How I Love Japan (Part Four)

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Let’s talk about bullet trains first.

They are really fast. When I first took the picture above, I wasn’t even trying to capture a photo of a train. I was taking a picture of the track when all of a sudden one popped into view.

They aren’t that hard to navigate, and they are always on time. In fact, we joked that if you were standing in line at 2:31 for a 2:30 train, you’d probably missed it.

Here’s another thing you may not know. When the conductor, or whatever he is called in Japanese, comes through the train and reaches the end of the car, he turns and bows before entering the next car. And no one in the train is even watching! (Except me.) He bows, and turns, and goes on his way, while passengers read their papers, or eat their crustless sandwiches, or look out the window. They aren’t talking. They aren’t disrupting everyone around them with a phone conversation no one wants to hear. But, they are taking the conductor’s behavior for granted.

Another thing that seems to be taken for granted, (but maybe not) is the beauty. Everywhere I looked, there was something beautiful. It could be a tiny garden, or more often than not a floral arrangement. I leave you with a few of my favorites:

How I Love Japan (Part Three)

After we left Nikko, we went down the coast of the Izu Peninsula next to the Atlantic Ocean. I picked up a few pinecones to put in my pocket, a reminder that even halfway across the world, much remains the same.

We had the opportunity to stay in a ryokan, a traditional Japanese hotel complete with tatami mat rooms, futons, and hot springs. One baths first, then submerges oneself into the naturally hot spring which is about 120 degrees Fahrenheit. I could only stay in about ten minutes, but it was so lovely to sit in the hot water surrounded by woods.

But, the second night was the most difficult one for me of all the trip. We were served another traditional Japanese dinner in eight courses, each dish more exquisite than the next. There were garnishes of chrysanthemum leaves vinaigrette, and other assorted plants and animals of which I could not be sure. I was told something was a scallop, but when I put it in my mouth, and with mounting nausea swallowed it, I discovered it was a raw Anglerfish liver.

I do not like my food uncooked. I am embarrassingly American at times.

There was a stop at Banjo Falls…

and the Black Ships museum, reminding us of Commodore Matthew Perry who brought his nine black ships to Shimoda to “request” that Japan leave her isolationist position and open the ports to the U. S. Fortunately, this is now seen as a good thing. What impressed me the most is that these documents were written in the 1850s. (Other museums had documents dating to the 1500’s. What Microsoft Word document is going to have that kind of lasting significance?)

Finally, we took the shinkansen (bullet train). I have never been on a ride as smooth or efficient as this. We absolutely glided to Kyoto in less than two hours. It wasn’t scary in the least.

How I Love Japan (Part Two)

20181016_000323We only saw the briefest glimpse of Tokyo, considering how big it is, before it was time to move on to Nikko. The first thing to delight me was the origami hanging in the train station. As I said on Instagram, what train station doesn’t need origami?!

20181015_2103342But, Nikko! Oh, my! I tired of the shrines (which we went to see) before I did the trees. Never have I been surrounded by such a majestic forest, not even in the Redwoods of California.

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There was the Shinkyo Bridge:

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and a shrine which made me cry, as it was for all the babies who had been lost to their mothers. The mothers knit little red hats, and put bibs on these stones, and the rows went on and on as far as my eye could see in any direction.

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I loved Nikko, which is where we spent day 2.

How I Love Japan (Part One)

We left for Japan, my husband and I, on October 11. I looked at this plane, JAL, and I could hardly imagine the next 13 and a half hours in which we would be inside, flying to Tokyo. (Fortunately, I had Haruki Murakami’s latest book, Killing Commendatore, with me.)

When we arrived in Tokyo, we were taken 60 kilometers from Narita Airport to Tokyo, where we were staying at the Asakusa View Hotel. The above picture is the view outside of our room’s window, giving us the skyline of the east side of Tokyo. The needle-like structure is the Tokyo Skytree, which is the tallest tower in the world.

We immediately went out to discover our surroundings. I had to snap a picture of a convenience store, especially after reading Convenience Store Woman last month. We were told that there are approximately 60,000 convenience stores in Japan; people need them to be close by with their small refrigerators at home.

I photographed drink machines, as I have constantly read of characters in modern Japanese literature buying a can of coffee from one. Indeed, there is a myriad of beverages from which to choose.

One of Japan’s most popular beers is Asahi, and this building is the headquarters. Can you see how the tall golden building was meant to represent a tall glass of beer with the foam on top? But, the golden tadpole puzzled me, until I learned it is the Flame of Passion (for beer) which was meant to stand upright. Sadly, it blocked the residents’ view of the apartment building behind it, and was consequently forced to lay on its side. Now it has become more famous than it would have been if it had kept its original position because it looks so…odd.

The top photo is the Senso-ji Temple, guarded by a thunder god to keep the evil spirits away. Which the vermillion color is also supposed to do.

Before leaving Tokyo, we visited the Hamarikyu gardens where we took a stroll through “the playgrounds of Japan’s old shoguns”. The contrast between the skyscrapers of today, and the teahouse of the Edo period, amazes me.

Tomorrow, I will share pictures of day 2.

How a sling changed more than my foot…

Don’t you hate it when people take pictures of their feet and post them? Usually, it’s on a beach somewhere, with a perfect pedicure on straight toes and a crashing surf in the background.

Those are not the kind of feet I have. Mine have been crooked all of my life, so much so that I am used to their irregularity. They don’t hurt very much anymore, as a general rule, until this plantar fasciitis thing kicked in.

I have been coping with that since February: icing, taping, stretching, wearing a compression sock (the equivalent of Spanx for your foot, but not any more comfortable), and taking NSAIDs. Nothing has helped.

You give me enough time, I’ll finally go see a doctor, and so with a walking tour planned for October, I thought this might be the time. Off I went last Wednesday.

“You have been suffering with this for far too long,” she said when she walked into the room where I was waiting. She gave me a cortisone shot, a Velcro sling, and an appointment in two weeks if I need it.

Wait. All of this pain has been going on longer than necessary? I have been suffering for months needlessly?

It seems like there’s a lesson in there somewhere. I mean, in between being a stoic, and being a big baby, is the place to be. It never really occurred to me that there were other options than endurance. But, now that I’m aware of that? I think that I will be more open to finding an avenue which doesn’t require gritting one’s teeth against every opposition.

Have you found that balance?

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

 

Who are you? Why are you? What do you want? The problem is this—heading straight toward the miniaturist seems to make her disappear. And yet, she is so often there, watching and waiting. Nella wonders which one of them is hunter, which one of them is prey. (p. 190)

This novel caught my eye when it was first published in 2014, but it wasn’t until I saw that PBS is going to air a mini-series on it this Sunday that I decided to read it.

The Miniaturist is an interesting story, which reminded me a teensy bit of Rebecca in that it contains a young wife and lots of mysterious goings-on in her new household. The novel is set in Amsterdam, in the 1680s, and tells the story of Petronella Oortman who has left Asselfeldt to come marry Johannes Brandt. He presents her with a cabinet of nine rooms, much like a dollhouse of sorts, as he is a loving man albeit with his own limitations.

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Petronella hires a miniaturist to fill the cabinet, whose creations uncannily mimic what comes to fruition within Petronella’s household. We read to discover the identity of the miniaturist, we read to find out specifics of life in Amsterdam during the fifteenth century. It is not the kind of life lived so freely today, where almost any type of behavior is accepted and upheld, as we have no burgomasters passing judgement on every action we make.

Each character is carefully drawn, from Johannes (her husband), to Marin (her sister-in-law), Cornelia (the maid), Otto (the man-servant from Africa) and Jack, a handsome young man from England who betrays them all. There is an interesting concept of  “sugar loaves”, the sale upon which their lives depend, and I found myself fully immersed in this story which Jessica Burton so expertly told.

It will be interesting to see what PBS does with this novel come Sunday, September 9, at 9/8 Central. (You can see the minute and a half trailer here.)

My Midori Traveler’s Notebook…and the 5th Anniversary Edition of the Bullet Journal

Quite possibly you know of how much I adore my Midori Traveler’s Notebook. The leather’s lustre is almost divine now, after three years of constant use, and the insert for the daily diary, at least, is exactly how I like it.

And then there arrived in my inbox an announcement of the Bullet Journal’s special edition celebrating its five years of existence and fabulous success.

The cover is designed by Frederica Santorini, who lives in Rome. I have long admired her talent on Instagram (@feebujo) so it is especially lovely to have one of the limited editions of this journal.

But the best part of all is how we are reminded to “Do what works for you”, and that “Less is more.” In a world filled with the comparison that social media can cause, and the way that my culture tends to feel that “more is better than less”, I am grateful to be reminded of these truths.

I am looking forward to trying the Bullet Journal system in January 2019. How about you? Do you have a journal system of which you are quite fond?

August Is (Still) Spanish Lit Month; August is Women In Translation Month

Since I don’t have to prepare a classroom in August for the first time in 35 years, I can focus on literature this month. Since Spanish Lit Month and Women In Translation Month align, I can read for both at the same time. And so, we have the books in my kindle and on my shelf:

Umami by Laia Jufresa (translated by Sophie Hughes)

From OneWorld Publications:

Using five voices to tell the singular story of life in an inner city mews, Umami is a quietly devastating novel of missed encounters, missed opportunities, missed people, and those who are left behind. Compassionate, surprising, funny and inventive, it deftly unpicks their stories to offer a darkly comic portrait of contemporary Mexico, as whimsical as it is heart-wrenching.

Fish Soup by Margarita García Robayo (translated by Charlotte Coombe)

From Charco Press:

From internationally acclaimed author Margarita García Robayo comes Fish Soup, a unique collection comprising two novellas plus the book of short stories Worse Things (winner of the prestigious Casa de las Américas Prize)
Throughout the collection, García Robayo’s signature style blends cynicism and beauty with an undercurrent of dark humour. The prose is at once blunt and poetic as she delves into the lives of her characters, who simultaneously evoke sympathy and revulsion, challenging the reader’s loyalties as they immerse themselves in the unparalleled universe that is Fish Soup.

I am so excited to read these two this month, while hopefully also fitting in Javier Marias’ Fever and Spear.

And you? Do you have plans for Spanish Lit Month? Women in translation?

A Blogging Shift

Life is short. I would rather sing one song, than interpret a thousand. ~Jack London

Two interesting things happened this week, and it’s only Wednesday. One, is that a post about my hair got more attention than my posts about books. The other is that while I was having coffee with a friend I greatly respect and admire, she said, “You should write more about life.”

I often have trouble finding just the right niche. When the group is doing one thing, I most frequently am doing another. Being out of tandem with everyone else is a common experience for me; finding myself rather alone has become so normal that I used to joke at school, “Smith, party of one.” I’m not saying this as pity, in fact, it’s rather a point of pride. When are the masses ever right?

That does, however, leave a question about my purpose here. I started a blog twelve years ago with a name which doesn’t even relate to books because I didn’t really intend to write a book blog. Dolce Bellezza was supposed to refer to “Gentle Beauty” as in “the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit.” (1 Peter 3:4). I was always going to write about life as I know it (faith, teaching, reading, everyday thoughts). And then I met Lesley, and we started to talk about books we’ve read, and before you know it I had veered into a book blog because it was so much fun.

Blogging about books has greatly enriched my life. I have discovered authors that I’d never heard of let, let alone read, even though I consider myself a fairly well read person. I have received such a plethora of books to review that I will never, ever be able to read them all. I have hosted eleven Japanese Literature Challenges, and I have had the utter joy to be a part of the IFFP Shadow Jury, the Man Booker International Prize Shadow Jury, and the Booker Shadow Jury. I would trade none of those experiences. Nor do I intend to lay them all down.

But, now that I’m retired I’m wondering if blogging mostly about books suits my purpose. I think I’m more interested in exploring the world outside of the classroom. I think I’m more interested in expanding my blog to something other than the narrow confines of merely reviewing literature, which is only an interest of mine, and never an area of expertise.

In an effort to “sing only about one song, rather than interpret a thousand”, I am planning to blog more about life and less about the thousand books which are lying in wait for me to read. I will still be reading. I will still write about what I’ve read. But, only when I want to. Only when a book has called to me in a loud, clear voice. Other than that, let’s journey onward to broader roads which beckon and call. Let’s explore more thoughts outside of the pages. Are you with me?

Let’s talk about going silver, shall we?

You’ll notice I said “silver”, didn’t you, instead of “grey”? Because like so many terms in our world today, silver has better connotations than grey, and we are all about shades of meaning in the 21st century.

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(Two months in)

Be that as it may, I stopped having my hair colored in March for several reasons, and the journey is a fascinating one. To me, at least, which is why I’m writing about hair instead of books. (Plus, everyone I know is sick of talking about it with me.)

I stopped with the coloring process for these reasons:

  1. It hurt.
  2. It is rather expensive to have it done at the salon. Which I did.
  3. It turned a bizarre brassy shade in the sun, which was neither brown nor blonde.
  4. It didn’t last.
  5. I wanted to see what I really looked like, what my hair was doing unbeknownst to me under all that dye for all those years.

You’d be amazed about all the comments people give you, solicited or not. Here are some of the most oft-repeated reactions:

  1. It will age you ten years.
  2. Why would you do that?!
  3. Don’t do that!
  4. It looks beautiful!
  5. I would never have the guts.
  6. You should cut it all off.
  7. Does your husband let you do that?
  8. I didn’t recognize you sitting there/walking across the park/from behind.
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(Four months, in a French braid)

Now, I never tell people what to do with their hair, so it’s interesting that some should feel compelled, unsolicited, to tell me what to do with mine. But, that’s not the unsettling part. The part that feels really weird, now that I’m four months into this process, is not being recognized. Am I really defined by my hair? Is who we look like on the outside the same as who we are on the inside? A knee-jerk reaction is, “Of course not!” Still, even some people who are the closest to me have to look for me twice.

My hair is a serious point of vanity for me. I love its thickness, its curl, its weight. So to undergo such a big change is a strange thing. I have mixed feelings about it even now, and as my hairdresser said, “You’ve only just begun.”

I tell myself I can always go back to dying it brown. But, after all this conversation, all this time, all this impatient waiting, I don’t think I’ll do that. It’s really nice to be free from the time, effort, and expense of hair color. I think I’m going to like the silver which is appearing more and more each day, revealing who I really am.