style of cutting.

Almost blooming

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The sakura are almost ready to bloom. The buds are huge and swollen but not quite popping out yet. Wednesday or Thursday next week, I'd guess. That's about ten days earlier than usual. I'm looking forward to walking under the pink clouds of trees that give up their petals within a few days of blooming. Looks like Spring is really here.

We broke the toilet

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We broke the toilet seat. Maybe it was already broken and we just noticed it. Or perhaps (most likely) it was about to break and our big, gaijin butts were the straw that broke the camel's back and cracked the plastic seat.

Having just moved into this new building, I figured I'd better ask the managers what to do. So I went downstairs to the front desk and learned a new word, benza, which means toilet seat. Takada-san came up, took a look and said they'd fix it. Just please wait a while.

So now I'm waiting. And trying to figure out how I can work benza into a conversation so that I remember it forever.

Just around the corner

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Just around the corner and down the street from us is the Japan Shiatsu College. The founder of the school, Tokujiro Namikoshi, is also the the father of the shiatsu. Namikoshi is depicted in a larger than life bust in the front. He looks so happy. There's an interesting article about him written by Shirley Jackson.

He lived to 94 years old and was full of aphorisms: Laughter is the gate to happiness; a laugh rejuvenates, a frown ages; pressing the human body stimulates the fountains of love. What a great guy.

A million yen sounds

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A million yen sounds like a lot, but doesn't go far when you're doing taxes.

My gross income was just over a million yen which makes my taxable income about 450,000. Subtracting out the deduction of 380,000, I should be taxed on only 70,000 yen of my income. (That's about $500).

I've already paid about 100,000 yen in taxes, so if I understand these forms and calculations correctly I think I'll be getting a refund from the national government.

Note to self: don't plan to get rich as a writer.

It's tax time here

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It's tax time here in Japan. National, city, and metropolitan taxes are due on Friday. Do I have any of mine done? No.

Last Friday, I went to our ward office to pick up forms but got so confused that I left with one form but no instructions. Trust me, you can't do this two page tax filing without instructions. So this morning, I will return for instructions and head over to the national tax office (just down the street) for the other set of paperwork I need.

I don't earn a lot of money, so my taxes should be fairly straightforward. But figuring out the instructions, which are in Japanese, will be a bit of a trial. Today I get the paperwork. Tomorrow I read the instructions. Wednesday I fill in the forms, and Thursday I will file. And if my plan goes awry, I have until Friday to get it back on track.

When I'm not in

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When I'm not in my office, I'm often at DigitalEve Japan events. Here I am with Satsuki at the registration desk of yesterday's Photoshop workshop. The workshop was a great success from my point of view. I ran around and played classroom assistant while Cara Dailey did the teaching. She covered clipping paths, layers and masks; I learned a few new tricks and that always makes me happy.

Today we're teaming up with Tokyo PC User's Group for a computer troubleshooting session. We've invited members of both groups to come ask questions about hardware and to get assistance with memory upgrades. I'm not sure what to expect, but I know it will be fun to mingle and be geeky.

This is the most

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This is the most loved room in our house--the office. There's no denying that it is the hub of our home. I spend most of my waking hours here. Tod is normally found at his desk (pictured to the left) or tinkering with his computers in the rack. At parties, guests usually migrate to the office.

This room is long and narrow. Tod's portion includes the closets and the area near the door. I've got the other section, somewhat larger, over by the patio door. There are wires and cables everywhere--a small problem that we must fix. I hate cables.

We located the hot water pot on our computer rack between the scanner and fax. Clever? Maybe, but there is no room for it in the kitchen, so it had to go here. It's very convenient for a quick cup of tea, but I worry a bit about spills. Our server and my tape drive sit directly below the hot water.

If you've ever wondered what my workspace looks like, here's a peek. Files, phone, monitor on a cardboard box, cardfile, well-thumbed dictionaries, coaster, lamp & lots of writing implements. And a chair with a blanket. I love my office.

Maison Commode

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Here is a place you don't want to live. Maison Commode.

You've really got to wonder what possessed the owner to choose this name. No matter whether someone intended 'commode" to mean a chest of drawers or a toilet, this doesn't conjure up a pleasant living space!

Was it a joke? Probably not, as "commode" means convenient in French. Convenience is a favorite concept in Japan; you see it in plenty of nonsensical ad copy. Heartful convenience life. Your convenient life. Let's convenient.

Convenient or not, Maison Commode has the look of a bathroom fixture, with its rounded corners and metal trim. The cracks around the windows are an added asthetic bonus. I wonder where the toilet paper goes?

This is Brendan, the

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This is Brendan, the crazy proprietor of Pizzakaya (he hates it when I call him that). Behind him are Zahid and Juri, two of my favorite Pizzakaya staff.

Brendan's trying to look less crazy than usual. He was featured in this February's Journal, a publication of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan. The article was good, but the accompanying photo makes him look like a certified madman. I'm happy to prove with this snapshot that he isn't a madman, just a nut.

Gaia is a wonderful

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Gaia is a wonderful natural foods store. Ironically, we found it on our way to Kua Ai'na, a hamburger restaurant near Shin-Ochanomizu.

Tod calls it the "deadhead yaoya" because of the music they play, but I think of it as another one of the "crazy food stores" we've enjoyed since our friends introduced us to not-cheese, not-milk, and not-meat a dozen years ago.

In addition to the requisite not-products, they carry excellent bread, all sorts of grains, legumes and cereals, and plenty of vegetables and fruits. I found mikan blossom honey, carob cookies and herb teas. Tod says there's wonderful soap in the basement.

I bought millet, bread and mikan and already anticipate going for hamburgers again soon. Which place is an excuse to visit the other, I'm not sure.

There's not too much

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There's not too much to say about our new kitchen. There's not too much of it! It's a small galley with the fridge and a washer/dryer against the opposite wall. There's not much room for excess, so our counters are bare and the extra appliances are in the pantry closet across the hall.

I like the glass-fronted dish cabinet above the sink. It's nice to see the colors of the dishes together.

Japanese kitchens have been, in my experience, universally unattractive. This one is a mix of unmatched beiges with decorative tiles featuring some sort of brown wildflower. The previous kitchen had dark wood cabinets, white formica flecked with gold, and red vinyl bricks. Before that we cooked in a Brady Bunch green kitchen.

Yesterday we addressed some

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Yesterday we addressed some lighting issues.

The day we moved in, I tripped a breaker when I plugged in and turned on a lamp in the living room. When Tod moved the lamp to another outlet to test it, the lamp shorted out and exploded, severing the electric cable and singeing the brand new carpet. Yikes!

Tokyu Hands had just what we needed--a new cord and switch. Tod soldered the new cord into place and the lamp is as good a new.

In our bedroom, we have no room for nightstands. One side of the bed is against the wall, the other nearly touches the radiator. So our old bedside lamps were given away and we bought new ones yesterday. A stand lamp and matching table lamp, in curvy metal and halogen grace our bedroom. These are the ideal reading lamps and they have dimmers so Tod can read without keeping me awake.

Do you notice in the photo those curtains at the end of the bed? That is where the closet doors used to be. Now the closet doors are stored in the pantry closet and we use these canvas covers to hide the clothes!

Today is Hina Matsuri,

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Today is Hina Matsuri, the Doll's Festival.

These beautiful dolls are the Imperial court of the Heian period (794-1192) and the day is celebrated to bless daughters. Displaying the dolls began in the Edo period (1603 - 1898) when courtly customs seeped out to the commoners.

The elaborate displays I photographed were in a bank in Marunouchi. The include the full arrangements or five tiers with the Emperor and Empress sitting before a gold screen at the top. Below them are three ladies-in-waiting, five court musicians, three ministers with food bearers, and on the bottom row a cherry tree and an orange tree flank the guards

The artistry in these dolls is impressive. They are dressed in silks, with coiffed hair and beautifully painted faces.

Home displays might only include a pair of dolls--the emperor and empress--and they may not be so traditional. I've seen Hello Kitty and her boyfriend, Daniel, dressed up in imperial kimono for Hina Matsuri.

Of course, you really have to take the whole thing with a grain of salt. A superstition says that if you don't put away your Hina dolls on 3/3, your daughters will be difficult to marry off!

Welcome to my living

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Welcome to my living room. I think this might be one of my favorite rooms, ever. The photo doesn't do it justice because I lack a wide angle lens for my digital camera.

The room has southern exposure and a wall of glass curtained with horizontally striped cotton sheers (just out of sight on the left of the photo). A green area rug ties together the indoors and the plants on the two verandas outside. It also bridges the tones between the dark furniture and the cream walls.

We have two stacks of zabuton floor cushions to pull up around the low dining table, but the carpeted floor is so soft, we hardly need the extra pillows. The dining table doubles as our coffee table and fruit stand.

I already find myself gravitating to this room for breaks. In the mornings, I stretch and gently exercise here. At dinnertime, we play quiet music while we eat. It's a very civilised place.

On the way back

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On the way back from the house inspection (whch the realtor declared "good"), I stopped at the local plant shop on Hakusan Dori to buy some trees for the veranda. What a delightful experience.

The Shimamuras have friends in Chicago so they visit the US from time to time and speak some English. Our conversation was a crazy mix of English and Japanese as they helped me select three trees, arranged same-day delivery, and promised to call when their spring shipment of herbs arrives next month. When the trees were delivered, I discovered that Mrs. Shimamura had handwritten watering instructions for the Phoenix Royal Fan palm in English and they had repotted them all into terracotta colored pots. With service like that, they will definitely see me at their shop again.

The plants make a huge improvement to the patio. I can already picture myself sipping morning coffee at the table when the weather warms a bit.

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