Thursday, December 31, 2009

Mt. Fuji, Eagles, and Eggplant

In Japan, you will be lucky if, on New Year's Eve, you dream of one of these three things.

This remarkable photo, from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory Collection, was taken from the space shuttle with a radar image overlaid showing color as height. [ Mt. Fuji and Tokyo]

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Honorable House Cleaning


In Japan, you clean your house inside out during the days before the New Year holidays. I followed that custom when I lived in Shizuoka, but my tiny, sparsely furnished apartment was easy to clean. Translating that tradition to my house in NH is a lot more work. Yesterday, I cleaned my oven and the greasy tiles around the stove. The day before, I ousted pernicious soap scum out of the tub, but I'm losing momentum, watching the snow fall in the woods, with many rooms to go before I sleep.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Christmas Cake

Christmas Cake, a strawberry sponge-cake with whipped cream, is a British tradition the Japanese adopted. (Though many Japanese think it's American, and were astonished that I never ate Christmas Cake. I was tempted to wear a button saying "Ask me about pumpkin pie.") However, in Japan the tradition has a twist. In American Fuji, a Tokyo woman, Jiyuko, explains to Alex why she doubts she will get married (p.17-18):

"I'm twenty-five. I'm Christmas cake. It's too late."

"I don't understand. Christmas Cake?"

"Everyone wants fancy decorated cake for the night of December 24th. But on Christmas, the 25th, the cake is stale, and no one wants it. It is the same with girls. If a girl is not married by the age of 25, she is too old, and Jingle Bells are 'Single Bells' for her."


Another layer of this Christmas Cake metaphor is that Christmas Eve has become the designated night for Japanese boyfriends to propose marriage to their girlfriends. The stroke-of-midnight proposal is a staple of Japanese TV mini-series dramas. In real life, it causes much nervousness between dating couples.

(The cake pictured is from the Belle Epoque bakery in London. Highly recommended.)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Bonenkai

The end of the year is bonus time (yes, professors in Japan get bonuses!) followed by company parties to celebrate the bonuses. Loved that bonus. The parties . . . not so much. In Japan, drinking is a social mandate and I was a light drinker. My trick was to hold a drink, sip from it (or pretend to) whenever a kampai toast occurred, and not let the liquid level fall below the halfway point of the glass. If you drink below the glass's equator, servers magically appear to refill it and it's rude not to swallow a few more sips. But whether or not you drink, late December is the friendliest time of the year. Christmas decorations abound, red lanterns glow, street stands sell yakitori (shishkabob) late into the crisp cold nights, and total strangers sing karaoke together.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

American Fuji on the Top Ten List of 2009

I am deeply honored to have American Fuji selected as one of the top ten book picks for 2009 by Shannon McKenna Schmidt of Shelf Awareness. She has put my novel in excellent company!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Mikan

The type of tangerine we call Clementines, Japanese call mikan. Shizuoka, the California of Japan, was the top mikan growing region. The classic winter treat is to eat mikan sitting on the floor with your legs under a kotatsu, a low table with an electric heater under its surface and a comforter-type blanket on top to trap the heat below. Sitting on floors was never comfortable for me, so I didn't care for kotatsu, but I loved buying mikan fresh from neighborhood orchards.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dharma Doll Goals

Omnipresent in Japan, especially approaching the New Year, Dharma dolls, named after the founding monk of Buddhism, are sold with blank eyes. When you set a goal, you paint one eye of the doll. When you realize your goal, you paint the other eye. Most of the dolls (just heads) are like this one: made of paper mache with brushy beards and eyebrows and painted red, but some come in the colors of their regions. I saw a lot of one-eyed Dharma dolls in Japanese homes, but I don't remember seeing any with both eyes open.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

First Snow: 6 Dec 2009

I didn't experience much snow in Shizuoka City. Winters were cold, but snow didn't accumulate. Apartments had little to no insulation and no heaters (tenants buy their own). I recall laying my long underwear between the covers of my futon in order to make it warm enough to put on in the morning. Now, back in New England, I have snow outside (on my informal Japanese rock garden) and heat inside.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Remember OUTRUN?

Remember the early 1990s video arcade game in which you virtually drove a red car across the country as fast as you could? Believe it or not, I was one of the top ten players of Outrun in Shizuoka City. My initials remained on the scoreboard at least as long as I lived there. Closest I ever came to being a jock!

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Win Free Books!

Powell's Books of Portland, Oregon is the most famous Indie bookstore in the Pacific Northwest, and now you can have a chance to win free books from them by commenting on the new edition of American Fuji. Just click this blog entry title and go. Let me know if you win, and good luck!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Kaki-no-ki

The Japanese for persimmon is kaki, which is the same word for oyster. Context is crucial for understanding Japanese and rarely would "persimmon" and "oyster" occur together. . .except on a new fusion-style restaurant menu. Ki is tree, and no is a particle that indicates an adjective. Without the photo, though, it's easy to hear kaki-no-ki as "oyster tree" and, in Japan, who knows what that might be.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thanksgiving in Japan

I tried to celebrate Thanksgiving Day my first year in Japan but it didn't work out well. Thanksgiving, of course, is not a holiday in Japan and my job, six days a week, was more than full time. Not that I needed time to prepare a feast. I could neither find turkey for sale nor did I have an oven in which to roast one. Cranberries and sweet potatoes were also unavailable. Baking a pie without an oven was out of the question and while you could get pies in Tokyo, the bakeries of Shizuoka had only cake and pastries. My Thanksgiving meal ended up consisting of pan fried chicken with cooked daikon radishes over rice. I had invited some new Japanese friends over to dinner and I sensed they were disappointed, expecting the American Thanksgiving meals they'd read about in magazines. After some champagne, however, we soon got into the real spirit of the holiday: to be thankful for what we had, whatever that was, and celebrate with family, whomever that turned out to be.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Happy Bird Family Restaurant

Skylark is a popular family restaurant chain in Japan. I didn't go there for the best cooking, but, like Gaby, I could count on finding a clean Western style toilet inside.

from American Fuji, p. 123: "A waitress seated them at a booth looking out at the street. She placed laminated menus on the table and handed them wet finger towels packaged in plastic. Alex dropped his, scalded by its heat. He pointed to a picture of fried fish and cole slaw. After Gaby ordered, they gulped what little water fit around a glass full of thick ice cubes. Piped-in music played a peppy, repetitive tune of squeaky girl voices alternating with whistling. The table was lower than what Alex was used to. It was, he decided, like going to a Denny's specially built for children: everything smaller and higher in pitch."

Monday, November 16, 2009

Wet Trash Day

Here is garbage set on the street on "wet trash" day. This is a small green tea farm in Shizuoka--you don't usually see houses with that much land. The mirrors are necessary to navigate the narrow streets. The skull and crossbones with a fedora somehow looks insouciant rather than deadly.

When I developed this batch of photos, the shop owner wanted to throw this one away and give me a discount. He had a hard time believing I wanted to keep a photo of Japanese garbage.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday the 13th: Birth of a Novel

One Friday the 13th, as a college student with a summer job for a real estate agency, I got my boss's Cadillac in a parking lot fender bender. Except for that, it's been a lucky day for me. On Friday the 13th in September of 1991, I read an article in The Japan Times. The headline was "Funeral Industry Foresees Boom" and the story was about a starry-eyed entrepreneur who competed with expensive Buddhist funeral ceremonies by providing services with a touch of Hollywood--laser light shows and music. The owner even dreamed of someday sending ashes to the moon. As soon I read that, I began to conceive the character of Mr. Eguchi and started writing what was to become American Fuji.

After I posted this, I received a check in the mail!

Monday, November 9, 2009

Last Book Talk of the Year

Please join me at the Hollis Social Library on Thursday, November 12, at 7:00 p.m. to hear about some of the experiences you've read about in this blog, and see some items mentioned in the novel you can only see in person (such as McKenzie's Japanese textbook and Gaby's sandalwood fan). Free, open to the public, open to Q&A. I hope to see you there!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

BURN & LEARN

In honor of International Time Travel Day (November 5) and its founder, I roll the clock back 17 years to Okinawa in 1992 and a rare glimpse of Eric Paul Shaffer, author of the just-released Burn & Learn in the middle of making sandwiches for a beach outing. Literature Sandwiches, a chapter in his brilliant and lively episodic novel, claims: "A sandwich in literature usually appears only as a structural device and hardly ever as an edible item on a menu of fiction, following the tradition of the many meals ordered in the movies and never eaten." His sandwiches, however, are not props--they are the real thing, to be chewed on, relished, and digested, same as Burn & Learn. Those of you who follow this blog know Eric as my Fuji Hiking Pal, Parking Sign Prankster, and photographer of many photos with me in them. Now, get to know him as a writer: startling, provocative, with mustard spread to the edge.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

On Sara's Dove Bar Habit

My name--and method of eating mini-Dove Bar ice cream treats--has been immortalized on the cover of The American Mathematical Monthly (Nov 09). It turns out my little system was an interesting probability problem which my boyfriend and two of his math cohorts solved and published. You see, the dark chocolate covered ones only come in a box with half chocolate, half vanilla ice cream. I prefer vanilla, so if I draw a chocolate one from the box, I give it to Dave to eat and draw another for myself, which I will eat whether it's the superior vanilla or inferior chocolate. The computation determines how many chocolate bars per box I end up eating. For the solution, turn to p.831. As Dave said, "you create problems for me." With my name in his article on the cover of AMM, we are now officially famous.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Unlucky Ticket

And here's my losing ticket. I bet a hundred yen on racers 2 and 5 in the 5th race. The date is written year/month/day. The year is not the Western calendar year but the Japanese calendar year. Year 1 starts with each new emperor, so this was year 5 of the current emperor Akihito's reign, also known as 1993. It was July 10th, a typical muggy summer day in Shizuoka. If you have excellent vision, you might see a watermark pattern of yellow Mt. Fujis under the printing.

Monday, November 2, 2009

At the Track in Shizuoka

Here I am at Shizuoka's race track with a good friend, displaying my bet before the race. The race featured bicycles, not motorcycles as in American Fuji, but my description in Chapters 21 and 22 is much as it was: a large tunnel of concrete to enter and exit, hot metal benches, cigarette smoke, and that "abandoned plastic cup of beer" that Alex tripped over (p. 243). The atmosphere was friendly, and another (unseen) friend taking the photo won 2,000 yen which she spent on coffee and treats for the three of us. We enjoyed being "tough" women, venturing into a decidedly male venue.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Interview with Motherlogue

Click on the title to read my latest interview, with Liz Sheffield on her blog Motherlogue. Liz moved to Japan in 1993, the year I left, and lived in Sapporo until 1995; in 1997 she went back for another year on the island of Shikoku. She grew up in Portland, Oregon (Gaby's home town) and now lives in Seattle (Alex's home town) so she has personally experienced all the geography of American Fuji! We talked about preparing to live in Japan, meeting yakuza, the process of writing the novel, and what I miss most.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

U Mass Lowell Reading Oct. 28

70 people came to my and David Daniel's reading on a wet and rainy afternoon in Lowell. The audience was mostly students, but also some professors and published local authors. Mega-doumo to all who came, and to the Literary Society and English Department for sponsorship and support.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Octopus Balls

Eguchi says eating takoyaki is a tourist requirement for a visit to Japan. Here is a behind-the-counter look at how deep-fried octopus balls are made. I admire the hand labor that goes into chopping, shaping, and coating the octopus tentacles, and how quickly these women worked in such a small space. I tried takoyaki more than once, but found them too tough and rubbery to chew well enough to swallow. They are about the size of golf balls, and close to what I would imagine a golf ball would taste like. Not for me.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Marubatsu's Pond

This is one of the ponds that inspired my fictional pond at Marubatsu's temple Gizenji.

from American Fuji, p. 351: "The water was opaque pea-green and looked like paint. The surface, perfectly still. A herd of tiny granite islands jutted up through the pea soup, some rusty with moss, others bare."

It's interesting that Japanese readers find the character of Marubatsu a familiar type of person they readily recognize, yet my American readers think he's the most unrealistic of my characters. The only thing about him that's inauthentic is his name. I named this Buddhist priest after a kind of test: true (maru) false (batsu).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

"When You're a JET, You're a JET all the way . . ."

Click the title and scroll down to page 9 for a recent interview written by Veronika Ruff, a New York JET (Japan English Teachers) alum who lived in Shizuoka City. We agreed Shizuoka was not the Tokyo experience! It was a pleasure talking to her and finding out how much we had in common.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Spanish Edition Cover

I just received a copy of the new (July 2009) Spanish edition of American Fuji pubished by Emece, an Argentinian company. I think it captures the essence of the novel well. El monte Fuji era casi invisible en el verano pero, en los dias claros, ella veia esa silueta grandiosa y gracil dominando el cielo del norte.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Question Number 12

Here's a question from the reader's guide included in American Fuji:

Do you believe Gaby to be the strongest character among the Westerners (Lester, Michael, and Alex) even though she is regarded as a "sad woman" in Japan? Why or why not?

I'd like to know what you think!

Warning: comments may contain spoilers.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Clueless on Campus


This is me at my university office desk in 1991. I knew to answer the telephone with "moshi, moshi" but after that I had no idea what the caller was saying so perhaps I should not have answered. Notice the old rotary style phone. Even in 1991, phones had gone to buttons and I was surprised that Japan was not up to date. The tall metal closet behind me held my coat and shoes. Since I walked or biked to campus, I wore walking shoes each way and kept a couple pairs of heeled pumps in the office to put on when I arrived. This was regarded as odd, but oddly acceptable.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Green Tea


From my apartment, I walked or biked to the university and took this shortcut through green tea fields. These photos were taken on different days, before and after trimming, and from different directions. In Shizuoka, sidewalks were narrow or non-existent, so this stretch of my walk was a welcome relief from motor traffic.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

NEIBA Trade Show 03 Oct 2009

The long, rainy drive to Hartford, Connecticut was worth every tense moment on the turnpike. Here I am at the new Connecticut Convention Center wearing my orange author's badge. Inside the ballroom, I browsed tables full of interesting books and met book lovers who could talk about anything from Kafka to kashi. It was my first chance to meet the Penguin sales team, and I must say they made me proud to be a Penguin author. Special thanks to the folks from Worcester (my home town) who are happy to have American Fuji back in print and to Rachel for the photo. Go Indies! Go books!

Friday, October 2, 2009

One-Eared Rabbit with Pink Shoelaces

This photo was taken in front of a store on Gofukucho Street in downtown Shizuoka. Lester takes Alex for a walk on Gofukucho Street after lunch at Skylark (Chapter 12). In American Fuji, Lester has his own way of remembering the street's name.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

My favorite temple is Todaiji, said to be the largest wooden structure in the world. This is a postcard of the enormous Buddha that Gaby tells Alex about in Chapter 21:

"His right hand signifies the removal of human fears, like this." Gaby held up her right hand, tilting her middle finger forward slightly. "And his left hand signifies the hearing of people's desires." She stretched her left hand out palm up, with her thumb overlapping the base of her forefinger."

Even looking at the postcard makes me feel his compassion and serenity.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Fun with Parking


A photo of my friend Eric hamming it up behind a parking sign. Sometimes, the mainland Japan culture is so uptight you have to let off steam in harmless ways like this.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Long and Winding Road


The coastal fort of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogun of the Edo period, is a landmark in Shizuoka. You can see the steps are shallow and easy, but the hike up is long and cumulatively arduous, switchback after switchback . . .

I didn't take the tram from the shogunate to Nihondaira, but I describe the Nihondaira parking lot (used as a kind of lovers' lane at night) in American Fuji on p. 93.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Usual View of Mt. Fuji


These are wishes tied to branches halfway up Sengen Jinja hill where there is a view of Mt. Fuji. This is what you usually see at this spot, directly facing Fuji-san. No mountain. But after you see it once, you know it's there and that changes the way you see the clouds hiding it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Mopeds for Bipeds


This is the rack of bicycles and mopeds that blew over in the storm in American Fuji. Japanese parking spaces are scarce and mopeds are a good way to get around as long as you don't mind living dangerously.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Shelf Awareness

Click on the title for a triple interview: me, Marilyn Lustig of Wellesley Booksmith, and Leslie Gelbman, Publisher of Berkley. (Shannon McKenna Schmidt interviewed each of us independently.)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Feline/Canine Border: The Girl of 2DK (#7)


This is what I saw looking down from my back balcony. All the back balconies (or porches, on the ground floor) were set up for washing machines and separate spin-dry machines. No dryers. Even in the 1990's, clothes were hung on lines and dryers were only for rich people. The cat belonged to one neighbor and the dog another, but they knew where the border was and reinforced it with hissing and barking. Of course, when I stepped outside with my camera, they both looked up at me.

From American Fuji, p. 46: "Gaby woke to the boisterous churning of the washing machine on her neighbor's balcony, separated from her own balcony by a thin metal partition. When they both did laundry, she and her neighbor stood with their shoulders less than a foot apart, but the partition between them kept them from seeing each other, and they remained strangers. Privacy depended on context in Japan. It was all right to wear pajamas on your back balcony; even if your neighbors spotted you, they weren't supposed to look there. But you had to be fully dressed to bring your newspaper in your front door, the legitimate realm of public scrutiny."

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Balcony Tango: The Girl of 2DK (#6)


This my front balcony, the one I envisioned Gaby and Alex walking on, trying to sync their footsteps so Gaby's neighbor wouldn't think he spent the night. Beside the doors, you see outdoor hot water heaters. Instead of storing hot water in tanks, heaters heat as you use the water. Of course, you have to remember to turn them on and off each time.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Wellesley Booksmith

Many thanks to Wellesley Booksmith for hosting my book talk last night.The highlight of the event was a hand-crafted Japanese fusion dessert invented by lovely chef/bookseller Lee featuring angel food cake, apples, green tea ice cream, and a secret sauce. Delicious! More thanks to Marilyn for her die-hard support of my novel, Blanche for photographing and driving (baby, you can drive my car), and all who came and made it festive. I do indeed get by with a little help from my friends.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Where Three Floors Meet: Girl of 2DK (#5)

Here, a view of the three clashing floor patterns: tub and sink room (mustard yellow), toilet room (orange checks), and dining kitchen (red and white). The tiny Christmas tree (about 1' high) was purchased pre-decorated.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Kitchen: The Girl of Apartment 2DK (#4)

One of my favorite novels is Banana Yoshimoto's Kitchen . However, the kitchen of her novel is far grander than the typical apartment kitchen which has no oven. I bought myself a deluxe three-burner hot plate with a small broiling drawer. (Appliances are not included with rentals in Japan.) The dish rack used all of the counter space!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Fuzzy Slippers & Weights: Girl of 2DK( #3)

Here I am inside my 2DK apartment. See how the ceiling, counter, and table are all lower? Everything in Japan is a smaller scale, which creates an ongoing environment of disorientation for an American. I felt like a doll a bit too big for the dollhouse. That's why I had Alex Thorn constantly bang his head entering a room due to the smaller doorways. Luckily, I was the height of a Japanese man and didn't get hurt as much. The local gym was only for men, so I bought weights to try to keep in shape at home. The postcard taped to my cupboard is of Mt. Fuji. I still miss my wooden table and chairs that I had to leave behind, but I'm glad to have a bigger kitchen, now, with an oven.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Maison Tooru: The Girl of Apt. 2DK #2

If I were a male professor, I could have lived in University housing. As a female professor (one of three in the university), I had to find my own apartment. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as I was able to find a lovely apartment with a Western toilet, while University housing had traditional Japanese squat toilets. This is the street view of my apartment building in Shizuoka named Maison Tooru. My apartment was on the second floor. Just go up the metal staircase and follow the balcony to the third and last door on the left.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Girl of Apartment 2DK


I admit it: I "gave" Gaby Stanton my own apartment in Shizuoka. This week and next, I'll post daily about my (and her) apartment, a safe haven for both of us during our years in Japan. When I was a kid, I was a fan of the comic strip The Girls of Apartment 3-G (Tommie, Margo and Luann--anyone else remember?) so I riffed off the title for my own. "DK" is the abbreviation for dining kitchen (one room). 2DK means you have two rooms in addition to the dining kitchen. Gaby's fictional apartment was a 1DK.

From American Fuji, p. 48: "Gaby's apartment consisted of two rooms flanked by front and back balconies, with a bath room, toilet room, and closet lined up on one side. . . [snip] . . . Her back room, which had only her futon and television set, had a beautiful tatami floor. She enjoyed the aesthetic of empty space and left the drab sand-colored walls bare."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hello, California

Had a great time talking to Dave Congalton on KVEC tonight about the reissue of American Fuji. Made me miss the outdoor social life of San Luis Obispo, the hills and palms, dancing in Mission Plaza, and swimming early morning laps in Sinsheimer pool. Most of all, I miss my California friends. For those who were listening, here's a photo of my popular cat, Tiger Lily, getting old but still getting what she wants.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Toadstool Bookshop Kick-Off


Thanks to the Milford, New Hampshire Toadstool Bookshop for hosting my opening day event on September 1st. It was great to meet other people who had experienced Japan and connect with long-time and new friends. The highlight, I think, was genuine Japanese "Pocky" sticks, crunched in unison at the appropriate moment in the reading. I invite all who came to share their impressions on this blog, and return to see the real life scenes in Shizuoka that inspired many of the descriptions. Doumo arigato, mina-san.

Goodreads Giveaway Winners

905 readers entered the Goodreads drawing to win copies of American Fuji. Thank you all for participating, and congratulations to Lesley, Peggy, Courtney, and Emily whose copies will be signed and mailed this week!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

That Fantasy Life in the Globe

The return of American Fuji received notice in today's Boston Globe. The title, "That Fantasy Life", applies to another book reviewed in Jan Gardner's column, but couldn't it also apply to Mr. Eguchi's fantasy funeral company, Gone With The Wind?

Thanks to my friend Sue who let me know American Fuji is mentioned in the September Costco Connection. Tell your reading groups to fire up the forklift and buy a pallet of copies this week! (Thanks, PJ.)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Bridge to Luck


The largest Shinto shrine in Shizuoka is Sengen Jinja. It is an entire hill, with several buildings and paths and wonderful views, and I hiked there often. This is the bridge at one of the entrances. Perhaps what I miss most about Japan is the way people welcome metaphors in mundane conversation. In Shizuoka, I could say I am posting a photo of this bridge to the Shrine (where people pray for luck) to invite good luck for the reissue of my novel this week, and no one would think I was crazy or odd or (worse) poetic. Perhaps good luck will also come to anyone who comments on this post.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Beer from a Vending Machine

From American Fuji, Ch. 6, p. 63: "Vending machines sold cigarettes, candy, sandwiches, batteries, and beer. Beer from a vending machine! What a temptation for minors. Cody had never mentioned this in his letters, and Alex had no trouble guessing why." (Cody, Alex's son, spent a year as an exchange student at the fictional Shizuyama University.)

It's all real. Not only beer, but cold beer. Yours for several hundred yen and a push of a button. (Wouldn't this be helpful on a Sunday in Massachusetts?)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

V is for Vending

Vending machines abound in Japan, even isolated in a field. This one sells vegetables from a neighborhood garden. What's different for an American is that Japan doesn't have our zoning system. In Japan, you'll find industry, agriculture, and residence all mixed up together, perhaps in the same block. You can see an apartment complex to the left behind this small commercial orchard. You'll also notice the litter around the vending machine, despite Japan's reputation for public cleanliness.

Friday, August 21, 2009

I Made the Front Page

Today's Hollis Brookline Journal features an article about me and the reissue of my novel. I've already had someone mention it to me at my favorite coffee shop, A & E Roastery.

The Ocean Loves Me

A cool joke for a hot day:

Q. How do you know if the ocean likes you?

A. It waves!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

August: The Death Month

In Japanese, the word for hot is atsui. In the usual small talk about weather, you'll hear the word mushi-atsui, which means humid and hot. Although the temperature reached 100 yesterday in New Hampshire, I have to say it wasn't nearly as hot as mushi-atsui in Japan.

On hot days when Japanese people had a mild film of sweat on their faces, my sweat was running in rivulets off my nose, soaking my clothes, dripping into puddles on the floor. It's a Caucasian thing; they didn't understand. My sweat was rude because it was outstanding.

The heat is often described in American Fuji. From p. 62: "Outside, Alex felt physically slugged by the humidity. Haze or smoke intensified the hot white glare, nearly choking him. It was only 9:00 AM." Later in his walk, on p. 64: "Alex kept walking, feeling the heat coming through the soles of his shoes. [He] stopped to peel his shirtfront a few inches off his chest and palpitate some air through the cloth. His head pounded. He looked for shade, but found only a tiny circling shadow of a hawk."

In Japan, August is known as the month of death because the elderly die from the strain of the heat.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sumpu castle moat


With the Japanese elections coming up August 30, I offer a profoundly symbolic senryu (haiku with personal or political content):

A duck watches carp
in the castle moat
near city hall.

c. 2009 Sara Backer

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Lotus

In contrast to the zany Western imitations in Japan, you'll come across pockets of ancient exquisite beauty. This was the first lotus blossom I saw in person. Took my breath away.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Behind the Scenes Extra

Check out today's Media Bistro GalleyCat blog to learn more about the reissue of American Fuji through an interview with Berkley Publisher Leslie Gelbman.

Teacups in Tokyo


This photo is for people who don't believe Japan is really as I describe it in American Fuji. Yes, a department store did dress mannequins in upside-down teacup hats as mentioned in Chapter 12 (p.138). The other hat looks like the top of a soft black ice cream cone, so desu ne? That's me in the middle.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Peace at the Summit

In Japan, I celebrated holidays by hiking a large hill in Shizuoka that is a Shinto shrine called Sengen Jinja. Yet, this statue at the top, Oshaka-sama, standing on a lotus, is Buddhist. It's a memorial for war victims.

Today, August 6, is the anniversary of the U. S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima. A good day to remember the cost of war and to observe peace.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Death on Mt. Fuji

After I finished posting my special Mt. Fuji/Moon Landing Anniversary series, I read in the L. A. Times that an American man working in Tokyo and his Japanese friend died, probably of hypothermia, during their climb up Mt. Fuji on July 24, 2009. The police officer is reported to have said Mt. Fuji is not a mountain to be underestimated, meaning it's a steeper mountain and tougher climb than people think. Every year, climbers die on Mt. Fuji, and it always saddens me, having had such a vivid experience of it myself.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Fedexercise

Yesterday must have been National Package Delivery Day. The Fedex truck made many trips to my house, each time managing to leave corrugated boxes on my stoop between bursts of heavy rain. One box for my order of beautiful Hiroshige postcards, another for my contact lens, and two boxes--two separate trips--to bring me the first copies of the new American Fuji. The new edition is stunning: vermillion letters on a pale yellow tatami background. It looks brighter and has more visual depth than the photo on this blog. The cover just pulls you in!

I am giving away four free copies (signed) through Goodreads. From August 3 to 30, you can enter to receive one!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ajisai (Hydrangea)

Shizuoka is the hydrangea capital of Japan. In the U. S., you mostly see the mophead varieties in foundation plantings around houses. In Japan, lacecap varieties grow in huge wild hedges. I hadn't appreciated the beauty of hydrangea before moving to Japan but they soon became my favorite flower. In Ch. 5, I mention a hydrangea hedge on Gaby's running route: "White herons gathered in the river, upstream from laundry suds pouring out of a city grate, and hydrangeas bloomed on the banks, dropping blue and lavender petals over soda cans and bento cartons littered beside the asphalt."