I’m extremely happy to say I have a short story being read on a podcast called “Kaidankai.” If you have a minute, please give it a listen!
For those of you following along at home, this is the third installment in my series involving a person named Celea, whose job it is to guide lost souls on earth. I have to admit I’m having a lot of fun writing these episodes involving her. The challenge has been to make sure the stories can stand on their own while also being able to be connected to the series for anyone interested in reading them in a row, but I love these kind of challenges.
This story is also a villain origin story for the girl in the story, who is supposed to be a guide like Celea but who might go the other way out of hatred. I haven’t written any stories involving this girl yet, but I might in the future because I’m really curious to see how far she’s going to fall.
If you would like to follow along in the adventures of Celea, I would love if you would read them in this order, but obviously it’s entirely up to you:
While my main focus is on Japanese dramas, every now and then the story of a Korean drama will catch my interest.
It wasn’t until quite recently that I discovered many of the Korean dramas I’ve really enjoyed have been written by the same pair of writers, Hong Jung-eun and Hong Mi-ran (apparently known as the Hong sisters).
I’ve had my eye on Alchemy of Souls (also on Netflix) for a while, too, after reading the summary for it on Netflix, but the preview made it seem like the entire show would be about a woman with the soul of a mighty warrior being forced to work for a spoiled man who doesn’t know she’s really a warrior and how one day she’s going to take him out. The preview made the plot sound ridiculous, but maybe something lighthearted to enjoy.
The preview gave the entirely wrong impression; the spoiled man finds out in the first episode and within about 30 seconds of meeting her that she’s actually a warrior trapped in another body. That alone had my attention and kept me going for the first few episodes, at which point the overall plot had me wrapped up in it, and I couldn’t wait to get to the next episode, then the next.
Both dramas I mention above were written by the Hong sisters, long may they write great dramas. Gumiho is a lot lighter, though that vet seriously needs to cool it with the melodramatics.
After years of casually watching Korean dramas, I’ve learned a few things about them.
They are ridiculously long. Each episode is at least an hour, and there are at least 16 episodes. Alchemy had 30 episodes.
At least for shows the Hong sisters write, seemingly unimportant conversations among minor characters will have a knock-on effect to the overall plot and can prove to be fundamental plot points later on, so there is no skipping in these things.
There will be heartbreak, often set to singers wailing ballads. Several times I thought the ballad ruined the scene. One death scene in Alchemy, for example, I thought would’ve been so much better in complete silence, but I had to listen to a singer hitting those high notes as the character’s hand falls limp.
Metaphors run rampant. Alchemy had people being referred to as bird’s eggs, room-warming stove things, turtles and dogs throughout. And these metaphors will not go away; the main characters will drag the metaphors through their heated, passionate arguments with each other until the end of the series. (“I guess I really am as useless as a room-warming stove thing in summer,” says a character before storming away. That kind of thing)
The fan base for every single actor seems to be absolutely rabid, and it makes me want to not even look up the names of the actors because a lone Google search reveals so much fans have tried to dig up about them that I’m a bit scared.
At least with Hong sisters’ series, viewers are given all the information except in a few rare ocassions. This makes it frustrating when characters do things simply because they don’t have the whole story (most of watching Part Two of Alchemy was me screaming at the screen, “I can tell you who she is!”)
Despite some of the cheesy tropes (I’m looking at you, “Characters who always have tearful breakups because they don’t have all the information” trope), I really liked the relative tightness of the story for Alchemy and how, like in life, seemingly unimportant things turned out to be crucial.
I liked the acting (admittedly I speak about three words of Korean despite the hours and hours of watching this series), and the special effects were sometimes good. The soundtrack was magnificent, as were the sets. All of this made for quite an enjoyable series that hardly ever went the way I thought it would, which I always appreciate.
In July, I joined thousands of people who decided the increasingly insane heat of Japan’s summers wouldn’t stop them from enjoying a Disney theme park.
Two years ago, I made the mistake of visiting Disneyland in the summer, and I’m pretty sure I staggered out of the park hours later in a state of heatstroke. Despite Disney’s best efforts to keep everyone visiting cool with mist showers and parades promising to shower you down, going to any theme park when the outdoor temperature is above 30 C is just ludicrous. I walked away from that experience determined never again to go to Disney in the summer.
Then this summer happened. This time, at least, I felt like I was better prepared. I knew the heat would be crippling – that the sun’s rays would slowly suck the life out of me the longer I was exposed to them. So I spent weeks preparing.
I bought ice packs that promised to last 5 hours before melting.
I found a soft yet heavily insulated cooler (Disney parks in Japan don’t allow hard-cased coolers) and froze the sports drinks I would enjoy before putting them into the cooler.
I caved and bought neck rings I see everyone in Japan wearing this year.
I bought several types of sunscreen, including one that comes in a spray bottle.
I brought my sun umbrella (while they make me feel like a Victorian British heir, they really do help to keep you marginally cooler) and bought wet wipes that promised to cool my skin by about 3 degrees.
I also bought snacks that have salt in them to hopefully help my body absorb liquids.
Disney Sea is also blessed with a section of its park being entirely indoors, complete with air conditioning. Called Mermaid Lagoon and based off of The Little Mermaid, it looks like it’s meant for little kids to enjoy, but that didn’t stop a lot of couples and other adults probably trying to escape the heat from enjoying the kiddie rides there, too. It’s a great place to go if it’s raining, too cold outside or ridiculously hot out.
The true game-changer, however, was that this time around, I would be staying at Disney’s Miracosta hotel, which is right at the entrance to Disney Sea. It’s the only hotel I know of that is actually inside of the park, and it comes with its own special entrance off the lobby (meaning no waiting out in the heat just to get in).
There is nothing like having the energy sapped out of you simply from enjoying the rides and having a place right there where you can go and relax for an hour or two during the day’s hottest hours.I loved that I could drop off any stuff I didn’t need as the sun was setting so I didn’t have to carry it around all day. I loved that I could go shopping in the middle of the day, too, when the shops are the most empty and then just drop that stuff off in my room.
The hotel is ridiculously expensive at at least 80,000 yen (547 USD, the yen is so weak right now!) per night, but what a marvelous help it was to enjoying the park.
If you don’t have the ability or opportunity to stay at Miracosta but still want to visit Disney Sea during the summer, I think the best advice I can give is to greatly lower your expectations for how many rides you think you can achieve in one day. There are way too many lines for rides that leave you out in the open, exposed to the sun for hours on end. My tactic was to only go on rides with either really short wait times or that were indoors (Mermaid Lagoon) until the sun set. That meant fewer hours available to use for riding rides, but it also meant I didn’t start showing the same signs of heatstroke I’d endured two years ago.
I think it’s important to also take lots of breaks even when it’s not the summer. Personally, I think you can enjoy the parks a lot more when you slow down and just soak up the atmosphere. There are plenty of restaurants and a couple of cafes where you can just sit and take it all in for an hour or two to recharge. I also love they have a tram, boats, and a variety of vehicles you can ride on – all of which usually don’t have bad lines. They’re a great chance to just slow down and take a breather.
If I may be allowed a quick rant: I once ran across a meme that gave alternate titles to Disney movie, such as “Beauty and the Beast” being called “Stockholm Syndrome.” While funny, it’s not particularly true, and the one they gave “The Little Mermaid”, my favorite Disney movie, just irritated me: “Change for your man.”
What annoys me is that Ariel in no way changed for Eric’s sake, and for those who don’t believe me, please allow me the following paragraphs to try and change your mind.
First, the movie clearly shows from the start that Ariel is obsessed with “the human’s world.” She’s willing to explore dangerous sunken ships to get a hold of their stuff, and she’s willing to go to the surface (which her father expressly forbids) to have a seagull explain what everything is.
As the movie progresses, we see that Ariel has been plundering ships and the seabed for quite some time to learn more about humans, and she sings about how she wants to be part of that world someday.
Eric’s ship catches her interest thanks to the fireworks, and yes it’s love at first sight for Ariel, who changes the song from “Part of that world” to “Part of your world,” but following this declaration, she talks to Sebastian and Flounder about how she wants them to splash around Eric’s window to get his attention that night so they can meet again. At no point does she suggest she wants to become a human. At no point does she wonder if Eric will not like her being a mermaid.
When Flounder somehow (and who knows how??) gets the sunken statue of Eric into her hidden grotto, she flirts with the statue while in no way saying she wants to be a human.
The one who pushes Ariel to see Ursula, in fact, are her father and Ursula’s two minions. Her father came down way too hard on her upon finding her human stuff collection, sending her into a dark mental space that the two minions preyed on. Only her anger toward her father keeps her going as she follows the two eels to Ursula, and even then she’s scared to even go in. Ursula has to coax her into the room.
She hesitates before signing the contract with Ursula that transforms her into a human, but it’s Ursula who convinces her that “the only way to get what you want is to become a human, yourself.”
Of course Ariel is overjoyed to be a human since it means she can get extremely close to the world she’s always wanted to be a part of, but at the end when she transforms back into a mermaid, I don’t see any point where she seems upset she’s a mermaid again until after the big battle and she sees Eric on the shore. I think that’s when she finally realizes she can’t easily be with him unless she’s a human, too, and her father realizes she really does love the human’s world and has fallen for Eric, and so he grants her wish.
I’m a huge fan of the manga and anime called Bleach, though I know it follows the same patterns of just about every “boy’s action” manga/anime that has possibly ever existed where the main character constantly levels up along the way. Even if you think they’ve hit their ultimate level, the creator will throw in secret ways they can suddenly level up.
(As a side-note: If anyone’s watching the Thousand-Year Blood War arc, has it ever been explained how these shinigami, who do not possess a body when not on the living world, are dying such bloody deaths in the afterworld? If that’s ever been explained in this story, I have no memory of it, and I think the whole thing is odd to witness).
The first episode in the Thousand -Year Blood War has a special end credits song that I fell madly in love with called “Rapport” by Tatsuya Kitani. It inspired me to write another book, which I’ve nearly finished, and I spent most of my time writing it while listening to this one song:
I decided to check out some of his other music, and I love a lot of it. Here are a couple others I’ve fallen for:
I think a lot of his songs are a bit over the top in their messages and lyrics of despair, but for me, they’re the perfect inspiration for writing, so I love these songs.
His voice is also so fantastic. For me, it seems to have the perfect mix of beauty and suffering somehow.
If you have a moment, I hope you’ll listen to some of his songs, especially if you’re a fellow writer of dark fantasy stories.
I’m going to get on a soap box for this entry and propose a theory about why people are scared of those who are different from them by offering an example:
A character in a movie is eating ice cream, and you can easily picture yourself eating that ice cream.
I think people naturally place themselves in the main character’s shoes and go from there when watching a film or TV series or reading a book. We are all naturally inclined, I think, to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. It’s what can make horror films so unsettling or adventure films so much fun – we see ourselves doing that.
I think that therein lies the problem, because that then translates out to the real world. We see those around us, and we picture ourselves acting how they are. If it’s something we just can’t picture ourselves doing, we lash out at the person doing it in the hopes of making them stop, as if we’re yelling at our own selves to stop.
Of course, there are those who are able to understand we are not those around us. These are probably also people who can watch a horror movie and laugh it off because they can remind themselves it’s not real and isn’t actually happening to them.
But there seems to always be those who are unable to seperate themselves from those around them, and so when they see someone acting differently, they protest in fear and in anger at being afraid. To such people, I can only ask that they take a moment and try to understand the source of their fear. What are they really afraid of? Do they not see how forcing others to conform to their ideals is part of that fear they feel at the idea they might have to change for others?
I believe people who are different want one human right: To feel they can safely and freely express themselves in society. Why can we not readily support that?
I think the world would be supremely boring if we were all made to conform to one person’s ideas of what a person should be, and so many would only needlessly suffer. What a tragic life to live in fear simply because of who you are.
Acceptance is the ability to understand everyone around us is not us and that it is just fine that they have different ways of thinking and different ways of living. I accept anyone who is different from me as long as they’re not hurting anyone.
So here I stand on my little soap box, asking for a society that can be more accepting of those who are different from them.
I have brown, wavy hair that I have spent most of my life not thinking much about. In high school and college I’d usually put it half up or into a ponytail and promptly forget about it for the rest of the day.
My hair didn’t particularly grab any portion of my attention until I moved to Japan and experienced the humidity here. Especially around the Tokyo area (with Kyoto being so much worse), the summers here are close relatives to the summers of Florida, where you walk outside and feel like you’re breathing in water more than air.
The humidity here means my hair enjoys going absolutely crazy with frizziness. I feel like almost as soon as I stepped off the plane at Narita Airport over a decade ago, the battle for better hair had begun.
The problem for me is that most hairstylists here have no idea what to do with my hair, and I not particularly caring for my hair had seen no reason to look into how to make it better.
Thus, when hairstylists here suggested layers and straightened my hair out, I didn’t even think about it.
All the while, my hair seemed to be getting worse, to the point it was starting to grab what I thought to be far too much of my attention.
I started doing what I should’ve done in high school, I suppose – I looked up how to care for slightly curly hair. My hair has the potential to become extremely curly if I had tools like a diffuser and proper mousse, but I don’t have time or patience for that, so I’m usually left with waves that end in curls.
I finally learned how to care for my hair (no fine-tooth combs, use a shirt to dry your hair rather than a towel, wash your hair less often during the week, try to air dry your hair if you can, use hair oil as often as you can, NO LAYERING).
Having learned what my hair needs, I started to really, deeply understand my problem with hairstylists here and their constant need to layer my hair since it’s so thick.
The search began for a hairsytlist who could actually cut my hair properly. I had finally found one, too, who said all the right things about what to do with my hair and who used a wide-tooth comb while combing my hair in the salon, but then she suddenly was moved to a different salon (or moved) and I haven’t seen her since.
I recently decided to commute to a hair salon fairly far from where I live just so I could have a hairsytlist who at least has cut different types of hair before, but even she seemed confused when I told her “No layering.”
“Are you sure?” she said, fine-tooth comb in hand. “Your hair is so thick.”
If anything, caring a bit more about my hair has meant I’ve learned to be firm about what I want in a salon. That still doesn’t stop a lot of stylists from trying to straighten my hair, though.
Like other major cities in the world, Yokohama is divided into areas, and in my humble opinion, the Mintao Mirai area is by far the best.
It’s a popular date spot thanks to it’s tiny Cosmo World theme park, tons of shopping options (apparently dating here can sometimes mean shopping) and a recently installed cable car. There was even a wedding chapel installed within the last couple of years to really drive home the point this place is meant to be romantic.
There’s a ton of options for people who aren’t out on dates, though, so don’t let my professions of this area being romantic stop you from exploring it.
Quick note about Yokohama: This is a port city that is known for importing from other countries via ships, so expect to find more stuff from abroad in this city than in other parts of Japan.
One of my favorite areas is right around JR Sakuragicho Station, which offers a glorious view of the bay, the theme park area and the famous Landmark Tower.
I think coming inside just to see the architecture is worth a trip to this tower, and there’s also a viewing area at the very top of the tower (expect to pay a lot for this honor, though). There’s always some interesting shops, too.
The first few floors of this massive tower are a shopping center that includes a few upscale stores and, more importantly in my opinion, restaurants from America. My favorite is Bubby’s, which has pulled pork and coleslaw. When you live in a different country long enough, you start to miss food. I don’t recommend wasting time at these import restaurants if you’re just visiting Japan for a few days, but if you’ve been here for at least a few months, they can be a godsend.
I love visiting some of the cafes on the upper floors of the shopping center, too, where you can often be seated at a window looking out at the bay. Very few things in life are better than sitting there, enjoying a nice drink and watching the world go by.
Kids, families and couples love this tiny amusement park. The roller coaster is fairly tame, though there’s a part where you pretend to go underwater, and that’s fun. The rest is an homage to a carnival, I think. It’s a nice way to waste time, I think.
You have to pay for every ride, though entering the park is free. I sometimes like to just wander around near the ferris wheel, then cross the bridge to get to the other side of the amusement park where there are more places to win prizes and just stroll around.
The ferris wheel, of course, is the most popular part of the park for couples. Nothing like a chance to have it be just the two of you in the middle of a bustling city.
I’m not a huge fan of this park, to be honest, because I don’t like tacky things, but I do like riding the ferris wheel every now and then just for the views.
The Red Brick Warehouses
These boast quite a long history that I won’t try to put here for fear of getting things wrong, but they’ve been converted into extremely trendy boutique stores. The facade remains the same, at least, but inside you’ll see quite a few unique stores, including a music box store and one that sold (much to my shock) a lone box of American cereal for an outrageous sum. In case you haven’t noticed, I’m always on the lookout for American food.
The Red Brick Wareshouses also have, you guessed it, incredible restaurants. Some of them are from America, including a Chicago-style, deep-dish pizza restaurant. The pizzas were, quite frankly, life changing. They were well worth waiting in a long line just to be seated. I also loved the “urban warehouse” style of the restaurant.
There are quite a few more shopping centers, not to mention a quite lovely art museum nearby, but these are the main areas I usually visit when I visit the Minato Mirai area. If you ever get the chance, I hope you check them out on your next visit, too!
I went camping during Golden Week in Nagano Prefecture, and I nearly froze to death because I mistakenly chose a campsite up in the mountains. The campsite I picked, at least, inspired me to write a short story, so the nearly sleepless nights shivering in my sleeping bag were worth it for me.
I’m a sucker for waterfalls, which seem like they’re a dime a dozen in Japan. Since they do seem to be just about anywhere you can find a mountain, I’ve decided to be both extremely picky and lazy about what waterfalls I choose to visit.
First, they have to be a relatively short hike from the parking lot.
Second, they have to be spectacular.
Naena falls fit both of my criteria, and the parking lot area even boasted a nice restaurant and a little place to get some ice cream.
I know the entire place was highly commercialized to the point it was clearly a tourist trap, but I have to say the hike to the waterfall was pleasant.
You start off crossing a suspension bridge in front of the first set of waterfalls, which I believe many might mistake as the actual waterfall in question. While they’re pretty to look at, and they spray a nice mist across the bridge to help you cool off on a hot day, it was a relief to me to discover these are not the main attraction.
You continue alone the suspension bridge until you come across a tower of stairs. After a few flights, you find yourself on a dirt path in the middle of some woods, and the path grows steadily higher until you come across yet another tower of stairs.
After clambering over some rocks and just generally enjoying the cooling effects of there being a river nearby and some shade from the trees, you come across another suspension bridge that gives you a lovely view of the sharp rocks below, the rapids, and in the distance, the waterfall you’ve been waiting for.
Crossing the suspension bridge, you come across the pile of boulders and rocks you can see in the picture above on the right, which allows you an even closer look of the waterfall. I mainly was busy having a heart attack watching people stretch out on some boulders just in front of the rapids. Maybe I just missed them, but there weren’t any signs warning that these types of rapids could probably kill even the best of swimmers, and nothing was roped off.
I think maybe the area was simply a test of your intelligence to see if you could discern for yourself whether sitting on boulders dangling you out into rapids is a good idea or not. It’s also entirely possible that maybe I, who knows little about anything, was overreacting, and the rapids weren’t that dangerous at all. Maybe the water was so shallow you could just stand up in it rather than get swept away. I have no idea. All I know is I was practically biting through my lip to stop from yelling at people to stay away from the white water.
Overall, though, it was a really nice hike. It was long enough that it felt like you deserved to eat a lot at the restaurant near the parking lot, but not so long that the entire day is spent going to see a waterfall. I’m just glad I brought my camera and some good walking shoes.
I’ve been living in Japan for about 14 years now, and there are still some things here that take some getting used to.
I come from the United States, where having a washer and dryer is as common as having a front door. In Japan, however, expect to find only a washer.
Everyone here hangs their clothing outside, so much so that you can spot a residential building by the balconies and clothing moving in the wind. People here follow the weather far more than I remember people did in the U.S. just so they can figure out when they can hang up clothing outside.
Japan has a rainy season, usually in June, however. That means hanging laundry inside, often off the backs of chairs and such. A few industries have answered this dilemma by creating detergent and fabric softener specfically for when you have to hang up laundry indoors to dry, and most new builds (houses/condos/apartments) offer a “drying option” in the shower room specifically for drying clothing inside.
Note: If you ever do rent or buy a place here and wonder why the shower rack in the shower room is cutting straight across the bathtub in a most un-shower-rack-like way, please know this is actually for hanging up clothing.
If you feel like you really want to pull out all the stops and have about 300,000 yen or more to spend on a washer/dryer combo, then you can almost feel like you’re living in America again.
A new build might have this feature, but it’s rare here. Instead, people buy little nets from the drugstore/grocery store that fit inside the kitchen sink’s drain, and they pull out all the stuff that ends up down the sink that way. Most 100-yen stores will sell a little tub you can set on your sink where you can dump out all the stuff, too. It’s annoying.
Putting out the trash
Japan has a crow problem (they are the size of cats). The crows are quite clever, of course, and they adore ripping apart trash bags left out on the side of the road. Therefore, most places in Japan basically demand that you put your trash out no later than an hour before pickup. For some people, this isn’t feasible (if trash pickup is at 9 a.m. and you have work an hour away, for example), but most of the time people try to abide by this idea.
Newer places, especially condos, adore offering a trash room where you can just leave your trash and recyclables 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For everyone else, the best way to combat the crows has been setting up massive garbage bins for everyone to dump their trash bags into. You will still find lots of places, though, where the only defense against the crows is flimsy plastic netting.
This is something I love if it’s done right. Some smaller places will have the toilet and sink in with the shower, and then it’s a nightmare since everything in there usually gets at least damp, but if the place you’re in has enough space to seperate the sink, toilet and shower, then you have a wet room of paradise. I love being able to just close the door to the shower room and not worry about getting my toothbrush wet, for example, while I’m washing my hair. I’m not even sure if Japan sells shower curtains, because most places simply have a wet room idea going on where you need only close the door.
It’s not much of a thing in the suburbs and, naturally, the city. If you live out in the middle of nowhere then you might get a fairly sizeable yard, but I’ve noticed a recent trend here seems to be to move away from having outdoor space. I guess most people think of gardening or tending to a lawn as annoying, and most opt for more indoor space and a sliver of land out front. Backyards are simply not a thing here.
This is something I’m sure most people know by now, but Japan does not allow shoes inside the home. So much so that I read a murder mystery in Japanese where the murder victim was found inside her apartment, in her tiny living room, with *gasp* her shoes on. I swear to you about three pages were dedicated to figuring out why on earth she would be in her living room in shoes. That’s how taboo it is here.
There’s even usually a space by the front door of where you live that is either lower than the rest of your home or at least sporting a different flooring. To many Japanese, this portion of the home by the front door is “outside.” This is where you are to leave your shoes, and you must never go into this special “outside” area unless you are wearing shoes. I’ve sometimes walked to get my keys or something I left by the front door while in my socks and heard audible gasps from friends like I’d just stepped out onto the streets barefoot.