Children’s Day

A close-up of “koi-nobori” carp streamers.

May 5th is Children’s Day in Japan – a day that, contrary to its name, celebrates boys.

While girls get Hina Matsuri, boys get Children’s Day. If you so choose, you can spend a lot of money on an impressive-looking samurai helmet in a display case and have that in your home leading up to May 5th. I don’t personally know anyone who does this, but I see them for sale in a lot of shopping malls here.

One tradition I see everywhere, however, is hanging up “koi nobori” carp streamers. You see them flying all over the place here around this time. The idea, apparently, is boys are like carp. If they are strong enough to swim upstream, one day they will become dragons.

I believe The Japan Times wrote an article about this a while ago, and they mentioned this is the thinking behind the Pokemon Magicarp becoming the dragon Gyarados. As a Pokemon fan, I had always wondered about this. No longer.

Other than hanging up the streamers, I’m actually not sure what you’re supposed to do for Children’s Day. I saw a baby photo of my husband wearing a samurai helmet that was folded out of newspaper for Children’s Day, and something about an adorable baby wearing a warrior helmet made of newspaper just completely melted my heart. I made a samurai helmet of newspaper for my own kids, but they were entirely disinterested in wearing them, even as tiny babies who should’ve lacked the strength to remove it from their heads. Oh well.

Amend: The Fight for America

I stumbled across this docuseries on Netflix a couple of weeks ago, and I am completely enthralled by it.

The series is entertaining, shocking, enlightening and I think something everyone should watch to learn a little bit more about American history.

I liked to consider myself fairly well educated when it comes to American history – I went to a relatively good high school, took AP U.S. History in my junior year, AP U.S. Government my senior year and any other advanced courses on history I could get my hands on. I walked out of high school and into college with the belief I had a fairly good idea about America’s history.

This docuseries certainly drove home the point that our textbooks were all quite selective in what they wanted to teach us, who they wanted to focus on and just how much was omitted.

I think schools in America should include this series when teaching U.S. history. It’s a part of who we are as Americans, and we should know our own history better. I know this docuseries also must leave out a lot, but I think it is a great supplement all the same.

Another point this series drove home for me was the idea that progress is not linear. I think especially as a writer, I’m constantly being told to make progress in stories clear-cut. You shouldn’t have a person turn evil, turn good, evil, good, somewhere in between, evil and then maybe good again. It should be a clearer line of progression or you’ll lose readers to confusion.

Reality, however, is messy. I think stories should reflect that reality better, too. Textbooks should as well. It doesn’t make for a neat summation of our history, but I think it makes it a bit more accurate.

Garden dreams

I’m a huge fan of gardening, though I’m pretty bad at it. I used to be worse, though. I’m someone who has killed scores of plants labeled “easy to take care of” and “hardy.”

It wasn’t until Netflix swooped in with Monty Don that I started to understand that being a good gardener means knowing the plants you’re caring for. Before, I used to go to a nursery and be wooed by the colorful flowers or the dream of growing fruit, and I wouldn’t bother to look up whether that plant might be a good fit for my little garden area.

Thanks to Monty Don, I’m now researching plants before I buy them and trying to actually keep track of the needs of each plant I have. It’s like adopting a very easy pet (in comparison to an actual pet).

Still, I’m apparently in the midst of killing my poor blueberry bushes. They have lots of little flowers that seem to promise fruit, only to suddenly die off on me. I have no idea what the cause is. They’re getting plenty of water, the pots are just the right size for them, the soil is specific to them. No idea. But good-bye, dreams of blueberries this summer. Maybe next summer, if the bushes survive.

I’m also trying to grow mikan trees because I am surrounded by people who seem to have insanely luscious mikan trees growing almost as an afterthought in their front yards. I see trees bursting with mikans that seem wholly ignored by the owners.

I want the joy it must be to simply step outside and pick a mikan for breakfast. I’ll let you know if it ever happens.

Target audience

I think the question I hate to answer most is, “Who is this story intended for?”

People ask me that a lot when I tell them I’ve written something again. Who’s the target audience?

I hate to answer it because the truth is, the target audience was me. I wrote the story because I wanted to read it. The entire reason I ever write anything is because I want to read it afterward. I think editing my own stories and simply re-reading them is the sole reason I can endure the headache that is writing.

I wrote a love story series last year for no other reason than I wanted to read one, and I couldn’t find any that I wanted to read. I usually write fairly dark literature, so writing a love story was something of a departure for me. But I really wanted to read the idea I had in my head.

I think the idea of a target audience should be someone who picks up your story, reads the beginning and decides they want to keep reading. That’s always my target audience, anyway.

“You think of the book you’d most like to be reading, and then you sit down and shamelessly write it.”

J.D. Salinger

Cherry blossoms

I think one of the first things I think about when I think about Japan are cherry blossoms. Japan doesn’t disappoint on this front; there are cherry trees everywhere here.

The fleeting season is happening now, with bursts of pink decorating the otherwise everyday scenery. I think a lot of anime and Japanese movies have scenes of cherry blossoms floating from the sky like rain, and I have to say that actually does happen. The streets are currently covered in pink petals as a slight breeze knocks more and more to the ground.

I’m a huge fan of cherry blossoms, like so many people here seem to be, too. I think what I like best is that everyone here knows when cherry blossom season happens – we know it happens every year – but we still go out and take a thousand photos of the cherry blossoms.

I think it has a lot to do with them being so brief. A row of cherry trees nearby started blooming a few days ago, and already tufts of green are showing where the leaves have taken over the flowers.

I’m still learning about all the varieties of cherry trees Japan has to offer. Some blossoms even look like cherry trees, but they’re actually plum trees. They’re still beautiful anyway.

Waffles + Mochi

My kids and I have been loving this show on Netflix. I really hope it sparks a deeper interest in cooking for them.

For those of you who might not know, Waffles + Mochi is about a half-Yeti, half-waffle creature who lived in a frozen world eating only ice cubes with her best friend, Mochi, until they get the chance to visit a city and the local grocery store. They find Mrs. Obama on the roof of the grocery store, which has been turned into a paradise of a garden, and she agrees to let them work at the store.

Every episode they travel the world on a magical shopping cart and learn about one kind of food, such as tomatoes or mushrooms. Living in Japan, I’m secretly happy there are so many episodes that take the duo to Japan, especially the rice episode, where they learn about Mochi’s origins.

I have to say it’s one of those shows where adults can actually enjoy watching it, too. It’s an overall uplifting, upbeat and friendly show that just explores the glory of food. You can see the official trailer for it below.

Behind the scenes of a photo

Dark clouds looming

You can see details of the actual photo at: https://www.viewbug.com/photo/90788469

Back in the summer, my family and I decided to go hiking in Shirakoma Forest, which is famous for the moss covering the ground. The forest also boasts a beautiful lake, and you can rent row boats.

We saw these clouds that you can see in the photo, and we still thought it’d be ok to row around for a little bit before the storm hit.

Right around the middle of the lake, we realized the storm was coming on fast. Neither I nor my husband are rowing experts in any sense, so we gave the storm plenty of time to cover us in sheets of rain while we floundered around trying to get back to shore.

We finally made it, at least, and the rowboat rental people helped us anchor the boat again. They even lent us umbrellas as we ran through uneven terrain to the nearby shop from which we had rented out the boats.

The shopkeepers took pity on us as we shivered and waited out the downpour, and they lent us some towels we could use to dry off. We bought some snacks from them and thanked them for their hospitality.

Looking back at this photo, part of me wonders what possessed me to think we could beat a storm, but another part treasures the memory of laughing in the rain as we tried to row back to shore.

WandaVision

I have to say I am a tremendous fan of Marvel right now. While I have never read the comics, the films and TV shows so far have been impressive enough that I try to watch all of them.

I think one of the main hurdles filmmakers of such fantasy face when trying to reach a greater audience is the sheer volume of information the comic book series have and deciding how much to convey on screen. The film creators have to work hard balancing the needs of the avid fans with the needs of people who just stepped into the world.

As such, WandaVision definitely had its moments where I had no idea what was significant about certain parts of it. The ending gave me more questions and more confusion than any sort of satisfaction, which I know Marvel enjoys doing.

However, the series still sang through as the story of a person who lost everything and who grieved. I think what makes so many Marvel movies and shows work is their adept skills at giving us the hero’s humanity. I can’t understand Wanda’s powers, but I can understand she is in a dark mental space.

I really appreciate that I got to know Wanda more. After the events of Infinity Wars, I thought this kind of show that takes the time to go through how she feels was so desperately needed.

Also, a shoutout to the Youtube channel ScreenCrush, which helped me navigate all the comic-book details the TV show threw in that I didn’t catch. It was such a nice complement to each episode.

Hina Matsuri

A completely over-the-top Hina Matsuri display at a train station. Photo taken about 8 years ago.

March 3rd this year is an event called “Hina Matsuri.” “Hina” means doll and “matsuri” means festival.

This is an event only for little girls, and it’s where your parents set up an elaborate display of dolls sitting on cascading platforms. At the top should be a woman and man in a kimono, and beneath them should be some servants and such. Each doll has its own meaning, but the two most important ones are the man and the woman at the top.

From what I understand of this event (I don’t have a daughter), you set up this elaborate doll display somewhere in your house, and on Hina Matsuri you eat some sweets with your daughter. You are then apparently supposed to quickly take down the decorations. The saying goes that the later you are taking down the decorations, the later on in life your daughter will marry.

To say this event is archaic is an understatement, but some families I know simply enjoy the excuse to put pretty dolls out and have some nice desserts with their daughter.

My main drawback for this event is the sheer price of these dolls. I see them for sale at shopping centers, and the average price for the two main dolls and a couple of servants is 1,500 dollars. That is an insane amount of money to be spending, in my humble opinion.

Of course there are cheaper options – I like that my kid once brought home two Hina Matsuri dolls he’d made at school out of origami paper.

Hay fever

Japanese cedar, along with other evergreen trees that grow here, are my mortal enemies this time of year.

When I first came to Japan 12 years ago, I only knew the pain of hay fever through hearing accounts of it from relatives who suffered.

Called kafunshou in Japanese, seasonal allergies is almost an art form over here. They have special glasses for kafunshou victims, special masks, special machines that clean indoor air of pollen, even special curtains to block out pollen from your home.

I think it’s due to the sheer amount of pollen-producing trees they have here, but I know far too many people here who suffer from it.

I also heard, when I was new to the country still, that a lot of foreigners start off without hay fever and then eventually get it.

I am one such unlucky person. Beginning about two years ago, I am suddenly an avid sufferer of hay fever. It feels like having a cold, but it lasts for three months for me. I’m on allergy medication, and I’m still suffering.

As the weather begins to warm here, I can’t help but both loathe and love spring. I hate the cold so the warmth is a welcome reprieve, and there are cherry blossoms to enjoy, but then hay fever comes along and puts a damper on all of it.