Saturday, November 6, 2010

New Book Update

An image of the cover for my new novel,'Better Than Ever,Again' is visible on the right. Click to go to the webpage where you can read an excerpt.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Typhoon Missed

I'm home in Arizona and I made it on time, as scheduled in spite of the typhoon that was heading toward Tokyo. For two days we tracked it and all predictions had it arriving just off shore from the airport at about the time of my flight. It was raining hard but we got away and I heard later that the typhoon arrived about two hours after takeoff.

My friends in Japan all emailed or Skyped me to see if I had made it out okay. They had said to come back to town if the flight was cancelled rather than stay at Narita but luckily I didn't have to worry about doing that.

From there it was just sitting in an airplane. I had saved the third book of, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, trilogy for the flight home and put a pretty good dent in it. My seat mate was a bit chatty so I was in some minor discussions a few times during the flight.

I found a new negative aspect of the whole Ebook reader scenario; you have to turn them off during takeoff and landing. Not the case for a real book.

For some reason I really suffered from jet-lag this trip. The first two days I was tired but nothing too crazy but the third days around mid afternoon I had to take a nap. I slept for four hours and woke up with complete body ache. I had difficulty moving and ibuprofen didn't help at all. I went to bed at 11:00 still hurting and when I woke up at 3:00 I could feel that the pain was starting to wane. By 6:00 I was fine but I'm still dragging it a bit today.

Before I left for Japan I had blogged about some of my concerns during the planning process. It turns out I took the right amount of stuff. My toothpaste tube was pretty much empty, my ibuprofen supply was good and my stomach pills were down to the last tray.

The amount of clothing I took worked out fine for the three months as well. I only bought one shirt while I was there because I didn't want to go to La Rochelle in a golf shirt for their special Chef's dinner. Two of my shirts started to bother me while I was there; the button holes had enlarged so I couldn't close up the neck.

My slacks got to be a bit large since I lost quite a bit of weight while I was gone so my belt was causing ripples in the material along the waste line. When I saw how many souvenirs and gifts I had to pack for the trip home I realized I needed room in my single suitcase so I threw out all of my cloths the last day I was in Mitaka to make room. My friend from La Rochelle told me he and his girlfriend put clothes they don't particularly care about away to take on their next trip and then they throw them out to make room for the same purpose. I'm going to start doing that on future trips.

I was also worried before I left about what would happen to my lawn while I was gone. It was looking really plush and green at the beginning of August. My girlfriend had said she wasn't likely to take care of it very well so I was concerned. It turns out I never thought about what was happening to the lawn at all and my girlfriend hired a landscaper while I was away so the lawn looked fantastic when we pulled up in front of the house from the airport.

The temperature has been in the high 80's (low 30s Celsius) and this type of grass needs heat. I would have cut back on the water by now but my girlfriend didn't so the grass is green and thick. Of course that just means I have to cut it and usually by this time I've let it go brown and don't have to do anything with it.

My first meal back in Arizona was chili beans made with some fairly hot roasted red chili from New Mexico. It was good and certainly a flavor I hadn't enjoyed for three months. The next day I cooked. It was nice to have multiple burners and counter space. I made lasagna with my homemade meat sauce. I felt like comfort food and rich tomato flavor so I went for one of my favorites. I had my kids over for late lunch and the football game so they could eat and then leave to hand out Halloween candy at their homes.

I'm scared of putting on the weight I lost now that I won't be eating the Japanese diet I enjoyed for three months. Without regard for that concern I tried to get some French fries at the airport in Seattle. I was a little confused about the time when I went to a restaurant in the airport and ordered a beer while I looked over the menu. When I ordered a BLT and fries the bartender said they were only serving breakfast and I realized I was drinking beer at 10:00 in the morning.

I still haven't had any fries and I'm being careful not to get back into my sandwich habit. Instead I'm trying to keep up with eating fruit like I did in Japan. I haven't eaten chips and salsa either but I know that's not going to last. How can you live in Arizona and not eat chips and salsa?

Three months in Japan was a good amount of time to stay. It definitely gave me a feel for what it would be like to live there. I could easily have stayed longer and adapted more deeply into Japanese society. I plan to go back in May or July next year depending on some developments that could have me staying for six months next time.

So this is it for the Zonajin blog as far as Japan 2010 goes. I will definitely start it up once more when I travel again. I may make a trip to Belize to live for a month or two. Belize is another country that I've grown interested in and one that is a possible retirement site. The other thing I may want to do is go back to my home city in Canada to live for one or two months. My objective is to live in Japan one day but I want to compare the life in the other countries that I am attached to see if I miss being in Japan.

On the writing front I am making good progress on the final edit of my next novel. I plan to put up an excerpt and an image of the cover in the next day or two. If you're interested keep checking at my publisher's website at The new book should be released in January of 2011. Book three will be out a few months after that.

If you would like to receive emails letting you know about the progress of the books then please go to the "Books" page at my publisher's website and leave me you contact information. I won't use your email address for any other purpose but to keep you posted on my books or when the Zonajin blog may start up again.

Thanks for reading along. I enjoyed writing about my trip. The writing for the blog greased the skids for my creative writing so it was a very worthwhile activity. Your feedback is welcome and don't forget to leave your contact information if you are interested in updates.

P.S. Tomorrow I have my reunion with my barber so everything is going to be back to normal soon.

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Last Day in Mitaka

It has arrived and it's kind of gloomy; the weather and the feeling of leaving Mitaka, Japan, after living here for three months. On top of that there is a Typhoon approaching Tokyo and based on the projected path it will be just offshore around the time my plane is supposed to leave.

Over the last three days I've seen all of my good friends one last time before I go. With my friend from the Keio Plaza Hotel I took a trip to the city of Mito. I had read in the Japanese Times Online that the city paid to produce a movie to try and boost tourism. The movie is about a famous historical event that happened in 1860 at the Sakurada Gate that led into Tokyo Castle. Some master less samurai from the Mito clan assassinated the Tairo, Leader of Japan, Ii Naosuke as he was carried in a palanquin from his mansion nearby, to enter the castle via the Sakurada gate.

After the movie was completed the town converted the life size replica buildings into a museum that provides information regarding the event and also about the making of the movie.

When I read this I put together a plan to first go to central Tokyo and visit the real Sakurada gate which still stands and looks like it would have looked back when the incident occurred. I took some pictures from a number of different angles with the intent of trying to take the same pictures once I visited the museum. The comparisons are on the right side of my blog page at If you aren't reading this post on that site you can go there to see the pictures.

The second part of the plan was to go to the museum and the third part was to go and see the movie which was released about a week earlier. We added a couple of wrinkles to the plan which involved food at both ends.

Before visiting the museum we took a small train from Mito to a port town called, Naka-Minato. We went to eat sushi. I'd mentioned it in a very early post because I had gone there on a previous trip with my son and my friend and the sushi was unbelievably fresh and delicious. For that trip we had planned to go to Mito to visit a famous garden and the Tokugawa museum but one of my friends fellow workers at the Keio Plaza suggested that since we were going to Ibaraki Prefecture (province/state) why not go to Naka-Minato for sushi. This employee is from Ibaraki and very proud of his home prefecture. The sushi alone in Naka-Minato is something to be proud of. He certainly sent us in the right direction; so much so that I wanted to go again.

Before this trip I'd also been told that they are famous in Naka-Minato for placing larger portions of fish on top of the rice so I wanted to check this out as well. The size was noticeably different. It seemed the wasabi was a lot spicier as well.

I stuck to the fish and ate iwashi, aji and sanma sushi and they were all very tasty. My friend commented that I was eating all the blue-skinned fish and that he didn't like the blue-skinned sushi. I mentioned the fish to others the next day and they all commented that I was eating blue-skinned fish. My friend ate a lot of crab and shrimp sushi. It is crab season and there were many kinds available. I'd never seen so much crab at a sushi place before.

After eating we walked around the fish market located just outside the restaurant. I put a couple of pictures over on the right. As you can see there was a lot of crab and this picture only shows one area stacked with them.

We then visited the museum and went to the movie as planned. After we came back to Shinjuku to go and eat the second wrinkle which was Oden. Oden is a selection of stewed items that you can order as one large bowl with multiple ingredients or you can order many small bowls of just one item. Most of the items are vegetables but they served tasty fried chicken livers done in a garlic sauce plus a very good dish of very tender beef tendon.

This Oden restaurant prides itself on its broth which is meant to be consumed (some places you don't drink the broth) and it is great to lift the bowl and sip their broth. Its delicate but had a memorable flavor, part animal part vegetable. We ended the meal with a fried rice dish that had very young iwashi (sardine) fry laced throughout the rice. It was served with a side of broth that you poured over the rice and then drank from the bowl.

It was a perfect day and everything went exactly as planned except we caught an earlier train from Mito and that made us early for Oden so we went to the Keio Plaza and had a drink before returning to the restaurant.

The next day I met my friend whom I first met with his wife in Hawaii. The Tokyo Film Festival had started and there were movies that I wanted to see. This was the second movie I wanted to see, the first was sold out so I didn't get to go. This one was an afternoon show and we met on a cold and rainy day in Roppongi an hour before show time. My luck, when we went to buy tickets this movie was also sold out.

Instead we went to the Mori Arts Museum and saw the exhibit titled, A Sense of Nature. There were some great art works on a huge scale to be seen. It is a contemporary art museum so there were some pretty unusual displays. When you step into the first gallery you are treated to a snow storm. There is a giant (20x10x15 Meter) Plexiglas box filled with white feathers. Two fans are turned on periodically and a snow storm ensues. Then there were videos of scenes around Japan that depicted people connecting with their environments that were very interesting. They were presented on three screens which made a triangle so you watched three different videos with three different themes.

One of them has caused me to set a new goal for a new way to see Tokyo. During the 250 years that the Tokugawa were in power they developed a series of canals that ran through old Edo (Tokyo before the Meiji Restoration). The canals travel deep inland and were used to deliver goods to the increasing population of Edo which had grown to a million people in the 1700s. They were the first transportation system in town and many of them are still used today. The video in question was a series of shots taken from the front of a boat traveling in these canals. In the downtown core it is very dark in the canals because one of the newest transportation systems in Tokyo (trains) runs on platforms built over the original transportation system. The view looking up to the streets was quite interesting. I would like to take a boat ride into the canals and see where you can go in Tokyo on the water.

Then there was a room in which you became an underground being. There was an uneven ceiling that came down to a few feet from the floor in places and there were holes in the ceiling that you could pop up in. When you did you were in a forest with all these trees hanging down from the actual ceiling. Everything was white with some patches of brown but it was interesting to view.

After the museum my friend and I parted and I was off to meet the young lady that works at La Rochelle restaurant. We met at the Hachiko gate of Shibuya Station. The intersection across from the small court in front of the station is the famous intersection that you've probably seen where the streets are empty and then all of a sudden thousands of people cross the street in all different directions.

I stood inside the station entrance watching for my friend and every five minutes thousands of people who had just crossed the intersection came pouring into the station. The problem was that they all had umbrellas and as the first of them arrived they stopped to pull down their umbrellas but the people behind kept coming. Every five minutes I watch this series of collisions.

We were meeting to go to my young friend's uncle's friend's restaurant. This gentleman is the man who had the connection to get us invited to morning sumo practice at the Azumazeki sumo stable. He had suggested to my friend that we come to his restaurant so we did. His izakaya is famous for its chicken and iwashi dishes so that's what we ate. First a giant mug of beer and then the dishes started to arrive. We wanted some iwashi sashimi but the lady of the house said that due to the typhoon no fresh iwashi were delivered to the Tsukiji market that day so we'd better have aji sashimi. It was so tender and fleshy. Dipped in shoyu and wasabi it was perfect for the sweet taste of the fish and the umami of the shoyu.

The most remarkable dishes we ate were one of each of the house specialties. We had a whole iwashi served four ways. It included the deep fried head and the deep fried skeleton of the iwashi. I ate the entire head first. Picture on the right. It was like a mild fish flavored crunchy potato chip. Nothing slimy or gishy, just crunch and flavor. Then we shared pieces of the skeleton. The bones when deep fried become crispy like a cracker and the meat between the bones dries out but has concentrated flavor. They were delicious and I smiled the whole time I munched on them.

The other specialty we had was chicken sashimi. Think about it for a second, its raw chicken breast and it is fantastic. The entire chicken breast is dipped in boiling water for a few seconds so anything on the surface is removed and there is a slight ring of cooked chicken at the edges of each slice. Dipped in shouyu and wasabi and you have something great that you will never get in North America unless you make it yourself.

I had some great food that night and some good sake as well. It was a great second last day even though I didn't get to see a movie.

Today, my last full day, I started organizing the cleanup of the apartment and the organizing for the packing. I walked to my friend from La Rochelle's house and ate lunch and said good bye then came back to finish what needed to be done to the apartment. Later, I ran an errand into Shinjuku to deliver a gift to my friend from the Keio Plaza Hotel and he asked me what I wanted for my last meal on my last full day but I knew he had a suggestion in mind so we went to an izakaya near the train station where the salary men go after work. It was a busy place but there was a table left by the window.

My friend's original intent was for me to try warm sake that had a grilled blowfish fin seeping in it so I said by all means I'd love to try it. It was very good. I thought it would maintain the sake taste but it was really all about the roasted fin. It was like drinking meat but that sounds gross and this was by no means gross. The fact that it was warm and savory made it different but good enough to try again sometime.

First though, it is customary in this establishment to deliver a small glass of beer immediately and free of charge. How civilized is that? Next my friend began to order dishes including oden and a kidney stew. Then small dried then grilled 'sad-eyed' iwashi. They were bursting with flavor from being dried and the grilled effect added another savory aspect to the dish. Some ika (squid) sashimi and then some small deep fried river shrimp sprinkled with salt. It reminded me of popcorn shrimp except that there was significantly more shrimp flavor because in Japan you eat the whole shrimp when they're this size, head and skin and tail.

Following this my friend ordered a small bowl of baby sardines on a ball of ground daikon called shirasu-oroshi. It looks like a pile of shredded white paper and at the end of each shred is a tiny black eyeball. When you sprinkle it with a little shouyu the taste of umami is incredible. Unmistakably fish with the fresh sweet diakon and full mouth flavor.

There was an additional sashimi dish at the beginning that was very tender and tasty but it was from an animal that most North Americas couldn't imagine eating. I'd tried it on a previous trip and wasn't too impressed. That trip my son really enjoyed it. This trip it was very good both times I tried it and it was served in two different ways but both were sashimi.

The finale to the dinner was a plate of fried udon noodles with cabbage, pork, shoga (pickled ginger) and a healthy topping of dry shaved bonito. Japanese meals often end with a starch dish like rice or noodles and this dish had a gentle taste so that you didn't leave with a heavily flavored palate.

My final meal in Japan will be at the airport. It doesn't sound very exciting compared to where I've eaten and what I ate, but they have reasonable food in the airport and it will be Japanese food in Japan.

This is the last post from Japan, that's assuming I don't get waylaid by the typhoon. I will be adding one more post in a few days to wrap things up with regard to the trip and with regard to future plans for Zonajin. For more information about my writing and things Japanese please visit my author page on my publisher's website,

While still on Japanese soil, I thank all my friends who live in this great and pleasant country; new friends made this trip and those I've known for a few years. They made the trip special and allowed me to enter their country on a more intimate basis that I could ever have expected with out their generous guidance.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Just a Few Days Left

New things Japanese keep coming at me. The other night I was treated to my first tea ceremony by my new friends, the young professional couple. They kindly invited me to their house where they have modified one of the rooms in their house to be a tea ceremony tea room. They have raised the floor and placed tatami mats to the exact specification of a tea room and then placed the burner in the traditional placement for the tea ceremony.

I took this all in while appreciating that my new friends are very dedicated to learning and preserving their culture. I didn't use the term, Japanese Culture, because my friends are so involved with the various arts and so informative with regard to these arts that the art and culture of their country is actually theirs. They have been tremendous ambassadors while sharing information and instructing this foreigner in the ways of their culture.

I had read about the tea ceremony and seen short documentaries on the procedure but I learned a number of new elements with regard to the performance of a tea ceremony thanks to my friends.

Both members of this couple were again dressed in kimono which made the experience that much more authentic. I learned that the gentleman's kimono had belonged to his great grandfather and was over a hundred years old. It had been reworked and material from a second matching outer kimono had been used to enlarge the garment because Japanese men are larger now than they were a hundred years ago. The lady's kimono had belonged to her grandmother and had bright colors that showed no signs of being from long ago. They informed me about the techniques used to re-work and re-dye the silk in older kimonos so that they could be re-newed for use by younger members of the family.

They placed me in the seat of the most honored guest and presented me with a choice of sweets. This is to replicate the experience of have a tea ceremony after having eaten a Japanese Kaiseki (formal meal of simple tasty dishes) meal that concludes with a sweet. This was an aspect of the ceremony I didn't know.

My host, the gentleman hosted first, stepped to his position and kneeled before the burner with the pot of hot water, bowed and then began his preparations. These involved the proper placement of the utensils and then the symbolic cleaning of the utensils. For this he produced a dark purple silk cloth from his sleeve to wipe the bowl and scoop. Then he explained that he was going to make and serve thick tea. I'd not heard of thick tea so I watched as my host scooped a great amount of tea powder from the tea jar then added a small amount of water. He stirred the mixture to a thick but runny paste. For thick tea, the bowl is placed in front of the most honored guest first (there may be more than one guest but one is the most honored guest) with the central design on the bowl facing the guest. The bowl is picked up with the right hand and placed on the flattened palm of the left hand. The guest then bows to his host and admires the design on the bowl.

Next, the guest turns the bowl about a quarter turn on the palm of the left hand and brings the bowl to the mouth and takes a drink. After the drink the guest wipes the edge of the bowl, spins it on the left hand so that the central design on the bowl faces the next guest and places the bowl in front of the next guest. Thick tea is shared by all guests from the same bowl. Once the last guest has had a drink the bowl is returned to the host. The host cleans the bowl and places all the utensils back to their starting point.

The host then begins to serve thin tea. In our case we had a change of host and the young lady began to serve the thin tea. The ceremony she would perform is what I had seen before. I was offered an additional sweet. This time it was a small hard sugar candy that wasn't really hard. Once placed in the mouth and crushed, the sweet dissolved almost instantly. It is a very finely ground cane sugar pressed into different molds to produce small treats.

Our new hostess stepped to the burner and bowed then produced a red silk cloth to clean the utensils. It turns out than men use dark colors like purple when they are host and women use red, yellow or orange cloths.

She used a different tea jar because we were going to have a different type of tea, this time, macha. The jar was a small polished black enamel jar with bright gold inlay in the shape of stems and leaves. Bright materials yet the one small flower of the plant in the design was an inlay of mother-of-pearl and it shone out like the only star in the sky on a dark, dark night.

My hostess scooped a smaller amount of tea into a new bowl. They explained after that for thick tea a bowl with steep sides is used but for thin tea a bowl with more curvature, more roundness is preferred. She then scooped in hot water and placed the scoop on the open top if the water container on the burner (there is a second water container holding water used to replenish the container on the burner). Next she took the whisk and whisked the tea in the bowl creating the frothy top that you may have seen in pictures of tea ceremonies.

The bowl is placed in a similar manner with the bowls design facing the receiver and it is picked up the same way. The guest bows to the hostess as before then lifts the bowl to the lips but now things change. The guest drinks the tea in three sips. I had had this explained before but this time I was told something new. On the last sip when you finish the tea you are supposed to suck in the foam that remains on the side of the bowl. It is a sign to everyone that you have finished.

You then return the bowl to a place in front of the hostess with the design facing toward the hostess. The hostess starts the process over again, preparing a bowl of tea for the next guest. These steps are repeated until all the guests have been served a bowl of tea. Interesting fact I didn't know is the hostess or host does not prepare a bowl for themselves.

I felt bad that the young lady of the couple wasn't going to get a bowl of thin tea and then my two hosts asked me if I would like to try and prepare a bowl of thin tea. Indeed I did want to attempt the task. My hosts guided me through the steps and I learned more of the process. For example, when you scoop the water from the pot you only pour half the scoop into the bowl. When you whisk the tea you use your wrist and the term is tateru, to make stand. In this case you are making the bubbles stand on top of the liquid. After you whisk the tea you return the whisk to its position, centered. There is a small black tassel on the whisk that when facing forward means the whisk is centered.

The bowl I prepared I served to the young hostess so she was able to drink thin tea. I was relieved. They told me that the whole process should take just under and hour and in this case it did even with me blundering my way through one session as the host.

I asked them, what if on a Saturday afternoon you felt like having a cup of tea, since you have a tea ceremony room do you go through this process? They said no it wasn't necessary for all tea drinking. Using hot water with the tea in a rounded coffee mug or bowl would suffice but the whisking makes the tea taste better and adds a touch of the formality. They then presented me with a gift, a small container of tea, some bamboo sticks for eating sweets and a bamboo whisk. Now I can prepare green tea for my girlfriend when I get home.

I'm sure I've forgotten many of the things I was told but I think you may get a feel of the ceremony from what I have described. There is a link to a website with more information regarding the tea ceremony on my author page at my publisher's website,

It was time to head out for dinner and as I was putting my shoes on I noticed a flower arrangement on a ledge in the entry. My friend saw me looking and commented that this was an example of Ikebana (Japanese Flower Arranging). I asked if his wife had prepared it and he said that no, he had done it. His mother had been a teacher of ikebana and he had always been exposed to the art in his home. He had not been formally trained yet here was another example of my friends making the Japanese arts a part of their personal culture.

We went for Teppanyaki to a restaurant where the boyfriend of my young friend from La Rochelle works. I've written in a previous blog about Teppanyaki and this was similar in that it was a serious presentation of culinary style. The food was different but equally tasty.

The appetizer had three components. A small block of tuna on some micro greens with a small dollop of wasabi on top. A nice tasty starter. Then a shot glass filled with a foam of carrot and apple pure. A nice sweet palate cleansing taste. Third was a small chawanmushi (savory custard) that had small disks of mozzarella cheese. The texture change from the velvety custard to the firm yet soft cheese was very entertaining and delicious.

Next course was a shrimp tartare. The minced shrimp meat was placed on a small, raised edged block of wood. On the right side of the wood surface were seven lines of condiments, spicy sour cream, chizu paste, very small roasted rice balls, thinly sliced chives and so on. A small paddle about 2 cm (3/4 inch) wide was used to scoop up the shrimp paste and some of the condiments then a quick dip in a bowl of dipping sauce before you ate it. Every bite different, every bite delicious. When I saw the words 'Shrimp Tartare' on the menu I couldn't wait to see the presentation and check out the flavor. I'm betting you won't find shrimp tartare on many menus in North America any time soon but if you do then order it, no questions asked. It's a tasty and not too adventuresome experience. The flavor is mild so the adventure is in the anticipation of experiencing something you would never have thought of.

As in my previous Teppanyaki meal a salad was served but this one was unique. A glass tumbler filled with a slice of cucumber, stalks of endive, strips of radicchio and one or two other young lettuces served beside a ceramic bowl over a small flame burner. Inside the bowl was Kane Miso. Kane is the Japanese word for crab and I've mentioned miso before in the context of miso soup or miso flavored chankonabe but when the word miso is used with crab it means crab brains. In this case a slightly thickened broth of crab brains. The way to eat it is to dip the vegetables into the broth and munch them down. Crab brains have a very mild mouth filling flavor. It's possible there were some mushrooms in the thick broth because I was reminded of the musky flavors of mushrooms as I ate the crab brains. Crab brains should go on your list of foods to eat when ever possible.

The main course was 40 day dry aged beef cooked medium rare. Tender, juicy and an abundant portion. On the side, a small bowl of mashed potatoes with a touch of horse radish, a drizzle of demi-glace was served. Stirred together it was smooth and rich with the occasional hit of zing of the horse radish. I could have eaten a much more abundant portion of the potatoes but we North Americans over eat potatoes to a large degree so I chose to tell myself I was satisfied by the amount I ate while I craving more.

Finally the rice course, and this chef's version was out of this world. First he browned very finely diced garlic in oil and moved them off to the side. Then in the spot where he had fried the garlic he fried the rice to which he added a good amount of freshly gated white pepper. On another spot of the teppan he poured some demi-glace that he allowed to thicken for a few seconds after which he scooped the sauce up to drizzled it over the rice. The rice was mixed then portioned into bowls and topped with the browned garlic. But it wasn't finished yet. The chef then took the top off a bowl he had waiting to the side and scooped out a large scoop of reddish looking pellets. These went on top of the rice. The pellets were pellets of raw frozen beef. We were instructed to stir the garlic and beef pellets into the rice where it would be warmed and partially cooked. Unbelievable flavor. The warm garlic, the taste of good beef, the slightly sticky texture of the rice and all tied together by the distinct flavor of fresh white pepper. My taste buds didn't know whether to dance, sing or shout halleighluia.

Afterwards we were escorted to the lounge to have dessert and coffee.

It was a day of greats. Great friends, a great learning experience to add to my base of Japanese knowledge and a great meal. Many thanks to those who made it possible.

On the writing front, my editor returned my manuscript with his input the other day. It's up to me now to go through the manuscript to consider the changes he is recommending. At first glance there are a tremendous number of punctuation corrections that will certainly be accepted. Comas and there placement baffle me. Where I think they aid in the flow of reading doesn't seem to agree with convention so I apologize to all of you for what I have been subjecting you to while you read this blog. Cormac McCarthy has the right idea when it comes to punctuation. He only uses periods. Everybody knows where they go and he does it expertly. It takes a few pages to realize what's missing but then you don't notice it and he's such a good writer that the meaning of the words and thoughts come through with out needing the punctuation. He writes long sentences but you don't lose your train of thought as you read through them.

I should be through my run through of my manuscript in a week or two then its back to the editor for any final discussions. Once we get past that it's all technical activities. Formatting for the print service, cover creation then into product availability. I'll have an excerpt from my new novel available on my author page at my publisher's website, in about two weeks.

Novel number three is moving along at a pace I'm happy with right now as well. Developing characters and arranging events to support a plot are difficult but rewarding. This most creative stage of writing a book is also the most enjoyable. Time flies because you brain is so busy, yet you don't notice the rapid escape of time when you are controlling this small universe of a story within your head.

I loaded a picture or two of my tea ceremony experience on the right side of the blog page at If you read this blog at a different site you will have to go there to see the pictures.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Already I Miss This Place

Only seven days and then a travel day until I return to Arizona. The routine I'm living here has grown on me so it's kind of an umami amai (savory sweet) kind of feeling. The thing that is depressing right now is scheduling those things I want to do before I leave. Not that the timing is difficult but that I'm doing it with an end in sight.

One small example is the bag of rice I have in my kitchen. I keep trying to figure out if I will be eating in the apartment enough nights to finish the bag. It's the fourth 1 Kg bag I've gone through since I got here and I don't want to waste any of it. I also worry that I'll finish it too soon and then I'll have to cook noodles or go out to eat. Most of the meals I've cooked have been stir fried vegetables with fish in a sauce eaten over rich. I haven't grown tired of eating that at all.

During the day I eat a lot of fruit because it's been so good here. It has been one of the surprises of the trip and one I wouldn't have predicted. The kiwi fruit is extremely tasty. I bought a bag of about eight pieces the other night for about $4 US. I cut them in half and scoop their green translucent flesh out with a spoon standing over the sink because they are so juicy. The other fruit that has been on the shelves a lot lately is the Mikan, the Japanese name for what we called Japanese Oranges when we were kids, now often called Mandarin Oranges.

They are small, easy to peel, have no seeds, are sweet and used to show up in our house around Christmas. My mother would buy a box of them and we'd keep them out in the porch area at the back door to keep them cool. They were individually wrapped in a piece of orange paper and we would strip the paper off and put it back in the box rather than carry it in and put it in the garbage. As time went by and you went to get an orange you had to feel around through all the papers and you didn't know how many oranges were left. Your heart would sink as you reached around through the paper expecting to feel the weigh of an orange and only hearing the rustle of orange papers. You'd go into all four corners and then criss-cross through the middle while you began to panic at the thought of not getting to eat that sweet deliciousness and then, plunk. You found one and it was all yours and when your older brother went to the box to get an orange later you knew he wasn't going to find one so this last orange was going to be the sweetest orange you ever ate. Well, all the oranges I've been eating here taste just like that last orange that my brother didn't get to eat.

If I'm not off meeting friends or sight seeing, in which case I would be doing a lot of walking, I take an exercise walk through the neighborhood around 5:00. I walk for about a half hour and I move at a pretty good pace. I like the 5:00 time because there's usually some activity out on the streets and it hasn't gotten dark yet.

I used to walk to the nearby park. It takes about five minutes to get there and then I follow different paths to see the various parts of the area. After a while I'd seen it all so I began to stay out on the streets, going in different directions. I've written about the difficulty of walking the streets when there is a lot bicycle traffic so I started ducking into the narrow neighborhood streets and found that the bicycle traffic was significantly reduced.

I had wanted to explore the neighborhood to see what kind of housing the Japanese people lived in so this was a good way to see it. There are of course many apartment buildings and they are big blocks of concrete with stairwells and doors. The apartments are very small in most cases so there are a good number of apartments in each building. They do not have an abundance of parking space for cars and most buildings are surrounded by bicycles. As I wrote in an earlier post, Mitaka has a very high number of bicycle parking spots near the station. It is a town where bikes are king.

Most of the buildings in the area are single family dwellings. They are certainly different from the districts in Phoenix where there has always been a lot of land and not too many people. In Japan you have the polar opposite situation. The plots of land are small. There is usually no yard or garden. If there is then the space is usually used for parking a car. If there is space for a garden it is usually well kept with nice ornamental trees and some small boulders. Occasionally you will find a much older house with a larger area of garden but these are few and were built many years ago.

The older buildings have dark brown wooden sidings and wooden posts for support beams. The back of these houses are long and have wooden verandas running the full length of the house looking out onto the garden and they are usually one story buildings.

The newer buildings are small but usually have two or three floors. Obviously once you've bought the land building up is less expensive that building out. Most of the buildings have Japanese styling elements with upturned corners on the roofs and most have the rounded dark ceramic tiles on the roofs with decorative endcaps.

Not all of the buildings are on the street either. I mentioned the house next to my apartment that is surrounded by buildings on all sides just like my apartment building is. To get to it you have to walk the same narrow pathway off the street to get in behind the surrounding buildings. This is true out in the district as well. Houses will be lined up with access down a four foot wide path.

There are some very large houses on some of the streets. Some are older Japanese style houses; others are newly build Japanese style houses while still others are very modernistic in style. It has been very interesting to see where the people actually live.

One of the surprising but welcome benefits of going for a walk at around 5:00 is that there is something cooking in most of the kitchens I walk by. The smells are delicious and quite varied. Grilled fish that's been basted in a savory sauce (some of which has hit the grill and created an additional tasty aroma), curry (very popular in Japan), stews and grilled vegetables. Generally I take this all in before I've eaten so I'm a little crazy and impatient for food when I'm done and I still have to go shopping.

I dress in a workout shirt and workout shorts to take my walk and I always put a few coins in my pocket to buy some beer and a rice ball for a snack at the 7Eleven. As I walk along taking in the delicious aromas I'm reminded of the old fable of the eel that lived next door to the unagi (grilled fresh water eel) restaurant. He would never go eat at the restaurant but he loved the wonderful smell. Well, each time I smelled something that made my stomach growl, a delicious meal's scents wafting out of a kitchen operated by someone who knows how to cook delicious smelling food, I did what the eel did, I rattled the change in my pocket to pay with the sound of the my coins for the smell of the food.

My longest term friend here in Japan knows what I mean. I mentioned in a previous blog post that he wasn't a fan of unagi but the smell of it grilling coming out from the restaurants when we visited Kawagoe made it impossible for him to resist. I think he's glad he didn't.

I have to start making some last rounds to some favorite places so last night I went to eat at one of the izakayas I've gone to a number of times. I wanted to say goodbye and let them know I wouldn't be coming by for a long time. They serve yakitori that includes a number of internal organs cooked tender and sprinkled with salt. I had five various sticks and a bowl of some type of innards soup that I had eaten there before. It is a tasty hearty soup and now that it has cooled down somewhat it was good to eat a thick soup. This place servers Kirin beer on tap and I found it to be the coldest and tastiest tap beer in all the places I went to during the last three months and I told them so.

They said good bye and gave me a souvenir sake drinking box and I went out to walk in the Harmonica streets of Kichijoji. I had made it out the door and down the block when I remembered that I had forgotten my umbrella. I turned to go back then stopped myself. I was leaving soon and I wouldn't be taking the umbrella with me. I'd found it on the train so I decided to practise the catch-and-release policy of Japanese umbrellas and I let it go.

At the Harmonica streets there is a small Chinese dumpling food stand at the end of one of them right across from the train station. I had wanted to try them and I felt I could still eat a little so I went and bought a package of four.

These dumplings are the Shanghai soup dumplings. The dumpling is stuffed with soup that has been jellied so that when cold it is solid when you wrap it in the dumpling. In this case there was also a ground pork meatball inside. They are the size of a billiard ball and after steaming are very hot. To eat them you pick them up and bite a small hole in the dumpling dough to let the steam out and to cool the now liquid soup inside. It is a clear red soup and you slurp out its goodness being careful not to singe your tongue. Full meaty flavor is your reward. Then the tasty meatball and the tender dumpling, both saturated with the satisfying flavor of the pork broth.

I walked about through the thin alleys filled with many small bars. People sat on chairs that partially blocked the alleys drinking beer and eating from small dishes. I stepped into one alley and there was another non-Japanese person standing there. I nodded and said hello and went to pass by. I came to Japan to meet Japanese people and to speak Japanese but I'm not adverse to meeting people from other countries. Quite often they are non-Japanese and don't speak English so I have no method to communicate with them anyway.

This gentleman spoke English and returned my hello and asked where I was going. We began a conversation, introduced ourselves and then he introduced me to his friend, a very beautiful Japanese woman. He said she had never been to the Harmonica streets of Kichijoji so he was showing her around and then they were going to go to a stand-up bar to have a drink. They asked me to join them and I did.

He is an assistant professor at one of the many small universities in Tokyo and has been living in Japan for ten years. She was born in Tokyo and worked as an accountant. I told them of my interest in all things Japanese and that I was learning the language so they decided to test me and they tested me pretty good. They confirmed my own evaluation of my Japanese skills. I can speak it well enough to get my meaning across but I look dumbfounded when they speak Japanese back to me.

He was from New Zealand so no question about his English. She spoke very good English as well. They tried to keep it Japanese for me to practice but for clarification we used English. I asked how well he spoke Japanese when he arrived and he said not at all. He learned on the job and in bars where you learn a different Japanese than the language I'm learning from books and audio lessons. The books and tapes teach proper Japanese using perfect grammar but on the street there are many short cuts. I listen for certain key sounds when they speak to me but they don't use those sounds. They also have different endings when they conjugate their verbs. What a nice new difficulty to realize.

He gave me his email address and said to make contact the next day and we'd get out for a drink again before I leave. He's a nice guy and a good exercise for my Japanese Language learning. If I don't see him again before I leave I will certainly keep in touch and try to see him on my next visit. He's also only the second non-Japanese friend I've made in Japan. Making a new and interesting friend with just eight days to go before my departure also made me a little sad. I'm sure I would have learned a lot more about living in Japan if I'd met him earlier in the trip. Next time.

As usual, a reminder that if you are interested in finding out more about Japan check on my author page at my publisher's website,

Monday, October 18, 2010

History, More Food and Fishing

First, a little writing news update: The Great Falls Tribune published an article about my book, A Wind In Montana, in their October 18th issue. If you are interested you can read it at

It was kind of exciting for me to get the email from them telling me they had published the story. It isn't really a review since they don't offer an evaluation.

Back in Japan, I spent an amazing day with my friends, the couple we met in Hawaii. Together we usually plan to go to a park or museum and then try some new style of Japanese food. This time we planned to eat Teppanyaki and go to the Edo/Tokyo museum. First we went for lunch.

Teppanyaki in North America is an entertaining way to eat. You sit around the iron cooking surface (Teppan) and watch as the chef prepares your food. The chefs are skilled in the art of juggling, continually flipping and spinning their cooking utensils creating a constant racket in the process. In a crowded restaurant the din can be deafening.

The show continues with a series of the same jokes you've heard in other Teppanyaki restaurants where square cut zucchini are introduced as Japanese French Fries and bean sprouts as Japanese Spaghetti. Then if there are children in your group (and Teppanyaki is a great meal to take kids to, it keeps them entertained) the chef stacks the concentric circles of onions into a mountain structure, sprays oil into it the dims the lighting and starts the oil on fire. The old volcano trick.

After that you get the Carnival game of flipping shrimp and catching them in your mouth. If you are successful with a catch a spray of sake comes your way and you get splashed all over your face. When that stuff is all over and done with you get to eat some pretty tasty food. Like I said, in North America Teppanyaki is entertainment, all about the show.

In Japan, Teppanyaki is a serious cuisine. I ate it once in Kyoto where everything is serious and I thought maybe it was a Kyoto thing but when we ate Teppanyaki in Kichijoji the chef was equally serious about the food he was preparing. The results of his efforts were delicious and it is worth the experience to compare the In-Japan-Style with what happens in North America.

The restaurant we were in offered a French Teppanyaki set meal that included foie gras but, I wanted the Japanese Teppanyaki. For a starter we had sashimi of ika (squid). Tender, soft, tasty with a ground ginger accompaniment that let us know we were in for some delicate flavoring techniques. Next, hotate (scallop) and small white fish. Both had a nice browned crust and when dipped in salt or shoyu they were sweet and savory.

The Japanese set meal was a surf and turf plan but after this first fish course we were served a small green salad. The salad dressing in Teppanyaki restaurants in North America is a tangy dressing with a fruity element to it, this one we hand in Japan could also be described that way but it had more of the fruit but also goma (sesame) blended with it. It does well as a palate cleanser.

After the salad we were served a small lobster tail at the front and centered of a white plate. The tail was behind the lobster meat which was sitting on a bed of freshly steamed spinach. A rich lobster sauce was spooned over the lobster and it tasted great with the tender spinach as well.

The turf portion of the meal was Wagyu beef. If you haven't seen Wagyu beef it is rippled with fat, almost fifty-fifty fat versus meat and I've seen it with more fat than that. It is extremely expensive beef. I wouldn't buy it very often because of the price and the fat content but it is worth tasting more than once. I've mentioned before that I am not a fan of fat on meat but I placed my reserve aside so that I could enjoy the flavor of the Wagyu. It is a mild beef flavor but unmistakably beef. Juicy doesn't even come anywhere close to a ballpark full of hints or clues as to how to describe the texture but neither does greasy. There is plenty of moisture released by the ever so soft meat but it doesn't coat your mouth leaving you with a slick that you want to cut through with a drink or piece of bread. Instead you take your time and enjoy the flavor. You don't get a giant portion like you would in North America and you don't need it, so chew slowly, let it fill your mouth getting to all the flavor savoring areas you have within. Experience it, you'll be rewarded with one of the best beef tastes you will ever receive from this ingredient that we expect to taste the same every time we eat it.

Desert was served in a different room. This happens at La Rochelle as well and I've never been through the change of location for desert process before eating at La Rochelle. Maybe I haven't been around enough but it's kind of a nice touch. Kind of like they're saying, "We have a special treat for you in the next room." Now you're all excited and can't wait to see what they've done for you.

It was raspberry sorbet with a small cookie. It refreshed the mouth and went great with a rich cup of coffee. This is where the bill was presented so I guess they like to keep the business end of the experience away from the artistic end.

After lunch we went to the Edo/Tokyo museum. One half of the exhibition is dedicated to Edo, that is Tokyo before the modern era, and the other half is dedicated to Tokyo as it developed into the modern city of today. It is an interesting exhibit and the experience is enhanced by having some prior knowledge of those times. The museum also has two sections that are revolving exhibits so there is something new each time I go.

This time there was a themed exhibit dedicated to the Sumida River which runs through Tokyo. There were pictures and numerous Ukiyo-e (Japanese Woodblock Prints) depicting scenes of activities that did and still do take place along the banks of the river. I'm a big fan of Ukiyo-e and own a number of them so the exhibit was very interesting for me.

The first Ukiyo-e I ever purchased was a hundred and ten year old triptych that depicted a scene in the life of a samurai. When my friends whom I was with at the museum this day visited my home in Arizona earlier in the year they recognized the print. It turns out that the artist was my friend's relative from about one-hundred and twenty years earlier. When we visited his home earlier on this trip he showed us some scrolls that his relative had created and some other works by some of his relative's trainees. As he showed us these prints his daughter sat there flabbergasted discovering the artwork and history of her long ago and talented relative. She hadn't known of these valuable prints that were in the house she grew up in.

The second special section of the museum was dedicated to some historical artifacts related to the Tokugawa Shogunate which ruled Japan for over two hundred and fifty years. The title of Shogun was handed down to 14 heirs during that time. The first three have considerable history written about them. The final Shogun as well but the ones in between are hard to learn about in the English language. It is the history of the first Shogun that James Clavel's novel, Shogun, loosely parallels. His protagonist was named Toranaga.

The Tokugawa are another subject that I have studied and am very interested in so the day was a special treat all day long and it didn't end after we had spent five and a half hours walking through the museum.

The museum is located in Ryogoku, next to the Kokugikan sumo stadium so when it was time to eat dinner we of course went for Chankonabe, the sumo wrestler's stew that I wrote about in an earlier blog. This night we went to the restaurant called Terao which is named for the former sekiwake who is currently the Oyakata (Head Coach) of the Shikoroyama sumo stable. This is the sumo stable that my favorite wrestler, Homasho, belongs to and we chose it by chance.

We had a miso based chankonabe which only went to prove that chankonabe comes in many different flavors and so far I haven't found one that wasn't delicious. When we chose our chankonabe, the waitress looked at me then looked at my friends and asked them a question. It turns out the only protein in the chankonabe we had chosen was iwashi (sardine) meatballs and she was concerned about whether or not I could handle it. I was proud of myself because I had understood the jist of her question when she asked in Japanese.

It was a long and enjoyable day that flew by because of the interesting things we saw and ate together. The challenge of communicating when none of us spoke the other's language well, added to the enjoyment. When I think about how much time we spent together and were able to understand each other's comments, it makes me glad I'm learning the language.

The next day I slept in because that night I was meeting my friend from La Rochelle at 10:00 pm to go night fishing.

You know that the fishing was good when all you talk about is the fish that you caught. When you talk about the wonderful experience of seeing a new and beautiful part of the country in perfect weather with soft warm wind blowing surrounded by scenic coastal views along the Pacific Ocean, you know that you got skunked. My friend and I did but, our guide and knowledgeable fisherman managed to catch three fish.

One was extremely poisonous. Our expert insisted that we stay away from it while he handled it with a pair of pliers until he freed the hook and put it back in the water. It was about eight inches long and had a big mouth with stripes along its side. Now that I think about it I forgot to ask what type of fish it was. It had poison in either quills or in the surface slime covering its body but I never found out for sure. A picture is on the right side of the blog page at If you aren't reading at that site and want to see it you can check it out there.

Aside from the poisonous fish I have to tell you that the night fishing process is a little dangerous. Our expert insisted that we wear life jackets since we would be perched eight feet above the water on rocky outcroppings extending out into the sea in the dark. No argument here. Top that off with the fact that the rocks had been eroded unevenly so that you had to watch your step, there was no level ground to speak of, with very little light and you realized you have to stay alert when fishing at night. We had head lamps that we turned on when we needed to bait a hook but it was best to leave the lights out and let your night vision take over.

I thought I felt a couple of nibbles at the end of my line but it turns out that only meant I had place my bait well enough for the small shrimp to stay on the hook during the short flight into the choppy water where it tried to attract something that would be pretty tasty later. Obviously most of the little crustaceans didn't make and therefore provided a meal to a fish for nothing while I stood it the warm breeze under the picturesque lighthouse breathing in the scents of the ocean while occasionally staring up at the millions of stars shining in the clear sky above, thinking, I'd do this expecting no reward of fish just for the chance to be in the moment. More proof that I got skunked.

My friend started the journey by cracking a prescient joke related to how beautiful the night was. He said, "No wind, no rain…" and then added, "no fish."

We fished until the sun came up and then made or way home. We managed to get into the middle of the rush hour from Yokohama but when we got to Shinagawa we decided to have a coffee and sit out the craziness for awhile. It was 7:30 AM by this time and as we stood in line waiting to order coffee the counter person poured two mugs of beer and put them on a tray. They looked nice and cold and frothy just like I like to drink them. Two older ladies picked up the tray and disappeared to one of the sitting areas. We had our coffee then took a local train that was slower but less crowded.

They insisted that I take the other two fish home which I did and as soon as I arrived I gutted and filleted them. I had to get the guts and heads out into the garbage and it was past pickup time on smelly garbage day. If I didn't get them out they would be stinking the place up for another three days.

That night I fried the fish in a little olive oil and at the end sprinkled it with shoyu. There's nothing like extremely fresh fish, especially when you know where and when it was caught. It wasn't enough fish to justify the amount of time and money we spent to get it but it was an experience most travelers to Japan won't get. Getting fish was secondary when you think about it, if I want fresh fish its available in almost every store in Japan. It was the act of planning and executing the trip that made it special. Of course this is what all the fishermen who get skunked like to tell you. I'm so lucky that I have friends who invite me to go on these excursions. My only regret is that I didn't have one of those beers at 7:30 in the morning and sit and drink it with the two older ladies.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

My Neighbors

I've been in my Mitaka Apartment for ten weeks now and I really haven't met any of my immediate neighbors. A tad unsocial of me but when you think I've lived in the same house for eight years in Arizona and I don't know the names of my neighbors on either side, you can conclude that I'm not a shake-hands over the fence kind of guy.

I have given my neighbors in Arizona baseball tickets and we do say hello but that's about it. In Mitaka I've made some observations regarding my neighbors but only nodded to the guy living in the next apartment.

First, directly outside my door I've discover two frogs living in the bushes. Technically they may be toads but I don't know how to tell. One is bigger than the other so I think they are a mating pair therefore, there could be more of them. (The biggest one scared me one night when I was taking out the garbage.) My knowledge of frog reproduction includes a vision of tadpoles swimming in a pond and there isn't a pond out there that I can see. I doubt they drop the froglets in the dirt and hope they survive but nature is fairly creative when it comes to reproduction. I won't get into that here but I could.

Just over the fence from the frogs is a full size house. It is surrounded by other buildings and has a number of large trees in the yard. It is very dark back there. Even in August when the sun was shining so intensely the entire house was in shade. I haven't seen any people in the yard and at night I've never seen lights on in the windows. There is a mailbox and it isn't overflowing with abandoned mail so I think someone does live there.

The apartment above me was vacant up until a month ago then it seemed that a Celtic Clogging team moved in and based on the energetic thumping they produce I think they're from the heavy weight division. And there are no time limits. Who ever is up there likes to stomp around the tatamis at all times of the morning. Last night I heard them at 3:15.

Relief is in site though; I'm a curious guy so I checked the website to see when that unit would be available for rent again. Lucky me, I think it is in two days and I hear them cleaning the place. It sounds like suitcases rolling over the floor so I may have the quite restored fairly soon.

Shortly after arriving in Mitaka I heard some shuffling steps go by my front door. You know the kind of shuffling older people do when they aren't too sure of their balance. One day as I was leaving my place I heard the shuffling and it was my neighbor returning from the street. When he saw me he stopped in his tracks and stared. I said good morning and he grunted then raised his hand to indicate that he wanted to get by me and, that was how we met.

I've seen him walking to the 7Eleven store and the other morning when I was leaving he stepped out of his apartment wearing a jacket and tie while carrying a briefcase. We nodded to each other but based on his shuffling speed I turned and quick walked out to the street. Two days later I saw him working with the Gardening Maintenance Wagon that sits outside my side window so I think he is the live-in maintenance man.

Out the back window where the fence is just six feet away, there is another house. They have a dog who I now know is named, Omi. The problem is that Omi doesn't know his name is, Omi. He should, his owner yells it at him enough. Some things, and I haven't been able to nail down what they are, set this dog off into a fit of rapid fire barking that goes on for minutes at a time. If the owner is away at work they don't last too long but if he's home you hear, "Roof, Omi, Roof, Omi, Roof, Omi, Roof, Omi…" for what seems like an hour, especially at 1:00 in the morning.

To the street side of my apartment is another apartment building. After two weeks of quiet sleeping here in my apartment, one night I could hear a constant boink noise followed by some quick tapping or thudding sounds. I finally figured out it was the noise of a video game and the player was bound and determined to get through all the levels before he went to bed. His play was interrupted by a phone call so he must have put the game on hold and gone out to sit on his balcony because all of a sudden at 12:30 AM it was like he was sitting beside me and I had the windows closed.

Who ever he was talking to I'd like to meet because based on the uncontrollable loud and obnoxious laughing my neighbor was doing, the guy he was talking to must have been the funniest most entertaining guy in the world. The laughter went on for about an hour.

This happened a couple more times over the next two weeks and one night he had a friend with him so he had to repeat what the guy on the phone said and then the two of them lost it together.

I was looking out my window one day and saw a couple in the apartment directly across from mine. They appeared to be renovating so I don't think the noise was coming from that apartment. Might have been the one on the second floor.

Away from the apartment at the businesses out on the street I have gotten to know some of the owners. There is a flower shop just down the short alley to the street. My girlfriend purchased flowers there one day. I usually say good morning or hello to the lady inside. The clerks at the 7Eleven have gotten to know me as has the lady at the dry cleaners. Also, I've become a semi-regular at two izakays. One here in Mitaka and one in Kichijoji and I took my girlfriend to both of them. When I went back after she was gone both places asked me where she was and felt bad that I was alone.

I do stick out a bit here in the neighborhood. I haven't seen any other westerners walking around here so the shop owners who see me everyday recognize me. It's been comfortable here all along but now that I'm just two weeks away from leaving I'm thinking more about not being here. I've started planning what I have to do to make sure there isn't much left in the room the day I leave. It's daytime now and I can hear the people upstairs really giving their apartment a good cleaning. It makes me sad to think I'll be doing that soon.

I'm also thinking about the places I have to go to say goodbye and all this with the realization that I won't be coming back to this exact spot ever again. Next time I visit for this long I'll be in a different apartment.

The good thoughts right now are related to work. Work has been going good. My second novel is still with my editor but I'm expecting it soon. Because I don't have it back I've been working on my third novel and making pretty good progress. The development of characters and plot and then the redevelopment as you get deeper into the story are the most fun. You'd think sitting at a keyboard for hours at a time would be boring but your mind is busy in a creative way so you are entertaining yourself and you are completely in control.

I've also done some things related to promoting book one, A Wind In Montana. The Great Falls Tribune newspaper contacted me about the book review they are publishing. The story takes place in Great Falls so they wanted to ask me a few questions. I used to go to Great Falls to visit my grandparents and have vivid memories of the city. The reviewer from the Tribune asked when I lived in Great Falls and which High School I went to. She also asked if I was a chemist since my main character is involved with chemistry and a competition to win a prestigious chemistry scholarship.

I'd sent a copy of the book to the Tribune back in March so you never know how long it will take to get noticed. I've changed the book cover since I sent them a copy so I sent them a new image of the cover to print with their review.

I mentioned earlier that I published an Ebook version of my book and it has been accepted to go into Smashwords Premier Catalogue so it will be getting better exposure in all the major Ebook retail sites.

To help get things started I created a discount coupon for purchases directly from the Smashwords website. The coupon number is available in the caption under my book cover on the right side of the blog page and also on my author page at my publisher's website,

Next up I'm meeting the couple I'd met in Hawaii a few years back and we're going for Teppanyaki then off to the Edo-Tokyo museum. The next day I'm going late night fishing.

My friend from La Rochelle restaurant has lined up a friend of his to meet us in Yokohama. We take a late train down there, fish all night then take the first train back in the morning. I asked why we were going to go fishing at night and he said you catch more fish at night. It should be interesting. For days they have been predicting rain in that area during that night but they just changed the forecast and we should be alright.

I'll let you know what we catch and show you some pictures before and after the fish are cooked. If we cook it and if we don't catch anything my friend tells me there is a fish market nearby and we can catch what ever we want.