Beating the heat in 2 major cities

If you plan on visiting Japan in the summer, unless you plan on staying up north like in Hokkaido or Aomori, you can expect temperatures to be in the mid-30s C here for most of the summer and even into autumn in some parts.

I’ve been to the following two major cities in Japan during the summer, and I have a few tips.

Tokyo: With so many streets lined with buildings rather than trees, it’s a concrete oven in the summer.

To try and survive, I recommend getting some items that will help cool you down from an 100-yen shop like Daiso (they have neck scarves you douse in water that cool your neck and fans). Also, feel free to roam department stores or electronics stores for no other reason than to bask in their AC.

Kyoto: This is like Florida in a heat wave. The heat just hits your lungs like you’ve run into a wall. This is all because Kyoto is in a valley surrounded by mountains, making it a little bowl that lets heat and humidity just sit there. At least Tokyo is near Tokyo Bay in some areas, allowing for a sea breeze every now and then.

If at all possible, try to avoid Kyoto in the summer. Kyoto is the place to go in the autumn and spring. If you can’t avoid it, however, I survived with those 100-yen items mentioned above and by making a beeline from one convenience store to another. I used to love admiring the ice cream section of each store for no other reason than it’s the coldest section of the store.

Most temples and shrines, unfortunately, don’t have AC, which means your risk of heat stroke greatly rises. I have found the river near Arashiyama can be a nice respite from the heat, at least, but Kyoto will suck the soul out of you if you stay outside for too long in the summer.

Hatsubon

I’m really happy to report I had a short story published in Literally, Stories called “Hatsubon.”

As I mentioned earlier, I really love connecting short stories together. I love the idea of stories that stand alone but can also be fitted into a series.

To that end, this is a story that follows “The Burning Bones,” published in 2020. That story focuses on the grief the husband feels at his wife’s funeral, while this story follows their oldest daughter, who carried the photo of her mother out the door after her mother was cremated.

I also have to say I like writing stories about older people. I think that thanks to media and the internet doing a fantastic job making it difficult for older people to connect to other generations, too many people in younger generations write off the older generations.

I wonder how many people think “Well, she died in her 90s so that’s fine.”

Grief is still grief, and none of us, I think, are really ready to say good-bye to people we love, no matter how old they are.

The death of Shinzo Abe

One of Japan’s newspapers called The Asahi Shimbun published an opinion piece this morning where one of their reporters talks about their experience watching former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s funeral procession through the streets of Tokyo after he was gunned down on Friday.

The reporter writes they are reminded of a quote from an essay by Kamo no Chomei during the early 13th century: “The flowing river never stops, and yet the water never stays the same.”

What, I thought, a profoundly perfect way to describe loss.

There have been times in my life where I have wondered how people can go about their day despite a great tragedy, and I think that quote does such a fantastic job explaining the mindset.

Personally, I think the quote can describe the Japanese societal psyche quite well in times of disaster.

I’ve been in Japan during the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, devastating typhoons, the pandemic, and now this senseless shooting of a former leader.

Each time, I’ve seen the dark shadows seem to cross the public mind, but people continued as best they could in the circumstances.

Japan has a long history of tragedy on a national scale–mostly natural disasters. I think they have perfected the art of trying to continue moving forward despite devastating circumstances.

I was reading several news sites from abroad describe how the shooting will forever change Japan, and I think perhaps beneath the surface of society here, that might be true to some extent. It won’t be overtly apparent, however.

Personally, though, I think many people here will simply add this tragedy to the list of tragedies kept in the nation’s spirit and keep going anyway.

A new story

After what I suppose could be considered writer’s block (I’ve been writing short stories but not a book for a while), I have an idea growing in my mind for a book.

Short stories have been fun to write because, to me, they feel like distilling an entire book into one scene and trying to make it a story in and of itself. While some of my short stories I think would make great books, I haven’t felt particularly inspired enough to flesh them out.

Thus, I was really happy to get the idea for an opening to the new book. Like what often happens to me, I was about to go to sleep, thinking about the book, when the opening lines came to me. I used to have a notepad near my bed, but smartphones have quite a few uses, I think.

I used to just start writing the book once I got an idea, but I would get annoyed having to stop every now and then to figure out the logistics (what’s the character’s name? Where are they in the world, if they are on our world?).

To try and create fewer frustrations, I have lately taken to going through the logistics beforehand. I also try to have a loose plot in my head before I start.

For me, figuring out the plot is best done when I’m doing some sort of mundane task, like household chores. Lately I’ve been gardening more than usual, cleaning more than usual and trying to deep-clean some of my appliances (like the washing machine) all so I can have a mind free to tease out the plot from the tangled mess of images in my head of the story.

I suppose meditating would work better for this sort of thing, but I like being productive while working on the story, so I’m happy when I advance the plot along in my head while also pruning my trees and such.

I already wrote down the first lines of the book, and I have a tentative title, but the ending is still a bit of a mystery for me at the moment. I really want to start writing, though, so maybe I’ll just have to hope one is revealed while I write.

Losing things in Japan

With Japan opening up its borders to tourists, I thought I’d cover a few things that might be helpful to know when you’re visiting.

Today, I want to talk about losing things here.

My experiences losing things here

I still remember one time I was at a summer festival (loong before the pandemic when summer festivals were still a thing) and I don’t even know how but I dropped my wallet. I didn’t realize it was missing until I tried to pay for some snacks and realized my bag didn’t have my wallet in it anymore.

I went to the little information counter all festivals seem to have, and the people there seemed visibly relieved to see my face (they had looked inside the wallet and found my driver’s license inside) as they handed back the wallet to me.

Another time I had left a coin purse (Japan is still more a cash-based society than cards) at a drugstore without even noticing. An hour later I got a phone call from the drugstore, and they seemed apologetic for their sleuthing skills:

“We noticed you had a coupon for our drugstore in the coin purse, so we traced the ID on the coupon to your point card, and that’s how we got your number. You left the coin purse here, though, and we’ll keep it for you behind the counter until you can come and get it.”

Just yesterday the rain cover on my bike had blown off in the wind as I had been bike riding, and I hadn’t even noticed until today. In a panic, I retraced my steps and found the cover neatly folded up and resting on a bush along the path I’d used.

Social code

I know that in America, anyway, most people assume something has been stolen and gone forever if you lose an object somewhere, like an umbrella, a bike or (God-forbid) your wallet.

While I have experienced exceptions here, for the most part, if you lose something here, assume someone is trying to get it back to you.

For example, just walking around my neighborhood here any given day, I’ll see random lost objects put up on trees or along fences–hats, a kid’s shoe or toy, a train pass–to make it stand out more to people passing by.

There is an unspoken but strict social code here that you do not ever simply assume a lost object is up for grabs; only the owner can come back and get it. Your social duty is to make it easier for the person who lost it to find it again, hence stringing it up on trees at eye level.

Finding it again

If the object is highly valuable (rings, wallets etc), then most people will go to their nearest Koban (police station) and turn it in. Thus, if you happen to have the misfortune of losing something of great value, start off at the local Koban and be prepared to fill out a lot of paperwork.

If you happen to lose your item on the train, most people will grab it and turn it into the nearest station official whenever they get off the train, so go to the ticketing gates and talk to the people manning the gates there. Different companies own different lines so if you skipped from Tokyo Metro to the JR Lines, for example, then it’d be a good idea to visit a station belonging to each company and reporting the lost object to them.

If you lose an object near shops, definitely ask people working at the shops.

In short, losing something in Japan usually doesn’t mean you have to forever say good-bye to it, so don’t give up looking for it too easily.

Obi-Wan Kenobi

I am not a die-hard Star Wars fan, but I do love the film series. I have no problem finding the good points to the prequels, and given enough time, I think I could even take a crack at defending the The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker.

I was particularly excited about Obi-Wan Kenobi, however, because Ewan McGregor was coming back. Apart from being in love with how that actor looks, I’m madly in love with his acting skills, and I think he did a great job in the prequels.

The first episode, however, was a bit of a disappointment for me. I thought it dragged, though I did appreciate seeing an entirely defeated Obi-Wan.

I like how we, the audience, know how he was in the prequel movies and how he will be in A New Hope. In those prequel movies, Obi-Wan strikes me as someone entirely confident, and in A New Hope, at peace.

As the Obi-Wan series has continued (up to episode IV is out right now), I’ve come to understand this series is about bringing a defeated and traumatized Obi-Wan to being at peace within.

Without this series, we the audience are left to imagine the Obi-Wan who left Anakin to die simply becomes a wise old man in A New Hope who gently guides Luke from afar before quietly nudging him into a war with Vader.

I appreciate that we see one of Star Wars’ great heroes struggling while overwhelmed with loss, grief, self-doubt and self-loathing. I appreciate that this isn’t a quick fix or something he just “snaps” himself out of. The series starts ten years after Obi-Wan leaves Anakin for dead, and Obi-Wan is still completely lost in himself.

Grief doesn’t just disappear in real life, and I love how this series seems to acknowledge that. I love Obi-Wan so much more thanks to this series.

As a side-note, I have to say I also love how they portrayed Darth Vader in episode III.

I think Darth Vader has become a kind of pop culture icon, and he has legions of fans across the world.

I think having a scene where Vader just casually walks through a town and either tortures or kills people to try and draw Obi-Wan out brings home, at least for me, the fact Vader isn’t exactly a role model. He turned good at the end, but not before earning that hatred Princess Leia shows him in A New Hope. It was a nice reminder he is nothing less than a villain.

Navigating public baths

Japan is talking a lot about how the government decided to open the nation back up to tourists starting on the 10th.

Thus, I thought I’d spend a few posts here offering some tips on how to be a good tourist here that I’ve learned through my own experiences.

Today, I’m going to focus on public baths.

What are public baths in Japan?

They’re places usually found all over the place where you pay money, enter one part of the bath that is meant for either men or women (choose wisely), strip down naked and enjoy some hot-water baths.

Sentou vs. onsen

You’ll likely find lots of signs declaring the bath is a sentou or onsen. It’s good to know the difference.

A sentou is just regular water that’s been heated up. People still like to go to them because a lot of sentous try to make up for the lack of hot-spring water by putting special scents into the water or, I’m not making this up, running weak electrical currents through the water to “stimulate the body.”

An onsen, on the other hand, is hot spring water. This is water from the earth that is naturally heated and contains minerals and other things that people here swear will heal whatever ails you. I have no idea if it actually does or not.

Using a public bath

Whether your plan is to use the local sentou (usually found in crowded cities for people who live in such cheap apartments, they don’t even have their own shower room) or visit a luxurious onsen spa resort, the steps to follow are basically the same:

  1. Take your shoes off at the entrance.
  2. Find the shoe locker area and stuff your shoes into an empty one.
  3. Take your shoe-locker key to reception and buy tickets for the baths.
  4. After payment (some have you pay at the end, like a hotel), reception will give you a bracelet that contains a key. The number on the key bracelet is your locker number in the public bath area.
  5. Go the men or women’s bath area
  6. Find your locker according to the number on your bracelet.
  7. Strip completely naked and stuff all of your clothing into the locker.
  8. Find the shower area.
  9. Scrub yourself like you’ve never scrubbed before. People here expect you to be sparkling clean before you put one toe into the baths.
  10. For those of you with long hair, put it in a high bun on top of your head whether you washed it or not.
  11. Sometimes you can find a tiny pool of water at the entrance of the main area, accompanied with a ladle or a tiny bucket. Some people enjoy, for some reason, splashing themselves with the hot water before stepping into the baths. This is an optional step, in my opinion.
  12. Some people also like to carry little towels with them into the baths. I honestly don’t know why. Maybe someone will explain this one to me someday.
  13. Take your time enjoying all the baths that are available. Feel free to move around and experience them all.
  14. When you’re done, rinse yourself off at one of the standing showers that are available.
  15. Go to your locker, dry yourself off with a towel. The women’s rooms (no idea about the men’s) usually have a little vanity mirror area with hair dryers and sometimes complimentary skin care products.
  16. Many people here, and I, recommend drinking an ice cold milk from a little glass bottle vending machine usually available near the front entrance of the public baths. I have no idea what it is, but nothing quite hits the spot like cold milk after all those hot baths.
  17. Go back to reception and hand back your bracelet. They will hand you back the key to the shoe locker so you can get your shoes.

Do’s and don’t’s at a public bath

  1. Do not splash. This is a place of relaxation, and only little kids can get away with stuff like that. I think it’s something you could conceivably get away with if absolutely no one else is in the public bath, but it’s highly frowned upon.
  2. Do not run. Just like you wouldn’t around a pool, the floors at public baths are always slippery.
  3. Do not put your head underwater. This is a big no-no because I think people just don’t like the idea of your hair touching the water. I’ve seen people on TV shows go underwater at a public bath (they wear towels or a bathing suit when on TV), but I’ve never seen this happen in real life.
  4. Wear your hair up. I just wanted to repeat that one since I’ve been personally scolded for forgetting to wear my hair up after I’d just washed it. This means sopping-wet hair tied at the top of your head.
  5. Do not stare at anyone there. While some people might completely forget their manners and stare at you for being foreign, it is universally considered creepy to stare at naked people. That is why most public baths, especially ones with open-air options, will put decorations around for you to look at, instead.
  6. Bring your own towel. You can rent one, but that’s just wasted money, in my opinion.
  7. Bring toiletries you need. They won’t have hairbrushes, for example, except ones you can buy for an outrageous price. At the very least, try to find a nearby 100-yen store and buy one there. Most public baths will have shampoo, conditioner and body soap, but you can bring your own little bottles of stuff if you want.
  8. Don’t be loud. Again, this is not a public pool – it’s a place people go to for relaxation and to unwind. It’d be like going to a spa and treating it like a house party.
  9. Scrub yourself clean. Another repeat, but people here like ridiculously clean people to use the baths. I still personally think the baths have to still be less-than-clean, but I guess it makes people here feel better if they see you really taking your time to make sure every inch of you is squeaky clean before you step into the baths.

Going to public baths with little kids

Some public baths are cool with kids who aren’t potty trained, others are not so much, so I would check ahead on their website or ask reception before spending money there. Some of the bigger public bath facilities actually have baths that specifically will say “Kids who aren’t potty trained can use this one”, which is helpful.

If you have a baby, most public baths will have a plastic tub (I’m not sure if there’s one in the men’s public bath area) for you to scoop up some water (where you put the baby while you do this is beyond me) from the baths and put them in there.

Some public baths cater to babies and really young kids, and a lot of hotels also have “baby vacation packages” where they will fill your hotel room with baby stuff you need and generally have a public bath available that’s easier to use when you have small kids in tow.

I also highly, HIGHLY, recommend something called a “kashi kiri onsen” (kahsh keeree ohnsen), which is a tiny onsen you can rent out just for yourself and your family. That way the whole family can just go into the same onsen and you don’t have to worry about your kids annoying everyone. Many hotels have this option, so I recommend taking a look around online.

General rule: Most public baths are ok with your kids being with you in the public bath as long as they’re below roughly the age of 8 (check the public bath you’re visiting as the rule varies). That means dads with daughters can still take them into the men’s public bath and moms with sons can take them into the women’s public bath. After the age of 8, again the rule varies, the kids have to go into the public bath society says matches their assigned gender.

Public baths for those who don’t identify with their assigned gender

Japan is super not interested in catering to people who don’t identify with their assigned gender when it comes to public baths.

That being said, you still have a couple of options.

First, is the “kashi kiri onsen” I mentioned above. Anyone can use it for however long you can rent it.

Second, are public baths that have “mixed public baths.” These are baths for men and women to use, and bathing suits are required.

What to do if you have a tattoo

You may have heard about this one, but Japan does NOT like tattoos.

Tattoos are associated with organized crime here. Rather than banning people with certain tattoos from public baths, however, Japan went nuclear and banned anyone with tattoos from almost all public baths in the nation.

There are a few things you can do to work around this.

First, try to find a public bath that is cool with tattoos. Before the pandemic, quite a few public baths in Tokyo understood that foreigners have tattoos and are not, in fact, in organized crime, so they will have signs up by the main doors, usually in English, that say “Tattoos are ok here.”

Second, if that fails or your friends are insisting on a public bath that hates tattoos, try to cover your tattoo up with a waterproof bandage. If it’s too large to cover up, you might have to just sit and wait in the lobby for your friends.

Thoughts on “Old Enough!”

A while back, Netflix started airing a show from Japan that’s called “Hajimete no otsukai” (My first errand) that’s been renamed “Old Enough!”

Apparently, and I’m not in America anymore so I’m not 100 percent sure, this show has stirred up controversy. People abroad seem to be under the impression the kids are left totally on their own during filming, which I think is surprising considering someone is obviously there filming.

So, to anyone who seems to somehow think these kids are on their own and that Japan does this sort of thing all the time, I give you these lists to explain the ways in which neither of these ways of thinking are accurate.

The kids are not on their own. At all.

  1. The film crew is there not only to film, but to keep an eye on the kids. As viewers of the Netflix show even shows, they immediately act when the child is in any sort of danger. One episode, for example, has a kid drop an apple down a hill, which rolls into a road. The camera crew wasted no time chasing that apple down before the kid could even think about stepping into the road.
  2. The people in the entire area where the kids are running errands are told well in advance that the errand-running is going to happen. While they are told to try to act casual, of course there are going to be people out on the streets more than usual waving at the kids more than they usually would.
  3. As one episode noted, the police also get involved to make sure the route mapped out for the kids is safe. One episode had a special, temporary road-crossing sign that was created, with approval from the local police, just for the kid running the errands.
  4. Camera crew people also dress up like locals to further blend in and be at hand in case the kids need help.
  5. I don’t think Netflix has any, but I remember seeing some episodes where the kids just didn’t want to go, and they ended up not going. I think the Netflix show just wanted to show kids who actually do end up running the errands on their own.

This is not common practice in Japan, either

  1. While Japan seems way more casual about letting kids be independent, I don’t personally know many families who would be willing to let their pre-elementary-school-age kids go out on errands like the show depicts. I’ve talked to a few of my friends here about this, and a few said, “Well, maybe I would let them go to the store right next to our apartment alone, but I’d follow right behind them anyway.”
  2. I think if any little kid went up to a cashier at a store and asked to buy things, the first thing the cashier would say is, “Where are your parents?” No one would think, “Ah, a little kid running errands alone” as far as I’ve ever seen here. It’s just not common practice here.
  3. That being said, elementary-school-age kids are expected to get to their elementary school on their own. If they live out in the countryside, then they’re expected to walk as a group with kids who live nearby. The school kind of pounds into the kids’ heads basic safety rules like, “Don’t just run across the road” and then most of Japanese society expects people nearby to help out if an elementary school kid looks like they’re in trouble or about to do something dangerous.
  4. I think the show is meant to tell parents “Hey, your kids can do more things than you think” and to tell their kids the same thing. I think kids seeing the show might gain more confidence in thinking they can do things on their own, which I think is a good thing.

The show is just to see how kids would react if they thought they were alone running the errands. They are in no way, shape or form actually out on their own. I love watching this show just to see how kids act when they think they’re on their own like that, though, and I’m usually deeply impressed by their fortitude and strength.

If you’d like to read more about how the show is made, please visit here.

Moon Knight

Life got in the way, and I’m only now just starting to watch this series on Disney+.

I also kind of put it off because I’ve never heard of Moon Knight, the superhero, and I didn’t know how interested I could be in a comic series I’ve never even heard of. Out of a love for the MCU, I finally decided to start watching it.

I. Love. It. I’m only three episodes in at the moment, unfortunately, but I love what I’m seeing so far. Oscar Isaac’s performance is spectacular, especially in episode 3 when the god Khonshu possesses him. His acting in this makes me want to go back through his filmography and see more works he’s done (I’ve seen quite a few, but it makes me want to see even more).

Ethan Hawke is also brilliant as a man who at times lulls you into thinking “Maybe he’s not that evil.” I saw an interview with him for this series, and he said something along the lines of “I think you can’t play a villain thinking they’re a villain.” I love that kind of mindset.

Seeing the two of them simply acting in this series has been enough to make me love it. The storyline hasn’t been fully fleshed out yet (it being only halfway through) so I’m excited to see what happens. I feel like I’m watching a six-hour movie.

I’m already hoping there’s a season 2, and I saw online (so who knows how true it is) that Moon Knight might somehow feature in the upcoming Thor movie. Maybe the ending of Moon Knight will change my mind, but I really hope not. I’ve been trying like crazy to avoid any spoilers online (so much of Multiverse of Madness has been spoiled already just in the headlines of entertainment news sites).

As a side-note: I’m a huge Marvel movie fan, but I can’t say I’m really interested in that many of the comics. I think it has to do with my preference for Japanese manga-style comics rather than the American style. Maybe someday I’ll try reading some, though.

The Bucket Fountain

State of Matter just published a short story of mine called “The Bucket Fountain.” About a college kid coming to terms with his own death, I had intended it to be a fantasy story with a mixture of horror in it, but maybe I’m just not cut out to write horror because it comes across more as fantasy and a bit goofy than anything else.

I’ve also noticed the tendency for horror stories to end in despair and tragedy, at best, so maybe the fact “The Bucket Fountain” gives some sort of closure makes it more fantasy than horror.

The story is actually a companion piece for “The Guide,” which I had published last December.

I wrote “The Bucket Fountain” first and then “The Guide”, which is why “The Guide” kind of brushes over the events of “The Bucket Fountain” and then talks about what happens next. If you have a minute, I’d personally love it if you read “The Bucket Fountain” first and then “The Guide,” but obviously it’s up to you.

I’m a huge, huge fan of crossover stories, which is why I tried my hand at making a few. It’s probably why I love the MCU so much.

How like life that characters cross into each other’s stories all the time, and I love the kind of mental puzzle it entails to have everything still somehow work out on a kind of timeline. While I know the MCU isn’t perfect in this regard, I still marvel (no pun intended) at how they can keep an overarching story going and make it so much fun to watch play out on screen. I think it must help to have such a treasure trove of comics to choose from.

I hope to write more crossover stories since they’re so much fun to write, and I’ll be sure to let you know what short stories connect with what.