Monday, March 29, 2010


These boys are checking out a water sculpture near a Tug of War tournament held in downtown Shizuoka. (To think they are all adults, now!)

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Sakura festival

I promised myself I wouldn't post photos you could find in magazines or brochures in this blog, but I couldn't resist this one of the bright red lantern I took at the annual sakura (cherry blossom) festival held at Sengen Jinja shrine. Wishes are tied to the branches.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Outside In (by Liz Sheffield)

The first time I went to Japan I was sixteen years old. My ability to speak Japanese was limited to singing (off key) the lyrics of a Japanese folk song, "Sakura". During my interview with the sister city selection committee, I sat on my sweaty palms to stop my hands from shaking, but despite my nervousness the committee chose me as part of a delegation to Sapporo. Three brief weeks sparked an interest in a foreign culture that inspired me to return to Japan five years later after I graduated from college.

As the plane landed in Tokyo, I listened to the flight attendant in her high-pitched, polite Japanese and realized I didn’t understand a word she was saying. I got off the plane with three huge, black suitcases, my size nine feet, and a Japanese-English dictionary I would carry with me at all times. I stayed for three years, teaching English in junior and senior public high schools. My ability to speak Japanese improved dramatically. I came to enjoy discussing the pluses and minuses of natto (fermented soy beans) with taxi drivers on my way home after nights out on the town singing karaoke. I got over the fact that, at five feet four inches, I was taller than sixty or seventy percent of the women I met and was grateful to my mother for shipping me a new pair of shoes at least once a year.

Twenty years later, I look back at myself as that nervous sixteen-year-old girl answering questions about how I’d handle people staring at me or what I’d do if I couldn’t explain myself in English. I don’t remember how I answered. What I do know is that returning to Japan as a young woman, and living there by myself, helped me get comfortable in my own skin.

That’s one reason I so enjoyed reading American Fuji. Gaby Stanton makes sense. I understand the life she found and created in Japan. I get it that even though she’s an outsider, Japan becomes an integral part of who Gaby is. Just like it is for me.

Liz Sheffield
Photo of bicycle in the snow by Liz Sheffield.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sapporo and a Special Guest

Some readers of American Fuji write to me tell me their own stories of living in Japan. If there is anything I learned living in Shizuoka City and traveling in Japan, it is that Shizuoka culture isn't like other parts of Japan. One of the many reason I wrote American Fuji is that Japan writing by Westerners up to that point was centered in Tokyo or Kyoto, which are decidedly different experiences. I wanted to show Japan wasn't only about Buddhist meditation, karate dojos, Japan Inc., or falling in love with bar hostesses.

I remember one Japanese student at Shizuoka University who returned from her exchange year in Omaha, Nebraska and reported that all Americans are devout church-goers who never eat seafood. Just as Omaha is not San Francisco or Boston, Shizuoka is not Tokyo or Osaka. I welcome an opportunity to hear from others who lived in different regions of Japan, and how they related--or didn't--to what Gaby and Alex observed.

My first guest is Liz Sheffield who taught English in Sapporo about the same time I was in Shizuoka. I took a brief winter ski trip to Sapporo and had a wonderful time practicing slalom at Furano on the former Olympic course--until the ski patrol told me I shouldn't. That's me in the pink jacket. I was only in Sapporo three days, so I'm happy to provide Liz's point of view as my guest blogger on Saturday. If you have any questions for her, please leave a comment. Welcome, Liz!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

White Heron Castle

And here is the famous Osaka Castle, five stories on the outside, eight stories on the inside. I was there before the 1997 restoration. White Heron Castle is its nickname. Can you see why?

Next week: Sapporo with a special guest.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Kuidaore: Eat Until You Drop

While we're in Osaka, let's take a look at Dotonbori where Eguchi mentions "a small bistro that floats lanterns on the waterway." [p. 386] Dotonbori Street runs parallel to the canal. It's famous for its restaurants and imaginative neon signs. It's a lively, friendly street that stays up late. The food choices are amazing, and I understood you actually could, as my Japanese friends told me, go to Osaka and do nothing but eat.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

A Room with a View

This view from my hotel room in Osaka is what I had in mind for the apartment Mr. Eguchi described to Gaby on p.386: "I could get you a terrific apartment. You could have a view of the castle. You could watch the maple trees burst into red and yellow from your balcony."

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Poor Boy from Osaka

As I lived in Shizuoka, I gradually became aware that natives who lived elsewhere in Japan regarded Shizuokans as snobs. In American Fuji, Mr. Eguchi says he is "just a poor boy from Osaka." My description of the Gone With The Wind office includes an opinion of one of my university colleagues from Osaka (p.49-50): "The office was filled with cigarette smoke, radio talk show voices, and protruding file drawers that threatened to bring down the cabinets whenever a file was tugged out. This casual atmosphere was attributted to Mr. Eguchi being kansaijin, a man from the Osaka region. Native Shizuokans snubbed kansai people for their relish of food and leisure activities, but Gaby enjoyed Mr. Eguchi's more relaxed style."

Monday, March 1, 2010

My Asian Ark

The tiger sitting on the edge of my black bookcase in Japan is from Indonesia-- a gai-tiger, so to speak. The red cow is a symbol of the northern agricultural Tohoku region of Japan. The Dharma doll has yet to make my wish come true so only one eye is blue. The paper mache tiger is the symbol of the Osaka region. In front, two wooden frogs: kaeru in Japanese, a double meaning for frog and the verb "to return." In Japan, you might give someone leaving the country a frog (not alive, but wood or paper or whatever) to wish them a good return. Below the top shelf animals, I kept my cassette tape collection and big padded head phones. My apartment walls were thin and any noise affected all my neighbors, so, like Gaby Stanton, I blasted Beethoven through head phones directly into my skull. One astute reader pointed out Gaby has a Walkman, which dates the novel. Hard to imagine that ten years ago, i-Pods didn't exist!