Art and Artisans in Akihabara

akihabara1In an area of Tokyo mostly known for its electronics, it was a real treat to find 2k540 Aki-Oka Artisan, a large warehouse-type structure located under the tracks near Akihabara and full of shop after shop of beautiful works of art.  My friend Jill and I set out to find it on a rainy Tuesday and the whole day turned out to be a treat for the senses.

The concept itself is from the JR East Company and according to CNN, the name comes from the 2.54km it takes to get to Tokyo Station and it’s location between Akihabara and Okachimachi stations.  Jill and I took the Yamanote line to get there, but we realized that the walk to get there from the Akihabara station on the Hibiya Line can be much simpler depending on where you start, so that’s how we got home.

As we walked toward the art center from the station, we ran into a fantastic shop calakihabara5led Chabara that seems to have every Japanese food curiosity in the country.  It even has a sake tasting table and all different types of sauces and tsukemono, pickles.  Of course what fascinated us was the tasting bar for the flavored nut snacks – they came in 20 different flavors, from honey to wasabi to cherry and we tried many of them.

Unfortunately you can’t take pictures along most of the lane of 2k540, but the entire lane is lined akihabara3with storefronts of every type of Japanese are imaginable.  There are several shops of ceramics, many of hand-dyed cloth, and quite a number of shops showing jewelry all hand made.  My favorite place was the umbrella shop.  The entire shop was full of handmade umbrellas in every color of the rainbow.  I have a few special occasions coming up and I found one shop that specializes in wedding gifts – personalized, of course.

There were only two small cafes in the entire place, which is almost as long as an American football field, and we did not eat in them.  But rest assured, they looked funky and interesting.  On our random Tuesday, the place was mostly empty, but I imagine it would be quite busy on the weekend.

2k540 Aki Oka Artisan is an oasis of calm and beauty in the midst of the craziness that is Akihabara. If you need any type of gift, I’d highly recommend a trip.

How Did Cinderella Get Into Her Stepmother’s House in the First Place?

princess bookHow did Cinderella get into her stepmother’s house in the first place? If you’ve ever asked yourself this question, then this book is for you. The Witch and the Baby Princess by David Rich is a fun, action packed explanation of Cinderella’s background along with the events that led up to the whole stepmother scenario.

More than just a prequel, however, this book is meant as a story for kids and parents to share. The author, an avid reader, active storyteller and involved father, didn’t want to just hand his daughters a book – he wanted to create something he could share with them and that they could read together, which is exactly what he has done.

This book does not have a big, glossy cover or thousands of pictures with a few words on each page. This is a full-on, meaty story. Oh, it has a bunch of really adorable illustrations, but that’s not the focus here. The focus is the story itself. It is meant for a parent and a child to sit down and read together. There are words in it that a child under twelve is not going to understand. There are concepts such as the shades of grey between good and evil, which parents should be excited to discuss with their children. The book is rife with big, tough topics such as friendship, love, beauty, goodness, envy, and expectations that are designed to spark good talks between children and the adults who love them.

What Rich has done is created a springboard for parents so that topics that can be hard to broach for adults and harder for kids to understand, become gentle and accessible for both parties.

The story itself is quaint, sweet, and lovingly told. In a land far away, a baby is born to a great witch, but the queen of the fairies does not want the baby to be evil and instills in the young girl a conscience and a particle of free will. What the child grows up to do and become, and how she uses her gifts in the context of her parents’ expectations of her becoming an evil witch, is the crux of the story. It’s easy to see how the idea of parental expectation is juxtaposed against the personality of the child – good lessons for parents and children alike. The characters are drawn with great care and attention to detail. At any moment I could “see” each person and the location as well due to the strong and exhaustive descriptions that only add, not detract, from the plot itself. Emotion is tended to with care and the plot moves along with a mix of action and feelings.

In a world where the bonds between children and their parents have become increasingly fractured, kudos to David Rich for creating a lovely story, as well as something to serve as a binder of families.

Guest Post: Life Advice for my Kids

booksI’ve known my friend David Sample for more years than I’d care to count, (think: attended my wedding; suffered through my first attempts at cooking and is still friends with me…) and since the beginning, I was sure be would be a fantastic father. Time has proven me right.  Not only does he do the standard stuff with his three kids, like build Pinewood Derby cars and act as timer for a swim meet, he is also very thoughtful about his parenting. Here is his list of 60 items he’d like to tell his kids, and perhaps you’d like to share with yours:

Life advice for my kids, by David Sample

1. Live close to work if you can, even if you need to have a much smaller house/apartment.
2. If you spend your life comparing yourself to other people you will always be unhappy. There is always someone that is smarter, better looking, richer, etc…
3. Don’t wear loafers with a suit.
4. Learn how to dance.
5. If you meet someone with a funny name, don’t make a joke about it. The person has already heard them all.
6. Try not to get mad at asshole drivers. It isn’t worth the energy.
7. Openly acknowledge awkward moments. It makes them a little less awkward. (Dan Savage)
8. Don’t gossip. At some point, it will come back to bite you.
9. When you go on a date, turn off your phone and put it away.
10. The human tendency is for expenditures to rise to meet income (and often exceed it). Plan with this in mind. (corollary of Murphy’s Law)
11. A properly knotted tie has a dimple where the tie comes out of the knot.
12. Take a driving class.
13. If you are physically attractive, remember to be a solid chocolate bunny: attractive on the outside and the inside. Hollow chocolate bunnies are lame. (Felicia Day)
14. Unless you enjoy the arguing, don’t talk politics. You aren’t going to change their mind, and they aren’t going to change yours.
15. “If it sounds good, it IS good.” – Duke Ellington. Listen to the music that you like and don’t worry about what other people think is cool or lame.
16. Just because someone asks you a question, does not mean that you have to answer it.
17. When driving, leave the other guy a way out, and try to use the two-second rule.
18. A tattoo does not make you unique.
19. Just because something is currently “in style” does not mean that it looks good on you.
20. Learn how to tell a funny story if you can.
21. Pride commeth before the fall. Stay humble. (Bible)
22. Take the time to carefully proofread before you turn in your work.
23. When you are planning your wedding, if you can, allow parents to bring their kids, allow single people to bring a guest, and have an open bar. People are more important than decorations (but not more important than the dress).
24. If you need to precede what you are saying with “no offense,” you probably shouldn’t say it.
25. Create new family traditions and continue the old ones that you like.
26. Don’t let yourself be “friend-zoned.” Express your desires early. If the response isn’t the one you want, move on.
27. Weddings are about the bride. The groom is a prop.
28. Choose a career in which you can find ethical expression.
29. Remember to honestly compliment people when you can. We hear about our faults too often.
30. Call your parents.
31. There is no such thing as “f” buddies. One of the people always wants more.
32. If you don’t know where to start, talk to someone who knows about it. If you don’t know anyone, there is probably a good book about it.
33. Don’t ask someone out via text message. Do it over the phone or in person. Always break up in person.
34. Hard work is almost always rewarded.
35. A vehicle is a tool, not a fashion statement. Spend accordingly.
36. If you are a “spender,” marry a “saver,” and let the “saver” handle the money.
37. If you are a “saver” and your spouse is a “spender,” put your spouse on an allowance.
38. A task will expand to fit the time allotted for it. Plan accordingly. (A corollary of Murphy’s Law)
39. Couples fight most often about money or sex. Keep this in mind when you are selecting a spouse.
40. Keep secrets.
41. Before you judge someone, remember that each of us thinks that anyone that drives faster than us is crazy and anyone that drives slower than us is an idiot. We can’t all be right. (George Carlin)
42. For men: when buying dress socks, buy the ones that come up to your knees. We don’t need to see your hairy shins when you sit down.
43. Start reading to your kids early, and don’t stop.
44. Floss daily.
45. Most women I know don’t mind receiving flowers, having the door opened for them, and having the man pay for dinner (notwithstanding our advances in feminism).
46. If you find yourself saying “those people,” “them” or “they” in reference to a particular group, the next thing out of your mouth will probably be bigoted.
47. Before you go out on a date, spend some time thinking about things to talk about.
48. In my opinion, a man needs no more jewelry for day to day living than a nice watch, and a wedding ring (if appropriate). For dress-up, add cuff-links – that’s it.
49. Don’t have sex until you can maturely and honestly talk to your partner about STD’s and birth control and you can buy condoms without blushing. (Salt-n-Peppa)
50. Wrap it up every time.
51. Puns get a bad rap. A good one will make most people laugh or at least smile and groan.
52. Bust your ass your freshman year of college learning how to be a good student. There will be plenty of time later to goof off.
53. When you ask someone out on a date, ask them out for a specific day and time and to do a specific thing. If the response is “I am busy,” ask again. If you get three I-am-busies, stop asking.
54. You will regret failing to try more than you will regret trying and failing.
55. Comb-overs are lame. Embrace your baldness.
56. In a marriage, apologize early and often.
57. Remember that the news is selling something, and that death and blood sell. The state of the world is not as bad as they say it is.
58. Date someone at least two years before marrying them – it’s a dopamine thing.
59. Remember that correlation does not equal causation.
60. Opinions (like everything in this list) are like assholes – everyone has one, and most of them stink. So, don’t get too worked up when someone expresses an opinion that you disagree with.

A New Meaning to “Food on the Go!”

The machine from which the traveler orders his food.

The machine from which the traveler orders his food.

At Shinegawa Station, in Central Tokyo, a traveler can have lunch on the tracks. I don’t mean that anyone can just eat on the platform while waiting for a train; I mean that one can have a hot, hearty meal right there at the train tracks.  It’s a whole new meaning to fast food.  First one picks and pays for a dish from the vending machine – the choices are all some sort of ramen noodle bowls with various accoutrements such as pork, tofu, scallions, etc.  A ticket pops out of the machine, and the hungry traveler hands it to the chef

Check out that proximity to the tracks!

Check out that proximity to the tracks!

behind the counter.  Within a minute, the chef has assembled the food and handed it over.  This is by no means a method of food preparation reserved for the train tracks – these types of vending/casual counter joints exist throughout the city of Tokyo for various types of food such as Indian and Chinese dumplings, in addition to just noodles.  The proximity of the tiny restaurant to the train tracks, in addition to the

Diners at the counter

Diners at the counter

speedy service – it really is JUST for travelers waiting on a train – struck me as quite convenient and much healthier than lugging junk on to the train.

I was headed to the airport via the Narita Express and watched several hungry people eat and then jump on to the train.  It was convenience in action. Yum!!

Elevator Beauties

elevator3There are many things about Japan that remain decidedly “old school”.  Takashimaya Department store in the Nihonbashi district of Tokyo is a bastion of such tradition from last century, with its ubiquitous flower elevator2arrangements, gilt elevators and omnipresent staff.  The elevators themselves are perfectly modern but they have beautful touches of bygone eras.  Chief among those touches is the concept of the elevator girl.  She is immaculately dressed in a uniform complete with the pillbox hat. She has to manually close the bars before the official elevator door will close.  She uses a lever to stop and start the elevator.  She steps out on the floors to announce where the elevator is and where it is headed, along with what is located on that particular floor.  It is truly a gorgeous throwback and a sight to behold.  I highly recommend a trip to Takashimaya’s flagship store in Nihonbashi – go ride the elevator.

The Magic of Education for Girls – An Evening With The Asian University for Women

First lady Akie Abe (center) with Duth Kimsru (left) and Kamala K.C. (right)

First lady Akie Abe (center) with Duth Kimsru (left) and Kamala K.C. (right)

The Asian University for Women (AUW) is a beacon of hope for women across South and Southeast Asia who aspire to learn and grow and become global citizens.  Never was that more apparent than last night when the Japan support committee of AUW held their annual film event in support of the university. Not only did the group show the inspiring documentary film “Girl Rising” about the critical importance of education for girls in the developing world, but two students who graduated from the university in their inaugural graduation in 2013 came to Tokyo to address the crowd and show first hand what an education can do.

The girls, Kimsru, from Cambodia, and Kamala, from Nepal, both outlined the sometimes perilous journey they took just to get to AUW, which is located in Chittagong, Bangladesh.  Kimsru mentioned her village, which did not have electricity or running water, but that her mother moved her and her siblings from the village into the capital city, Phnom Pehn, so that she might study, both working and

First Lady Akie Abe with a few members of the AUW Japan Support Committee

First Lady Akie Abe with a few members of the AUW Japan Support Committee

taking in laundry to finance her daughter’s education.  Kamala talked about how she not only had to walk 90 minutes each way to get to the closest high school, but had to work full time teaching the primary grades as well as complete her own studies in order to finish her secondary degree.  Both girls passionately spoke about their time at AUW, the joy they found in learning, their hunger to become global citizens, and the golden opportunities that higher education – in English! – has given them. Currently Kimsru works for a nonprofit organization in Phnom Phen, teaching kids about practical life skills and urging them to stay in school.  Kamala is pursuing graduate education in South Korea.

AUW has a place on the global stage, as evidenced by the commitment to the school by Japan’s First Lady, Akie Abe.  Mrs. Abe took time out of her busy schedule to meet the girls and left a message to be played for the entire audience where she discussed her own visit to AUW in Bangladesh in 2011 when was so impressed by the school, its programs, and the girls themselves, that she agreed to become a patron of the university. She urged others to similarly support the school and education for women.  There’s more information available about the school and its extraordinary programs on their website. Please go look at it; you can’t help but be touched and inspired by it.

I have written before about AUW, in 2010, and 2013. Both times I told you how truly amazing the girls are and how touched we are as a family to have the experience of interacting with these amazing young ladies. This year was as special as years past, perhaps more so because of our own recent life experiences.  My daughter Sydney is wearing her new t-shirt today, the one designed and sold by the ASIJ support group of AUW, which supported the event.  She bought it with her own money and it reads, “She believed she could, so she did!”  It’s a message of determination, of grit and of hope.  Sydney wears it in support of those girls who are less fortunate than she is to have the spectacular education that she does.  Sydney won’t forget, and nor will I.  Together we can make a difference in the lives of young women across the globe.

Ask Me About My Bracelets – Alex and Ani

alexandaniIn recent months I’ve been walking around with a little jingle jangle on my wrist.  These bangle bracelets are not just for glamor, though; these bracelets have meaning.

The bracelets themselves are from a company called Alex and Ani.  Popular in the U.S., the company mission embraces values such as mindfulness, positive energy, sustainability and corporate consciousness. They pride themselves on supporting local business and manufacturing in the United States.  Every piece of their jewelry is accompanied by an explanation of its meaning and phrases of empowerment.  It is a great business model to support.

My first bracelet was a birthday gift.  My darling friend Bonnie’s daughter bought it for me.  Bonnie’s birthday is just a few weeks after mine, and Julia (age 15) bought the best friend bracelets for us.  (Bonnie is the friend who managed my cancer care from start to finish, you might remember) I treasure the meaning of the charm, the sentiment behind gift, and most of all, the friendship it represents.

My second bracelet I bought myself in November, just a few weeks after Dr. Siegel pronounced me cured of lymphoma.  It says “Live a Happy Life” on it.  The card it came with says that the bracelet embodies the spirit of courage, appreciation and choice. The full content says,  “Choose kindness, love, and joy.  Live life to the absolute fullest and open your mind up to spontaneous ideas.  Live fearlessly, be optimistic, and become blissfully aware of life’s gifts. Adorn yourself with the Live A Happy Life Charm to acknowledge the blessings in your existence and to be an inspiration to all.”

I don’t know about inspiration, but I do know that I strive to live every day acknowledging my blessings, for they are myriad. The jingle that I wear reminds me all the time that I am loved and even in times of challenge, I am strong and lucky.

So please, next time you see me, ask me about my bracelets; I’m proud to show them to you.