Valentine’s (and White) Day in Japan。。。ハピーバレンタインデイ

“It took us a long time to realize that a purpose of human life, no matter who is controlling it, is to love whoever is around to be loved.” Kurt Vonnegut. Heart-shaped “Ema” – wooden plaques on which you write your wishes/prayers. Kasuga Taisha Shrine (Nara, 2008) ema are almost exclusively for wishes of love, for the Special Someone, or to find that Special Someone. . . 

ハピー バレンタインデイ

Happy Valentine’s Day


Enduring love stories in a coming of age memoir of Japan:  Dancing Over Kyoto.

Dancing Over Kyoto

Dancing Over Kyoto

. This need not, and will not, be an overly involved post.  I’ll let links (and here’s a good one from TIME Magazine) provide most of the substantive information you may be looking for or curious about.  Suffice to say that in Japan Valentine’s Day thrives, but is celebrated somewhat differently than it is in North America.  For one, it’s the women who give the men chocolate.  To make things a little more complex, there’s “Giri-Choko” (or “Obligation Chocolate”) that’s given to to guys that it needs to be given to, male friends, co-workers, bosses, and the like) and “Honmei-Choko” (or “True Chocolate”) that’s given to a girl’s true love.  Lest this seem wholly unfair to the Women of Japan, please note that one month later, on March 14, Japan celebrates the entirely confectionery industry-created holiday “White Day(scroll down just a little)”, where men are expected to return the previous month’s favors from the women in their lives; by some accounts, on White Day men are obligated treble whatever was spent on them back on Valentine’s Day. That said, I offer below a couple of my favorite Japanese tear-jerkers.  By most Western pop or rock standards they’re overly saccharine or schmaltzy.  I don’t care – the tunes are beautiful and the words (even if you can’t understand them) can get.  you.  right.  there.  if you’ll let them.  And recall what Duke Ellington said:  “If it sounds good, it is good.” These tunes are very well known in Japan.  I first heard  最後のいい訳 in a little Dai-Kichi Yakitori restaurant on Shirakawa Street in Kyoto, back in the autumn of 2005.  I picked up the CD the next night.  A couple of years later I heard 涙そうそう while watching an in-flight movie by the same name (Nada Sou Sou) on the way to Japan as it had been incorporated into the soundtrack.  Actually, the movie was sort of built around the song.  Anyway, Miharu’s excellent Japan blog goes all into it.  The film’s about a platonic love, the song sounds much more like romantic love.  The film was a very nice one and certainly tore me up at the end (see and click on the link below to catch the end of the movie). Before that, though, I do have a couple of completed stories which fit nicely into the Love Story in Japan genre, “Etsuko” and “A Night in Kyoto“.  You’re welcome to read them. Anyway, here are three (3) very nice Japanese Valentine’s Day songs. 最後のいい訳 – “The Last Excuse” —  Hideaki Tokunaga . 涙そうそう – “The Tears Flow (profusely)” —  Rimi Natsukawa . Note:  I saw this movie on plane, high over the Pacific Ocean, flying towards Japan a few years ago.  This song came on as the credits rolled.  I looked up and around and saw that several of my fellow passengers were joining me in tearing-up.  Additional note: the protagonists are step-siblings, not blood-related.  That’s important to know if one sees the very end (after the credits roll). And here’s an excerpt from a review of Nada Sou Sou:

“What is truly unique about this movie within its genre, is its willingness to deal with real life issues; people will cheat you for their own purposes, a romantic relationship between two people from differing social statuses will not work out due to societal pressures, problems can cause strains in even the closest of bonds, and even the person closest to you will have to leave you eventually; in short, life is hard. It is because of this ability to use real life issues to move the plot along, without the apparent need to introduce plot devices out of nowhere, which particularly makes this movie shine. . . .”

What with a couple of heart-breakers preceding, I’ll wind up with a more upbeat, it’s-tough-but-gonna-work-out, J-Pop song,  “Life is Like a Boat”  sung half in Japanese and half in English by Rie Fu ( living several of her early years in Maryland ) – .

Ema at Kasuga Taisha (Shinto Shrine).

Finally, I invite you to check this wonderful work:Godzilla in Love.”  Credit to the artist, “failur3“. .

Takeda Castle Ruins in the Snow. . .


Takeda Castle Ruins. Winter 1990.

Takeda Castle Ruins. Winter 1990.

Back when I lived in Hyogo Prefecture, Takeda and its castle ruins were situated between Asago and Wadayama. A few years ago, though, Asago scooped Wadayama (and tiny Takeda) into its corporate boundaries, so now it’s all Asago. Here’s my blog piece on the Takeda Castle Ruins from a few years ago, featuring history, more photos, and how-to-get-there information.

Snow in July. . .

Friend and author, Michael Gillan Peckitt (@peckitt), lives in Suita, Japan. He posted this photo today (Wednesday, July 30, 2014) on Facebook of what the weather’s like there (33C is about 91.5F, by the way). Warm enough.


I this deserves a photographic response, a scene from the small town where I lived some years ago, a February photo from Asago, Japan (called “Asaki” in my book). Consider this a cooling respite from the dog days of summer, which are now upon the Northern Hemisphere. . .

Nii Station. Winter '91. Shortcut to town center.


Godzilla Week


Several years ago I interviewed Godzilla. That link just linked, that’s the interview, which I re-posted a half-a-year ago or so. I hope you’ll read the whole interview so that you can get a good idea of what makes the Big Guy tick before going to the theater to see him act.  I found him incredibly candid and much more open than his reputation suggests. He could get prickly, but he’s been through a lot Here’s a short excerpt from the interview:



Whether or not deserved, you mentioned you prima donna reputation. Where do you think that comes from.


(Sighs) Oh, a number of things. Most of them should be pretty obvious. I win all my fights. Hey, it’s in the script, you know? Plus a lot of the actors I’ve worked with over the years, God bless them all, seemed to have this little thing in the back of their head where it was, you know, real. So they’re like thinking if they can beat me, and I mean really upstage me, in a fight scene, then they’ll be the next Godzilla. I blame The Method.


You mean “method acting?”

 Yeh. I mean I’m not totally dismissing The Method, I’m just saying that there’s getting into a fight, and there’s getting into a fight, and for too many it was the latter. You know that King Kong broke one of my teeth, no, it was two of my teeth, shoving a tree, a freaking ginormous-ass tree down my throat when we did our thing? That was not in the script. I came this close to walking, but we only had a few more days of shooting left and he got all weepy and apologetic afterwards, so I let it go. Anyway, The Method kind of takes egos and ramps them up a few notches. Seems to me. But that’s the thing, I’m the one who gets walloped on and yet I’m the “prima donna.”


Well, you did hurt a lot, how many thousands? during your career.

 Hey, nobody got hurt that didn’t get in my way first. Let’s get that straight.


So what did you think about the American-made 1998 Godzilla, the one staring Mathew Broderick?

If you think you’re going to get a rise out of me, you’re wrong. I thought it was a joke. Sure, I didn’t and don’t appreciate them using my name. And my lawyers won’t let me talk about all that. But I know who I am and everybody who inflicted that movie upon themselves knew that that wasn’t Godzilla. I tried to watch it. Hand to God, I tried. But I couldn’t sit through it. Couldn’t decide if that was CGI or Adam Sandler in a rubber suit. Either way it sucked.






Happy New Year 2014! ・ 明けましておめでとうございます!



Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu!

Happy New Year!

2014 is the Year of the Horse!


I took this photo at some friends’ house a few years ago. Newtown, Connecticut.


In 2013 I published a book, a memoir of 30 years back and forth between Japan and the U.S.  (with a few India and China chapters). The book was, and remains, Dancing Over Kyoto. I published it as an Ebook. In 2o14 I plan to publish an expanded edition of Dancing Over Kyoto in hard copy form. I’ll update this site in the spring or early summer when that gets done.

Japan Noumen Newton 01y - Copy

It was “Health & Sports Day” (体育の日 Taiiku no hi) in Japan.


The second Monday in October marks Health & Sports Day (体育の日- Taiiku no Hi) in Japan. It’s been going on since 1966 to commemorate the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.  Taiku no Hi means Sports Days (Undoh-kai 運動会) at schools throughout Japan.

These photos are from October 15, 1990 (the second Monday in October), from Asaki* Middle School’s Sports Day. It was cloudy and muggy that day. The photo above shows the principal being saluted by the boys as they marched by during the opening ceremony. Asaki Middle School’s girls were integral to Sports Day, too. The photo below shows the commencement of a synchronized calisthenics display.


*My year in Asaki, teaching at Asaki Middle School, is covered in the eight chapters of Part 2 of my Ebook, Dancing Over Kyoto. I’ve slightly changed the town name.Oct91_SportsDay_2.1

_Dancing Over Kyoto_ – A new, just published Ebook.

Friends and followers of this site know that this has been a work-in-progress for some time. A love letter, tribute, homage and tragicomedy.  Link to the Amazon purchase site below.


Available at  Dancing Over Kyoto:  A Memoir of Japan, China & India.

To Kill a Mockingbird ( アラバマ物語 ) – On this Day (May 1) in 1961

On May 1, 1961, Alabama author Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird won the Pulitzer Prize.  In Japan To Kill a Mockingbird is called アラバマ物語 (Arabama Monogatari, or “Alabama Story”).  In 1999 Library Journal readers voted it the “Best Novel of the 20th century.”



“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” —
Attorney Atticus Finch (see Gregory Peck above, in the 1962 film) in To Kill a Mockingbird


I didn’t read To Kill a Mockingbird until I was 21, when I happened to be an exchange student at Kansai Gaidai (university) in Japan.

I had found a copy at some campus used book sale for, I don’t know ¥500 or something (then, just a couple of dollars). Lying there late at night in my little room at the Nakae’s (my host family) home in Tsuda, Japan, reading about the fictitious Maycomb, Alabama (my Alabama home town is the very real Slocomb) and the quiet courage of attorney Atticus Finch (my father, was also a courageous attorney from South Alabama) was a strange, but wonderful thing. Reading about the cowardice of the racists, Atticus’ resolve and his instilling the sense of Justice over mob rule to Scout, it made me both alternately ashamed of how my adopted state could be, and so very proud of the kind of people is was capable of producing.