Monday, March 31, 2008

 

Canine Karma




A friend alerted me to the fact that the most enlightened of animals is being challenged in the karma department. Herewith I present to you the praying dog.

It took him only a few days to learn the motions, and now he is the talk of the town.

"Word has spread, and we are getting a lot more tourists," Yoshikuni said Monday.

Yoshikuni said Conan generally goes through his prayer routine at the temple in the capital of Japan's southern Okinawa prefecture (state) without prompting before his morning and evening meals.


I was going to write something along the lines of how Japan is going to the dogs . . . but I think that headline was among the most overused last year and the year before, as it was just recently the year of the dog. But as I've noted before, Japan is pretty much going to the dogs, what with the dog spas, the dog kimonos, the dog physical therapy, etc. It's not surprising that having mastered the material world, dogs are moving on to focus on the spirit. This is the natural order of things. One need only look to Madonna, for example, to see this.

In all seriousness, the story above made me think about reincarnation and the idea that animals have the ability to be reborn at higher and higher levels of consciousness until *gasp* they become human. Even the historical Buddha is considered to have started out at a lower level before becoming enlightened. The Tamamushi shrine, for example, depicts scenes of Shaka's pre-Buddha incarnations. Occasionally, you hear stories of dogs rescuing family members from a fire, or cats rescuing kittens from a fire or a deer comforting a dying animal of a different species. It does make me think that compassion isn't purely a human trait (we really could be better at it), and I can see how anyone would want to think that a praying dog, or a heroic cat could have it even better in the future.


 

Animism Japonisme



Overoften at Japundit posted a series of stunning photos taken in the north of Japan at Mt. Zao.

He writes:
They’re out there lurking in the dark, in the desolate wilderness of winter — the beautiful and eerie offspring of Yuki Onna, the Japanese snow woman spirit. They are the Juhyo, or monster trees. Every winter the trees of Mount Zao in the Yamagata Prefecture undergo a shocking transformation. From mild-mannered conifers, these trees become hulking monstrosities of snow and ice.

To the Japanese, trees in Japan often have a spiritual nature. At many Shinto shrines, trees are venerated as having a kami or type of spirit. One type of spirit is a kodama and it is believed that to cut down a tree containing such a spirit will bring about bad luck, so they are marked off with sacred rope. As with many spirits in Japan, these tree spirits can be beneficial, dangerous or neutral.

In rural areas, it was thought that if trees reached a thousand years of age, they could come alive, particularly at night, and some were quite dangerous. Woodcutters out after dark had to be extra cautious of running afoul of these creatures.




Several things come to mind. The first is that I simply love that the Japanese have lit these trees so theatrically; it helps you to see the monster lurking in the snow. In other words, park officials want you to see the monsters and people go to this park in the winter in order to see them.

Second, there seem to be a number of places in Japan these days in which expert theater light designers have been called to give a setting some extra atmosphere. To do this in the first place, of course, people have to see the potential in a place or a thing to exhibit some kind of animism. The phrase "light up" has entered the Japanese language, and refers to a new cultural trend to use electricity to "light up" an old temple or garden in such a way that it looks even more magical. When people wonder where manga/anime comes from in Japan, I say look no further than this ability to ferret out the magic in what might look like a bunch of snowy trees to another pair of eyes. It's how you see that makes all the difference.

It's part of the culture, of course, to use lights to make places even more beautiful, particularly in the winter. Modern electricity has given the Japanese even more options in this regard.

Third, I have a very, very snowy scene in my novel. I am going to have to add a few very, very snowy trees. And maybe they will have to groan.

Please go look at Overoften's post for even more photos and description.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

 

What To Take To Japan: The Gift Edition

Japan is an old world culture, which means that gift-giving is essential. It shows that you have respect for your hosts and chaperones and I was trained early to arrive with a gift in hand. It would actually feel physically uncomfortable for me if I did not. But gift giving has become increasingly complicated.

Once upon a time it was very easy to show up with a Hershey's chocolate bar (from America!). But once Japan's economy went gang-busters in the 80s and young women discovered Louis Vuitton, an overly sweetened chalky confection was no longer going to impress anyone accustomed to this:



So, what to do.

It can be a challenge. I've learned that brand name items go over very well. Try as I might to give people hand-made and "meaningful" presents, it is generally the brand-name gift which is most impressive because people understand the value of what is being given to them. Thus my Metropolitan Museum of Art Christmas ornaments have been a failure while my Chanel lipstick collections (from the Duty Free shop) have been a success. Grr. I would much rather have the Christmas ornament . . .



This is not always true, of course. One year I took some small Dean and Deluca totes for friends, thinking that the more worldly relatives would find the bags charming. I was actually asked:

"How can anyone shop with something so small and useless?" (This behavior is, by no means, typical of most Japanese people, and if I hadn't understood Japanese in the first place, I might have thought she actually liked the bag).

Of course, once Dean and Deluca opened a few shops around Japan, the bag's "meaning" was made clear, and now I have a standing order to show up with a few more.

There have been other mishaps. Once I took some Kangol hats because I thought friends might find the resurgence of the kangaroo kind of . . . ironic. I forgot that irony is something that some of us are obsessed with. Irony is not worldwide. No one liked or understood the Kangol hat in Japan, though everyone dutifully learned the English phrases "It's in" and "It's out" and "It's in again" that I taught while handing out the hats. Now I no longer try to start trends in Japan. I leave that to Koda Kumi.

Here, then, in no particular order, are my top gifts.



1. Mariebelle Chocolate. Most people like chocolate. Mariebelle chocolate has little pictures on each piece, which makes them unique and "kawaii." The packaging is also very nice and acceptable to a culture in which triple wrapping everything is the norm.



2. Yankee gear. *Sigh* I'm not a Yankees fan. But the Japanese love baseball and, well, you can't get much more brand conscious than the Yankees. I have tried in the past to interest friends in non-Yankees gear, but the other teams so far don't "mean" anything--though the Red Sox are now starting to make some sense since Daisuke started pitching. I have a standing request to provide one signed ball by Daisuke, but honestly, that is not happening any time soon . . .



3. Burberry polos. My knowledge of luxury goods used to be limited to what I found in my favorite thrift shop, which my friends and I refer to by the code name: "Chez Marie." I had a lot of fun for many years in Chez Marie amassing Hermes ties for my boyfriend (99 cents!) and an original Diane von Furstenberg silk wrap dress for myself ($12!) and a real, honest to goodness Gucci scarf ($1.99!). Etc. Now I have for the first time ventured into an actual Burberry store to inspect its items in search of appropriate gifts. And actually, I like the stuff a lot. Of course, none of it is for me, but for the VIP people on my present list. I opted for the polo shirt above because the tartan lines the lapel and it is therefore obvious who made the shirt which is important if the shirt is to mean something.



4. Dean and Deluca coffee. I am partial to the mini-six pack because it actually has six different kinds of coffee, one of which is the Soho blend and people have increasingly heard of Soho in New York. It would be like me showing up in the States with a pack of "Harajuku Tea." You might think it was cool just because of the name alone, even though the best Japanese tea has nothing to do with Harajuku. But I digress. Coffee is expensive in Japan. Giving it (like chocolate) seems a little bit decadent. And now that the Dean and Deluca brand has just enough visibility to have some cachet, I have found it to be a most successful present. Honestly, it was a little bit of a tough sell at first because of the low Dean and Deluca brand awareness, but that is not a problem any more. (Note: coffee is generally a present you give to men).



5. Sabuda pop-up books. I simply cannot go to Japan without at least one item that is not a "brand name." I know that my family and friends can put their brand-obsession aside for a minute when faced with something truly creative and dazzling. Everyone loves the Wizard of Oz. The country that came up with origami just has to appreciate these incredible books. Plus, they are relatively light and easy to carry and I very much want kids to feel that books are magical, regardless of their country of origin. Plus, if I can get a kid to associate me with a creative gift, perhaps they will accept a "creative gift" better once they are a little bit older . . .



6. Drummond Tartan scarf. I can't resist adding this to the list. I have had a lot of fun explaining to people that my husband has a clan and that he is actually from Scotland (yes, he has the accent and no I won't tell you what is under the kilt). Most people become very excited when I tell them that a clan tartan is like a Japanese family crest. The whole notion of having a family crest is very romantic after all, as you can tell from the way that it is still popular to watch "historical" TV shows in which samurai duke it out against each other. And then when I explain that Braveheart was set in Scotland, it all sort of comes together--Scottish clans=Japanese samurai--and the whole thing becomes very, very exciting.



Here is the preview to this year's Taiga drama. I am so going to have to watch. I love the voices, love the scenery . . . and the drama stars a girl!

As for what to buy in Japan for American friends . . . this is much, much easier. Japan is a shopper's paradise.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

 

There Will Be Book

For information on my novel, Picking Bones from Ash, please visit the official website. Thank you for stopping by!

Last week I received a call from my agent letting me know that we were very likely to get an offer for my novel. I was at the dentist when the call came, and I literally collapsed in the hallway on the floor in disbelief, shock and relief. Today, I've accepted the offer! My novel, "Picking Bones from Ash" is slated to come out in the fall of 2009 from Graywolf Press. You can read more about Graywolf here.

I'm so excited to have a home with Graywolf. This past year, they published "Out Stealing Horses" by Per Petterson, which the New York Times named one of the top ten novels of 2007. It's a gorgeous book and I encourage you to read it one weekend when you want to curl up with something beautiful, meditative and transporting. Other authors you may have heard of are Charles Baxter, Percival Everett, and Benjamin Percy.

I already feel tremendous enthusiasm and support for my book, which is enormously important for a first novel. Graywolf distributes through FSG (Farrar Straus and Giroux) which means that my book will be in all the big stores--chains and all--and that you should be able to find it wherever you are. Of course, it's always a good idea to support your local independent bookstore.

This has been an emotionally exhausting process and I'm glad I had Irene Skolnick, my agent, by my side to steer me through the entire ordeal. Thanks to her, I have an incredibly intelligent editor who actually understands my work, which is not something writers are accustomed to at all. I can't wait to work with Fiona McCrae (and yes, that is a Scottish name for those of you who care about these kinds of things). We met this week over lunch and I found myself wondering if I would really be lucky to work with this intelligent woman--and I'm so glad that I will be.

So, what is the book about? Picture a little Banana Yoshimoto, a little Hayao Miyazaki, with some Amy Tan and, well, my own perspective thrown in, and you have some sense of what my novel will feel like. Here is the current synopsis:

“My mother always said that there is only one way a woman can be truly safe in this world. And that is to be fiercely, inarguably and masterfully talented.”

Eleven-year-old Satomi has always used her gift of music to shield herself and her beautiful and unmarried mother, Akiko, from their neighbors. No one knows who fathered Satomi, and the village women in the traditional 1950’s mountain town of Kuma-Ume find Akiko’s restless sensuality a threat. Satomi’s talent has always saved her and her mother from complete ostracism.

But when Akiko’s growing ambition for her daughter tests the boundaries of this delicate social balance, Satomi’s gift is not enough to protect them. Seeking sanctuary, Akiko marries a wealthy suitor, but in doing so, unleashes unintended consequences on her daughter. Satomi, at war with her new family, must eventually choose between extremes: love and obligation, and freedom in the newly accessible west and the comfort of her native culture. Eventually she will be pushed to make a drastic decision in order to begin her life anew.

Years later, Satomi’s choice echoes in the life of her daughter, Rumi. Growing up in San Francisco, Rumi has talents of her own. Trained since childhood to authenticate antiques by her father, Francois, Rumi believes she can “hear” if objects are real or not; fakes simply strike her like a “wrong note in a song.” She has always believed her mother died shortly after her birth, but a visit in 1990 from Timothy Snowden, a strange American Buddhist priest who claims to have known and loved Satomi, prompts Rumi to question her assumptions. When she begins to see and hear a ghost in her Victorian home, Rumi wonders: is this the ghost of her mother? If so, what happened to Satomi?

With grim determination, Rumi uncovers the insidious nature of family secrets—and the power these secrets have to cross oceans and cultures. As the stories of mother and daughter intersect, it will be up to Rumi to relieve the burdens of several generations of women.

More news as it becomes available. I'll be blogging about this process to the extent that I feel comfortable, and also sharing pictures of Japan, where I will be very soon.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

 

The Odds of Getting Published




I read this today:
Yes, the odds are long. Don't get discouraged, but it's best to go into the submission process with your eyes open.

Some points to consider:

One agent recently told me she receives over 200 unsolicited manuscripts and query letters on her desk every week. Can you imagine that she has time to give all those submissions a carefully considered reading?

According to one survey of the publishing industry, 3 manuscripts out of every 10,000 submitted are actually published. Of those, only 1 out of 10 will actually turn a profit.

Depending on which survey you believe, the average salary for a published writer is between $2000-$7000 a year. Most writers keep their day jobs. Very few hit the bestseller lists, especially on their first time around. Yes, there are exceptions, but people win the state lottery a lot more often.

Personally, I am going to take Han Solo's attitude toward surviving an asteroid field, and apply this against the odds of publishing.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

 

Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo

About a week to go before I fly. Here is the newest cherry blossom map.



Last year I missed the peak easily by a week. This time it looks like I'll only be off by a few days. Fingers crossed. Maybe they will slow down a little?

 

Psyche's Third Labor

I've never been very happy with any of the commentary I read on Psyche's third labor. I found it all dissatisfying and consequently tended to ignore the labor altogether, which of course meant that I was missing something important due to impatience.

Here is what happens. Psyche has successfully sorted seeds and gathered gold wool. Now she is to get a drop of water from the River Styx, which comes crashing down a steep mountainside before plunging down into the Underworld and then circling back up to the mountain. The currents are too strong for Psyche to get any of this water at the base of the waterfall, and anyway, it is all going down to Hades.

As usual, Psyche cries and thinks about committing suicide and giving up on her labors. Instead, she befriends an eagle, sent by Zeus, who takes the crystal goblet she is to fill, and gets a few drops of the water from the top of the waterfall. And, once again, Psyche succeeds.

Neumann interprets this to mean something along the lines of how Psyche once again is able to harness male energy. Johson, who I generally like, writes that we are to think of Psyche as initially being overwhelmed by the largeness of life, and that she must now focus on just one drop to find her way.

One writer notes:
Eagle-like, she must circle high above the raging river of life, learn to recognize the bends, backwaters and bruising white torrents, and choose just enough water to fill her flask - no more.

I don't like this. It doesn't make sense to me. What is the difference between waiting until noon when the rams are asleep to go and get "just enough wool" and using an eagle to get "just enough" water? It's the same point, the only difference being that in the second labor, Psyche actually gathers the wool and in the third, the eagle gets the water. In the second labor, Psyche is warded off from getting too close to the rams lest they "overwhelm" her and now she is supposed to be worried about being "overwhelmed" again by the River Styx? How can the lesson be the same? Why would there be two distinct labors to make essentially the same point?

I said that the big difference--to my mind--between the two labors is that in the second, Psyche performs the action and in the second, the eagle is in charge. To my mind, the eagle is the big difference. Yes, the wool and the water are also different substances--the one is precious and powerful and the other a stand-in for the cyclical nature of life and death. My money is still on the eagle.

The eagle, Aetos Dios, belongs to Zeus and his big claim to fame other than helping Psyche, is in abducting Ganymede from the world of men to become the lover of Zeus and a cupbearer. Not an easy fate, I'd wager. Not one I'd want, anyway. I mean, one minute, Ganymede was minding his own business, strutting around as a Trojan prince and tending sheep, and the next minute he was kidnapped.

Anyway, Ganymede like Psyche, went to live with the gods. I'm unclear if he became a god, but very clear that Psyche did. She completes her transformation due to her labors, which makes her pretty unique--most heroes who are given labors eventually meet a tragic end. This is the powerful thing about Psyche; she's an early example of completion. Ganymede, well. He did get a constellation.

But back to the eagle. Here is the thing. In shamanism, the older generation of scholars always want to make the distinction between female and male shamans. Put simply, the men get to fly and the women get possessed. This makes sense from a certain point of view. The men get to fly up to the heavens and pal around with the gods and remember what they see and then go back to the mundane world to write or sing about it. Gods, on the other hand, like to come down to earth to see the women and take possession of them. Women don't tend to fly.

To get the water from the River Styx, however, Psyche has to be able to fly in some capacity. The eagle does this for her. In fact, I think it's even Zeus who sends the eagle to her to help her out (nice of him, given his reputation with other girls). I don't think the point, therefore, is that Psyche is supposed to contemplate the largeness of life and limit herself to one or two drops. I think the point is that if she is really and truly going to apprehend the whole life/death/rebirth cycle, she'll need to appeal to some inner Zeus-like entity, and fly. This is different than taking "just enough wool." In fact, it's a rather daring idea altogether as it goes against the way we think things are supposed to be, ie it's the men who turn into birds and the girls who stay at home and get possessed. Psyche gets to fly, but only if Zeus helps her and given that she already has some wool, she's in a pretty good place, whether she knows it or not, to get his attention in a meaningful way.

After she gets some of that water, it isn't surprising that the following and final labor has her diving down into the Underworld. She's already figured out land and air; now it's time for the world beneath.

Monday, March 24, 2008

 

Han Hong Wipes the Floor with Eason Chang



Okay. So it's not a competition. But she still clearly out-sings him. I have no idea what they are saying, except for a refrain that is about a place--a tall place? Someone will come along and tell me.

Personally, I'd like to see her play Elphaba in the first ever Beijing production of "Wicked."

 

How To Be Fashionable

"Where," an ex-boss once asked me, "do Japanese girls get their clothes?" She was talking about the fashionable young kids from Japan who started showing up in New York toward the end of the 90s. This Japanese street fashion is documented in the magazine Fruits, which has a cult following in the west.



(Yes, that boy is wearing a Scottish flag.)

I've since come to realize that the whole Japanese street fashion look isn't so much about where you buy your clothes as it is how you put an outfit together. It is, as my friend Debbie would say, an attitude thing.



Depending on who you are, you will find this kind of thing to be a lot of work or a lot of fun. At my age, I should of course no longer care what I look like or what I am wearing, but living in New York gives you a distorted sense of your age and what you should aspire to do with yourself.

So, how to be fashionable? Going to a particular kind of shop is of no help, as shops tend to be organized around themes (country, cheap-and-slutty, angry-and-leather) and if you rely on a store, then you will just look like . . . a store. Getting dressed in that Japan street way, therefore, requires that you think about asymmetry and contrast and mismatching correctly. This is exhausting work. In other words, you need inspiration to do it correctly.



My favorite fashion blogger is the preternaturally gifted Stylebubble, a girl from Hong Kong who travels the globe documenting: what she likes and why, what she wears, where she shops and how she puts it all together. She's clearly got a brain and is such a great example of what happens when a smart person becomes passionate about something--that thing, in her case, being fashion. She's often described as a "Japanese street fashion type" or a "Fruits" girl, but I think that people just mean she's actually creative, and that the street fashion moniker has become a catch-all for people who like life's irregularities and apply this to getting dressed in the morning (or . . . to go to lunch).

Susie never dabs her toe into fashion. Oh no. No repressed, color-coordinated J Crew devotee is she. Susie will give herself spats. She will see if she can emulate Prada. She will dress up like a silver robot. She will put a bird on her head. She is equally interested in up and coming designers, vintage, high end and low end. She is, in short, a girl after my own heart.

And, like all people who are passionate about something, she reveals that loving fashion for her comes in part from exploring something about herself. Isn't that the point of true style?
Let's just say me and my looks aren't exactly best friends. Being taunted for being ugly at school didn't help. Having quite frankly some horrific teen years including highlights such as being called an 'ugly moose' online by a former crush also didn't aid the cause. So I resigned myself to accepting that whilst I may be very good at say baking a banana cake, I'm just not aesthetically good looking. The smiley positive people will argue 'No! Every person is beautiful in their own way.' But there it is. The added 'in their own way'. I think we are adult enough to accept that not everyone is born with the beauty genes.


(I'd pilfer photos from Susie's site, but I don't know her and don't want to upset her and really, if you care about clothes, you should just go over there and lose yourself for a couple of hours.)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

 

Talented in North Korea

Japundit clued me into a fascinating series of shorts shot in North Korea by a team of journalists. The intro is described as follows:

Getting into North Korea was one of the hardest and weirdest processes VBS has ever dealt with. After we went back and forth with their representatives for months, they finally said they were going to allow 16 journalists into the country to cover the Arirang Mass Games in Pyongyang. Then, ten days before we were supposed to go, they said, “No, nobody can come.” Then they said, “OK, OK, you can come. But only as tourists.” We had no idea what that was supposed to mean. They already knew we were journalists, and over there if you get caught being a journalist when you’re supposed to be a tourist you go to jail. We don’t like jail. And we’re willing to bet we’d hate jail in North Korea.

But we went for it. The first leg of the trip was a flight into northern China. At the airport the North Korean consulate took our passports and all of our money, then brought us to a restaurant. We were sitting there with our tour group, and suddenly all the other diners left and these women came out and started singing North Korean nationalist songs. We were thinking, “Look, we were just on a plane for 20 hours. We’re jet-lagged. Can we just go to bed?” but this guy with our group who was from the LA Times told us, “Everyone in here besides us is secret police. If you don’t act excited then you’re not going to get your visa.” So we got drunk and jumped up onstage and sang songs with the girls. The next day we got our visas. A lot of people we had gone with didn’t get theirs. That was our first hint at just what a freaky, freaky trip we were embarking on…


There are fourteen segments. One which I found particularly fascinating was the journalists' visit to a school for the "talented." These children are handpicked for their talents, and then pressed into "service for the state" to develop their abilities.



Kim Jong Il is said to love theater and Broadway shows, and he pays for talented people to put on productions. In fact the video that follows this one shows a mammoth show, called the Arirang Games, involving many pieces of cardboard. You'll have to watch to understand what I am talking about.

Americans in general do not like to see children subjected to this kind of tutelage. It grates against our sense of what childhood should be about, which is to say, we want kids running around outside doing absolutely nothing--or if they are doing something, that something must involve a dog, a tree and perhaps some swimming. Never mind that developing a talent of some kind is necessary at a young age if one is actually going to be a musician or performer. We don't like it. Despite our love of "individuality" in this country, most people really want kids to be "normal," and we don't want to see them doing things like this.

I find this kind of thing horrifying and fascinating all at the same time because it does beg the question of what a person can accomplish when they are determined enough . . . which is of course an upsetting question for someone who basically likes the status quo.

Friday, March 21, 2008

 

Song for Tibet

I've been fascinated by new pop-singer Alan Dawazhuoma's single "Ashita He No Sanka" which I'm assuming means "Song for Tomorrow."

Alan hails from Tibet, but studied at the China National Chinese Opera and Dance Drama Company. She was scouted by Avex, the Japanese label for which Koda Kumi sings, and released her first single at the end of last year.



You have to get through the very J-pop beginning to the song, and then, when she wails (starting around 2:25), she really goes for it in that chilling, classical Chinese opera way (the effect of her voice at 5:30 and onward is almost visceral). The blog Channel-Ai gives a lovely, detailed review of the track. In the opening, she invokes the elements----land, sea, nature----then proceeds to point out disasters----global warming----before pointing out that music is shared by all people.

Yes, she has an accent because he is just learning Japanese. And frankly, she's a hell of a lot more talented than that other foreign import, Leah Dizon. Lest you think Alan's high notes are fully processed, here she is live.

Considering the struggles between China and Tibet, perhaps you'll consider supporting Alan's music in some way.

If you haven't had enough, here she is in her comrade outfit and showing off her virtuosic musical skills. The scenery is also gorgeous.



Finally, here is Alan with comrade Han Hong, also ethnically Tibetan. There are so many fascinating things about this video--from the enthusiastic uniform wearing youths, to Han Hong's freakishly musical voice . . . it feels like a rare peek into a true cultural experience.



Please at least listen to 2:48 and then again at 3:51 when Han Hong throws in her embellishments. It's staggering and I'm pretty much to the point where I want to go look for her CD. The quality of her voice and her phrasing are just so extraordinary. It's a kind of singing you would never hear in the west. Did you even know the female voice could do this?



Here's Han Hong singing the same song on her own with subtitles, so you know what she's saying. My favorite thing about this video is the audience--check out their gear. That is pride in fashion.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

 

Test Yourself



A fun interactive quiz in which you can test your knowledge of Asian countries.

My score, ahem, improved the more times I took the test. It's those countries between Iran and China and north of India that I don't have completely sorted . . .

Report back and let us know how you did.

 

. . . And The Japanese Are Ahead When It Comes to Marketing Books Online




A blogger has won Japan's top literary award, the Akutagawa Prize. Her name is Mieko Kawakami and she started her blog to try to promote her music, but soon found herself writing about more personal matters. She wrote her first novel entirely online; her third book won the prize.

But here is the interesting part; the article referenced above notes that there are more blogs in Japanese than in any other language. Further:
Kawakami is unusual in the extent of her success. But Steve Weber, an American who has written about marketing books online, said Japanese writers are far ahead of Americans in making their work available on the Internet. Many have had successful books published after producing novels intended to be read on mobile phones, for example.

In the U.S., publishers are just starting to understand the market power that writers with hit blogs can wield, Weber said.

"Popular bloggers are definitely being targeted by smart publishers because the publishers realize that the authors have already done the hard work of book marketing," he said in an e-mail from Falls Church, Va. "They've attracted the audience."

I fell in love with the Internet as soon as I found it. It never occurred to me that it would take so long for it to catch on with traditional industries. I'm glad to see that there is more room for bloggers and that older media outlets are starting to understand the benefits of the online world. And I think it's cool that there is a kind of example in Japan to follow.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

 

Yakuza at Asia Society

If you are in New York Thursday evening and jonesing for Japanese entertainment, consider Asia Society's Yakuza movie series, curated by Japan uberspecialist Ian Buruma. The Thursday, March 20th offering starts from 7 and ends at 9, which means you'll have plenty of time afterward to digest the violence while you eat out at Aburiya Kinnosuke.

Thursday's film is Heitai Yakuza (or Hoodlum Soldier) and stars Shintaro Katsu, who you might know as the man with whom famed Gion geisha Mineko Iwasaki had an affair for much of her early life. IMDB sums up the plot thusly:
A young intellectual conscientious objector is forced to serve with the Japanese army in Manchuria. He joins with a dim-witted former gangster in an effort to desert by stealing a train.

Timely, no?



I couldn't find a clip of Heitai Yakuza, but the above clip shows Shintaro Katsu in action. What a voice. And what moves. Oh, there is nothing scarier than a scary Japanese movie! Please go see and enjoy. Buruma himself will be there to introduce each film. Asia Society is at 725 Park Avenue at 70th street and, if I may say so, has a very nice bar.

Similar post going live at Japundit.

 

Keeping Quiet

It is difficult to keep quiet when you have amazing news to share. But I am going to keep quiet for now. Check back and I promise to reveal my good news soon.

In the meantime, I've decided I am going to write a little bit about rejection, because I know there are many writers out there dealing with it in often brave and inventive ways. I have been thinking what I would want to say to my younger self, if given the opportunity. Time travel is one of the unrealistic opportunities I give myself in my imagination.

When I first started writing--and I mean really writing with a clear purpose, aka publication--I thought there were only two paths to take. The first was that everything would be incredibly easy for me, just like, say learning to be a decent violinist was easy, or learning to basically read music was easy, or learning to basically shoot a bow and arrow were easy. The second was that a career in writing was impossible. It was the kind of thing that happened to other people, much like winning the lottery.

I think that my viewpoint is not uncommon. Any kind of artistic career just looks so magical, it's hard to imagine it happening for yourself. Some people are very lucky and things come together for them at a young age, and they continue to succeed and have little experience with a world outside of creating art. I imagine this is very nice for them, but that it must also occasionally have its own challenges.

And then, yes, there people for whom any kind of career in the arts is impossible.

And then there is what happens to everyone else. No one wants to be like everyone else. Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to avoid being like everyone else.

The first thing I ever submitted was a poem to "Poetry," then under an editor who I really liked and whose name I have conveniently forgotten. Getting published in Poetry would, of course, have been like hitting the lottery. I waited. And waited. And waited. Then I got a nice hand-written letter back in which the editor explained that he'd dithered over my work (and there was something else about some French anthology he was working on), and ultimately decided to pass. I was devastated.

In retrospect, this is not a surprising attitude when you consider my binary viewpoint of publishing. But it was the wrong attitude to take. Who the hell gets a handwritten note like that from Poetry?? Said poem was later published in Fugue.

It probably took me a year to get it together emotionally to submit anything else again, but I did. And I was rejected. And all those rejection letters felt like arrows. It was awful. Day after day after day. Ouch, ouch, ouch. And I say this even though my first acceptance came pretty quickly (in retrospect), I still felt all the "Nos" more deeply. I wasn't completely paying attention.

My records show that I started submitting to Agni some time in 2003. I got a standard rejection. I kept submitting. And somewhere along the line, I got a different looking rejection slip with some nice sribbled notes on it. It's hard to be happy about things like this, because a "No" is still a "No." I'd missed the point that I was actually getting better as a writer, and that editors were paying attention and taking time out of their own overloaded days to reach out to me. A few years ago, I had a handwritten note from Sven Birkerts which, again, was nice, but whose significance I missed. And then, last year, an essay landed in Agni. I couldn't believe it. It felt like magic.

If I look back at my records, of course I see that it wasn't magic at all. It was persistence. We always hear these stories about authors who write one story which lands in the New Yorker and which lands said writer a 3 book deal. When this doesn't happen to us, we despair. The actual process isn't a lot of fun.

But I think that the struggle is what it means to be a writer. And it is also only possible to be a writer if you are constantly working, constantly producing and constantly submitting. It really sucks! I remember reading and loving Little Women as a child. It was oh so romantic to think of poor Jo sitting in the attic, writing away. That was what I thought this life was going to be like, and to some extent, I suppose it has been. Ditto for Jo's journeys to New York where she was befriend by Professor Baher (though it took me years to get over her rejection of Laurie and his marriage to that flippant Amy) who told her to write something honest.

There are no guarantees, no promises writing can make you, except that you might be making more progress than you know and that a long view is infinitely healthier and more helpful than a short term temperamental one. Although, temperament is a lovely way to push through a pesky ending that has eluded you . . .

 

Bad, Fake Indian Writing

David Treuer says that if you remove the "Indian," the bad writing usually reveals itself.
Tragedy is a shortcut that sells, and the particular tragedy of being an Indian has an amazing ability to make readers lose their capacities to discern good writing from bad, interesting ideas from vapid ones. In Little Tree, for instance, the most commonplace things are elevated to the level of poetry by virtue of their perceived degree of Indian-ness: "They gave themselves to nature," he writes, "not trying to subdue it, or pervert it, but to live with it. And so they loved the thought, and loving it grew to be it, so that they could not think as the white man." Nasdijj and Carter truck in homilies, Jones in homies—as in, "I hated that they had taken my big homie and even more that they had taken my sense of security"—but the result is the same: awful, impossible writing. Once you remove the author's Indian identity, the bad writing reveals itself.

Monday, March 17, 2008

 

A Puzzle



Ebisu Garden Place.
And a red carpet.
And a movie set.


 

Heartbroken



I have just read that Florent, that venerable eating establishment in the now over-Lindsey-Lohaned neighborhood called the Meatpacking District, is going to close. No! I've had too many adventures in or near Florent to think of life without it. My experiences in that eatery in many ways mirror my relationship with New York.

Florent is where I first learned that it was perfectly acceptable to eat dinner at 1AM with all the club kids and fashion designers, while waiters danced on the Formica counters. I sought refuge at Florent on Superbowl Sunday when the otherwise testosterone driven population was home glued to the television. My friend Marc insisted that celebrity sightings didn't excite him, then nearly fell over in his seat when he saw James C Reilly calmly chewing in a corner. Catherine Zeta Jones eyed my (then) boyfriend as she filmed a move outside. I met and was befriended by Darinke, the most stylish maitre d' in the city--then ran into her at a super secret thrift shop whose location I can't disclose. It was like I'd uncovered the source of one of Venus' beauty secrets. I found out I'd graduated to the status of insider when Darinke began giving me free drinks.

Then I was invited to the home of Florent himself. Imagine! A loft in Soho! Performance art! Catered food! Signed Lichtensteins! Jonathan Franzen grumbling about baseball! I was happily tipsy on red wine and spoke to Florent in French and he was nice about it and gave me a kiss. His partner signed a copy of his book with a personal message. I never wanted to leave.

Are there dark days ahead for my city? Where oh where will I go for affordable, honest, edgy glamor? Where will the party go? That Pastis and Spice Cafe nonsense that now pollutes the streets is just not my style. Let it be true that Brooklyn is the new Manhattan and Queens the new Brooklyn.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

 

Seaweed Harvest



For years, I'd look out the train window as we passed the ocean and see strange fields of what looked like poles sticking out of the ocean. "Those are seaweed farms," my mother would always say, ever the voice of experience. A couple of years ago, I had the chance to actually visit one of these farms, and to see how the seaweed is raised, grown, harvested, processed and packaged. Of course I ate some too (and gave a little to Japundit).



According to the farmer I met, there are two basic methods for growing seaweed. The first is a simpler process in which rope "planted" with seeds is set out in the ocean. If the tides are too low, however, the seaweed is not submerged in sea-water and may spend some time out in the open air. The second process--what you see here--is known as ukinori. Seaweed is planted in a net which floats in the water, going up and down as the waterline rises or recedes. Harvesting ukinori is more complicated because the netting provides so many more nooks and crannies, and farmers must go beneath the netting with a boat to even pick their crop. But, insist the farmers, this kind of seaweed always tastes better.



Farmers check their crops by sailing in between the seaweed beds and using a rudimentary hook to pull the net out of the water.



The harvested seaweed is processed into sheets which are sorted and graded.



The very best seaweed--like all delicacies--are the most expensive, the most even looking and the hardest to come by. The rest is sold at a lower grade.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

 

Pole Shift

Trust a farmer (my father) to tell me about an actual pole shift. Apparently, it really did--after the Sumatra earthquake.
NASA scientists using data from the Indonesian earthquake calculated it affected Earth's rotation, decreased the length of day, slightly changed the planet's shape, and shifted the North Pole by centimeters. The earthquake that created the huge tsunami also changed the Earth's rotation.

 

No Utopia on Earth

I've been thinking about a comment that an intelligent Japanese writer wrote on Japundit. I had rather cheekily posted two television advertisements which I thought demonstrated contrasting views toward the individual and community in the US and Japan.

His response:

I assume Westerners are just more individualistic. It’s commonly believed that the Western way of thinking is more based on categorical syllogism. You could call it ” more self-focused.” Surely Japanese tend to focus more on community when it comes to the judgment.

But that doesn’t mean Asian people excel morally at all. I’m not the only one to be the opinion that local community in Japan has quite collapsed. It’s really regrettable that old good Japan isn’t anymore as you’d like to believe. (Or should I say there is no utopia on earth ? )


And this, of course, is the relevant point for a humanist. The differences between cultures are fascinating and all, but are either people morally better and more humane? At some point it seems that how ethical or kind you are comes from your sincerity and ability to feel for others--and this is an individual struggle. I would still like to believe that social pressure matters in determining how much we value human rights, otherwise, what is the point in living in one country over another?

I am always tempted to believe that a culture can excel morally. It's a tempting attitude to take because it provides hope that there is a "way." I'm more jaded about actual religions as holding some kind of moral key--I'd rather struggle with morality all on my own outside of a religious school of thought. And I will probably never be entirely comfortable existing inside a group (dance class being the exception).

 

Farmer's Market Wisdom

Speaking to "Jim" at the farmer's market today, I asked if he had any idea why the bees are dying. Jim's son is a beekeeper, and is my new source of real, unpurified honey. Previously, I ate honey made in Vernal, Utah, but that beekeeper and his Navajo wife have since passed away and so for for a few years I have been trying to find a new source. Enter Jim.

According to Jim's autistic son, the earth's axis moved by 1 degree in the last year. Since bees rely on an internal GPS to get back home, that 1 degree was highly disorienting. Jim's son posits that the bees were flying off, but were then unable to find their way back. He figures that it will take a couple generations of youngsters to adapt to our altered axis and then the bees will return. I wonder if this is true. If it is, the astrologists will have plenty to talk about for a number of years. A cursory search in the internet already yielded plenty of conspiracy theories.

I like talking to farmers. It probably reminds me of conversations I've had with my father over the years, but it is also always nice to talk to people who are the polar opposite of New Yorkers. That is to say, conversations with farmers are generally about something relevant and fundamental. They talk about dirt, animals, weather patterns, prices, guns and death. I will be watching to see if the bees stop dying.

Updated: my father, a farmer, says the pole shifted after the 2005 tsunami. NASA thinks this may be true too.

Friday, March 14, 2008

 

Kiteya



Walking into the shop Kiteya in Soho was an unexpected exercise in becoming mesmerized too early in the day. Suddenly I was in a most prismatic, Kyoto-like environment, with dangling handmade goldfish, fluttering pinwheels, kimono-cloth hair ornaments and the musical voices of Kyoto saleswomen encouraging me to enter. I pretty readily fell into a trance, and was overcome with deep, deep nostalgia which, when you get down to it, is one of the things that Kyoto is all about.



This is dangerous territory for me. I don't really need anything from a store like this--and certainly don't need to buy these items in New York. But shopping is so much fun in Kyoto, and I immediately had a Pavlovian response to the stimuli.



Before I knew it, I was wearing a scarf, handmade from old kimono fabric and told to admire myself in front of a mirror. In the back, Japanese ladies were drinking tea and discussing sales strategies. The saleswoman assisting me very gently but insistently--in that Kyoto way--told me how few people were capable of wearing such an unusual scarf. Honestly, it was like listening to some kind of Siren encouraging me to just "stay a while" and spend all my money.

I was with Isao when this happened and he very quickly assessed the situation. Abruptly, he switched from his regular Japanese accent to Kyoto-speak. The saleswomen caught on. They asked where in Kyoto he was from and he told them--no one is more aristocratic or Kyoto than Isao. Then one of the women confessed that she was from Osaka. All her "blah blah blah haru" was a put on. Someone else really was from Kyoto but, as Isao made clear from his disapproving, "Hmm," she was from the wrong part. And then, Isao pointed out that $100 for a scarf really was too much and I was capable of making one on my own. The scarf came off my neck, the spell was broken and we escaped.

But it's a gorgeous store and worth visiting. Ditto for the website, whose background displays falling cherry petals. If that isn't subtlely mesmerizing, I don't know what is.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

 

Wednesday Dance Class Report

Today was not a particularly good day. But I had a fabulous dance class! It was the same combination as the week before and the experience was augmented by the fact that so many of my favorite dancers were there with me. I am most definitely happier when I'm dancing with friends who are confident and who lose themselves in the music and in the movements. I wish every class could be so wonderfully communal and therapeutic. At least it happened on a day when I needed it badly.

 

Unkei at Christies



Art history buffs know that there is no Japanese sculptor more celebrated than Unkei. He's even called the "Michaelangelo of Japan" due to the sheer virtuosity of his work, and the realistic and emotional power he gave each of his pieces. Active in the late 12th and early 13th centuries, Unkei is perhaps best known to tourists for the mammoth "Ah" and "Un" statues guarding Todaiji.



It came to my attention recently that a previously unknown Unkei statue of Dainichi Nyroai is for sale at Christies, the venerable auction house, which is just about to enter Asia Week, a yearly gathering of dealers and collectors interested in Far Eastern antiquities. There hasn't been much coverage of the Unkei piece, though it is expected to fetch an unprecedented high sum. Japanese press has covered the statue a little, mostly to say that officials fear that valuable work of art "will leave Japan (I assume this means the newly rich Chinese will get possession of it).

I've somehow ended up invited to a private viewing and lecture series on this sculpture and cannot wait to go. Once upon a time I did take graduate courses in art history and I hope my rusty brain will be ready to handle the information. If you are in New York, please do check out Asia Week, and perhaps find some time to visit Christies to see this rare work of art.

 

Angry or Sad?

I wasn't initially going to post this here, but the comments and discussion have been so interesting, I decided to include it anyway. Let me know your responses.



Quick, what's the expression of the guy in this picture?

Your response--and whether or not you took into account the feelings of the people behind him--may be a reflection of your culture. I wrote earlier about the neurological test that has recently been conducted, testing East Asian and American patients and their ability to make relative and absolute judgments. Here's another test, utilizing the picture above.
When asked how the foregrounded person -- their face manipulated to look happy, angry or sad -- appeared to feel, nearly three-quarters of 36 Japanese test subjects said their perception was influenced by the emotions of the background figures.

By contrast, nearly three-quarters of 39 North American participants said the people in the background didn't affect them at all. When the researchers tracked the viewers' eye movements, they found that Japanese gazes flitted quickly to the background, while North Americans fixated on the central subject.

My first reaction was that the guy looked determined, and appeared to have a group of friendly followers. (Actually, I thought it was a bunch of people trying to perform an intervention on me.) Only later did I think of the picture in terms of happy or sad.

What about you?

Read the discussion at Japundit.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

 

Asia Society



Last Friday, Ellis Avery read an excerpt from her lovely novel, The Teahouse Fire, at Asia Society.



We then had a good discussion about her work and her work habits and this was in turn followed by a tea ceremony performed by Noriko-san of Cha'an.



Two lucky winners from the audience were selected to drink the tea. Despite the poor weather, we had a very nice turnout to enjoy the gorgeous space on the 8th floor of the Asia Society. I met some smart and interesting folks, and it was good to share a fine reading experience with them!

I had spent some time beforehand thinking of the questions I wanted to ask. I wanted the discussion to be interesting to the audience, and also for Ellis, who I figured had had many of the same questions by now (What is a teahouse? What is an obi? What is a tea ceremony? What is tea?)

I asked her how she had managed to capture Japan in such a 3-dimensional way, and I found her answer really compelling. Essentially, she told me that she had learned Japan "through her body." She talked about the mosquitoes in the summer, about the long walk to the bathroom, the discomfort with sitting on the floor, the process of learning just the correct way to place and hold everything in the tea ceremony. All this had given her a visceral and physical sensation of the culture.

It seems like such an obvious answer--but I've actually never heard anyone say this. Most writers when speaking of craft emphasize the process as it happens in the mind. You must research a place, you must visualize characters, you may draw out a dramatic arc within your story. But of course it makes sense that the body is another instrument you can use for anything you create. The stereotype of the writer is a of a person sitting in a corner, observing. It's helpful to feel too if you want to impart an impression of a place. Ellis has a background in the performing arts (check out her posture) and perhaps this came into play in her work.

At any rate, I had a lovely time that evening and was reminded again of just how much I enjoyed The Teahouse Fire.

 

Tuesday Dance Class Report



I should have loved this. Instead, I was frustrated. The counts were incredibly loose, but then why teach counts? I had no idea if I was doing things correctly or not--except when the counts were obvious--and this frustrated me. I mean, am I supposed to come out of a turn on "1" or on "3"? Does it not matter? This is the kind of piece that I technically would love to dance to--one of these male/power/expressive/freedom things. And yet I was dissatisfied. I would need another go, and then would probably really love it.

Monday, March 10, 2008

 

Someone Says It

Thankfully, it didn't take long for someone else to point out what annoys me most about these fake memoirs. Daniel Mendelsohn sounds off in the New York Times in a pieced titled "Stolen Suffering":
Empathy and pity are strong and necessary emotions that deepen our sense of connection to others; but they depend on a kind of metaphorical imagination of what others are going through. The facile assumption that we can literally “feel others’ pain” can be dangerous to our sense of who we are — and, more alarmingly, who the others are, too. “We all have AIDS,” a recent public-awareness campaign declared. Well, no, actually we don’t: and to pretend that we do, even rhetorically, debases the anguish of those who are stricken.


And then there's this:
“My reality” raises even more far-reaching and dire questions about the state of our culture, one in which the very concept of “reality” seems to be in danger. Think of “reality” entertainments, which so unnervingly parallel the faux-memoirists’ appropriation of others’ authentic emotional experience: in them, real people are forced to endure painful or humiliating or extreme situations, their real emotional reactions becoming the source of the viewers’ idle gratification. Think of the Internet: an unimaginably powerful tool for education but also a Wild West of random self-expression in which anyone can say anything about anything (or anyone) and have it “published,” and which has already made problematic the line between truth and falsehood, expert and amateur opinion, authentic and inauthentic identities, reality and fantasy.


I tend to think it'll be a while before we move on from this whole fascination with stolen-identity and exposing-ourselves-in-ways-that-make-us-think-we-are-being-authentic. It's just too tempting, too easy to follow the facile path and to engage yourself in a meaningful, and private endeavor is, well, hard.

 

Attention Expats: You Are Being Rewired

It might take six months, but chances are, it will happen.

You might have noticed the changes already. You might feel strange upon returning to the US or some place in the west and not taking your shoes off at the door. You have an urge to bathe regularly. The sight of a massive steak two days in a row appears gluttonous. You don't want to carry your trash through a public elevator to the dump downstairs. You want to keep baby diapers out of the kitchen. And so on.

If you feel that this is happening to you, well, guess what? Now there's some scientific evidence to back it up. Actually, to be accurate, there are scientists who suspect that this kind of rewiring is going on, and plan to study it on the heels of related research.

It was popular during the 80s and 90s to pull out the old trope that different people from different cultures see the world . . . differently. East Asians are more community focused, and westerners (Americans in particular) are, well, more self-focused.



Supposedly, this even shows in our advertisements.Read more »

Sunday, March 09, 2008

 

Jan Hammer Has a Halo

Listening to the soundtrack from Miami Vice today (yes, I really did), I was struck by just how wonderfully atmospheric a lot of the music was. In particular, this piece conjured up the 80s:



And then I thought, I've heard something like this recently.



I wonder to what extent the music from MV influenced Halo's soundtrack.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

 

Suntan Apples Updated

Some folks have expressed interest in learning more about suntan apples. Readers at Japundit were kind enough to do some extra research to uncover how the apples are made. You can see more photos here.



The text on the page explains that the apples are one by one covered with a seal (sticker). That's a lot of handwork. These apples are in Aomori. Another reader points out that the price of one of these apples is roughly $2.50, which explains why I've never bought one to eat.

Plus, if I ate it, the pretty picture would disappear. What can I say? I'm sentimental.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

 

Suntan Apples



I love suntan apples.



Actually, all I ever manage to do is to photograph them. I never end up shelling out the money to actually buy one. And I would have difficulty eating them. But I think they are pretty cool.



Here are some fancy ones that I think were designed for a wedding gift--tortoise and crane and all. I guess if someone gave these to you, you'd have to eat them.

My Mom sent me the following email:

I saw your BLOG and I thought I should give you some information.

The first photo: says KOTOBUKI. It signifies long life, good luck and
can be use for wedding, birthday, and congratulating somebody on
appropriate occasion.

The second: says PRAYING TO SUCCEED ON THE ENTRANCE EXAMINATION. You
can guess when one would use them.

The third: You are right. The pictures are crane and turtle. Both
animals live long so these pictures imply longevity and can be used
for Wedding, KANREKI (60th Birthday), BEIJU (88th Birthday), and even
to celebrate the arrival of a new baby into the family.

 

Wednesday Dance Class Report



Notes: Very whacky (as in whackin') combination. It's amazing how dance makes a song sound better than it is--like inhabiting it just makes it more alive than if you just listened passively. It is also amazing how little I pay attention to lyrics in a piece like this where the rhythm is what matters most. In jazz class, where we try to focus on story-telling, the lyrics sometimes matter. Not in this case. I don't remember that her voice was this processed. I remember that the song was relentless, but I liked that.

I give the combo an A. It looked and felt good and was that kind of power/sexy/attitude thing that once seemed impossibly New York to me, but with time has started to make more sense. We ended up on the floor--haven't done that in a while. I must remember knee pads.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

 

Truth in Photos


On the heels of not trusting the English language . . .

Do you trust photos?

I'd been meaning to put a post up about smiling in photos, but just kept putting it off. Then a recent conversation I had with someone made me think about the whole concept again.



Here's the thing. There is a certain generation of people in Japan that won't smile for photos. This isn't so strange when you think about it. Look at pictures of your ancestors--or anyone's ancestors--taken circa 1900 when everyone was in black and white. They look grim. There are no candid, laughing pictures. I was always sort of disappointed, for example, that I couldn't get a sense of Laura Ingalls Wilder and what she "really" looked like--until I came across this older photo where she looks so natural, and then you get something of her warmth.



I am forever asking people in Japan to smile for me--especially family members. I am always trying to capture them looking relaxed and natural because I want to go home with a photo that reminds me of the "real" them. Sometimes this involves me looking dorky to try to elicit a smile from whomever I am posing with.



Really, though, the smiling thing shouldn't be so important, should it? I'm forever horrified when some homicidal mother is shown off in a photo in a newspaper with her kids--all smiling--as though everything is just fine, when clearly it wasn't. You can't trust those happy, smiling pictures.



My grandfather loves this picture. He asked me to use it as his official portrait when he dies. I guess I'm going to oblige, though I want to Photoshop out that black line over his head--it's a seam where two sliding doors meet.



I much prefer this photo because it looks much more natural. You get some sense of how much energy he has.



The thing is, though, it can be unsettling when someone catches you in a pose you didn't expect. I think, for example, of all those articles in gossip magazines (not that I've read them--I mean I've heard that they do this kind of thing. Okay, maybe I have read them at the salon while getting a pedicure) where "experts in body language" analyze what is going on between a couple. Can you really do that? Does a snapshot really reveal how you are relating to each other? Or is it just an accidental moment in time that means nothing?

I've had a couple of instances where I've seen photos that unnerved me. One was taken by my cousin's husband a few years ago, and it shows me sitting down, thinking about something. I didn't see him take the photo and when I saw it later, I felt so strange . . . I hadn't expected anyone to capture something so personal. It hadn't occurred to me that he was watching.

So, I can understand the desire to look at a camera with a totally blank expression. That way, no one is going to get anything from you that you wouldn't want to reveal. It's funny, though, to think of a generation of people not wanting to smile--and being so obsessed with photos at the same time.

Similar, though not identical post at Japundit, with comments.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

 

Shallow Me

I take back every mean thing I said about Utada Hikaru's song, "Flavor of Life." I found the ballad version too overwrought to listen to in part, I think, because it kept making me think of that awful scene when Tsukushi runs into Domyoji in New York and he tells her that he's not a kid anymore.



But I can live with this non-ballad version. Plus, I now realize that the song was written while Hiki was heartbroken.

Now I'm really excited for the release of her new songs.

Monday, March 03, 2008

 

Ellis Avery at Asia Society (and Me)

nullIf you are in New York this coming Friday, consider stopping by the Asia Society to hear Ellis Avery read an excerpt from her exquisite novel The Teahouse Fire. I'll be interviewing her and discussing her work with her after the reading. Also, one lucky member of the audience will experience a personal tea ceremony performed in kimono by Cha An's own Noriko Sakagami. I really support this book as it stands out to me among all the novels written lately about Japan. It goes without saying that I'd be happy to meet any New York Japundits who might be in attendance.

Over at Japundit.

Updated: Maud is giving away 2 free tickets! Check her site for details.

 

Waking Up Cold



I'll be in Japan for most of the month of April. Last time I went, I missed the peak of the cherry blossoms--they bloomed too early. The forecast looks very, very good timing wise. We are checking the maps daily now.

My mother is following the maps too and sent me the following email.
It looks like you are going to be in Japan for the best Sakura time. Did you understand the relationship with Sakura and weather? The winter has to be cold or the waking up is going to be delayed. Because the cold does wake up Sakura from the comfortable sleep. Once they are awaken with the cold temperature snap, then they wait for the temperature to rise so they can open the bud to bloom.

Fingers crossed.

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