Why didn’t I tell you a million times?

I love Japan’s TV dramas.

For one thing, most of the stories are simple, making them easy for me to follow in Japanese. For another thing, I get the chance to hear fairly natural Japanese dialogue (There is no: “Where is the pen?” “Oh, it is on the desk.”).

Also, Japan’s entertainment industry lacks the funds Hollywood has to go crazy on special effects. To me, I think that’s a good thing because it means Japan has to usually focus more on a good story to get people to watch. The fabulous Patton Oswalt once said to the effect in an interview: “They’re just shaking their keys at us with so many special effects. We don’t need any of that.” I agree. A solid story will always outweigh even the best special effects in my book.

That being said, there have been a few cringeworthy attempts of special effects for a drama I’m making an effort to watch called “100万回 言えばよかった” that is airing one episode per week on TV. You can also catch it on Netflix (though I’m not sure if it’s available outside of Japan). Episode 3 is out tonight.

There have been several times where the character of Naoki has to be shown as a ghost, meaning the classic trick of people walking through him. The special effects aren’t fantastic is the kindest thing I can say about them.

However, I am more than happy to push aside bad special effects because the first two episodes were interesting enough to keep my attention.

The Plot

A man named Naoki wakes up in his bed at his apartment and wanders out to the living room to see his girlfriend furiuosly vacuuming late at night to annoy everyone living nearby because Naoki is late for her birthday dinner. He tries to apologize, but he thinks she’s just ignoring him out of fury. It takes him a while, but Naoki starts to realize he’s probably dead at the same time his girlfriend, Yui, files a missing person report at the police station. The police say there’s not much hope, though, because Naoki is way over 18, and there’s a highly likely chance Naoki was just doing a terrible job of trying to get out of the relationship.

A detective at the police station is working on a case involving the murder of a young woman in her apartment when he overhears Yui’s impassioned speech at the precinct that Naoki wasn’t the type of guy to just up and run away. She holds up a photo of the two of them, and the detective says they’ll file his case away with all the rest of the missing person cases.

On his way home, the detective spots Naoki wandering around in the city (this takes place in my favorite city here: Yokohama). He’s about to walk right up to Naoki and tell him off for making Yui worry like that, when bad special effects tell the detective that Naoki must be a ghost. The detective’s family, it turns out, runs a Buddhist temple, and all of his family members can see ghosts.

Naoki basically orders the detective to help him convince Yui he’s there, and most of episode 1 is given over to getting Yui to understand Naoki is probably dead and that the detective can see him while Yui can’t.

Episode 1 ends with the detective pulling up surveillance footage of the murdered woman’s apartment, and he spots Naoki in the footage entering the apartment.

My prediction

As I mentioned in the previous entry, I think Naoki isn’t actually dead. I think the characters in the first episode tried way too hard to tell the audience “he’s dead” by repeating the phrase ad nauseum. There’s no need to hit the nail on the head that hard, I think. Something’s up.

Second, there’s a part in episode 1 where Yui, who is starting to come to grips with Naoki probably being dead, wanders into an intersection oblivious to the red light. A car almost hits her when a woman pulls her out of the way. The woman makes a point of mentioning that she’s a doctor and that she works at a hospital “Just over there” and points to a nearby hospital.

The writer could’ve chosen anyone under the sun to save Yui at that moment. They went for a doctor who works at a nearby hospital.

Episode 2 even goes so far as to have the doctor just happen to visit Yui’s hair salon, where she works as a hairdresser. Yui then visits the doctor’s hospital for a checkup after having a panic attack about Naoki’s possible death. The detective comes to pick her up, and the doctor sees the detective and quietly says, “Are you joking me?” suggesting she knows the detective.

I’m willing to bet that Naoki was actually found somewhere (I’m sure that’ll be parsed out later) and is currently unconscious at the doctor’s hospital. Yui has, thus far, not even brought up Naoki. The doctor even asked if Yui is under a sudden enormous amount of stress, and Yui lies and says she’s fine. This means the writer has the luxury of time before revealing where Naoki really is because Yui is making sure the doctor never sees a picture of Naoki before probably the second-to-last episode.


I love watching dramas and movies, but sometimes I wonder if I’m alone in feeling slightly stressed watching them because I feel like it’s on me to sort out the plot. Especially when the stories become complicated messes, I have my own slight panic attacks thinking: How am I going to make this work?

I don’t know why my gut instinct hasn’t yet come to the obvious conclusion that finishing these stories is not a task I need to worry about, but every single time I watch something, my brain is trying to work out how I’d end it. I wonder if any other writers feel that way.

A love of food on Japanese TV

I have watched quite possibly far too much Japanese TV since I first came to live in Japan in 2009. While by no means does it make me an expert on anything at all, I would like to talk about one thing I’ve noticed throughout the years of watching: Japanese TV has a love affair with showing food.

A lot of shows in Japan enjoy sending celebrities and comedians on wild adventures across Japan or the world simply so they can eat. Even shows that seemingly have little to do with food will find some excuse for the people in the show to stop by a restaurant, all so the camera people can switch to a starry lens while some staff member or hand model slowly cuts into the food and lifts up a bite as if we at home are about to eat.

Japanese TV drives home the point for me that Japanese love good food so much, they’re happy to watch someone on TV eat it.

I try, actually, to not watch food shows here, but as I noted above, even shows that seemingly have nothing to do with food will find a way to squeak it in there anyway.

A recent example is a show called “100万回 言えばよかった“, which Netflix has translated as “Why didn’t I tell you a million times?”

It’s a TV drama airing right now every Friday night that I think is copying the movies “Ghost” and “Just Like Heaven” (I’m calling it now – the main character Naoki is actually just in a coma), where the main character Naoki, played by Takeru Satoh, realizes he’s suddenly dead, or so everyone around him says (seriously he must be in a coma. I’m going to write an entry about this show later).

You would think this show has absolutely nothing to do with showing food. You would think.

However, before whatever happened happened, Naoki was a restaurant owner with apparently a life-altering Salisbury steak recipe because the show makes a point to slow the story down just so we the viewers can hear the sounds of someone cutting into one of his steaks not once, but three times in the very first episode. In fact, his steak plays a crucial role in convincing the love of his life that he’s “dead” (in a coma).

When it comes to Japanese TV, there is no escaping food.

As an aside, every single time a person on a show takes a bite of something, they pause for effect, then find some clever way to declare the food amazing. It’s mind-numbingly repetitive. Just once, I’d love to see them take a bite of something and declare it absolutely awful.

Winter gardening

I only learned recently I need to trim blueberry bushes, so I just finished pruning this poor plant like crazy. (This photo is from the summer)

I’m gradually falling into the world of gardening, learning more with each passing season and each new plant bought. The other day a nearby bookstore was having a massive sale of English books, so I ended up walking out the door with two books on gardening.

I’ve had gardening as my hobby for about five years now, and I’ve done all I can to research each plant, learn from the experts like Monty Don and Peter Chan, and borrow books from the library about plants, and still I’m learning new things. The books I bought made me feel like I had only just rushed out to the garden center to randomly buy whatever looked pretty. just reading a few pages from the books reminded me of how far I still have to go.

That being said, I think I’ve started going slightly crazy as a gardener becuase I was impatiently waiting for winter all summer long. Even with the flowers blooming and some (though not many) fruit ripening, I was still counting down the days until winter.

Up until recently, I’d viewed winter as the waiting time for plants. They usually either died or went dormant, and I’d impatiently wait until spring, for some hint that life was growing again.

However, I’ve since learned that most pruning, repotting and major work in the garden should be done on many plants in the winter. Time after time I’d want to prune a tree or a bush, only to read it “should be done in the winter, after its leaves fall off.” I had several plants threatening to overtake my entire garden, but I had to wait until the winter before I could hack away at it.

There’s something quite satisfying about effectively giving your trees a haircut. Mine went from overgrown messes to something that resembles beautiful, young trees. Though there’s the fear that I’ve killed them in the process, Peter Chan is comforting with his “Don’t be afraid” and “Trees are quite hardy and vigorous” words of advice.

Now I’m eagerly awaiting February, when I can repot some of the plants and prevent their roots from being potbound, then I’m waiting for March, when I can trim my citrus plants.

The more I garden, the more I realize there’s no “off” season.

Out with the old

As I wrote in 2020, Japan is more about the New Year than Christmas when it comes to major holidays. Christmas is for going out on dates, though I have some friends who are putting up trees and giving their kids gifts.

The days surrounding January 1st are for hunkering down at home, going on vacation, or visiting relatives. Most shops and restaurants are closed until about January 4th, and even trash pickup is delayed until around then.

It all means careful planning in the countdown to January 1st. That means a lot of people do major house cleaning right up until trash is no longer picked up so their house can be nice and clean for the new year, and hopefully there will be fewer things that need to be thrown out while the workers doing the vital job of collecting trash can take a break.

It also means stocking up on food. I just visited a grocery store I normally frequent, and it was packed far more than usual with people trying to stock up before the grocery store closes tomorrow afternoon until January 3rd.

I think I should mention that not all stores follow the tradition of being closed for days on end. Convenience stores, for example, usually stay open, and a lot of shopping centers have insane sales that start sometimes on January 1st. For the smaller stores, however, expect shuttered storefronts for a while.

I loved grabbing a box of wagashi called nerikiri and a box of mikan on my way to the checkout at the grocery store, full of hope that I can sit on my couch with a nice warm blanket and nibble my way through both boxes over the next few days.

I hope we can all have a better year.


The anthology

I’m really excited to announce I had a short story published called “Fading” in an anthology by Quill & Crow Publishing House that they have called Bleak Midwinter: The Darkest Night.

I got the idea for this story when I was having a particularly bad day and needed a place to vent all the gloomy thoughts floating around in my head. I think when faced with similar dark moods, some people turn to snacks on the couch with a good movie or book, or maybe painting or just going for a walk – I write.

I know the anthology is supposed to be gothic scary, and it is, but mostly the story I wrote is dark and sad as it charts the slow degredation of a man’s sanity because of grief and loss.

The setting is from a book I hope to have published one day about the USA nearing the end of a second civil war. I wrote the book quite a long time ago, but it still seems to be quite relevant, unfortunately.

The story in this anthology takes place near the beginning of that second civil war and briefly mentions life just before and immediately at the beginning, which was fun for me to imagine.

Winter can be a dark and miserable time for a lot of people, and I hope this story might be a way for them to vent such feelings, too. I think we all need a catharsis every now and then.

You can buy a copy here (paperback, hardcover or ebook). You can also find it on Amazon here. (Amazon Japan users can find it here).

Working on a new book

For me, writing feels a lot like a disease at times. Or maybe an addiction. When I have a story idea in my mind, my thoughts are completely absorbed in the story.

I could be doing something as simple as washing the dishes when an idea will attack me. It feels like someone is sneaking up behind me and strapping a VR set over my eyes that puts me right into the world I’m building. The VR set tends to also show me pieces of the story I hadn’t even thought of yet, and I’ll end up running for a pen and paper to write the idea down before I forget it, hands dripping wet and covered in dish soap.

I hate this kind of half-life when I have other things I need to get done, like daily life. It’s a bit debilitating trying to just go about your daily routine while being randomly attacked by story ideas and progressions to your story. Thus, whenever the attack happens, I try to write everything down as soon as I can so I can get back to my life.

The only part I like about writing it getting to read over it when I’m done. There’s a kind of quiet, scary awe I feel whenever I finally finish writing something. Finally, I’m done writing.

I’m in the middle of writing a book, and just when I think I’ve finally finished, the VR set covers my eyes and shows me something else I hadn’t added yet. I’m hoping it’ll be over soon, though I have to say I love what I’m seeing so far. Call it pride, but I think if you don’t love what you write, who will?


A creepy shrine I stumbled across one day.

I’m extremely happy to report I had a short, slightly scary story published on HalfHourtoKill.com called “Tsumi.” You can read it here.

In Japanese, 罪 “tsumi” means “to sin”, but there are kanji for the word “sparrowhawk” that looks like this 雀鷂 and is also read as “tsumi.”

I am now kicking myself becuase I didn’t record where I read this, but I read somewhere that there is actually a shrine in Japan dedicated to a sparrowhawk that, in a legend, did the things I described in the short story. I just loved the idea that a village decided to dedicate a shrine to the hawk in the hopes of appeasing its vengeful soul. If I can ever find again where I read about that legend, I’ll add it here.

I listened to the soundtrack of the latest rendition of Dune while writing the story. If you feel so inclined, please put the soundtrack on while you read the story.

The feel of the shrine I described in the short story comes from an actual shrine I stumbled across while hiking one day in Japan. I was following quite a few people on a well-worn path when all of a sudden to my left there was the entrance to a silent, empty shrine. I managed to take a photo of it, which is above, but I didn’t have the courage to actually explore the shrine. It was just too eerie, and no one else hiking the mountain even seemed to acknowledge it.

Maybe these types of creepy, empty shrines are all over the place to the point where hikers ignore them out of boredom, but it certainly stuck out to me.

Riding the Sunrise Express

The train was met with so many cameras upon its arrival, it was like a celebrity had graced us with their presence.

Not quite so long ago, Japan used to have a plethora of overnight trains with beds so you could wake up at your destination. The advent of the Shinkansen bullet train basically did away with them. Now, your options are plane, bullet train or overnight bus.

While there are still luxury hotel trains running, only one overnight train remains that runs every night out of Tokyo Station: The Sunrise Express.

The overnight train offers a few compartments and something called the “nobi nobi” seats, which are basically rectangles of hard carpet with no walls separating one space from the next.

The “nobi nobi” seats. The carpet is like cement, so if you ever ride on these seats, bring some sort of cushion!

I got the sense this train is like the Disneyland among train enthusiasts. Tickets go on sale one month in advance, and the compartments sold out within seconds.

As I’ve never ridden overnight on a train, I was curious about the experience. Through sheer luck, I managed to book a bunk bed compartment that would take me all the way from Tokyo to Takamatsu, Kagawa Prefecture.

I think the bunk bed compartment is perfect for one person and probably a bit of a squeeze for two people (despite there being bunk beds) as the compartment offers about 5 centimeters between the sliding door and the beds in terms of standing space. You can transform the bottom bunk into a place with two little seats and a tiny table, which made it nice to wake up and have a place to have breakfast.

Overall, I liked the experience, but sleeping on the top bunk was harrowing–each curve, each sudden stop made me wonder if that would be the moment I get thrown from the top bunk and hit my head on the little shelf next to the bed below. I didn’t get much sleep, and my body was convinced I was still on the train well into the next day.

Still, I got to see a lovely sunrise, and it was absolutely a unique experience I won’t soon forget. I don’t think I want to ride on it again, or at least for a while, but I’m glad I got to try it out.

Seasonal fruit

The fruit in season right now

In Japan, you’re not likely to wander into a grocery store and find the same fruit available all year round. The only exceptions I’ve ever noticed have been bananas and kiwifruits.

Japan’s grocery stores seem to very much be about the seasons when it comes to produce. I think if you do happen to wander into a posh grocery store, maybe you can find blueberries in the winter, and I’ve noticed a recent trend of mikan (kind of like clementines or mandarin oranges) that were grown in greenhouses being available in the spring, but for the most part, you roll with the seasons, too.

That means my window of opportunity for eating nectarines is about four weeks, if I’m lucky. Nashi pears are longer, but the price goes up as time wears on until they disappear entirely from the shelves.

At first, I hated this system. I came from a place where you could buy the same fruit all year round thanks to the sheer vastness of the U.S., and now I was being forced into a system where fruit is not only extremely expensive, it’s only available for certain parts of the year. It felt confining.

However, as time has gone on and I’ve lived here as long as I have, I’ve started to sort of enjoy the limited time. I appreciate the fruit more, definitely, but it also helps depict the changing of the seasons without the need to put up decorations in the grocery store. For example, I know it’s autumn because apples and mikan are in every grocery store, along with persimmons. Without the need for fake fall leaves pinned up on the walls, I know it’s autumn.

I’m having a taste of autumn with these fruits, and I have to say I like it. If only I could find some decent apple cider somewhere, I’d be all set.


My sole squirrel sighting here

I don’t know what it is, but every person from Japan I’ve ever met has reacted to seeing a squirrel the same way most would to a celebrity.

Squirrels are extremely rare in Japan – the only time I ever spotted one in the wild was in an old city called Kamakura. I snapped the photo above mostly because I couldn’t believe how the people around me were reacting. This single squirrel attracted about twenty people to the base of the tree it was in, all with their cellphones pointing upward.

The few times I’ve gone to America with some Japanese friends, they’ve all gone crazy at squirrel sightings. I’m not sure what it is about squirrels that entrances them so much other than the fact they’re so hard to find in Japan.

I personally have memories of my grandfather guarding his birdfeeder from squirrels with a supersoaker in hand. I grew up thinking of squirrels the way many in Japan also think of pigeons – kind of annoying but a source of entertainment every now and then.

Seeing the way my friends have revered the tenacious squirrel, however, has made me see them in a new light. I think the next time I do go to America, I might end up taking too many photos of them, too.