Friday, February 29, 2008


Hana Yori Dango Final

All good things must come to an end. Finally, some footage from the upcoming movie. It's all in Japanese--sorry. The hosts of this show (Ping Pong) spend most of their time talking about how much money is being spent to make the film -- and what an incredible hit the television series was across all of Asia.

Plot points: It'll be 4 years since the end of HYD2, and Tsukushi and Doumyouji prepare to get married . . . when Tsukushi's precious super-expensive wedding tiara is stolen. Recovering the item requires the help of F4 and trips to Hong Kong and Las Vegas. I can't say I'm really feeling Hanazawa Rui's hair this time. I think it's a wig.

Same info, different show.


These Cats Can Sing!

The singing cats will be back. MUSASHI'S, a "singing" cat group made up of 5 Norwegian Forest Cats, will be releasing its first single on March 3. After gaining some notoriety over the holidays when a Youtube video was posted in which the cats all "sang" Jingle Bells collectively, the cats were contacted and given a contract with Stardust Productions. The soon to be released single will be a meowy version of Hotaru no Hikari. This will be followed by Ichinensei ni Nattara. Payment is reportedly in tuna.

Here is the fame-making Jingle Bell video for those who might have missed it. It's distressing to think that without the internet, talent like this might have been over-looked in our all too busy age.

Thursday, February 28, 2008


Travelers and Tourists

I've been thinking lately about what it means to love travel. Nineteenth century travel journals so often have that colonial tone of voice--that loving to observe and record sights. And yet I wonder. Did those travelers really pass through so many countries and cultures in an intellectually removed bubble?

It is easy to do now, of course. Sometimes when I sit in the Tokyo airport, I eavesdrop on conversations. I'm usually melancholy because I'm leaving Japan. When I'm sitting in the Red Carpet Club or (when miles permit) the First Class Lounge (otherwise it's economy all the way and the conversations are different), the people around me are usually American businessmen. I find the re-entry into so much western maleness and Americaness jarring. I usually like to keep quiet, and try to hide the fact that I speak English--a trick that never works on the Japanese, but does on the Americans.

You hear the weirdest things. A lot of executives discuss how lonely they are, and how hard the travel is. Most of these people never get outside of the bubble of their hotels. Once I heard two guys talking about how lonely their work made them, but how they would never: ". . .keep two families like some guys, if you know what I mean." It always sounds so extreme. Why not make friends? Why go to one extreme or the other?

People are so weird. Minds are so weird. I guess it can be difficult to travel from one culture to another and imbibe it. I find it difficult to travel and not ingest some of where I am. But this probably has something to do with the fact that I love meeting new people, love seeing new places and love new connections. Perhaps this is a kind of addiction, or a seeking out of something.

Anyway, this bit of self-absorption had me thinking of the masterpiece that is Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky. There are "travelers" and "tourists," he writes.

In the film, the idea is portrayed through this bit of dialogue:
Tunner: We're probably the first tourists they've had since the war.
Kit Moresby: Tunner, we're not tourists. We're travelers.
Tunner: Oh. What's the difference?
Port Moresby: A tourist is someone who thinks about going home the moment they arrive, Tunner.
Kit Moresby: Whereas a traveler might not come back at all.
Tunner: You mean I'm a tourist.
Kit Moresby: Yes, Tunner. And I'm half and half.

I guess it's an old idea--that visiting a foreign country and really and truly experiencing it forces you to recognize something about yourself. I go back and forth on novels like this. In general, I find them more honest than books which are absent of any psychological insight, and utilize a foreign country to explore a set of aesthetics.

But the traveler/tourist dichotomy rings true for me, though I'm not sure I'm committed to either. Which are you?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


John Burnham Schwartz and an All Too Common Problem

At the end of his book, “Princess Masako,” Ben Hills ominously declared that there would be no happy ending for Princess Masako, her husband the Crown Prince and their daughter, Princess Aiko. The strangled, cloistered world in which they all lived would never change. In “The Commoner,” John Burnham Schwartz’s fictionalized account of the life of Empress Michiko, the doom and gloom is resolved when one Crown Princess and her Imperial daughter escape via a jet plane to the land where all people are free and happy. That would be New York. There are no Amber Alerts issued and the US government doesn’t vow to help its Japanese counterpart uncover the missing royals. Apparently, none of the thousands of Japanese expats living in America recognize the Princess either. They just fly off like “two cranes.”


I would feel bad about spoiling the ending for you, except that it is honestly so ridiculous, so tacked on and so obviously the kind of plotting intended to appease baby-adopting westerners who fret over the subjugation of women in Asia, that, well, I simply don’t feel bad at all. In this novel, Schwartz just fulfills our fantasies about the exotic and oppressive East. This is to say: we like Asia to be beautiful, and we like to lament how cruel it is to the independent spirit. Beyond that, we don’t care, thank you very much, about who these people are. And if we believed they had any independent spark, which we don’t, we wouldn’t want to read about that anyway, because, well, apprehending that would require effort.

And the novel is beautiful. It’s a wonderful chance to borrow from Japanese aesthetics to make everything beautiful. A burn victim “wore his painful strangeness, like his unseasonable coat and his skin lost to fire, as a flag not of suffering but of distinction.” Get it? He’s deep and he’s beautiful in that wabi sabi way, even though he’s a burn victim. Oh, he becomes a painter too. After a firebombing “the wind continued to blow, scattering perfectly formed corpses of ash, mothers and babies alike, into unrecognizable shapes, and finally into dust.” Be still my impermanent Buddhist heart.

But there must be some kind of plot, right? Beyond all the prettiness? Here, then, is the big question the novel asks. Why does Haruko, the novel’s stand-in for Empress Michiko, marry the Crown Prince of Japan, and how does she survive? What kind of a person can go through this kind of emotional journey?

Schwartz doesn’t know. You can tell. He knows his aesthetics and he bombards us with those, but try reading this novel for a truly three-dimensional understanding of human behavior, a true insight into Japan and you won’t find it. Case in point. At the start of novel, we are told: “On these matters, as on so many others of terrible important, I held no opinion that I can recall, and, of course, no one ever asked me to speak my mind.” Really? Was there no gossip at home? Did her father not express his opinions? How does this person of no opinion square with the girl who decides to keep beating the Crown Prince at tennis, even when she is told not to? It’s an inconsistent portrait. Read more »


Fortune Pocky

For Pocky devotees, here's the latest version. "Omikuji Pocky" which you can roughly understand as "Fortune Telling Pocky." Omikuji is a kind of fortune telling that you can find in Shinto shrines.

You pay some money, a priest hands you a barrel and you pull out a stick with a number. The number corresponds to a fortune. You then tie this paper fortune onto a tree to try to bring you teh good luck you've selected--or pray against the bad luck you might inadvertently have chosen.

The Japanese are really into this kind of thing, and you can see omikuij papers all over the trees of shrines. I was really into omikuji as a kid, but now I don't like letting some random piece of paper determine my future.

I'm afraid I've eaten most of these omikuji Pocky. And I didn't consult my fortunes very much or tie them anywhere. Most had to do with my romantic prospects and . . . well . . . I'm married now.

Monday, February 25, 2008


The Scots Can Be Brutes

Thursday, February 21, 2008


Limited Edition Sakura Kewpie

Isao was most upset that my cell phone didn't allow for a little dangly decoration. I had to put this on my bag instead.

This is what I mean when I say that the Japanese are much better at turning their attention to the seasons, and feverishly working themselves up over an approaching spring.



Not the best photo, perhaps, but it gives you a sense of what I saw. I'd just finished my 4 mile run along the water and it was dusk, and I parked by the Carmel River Beach to see the eclipse begin. It wasn't dark yet, just blue-black and there were geese flying overhead and the waves were very loud. All I had was my cell phone. A few seconds later and there were too many clouds for anything better than this picture.

Another view. Click on the photo to see an enlarged image.


San Francisco

It is already spring. There is no endless waiting for flowering trees.

The buses come with bike racks. (!) Can you imagine this ever happening in New York? I can't.

It is possible to order a "taste" of wine, which means you can easily try 12 wines in one evening. And, no, they will not all come from France and the equivalent of a bottle will not set you back $2500.

This bathroom was painted by a commissioned artist.

Here is his statement. It is all about Medieval alchemy. Yay, alchemy!

Optimism doesn't seem out of place.

At the end of the evening, even the linen will smile at you. Yeah, I know that's cheesy of me. What can I say? I was drunk and I had a good meal and that usually makes me really happy.


Interview and Discussion with Ellis Avery

I was asked today to interview/lead a discussion with Ellis Avery at Asia Society next month after she reads an excerpt of her book, The Teahouse Fire. It'll be the first time I've tried to lead any kind of literary discussion in public, and I hope to do the work (and the author) justice. There are some very interesting aspects of the novel that I'm looking forward to talking about with Avery--plus she's going to make us all some tea!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I Love the West

A perfect flight west includes a big nap for the first four hours. If the gods are kind, I wake up just as we are leaving the Nebraska prairie, and starting over the Rockies. If it's a clear day, all the better. I like it when I can listen to the pilots, but at the very least, I like to look at the scenery.

The gods were very kind.

We flew further north than I expected; I'm pretty sure these are the Tetons. (Updated: Yeah. Okay. So not the Tetons. Most likely Utah.)

And then we only saw the northern-most tip of the Great Salt Lake. What eerie, isolating, strange and beautiful country this is. An acquaintance recently tried to tell me how much more beautiful the east is because it is "friendly." I like the wildness of the west. (Update: After obsessively studying a map, I think we were actually south of the Great Salt Lake.)

Basin and range. Basin and range. And mining.

I always get emotional when I see the Sierras swelling up on the western edge of Nevada. They really de-mark a cultural and geographical boundary. It's at this point that I know I'm close to home.

For the first time, I saw Monterey Bay from the plane. It's that arc of coastline in the center, just below the wing. I love having my perspective changed. I mean, I know that Monterey Bay is big and not that far from San Francisco, and the reason it takes 2 hours to drive from one place to the other is because those mountains are in the way. But it's one thing to study a map and another to see the entire landscape from the air.

Recognize this valley?

How about this landmark? I couldn't stand looking at everything by myself anymore and finally had to turn around and tell the woman behind me that Half Dome was just below. It would probably have been more interesting information for some European tourist.

Thursday, February 14, 2008


Hana Yori Dango Movie News

So, while the western world is waiting for the new Indiana Jones movie to wrap up, Asian fans are waiting for Hana Yori Dango to put the final touches on the story of Makino and Doumyouji.

Fans can be scary.

Really, really scary. This is what happens to you once you enter the Pretty Boy Factory at such a young age, and you have no idea if it is really the fate you want to choose for yourself. Personally, I'm not sure all the clothes actually make it worthwhile.

The shooting schedule apparently involves two weeks in Hong Kong and two weeks in Las Vegas. The movie is out in June. I'm going to miss it, but films are expensive in Japan, so it's probably better that I have to wait for some kind of bootleg to fall into my hands. I'm really curious about the soundtrack. I'm sure it'll include some kind of happy/nostalgic Arashi tune. And after HYD2 revived the career of Utada Hikaru (the song is too much for my poor little heart--I prefer Planetarium even though I can't stand Ai Otsuka's voice), I wonder who else will score a song for the movie. Will Hikki sing another tortured tune? Or will Ayu try for a comeback? Time will tell.

Posted over at Japundit.


Novel Idea

Yes, that really is a vending machine for books. I took this photo over the holidays in the Edinburgh airport. I would have been delighted to buy a book from this thing . . . except everything they sold was, um, not my thing.


Isao's Feast

Isao showed up with a few ideas sketched out for his feast.

He also arrived carrying this massive bag of ingredients, which I wasn't allowed to open.

I'm very devoted to the farmer's market in Union Square, and Saturday morning, we trekked out with our tote bags to see what we could find. I'd promised Isao that the mushrooms, potatoes and carrots at the market were superior to anything Whole Foods had to offer and he gamely agreed to check it out.

It's fun to go shopping with Isao. He gets excited about the perfect potato and meeting the farmers, and always notices things that I completely miss. He sniffed all the root vegetables in one of my favorite little stalls and told me that they smelled "fun." Food, he said, is supposed to be fun. A moment later he told me he was jealous of our market--and I'd always thought food in Japan was better.

Isao changed his menu at the last minute to accommodate the new purchases. He made notes, rearranged the order in which certain things were to be prepared, and we were ready to go. We ended up with an 11 course meal. Believe it or not, there wasn't much left over.

Nono had brought a number of nice tenugui to use as placemats--he'd put them all in little bags with a note explaining their history and function. He also spent much of his plane flight wrapping chopsticks. I saved all the unused wrappers so I could employ them for another party.

A true chef travels with his own knives (carefully wrapped) . . .

And with his own apron and slippers.

Isao bought some duck eggs at the farmer's market. He'd never cracked one open before (neither had I) and Nono made sure to capture the moment.

We started with two salads--one made from daikon with shiso leaf, and another with gorgeous glass noodles. Isao also threw in some sunflower sprouts from the market.

My favorite dish was probably this creation--scallops, flounder, an avocado/yuzu sauce and some secret garnish which I didn't watch Isao make. The assembly was fun too. After this, I seem to have stopped taking photos. I don't know what happened. I'm sure the sake/wine/champagne combination had something to do with it.

I did resurface after Isao announced that we should open up our placements and use the tenuguis as we saw fit. My creative friends happily obliged.

Isao and my mother. He says he wants to come back next year and cook another meal.

Nearly a week later, all the lily buds have opened (thank you, Joseph).

Wednesday, February 13, 2008


Implied Rebirth

A number of years ago, an old friend and I had a conversation about the ending of Die Götterdämmerung, the last opera in the Ring Cycle, in which the world as we know it is destroyed.

My father, essentially an optimist, told me that I was to understand this aspect of opera as a cleansing, and a paving the way for rebirth. My friend at the time told me that the old Nords believed the world would simply come to an end, as this is the reality of existence. I'm guessing he was essentially a pessimist.

What did the Nords believe? It's unclear. Some say the Götterdämmerung paved the way for a new set of gods. Others that it really was the end of the world.

I'm essentially an Aristotle girl, and when I'm feeling healthy and positive, easily subscribe to his somewhat didactic and prescriptive point of view.
Tragedy is the imitation of action arousing pity and fear, and is meant to effect the catharsis of those same emotions.

In other words, yes of course there is pain, but this is cyclical if understood correctly and will bring about some kind of catharsis or greater understanding.

My favorite of all the Greek Gods has always been Dionysis--god of wine and poetry and suffering, all things that go together. But he's also the god of rebirth, long before Christ. It makes sense. Those poor grape vines look all but dead in the winter. I read somewhere recently that tragedies had to have four parts:
First came an agon, or contest, in which the protagonist, the representative of the year-spirit, finds himself in conflict with darkness or evil. There followed a pathos, or passion, in which the hero undergoes suffering and defeat, after which a threnos or lamentation for the defeated hero was enacted. And finally a theophany pictures a rebirth of life on another level with a reversal of emotion from sorrow to joy . . . In later Greek tragedy the theophany all but disappears, remaining only as a hint.

Aha. Well, that's pretty sophisticated, the idea that in experiencing tragedy, you are just supposed to know or feel that rebirth will follow. I mean, it makes sense when you read all those old stories about the Flood, or the death of the Titans that a new world order will follow. But it's a tough thing to apprehend if you are right smack in the middle of your own tragedy. It's also unabashedly modern.

It isn't at all fashionable to follow up a contemporary tragedy with an overt rebirth of any kind--we are too cynical and sophisticated for his. It's fine for chick lit movies and books where something sad is always followed by the birth of a baby. But elitists don't like this kind of sentimentality. It's unreliable and, we suspect, not really all that easy.

And this made me think of what is often said about the writer Cormac McCarthy, the he depicts for us the hope of rebirth through violence.
The neobiblical rhetoric of the novel and its blood-washed,apocalyptic images support this vision of revolution, of violent death and rebirth, of some enormous and profound change in the fabric of things imagined by McCarthy through the perversion of the sacred hunter and his position in the natural world.

He may well be our greatest living writer right now.

I personally find it totally unhelpful when people say that great pain and suffering can bring about great change--if one can embrace and endure it. It's completely unhelpful to the person in pain. But I also suspect it is true. How, then, to bridge the gap between a lamentation and a theophany seems to me to be the most modern of struggles, and one of the questions I'd ask of Aristotle if I could. Yeah, I know he didn't like women. I figure I would eventually win him over.

(Finally, as an aside to all my friends working through Possession--I finished. And did you know that Cristabel LaMotte's great "epic" poem references the myth of Psyche . . . and that Ash's Ragnarok--or whatever it's called--references Götterdämmerung? That's way too much synchronicity for me. I'm moving on to the next book I promised someone I'd read.)

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Cherry Blossom Frosting

Isao decided that we should eat matcha and chocolate cupcakes with cherry blossom frosting for dessert. I thought that it was still too early for anything cherry blossom related, but he and my mother quickly corrected me; winter is over in Japan and spring has started. It's time to think more optimistically.

How does one make cherry blossom frosting? Isao is an artist in the kitchen, which is to say that he doesn't use recipes; he follows and trusts his imagination. He just "felt" that his recipe would work.

First we opened a packet of pickled cherry blossoms--this is normally used to make a kind of tea.

I kept rinsing the blossoms until he told me that I should stop. (How did he know when they were clean enough? He just did. He's also one of those people who taps things to see if they are done cooking.)

I whipped some heavy cream with a little sugar, and after it "stood," I separated the blossoms and put them in. We decided that the frosting didn't really look all that appetizing, so I added a little bit of food coloring to give it a soft pink hue.

The cupcake itself was actually straightforward; just matcha powder and cocoa. You could probably alter your favorite chocolate cupcake recipe by adding half the cocoa power amount, and substituting matcha instead, though the result wouldn't be quite as sweet. Then again, Isao says that most American desserts are too sweet and lack subtlety.

What's does cherry blossom frosting taste like? Nothing, actually. That's because cherry blossoms aren't a flavor, but an aroma. Think about other elusive ingredients--saffron, anise. They don't actually "taste" like anything--they just have an effect on you and you have to concentrate to appreciate them and find them in your mouth. I think as a child, I would have missed the entire point. As an adult, it's been a revelation to realize that food works on more than an immediately sensory level and this makes me happy. There should be things we can experience as adults that we would miss as kids. A number of people felt the same way, I think, because they later told me that the cupcake was their favorite part of the meal.

Nothing makes me gain weight like whipped cream, though, so I'm off to as many dance classes this week as I can take.


KY Slang

wind godWhen Shinzo Abe was criticized in the media (which was often) he was often described as: kuuki ga yomenai, or being unable to read the air. In other words, he was missing that sense of what was needed in a social situation, an essential trait for Japanese. Did an elderly person need to use the toilet? Did guests need a pick me up in the form of tea? Or did they want a drink drink? Shinzo Abe was missing the antenna which would have directed him on what to do. And how much more of a problem is it for a politician to be unable to read the air when he must sense what large numbers of people want: reform, jobs, distraction, all of the above.

Funnily enough, Abe's reading comprehension problems were so severe and so often mentioned, that kuuki ga yomenai got its own abbreviation. You know how "personal computer" is "pasocon" and "television" is "terebi"? Kuuki ga yomenai is referred to as "KY," as in "He's so KY" or "That's so KY." I think it's linguistically interesting--and obviously funny--that a Japanese term is abbreviated via its romanized letters. And obviously one thinks of something other than air when the letters K and Y appear side by side.

Posted at Japundit.

Monday, February 11, 2008


Capricorns Reconsidered

I was advised to do my full astrological chart, and not to rely on my sign alone as an indication of my personality. So I took a shot.

Moon is in 07 Degrees Gemini.
Restless in the extreme, you are easily bored because of your short attention span. Your emotions change rapidly and you love to talk about your feelings. Generally, you have good judgment -- your intellect controls your emotions and you do not overreact emotionally to things. A good jack-of-all-trades, you have many- sided interests and enjoy reasoning things through. With your mental agility and need for physical mobility, you are attracted to traveling and learning about other peoples and cultures. You have vivid powers of emotional self-expression - - you can be a nonstop talker. You love to share your ideas with anyone who will listen.

A lot of truth there.
Rising Sign is in 05 Degrees Virgo
You tend to be very shy and not very self-assertive. You are supercritical about how you appear to others. Even though you may think you are uninteresting and dull, you are actually quite soft- spoken, orderly, neat and very likable. You are a perfectionist with high standards, and at times you can be quite tactless in pointing out the faults of others. Very practical, efficient and purposeful, your appearance and bearing reflect your need to appear graceful, sensible and reserved. You have a crisp, no-nonsense approach to dealing with others. Never lazy or self-indulgent, you tend to be dedicated to the work ethic.

I am actually tremendously shy, and have had to work at overcoming my shyness. There are times when shyness simply overcomes me and I shut down. I don't think I'm "neat" in appearance. I have moments of being orderly, but I don't know that I actually have the concentration to be that orderly. Obviously, my rising sign is at war with my moon sign. I suppose that that is possible. Certain things do seem to be at war with each other . . .
Venus is in 01 Degrees Sagittarius.
You are very aware of the need to maintain a high sense of morality in a relationship. Your loyalty and interest will remain constant in any relationship (either friendly, personal or business) that is based on fairness, honesty and justice. But you will become greatly hurt and disappointed if the other person takes any but the high road with you. Also, you cannot tolerate anyone being overly emotionally possessive of you. You are known for your friendly, outspoken manner.

Has anyone ever been possessive of me?

Mars is in 20 Degrees Scorpio.
Your likes and dislikes are strong and intense, never casual or superficial. You are known for your persistence and willful obsession. Once you have decided on a course of action, you are unstoppable. Your emotional actions tend to be extreme, although you try to keep them muted. You are not quick to anger, you do slow burns. And you tend to release your anger as sarcasm or irony. Beware of your tendency to hold grudges and to be vengeful. When you do fight, or release your internal tensions, you do so body and soul -- you become totally passionate and your outbursts are awesome to behold.

Well, there's a lot of truth to this. But I wouldn't say I'm that sarcastic.

Jupiter is in 28 Degrees Scorpio.
You love to dig deep beneath surface appearances in order to find out what is really happening. A persistent researcher, you are very interested in the psychology of any situation. You tend to become overwhelmed by the complexity of what you uncover, however, and that makes you a bit gun-shy about explaining things to others. But you must learn to try to communicate as best you can because what you know is really very valuable to others.

Yay! I'm valuable.

This is more interesting.


Capricorns Are Boring

Periodically, someone asks me what my sign is. When I tell them I am a Capricorn, they look surprised. "I wouldn't have guessed that," they say. Then they go on to tell me that I must have some other rising sign or moon thing going on.

Here are the characteristics for a Capricorn as described by Wikipedia:
prudent, responsible, realistic, very wise, formal, patient, methodical, disciplined, traditional, cautious, conventional, hard-working, polite, persevering, ambitious, dedicated, focused, honest, dependable, serious, self-reliant, businesslike, career-oriented, authoritative, conscientious, and competent.

Yay. Here are the appropriate careers for me.

scientist, engineer, manager, civil servant, mathematician, farmer, sport players, voice actor, builder, politician, or director

Civil f*ing servant? Are you kidding me?

Here's another inspiring description:
Capricorn is one of the most stable and (mostly) serious of the zodiacal types. These independent, rocklike characters have many sterling qualities. They are normally confident, strong willed and calm. These hardworking, unemotional, shrewd, practical, responsible, persevering, and cautious to the extreme persons, are capable of persisting for as long as is necessary to accomplish a goal they have set for themselves. They are reliable workers in almost any profession they undertake. They are the major finishers of most projects started by the 'pioneering' signs; with firm stick-to-it-ness they quickly become the backbone of any company they work for.

Blah, blah, blah. Am I really this kind of rigid, uninspiring, calculating completely unromantic character? I don't think so. Elvis was a Capricorn. So is David Bowie. Are they . . . dependable? This is why, try as I might, I can't get into astrology. This is not the person I want to be, and not the person I am.
They are capable of great endurance; a whatever it takes, for as long as it takes persistence. Reliable in any profession they undertake, but lacking in originality, they usually excel in following up on what someone else has started.

I'm unoriginal. I don't like innovation. I might as well give up.

Friday, February 08, 2008


An International Man

Signs that your once self-described "very Japanese" friend is becoming the international man you begged him to be:

1. At the airport, he gives you a hug instead of a bow.

2. He asks who you voted for on Super Tuesday and says that the press in his own country favors Obama. In the same breath, he asks if you saw the Giants on parade.

3. He says: "We need to go to our place for lunch and for dinner. I haven't had decent Thai in a year."

4. He proudly tells you how, when asked by work colleagues what the hell he was doing going to New York for vacation when Tokyo has everything in the world one needs to be entertained, he responded: "If you like shopping and looking at people and stuff in Tokyo, I promise you New York is 100 times better. And it's even 100 times better than that if you have a good friend waiting for you."

5. He says that there's not much difference between packing for a weekend in Tokyo and a weekend in New York, except for the plane ride.

6. He asks if you will take him to that Moroccan restaurant again because he: ". . . had no idea that food from Africa was so good" and he can't wait to try it again.

7. He tells you about trips he has planned to countries where he has no friends waiting, where he doesn't know what he will eat and where he doesn't speak the language. Once upon a time he wasn't interested in anything beyond Tokyo Disneyland. But now he's curious about nearly everything.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008


A Coming Party

A number of years ago, Time Magazine put a bunch of Asians on the cover and declared that they were "Whiz Kids." I felt hopelessly outclassed. Where were my scientific and mathematical smarts? (They were nowhere, I assure you. The scientific genes that turned so many of my American family into doctors and scientists have skipped me.)

Here we are a number of years later, and one of those Whiz Kids is not just a whiz, but a Hero.

I like to tease Isao--friend, inspiration and cultural guide--that he looks an awful lot like Masi Oka.

Isao . . .

Masi Oka . . .

Isao's response when he saw this photo was to declare: "Who is this Chinese guy?"

Then again, we've had plenty of fun running around Tokyo pretending--when it is convenient--that he is Chinese and that I don't understand a word of Japanese. It is an especially helpful trick when your feet are tired and you need a quick cab ride that will probably only cost 250 yen and which would be denied to a Tokyo native. I suppose one reason we get on so well is that we both have the same irrepressible urge to make everyday life into a game . . . I do like to approach things at an angle.

Isao arrives tomorrow with a bag full of groceries from Kyoto. He's going to cook a feast. He was trained as a kaiseki chef, but has abandoned this strict way of life for "freedom" in the kitchen. Can't wait to see what he creates. The last time he brought me "groceries," he showed up with a hand-baked cake for my wedding, wrapped in a furoshiki. I promise to post photos.


Psyche's Second Labor

Maud's recent post made me think about the relationship between young girl writers and their male mentors. These things often don't end well. To hear the men tell it, it's the girls who ruin the lives of the men they inspire.

Does it always have to be so either/or? I'd like to think not. Byatt, at least, got a beautiful book down on paper.

Here is Psyche's second labor.
Venus . . told her to go to a field where golden sheep grazed and get some golden wool. A river-god told Psyche that the sheep were vicious and strong and would kill her, but if she waited until noontime, the sheep would go to the shade on the other side of the field and sleep; she could pick the wool that stuck to the branches and bark of the trees.

Johnson says:
Too many modern people think that power is to be had only by wrenching out a handful of fleece from the noonday sun. Since power is such a double-edged sword, it is a good rule to take only as much as one needs--and that as quietly as possible. . . . The idea of having to take the remnants, just the scrapings of logos, the masculine rational scientific energy, off the boughs, may sound intolerable to a modern woman. Why should a woman have to take just a little of this quality? Why can't she simply pin down the ram, take the fleece, and leave triumphantly like a man?

Delilah did just this and made a great power play of it. She left much destruction in her wake. . . Psyche's way is much gentler. She does not have to turn into a Delilah and kill a Sampson in order to obtain power.

Here is what Neumann says:
. . . If the feminine strove to take what it requires by confronting the ram directly, it would be doomed to destruction. But at nightfall, when the masculine solar spirit returns to the feminine depths, the feminine--as though in passing--finds the golden strand, the fruitful seed of light.

Psyche . . . finds the element of the masculine that is necessary to her in a peaceful situation, without harming the masculine in any way.

Pity it's always up to the girls to find a way out of this mess. Why don't the boys ever get these labors in the old Greek myths? I guess they are too busy killing monsters and climbing down (unsucessfully) to the underworld.

Monday, February 04, 2008



I attended one panel to hear Lan Samantha Chang's thoughts on writing about war in fiction. I admire her ability to dissect novels and get at the heart of why they work, and figured she'd have something smart to say, which she did.

The biggest question of all was: should writers who have never been in a war write about war, or is that poseury behavior? Chang obviously wasn't in China to witness its revolution when she wrote The Inheritance. And basically, all the panelists--which included war vets and war correspondents--had the same opinion. You can write about anything if you just make it work.

This is why I don't tend to go to panels any more. The answer to creative questions is pretty much always the same. And once you know that this is the answer, and you've overcome (or perhaps were never been inhibited by) any permission you might need to tackle a creative endeavor, you're on your way. Of course, how or if you succeed in writing a scene, a story or a poem is another matter altogether. But that's what makes it a creative field, and not an easily dissectable one. I find that the answer to the hardest creative questions always requires a leap of faith. I can work very, very hard, but there is always that 10% which seems to come out of nowhere and humbles me.

So, most of the week, I made my own AWP. This meant that I spent most of the time eating, drinking, talking, listening and occasionally (gasp) singing! Good friends gathered together and reminded me that I was not alone, and that there is a reason we do what we do.

This was done first over Korean Barbecue. We even had our own grotto in which we could contemplate shadows.

Eventually we ate too much Japanese food. We were even treated to a free $100 bottle of sake. I'm not sure how that happened. But I did leave a nice tip--especially once I found out that my current hair-dresser is dating the ex-girlfriend of the maitre d'. I felt a little bad about unearthing that detail.

We all managed to go to what some would call an "industry party." A newish experience for my friends. Not so much to me. As usual, certain people flocked to certain more powerful people the minute their auras hit the room. I got a headache from too much bad champagne that had a strange aftertaste of apples. Around midnight I declared I was starving and had to eat or I would turn into Medusa.

I corrupted my nice friends by teaching them how to bang drums.

Does this look like a Speakeasy? Nothing to indicate a bar and karaoke booths inside, right? I managed to sing 2 Japanese pop-tunes before I became self-conscious and completely unable to sing another note. Fortunately, no one else had this problem.

One of us belted out Huey Lewis' "Power of Love." Karaoke does require reading, after all. Isn't that writerly?

I went to bed around 3AM that night.

I am still recovering.

For other, doubtless more intelligent perspectives, check out these thoughtful folks. Update: Kaytie weighs in.

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