Archive for the ‘Yokohama’ Tag

yokohama: points north {walking tour 20: part 2)   6 comments

Saturday, April 15:  Heading inland from Yamashita Park, I come to Port Opening Square, which commemorates the the 1854 treaty between the U.S. and Japan at what was at that time a small village on Yokohama Bay.  The square has fountains, flowers and trees and a memorial to U.S.-Japanese Friendship.

Monument to U.S. – Japanese Friendship

Monument to U.S. – Japanese Friendship

Yokohama Kaigan Kyokai, on the border of Port Opening Square, was founded on March 10, 1872, as the first Protestant church for the Japanese in this country.

Yokohama Kaigan Kyokai

Continuing inland on Minato-odori, I pass the Yokohama Archives of History, established on June 2, 1981, at the historic site where Japan and the U.S. signed the Treaty of Kanagawa in 1854; it exhibits historical materials from the Edo period to the Taisho-Showa era.

Yokohama Archives of History

All along Kaigan-dori, I find miniature garden dioramas under the auspices of the “Spring Flower Festa.”  I can’t read any of the Japanese, so I can’t tell what each one represents.

Kanagawa Prefectural Office (The King) is one of the Three Towers, a group of historical towers at the Port of Yokohama. They have been given the nicknames The King, The Queen and The Jack.

Kanagawa Prefectural Office

As I approach Yokohama Park, I hear crowds roaring and yelling before I can even see the Stadium, which opened in 1978, holds 30,000 people, and is used primarily for baseball. It’s noisy and I don’t really feel like walking through the park with that stadium in it.  By this time my legs are killing me, so when I find a Starbucks on the corner across from the park, I sit at the window bar and enjoy a slice of orange cake and a peach smoothie drink.  After a bit of a rest, I am greeted by some pretty tulips dancing in the wind on the border of the park.

tulips at Yokohama Park

tulips at Yokohama Park

tulips at Yokohama Park

After leaving Yokohama Park, I walk parallel to the harbor (quite far inland) for several blocks, and then turn toward the harbor again on Basha-michi.  This is a very long stretch, with the road eventually turning into Bankokubashi-dori, and I wonder if I’ll ever get back to the harbor.  Finally, after what seems an eternity, I reach Shinko Pier, and my book of trusty walks informs me I’ve “left the first part of the tour, which covers the old center of Yokohama, the Kannai (Inside the Checkpoint) sector, in which foreigners were at first restricted to this transplanted foreign community within Japan” (Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City).

At the western end of Shinko Pier is the huge steel Ferris wheel I spotted from as far away as the south end of Yamashita Park.  It’s part of the Yokohama Cosmo World Amusement Park; the wheel takes 15 minutes to complete a full circle.

Ferris Wheel at Yokohama Cosmo World Amusement Park

Yokohama’s Ferris Wheel

Past Cosmo World, I cross a bridge and can immediately see the 32-floor sail-shaped Yokohama Grand Intercontinental Hotel.  Between the Ferris wheel and the hotel, Yokohama’s skyline is whimsical and welcoming.

The Yokohama Grand Intercontinental Hotel

Waterway around Shinko Pier

a children’s area, which seems to be part of Cosmo World, is at the base of Yokohama’s Queen’s Square

I make my way through the National Convention Hall complex, a sprawling building of no particular interest, to Seaside Park (Rinko Park), which looks out over Yokohama Harbor from the north side.  At this point, I’ve seen Yokohama Harbor from south to north. Beside the Convention Hall is the Yokohama Grand Intercontinental.  Rinko Park is a little scruffy and has just a smattering of folks sitting on the concrete steps lining the harbor side walkway or picnicking on the grass.

Yokohama Grand Intercontinental

From here, I get a good view of the 1989 Yokohama Bay Bridge, a suspension bridge that extends 860 metres (2,821 feet) from shore to shore.

View of Yokohama Bay Bridge from Rinko Park

view north from Rinko Park

I leave the rather unimpressive Rinko Park and head inland, passing the Convention Hall to my left and walking several blocks past modern but characterless apartment buildings.

walking inland north of the National Convention Hall

residences?

I reach the inviting wide pedestrian walkway, with fountains and sculptures, bordered by the Yokohama Museum of Art and Landmark Tower on one side, and a huge modern shopping complex on the other.

Landmark Tower at the Minato Mirai 21 Complex

I don’t have time to visit the Yokohama Museum of Art today, but at least I know where it is for a rainy day.  This 1989 museum is the second largest art museum in Japan.  Its permanent collection includes paintings by Cezanne, Magritte, Dali, and Japanese artists, as well as paintings related to Yokohama. It was designed by Kenzō Tange, a Japanese architect, and winner of the 1987 Pritzker Prize for architecture.

Landmark Tower and the Yokohama Museum of Art

Yokohama Museum of Art

The 70-story Landmark Tower is supposedly Yokohama’s best known sight.  Designed by American architect Hugh Stebbins, it has a 5-story-high central atrium, with offices and the Royal Park Hotel above.  Over 200 shops and restaurants are also inside.

sculptural detail and Landmark Tower

Landmark Tower

Fancy sculpture at Landmark Tower

I continue my walk through this huge complex, with a glimpse of the Ferris wheel from a different angle.

The Ferris Wheel from the Landmark Tower side

I pass the Nippon Maru training ship docked in an 1896 ships’ basin of stone.  Built in 1930, the Nippon Maru was a sailing vessel used to train naval students.  It circled the globe 46 times before it was decommissioned in 1984.

Nippon Maru training ship

Nippon Maru training ship

Hard Rock Cafe

After passing the Hard Rock Cafe, I realize I need to walk through Landmark Tower to get to Sakuragicho Station. At the basement level, I walk past shops and restaurants and bakeries until I finally emerge on the other side, on a pedestrian walkway over the Metropolitan Expressway K1 Yokohama Route.

Yokohama overpass

My plan is to cross through Sakuragicho Station (two stops  northwest of where I got off this morning) to continue the rest of the walk to Kangai (Beyond the Checkpoint), which is the original area for Japanese citizens when Yokohama was founded.

view heading toward Sakuragicho Station

As I cross into this area, I can see remnants of the old Yokohama, with its food stalls and red lanterns.  If I continue the walk, I should see two parks, a temple, a shrine, and shopping areas.  I walk for almost one kilometer, but it’s getting darker bit by bit, and I keep thinking I should get back on metro and go two stops south to where I started the walk, at Ishikawacho Station near Chinatown.  After all, I did promise the shopkeeper at Amina Collection that I’d return to buy a few things. 🙂

Noge District

I’m getting awfully tired by this time, and have walked 20,000+ steps, or over 9 miles.  This part of town looks confusing, as it’s not laid out on a grid pattern like the more modern part of Yokohama. To be honest, I have no idea which direction I should go to find the Nogeyama Fudoson Temple, the first place on my walk, and  I’m too tired to figure it out.  I decide instead to cut this part of the walk short.  After all, I can easily continue another day, as I live less than an hour from Yokohama.

Noge District

Noge District

I return to Amina Collection at Chinatown (how I have the energy for this, I have no idea, but when shopping calls, I must listen!), where I buy a blue kimono jacket with orange flowers, a lavender blouse with aqua embroidery on the sleeves, and a royal blue cotton top with bell sleeves.  The two tops are “one size fits all” and are rather billowy.  The shopkeeper, the same thin hippie-ish Japanese girl with the turban and the maize-colored skirt, is still there, and she helps me with the purchase.  She can speak and understand English, so she talks nonstop.  However, her pronunciation is so abysmal that I can only decipher a few words here and there.  She’s very nice and encourages me to go to the tax-free office to get reimbursed for the tax I paid, but it’s in the opposite direction to metro, and I am just too exhausted to bother.

I take the train back to Sakuragicho Station, where I have to change to the JR Yokohama green line.  I’m not positive I’m on the right train when I get on, so I ask a man sitting directly across from me: “Machida?”  There are two lines at that station, one to Tokyo and one in the direction of Machida; this one is nearly empty and we sit at the station for quite a while as the train originates here.  The man across from me, who introduces himself as Kaz, can speak English very well, and he asks me where I’m from and what I am doing in Japan.  Since he is speaking across the train to me, he asks if he can come sit next to me. He is all dressed in proper business attire; white shirt, tie, black suit; he informs me he has spent the day at the National Convention Hall at a medical products convention.  I tell him I had walked past the convention hall earlier in my walk and I show him the map of today’s walk; I admit I’m exhausted as I walked about 10 miles.  He says he sells medical imaging technology and tells me about technologies at the conference such as cryo-ablation (freezing of tumors) and RFA (Radio Frequency Ablation, or burning of tumors).  He says both treatments result in the tumor dissolving, due to the normal body temperature and the treatment.  We talk the entire time back to Fuchinobe, about all kinds of things.  He sheepishly tells me at one point, with exasperation but humor, that talking to me all this time has exhausted him; he’s not used to thinking and speaking so much in English, although he seems quite natural at it.  He has clients all over the world in many Western and Asian countries, so he is actually used to speaking in English.

We both admit when we part ways that the 1-hour train ride back from Yokohama seemed much shorter because of our conversation; I know has been enjoyable for both of us.

When I finally arrive back to Fuchinobe, I grab a bite to eat at a basement restaurant that serves sushi and beer and chicken grilled on sticks, and then I ride by bicycle home, exhausted and yet exhilarated by the entire day’s adventure. 🙂

 

 

yokohama: chinatown and yamashita park {walking tour 20: part 1}   8 comments

Saturday, April 15:  This morning, I head for Yokohama at around 10 a.m., taking the JR Yokohama Green Line to Sakuragicho Station, then changing to the Negishi Line for Ishikawacho Station. When I ride my bike to park at Fuchinobe Station, I find an attendant there charging 100 yen to park: I guess it’s only free on Sundays.  Oh well, 100 yen is hardly going to bankrupt me.

It is easy to find the beginning of Walking Tour 20 (Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City) at Chinatown’s Nishimon-dori (West Gate Street), as it’s right outside the station and there are signs pointing the direction.  The 11:15 start to my walk is later than I intended.  Little do I know I’ll end up walking over 10 miles today, from the south of Yokohama to the north, all along Yokohama Bay and in and out on a circuitous route through the city streets.

The West Gate of Chinatown

Yokohama’s Chinatown, or Chūkagai, is the largest of three Chinatowns in Japan, followed by Nagasaki and Kobe.  It was set aside by the Japanese government in 1863 and now has about 3-4,000 residents, mostly descendants of Chinese from Guangzhou who came as servants of Western merchants or as traders.  Some acted as treasurers to Western firms, while others came as craftsmen who could make clothing and other essentials needed by foreigners. When war broke out between China and Japan in 1937, the growth of Chinatown came to a standstill, but it started thriving again in 1955, when a large goodwill gate was built and Chinatown was officially recognized by Japan.

Yokohama’s Chinatown

Almost immediately, I’m enticed into a three-story shop called Amina Collection.  It has cute clothing, accessories and home decor mainly imported from India and Nepal.  Why it’s in Chinatown, I don’t know; the shopkeeper, who has her hair wrapped in a large turban and wears a maize-colored flowing skirt, tells me her corporation owns many similar shops in Japan.  What I really love are the incense aromas and the whimsical and enchanting music piped in through the shop.  I ask the shopkeeper if they sell the CD with the music playlist, but unfortunately for me, she says the owner downloaded the playlist to an MP3.  I also find some cute tops and kimono toppers (the kind of kimono cover-ups sold in America, not traditional Japanese kimono).  Since I’m just starting my walk and don’t want to buy anything yet, I tell the shopkeeper I’ll return later.  At this time, I think the walk will bring me full circle back to Ishikawacho Station, where I can easily return to shop before heading home.

I continue into Chinatown, overwhelmed by crimson and yellow signs, fierce dragons twisting and turning on buildings and signs, shops with Chinese lanterns and masks, huge restaurant boards with pictures of enticing dishes, and touts in front of each restaurant beckoning tourists in.  It is getting to be lunchtime, but my stomach takes a turn at the thought of eating Chinese food.  When I was in China, I was sick almost constantly from the food, but I think maybe in Japan the Chinese food will be fine.  After all, the Chinese restauranteurs must cook to Japanese tastes, just like they cook to American tastes in the USA.

North Gate

Restaurant in Chinatown

Though the large multi-ingredient dishes look mouth-watering, I figure maybe I can stick to something like steamed dumplings that aren’t cooked in oil. My hunger gets the best of me, and I drop into a tiny joint where I order three shrimp steamed dumplings with a Pepsi.  It costs nearly $10 for that tiny meal, which is meant to sustain me all day.  After I leave the restaurant, my stomach immediately cramps up and I wonder if it’s because of the food or just my fear of eating Chinese again.

Those stomach cramps are to stay with me the rest of the day, yet I end up walking over 10 miles. 🙂

Yokohama’s Chinatown

a pagoda in Chinatown

East Gate

After lunch, I’m in search of the Kantei-Byo.  The original temple, known as the Kuan-Ti Mao Temple, suffered many disasters.  It was built in 1887, destroyed by the 1923 Great Kanto earthquake, and suffered damages during the 1945 Allies air attack. In 1981, it was struck by lighting and caught fire. It burned down again in 1987, and finally, was reconstructed in 1990 as Kantei-Byo despite the political differences of the Taiwan and Beijing Chinese.

According to Japan Travel, Kantei-Byo is dedicated to the famous Chinese warrior “Kanwu,” who excelled in the areas of power, courage, justice, and loyalty, as well as business. For all these reasons, the people of Chinatown follow Kanwu as their “God of Business.”  However, another source, my book Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City, says the new shrine is dedicated to Sangokushi; to him, the Chinese can pray for good fortune and good business.  Oh well, whomever a person prays too, he’s sure to be successful in business. 🙂

I finally find the temple, with a huge Coke Zero truck parked in front.  The light doesn’t favor this view, so I go immediately into the temple courtyard.

Kantei-Byo

Kantei-Byo

Two golden dragons greet me on the wall of the temple.

Dragons at Kantei-Byo

I love the wonderful details under the eaves of Chinese temples.

Kantei-Byo

The visitors to the temple light incense sticks and bow and pray to the gods within.

incense burner at Kantei-Byo

Here’s the view from the temple to the outside gate. Much better than the outside-to-inside shot with the Coke Zero truck.

Kantei-Byo

I find colorful and intricate architectural details and relief carvings under the temple’s eaves.

Inside the temple is gorgeous, but they want 100 yen to go inside and I’m not allowed to take pictures.  If I were allowed to take pictures, I’d gladly pay the entrance fee, but as I can see the altar from outside, that’s enough for me.

Kantei-Byo

incense at Kantei-Byo

Kantei-Byo

Just outside the temple, I find another in the line of Amina shops and I go inside to try on more cute tops. The two salesgirls look so cute, I can’t help but try on tops in the shop that are similar.  They look terrible on me, sadly.  I guess when you’re super tiny, you can get away with wearing anything!

Outside the shop, I encounter these two characters, one of them next to a wide-mouth panda entrance.

a cool character near the East Gate

creature with wide-mouthed panda

Another Chinatown gate

Finally, I make my way out of Chinatown and head to the waterfront.  First, I encounter the memorial commemorating the Reverend James Curtis Hepburn, a medical Protestant missionary who created the first Japanese-English dictionary in 1867 and Romanized the Japanese characters.  He often treated Japanese and Chinese patients for free in his house if they couldn’t afford payment.  The memorial marks his and his wife’s work from 1859-1892.

Hepburn Memorial Marker

The south end of Yamashita Park extends 2/3 mile from the Yamashita Pier to the Osanbashi Pier.  To cover the flood control pumping station at the south end, a raised platform has an ornamental water cascade that extends from the upper level to street level.

south end of Yamashita Park

At street level, the ornamental water cascade ends in a pretty pool.

ornamental water cascade at Yamashita Park

From Yamashita Park, I can see Yokohama Harbor.  Today is the perfect day for a walk, with temperatures in the high 60s and a brisk wind.  How I love windy days when the temperature is right.

view of Yokohama Harbor from Yamashita Park

Looking inland, I can see the buildings fronting the park. The Marine Tower was belatedly constructed in 1961 to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of Yokohama’s founding in 1859.  There is an observation deck at the 100-meter level, but I don’t go up today.  At 106 meters is a lighthouse lamp visible over the bay for 24 miles; it is the biggest inland lighthouse in the world.

Marine Tower

General MacArthur stayed at the Hotel New Grand on the evening of August 30, 1945 to begin his stint as the commander of the occupying American forces in Japan.  Also from the hotel, he boarded the USS Missouri battleship on September 2, 1945 to accept the Japanese surrender, thus ending World War II.

Hotel New Grand

A fancy rose and flower garden in the park invites a stroll.

gardens at Yamashita Park

Along the harborside walkway, I can see the north part of Yokohama.

view of northern Yokohama and Yokohama Harbor

Off a small pier south of Osanbashi Pier, the Hikawa-maru, a luxury ocean liner built in Yokohama in 1930 is permanently moored.  It made 238 crossings between Japan and the U.S. West Coast from 1930-1960.  It is now retired from service.

The Hikawa-Maru

Yamashita Park and the Hotel New Grand

The Guardian of the Waters statue was a gift from sister city San Diego to Yokohama and its people.

Guardian of the Waters

Guardian of the Waters

YOKOHAMA 2017

tulip mania at Yamashita Park

tulips at Yamashita Park

Looking south along the waterside walkway, I can see the 1989 Yokohama Bay Bridge.

Yokohama Bay Bridge and view of the North Dock

a ship in port

As I approach the north end of Yamashita Park, I have a better view of Yokohama with its iconic Ferris wheel.

looking to the north

The Osanbashi Pier is at the north end of Yamashita Park.  From here, I’ll be heading inland.

Osanbashi Pier

Here are a few notes on how I get to places in the Tokyo area without access to GPS:

Westgate provides teachers with a phone, but we’re only allowed to use it to make calls to a pre-programmed list of numbers.  We are not allowed to use it to call anyone who is not programmed into the phone.  We can accept calls, but we can’t make them.  Besides, it is an old-fashioned flip-phone and not a smart phone with fancy features like GPS.

I have my iPhone from the U.S., but so far I haven’t had the need to get a pre-paid SIM card for my phone.  As long as I have access to wi-fi, at home and at work, I can use the phone for data or messaging.  I was advised that I can Google directions to a destination by just entering in the beginning station (in my case Fuchinobe) and the end station, and I can get directions as to when to switch trains, how many stops between stations, etc.  I can even get a timetable.

The problem of course is that I don’t get GPS when I’m out and about.  My phone is worthless at these times.  So, before leaving my house, I look up the information and take screen shots of the train route.  Below is a version of how I made today’s trip.  I have another screen shot that expands the 12 stops so I can know exactly which stops I’ll be passing, so I can be on the lookout for my particular stop. So far this method is working pretty well for me. 🙂

 

my metro directions screen-shot from Google Maps

 

preparing for a japanese adventure   15 comments

Thursday, March 23:  In late February, I was offered a job teaching EFL to Japanese university students in Japan beginning on March 28 (the term actually begins April 7 and ends August 1).  I’ve opted to extend my stay for one week, until August 8, so I can travel around Japan for a week.

I’ll be living in Sagamihara City in Kanagawa Prefecture.  This is part of the greater Tokyo metropolitan area.  The capital of Kanagawa is Yokohama.  Yokohama, the second largest city in Japan by population (3.7 million), lies on Tokyo Bay, south of Tokyo, in the Kantō region of the main island of Honshu, and is today one of Japan’s major ports.

I leave on Monday morning, March 27, and will arrive at Narita Airport in Tokyo on Tuesday, March 28 at 3:55 p.m.

I found this long video (24 minutes) about an apartment for Westgate teachers in Sagamihara City.  It’s possible this will be my apartment building!

I’ve been reading a number of practical books to get ready for my time in Japan.  Here’s my PRACTICAL reading list:

Living Abroad in Japan by Ruth Kanagy (Moon Handbooks)

Etiquette Guide to Japan: Know the rules that make the difference! by Boyé Lafayette De Mente

These are books I’m taking along on my trip:

Japanese phrase book & dictionary by Berlitz Publishing Co.

Tokyo: 29 Walks in the World’s Most Exciting City by John H. Martin and Phyllis G. Martin

Lonely Planet: Japan

I always love to read novels and travelogues set in a country to which I’m traveling.  Over the years, and in the month prior to my upcoming trip, I’ve read the following novels and memoirs.  If I wrote a review on Goodreads, I’ve included it here.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

Hiroshima by John Hersey

Crawling at Night.  Though this novel takes place in New York City, it tells the story of a Japanese sushi chef. It was written by a friend of mine, Nani Power.

When the Emperor was Divine by Juli Otsuka

The Lady and the Monk: Four Seasons in Kyoto by Pico Iyer

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki: I enjoyed this book about Ruth, a “stuck” author, who cannot seem to finish the memoir of her mother’s death. Instead, she happens upon a diary that has washed up on the shore of the island where she lives with her husband. The diary is written by 16-year-old Nao, a Japanese girl who grew up in Sunnyvale, CA but had to move back to Tokyo when her father lost his job after the dot.com bubble burst. In Tokyo, she is subjected to harassment by her classmates; in addition, she has to deal with her father’s multiple failed suicide attempts. Nao is writing the diary to tell her great-grandmother Jiko’s story, but she ends up not really completing that mission, as the diary is mostly focused on her own life. Jiko, a Buddhist nun, has lived to the ripe age of 104 and has a strong influence on Nao’s life. Ruth, the author who finds the diary, gets caught up in Nao’s story and worries she might have been killed in the 2011 tsunami. There are interesting twists with time and quantum physics and multiple & parallel worlds toward the end, which makes the story even more fascinating. I learned a little something about quantum physics, which seems way out of my league, but the author made the subject accessible. I enjoyed the book immensely.

The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd: I enjoyed this book which is written as journal entries and letters. A young Scotswoman, Mary Mackenzie, sails to China in 1903 to marry a military attache in Peking; her marriage is unsatisfying, and when she has a love affair with a Japanese nobleman, her daughter is taken from her and she becomes an outcast from the European expat community. Two years after arriving in China, she ends up in Japan, where she lives for 37 years, only sporadically seeing her married Japanese lover, yet having a son by him. She is open about her struggles and her status as a “fallen woman,” yet she still can never resist her lover, despite his taking her Japanese-looking son from her. If the child had looked white and European, the child would have been able to stay with his mother. Since he looks Japanese, he is sent off to be raised by a Japanese family, as the lover is already married with his own family. This is a story about a woman’s survival, resilience, and enduring love, both for a man and for a country.  I found this line, written in 1942, to be particularly resonant: “There is nothing like living in a country as an enemy alien to really thin down the roster of your friends.”

Moshi Moshi by Banana Yoshimoto: I enjoyed this quiet book about Yocchan, a young woman trying to create a life for herself after her much-loved musician father is found dead in a suicide pact with an unknown woman. She moves into a small apartment across the street from a bistro where she works in Shimokitazawa, in an attempt to establish some independence for herself, when her bereaved mother asks to move in with her. Though living with her mother is not exactly what Yocchan has in mind, she can’t turn her mother down. Yocchan’s daily life is like a meditation: she revels in her repetitive tasks in the bistro, walks in the neighborhood, and engagement with the local shopkeepers. She comes to fully appreciate her mom and her now-deceased father. She derives pleasure from watching people and how they eat; she believes a person’s relationship with food reveals nuances of character. The title of the book, Moshi Moshi, is “hello” in Japanese when talking on the phone; it reflects Yocchan’s obsession with her father’s phone, which he inadvertently left behind on the day he died. She has recurring dreams that her father is trying to reach her by phone, as if he has some unfinished business with Yocchan and her mother, some last message he wants to impart. The book is like a Buddhist meditation on life – quiet yet revealing and, ultimately, satisfying.

Here are books I’ve read about the shameful period in U.S. history when we put the Japanese into internment camps during WWII.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford: How ironic that I’ve been reading this book as the Donald Trump campaign is raging here in America. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is first and foremost a story about love and family, but it is set in 1942 Seattle during the unsettling time after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. Japanese-American families were rounded up and put into internment camps because Americans feared there were spies among them. Though told they were being imprisoned “for their own safety,” they were in fact treated just as Trump today would have all minorities treated: walled-off, separated and denied rights. Although the Japanese were not methodically murdered or used in horrific scientific experiments as the Jews were under Hitler, their homes and belongings were taken from them and they were forced to live in camps under armed guard for the duration of the war.

The protagonist, Henry, is a Chinese-American whose father is consumed by the Japanese atrocities in China. His father’s obsession with the Japanese as enemies, and the fear that Henry might be misidentified as Japanese, leads his father to insist on Henry wearing an “I am Chinese” button. Henry attends an all-white school on scholarship and is continually bullied by the white students for being different. When Keiko, a Japanese-American girl, appears at school, Henry and Keiko strike up a friendship that is strained not only by Henry’s family’s fears, but by the unsettling historic events around them. I found the book disturbing but also redeeming. While living through our current unsettling political times, I can only hope that we won’t repeat this dishonorable period in U.S. history.

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende: This book seemed so promising, but in the end, I felt it just didn’t deliver. I’d say my star rating is more of a 3.5 than a 3. This story of a love affair between a Japanese man, Ichimei, who spent much of WWII in a Japanese internment camp in the USA, and a Jewish woman, Alma, whose parents perished in WWII, just skimmed the surface. For such a love affair, one that Alma supposedly counted as the love of her life, she couldn’t make the leap to give up her wealth and her station in life to marry a Japanese man. The parallel story of Irina, a care worker at Lark House nursing home, and Seth, Alma’s grandson, isn’t all that intriguing either. I agree with another reviewer who said the story seemed to be hurriedly written. There was more telling than showing, and not much dialogue, and it just seemed generally without structure or deep feeling. I expected more from Isabel Allende; overall I found it disappointing.

Finally, I’ve read a number of books about Zen Buddhism.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice by Shunryu Suzuki

Discover Zen: A Practical Guide to Personal Serenity by David Fontana

The Beginner’s Guide to Zen Buddhism by Jean Smith

I’ve put quite a few books on my Kindle and I’m also bringing along the following novels to read while I’m in Japan:

Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton

Snow Country by Yusanari Kawabata

Kokoro by Natsume Sōseki

A Separation by Katie Kitamura

The Lake by Banana Yoshimoto

Beauty and Sadness by Yasunari Kawabata

How to Be an American Housewife by Margaret Dilloway

I traveled to Kyoto, Japan in February, 2011, and found the short trip delightful.  I loved the Buddhist temples, the ubiquitous vending machines, Japanese food, the cleanliness and efficiency of everything. You can read about my trip to Kyoto in earlier posts on this blog.

I’m excited about meeting my Japanese university students.  I’m looking forward to exploring the Tokyo area (using my 29 Walks book), eating a lot of Japanese food, and hopefully finding time to visit Hiroshima at some point.  I’m sure other expats in Japan will be able to advise me on other good places to visit.  As I’ll be working 9-hour days during the weeks, I’m not sure how much time I’ll have to wander, but I look forward to exploring as much as I can over the next four months. 🙂

 

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