You are browsing the archive for 2007 November.

Breaking with Bread

November 30, 2007 in Oishii, spazarific

After some unpleasant minor health issues, sneaking paranoia and much research, there is a new anti-allergen diet for me: no gluten, no dairy. For someone who loves baked goods and pasta as much as I do, it is an especially annoying diet. Living in Japan, where gluten and dairy intolerances are not the norm, it is even more difficult to stick to. And yet, for about over two weeks, I have – apart from my glorious day of cheating (Thanksgiving). Technically, the diet is an experiment and I can stop any time I like so there will be no boo-hooing self-pity. I just figure it’s worth a shot. And, yes, I do intend to get myself to a doctor but I’ve been busy lately; writing, part-time job hunting, early stage apartment-hunting, planning for my trip back home, and studying for the 4-kyuu, which is, incidentally, on Sunday (!) Settle down, sugar; I’ll get to a real doctor. In the meantime, no one ever died from giving up baked goods and eating tons of leafy greens for a few weeks. No one ever died from itchy palms, an upset tummy and breakouts, either.

In between classes and 4-kyuu study, I made myself useful today and learned the kanji for “wheat,” “flour,” “gluten,” and, while I was at it, “sugar.” “Butter” is written in ingredient lists in katakana and I already knew the kanji for “eggs” and “milk” so I figure I am set, at least when it comes to reading ingredient listings which, incidentally, is my new hobby. As I wait for trains, I linger by the conbinis in the station, fervently reading the Calorie Mate and Soy Joy nutritional bar labels in hopes that I can comfort myself with one between meals. Alas. Butter and eggs in both. I have a friend who actually does suffer from coeliac disease, so through her I already knew to be on my guard for the evil hidden glutens in things no one would suspect; stamp glue, most processed foods, and non-wheat grains. Soy sauce, too – usually quite high on the ingredient list. Later, I browsed through a supermarket and decided some sushi would do quite nicely. I had read that a non-gluten soy sauce called “tamari” exists and since the word sounds Japanese, I thought it might actually be a Japanese invention.

“Sumimasen,” I said to the man by the sushi counter, once he had stopped to catch his breath while hollering to attract customers. “Do you have tamari?”

The “stupid foreigner!” glance and grunt of “Ehhh??” I received in response suggested that no, tamari might not be a Japanese thing.

I tried again, from another angle, holding up my desired sushi package, pointing to the soy sauce nestled on the spiky plastic grass. “There is gluten in soy sauce” I said boldly. “I don’t eat gluten.” An even more intense stare. Getting nowhere fast, as usual, and my wretched Japanese did nothing to help matters. Pass the 4-kyuu – sure!

Withering under that impatient stare, I grew impatient, too, and, to my own shame, buckled – pulling my cell phone out of my pocket, the way I did when I first moved to Japan and spoke no Japanese. I pulled up the kanji for “wheat” in my Japanese-English cell phone dictionary and showed it to him, pointing again to the soy sauce. “Do you have soy sauce with no wheat? I don’t eat wheat.”

“Ah!” said the sushi man, adding, in English, “Is good! Rice, no wheat!”

Thanks. Ah, for America – where not only are most people aware of most dietary concerns but I don’t have to resort to pulling out my cell phone dictionary like a tourist jerk every time someone gives me a puzzled look. I was homesick for the second time in a week.


Fragrant, heavenly, and deliciously abundant, baked goods haunt me. Though bread products are not Japanese in origin, the Japanese have become ingenious in the art of spinning fluffy doughy clouds out of wheat, milk and eggs. The vast array of cozy bakeries rival what I saw in Paris, and their pain du chocolat is absolutely worth blogging home about. I never wanted bread before but now, of course, I do – thick, white, and gorgeous, it winks at me from cellophane wrappers in the 100 yen store, behind the glare of bakery windows; heaps upon heaps of crusty baguettes, savory curry donuts, delicate croissants, crunchy sausage rolls, airy sesame balls. Sean brought home a slab of luscious soft country bread from his calligraphy class last week; his teacher is an elderly woman who often gives him small gifts – fried rice in a wooden box, fragile flowering branches in a small glass jar, free tickets to art galleries. I usually am delighted when Sean reports a new gift from Chika-san but I eyed this small loaf of bread with despair.

“Too bad,” said Sean.

A new entry for the One Burner Cookbook – one of my favorites these days:


  • 1 serving of (gluten-free) soba noodles
  • several tablespoons of 100 yen store (dairy free) sesame dressing
  • 2 cans of tuna
  • 2 servings of spinach
  • 1 can of mixed beans (includes garbanzo, kidney and soy)

Boil soba. Combine with other ingredients. Serve. Devour. Forget that it’s not semolina.

A few more weeks and we’ll see what we’ll see. At the moment, no change – the itchy palms and ugly face persist.

Ho for the Holidays

November 25, 2007 in Uncategorized

Taken with my new camera as I searched for another used bike this week:


Wait a sec … I’d recognize that goatee anywhere …!



Et tu, Colonel? Et tu …?

Gobble Gobble

November 23, 2007 in Holidays, My Funny Irish Friend, Oishii, The Children

Despite having moved around a lot during my 27 years, I can count the times I have been homesick on 2 fingers; once, at age 9, when I went to sleep-away camp in Lake Tsala Apopka, Florida and again at age 24, when car wreck injuries kept me in Guatemala for 3 months. Both times, I employed passionate countdowns to the date I could return home (sundown meant I could subtract half a day). I fixed only the best images of my homes in my mind and kept them before me, shining, like St. Elmo’s fire. Despite receiving only the very best care from my extremely loving and generous relatives as I recuperated from a broken back and leg surgery, my homesickness was such that I vowed I would never leave New York again. You can see how very obviously I am a woman of my word.

Living in Japan, when I am the furthest away I have ever been from home, I am not homesick. I miss my friends and family and become frustrated with the language barrier but I have never counted down the days until I could return home to New York. When my students learn where I am from, they gasp: “Ehhhhhh!!!” and I feel a swelling sense of pride as I begin to tell them about my city – the lush, green parks nestled between tall buildings that are a mix of shiny modern and red bricked Colonial, the seasonal multi-cultural street fairs bubbling with $1 Thai food, zeppole, fresh lemonade, arepa, Italian sausage and crepe vendors, the madness that courses beneath the veneer of busy-ness. I tell them of the homeless man I once saw dressed in a wedding dress, his long white beard flowing in the gales of November wind as he pushed a stacked shopping cart down Avenue A. I tell them that I used to be a theater critic and see plays once every two weeks (“Ehhh????”). I tell them that I used to work several jobs to pay my rent (“Ehhh???”). When they tell me that they are heading to New York for a home stay or a vacation, I write down in their notebooks: “Gray’s Papaya” and instruct them to get a “Recession Special” – under 3 dollars for 2 hot dogs and a medium drink. I recommend getting dogs with sauerkraut and onions and a pina colada.

Of course, there is no Thanksgiving in Japan but this week at my school is Thanksgiving lesson week. We teach our students about corn, bread, cranberries, green beans, sweet potatoes, apple pie, pumpkin pie and turkey. The students are mystified by the turkey, for it barely exists in Japan apart from as a sandwich filling choice in Subway restaurants. My 5 year olds giggled each time I held up the turkey flashcard.

“Chicken!” they chortled, falling over each other. “Chicken!”

“No,” I said. “Chicken does this: buck-a-buck-aw!! But a turkey does this:” I gobbled, thrumming my fingers against my wattle for maximum effect.

“Chicken!” they cried.

It was through handling these flash cards that I began to think of all of the good smells that came with stuffing and mashed potatoes. My brother, Diego, is going to Florida to visit my parents for Thanksgiving – I thought of this and the fact that several Guatemalan relatives are going to visit at the same time; relatives I would love to see. I remembered Thanksgivings in college – lugging home frozen birds from Food Emporium and embedding pats of butter and cloves of garlic in its skin. Erma was the Bakery Wizard and whipped up such creations as pumpkin cheesecake and apple crumbles. Peaches introduced me to the infamous Green Bean Casserole – always absent from my immigrant parents’ Thanksgivings. Each year we put those cans of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom soup and Durkee’s French Onions to good use. Pillsbury biscuits – if you please! Ah … Thanksgiving dinners in college always necessitated quick changes from our jeans to our pajama pants.

Thinking of all this, I was a trifle homesick for the first time in 10 months. Not a homesickness I couldn’t handle but a homesickness nonetheless. Keep in mind, though, that my homesickness is not noble or sentimental; I have become homesick not through memories of days past or beloved faces but through a mixture of greed, hunger and mashed potato lust.

Yesterday, Thanksgiving proper, I greeted Gil, my Australian coworker, with: “Happy Turkey Day!”

“Oh, right,” he groused. “Kind of a dodgy holiday, innit?”

“Excuse me!” I cried. “How dare you? It’s an incredible holiday full of family and Stove Top stuffing!”

“Yeah, right,” he said. “You took the Indians’ food and then killed them off. What a holiday!”

“I beg your pardon!” I said. “We celebrate killing the indians on a different day – Thanksgiving is pure!”

Last Saturday, I asked Bearded Dan – a Texan who has lived in Japan for years – what most American ex-pats did on Thanksgiving.

“Are we sentenced to dinners at KFC?” I asked nervously. Bearded Dan chuckled.

“No,” he said. “That’s Christmas! But Tin Pan Alley has a Thanksgiving dinner every year.”

“Tin Pan Alley – really? No kidding?” I said excitedly, because Tin Pan alley is a foreigner bar near my apartment. “With real turkey and everything?”

And stuffing!”

Oh, heck yes. All hail the foreigner community! I teach no children on Thursday so the day had been free of making hand-shaped turkeys and discussing yams but the day flew by as I fixed the image of turkey and stuffing in my brain. I fixed a countdown; 7 classes to go. 6 and a half classes to go. 3 classes to go. Once Yabba-dabba-doo-gimme-my-goshdarn-turkey time hit, I rushed home, noting as I jumped off the train that several sarari men behind me were giggling: “Sonna no kankei nee!”

I met Sean at Otako Station’s Central Exit, breathless.

“Do you want to come to Tin Pan Alley with me?” I blurted. “They have turkey and stuffing!”

“Oh God, ye Americans,” he muttered. “It’s kind of an ungrateful holiday, isn’t it, like? ‘T’ank you very much for da turkey but we’re gonta kill ye now….”

“Look,” I said. “My ancestors had nothing to do with colonizing America, but they would have colonized the heck out of Ireland if the weather weren’t so lousy. Are you coming or not????”

How could he resist?

Tin Pan Alley was packed with the usual crowd of slightly familiar foreign faces and exuberant Japanese. Live acoustic music assaulted our eardrums and smoke infiltrated our nostrils. My watering eyes immediately lit upon the Thanksgiving dinner menu: turkey, “staffing,” cranberry “sause,” gravy “sause,” veggies, mashed potatoes and bread for 1500 yen. Pumpkin pie was 500 yen extra, but the last slice was being served to my right as I read the menu. I spied customers at the bar next to me, sampling the American culinary delights from public school-grade styrofoam plates. In the dark, surrounded by smokers, shouting over the music, I waited somewhat patiently for such a plate to become mine. And then it was.

Sean leaned over and sniffed at my food, asking what the cranberry sauce was and why the mashed potatoes had gravy on them. I invited him to share my dinner, which he did gingerly, admitting that the combination was quite nice. I savored my turkey and real mashed potatoes, imagining my folks back home, only just waking up and, after brushing the ever-curious Heifer aside, beginning to put the culinary drama into motion. I thought of the crowd probably just beginning to pack around Macy’s to take in the cheerful succession of wobbling parade floats. I thought about my usual tradition of eating so much Stove Top stuffing that I couldn’t stand the sight of it until July. The stuffing at Tin Pan Alley was fresh, too – made of croutons I recognized from the 100 yen store and bulked up with crunchy celery. All in all, a most excellent Thanksgiving dinner.

Nonetheless, as soon as our last forkfuls left the plate, Sean and I booked it out of Tin Pan Alley – turkey and stuffing or no, we both detest smoky, crowded bars.

Selections from a Recent Survey With Subtext

November 20, 2007 in Uncategorized

A survey I posted on myspace a couple of angry, chilly nights ago:

1. Do you wear a name tag at work?
I’m supposed to but I’ve been lazy. It never helps, anyway – with or without it, the standard bug-eyed response to telling students “My name is Liv” is: “Ehhhhh?”

2. What’s your favorite soap?
“Cow.” It’s just 99 yen and makes me sMOOOth.

6. What kind of dog do you have?
A snoop dog. What you think, fool?

7. What’s for dinner tonight?
I already ate – soba noodles with sesame dressing, steamed spinach and smoked salmon with steamed broccoli for a side. Buckwheat …! Buckwheat is in soba! And greens – oh, goody! Smoked salmon on top and a glass of orange juice – that’s nutrition!

… this is not your stomach!

8. What is the last alcoholic beverage you had?
Lime chu hi at American Mike’s all-night karaoke birthday party.

9. Stupidest thing you ever did with your cell phone?
Sent emails and photos to PCs back home before I knew for sure how much it cost – even the memory of that bill still hurts.

11. How long is your hair?
After 6 months of bad hair days, it’s to the middle of my shoulderblades – finally!!! No thanks to you, Mr. Scissor-happy stylist in Kokoromura.

12. Are you happy right now?
Well, someone did steal my bike this morning so I’m gonna have to cut someone. Luckily, cutting bike-stealers makes me happy.

13. What did you last say?
tetsudate kurete arigatou” to the police man who told me that without a bike registration they couldn’t do anything to help me find my stolen bike. Boo to the thief and boo to the used bike salesman last September who didn’t give me a registration slip. And boo to myself for being dumb enough to leave it parked for so long, even if it was locked. That’s why they make hairpins, after all.

*thank you for your help

16. Have your brothers or sisters ever told you that you were adopted?
My brother was far more inventive – he liked to say I came from a vine. Of course, he’s younger so he wouldn’t have necessarily known this for a fact, but that didn’t lessen the tears that stained my pillow at night … for who could ever love a Vine Baby????

24. What’s something fun you did today?
Trudged home from American Mike’s birthday karaoke party in at 5 in the morning because we’d missed last train and had to stay out all night … not that karaoke-ing it up wasn’t an incredibly awesome way to spend the wee hours or that it wasn’t terrific to see him and other friends again, but the all-night adventure ended in the 6:30 a.m. discovery that my beloved bike was stolen, which brings me back to the question – yes. That was SUPER FUN!

27. What do you think of when you hear the word “meow”?

34. Where did you buy the shirt you’re wearing now?
It’s a ribbed turquoise colored V-neck sweater. And Muji.

36. What are you going to do after this?
Research no dairy/no grain diets. Download Firefox for Mac so that I can blog properly. Request some documents I need to renew my visa. Do whatever it is one does on a lazy Sunday night.

39. What is something you need to go shopping for?
A bike, I guess. Luckily, I have a day off on Tuesday so I’ll try it then.

47. Do you have any tan lines?
A couple – faint, from my Thai sunburn in October.


Who ever knew this man and I would have so much in common?

As it’s now Tuesday – and I’ve now downloaded FireFox which makes wordpress work a treat on my Mac! – I shall now head out, but with my ink and evil-flavored gum, just in case.


November 14, 2007 in Oishii


I am consistently mystified by the fact that my local tei shoku place always manages to include the perfect ratio of raw tuna to steamed white rice in my 480 yen bowl of maguro don. I never find myself longing for more of either ingredient; each chopstick full contains every luscious flavor the dish ought to have. There are somehow always enough side dish pickles, as well.

Mystified … and happy.

Classroom Hoe-Down

November 13, 2007 in The Children

Attention, English teachers in Japan! Are your young students suddenly disrupting your classes by doing something that looks like this?



If so, blame this man:



His name is Kojima Yoshio and, apparently, he’s a “comedian”. His shtick involves appearing in public clad only in a Speedo bathing suit. His act consists of bouncing around to techno music, rapping his catch phrase (“Sonna no kankei nee” – What does that matter?), and, of course, executing his signature move. I don’t watch Japanese TV so the man and his gambit were entirely unknown to me. I was originally charmed when I saw my first set of 6 year old boys involving themselves in what appeared to be a spastic hoe-down during our “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” sing-a-long but imagine my surprise and confusion when I noticed that in each of my classes that week – in entirely different schools – at least one male student jumped up to perform the exact same move.


“Ryo!” I called to the latest one to begin delightedly stamping his feet and pumping his elbow in my presence. “What’s this?” I repeated his movements. “Anime? TV?”


Terebi*!” cried Ryo, leaping up to write on the whiteboard (in hiragana): geinin.




“Geinin!” he said, proudly – tapping the marker over each syllable. I suppose it hadn’t occurred to him that I might not be able to read hiragana (I can) or that I might not know what a geinin was (I didn’t). Nonetheless, he was trying his best to help me get to the bottom of this mystery.

Carnitas explained to me later that a geinin is a comedian. I got the man’s name from a staff member, who is a big fan. Ordinarily, I might become obsessed with a man like Kojima Yoshio, due to my love for all things ridiculous but I’ve watched him on the internet a few times and though my Ridiculous Sense is tingling I find myself reacting to him more with annoyance than with excitement.


Check out the magic for yourself:

Pretty Pictures

November 12, 2007 in I'm Learning Japanese ... I Really Think So, Looking

Some pretty pictures from yesterday’s visit to The Open Air Museum of Old Japanese Farm Houses in Osaka …. pb110090.jpg On the way in – Paradise of Kids!pb110102.jpg pb110106.jpg pb110112.jpg pb110118.jpg pb110130.jpgAll the world’s a stage ….



A lovely afternoon of solitary wandering amid the pretty leaves … I’m one of those people who feels slightly bummed when summer ends (even Beard Papa’s Flavors of the Month for September, October and November conspire against me – marron, pumpkin and something else that doesn’t sound good to me) so I like to think of fall leaves as nature’s consolation prize.


Yesterday, I sent a note to Carnitas (only in romaji because I haven’t figured out how to get Japanese characters on my Mac Baby yet):

Konban ore wa nikujaga ga hoshiikatta. Hyakuenyenya ni ikimashita te jaga ya ninjin ya negi nado o kaimashita demo niku de ha arimasendeshita! “Nemui” to imashita kara uchi ni kaerimashita. Tabun asatte ni wa nikujaga o tsukurimasu ….

Intended translation:

This evening I wanted nikujaga. I went to the 100 yen store and bought potatoes, carrots, etcetera but they didn’t have beef! I said, “I’m tired!” and therefore I went home. Maybe I will make nikujaga day after tomorrow ….

His assignment was to find as many mistakes as possible and report back to me. When I spoke to him this morning he was on his way out but was able to tell me that he hadn’t found that many mistakes – “maybe 3 or 4″ – and a couple of them were spelling errors (100 yen store, for example, and, quite importantly, “said” – it needed an extra “i”. Leaving the extra “i” out of “iimashita” turns it into “imashita” – “existed (for living things)”. A clause error, a grammatical error … he didn’t have much time so I couldn’t ask him about the particle combination I used in my last sentence but I shall do so later. Overall, he said I was “doing very well, actually.” This made me happy.

But now, I see it’s raining – and I must head out to the next prefecture to teach rowdy children. I still haven’t gotten that umbrella holder for my bike …

Dang nabbit.

Things No Teacher Should Ever Have to Say

November 10, 2007 in The Children

1. “I saw one of my students’ penises- AGAIN.”

2. “Today, a student ran up to me, grabbed my breast and shouted, “chichi*!”; adding kirei**!” with a grin.”



And yet …

Needless to say, I refer to my 6 year olds, who delight in yanking down their underwear and now, apparently, complimenting my rack…

In the case of the Pants On/Pants Off boys, I teach in constant panic that an adult might enter the room before I’ve gotten the students to pull up their pants, thus catching me with several smiling half-naked children….

In the case of the student with breasted interests, might I compliment her on her fine taste beyond her years …

The Seventy-Some-Odd Days of Christmas

November 10, 2007 in Holidays

Japan is not a Christian nation but the Japanese do enjoy celebrating a Christmas season. Theirs is a cheerful Christmas of Santa, candy canes and reindeer, wiped clean of any religious figure (“Who is this Jesus you speak of?”) – and, apparently, any timely connection to the actual holiday. Starting the day after Halloween, here is a look at what I’ve been seeing in stores around town: pb060098.jpgpb060099.jpg pb060100.jpgAre those, er, Stars of David? And here I thought 5 days of Halloween was a bit much ….


November 7, 2007 in My Funny Irish Friend


Trudging to the video rental store each evening after work to reclaim my bike inspires a sigh of relief and satisfaction each time I arrive and my bike is still there, parked where I left it some 8 hours before. Sometimes, I find trash inside the basket – dumped inside by some thoughtless jerk.

“I cannot believe some creep put a cigarette carton/empty bottle/plastic bag in my bike basket!” I growl – right before dumping the trash in someone else’s.


One must remove their shoes each time they enter someone’s home or a carpeted room. Though I understand the cultural significance of this act – as well as the cleanliness it promotes in the home – I can’t help it; I think it’s a giant pain in the neck. Sometimes, I visit Sean in his apartment and since we are on our way out, I jump inside quickly, without taking off my shoes.

“Excuse me now!” Sean cries. “Shoes – in my apartment? How dare you! What cheek! Take them off.”

“Playa, please!” I say. “Why you gotta front? You’re from Cork, fool – not Japan.”

“Take them off!” he orders. “They track dirt inside!”

“Fine!” The shoes come off – only to be slipped on half a minute later when Sean is ready to go.


There are designated lanes in train stations, demarcated on the stairs leading to and from platforms: up, and down. Absolutely nobody follows these rules, unless by accident. Elderly men hold their flat palms sideways against the middle of their chests, fingertips reaching towards the sky, the palm itself protruding from their chest like a shark fin as the men attempt to cut their way through the sea of people. This is the universal signal for “move, if you please.” One cannot pleadingly beg “sumimasen!” every two feet; I do it now, too.


Eating food in public is supposed to be quite rude. I try my best to adhere to this social custom, even when it’s been 6 hours since I’ve eaten and all I can think about is the octopus onigiri in my purse. It is moments like these when my gaijinity screams to be released and my respect for my surroundings struggles to keep it at bay. Sometimes, when I feel faint and angry, the respect loses. I remember American Matt’s words to me shortly after we moved here: “People expect foreigners to be rude – you have a free pass.” So I silently unwrap my onigiri and take a much-needed pinch. Old men beside me glare.


For years, I reviewed cosmetics for a Canadian website and cosmetic manufacturer. We had several Asian panelists on board and through them I learned about whitening products. In Asian countries, a fair complexion is desirable and whitening skin care products are designed to help women achieve that goal. This penchant, combined with the Japanese custom of wearing a dental mask in flu weather, reminded me a little too much of Michael Jackson and I reacted to whitening products with slight distaste. I see whitening products everywhere in stores, manufactured by every cosmetic company, alongside eyelid glue, nose bridge pinchers, and gadgets designed to “train” your smile.

I stalk drugstores for fun, so I have come near whitening products many, many times. If you see something long enough, I suppose it starts to look interesting – and, in fact, it occurred to me a little while ago that since whitening products are designed to remove pigment, perhaps they could be good for helping to remove red marks on the skin. So I bought a 500 yen Whitening Pack in a little white jar … and you know what? It’s not half bad. The legions of blackhead removal products are another story.


Somebody please deliver me from Japanese ladies’ fashion, for it is dominated by billowy babydoll tops paired with skinny pants and leggings. This combination is charming on a tiny, slim and angular Japanese girl but hideous on someone who is miniature yet curvy like myself. I realize Japanese fashion is not geared towards little ol’ round me, but I would like to buy a new sweater once in a while. Alas, this is impossible when each and every knit sweater takes me from “thin” to “5 months and counting.” As for my bottom half, I weigh a mere 42 kilograms, yet I take a “large” in underwear and a “larger” size in pants which, unfortunately, are still far too long since my size 23 thighs do not match my size 19-length legs. This “large” business is somewhat upsetting, and matters are absolutely NOT helped when, say, a random man stops me in a shopping arcade and swooningly tells me that “it’s nice to see a full-figured woman in Japan for a change.”


I will take the exquisite shoes, though. When it comes to the dainty, small-sized Japanese shoes, I finally have my day in the rising sun. In America, my searches for size 5 shoes often proved futile, complete with a haughty look and sneer from the salesladies, who would tell me: “You know, size 5 is a difficult size to find.” (You telling me?) In Japan I am a size 22 and shoes in this size are wonderfully abundant. I might not get to play with the beautifully detailed Japanese frocks, but I have bought 6 pairs of shoes, more than I usually buy in 3 years.

I now also wear the cotton and lace decorative dress shoe liners that all the girls wear these days and thus can get two looks out of one pair of shoes.


Still haven’t been to a public bath, though there is one literally around the corner from my apartment building. I am a little obsessed with the idea of embracing this very Japanese tradition but so far have not been able to get up the nerve to be naked around strangers, even though I’ve been assured that no one ever even lowers their eyes. Each day off, I swear to myself that I will pack my furoshiki with shampoo, soap and flip flops and head on over. But I never do.


It is illegal for people to ride two at a time on bicycles, but everybody in Sakiio does it any way. Women stand on the axles of the back wheel with their hands resting on their boyfriend’s shoulders while he pedals through the winding, narrow streets, dodging at least five other bicycles at the same time. Children ride in baskets strapped to the handlebars or the metal rack over the back wheel, their hair flapping freely in the breeze because nobody wears helmets.

Sean recently got a flat so sometimes, if we meet after work and we don’t feel like walking home, he rides my bike, with me sitting on the back wheel’s metal rack, holding on to him around his waist, clutching to his suit jacket. He is so much larger than I am that I can’t see past his shoulders and the 7 minutes to our apartment building are terrifying. Yet, we always arrive at Maison Otako in one piece.


I still hate the cyclists, and myself, a little bit, too. But not as much as them. And I never did get an umbrella holder for my bike – yesterday’s ride home was rain-soaked.