Tsuki Magazine Takes You Inside Japan

It’s got stunning photography capturing the quiet beauty of everyday life in Japan. It’s got thought-provoking interviews on race relations and self-publishing. It’s got engrossing Japan-themed fiction and nonfiction including my very first published story!

If you’re really interested in life in Japan, and not just the tourist traps they show you in Lonely Planet, this is a magazine you need to read. Click here to read a free sample. I think I can safely say after reading the debut issue that it was a huge success. A big thank you goes to Caroline Josephine, the mastermind behind it all. I’m ecstatic to be included in the magazine along with my fellow bloggers and photographers Loco of Loco in Yokohama, Joanne Yu, Our Man in Abiko, J.C Greenway of Ten Minutes Hate and Made in DNA. I hope to see and be included in many more issues to come.

You can follow Tsuki Magazine on Twitter and Facebook.

Below is a sample from my story. Head over to Tsuki Magazine to read the rest. Get your copy here!

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An officer and an interpreter waited on Anna with typical Japanese courtesy, standing silently but alert at the side of her hospital bed. The officer had a pen poised over a notebook. The interpreter stared at her with his bushy, dark eyebrows raised in expectation. Anna stared dumbly at a limp curtain (that should have been white but wasn’t quite), bunched up at the corner of the empty hospital bed across from hers as she tried to shake free the details of the night before. They’d settled like potatoes in the sluggish stew of her brain. She could hear nurses talking in Japanese in the hallway outside her room, and though she usually tuned out at the sound of a language she could barely understand, today their chatter distracted her. The gash in her arm stung and itched, tight and uncomfortable under the gauze with the stitches pulling it closed. She knew there would be a bad scar, and hoped it wouldn’t screw up her chances of getting modeling gigs in the future.

Focus, Anna focus. She closed her eyes and breathed deep, smelling the harsh cleanliness of antiseptic chemicals. She started her recollection with what she remembered most clearly: The blood, running down her arm first in one thin stream, then a little red river, breaking off into branches when it overflowed. It was like looking at one of those artsy pictures where everything is in black in white, except one thing that’s a really bright colour – a red balloon, a yellow scarf, something like that. No, she didn’t scream. She couldn’t feel the knife slicing into her. She only knew she’d been badly cut because she could see it, and the eruption of blood splitting into three streams snaking down her arm, dripping off her elbow onto the road. She was too mesmerized to scream. Yeah, she probably was in shock. It hurt like a bitch after though.

The officer and interpreter chatted for a few seconds in fast Japanese, until finally the interpreter turned his dark eyes on her and asked, “Please tell it from the beginning.”

* * *

It had been a hot night. Though the sun was asleep it was still unreasonably sticky out, and Anna knew there were embarrassing sweat stains on the back of her blouse. She was making the long, boring walk from the station to her apartment. She remembered being impressed that she was halfway home and hadn’t had to dodge anyone coming at her on a bicycle yet, or stop at the side of one of Tokyo’s narrow roads for a car to roll by. No looking at her shoes or the flowers in the front yard of a house or something, to avoid eye contact with the driver. Then, she’d stupidly thought it was good luck.

She was closing in on the intersection where she would turn for the home stretch to her place, when she saw the first person she’d seen on the back roads all night – which was strange to be honest, ‘cause there are a ton of apartments and houses in the area. She couldn’t tell if it were a man or a woman. All she could make out was that whoever it was wore one of those hospital masks people here strap onto their faces when they’re sick, or is it trying not to get sick? Anyway, it stood out, bright white against the person’s black coat, black hair and the blackness of the night.  Anna had wondered how on Earth this person could stand wearing that long, dark coat in the heat. Yes, she could respect the dedication to fashion, but it was one of those nights where it’s so humid the air is tangible, and you just can’t seem to get enough oxygen no matter how deep you breathe.

Anna turned left at the intersection and the other person turned as well, and ended up walking behind her. Soon, Anna noticed the coat-wearer was practically on her heels. She could hear breathing – slow loud inhales and exhales like someone meditating, or maybe trying to supress their rage. She sped up, thinking maybe the person was agitated because she was in their way or something, even though they were the only people on the road and he or she could have easily gone around Anna. However, she shrugged it off as a “Japanese” thing, like passing someone on the road might come off as rude, but when she began to walk faster the person matched her pace. That was when Anna realized she was nervous.

Why is this dude right under me like this? She had decided it was a man. Oh God, maybe he’s some kind of crazy person who hates foreigners, or – shit – is he gonna try to rape me or something? Dammit where is everyone?

She remembered hearing that rapists look for women who seem like “victims”, and that they don’t want to risk being identified. Maybe it was unwise, but she turned and faced the strange person.

 

Blacks in Japan: Haircare Tips

If you’re a woman of African descent like me, and thinking about moving to Japan, I suspect there’s a certain concern on your mind: what the hell am I gonna do with my hair?

Just how do we black women living in Japan keep our beautiful, curly and unique hair looking supa dupa fly in a country where everyone else has not only different hair, but hair that is the exact opposite to ours?

Well, I wrote all about my own hair care experiences over at Surviving in Japan — a really useful blog with tips for everyday life in Japan for foreigners. I’ve benefited from many of the posts over there, like how to do a money transfer when the ATM will only allow you to do it entirely in Japanese, and where to find Tylenol and Aspirin. So when Ashley asked me if I wanted to do a guest post I knew it was time to pay it forward.

Here are my 4 Tips to Maintain Black Hair While Living in Japan. I wrote this post primarily for women because men tend to just chop it all off, especially if working in the conservative Japanese corporate structure, but there’s no reason why men couldn’t follow these tips as well. Head over to Surviving in Japan to check it out!

 

How I Survived Six Months in Tokyo

Bad Communication Interview

OK, maybe I’m being a little dramatic. My six months here have actually been more fun than a trip to the circus…by elephant…surrounded by juggling clowns. Andrew and Hiroki of the Bad Communication podcast had me on the show for another interview, and I talked about what’s happened since my first interview. You know, before I had ever set foot on Japanese soil. Check it out, and see what I have to say after spending half a year in Tokyo.

 

My Second Interview on Bad Communication

My Secret Tokyo Paradise

Shimokitazawa

Everyone needs a place they can escape to when that ruthless steamroller called life has left you flattened on the sidewalk. For me, this place isn’t a peaceful temple with a quietly gurgling fountain, or a park with a path lined with bamboo trees.An Alley in Shimokitazawa

One of my favourite places to unwind in Tokyo is loud, flashy and busy, yet intimate too. It’s a trendy neighbourhood you’ve probably never heard of unless you live here. It doesn’t have the claims to fame of Shibuya, Shinkuku or Harujuku, but what it lacks in notoriety it makes up for in sheer charm. The area consists of one bustling main street that splits off into numerous skinny alleys that beg to be explored. There’s a vibrant, artistic and bohemian energy about the place that never fails to bring me back to life. It’s chilling on the cute designs decorating the doors of closed shops.

Door Design in Shimokitazawa

It’s glowing at you from the neon signs and the lanterns that line the streets.  It’s dancing in your ears as the laughter of impeccably dressed Japanese youth lounging on a bar patio. It’s tickling your nose as the smell of Japanese curry, Italian pasta and Thai soup.

I’m talking about Shimokitazawa, where you can always find a talented young musician on a street corner looking for, and often finding, an appreciative audience. That is, before they move on to live performances at one of the many clubs in the area. If you’re looking for up-and-coming J-talent, this is where you need to be.

Club 251

Cute accessories store in Shimokitazwa Tokyo

If it’s fashion that sets your heart racing, Shimokitazawa has — hands down — two of the cutest accessories stores I’ve ever seen. And there are quite a few second-hand clothing stores where you can get really stylish stuff for less than half of what you would normally pay. Trust me when I say you’ll lose hours browsing these places.

 

 

Or if you like games, there are blaring, colourful arcades that beckon you inside with their beeps, clicks and dings, promising fame and glory if you can beat the latest high score. Or you can try your luck at winning a prize in one of the game centres. I’ve seen everything from stuffed animals to cookware to perfume in these machines. I haven’t had much luck, in fact there’s an adorable teddy bear I’ve so far spent 2000 yen (about $20) trying to win with no success, but don’t let that stop you. After all, the chase is half the fun! And there are of course the obligatory pachinko parlours sprinkled around the place, for those who want to trust their fortunes to lady luck.

One day, Rilakkuma, you and I will be together.

The restaurants and bars in Shimokitazawa are some of the most exciting and beautifully designed I’ve ever seen, and judging by the crowds inside the food is just as enticing. Whatever you’re craving you’ll probably find it here. There’s traditional Japanese, Thai, Italian, and even a jerk chicken stall tucked away in a corner, with smooth reggae beats playing as customers sit at outdoor tables while a blue disco ball flashes over them.

In fact, disco balls seem to be a theme here, but you won’t hear me complaining because somehow, in Shimokitazawa, it works.

 

 

This post is part of the July 2011 J-Festa “Places in Japan”, over at Japingu.

Summer R.E.L.I.E.F Tactics

This post is part of the  Blog Matsuri (festival) “Hot Fun in the Summertime”. Special thanks to Loco of Loco in Yokohama for hosting.

 

 

 

Summer is usually my recommend for best season of the year. A glowing blue sky and sunshine always gets me grinning like a nerd fantasizing about marrying the girls at his favourite maid café. But there’s summer, and then there’s Tokyo summer. I was warned. Oh, how I was warned.

“Japan gets very hot in the summer.” (Very hot? In Summer?? What? How?)

“There is a lot of humidity” (OK, so my hair might experience some chia petification, but what else is new?)

Yeah, you know how everything is more…exaggerated in Japan? Summer is no exception. It’s like someone bedazzled summer with glittering beads made of heat and suffering. Every day I ask myself, why must everything be so moist? The air is moist, two minutes after stepping outside my socks are moist, my clothes are moist, my face is perpetually greasy as if I put on a Vaseline beauty mask every morning, and I am just generally marinating in my own juices at all times like the globe is a giant rotisserie, and we’re about to be the main course. Even now I can barely type because my fingers are so sweaty they keep slipping off the keyshdforwgnh. Dammit!

And before you go off on me with, “Ew, don’t you shower?” Yes I do, and right after I get out I am “dewy” again. And there is barely a breeze to be felt. It’s like the wind passed through Tokyo one day long ago, thought to himself, “Oh, hell no it’s too damn moist! I’m not touching that situation,” and left us all to the mercy of summer’s sweaty, groping palms.

Historically in these times of struggle the people would turn their attention to worshiping the God of coolness and comfort, Aircon. But alas, our saviour has been weakened by the devilish plotting and underhanded manoeuvrings of his nemesis, the evil trickster Tepco.  So we must rise up, and seek our own sources of liberation. The rebellion starts now! Join me as Rebels Entering Liberation In Energetic Fashion, and become a R.E.L.I.E.F warrior™. Using our R.E.L.I.E.F tactics, we will violently yank Tokyo summer’s sticky, wandering fingers from our bodies.

Liberation tactic # 1: Get your CoolBiz on.

Tie Fan

Look at this guy, look how refreshed he looks. This could be you.

Coolbiz is a free pass to wear whatever you want* to work so that you don’t have to die of heatstroke, because that looks really bad for the company. Fellas, I suggest rocking this piece on the right at your next big presentation.

It’s not cheesy; it says you are a smart man who is serious about keeping cool. You’re at the head of the liberation front my friend.

*Dramatization: and I take no responsibility if you show up to work in your mankini and get yourself deported.

Liberation Tactic #2: Be a Platform Rat™

Platform Rat

R.E.L.I.E.F Warrior in Action

I lied when I said there was little breeze in Tokyo. There is one special time when the sweetest of cooling breezes traipses ever so lightly through Tokyo like a butterfly coming to rest on a flower covered in dew…disgusting, smelly dew. That time is when a train pulls into a station. That is one welcome wind but all too soon it’s gone, and what’s left is a train ride packed into a car with about 100 other moistened people as Aircon, in his weakened state, can only wheeze over us. So I say, why get on the train? Why not just hang out on the platform all day as dozens of trains go by, bringing their soothing breezes with them. Bring a blanket, a book and bento and (the three B’s of platform ratting) and camp out. You will notice people starting at you: again they are thinking how smart you are and committed to the cause of keeping cool. You are a true R.E.L.I.E.F warrior.

Liberation Tactic #3: Go bar hopping in Roppongi.

Go ahead, do it. If this place doesn’t send a chill down your spine I don’t know what will. Make sure to watch some charisma men going at it too (shudder). Aaaah, it’s working already.

Liberation Tactic #4: Nomihodai (All You Can Drink)

Hydration is an important part of keeping cool, so it is your duty as a R.E.L.I.E.F warrior to drink, and drink, and drink so more. Yes, Nomihodai usually refers to alcoholic drinks, but what better and cheaper way to keep filling yourself up with liquid? Every day? All summer?  You’d be stupid not to do it.*

*I take no responsibility if daily nomihodai also results in the wearing of the mankini, and subsequent deportation.

OK my warriors, I’ve given you my finest liberation secrets, but I need your help. You’re a crafty bunch, and I know you have R.E.L.I.E.F tactics of your own, so stop holding out on me. What are they? Shoot me a comment and let me know…please?

 

I’m in Love with Taiko

Taiko

No, Taiko is unfortunately not the name of some cool and sexy Japanese guy. It’s beautiful, traditional Japanese drumming.

One of the things I really love and admire about Japan is the classical music. There’s something about the sound of the shamisen, koto and yes the booming Taiko drum that just resonates with my soul. The pounding rhythm of the Taiko is aggressive, it’s commanding — it’ll crash your brain and force you to listen. And beating the drum requires not only strength, but style. A Taiko drummer also needs to be a dancer, and the perfect form of a Taiko master combines strength and grace, like a hunting crane. A Taiko performance is nothing short of art.

How did I get involved in Taiko? I saw the opportunity for a free Taiko lesson posted on TimeOut Tokyo, and I knew I had to try it. I had my misgivings: Will I be able to understand the instructor if the class is in Japanese? How much will it cost if I want to continue? Will I have to buy a big Taiko drum? But the music was calling, so I pushed all those worries aside and sent an email saying I wanted to try the free lesson. Some of my fears about language were eased when the reply had pretty accurate English grammar.

Now I’m hooked. I’ve been taking lessons for four months, and I’m in the middle of learning a routine for my first concert. There are days when I feel lazy and I don’t want to go to class, but I remember the rhythm, and I drag myself to the train station, and once I’m in class surrounded by the drumming, I’m always glad I went.

What’s a typical lesson like? Well, I get to the studio and give my usual chorus of konban wa (good evening) to everyone I see. If I’m early I help our sensei (teacher) and the other students with setting up the drums. We use three huge drums, and take turns practicing.

After the drums are set up I go get changed. Taiko is a workout, especially when we’re practicing the fast rhythms, so I need my workout gear. This is the time I usually practice my miniscule Japanese, by talking to the other students. And they also get to practice their English with me.

Then I tape up my hands with elastic bandages. If I don’t I get bruises and blisters on my hands from drumming so hard. Soon after that sensei will call out, “Hai! Hajimemasho! (Let’s Start)” Then we do some stretches, and then get into drumming practice. Though I can’t understand a lot of what’s being said, I can get it from context. But if I ask another student who speaks English they’re always willing to explain. At some point we get some one on one time with the sensei, and though he doesn’t speak English he shows me what I’m doing wrong by doing a hilarious caricature of me. Uh…point taken sensei.

These Taiko lessons have been a great way to challenge myself physically and mentally. The style of Taiko I do is Miyake Taiko, and I’m really, really trying to have passable drumming form before the concert. However, I am slightly worried about the “waiting pose” we have to make when it’s not our turn to drum. It’s a crouching sit that starts to hurt after about one minute and makes my legs fall asleep! The last thing I want is to get up to drum and fall flat on my face…

Still, I think I’ve stumbled onto something incredible here, and I’m already excited for the next lesson. They are two hours long but I don’t even feel it. Once the drum beat starts everything else fades away. There’s only a thunderous rhythm that vibrates first in the soles of my bare feet, then travels up my legs, up my spine and hijacks the beat of my heart. The nagging chatter of the everyday worries of life is no match for the powerful boom of the Taiko drum.

This post is part of the October 2011 J-Festa: Entertainment in Japan.