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Archive for February, 2009

Today, one of my oldest friends in Japan, came up from Osaka to spend the day with me.  The weather has been chilly and damp, so Keiko and I decided to do two of my favorite rainy day activities – visiting a great book store and eating delicious food.

Dream Books in Japanese

Dream Books in Japanese

We started out at the Yaesu Book Center, in front of Tokyo Station.  They have an extensive selection of books and a whole floor devoted to foreign language publications.  I was most interested in checking out the books on dreaming, to see how much interest there is in the topic in Japan.  I was delighted to see so many titles by IASD members available in Japanese, including books by Kelly Bulkeley, Robert Bosnak, Roslind Cartwright, and Stephen Laberge.

Tsukishima

Tsukishima - Nishinaka Dori

After the bookstore, we headed out to Tsukishima, a part of Tokyo which is famous for monjayaki.  It’s very difficult to translate this dish into anything that sounds half as appealing as it is, especially on a cold, wet day.  One of the best things about monjayaki is that it is cooked at the table on a built in griddle which will warm you up right away.

Monjayaki Restaurant Ataru

Monjayaki Restaurant Ataru

dscn5368We chose a stylish place with called Ataru for our lunch.  The young woman who served us said that in addition to this shop, her family owned three other monjayaki restaurants in the area.  At her recommendation, we ordered the most popular version which included roe, cheese and mochi bits mixed in with cabbage, flour and water.  For a more detailed description of how to make monjayaki and the history of this delicious dish, please click here.  It was delicious.

Bon Appetit!

If you are travelling in Tokyo Tsukishima is very easy to get to on public transportation.  Take the Yurakucho line to Tsukishima and exit at #7 which will take you right up to Nishinaka Dori.  This covered shopping street has a very nice neighborhood feeling with a wide variety of Monjayaki shops to choose from ranging from the very modern and stylish to more traditional and more rustic shops.   Bon Appetit!

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japanese-wedding-kimono

Sheila & Satoru, 1985

I am still recovering from an amazing weekend.  Imagine this!  Being in a room with nearly 140 women from every part of the globe, ages ranging from 20s to 90s with only one thing in common.  But that one thing is more than enough to make all of us to feel a tremendous sense of connection and commitment to one another.  At some point, all AFWJ members have been married to a Japanese man and have thus begun the journey of being regarded as a foreigner within our own marriages.

Quite a few of our marriages are flourishing.  Many others have floundered and died.  Some of us have thrived in Japan while others are having a hard time hanging on.  And there are those of us, like myself, who no longer reside in Japan but still feel a profoundly deep and lasting connection to our sisters in AFWJ and to Japan.

Fabulous at Forty

Fabulous at Forty Chiba Gang

AFWJ stands for the Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese and is truly an amazing group.  Through AFWJ women come together for friendship, mutual support, useful information and most of all, for the healing laughter, fun and the profoundly rich understanding that can only come from meeting with others who have having shared our experiences of being foreigners who have married into a Japanese family.

dscn5287

Original Fe-mail Team

This past weekend close to 140 of us gathered at a hotel in Chiba City, Japan to celebrate the 40th anniversary of our unique club.  To tell the truth, I was quite nervous about coming.  I haven’t been to a convention for nearly a decade, since moving back to the States with my family in 1999.

Originally, we moved to find help for our son who was showing very clear developmental delays.  I was worried about fitting back into AFWJ after being away for so long.  After all, my life is very different from what I left behind…or so I thought.  Within the first five minutes of the convention, every worry slipped away and I found myself bouncing between tears of recognition, joy and sorrow coupled with belly laughs that left me sore and longing for more.  It was as if time had stood still while I have been gone  Of course, many of my AFWJ sisters were sporting a few more gray hairs than before and there were many new additions to the club, but the love and the generosity of spirit that drew me to AFWJ in the first place was still there in abundance.

Overseas Members

Overseas Members

I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity reconnect with my senpai (wise seniors) and make new friends with my lovely younger kohai (freshman).  I was grateful to hear that many of my old friends could see how much I had grown since leaving Japan.  Rather than feeling the distance that can often enter into relationships where such growth has taken place, I was instead greeted with open arms and tears of recognition.  The friends I met seemed to be truly happy for how well my life has turned out.  Many recalled our son’s difficult adoption and the challenges I faced while trying to get help for his developmental difficulties.

My dear AFWJ sisters laughed and cried me, sharing their stories too.  Stories that only another foreign wife of a Japanese man could ever understand.  I am so glad that I came and hope that I will be able to join everyone next year for the annual convention in Hokkaido.

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dscn5276According to my friend Akemi, this poster is part of a popular campaign to promote good manners on the subways here in Tokyo.  At first I was a bit surprised and confused by this poster.  I couldn’t imagine what it was the passengers were supposed to be doing at home.

In the poster, a young woman is giving a man her heart while another man with crutches looks on.  What do you think this poster is trying to say?  What should they be doing at home instead of on the train?

I have to admit that I was a little embarrassed by what came to mind for me.  I couldn’t imagine that the transit authorities were actually trying to tell passengers to refrain from romance on the trains.  After all, Japanese tend to be quite shy about public shows of affection.  Had Japan changed that much in the few short years I’ve been away?

Finally, she explained to me that in Japan, women give chocolates to men on Valentine’s day.  The poster is asking lovers to refrain from taking seats together and becoming so wrapped up in each other as they exchange chocolates that they inconvenience others who really need to sit down.  They are encouraging them to share their sweetness for each other at home instead, giving up their seats for the handicapped and elderly.  Something good for us all to remember!

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Charantia Flower

Charantia Flower

When I first came to Japan, more than 30 years ago, I was astonished by not only how delicious the food was, but also by how much care is put into the meals served in Japanese homes.  I have come to believe that the amount of love Japanese women put into their cooking has as much effect on their family’s health as the food itself.  Unfortunately, for my husband and children, since I grew up in the States, with so many microwaved dishes and canned foods, I have yet to master the wonderful art of cooking such delicious, love saturated foods myself on a daily basis.

Goya - Bitter Melon

This morning, I woke to find that my friend Chapa had prepared a special dish from for me, reminding me of my husband’s Okinawan roots.  Since he can’t be with me on this trip, she evoked his presence by preparing a very simple, home style dish from Okinawa known as Goya Chanpura.  The best translation I can come up with would be Bitter Melon Stir Fry.  The goya plant, from which this dish is made, has a beautiful yellow flower with a cucumber like fruit covered in pronounced bumps.

Goya Chanpuru

Goya Chanpuru

The first time I tasted this dish at my husband’s grandmother’s home in NishiHaracho, I was struck by how bitter it was and didn’t really care for it.  Over time, however, I have grown to love it and crave how good I feel after eating it.  My mother-in-law often reminds me that Goya is loaded with wonderful nutrients.  It is said that goya can help prevent malaria and may even be helpful in treating HIV infection, as well as imporve immune cell functioning in cancer.  All I know is that when I eat Goya Chapuru prepared by someone I love, I feel good in my body and deeply cared for.

Matt McNellis

I was especially grateful to be treated so kindly this morning after receiving the bitter news that my cousin Matt McNellis (43) had passed away unexpectedly.  Today, as I savored my breakfast, my thoughts turned to Matt and the rest of our family.  May he rest in peace.  I wish I was there with them to prepare a dish filled with love that would help bring some comfort to his parents, siblings, nieces and nephews at this difficult time.

If you would like to try making some Goya Chanpuru yourself, here is a list of the ingredients.  Click here for a video showing how to make it.


(serves 2)

1 Goya – Bitter Melon (250g / 8.82 oz)
1 tsp Salt for Removing Bitterness from Goya

150g Onion (5.29 oz)
100g Slice Pork – upper shoulder part of pork (3.53 oz)

– Seasonings for Slice Pork –
1/2 tsp Soy Sauce
1/2 tsp Sake

2 Eggs
A Pinch of Salt
A Pinch of Pepper

1/2 Firm Tofu (200g / 7.05 oz)
2 tbsp Cooking Oil

– Condiments for Goya Chanpuru
2 tbsp Miso
1 tbsp Sake
1/2 tbsp Sugar
1 tsp Soy Sauce

Dried Bonito Flakes

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helicopter

This morning, I found myself  walking along a footpath in Urayasu with my husband and our two small boys.  In the dream I am helping our children learn how to fly.  It’s a very natural process for them, like learning how to walk.  I encourage then to focus on feeling the ki (気)in their bodies while using their imagination to rise up and fly along the path.  They take to it naturally, as children do.

My husband stays down on the ground, walking along on the dirt path, ready to catch the kids if they stumble.  He’s also there to walk along with them when they are not flying.  This works well for the children, having one of us grounded and the other rising up with the imagination.  I bump into some branches and remind myself  to be mindful  so I don’t get caught in them.

320px-ki_obsoletesvg2A man sees us flying and wants to try too.  He puts too much effort into it, focusing only on the weight of his body and the power of his muscles.  He can’t get off the ground.  I tell him to relax, reminding him that flying is easy.  I tell him, “Just focus on the ki and your imagination and then you’ll fly easily too, like the children do.  It’s as easy and fun as that.  I wonder if he remembers how to have fun?  Flying dreams like this remind me of how good it is to relax and have fun.

My friend Linda Lane Magallón is passionate about flying dreams and has a wonderful website devoted to the topic.  We were on a panel a couple of years ago at an IASD conference on dreaming in which she shared some of the art she has commissioned artists to do of flying dreams.  It looks like I am going to have to revisit that footpath today and do some drawings of my own!

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Crescent Wind

Crescent Wind by Chapa Murata

Okaerinasai! Welcome back home! With those words, my dear friend and former art student Chapa welcomed me back home to Japan.  As I stepped off the bus, jet lagged and hungry she embraced me and reminded me of why I love Japan so much.  Good friends are a treasure that makes life so rich and worthwhile.

The first thing we did was check out all the new shops at Ikspiari in front of Maihama station and have some delicious buckwheat noodles with tempura at Hegiya Soba. Although there are so many new buildings around Tokyo Disneyland, in many ways my Japanese home town Urayasu has changed very little. This is the place where I learned how to be a mother and a foreign wife.  Because of those experiences, a part of my heart will always remain here.

This coming weekend, I will coimage4nnect with another part of my old life in Japan.  I will be meeting with other foreign wives of Japanese men, like myself, for the first time since I moved to the States 9 years ago.  We left in 1999 to find help for our youngest son who has autism.  Unfortunately, Japan was not the best place to raise a child with a disability back then.  I hope that has changed over the years.

We will be gathering at a hotel in Chiba for the annual AFWJ convention, where I will be leading a workshop on the “If it were my dream…” approach to dreamwork.  AFWJ (The Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese) is a group which offers support to non-Japanese women who are married to, or who have been married to Japanese men.  They were a terrific source of inspiration, support and friendship while I was living in Japan and I am looking forward to reconnecting with everyone this coming weekend.  It really is a homecoming for me.  Now to get some sleep and dream!

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