March 2003 Archives

Hanami reservations


sakura2000.jpgThe cherry trees exploded into full bloom over the weekend. The city is absolutely gorgeous with pale pink flowers overhead. We went for a walk this evening under the trees near Myogadani. There were revelers picnicking with various levels of preparations. One family had obviously just been to the convenience store--their tarp was chock full of Pocky and potato chips. Another party of business suited salarymen had brought along folding tables and a barbecue grill. One of them was sauteeing onions in a pan.

Tomorrow. we're going out to party under the trees in Inokashira Park. We'll be taking along our "konro" gas burner and cooking up a stew, or maybe we'll take yakitori. I guess it will depend on what looks good at the grocery store tomorrow morning. The menu's not set yet, but I'm sure it will include plenty of beer and sake.

Right now, Kris is baking me a birthday cake for the party. John and Tod said they'd do it, but they are outside playing with the laser pointer instead. They got frustrated over measuring butter. Tod whipped out a calculator...a bigger production than necessary, I think.

sakura-reserve1.jpgAnyway, back to the hanamiPeople pack in for their hanami parties, and it's a tradition for the junior members of a company to stake out a good spot and sit all day, wiating for their colleagues to show up after work. But along this street, there was another way to reserve--taping a message on the sidewalk.

Here, you can see that Isuzu (probably a company, but maybe a family) is holding this spot for Saturday the 5th. They've marked it out in letters a meter high--there's no missing it. And in case you do, they've left additional details marked in permanent ink on the border of the tape. Isuzu - 4/5- 12:00 ~ We know they are planning to start at noon and they have no plan to finish. I'm sure by the time 9 pm rolls around, they'll be falling over drunk and singing silly songs.

sakura-reserve2.jpgAnd here, in a close up, the Itou Company is reserving the same space for Wednesday night.

The entire 10 block length of prime space under the trees has already been divided up with similar duct taped boundaries and multiple signs bearing dates, times and company names. Regular people who hope to party under the trees are going to have to arrive early in the morning!

This system would definitely not work in the US. There would be ripped signs, carefully moved duct tape and fisticuffs. I wonder if there will be any confrontations here? I doubt it. Personally, I found the week-in-advance reservation of a space rather irritating. How dare they not follow the "first-come, first-served" rule? But maybe that's just me.

I hope we find space at the park tomorrow. I'd be very disappointed if the entire place was neatly divided into sections that had all been claimed.

If it's not one gift, it's another


Last night at dinner, Tod told me that we was going to surprise me with a new computer for my birthday--the dual 1.4MHz G4 I had been eyeing. "But if you're boycotting, I guess that's not really..." he trailed off, disappointed.

But I was ready with an alternate gift. A sewing machine. Not only can I easily buy a really good European or Japanese brand (Bernina, Elna, Husquavarna Viking, Pfaff, Toyota, Juki) but a sewing machine means I can avoid shopping for clothes. I will make trousers that are the right length in colors and styles I like. Sleeves that actually hit at my wrist. Joy!

Now the big decision is whether to get a regular sewing machine or to buy a serger. A serger means I can easily work with knits and knits make me happy because they don't need to be ironed. But a regular sewing machine is a better all-around choice and I can still use it on knits, just not as cleanly.

I am so looking forward to drafting patterns again. It's been a while. I'd better pick up a french curve while I'm getting the sewing machine.

Boycott coalition products


I've been feeling pretty helpless lately. The war is hard to swallow. What can I do?

Protests do nothing to sway the madmen who are running the show. They couldn't care less if a 100,000 people wave banners peacefully or play dead in the streets.

I have no Congressmen to appeal to, and even if I did, Congress gave up its power regarding wars to the president after 9/11, if not before, but that's another blog.

I could write articles (well-reaasoned or ranting) about how wrong the war is, how it hurts the stability or the entire world, how foolish I think Bush is. How America is going down the tubes. But there are scads of them out there all being read by people who agree. It's like preaching to the choir.

boycott.gifBut I can do something.

I will boycott American and coalition products.

Maybe a boycott will gain the attention of the corporations that usually wield so much power. Perhaps they can pressure the coalition into stopping the war.

At first, I thought this might be a no-pain gesture for me, since I live in another country anyway. Then I started to think about it, and there's more American, Britsh and Australian stuff in my life than I expected. So no more American junk food, no British tea or Australian cookies. No Autralian wines. No properly-sized American clothes. No new computer hardware or software. No English-language books or movies.

We could sell off our American-based investments. Not that it would make much of a difference to the market, but it might feel good. There are other places to put our money.

I could take it a step farther and stop using what American things I already own--but that would mean no computers. And I'd be going around more or less naked. Since I like being dressed in public and I like working, I have to think more about that before acting.

But it's an empty gesture if I'm the only one doing it.

If lots of people take a small stand against American and coalition economics, then there's some power there. On the other hand, it's probably futile. But it makes me feel a little better and a touch more powerful, so I'm going to do it anyway.

And I'm not the only one. There are quite a few similar boycotts going on around the world. They take a lot of different forms--boycotts of big brands only, not watching TV, boycotting oil companies and defense contractors, avoiding American entertainment and fast food.

Boycott Brand America 33,000 people
Boycott lists from an Aussie peace group
Consumers Against War in Germany
Boycott Bush

I think this is a gesture that you can make at a level of self-sacrifice that feels right to you. Care to join me?

TSK tsk tsk

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Our health insurance is through a company called TSK that specialises in insurance for employees of computer-related companies. It works in conjunction with National Health, but I'm not exactly sure how, though I know that every hospital that accepts National Health takes this insurance, too.

But it's more than just covering doctor's bills. TSK sends out a magazine every now and again that lists all of their services. Healthy, Sports & Resort Life Magazine Toco Toco came this week and it's full of curious things.

sannou02.jpgThe first section of the magazine is devoted to statistics, policies and health checks. TSK has 4,065 companies registered and insures 156,876 people.

Insurance companies run their own clinics. TSK has 3 in Tokyo, where the insured can go for an annual physical. This includes a chest x-ray, ultrasound and bloodwork. Men over 35 get a bonus-- a prostate check. I know how much all the Perot guys look forward to turning 35. If you're over 50, you can have an elective MRI every three years.

kidori_menp1.jpgWhen you're finished with your check-up, perhaps you'll be feeling a little peckish. In the same buildings as the clinics, the insurance company has restaurants.

Prices for meals are discounted for TSK members--the dinner course shown here is 3,000 yen for members, 5,000 yen for others. Weddings and party banquets also catered and conference rooms are available for half-day or full-day functions.

tateyama-010.jpgIf you're hoping for some relaxation, why not spend a few days at a TSK "TosLove" resort? There are four of them, all offering bathing and pools, meals, and relaxing environments outside Tokyo for only 5,000 per night (including breakfast and dinner). I think the one at Tateyama sounds best because there's a horse riding club nearby for only 900 yen, and a place to try making your own pottery. The other resorts also have attractions, like a ropeway, a water park and all of Hakone's sights.

But if TosLove's resorts aren't your style, TSK offers discounts at hotels and resorts all around the country as well as package tours to Guam, Hawaii and domestic locations. There's a place in Sapporo where you can spend the night for 1,000 yen. Fancy a night at the swanky Hotel Okura--only 5,000 yen including breakfast. Usually rooms at the Okura are 30,000 and up per night. Of course, there's a small catch. You have to apply through TSK at least two months in advance for all these places. But if you're planning a holiday, instead of just winging it like I ususally end up doing, this is a great bargain.

TSK's benefits don't end there, though. If you want day tickets to the gym or golf courses, those are available, too. As are tour events, like a "bus hike" to go fishing in the countryside, or a trip to Universal Studios Japan. Just plan ahead and get in line...

Birthday cake


There are three birthdays within a week in my family. In honor of this festive occasion, Recipe Thursday features cake. I love dense cakes with fruit in between the layers, so that's what we're serving up today. Don't forget the candles!

3-Layer Birthday Cake

1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
4 egg yolks, beaten
4 egg whites
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F/175c. Grease and flour three 9 inch round cake pans. Cream the butter and 1 cup of the sugar in a large bowl, then add beaten egg yolks. Sift dry ingredients. Add to butter mixture alternating with milk. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form, then add 1 cup sugar. Fold into cake batter. Pour into pans. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a knife inserted comes out clean.

Decorating options
Kristen's favorite: Between the layers, spread your favorite "all fruit" jam. Sprinkle top with powdered sugar.
Elegant: Roll out marzipan or almond paste for between the layers. Coat with chocolate glaze and top with whole almonds.
Fresh: Arrange sliced strawberries and whipped cream between the layers; top with piped whipped cream and whole strawberries--eat immediately.
Dainty: Spread lemon-flavored buttercream between the layers. Ice with rose-flavored buttercream and top with fresh or candied flowers.
Zou's choice: Spread the layers with buttercream icing and peanut butter. Ice the top and sides with chocolate buttercream and decorate with peanut brittle.

Countdown to houseguests


In four days, friends from US will arrive to stay with us for a two week holiday. I'm really looking forward to their visit.

But even though my house is pretty much neat, clean and well organised for daily life, it's a different story when company's coming. Today I made a list of what I need to do before Sunday afternoon, when we haul out to Narita to pick them up:

  • air out the spare futons & duvets
  • wash the linens
  • make room in the pantry for luggage
  • stock the fridge
  • pay the bills that fall due while they're here
  • tie up loose ends with my various projects
  • clean Tod's coffee stain off the bathroom wall
  • check the supply of toilet paper, soap and coffee filters
  • get some extra "outdoor" slippers for the veranda
  • get another stool for the veranda

Tod will tell me I'm being silly, but who wants to sleep on musty linens, trip over baggage in the halls or have to run errands for spare toilet paper in the middle of a vacation?

Sausages masquerade



Meet the winners in the 2003 Sausage Masquerade! These lovelies beat out their competition, earning a place in tonight's frying pan.

Winner, most elegant costume: All-around-meat. Bacon wrapped, black pepper sausages. You could pretend it's a filet mignon, or just add pancakes, toast, juice and a big bowl of cereal for a complete, balanced breakfast.

Winner, best disguise: Sausage legs. Finely ground meat paste, spiked with cheese and pierced with a chicken bone. The new other white meat?? Or, perhaps, Fred and Barney's Corndog-on-a-Stick.

Happy birthday, Tokyo

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400 years ago today, Edo (now known as Tokyo) was founded by the wily shogun, Tokugawa Ieyasu. Tokugawa was planning to build his own seat of power away from Kyoto. He succeeded beyond his wildest expectations. The balance of power shifted to this new "eastern capital" and it grew (and burned down) faster than expected.

There's a good overview of the city's ancient history at Metropolis this week.

Happy birthday, Tokyo!

Right brain weave

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Shinjuku station is a huge, crazy maze. There are three subways, dozens of buses and five or more train lines all converging. It is always full of people. This is not a place for the faint of heart.

The best way to navigate through the station is to turn off the logical left brain and let the right one squeeze through the crowds. With the spatial right brain in control, you won't run into anyone, you'll find the place you need to be without stressing and, maybe best of all, you'll notice all sorts of things you don't expect.

Memories of my walk through the station are a collage of magazine pictures and video clips: the laminated cardboard Dumbo on a young girl's keitai; the shadow of a three day beard on a black man; the tilted head of a rushing traveller; the reflection of the overhead lights in someone's sunglasses; the sound of the TVs flickering in a display; the herky-jerky movement of a suitcase with a bad wheel; the whir of the blenders at the Snap'py juice stand; the scent of hot dogs in the Food Pocket; the subtle texture of the plastic wickets at the Oedo line; the warmth of Tod's hand in mine (he hates getting lost in the station).

I have no idea how I got from point A to point B, but I did. Just like I always do. Follow me.

We hate liver


Through an unscientific survey of friends, I have concluded that my entire generation uniformly hates liver. Yet our parents like it, and so did their parents.

Isn't that strange?

"Maybe not so strange," Tod posited. Liver's full of iron, vitamins A & D, the entire panthoen of B, plus bits of elegantly named components that give us bright eyes and glossy coats.

Our parents and grandparents liked liver because their bodies craved that nutrition. That's the same reason some people eat clay and dirt.

But my body doesn't crave liver or dirt because my vitamins and minerals come via supplements. And not just vitamin pills. I get my vitamins thanks to food manufacturers (and they do it becasue of the military, according to this January 2003 John Hopkins University report.)

Maybe liver's looking better than it used to.

Happy spring!


Today's the spring equinox, a national holiday in Japan and my favorite holiday of the year. It's the only one I've managed to celebrate consistently for the last seven years. Every year--grilled mushroom and pepper sandwiches.

You might not think that's such a big deal, but I've lived in three different countries in the course of the last seven springs. Few other holidays are consistent from nation to nation but the Sun is faithful. Every year we have a Spring Equinox and the other three solar holidays, too, and I never forget them.

To celebrate, I wanted some flowers for our table so Tod & I walked to the flower shop that's recently opened up the street. They don't seem to have a name, but they do have a great selection and the lady who runs it is really nice to me, unlike Hana Ban on the corner where they never make suggestions, offer the same three flowers (roses, orchids and mums) every week, and always seem like they'd rather not wait on me.

Tulips were what I craved and I found seven different kinds at the nameless flower shop. After a 30 second inner debate on the luxury of buying a lot of tulips, I picked up the entire display jug, sat it on the counter and said "Zembu de."

"All of these pink ones?" she said, pointing at the four pure pink ones that were bundled together.

"Well, all of them!" I gestured a bit more broadly at the whole jug full.

"Arigatou gozaimasu!!" she beamed. She got a big sale and I got a discount. 17 tulips for the price of 15. I love that flower shop and the living room looks a lot more festive now.

Happy spring!

Equinox grilling


Since tomorrow is the spring equinox, Recipe Thursday focuses on food to celebrate the equal length of night and day. In our house, that means the official start of grilling season--even when it's really too cold outside to do it.

Grilled Mushroom and Pepper Sandwiches with Herbed Mayonnaise

for grilling
mushrooms, portabello or shiitake
red bell peppers, sliced into wedges
olive oil
basalmic vinegar
salt and pepper
crusty rolls, or lengths of French bread

Destem the mushrooms and brush any dirt off. Do not wash mushrooms in water. If you're using large portabellos, cut them into quarters so they fit on your bread. Brush the mushrooms and peppers with oil, vinegar and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Allow to sit at least 15 minutes and up to 8 hours, covered in the fridge.

Before grilling, dampen the mushrooms with oil again, if necessary. You may want to arrange the vegetables on a mesh rack to keep them from falling through the grill.

Split the rolls and toast them on the grill just before serving. Slather with herbed mayonnaise (below) and tuck in the grilled vegetables.

for mayonnaise
2 egg yolks
1/2 t salt
1 1/2 - 2 cups salad oil
scant 1/4 c vinegar or lemon juice, chillled
1/4 c fresh taragon, chopped
1/4 c fresh basil, chopped
crushed black pepper, to taste

Whisk (or use an electric mixer on low speed) the egg yolks and salt until pale yellow and a little frothy. While still whisking, slowly pour a thin stream of oil into the eggs. Beat faster as the mixture emulsifies (turns creamy). It should be starting to look like mayonnaise now, but don't stop beating yet. Add the vinegar or lemon juice slowly while beating--taste to get the right level of tang. Finally add in the chopped herbs and black pepper. Refrigerate and use within a week.

Okinawa travel planning


travelbrochures.jpgI got it into my head that I'd like to go to Okinawa for my birthday as a nice tropical treat. I know domestic travel is usually cheapest if done on a package tour or plan that includes hotel and flight, so I went to the local JTB office and grapped some pamphlets.

Well, they aren't pamphlets as much as 40-60 pages of messed-up layout and advertising.

From these slick brochures, I cannot tell which island and hotel combo has the right atmosphere. I just want a quiet place with great food and some beach activities. Maybe snorkelling or sea kayaking--something a little physical to burn off the fruity drinks, awamori and tasty dinners.

Wanna leaf through the ANA's Okinawa Sky Holiday brochure with me?

oki-flightup.jpgLet's start with the basics. Here on page 2 we're already discovering that you can get better flight times by paying extra money. Leave Tokyo earlier on the first day and return home later on your last day. Only 1,500 - 3,000 yen/person. Is that per flight or does it cover round trip? I'll bet it's per flight but I can't tell without looking up some kanji.

oki-dolphon.jpg Flipping forward past the bus time tables and rental car details, we find this ad on page 22. At the Renaissance Resort, you can get the resort's most popular attraction, a Dolphin Encounter, for 7,800 yen for 40-60 minutes. I'm not exactly sure what this includes, but the fine print has an awful lot of dekimasen in it. Never a good sign.

oki-roomup.jpgHotels in Japan all seem to have twin beds. Even if you pay an extra 15,000 yen/night at the Busena Terrace, you don't get a big bed, just a large 43 square meter room with bath, toilet, big balcony, welcome fruits and the Stepford wives in the lounge. Let's move on to another page, shall we?

oki-dressup.jpgPage 25 of 58. What fun! Free dress up in Okinawan-style traditional costumes. Good for women, men and children's use. Please bring your own camera. This is point 6 at the Laguna Garden Hotel. Some of the other points include 50% off rental cycles; 10 game corner tokens, and discount coupons at the American Village amusement area. This is obviously a family resort. Run away!

oki-dinner.jpg None of the places feature their food, though they all offer optional dinner plans through the ANA Sky Holiday service. 2,500 yen/person gets you a choice of Chinese, a Japanese buffet, or an Okinawan buffet at the Rizzan Sea Park Hotel. This is a bit pricey and limited in scope as other hotels offer 5 choices for 1,500 yen. So maybe the food is better here.

oki-oxcart.jpgAll of the previous resorts were on the main island, about 80 minutes' bus ride north of the airport at Naha. If you go out to some of the other islands, you get to do more sedate activities. This ox cart photo is featured in every brochure page listing Yufujima, a speck that doesn't even seem to have a hotel. You have to go there special to ride the ox cart. Hmmmm. Pass me another Tanqueray and tonic, please.

To go on the Free Plan ("free" meaning you don't have to go on all the pineapple plantation tours and have set menu dinners during your holiday), not including optional dinners, upgrades or any activities, I will have to shell out between 53,000 and 67,000 per person. Am I willing to spend that much to discover that I've guessed wrong about the resort's ambiance?

I think I'll plan to stay home for my birthday this year.

Ultimatum on the table


I don't often write about politics because mine are wooly at best and extending to wacky. But I have a question that maybe you can help me think through.

Bush issued a 48 hour "get out of Iraq or else" ultimatum to Saddam Hussein today. Bush must think that Hussein's not going to leave because Hussein's repeatedly said he's not going to be exiled. So it's a pretty sure thing that this ulimatum will be ignored.

But what if Hussein, his family and his ministers and generals did go? Then what?

Where would they go? Set up a government in exile in the mountains of Afganistan, maybe? Team up with the other members of the "Axis of Evil" in a remote, hidden headquarters?

What would they do? Gather followers? Build some weapons?Wage a guerrilla war? Form a terrorist cell? (guerrilla vs. terrorst vs. freedom fighter is a blurry line)

Does anyone think that by accepting exile, Hussein's core philosophies and tactics are going to change? It's not like he's going go to Elba and wither away or find a happy like on Niijima, the exiles' island south of Tokyo.

Visitor's guide


Four years ago, I wrote a single sheet of info for friends who where visiting from the States. That sheet expanded into a ten page booklet for our visitors and recently became the basic script for the video, with some further additions.

Well, finally, I've turned it into a web page. It's imperfect, wanting more pictures and additional details. The stylesheet is broken (bad MT!). But it's a start. What do you think of the Tokyo Visitor's Survival Guide?

I'll fix the problems and address your comments and suggestions tomorrow; I'm off to bed with a pot of tea and a box of tissues to ease my stuffy head.

Toilet paper inspirations

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After I posted my toilet paper song, I received three creative musical inspirations from friends and strangers.

DKM Redux (1 Mb MP3).
Mike is from and an old friend from Pittsburgh.

Toilet Paper remix (1.5 Mb MP3).
Josh is from Quibx and reads my site from Boston.

Pumice Warning Song (3.8 Mb Wav).
Jennifer runs Wordpainting near Wilkes-Barre, PA and has been my sister for a number of years. Helen (yelping "ouch" at the end) is my very cool niece.

Dog shop



2nd floor puppy mill shop. Ikebukuro. ("Wan" is "woof" in Japanese)

White day


When you see signs in the US for "White Day" it usually means that sheets and towels are on sale.

In Japan, White Day is a different sort of marketing dementia. Today, men all over the country will be giving chocolates and cookies to their secretaries, female coworkers, girlfriends and maybe even their wives. It's payback for Valentine's Day when they received chocolates they didn't want from women who felt obliged to give them. Feel the love? I sure do.

For weeks--pretty much since February 15th--conbini, depato and other stores around town have displayed White Day presents: boxes of sweets and stuffed toys gift wrapped in every hue of paper except red or pink (After all, we must differentiate this holiday from Valentine's Day somehow). Dark green and navy blue seem to be popular this year and teddy bears bearing chocolate are a hot seller.

I'd rather have sheets.

Quick Japanese pickles

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Starting today and continuing until I get tired of it: Recipe Thursdays at Media Tinker. Food's another thing I tinker with. Maybe you'll enjoy trying some of the things I like to cook.

To start off this series, I'm going to give you one of my favorite foods: pickles! I've always been a sucker for pickles (ask my mother about my childhood naughtiness of sneaking things off the relish plate before our big family dinners) and Japanese pickles are the best. We're not talking garlic dills or sweet gherkins here; Japan's pickles come in a wide range of vegetables and pickling methods. Even fish is pickled.

I took a pickling class at a few years ago and it was one of the most enjoyable and useful classes I've attended. I can make all sorts of Japanese pickles now.

The easiest one is a "quick pickle" made of cabbage, cucumber and carrot. It's a great way to use up the odds and ends of your salad things and it's very flexible in terms of time and ingredients. Go ahead an experiment a bit!

Quick Japanese Pickles

1/4 Chinese cabbage, sliced thin (round head cabbage works, too)
1 Japanese cucumber (the narrow kind), sliced into thin rounds
1/2 carrot, sliced into thin rounds
Salt - about 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon for every cup of sliced vegetables
2 inch slice of dried kombu (seaweed)
Optional seasoning herb: myoga, shiso, dried red pepper, basil, lemon peel, black pepper, basil

Mix the sliced vegetables together with the salt in a large bowl. Allow to sit for five minutes, then gently press the wilting vegetables to release the water and bitterness. The vegetables will feel wet and will reduce in volume. Drain the liquid (often slightly foamy and tan colored) from the bowl.

Now you need to put the kombu underneath and weigh down the vegetables for at least an hour. I have a nifty "pickle press" with a spring loaded lid and another with a screw-down plunger, but you can use a bowl with a plate on top and cans stacked on the plate. I've done it that way plenty of times and it works fine.

You can leave the pickles pressing for as long as a full day, so you can start your pickles in the morning before work, or even right after tonight's dinner. I ususally forget to do them until just before I want to eat them, so mine usually only get an hour of pressing. More pressing makes them more...limply crisp.

If you want to add a seasoning herb, do it about 15 minutes before you serve the pickles. Toss the sliced/chopped/cracked herb in with the pickels and put the weights back on. You're going for subtle here, a little goes a long way with these pickles, I've found.

To serve, rinse the pickles in cold water, squeezing tightly in your hands to drain and make a little mound of pickle on the plate. A drizzle of soy sauce is nice but not necessary.

Bike parking


Side street bike parking. Ikebukuro. March 9, 2003.

On the road to beauty


kojiflowers.jpgThe sewage department was working on my street today. As I went out this morning, they had their equipment splayed across the street and a sign up that said "Pedestrian passageway." The sign was embellished with a close-up photo of flowers; I think these were camillias.

Lots of construction signs in Tokyo are decorated this way and it's ironic, since there's not all that much foliage around and sometimes the flower photo is the only nature in evidence. But it's a cheerful (if futile) attempt to make a construction mess a little more tolerable.

I was on my way out this morning to get my hair cut. I hauled across town to the stylist I like (I'm not going to repeat my December mistake again) and spent three hours being cut, colored and coiffed.

Beauty under construction. They really should put a sign with flower photos in front of me while they do their thing. I can't watch Dan as he works; I stick my head in a fashion magazine the whole time because if I look up, I see this middle-aged woman with crow's feet, a sagging chin and circles under her eyes staring back at me.

I'm not sure what it is with Watanabe's mirrors but they reveal in too, too vivid detail the mortal, aging side of me that I try to deny. I noticed that this was the case with everyone there. We all looked...weary. Moth-eaten and friable. I think I'll blame it on the lights.

Creepy Namjatown

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namja1.jpgA few months ago Namjatown, Namco's indoor amusement park, opened a new attraction called the Gyoza Stadium, featuring a dozen different kinds of Chinese dumplings. We love gyoza and have been looking forward to visiting the Gyoza Stadium. We tried to get in on a weekend just a few weeks after it opened but there was a three hour wait and we were too hungry.

But yesterday afternoon there was no wait, so we paid 300 admission and stepped in.

Namjatown is divided into five sections, differently themed. We didn't even consider the other parts and headed straight for the gyoza section.

It gave me the creeps. Decorated like a downtown Tokyo neighborhood in the 1960s, it was a maze of alleys and turnings.

namja2.jpgThis map shows part of the layout. The blood red parts are the gyoza stands. The blue bit is an a mosquito-themed ride where you go around spraying mossies while riding a giant pig-shaped mosquito coil holder. All the little lanes in between are filled with nostalgic signs and antiques. And little benches where you can sit and eat the gyoza.

namja4.jpgIn addition to the gyoza, there are several other attractions. There's a public bath "converted into a studio, to participate in a quiz show" according to the brochure. There is a little shrine and a pilgrimage; this cat is supposed to be Bishamonten, one of the 7 Lucky Gods. Or you might want to search for clues to a detective game.

All I wanted to do was to eat some gyoza, but the atmosphere was so dark and claustrophobic that I couldn't do it. By the time we navigated to the gyoza stands, I was entirely too wigged out by the noir lighting, the well-faked cracked cement streets, the falling down building facades (they were in fine repair, just made to look like they were old and falling down) that I had to go without standing in line for gyoza.

It was a scary carnival funhouse. Is this how Tokyo views its recent past?

Double entry blogkeeping

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Spurred on by a toilet paper remix sent in by a stranger (Josh, I love it; may I post it?), I visited his site and went surfing from there. Random surfing is a rarely indulged luxury/guilty pleasure (but my blog was in Josh's list along side Neil Gaiman's, so I automatically validate his list and love Josh!) and here are two gems I found:

Girls Are Pretty. Every day is a celebration. This is some of the wittiest writing I've read in ages (but see P.P.S. below).
Leslie Harpold and her weblog. Gotta love anyone who's got "all wrongs reserved" on her site. Click around to find the hidden treasures.

And the amazing Pepys' Diary. I've read this one before (online and in print). I wonder what his aim was? He was an audience of one but did he have ideas of grandeur? Can't really say "delusions of grandeur" since his diary has been published for many generations. How many of us bloggers hope for the same? Old Samuel didn't really have a more remarkable life than we do, but he was one of the few diarists whose records survived.

P.S. Tod just refered to me as his "long suffering wife" on #perl and someone one there asked "chronic?". Yes. Brilliant. Chronic wife.

P.P.S. Have been feeling ill all day and now Tod is plying me with whiskey tea and gin tonic. Making no sense, but amusing self wildly. Sorry...

Dad's walk


On Sunday mornings when I was a kid, my father would go out for doughnuts, juice, and a big, thick Sunday newspaper. When he came back, Jenn and I would feast while lying on the floor reading the comics.

That seemed like a good way to spend this lazy Sunday morning so I ran out to recreate my childhood. But on the walk down to the doughnut shop, I had a change of perspective.

I'd stuffed some money in my pocket and grabbed Tod's keys but went without my cell phone, breaking my usual complement of "keitai, cash and keys." Maybe that should be "wireless, wallet and wards" for non-Japanese speakers.

Anyway, I was free of communication devices for the first time in quite a while. I hadn't realised the subtle, unconscious foreboding that I have when my keitai is near. "Is my phone going to ring?" "Will I hear it?" "Has anyone called me?"

As I walked along, enjoying the outrageously blue skies and crisp wind, I wondered if Dad's Sunday morning walks were similarly unencumbered. He knew that the family was back home waiting for treats, just as I knew Tod was looking forward to doughnuts, but was otherwise at liberty to be alone for a while.

That's the kind of liberty I like.

Let's breakfast pizza


morningpizzapkg.jpg This product caught my eye the other day. I must have been hungry for junk food. Or maybe it was fond memories of morning-after pizza for breakfast that drove me to buy it.

Pizza was always best if it had been unrefrigerated overnight, which gave it sort of an "aged" flavor and dehydrated the cut edges of the crust so they turned inwards towards the center of the slice. The cheese separated from the crust a bit, giving the sauce a bit of air and extra viscosity. Mmmmm.


But these Morning Pizza treats were refrigerated and well sealed in plastic. No food poisoning roulette this morning. I decided to eat one myself and save one for Tod.

morningpizza2.jpgAfter popping one into the toaster oven, I reminisced about another morning pizza--"breakfast pizza" from back in the days when I worked at UBS.

Downstairs in the arcade of the building was a little bakery that had all kinds of pastries. My friend and colleague, Seth, and I used to procrasinate from our morning tasks and go down to get breakfast pizza--an oblong piece of dough slathered with toppings and backed. My favoriate was the potato salad one. But there were also breakfast pizzas with corn and vegetables, with shrimp, and even one that was sort of cheese pizza-ish. I can still taste the onion one--slightly sweet but savory at the same time. Greasy and fattening but a good antidote for office stress and too much coffee.

morningpizza3.jpgUnfortunately, the Morning Pizza cannot hold a candle to breakfast pizza. This was a pretty indifferent, bland bit of bread with a thin coat of orangish sauce, some rubbery cheese, and a thin slice of salami on top. Next time, I'll make my own or head over to Otemachi for the real stuff

Music video


Donna Burke. (Quicktime. 3.9 MB)

Music is in the air. Today I edited together a short medley of live concert footage for a friend-of-a-friend.

Unfortunately, the footage was shot by (choose one)

A) an amateur
B) an epileptic
C) a drunken monkey
D) all of the above

That's not very charitable, I know, and if the videographer reads my blog I'm sure I've just hurt his or her feelings. But I will take this moment to strongly suggest to all videographers: USE A TRIPOD.

Tibetan connection

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Nima is my travel agent.

He's also Tibetan--one of 40 Tibetan exiles in Tokyo. That's a pretty small community--a slim .00033% of Tokyo's population. When the Dalai Lama comes through Tokyo on his travels, all of the Tibetans know it and go to see him.

Talking with Nima over dinner last night, I discovered that he lived in Pittsburgh for a while when he was a kid. His sister still lives there. She runs an Indian/Nepalese store in Oakland and a few years back she had a restaurant called Himalayan Tibetan Restaurant.

I ate there quite a few times. In fact, it was from pamphlets there that I first learned about Tibet, its plight and the movements to save Tibet. And, of course, its food.

Who'd ever think that I'd do business with the brother of the Tibetan woman who owned a restaurant I'd eaten in 6,000 miles away and ten years ago?

Discoving quirky connections among people makes me grin from ear to ear. I love being an expatriate in this truly small world.

TP music


Maybe this is a new career twist for me. Yesterday I worked on two songs about toilet paper.

soundicon.gifToilet Paper Song [604K, MP3]

It is uninstrumented; lyrics and melody by me. It's a little thin and at 38 seconds, it's really short. Anyone care to provide some accompaniment? :-)

The other toilet paper song is a collaboration and not ready for general listening, but as soon as we finish it, I'll put it up here for you to enjoy.

Stay tuned to Radio Kristen.

Empress Aiko


The Times reports that the Japanese government is looking into the possiblity that the Crown Prince's daughter will someday reign. Aiko, who turned one on December 1st, is causing quite a controversy.

Japan hasn't had a woman on the throne since 1770 and the Imperial Household Law specifies an Emperor, never an Empress. Personally, I think that's just because MacArthur and his cronies were mysoginists who couldn't even imagine that a woman might be in charge. Let's face it, they had a big influence on the current constitution whether or not anyone actually admits that.

So I suppose Japan's going to have to alter the law to replace "Emperor" with "Emperor or Empress" and "he" with "he or she." It doesn't really seem like it should be that big a deal, but government officials are worried that making any change will rile up the People and they will demand dissolution of the monarchy entirely.

Japan's Imperial family seems pretty mild and is part of the charm of Japan for me. America needs a monarchy. I think I'd make a good monarch--sort of like the Red Queen.

Aoyama cemetery


aoyama-headstone.jpgI have a thing for cemeteries. Walking among the headstone, thinking of the people memorialised there; wondering what they were like; why their families keep up their plots (or not). And, of course, there's always a bit of a sexual element running through my head at the same time. After all, sex is what brings all of us together, it may be the only thing we all have in common.

All cemeteries are enjoyable, but Japanese cemeteries in particular are peaceful and orderly. Each plot is for a full family; there are rarely monuments to individuals. Some sections are quite severe; others, like this one, are beautifully landscaped.

aoyama-roppongihills.jpgFrom Aoyama Cemetery, where I took these photos yesterday, you can see the huge Roppongi Hills complex in the background. It's new construction that's nearly finished now. The pictures doesn't really do it justice in terms of its amazing size. Towers over everything in the vicinity.

I like the contrast of old and dead with the new, vibrant Tokyo in the background.

Salad invention

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We like salad. Here's one we made up, going back and forth with ingredient suggestions, as we were shopping.

Cress and Walnut Salad
1 bunch cress, trimmed
1 stalk celery, cut into 3 cm x 1 cm sticks
1/2 c walnuts, crushed
30 g (1 oz) feta cheese, in 1 cm cubes
1 large orange
2 T olive oil
1 T white wine vengar
salt & pepper to taste

Juice the orange; add oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Reserve the larger bits of the crushed walnuts and add the small fragments to the dressing. Allow to sit for about 15 minutes.

Toss together the cress, celery and larger chunks of walnuts. Top with feta and spoon dressing over all. Makes four small salads.

Pickup line


Standing on the Sobu line platform yesterday afternoon, I was approached by a middle-aged (but not all that much older than me) salaryman sporting a punch-perm and wearing a dark grey suit, a blue polyester tie, a pale blue shirt and some sort of office ID on a neckstrap. Pretty bog-standard salaryman. We had the following conversation in Japanese.

Him: Do you understand Japanese?

Me: Yes, a little bit.

Him: (not hearing me) Huh?

Me: A little.

Him: Are you French?

Me: No.

Him: Are you American?

Me: Yes.

Him: (glancing at my hands). Ah, you are married.

Me: Yes, I am.

Him: Is your husband Japanese?

Me: No, he's American.

Him: Would you like to come to a hotel with me?

Me: I don't understand your Japanese. I'm sorry.

What this man thought I was likely to answer is beyond me. I thought about punching him, but he apologised and walked away before I could let my violent American tendencies reach the surface.

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