This is the last entry I’m going to write for this year. I hope you’ve enjoyed this little blog so far!
In Japan, it’s customary for people to visit their relatives (pre-pandemic) and then just sit around with them for a few days, watching TV and eating mikans. I love this general tradition of sitting around watching TV, and Japanese TV during the first few days of the New Year is usually entertaining, at the very least.
Some go-getters (myself sometimes included) like to go shopping for the elusive “fukubukuro” that’s actually nice, but it’s hard. Fukubukuros are basically where a shop realizes they have things that aren’t selling, so they shove all of those items into paper bags, seal them shut and sell them for whatever price they want. You have no idea what’s in the bags, although lately shops have been just telling you, so you don’t know if it’s a bargain you’ve stumbled across or overpriced junk. I think they’re fun, anyway.
Another tradition is to visit a shrine. Some people wait at their favorite shrine all night on New Year’s Eve until midnight so they can be some of the first people to pray there for that year. You then do something called “omikuji” where you grab a slip of paper at random at the shrine, unroll it and read your year’s fortune. People who get bad luck tie that slip of paper to a nearby rope and leave the bad luck behind.
You also go and buy an arrow that has no sharp point to it. The belief is you hang it up at the highest point of your house and it’ll help ward off evil. At the end of the year you bring it back to the shrine, return it to them to burn and then buy yourself a new one.
I’m hoping to just sit around, enjoy TV and eat mikans and then hopefully make my way to a shrine at some point, probably later on in the year to avoid the crowds.
Thanks to the time-zone difference, tomorrow is already Christmas here in Japan. You’d hardly know it, though. It’s business as usual in Japan on Christmas, but I thought I’d talk about a few things that people do seem to do here to celebrate.
First, Japan treats the New Year like their Christmas. Everything here shuts down from around Dec. 30 to Jan. 4 just like how in America everything gets shut down for Christmas.
People like to spend the New Year with family members, so Christmas is the opposite. Christmas here is like Valentine’s Day in America where you get a nice dinner reservation somewhere, give the person you love a nice gift and then go to somewhere that has Christmas lights up to just walk around and bask in the love. Most individual households here don’t put up Christmas lights, so to see anything like that, you have to go to parts of Tokyo or to a theme park. The lights usually stay up well into February, too. Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea are huge dating spots, especially for Christmas.
If you have kids or just don’t feel like splurging on expensive “Christmas dinner” packages at fancy restaurants, then you generally buy some fried chicken (the story goes Americans living here a while back were spotted buying KFC on Christmas to kind of make up for not finding any turkey, and Japanese copied them. I have no idea how true this story is), maybe some pizza, and a Christmas cake. Christmas cakes here are usually sponge cake covered in whipped cream-like frosting and topped with strawberries. To me, they taste like sugary air.
I asked a few Japanese friends who have kids about presents, and they said they give a couple of small gifts, but it’s not the mountain of gifts you can sometimes witness in America. However, I have heard these same friends say they like to just randomly buy their kids nice presents throughout the year so maybe it’s just a difference of timing.
I don’t like writing short stories. I always think to myself that if I wanted to drop into a character’s life, it should be at least for the length of a novel rather than a few thousand words, if that.
However, lately I’ve come to see short stories as a nice way to create not a portrait, but a snapshot of a character. The idea intrigued me, and so recently I’ve been writing more and more short stories.
I think it helps that I finished all the books I had wanted to write, leaving my mind free to contemplate snapshots.
I’ve also recently discovered the joy of themed submissions. I stumbled across them through a writer’s newsletter I read. These are where the literary site or magazine wants you to submit a story based around a theme.
There’s something exhilarating about writing a story solely for a certain magazine and within the parameters of a theme.
I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve been having writing a series of short stories this way. I can’t wait to write more.
This entry will confirm I’m a huge geek (anyone else excited for Marvel’s new Wanda Vision?), but I love video game song remixes.
I think as any gamer can tell you, hearing the same songs on repeat while you struggle through an area of the game or fight the same impossible boss impacts you. The songs all become nostalgic when you hear them later on.
Remixers at OverclockedRemix take some of my favorite songs from video games and change them in ways I never would have imagined.
I have a great time perusing Overclocked’s website and finding anything I would describe as having a “dark” vibe to it, because these songs all fuel me when I write.
If you ever have a moment and enjoy a variety of music, please visit them.
A while back I discovered there was a flower I adored – the chocolate cosmos. True to its name, it does actually carry the faint scent of chocolate to its flowers. The flower is also a deep rusty red, happily allowing the flower to live up to its name.
I consider myself to be a horrendous but eternally optimistic gardener. I tended to buy plants based on my wanting them and then would promptly water them to death.
I would just like to say it is thanks to famous British gardener Monty Don and a show on Netflix about gardening that I finally understood I should actually research the plants I want to grow. Since that ridiculously late revelation, I haven’t killed nearly as many plants.
The chocolate cosmos is my Achilles heel of gardening. I’ve tried twice now to grow them, and each time I’ve managed to kill them within a month. Of course I’ve researched them, but they still died.
Thus, I’ve been jealous of anyone who can grow cosmos of any kind. I stumbled across the garden you see above at a farm, where they mocked me with their fields of cosmos. I’m starting to think the entire world can keep a cosmos alive, and then there’s me, banished to just enjoying the scent of a chocolate cosmos whenever I happen to find one rather than going to my tiny garden to find one.
I’m excited to announce I had a short story published in an online literary journal called OPEN: Journal of Arts & Letters. You can view the story here.
I thought I’d briefly talk about what prompted me to write this short story.
Unfortunately, I had to attend a funeral in the fall of 2019. It was my first funeral in Japan, and I spent a long time researching all of the etiquette involved in attending one. Beyond wearing black, there are rules such as you can’t wear anything shiny or have a shiny or leather purse, and you can’t wear any jewelry beyond your wedding ring and possibly a strand of pearls.
Thus, I was struck by the man whose wife had just died. Like in the story I wrote above, he wore a cardigan to the funeral, and no one said a word about it. Despite the strict rules on dress code, here he was in a cardigan.
It made me immediately wonder what he was thinking, and it inspired me to write my speculations as a story.
I haven’t been to DisneySea in about three years now, which might shock all who know me because I am an enormous Disney fan. I love all of the animated movies of late, especially Pixar, and it’s just a relaxing experience for me to visit the parks.
I haven’t visited the parks in about three years because I have two small kids, and I wanted to wait a bit for them to grow up first before taking them. I miss the Christmas decorations at DisneySea, though.
For an expat such as myself, you miss the Christmas lights around this time of the year. Some Japanese gamely put up a few lights outside their houses, but it pales in comparison to the insane decorations you can often see in neighborhoods in America. Disney Sea seems to have come to pick up the slack.
Especially around their Cape Cod area, I walk there as the sun sets, admiring the Christmas lights, and for an instant it feels like I’m right back in the best memories of America I have.
The park is insanely crowded during the regular holiday season, but if you have no particular plans in mind beyond walking around and riding a couple of rides, you can still have a great time eating white chocolate popcorn, nursing a hot cocoa and viewing some lovely illuminations. I hope in the next few years I can go back again.