Thursday, August 1, 2019

A little history...a big decision.

Two years ago today, I landed in Japan with the intention of staying.  It was hard to get a visa.  Hard to get a place to live.  I'll be moving shortly to an apartment that will suit me better, at the suggestion of my landlady.  My visa shows every sign of renewability until I can get permanent residency, which I have decided I want.  Yes, I am still here.  Yes, I plan to stay.  I like it here.
Japan isn't perfect.  Japan surprises me every day. I hate the climate right now.  I need to organize things so I can go somewhere cool in August, but I have the chance to go to Taisekiji and make a Tozan pilgrimage on my actual birthday this year, for the first time, so I'm definitely doing that -- and then I move.
I didn't know if I would want to stay here.  I didn't know how I'd fit in.  I didn't know a lot of things, but what I know now is that Japan is working for me.  J'y suis; j'y reste.  Here I am, here I'll stay.

More Kagoshima later -- there is plenty more to say, but since I'm moving, this might take a few weeks.  Enjoy the summer, wherever you are.


Thursday, July 25, 2019

We interrupt this voyage.... Book Review for Rosalind, Dragon Sisters SALE.

More about Kagoshima is coming.  It's really fun to relive and digest that trip.  But sometimes other things happen.  Should I investigate audio books?  Judith Deborah did, with Rosalind and the results are extraordinary.  What do you think?

I've been having real trouble getting Amazon (which covers the US only) to get the new editions of The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series up and running so people can find them, and, you know, buy them.  I am making progress.  Reviews are finally getting sorted and editorial reviews (ones that are published by professional reviewers) are coming, too.  It's pretty dreadful when everybody who reads your books likes them, but people who might want to read them can't find them -- especially when the new editions have some new illustrations, a consistent style sheet (that is harder), no errors (well, there's always one, but we sure tried), great new covers and new jacket copy.  Plus a whole new book.  I've been at this five weeks now and the light at the end of the tunnel may not be an oncoming train.  Once I get this going, I can take care of iBooks, Kobo, B & N, and all the other retailers around the world who stock these amazing books.  I suspect they're all right, but I won't know until I get in there.

But AMAZON has done something right.

The Dragon Sisters, in paperback format, is ON SALE for $9.98.  Since they didn't ask me about this, and didn't bother to even tell me, I have no idea how long this will last.  But if you want this book in hard copy, grab it now!

The Dragon Sisters -- paperback


And now for something different and very, very good.

Beautifully done -- A post about a book that isn't mine! Rosalind, by Judith Deborah, available on Amazon. My search shows the e-book is free for a limited time. Grab this one!
Beautifully Rendered Audio of an Excellent Book I've read the print version and I enjoyed it thoroughly -- it is beautifully written, the kind of literary fiction we don't often see today. Read it. It's first class. Here, I'm just talking about the audio book. I'm not much of an audio book fan -- I have been disappointed when the narrator's voice strikes me as wrong -- but I have been considering audio books for my own books, so I thought I'd give this a listen. And I LOVE it. The narrator's voice brought the characters to life spectacularly. It helps to have good material to start with, sure, but the right narrator makes a huge difference for me. This is an audio book worth listening to, even if you have read the print version. If audio books are your first choice, get this one.
Rosalind on Amazon

Thursday, July 18, 2019

World Heritage Kagoshima: Gardens, Guns and Glass

Because Japanese ferries are first and foremost cargo vessels, they run on schedules convenient for the cargo, not the few incidental passengers.  We docked in Kitakyushu at 5:30 AM, and had already seen the glorious rising sun.  A very nice woman whom I was fortunate to meet had her car and offered me a ride to the nearest train station.

The ferry people sought me out the afternoon before to make sure I had a way to the station -- there is  a shuttle -- and to make sure the ride I had from a fellow passenger was both happening and also safe!   Definitely, only in Japan.


Two days before, a very nasty storm has dumped nearly a meter of rain on the south of Kyushu, and, shockingly in Japan, some of the trains were out.  My ability to take a slow and scenic route was hampered.  After all, it was 6:30 AM and I couldn't check into my hotel until 3:00 PM, so why not go slowly and make a stop or two along the way?  Couldn't do that, but the nice train people got me to Kagoshima in two hours on a Shinkansen with a route that was mostly underground.  I was able to leave my bags at my hotel and take a sightseeing on-off circle bus.  I thought I'd just get the lay of the land but when we arrived at a World Heritage Site with gardens, museums, history and views galore, I got off.  Sengen-an  -- here's a video -- is the garden, on the grounds of the Shimadzu family's former second house, and it is gorgeous.




Lovely bonsai.


 Looks like a dragon to me -- a natural rock showcased for its shape.


What looks like a mushroom is Japan's first gas lamp, and is supposed to represent a crane in flight.  Yes, it still works.

 This is the view of Sakurajima.  It took me a while to figure out that those weren't clouds, they were volcanic eruptions.  It smokes constantly.



This is Edo period graffiti.  For some reason, a Shimadzu lord decided to write upon this rock.  Know what it says?  Really Big Rock.

One of the most surprising and gratifying thing about this wonderful garden is the attention paid to drainage.  It rains a lot in Kagoshima, especially in the summer.  Two days before almost a full meter poured down.  And yet look at this very old stairway doing just fine.  There was only one place where gardeners were clearing a bit of washed down sand.
This dear little shrine is for cats who served in a conflict with Korea as watch and guard cats.  Some of the feline recruits survived, but those who didn't have entered the Shinto pantheon.  As Shota has pointed out, that's the nice thing about Shinto -- always room for one more.
 These garments are costumes used in a TV drama about the Shimadzu family and the Meiji restoration.  They were very pivotal.  This is in their former home, now a museum.  Note particularly the combination of Western and Japanese garments on the right.
This famous lady was instrumental in making sure Edo Castle was handed over peacefully to the restoration forces rather than destroyed again.  Local daughters and sons of note are always remembered in Japan, and their souls usually also enshrined into the Shinto pantheon.  She is commemorated with her own brand of Shochu, a local sweet-potato based distilled spirit only available at this World Heritage Site.  It is mixed with water and ice, and tastes like flowers.  Very nice indeed.
The Shimidzu family, especially Nariakira, was instrumental in the Meiji Restoration.  He started factories, including a cannon works, of which some remnants remain, a silk mill, and a cut-glass works, which is still active. Satsuma Kiriko Glassworks is fantastic.  Bring money!  It's expensive stuff.  And so beautiful you'll want to take some home.

By Dime Gontar from Kiev, Ukraine






Monday, July 15, 2019

Riding a Japanese Ferry

The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy are moving towards Book 7, which as yet has no working title.  What it does have is a glimmer of history, and that history takes place in Kagoshima, a large city on the southern tip of Kyushu.

It's possible to island-hop from Kagoshima through the Ryukyu Islands (now part of Japan as Okinawa Prefecture) to Taiwan, to Shanghai, and just about anyplace else in Southeast Asia. Brisk trade quickly established itself and grew. When Ieyasu interdicted foreigners, it was somehow understood that this only applied to Imperialist Western foreigners and "normal" trade with the "normal" neighbors continued, though it was a little under-the-table.

Even today, it's possible to ferry all over the place. And I plan to do exactly that. But the first thing I had to do was get to Kagoshima and check it out for Book 7.

I couldn't find a ferry that approached Kagoshima from the north. Japan has lovely and wonderful trains, certainly, and, yes, there are (yawn) planes. But there is plenty of domestic shipping and there is a ferry that runs from Tokyo to Kitakyushu, on the north end of Kyushu. This is the general area in which The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy live.

Mostly the domestic ferries on this route haul cargo in the form of trailers that get attached to trucks and form Big Rigs that traverse the highways. It's more efficient to load those trailers with trucks at one port, move them by ship, and off-load them at a second harbor. Sometimes the trucks need to go with the trailers. Sometimes people want to move their personal vehicles. Sometimes people just want to move themselves. That means there is passenger service.

You're not allowed to stay in your Big Rig, RV, van or car.  People bringing vehicles because they are moving or have plans involving their motorcycles or vans at the other end of the voyage often like to transport them by ferry. Faster, cheaper, and, hey, boat ride!

There are second-class cabins rather like floating capsule hotels. These are pretty nice.




It's much nicer than your basic sailboat quarter berth. This cabin is for women only all the time and is right next to the midships ladies' room. There are 8 berths. A number of similar cabins can be for men or women, depending on need. For whatever reason, there were not many passengers. Going down there were three other women. Going back, I was all alone. There are also cabins for two or four humans, some with pet facilities. Yes, there is an on-deck pet area. If you don't bring your own cabin-mates you might get a Random Roommate. The idea of paying extra to get a private cabin does not occur in Japan. I have had a Capsule Cabin before and like my little bit of private space. Everybody's quiet and well behaved. Tomfoolery is saved for the public lounge areas.

This ferry doesn't have a restaurant. What it has is a huge number of microwave ovens, chopsticks, napkins, condiments, a tea machine and a large number of gigantic vending machines. People with large vehicles bring coolers of food. Everybody else forages.


  These are treasures. These are mikans -- tangerines, to you -- peeled and frozen, available for purchase from the vending machine. Give them a few minutes to that -- don't dare stick these in a microwave -- and they are splendidly delicious.

Because these are cargo vessels not really planning on passengers, they leave late in the day. Even at this time of year, we only had maybe an hour of daylight after departing. Night one it was nasty and blowing. These are from night two, after the storm had passed.



During night one, it stormed. The sea is off the beam and it can get pretty rocky. They close the observation deck at night and when the weather's stormy, but they also closed the Grand Baths part of this trip due to the bad weather.

While there is a room of arcade games, plenty of liquor in the machines, and lounge spaces one can frequent with TVs and windows, the Grand Baths, one for women and one for men, are a great source of entertainment. Sure, there are laundry facilities (the motorcyclists and campers love this feature) and there is a shower room, everybody wants to use the ofuro.  It's a classic Japanese spa with half-height showers where you sit and scrub -- they have soap and shampoo, but you need to bring your own towels. They do sell them in a handy vending machine if you forget, of course.

The winner is the long tub, with windows overlooking the ocean, with half still and half whirlpool basins in which to sit and soak. People take more than one bath. In fact, they seem to take as many as they can justify, and sometimes you'll see towels hanging by berths to dry just about everywhere you look. This is NICE.

It's no secret that I like being at sea. I can watch the ocean endlessly and enjoy little ports. This is the midway port on Shikoku Island, when all the car people ran below decks to get whatever else they needed from their vehicles, and trucks, cars, motorcycles and so on got off and on. It's a lovely area, with lumber mills in sight of the docks, leading one to suspect that's the principle industry.


Again, because these boats are cargo ships first and foremost, they not only leave late, they get in very early.  However, you get the sunrise.



And at this time of year, that's about 4 AM.  Wonderful, though, as you can see.  This is the observation deck, reopened since the weather had cleared.

Then from the ferry port, one journeys to the closest train station and from there to the bigger train station.  There, I discovered that my planned route was not possible due to a seriously ferocious storm that dropped nearly a meter on Kyushu. It was the end of that we went through on our first night out.  You know it's a bad storm when Japanese trains shut down! I couldn't make a planned stop and take a slow but scenic road.  But the nice train people got me all the way down the island in less than two hours at what must have been very high speeds, and almost all underground!


I was there at last, in Kagoshima.  In the Shimadzu domain (that's their crest) figuring out a way to amuse myself until I could check into my hotel. Look at the lovely little bonsai garden!  This is a World Heritage Site, and that's where I went next.