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I can’t stop watching Rachel Maddow on MSNBC these days.  So Rachel showed a clip of Japanese Financial Minister, Shoichi Nakagawa’s “performance” at the G7 press conference making some kind of uh,  utterance in slurpy Japanese, which I could hardly make out.  Even for non-Japanese speakers it was obvious, as Rachel put it, he was “hammered!”

He claims it was a combination of the antihistamine he took for his cold symptoms and the jetlag.  Really?  Not to mention he has been known for his drinking habit for quite some time.

He is apparently a good buddy of the increasingly unpopular current Prime Minister Aso, who initially tried to cover his butt but promptly asked him to resign once the media was all over the incident.

I haven’t been following Japanese politics much.  It’s too frustrating.  The “Liberal Democratic Party” that’s been occupying the majority for well over 50 years – although they’re definitely losing their ground –  is exactly the opposite of “liberal democratic.”    It’s a joke.  I don’t see much democracy in the way the Japanese government operates in contrast to what America did in the last election.

I thought Washington was getting pretty scary before Obama came along, but Japanese government is beyond scary.  It is embarrassing!

(Sorry, no photo again!)

On Kenny’s first trip to Japan, I took him to meet a couple of good friends of mine. Upon arrival at their home, I pulled him into the powder room right in the foyer area (before my friends came out to greet us, mind you), pulled his pants down, sat him down on the toilet, and started pushing buttons. This was no ordinary toilet; it was the TOTO Washlet, equipped with a seat warmer and a high-tech mechanism to clean your behind after your business in the bathroom.

This was in 2000, and by then, Washlet and similar products were fairly well established in Japan; most of the modern homes and public establishments seemed to have it. But it was certainly a new thing for Kenny! The way it gives you control of the water temperature, the angle at which the water hits your behind, and even the dryer are all quite delightful, and I’m coveting one for my home in California. They have been sort of available through the local Japanese communities, but now TOTO has a beautiful showroom in West Hollywood with full services! http://www.washlet.com/

So, last year, I had an opportunity to go to Japan with a prominent sports agent on quite a lavish business trip. We were staying at the Four Seasons Hotel in Tokyo — not to mention being on the same floor as Bono, who was there for the African Conference. In my room I noticed a dainty little card on the bathroom vanity saying, “Don’t be afraid of our toilet.”

Day of Inauguration

Day of Inauguration

この火曜日、1月20日、オバマ大統領がついに就任。
普段は人ごみが大嫌いな私も、この日ばかりは大衆の中でこの歴史的なイベントを味わおうと、朝早起きしてロスアンジェルスダウンタウンのノキアプラザへ繰り出しました。就任式は東海岸時間で正午、ロスの現地時間で午前9時。ノキアプラザは現地時間朝7時半から人が集まり始めていました。私と夫は8時頃到着していくつかの大画面に映るCNNの生中継に見入りました。

画面にオバマ氏が映る度に大衆は沸き立ち、 携帯電話やデジカメで大画面をスナップ。回りにいる人達は私を含めオバマの宣誓や演説を聞きながら涙を流しました。

もうこの日は仕事にならない事を予め見込んでいたので、就任式をダウンタウンで見届けた後はサンタモニカの地元でMoveOn.Orgの祝賀パーティーに出席。

MoveOnとは1998年にクリントン大統領の弾劾裁判がきっかけで西海岸のアクティビストが始めたメールによる草の根運動の非営利団体。それ以来民主党の選挙資金集めに大貢献しており今回の大統領選でもオバマの選挙事務所と並行して、前例のない選挙運動を繰り広げました。 この日はMoveOnの呼びかけで、全国の何千カ所でお祝いのパーティーが行われたのです。

私の住むサンタモニカ周辺でも終日、一般家庭やレストランなどでMoveOnのボランティアがホストとなったパーティーが行われていました。私が出席したパーティーは自宅から徒歩5分ほど先のデザインスタジオで地元のMoveOnボランティアの人達、また単にオバマ大統領の就任を祝う人達が集まっていました。出席者が持ち寄りのポットラックのランチににぎわい、白い壁に映写されたインターネットのCNN生中継で就任パレードを見ながら食べた同スタジオのスタッフが作った「オバマケーキ」は抜群でした。

そして夜は私の住むアパートの住人が集まってまたまたパーティー。オバマ夫妻が転々とした晩餐会の中継を見ながらシャンペンで乾杯。思えば我が家のネイバー(お隣りさん達)は人種多様。人口11人のうちイタリア系アメリカ人の私の夫の他、白人は2人、あとはイギリス人、イラン人、メキシコ系アメリカ人、ブラジル人、黒人、そして韓国人と私の日本人。あらためてアメリカと言う国のユニークさ、そして「やっぱり何でも可能なんだ」と言う希望と底力を感じます。

感動の一日。さあ、これからが大変です。オバマ大統領に習って私も頑張らなくっては、、、

Waterfall

Waterfall

My husband and I went hiking on New Year’s Day in our local mountains. We decided to do a trail we haven’t done before and chose Solstice Canyon about 17 miles north of Santa Monica in Malibu.

The trail was unusually crowded.  As we we exchanged, “Happy New Year!” with people on the path, I was struck by the diversity of languages I heard.  So cool to be in Southern California!

元旦は夫と地元の山でハイキング。サンタモニカから約17マイル北上してマリブにあるソルスティスキャニオンのハイキングコースはめずらしくにぎわっていた。

行き交う人達と「ハッピーニューイヤー」と挨拶を交わしながら気がついたのは、いろいろな国の言葉が聞こえた事。観光地ではないのでおそらくこの辺りに済んでいる人達だと思う。スペイン語、イタリア語、ドイツ語、韓国語、アルメニア語、ペルシャ語、アイルランドなまりの英語、いろいろだった。皆私と同じ様に、よその国からやって来て住み着いているのかな、、、

Perhaps I’m gradually pushed into the category of “older generation” which is qualified by a tendency to reminisce the good old days.

When I was growing up, our family had certain customs for this time of the year.  Some part of it may have been unique to our family, but I think most households did something similar.

The custom is we cleaned the house thoroughly before the year ended.  We’d purge a lot of things we no longer needed; organized everything in the house; cleaned the windows, and vacuumed every little nook of the house.  On New Year’s Eve, our house would be spic and span, have some fresh cut flowers nicely arranged, potted cyclamens, the New Year’s decoration (お飾り) and the kagami-mochi (鏡餅) all placed in their appropriate places.  We were ready for the New Year.  I was always very much into this whole process.  When I come to think of it, it was us, the women in the family who did most of the work, though.

Even after I left Japan, I’ve always tried to do this cleaning thing at the end of the year, but lately I’ve been aware it causes a lot of stress.  I don’t know if it’s physical aspect of it or my life as a whole has gotten to be so cluttered that I feel completely overwhelmed to face this process.  Really, if I wanted to do a complete job of purging, organizing and cleaning, it would require a whole week!  First it’s the physical space:  my apartment and my office.  Then I have to do my cyber space: i.e., my computer desktop, hard drives, the email inbox, and how about all my social networking sites, that are still not completely up to date!?

As much as I still like to be clean and organized for the new year every year, I’m definitely cutting corners now.  I have to let go of my perfectionism in order to maintain my sanity and my physical wellbeing.   This time I purged the closet, de-cluttered the living room and my office.  My husband did the sweeping, dusting and mopping, thank God.

I feel ready for 2009.sunset1

Cherry Blossoms in Tanzawa 丹沢山の山桜

Wild Cherry Blossoms in Tanzawa 丹沢山の山桜

My Dad loved the mountains.  He used to take us to the Japan Alps during the summer for short trips.  As we (mom, my brother, and myself) were all wuss about hiking, he never took us on anything more than a little stroll down some paths for sightseers.

His favorite place to hike, though, was Tanzawa Mountains, located northwest of Kanagawa Pref., only about an hour and a half drive from Yokohama where we lived.   I have some fond memories going there for weekend camps and day trips, but usually only as far as our family car could get us.  He had some friends he would go up to hike, but I never had a chance to join him as I was a young and peppy city girl.  I didn’t start hiking until I was well into my 30s.

My Dad passed away in April of 2001.    As he had donated himself to medical research upon his death, we didn’t receive his ashes back until almost a year later.    One of his wishes was to be buried in his favorite mountain.  So in April of 2002, his friends asked me to join them on a hike up the mountains to go sprinkle his ashes.  It was a drizzly day in early spring, but the mixture of deep green, the new green, and different shades of pink of the wild cherry blossoms (山桜) made my hike so magical.  I felt as if I had stepped into Kaii Higashiyama’s world.(東山魁夷)

I finally made it to go hiking with Dad on his favorite trail.

Kenny on Keihin Tohoku Line (京浜東北線に乗るケニー)

Kenny on Keihin Tohoku Line (京浜東北線に乗るケニー)

Kenny, my now husband, went to Japan for the first time almost 8 years ago to meet my terminally ill father.  We stayed at now gone Yokohama Prince Hotel (横浜プリンスホテル) right over Isogo Station (磯子駅), which had always been my station when I lived there.

When I was a child, Isogo was the terminal station for Keihin-Tohoku Line (京浜東北線). I remember Isogo Station in the 60’s when it was the only prominent building in our small town.  It always gave me a sense of something far away.  The train tracks that extended from there led to all kinds of unknown places.  Our town had grown tremendously since then, and a lot has changed.   The line was extended sometime during the 70’s to Yokodai (洋光台) then eventually to Ofuna (大船), which connects with a few other lines.    Meanwhile, there were numerous high-rise condominiums (we used to call them , “mansions [マンション]”) built around the station, and the population grew exponentially within a few years in early 70’s.

During high school, I commuted on this train south to Konandai (港南台).  Then during the couple of years at the Kanda Language School in Tokyo, I took train from Isogo everyday for an hour one-way.

I don’t miss the ride in the rush hour crowd, but I do miss being able to ride trains to get to places especially because I live in Los Angeles, where you would have to make an extra effort to utilize the public transportation system.

For Kenny, who come from Chicago where public transportation is also very well established, it was the most interesting part of his trip riding those commuter trains and see some interesting characters around him….  well, including himself.