Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Shidax and Round 1

I love that when I went out this past weekend, I was with people from Ireland, Scotland, England, Australia, Ghana, the USA, Canada, Japan, Wales, South Korea, and Hong Kong.  Too bad our friends from Trinidad, South Africa, and Singapore weren't there.

We went to karaoke at Shidax on Friday night and to Round 1 on Saturday night, with a side trip to the Joyful.  Shidax is this giant temple of karaoke worship.  In Japan, karaoke is private, like in the movie Lost In Translation.  We had our own karaoke room and about 25 people hanging out, singing, and dancing.  Each room has menus and a phone so that you can just pick up the hand set whenever you want and order a parfait or another beer as big as your torso.  They offer a karaoke/nomihodai (all you can drink) price, but with a group that large there's bound to be some designated drivers, like me that night, and other people off the drink.  Since the whole room has to pay the same rate, we ordered a la carte.  Karaoke night was a success.  When we paid our $700 tab at the end of the night, people went off to get ramen and continue the fun at the local foreigner pub, PEI.  It stands for the place where the founder hailed from, Prince Edward Island.  I wanted to go, but I have a 2 year old that isn't cognizant of where I went the night before or how much sleep I'm not getting; he will be chanting "Mommy, get up!" at 6am either way.  And I've never been great at waking up in the morning.

On Saturday night I went to Round 1, which was our plan to replace camping since a typhoon kindly visited us.  I love wind and rain.  We all braved the storm to get to Round 1, which is a 6 storey entertainment emporium.  They have bowling, tons of crane games, an arcade, motor bikes, roller skating and blading, tricycles, tennis, table tennis, basketball, soccer, batting practice, archery, curling, bull riding, massage chairs, karaoke, pool, gym equipment, movies to pick out and watch, slides, fishing... I could go on, but I think you get the picture.  You pay about $20 to get in and it's open until 5 or 6am, I think.  Before we went in, though, we left to go to Joyful, which (I hate to say) is kinda like Japan's Denny's.  I'd like to think it's a little better.  We drove, which was hilarious because we had to take 2 U turns and when we parked, Round 1 was pretty much right in front of us.

Joyful was really fun.  I don't know why - good company, I guess.  The Joyful 'drinks bar' is a major pull for people.  They give you these coupons every time you go that give you a discount on the drink bar, making all you can drink tea, lattes, and soda about a dollar.  I got the drink bar just because, and I came back with a latte and an orange soda.  First of all, terrible combination.  Second of all, I don't drink soda.  I used to be a Diet Coke fanatic, but I stopped drinking soda sometime in college and I haven't had soda in I don't know how long; I might not have had soda the whole time I've lived in Japan, but I had the drink bar so I got it.  I had a few tugs on my straw.  That was enough.  I lost my wallet on the way out of Joyful, but I found it.  Under my arm.

We played at Round 1 for a few hours and got our Kitty-chan straps.  Kitty like 'Hello Kitty', chan like the endearing Japanese suffix added to girls names, and straps... straps are these things that people attach to their phones, keys, bags, and everything else, and they hand them out at Round 1 as you leave.  I have tons of them with different characters all over my life.  There were some attached to my desk drawers when I got here, and they are still there.  In fact, I added one.  I put my newest kitty-chan on my phone.  Some people have ridiculous numbers of these things hanging from their phones, so many that they are collectively larger and heavier than the phone itself.  I drove 3 people home in 2 seats, and fell into bed.

Lucky for me, Knox's Daddy took him out to shop on Sunday morning and I was able to sleep until about 10am.  Later I shopped at Don Qi's, which deserves a post of its own, met up with some friends, and we enjoyed an onsen called Sama sama.  It was awesome to sit naked in a hot rock tub outside in the cold rain, having girl talk. 

That's enough from me. 

From Japan,

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


About a month ago, I got roped into taking tennis lessons.  A combination of things acted as the catalyst for this ridiculous state of affairs.  One, Peter takes tennis.  He's very enthusiastic about it.  Two, the May recruitment campaign included 8 free gifts including a racket, shoes, socks, grip tape, free initiation fee, 2 free lessons, etc.  And three, I thought I could go shopping for cute skirts.  Now, I never would've engaged in an activity that I have little to no interest in had I needed to front the start up money for these items, but I can use the exercise and nothing was required of me except that I show up, so now you can find me attempting to learn how to play tennis on a hill in Japan every Saturday morning at 9am.

At first, I was power slammin' every ball and I thought that maybe I had some aptitude for the sport.  I mean, I'm very coordinated and athletic, as I have danced most of my life, I just have never played a sport per se.  By lesson number five, my motivation had already dwindled down to guilt, as I have accepted all of these free gifts and now I must reciprocate in the way of showing up for class and paying my monthly fees.

I am to tennis as William Hung is to American Idol.  One morning I hit the same white van - outside of the tall green mesh protection -  three times in a row, encouraging the driver, who was sitting in the car, to leave the parking lot. 

I had to change my class this week because of an event last Saturday, so I was at class last night.  There was a guy in my class whose achievements in tennis absurdity outstripped even mine, as he regularly got balls to fly straight up in the air so that we had to dodge them as they came down.   I can't aim, but at least my balls get distance.  I thought that I could be the president of our remedial club, if we had one. 

Tennis has its benefits.  It is a little bit of exercise, I get to laugh at people's "tennis noises" which sound like they should be emanating from the privacy of one's room, and the camaraderie is fun; we high five a lot, especially if I happen to do something well, since I suck so bad.  And sometimes I get to see a show, like last night when this guy thought he was a Roger Federer / interpretive dancer crossover.  He wasn't a bad tennis player, but his dance could use some refinement. 

I'm going to stick with it for a while and see how it goes.  I think it's a good skill to have to make new friends.  It's something to do together.  And, I like to follow the advice of Baz Luhrmann as he tells it in the remix of Everybody's Free (To Wear Sunscreen) on the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack:  "Enjoy your body.  Use it every way you can.  Don't be afraid of it or of what other people think of it.  It's the greatest instrument you'll ever own." 

Get your mind out of the gutter, I'm just playing tennis.

From Japan,

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Noh Theatre

One of my goals while in Japan is to see Noh (dance-drama and masks), Bunraku (puppets), Taiko (drums), and Kabuki (dance-drama and make-up).  I went to see a production of Noh last night.

About a week ago, a friend of mine told me that she was going to see Noh on the next Sunday with her tea ceremony peeps.  My response was, "Whaaaaaaa???  I wanna go!"  She was down for me to join, so I went to Tokiwa (a place where you can buy anything) to get a ticket.

I was conflicted about going to the show because Knox has been really attached to me lately and showing signs of separation anxiety.  I almost sent someone in my stead, but I ended up going with the understanding that Knox would get to stay up late to see Mommy afterwards.

I parked and walked to the castle grounds, stopping for an iced soy chai latte with light ice and extra milk.  The show was to be performed outside in the natural setting of the ruins of the castle.  Good idea; it was cool.  The backdrop for the event was a hundreds-of-years-old rock wall from a collapsed parapet and the sculpted trees so indicative of a Japanese garden.  The guards at the castle seemed intent on engaging me in conversation and practically escorting me straight to my seat.  We foreigners get a wee bit of extra attention.

I sat with my friend and the show began with several dances done by school kids in traditional dress.  I didn't know what to expect at all from the experience, but once the music and dancing began, I thought the show had begun.  It had, sort of, but not in the same way as a western show, such as a play.  I was prepared to relinquish myself to the power of the play, but I kept getting disturbed by announcements and the lighting of fires.  The dancing kids were a warm up, I guess, and then I think it's traditional to light a barrel-sized fire on each side of the performance area, which they did (and, hey, who doesn't appreciate the beauty of fire?).  I've also had a lot on my mind, so my focus has been constantly redirected by wandering thoughts, and I kept getting distracted by the sky and the sounds of nature around me.  Despite my lack of focus, the crows cawing actually really enhanced the inherent creepiness of Noh's sights and sounds.

Finally, the show began in earnest.  How can I describe it?  Noh has an ensemble of drummers and chanters, and a narrator.  Simply put, the narrator tells a story and characters from that story step forward for you to contemplate.  The audience listens to the story and music while taking in the emotions emanating from the masks, and while imbuing the masks with what wells up in them by the scene.  It's quite interactive in a silent, still way.  The actors move a little, and very slowly.  The costumes are luxuriant and pleasing to the eye.  Everything about it is rich:  The textures, fabrics, masks, drumming, chanting, and singing...

Japanese art-focused thought is heavy.  Even Knox's children's books include death and loss.  There's a cute little illustrated book on my shelf that I inherited from some long gone JET that depicts a couple that goes through a rough time, loving and losing each other, contrasting the adorable drawings.  The sounds of last night's performance were dripping with despair, and let me tell you, there is no comic relief for what seems like ages.  I was waiting for it; in my head I was wondering when it was coming.  It came in the form of a short, separate play at the end of the night.  Some dance comes at the end of the play, but it's more like movement with intention.  The dance includes the flipping of kimono sleeves and fluid manipulation of fans.

I'm very glad I went, but I didn't get the powerful escape that I was looking for.  Maybe it was the outdoor setting, or the crows, or the rain:  Twice during the performance it started raining and 200 umbrellas emerged suddenly.  In my distracted mindset, I had to stifle many giggles in response to the "Waaahhhhhs" that sounded straight out of an SNL parody.  I wanted to get lost in the verisimilitude and suspension of disbelief, and that just didn't happen.  But that's ok.  I experienced Noh, and that was my main goal.

From Japan,

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Teenage Poetry

     I wrote these poems when I was 14 years old.  I found them in boxes of old stuff when I began my move to Japan last July, and I found them again in the zipper pocket of my purse when I was searching for my health insurance card the other day.  I spaced these poems the same here as I did in 1994.  The copies are so old, they even have that perforated strip on the edges that should have been peeled off years ago.  I refuse to be embarrassed!...  OK.  I'm embarrassed.  But, I want them to have a more permanent home and we have to put our nostalgia somewhere, so prepare to be tortured by bad teenage poetry; don't worry - my 14 year old self did not leave out the angst.

     The world is far too separated
Unlike my Utopian youth-
     The people of the world loved
earth other under one small roof.
     Each color, creed, and way of life
was made part of our own-
     Why can't the world be young like us?
     Why won't we all be one?

     Our world needs no more classes,
It's sad; the gaps grow large.
     And with those gaps the love's forgotten
and hatred takes charge.

     You don't know why you hate them, do you?
I'll tell you why that is -
     You're blind and will not see the light,
your ignorance blocks the way.

     This isn't the way it's supposed to be.
Why can't you understand?
     We should love the human next to us
regardless of his native land.

     Look past the foreign face you see
because this is what is true -
     There is no one on this planet
less beautiful than you.

I've known you so long
and I've known you so deeply
but I've learned not a thing
and that's why I'm weeping.

So young and afraid-
I guess I had reason,
as again and again
I see you leaving.

I try to lose faith
and give away the love,
then find myself praying to the heavens above;
Please God if you have ever answered one prayer before-
I'm pleading, hands and knees on the floor-
Make me forget or give him the power
to love me as I've loved him hour upon hour.

If there really is mercy,
bestow it upon me.
God I can't waste another day-
Please set me free.

  Something's You

     Something's here but then it's not
Perhaps it never was
     And then again I could be lying
Why?  Well, just because.
     I should be doing something here
but cannot find the time.
     And no one else here seems to care
so why then should I mind?
     You will never understand my ways
and probably never try.
     And that is why I've got to go.
I'll leave you with goodbye.

From Japan,

Saturday, May 7, 2011

To Mom

To my Mom,

Happy Mother's Day!  I'm half-way around the world and I'm missing you very much.  I want to hold your hand and hug you and sit next to you.  I want to sit with you after the sun goes down and contemplate the people in our lives and the happenings around us... you are the best at that.  I've always been good at concepts.  You've always been good at people.  I've learned a lot from you.  I always believe what I see, taking for truth the masks that people present to the world.  You've taught me how to see what people really mean, and why they do the things they do.   You've helped me feel more at home in the world.

Tiffany and Mom at the Getty in LA

I've told you again and again - you are so smart.  I know you'll scoff, but you are so resourceful.  You are like water, always finding a way through the toughest rock wall.  I still need more help from you in that regard.  I often forget that there is always a way, but you remind me and help me to the light.  Every time I talk to you I am smiling and shaking my head with wonder at how you bend this world to your will, whether it's getting $30 knocked off a new hurricane proof window or trading a car for a deli.  You are amazing to me.

To your family, to your kids, you are infinitely supportive.  I tremble for anyone who gets in your way when you are protecting one of your children.  If one of us is in the hospital or some kind of trouble, like magic you are suddenly there, directing doctors and traffic to best suit your needs.  You have been demanding and critical to a fault, you can't deny it, but you have also been the last one standing at the end of any trial, screaming, "Get up!  You can do it!"  Because of you, I can't stop believing that I really can do anything, and because of you, I do it all.  I don't always see it, but sitting here right now, as I try to tell you on this Mother's Day what you have done for me, I recognize that you have gifted me so much fuel for living a life that I am proud of.  Because of you, I will never have to wonder what it's like to be in a movie, or live in another country.  You've given me the courage to do what one has to do in regard to dreams:  Jump off the cliff and hope the parachute opens.  Many people are paralyzed by that prospect.  Not me.  Thanks to you.

I was lately stunned by a realization; there are things that only you know about me, and if I ever want to reminisce about my young life, or hear about my grandmother, or remember who ran through the glass door that summer, you are the only person I can turn to.  You are the only person in the world that can tell me some of the things that I want to know.  Being on the opposite side of the clock, I am in a position to realize how valuable the contents of you are to me.  When it's 7pm and I'm dying for a good talk, it's 6am for you.  You are sleeping and I'm left to fend for myself.  But, that's how my appreciation is deepened.  It's tough right now, but through that fire I am refined.  

Tiffany and Mom
Guess what?  I didn't send you a card.  I'm a bad daughter.  ;-)  Expect a package soon, though.  My best gift consists of my words, anyway, I'm sure you agree.  I hope you know how much I love you, how much I miss you.  The distance I'm feeling between us and between myself and all things comfortable and familiar manifests as physical pain sometimes...  A mother's duties are never fulfilled.  I need you now as much as ever.

Have a beautiful day.  Spend all day basking in the love you have created in the world.  Remember, on this day for moms, that three people on this Earth are better off because of you.  With all the words in my heart, I could never tell you how much I love you.

From Japan,
Your daughter,

Thursday, May 5, 2011


I wasn't feeling up for taking my trip to Shikoku, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.  Maybe I enjoyed it more.  I looked around at the world and thought, I have everything that makes life beautiful.  It's true.  I do.  But the external does not bring contentment.  That comes from within.  Everybody knows that.

Between Kyushu and Shikoku in Japan

I took a girl's trip to the littlest big island of Japan with my friend M.  All of my friends in Japan are new, which is hard for me because I'm a person who needs deep relationships to feel comfortable.  I can navigate through strangers and acquaintances well enough, but I would much rather be with people who have known me for 10 or 15 years.  Luckily, I have a good number of people in my life who fit that description.  I was happy to deepen the bond with my new friend. 

We took a 3 hour ferry ride from Beppu city, just north of where I live in Oita city.  The landscape in Japan is beautiful just about wherever you are.  Watching the bay and the mountains recede from view as we talked, freezing from the wind... it was beautiful.  We went inside - I was shivering - and I could taste salt water on my lips.  Inside I found a unique Japanese sight:  They had carpeted sections of floor separated by isles for people to relax in.  You remove your shoes, of course, and then step into the carpeted area.  We could still enjoy the views out of large windows.  We talked, read Time magazine for a while (which I found really stimulating and I want to get a subscription, maybe), had some snacks, and then went outside to take some pictures as we neared the port.

The Gas Station Guys and Tiffany in Shikoku Japan
We found our friend, P, who was also spending some of Golden week in Shikoku and we took lots of pictures of the three of us with the tiered mountains of Shikoku behind us.  P had driven onto the ship and had to go get her car.  M and I took a bus to the train station, but we had some time so we had a little adventure.  We didn't have many plans for our time in Shikoku, but somehow we had a very full trip of chance encounters.  The people we met along the way were interesting and inspiring (but not necessarily both).  As we went to look for a place to get lunch, some men at the gas station called us over to take pictures with them.  In the US this would be really creepy, but in Japan it was fun.  We saw a staircase leading up and away to a place we imagined we would like to eat our lunch, but we couldn't figure out how to get to the stairs.  After gallivanting through several peoples private gardens and back alleys, we gave up and walked back to the station to eat our lunches on the curb.

Tiffany and M on the ferry
I walked through to the train and didn't realize that I was supposed to show my ticket, so I was called back... I think he called me gaijin-san.  That would be like, "Ms. Foreigner."  Funny.  A few minutes after getting started on our train trip, we started talking to some high school girls across from us who wanted to practice their English.  They were pretty good.  We found out that they were on a dance team and had a competition the next day, and that they were on their way to a flower festival.  As the train neared their stop, we could see the festivities in full force with mud wrestling, animals, a giant woolly mammoth made from hay, a stage with music and dancing, and giant koi flags flying for children's day.  So, we got off the train and went to the festival.  Having no plans is great.  It affords spontaneity, which I love.

We had a great time at the flower festival, although there were not many flowers.  We tried to play in the mud, but alas, the mud pit was closing.  We were given presents of food, met lots of nice people, got to know our high school dance team escorts a little better.  There was a disturbing sight, though.  They were giving bull rides to small children - which was not the disturbing sight.  When they tied up the bull they would just string the rope through it's nose and hook it there like that.  I don't know if the animal was disturbed by it, but it was a sickening sight for us.  We got back on the train eventually and continued on to our intended destination:  Uwajima.

M and I made reservations for green tourism.  That basically means that people offer up their homes for travelers to stay.  Often times these places are farms, and you can do farm experiences and such.  The couple we were staying with lived way up in the mountains.  While we were waiting for the man to pick us up at the train station, we had a great conversation with a little old lady dressed in yellow who had traveled all over the world.  She was 84, and three years ago she took a trip to the south pole.  She saw penguins.  We took pictures together there in front of the train station and she gave us her address so we could send some to her.  She was fun.  And inspiring. 

Our host showed up, T-san, and joined in the conversation and picture taking.  Then we thought we were going to get in the car and go to the house, but instead he walked us across the street and showed us his cram school. (A cram school is a place where students do extra studying after school in various subjects so that they can get into college.  Japanese kids study way too much.)  He took pictures of us in front of the sign to the school.  He said he was going to use the pictures for promotion of the school.  Even in Japan - a little creepy.  His school was one tight floor.  Downstairs he had another floor that was ready to be opened as a gallery and study space.  The room smelled strongly of wood from the display shelves.  I love that smell.

Tiffany in Shikoku, Japan
Then he drove us around the town a little and took us to a castle.  We were just going to get out and look up at the castle and take a few pictures by the statue, but T-san got a phone call and told us that he would be back in a little over an hour.  Surprise!  So, we were left at the castle, which was great.  We walked up stone stairs lined with forest and stopped along the way at scenic areas, like a giant tree stump.  We got to talking with an old man who has two grand children in the US who he has never seen and a son who is a doctor at Johns Hopkins.  The man used to be the principal of a school and he wouldn't let us take a picture of his face, but he allowed me to stand with him and look up at the castle so M could take a picture of us from behind.  Another cool conversation with a stranger.  I enjoy picking out the words I understand and stringing a kind of meaning together.  I'm sure it helps my listening skills.  The views at the top of the ocean and the mountains and valleys were gorgeous, as was the castle.  We got lost on the way down, but we found our way back to the car and drove to T-san's house, with one more stop at a store where he bought us sake that we hardly drank.

This anecdote is already getting lengthy, but there is still so much to tell!!

Once we got to the house (which used to be part of a silk making village) and settled in, the drama started.  We sat down to a huge meal, with probably 15 plates for each of us.  The hostess wouldn't leave us alone and the meal had several shrimp dishes, which I am allergic to, apparently.  We were trying to wind down, M had the royal wedding on, and we wanted to just chat about the day or whatever... but the crazy lady wouldn't let us.  She came in and started jabbering to M, who is fluent in Japanese, about how she is not really the man's wife, how he is supposed to pay her to work there, but he doesn't, and how he farts a lot in his sleep.  She made sound effects.  She told M, who told me, all about his financial affairs and how he "falls in love too easily, and cries too easily."  So, I was creeped out after that and sat in the hall to protect M while she was taking a shower.  We locked all of the doors after they left and just had to hope for the best, at that point.  I was trying to flip my futon cover under my chilly feet around 2am when M and I were gossiping like girls should, and the cover hit the wood floor really hard.  It made a huge bang and M flew over to my futon, squeeling in fear.  It freaked me out, too, even though I knew I was the one who made the noise.  I said, "It was me, it was me!"  Exciting.

Me and M with the Crazy Lady
I woke up at 5-something in the morning... it seems as though I am incapable of sleeping through the night anymore, since I have a young child who rarely lets me.  T-san called for some ungodly reason around 7am.  We ignored it, and I fell back asleep from 7 to 8:30.

Then we had a huge, traditional Japanese breakfast complete with miso soup, raw egg over rice, cucumbers, and salmon.  The woman continued her crazy talk through out the morning, whenever T-san wasn't around.  We were given two options for the day's activities, besides running off to do what we wanted.  We didn't have any plans, so we declined the bamboo digging and went for the pottery making.  Yakimono.  やきもの。  Pottery.  The dynamic duo drove us to the studio, slapped some clay down for us, and left.  The man who's studio we were using showed up after a little while...  Gosh, each of these people were such characters... this super skinny Japanese pottery dude was about 65, had few teeth, smoked incessantly, and wore jeans that would give diesels a run for their money.  He was topped off by a bedazzled New York hat.  I don't know much about pottery, but he seemed to be talented.  We went over to his house later to use the bathroom and I couldn't believe that anyone actually lived there, it was so disheveled.  I made a ring dish that I fancied looked like ocean waves wrapping up to become a bowl.  That took me about 2 minutes.  I also made something that started out as a large plate, then morphed from a zen rock garden into a southwestern courtyard, complete with adobe style holes in the walls and an entrance.  I knew that the man wouldn't leave my work alone if I was making something useful, so everytime he tried to help me I shooed him away claiming that I was making "art."  I just wanted to have fun.  My pieces, which look like they were made by a five year old, reflect that.

The crazy lady showed up and started talkin' all her smack to the pottery guy!  We couldn't believe it.  But she did bring me an iced coffee beverage from the konbini.  I'll remember her for that.  Eventually we had to be a little rude and ask if she could leave her conversation to take us to the tuk tuk rental shop.  Our time was very limited and we were just sitting there listening to her complain about her life and everyone in it to a perfect stranger.  She continued her diarrhea of the mouth all the way to the place, where we practically jumped out of the moving vehicle to escape her.

Free Sample
The place where we were to get a tuk tuk- a man powered bike/passenger cart thingie- had an omiyage (souvenir) shop and a street food festival going on.  I love Japan!  They will have a festival for anything, and make it awesome.  A festival for the food that is commonly served at festivals.  Genius.  We had some delicious food, talked about the world and the people in ours, and then left on a tuk tuk.  The kid driving the tuk tuk was a very formal Japanese person who did his job with pride.  You would think he was a museum currator, the way he gestured and spoke to us.   He took us to "the biggest stone temple gateway in Japan."  You have to take these claims with a grain of salt.  I've already heard the same ones in different places.  We saw a big, beautiful temple, purchased our fortunes, and took a roundabout way to the train station, where we traveled back to the port city.  Rain had come and we took a rocky ferry back to Beppu.

From Japan,