Chewing Gum – Japanese Style

I must show you my latest find in chewing gum (credit to Chris and Saori Mitchell for showing it to me!)

On this first side of the bottle, it suggests you try the pineapple flavored pieces. On the other side of the bottle, it suggests trying a peach flavored piece.










And then, for the finishing touch:

Eat the pineapple and peach flavors together for a totally different MANGO flavor!  I don’t even want to think about the chemicals involved here!!

But here’s the real kicker:

What is that inside the lid of the bottle? It’s a pack of sticky-notes.  Yes, the bottle includes a pack of sticky notes for you to take on the go so that you always have a paper into which you can spit your used gum.

So now you have it – go try the multi-flavored gum and spit it out wisely.  ENJOY!!

Japan Writers’ Conference – A Brief Report

This past weekend, I had the fortune to attend the Japan Writers’ Conference.  It was my first time going to the event, though it has been going on annually for many years.  Writers – especially those writing in English in Japan, have no bounds on their generosity.

The University which housed the conference, Nihon University College of Art, could not have been a better spot with better people hosting.  The staff was outgoing and helpful and genuinely interested in what we were doing.

Each of the presenters at the conference did their dog and pony show gratis, and it was clear by their interest and professionalism that they spent many hours preparing their work.  They each shared inside secrets of their work with the hope of bettering every writer in the room.  The presentations ran from Suzanne Kamata’s seminar on marketing your book, to Lauren Shannon’s character workshop, to Tom Baker’s presentation on interviewing creative subjects.  Those are only a few of the highlights.  There were many more.

What struck me the most, however, was the strong sense of community that ran throughout the two-day conference.  People attended from everywhere in Japan, and there were many nationalities represented.  Thought the presentations were all in English, I could hear Japanese and other languages spoken in a murmur everywhere.  Everyone was in a mood to help someone else.  There was never a shortage of advice, and ideas constantly littered the rooms.

Writers write for love of the game.  Most do not do it for money or fame, but because they love words and the way they fit together to convey meaning.  What a gift it was to connect with like-minded people.

Reading on a Kindle


image courtesy of’s Kindle has revolutionized the way people read.  Oh sure, there’s the Sony e-reader, or the Barnes and Noble Nook, and even the iPad’s app for that,  but none have come close to the sales and marketing power behind Amazon and the Kindle.

But I’m not here to do a marketing spiel – I actually, as you know, care about the act of reading.

Kindles and e-readers in general have a lot of possibilities.  There are search functions; one can attach a dictionary to look up words as he reads; the text goes bigger and smaller; the physical reader is lightweight and easy to carry, and books can be downloaded in a nanosecond!

But, I’m not concerned with the physical aspects of reading either; I want to talk about the ways in which humans make meaning out of what they read.

There’s surprisingly little research on it, from what I’ve found.  I’ve read a number of things on my kindle.  I’ve read a great book on motherhood, called Bad Mommy by Ayelet Wadlman and laughed out loud on the airplane.  I read the New Yorker Magazine on it since the Kindle subscription, at $4 per month, is significantly less than the physical subscription – and wastes less paper to boot.  I read the Pulitzer Prize winning novel, Tinkers on it and I read the classic D.H. Lawrence book Sons and Lovers. (Many classics have completed their copyrights and are free on Kindle now…)   But I can’t get past one fundamental, problem.  The screen somehow impedes my ability to make the movie in my mind.

I am assuming here that the screen is the problem.  It could be the device itself and having to press “next” to turn the page instead of just turning it.  It could be the fact that I can’t go back to  re-read something as easily or that I don’t have a proper book cover, or I have no pages numbers – just a silly percentage representing how much of the book I’ve finished so far.

I feel like my brain has trouble converting the words onto the screen into feelings in my heart.  Writing is less evocative for me.  Words don’t have their full impact.

One successful novelist I know buys a physical book if she loves a story on her Kindle.  She then dives into the book to further her pleasure of the ideas contained therein.  I might have to agree.

I’m just spouting ideas out here, and would love the opinions of others.  I also need to do some hard research before I make my final word.  For now, the convenience of a Kindle – not having to buy and carry actual books – outweighs the drawbacks.  I may have to work harder to “see” the characters and feel what they feel, but I can do that in the name of ease.

Please let me know what you think.

Nerves of Steel

Nerves of steel.  That is what it takes to get into the publishing game, I’ve discovered.  The editor with whom I’ve been working at the publishing house, left her job.  She assures me that she has set me up with a new editor and that my book will come out on schedule.  But I am nervous.

I am very nervous.

Like most writers, I love the craft of writing.  I love creating characters and then torturing them (as my friend Trish has taught me!).  I love planning out a plot and then having one of my characters throw me a curve ball when he or she absolutely will not do as I predict he or she will do.  This happens.  This actually happens – I plan for a character to act in a certain way, and then as I’m writing the scene, she does not do it.  She refuses to say what I think she will say and the scene just comes out wrong.  I have to rewrite it based on what the characters tell me.

An aside: a favorite professor in grad school at George Mason University, Alan Cheuse, quoted writer Joyce Carol Oates saying, “All true fiction writers are somewhat schizophrenic.”  Professor Cheuse taught me so much of what I know regarding characterization and plot.  He connects with students and writers and readers in a very special way.  He also connects with listeners as the book review on the NPR show “All Things Considered.”  I’m lucky to have studied with him.

But this business of writing is completely confounding.  The agents, the editors, the publishers, the basic idea of selling what I’ve written – I find it completely alien.  I’m learning, of course, but it’s slow going.

In the meantime, I’m just going to keep plugging along on the business end, and more often than not, lose myself in my writing.  I think that’s the only way to cope – stay focused on the goal.  Without the writing part, there’s nothing to sell in the first place.

Whew, but this is stressful.  Wish me luck!

Greetings at the Salon!

Here is the entrance on the second floor of the Hollywood Hat building in Roppongi Hills. See the door into which I entered on the right.

After a long summer in the U.S., I was really looking forward to having a haircut. I got to May’s Garden Spa in Roppongi Hills.  I’m sure I’ve posted a description of the joys of a Japanese haircut – the massage, the hot tea, the massage, the quiet atmosphere, the massage…anyway, you get the picture.  This time, because my kids had only half days of school last week, I scheduled myself for a 9am haircut – just enough time to drop the darlings at school before scooting to the salon.  (Please bear in mind that scooting is a relative term – we do not hop in the car and go to the salon here.  We walk over.)

Well, it turns out that I was the first customer of the day.  When I walked toward the entrance from the escalator, which is on the second floor of a very open building, the door was closed and I could see about 25 people standing in the front lobby.  I retreated from the door, figuring that since I was about 3 minutes early, I would wait until they opened it.  But one of the hostesses of the place hurried out to get me and bring me in.

So I walked into the lobby with about 25 people all bowing to me, saying – somewhat singing – “Irashaemasse!” Loosely

It really is a gorgeous salon.

translated it means welcome and please spend money here.

There were literally 25 aestheticians, beauticians, hostesses, masseurs, everything – greeting me.  Apparently they do this for the first customer of the day every single day.  They gather at the front, have a brief morning meeting and wait for the first customer.

What a country.

Women, A Celebration

This first week back in Tokyo, beyond unpacking, organizing, shopping and cooking, I have been consumed with the idea of where I fit in.  Living this way – as an expat – is sometimes an existence that defies explanation to someone who hasn’t lived it themselves.  Particularly here in Tokyo, where the expat population is so drastically separate from the local population, the idea of where I fit in gives me pause.

The children and I live 3/4 of our lives in Tokyo and 1/4 in the U.S.  There’s no two ways about it – we have a divided life.  It could easily lead to confusion and displacement if not tackled head-on.  By tackled, I mean discussed and thought-through and examined.  The kids and I are always discussing how lucky we are to have the lives that we do – where we have extended visits “home” but still come “home” to our real lives in Tokyo.  The kids take it for granted as normal at this point.  It’s just me who has issues.

I’ve been putting a lot of thought into where it is I belong now, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is “everywhere.”   My grandmother, who, even two and a half years after her death, is in my thoughts daily, used to say that the strongest human need is the need to belong.  She was an educational psychologist and an amazing and interesting human.  She used to gather her grandchildren together yearly so that we would have a strong sense of family, and therefore never feel alone.  I am not alone in thinking that was her greatest gift to us.

For July and August, we belonged in the U.S. The summer was a magical time this year – we spent time with countless friends and family members.  My sister/cousin Jenn and I got a weekend away together with our daughters.  I had tons of lunches and dinners with Betsy and her delightful little ones.  We had the privilege of spending a full week with Bonnie’s family and sending all four of our kids to camp together.  I spent one-on-one time with my own mother, which I haven’t done in years.  When I was at my mom’s house, I saw my grandmother nearly every day.

Then, I came back to Tokyo.  I immediately had two close friends email me to discuss our plans for the Jewish holidays, which are coming up fast.  I’ve set up a back-to-school breakfast with the “usual suspects” with whom I often hang out.  I had afternoon tea today with a lovely woman who is the mom of one of Sydney’s friends, who I don’t know well, but am on the brink of getting to know better, and boy is she interesting!

For me, what links all of these experiences is the women with whom I share them.  I’m so lucky to be a woman, I feel.  Oh, yeah, at certain times of the month I’d like to throw it in the trash can, but I appreciate my ability to grown and change and laugh with my community of women.  The best part about it is that these women exist in all walks of life.  I have friends from various parts of my life, all of whom share that part of my life, no one part being more important than the other.  Each woman offers me something different, but what they have in common is the ability to give of themselves – to allow me the privilege of sharing their lives with them as well.  In this I find the true meaning of womanhood, a sisterhood of women.  In realizing this, I understand that it is my women friends who give me the sense of belonging which I so crave and these women fulfill.

So today, on a random Friday afternoon, for no particular reason, I celebrate the women in my life.  They help me learn;  they allow me see the truth of situations; they lift me up when I am down; they provide support in times of trouble and laughter in times of joy.

I urge you to do the same.  It’s an amazing feeling.

Tokyo Ni Sundeimassu

I live in Tokyo.  I am pleased to report that I am once again home in Tokyo.

If you think about it, it’s a very odd existence that we lead: we pretty much live nine months in Tokyo and 3 months in the U.S.  When we’re Stateside, we miss our house, our international friends, as well as the food and the service that are second to none in Japan.  However, when we’re in Tokyo, we miss our family and old friends there.

But these days, the world is small.  I have a Vonage Line in the house that allows me to give a Virginia phone number to my American friends and family so it’s cheap to call me.  I use Skype to see my parents and others.  We have a Slingbox that allows us access to American T.V. (Thank you Dinan family!)  It’s not like years ago when it was more difficult to live overseas because keeping in touch was so costly and time consuming.

Now that we’re back, we’re getting ready for the kids to go back to school (Monday – hurrah!) and the Jewish holidays.  We’re planning for the kids after-school activities and my volunteer commitments.  Marc is happy and secure in his new job.  It’s a season of beginnings.

So I am pleased to report that I feel like I have the best of both worlds.  Thank you to the myriad of friends and family with whom we spend time this summer – and to those we didn’t get to see, my apologies – hopefully next year.  And to my Tokyo crew: I’m back and anxious to start my life back up again.  Here we go!