Friday, April 30, 2004



This morning on my rush-hour way through Osaka's Umeda Station to the office, after I had put my commuter's pass in the wicket at one end and taken it out at the other as I passed through in zombie mode, I suddenly found myself, for no reason I could perceive, thinking 'Kill Bill.' But there was no Bill around; nor is there a Bill at the office.

Under normal circumstances, under any circumstances I could think of in fact, short of being forced to sit for a screening under threat of a Bush re-election, I would never think spontaneously of any 'bread and circuses' movie, especially one I haven't seen and don't plan to see. This was odd. Very odd. It stopped me in my tracks, befuddled as to why I was thinking such a thing at all, since I generally try to avoid mental contact with vicarious violence, the sensitivity anesthesia that's pervading the entertainment market to increasing intensity these days, to what end I suppose we shall soon discover.

So I turned around to look whence I'd just come and saw that atop the mechanical section of the wicket, right along where rush-hour ticket bearers' eyes quickly and zombily track from putting in their ticket at one end to taking it out at the other, there was a de facto subliminal poster about 20 cm wide and 40 cm long, just red text on white background, saying "Kill Bill Vol II."

Thus are Osaka's commuting hordes currently readied each morning for another day at the office, heading for their desks with thoughts of bloody swords in their heads. I wonder how many realize that those violent thoughts are not their own, when they lead wherever they lead.

Thursday, April 29, 2004


The fierce wind that dragged along two steely days of heavy rain came back last night with a vengeance that threatened to clear the deck of all my seedlings, when all the while it was bringing in its train the mild morning of a fine blue day, horizon to horizon, souled by a gently muscular breeze.

In the fresh warm sun of the morning I was drawn like a magnet to go out on the deck and lay for a time in the golden light, while the breeze from the north bathed me in the honey-orange-gardenia fragrance of the full-blooming Carolina jasmine that covers the northern rail of the deck in creamy yellow blossoms.

In those moments of sun-warmed scent splashing over me on waves of Siberian cool I had a human glimpse of what we'd all feel if there were nothing but goodness and joy in the world...

Wednesday, April 28, 2004



It's probably well known by now that Japan is the empire of vending machines, vending just about anything that can be vended; there are whole stores that are nothing but vending machines. This site has a photo gallery of some of the more interesting types seen around Japan. As asides, here are two additional types from my own collection, a vegetable vending machine on the left and a numismatic vending machine on the right.

Monday, April 26, 2004



Yesterday the vectors of weather, time, opportunity and inclination finally converged and I got around to planting the King and Queen of cuisinomedical herbs oshoga (large ginger, Rhizoma zingiberis). The challenge with planting ginger, at least for me, being a relative (read "complete") novice to the activity, is exactly how to divide the very large rhizomes that come in the package of 'seed' ginger.

Right out of the bag the rhizomes are larger than my hand, and like a hand have lobes and nodes, the lobes growing in obvious segments that one breaks off and plants, one rhizome thus producing maybe 5 or 6 plantable segments, each containing at least one growth node. Or so it would seem.

Once you start breaking it up, though, you realize that each of these segments comprises smaller segments, each also containing a growth node, and as you look more closely, you begin to think like Wall Street: wow, instead of 10 nodes I could have 25! Then, as happened last year, trying to maximize yield by finding the smallest unit of ginger becomes like trying to find the innermost layer of the onion, at the end of which quest you are left with no onion at all, staring off into the sky thinking about birth and death and how nothing really begins or ends, that this onion is no onion is all onions, all is inseparate, and that includes the ginger continuum. But perhaps more importantly, you realize that each node will grow anyway if it wants to, and that to keep on in this fashion will net you zero ginger come Autumn.

So from the rocky heights of philosophy I got down to the topsoil of practicality, drew the line and planted the rather large segments (could have been a lot smaller if you ask me, which I pointedly did not) so that the ginger could right away get on with its business. Then I stared off into the sky thinking about birth, death and ginger in the Autumn.

Saturday, April 24, 2004



Cheney Wows Sept. 11 Commission By Drinking Glass Of Water While Bush Speaks

From The Onion, with thanks to Ken.

Friday, April 23, 2004



Kasumi and Tatsuya will be coming soon for an extended Golden Week visit, they'll stay in the house across the Lake for the duration, and of course they'll be bringing with them the one-and-only Kaya, compounded by the two-and-only M&M (Mitsuki and Miasa), and the adrenalin is rising. It'll be fun.

Though M&M are yet but wee floor-crawling beasties, the great thing about that is that it gets us down on the floor where we ourselves spent our early lives, and it is not unfamiliar down there, distant as it may seem, but full of fun if you have some one to have the fun with. M&M are the ideal companions for floor fun.

Kaya, on the other hand, now a proud two-legged girl far above the merely crawling beasties, will find the floor to be quite beneath her, though I'll bet that out in the garden she'll find great delight in the little red globules now showing at the bottom of the bright green leaves that have come up exactly where she planted what were called "radish seeds" when she was last here a few weeks ago and had no true idea what she was really doing, placing those tiny tan balls a certain distance apart in the lo-o-ong grooves we made in the ground, and then covering them all up and pouring water on them, some strange ritual adults do while talking about "radishes" and "planting," magic words.

I want to see the look on her face when the puzzle all fits together into a picture she can eat with a crunch. We'll have some fresh radishes with M&M just watching, since they have no teeth and know nothing of crunch. Their turn will come, I shall assure them.


He didn't cough or display odd symptoms either, like the kids who live next to his coal plants; but then he and his family don't live anywhere near the plume of one of those mercury polluting coal-fired plants he took the filters off of... bet there's no exploratory drilling in those salt marshes he lives next to, either... though if the price is right, I bet he'll include those in his environmental record too...

"Bush has given the OK to allow mining companies to dump waste directly into waterways; destroy over 20 million acres of wetlands; pump untreated sewage directly into our nation's rivers, lakes and other waters; and pollute with impunity because they don't enforce the law--with the result that 60 percent of industrial facilities nationwide are now in violation of Clean Water Act discharge limits."

For more of the truth, as opposed to the stuff Bush deals in, visit BushGreenwatch.


Water For Life

Ten Thirsty Children: Meet children from around the world affected by the world's water crisis. Learn how you can help.

What's In Your Water?: Learn how to test your water.

Corporate Challenge: Challenge industries to conserve water and reinvest in community development.

And more, of what is most important.

Thursday, April 22, 2004



Coming up the mountain road tonight, I was pondering something I forgot all about the instant I saw below me a thin slice of moon and the silver spark of venus in still water among emerging stars. It was a freshly irrigated paddy, decorated with our galaxy. As I walked on into the realization, raising my head to behold real moon and real venus in a sky still blue at the western edge, a flock of ducks whirred from a paddy higher up and flew off invisible against the deep dark of the lower mountains, my ears following them as I stopped moving to listen and watch until they flew out from before the darkness of the mountains and arced through the lighter sky, wing blurs wedging off now toward just a whisper of a lake, some wild part of me flying with them

Past every paddy up the mountain, frog roar increases to crescendo at my door


"Welcome to the Calorie Restriction (CR) Society!
The goal of Calorie Restriction is to achieve a longer and healthier life by

-eating fewer calories
-maintaining adequate nutrition"

We are what we eat, and so are most of our illnesses.

Sample interesting food forum posts here.


Here's a list of all the movies now playing in Tokyo. Find all the theaters showing LIT.

Here's a long string of reasoned and manic comments from all sides.

And an excellent forum on the subject in the archives of chanpon; other related links in the comments to this post, with much gratitude to Ron.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004



Your life deserves some prime time.

"And you start to wonder: when I reach for the remote, who is really in control?"


Tatami in meters, tsubo in feet, you name it and vice-versa. Visit the home page for very useful info on teaching English in Japan.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004



Unless you're a practicing Bushman, you're going to be surprised!


As an old Japan hand I cringed when I read the storyline and background of Lost in Translation, directed by Sophia Coppola (daughter of Francis), who for the past several years has "stayed in Tokyo for a couple of weeks every year," probably at a ritzy hotel or such like, wandered exclusively zany around exclusive areas of Tokyo with exclusive friends doing exclusive things and forming exclusive opinions about this exclusively exotic special place, and losing none of the stereotypical baggage. Ls and Rs anyone? Inscrutability, anyone? Cartoony people anyone? SMALL people, anyone?

Characteristic of all stereotypes is that they are cheap and multiple. They are easy. Stereotypes that last beyond the stone of youth are the province of lazy thinkers, a category Hollywood has always done its best to foster.

Thus it was that I cringed at the thought of loosing this young Goddaughter with a movie budget under one arm and the clout of her name under the other to present to the world a graspable image and understanding of the 'real' Japan, the 'real' Japanese character, based on her experiences here: using as stars, the angst of foreigners here but temporarily, and as cartoony apprentices, Japanese and Japan itself.

Maybe the rest of the world has great fun seeing their stereotypes proven, but it's no surprise to me that Lost in Translation is only being shown in one small theater here. After all this time the Japanese still know themselves better than the rest of the world does, even frequent whirlwind visitors like Sophia who say they love Japan and this is how it really is. The Japanese are just too polite to criticize.

Sophia's motives may have been of the best, given the circumstances, and the movie may play well in the distant darkness of Peoria, but you can't really spin nitty-gritty reality out of greenhouse experience, any more than Paris Hilton can ever find true love.

Monday, April 19, 2004



"A weekend report in the Tokyo Shimbun said that UFJ will increase its loan loss charges by 300 billion yen ($2.8 billion) from its original estimate of 500 billion yen, after an inspection by the Financial Services Agency, Japan's banking watchdog, found an additional 1 trillion yen which needed to be reclassified as bad debt."

This is only the tip of one big malignant iceberg. No one has any true idea of the vastness of these secret debts.

Sunday, April 18, 2004



More power output than input? Whatever the answer, it all started in Japan...

Friday, April 16, 2004



"They could still be there. They could be hidden, like the 50 tons of mustard gas in a turkey farm."



"#1 Colorado River (CO, UT, AZ, NV, CA)
Contact: Eric Eckl, (202) 347-7550 ext. 3023
While conflict over Colorado River water sharing has grabbed headlines for years, water pollution problems from human waste, toxic chemicals, and radioactive material have been largely overlooked and threaten to get much worse. Unless Congress and the federal government step in to bolster local cleanup efforts, the drinking water for 25 million Americans will be at risk."

Full article at American Rivers.

via ENN

Thursday, April 15, 2004


Uncovering the firewood
at dawn-- groggy frogs
tumble all the way along the tarp

Wednesday, April 14, 2004



When I awoke at around dawn this rainy misty morning to the singular cry of what was clearly a large bird, a cry I've never heard before-- a single, short harsh note repeated like a very slow metronome-- the bird apparently roosting on a branch in the garden, I finally roused myself to look out the window just when the cry began to fade as the bird took wing and disappeared into the mist, so I didn't learn what kind of bird it was.

But as I looked out, I glanced at the upper garden and was amazed to behold the stacked shiitake logs blooming with large shiitake, from which very logs I had just harvested so many mushrooms only a few days ago! Stirred by nature's fecundity, as I had breakfast I thought about whether I should harvest all the shiitake, or maybe let some go to spore (which they would quickly, given this rain), what size basket I should take out with me, where my garden raincoat was, should I use scissors or a knife... I gazed now and then out the window to check on the extent of the impending harvest, thought about maybe shiitake fettuccini for lunch...

At last after breakfast, all was prepared; I had the basket and garden shears, and in my boots and raincoat I trudged out through the pouring rain and walked up to the logs, upon which there was not one single shiitake. What had been ripely swelling mushrooms were merely rain-dampened patches of light tan-variegated bark, precisely proportioned, positioned and color-coded to resemble the shape, random location and color of shiitake to the distant shiitake-seeking eye. There's a lesson here, though I'm still not sure exactly what it is...

One thing though, I'd never before so personally perceived nature's absolute mastery at using the unwitting collaboration of its sapient members to mimic its fungal elements. This made me wonder about the mysterious bird that started it all, and then inevitably about the mysterious being who awakened to that strange call...

Tuesday, April 13, 2004



For any of you who have accrued as much bile over the lamentable quality of (at least, locally) commercial Japanese potting soils as I have, you might want to try something I'm doing this year: take things into your own hands and make your own potting soil. Good recipes for all kinds of potting soil needs at BackyardGardener.

SIMPLE seed starter soil:

4 parts peat
2 parts vermiculite
2 parts perlite

Now all I have to do is find peat.


Great post on Japanese Children Starting School at JapanWindow, with photos that bring me heartachingly right back to the days when my own kids started school here; how quickly those times fly away!! Treasure them all.

Monday, April 12, 2004



Guess he doesn't want to turn in his friends. Must be some pretty big campaign contributors in that number...
Full story at Capitol Hill Blue


Everybody in the world knows how much the Japanese love cherry trees, how the cherry and its delicate pink blossoms symbolize so many things for Japanese culture and national spirit, how there are cherry trees all over the country in famous places for cherry blossom viewing. What no one knows, however, is the number of Japanese people that can actually fit under a cherry tree.

We found out on Saturday when we went to the quiet fishing village of Makino, our favorite for its cherry blossoms along the northern lakeside. As it turned out though, it was a Saturday so blue and clear that everyone within five hours of here came by bus, car, train, motorcyle, bicycle, kayak, walker, and I suspect many even crawled (more power to them!).

Each year at cherry blossom time, if the weather is kind enough to be beautiful on cherry blossom days (record not too good in recent years), we go to Makino. There we easily drive into the village and park, then walk beneath the trees along the road around the peninsula. This year though, when we got about 20 km from Makino we were very surprised to see frozen traffic, a first.

We sneaked off onto a local road, parked some distance away and made it at last to the cherry blossom road, along which we walked many kilometers through the crowds dining and partying beneath the fluffy pink arcade with its delicate aroma. Makino is a fine old fishing town entering changing times, with new cafes and restaurants opening in the old houses as artistic entrepreneurs from the city move into an idyllic setting that locals can't yet see, since they've been seeing it all their lives. Now that the fishing life is clearly waning, I hope they come to realize what a treasure they have.

Sunday, April 11, 2004


What could this American tattoo possibly mean? At least Janglish is only on t-shirts and jackets! Never saw a Japanese with a Janglish tattoo that said "Bone in America."

More Western kanji faux pas here.

For a look at the real thing, here's the site of The Japan Tattoo Institute.

Friday, April 09, 2004



That was the title of the classified intelligence memo given to Bush at his daily briefing on Aug. 6, 2001, as revealed by national security adviser Condoleezza Rice like she was having teeth pulled. Nevertheless, she downplayed the importance of the document.

Rice "was the top national security official accompanying President Bush to the G-8 Summit in Genoa, Italy in July 2001. There, she and the president were explicitly warned that 'Islamic terrorists might attempt to kill world leaders by crashing an airliner' into the summit." This also slipped her mind.


I remember some years ago I sent my brother a videotape of various kinds of oddball Japanese tv programs, like quiz shows, tarento shows ('talent' in the Japanese sense, a whole 'nother multipost item in itself), news, sumo, Japanese baseball, cooking shows, eating shows etc.; he later told me that by far the most intriguing stuff on the tape was the ads. And not only because they came in batches of 30 or so at a time. He got a crease between his eyebrows as he said this. I understand.

My own puzzlement with Japanese tv ads began not long I first arrived in this country, that's over 30 years ago, and saw this wordless ad: there is a great plain of still water, it appears there has been a flood. In the distance is a very small islet with a tree on it. Something is leaning against the tree, something white; your viewpoint draws nearer and steadily nearer: you perceive it is a woman, dressed in a white gown, lying on the ground, leaning against the tree. In her mouth is a small twig; from the twig dangle two ripe red cherries. And the product is?

You're guessing off the top of your Western head maybe...Cherries? You're getting cold. Fruit? Colder. Boats? Frost is forming. Flood protection? Icicles. A movie? You're turning blue. Weddings? Numbness. Fashion? Frostbite. Swimming gear? Hypothermia, give up, I'll tell you before it becomes terminal. The product advertised was: Motor oil. (And no, it wasn't Two Cherry motor oil.)

Yup. Now just to show you how much things haven't changed, here's an ad that's currently playing, only this time I'll give you a break, you're shivering so from that last one: just name the genre of the product. Middle-aged guy alone in his apartment, weirdly moping over a picture of an apparently lost little hairy Chihuahua dog. There's a scratching at the door. The man gets up and runs passionately down the actually very short corridor of his apartment, running foreverlike as if one-half of a pair of lovers loping toward each other across a sunny meadow, same kind of BGM; with lovelight in his eyes he opens the door and there is the very dog, sitting there looking soulfully up at him. The dog then looks to its right; the man steps out to look around the open door and there on the narrow entrance balcony are maybe 30 or 40 of the exact same dog. And the product is?

No, not pets. Or dogs. Or housing. Or apartments. Or... whatever. The product is: money. Specifically, no-collateral loans. This type of ad is pretty common on Japanese tv, and always leaves my mind thrashing around in knots on the floor. Which result is, I suppose, the basic aim of all advertising.

Thursday, April 08, 2004



"The head of the E.P.A.'s Office of Air and Radiation, like most key environmental appointees in the Bush administration, previously made his living representing polluting industries (which, in case you haven't guessed, are huge Republican donors). On mercury, the administration didn't just take industry views into account, it literally let the polluters write the regulations: much of the language of the administration's proposal came directly from lobbyists' memos."
From The Mercury Scandal By Paul Krugman

You can tell Bush really cares about the voting public.

Later Note on this subject:

EPA's Mercury Lingo Altered

"White House staff made subtle changes to the language of proposed rules on mercury pollution that largely downplayed the chemical's health risks, a newspaper reports. "

Guess the White House staff feels the same way their boss does.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004


Today while splitting firewood beneath the plum tree blooming white and fragrant to me immediately underneath (the cherry trees were also blooming, the weeping cherry was just beginning, it will be a blinding pink in a couple of days), in the midst of all that fragrance to my labors I grabbed a rough chunk of log from the varied pile, paying no attention to what wood it was, had to work to even start to split it but when I did what a fragrance filled the air, it was a 40 cm-diameter chunk of camphor sapwood. Wow.

By the time I'd gotten it quartered (camphor makes you work for its heat), I didn't have the heart to throw it on the firewood pile; instead I brought the four quarters into the house and laid them atop the cold woodstove where the sun hits it, to see what effect the wood would have on the fragrance of the house.

We then went out for a long afternoon walk up the mountain under the near-fully blossoming cherry trees that line the roads around here. When we got back a couple hours later and opened the door, having forgotten all about the camphor wood, what a perfume awaited us, a piney-lemony-minty fragrance from somewhere around heaven, with a touch of camphor. It filled the entire house and us too, the way blessings always do.



"Here, then, are 100 Japanese student-created strips presented in order of original publication. If you want to skip to the best-of-the-best, the strips I found particularly funny are marked with *. But you should really read them all."
--Andrew Vestal

[Very funny stuff from the mad workings of the Japanese adolescent mind.]

Tuesday, April 06, 2004



"Bottom Line: More service jobs, fewer hours worked, anemic if not falling hourly and weekly income levels for those service jobs. And this is GOOD news?..."
--Dan Denning


"We found that watching television before the age of 3 increases the chances that children will develop attentional problems at age 7," says study author Dr. Dimitri Christakis.

I suspect that a major part of the problem is a lack of creative alternatives, such as attentive parents. Teletubbies and the rest of that vast wasteland is a pitiful substitute for what is lacking in those new lives.

[TV-Turnoff Week this year is April 19-25.]

Monday, April 05, 2004

OKIJIMA II: Seeking the Far Shore

When we entered the temple grounds there was much carpentry going on; we called into the open doorway of the priest's house next door in the compound, and a young man came out who was the son of the priest; he would be the next priest. He was now studying at a Buddhist University in Kyoto. When we began to ask questions about the Rennyo connection, he took us inside the temple, which was being refurbished, and into a side room at the front of which were three scroll altars and two long brightly colored scrolls hanging on a side wall, divided into different 'panels.' They told a story, which the young man related to us.

Back during the Muromachi Period, when civil war (in this instance, likely the Onin War) raged throughout Japan, several defeated warriors were exiled to Okijima, which was then uninhabited.

The warrior of our story, the ancestor of the fellow who was telling it to us, thus left the trappings of war behind and became a fisherman, taking a local fisherman's daughter as his wife. Sadly, she died soon after giving birth to their only son, but death did not bring an end; instead her unhappy ghost kept returning each night to breast feed the child. Her ghostly presence night after night was not only very personally disturbing to the man, but the anguished spirit of his beloved wife was unable to move on to the Pure Land, where she would be at peace.

One night in this time of misery a god visited the man in a dream and told him to await the arrival of a very wise individual, who would come to the island. Every day thereafter the fisherman went to the beach and waited. One day during a great storm, when arrivals were least likely, a boat that had been on its way to Katata across the Lake was forced to seek shelter at Okijima; the boat's passenger was the renowned Rennyo Shonin.

The fisherman invited Rennyo to stay at his house till the storm had abated; during that time he told the monk his tale. That night they waited up for the ghost of the woman to appear; when at last she appeared and reached for her infant son, Rennyo told her that to free her spirit from its earthly tether and gain entry to the Pure Land all she had to do was chant namu-amidabutsu (I take refuge in Amida Buddha). But she didn't believe him; she refused to chant, saying that she was but a woman, that mere prayers would not work for her. Rennyo assured her that this prayer would, if she'd but try it; to make it easier, he wrote it out on a scroll for her to read. She did so, over and over until her voice became a chant, under whose power she entered the Pure Land, never returning to haunt this troubled world again.

The original scroll written by Rennyo in the 'dancing tiger' calligraphic style still hangs in the temple, which that very warrior-fisherman founded as a result of these events. The young man telling us the story was the 19th generation of the family begun by that man, and the 18th generation of a boy who had been suckled by a ghost. At that point the sun suddenly disappeared behind some clouds and it got very chilly inside the unheated room.

When we went into the darkening day pondering this tale, we hadn't far to go to reach the other side of Buddha's neck; from there we walked the long walkway that traced Buddha's shoulder, pausing now and then to gaze out into the air in search of our mountains and our home, but they were not there. Where they should have been was a dense haze, beyond which might be mountains...

We walked past all the lakeside gardens to the very end of the windy pathway, and there clambered up the steep slope into the lee shelter of a grand old gnarled tree, where we sat amid the small mountainside gardens and ate our lunch, looking often into the distance for some small sign out there of where we lived, but it was all impenetrable whiteness...

Sunday, April 04, 2004


\(^0^)/ !!

OKIJIMA I: The boat in the forested cove, signs of the Pure Land

This morning a Monaco-type drive over a lakeshore distance we thought would take an hour-- Okijima always unreachable in the far offing from our house windows, had grown so far away in our minds-- the last stretch, 6 twisting kilometers beyond the little village where 808-step-stairway Chomei-ji Temple is located (and where I used to buy the great traditional black cinnamon candies the local grandmas make), along an old and twisting narrow peninsula shore road overhung with long festoons of blooming cherry tree branches, a tunnel of pink cherry blossoms in the early morning sun, we had the pedal to the metal so arrived early at the boat in the forested cove.

Every two hours the boat leaves for the island, just a small passenger busboat for maybe 30 or 40 folks (only 400 yen one way!), it was half-full this morning, a few tourists, mostly island farmer ladies coming back from early shopping in the big city for among other things fine quality plastic buckets, we sat outside on the back deck to see the island as we approached it like the other side of the moon, we never see this side from our house, and as the island loomed there were ducks on and above the water, hawks, seagulls and cormorants in windy spray as the boat headed straight for Buddha's shoulder. Then a quick turn and reverse, few fillips of the helm and there we were: on Okijima.

The first thing we did was wander the very narrow streets on Buddha's neck (alleys really, on most of them you have to turn sideways to pass another person), trying to tend toward the opposite shore of the neck whence we could see the range of mountains where we live, view our usual here-now-there from our everyday there-now-here. It was wonderfully difficult to move on, though, the alleyways beckoning this way and that along the sea and up the slopes, many of the sudden buildings still richly aged, with walls like elderfaces grown in wisdom and character to the essence of beauty in response to the weather, but fading nonetheless, may not be there next time, so had to be looked at carefully, the way we used to look at Kyoto before it disappeared...

As we walked up and down the alleys and stairways that led to temples and forests, stopping every here and there to look at something of interest, the while hunting for the minshuku (a kind of B&B; there are two on the island), I felt something niggling, something unfamiliar, something slightly irritating, like a pointless gesture repeated endlessly, then I realized what it was: there were no cars or trucks on the island! Not even a motor could be heard! Even in those narrow alleys I had been listening and sensing behind me as we walked, being cautious of approaching vehicles to no point whatsoever; the silence and quietness, the rambling folks and rich air were other clues my deeper mind had noted but my surface mind had overlooked in traveler's distraction. Smiling grandmas cruised by, going to and from their gardens on three-wheelers.

Another thing I noted (and envied) from the casual and open way of the gardens, and as I later confirmed by talking to one elder fisherman sitting on a seawall in the sun making fish traps, the Okijima islanders are blessed with a blissfully complete lack of monkeys. No deer either; their biwa trees and spinach thrive in the freedom sought by all living things. Crows love their cabbage, though; the islanders' scarecrows are old rubber gloves on sticks, rising from the earth among the swelling cabbage-heads like resurrecting gardeners... A bonus of the fisherman's generous conversation is that now I know how to make fish traps.

As we tended toward the other shore for the here/there experience, wandering down one alleyway and taking a couple of turnings much as if in a maze, we came upon a small temple named Seifuku-ji, before which stood a wooden sign that spoke of the temple's strong connection to Rennyo Shonin! Amazingly, and by sheer coincidence, our trail had crossed that of the renowned Pure Land monk of the 15th century, who as it turned out played a key role in the little-known Okijima ghost story we were about to hear, to be told once more in Part II...

Saturday, April 03, 2004


Off early this morning for a one-day exploratory excursion to Okijima, that island out there across the Lake that I've always wanted to visit. Details of reasonable length upon my return.

Friday, April 02, 2004




"The mine clearer's reputation for doing its vital task well eventually reached the Indian Defense Ministry, which asked to buy it, with the US Defense Department also inquiring about it.

But Amemiya rejected both offers. 'I have no business with the military,' he said."

We need more businessmen like this.


Oh yeah. Due to severe delirium brought on by acute dessertemia I forgot to mention that I got my Koizumi Cabinet E-mail Magazine the other day.

"The title of this column "Lion Heart" is a reference to the
Prime Minister's lion-like hairstyle and his unbending
determination to advance structural reform."

Junichiro (we're on a first-name basis) is a lot more coherent than Bush, even in English, and his life sounds a lot less stressed. No wonder: he's a bachelor in the Big Ringo, has no Cheney, Rumsfeld or Condoleezza, no WMD falsehoods, no Iraq fetish. And he gives unscripted press conferences that are quite comprehensible.

He writes about meeting people from other countries, seeing the movie Seabiscuit, and about how Haruurara, Japan's beloved losing racehorse, lost another race the other day, tenth in a field of eleven (even ridden by Japan's best jockey), so you shouldn't give up either if you fail.

He doesn't say a word though about the important stuff, such as how to cut your tax bill, or why Japan doesn't allow tax-paying, property-owning permanent residents to vote, or grant permanent dual citizenship to children born here of international parentage, stuff that really matters to the folks who get his letter in English. Maybe he should have two letters, one full of the usual boilerplate (anko?) for the electorate, and one of substance (cherry pie?) for the disenfranchised residents (all foreigners).

Nevertheless, it is a thoughtful gesture and a welcome effort at beginning, and I can e-mail back, which I will (to what end I can't imagine).

You too can comment on the xenophobic qualities of the Japanese Government.

Thursday, April 01, 2004



"This quirky, offbeat blog has a beautiful, poetic quality that really stands out from the crowd."

Why, thank you kindly, Japanzine.



A combination of April Fools, Halloween, Friday the 13th and your worst nightmare.


We all need an antidote.




Lest any attentive readers of various previous posts (NATIONAL TREASURES, IN PRAISE OF ANKO et al.) get the idea that I am in an adversarial relationship with Japanese foods other than dessert, let them eat cake. The Japanese make wonderful products, from cars and stereos to toilets and musical toilet paper rolls, and have in those and countless other cultural regards won the admiration of the world, and spread joy to all nations through their instruction manuals.

I must insist, however, despite the rabid anko-oriented email, that the only area in which there is a lack of equivalent cultural depth, the only gap in the Japanese gustatory picture as it were, actually in quite a prominent place in that picture, right about where the postprandial joy should be, is an abyss in the overall cuisinal structure that cannot be ignored: the sad state of Japanese desserts.

We are civilized people, are we not? We have moved up in the world from the days when we rubbed mud off our food before eating, have we not? Ergo we can go beyond just making it look good, can we not, perhaps advance into the very daring realm of broad-spectrum FLAVOR?

No doubt there will be numerous heads shaking knowingly out there in the world as they read these words, thinking such thoughts as: 'but a mochidango is a wonderful dessert,' or 'a little bit of rice paste with some anko inside on a bamboo leaf is a simply exquisite item of which to partake following a light Japanese meal,' I must respond that, although I understand you completely and in several ways wish I did not, in a minor but very real way you are insane.

This brings to an end my short rebuttal on this tasteless subject. For my next Japanese food-related diatribe, tune in for the beacon of flavor that is THE BENTO, coming to your nearest LCD as soon as I stop thinking of cherry pie.