Wednesday, August 12, 2015

End of an Era

At time of writing, I've just wrapped up this blog. We lived in Tokyo for five years, and I wouldn't change that for anything, but we recently moved back to the US.

My new blog will be devoted to artsy craftsy things – not my professional work in graphic design, but the more hands-on projects things like Halloween costumes and baby shower gift wrapping. I'll be including most of the costumes I made while we lived in Japan, so if you check out Covered in Glitter and Screaming, the first few posts might look familiar.

So long, Japan, and thanks for all the memories. I'll never forget you!


There's an axolotl store in Chiba. It's called Uparupaya, and it's small and adorable. And he let me take pictures!

So, for all your water monster needs, if you find yourself in Chiba, I recommend this place.

This guy. He's just chillin' on his leaf, watching the store.

A few tanks were in need of water changing, but for the most part the animals seemed to be well cared for. They're amphibians, so they don't need much of anything besides clean water and food, but I've seen pet stores that can't even manage that much.

Bonus: toads! They could probably use a little more space, but how much to they move around?

So small!
I'm disappointed this came out blurry, because it's decorated like a tween girl's bedroom.

This is the first time I've seen 'lotls that have made the transition to land-based salamanders. Some are genetically predisposed to it, others will make the change if their environment gets too toxic, which is pretty amazing.

The gills make them cuter, but they're still fascinating creatures.

The blue light is kind of painful in photos, sorry about that.

All the tiny monsters!


Of course I had to get one.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Tokyo Treasure Hunt!

We've lived in Tokyo for five years, and we're moving soon. We planned a farewell party together for a Saturday night, but I wanted to surprise him with a treasure hunt before that as an early birthday present. The planning took months, the schedule coordination took weeks, and more than 20 people took time out of their day to be a part of this.

We have some pretty great friends.

(It's a slideshow, click Next at the bottom to scroll through the images or Read More to see the whole album on Imgur.)

I sent my husband on a treasure hunt in Tokyo.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

I'm Not a Distressed Pregnant Woman, but I Played One on TV

The context of this story is that it's 1977, and hijackers have taken over a plane. In my segment (all 30 seconds of it), we are on a runway in Bangladesh, but the air conditioning is broken and it's 48ºC inside (118ºF).

You can tell because of the steam filter applied in post production.

If you want to see the entire segment or episode, check here for links to the March 29, 2015 show.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Zao Fox Village

The internet seems to be exploding with articles about the Fox Village in Zao, Japan. Perhaps you've seen one of them, it's popped up on RocketNews24, BoredPanda, ABC News, LaughingSquid, the Daily Mail, Distractify, and the Huffington Post, among others.

So we picked a day and went up. It's about a 5-hour drive from Tokyo, waaaaay out in the inaka.

We didn't end up needing snow tires or chains (good thing, too, because we don't have either), and we only got stuck once.

We paid the entry fee, bought a couple bags of hot dog slices, and went in.

This whole first area doesn't tend to make it into the articles I mentioned at the beginning. I'm not trying to write this as a scathing exposé or anything, but I'm trying to be as fair about my evaluation as possible.

I like that they have a funeral ceremony every year for the foxes that have passed, and that they work with an agricultural university to make sure the foxes are all microchipped, vaccinated, and receive medical attention. I don't like the small cages and short chains.

Here's kind of an encapsulation of my mixed feelings. Her name is Nori. According to their website, or as much of it as I can understand, Nori-chan has been in that same tiny roped-off area to interact with visitors for most of her life. I think her chain is much too short, but she has no fear of people and she came as close to me as her leash would allow. I extended my hand, expecting a cautious sniff and/or obvious indifference, and she licked my fingers and let me scratch around her jaw.

Of course I immediately fell in love and wanted to smuggle her out.

I have a tendency to read too much into animal personalities, so take this with a grain of salt, but my impression is that she's ultra sweet, but sad in her circumstances. I really hope they let her and the others off the leash when the park closes.

This video seems like a pretty good behind-the-scenes segment, but it concerns me a little that the woman very casually mentions that the fox next to her (I think it's Nori, but I'm not 100% sure) lost a lot of weight because the recent visitor crowds were intense.

In addition to Nori, there are two or three other chained foxes, and some small enclosures and cages stacked around the perimeter.

Leaving the trees is a nice aesthetic touch.

I don't know what their system is for having the foxes caged or chained, I can't say for sure if it's permanent or just temporary. These gorgeous white foxes, for example, may be a breeding pair. (Pure speculation, of course.)

I feel really bad for the two badgers huddled in their wire cube with no shelter from the wind. Not even a floor. Foxes don't give a crap about the cold or snow or wind, but the badgers were visibly shivering. I sent an email requesting some shelter for them, but I don't know if it will make a difference.

It really isn't all bad, though. Even in this area, the foxes are curious, alert, energetic, and appear to be healthy.

There are one or two other foxes in this enclosure. It's small, but not as small as the wire cages.

There was a section with bunnies that were super happy, all bouncy and asking for carrots (I'm going to guess that the carrots are only fed by the tourists, their regular meals would be something better for them). We didn't go in, but there may have been some goats or miniature horses in there, as well.

There was also a mid-sized enclosure with several foxes that wanted to stare at us. One in particular (the one on the left) kept chasing the others away so it was the only one getting face time.

I offered the back of my fingers against the cage to sniff, and he was puzzled when I didn't let him nibble my ring. I mean, it's all shiny and pretty, surely I wouldn't offer it unless it was a gift! Serves me right, I suppose.

This little guy kept being chased off, but was definitely showing interest in seeing what we were all about.
Don't be fooled, this is a curious sniffing face, not a sad face.

I was surprised by how easy it is to tell individuals apart and how much personality we could see, even in such a short time.

Of course the best photos were in the open area. There are too many foxes there, they seem to spend a lot of time peeing and claiming territory and having drama. But on looking back through the video we got, they seemed to be concentrated on one side of the large fenced-in area, so it's overcrowded, but not as bad as I originally thought.

One little dude elected himself our tour guide for a while, and seemed to genuinely enjoy the attention he was getting from tourists with cameras.

This one was optimistic we'd have something delicious to share, then immediately lost all interest when we did not.

Of course, any group will have its drama. (Note: don't expect them to sound like dogs. They don't. They're more...screechy.) You get squabbles and conflicts, like love triangles...

and rejected advances...

and then there's this jerk.

This one runs up from the background, pees on the other one and runs away. Then he circles back, sniffs his handiwork, decides he can do better, and pees again. Jackass.

Pictures! (If the main image doesn't show up, click a thumbnail.)

I'm certain they are aware of overcrowding. To their credit, they aren't simply culling the herd and selling pelts (there are some tails in the gift shop, probably from foxes that died of natural causes), nor are they releasing them into the wild (where they wouldn't do well). They are looking for a partner organization to open a new location.* Personally, I would like them to have a spaying/neutering policy, but that is probably not an option for them, so maybe a new location is the next best thing. I hope it works out.

*Sorry, I can't seem to find my source for that. I'll link if I find it.

Ethics of this business model aside, here is the most obvious conclusion: foxes are amazingly photogenic and have huge personalities. If it were at all a good idea for us to get one as a pet, I would.

Of course, Dr. Veterinarian, it's totally a dog. Please sign this health certificate...


Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Cultural Experiences

We've been lucky enough to have a handful of visitors while we've been here, and each time I'm prompted to seek out new experiences.

This time, it was kabuki and a public bath.


The Kabuki-za Theater in Ginza has one-act tickets available on a first-come, first-served basis. Each act is about 40 minutes long, and if you aren't in line soon enough, it's standing room only.

The Kabuki-za Theater in Ginza
Photo from here

If you don't speak Japanese, absolutely spend the extra yen and get the headset for translation. The style is so very...well, stylized, that body language and vocal intonation just aren't enough to follow what's happening. In addition, the plots are fairly complex. In one scene, several characters were lined up, staring straight at the audience without moving anything but their mouths. We were far enough away that we couldn't tell who was talking, so we never would have known that Character A was talking to Character B but speaking in such a way that it was really Character C that was being addressed.

Not the show we saw, but a good representation of the style.
Photo from here

So it turns out that it's not my favorite kind of performance, but it sure was pretty. And now that I've seen it and sampled the style, I can really see its influence in art and cinema through present day. For lack of a better analogy, it's like seeing the original music video and suddenly having a better appreciation for what the parody did with it.


Near the Senso-ji Temple in Asakusa, I found a sento, or public bath, that the Blogger at Onsen Soaker said is OK with tattoos. I was still a little anxious that I might be turned away, or at least get the stink eye from other bathers, but that wasn't the case. We were definitely the topic of some conversation, but we were completely welcomed, and it warms my heart.

It didn't hurt that inside has beautiful mural that spans both the men's and women's sides of the facility.

Photo from here

Two different obasan (older women) helped us get find the stools and wash basins, showed us how to use the faucets (push, not turn), and told us which bottle was body soap and which was shampoo. Then another obasan instructed us to stand in a particular section and push the button for full-body jets. And to hang on to the rails because they're powerful enough to shoot you across the pool.

Of course I raised my fist toward the opposite wall and cried "Chaaaaarge!" when I let go of the rail. It got a laugh, so it's good to know I don't always need to be able to speak the language well for comedy.

I also learned that denkifuro - electric baths - are a thing. A shallow pool with a mild electrical charge being pumped through it. I...don't know how to feel about that. Tingly, but I can't decide if it was pleasant or alarming. I stood in it before I realized what it was, so I only felt it up to my knees, but that was probably enough.

I wouldn't have gone to the public bath on my own, but it was a neat experience, and very communal. I'm not completely comfortable with nudity, like a lot of Westerners, but I'm learning that in the right setting it can be okay. And Japanese baths and hot springs are the right setting.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Sawtooth Mountain

Nokogiri-yama, or Sawtooth Mountain, is across the bay from Tokyo in Chiba. You can't get there by accident, it takes multiple train transfers, a ferry, and a ropeway.

There was nothing interesting enough on the train to take pictures of, but seeing this car in the ferry parking lot just about made the entire trip worth it.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you advertise with a car.

It was a poorly marked 10-minute walk from the ferry to the ropeway station, but all these people apparently found it just fine.

I would have taken some pictures in the cable car, but I was smashed in the middle and I'm trying to cut back on photos of the backs of peoples' heads.

The observatory, though, was quite spacious.

Note the crazy hairpin turn in the road at the bottom right.

We got a map and plotted a strategy. Husband is smart, so we went down most of the stairs instead of up.

So many stairs. The Sawtooth Mountain is hereby renamed the Kingdom of Stairs.

This is just from the observatory to the Hyaku-shaku Kannon.

The Hyakushaku Kannon is a relief carving of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy and a memorial to those who died in WWII.

Next stop: the cliff above, the Ruriko Observatory.

Several dozen stairs later, we arrived!

This park is thoughtful and provides benches.

But you know what? I don't need to take a photo from that specific bit of rock badly enough to wait in this queue.

Moving on!

The back of the tourist map says all the stone figures were one big art project, created by an artist devoting his life and those of his 27 apprentices to carving.

Also, hilariously, it states this:
"There is another famous collection of 800 Arhats at Dazhong Temple in Huaian, China, and [is] often referred [to] as being incomparable, yet [ours] surpasses it and is renowned even overseas as the world's holiest ground."
You learn something new every day, I guess.

Many statues, the map says, were destroyed by an anti-Buddhist movement in the Meiji era, and restoration efforts only started recently.

This video ends a bit abruptly. I've compressed more than 22 minutes of video into less than 8, and I figured I had made my point (Kingdom of Stairs).

Not documented is this part:

That part of the walk was dull in comparison, but the Daibutsu of Nihon-ji (giant Buddha) is impressive. The pedestal underneath the lotus blossom alone is 2.7 meters (almost 9 ft) tall. The full height is 31 meters (just over 100 ft).

The view isn't bad, either.

Having seen the daibutsu, it was time to work our way out. Rather than go back up all those stairs, we opted for what seemed like the sensible route to a train station, so we could take the train back to the ferry:

We walked along a stone walkway around a lovely pond

The little red building is a gate used at shrines and temples, complete with some rough-looking god statues (to scare evil spirits away).

Evil spirits, BE AFRAID!

As it turns out, that bit on the map from the grounds gate to the train station? Not to scale. Not even a little. It looks like a quick 5-10 minute walk, but it was closer to 30, through neighborhoods and farmland.

We're going the right way, aren't we?

Someone else is walking this way, we must be on track!
We found the station! (Not pictured) And we managed to get on the train in the right direction and got back to the ferry station later than we expected, but otherwise without incident.

From the ferry parking lot, if I zoom in, I can see the ghost of Mt. Fuji through the late afternoon haze.

Adventure complete!