Friday, November 10, 2017

A pretty city, a lovely temple, a great "subway." And STAIRS.

Busan is a pretty city, arranged on the lower slopes of wooded hills/mountains around an extensive harbor.  I arrived, took a cab to the guesthouse, and was promptly lost.  There were no signs and there was a network of alleys.  A nice local man guided me to the proper place, over there, two turns into an alley, among dozens of its fellows.  Busan is full of motels, mini-tels, guesthouses, hostels and other small places one can stay in greater or lesser comfort, in every single neighborhood.  My pre-trip research discovered only those and wildly expensive Raddisons, Hiltons and Westins.

That's when I discovered the Korean love of STAIRS.  Endless stairs.  Everywhere.  Settled in and hungry, I set out to see two things on the reputedly superior Humetro "subway" (often it's a El).  The first was Beomoesa, pronounced Po-Mo-Sa, a Buddhist temple dating to the 600s, and a vegetarian restaurant supposedly located just outside it.  It has its own stop on the number 1 (red) line, so that seemed easy enough.  After leaving the train station, I had read it was possible, just, to hike up to the actual temple, but it was better to take the bus.  It took me a while to find the stop, which is hidden from the station, and there are no signs.  This is another thing about Busan.  There are no SIGNS in any language all too often, or they lead to dead ends or someplace else instead.  If one has the written Hangul, one can match the pictures easily enough, but not if there is nothing to compare with what you have.

And I'd been so impressed by the Humetro!  Modern, clean, easy -- except for the stairs, but there were occasional elevators.  Korean, English and often Japanese on the signs, and the train announced itself in those three languages plus Chinese.  The people were kind and friendly -- this is how I learned how Beomeosa is properly pronounced.  The Romanizations aren't pronounced anything like the way they're written, so it's necessary to learn each separately.

The temple is gorgeous, and seems to require and undergo continual renovation and repair, as would I if I were that old.  There was work going on everywhere.  The style isn't Indian, it isn't Chinese and it isn't Japanese.  It is uniquely Korean, full of color and life, lots of flowers painted in patterns that are almost middle-eastern in complexity.  The statues look Indian to me.  Since it's not my kind of Buddhism -- it was hard to determine exactly what kind it is, as there appeared to be several versions going on -- I admired the art and the history.  This temple offers temple-stays, so one can stay there and learn about their meditative practice, and eat their vegetarian food!  I drooled at the thought.  A few monks were around, but mostly it was nuns who were running the show, in each of the various buildings, providing security and leading meditation sessions and things like that.  They wear grey trousers, some kind of long-sleeved blouse, T-shirt or sweater (that's not uniform) and a grey vest, with the jackets of their choice.  They do not shave their heads, but their hair tended to the short and simple, often with curls.  Both men and women seemed to wear a kind of plastic skimmer flat with a pinched and slightly upturned toe.

After climbing all the stairs and reading all the signs and enjoying all the art,  I tried to find the vegetarian restaurant, which is not connected to the temple.  It also, as far as I could tell, does not exist.  Starving and hurting from all the stairs, I caught a cab back to the station.  A nun flagged the cab and I nodded when the driver indicated he'd like to pick her up.  She only spoke Korean, as did he, so my attempts to find out more were foiled.  She contributed her share to the fare so all was well.

The first of two monks I saw is pictured not exactly below, but there's a link, beating a huge drum.  They incorporate a lot of music into their practice, with gourd-type instruments, singing and then this DRUM!

Well, I've been trying for days now, and cannot get the pictures to send through e-mail but I have got many of them to the Toki-Girl and Sparrow-Boy's Facebook page.  Here's the link, so head on over there, and please do like the page.

Now FB won't let me put the photos on the TGSB page, but check it out and like it anyway.
The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy on FB. Please like.

I HAVE managed to get bunches of the photos on my personal FB page.  That's here.
My personal FB Page, where the photos are.  You can like that, too, if you want, but the TGSB page is where I put most of the interesting stuff.

Monday, November 6, 2017

On the way to Busan -- PICTURES!

 They're backwards, of course!  Entering the beautiful harbor at Busan/
 Another angle.  Busan is a lovely city with several harbors connected by bridges.
This view is of the city center, aiming right for the International Ferry Terminal.  It's a flowing, arching modern building, quite lovely as is almost all the modern architecture in Busan.

 This is the overnight ferry that took me there.  It sails to and from Osaka, three times a week, and carries cargo as well as people.  It's like a Canadian ferry, and you can bring a car if you like.  Since Busan drives on the right and Japan on the left, you might not want too.
 We're leaving Osaka, a pretty city in its own right.  We exit the inner harbor and go right by KIX, built on its very own created island.

 And we head off into the sunset.
 We're approaching the bridge that connects Honshu with Shikoku as we navigate the Inland Sea.
Here's a closer look.  With the two-person staterooms, you get a random roommate.  Mine was a friendly Korean woman married to a Japanese man, so we were able to speak Japanese.  These smaller cabins don't have their own heads -- it's down the hall -- and the bath is an ofuro, which is referred to as a sauna.  It has one of those, too.  There's a hot soaking tub, and a cool one, too.  Bring your own towels.  I now own two, at 200 yen each, from the on-board shop.  They are the hand-towel sized ones like they give you at Japanese inns for souvenirs.

There is a tricky passage -- well, several, actually, but on the outbound leg we went through one at about 9 PM.  This is a heavily trafficked and well marked area with lots of tiny harbors with their own marked entries.  It's necessary to count the flashes to see which marks to follow.  Often, there are also mid-channel buoys.  Things are further complicated by the area's extensive fishing industry.

More next time.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Typhoon Lan

Mt. Fuji stands serene
Over the littered beaches,
With swells breaking hard and high
Confounding hopeful surfers.

The fishing boats will return tomorrow
From their hiding places up the river.
The pouring rain's moved out,
The wind that uprooted trees and tore off roofs has calmed.

The cleanup crews will shovel clear the sand blocking flood channels
And burying the paved paths
Already hosting bikers and walkers,
out to see the aftermath.

Typhoon Lan has passed.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Meiji Era: why?

In 1858, Commodore Perry sailed in to Edo Bay, displaying weapons and technology that didn't exist in Japan at that time, demanding that Japan open its doors to foreign trade, specifically trade with the United States.

The shogunate was weak and the isolated society of Japan had stultified, with its warriors turned to bureaucrats who elevated the skills of war to precise art forms, with a totalitarian mindset geared to keeping everything in perfect order, and keeping the foreigners, who had caused so much trouble some 200 and more years before, out.

The first treaties were incredibly unfavorable to Japan, and it became clear that the Westerners planned to turn Japan into some kind of puppet colony.  Western imperialism was at its height all over the world, and there were new and incredible increases in technology and social reform, given impetus by the US Civil War.  The cotton gin, the rifle, railroads and steamships were all part of this continuing Industrial Revolution taking place in the 19th Century.  Steamships could sail against the wind, and quickly made the clipper ships obsolete, taking over transportation of goods and people.  But they needed fuel, and simply could not make it from the West Coast of the US to China and the Spice Islands without stopping.  Japan was the logical stopping point: Japan had food, water and most importantly, coal, so the US decided Japan was a place it needed to conquer and control.

This did not sit well with Japan, and in 1868 the new young Emperor Meiji secured the resignation of the shogun and assumed actual day to day power.  Though of course the Emperor and Empress did not act alone, these patriotic and intelligent people did something that nearly defies belief: they kept their country free; moreover, they made it a serious player on the world stage, while it remained and remains, uniquely itself.

The Westerners had never understood how the Japanese system worked -- still don't, in fact -- and didn't know who was actually in charge of what.  The Emperor moved the capital to Edo, rechristened Tokyo (eastern capital), and began making changes, with astounding rapidity and real success.

By the end of the Meiji era, in 1912, Japan had become a first-world power with mighty ambitions.  How did this happen?  What effect did this astonishing period of breakneck change have on the people who lived in the little country that not only could, but did?

This is the world of the Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy.

This series incorporates genuine folklore, combines it with accurate history, and builds real stories reflecting the Japanese culture that continues to exist and influence the world.  While the Edo period, the Heian and other earlier periods are fun to research, explore and write in,  just as medieval Europe continues to fascinate authors and scholars, it is the Meiji period that brings us real revelations about the depth and breadth of Japanese character as it adapts to sudden and drastic change.

It's written about two children whose lives are complicated by the fact that they are bird-children, dual natured beings who can be children or birds, their human uncle and their various friends, who might or might not be dual natured, or even human.  The fantastic nature allows the supernatural to supersede technology where necessary and to dive deep into cultural as well as personal depths.  The series ages as the children do, and we are now up to the early 1870s.

Folklore also makes things fun!  The personal relationship between the Japanese Dragon King and the European Dragon Queen provides a backdrop for the relationships between East and West, and their dual natured children give them cross-cultural difficulties not unlike those of the humans over whom they fly.  The horses not only talk but their trials reflect the affect of technology on agrarian life for farmers and the military.  The talented Toki-Girl's commercial successes and failures and the underemployed Ninja illustrate not only the changes in the roles of women, but changes in the commercial landscape that altered the lives of not just people but entire classes of society.

Unlike any other series exploring Japanese culture, The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series reveals depths roiled by the currents of massive change and shows how those cultural depths adjust and continue to adjust to constant social and technological attack, through the personal stories of one small group of regular people.

And they are also cracking good reads for ages 8 through adult.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Life on the Floor: Part 7 -- 7-11 What can't it do?

7-11 is ubiquitous in Japan.  It's owned by the massive 7 & i Holding company, which also owns Ito-Yokado, a massive department store chain, which is sort of a Target-equivalent.

It seems like you can do just about ANYTHING at 7-11.  Grocery shopping?  Sure.  The products are the same as you'll find in the Ito-Yokado supermarket in the basement of the department store, same quality, same packaging and same prices.  The selection isn't as wide and very low on perishables aside from breads and prepared foods like sandwiches, rice balls, and bentos, mostly because the store isn't as big, but it truly is possible to do all your food and beverage shopping at 7-11 if you need to.

There's also a cash machine that works for just about every bank and everybody.  No fees.  Of course not.  They want you to spend your money -- at least some of it -- before you get out of the store!  There is even a 7 & i full-service bank, but it's not usually the best choice for a variety of reasons.

Assorted gift cards?  They have those.

Pay your utility bills?  Right up there at the counter.

Charge your IC (prepaid transportation -- train, subway and bus, some taxis -- and minor convenience store-type purchase) card?  Yep.  Just buy something small using your card, which can be empty, and ask that it be recharged with the cash you hand over.

Ship things by courier?  Of course, if you have the waybill and envelope, though I suppose they'll be happy to give them to you.  I think you can get the waybill for larger items that need to be picked up right there, too.

Is there anything 7-11 can't do?

I found something.

My phone is a pre-paid.  Usually, I buy a prepaid card at, you guessed it, 7-11, and enter it into the phone, no worries.  But I had a surprise last week!  I couldn't get a Softbank prepaid card at 7-11!  I gather you can get them at some stores, but not all.  So I had to trudge up to the Softbank Store, and wait 45 minutes -- truly unconscionable -- to get a "card" -- really a piece of paper -- printed out with a number I could then enter into my phone.

To be fair to Softbank, they kept trying to get me to recharge my phone on-line, but I haven't had any luck with that in the past.  I am not sure I have tried to do this inside Japan, so next time, I'll give it another go.  Before I start walking, prepared to wait far too long.

Things are different here.  7-11 is (mostly) very convenient indeed.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Yabusame is a kind of mounted archery done on various occasions, from Shinto Shrine festivals to (apparently) opening racetracks for the season.  The riding is gorgeous, the archery impressive.  It dates combat archery, formalized about 600 CE.  Azuki likes it, but Blackie won't let her fall!

I went to see it at the Samukawa Shrine, where it's an annual event.  Silly me:  I thought this event was probably people from the local barn having fun with their horses!  It's so much more than that.

Here's the link that gives ALL the information.  And, yes, those are the horses and people we saw ride.  Take a look at the videos!  It's a HUGE WOW of a good time.

Yes, there are historic costumes and some Shinto rituals -- and also food stalls, games, music and entertainment.  If you ever get a chance to see this, it's worth it.  I'm going to go again!

The history of Yabusame with VIDEOS!

Ingram Catalog Link is here!

Right here, in fact.  Another post follows with -- woah -- equine related content!

Monday, September 18, 2017

Life on the Floor: 6 - Typhoon!

Don't forget to enter the Giveaway:  just click this  link and off you go!
Amazon Giveaway

My usual experience is that Japanese weather forecasting is good, excellent, even.  Japan likes to know what's going to happen, so that stores can roll out displays of raincoats or snow boots, and umbrellas can pop up for purchase everywhere, like mushrooms, only to be abandoned in outdoor storage racks after the storm has passed.

So we knew, far in advance, that a typhoon was coming.  A friend was traveling last Friday and while her plane was going, it was possible her dive trip might not.  She was going far south, between Kagoshima and Okinawa, to a not terribly remote island by Japanese standards.  And she went.

I found the day cloudy and oppressive, but quiet.  Yet the night brought some wind and long ocean swells.  Surfers loved it!  It was the first sign that indeed a typhoon was on its way.

Saturday was a little windy.  The swells continued.  The surfers had fun.  It started to rain while I walked along the beach, something which has become a habit of mine.  It started to rain about two, spitting off and on, while the surf continued to build, also there still wasn't much wind.  "Tomorrow," people said, predicting increasing wind.

By Sunday morning, I ran out of books and was also out of Intenet, so I had to dig out my duck shoes and walk 1.7 km to the station, where I could download some more at the ubiquitous Starbuck's.  The rain continued.  A little wind picked up and turned my umbrella inside out.

By evening, the rain stopped for a while and my umbrella righted itself in the increasing blow.  I loved it!  Crashing surf!  Crashing surfers!  It felt like the Oregon coast.  I felt right at home.

It rained all Sunday night, with lighting and thunder as the Dragon King reveled.  By Monday morning, it had stopped.  The clouds were gone, but the wind continued.  The sidewalk was an inch deep in the wind's gleanings from the cedar trees above.

Mt. Fuji overlooked a roiling sea, with waves breaking far offshore, and foam blowing streaks.  The heavy wind, now offshore, opposed the sea and surf, perhaps 4 meters high (which is pretty darned high) broke close in sequence several times as it approached the shore.  Sandpipers raced the waves, coming close to the long lenses of intrepid photographers.  I walked a long way past the fishing harbor and beach to reach a rock jetty, where holiday booths served alcohol (people seem to drink a lot here) and snacks, and kids from preschoolers to teens demonstrated their skills on skateboard ramps to live music.  Bicyclists raced down the paved path.  Sunbathers stretched out on damp sand, and the wind carved new edges in the sandy cliffs.

Spray crashed over the tops of the jetties, and only the best and bravest surfers dared the waves.  Looking towards Mt. Fuji, the foam waves obscuring its base, the foam blew seaward off the tops of the waves and shined platinum in the light.

The wind had dropped by evening, a pleasant 12 to 15K, but the long swells continued, bringing out the less expert as I tried to figure out their plans.  They seemed unable to paddle quickly enough to catch the steep waves, and when they did, worked hard to get out to the surf line once more.

At last the remnants of clouds turned pink as the sun set behind the mountain.  The surfers draggled in.  Photographers packed up.  Joyously running dogs and children were corralled and the local loudspeakers -- everywhere in Japan -- announced the closure of parking areas as everyone headed home.

A neighbor had blown the sidewalk clean.

It was quiet.

The typhoon was over.

Monday, September 11, 2017

GIVEAWAY! Enter today and WIN!

No purchase necessary, 10 random winners of The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy THREE BOOK BOX SET.  ENTER TODAY!

Life on the Floor: Playing Charades

It's September, and, as predicted, the national thermostat dropped by ten degrees.  Instead of the 90s, highs are now in the 80s.  In another week, they'll drop to the 70s, and life will be comfortable again.

It's been my experience that if Charades were an Olympic event, Japan would go Gold every single time.  Sure, saying an English word with a Japanese accent often works, but to develop the accent means studying Hiragana and Katakana so you know how an English word would be written in Japanese, plus listening to native speakers so you understand how they pronounce things.  Even after much study, I still need people to pronounce words for me so I can say them correctly.  This particularly applies to place names.  Also, the English word used in Japan might not be the one you're expecting.

But if you're coming on vacation, or coming to study or work and must get settled before you start, Charades are the way to go.  Your hosts are experts!  They will win, and so will you.

Recently, I bought a tea kettle, a proper stainless steel one that whistles!  I love it.  It has a nice black handle on top.  Unfortunately this isn't heat proof, so I needed to buy a potholder.

When I got to the store, Ito Yokado, which is something like a Japanese Target, I couldn't find them.  I realized I had no clue how to ask where they might be.  Sure, I can ask where something is, but what if I don't know the name of the something?

I resorted to Charades.  I pictured a pot and said (in Japanese), "The pot is very hot!"  I stretched out my hand, mimed touching it and said, "HOT!"  I then mimed putting something on my hand and reaching out again, and smiled.  I held out my hand again and said, "Where would I find these?"

The woman smiled.  She knew exactly what I was talking about and led me to the well-concealed display of pot holders and oven mitts.  I asked, "What are these called in Japanese?"

Her smiled broadened.  "Mee-ten" she told me.  So now I know, and so you do, that I ask for a "mitten" pronounced with a Japanese accent when I am looking for a potholder!

Try Charades!  It works.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Life on the Floor: 4 Laundry Day

Very few people in Japan actually own or, if they own, use electric or gas clothes dryers.  People talk about the cost of energy to operate them, and everybody dries things outside.
Houses and apartments have holders on balconies or near side or back doors into which one sticks long poles so they hand horizontally.  From the poles, one hangs clothing on hangers, or on special oval or square racks from which depend clothespins of various sizes to which one attaches small things like underwear, small towels and socks.
Today, the forecast was for cloudy weather and fairly cool temperatures.  Weather forecasts in Japan are usually very accurate, so I'm not the only person who started a load of laundry early.  I also wanted to run a few errands today, while it was cool, because it's going to get hot later in the week.  I thought I'd get the laundry hung, run my errands, and be able get the dry laundry in before dark.
More fool me.  As soon as the washer beeped in completion, it started to sprinkle.  I checked and a revised forecast showed showers on and off all day long.
I hung the damp laundry on hangers and drying racks, and hung those on the curtain rods before the windows.  My idea was that things would start to dry and I'd put them outside when I got back from errand running.
I was also not alone in this.  As I walked up to the station, where all the big stores are, I saw that many people, similarly fooled, had done exactly the same thing, so curtain rods up and down the streets were festooned with drying clothes.
It's now early evening and getting dark.  The clothes still aren't dry.  A couple of hours ago, I went to move everything outside to finish drying before dark.  As soon as I opened the balcony door, it started to rain.
It's still raining.
Tomorrow, predicted to be only partly cloudy, will see mostly dry clothes all over town moving from curtain rods to outside rods where they can finish drying in the sun.  If we're lucky.
I think I want a dryer.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Life on the Floor: 3 End Of Heat

I've previously mentioned the 24 mini-seasons, the seasonal subdivisions, of Japan.  On August 23, we entered End Of Heat, and sure enough, the temperatures are bumping their way down.  The next couple of days will continue hot -- high 80's -- but that's much better than low 90's.  Nights are cooling off.  By next week, temperatures will top out in the high 70's and will drop into the 60's at night.  That will be very pleasant.
Meantime, the beach continues to be the best place around.
I'm watching for Seahawks, also known as Ospreys, but haven't spotted any yet.  Ospreys may appear in Book 5, swirling around in my brain like clouds.
Meanwhile, Book 4 will start a month-long campaign through Books and the Bear, to spread the word about this exciting adventure.
I can't imagine how people existed in the normal Japanese clothing of 1872, much less the clothing the Westerners and the Japanese who followed their lead customarily wore, in this weather.  The humidity's down, and that's a huge relief.  It'll just get better and better.
School starts up again very soon, although neighborhood kids are already engaging in pre-season sports and activities, and the stores abound with fall clothes and fall foods.  I saw chestnuts in the store today!  I love chestnuts, and it's the start of their season.
Following the seasons, especially the mini-seasons, keeps one in touch with crops, with nature, and with the rhythm of life.
Meantime, I'm heading for the beach.  I have a bigger swim float and now a "cloth" (it's striped plastic material) to sit on.  Might as well stock up when everything's on sale.
This is the season of Book 4: Uncle Yuta Has An Adventure.  This would be a great time to start reading it.

Once again, I can't upload pictures.  There are some on the Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy's Facebook page.  I can send them there, but I can't send them here.  Working on it.


Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Life on the Floor:2 Mushi-atsui

The month of August is hot and steamy in Japan.  Humidity is high and so are temperatures.  The Japanese word for this is "mushi-atsui."  At the end of August, which is rapidly approaching, summer is giving a last gasp with temperatures soaring and everybody -- and everything -- dripping.  There's good news, though.  In my experience, on September 1 precisely, the national thermostat will drop ten degrees.  The humidity is already abating (unless it rains, which it is predicted to do a few more times before August mercifully ends.)
The only way to counter this -- besides staying in air-conditioned spaces -- is to go to the beach and that's where I've been going.
The sand is silver, flecked with gold.  The gold flakes rise in the water of the surf, tossing and tumbling in the waves.  The water is warm.  Even though it's early, the water on Chigasaki's south beach is warm with the occasional undercurrent of cool lifted up as the tide recedes.
People bring tent-like shelters to shield them from the pounding sun.  People wear sun-protective swimwear, and though people do swim, most do so in short bursts, preferring to sit in the surf playing with children, floating on various kinds of inflatables and rafts.  Outside the official swimming area, some snorklers look for shellfish and fish around anchored swim tubes.  Further out, the commercial fishing boats circle the islets and reefs in search of the day's catch.
I float, I bask, I enjoy.
Birds circle.  Sea Hawks search for underwater prey.  Is there a character up there?
I'll be back tomorrow.
By the end of next week, the people, I'm told, will vanish as the summer holiday season comes to an official end.

Pictures will follow.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Life on the Floor

Moving halfway across the world is tough.  Getting settled is tougher.  I am having huge internet/computer problems.  The Web isn't really all that World-Wide. Each country has gatekeepers and challenges.  Languages switch (who would have guessed?)  Passwords are rejected, though they were all changed, on demand by the on-line providers, before I left and now neither the new ones nor the old ones work.  Starting over.  Good thing I read some Japanese and am pretty fearless about pressing buttons. I also keep written records, like any and everybody else with sense, and that sometimes helps.  I've been here just over two weeks.  I still like it, despite the frustrations.

I have finally managed to log in here.  I thought it was MAGIC!  And it was.  My Apple products are supposed to cross-reference and keep all my passwords safely.  Not my fault, really.  In The Toki-Girl and Sparrow-Boy's universe, many things operate via magic.  Why should I expect magic to vanish in Japan?  Here in Chigasaki, Apple Magic does not uniformly apply.

It's also tough getting used to life on the floor, not just for a few weeks, but for, if I'm lucky, the foreseeable future.

Traditionally, for reasons covered in The Toki-Girl and Sparrow-Boy books, and others, the Japanese lifestyle is mostly lived on the floor, with things brought out as needed, then stored away for a nice, clean look.  There are tables, and sometimes floor chairs, but even now what furniture there is rests very close to the ground.  In fact, right now, I am sitting in a floor chair, cross-legged, with my computer resting in my lap.

This poses problems for a stiff American.  I'm working at flexibility, because this isn't going to change.  Yes, once my residency visa is approved, I'll buy some furniture, but for now I am staying with a friend and furniture isn't a priority -- she's flexible!  When my visa comes through and I get my own place, furniture will be high on the list.

This move would be much harder on anyone who hadn't spent significant time in Japan and didn't know what to expect.

While I'm neither weeaboo nor Japanophile, Japan remains my quirky and eccentric friend who puts a slightly different spin on the universe than the one Westerners like me are used to.  I like the Japanese way, and I like being and living here.  So far.

Stay tuned, now that I can get in here, for more about life on the floor!

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


As I get ready to leave Seattle for Japan, where I plan to live for the foreseeable future, I am pleased to see that the Internet is setting forth to do things I, living out of a carry-on and freakishly busy, can't manage, I find the first professional review of Book 4 has come in.   And it's a good one!

Here it is:

Title: The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy Book 4: Uncle Yuta has an Adventure
Author: Claire Youmans
Genre: Fiction/General Fiction (including literary and historical)
Audience: Young Adult
Word Count: 72,300
Plot: Youmans seamlessly introduces readers to her characters in this fourth installment of the series. At times, there are seemingly random details and obvious foreshadowing, but overall the author has created a fantastical universe that readers want to learn more about.
Prose: The author's attention to detail, especially concerning food, is remarkable and noteworthy. The concise way chapters end keeps readers engaged. A splash of humor lends a personal tone to the writing.
Originality: The author's inclusion of art and photographs of artifacts is unique and adds credibility to her otherwise fantastical story. The series is reminiscent of other fantasy series, but still manages to feel fresh.
Character Development: Youmans creates realistic and relatable characters that make the book's supernatural elements seem natural. Readers will be engaged by the characters stories and interested in finding out what happens next.
Blurb: Youman's novel will delight fans of art historical fiction and fantasy alike. 
  • Plot/Idea: 7
  • Originality: 7
  • Prose: 8
  • Character/Execution: 8
  • Overall: 7.50
Report Submitted: July 26, 2017

You are welcome to use this Critic’s Report as promotional copy or as a blurb to promote your book. Please note: When attributing quotes from this Critic’s Report, you must credit The BookLife Prize.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

When I was 9... (Getting out of Dodge)

When I was nine, my family spent a summer in Big Bear Lake, California.  I'm not sure why.  My parents hadn't yet bought their house in Cannon Beach, Oregon and we spent several summers in different rented seasonal houses, I suppose while they looked for the best place.  We actually lived in Seattle, so southern California was very far away.

I loved it there.  A lake!  A BIG lake.  Ski areas!  RIGHT there!  Horses!  All year round.  Winter, with snow.  Yay, snow!  Not much rain.  Sunshine, most of the time!  I thought at the time one would be hard-pressed to find a better place to live.

I've been living in Big Bear for almost three years now, and soon, very soon, I will leave.  My nine year old self was quite right.  It's a great place to live.  The climate is just about perfect.  I can see the lake from my desk, and I can launch my kayak with its little sail just about everywhere.  I have had the wonderful privilege of teaching skiing and boating with USARC.  The rewards of adaptive sports are huge.  If you can, see about participating.  Best people in the world.  It's a joy to work with everyone involved.  I will try to find another adaptive program, and should I return, I'll sign up again.

The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series is set in Japan, Meiji-era Japan, to be precise.  The books require incredible quantities of research, and I've done a lot of traveling.  Air travel these days is extremely expensive or uncomfortable, or both -- and I do everything I can to be as comfortable as possible.  On the ground, Japan's public transportation is so good, I would not want a car unless I lived where I had to have one.  

Now, several things came to a head, and I have the chance to go live in Japan for anywhere from three months to forever.  Immigration laws are complex and arcane everywhere, and Japan is certainly no exception.  There is a residency visa I qualify for, according to the immigration attorney I have found, but I have to go in on a tourist visa and apply once there.

So...I am going.

I am sad to leave this wonderful place.  Because of various factors, I have sold my house, and will become officially homeless tomorrow.  But when I return, I can come back here, get another house, or maybe a condo, and return to adaptive sports and watching the lake while I research and write.

I will continue to work on The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series, and I plan to live on an ocean beach not too far from Tokyo.  I will stay with a friend until the residency visa comes through, and then find a place of my own.  I will be close to Nichiren Shoshu's Head Temple, Taiseki-ji, and the compelling force of Buddhism that first drew me to Japan.  The skiing's a little farther away, but that's manageable.  Especially if I can find an adaptive sports program to join.

The books are now sold around the world, and it's possible there may be a Japanese translation in the works.  Except for iTunes, which I can't quite figure out, they're everywhere, and this time, available to bookstores readily through Ingram, which is also global.

Life is good.

Book 4 Links:

Amazon for Kindle and hardcopies:


B & N (Nook) and hardcopies:

Ask your physical retailer and your library to get them:  if you ask, they will!  They're in the Ingram catalog, which they all have.  And please write a review.  If you have a blog or other public forum, contact me directly and you can have a review copy.  Please send links for reviews.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

A wonderful feeling/call for reviewers

It's not right yet, but it is now possible to get The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy Book 4, Uncle Yuta has an Adventure at Amazon.

In Trade Paperback -- hard copy:
TGSB 4 Trade Paperback

In Kindle Format:
TGSB 4 Kindle edition

As you've no doubt noted, getting this book out has been very difficult, and it's not quite done yet.  It'll take a while to appear in Nook, Kobo and iBooks, but it will.  My views on why this continues to be so difficult have previously appeared, and I haven't changed my mind.

Having it actually out and available for review and purchase is an UTTERLY WONDERFUL FEELING, though.  This book looks great!  It's a great story, too.  Please check it out.

I can provide semi-advance review copies IF you have a blog or other public forum in which to review.  Let me know.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Once upon a time...

Once upon a time, the option of independent publishing was a new, bright, shiny good thing.  Part of the reason that was true was the advent of publishing in eformats for ereaders.  That was available through, no surprise, Amazon.   There were also pay-for-play bound book publishers that were truly vanity presses.  Lots of them, generating very few sales.  They are great for their niche markets -- those who want to publish memoirs and poetry, mostly, and realize that their market is very small.

Then CreateSpace came along, from, guess who?, Amazon.  This allowed wider distribution, but again for a niche market, because actual bookstores couldn't order without a lot of fuss and bother that they're not willing to undertake.

Now we have Ingram/Spark, which allows distribution through the Ingram catalog, the one that all retailers have right there.  Of course, their site is un-user-friendly and they charge -- more pay-to-play.  They are reputed to have better physical retailer distribution and better international distribution.

And there are still vast numbers of firms marketing their services, again without real distribution or marketing options.

What to do?

I have no idea.  After spending days trying to deal with Amazon/CS and trying to figure out IS's impossible website, I think I can say The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy, Book 4, Uncle Yuta has an adventure is OUT, and will appear at Kobo, iTunes and all the other eformat retailers at some point.  Soon, I hope.  Kindle Version is here.  The hard copy version should appear linked to it shortly. t Ingram print versions will appear soon.  A physical book store will have their catalog.  I can't find it online.  Maybe you can.

This utter BS is STILL going on.  I now think of publishing any more books (and there will be several just in this series) posthumously and letting my heirs handle all this nonsense.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Uncle Yuta Has An Adventure is OUT -- sort of

This is what they call a "soft launch."  In fact, it's almost mushy.  There's no printing a thousand copies and then sending out a bunch for reviews, do a lot of advertising, and then do a "hard launch" with a lot of publicity and available reviews, and deliveries to brick and mortar stores.

Nope.  Not any more.  It's Print on Demand, so you only get copies once the title is all set up and released, and THEN you can do the other things.  It would be great if it worked.

Ingram/Spark has the title ready to roll.  I've even ordered some copies for August Birthday Week and publicity purposes.  It's quite possible to order a hard copy, and also to get eformats through them or your regular retailer -- though that might take a few days.  The idea is the IS has better international distribution, so getting all e-formats from all distributers should be easy! CreateSpace and Kindle theoretically have the best domestic distribution.

BUT THEY ARE ALL SCREWED UP and I've spent the last hour and a half trying to unscrew it.  We'll know in a couple of days if it is possible to unscrew CS and Kindle, though Kindle e-copies are, I think, best as I can check it, available right now.

SO...this book follows the model of increasing complexity as the characters grow up and move on in life, despite their special abilities and the way those handicap them.  This one is very exciting!  By 1871, things had changed yet again and continued to change on a daily, even hourly basis.  Women's rights, surpressed by the Tokugawa Shogunate, come to the fore.  There is a brand-new passenger train from Yokohama to Tokyo, plus the freight trains used for mining in Kyushu.  Industrialization and the West's fascination with all things Japanese have led to huge industries supplanting artisans, indentured labor and bad, sometimes brutal, treatment of laborers.  The entire economy has changed.  Japan is showing itself able to meet and surpass the West in technology and take its place as an equal on the world stage.

On top of that, the Meiji regime's goal of meeting with the West as an equal leads to a level of national unification never before seen.  The first of several educational conferences entirely reform the educational system to this end, and Yuta-sensei will be there, in the Eastern Capital of Tokyo, now full of Western dressed people, the new jinrickishaws, carriages and even horse-drawn street cars.  So much to see, so much to do.  Confusion, of course, abounds.

Even among the dragons, coping with all the changes in their own lives and their intersection with humans is a hard row to hoe.  Now little yokai appear, little mischief-making beings who want -- what?

Please do read this book.  It's really fun. I hope you can exercise a little patience with the distribution system for a few days.  This era exemplifies that truth can be ever so much stranger than fiction, and so it is also in the way the current publishing system is working -- or not.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Right Place

The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy, Book 4, Uncle Yuta has an Adventure, will be out in a week or so in Kindle Unlimited and shortly thereafter hard copies will be available.  After a term in KU, it'll come out in all eformats via their own sites and Smashwords.  Yes, it's taken a month as of today to get it to this place after submitting for formatting, with new proofreading changes happening constantly, in the secret dark, as my sworn enemy, Auto-carrot, takes steps to make mischief out of my sight.  When the hard copy comes out, there will be another announcement.  I don't know if I posted this poem before, but I found it more or less at random, and it seemed appropriate. 

The Right Place

I want to live with seasons, all four,
Without too much rain, but plenty of snow,
With a summer hot enough to smell the evergreens while
Berrying in the woods, tending the occasional sport fruit tree, and gathering its gifts.

I want it hot enough for a swim and a lemonade, but not hot enough
To call for air conditioning.
Not dripping damp, yet not too dry,
By the ocean, with a harbor to sail, a beach to walk and storms to watch.

I want wood piled high and starlight reflecting off the snow,
While the stove envelops the house in a comforting blanket of warmth,
Cold nipping my nose and ponds freezing over,
A basket of slippers by the boot tray at the door.

I want a sweater in the morning, with golden light and changing leaves,
Nuts to gather from the ground,
And maple trees.
(OK, that may be too much.)

I want to plant a garden in a cheerful blooming spring,
When seedlings sprout under a cold frame dusted with the last of the snow.
A village on the harbor, with everything one needs,
Close enough to walk or bike or ski, without too many hills.

I want enough tourists to keep things interesting, and a
City just a bit inland, not too far, to house the things
That won’t fit picturesquely in a village.
I would fit in there just fine.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Pay to Play/Modern Marketing

The big marketing deal for writers -- now that anybody can dump anything they want into the book marketplace --  is supposed to be to write and give away freebies (always) through many expensive ads in a variety of expensive places (always), paying for reviews (if they offer them) and a mention in their throw-away emails or even snail-mails (if they offer that), and building an email list.  This has been going on for a number of years, and gets bigger and bigger and bigger, with new advertising players entering the market place every day, but as a marketing strategy, does this work?  I am not seeing evidence that it does.

There's always been a huge industry aimed at separating writers from their money.  It's just moved to a new, internet, address.  From what I can tell, this pay to play approach doesn't work very well.  I see so many FB ads about groups that want to "teach" me how to do the exact same things, and build that list.  The goal is no longer reaching your readers and selling books, it's building a mailing list.

I've followed a few groups that sound like they might do something different, something effective, but I have been consistently disappointed.  It's always the same thing.  It's like sending manuscripts to "agents" who charge "reading fees" which results in shilling for very expensive "editorial services" and no real agenting at all, ever, which used to be the marketing scam of choice.  Writers need to resist this and come up with their own ways of building a readership.  This may be the very old fashioned way of continuing to write the best books you can, get them out as best you can and trust time and the quality of your work to build readership over time.

I see in the groups and ads so many people saying they've done everything they are supposed to, and they still aren't getting a good "ROI" on their investments in advertising.  In other words, there is little to no connection I can find between the effort and money the writers are putting out and actual sales.  It's not enough to justify me dumping thousands of dollars and inordinate amounts of time into somebody's wishing well based on nothing but hope and prayer.

The only curation I see going on is based on the ability and desire to pay to play.  This is a huge part of the problem.  There're a lot of very badly written books out there.  This lack of curation defeats the supposed purpose of these marketers.  There's simply too much out there, and there is no curation.  It's hard to find the good books, though they're out there.  Only the ones written by people with deep pockets get exposure.  Eformat publishing removed the gatekeepers.  That system was very flawed, controlled by connections and little more, but we're now in a period of chaos.  There's no curation; there are no gatekeepers to keep us from being deluged with garbage.

I'm afraid that time will be the only solution, as opportunists will run out of suckers and actual gatekeepers will once again appear.  We're in a period of evolution.  We need to find a way to separate the wheat from the chaff, of establishing and seeking out curators we can trust to tell us what's good based on something more than how much they're getting paid to say it.

We need to start loving the gatekeeper.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Mountain Seasons

A haiku on spring in the mountains.

The lilacs now bloom;
My house full of fragrance.
It's going to snow.

Book 4, Uncle Yuta has an Adventure, is off to the formatter, for what we used to called typesetting.  The illustrations are ready, the glossary's done, and it's going to be another lovely book, full of action and adventure in a society careening towards the 20th century.

It'll be out in mid-June, and Book 5 is already swirling in my head.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Uncle Yuta has an Adventure -- Photography

Book 4 in the Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series is in the FINAL stages of construction.  Right now I'm searching for illustrations, and have come upon a surprising development:  Photography!

With the advent of photography, woodblock printing didn't go out, exactly.  In fact, modern artists make prints to this day.  They're very different from the playbills, portraits of actors in roles, senic views and nature folios that went before.  Myth and folklore seemed to vanish as subjects, when there was so very much innovation to portray!

Change came with the foreigners in 1858, and by 1871, when Book 4 more or less takes place, Japanese innovators had started using analine inks to create Yokohama-e prints, which are brilliant to the point of harshness, and also full of life and innovation as Japan lurched forward into its embrace with the West.  Folklore and secenery fell by the wayside as technology surged.

Further change came with the introduction of photography, both by foreigners for historical and journalistic records, and by Japanese people themselves, as everybody explored this new medium.

This makes illustrations a little hard to come by!  I've seen photographs of the Empress Shoken in a Western Dress visiting a silk factory.  (I've also seen the actual dress; she was tiny as well as tough!)  I've seen photographs of people harvesting nori and making bricks in Shinagawa.  These photographs are in museum collections and not available on-line for public use.  Many photographs are public domain, however, yet they're often not easy to view due to fragility and age, and few subjects have been preserved.

This photograph is a colorized image of women working at a silk mill.  The Empress -- and the smiles -- are nowhere in sight.

I very much prefer the prints also though those will by stylized.  I've found some good representative ones, though, especially among the Yokohama-e!  Things changed so fast!

Saturday, April 15, 2017

A new season! A new book!

Spring has finally spring.  The ski areas are closed and the lakes are open!  I have to get the new annual permit for my kayak.

The local Dollar Store sells solar lights for a dollar each.  About half of the ones I use stop working each year.  I got the new ones in place yesterday.  The Thundercloud plum is blooming and I have planted Snow Peas.  The needles are raked up and the house looks good.
Now we wait until the second week of May to plant most garden crops.  It's still too cold at night, but right around 60F for daytime highs.  Great for hiking and boating, but not swimming yet!

While I wait, I am right into production mode for Uncle Yuta has an Adventure, Book 4 in The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy series.  I am proofreading again, and touching up usage as I extract Japanese words for a glossary.  At the same time I'm selecting illustrations.  I'll write the back cover and other front and back matter, and put it all together before it goes to the Formatter, then copy editing, and then...IT WILL BE OUT!

This series grows in complexity as the characters grow up.  While Book 1 is short and simple, each book increases in length, the issues become more complex as the times change at breakneck speed.  This latest book was so much fun to research and write!  I know you'll enjoy it.