Letter from Tokyo: No Borders

Hi Friends,

Tonight, I went to my former home Borderless House, where I haven’t been in three weeks (too long). I’ve truly missed Borderless, especially since in my new house (Sakura House-Hakozakicho) I’ve only met two people (two boring people), and it’s deathly quiet. I know I wanted my privacy, craved it even, and I appreciate it after all the sniffling I endured from my BH roommate, but it’s just not the same to be in constant silence. I’m not complaining about not meeting my new housemates, since I’ve never once had to wait for anything– the shower, the bathroom, anything– but it’d be nice to know who shares the house with me.

My Borderless friends had the great idea to have a dinner party in Oshiage, so I biked over, on my beloved Lucy, to join them for some food, laughs and good times. Turns out, by the time I got there (an hour later from Suitengumae), R, RT, T, and Y had already gone to an izakaya to eat dinner. No worries they came back soon enough,  and Yi whipped up some ridiculously delicious egg burritos and we got down with those. Surprisingly, they still had a bit of an appetite after already eating (ok, that’s not surprising at all, is it?). * Yi made her egg burritos with care, taking the time to draw smiley faces on them, writing “Love,” and giving “just a touch of love a little bit.”

Do you see T in the button down shirt stirring the bowl? Yes. Well, at 10:40pm, he went to sleep, which we thought was completely outrageous. So, R, woke him up, got him out of bed and forced him to re-join us. T woke up in  quite an amiable mood, and he and Y made some pancakes that were a bit undercooked; but who cares, when they’re in the shape of hearts? * This is the problem with pancakes, and why I’ve told you a million times that I don’t make them, they’re always a bit burnt on the outside and undercooked in the middle…. yet, they’re always delicious.  *Please note: Pancakes with chopsticks Sadly, at midnight it was time to hop on Lucy and head on home, ’cause I just knew in my hearts of my hearts I’d get lost. Before I did, my beloved Yi took the shirt off her back and gave it to me, because I screamed over it. Sadly I have no photo of the tee-shirt, but it’s sequined feet and a caption that says, “I Wanna Rock With You.” (MJ’s the best of the best… just feet had me excited).

When the clock struck 1 am, I slid next to a cab and asked him how to get to Suitengumae. Ok, I speak no Japanese, so I didn’t ask him how to get to Suitengumae… what I said was “Sumimasen, Suitengu?” He understood me, and GET THIS… he gestured that I should follow him,  took me all the way home, and refused payment. I believe in people.

*Thank you kind sir! You saved me!

I believe in people!

Love, Val

Not A Race Thing, A Human Thing…

Dear Friends,

As you know, this blog isn’t a place for my political beliefs (as I care little about politics ), or any kind of news source, but I haven’t been able to keep one particular news story off my mind. Somehow, sometimes, we forget that we’re all one indivisible human consciousness and what happens to one of us in the human family affects us all.

On February 26, seventeen year-old Trayvon Martin was shot in the chest by a man who followed him, because he looked “suspicious.” Trayvon an unarmed boy, carrying only a bag of Skittles and a bottle of iced tea, weighing a mere 140 lbs was killed by a  250 lb man in the suburbs of Florida. This has turned into a race thing in the U.S, as almost everything does, but at the crux of this is that a promising life has ended. Maybe, I’m in denial? Maybe it is a race thing, because when I look at Trayvon’s smiling face, I see family. I think that could’ve been my brother who at seventeen in a hoodie could’ve looked “suspicious,” could’ve been my cousin who might have been in the wrong neighborhood  (even though it was his own), could’ve been my little Pedro who has the same adorable smile, and it breaks my heart. I don’t want to talk about racism, Florida’s laws, or the U.S justice system, but I do want us all to remember that we lost a part of our human family. It’s so easy to become desensitized and no one hates watching the news more than me, because I do realize that horrible things happen everyday, the world over, and it begins to weigh on you. However, it’s important to remember that we’re connected.

Please take just a second to click on the link below and sign the petition, so that justice can be served and his family may get some closure, if not peace. Perhaps the law that allows someone to follow an unarmed person, shoot them in the chest, claim self-defense, and thus be free to enjoy time with their family and friends while others grieve, may be changed:





My Last First

Dear Friends,

Two hours ago, after our morning classes, LD, B and I went to the Maruzen next to our workplace for waffles and curry (LD‘s stomach has confirmed that his curry order was a misguided choice). As we enjoyed the sun, warming our backs through the glass windows, and the silence of the cafe, LD wondered aloud about the end of firsts. He commented that he hadn’t had any “firsts”  in many moons, and there were probably no more firsts coming. B chimed in that it was true that lately each day seemed like the one before and the weeks were melting into each other. We all concurred that we’d fallen into a monotonous routine: Get up, go to work, eat, drink, wait for days off, spend the days off in exactly the same way as the week before (eating and drinking),  then repeat. Our lives were pleasant, enjoyable enough, but alas, they’d become boring.

I disagreed that there no more firsts to be had, since I’d just recently gone to Daikanyama, a first. Additionally, I questioned if firsts were so important, since things always seemed to get better after the second, third and even forty-fifth time. Almost simultaneously, they began speaking of the excitement, good feeling, and high energy of waiting for a first time. (Anticipation often beats the experience, doesn’t it?).

As all drifters know, when the feeling of routine and tedium overtakes, the first thought is “It’s time to get out of here.” And thus, a desire to move on, leave Tokyo has gently washed over both LD and B, and I have spoken of wanting a vacation– a short getaway, to which the question then arose, have all the firsts in Tokyo been explored? To that, the answer was a resounding “No!” I whipped out a notepad and we started thinking of a list of firsts that we must do, one a week. (It’s a public declaration now, so they must get done). Though D has been here for a year and LD many more than that, there were numerous activities that had never been done. (I started to feel less guilty about my six-month bout of general inactivity).

Let’s start with the first 12:

1) Visit Tokyo Tower. Not visiting Tokyo Tower is like a tourist visiting New York and not seeing the Empire State Building up close or going to Paris and not visiting the Eiffel Tower. Yet, two of the three of us haven’t been there. We’re not from here, so you’d think that visiting the second highest building in Tokyo and a national monument would’ve been high on the list of things to do… but nope. Though like the Empire State Building and the Eiffel Tower, it’s overpriced to go to the top (reportedly US$70), so we may just take a look from the outside, and not the top.

                                                                                                             (*Image taken from  http://globalvisits.blogspot.jp)

2) Go to Tsukiji market. Tsukiji fish market is the largest seafood market in the world; it opens at 4am and it’s possible to go there and eat a delicious breakfast of soup, sashimi, and all manner of seafood delights. Since it’s an outrageous idea that any of us would actually wake up to go there, we came to the conclusion that the best plan of action would be to stay out all night, then go for breakfast. It would certainly beat the usual after the club McDonald’s.

3) Visit Senjoji in Asakusa. Built in 645 AD, Senjoji is Tokyo’s oldest temple. I went to Senjoji with my former housemate to pray a few days after New Years, so it won’t be a first for me, but we’ve agreed that our lists of firsts don’t have to be firsts for us all. By the way, I got a great fortune at the temple on New Year’s which promised great things in all areas of my life, just a reminder big Buddha– I’m waiting.

                                                                                                             (Wikipedia image) 

4) Take a trip to an onsen in Hakone. Only an hour and a half from Tokyo, we can go to Hakone, and immerse ourselves in steaming springs (onsens).  The hot springs are both mixed and separated by gender. I’m still not completely comfortable with being nude with a large group of people, so though I’m excited about the idea, not completely sure I’ll make it. (I would’ve been an unsuccessful hippie).

5) Attend a sumo practice. They were both excited about this, but the thought of watching two huge men roll around on a mat, half-naked, doesn’t excite me. Let’s change 300 pound Japanese men in loin cloths to two greased up hotties, and I’d be totally down. But, as aforementioned, it’d be a first and maybe the experience alone is worth it?

6) Tour the East Garden at the Imperial Palace. A picnic in the spring perhaps?

7) Watch a baseball game at Tokyo Dome. As boring as baseball is on television (and my god it is), it’s quite different in a stadium of fanatics, drinking beer, and absorbing the energy around us.

8) Go fishing near Ochanimizu. Rent a boat, head into the semi-deep, and catch something to eat. It sounds frontier-ish, and in Japanese fashion, expensive.

9) Kabuki Theater. How could we be in Japan and not see kabuki even once?

10) Go to Kamakura beach. LD asked me if I liked the beach, and now I have whiplash, my head spun around so fast. Do Japanese salarymen get drunk every night after work with their colleagues? Is Tokyo super expensive? Is a first kiss special and awkward? The answer to all those questions– Of course!

11) Go to Fujiku amusement park. For the record, I hate rides and I’m not sure if Japanese amusement parks have cotton candy or a Japanese version of Italian ices, so I’m not sure why I agreed to this one.

12) Visit the science museum in Odaiba. Once again, I’m not sure why I agreed to this, except the fact that Odaiba (island) has beautiful views, great shopping and cool restaurants. When they’re looking at “science,” I’ll be at the all you can eat buffet at Sizzler.

The list-making committee:

People can motivate other people. A book can motivate. Money can motivate. But the best motivator is an idea. – Brahma Kumaris

Take care,


Friday with Friday

Dear Friends,

Today, my friend Friday ditched work to hang out with me on a sunny, albeit still too chilly for my taste, day. Usually, on my day off, I sleep until late, wake up, snooze for three more hours, then rise to meet a friend or two for dinner and drinks. Typically, day off activities begin at 7p.m. However, since Friday was taking off work, he set up a meeting time of 10:30am. I haven’t woken up early for a day that I don’t get paid in a very long time. There were the usual wake-up grumbles, but the minute I stepped outside, and the sun hit my face, I made a promise to myself to wake up early every Thursday and Friday. Really.

We met in Daikanyama, an area of Tokyo that I still hadn’t been to. It’s a bit disgraceful that in six months, only the same five or six neighborhoods have been explored, when there’s so much on offer. Daikanyama was stock full of cafes, boutiques, vintage stores, restaurants, babies in strollers and poodles on leashes.

Upon exiting the train station, you’ll find a number of chalkboards advertising various restaurants with every cuisine imaginable ready for consumption. As my friends here know, I’ve been pining for a traditional American breakfast of eggs, pancakes and bacon. Two days ago, my friend B said something outrageous to me– “Why don’t you just make it all yourself?” Pancakes are serious business to me, so I wouldn’t attempt to make them. (I tried once and the experience wasn’t good, plus half the pancakes wound up burned). So, imagine my delight when we stumbled across The Pancake Cafe. They weren’t open for another hour, so Friday and I wandered into a hat shop, over a bridge, and past several bakeries until they were. (No pancakes for breakfast, just lunch, should’ve been the first clue that this place wouldn’t understand the concept of “breakfast”).

It was exciting to see exactly what I wanted on the menu: eggs, bacon, pancakes… and soup and salad? We ordered our omelette specials and it was with eager anticipation that I waited for the pancakes. First, a delicious onion broth was served (weird, I know, but soup comes with everything in Tokyo). Then, the main attraction was placed on the table. The pancakes were perfectly round, too cookie-cutter. Tasty, but not perfect for me, and they weren’t crisp on the edges (a preference). The eggs were super runny and thus I was unable to finish them; plus, they were unstuffed (no cheese, onions, nada). The salad remained untouched, because I was confused about why I’d eat a green salad with pancakes. Poor Friday, as French as he is, couldn’t understand why these different elements were being served together and he didn’t even try the maple syrup until the last bite of pancake. I think he mentioned crepes six or seven times.

* The eggs were served with one strip of bacon, and one mini sausage link (which I detest). Wonder no more why the Japanese are so thin– let me repeat, one strip of bacon.

* This is the amount of pancake Friday acquiesced to allowing maple syrup on.

Daikanyama is charming and there are touches of whimsy and surprise in unexpected places:

* A garden wall (a vertical garden).

* No lawn or yard space, but a plethora of potted plants. Straight up lovely.

* Graffiti, which is prevalent in France, is pretty rare in Japan, so Friday got excited about this little bit of graffiti by the train tracks. If I recollect his exact words were, “Graffiti in Tokyo isn’t good.”

We left Daikanyama and walked to Harajuku. The day had warmed up a bit and the walk was easy and carefree. We stepped into many boutiques in Daikanyama on our exit and I tried on dresses, spring sweaters and necklaces that I lusted after, all of which I walked away from. Friday peeped into a skateboard shop, and … ok, that was it. The shopping in Tokyo… ahhh, and, the names of the shops, even better:

In Harajuku, we met up with Miss EW and the three of us walked over to a Jamaican restaurant that my brother recommended I try, even before I arrived in Tokyo. He had sent me a link to a write up in Time Out Tokyo of the Jam Rock Cafe and though I’d been meaning to go, I never made it. When we arrived there, it was closed until 5p.m, so Miss EW suggested that we go for okonominyaki at Design Festa Gallery, a very artistic space- part stand up eatery, part restaurant and part art gallery. Okonominyaki are Japanese pancakes which can be filled with a manner of things: seafood, pork, beef, etc, as well as cabbage. At the restaurant one sits in front of a grill, and is given the batter and ingredients in separate bowls, as well as step by step instructions on how to prepare them. I’d never been to one of these restaurants, because I could never for the life of me figure out why I was paying to cook my own food. (Still can’t– and didn’t).

* The okoniminyaki was good, but the best thing about this restaurant for me was the sign in the ladies room:

After we had our fill of cabbage pancakes, salmon and avocado salad, beer and sake, we decided to give the Jamaican restaurant another go round. Gluttonous, I know. Friday and Miss EW had never had Jamaican food before and I didn’t want us to leave Harajuku without having at least a nibble on an appetizer.

* (This picture was taken when we first arrived).

The experience at Jam Rock Cafe was disappointing at best, and I apologized to both Friday and Miss EW numerous times about the bland, non-spicy food and the non-smiling waiter. They’d never tried Jamaican food before, and the taste-less stamp-and-go (codfish fritters) served with ketchup, the soggy, unseasoned beef patties, and the salt-less fried green plantains would give them no reason to ever want to try it again. I kept saying, “Jamaican food is better than this, I swear.” As we walked out, we weren’t thanked, a really unusual occurrence in Tokyo, where even at convenience stores the customer is thanked to the point of excess. Miss EW remarked, “That was the first time in Tokyo, that I’ve walked out of a restaurant in silence.” She beat me to it, I was thinking and about to say the same thing. The Jamaicans at Jam Rock Cafe, while in Japan should do as the Japanese do and learn some grace. They were  embarrassing. Notice, no photos of the food were taken; what would’ve been the point?

Addendum: As mentioned to a friend in a comment, it’d would have been better if we’d simply eaten the Jamaican food on offer at the stand up eatery in the front of the Design Festa Art Gallery. Next time.

All in all, this Friday, encouraged by Friday and aided by Miss EW, was fantastic. Who knew this much could happen if one wakes up before 1pm?

See you soon,


“What You Say?”

These last few weeks have been calm, but in a “quiet before a stormy breakdown” kind of way, not in a relaxed “oh, listen to the wind in the willows, while you sip a chilled lemonade” kind of way. The never-ending cold weather and feeling of general blah-ness dulled the party in my mind (and spirit) that was going strong from June to January. February’s low temperatures, rain, snow and gray skies kicked my butt, and stole my energy. (This is what winter does, isn’t it?). As a man named JP recently commented on Facebook, “Bring on the flowers, winter can go eff itself.” (I haven’t agreed with any quote that much in at least a decade).

A few days ago, my friend B told me to “stop being so damn positive all the time,” which made me inwardly chuckle, because I’ve been the opposite of “positive” lately. What I have been is working like a maniac, so that there’ll be enough cash to shop “the pain away.” I firmly believe in throwing money at problems, so I stopped working twenty-six and a half hour weeks and started working forty. Biggie’s “get money, get money” became my mantra.

However, it soon became obvious that  I’d severely cut or cut out all the things I enjoy doing: 1) Meeting the friends that I don’t work in the same building with (the only people I’ve hung out with are the folks from work)—it’s been a challenge to get up, if I don’t have to, and travel, most especially when it’s raining. 2) Drinking whiskey …well, except for V’s birthday where two glasses were imbibed. I figured I’d save money by hanging out less. 3) A few days ago, it seemed like a great idea to take an internet fast, but without YouTube my winter blues just got worse. What the heck was I thinking? I wasn’t even carrying my phone, because I didn’t want to be internet tempted. Someone asked me today why it has to be all or nothing. So, when I got home, I got on YouTube (it’s now been two hours alternating between Busta and Black Rob– the same Black Rob song). YouTube’s addictive: “I love you baby, you drive me crazy, I’ll never betray thee, I love you baby.”

So, how does one “bring it back” to a better place? I decided yesterday not to let my spotted mind and the weather get the better of me, so I started fulfilling some New Year’s resolutions: 1) I went with B to check out the gym in my neighborhood and get in gear. I’ll start next week, because I need to buy some things, like t-shirts, etc (unless, of course they’ll let me work out in boots and mini-skirts). I also need to take an orientation class (conducted in all Japanese, of which I speak none). 2) I bought a bike (yay!), and am now a registered owner of a beauty. 3) I made multiple plans for Thursday and Friday… (That may be a problem—went from nothing to double-booked).  This is the year to finally let the whole moderation thing sink in. Yes, to constant evolution.

Prodigal Sons (A Beginning)

 The younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. (Luke 15:13 ESV)

1) CJ‘s a Brit who’s lived in Japan for sixteen years. He’s a thirty-five year old father of three sons. He hates Japan, but loves it too. True ambivalence. I asked him why he doesn’t just go back to England, and he said that he can’t leave, because his ex-wife wouldn’t ever let him see his eldest son again. He informed me that Western men have no rights to their children once they divorce their Japanese wives. The men are foreigners, “gaijin;” the children, like their mothers, are Japanese.

CJ has had quite a history in Japan. He was imprisoned for practicing self-defense. He’s been stalked by an ex-cop turned mafioso, because the ex-cop thought he was cheating with his ex-wife. He was giving the ex-cop’s ex-wife private English lessons and the guy thought that a lot more than English grammar was going on. It must be his incredibly long lashes that made the cop irate. (I know I get jealous every time I see them). “What was going on CJ?”

He says nothing happened, but the cop couldn’t be convinced otherwise. He visited the ex-cop/ex-husband at his house one day to reason with him, but he wasn’t there. On his way home, a car pulled up to him, and told him not to worry anymore; the situation was “taken care of.” “Who were the men in the car?”  Unknown.

He wasn’t in love with his private student, but he did fall in love with a Japanese woman ten years his senior. She wasn’t interested in him. She thought he was too young. Maybe, she though he was too different. (I don’t know). He pursued her for five years, despite all her “Nos.” Maybe, despite her Japanese version of “Oh, hell no White boy.” He wouldn’t let up. She met another man, and was going to move to Hong Kong with him, but CJ sabotaged the other man. He got him fired, and the move to Hong Kong never happened. It seems horrible, but how could I not be impressed by the lengths he would go to for love. Love, obsession or passion? Whatever it was, he won. He’s now married to her, and they have two sons.

“Why are you in Tokyo CJ?”

“For the same reason everyone else is here. We’re all running away from something.”

“Are we?”

“Of course we are.”

It makes sense. Why move five thousand miles away from your family for a prolonged period? Why never go home? And when you go home, if you ever do, will it ever be the same again?

2) DL‘s a twenty-eight year old American who at first glance seems to be nothing more than a handsome playboy. He’s usually talking about some beautiful young woman who he has temporarily fallen in love with, had drinks with, partied with or turned from vegetarianism into a ravenous carnivore akin to Fred Flintstone. He changes women with his smile. He’s not charming and has called himself a jerk. He tells women, from the very first meeting, “I’ve just got to let you know, I’m an a-hole.” He said it to a good friend of mine, and still she found him magnetic. They all do. A mutual friend said to him recently, “I don’t know what it is about you and these women. I find you completely resistible.” It’s his spark. Some people are wet matches, and some people blaze the room every time.

He’s a divorced military man who claims to have built his house with his father. True or untrue? Undecided. He’s never been single, not even after his divorce, not even during his divorce. He told me the deal breaker, the end, was the mention of children. She wanted one, he didn’t. What did he do with his pain at the end of his marriage? Immerse himself in reading classics, Tucker Max’s blog, books on psychology and emotional intelligence, Norwegian Wood, alcohol, his university studies, Japanese everything: culture, food, women.

He’s been in Japan on and off for eight years and wants to leave. Maybe, he will leave one day, but Japan has a hold. For now, he’s improving his Japanese, and reading six books at once.

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.   (Luke 15:20-24 ESV)

3) PO has lived in Tokyo for five years. He, also, hasn’t spoken to his father in five years. He longs to go home to Nigeria to see his brothers and sisters, to see his parents, to feel the sun on his head and eat his mother’s stew, but he and his father have an ongoing rift. He hasn’t forgiven his father for not allowing him to go to university in the United States. He took the SATs and got a high score, but he was told that he should stay at home and help out there. Go to school in Nigeria. So, he did the first thing that came to mind, borrowed some money and ran from home.

He worked as a cook in a restaurant in Roppongi for the first few months that he was here. He didn’t have enough money for a place or for food, so the restaurant owners let him eat and sleep there until he got on his feet. He learned Japanese at the restaurant. He told me that Tokyo’s simultaneously easy and hard for Black people. He said that we must be “small” here, fit in, not make too much noise. When I told PO that I’ve never had a hard time anywhere, he laughed and called me naive. (I am– thankfully). He says that Nigerians are maligned in Tokyo, so it was hard for him to get an apartment once he showed his passport. However, he loves Tokyo and wants to remain for a few more years; he loves the nightlife, the food, the friends he’s made. Yet, he wants to go home to Nigeria, not to live, but to hug his mother and be hugged by his father.

If I ruled the world, I’d free all my sons. I love ’em love ’em baby. – Nas (If I Ruled the World)