Monday, November 30, 2009


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


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.