Sunday, August 29, 2010

Book Two Off to My Editor – I’ve Been in Japan for 4 Weeks

I finished my latest read through of my second novel and I’ve sent it off to my editor. I should hear from him in a few days about which direction we need to go. If you’re interested in reading an excerpt, click on the cover of my first novel, A Wind In Montana, at the top right of the blog page and leave me your contact information. I’ll send you an email with the excerpt.

My second novel is due out in January. It will be published by, Pensmith who’s home page is I will have more about my second novel on the website soon.

I spent a few hours the other night creating the cover and I sent it off to my editor as well. He liked it. I’ll have it up on the Zonajin page soon.

Two days ago we had the draft in one of my Fantasy Football leagues. Just like I had predicted before coming to Japan, the internet is amazing at making it seem like I’m still involved with those I left behind. Aside from a miscalculation of the start time on my part it went off without a hitch. I had mistakenly calculated the start time as if I were in Arizona converting to Japan time when it was really the other way around. My brother fixed the error for me.

This weekend my girlfriend was traveling to the mountains in New Mexico. She took her notepad with her and managed to get connected to the internet and we were still able to Skype connect. I’ve also been able to watch the Hometown Cardinals play their exhibition football games via satellite so I haven’t had to do it via Skype, even though that did work when we tried it.

I am taking a trip to a small town to the North of Tokyo for two days a week from now. It’s a research trip to the area of the country where my third novel takes place. I’m going to hike parts of the Nakasendo Highway and get a feel for the scenery and views in the area. The town that is the setting doesn’t appear to exist any longer but other nearby towns do.

It was easy enough to figure out the train schedules and routes. I mentioned in an early blog entry that I discovered a website that supplies that type of information. The link can be found on my author page at my publisher’s website listed above. The difficulty I had in organizing the trip was making a hotel reservation.

My Japanese lessons from Pimsleur (info available on my author page), had a whole section on making hotel reservations. I could have gone to that section and reviewed the lesson, then made the call but I had two concerns. First, I worried that I would ask a question and not understand what they asked me in return. I’m still having difficulty listening and understanding what is being said to me. Second, I’d read some time ago that many hotels in small towns don’t feel they can provide proper service to foreign guests so they say their hotel is booked.

So I tried to get my friend who is a travel agent to book the hotel. She told me to go into their office in Tokyo and get the people there to do the booking. She said it would be a good chance to try my Japanese and also to make contact with them in case I needed them again. That was good advice but I didn’t take it.

Instead, I mentioned my situation to my friend from La Rochelle. Although he is a foreigner too, he’s lived in Japan for twenty years and speaks Japanese fluently. He also has a Japanese girlfriend who can read the reservation screen. While I was Skyping with him he called the hotel in Miyota and made the reservation while I listened to his side of the conversation so now I’m all set. It should be cooler up there as well.

It’s still very hot here in Tokyo and I’ve been out in the heat quite a bit. In Arizona I move from one air conditioned environment to another and don’t stay outdoors very long but in Tokyo I want to be out and moving around seeing the various sections of town.

In my previous blog post I talked about grocery stores and the next day I found a new and larger one in the town one station to the west called Musashi Sakai. I am one sheet short of a made bed (sounds like one of those line, one brick short of a full load, etc,) for when my girlfriend arrives and my friend told me about a department store out in front of the train station in Musashi Sakai. It’s called Ito Yokado. It’s a great store with great prices and good selection. I found the bed sheet quickly then walked through the store to see what else they had. They had everything at reasonable prices. The only draw back is that it is a thirty minute walk. I could take the train but walking is one of my main methods of exercise these days.

Knowing that the basement floor in most department stores is a food floor I saved that until last. What I found was the best grocery store so far. I had planned to eat in a restaurant near the station but when I saw the prepared food section of this food floor I knew I was eating from what they offered. It took about a half hour to go through the store and see everything before deciding.

While touring the store I got to try pickled daikon and some sake (salmon) sashimi. Both were delicious. I bought a box of sushi that had been marked down (see previous blog entry about the food discounting process) then in the fried fish section I bought some crisp fried ika (squid) and some crispy fried sanma (don’t know the English name). I wanted to pop open the fried fish and try them immediately but decided to torture myself on the walk home.

It was worth it. The crispy fried items were savory delicious (and I didn’t use any sauce of any kind). I only tried a few pieces of each because I wanted to save some for lunch the next day. I also had a box of sushi and some pickled bamboo shoots to eat. The crispy items were equally delicious the next day and I’ve thought of going back to get more everyday since then.

I’ve been here for four weeks now and it’s been great. I went to my fourth Matsuri Festival in Harajuku yesterday. This one had non-traditional dance teams marching down the street for four and a half hours. The dance teams followed huge truck with powerful sound systems blaring out the team’s music. There was a platform on top of the truck and one to three singers stood on the platform belting out the songs or leading a chant for the dancers. The music ranged from Michael Jackson to modernized traditional Japanese music. There was a team from Ghana that had a custom song that spoke about the strong relationship between Ghana and Japan.

My other friend from La Rochelle, the young girl, had asked me to go and we took a break to go to a foodie event in Shinjuku that La Rochelle was participating in. The kitchen staff went to the event at 7:00 AM and made Beef Bourguignon, a bunch of it. The event ended at 4:30 PM and then the staff all went to work for that night’s service. The Beef Bourguignon was very rich and flavorful. The red wine, onions and consume were in perfect balance.

I was able to have a few conversations in Japanese with strangers at the festival and I did better understanding what I was being told. My young friend is just learning English so we struggled sometimes to understand our conversation but we spent about nine hours together and managed to communicate quite well.

After we went to the original branch of the Okinawan/Chinese restaurant, Tama, that her father's cousin works at as a chef. His food was again delicious. We had the special 'sea grape' sea weed that pops in your mouth again. My friend had told him of my interest in sumo and he his father it turns out is a good friend of the Oyakata (top coach and manager) of one of the 51 sumo stables. They asked if I was interested in going to a morning practise next month and I instantly replied, Zehi (by all means). So I may get an up close look inside a sumo stable.

Once again, the hospitality of the Japanese people shines through. I've been lucky to have found very good friends in this wonderful country.

I’m getting more comfortable here everyday. I’m happy with the way the writing is going and my Japanese is coming along. If it would just cool down.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Street Food and Grocery Stores

I just spent two days eating street food so I haven’t been to the grocery stores for a while. The street food was exceptional though. I went to the Azubu-Judan Matsuri which is three day event in that section of Tokyo. My friend who worked for CDJapan has gone to this particular festival for a number of years and asked me if I wanted to tag along.

We arrived at noon, three hours early when there were very few people milling about and nothing was happening so we took off to run an errand and kill some time. When we came back at 3:00 the transformation was staggering. I’ve attached before and after pictures on the right side of the blog at if you are reading this on another site.

The previous Matsuri festival I went to was more about the traditional dances and music. This one was about food. There was a small stage with some kid style entertainment but the rest of the action seemed exclusively to be food stalls. My friend and I ate for the next three hours. There were unlimited numbers of food varieties through out the mile or so of elbow to elbow food stands. Yakitori, okonomiyaki, grilled fish, pancakes stuffed with jam or custard and the favorite street food in Japan, takoyaki. One food item that was very popular was potato and butter. I didn’t have one but saw plenty of people with a boiled yellow potato busted open and topped with butter. There were booths for them everywhere. The okonomiyaki was good but large and I didn’t want to fill up too soon so I only ate part of it.

There were a lot of Korean food stands as well. I had a savory pancake type item that had dough like a dumpling stuffed with a ground chicken and fried into a flat round patty. It was very tasty with the chicken and onion mixed and had a touch of soya flavor. Another Korean dish that looked good was a rice pasta dish. The pasta were shaped like penne but they were not hollow and they were cooked with vegetables and some kind of seafood it looked like, then a weak colored red sauce that looked and smelled spicy was added. We never got back to try that dish.

Chinese food was also very prevalent and I wanted to try the garlic shrimp at the one booth where I saw it. The shrimp were battered and cooked individually and stood up straight in a clear plastic cup like French fries. The serving looked plentiful but I forgot were we had seen the booth and we didn’t make it back.

The restaurants and stores that lined the streets also had booths on their sidewalks so you could also get candy, Italian food and beer. I’ve never seen so many beer kegs lined up on a street before.

My friend had more errands to run so we left after about three hours and when I got back to Mitaka I landed right in the middle of Mitaka’s two day Matsuri festival. This one was more like the one I’d been to in Naka-Meguro where the main street was a parade of dancing and music. I stayed and watched for an hour then spotted a takoyaki booth and bought a tray to take home for dinner.

The next night I went back out and ate the Mitaka Matsuri street food for about two hours. I had a Korean onion pancake, a tray of fried noodles, four sticks of various yakiniku (grilled meet on a stick) with a fried fish patty, a few glasses of beer and then walked by the India restaurant on my way home and had some tandori chicken grilled on the street.

After all the street food I decided to cook for myself the next day. I had some soba noodles but wanted some sashimi to go with them so I made a trip to the grocery store.

From the Mitaka train station if you walk less that a quarter mile you will pass four different grocery stores. This makes sense because so many people get off the train and buy their evening meal on the way home. The Japanese people work late in most of their jobs and many don’t want to cook when they get home so the previously prepared food section of the grocery stores takes up a lot of store space and there are a variety of food items to choose from.

Cutlets are fairly dominant in this area. Potato, pork, shrimp and some I can’t figure out are all available for 150 to 400 yen. I saw people with small plastic boxes filling them up with various cutlets to take home to the family. You can also get trays of vegetable mixes of various sizes from single person to family of four. Inside you find carrot, small creamy potatoes, konyaku (yam jelly), bamboo shoots, green beans and lotus root.

Next is tempura with a variety of vegetables and shrimp in batter. And as always, there are the complete meal boxes that have rice, vegetables and some protein for one person. They all look tempting and the ones I’ve tried have been great.

Last night on television there was a business documentary on some of the top grocery stores in Japan. They highlighted the most important features of the stores and with most of them it was the quality of the prepared food that they highlighted. The thing that contributes most to the excellent prepared food is the huge kitchen in the back of the store. Giant deep fryers and woks and stewing pots to prepare the food on site and to keep it fresh. The items are time stamped and it’s one person’s job to go out and check the time stamps. If the food is older that a specified time they place discount stickers on the boxes. I don’t know if the small stores I’ve been in have their own kitchens but the food looks like it was just prepared.

The other area the stores wanted to highlight was their fish section. It is by far the largest section of each grocery store. The varieties and methods of preparation are amazing. Raw whole fish is available but the fish mongers have also prepared cuts of fish into different proportions. Here you find the sashimi boxes of various sizes, types of fish and price. Then there is a smoked fish section and always some sushi in boxes.

In the one store nearest the station they have two fish markets. One is part of the main grocery store and the other is a privately owned fish specialty store. The one that is owned by the store has an older fish monger behind the counter in a small work area who chants the whole time you are there. He punctuates the end of each chant with a chop of his blade on the fish he is working on.

In this one there is also a privately owned coffee store as well as a private rice and grain store.

My girlfriend and I like to go into grocery stores wherever we go just to see the quality of the local food and what’s available. We went into one in Himeji during our first trip to Japan and in the fish section we saw one of those wine cooler devices that used to be in grocery stores back home where you could put your wine in for a minute or two and have it chilled. We got over to this one and it was a swimming, slithering melee of live eels. There was a roll of plastic bags, a rack of twist ties and a scoop net hanging beside the cooler so you could fish out the eels and then pay for them by the kilogram.

In contrast to American stores the canned goods section is usually pretty small. You can find a few America products in these sections like Campbell’s Soup and other brand names. The Japanese canned foods are mostly, you guessed it, fish. Scallops, lobster, crab, salmon and so on. They also have canned pork that has been slow boiled in a soya broth. It looks like quiet a bit of fat is still on the meat so I haven’t tried the can my friend bought for me.

The snack food sections are also quite large, mostly rice cracker snacks which are basted in different flavors but in one store I saw a section dedicated to North American snack foods. They had salsa but no plain tortilla chips just flavored Doritos to dip in the salsa. The other thing they had that stood out was the Funyuns.

The meat counters are fairly limited. You don’t see a lot of steaks or roasts because the Japanese don’t eat their meat in large portions like we do in NA. There is a good selection of ground meats but the most dominant meat style is very thin cuts that can be used for Shabu-Shabu and Sukiyaki where you don’t cook the meat for a very long time. I’ve purchased pork and beef to add to stir-fries or curries but only twice. Since then it’s been all fish for me.

The last major section is the fruit and vegetable section. Every one of the stores had good quality fruit. The prices are a little high but the fruit is delicious. The peaches and nectarines are full of flavor and juicy. There are a lot of fruit and vegetable markets as well as what is available in the grocery stores so I’m surprised the prices are high.

Potatoes aren’t very popular but Japanese yams are everywhere. Not too many onions and the cucumbers are the small Persian style. Lots of tomatoes but they are also expensive. Quite a few Asian herbs that I’m not familiar with but chizo, sometimes called Japanese Basil, is sold in trays and is quite delicious. My friend and I had a yakatori that was ground chicken on a chizo leaf, wrapped around a stick, dipped in a thin batter and grilled, the chizo burst in your mouth with a fresh zesty flavor followed by the umami chicken. It was great.

When you check out you take your basket to the checker and they ring you through moving your goods from one basket to an identical one while they scan but, they don’t bag you goods. Instead they place empty bags in your basket and after you pay you go to the self pack stands to transfer your goods into the carry-out bags. Maybe it’s just the grocery stores near busy train stations that do this but I was surprised. The Japanese businesses pride themselves on service so I thought they may have had people bagging your goods then bowing as you leave to give you a pleasant sendoff.

The dairy section offers a good selection of milk but there is almost no cheese. I think I lose weight on these trips because of a lack of dairy. I can't remember seeing a frozen food section. If there is one I'm sure it's a small one. They like to keep it fresh in Japan.

I enjoy going to these stores and I go everyday. My refrigerator is so small I can’t keep much in it and I want to buy the freshest fish possible so I want to go everyday. My biggest problem is deciding which of the stores to go to and I never buy just what I went looking for.

Don’t forget to visit my publisher’s website at to read an excerpt from my novel, A Wind In Montana, and give me your contact information and I’ll send you an excerpt from my second novel due out in January of 2011.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Life as a Writer So Far and a Lack of Whistling

I told my sister this morning that I was going to write about the grocery stores here in Mitaka but it is getting late and I still have to go out and buy something to go with my home made soba noodles. I’ll do a little more research while I’m at it and write about them next time.

It’s been five months since I left my job to dedicate myself to writing. I like what I do now and certainly enjoy the way I spend my time. Days actually go by very fast for me. I get started on a project like finding websites that have a similar interest or theme to my book’s theme and try to find out if I can get some visibility on the site. I’ve managed to do that on a few. Promotion is most of what writers do in the current book world.

Sometimes I just do an internet search on keywords about my theme and chase down leads through the results. Those chases have ended in receiving book reviews that were posted on the net. If you do a search in your favorite search engine and just enter my name (Mitch Davies – I noticed my name isn’t anywhere on my Zonajin blog page so there it is so you can copy it into you search engine) you will see it come up on the first page more than once. There are some other guys out there with the same name so be sure to click on the right one. The right Mitch Davies is the one related to book reviews and the title of my novel which is above the picture of the book’s cover on the top right of the page.

I decided I needed to get some publicity for this book and hopefully it carries over a bit for the next one so I did a search on book promotion. It took me a week or so to research all that showed up in the results. There are a lot of people out there doing it and I’m sure it’s part of the shake up in the publishing industry. Traditional publishers let a big chunk of there promotions staff and editing staffs go so many are in business for themselves.

I chose a publicity firm named, A Marketing Expert (AME), and they are putting together a campaign for my book. As a result I have very busy periods of preparing information for the campaign. Things like an author biography, an author questionnaire, guest blog articles and other background information to be sent to various media outlets on the internet. It’s an all electronic campaign. I may have to record an interview but it will be distributed as a podcast.

Next, I spend time at a few sites related to the publishing/book selling industry. It’s good to know what’s going on and what the predictions are for the future. Barnes and Noble, the huge bookstore chain, is up for sale. Does that mean the bookstore world as we know it is in for a big change the way Print-On-Demand (POD) printers changed the publishing industry?

And what about electronic books? Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes and Noble’s Nook, Apple’s iPad or, like what has been going on in Japan for a few years, even cell phones are going to make almost every book available electronically. As soon as I saw how the ebook business was going and how much reading an electronic book reader was like reading a book (I have a Nook), I started to research getting my book into all the electronic formats. It’s available in Kindle format now because Amazon was quick to get a conversion program up on its site. Barnes and Noble say their conversion program will be available this summer but I haven’t seen it yet. Conversion to the iPad format is available and I’ll be getting that done soon.

All of this takes up a good part of my day and any writer is going to be responsible for doing this sort of activity for themselves unless they are one of the mega-bestsellers who have a proven return on investment that their publisher can depend on.

It’s solitary work and new relationships are made online via information request forms and email. When telecommuting started to become popular all the sociologists were worried that people would feel isolated working from home. They advised companies to make sure they came to the office 2 days a week or alternated weeks working at home and in the office because people need other people. Ahh, it’s not so bad. Five months and I can tell you I’ve never once sat for hours staring blankly at the floor, rocking on the sofa with my arms wrapped around myself. I’ve got things to do.

I have made a new friend at the small Postal Annex business where I go to mail copies of my book to reviewers and here in Japan I’ve been going to the same two Izakayas (Japanese bars) and they recognize me now and we try to talk a bit.

I thought I would gain weight when I worked out of the house as well. I’d heard about the telecommute 10 pound bonus weight that people put on because they didn’t have co-workers watching them get snacks from the refrigerator when they work from home but, I haven't received my bonus yet. I get hunting down some kind of information and the next thing I know it’s past lunch time.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that I don’t use my car as much as I used to. When people asked me what I was going to do when I left the job I would tell them I was going to work on reducing my carbon footprint on the world. I guess I’m actually doing it and can take my tongue out of my cheek.

I like to sleep and I thought I might be in danger of falling back into my younger-day’s habit of staying up late and sleeping until noon but that hasn’t happened. The corporate world and its 8:00 o’clock start time ruined me. I still wake up about 7:00and I’m at the computer by 8:00. Here in Japan it’s the same but no alarm clock. They say as you get old you don’t sleep as much so I betting that’s what happened.

One thing I did noticed a few weeks ago is that I don’t whistle as much as I used to. I used to whistle so much that it annoyed people.

The first time I noticed this was in high school when I used to whistle softly through my teeth during class. I remember my chemistry teacher stopping his balancing of an equation on the chalkboard to ask me to stop whistling. I didn’t know I was doing it and stopped, only to be asked to stop again a few minutes later. It carried on into university. I went to meet my girlfriend (hard to define that relationship really) at her apartment and when I arrived she was in her bedroom so her roommate and the roommate’s visiting mother met me at the door. I was introduced to the mother and promptly walked across the room to watch out the window while I waited and began whistling as if they weren’t in the room. I didn’t realize I had been whistling until my girlfriend and I left the apartment and she made fun of the fact that I couldn’t control my whistling.

Through my working-in-a-business years I was often asked to stop whistling or I’d be whistling away at a tune and the next thing I knew someone else was whistling it too. The Gershwin tune that became the theme for United Airlines use to get them every time. Check to see if you have it running in your head a little later on, it’s catchy.

Now I don’t seem to whistle. At least I think I don’t. I don’t know if it’s because I spend so much time on the internet or concentrating on what I’m reading or just thinking. Because I didn’t know I was doing it and now I don’t notice that I’ve stopped doing it, I guess I don’t miss it. Or, there’s no one to annoy so it isn’t any fun anymore.

Well, now it’s too late to cook anything. By the time I get to the grocery store and back I would have talked myself out of cooking anyway so I’ll either buy a pre-made dinner, one of the most tempting aspects of the grocery store, or go visit one of my friendly izakays.

If you’re interested in reading an excerpt of my novel, A Wind In Montana, click on the picture of the cover of my book. Also, leave me your contact information and I’ll keep you posted on my second novel and even send you and excerpt from it.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Great So Far and Getting Better

I bought myself a chair. My back is feeling better but I find I still like to write sitting on the foam pad with the PC on my lap. The chair is a nice break from the floor and is great to sit in while reading on the net, watching television programs (I’ve got this solved to a degree) and eating.

The purchase of the chair was an interesting process. My friend from La Rochelle restaurant knew of a used everything store where I would be able to buy a chair. I’d found a good chair in a furniture store near Kichijoji station that cost about $100 but I waited until my friend took me to the second hand store. We met at a corner that was about a 30 minute walk from my apartment. We had Skyped to setup the meeting and while Skyping he checked on Google Map to find the meeting place and then sent me the link. The next thing you know we are cruising virtually through Mitaka figuring out where to meet and which route I would use to walk there.

We met on time and then started walking to the store but again a local resident got confused by the streets and we walked too far. We asked for instructions from a passing couple then headed in a new direction. More walking in the hot early evening sun. We stopped at a vending machine and I bought Aquarius drinks for 110 yen each. Cooled down slightly we made our way to the Police Box (small buildings that house about 3 police officers) and asked for directions again. This time we headed back in the direction we had just come from but on a different street that angled off slightly. We found the store and there the first thing we saw sitting outside the store on the sidewalk was a chair with wheels but no arms. I sat in it and it felt right so we tried to find the price. It was 100 yen! Yes, about A DOLLAR and less than the drinks from the vending machine had cost. My friend told me that all second hand goods in Japan are cheap and if you are willing to have used items you can get by on a lot less money.

We went inside the to see if there were other chairs because I wanted one with arm rests but they didn’t have any. However we did look around and I spotted a shelf full of irons. My apartment doesn’t have one and for my girlfriend, if there isn’t an iron anywhere we go she expects little yellow oxygen masks to fall out of the ceiling. The iron was 800 yen. The place had golf clubs, surf boards, refrigerators, televisions, dinning room sets and thousands of other things.

We got the sales clerk to confirm the price of the chair and asked why it was so cheap. He said they go to houses and make deals to buy everything and sometimes they get these office chairs. Other times they buy a few items and the seller gives them the chairs if they’ll just haul it away.

So, I buy the chair and the next thing to do is get it back to the apartment. My friend has his bike but that’s not going to work because the chair is quite heavy so we look for a taxi. The neighborhood we are in isn’t very busy and it took a while before a taxi went by. We loaded up the chair and I said goodbye to my friend. The cab fare was 1,100 yen. It cost more than the items I’d gone to purchase.

While I was walking to meet my friend I walked past a Honda Used Car dealership. There were a number of great looking cars sitting in the lot and most had a price tag in the window. They appeared to be one or two year old Hondas and cost around $18,000 dollars. I don’t know much about Hondas but I think they are the top car for maintaining their value so I would think that a used Honda would cost most than that in America. I didn’t catch the model of the vehicles though.

I also passed a motorcycle dealership. I didn’t notice the make but I saw some small scooters that were priced around $1,700 dollars. They looked knew and I thought that was pretty cheap transportation. You don’t see many scooters on the streets here; most of the people ride bicycles.

We looked at the price of bikes in the secondhand store and I could have bought one for about $70. It looked in pretty good shape but I’m a little unwilling to get into the bicycle scene. My apartment has no place to park a bicycle and most people ride their bicycles on the sidewalks which are very thin. When two bikes have to pass each other it gets a little crowded and as a pedestrian you have to keep your head on a swivel to see what’s up ahead and coming from behind. The bicycles are amazingly silent. Add to that the fact that the telephone poles are in the middle of the sidewalk and it can get a little crazy if you have bikes coming at you from both directions and the meeting point is going to be near a telephone pole.

I asked my friend why they didn’t ride on the streets and he said it was too dangerous. The streets are very narrow and that was one of the reasons why I was reluctant to get a bike but seeing the congestion that can occur on the sidewalks makes me even more reluctant.

With the chair situation solved I also made some improvements on the internet television front. First, the Arizona Cardinals had their first exhibition football game so we did a trial run on using Skype to watch the game. It worked fine. The camera on my girlfriend’s note book is a little hot so there was a slight brightness issue. The other issue was the sound. In order for me to hear the commentary the volume had to be so loud that we couldn’t talk. In some households I’m sure that is the preferred situation.

I watched the first half of a poorly played game and then my girlfriend wanted to do something else so we hung up and I checked the net for a satellite broadcast. I went to Note that there is no .com at the end. I tried that combo first but the page stated that the website domain name was for sale for 2 million dollars. The guy who registered the name also said that he was serious and wouldn’t negotiate. I guess Justin.Tv got big before they thought to register the most common style of site name and this other guy is trying to get rich based on the creativity of somebody else’s mind.

At any rate, Justin.Tv has a number of live feeds for all kinds of events. I don’t know how legal it is but the games are being broadcast on the public airways and users get to watch them for free so it seems okay. I found the game I was looking for and was able to watch the second half. There was a slight glitch with the first guy that was re-broadcasting but there were other links that could be used.

The next day I was Skyping with my brother and he was watching the local team play a football game and when we finished I found that game on Justin.Tv as well.

Justin.Tv also has movies and television shows plus a lot of other types of entertainments so you may want to check it out. You don’t have to set up an account and it’s free. Some of the re-broadcasters load up on advertising around the screen and they aren’t very considerate about the distraction that the advertising causes but you can always look for another re-broadcaster.

Things are settling in here now. The editing on my next novel is moving along at a good pace and I should have it off to my editor sooner than expected. I’m more comfortable in the apartment and I’m staying fairly busy. I really haven’t had time to watch television and in all honesty I’m not missing it.

For some interesting links to things Japanese please check out my author page on my publisher’s website,

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Nine Day Update

I've been here in Japan for nine days now. It has gone fast and this is actually the longest time I’ve spent in Tokyo. Some interesting things have happened starting with the heat. I wasn’t expecting it to be as frustrating as it has been but it will be gone soon and things should become more comfortable.

I have been having problems with the furniture in my apartment. The chairs, tables, and the desk are all very low and I am straining my back to use them. As a result I lay on the floor with my notebook on my stomach to work. It is tiring my back quite a bit and I even looked into another apartment that had beds and what looked like higher chairs but it was too expensive. I’m going to go to a second hand furniture store on Sunday and see what I can find.

The area of Mitaka is the Tokyo pilot site for sorting garbage. I am lucky enough to have arrived during the program so I can participate. There are many rules, a tricky schedule and some sketchy drawings that I have to rely on to get the garbage right. The written parts are in Japanese. On different days I have to put out different types of garbage and I’ve already received a notice from the garbage police that I’m not doing it correctly. I found out the combustibles have to be placed in government approved plastic bags that you can buy at the 7Eleven and I now have the correct bags.

There are separate days for plastics and plastic bottles; combustibles and paper; hazardous and non-combustible. I’m getting to know my garbage intimately and, for each type’s individual characteristics. If I don’t learn it, it appears that the garbage police will help me learn.

Japan is considered a leading nation when it comes to being Eco-friendly so I’m glad to help.

As far as work goes, to this point I have accomplished a lot. The publicity campaign I started required quite a bit of material to get the ball rolling including, three articles that will be published in a national Ezine. I was able to complete the articles and also fill out questionnaires relater to my writing experience.

Once that was done I started to work on the fourth draft of my second novel. This is the one I will send to my editor. I will be working on this draft each morning for the next few weeks.

My Japanese language skills have been useful to a certain degree. I usually do one of my lessons on the computer before I go out so that I have wrapped my tongue around some Japanese words as a kind of linguistic stretching exercise. Not long ago my lessons were dealing with modes of transportation and yesterday I was able to put some of the lessons to use. I went to buy a present for my friend who I hadn’t met up with yet on this trip. I was going to make a 15 minute walk (Jyugo fun aruite imasu.) to the next area of Tokyo called, Kichijoji. I walked toward the trains and then saw a young man and asked him which road I would take to get to Kichijoji. (Donna michi wa Kichijoji e ikimasu ka?)

He pointed at the bus stop and said why don’t you take the bus? (Asoko ni basutei ga arimasu. Basu de imasho ka?) I asked how long it would take to walk ( Donna gurai aruite imasu ka?) and we had a little discussion about getting to Kichijoji. I had to ask him to repeat himself a few times but I realized that part of his argument was that it was hot out and the bus had air conditioning and it was only 100Yen. ( Atsui desu ne. Basu no naka ni air con ga arimasu. Hyaku en dake kakaremasu.) I decided to take the bus.

The young man walked me to the bus stop and told me the bus would be there in about 5 minutes then confirmed with a lady at the bus stop that the bus would go to Kichijoji. The young man left but quickly turned around and returned because he remembered that there were two buses that stopped at this location and he wanted me to catch the right bus.

Another man who spoke good English joined in and said he was going on the same bus and would make sure I got on the right one then got off at the right place. Again the people of Japan are willing to help strangers make there way.

I was pretty happy that I was able to communicate my intent and understand their suggestions.

After purchasing the gift I had time to kill so I went to a small Izakaya (Japanese bar) for a beer. The man and lady were polite and asked me in Japanese where I was from and wasn’t the weather hot. We had two or three short conversations after that about golf, sumo and baseball. I am so slow at hearing and understanding that I think sometimes they give up on getting me to understand but I’m getting more confident which is what I want to develop while I’m here.

Later I met my friend and we went to a newly opened Izakaya in Nakano. He and I met when I was trying to buy Japanese movies over the internet. He worked in the international sales department for the company that sold the DVDs and I was having a problem getting my AMEX card accepted. It turned out I had typed the number incorrectly.

At one point in our email exchanges I expressed that his English was very good and then I wrote a few sentences in Japanese. He corrected them and offered to let me email him every so often to test my Japanese writing.

On my next trip to Japan we went to sumo together and we’ve been getting together every trip since. His English is very good. It turns out he went to school for one semester in Arizona and then lived in Philadelphia for a number of years after graduating. He says he only speaks English when I am in town and likes the practice.

The new Izakaya is owned and run by a lady who was once a professional wrestler. She had wrestled in the WWE in the US and also on the circuit in Japan. When she dropped out of wrestling she moved to Orlando, FL to become a professional golfer but that didn’t work out.

On a big screen television behind the bar you could watch some of her matches as a non-stop highlight reel played on a DVD player. Her ring name was, Bull Nakano, like the town we were in. She weighted about 240 lbs as a wrestler and was one of the bad guys. Her hair was either purple or blue and it stood straight up like a pointed crown. Her face was painted and she sneered a lot at her opponents.

Since then she has lost 110 lbs and is a very shapely and attractive woman with a constant smile on her face. To date the bar has been filled with her fans wanting to see her and we had to have a reservation to get in.

An Izakaya is a small bar with mostly counter service but sometimes a few tables. Her Izakaya called, Bull Nakano, is all counter service. The dishes are small, inexpensive and tasty and I had not had anything like her dishes anywhere before except maybe for the pork ribs.

One dish stood out and that was shark cartilage and umeboshi, the cured-salted plums sometimes called Japanese apricots. The cartilage was chopped fine and then mixed with a paste of the umeboshi. It had a distinctive sweet-sour flavor with the cartilage crunching between your teeth for texture. I enjoyed it a lot.

The owner told me that it was an energy dish and that I may have trouble falling asleep later and she was right. I tossed and turned for a long time and don’t know when I finally slept.

Before we left the Izakaya my friend had me take a picture of him with Bull Nakano and then he produced a collector’s card like a baseball card, of Bull Nakano and she signed it for him. He’s a fan too and that’s why he chose that restaurant.

I mentioned in an earlier blog post that thanks to the internet I would be able to follow my favorite television shows from home while I was living in Japan. It turns out that that just isn’t so. I went to catch up on episodes of, Last Comic Standing, and Hulu indicated that they weren’t allowed to broadcast American content in the geographical region where my PC was connected.

I then tried all the major networks and discovered this is true for all of them. Minutes ago I was trying to catch up on, Top Chef, and Bravo is also blacked out.

Next I tried my Netflix account to see if I could watch movies online. Again, I’m blacked out.

Interesting development but I guess to protect other regions cultural identity you have to draw some boundaries. I should have known though, last year my sister in Canada told me she couldn’t watch shows on NBC due to the regional blocking.

So, if the US networks can determine that you are outside of the US based in the address of your entry point to the internet, why can’t the NFL Network figure it out as well and only enforce local blackout rules when the entry point is in the US? They would do themselves some good if they could also determine if the entry point for the specific session was away from the user’s home city. Then their online offering would make sense and people traveling on a game day could see their home team play.

After nine days it’s been what I expected it to be except I thought I would get along better with being on the floor most of the time. It’s amazing how much we take a good chair or a sofa for granted.

Don’t forget that you can find out all you need to know about me and my novel at my publisher’s website,

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Always Something New - Sometimes Something Amazing

The main Japanese television network has been showing a new historical drama every year for at least the past 50 years. My friend and I are watching each weekly episode of this year’s presentation. She watches the most current episode when it is first broadcast in Japan and I get it about 14 weeks later on TVJapan in Arizona. The lag is due to the subtitling process. Of course I’m missing the episodes while I’m away but they are available on the internet.

My friend asked me to attend a picture exhibition in downtown Tokyo that was dedicated to the main actor in the series so we met yesterday to see the show. It wasn’t much more than about 30 pictures of the same guy and took us about 15 minutes to view. So now what?

Well, she told me there was a summer dance festival in the town of Naka-Meguro which is another district in Tokyo so we took off on the subway and when we arrived we could hear drums beating and some chanting. We followed the sounds and discovered some dance groups performing in front of a building. The groups consisted of dancers of all ages and a band playing traditional Japanese instruments. It was great.

I love the sound of the Japanese flute with its haunting high notes joined by the samisen and its slightly loose atonal sound. They always sound like the strings need to be tightened. Add in a number of taiko drums of various sizes and you have yourself a show. But this was just the warm up. There was a parade of these groups and more, scheduled to start at 6:30.

We decided to stick around so we went to a bar and had a beer and a plate of grilled vegetables with a swiss cheese dip. The vegetables were tasty (pumpkin, green beans, taro root, potatoes, lotus root and even a brussel sprout) and the beer was refreshing. At 6:30 we made our way to the parade and ended up watching about 20 dance groups with their bands march down the street. We stayed for 2 hours enjoying the energy of the bands and of course the people watching was excellent as well.

These summer Matsuri Festivals are a big deal to the community. The streets were crowded and all the restaurants were full. Whole families, including dogs (plenty of dogs) walked up and down the streets and every one was smiling and moving with the beat of the group that was going by. There were food vendors on the street and people carried cardboard boats filled with takoyaki (batter balls with a piece of octopus in the middle), yakitori ( grilled chicken on a stick), buns, fried gyoza (Japanese dumplings) and a number of other things I wanted to try but couldn’t because we were going out for dinner after.

One thing I noticed that I hadn’t seen before in Japan was beer vendors on the street and people actually walking down the street drinking beer. It is generally considered rude to eat or drink anything on the streets. I remember my other friend getting a little angry on a train one time when some school boys opened their lunch kits and took out a snack and ate it.

The entire area of Naka-Meguro was in high spirits and you couldn’t help but enjoy yourself surrounded by people who were having a great time. I was amazed that we stood and watched as long as we did. I would have enjoyed going to one of the bars in the area to have a few drinks with the locals but we were going to dinner back in downtown Tokyo.

My friend’s father’s cousin’s wife’s brother (not a joke) owns a restaurant near Tokyo Station. It features Okinawan and Chinese cuisine. The Okinawan angle caught my interest. Off we went and we found the place easily. The building address system in Tokyo is not very straight forward and people who live here have difficulty getting to the right place. My friend kept bringing up maps on her telephone and downtown Tokyo has maps all over the place. The problem is that when you find the ‘You are here’ location you can’t figure out where that is either.

Once we were at the restaurant we ordered drinks. I had some sake from Okinawa; tasty but extremely powerful at 30% alcohol. I only had one. It is served with a side of water and I found it more like a whiskey than sake. I could feel alcohol vapors rising up in my sinuses but it had a smooth finish.

For appetizers we ordered a dish called umi bu dou, which is an Okinawan seaweed that grows near hot water vents in the seas around Okinawa. It was a shining emerald green string with hundreds of shiny green balls slightly larger than caviar. I thought it was some kind of fish egg strand but it is all vegetable. You dip it in Shoyu sauce and pop it in your mouth and then it starts popping right back at you. Each little bead that you crunch pops between your teeth followed by the salty Shoyu taste. When eaten without the Shoyu it has a mild green sea flavor. A real fun food to eat, I smiled with every bite.

Then a dish that consisted of bitter melon (looks like a cucumber with warts), tofu, scrambled egg and… the waiter said, Luncheon Meat. I asked, Spam? He said, Yes. This is an Okinawan dish and it was terrific. The bitter melon had a definite tang to it. It was the first time for me to eat it. Every thing else on the plate added up to a well balance, light dish.

We finished with a plate of stir-fried soba noodles with sardines. A great finish with plenty of flavor and the chef knew exactly how to cook the noodles. The texture of the dish was great and then you got a strong hit of sardine. Not like the salty oiled up stuff with grimy bones that you get in a can but soft fried meat with that good savory fish taste.

That was a great day in Japan.

In the middle of writing this blog entry I had to leave to meet my friend from the Keio Plaza Hotel. We were going to an area three train stops west of Mitaka to see a Japanese house museum. They moved all of these old historical houses to this park to preserve them. In 2008 we had gone to a house museum in Kawasaki with my son so we thought we’d check out a similar attraction.

There was one very large house that had belonged to a high profile political figure from the 1920s and 30s. The information outside told of how this person had been assassinated in one of the rooms on the second floor by an army office in 1936 who was enraged by the government policies at the time. My friend told me that the politician’s last words were, “If you will just listen to me I think you will understand.” But the military man had his own agenda and shot the politician.

I remembered the incident from a book I had read called, The Pacific War, which is about the war that started in the 20s and ended with the end of World War II. The interesting thing about the book is that it is written from the Japanese point of view of what went on in the Pacific.

Now here I was about to enter this house where this incident I’d read about took place.

But that’s not the amazing thing in this blog entry. When we got to our station we had to take a bus to get to the museum. There are bus stations outside of most train stations in Japan so we walked out front and on the far side of the street there were post signs to mark bus pickup zones numbered 1 through 3 and on our side of the street there were posts marked 5 through 9. You guessed it, we wanted bus number 4.

We asked three people in the street and a bus driver where to catch bus number 4 and couldn’t get a clear answer. We walked up one side of the street and back down the other then back up again. It’s still hot with high humidity in Tokyo by the way.

We were standing outside of a restaurant that didn’t look open but we tried the door and it opened so we went in. There was no one to greet us and my friend called out but nobody came. We turned to go and then this well dressed older lady came out and asked what we wanted. My friend asked if she knew where the bus station was for bus number 4. She immediately started yelling to the people in the back. One fella came running out but he wasn’t the guy she was calling and after a few more yells the one she wanted showed up.

The next thing you know we were on the street with the guy who knows buses pointing in both directions because there were actually 2 buses that would get us to the museum. The new bus, which stopped just outside the restaurant, would drop us where we would have a ten minute walk to the museum and the number 4 bus was a ten minute walk from where we were but would drop us in front of the museum. We decide on the new bus and then we were told it doesn’t run very often so come inside and have some tea.

Inside the guy who knows buses grabbed two chairs from the restaurant and placed them by the front door so we could see our bus arrive while the lady, who was with us every moment, poured us a cup of coffee. She began talking to my friend in very fast Japanese so I couldn’t understand much but I did hear the word kuruma which means car, and then my friend says that she’s offered to have one of her employees drive us to the museum.

I’ve always heard that Japanese people will go out of their way to help you but this was extreme. My friend said he’d never seen this level of assistance develop from a request for directions.

We decided we would go back to her restaurant after the museum to have an early dinner and to thank her again.

The lady had told my friend that she saw me, a foreigner, in her restaurant and she wanted to help. She had traveled the world about six years ago and had been to the United States a number of times.

When we arrived back at her restaurant she was sitting at a large table at the back of the restaurant with five other older ladies. She got up to greet us and yelled for the guy who knows buses to get us some tea. The next thing we heard was the five ladies singing some traditional Japanese songs.

The lady who owned the restaurant came to our table and told us she had just received some lamb from Iceland and she said it was very good. Besides, she likes lamb and thought we would like it too.

The lamb meal came with some side dishes and you’re not going to believe this but the first one was bitter melon, tofu, scrambled eggs and not Spam but strips of ham but essentially the dish I had enjoyed the night before. I said I’d just had the dish and she said it was from Okinawa.

Her version was equally impressive but her bitter melon wasn’t as bitter and her scrambled eggs reminded me of the scrambled eggs you have some days when they have the perfect taste of yolk and whites and fried in butter flavor with a slight burned edge to them. My friend and I raved about them and she told us she grew the melons and has chickens that produce about 200 eggs a day for her so they were fresh.

In the back ground the little old ladies started singing again in soft little old lady voices.

How can this get any better? Next the lamb chops arrived with a bowl of miso soup. The soup was great, I would have liked more. The lamb chops were cooked perfect, were juicy and tender and had extraordinary flavor.

How can this get better? The guy who knows buses came by and dropped us each a plate of fried fish. Three small filets fried in panko with a wedge of lemon. Delicious and by this time my friend was full and I ate one of his pieces of fish. We didn’t put too much effort into finding out what type of fish it was.

The little old ladies were singing again.

How can this get any better? After the fish the lady came out of the kitchen with two to-go bags in which she had whipped up another order of the bitter melon and scrambled egg dish because we were so beside ourselves with glee about it. The guy who knows buses homed in on us and dropped of a plate of sliced water melon which he told us the lady had said to take from the middle of the melon.

More little old lady singing.

We were impressed if you hadn’t noticed. My friend says to me, “I guess we should have asked how much the lamb was.” He went on to say that the restaurant advertises itself as a One-Coin restaurant which means that nothing on the menu costs more than 500 Yen, the largest coin in Japanese money. We then looked at the menu and nothing was more than 500 Yen, about $6.

How can this get any better? One more time the guy who knows buses cruised by our table and this time he says to my friend, “The lady says your meal is on the house.”

We tried to pay but she wasn’t having it.

I don’t remember ever being treated so kindly and generously by a stranger. All we did was ask for directions to the number 4 bus but, I’m not surprised to find this overly generous behavior from some one in Japan.

The train station is Musashi-Koganei. It is three stops west of Mitaka on the Chou Line. From Shinjuku it takes about 20 minutes. Turn left when you leave the station and walk past the buses for about 3 blocks and cross the main street. The name of the restaurant is Salt (but I didn’t see it printed anywhere). It has a half-round glass and chrome sliding door and it says, Restaurant (in katakana) above the door.

I don’t know if you’ll get the same service we did but I’m sure you will be treated right and the food’s fantastic. I’m going back and the next time I’m paying.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Easiest Flight Ever

You know that if you pat yourself on the back you can easily dislocate your shoulder so before I give myself too much credit for a trip well planned, so far, I should say there were a couple of unfortunate occurrences.

The airplane related aspects were uneventful except that we arrived in Narita 40 minutes early making the flight from San Francisco in under 9 hours. It has always taken 11 hours plus. Bags were waiting when I got through immigration and the escalator to the train station was staring me in the face when I came out of customs. Perfect so far.

I bought a ticket and it turns out you have to buy a reserved seat so the cost was a little over $30. This meant no savings over taking the bus except that it is faster and more comfortable.The train left on-time, and if you’ve been reading Zonajin you knew that was going to happen, and it arrived on time. Here’s the first hic-up.

I didn’t remember that my friend said to come off the train and wait on the platform, I forgot the ‘wait-on-the-platform’ part, so I looked for him for a minute then went up the stairs to see if he was waiting at the exit. There were 2 exits and I knew they were on the wrong side of Shinjuku station. I walked back and forth between exits thinking he would be outside one of them but no luck.

Time for a little weather update; Hot (91) and Humid (91). The only precipitation was the stuff rolling out of my head and chest and shoulders etc. Usually in Japan you carry a small handkerchief or washcloth. You use it to mop your brow and since there are no paper towels in the public washrooms, you use it to dry your hands when you go to a public toilet. They are very Eco-friendly. I didn’t have a cloth as yet so I just perspired.

I phoned my friend after not seeing him anywhere and he was of course down on the train platform. Now I remembered that he’d asked me to wait down there. He has a pass that gets him inside the gate but I was now outside and would have to buy a train ticket to get back in. He figured out where I was and came to me. It was a strange situation; I was on the outside as if meeting a traveler and he was on the inside of the gates as if he had just arrived.

From there the only annoyance was the constant stream of sweat. Humidity really changes the comfort level. In Arizona most of what you sweat evaporates before it can soak you clothing or run down you forehead but high humidity has me drowning in no time. The free advertising tissues that are handed out all over Shinjuku stations couldn’t keep up.

All the apartment rental paper work was easily completed and we were off to the apartment where we arrived to find no paper products, no towels and only one sheet for the futon. Hic-up number 2.

Today I will be going to the 100Yen store to pick up some of these items. Other than that the apartment is bigger than I expected, the air-conditioner works great and I slept very well the first night. But before bed, my friend and I walked back to the train station so I could become aware of the walk and find my way home. We had a light shushi meal and then she went on her way and I made my way back to the apartment. No problem.

There is a 7Eleven just across the street so I bought what I needed for the morning and went back and fell asleep rather quickly.

In the morning I went back to the 7Eleven to buy the rest of the stuff I would need in the morning and bought some tea and a most delicious banana. It’s amazing how something you eat all the time sometimes makes a better effort to impress you and you end up with an unexpected great and tasty banana.

Mitaka City is celebrating its 60th anniversary. That seems young for a town in Japan. I planned to walk around a bit over the next few days so I’ll have more on Mitaka when I write again.

So, a minor pat on the back; my shoulders are still where they belong. If missing my friend on the platform and the apartment not have towels on arrival are the worst that happens then I’m in for some smooth sailing.

Okonomiyaki tonight for dinner.

Please visit my publisher’s website at

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Time to Go

My favorite meal of all time is the traditional Thanksgiving meal. I will be back in time for it this year but I decided to sneak in an extra one before I go. Thanksgiving has been my favorite meal since I was a kid even though my mother wasn’t a very good cook.

Growing up in Canada Thanksgiving came a month earlier than it does in the US so it was also tradition to have the same turkey dinner on Christmas day as well so I was able to enjoy it twice is a relatively short period of time. In the US there isn’t enough of a break from Thanksgiving to Christmas to make it an event meal and we often cook prime rib for Christmas.

Before leaving for Japan I was thinking that I would be eating a lot of rice and a lot of noodles for the next 3 months so I’d better get in some spuds before the trip. My girlfriend actually suggested the turkey dinner so that’s what we are going to have.

The problem is that I usually over eat when there’s a turkey dinner involved and I don’t want to be over eating the night before I’m going to be traveling. It’s a good idea to think about those sorts of things before you go on a trip that includes a long travel day. So I’m going to show a huge amount of self control and take it easy on the food intake the night before.

I was interrupted while writing just now by a Skype call from my friend in Japan. We were just talking of the final details of meeting at Shinjuku station. Another friend of ours who also works at La Rochelle Restaurant, Iron Chef Sakai Hiroyuki’s, (see my author page at for a link to the restaurant) is going to be with me when I go to the apartment. The appliances in the apartment have Japanese instructions written on them so she’s going to show me how they work. I had worried about that and this will be a big help.

There are two appliances I hope are in the apartment and if they aren’t I intend on buying them. One is a rice cooker and the other is a hot water dispenser. They are both self-explanatory in function but I’ve never owned either of them and I’m guessing that the instructions will be in Japanese. My kanji dictionaries should come in handy at that point.

I plan on cooking a good number of my meals so I will need to make rice and I will be drinking a lot of tea, rather than coffee, while I’m there. The coffee scene in Japan has changed quite a bit since we first went in 2005. I don’t recall seeing too many locations of the giant American coffee chain that year but now they are everywhere. There are also a number of small coffee and pastry shops that are of Japanese origin but I’m going to try and reduce my coffee intake.

One Japanese chain offered a Macha Latte one year. My son and I tried one and it was extremely delicious. It was hard not to drink it fast. Since then I look for all types of food items that are Macha flavored. A Macha Latte is a strange fusion. Macha is a form of tea and a Latte is a coffee drink so you kind of get a two-for-one deal.

Macha is the only form of tea where you actually consume the tea leaves. The leaves are ground to a fine powder using large rock stone mills. The powdered tea is then packaged and the packets placed in ceramic jars and buried for a few months or years, depending on the quality. The powder form also makes it easy to add to other food products like ice cream and cakes.

Of course to drink it the way it is meant to be consumed you place scoops of the tea in a tea bowl, add hot water and then whisk it to a froth and then drink it and thus swallow the actual tea leaves.

Macha can be quite expensive so I won’t be drinking it daily. I plan to drink green tea most of the time I’m in the apartment. It may take a while to get over the need for coffee as the morning starter but I’ve done that before. My other concern is what am I going to do for breakfast. I don’t usually eat much for breakfast and in Japan breakfast can be quite a hearty meal.

While staying at the Keio Plaza Hotel in Shinjuku we often get free breakfast meal tickets. There are a variety of restaurants offering different styles of food, including western, but I usually go to the restaurant that serves a Japanese breakfast. To me it looks like dinner. There are usually two types of fish, potatoes, taro potatoes, noodles, miso soup and rice porridge. The thing that amazes me the most is the salad bar. There are many salads to choose from and plenty of pickles as well. Not what you would see in America and I’m sure it’s not what you would see served for breakfast in a typical Japanese home.

Salad may be typical however. On a trip to Kochi City on Shikoku we ordered breakfast in the hotel restaurant and were served a bun and a salad. That's it and, I think it was called a continental breakfast. I may look for some cereal and milk to get started but breakfast is one of those things in Japan that I don’t know much about so I’ll try to figure out what is a typical Japanese breakfast as I go. Miso soup with a scoop of rice does sound appealing to me.

So, my final day preparation has begun. The cloths I’m taking have been isolated and are ready for the suitcase. The books I’m taking include my Japanese to English and English to Japanese dictionary, my Kanji learner’s dictionary, a vocabulary builder and a Core Words and Phrases dictionary. They will be needed.

During my conversation with my friend this morning his girlfriend said to me, kyosukete (that’s what I figured it was spelled) and they explained it means be careful and they say it the way we say, “Have a safe trip.” I asked them to repeat the word a few times and thought I had it right. After the call I looked it up in my dictionary but couldn’t find anything like it. I then looked in my vocabulary builder and in the Feelings section, sub section Expressing Emotions, I found it but it is spelled, Ki o tsukete. I was close but close doesn't help so much in a dictionary.

I always tell Japanese people that their language is beautiful (kireina) but also difficult (muzukashi) and they always nod and say, Even for me. (Watshi mo.)

I will of course review my book selection a few times before I pack.

After I finish writing I’m off to cut the lawn for the final time this year and then I have to start cooking the turkey.

Next time you hear from me I will be in my apartment in Japan. Talk to you then.