The Little Things are All Big Things

It’s been a few weeks since my last post, but the holidays can be a little hectic and it’s bad form frankly to hide behind a monitor around family (though sometimes you may want to).

Today is my Christopher’s birthday, and it’s been an interesting week of ups and downs for us. He’s in a career transition – finally, I say! – and his creative streak is in overdrive mode. This is one of the things I adore about him. He can be so analytical and business minded, yet he is the most creative person I’ve ever met. Case in point – the collection of handmade pens that are accumulating around the house.

pens

Not to mention the peppermills he’s made, often from his own designs!!

pepper pepper1 pepper3 peppermill.5 snowman

Right now he’s working on a peppermill out of ebony gabon, which is pitch black and incredibly pricey. I won’t reveal the secret design but I will post pics when it’s ready!

He’s made me a coffee table that weighs more than an elephant pulling a WWII German tank. A beautiful blue jewelry box. And easel. And he’s also made me a life-size abacus, which I will post a picture of as soon as I sneak one out of him. Oh, and did I mention he’s building a BOAT?

boat

To Christopher, the little things are the big things. Life isn’t about the wide swoosh of milestone decisions – like a job change – it’s about the little things you do that add up to a lifetime of memories. It’s about laughter, and knowledge, and love.

This is why I love him, and why I want to travel with him. He sees the world in a different way, a way that makes me want to take advantage of every moment of my life. If you’re ever lucky enough to be in his light, you’d feel the same way.

Happy birthday, Christopher!! I love you!

-Your girl

IMG_2890

 

New Year’s Japanese Style

Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu!

New Year’s in Japan is about as important as Christmas is to westerners.  Elaborate postcards are sent and all kinds of customs take place.  I was too little to remember any of this when I was a kid, but I got a front row seat to much of this at a Japanese market (Mitsuwa in Torrance, CA) I visited on New Years Day. (See Japanese New Year for fun facts.)

One tradition is to make mocha (rice cakes) to serve to the deity. These ceremonies involve a mortar used to pound the rice.

mitsuwa1 mitsuwa4

New Year’s are geared toward children, who score big with money and gifts. I’m not sure what was in those gift bags, but I really wanted one.  There was also a golden dragon who was snatching dollar bills from willing children, and surprisingly not one kid was scared to put their hands in the dragon’s mouth.

mitsuwa7

New Years is significant to the Japanese because it presents a fresh start; I know that’s sort of universal but the Japanese take this seriously. They mark the occasion with watching the first sunrise followed by a first visit to a shrine or temple (called hatsumode) to give the first offering.  Games are played and traditional Japanese dishes are served, and no work is to be done. Maybe that’s why the New Year’s celebration lasts 3 days.

I had a wonderful afternoon, enjoying a bowl of sansei udon and katsu don. It was the closest I felt to being in Japan in a long time. I can’t wait to bring Christopher!

mitsuwa2 mitsuwa3

 

Hinamatsuri – Girl’s Day in Japan

I remember being a little girl in Fukuoka and my mother, Aunt, and Grandmother going nuts about dressing me up in a kimono. It was a special day they told me, because it’s when everyone wishes for the future happiness of little girls.

That day is called Hinamatsuri - frequently called Girl’s Day or Doll’s Day.  It is held every year on March 3rd, and families decorate their homes with a platform covered in red carpet, displaying levels of dolls that represent the Emperor, Empress, and their court.

This is me, pretending to be a windmill with those kimono sleeves.

Kimono

This picture is Christopher’s favorite of me. It has been the picture on his phone for five years, and until he pointed out how beautiful it was, I hadn’t paid any attention to it. I have my memories of dropping coins in a fountain, visiting a temple, and my mother trying to explain why the day was so important.

That future happiness she had hoped for took a while for me to recognize, but Christopher saw it with one look  at this picture.

Must Do’s in Tokyo for Nerds

The boyfriend and I are planning 3-4 days at the start of our trip to Japan to explore Tokyo before jumping a bullet train to other destinations.  I am a big list person (If you want me to read your blog, make a list!), so I’ve captured our must-do’s for Tokyo.

I should warn you that I’m a geek. A toy collecting, anime-sci-fi-fantasy-comic-book geek. Christopher is also a geek, but of the slightly cooler and more productive variety (techie, car/boat enthusiast, woodworker, anything he can pick apart and put back together with his hands). Put those two nerds together and you get a very interesting couple. If you ever want to invite us to dinner, we’re available.

Ghibli Museum

It’s a museum for the anime art of Studio Ghibli. Yes, please.

ghibli

Cat Cafe

I come from a long line of crazy Japanese cat ladies, so obviously I need to stop by a cat café in Tokyo. Poor Christopher. Maybe there will be a tech store nearby that will spare him an afternoon with 53 cats.

Kiddyland

Oh boy oh boy oh boy. I took one look at this Kiddyland joint in Harajuku and passed out on my fainting couch. It’s wall to wall toys – from Hello Kitty to Blythe Dolls to Monchichi and Doraemon and J Dolls. Im getting woozy again. Must sit down.

kiddyland

Yodabashi Akiba

This one’s for the boy. When it comes to tech gadgets, I am about as useless “as a truckload of dead rats at a tampon factory.” (Top Secret, 1984).

Here’s a write up in the WSJ on Yodabashi Akiba:

No trip to Akihabara is complete without an adventure through Yodabashi Akiba. I say “adventure” as opposed to “visit” because this mega location encompasses seven stories of gadgets and electronics. At one point in the ’70s, Yodabashi sold a third of all SLR cameras in Japan. Since then, it has diversified its offerings to include everything from videogames to electric shavers to televisions to classic record players. 1-1 Kanda Hanaoka-Cho, Chiyoda-Ku, Akihabara www.yodobashi-akiba.com

aki

Tokyu Hands

Something for both of us! Tokyu Hands is a department store that features (according to wiki) toys, games, novelty items, gift cards, gift wrap, costumes, bicycles, travel products (such as luggage and camping gear), hobby materials, household hardware, tools, do-it-yourself kits, pet supplies, office supplies and stationery; calligraphy, painting, drawing supplies, furniture, lighting, home appliances, and storage solutions. That should keep us busy for a few hours.

Akihabara District

Everything I read tells me we need to get out our Gandalf walking canes and strap in for a day tour of the Akihabara District. We can expect cosplay weirdos, anime, gamers, ridiculously impractical shops, and so much more!

Robot Restaurant

It just now occurred to me that on these geek-tastic outings, we will likely have Christopher’s 70 year old parents with us. That should make dinner at the Robot Restaurant pretty interesting.

Crazy Japanese people, I love you all.

I also found this blog, which I think could be very useful in our travels: 5 Most Nerdy Tokyo Neighborhoods

My Japanese Mother – Foxy Fashion Chic in the 60s

My mother, Setsuko, was born and raised in Fukuoka, Japan. Now Fukuoka isn’t the trendy, cosmopolitan mecca that Tokyo is, but Setsuko held it down for Southern Japanese girls in the 60s. Exhibit A:

Mom sunflowers

I remember those knee high boots she used to rock like a boss. She was also fond of those tiny mini-dresses (go go girl dresses, she’d call them) that were the rage at the time.  This sunflower print dress is to die for, and someone with a camera was smart enough to see a photo opp in that snowy background.

Exhibit B:

Hot mom

My dad used to say, “Boy, your mom has some choppers.” I think he was jealous that she had such a sparkling smile. That jacket she’s wearing got passed down to each of her three kids. I think my baby brother has it now.

Exhibit C:

wedding

My parents on one of their wedding days. First they held a traditional ceremony, where my mom was all gussied up in a kimono and my dad wore a haori and hakama. Then for the actual signing of the wedding certificate, they wore this. Mom borrowed that dressed, did her own hair and makeup and looked like a fashion model.

Lastly…

First Kimono

This is one of my favorite pictures of my mom and it’s from the mid seventies. Ok, yes, I’m in it so I’m biased, but this Mickey Mouse Tee and sky blue pant ensemble is very indicative of how her life had changed after she married my dad. She went from glamorous boutique shopping in underground Fukuoka malls to living in a trailer behind a seafood restaurant in Gonzales, LA. But you know what? Homegirl is still chic. Even in 95 degree heat with 100% humidity, this woman never left the house without makeup on. And running after me couldn’t have been easy, so I give her a lot of credit for looking this good even in a tee shirt and homemade pants.

Japanese Fashion

One of the things I want so much to capture on our return trip to Japan is the fashion. I tried to explain in animated had gestures what I saw on my last trip, and the best I could do was say that all Japanese girls pick a category of fashion and go to bed with it. Marry it. Have babies with it.

Here’s the deal. As expressive and passionate about fashion as the Japanese ladies are, they’re also strongly tied to a very conformist culture. Yes, yes, I’ve seen the Shibuya girls and the crazy Goth/Lolita/Bandage Fetish getups. But even as outlandish as those outfits are, they fit into a very specific category.

I noticed specific categories of fashion in Fukuoka that no one deviated from.

#1 – Girlish Nautical Wear.

AHOY mateys. There were sailor girls everywhere.  What’s interesting is that this is a pic from the 2011 Japanese fashion runways:

nautical

How quickly do these girls pick up these threads? It takes a full year before girls in Des Moines decide to buy those jeggings from Target. Here is one example of nautical where I took:

IMG_0510

#2 – Super Sexy Professional Girl

This was a uniform for pretty girls over 5’2″.  Pleated skirt. Sweater and blazer. Long, beachy-curled hair. Knee high socks and sky high platform heels. She got legs…she knows how to use them…

Japan_Fashion

#3 – Oversized Baby. With a baby.

This woman with the lacey frills was a mommy.  Oh no she did NOT wear dark tights with white shoes.

Japan_Fashion3

This girl was in the same hotel lobby. I thought it was the same person. “WHERE’S YOUR BABY!? Oh. You’re 15.”

Japan_Fashion4

#4 – Dynasty Throwback 30+ Power Suit.

Miyako has been around. She’s chosen a career over marriage and babies, so she has the money, the wardrobe, and the tobacco addiction to show for it. Her pearls are real, her shoes are Prada, and her boyfriend is married.

Japan_Fashion2

#5 – Sloptastic. AKA Hobo Chic.

Now this reminds me of malls in the US. Kids in layers of mismatched sweats, sneakers, and socks. It was refreshing.

Japan_Fashion1

I wish I would have taken more pictures, so I will definitely be giving my iPhone a workout.

Recent Inspiration: Portland Japanese Garden

On a bit of a whim, we headed to Portland, Or., in the middle of November.  Someplace we haven’t been is someplace we must go.  I’m not sure if that’s an age old adage yet, but if it isn’t I’m going to suggest it to the world-wide keeper of adages.

IMG_1909

While in Portland we experienced breweries, brewpub food (the best damn pretzel we’ve ever had), food “truck” food, a vinyl record store, the biggest bookstore I have seen in decades (Powell’s Books), and some of the best “5 minute wait” donuts I’ve ever had.  I think we could easily go back to Portland, no real agenda, and do it all over again.  Quick learning:  no rental car really needed if you’re content downtown.

Did it rain? A bit.  Was it cold?  No, not really.  Green?  Absolutely.

Green.  This brings me to a magical Portland Japanese Garden that Angela stumbled on and, frankly, it rekindled our planning for our upcoming trip to Japan.  I am not going to try and paint a picture for you with words, but will simply leave you with a few of my favorite pictures.  Yes, my favorite one was snapped by Angela on her iPhone.  Which ones are your favorites?

Portland Japanese Garden

Nothing but a stone skipping off of Narita

Boarding for Narita

I’ve been to Japan.  Once.

I landed — just passing through — on my way to Thailand.  I got to experience quiet Japanese efficiency in action, white gloved security personnel, restaurants resplendent with plastic food, and well, two gates.  Does it count?  Maybe a little?

I have been excited to go back, explore a country that’s borders were closed for centuries, and see what a country steeped in tradition can teach us about the world.  This is, of course, amplified even more because the Bonnie to my Clyde was born there, grew up speaking Japanese, and still has family on the southern-most island.

About the Boy

Let’s talk about my partner in crime, Christopher. It was his idea to take me to Japan for my 40th birthday, so he deserves a lot of credit for making this exciting trip happen.

Here’s the deal – next September, we’re flying into Tokyo and planning a tour via Shinkansen all the way down to Fukuoka, the place where I was born. To throw in another layer, his parents will be joining us on our adventure. Sounds fun, right? No, you can’t come.

Fast Facts about Christopher:

  • He’s a stone cold fox.
  • He’s from New York, and loves the Boston Red Sox.
  • He’s a dude’s dude, into cars, boats, babes, and explosions (some he is directly responsible for).
  • He’s a serious prima donna who insists on fancy facial products, Aveda hair care, and pedicures.
  • He’s what your mother both warned you about and urged you to go out and get: a bad boy with a heart of gold.

IMG_1700

Japan 2011 – Photo Album

photo 1 (3)photo 1 (7) photo 2 (2) photo 2 (7) photo 2 (8) photo 3 (2) photo 3 (4) photo 3 (7)

Some of my favorite pics from my last trip. Some lessons learned:

  • Don’t be afraid to venture away from restaurants with plastic food displays. Yes it makes ordering like a caveman very easy, but you miss out on some serious surprises.
  • The people in Japan WANT you to take pictures of them. Exhibit A – my gymnast. She kept doing flips in front of me until I got the right shot.
  • Children take pride in their culture. Note the paper lanterns on the steps of Fukuoka Castle. These were in honor of those who lost their lives in the tsunami.
  • Everybody looks good under Cherry Blossom trees. We missed the season just by a couple of weeks, but even past their prime they are breathtaking.
  • It’s ok to laugh at hilarious typos. It took me awhile to understand what the “Smorking Room” was.

photo 2 (5)