Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A petit lunch

I was taken out for a birthday lunch yesterday by my good friend, Hisae. She was the first Japanese person I met when I came to Japan, and I lived with her for almost 3 weeks while I finished my training and found a place to live.

We met in Jiyugaoka and went to a small cafe that served beautiful and tasty food. I had a delicious seafood mousse with a light soup, salad and dessert. Hisae had an assortment of fish salads, along with soup and a green salad. Dessert was a delicious custard crowned with a sweet strawberry sauce.

I think Hisae was a little disappointed with the lunch because the portions were extremely small, and she's a big eater. She said she had eaten a late breakfast and was glad because she wasn't so hungry for lunch. Otherwise, she said she would have been hungry after this meal.

For me, it was just right, and I loved getting a chance to catch up with my friend after almost a year. But, I'd have to agree that this was a chick cafe. Men would probably go away hungry.

Can people tell where you're from?

People often ask about my accent and wonder where I'm from. A few people have thought I had a British accent, but I don't. I'm from America. I've lived on the East and West Coasts, and in the Southwest and Midwest. Somehow, I've managed to learn to pronounce my words carefully (especially since teaching) so maybe that's why some people think it sounds British. Brits don't think I sound British at all!

According to a brief online test I took, my English is "65% General American English, 15% Upper Midwestern (whatever that is!), and 15% Yankee."

If you'd like to see how your English is rated, check here.

Monday, April 17, 2006

From the land of Tir na nOg

A luscious red rose, smelling like one of the dozens of tea roses I used to grow in my garden in Seattle, arrived for me today. This picture doesn't really do it justice. It's the deepest red, and most velvet-textured rose I've seen in a long time! It has completely filled my little room with its intoxicating perfume, which reminds me of the real perfume called Joy. It was sent by my friend David and his wife Hiroko.

The countdown is almost over, and the big day is just about here. Tomorrow is my birthday, but it's no ordinary birthday. This is THE BIG ONE, the one I used to think that only very old people had.

I remember when my parents turned six-oh, and they were really old! I don't feel old! In fact, sometimes I forget how old I really am because most people guess me to be much younger. In my university class last week, students were asking me questions and trying to guess my age. The range was from an astonishing 29 (paleeeez!) to 38. Nobody said anything about 50s or even 40s!

Age seems to come up often, and people always act surprised when I tell them my actual age. I know there's such a thing as "being polite" and guessing younger, but that usually means maybe 10 years younger, at the most, not more than 20 years younger.

When they hear my age, they inevitably want to know if I've had cosmetic surgery or Botox treatments, to which I answer an honest "No."

A few weeks ago I went to see a doctor about my lingering cough from the flu, and took along a friend who acted as translator. He asked her a question. Her eyes lit up as she gleefully turned to ask me: "Are you pregnant?" We both laughed so hard we could barely wheeze out an answer. She told him I was almost 60 years old and his eyebrows shot up in disbelief as he let out a very long, Japanese-style "eeeeeehhhhhhhhhhh?" A couple of nurses and another doctor had overheard our conversation in the tiny examination room and peeked around the curtain to have a look. Now there were three other people going "eeeeeehhhhhhhhhhh?" One nurse finally said, "so young, so young." (He wanted to take an x-ray, and was maybe just being cautious. . .?)

Maybe I just have good genes. Or maybe it's my attitude toward life. I try to live in a way that honors and values all life. I have a positive mental attitude, despite the many tragic events of my life. From each one of those events, I've gained valuable knowledge about who I am, and why I'm here. It's humbled me and made me more compassionate toward others because I can understand their pain.

Perhaps, looking young comes from the inside. A healthy dose of deep introspection teaches one to stop worrying about the small things in life. Thinking more about those we love instead of those we hate does wonders for the spirit, and that radiates out into the world as the light of eternal youth.

There's a wonderful Irish film called Into the West , which tells about a land of eternal youth. In Gaelic, they call that land Tir na nOg. So, for an Irish birthday wish, I wish everyone eternal youth in such a land, and for me, I say, La-breithe mhaith agat (happy birthday)!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Care package from home

Thanks to my very thoughtful daughter, I'm sitting here looking at an adorable Easter basket that I just received in the mail. She and her husband went shopping for all the little goodies and put the basket together themselves. It's so cute with its little chicks and pink bunny!

Seems like she and I are in a role reversal lately. I used to always be the one making sure to decorate, cook, and shop for the holidays. Since coming to Japan, I've become such a slacker! Next to the cute basket sits the box I didn't manage to get shipped in time for an Easter arrival. Now Jenn won't get it until the week after Easter.

Being late to ship this box wasn't intentional (even though this may sound like a pathetic excuse). I hunted around trying to find something Easter-ish to send, but apparently the Japanese haven't adopted this holiday despite their gleeful attitude toward Christmas. You'd think the Japanese would love Easter, with all the cute little pink bunnies and baby chicks, and chocolate eggs, and pastel-dyed eggs. But, so far as I can see, it has managed to escape their attention.

Maybe next year. . .

Made me laugh!

I know, this is just silly, but I love this kind of humor! Thanks, Diana!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Enchiladas in Tokyo!

Went out with friends last weekend who suggested a terrific Mexican restaurant in Harajuku. I've eaten some Mexican food in Tokyo, and while tasty, it wasn't exactly like what I was used to eating in the U.S. I grew up on Mexican food in Tucson, Arizona, and have a particular palate for salsas, Mexican cheese, and the quality of the mole and chipotle sauces.

I ordered a triple enchilada plate. The corn enchiladas were filled with succulent and tender pieces of chicken bathed in three different sauces: salsa verde, chipotle, and the more traditional red sauce. It was hard to choose a favorite, but I'd probably lean toward the smoky and spicy flavored chipotle sauce.

This meal was authentic! There was even a strolling Mariachi band and delicious shaken Margaritas.

The down side was that Fonda de la Madrugada is a very long walk from the Meiji Jingumae station and it sits at the bottom of a long staircase which made me feel like I was going down into a dungeon. Another negative was the extremely claustrophobic, faintly lit, and smelly restrooms.

Pink "snow"

Beautiful though it might have been, nothing lasts forever. The petals have fallen and look like pink snow.

Everywhere, shopkeepers diligently swept up the remains of the day. Goodbye, beautiful Sakura petals.

All the little souls. . .

Today I wandered into a beautiful Shinto shrine in Okusawa, which is very close to where I work. It was such a serene place, and I believe it is a shrine to children. There were many individual little shrines, including one of a statue dressed in real baby clothes. On the floor of that shrine was a tiny white stuffed teddy bear and fresh flowers.

The main entry to the shrine is draped in a dragon made out of rope or hemp-like material, and apparently guards or protects the souls of the children. There's another open-mouthed dragon inside the shrine, and its head and upper body projects out of the rocks.

As I walked around the almost deserted grounds, I felt so at peace. Bless all the little souls who have touched so many hearts.

This is a photo of the place where visitors wash their hands before entering the shrine.

Here's one of the gold-trimmed doors to the main shrine.

Memorials to three children.

Peace and serenity among the trees.

The main shrine.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Japan's latest celebrity

A couple of months ago I was standing outside a popular electronics store in Shibuya waiting for a friend who was running a few minutes late. I stood there people watching and suddenly there was this guy dressed in black leather hotpants and a tight leather vest over a black turtleneck sweater. I've just discovered who he was: Masaki Sumitani, otherwise known as Hard Gay, or HG. He's apparently a heterosexual parody of a gay man and walks around thrusting his hips and yelling, "Yahoo!" He's also one of the hottest celebrities around Tokyo right now and seems to be making the talk show rounds. Here are some pictures of him.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Clouds of pink blossoms

Everyone eagerly awaits the magnificent spring display of cherry blossoms, and this is the optimum week! Clouds of pink blossoms are everywhere, and the contrast against the dark color of the tree bark is stunning.

These pictures were taken early in the morning in Jiyugaoka before work on what's usually a very crowded boulevard. By afternoon, thousands of people had gathered to view the trees.

One of my students, a business man, told me that every year companies have Sakura parties where all employees meet up outdoors at some particularly wonderful site to view the cherry blossoms. Usually, the newest "member" of the company is sent out to "hold the best spot" early in the day before anyone else can grab it. It's a long and boring day guarding the spot, marked by a blue plastic tarp, against encroachers. Anyone who's ever had this duty is glad to never have to worry about doing it again. At these parties, the sake flows freely and people get quite drunk, I've been told. This picture was blatantly "borrowed" from another blogger flicker user Kanagawa_keng (hoping he or she won't mind) showing the early arrival of freshman salarymen who lay out their blue tarps to reserve their company's party space.

Pedestrian, train, and car traffic have been intense and people even go out at night to view the trees. Many people say that spring has been extra cold this year and the wind has been especially strong, but even so, everyone seems to venture out on this yearly ritual to enjoy the Sakura.

What a shame it only lasts for a couple of weeks, but now I'm waiting to watch the petals fall to the ground where they will look like soft-pink snow.