Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Attaching pictures here

I can't get them to the Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy's Facebook page, but they're on mine.  I am also working on getting them right here.  Let's hope it works!  Ueno castle, ninja working wear, a deer who knows where to find food at the source, a tiny shrine on the grounds of Kasuga Taisha shrine, and the main hall at Todaiji.

Maddeningly, I can't get to other photos of this trip. Try MY FB page if you want to see the Daibutsu's Giant Hands, the Shrine drums, and my snack at the Todaiji museum.  Frustrating, this.

Nara, World Heritage Sites, Tourist Temples and dinner!

Nara, definitely worth a visit, has almost as many World Heritage Sites as it has of its famous bowing, and sometimes pushy, deer. One nibbled at my teal L.L.Bean parka and also tried for a bite of my Louis Vuitton purse.  It got its nose slapped for its trouble.  Only polite deer get Shika Senbei -the special nutritious and tasty deer crackers, which are all they are supposed to be fed.
The deer are highly protected as they are said to originate from a particular famous white deer who bore a kami from Kashima Shrine to the new Kasuga Shine, founded by the Fujiwara family in the 8th Century.  The shrine is still there, still operating, and is not only a World Heritage Site, but home to many national treasures, continuing important Shinto Ceremonies and an interesting museum.  This had a display of swords when I visited it.  The swords were listed by the maker of the blade when the blade was signed.  One, a national treasure, was listed as the property of the principle kami of the shrine, who presumably was not displeased at its display.  There was also a modern replica of one sword located during excavations, displayed next to the original.  It was gorgeous, with gems and mother of pearl on the scabbard and hilt, and of course a blade that can only be called a work of art.
There are also two gigantic taiko, one Phoenix and one Dragon, male and female, used in a ceremony in which the kami is transferred from one shine to another, at night, annually.
This being Japan, there is a well-made video of this ceremony, which beats standing out in the cold, and perhaps rain, to watch in person.  The original drums, though beautifully preserved and maintained, are now housed in the museum, and replicas are used in the ceremony.
Horyji temple includes the oldest wooden buildings in the world, dating from the early 8th Century, though it was founded in 607.  It is amazing to see the methods of construction, still used today.
In Japan, things are often closed on Mondays, including Christmas Day, which is not a holiday in Japan and generally not celebrated.  There are few Christians in Japan, and Santa, bearing fried chicken, wears thin, with Christmas vanishing overnight as the big build up to New Year's, Japan's seasonal holiday period, begins.  This was true of a number of museums that were on my list.  The National Museum was closed, to reopen January 1 with a new exhibit, for example.
Kofukuji was open, though its museum was similarly closed, and the main structure was enveloped in a superstructure to allow for renovation of this historically significant building in a protected environment.
Todaiji is the Big One.  It has what it claims is the largest temple entry gate in Japan.  I could be wrong, but Taisekiji's Sanmon is very nearly as large and of similar construction.  Todaiji's is unpainted wood, and crowded with tourists and deer.  The big attraction is the largest wooden building in the world; though it used to be larger and was reduced by one-third at its last reconstruction, it is still the record holder.  This is the home of the enormous Daibutsu, a statue of Shakyamuni, flanked by huge statues of Kannon and (I think) Amida.  This temple was founded in the 700s.  One of its museums was closed for a new exhibit, but the other was open, and out front are full-sized replicas of the hands of the Daibutsu.  The museum cafe offers very good traditional snacks.  I had o-cha and tiny lotus root buns.  Excellent!
The actual temple is filled with not only altars and a very few people trying to actually practice some form of Buddhism but also with souvenir shops (want a deer hat?  A t-shirt?), amulet sellers and fortune tellers, all wearing a Todaiji uniform.  It was impossible to tell if they were clergy or not.
To me it is very sad to see what I think of as "Tourist Temples," which are primarily viewed as places of historic significance with no actual relevance today.  Yes, it's nice to see all the tourists (mainly Chinese, from the language -- Christmas is an ordinary workday in Japan; the holidays come after New Year's) admiring the beauty, but it seems to me the purpose of the temples has been lost.  Taisekiji, home of Nichiren Shoshu Buddhism, is not only historic but contains important historic buildings and is also the home of an active and vibrant world religion with a consistent and singular practice since its founding.  No admission is charged, and while thousands and thousands of people visit every year, Taisekiji is not set up as a tourist attraction. Rather, it clings to the actual purpose of a Buddhist temple -- to teach Buddhism and help people attain enlightenment.
In Nara, I also visited Gangoji, which is the oldest Buddhist Temple in Japan.  Timbers and roof tiles have been dated to 588CE.  It was originally located in Asuka but was moved in 710 when the capital of Japan was moved to Nara.  Although this World Heritage site charges admission, it is also attached to a monastery where nuns and monks study and practice several forms of Buddhism, which is something I found rather confusing, but at least it felt like a working temple, and neighborhood people dropped in to pay their respects; it was not crammed with cell-phone bearing tourists and felt peaceful and nice, if confused.  It is clearly a rich temple; the buildings, gardens and grounds are beautifully kept, the museum is very good, and it is attached to the Ganjoji Research Institute for Cultural Property, which studies the various artifacts owned by the Temple and other historic sites in Nara.  One can see x-rays of early statues of Prince Shotoku, responsible for bringing Buddhism to Japan somewhere between 538 to 552CE.  The dates vary by source, but that was very long ago.  Because of this connection, the museum was very interesting.
It's hard to be a vegetarian in Japan, because dashi (fish stock) is everywhere, and I can't eat it.  But I passed a ten-don place on the way back to the station that offered vegetable ten (tempura) don (served over rice in a bowl) and I was hungry, so I stopped for dinner.  After a couple of false starts, the chefs managed to produce a delicious selection of vegetable tempura and a small jug of sake, accompanied by an irregular sauce that did not include dashi.  It was great and I was full!
I barely scratched the surface of Nara.  I've been before, and I want to return to see even more of Japan's early history and culture, carefully preserved.
Photos are still troublesome.  Please check The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy's Facebook page for those.  I think I can get them there.

The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy's Facebook Page

This is the main hall at Todaiji.

Trains, Ninja and Basho

Trains in Japan range from the fantastically fast Nozomi Shinkansen (2 hours and 10 minutes from central Kyoto to Shinagawa in Tokyo -- YES!  I got to ride it!) to funky little tourist trains like the one that takes you to Uenoshi station, location of Iga-ryu, on the Iga-Tanabe line.

Iga-ryu is where the largest and most famous ninja museum and show are held.  The train is a few cars, colorfully painted with ninja symbolism.  One is blue, the other pink.  I have a photo but am still having problems I can't seem to solve in uploading them here.  Please check The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy's Facebook page.  I can get them there.  Mostly.
This train runs through a mountain range with rivers, campgrounds and fishing lodges as well as rice paddies and gardens, all small, and forests.  Then it descends into a large valley, where Ueno castle  rises above the plains and Iga-ryu is contained within the grounds.

Tips for navigating castles:  they are tall.  There are many stairs.  They are steep.
If you have a tendency to vertigo or wear progressive glasses, take the glasses off so you can see the stairs clearly when descending, and you might want to try going down backwards or sideways.  The views from the top are usually worth the effort.

When regarded strategically, Japanese castles are exceptionally difficult to attack, as they are positioned on high ground, with steep walls, often have moats, and have narrow entries.  Only a guerrilla force of stealth fighters could climb the walls to attack from within.

This maybe why this ninja center is so close.

However, the preferred method of attacking castles was to infiltrate a kunoichi -- a term specific for female ninja -- into the castle so that she can simply open a door.

Basho is a famous, probably the most famous, haiku poet ever.  He wandered the country writing poetry, much of which is preserved, and which serves as not only good reading material but also as a model for many students of haiku.  Though simple, just 17 syllables arranged in lines of 5-7-5, there are rules for constructing this kind of poetry.  There should be a natural image, and it should evoke and emotion.  It's not just any 17 syllables.

Basho was born right in the confines of what is now Ueno park, and his home is preserved as a museum.  Unfortunately, I don't read kanji well enough to truly appreciate the poetry in its original form but I definitely appreciate the translations.  I like formal poetry, and I often write haiku, so this was a treat!

Ueno is a word often seen in Japan.  It means "above the field," so it is a location that often occurs. These locations often back on hilly woods or mountains, so they are good places to build defensive structures like castles.  Ueno-jo is worth the trip, as is the rest of the day-long experience.

Including riding, as I did, local trains in a great circle route all around the area.  If you like trains, and I do, this is a fun way to get there.

The Toki-Girl and the Sparrow-Boy's Facebook Page

Thursday, December 14, 2017



 This is a French word that means a little extra, like that 13th doughnut in a bakers' dozen.  I got one today.

Since I have been in Japan (5 months, almost, now) I have been wanting a veggie burger.  Oh, they have meat burgers, but I don't eat meat, so what am I to do?

I have been too darned lazy to make my own from scratch.  They don't seem to exist in the frozen department of any grocery store.  Freshness Burger appeared to advertise one (I only got a glimpse) but on investigation, failed me.

Today, I hopped off the bus in front of Ootorijinja, the big Shinto Shrine at the corner of Yamate-dori and Meguro-dori.  It's the closest stop to the Cupboard Over the Stairs.

Sometimes, in Buddhism, we get a little conspicuous benefit or reward for practice.  I have heard these called "cookie" benefits, like the universe gives you a cookie for being good.

There is a Mos Burger on that corner by the bus stop and for no good reason I stopped to look at the menu.  Something said "YASAI" (dammit, auto-carrot, I know what I want to say) burger (yasai means vegetable) so I thought I would go in and inquire.


I'll take it.  And have one for dinner tomorrow.


Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Only in Japan!

I'm too much of an Old Japan Hand to have many of the usual "only in Japan" moments.  I had one today, and it's had me laughing for the past couple of hours.

In years past, when in Tokyo I have stayed in Shinagawa, so I could easily attend Myokoji, the Nichiren Shoshu Temple that's been my temple in Tokyo for over 25 years.  This has meant that going to and from the Nichiren Shoshu Head Temple of Taisekiji was most easily accomplished by Shinkansen between Shinagawa Station and Shin-Fuji station, with a cheap bus or expensive cab connecting the dots between the train and the Temple.

There is a direct bus service, called the Yakisoba Bus, between Taisekiji and Tokyo Station.  It's not expensive and many people love it.  It hasn't been convenient for me and the one time I tried it, it killed my back, so I never did it again, no matter how frantically it was urged upon me.

But I've moved.  I'm quite close to Myokoji, by a single quick bus, and I could even walk, if I felt like a half-hour hike.  I'm attending Myokoji a couple of times a week, and liking the convenience of this very nice neighborhood.

I'm making the pilgrimage to Taisekiji this weekend, and as I may have mentioned, I've been sick.  I'm on the mend, but trying to put together the transportation has been too complicated for my weakened brain.  Once I realized that attending Myokoji for morning Gongyo (services) before leaving this Saturday morning was simply not a good idea, the network of buses, cabs and trains I'd put together was not going to work very well.

I thought about the Yakisoba Bus.  One telephones for a reservation.  Yesterday, I tried.  And tried. And tried.  The call went through each time and I was informed, by a recording in Japanese, that I had reached the JR East Bus Reservation Center.  Hurray!  It then asked me if I wanted to make a reservation.  I most certainly did.  However, it did NOT say they were closed Wednesday.  It did NOT say that the office was closed at this time (and I made sure I was calling in hours).  It did NOT say "Press 1 for English."  Nor did it tell me HOW to make said reservation.  It merely started over.

So, after asking a friend who has given up and treks over to Tokyo station to make her reservations in person, I thought I would ask for help.

I went to Myokoji and after evening Gongyo (service) and some power shodai (practice), I asked the college-aged priests at the front desk for help.  Nichiren Shoshu's seminary college is in Tokyo, so Temples in Tokyo are full of delightful young priests more than eager to help.  They were.

It took an HOUR of diligent telephonic effort on their part, followed by a trip to the closest 7-11 (what can't it do?) on mine where the nice young clerk was happy, based on the reservation number, to sell me the actual tickets!  I returned to the Temple to show the wonderfully helpful young priests -- who admitted that this was a difficult process even for them -- that VICTORY WAS OURS!  I had bus tickets!

🚌 🎟

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Moving to Meguro -- Black Cats RULE!

I now live in the Cupboard Over the Stairs, an apartment roughly the size of a walk-in closet in any American suburban house.  I think it's just a hair larger than the broom closet (yes, it was really a broom closet) in London that sold for over a million pounds quite a long time ago.

It was easy to move:  I called KuronekoYamato transport company.  Their logo is a black cat carrying a kitten, which has proven so popular that it's now incorporated into their name, kuro being black and neko being cat.  I packed the things, they came and got them at the promised time, loaded them into a mini-containerette and they vanished, in the space of some 15 minutes, to reappear when and where I wanted them.  It was cheap, too.  Black cats ROCK!

A Butsudan is a Buddhist altar.  They come in all sizes and range from simple to fancy.  Often, the Butsudan itself (where the object of practice resides) is quite small, and everything else that encompasses an alter must be incorporated through the use of other pieces of furniture.  Sometimes everything comes in matching sets, but it's several pieces of furniture. can get an all in one unit.  The one I ordered is cabinet style, about as tall as I am.  Closed, it is a tall cabinet. Open, there is the actual Butsudan, with doors, and all the shelves, some of which pull out, to make the complete set in one tidy package.  Mine is ebony.  It is lovely.  It fits in the World's Smallest Apartment nicely and looks elegant and respectful.  I wish I was a decent photographer, but I'm not.  Imagination is a wonderful thing.

The maker shipped it via KuronekoYamato.  It was to arrive the same day as the rest of my things.  Imagine my surprise when both the Butsudan and the mini-containerette arrived together, on the very same truck!  Black cats RULE!

When Japan does things right, they are superbly right.

I wish I could upload a picture!

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

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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.