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Back in Beautiful Hawaii-ne

November 22nd, 2008 · 3 Comments · Daily Life, hawaii

We arrived back in Honolulu on Tuesday – it’s now Friday and we are finally starting to get things unpacked and the cupboards here restocked for our short winter break from Japan.  Here’s a shot from our balcony in Hawaii Kai (about 20 minutes east of Waikiki)Hawaii Sunset

The time difference from Tokyo is only 19 hours or 5 if you like simple math like I do.  When it’s 9 AM in Tokyo it is 2 PM the day before in Honolulu so jet-lag for us is not that bad and usually involves fading around dinner time in Honolulu to feeling perky and wide away around 11PM which means late night web surfing for me followed by a lot of self talk about going to sleep as my head lays on the pillow.

The flight back from Tokyo was the shortest yet, only 5 hours and fifty minutes.  Prior to boarding we took full advantage of the Sakura Executive Lounge at Narita International Airport.  A couple of bloody marys’ for me and a few glasses of red wine for the hubby with some arare followed by a great buffet made for a relaxing start to the flight and some sleep on the plane.

Our Japan travels this summer left us with some great food memories and the wanna-be chef in me is looking forward to making an attempt to recreate some of the great dishes that we had.

Ippudo Ramen

Ippudo Ramen is a great restaurant that has a number of locations in Japan (and one in New York) that serves the best ramen that I have ever tasted!  I’m not kidding and I’m not exaggerating – we made a point to go there at least once a week and enjoyed it every time we went.  Here is the English Menu:

Ippudo Menu

Ippudo By the end of the summer we considered ourselves experts and would order the set lunch that included ramen, five bite-sized gyoza and rice.  I would order the Shiromaru Mote-aji and the hubby would have the Cadillac of ramens with the Kiwami Shin-aji.   While were were waitingfor our tasty ramen we would enjoy nibbling on the free salads that included a spicy bean sprout that we couldn’t get enough of.  I’ve never been a fan of sprouts but this was good!

My goal is to recreate the fabulous pork broth this winter and make my own spicy bean sprouts (this linked recipe looks close but I have yet to test it).

Sesame Udon

In the Sakura Lounge at Narita the hubby had curry rice and I had a cold sesame udon that  was delicate and refreshing.  It would make a great light snack or summer lunch and was served  in a miso bowl and consisted of cold seaweed udon noodles that were sprinkled with chives and sesame seeds and topped off with a small portion of a light sesame sauce or dressing.

I am looking forward to re-creating at home but the sauce may present a bit of a challenge.

Besides cooking (there is some homemade sausage and pepper tomato sauce in the slow cooker as I write) I am looking forward to sharing some of our Japan photos and stories with friends and family before we head back to Tokyo in late January.

It’s great to be home!  We’re off to the Farmer’s Market at Kapiolani Community College bright and early tomorrow – one of the few things that I missed when I was in Japan.

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Nihon Sun

October 31st, 2008 · Comments Off on Nihon Sun · About me, My Photos

It’s been quite some time since I posted an update about my atypical life so I’ll start with the most recent development.  I will no longer be writing The Tokyo Traveler for b5 media and while it was hard to say sayonara, I enjoyed the experience and it has led me to create a new online magazine about travel & culture in Japan that I have named  The Nihon Sun.   I hope you’ll check it out.

The baseball season is winding down in Tokyo – our boys only missed payoffs by half a game despite being plagued with injuries for a good portion of the season.  It was a bit disappointing but everyone is working hard at fall practice to get ready for next season. We’ll be heading back to Hawaii before long to enjoy a short off season of sun and golf before spring training starts up again in February.

I had quite an eventful summer with company for almost two straight months and barely time to breath let alone blog about my adventures in more than one place.  I had the opportunity to revisit some of the sights from our previous ‘tour’ in Japan and got to see some new ones too.  I can’t wait to share the stories and pictures with everyone and I’ll try to get some here before long…

Summer has quickly turned to fall and while the hubby is starting to complain about the “cold” I am loving the crisp weather and clear skies that it brings – it reminds me of Vancouver.

I’ll leave you with this shot of Rikugien Garden in Tokyo…

Rikugien Garden Tokyo

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8 Random Things About Me

June 26th, 2008 · 7 Comments · About me

PenguinNick has provided us with 8 Fabbertastic facts about himself and has passed the baton on to me.  It’s the blog version of a chain letter (which I hate, by the way, and often temp the fates by breaking the chain) but I didn’t want to drop the ball even though there was not the threat of an untimely demise or some sort of curse.  So here goes, 8 random things about me:

  1. The song, Top of the World by Karen Carpenter, is currently playing in the background of a commercial in here in Japan and it reminds me of a childhood play that I participated in.  I was a penguin and I had a whole series of gestures that matched the lyrics but I can’t remember anything else about the play.   Here’s the chorus and the corresponding movements that I remember  and  am tempted to perform each time I hear the song (No, Nick, I am not going to make a video):

    "I’m on the top of the world lookin’ down on creation ,
    (start with your hands at your side and raise them in a circular manner until they are above your head)
    And the only explanation I can find
    (bring your arms down so that they are parallel with the ground)
    Is the love that I’ve found ever since you’ve been around
    (hands brought over your heart)
    Your love’s put me at the top of the world
    (point out at the audience with one hand, keep the other over your heart)

  2. I love a good bargain!  The 100 Yen store is like Mecca for me, but don’t tell my friends as that’s where some of their gifts from Japan are coming from.  I’ll be sure to take off all of the ‘made in china’  labels before I give them out though 😉
  3. I was born in Canada and thought I had long since lost any colloquialisms but I’ve been known to get confused on the local pronunciation of words like process (Praw-cess or pro-cess – I can’t even remember which one is Canadian anymore) and my husband claims that the odd "eh" escapes when I’m tired.  You can take the girl out of Canada but not the Canada out of the girl.
  4. I knit or crochet when I watch TV and my frugal side escapes me when I am in the vicinity of a craft store.  You should see my yarn stash! Anybody need a scarf?
  5. I love sudoku puzzles and am working my way through a book of 200 right now.  I’m pretty confident at the medium level but sometimes I mess up on the harder ones.
  6. I like watching commercials and try to figure out the psychology behind the sales pitches.  It’s truly amazing the array of products that will make you attractive to the opposite sex.
  7. I don’t like movies very much because it is way to easy to predict what’s going to happen next, most of the time.  Did I tell you I am over-analytical sometimes?
  8. I can be quite sarcastic at times and have a warped sense of humor that I think I inherited from my Mom.  

Now, I want to know 8 random facts about Thomas, Neil and  Jason.

Here are the rules:

  1. People who are tagged need to write a post containing 8 random facts about themselves.
  2. At the end of the post you should name several other bloggers to be tagged.
  3. Leave a comment for the bloggers and link to your own post.

Photo Credit:  Flickr, All tuxed up for a portrait

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A typical Japanese Bow

June 18th, 2008 · 4 Comments · Daily Life, Typical

Kimono GirlPicture a  little Japanese girl in a pretty flowered dress, not more that 3 years old, bowing to her sibling’s school bus as it departs for the day.  That is the sweet scene that my husband and I encountered as as we walked down our street one morning this week and I can’t get it out of my mind.

As most people know the Japanese bow out of respect, thanks and even in apology.  This scene made me think about just how young children are when they start to emulate their parents actions and how important it is to start setting an example for children very early. 

On most mornings in my neighborhood there is usually quite a crowd waiting for the various preschool busses that serve the area to arrive.  The crowd usually consists of a number of young mothers and a gaggle of well behaved and neatly uniformed schoolchildren with their not yet school aged brothers and sisters.  When the brightly colored busses arrive, the one decked out like a train always makes me smile, there are usually one or two teachers on board along with the driver.  One of the teachers opens the door to the bus and greets the  mothers and the children as they board.  As the door closes, many of the mothers bow as if to say "take care of my child,  I leave then in your care" while the younger kids toddle around unaware that their siblings are off for the day.

On this day, at this particular bus stop, there was only one mother and daughter left on the sidewalk as the doors of the bus were closed.  As expected, the mother bowed to the bus and somewhat unexpectedly, so did her daughter.   This sweet child’s bow was no half hearted attempt to emulate her mother – her bow was a formal 45 degree bow that would have made the Emperor of Japan beam with pride!

I don’t have a digital image to share with you, but the image is burned in my memory, and  I wish I could share my admiration with the mother of this beautiful young child and tell her about the smile that she brought to my face on what was shaping up to be a very ordinary day. 

Photo Credit:  Flickr, Girl dressed for "Seven Five Three" ceremony, Yoyogi Park

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Quote of the Week – Hirayama on Hiroshima

June 11th, 2008 · 14 Comments · Quote of the Week

Words of Ikuo Hirayama, 81 year old survivor of the Atomic Bomb at Hiroshima:

“I believe that art can overcome hardships. I believe that flowers can blossom from anguish and inhumanity.”


Referring to the peace flame, pictured above, that will remain lit until the world no longer has nuclear weapons, Hirayama said:

"I saw the color of the fire, which was orange. It reminded me of the day of the bombing, and I could not get rid of that color behind my eyelids,"

From NPR, Art, and Hope, from the Ashes of Hiroshima.  Take a moment to read the article and listen to the audio file.  You will be amazed by the courage and beauty that this man has created from his horrific experience.

His painting , "The Holocaust of Hiroshima", featured in the NPR article, is a moving tribute to all that lost their lives as a result of the bombing.  Some of his other works can be seen online at Gallery-Sakura and the Hirayama Ikuo Museum of Art.

Photo Credit:  Flickr, Hiroshima – Memorial Flame

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Typical Weekend? I got blessed by a puppet!

June 8th, 2008 · 3 Comments · My Photos, The sights, Typical

This weekend I took advantage of some of my own advice and went to Rikugi-en Park and took in the Edo Ningyo. Edo Ningyo is a traditional Japanese marionette puppet show and the puppeteer was amazing! The emotions and lifelike movements he elicited from his stringed muses only enhanced the stories that they silently shared with the rapt audience. No interpreter was required and I chuckled and clapped along with the rest of the audience.

Here is the shishi (lion) with the other puppets in the background:

ShiShi Ningyo

As many of you are aware the shishimai or lion dance is usually performed by unseen men who coordinate the movements of the lion’s body and head throughout the dance. Imagine the crowd’s surprise when the puppeteer showed us one of the the two ‘men’ all while holding the controls to the marionette in his mouth!

ShiShi Ningyo1

At the end of the performance not a person moved as the puppeteer worked his way through the audience with the shishi, having it nibbling on each person’s head as he went by. My neighbor at the performance was kind enough to tell me that this was a blessing for good health so I patiently awaited my turn…

ShiShi Good Health

I was blessed with good health and an entertaining performance! How lucky am I?

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Atypical: 366 Parking Tickets in 296 Days!

June 4th, 2008 · Comments Off on Atypical: 366 Parking Tickets in 296 Days! · Atypical

Parking Tickets How is that possible?  A 26 year old man from Osaka somehow managed to rack up five tickets every four days, between July 2007 and April 2008 according to my calculations!  He was arrested on April 22nd after being caught on video by a parking monitor.

Police allege Osaka man committed 366 parking violations is how the headline reads in the Mainichi Daily News.  The car does not even belong to the man arrested and he admits to the parking violation on the day he got caught but is denying the remaining 365 allegations.

In addition to possible jail time this 26 year old man is facing fines totaling 5.7 million Yen or US$55,000.  Parking in Tokyo, a more expensive market than Osaka, averages USD$702/month and at that rate this young man could have paid to park his car legally for about 6.5 years for the amount he will have to pay for fines incurred over 10 months!

Photo Credit: Flickr, Parking Tickets
Source: Colliers, Consumers and Businesses Must Brace Themselves for Higher Parking Rates

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Typical: Smoking Card in the Hands of a Minor

June 3rd, 2008 · 2 Comments · Typical

image Not a big surprise here….a minor got his hands on the new TASPO card that allows you to buy cigarettes from vending machines in Japan in exchange for a photo and some personal details.  The surprising part is who the minor got the TASPO card from -  he got it from his mother and she is believed to be the first person to be arrested under the Law on the Prohibition of Smoking by Minors.

Police said the teen started smoking last year while he was still a student at junior high school. His mother initially opposed his habit and encouraged him to quit, but ended up buying him cigarettes when he refused to obey her. She took out a taspo card in her name so she would be able to buy cigarettes for her husband. The case broke when a police officer caught the boy smoking in a Fukuoka park on May 19.
Source:  Mainichi Daily News

Why would she even have a TASPO card in the house if she opposed her sons’ smoking habit?  You can still buy cigarettes from convenience stores without the card and when this woman realized that she couldn’t control her son why didn’t she just cut up the card rather than hand it over?  That’s what I would have done.   Alternatively, I would have made sure the card was in my husbands wallet so that he could pick up his own smokes on the way to and from work.

This story would have been even odder had the kid been caught by one of the new cigarette vending machines that can count your wrinkles.  While I would assume that this boy bears some resemblance to his mother it would have been an interesting to see if this new technology would pick up on it.  Furthermore if the new technology kicked in what would happen next?  Would lights start flashing and bell start jingling to alert the nearby police that the face on the card and the face at the machine didn’t match?

You can find out more details about how the TASPO card works and how you can get one by reading ID Cards Needed for Cigarette Machines.

Photo Credit: Flickr, Don’t Smoke

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Atypical: Please Teach Me Common Sense

June 2nd, 2008 · 3 Comments · Atypical

Does anyone you know lack common sense? Do you think that they are aware of the fact? My guess is probably not.

dazed & confusedIf you are true friend of one of these lost souls the best gift that you could give them would be a new class that is being developed in Japan. For somewhere between Y50,000 and Y60,000 you can give them the gift of common sense!

The Mainichi Daily News is reporting that Kawaijuku Educational Institution plans to start offering its 10-lesson “basic common sense for fully fledged members of society” course from September of this year. This company and others like it are better know as cram schools and traditionally offer courses that are geared toward children and young adults who want help to prepare for the demanding entrance exams to universities and private schools.

The new course will be aimed at people who have completed their formal schooling but lack presentation and problem solving skills. There are people that would probably have a hard time answering atypical interview questions.

Do you know anyone that would be a candidate for this class? I could come up with a list but I’m not convinced that common sense is something that can be taught. What do you think?

Photo Credit: Flickr, 1/365 [dazed & confused]

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Atypical: FBI Coordinates Yakuza Transplants

May 30th, 2008 · 1 Comment · Atypical

On May 18th I directed my readers at The Tokyo Traveler to an article in the Washington Post titled This Mob is Big in Japan by Jake Adelstien. In the article Adelstien describes his days as a crime writer for the Yomiuri Shimbun and how, because of “a story that change his life”, he now lives in fear. Here is an excerpt from the article:

On May 18, 2001, the FBI arranged for Tadamasa Goto — a notorious Japanese gang boss, the one that some federal agents call the “John Gotti of Japan” — to be flown to the United States for a liver transplant …

…The FBI had long suspected the yakuza of laundering money in the United States, and Japanese and U.S. law enforcement officials confirm that Goto offered to tip them off to Yamaguchi-gumi front companies and mobsters in exchange for the transplant.

If you read though to the end of the article you will notice a footer that states “Jake Adelstein is the author of the forthcoming “Tokyo Vice: An American Reporter on the Police Beat in Japan.””. While I found the article interesting I wondered if any of the facts were embellished in order to generate interest for the upcoming book.

Those fears seem to be unfounded as today the Los Angeles Times is reporting that Four Japanese gang figures got liver transplants at UCLA between 2000 -2004. In each of those years over 100 people died while waiting for new livers in the Los Angeles metropolitan area.

The article goes on to confirm the Adelstien story about the FBI’s involvement in the Goto transplant and that of three other unnamed yakuza from Japan. It goes on to talk about the organ transplant system itself and states:

Several transplant experts and bioethicists contacted by The Times said they were troubled by the transplants, especially because organs are in such short supply in this country. In the year of Goto’s surgery, 186 people in the Los Angeles region died waiting for a liver, U.S. transplant statistics show.

Some, but not all, of the experts said a transplant center has an obligation to determine whether a patient would be a worthy custodian of an organ and to protect potential donors’ faith in the system.

The cost of each liver transplant can exceed $500,000 and foreign recipients are required to pay the full amount out of pocket. In Goto’s case the cost would have been much higher since once he was able to travel back to Japan he was again banned from entering the United States and the cheif executive chairman of UCLA’s surgery department who did the transplant traveled to Japan to examine Goto on more than one occasion. The Los Angeles Times was unable to determine who paid the bills for these four liver transplants.

This brings up two pretty big issues that neither article addresses:

  1. Did the US government pay for these operations in exchange for “little useful information on Japanese gangs”? Is this an example of US tax dollars hard at work?
  2. Did the US government put pressure on the organ transplant system to move Goto and his cronies up to the top of the list?

I am an organ donor, it says so on my drivers’ license, and this won’t stop me from continuing to be one but I don’t like the idea of the government deciding who gets whatever is salvageable from my body once I am dead! Also, if the government is going to pay for a transplant I would much prefer it be on a young person who has the potential to become or will continue to be a productive member of society.

What’s your take on this? Is this an example of typical US government practices or an atypical situation?

UPDATE: The LA Times reports that Goto and one other patient with suspected yakuza ties donated $100,000 each after receiving their liver transplants and that Goto even has a plaque on the wall to honor his donation.   This amounts to approximately 20% of the estimated cost of the operation – what a deal!

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