Garden dreams

I’m a huge fan of gardening, though I’m pretty bad at it. I used to be worse, though. I’m someone who has killed scores of plants labeled “easy to take care of” and “hardy.”

It wasn’t until Netflix swooped in with Monty Don that I started to understand that being a good gardener means knowing the plants you’re caring for. Before, I used to go to a nursery and be wooed by the colorful flowers or the dream of growing fruit, and I wouldn’t bother to look up whether that plant might be a good fit for my little garden area.

Thanks to Monty Don, I’m now researching plants before I buy them and trying to actually keep track of the needs of each plant I have. It’s like adopting a very easy pet (in comparison to an actual pet).

Still, I’m apparently in the midst of killing my poor blueberry bushes. They have lots of little flowers that seem to promise fruit, only to suddenly die off on me. I have no idea what the cause is. They’re getting plenty of water, the pots are just the right size for them, the soil is specific to them. No idea. But good-bye, dreams of blueberries this summer. Maybe next summer, if the bushes survive.

I’m also trying to grow mikan trees because I am surrounded by people who seem to have insanely luscious mikan trees growing almost as an afterthought in their front yards. I see trees bursting with mikans that seem wholly ignored by the owners.

I want the joy it must be to simply step outside and pick a mikan for breakfast. I’ll let you know if it ever happens.

Target audience

I think the question I hate to answer most is, “Who is this story intended for?”

People ask me that a lot when I tell them I’ve written something again. Who’s the target audience?

I hate to answer it because the truth is, the target audience was me. I wrote the story because I wanted to read it. The entire reason I ever write anything is because I want to read it afterward. I think editing my own stories and simply re-reading them is the sole reason I can endure the headache that is writing.

I wrote a love story series last year for no other reason than I wanted to read one, and I couldn’t find any that I wanted to read. I usually write fairly dark literature, so writing a love story was something of a departure for me. But I really wanted to read the idea I had in my head.

I think the idea of a target audience should be someone who picks up your story, reads the beginning and decides they want to keep reading. That’s always my target audience, anyway.

“You think of the book you’d most like to be reading, and then you sit down and shamelessly write it.”

J.D. Salinger

Cherry blossoms

I think one of the first things I think about when I think about Japan are cherry blossoms. Japan doesn’t disappoint on this front; there are cherry trees everywhere here.

The fleeting season is happening now, with bursts of pink decorating the otherwise everyday scenery. I think a lot of anime and Japanese movies have scenes of cherry blossoms floating from the sky like rain, and I have to say that actually does happen. The streets are currently covered in pink petals as a slight breeze knocks more and more to the ground.

I’m a huge fan of cherry blossoms, like so many people here seem to be, too. I think what I like best is that everyone here knows when cherry blossom season happens – we know it happens every year – but we still go out and take a thousand photos of the cherry blossoms.

I think it has a lot to do with them being so brief. A row of cherry trees nearby started blooming a few days ago, and already tufts of green are showing where the leaves have taken over the flowers.

I’m still learning about all the varieties of cherry trees Japan has to offer. Some blossoms even look like cherry trees, but they’re actually plum trees. They’re still beautiful anyway.

Waffles + Mochi

My kids and I have been loving this show on Netflix. I really hope it sparks a deeper interest in cooking for them.

For those of you who might not know, Waffles + Mochi is about a half-Yeti, half-waffle creature who lived in a frozen world eating only ice cubes with her best friend, Mochi, until they get the chance to visit a city and the local grocery store. They find Mrs. Obama on the roof of the grocery store, which has been turned into a paradise of a garden, and she agrees to let them work at the store.

Every episode they travel the world on a magical shopping cart and learn about one kind of food, such as tomatoes or mushrooms. Living in Japan, I’m secretly happy there are so many episodes that take the duo to Japan, especially the rice episode, where they learn about Mochi’s origins.

I have to say it’s one of those shows where adults can actually enjoy watching it, too. It’s an overall uplifting, upbeat and friendly show that just explores the glory of food. You can see the official trailer for it below.

Behind the scenes of a photo

Dark clouds looming

You can see details of the actual photo at: https://www.viewbug.com/photo/90788469

Back in the summer, my family and I decided to go hiking in Shirakoma Forest, which is famous for the moss covering the ground. The forest also boasts a beautiful lake, and you can rent row boats.

We saw these clouds that you can see in the photo, and we still thought it’d be ok to row around for a little bit before the storm hit.

Right around the middle of the lake, we realized the storm was coming on fast. Neither I nor my husband are rowing experts in any sense, so we gave the storm plenty of time to cover us in sheets of rain while we floundered around trying to get back to shore.

We finally made it, at least, and the rowboat rental people helped us anchor the boat again. They even lent us umbrellas as we ran through uneven terrain to the nearby shop from which we had rented out the boats.

The shopkeepers took pity on us as we shivered and waited out the downpour, and they lent us some towels we could use to dry off. We bought some snacks from them and thanked them for their hospitality.

Looking back at this photo, part of me wonders what possessed me to think we could beat a storm, but another part treasures the memory of laughing in the rain as we tried to row back to shore.

WandaVision

I have to say I am a tremendous fan of Marvel right now. While I have never read the comics, the films and TV shows so far have been impressive enough that I try to watch all of them.

I think one of the main hurdles filmmakers of such fantasy face when trying to reach a greater audience is the sheer volume of information the comic book series have and deciding how much to convey on screen. The film creators have to work hard balancing the needs of the avid fans with the needs of people who just stepped into the world.

As such, WandaVision definitely had its moments where I had no idea what was significant about certain parts of it. The ending gave me more questions and more confusion than any sort of satisfaction, which I know Marvel enjoys doing.

However, the series still sang through as the story of a person who lost everything and who grieved. I think what makes so many Marvel movies and shows work is their adept skills at giving us the hero’s humanity. I can’t understand Wanda’s powers, but I can understand she is in a dark mental space.

I really appreciate that I got to know Wanda more. After the events of Infinity Wars, I thought this kind of show that takes the time to go through how she feels was so desperately needed.

Also, a shoutout to the Youtube channel ScreenCrush, which helped me navigate all the comic-book details the TV show threw in that I didn’t catch. It was such a nice complement to each episode.

Hina Matsuri

A completely over-the-top Hina Matsuri display at a train station. Photo taken about 8 years ago.

March 3rd this year is an event called “Hina Matsuri.” “Hina” means doll and “matsuri” means festival.

This is an event only for little girls, and it’s where your parents set up an elaborate display of dolls sitting on cascading platforms. At the top should be a woman and man in a kimono, and beneath them should be some servants and such. Each doll has its own meaning, but the two most important ones are the man and the woman at the top.

From what I understand of this event (I don’t have a daughter), you set up this elaborate doll display somewhere in your house, and on Hina Matsuri you eat some sweets with your daughter. You are then apparently supposed to quickly take down the decorations. The saying goes that the later you are taking down the decorations, the later on in life your daughter will marry.

To say this event is archaic is an understatement, but some families I know simply enjoy the excuse to put pretty dolls out and have some nice desserts with their daughter.

My main drawback for this event is the sheer price of these dolls. I see them for sale at shopping centers, and the average price for the two main dolls and a couple of servants is 1,500 dollars. That is an insane amount of money to be spending, in my humble opinion.

Of course there are cheaper options – I like that my kid once brought home two Hina Matsuri dolls he’d made at school out of origami paper.

Hay fever

Japanese cedar, along with other evergreen trees that grow here, are my mortal enemies this time of year.

When I first came to Japan 12 years ago, I only knew the pain of hay fever through hearing accounts of it from relatives who suffered.

Called kafunshou in Japanese, seasonal allergies is almost an art form over here. They have special glasses for kafunshou victims, special masks, special machines that clean indoor air of pollen, even special curtains to block out pollen from your home.

I think it’s due to the sheer amount of pollen-producing trees they have here, but I know far too many people here who suffer from it.

I also heard, when I was new to the country still, that a lot of foreigners start off without hay fever and then eventually get it.

I am one such unlucky person. Beginning about two years ago, I am suddenly an avid sufferer of hay fever. It feels like having a cold, but it lasts for three months for me. I’m on allergy medication, and I’m still suffering.

As the weather begins to warm here, I can’t help but both loathe and love spring. I hate the cold so the warmth is a welcome reprieve, and there are cherry blossoms to enjoy, but then hay fever comes along and puts a damper on all of it.

Valentine’s Day in Japan (in general)

My favorite chocolatier.

Here in Japan, women give chocolate to men on Valentine’s Day. Men, in turn, do nothing. When I first heard this, I thought it was grossly sexist and unfair. Why do the women have to do everything while the men just sit there? I suppose the same can be said for the reverse, however.

When I was an assistant language teacher, I asked some of the boys at the school what they thought about Valentine’s Day in Japan, and some of them said they hate it, which surprised me.

“We never get anything,” they said. “Every year we have to sit here and watch the other boys get chocolate from girls, and we get nothing.”

In this I understood the power women have in Japan with this duty of giving others chocolate. They can choose to whom they give their chocolate. Men also choose whether they accept that chocolate or not, however.

If the chocolate given is a declaration of love and the man in question feels the same way, then on March 14th, called White Day, he’s supposed to give chocolate back to her. That’s the theory anyway. I don’t know anyone who would ignore someone for an entire month before responding.

The holiday here has also become a little bit softened in that there’s something called “giri choco” or “obligatory chocolates.” Women in the workplace who work with men and women who want to give chocolate to their friends do so and call it “giri choco” so it’s clear there’s no deep romantic feeling behind the chocolate. The men at the office, by the way, are still obligated to give chocolate back on White Day, and usually way better chocolate than what was given to them.

The holiday has recently evolved to the point where, and I love this, women just end up buying nice chocolate for themselves. I did that this year, and it was completely worth it.

Small note: I wish Japan would adopt the American tradition of having everyone in the class give each other Valentine’s Day notes. I know that has to be a humungous pain to every parent making sure your kid writes to every single classmate, but it avoids the pain I saw those boys experience being so utterly left out on Valentine’s Day. I think that makes it worth it.

Also, I have no idea what people in the LGBTQ+ community do on Valentine’s Day in Japan. I’m sure they don’t let these archaic traditions of “women give chocolate to men” stop them from telling others how they feel on this holiday, though.

I also think the holiday should be more about just being an excuse to give people chocolate, and everyone should give anyone they know even just a small chocolate for fun.

Yuuri – Kakurenbo

I recently stumbled across another song that I’m currently in love with. I was first struck by the title, “Kakurenbo”, which means Hide-and-Go-Seek in Japanese. I was immediately curious to know why a song with such a childish title would be popular here.

The singer, Yuuri, has quite a powerful voice that grabbed my attention, but as I listened to the lyrics, the song immediately made its way into my usual rotation of music.

The song tells the story of a guy growing increasingly desperate for his loved one to return after they have walked out. The guy likens it to the lover merely playing a game of hide-and-go-seek, at one point crying, “Stop playing around, the sun’s about to go down.”

I love these kind of songs that mean more than they say. I think Japanese songs, in general, do a great job of writing intricate stories into their songs. Of course there are the vapid, “I love you. Yay!” songs here as well, but I have found more songs that have meaningful, interesting lyrics here than in a lot of Western songs I’ve listened to.

If you have time, I hope you’ll listen to it.

This is the original song
For some reason this video of the song has closed-captioned English subtitles, so if you’re curious about the meaning of the lyrics, check this video out.