“Mono no aware”

Japan changed me. In a bad way. If you had told college-aged Ouisar-san that she would skip her daily afternoon nap in order to take pictures of a flower field, I would have instructed you to put down the crack pipe. But it happened. Twice.

The first time I drug along a bribed participant, my step-sister, called Lil’ Yale. She’s about fifteen years younger than I am and whether or not it’s a good idea, tends to be game for just about anything. I’ve been dragging her around for several decades, but thus far she hasn’t realized “no” is an option. Only a big sister’s muscle would get a little sister to pay $20 for a hillbilly ride behind a tractor, driven by a faux farmer, to look at flowers.

I was caught in the spirit of “Mono no aware,” the Japanese concept that translates as “the pathos of things.” Enjoying and appreciating something that won’t last forever. In the US, we are most familiar with this term when it’s pumpkin season at Starbucks. Pumpkin spiced lattes, pumpkin frappucinos, and cream cheese stuffed pumpkin muffins turn Americans orange, the hue of our current president.

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When I coerced Lil’ Yale in to visiting the Carlsbad Flower Fields in California, it was a cloudy and cold day but the flowers were in full bloom and they were stunning. Lil’ Yale won’t let me post any of the pictures of her with arms upraised to the sky, her back to the camera, in full on Instagram pose mode.

She’s somewhere in the sweet pea maze below. It took her a full 60 seconds to find her way out. I’m convinced she cheated. I think she actually saw the awning of the strawberry tent in the distance and hurdled the “walls” of sweet pea plants to be first in line for strawberry shortcake. (Strawberries are grown in an adjacent field)

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The Pacific is a gasp-inspiring backdrop to the ranunculus flowers. The Carlsbad flower fields were started in the early 1900’s with just two colors. Now after generations of mutations, there are at least fifty different shades.

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A few delphinium for diversity.

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April and May are the prettiest months for flowers in California and the weather is perfect. Don’t tell. IMG_6778

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It’s That Time of Year Again- Cherry Blossom Season

My annual emergence from MIA status usually coincides with Cherry Blossom Season, also known more commonly as Easter Season. Inspired by the fleeting nature of the cherry blossoms, sakura, and the boisterous celebrations of hanami – cherry blossom viewing- in Japan, I have to add my pics to the pile. The sakura season gives everyone an excuse to send the low man on the totem pole from the office to the park with a blue tarp in order to save a spot for everyone else. Eventually the rest of the gang will show up with food and drinks for a picnic under the blooms.

The Japanese have a phrase for these short-lived bursts of something like the two to three-week cherry blossom season- mono no aware, or “the pathos of things.” An awareness and appreciation for something’s impermanence along with the vaguely sad feeling of knowing won’t be around for long. For those of you who don’t get a kick out of flowers and trees, you may feel the same thing when your grown kids come home- it’s great to see them come, and, it’s sad to see them leave. Well, at least until  the grocery bill drops back to affordable and you’re not having to gas up the car every day. (Offspring #1 and 2— are you reading? If so, JK, I cry my eyes out every day that you’re gone- and your Dad cries harder)

So, for those of us who aren’t surrounded by a Dayger opportunity (i.e. daytime rager, big party during the day) following are a few pics and a link to a newspaper article with amazing shots. I thought the Indiana Times had a nice round up of pics we’re not used to seeing. (My friend Emil has made more aware of taking the “usual touristy pictures,”  and these from Indiana Times are a more unique view.) Emiel’s blog and pics are at https://www.actoftraveling.com/

https://www.indiatimes.com/culture/travel/yes-it-s-that-time-of-the-year-again-check-out-gorgeous-pictures-of-cherry-blossoms-in-japan-342331.html

I’m feeling a little “mono no aware” that I’m not sitting on a blue tarp, underneath a cherry tree in Yoyogi Park, fighting the pterodactyl sized- crows for my sembei crackers, dried squid, and sparkling sake!

Have a great weekend no matter what you’re celebrating!

The Ubiquitous picture from Meguro

 

Any Cheap Trick Fans out there? This is “Budokan” from the so named album. Some of you may recognize this as the moat surrounding the Imperial Palace in Tokyo….

 

Hanami in Yoyogi Park

 

 

 

 

 

Some of the best Cherry Blossoms- sakura- are in the Aoyama Cemetery in central Tokyo

 

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Politics as Usual- Always Stange and Getting Stanger

I voted. But this time, I voted on things I never thought I`d consider thirty years ago. And it just continues to be as strange as it always has been.

My own experience with politics has become progressively more absurd.

Growing up in a small town, we did things that most kids don`t do. We thought it was normal to swim in the pool at the governor`s mansion during the summer. I wasn`t special and my family wasn`t politically connected. We all knew that family. Later, we all went to college together. In those days, there were two choices; The college close to town or the one North of town a couple of hours. Two of the Jewish kids and one really smart guy went to Vanderbilt but no one understood why they did that.

My best friend and room-mate during our freshman year was political royalty.  I got a call from the front desk of the dorm asking for my room-mate. She wasn`t there, so I went down to pick up her package.

Her package consisted of a Piggly Wiggly  grocery sack filled with text books she had left at home over the weekend- hand delivered by two state troopers who had relayed them across three county lines. They handed me the books and I took them as if it happened every day. Some days you relay prisoners, some days school books. Whatever.

She was dropped from sorority rush because of her families politics.

I graduated, got a job, and moved to Texas. On my maiden voyage venturing beyond familiar state lines, I found a new hero in the Texas race for governor in 1990. Ann Richards, an outspoken white-haired housewife turned fireball was up against a good ole boy in Clayton Williams.

“Claytie vs the Lady.”

Williams handed Richards the keys to the mansion when he likened bad weather to rape.

“If it`s inevitable, just relax and enjoy it,” he said in an interview.

Texas women got revenge and a new shero.

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Big Hair, Big Attitude

 

Not too long after, I was transferred to another Never Never Land of politics. Louisiana. This time it was Edwin Edwards, a long time suspect of corruption, versus David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the KKK. The Klan drove up and down I-10 waving guns at Mexicans and African-Americans giving rise to a campaign slogan I feared would be used again in 2016:

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The Crook won but I knew his days were numbered. One of my employees` husbands was an agent for the department of wildlife and fisheries. After confiscating a large haul of illegally caught shrimp, he was instructed to deliver it to the governor`s mansion 100 miles away. Upon arrival, he was handed a waiter`s uniform and told to get to work. He quit the next day and they moved to Florida.

When we moved to Japan, Shinzō Abe had just been elected. He was the fifth prime minister elected in a five year period. It was somewhat unsettling.

Quebec was in turmoil when we arrived there. in 2013. A proposition on the ballot banned all forms of religious identification on employees who dealt with the public. Obviously contentious. But other provinces took it as a recruiting opportunity of divine proportions.

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While the rest of the country was head scratching on our presidential candidates, we in California had several additional choices of interest.

Prop 62- Repeal of the Death Penalty (Did not pass)

Prop 63- background checks for purchasing ammunition and prohibits possession of large capacity magazines (Passed)

Prop 64- Legalizes marijuana for ages 21 and up (Passed)

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Prop 65- Plastic bags no longer free (Passed)

Prop 60- Requires adult film performers to use condoms when filming (Didn`t pass)

What`s next?

I know many of you have seen some pretty interesting election issues- please share for the benefit of everyone!

 

 

 

 

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An Enviable Finger Fetish; Nails Japanese Style

Japanophiles think they know all there is to know about what makes Japan so uniquely unlike every place else on earth. We`ve all seen the “Top 10” lists that include the vending machines, the manga, the robot bar, and the parasite museum. But let`s not be afraid to point the finger at what so many women clad in blue suits have been sporting with such panache.

Nails as an art form.

Essie`s recent campaign does a poor job of framing this issue.

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Cute names and lovely colors, but nothing near what a self respecting salary woman would sport. A great example of what we have here. A nice shade of one color.

For examples, I had to call in my favorite nail art afficionado who can`t be named. But whose name looks a lot like “name” but sounds more like “Swami.” She took a few pics of her latest creations.

Starting with the simple- in a hurry- only have to time to bejewel one nail today.

Next on to a more individualized look but still rather subdued.

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And to the final piece certainly worthy of a spot in the Mori Tower:

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I`d had way too much sake when I took this picture, but these even have small sculptures.

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If that doesn`t impress you, how about this?

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This from my friend who`s not only creative with her nails but can also help your kid write an essay that will get them in to any college, anywhere, no matter what their SAT score. (here at EXPAT Essay)

On balance, my nail salon, as in the one I frequent not own, does offer a French Manicure done with glitter. Yawn.

Next time I`m in Japan, I`m bringing back some “expertise” in my suitcase.

If you have any pics of nails to be proud, please do share so we can all ooh and aah!

 

Apparently CNN Travel agrees that Japanese nail art is top notch!

http://www.cnn.com/videos/travel/2016/08/12/tokyo-pov-nail-art.cnn

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Going Down In Flames-Hirezake

There are a few things which should only be done in a lab setting. With safety glasses, a lab coat, and a glass hood under which flammables and other explosives are tested; maybe a hazmat suit for added precaution. Certain things come to mind as appropriate for managing within a controlled environment such as a lab. The Zika and Ebola viruses. Not something you want all over your person when arriving home after work as an example. Being overrun with dogs and kids upon your arrival, transferring any virus particles is a great way to ensure it has taken up residence in your own home as well as the rest of the neighborhood.  Rocket fuel. The stuff is so volatile a sneeze can set it off.

I`m going to add another thing to my list of items to be managed within a lab.Preferably an underground lab buried several stories underneath a desert.

A combination of blowfish and sake. Each is deadly in its own right. Add them together and bad things are going to happen.

Which is exactly what happened when some friends of mine and I got together for Sunday lunch at a blowfish restaurant in Tokyo.

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This puffer either overdid the teeth whitener or had some false teeth added posthumously.

Previously thought to be a deadly meal due to a liver full of poison, many now speculate the Blow fish eats poisonous diet which it then passes along to any thing stupid enough to eat it. As if the spines weren`t enough of a reason not to put it in your mouth.

In Japan, chefs must have a special license in order to prepare and serve Blowfish- or “Fugu” in Japanese. In general, and for obvious reasons, most places that serve Blowfish only serve Blowfish. Usually in several different ways. Rumors abound that certain insiders to a chef in the know can be served fugu with just a touch of poison remaining. This kiss of poison leaves the mouth and lips tingly which apparently is worth dyeing for. Not me, I`ll take my kicks in other forms.

Which led me to the sake part of the equation. Once all other parts of the blowfish have been eaten- eyes, skin, meat, and other, its time to serve up the fins. Roasted, put in a hot glass of sake, and set afire, this will give your mouth a tingly sensation. This little ensemble is called “hirezake.”

"Danger Will Robinson"

“Danger Will Robinson”

Note: I`m not one of the speakers in the background. By this time my power of speech had reverted to that of a primate.

Hot, with a smoky fish flavor, it`s addictive.

This lethal combo resulted in one of our group sleeping in the booth next to us while the rest of us converted the restaurant from a “Fugu” restaurant to a “Fugu and karaoke” club by singing 70`s dance tunes pulled up on YouTube.

Seriously good and absolutely necessary to be experimented with in a controlled setting. Or else.

 

 

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Kawaii Construction- I Need This in My Neighborhood

There`s construction going on in my neighborhood. It`s noisy, dusty, and worst all it makes my dogs bark. This is a problem for all the neighbors because they also hear the construction, the dogs barking, and me yelling “Shut up” through out the day. It makes me long for “Kawaii construction.” The “cute” construction that has been adopted by the Japanese. Although Tokyo is a city under constant renovation, I was distracted by the kawaii factor and didn`t seem to notice.

So, here are a few thoughts for the city of San Diego:

  1. All construction cones should be separated by boxed  tulips. The “no photography” sign I took to be directed at others, not people like me ready to share this as a best practice.

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2. Hide the construction with some artwork that reminds me of walking along a tree-lined avenue.

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3. Plants soften both a room and a construction wall.

 

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4) By now, this wall is probably completely overgrown with greenery. Another good idea.

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5) Sometimes so realistic, a “watch out for deer”sign is necessary. We don`t have to start out with such lofty goals. Something to strive for.

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6) The Japanese aren`t afraid to make a construction wall a piece of art

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7) Walking along side of this is almost relaxing-

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8) These dolphins could stop traffic with their kawaii factor. We could develop kawaii seals and sea lions – they fit in better around here and are always kawaii.

DSCN2741Bunnies are also very Kawaii….but I haven`t seen any around here.

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9) Sometime they hide construction and the morning exercises to get everyone ready for a tough day at work. I`m ok watching the exercisers but I don`t want to see the actual work getting done.

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Yep. More Kawaii please San Diego.

 

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Elbowing Our Way Through Easter

It`s Easter. The time when we Catholics roll our eyes, put on a colorful outfit, and drag our families out of bed to show up at mass. It also happens at Christmas. The folks who attend more regularly get annoyed when their usual spot is occupied by a family of 15. Easter mass at a Catholic church is filled with elbowing and tongues clucking.

Whatever.

I`m trying to be a little more Zen in my approach as we get ready to leave for mass two hours early in order to get a seat with a view of the alter. It`s easier to get close to the front at a Stones concert. As I center myself to attend the chaos that is Easter in the local parish, I think about one of my favorite spots in Tokyo.  Aoyama Cemetery close to Omotesando. All are welcome here. Even in Cherry Blossom Season:

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Would love to see your weekend pics- regardless of what`s getting celebrated! Peace folks.

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Just How Rude are You? The Chopstick Test

So folks. I`m headed back to Japan in May and as I get back in to the Genki spirit, I`m going through all the cultural do`s and don`ts that will cause my friends to hit the eject button at the table if stick my chopsticks in my bun after lunch.
In case you failed it the last time, here`s the opportunity to take it again. The Chopstick test. Gambatte!

Hey from Japan- or wherever the moving van arrives- Emily Cannell

As if the Offspring didn`t cause enough raised eyebrows at home with their barn like behavior at the trough supper table, now the Japanese we encounter while dining have concluded somewhere hidden underneath those clothes is a curly tail. Amidst the smacking, elbows resting on any available surface and incorrect handling of all foreign dining objects, including a fork, my sole remaining hope for improved table manners rests on an over dramatic and disgusted look from an attractive member of the opposite sex.

But I keep trying.

Mushing on in spite of this relentless uphill assault.

Do you belong with my bovine? Test your chopstick chops….

The Chopstick Test

First Scenario

Junko- san and the man of her dreams, Andretti-san, take their place at the counter  for ramen and romance. Andretti-san unwraps the paper from his chopsticks and rubs them together, smoothing off any splinters that appeared when he broke…

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Repatriation During the Holidays is Harder Than Being Overseas….

The pitfall of living overseas is the inevitability of coming home. Dull. And with that the recalibration of expectations that the Offspring have regarding holidays and how they are spent. Some expats have a problem living overseas during traditional American holidays because they`re just a little bit off.  And of course family is far away- which in some cases is a welcomed Christmas blessing. The Offspring were confused by a Japanese Christmas which included the time honored tradition of feasting on chicken at Kentucky Fried Chicken. Holiday decorations had Christmas lights and glass balls but the rest had us scratching our heads looking for a connection.

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A Cinderella desk is inside, but no Santa.

With no family within 7,000 miles of home, ExPats are free to flock to exotic locations now only three hours away.  For ExPats in Japan, places like China, Thailand, Malaysia, Bora Bora- the list goes on. A 24 hour flight combined with jet lag that lasts for the entire vacation and another two weeks after getting home is enough for most people at home to opt for a drive to the Jersey shore. ( I don`t include myself in that category- any travel that includes Jet Lag gets me upstairs packing my carry-on)

During the holidays, we lived it up.

Snow Monsters in Japan….

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To Snow Monkeys in Nagano…

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To places we never thought we would see like the Great Wall of China

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Unfortunately, this is pollution, not fog

To Hiroshima

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The added bonus of these fabulous vacations was the cost- virtually nothing. In China we spent about $10/day feeding three adults. I`m one of those mean moms who forces everyone to find something to eat out of the local cuisine. Instead of baggage containing breakfast bars we are more apt to load Pepto Bismol.

Fast forward to our repatriation.

OS#2 “Where are we going for Christmas?”

Ouisar-san “Grandmama`s – maybe.”

OS#2 “WHAT? We`re not going to THAILAND? What are we going to do at her house for a week?”

It`s a tough life folks. Just to get them back in the swing, I may go get some KFC. That`s KPF to you Montrealers……(Poulet Frit du Kentucky)

 

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Some Beauty In These Sad Times

Over the summer, Offspring #2 and I visited Paris- her reward for the eight hours of French tutoring she endured weekly upon our move to Montreàl. As it always is when tragedy hits a place you know, there`s a certain connection to the people and the places one feels. I felt sick when I saw the picture of Le Carillon- the place we enjoyed so much on our visit. Our waiter who tried so hard to speak English when he heard our attempts at French, the two men behind us, teaching each other French and Japanese using English as a common denominator, the little girl who escaped her mother`s hand to ask for a taste of my smoothie. I hope they are all safe.

So, instead of my usual- a peaceful, beautiful setting to look at.

Ginkgo trees.

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Peace people.

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