A waterfall in Karuizawa

When it’s ridiculously hot outside and there’s no pandemic raging, many Japanese like to escape into the mountains or up north. A popular getaway spot is Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture.

To me, the place feels like a charming rustic area with log cabins, an old-fashioned-but-sophisticated downtown area and some truly nice hotels. Nature is everywhere, and so are photo opportunities.

Above all, it’s cool there in the summer. When you live where it’s 75 percent humidity and 35 C all day long, finding anywhere that’s even just a little bit cooler is a welcome reprieve.

Karuizawa seems like an ideal spot for camping, too, and I hope one day we can actually try it out there.

Growing watermelon

My watermelon plant

I have a kid who loves watermelon. The problem is, watermelon in Japan is insanely expensive. At my local discount grocery store, at the height of when watermelon were in season, one volleyball-size watermelon went for $12, and that was incredibly on sale. The average seems to be about $20.

My kid has some interest in growing things, so one day last month I put a couple leftover watermelon seeds into some soil, did some research on the internet, and began watching it grow.

Insects adore this plant, of course, so every day I’m out there batting away one bug or another while spraying neem oil (yes, I’m apparently that kind of gardener).

What worries me is that it’s not growing nearly as quickly as I thought it would. I thought I’d have a little fruit growing at this point, but it’s still climbing up the netting I put up, considering its next route along the net rather than whether it should create some flowers. I knew I’d planted it incredibly late in the year considering when watermelon are usually in season, but I thought the plant would still give me a watermelon before September.

Now I’m mostly worried I’ll finally get a little watermelon growing in, say, November, and the cold will promptly kill it.

Still, I’m not giving up. My kid goes out to our little garden, excited to see it growing some more, and I don’t want to kill that excitement with, “Well, Mommy planted the seeds too late so I’m just going to pull this up now.”

I’ll let you know if I ever get a watermelon.

Fireworks festivals

Summer in Japan simply isn’t fun right now because of the pandemic. Of course I understand why festivals of any kind are out of the question right now, but I’d like to take a moment and lament their temporary loss.

Japan in the summer is hot, humid and altogether unpleasant unless you’re up north like in Aomori or Hokkaido. For me, the most unpleasant place to be during the summer is Kyoto. Thanks to it being surrounded by mountains, Kyoto is like a bowl that just soaks up the heat and humidity and keeps it there for a while. Going outside your door in the morning during the summer can be entirely painful. I think Florida in America during the summer is a good comparison.

Still, I love summers in Japan mostly because they offer festivals. There are classic festivals where people wear summer kimono called yukata and walk among street vendors offering games, snacks and random prizes like goldfish. Then you have bon-odori festivals where a stage is set up in the center of the festival, and people dance in a circle around it.

Last, and my favorite of all the festivals, are fireworks festivals. They have the street vendors and sometimes even bon-odori, but all against a backdrop of fireworks that go off in succession for sometimes an hour.

The most stunning fireworks festival I’ve been to was in Kamakura, where they set the fireworks off in the water while people watch from the beach (see the photo above). I loved seeing the fireworks reflected in the water while sitting on the beach, enjoying the waves at night.

I miss walking down the road at night heading toward the fireworks in a crowd of people, eyeing the food stalls along the way and wondering which I should pick. I miss feeling excited to see the fireworks and wondering what kind they would be doing that year. I even miss the mass exodus following the fireworks display. There were times I would have to walk to the station before the closest one to avoid the crowds. I never thought I’d miss that.

I’m looking forward to a summer in the near future that is not simply to be endured.

The Periodical, Forlorn – Mythos Reborn

I’m thrilled to announce I got a short story published in the latest edition of The Periodical, Forlorn. Called Mythos Reborn, it’s a collection of scary myths of some kind.

I picked writing about the Japanese demon, an oni, because I was curious about them.

Japan has a tradition of oni appearing on a day called Setsubun in February. The demon appears inside your home, and your job is to drive them away by throwing beans at them while saying, “Luck stays inside, the demon goes outside.” This usually translates to parents buying a demon mask and having their kids throw beans at them for a few minutes.

They show up in a lot of myths in Japan, and are a common staple on shows having to do with monsters and ghosts in Japan.

One thing I don’t really know about oni is where they come from. A quick Google search suggested they come from spirits of the dead, but why? Why are some spirits said to turn into demons?

So I came up with my own idea of how this happens and wrote a short story about it.

I hope you enjoy it! This is the first time I’ve ever been paid for a story, so I think this story will always mean a lot to me, even if I read it each time thinking of how I could’ve done better.