Tag Archives: tokyo

Nothing is Permanent

“There was a man who had two sons.  The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 

Dear Friends,

I’m at a crossroads. Every three years or so I get a feeling where I know I can’t stay where I am anymore, but I’m not exactly certain where I should be. I’m not sure why the itch comes without fail, but it comes and rapidly spreads until I can’t think of anything but leaving. If my life were a parable, it would be time to return to home, rediscover or discover my roots, be surrounded by family and those who’ve known and loved me, and quell this insurgence in me. However, it’s not time yet to go home, wash the travel off myself, and be surrounded by the familiar. I wonder though how much of anything will be familiar after all this distance, prolonged time and separation. How long was the prodigal son gone? Maybe, it took him more time to squander his wealth than me?

Oh, I’ve been prodigal. Do you remember the excitement I hardly contained when  moving to Tokyo? I imagined working hard, and saving a sizable amount of money. From watching an episode of House Hunters International, I was under the impression that I could teach in Tokyo and save enough money to invest in something; buy something of value; start to build a life for myself somewhere else. The couple on House Hunters International worked in Tokyo for a few years and managed to save enough money to buy a bright, spacious house in Central America. Three years later, I’m here with not much saved, and still the need to go.

As I sit here, I think of how much I’ve depended on my family. If there’s a problem, I usually think I need to solve it myself, which, in hindsight, has led to pain that could’ve been released, lessened, or avoided.  If the problem is financial, I look first at myself, then to my mother, then brother, then father in turn– even at this age, but who else would I turn to? JP Morgan Chase? If the problem is emotional, again, I look to myself first. It has been difficult to turn to friends for advice, input in my life processes, and even sometimes as an ear or shoulder to lean on. However, I’ve found with time that what I perceived as weakness would’ve been strength. Holding my thoughts  to my chest and hiding my feelings has done more harm than good. In Ubud, I felt down on one particular day, so I put on my pink floral dress, did my makeup and twisted my hair nicely, because I remembered hearing and internalizing that the worse you feel, the better you should look. “The world doesn’t have to know that you’re having a bad day.” (You know what, it’s okay if the world knows you’re having a bad day, because pretending everything’s great’s not going to help anyone, least of all you.)

So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.  He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

 When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!”

When I was 24, on a trip to Jamaica, I visited my uncle and his wife on a Sunday morning for brunch. His wife was worried about the way my life was shaping up, and expressed that, to which he replied, “It doesn’t matter. You can do anything you want, and if you don’t like what you’re doing, do something else. Nothing is permanent.” His words have stayed with me ever since, and I don’t know if they’ve been a blessing or a curse, because those words underlie the feeling of non-urgency behind most of my decisions. Contrarily, his brother, my father’s words usually contained the phrase, “Valerie, get your act together.” They’re both right.

And, here I am “starving to death” for an answer of what to do and where to go and who to meet and why I am?

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”

There’s something that I’m looking for; I went to the yoga mat, and I came to the computer. I went inside and practiced silence, and now I’ve come here talking to you.  If this life were a parable, after this long journey, I would put my bag down at the door…no, I’d put my bag down in the driveway. The day would be hot, but there would be a slight breeze; my eyes would be closed, but my arms would be open. I would hug, be hugged, and there would be tears of joy. But, this life isn’t a parable, and I’m still in a foreign land trying to figure out what to do.

Take care,

Val

cle

Making Moves

Freedom is mine and I know how I feel.– Nina Simone (Feeling Good)

Dear Friends,

The guys across the street, in front of the Bisma Mini-Market,  play chess from afternoon to late evening. Everyday I walk by, and there are four men around the table, two of them in deep concentration. They sometimes pause a moment to say hello, then they continue playing. For the past two days, I’ve had breakfast and lunch at Kopi Bisma, which is directly across from them, so I have been watching their deliberate moves and steady hands for two days.

chess

Chess is a complicated game that I haven’t learned to play yet. I say yet, because I’d like to learn to sit for hours at a time and control a kingdom. Watching those men has peaked my interest in the game, so I wikipedia’d the rules of the game and read this: Chess strategy is concerned with evaluation of chess positions and with setting up goals and long-term plans for the future play. It’s often said that the game of  chess is like life, and the voice in my head has signaled that it’s time to consider future plays and make some moves. It’s clear that what must happen will happen, and it’s best to accept what unfolds; however, I know that I must be an active participant in this game of life, set intentions, and place myself in the right situations to realize my goals.

I will never reach my goal by staying in the same place all the time. I can speak to my soul only when the two of us are off exploring deserts or cities or mountains or roads. – Paulo Coelho

Thus, the time draws nearer and nearer to leave Ubud, a most paradisiacal place. Yes, it’s heaven: overhead fans whir all day; girls have flowers dangling in their hair, secured by long, black strands; many smile their greetings; men wear their flowers tucked behind their ears; shoes are optional; the sunshine and rain play constant games with each other; yoga mats, like prayer mats, connect us to the universal energy source; receptive eyes see nature in bloom and in flight; the ground vibrates with life, and the air smells like jasmine. Perhaps, it’s heaven, because we all behave heavenly here. Yet, it’s soon time to go.

Perhaps, Ubud is to be a personal refuge, not the place to live for a lengthy period, at this time in my life. In regards to Tokyo, though it’s comfortable, safe, convenient, and a million other adjectives,  it’s time to move on from there as well. In September, it will have been three years in Japan, and though we’ve served each other well, it no longer holds the same charm.  Three days ago, I woke up at 4 am thinking, “What next?” A voice in my head answered that question, and told me that I’m free, that anything and anywhere is next. There’s nothing more exciting than realizing that I’m not only the hand, but the chess piece ready to be placed somewhere new. Early in the morning, in the dark, cool room, the lyrics of my sixth-grade graduation song floated to the forefront of my mind, “It is better to light just one little candle than to stumble in the dark.”

Here comes the flame: my days are going to change again soon, and it will be time to learn a new language (spoken and unspoken), meet new people, see new sights, settle into a new way of life, sit by new rivers. It will all be new, and simultaneously very familiar and right, because I chose it. (Things don’t happen to us, we create them if we’re acting consciously.)

Here and now, lushness surrounds me. Who was it that built this village in the middle of a riotous garden? The trees, animals and flowers grow around us, and our souls grow to meet them. We live in the garden; we spread our arms to the sun; we are rooted in peace. Life’s a chess game, and the freedom to choose how and when to play surely feels good.

See you soon,

Val

p.s This is exactly how I feel:

lavender

A Day Full of Color

Rolling waves lap onto flat, broad stones; pelicans and seagulls caw, dip and move on; a young man hums a song of longing; and I lie on the grass, with the wind lifting my floral skirt, and gaze at a white sailboat with red, white and yellow balloons floating down the Sumida River.

There’s a girl of two or maybe three years old in a patterned tutu mimicking the call of the birds that glide by; I don’t know if they’re answering her or if there’s an echo. There are solitary runners passing the hill on which I rest, and I wonder what they’re running from and where they’ll stop. There are two women in white lying on a blue blanket, looking up at the sky, whispering about something, as only close friends can. The clouds are thin and stretched. A father and daughter ride by on black and red bicycles. He stops to say something; “What a beautiful day it is, and what a beautiful girl you are.” Two older ladies in straw hats stroll past, waving their arms and lips in a discussion about who knows what– the past, the now, the clouds? A lady wheels her puppy in a stroller, her new baby, perhaps?

On the other side of the river is an undulating green mound, just like this one. There are people there dreaming, running, cycling, walking and talking, growing up, growing older, skipping and singing. Just like on this side, there are young boys in baseball uniforms throwing a hard ball to each other, babies are taking wavering steps, voices are echoing in the wind, blackbirds are looking for food, blanched dandelions are looking up for water. A  mix of grass and saltwater scents the air on that side, just like this one.

On this side, we’re all the same, aren’t we? The baby learning to walk, the child being spoken to, the friend whispering to another, the bird above the wind? We’re all the same, aren’t we?

Love,

photo (7)

Tokyo: It’s Pink Now.

Dear Friends,

The sunlight is pink now. It’s 5:23pm and as the sun sets on the brick building across the street, the world glows petal-pink through the still, sheer white curtains. No wind stirs, but the temperature has dropped many degrees since last week and it’s cool inside. Tokyo’s perfect today, even in the swirl of the realization that perfection’s a myth.

It’s been exactly two years since I moved to Tokyo, and one year since I moved into my apartment in Kabutocho. Each day I like and dislike Tokyo more and more. An uneasy ambivalence, as an ambivalence must be. The city has gotten under my skin, like an unshakeable influenza.

1) In the early morning, when the sun creeps over the river, or in the evening, when the streets are quiet, I ride, for hours, all over town: Monzen Nakacho, Ryogoku, Akihabara, Ueno, Asakusa, Ojima, Toyocho, Toyoso, Odaiba, sometimes alone, sometimes with a friend or two, and the thought comes, “It’s so safe here; so calm, so convenient, so very easy, how could I live elsewhere? Where will I go?” The river’s on the left and “the wind’s beside me,” and as hours turn into more hours, I feel this is “home.”

2) Tokyo isn’t “home” and can never be. (Feelings skim surfaces, and are fleeting.) After two years, I can navigate the city, the back streets of East Tokyo; I know how to get to Kiba in ten minutes from Nihonbashi, but I know next to nothing about Japanese people and little about Japanese ways. What I hear from my students about “Japanese life,” and often what I see, I wish and choose not to believe, because it’s disheartening. (Disheartening because I’d subscribed to an image and the reality is far different. The fact is, it’s just like anywhere else, in some ways better, and in others, worse.) It seems something’s lacking. Perhaps, because I don’t speak the language, I’m missing the profundity that is Japan.

At the moment, I see gloss, drinking to excess, working to excess, consumerism, conformity, hear and see stories of abuse, and I wonder if this is all there is. There are rules everywhere– many culturally and self-imposed, and a seeming, mild depression among most people in daily living, despite all the conveniences. However, I’m not Japanese and can’t expect it to be all things– or anything– to me. When my complaints ring louder than praises, it’ll be time to move on; yet, the question remains, “To where?”

3) MD said Tokyo’s “too comfortable.” According to him, a life without discomfort and “disruptions” isn’t worth living. He puts himself in the way of danger, as often as he can, all the while spouting his discomfort theory, which I’d contradicted; but, now I understand what he means. This life, here, is a cocoon. A comfortable “Otherness.” Imagine you live in a country where you don’t speak the language, can’t understand most of the signs, and people behave in a way completely unlike what you’re used to. It’s surprisingly liberating and freeing, because you don’t have to care, don’t have to listen, don’t have to try to understand. You can shake your head and say, “I don’t speak Japanese,” even when at times, you understand. It’s too comfortable, and living in a bubble isn’t living.

Students always ask, “Why’d you come to Japan?” There’s no good answer, should I direct them to the very short decision-making process conducted on this blog? They want a good answer, a well thought out answer, along the lines of, “I love Japanese culture,” or “I’ve always been fascinated with Japan and wanted to learn Japanese;” but, I can’t tell them those things, because it isn’t true. I’d no clue about Japan, never really thought of living here ever before and have had great difficulty in trying to motivate myself to learn Japanese. What brought me here except chance, a wish to be somewhere new, and a desire for change? So, I say, “I love Japanese food.” Is that enough of a reason to pick up and move to another country?

I didn’t come here for any special reason, but I love many aspects of it and have stayed longer than intended. When it’s time to leave the pink light behind, the clean streets of Nihonbashi, the  smiling service people, the swelling, then sleeping river, the in-season treats, and the countless other things that make Tokyo special, what will I say? I don’t question what I’ll feel, because I know my feelings, like tides, will come and go.

Take care,

Val

A Lifetime of Used Tos

It’s an early summer morning in Tokyo. I have been sitting beside the Sumida River for some time; it’s the only place to escape the heat. At 10am, it’s already 85 degrees. There’s a small breeze here, and I’m trying to compose my thoughts, while the life around me interferes.

A large green bug lands on me. It freaked me out me a bit at first, but on its second landing, I’ve reconciled that we’re friends. Small, purple petals float and drift slowly to the ground. I’m sitting under a flowering tree of green and purple. What kind of tree this is, I don’t know. It doesn’t amaze me how little I know; at least now, it doesn’t embarrass me to say the words, “I don’t know.” Gone is the blustering pretense and embarrassment of past years.

The wind has died. Just, still, crushing heat now. Already, the petals on the ground are darkening. A purple hibiscus shrub blooms in profusion on my left. It makes me think of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus, the book my mother sent me in the mail. The novel is a haunting, gripping, heartbreaking work of art. I can’t wait to start her other novel, Half of a Yellow Sun, this week.

On Tuesdays, my first class begins at 7:30am in Ojima. It’s a twenty-minute bike ride from where I live– over the bridge, past stone statues, small shops, and past the park. When I arrive at the company, there’s always a student waiting for me  with a smile. This morning, I taught “used to, and “”would,” or rather, I summoned my students memories by introducing new words to talk about the past. Here are some of their recollections:

When I was seven, I used to visit my grandfather’s farm. He would cut big watermelons with a sickle and we would eat fresh watermelon all day.

When I was in junior high school, I used to be a delivery newspaper boy. I would wake up by 4am everyday and deliver 100 papers. I would buy comics with the little money I got. I didn’t work at that job for more than six months.

When I was 21, I rode my bicycle from Saitama to Karuizawa. It took six hours. I was so tired, I only took long baths and slept when I got there.

A mother and her son just sat next to me on the bench. He is about two years old, maybe a few months less. His mother is feeding him some bread and jam. He eats without making any sound, then gets up and walks to the rail by the river. He points at something in the water and his mother walks over to look. He starts running and laughing, as children are inclined to do. Will he remember this day or just have a fuzzy feeling of contentment that lingers in his mind whenever he’s near a river?

Maybe, one day in his English class, many years down the line, he’ll say:

 When I was a boy, my mother would take me to the river. She would wear a straw hat to shield herself from the sun, and when I would look up at her shaded face, I’d think she was beautiful. She used to make sandwiches, and bring cookies and cold apple juice for us to enjoy. As you know, Tokyo summers can be very hot, but I used to run after pigeons until I was flushed. It was at that time, my mother would chase me, swoop me up and walk for a bit. I used to be tired, and in her arms, I would start to drift off, feeling happy and safe.

Maybe, he’ll say that.

The Glad List- #4

Hi All,

Tonight, LD and I went to Daikanyama and Roppongi to “find life.” The night was going swimmingly well; first we went to Kin Folk in Daikanyama, then Agave Cigar and Tequila Bar in Roppongi, where three guys sat beside us, and I was chatting with the winning S, a Japanese guy with perfect English (lived in the Arizona for four years).

Sadly, or as fate would have it, turns out, S and the other guys, work at the same office as LD‘s ex; they got on the subject of lost love and killed the mood. Woe is me. The three guys went on to another bar, and invited us, but LD was in no mood to go. We wound up at Alfie for one super over-priced drink. the caught the last train. ($17 for a gin and tonic. Yikes.)

1) Today, I’m glad that I have a friend like LD, who’ll be my wingman. Strike up a convo with the guys at the next table, find out all the pertinent info, and really try to make it happen for me. We swore, on the next outing, we’ll get it right.

another time
another time not tonight

osho
Ciao, :)
Val

p.s this was written on the Hibiya line on the way home. To reiterate, Tokyo’s awesome.

Food and Friends: “We Happy And Smiling ‘Cause Now We Living Good”

Hi  Friends,

I promise you there won’t be a Komatsuya post every week, but… A few days ago, I asked B and LD if they wanted to go to Komatsuya in Ningyocho to be extremely carnivorous. B, who’s enjoyed the Komatsuya experience, and LD, who had yet to feel the pleasure, readily agreed. As I thought about it some more, I wondered why I was being so selfish with all that beef and beer. Soon after, I texted some faces you’ve seen before from previous party posts: DS, Miss EW, Js and S. Friends invited friends, and pretty soon, we were a party of eleven ready to enrich our blood (with iron) and our spirits (with good company). (Sadly, a few key friends couldn’t make it, but there’s always next time.)

Party is goin’ on over here. – Busta Rhymes (Party Goin On Over Here)

Komatsuya didn’t disappoint. Platters of beef (3 to be exact), lamb chops, and mashed potatoes were ordered and dribbling down the cheeks of my hungry friends before one could even say supercalifragilisticespiali—. Delicious. We, also, with a special nod to our mothers, ate salad and cabbage. Our drinks of choice were Kirin drafts, high balls, lemon sours, and a little bit of cold sake.

* New faces from the left: AS, A, and H

* New face: NW

Then, the chef sent over a complimentary platter of sausages and grilled pork. We wrapped up the night at midnight, the last customers in the place, “happy and smiling,” feeling high on life…or meat… or beer… or all combined.

*The instrumental version:

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

A few nights ago, I went to an izakaya in Nihonbashi, around the corner from my new place, with my friend H. Strangely enough, I was the only woman in the establishment. That night was dedicated to seafood.

* Squid strips, and fried octopus.

Let me tell you about H; he doesn’t bat an eye when I say things that others may consider off the wall:

1) I want to marry a fisherman, but I don’t want him to leave me, because I can’t cook rice and hate waking up early. (He entertains this nonsense). (Ah, fishermen: strong, conscientious, “natural.”)

2) Me: So in your next life, what’re you gonna be?

H: A human.

Me: What about something cool like a butterfly or a fast animal.

H: No, I want to do many things only humans do.

Me too, I want to do things that only humans can do; like, meet up with other interesting humans every other day of the week for good meals, great conversation, and just feeling good. (Everyone has a story.)

See you soon,

Val

Finding a Place in Tokyo: Moving on Up… Up and Over

Dear Friends,

“Make a decision and make the decision right.” – Abraham-Hicks

Last week, something clicked while listening to a lecture on abundance, and I felt that my biggest desire, an apartment, could be mine now. For some months, I’ve been putting off moving into my own place by saying that I need to save more– save for moving and all the fees, save for furniture for an unfurnished apartment, and save for any miscellaneous things that should arise. Yet, the months stretched on and the money in my bank account never seemed to be enough, enough for all that I thought I needed to move.

Then, finally, these sentences, that I’ve heard many times before, registered, “Make a decision, and make your decision right.” It finally hit me that waiting wasn’t amounting to anything but waiting, and whatever decision I made could be the right decision. So, I embraced the fact that I “know what I want,” and stepped into the sphere of making it happen.

Ok, stay with me… When I decided that I would get what I want, that I could make it happen, the universe presented it all to me. I found an apartment on www.gaijinpot.com that seemed to be perfect. The building was only three doors down from my current home in Suitengu, which is in a super neighborhood (convenience stores, the subway, and numerous eateries are only minutes away), and the apartment was newly renovated, on the seventh floor, with a nice balcony. I wanted it. However, the apartment fell through, because the owner chose someone else from the applications that were submitted. I told that agent, a really great guy named Yuji, that I wasn’t too disappointed, because something better would come.

About two weeks ago, a new woman started working at my job. We got on the subject of apartments and I told her that I was in the process of apartment hunting, and two weeks away from sleeping at our workplace. I told her that I’d already submitted my move out notice, without finding an apartment, and as the days sped away, the thoughts of finding a place were pressing, since our break room couches aren’t so comfortable. She related that after moving to Japan from Europe, she found a fantastic real estate agent at Hikari Home, and that she’d email me the info. That night, she sent me the agent Kaz‘s info.

Last week, I met with Kaz in Azabu-Juban (where it took me an hour to bike to– got lost); he showed me a number of places in the neighborhoods that I requested (Ningyocho, Suitengumae, Kayabacho, Nihonbashi and Hacchobori), and in a matter of minutes, we narrowed the list down to six contenders. He immediately called the six owners, and of the six, only two owners were willing to rent to foreigners. (After the 2011 earthquake, many foreigners packed up and left their apartments without paying rent, which left a bad taste in the mouths of many landlords. Some just don’t want to rent to foreigners.) Of the two, we went to visit one in Nihonbashi, in my price range, in a somewhat new building, and on foot, five minutes from my job. I told Kaz that I wasn’t interested in seeing the second place, that I wanted this place, and if the owner didn’t want to rent to me, he should bribe him. (Ha! I was really feeling abundant last week.)

That tiny studio apartment in Nihonbashi, in my heart and mind, was mine. Kaz emailed me that night to inform me that, indeed, the apartment would be mine as the owner had no issues with renting to foreigners. Unless, you’re planning to move to Tokyo at some point, it’s not for me to scare you with move-in cost estimates, but I would like to show you the fees you’d need to pay if you do:

monthly rent
management fee
deposit
key money
guarantor fee
agency fee ( 1 month + consumption tax )
fire insurance ( 2 years )
key changing money

* Key money is a month’s rent that you’ll never get back. It’s a thank you to the owner for allowing you to live in his/her place.

By October 1, I will be living in my new place in Nihonbashi!

___________________________________________________________________________________________________

“I live in a universe that has a basis of well-being. It’s time that I start proving that to myself.” – Abraham-Hicks

1) I taught in Otemachi tonight and ran into DS (a friend from orientation). He walked with me to Ningyocho to pick up my bike (had to leave Lucy there, because of the rain), and we got on the subject of my new apartment. He warmed my heart, and he didn’t even know it, by saying, “I’m trying to think of what I can give you for your new place, even though I don’t have much.” His words were enough of a gift.

He also shared that he’s planning to take a mini group trip to Hong Kong and Vietnam. If I manage to save enough money by the end of January, I’d love to piggyback on that trip.

2) Since, I was in the neighborhood of Ningyocho and hungry as heck, you all know I had to get a bite at Komatsuya. I feel that place is my Cheers, and I was Norm walking into the bar. Everyone greeted me enthusiastically with smiles and thumbs up. I sat at the counter, and immediately, the very happy Ym, a stranger beside me, asked the waitress for an extra plate and gave me some of his just delivered beef stew and mashed potatoes. Delicious. I ordered lamb chops, which also came with mashed potatoes, and the awesome waitress N brought me a plate of sliced French bread, because I said I was hungry (and after all, it is my Cheers). It’s great to feel like a part of a neighborhood. (Find yourself a place, your own Cheers, whether it be a restaurant, a bar, a store, whatever, but find yourself a place that when you enter, everyone’s happy to see you, and when you leave, everyone walks you to the door to wish you well.)

3) Speaking of being part of a neighborhood, my visa has been renewed. I’m now legally permitted to stay in Japan for five more years. When I told my co-worker S that I was going to be in Tokyo for awhile, he said, “People like you don’t usually stay long.” I never got a chance to find out what he meant by “people like you.”

Until next time,

Val

References

I already know how to love
I already know how to kiss with tongue
So now all that’s left is to dream
I already know where to go
I already know where to stay
So now all that’s left is to live –  Os Tribalistas- (Ja Sei Namorar translated)

Tokyo excites me. It excites me when I’m riding down the street amidst a swirl of bicycles; salarymen in white shirts and black pants, grandmothers, children, old men in hats, all of us crossing, seemingly so different, but all alike, because we’re racing for greens. The knowledge of that shared experience excites me.

A few days ago, my boss gave me forms to take down to the immigration office to renew my visa, a process which he warned takes a full day. What? Have we reached this time already? I couldn’t believe, and still can’t, that I’m only a month shy of a year in Japan. How does that happen? One minute, you’re standing in the airport utterly confused about everything in your path, and slightly intimidated by a new language everywhere, and the next moment, you’re wrapped up in a life… and still utterly confused.

Just the other day,  my friend D and I were talking about how interesting this city we live in is, and how it’s never the same from day to day. (Maybe, we’re the ones constantly evolving and not the city?). In our conversation, by the Sumida River, I told him that after almost a year here, Tokyo still confuses me. I know nothing about this place, less about its people, and even less than that about its language. It’s always new, every single day, which I love. Despite an ever-present bewilderment, I don’t think I’ve appreciated another city more, nor had a desire to leave anyplace less. (Granted, it’s less than three years, the usual time for my onset of boredom).

It’s natural though that as great as my new surroundings are, and as special as many of the people around me can be (Japanese and foreign), there’re things I miss about the “West”. To be honest, it’s not the West but my friends whom I miss, and our references. To have others understand what I mean with little, or no, explanation; to have liked the same music, know the same artists, have gone to the same clubs, walked the same streets. For example, two weeks ago, TD and I connected on Skype, something we can rarely manage to do, due to time differences and busy schedules. Anyway, the first thing he said to me was “Could you please turn the Al. B down, so we can talk.”

“Whoa, how’d you know it was Al.B?”

“C’mon, who didn’t have that album?”

That’s my point. His question, “Who didn’t have that album?” is an assumption that I can never make here. I aim not to make assumptions at all here, because half the time I don’t know what I’m talking about, and the other half, I’m forced to swallow my words with a shot of whiskey. I guess this post is a love letter to Tokyo, because it’s concretized the many things I don’t know for sure.

Some things I’ve discovered in these eleven months:

1) In other posts, I’d said that I’m too “old” to make new, “real” friends and stretch myself, which is complete nonsense/rubbish/bs. People are wonderful, for the most part, and not getting to know others would only be my loss.

2) A common language isn’t the most important thing for shared understanding.

3) Somewhere along the way I morphed into a cougar; not that anyone really knows my age, so they don’t know quite how cougar-ish I am. (My age denial has grown even stronger in this last year, which I really appreciate).

4) Positive thoughts are no joke. It’s important to see the “God” in people; it’s amazing how abruptness, rudeness, and general weariness fades away, when others are recognized as divine.

5) I have a healthier appetite than I realized, especially for ramen, bacon cheeseburgers, and eye candy.

I must go, now. I think I know that in two or three years, I must also leave Japan, but where to, I don’t know. (Somewhere in Europe for sure– somewhere with safe living, an abundance of cyclists *(bike lanes), city life, English as the second language, the list goes on). The world’s small and life’s short, that I know.

An Interlude: Life’s a Musical Thing

In music, one doesn’t make the end of a composition the point of the composition. – Alan Watts

Dear Friends,

This evening, I met up with R in Ginza to belatedly celebrate his birthday. For those of you who don’t know or remember, R is my fellow American and incredibly awesome housemate from Borderless House. He’s a friend in whose company life becomes “more”: more special, calmer, brighter, and just all-around better.

He led the way to the restaurant in Ginza, Isola Blu, a comfortable, yet spartan in decor, three-floor, Italian restaurant on a quiet side street. We arrived before the dinner rush (if they have a dinner rush), and for almost two hours had almost the entire second floor to ourselves.

We ordered a Margherita pizza, a rich gnocchi, warm bread, and glasses of wine. The  creaminess of the cheese sauce on the gnocchi created such feelings of rapture in R that he closed his eyes after almost every bite.

For dessert, he ordered the Amaretti pudding, which, if our dining experience were a boxing match, kicked my Hazelnut and ricotta tart’s behind. Ridiculously smooth, amaretto-soaked, and heavenly.

* The delicious loser.

Over coffee, we continued to catch up. (It’s been a long time, since we’ve each seen other.) While on the subject of getting the most out of our everyday lives,  R introduced me to Alan Watts, a British philosopher (who has been blowing my mind from dinner until now. Three hours later, I’m still listening to his lectures on YouTube.) Before R and I parted, he reiterated that life’s a dance and encouraged my urge to wander Tokyo by bike.

Though a tad muggy, a slight breeze blew, so with Alan Watts in my ears, and a quiet mind, I danced across bridges and down alleyways. What a wonderful night.

Smile everyday, sing everyday, dance everyday.

We thought of life by analogy with a journey, with a pilgrimage, which had a serious purpose at the end, and the thing was to get to that end– success or whatever it is, or maybe heaven, after you’re dead. But, we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing or to dance, while the music was being played. – Alan Watts

Take care (and dance),

Val