Thursday, June 24, 2021

Record-keeping in Japan

 Japan does things in its own way, in its own time, and according to its own understanding, which isn't always the same as anybody else's.

Take names. I am ヨーマンズ クレラ, which roughly reads Youmanzu Kurera, since Japanese simply cannot do Claire and barely manages Klara.  It does Youmans just fine, though, and since I'd normally be called Ms. Youmans in English, as I am old and dignified, I am very happy to be Youmans-san. 

But in the Meiji-era, few people had surnames. Even the upper classes barely had them, mostly using clan affiliations on official records only. My main characters have the family name of Maeda, because they are samurai and can trace their ancestry back to Sugawara Michizane, though through a great many twists and turns. They keep track of the connection though, because it's an illustrious one and sometimes that is useful. Anyway, comprehensive and accurate records are very important!

When the Westerners came, all of them with surnames except the very highest born who had titles instead, Japan decided everybody needed to adopt a surname and reorganize their family registers, the most official of which were kept by local Temples, then Shrines and, later, the civil authorities.

For most people, it was easy to make something up. They used an occupational name, a place name, or picked something that signified good fortune, sometimes at the suggestion of the Shrine priests. For others, as we see in The Shadows of War, it was a little harder as the characters in question wanted names that spoke to them and signified their personal heritage. 

But Japan still keeps track in what strikes me as rather odd ways sometimes. Yesterday, I received Mystery Mail from JP Bank. What it wanted, I discovered, was to update my zairyu, or resident, card, and to discover what I do with the money that comes into and goes out of my account. It had a QR code so I could fill out the form from my phone and a website where I could do it on line.

Mystery Mail

Neither one actually worked, though I tried many times yesterday, last night and again today. So I toddled off to the nearest Post Office, home of Japan Post Bank's branches. They know me there and are very, very kind to an often confused foreigner.

The staff was devastated to discover that the QR code and website wouldn't work, not even for them, but whipped out a paper form that, with a little guidance here and there, I was able to fill out and all was well. "Pay regular bills" was one of the boxes to check to describe one's use for the account, which I found very funny. Mostly the bank was concerned that I reassure it I wouldn't be funding terrorists or sending huge amounts of money overseas to various persons other than "Family" on an irregular basis. Why the bank would take my word for this is unknown, but that's what it wanted to hear. 

The staff was so devastated to have put me to the trouble of walking a few blocks that they dug into their stash of customer gifts and gave me...

 ...a yellow dishcloth.  Which I do appreciate.

 Yesterday, on the train, I read an article about various kinds of Lemon Sour drinks, for which it is now the season. They're kind of like a lemon squash with a low alcohol content. I decided I'd appreciate one of those at least as much as the dishcloth, so I got one of those, too.

 And now, an hour later, I am all up to date on bank record-keeping: another mysterious adventure of everyday life in Japan.

Friday, June 18, 2021


The first reviews for The Shadows of War are starting to trickle in. They are slow in coming, but I am so glad to see them. They're all great!

It makes me very happy when I discover that people actually like my books. Right now, I want to move into the next book, researching and traveling, imagining and dreaming.

But there is more to it than that.

Book marketing isn't simple anymore. It's nothing like what it was when I first started publishing books. Your publisher does't just create an ad and pay for its placement — oh, no. It's like a lottery now, where you bid varying amounts and hope you're paying enough to win placement, somewhere, and you pay more for better placement, but you don't know what you've won, if anything, until you get the bill. Surprise!

Then there is the dreaded algorithim. That is what decides if you get any placement at all, and when and where. This is all irrespective of what your advertisting people have "bid" or even paid for. Much of it, now, depends on marketing you have done for yourself. That is all about sales, sure, but also, first, about REVIEWS.

So I, as I writer, can't just have marketing people who magically go around creating and placing ads, which will generate sales and generate reviews, which will, one hopes, generate more sales and more reviews, and happy readers reading and a happy writer writing.

Now, I as a writer have to produce, specifically, reviews before the marketing people and the evil algorithim will even notice my books. 

So if you notice me down on my knees begging you to please write that review on the retailer of your choice, this is why. I want to get out there working on the next one. 

Thank you so very much for doing this! I appreciate it more than I can say. I am also thrilled when you enjoy my books, and thrilled to be able to keep going!

Saturday, June 12, 2021

When it becomes real...

    Even though I know it's out, when the ARC copies are in the hands of readers and editorial reviewers, and contributor copies have sent, there's something wonderful that happens when my author copies arrive.

    It's fresh and wonderful every single time I see the latest book in the Toki-Girl and Sparrow-Boy series in full, physical, realized form. 

    I can hold it in my hands, flip through the pages, see it on my bookshelves, read the words on actual printed pages and realize that my editor was, yes, absolutely right about a formatting decision she made that I was unsure of. 

    The artistry of the cover comes alive as I see it in real life, with the blades and arrows in the model's hair, and I notice details I didn't when I looked at digital images. 

    The Shadows of War. It's out, in concrete form. 

    It feels real at last.  

    Buy it at your favorite retailer:

The Shadows of War on Amazon

And just about everywhere else.

Monday, June 7, 2021

The ocean in the rain....

In celebration of Vaccine, Part 1, I decided to visit a part of the coast I have been to before, but with a slightly different agenda in mind. I got my Shinkansen reservation early, using a program that makes Green Car cost the same as Ordinary, if you meet certain criteria -- and I made sure I did. I had a Tozan pilgrimage set up for Saturday and Sunday, something I aim for every month, so I thought I'd go down a day early, on  Friday, and spend that day in Mishima and Numazu.

Mishima, surprisingly, isn't actually on the coast. Numazu was its port city. Both are on the Old Tokaido Highway. Mishima is a stop for the Tokaido Shinkansen and both it and Numazu are on the Tokaido Main Line, which meant -- trainwise -- I could make this a convenient little jaunt, hopping off the Shinkansen at Mishima, taking the Tokaido line to Numazu, fooling around in Numazu and then getting the Tokaido line on to Fuji, seeing a bit of the coast I wanted to explore. Shin-fuji station, for the Shinkansen, and my usual hotel (since we can't stay on Temple grounds right now) are just a short bus ride from Fuji station. And, since it's Japan, if all else fails, there is always a cab.

Before, when I went to Numazu, I took a long boat ride around Suruga Bay. It's huge. It's at the foot of Mount Fuji, very extensive and incredibly deep, up to about 7500 feet.  It also features in The Shadows of War. So, certainly I wanted to do that again! I am always up for a boat ride. In addition, there are a couple of interesting museums in Mishima and there's an aquarium in Numazu.

Weather intervened. It rained. Not only that but it poured! I couldn't for the life of me find a bank of coin lockers or a checkroom in which to stash my bag in Mishima station while I ventured out to the museums. While I could have taken a local train to within a few blocks of the most interesting one, I wasn't going to do so in the pouring-buckets-turn-your-umbrella-inside-out storm lashing about outside while hauling a suitcase. Even a small one. 

Instead, I went straight to Numazu, a ten minute ride away, where I found the coin lockers easily and the bus to Numazu-ko (port) readily accessible. However, I was reminded again that Japan can be difficult at times, especially outside major metropolitan areas. In Tokyo, I use my Suica card for all sorts of minor things, like local train fares, buses, coin lockers, convenience stores, vending machines.  I don't keep change. It's heavy! But here, not only did the locker demand change, there was no change machine. A local Family Mart was accommodating and apparently used to it. I also picked up enough change for the bus. 

It was very windy but not too rainy then, though rain would return with torrential abandon just when I was ready to return. The boats were not running, and I don't blame them. It was certainly too windy and nasty for small craft to be noodling about unless their services were essential. One of the boats is a ferry, but it wasn't going anywhere, either. A bus goes to the same destinations; it just takes longer.

Many people don't like aquariums. That's understandable when many are purely entertainment venues. But in Japan, the ones I have seen are research facilities that maintain exhibits to educate the public on their missions and provide some funding for their projects. Everything's very well done and the animals beautifully cared for. The Deep Sea Aquarium in Numazu is one such facility, taking advantage of its location to plumb the enormous depths of Suruga Bay to learn more about the Bay and those who live there, and even discover new species, one as recently as January, 2021.

They also have a specialty in coelacanths, though to be long extinct, discovered in 1938 to still exist by Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer, a South African museum curator who was called to look at the by-catch of a commercial fishing vessel. She knew she was seeing something extraordinary, and made sure it was called to the attention of the world scientific community. Since then, humans have discovered this fish to be happily living and swimming (there are even films!) off the coast of Africa to this day. Why Japan became so intensely involved, I do not know, but they certainly are and their research program is remarkably well outlined and explained. 

The exhibit tanks replicate the environments the creatures come from, including low light conditions when appropriate. Flash photography is not permitted and in some areas no photography is possible at all.

This pretty little crab lives just about everywhere. They have the enormous Spider Crabs, and others, too.

Why, yes, that is a fish.

The staff take excellent care of exhibits. Here, an octopus was getting lunch.

Seahorses, because, well, seahorses.

I love the little sand eels. They are so cute and smart and responsive. They also make great mascots and appear on every imaginable bit of merchandise, including appropriately curved body pillows.

Here is Professor Coelacanth. Can you see his glasses? All the real stuffed, dried and even frozen specimens were amazing, but in containers that reflected light and could not be photographed. 

Many of the specimens on display are obtained as by-catch from commercial fishing boats, especially deep water ones. They try to keep any such specimens alive, take care of them and keep them in a good, happy environment to study them. Look up the Flapjack Octopus. They're so darned cute the aquarium is desperate to exhibit them, and continue work on creating an environment for them, as they are a deeper water species. They do not go looking for them but study them as best they can when they turn up. You can buy plush ones (at least 5 sizes), a T-shirt, key chains, hats, towels, paper goods (I succumbed to a notepad), refrigerator magnets and goodness knows what all else. The staff say that they rotate the exhibits, so no individuals have to deal with human observers too much. But not the Flapjack Octopus. The one you'll see in a tank is a model.

This is the new species discovered in January of 2021 in Suruga Bay. 

Since this is Japan, we have a lighted, LEGO, Colecanth. Just because. 


Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Moving on, efficiently: Vaccine, Part 1

    I got Vaccine, Part 1, yesterday , June 2, 2021, at the SDF (Military) mass vaccination facility in Otemachi — near the palace, not far from Tokyo station — yesterday. Part 2, scheduled while you're waiting under observation to make sure you don't have any untoward reactions, is set for July 5. They're doing a 4 week (or so) interval, and this was the first opening offered me, and it's fine with me. It means it'll be mid-summer, as in mid-July and well into Steam Bath Summer before I am fully protected by the vaccine, but it's the soonest I could and can arrange it. 
    After an extremely slow start, Japan seems to have got their act together in a massive push of blinding efficiency. In Tokyo, they're running 10,000 people a day through this ONE facility, and while it's efficient, it does not feel rushed, and it does not feel crowded due to superb organization of all comers into small groups. There is surprisingly little waiting.
    There are staff members about every 20 feet at at every "somebody could take a wrong turn" point. There are hand sanitizer stations everywhere, and people to make sure you use them.  I don't know how many staffers are in the military -- they aren't wearing uniforms, just identifying day-glow vests. Actual medical people are in official white medical costumes, presumably so everyone will know who they are. There are people holding up signs and pointing the way everywhere. There's a convenient shuttle bus to and from Tokyo Station, and you can walk to a couple of Metro stations if they're more convenient. You can actually walk to Tokyo or Kanda JR stations, if you want, but it's about 15 minutes. My Japanese continues to improve, of course, and of course there was no English (etc.) There really aren't many gaijin around. But even if I couldn't read a little, plus ask and answer questions pretty well in Japanese, it would not be confusing. It is that well organized. 

    I got in as a priority group 2 person because I am officially old. Like every other senior in Tokyo, I had my computer and phone ready the instant they opened up the first batch of appointments. That first batch, for last week, were gone in less than half an hour. I managed to get through in the first five minutes when they opened for appointments this week, and nabbed one. Who says old people don't/can't use tech? 

    Suddenly, from there being no vaccines for anybody hardly at all, over the next couple of weeks, it's going to become vaccines for nearly everybody, darned near everywhere. More and more venues are opening, including more mass vaccination sites and local clinics and hospitals. More and more people -- all adults and soon teens -- are eligible. 

    This bodes well for Japan opening its borders to travelers fairly soon. I suppose "vaccine passports" for entry are a possibility, though I haven't heard anything yet. Students and workers will be able to come. Commerce will resume. It'll be fast, comparably, but it will still take a while.

    I don't see how they're going to achieve mass vaccination in time for the Olympics and open the borders to anyone but participants, staff, officials and media (who have a special program for immediate vaccination going now, too.) I got in very early due to my priority status and my persistence, but I still won't be considered fully vaccinated (both does plus a couple of weeks is what I have heard) until the very week the Olympics are supposed to start. So far, they want to persist, without live spectators but with much -- and no doubt excellent -- media coverage. From a Buddhist perspective, this will mean overseas members, who come on tourist visas, will be able to come for the Tozan pilgrimage. Not today, and not tomorrow, but it is going to happen. Soon.  

And some photos from the garden at Myokoji. Just because.