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.


Strictly Business

I work with Japanese companies.  As I’m an attorney, I’m duty-bound by strict confidentiality rules to never disclose any of the goings-on between me an my clients, any of them.  I’ve been employed by a Japanese company, JVC.  My short, nine or ten-month tour of duty with JVC occurred before I went to law school, so all bets are off with that employer.  Those stories will come someday.  I’ve no actual scandals to report.  The words “wacky” and “mad-cap” are much more descriptive of life as an American employed at a manufacturing facility owned by a Japanese company in the U.S., at least much moreso than, say, “witness-to-scandal.”

That said, I’ve recently lived- and worked-through a Situation with one of my Japanese corporate clients, which, of course, will remain nameless.  I won’t describe the Situation.  I will say that I’ve enjoyed serving this client for more than a decade and hope to continue to for years to come.  The client seems satisfied with my work, too.  I’m honored to have been this company’s U.S. attorney for these many years.

What I can do is share a story with you, dear readers.  The facts laid-out in this story are nothing like the facts involved in the Situation I’ve been a witness to.   However, by reading the story set forth below, a true story, you will begin to understand the broader contours of the Situation, about which I’m not allowed to, and would never, discuss.  By reading the story, though, you will begin to understand a lot about Doing Business in Japan (or with Japanese companies that do business overseas).

This very short story, Parking Anyone?, is true.  Robert J. Collins wrote it.  Collins was a corporate executive for an American company in Japan for years.  He wrote columns about his adventures as an American businessman living and working in Japan for The Japan Times.  A couple of times his columns were gathered together and sold as books.  This was back in the late 1980s.  Collins wrote under the pseudonym “Max Danger,” though everyone knew that Max Danger and Robert J. Collins were the same guy.  Collins’ Max Danger books remain Must Reads for anyone who finds himself, herself, on the brink of Doing Business in Japan.

Max Danger

I present most of Parking Anyone? by and under U.S. Fair Use law.  I’m not offering it for commercial purposes and seek no commercial benefit by reprinting this story in its entirety.  It’s just a short chapter in the larger work, More Max Danger: The Continuing Adventures of an Expat in Tokyo, which I encourage you, gentle reader, to buy.  In fact, I think Mr. Collins and his publisher should thank me for the free advertising.  At any rate, let’s get back to the point:  I invite you to read Parking Anyone? and understand this Situation I won’t discuss, and about Doing Business in Japan. I include a couple of links which, of course, are not part of the actual tale.


P a r k i n g    A n y o n e ?

There is a “Rube Goldberg” quality to the way things work around here.  For those who don’t remember, Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist whose specialty was depicting the accomplishment of a simple task through an incredible series of spectacularly complicated events .  .  .

There are good things to be said about these kinds of arrangements, however.  Well, at least one good thing — the system guarantees involvement.  And involvement means full employment.  But adjusting to this three-ring circus of activity takes time.  And patience.

Max Danger had the good fortune to witness, and compare, two identical projects as planned and executed in his New York Head Office, and in his Tokyo branch operation. The occasion was the seventy-fifth anniversary of his company’s founding, which coincided with the fortieth anniversary of the company’s Japan operation.

While on a business trip to New York, Max happened happened to sit in on a meeting wherein a tiny corner of the Head Office celebration was being planned.  The tiny corner of activity involved arranging for complimentary parking in a midtown Manhattan hotel for the guest of the company at a gala reception/cocktail party.

The strategy involved calling in a young dude from somewhere deep in the bowels of the building and telling him to call the hotel and “make arrangements.”  He said, “O.K.”  This aspect of the planning session took between twenty and thirty seconds.

A week or so later, back in Tokyo, Max witnessed the beginning of a series of events in quest of the same goal — complimentary parking for the guests of the Japan branch at a gala reception/cocktail party.

So as to preserve an accurate chronicle of activity — perhaps for future study by management consultants, or as background information to be used in the preparation of a doctoral thesis — Max is reporting the following on a parallel basis.  New York and Tokyo.

NEW YORK, DAY 1:  “Call the hotel and arrange for complimentary parking.”  The young dude says, “OK,” and slouches off.  Time elapsed:  twenty to thirty seconds.

TOKYO, DAY 1:  “Call the hotel and arrange for complimentary parking.”  The seven people from the General Affairs Dept. look at their hands, cigarette lighters, out the window, at the ceiling, at each other — anywhere, in fact, except at Max.  Careful questioning reveals that the group is not certain why this should be done.  Careful explanations follow, with subsequent desultory conversation in Japanese among the group.  Finally, consensus is reached.  It should be done because it’s a good idea.  The meeting ends.  Time elapsed:  forty-seven minutes.


NEW YORK, DAY 2:  Nothing.

TOKYO, DAY 2:  A meeting is convened during which it is reported that the hotel would like to know the makes and license numbers of the cars of the people attending the party in advance so that arrangements can be made.  The practicality of this is discussed, but it is concluded . . . that the “hotel’s request cannot be complied with.  The group is charged with the responsibility of effecting an alternate plan — perhaps free parking stickers.  The meeting ends.  Time elapsed:  one hour and nineteen minutes.


NEW YORK, DAY 3:  Nothing.

TOKYO, DAY 3:  “Do free parking stickers mean free to the drivers but paid for by the hotel or by the company?”  The question had merit.  A sub-committee is established to analyze the quotation of prices, from the hotel to the company, to determine accountability.  Time elapsed:  twenty-six minutes.


NEW YORK, DAY 4:  Nothing.

TOKYO, DAY 4:  Parking must be an extra charge to the company because the ice-carving is being provided at a discount.  Would the company consider parking slips, sent with the invitations, instead of stickers?  Also, how many attendees will there be?  The hotel, a new one, has somewhat limited parking facilities, and arrangements must be made for the cars of the regular guests.  Answers slowly emerge.  Time elapsed:  fifty-four minutes.


NEW YORK, DAY 5:  Nothing.

TOKYO, DAY 5:  “Should the company logo be on the slips, and/or are there special number sequences preferred?” At issue is the question of paying a flat fee for all slips mailed out with the invitations, or merely paying for those people who actually attend with cars.  Of course — and how can we overlook these things?  “And what about overflow?”  The meeting group has expanded by the addition of two serious guys from the Accounting Dept. — the chaps in charge of watching the gala reception/cocktail party budget.  Answers sort of emerge.  Elapsed time:  one hour and thirteen minutes.


NEW YORK, DAY 6:  Nothing.

TOKYO, DAY 6:  The slips are too big for the invitation envelops.  Should:  a) the slips be reprinted, b) the envelopes made bigger, or c) the slips folded?  The last alternative is finally selected.  Elapsed time:  forty-one minutes.


Max is pleased to report, if only for the sake of comparison, that the end result in both places, New York and Tokyo, was precisely the same.  Scholars will note, however, that it took the Tokyo operation five hours and twenty minutes to plan for it, whereas it took less than a minute in New York.

Oh, yes, the end result was precisely the same.  Disgruntled guest in New York lined up in cars for over an hour waiting to pay parking charges on the way out of the hotel.  It seems the young dude had resigned from the company within days of receiving his assignment, no one noticed, and nothing had been done about complimentary parking.

In Tokyo, the black cars were backed up to parking level B-3 waiting to pay fees.  It seems that the folding of the parking slips created mysterious technical problems, and if the invitations were to be mailed on time, they had to go out without the slips. . .

Author’s Note:  The Japanese parking slips were eventually mailed, and were received by most guests the day after the gala reception/cocktail party.


I have disclosed nothing about my recent Situation with my cherished Japanese corporate client, about its management, about anything having to do with my representation of it.   And, yet, you now know all.

Boston & Kyoto: Sister Cities.

From a 2009 article in The Boston Globe‘s online paper,

Boston, Kyoto Celebrate 50-year Bond

(excerpt) “For Boston, it’s the mother of all sister-city relationships. This week, Boston and Kyoto are celebrating the 50th anniversary of Boston’s first formal partnership with a foreign city.  A week-long flurry of public events included yesterday’s Japan Night at Fenway Park, honoring the four Japanese players on the Red Sox roster, among them Hideki Okajima, a native of Kyoto. Mayor Daisaku Kadokawa of Kyoto threw out the first ball. With him were a dozen boys from the Boston area who have just completed a baseball-focused exchange tour of Japan, a year after 12 young Japanese ballplayers visited Boston in a similar exchange. . . .”

I was last in Boston in August 2008.  Here are just a few photos I took in that wonderful American city . . .

On the way to The Barking Crab (great seafood).

Looking back, on the way to The Barking Crab (great seafood).


Locals love this place as much as visitors.

Locals love this place as much as visitors.


Boston's famous rail system:  The T.

Boston’s famous rail system: The T.


Look carefully:  you'll see the rainbow.

Look carefully: you’ll see the rainbow.

And there’s my dear, beautiful Kyoto.

Anyway, hang in there Boston / ボストン頑張ろう!    The world’s with you.  .  .

Recommending Three Recently-Published Books.

This is a first for LetsJapan.Wordpress.Com  I have books, new books on Japan, to recommend (plus a “Bonus Book”).  They’re friends’ books, in fact, so besides the treat you’d be giving yourself, you’d be doing me a great favor by checking out what my friends have done.  Also, I have a personal connection with each book, even if that connection’s a little tangential.  I bet you will, too.  .  .

1.  Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage:  900 Miles to Enlightenment.


Running the Shikoku Pilgrimage:  900 Miles to Enlightenment, by Amy Chavez.

“I had always wanted to do the Shikoku Pilgrimage ever since I heard about it when I first came to Japan in 1994. There are, of course, many ways to do the journey. If you do it on foot, it takes 5-6 weeks to complete. By bicycle, you’ll need about 10 days. You can also visit the temples by bus or car. To cover all 88 temples, it will take at least a week, even by car. Most foreigners are interested in walking it. It’s a great physical challenge as well as an opportunity to feel the countryside and Japan’s ancient culture. You’ll miss a lot of that if you do the pilgrimage by car. . . .”  Amy Chavez, in this interview on  Femina Intrepida.

Personal:  I’ve not yet done the 88 temple pilgrimage on Shikoku.  However, I’ve been to Mount Koya, where Kobo Daishi — founder of Shikoku’s temples (not all of them, but he started the whole shebang) — set up a vast, and mysterious, temple complex.  More than that, I’ve been many times, more than a dozen I estimate, to Kobo Daishi’s home temple, To-ji, in Kyoto.  At one of To-ji’s main building’s 88 scrolls — one for each of the Shikoku 88 — are unfurled around it, stones set in the ground below each scroll.  Any one can do a “Mini Pilgrimage” by going round the building, stepping from stone to stone, and making a reverent, sincere, bow before each scroll and offering-up a prayer.  Here’s a photo I took on May 21, 2008, of people doing just that:

1 of 88 Prayers. Toji Temple. May 21, 2008.

1 of 88 Prayers. Toji Temple. May 21, 2008. Link, reviews.


2.  The Annotated Reminiscences of LafCadio Hearn.


The Annotated Reminiscences of LafCadio Hearn

By (his wife), Setsuko Koizumi.  Edited & Illustrated by my friend, Hayato Tokugawa.

“There was no one who did more in the late 19th and early 20th centuries than Lafcadio Hearn to bring the inner thoughts and ideals of Japan, its religions, its superstitions, its art, its way of thought, all that animates its people, to the West. He lived in Meiji Era Japan and became one of its citizens, linking East and West, but received no public recognition, no decorations; yet, the world places a crown of laurel upon his head.Todai moto kurashi.”The foot of the beacon is dark.”In Reminiscences of Lafcadio Hearn, Setsuko Koizumi, Mrs. Hearn, has written wonderful, affectionate recollections of her life with Lafcadio Hearn in a book that is simply written, almost naive at times, sometimes funny yet at other times almost tragic, providing insights into herself, her family, and her husband and his wonderful writings on Old Japan.”  From The Annotated Reminiscences of LafCadio Hearn.

Personal:  LafCadio Hearn arrived in Japan in 1890 to begin a new life as a school teacher in Matsue, a town in Southern Japan situated on its western coast, on the Sea of Japan.  The first Hearn I read was a slim book of diaries.  I read it in 1990, 100 years after Hearn landed, not many months after I landed in Japan and began teaching in a Middle School, not too far from Matsue and Japan’s western coast.  I was amazed to find that much of what Hearn had written — impressions and insights about his students, the school system, his life as a teacher, etc. — were things that I could have written 100 years later. Link, reviews.


3.  Crossing on the Paris.

This one, Crossing on the Paris, is different.  It’s a historical novel.  It is not set in Japan, but rather, on the great (and very real) Trans-Atlantic Ship, The Paris, in 1921.  It was written by my friend Dana Gynther.  It’s her debut novel.  Dana and I have known each other since we were both undergrads at the University of Alabama in the early-to-mid 1980s.  Dana lives with her husband and two daughters (one whom I understand is simply nuts about Japan) in Valencia, Spain.  This book is a wonderful read and is No. 2 on’s “Downton Abbey Reading List.”


Crossing on the Paris, by Dana Gynther.

Being confined to a relatively small space—an ocean liner is an enormous boat, but a boat nonetheless—for almost a week does open a door to many possibilities. While doing research, I found that most people who made crossings back then claimed that time passed differently on board, that days felt like weeks. In this short time span, it was not uncommon for life-long friendships to form, for deep, dark secrets to be revealed to other travelers, for near-strangers to get engaged. In this book, all three women are travelling alone; reaching out to others is part of our very human willingness—or desire—to make friends, to share, to feel connected.  Dana Gynther, in this interview.

Personal:  I mention my personal connection with Dana at the beginning of this section.  Beyond that, Dana and I correspond occasionally, reminiscing about days gone by in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Dana giving me sage writer’s advice as I complete a first-draft manuscript on my Japan adventures over the years, and so on.  Moreover, I’m just honored and humbled to know such an incredible writer, one who can put the reader into the scene, into the moment. Link, Reviews.

.                    .                    .