Friday, September 30, 2011


I didn't know how to break it to you, but I did leave Japan.

Oh, man, it was hard. I can't tell you how hard it was. That's probably why I haven't been near this blog in so long. I mean that was an awful process, leaving Tokyo. I had so much to love there. I cried all the way to LAX. By the time I got to Portland, I felt fine. It wasn't the shock I expected. It was quieter and it took me awhile to realize, like I realize now, that my heart is still aching.

What is wrong with me? That's what I was thinking in those last few weeks. Why would I come to this place and work so hard to find these people I love so much and this life where I can do anything I want? Why would I do that and then force myself to leave it? Why am I hittin' myself? Why'm I hittin' myself?

I don't know why! I was so weary and grateful and devastated during those last days. On my date of departure, I drank coffee in Koenji with someone I cared about very much. When that person left the shop, my Tokyo life was over. There were no more friends to see and I was just waiting for my flight to leave. I couldn't stand that feeling, so I wiped my nose, cleared my table, picked up my bag, and walked across the street to get on the train.

And I'd go to Oregon and be with my family and my dog and my rivers and trees and bay, and I'd have a beautiful summer and I wouldn't cry for that other life much at all.

And a few months later it would be September and I'd be in New York and feeling lost. Here's now, and it's a strange moment to be in. I love being back in America. But nothing can take away this ache in my heart for the streets I walked, the trains I rode, the drinks I drank, the friends I loved, the city where I once said "I found myself in the white-hot nucleus of my youth!" Haha. Oh, Tokyo. You'll forget me and I can't help it, but I will remember our love forever.

Well, anyway. Now I'm in New York. Stay in touch and check back with my new blog here and/or on tumblr. Let's do it.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Degas in Yokohama

Months ago I went to see the Degas exhibition at Yokohama Art Museum. I just realized I don't know the difference between exhibit and exhibition.

That's the museum, that's all I've got. Hey, sometimes when you live in a big city for awhile, you get used to it and you get bored and you forget about all the cool shit that big cities get, like in museums, like paintings and fossils and artifacts. I try to get out once in awhile and catch whatever's in town. Or just the dinosaur bones in the Nature and Science Museum.

It was just getting cold that day.

Rooftops, Patios

Most people might have figured this out sooner than I did, but the top floors and rooftops of department stores in Tokyo almost always feature an indoor/outdoor space to chill out up high, drink some coffee, read a book, smoke a cigarette, whatever. There are benches, plants, and usually a decent view.

This is from the 12th floor of Takashimaya Times Square on the South side of Shinjuku Station, overlooking Shinjuku Park. You can test your cred by picking out the distant landmarks of all the neighborhoods you've been drunk in. Or taken walks or something, whatever, I don't know what you sickos get up to.

One floor up is a patio space. The top three floors are all restaurants and cafes so you can grab a coffee, although after nearly 3 years in Japan I still make a face at paying $4 for a little cup of iced sludge.

I've always had a weird relationship with Shinjuku.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Rainy Shin-Okubo

I know usually when it rains you can't be fucked to go out, but then sometimes you do and it's beautiful.

Monday, May 16, 2011


There are 56 members in the idol group AKB48, all girls aged 12 to 24. AKB stands for Akihabara, the notoriously eccentric Tokyo neighborhood where the group was invented, and where they perform for creeps on the 8th floor of Don Quixote every day.

AKB48 members usually appear as schoolgirls, popping cute little blinky faces and wiggling their limbs in talent-show dance moves. When they're not dressed in school uniforms, they're in bikinis or sexy (but sweet) lingerie.

AKB48 is used to promote an incredible variety of mainstream products, and you see images of the group in convenience stores, on train platforms, on magazine covers, on drink bottles. Sometimes it seems like AKB48 is everywhere. This distresses me because in my dreams, Akihabara is a quarantine for this kind of gross lolita bullshit.

The neighborhood, famous for its concentration of game and electronics shops, has cultivated a similar concentration of shopping and entertainment catering to anime, video game, and pornography subcultures. What you can find in Akihabara ranges from awesome (vintage game consoles and offbeat memorabilia) to distressing (pornographic comic books featuring toddlers). Unfortunately, the neighborhood leaks.

About a year ago, my junior high school and high school students started showing up with AKB CDs and writing in their class journals about going to the convenience store to buy chocolates to get AKB member trading cards. Before long I'd lost count of how many times I'd watched groups of 12 year old boys unfold the jackets of AKB48 cds to exclaim over photos of the girls in thigh-high fishnets and skimpy pastel bras and panties making pouty porno-moe faces. I'd lost count of how many times I've heard 12 year old girls discuss which AKB member is the cutest.

This is a group that was invented specifically for otaku men who fetishize young girls. The idea was to assemble a bunch of fresh young female faces and bodies to be sexually idolized, and keep them close and accessible to the guys who idolized them. AKB48's fans get chances to meet them at events in Akihabara all the time, and, like most idol groups, AKB48 makes it a point to acknowledge its otaku fanbase and ply them with sweet comments like "I consider myself an otaku, as well!"

Choose your favorite member and pretend she's looking at you while she drinks juice!

Akihabara bothers me. Idol groups like this bother me. Adults drooling over young girls bothers me. Encouraging cuteness as a major female virtue bothers me. That a sizable portion of men in the world can only think of girls as a mystifying and intimidating species, approachable only when they act like talking cupcake babies, bothers me. But AKB48 in particular bothers me.

Kiss me...

It's disturbing that someone can create a product as a porno fantasy for men who like underage girls, and then, having cornered that market, push the same product onto children through heavy mainstream exposure with singalong songs on the radio and advertising tied to bottled soft drinks, chocolates, and snacks. It bothers me that parents of young boys and girls aren't disturbed by the idea of their kids sipping this sickly sweet lolicon brew.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Shopping Arcade

After midnight in Kichijoji.

Salad Party in Omotesando

Chicken, salad, drinks, art, a veranda and a view.

That was a lovely winter day.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Saki no Yu, Shirahama

The first time I came to Japan on a summer homestay, some friends of my host family took me on an overnight trip to Shirahama in Wakayama prefecture. That weekend is one of my most vivid memories of Japan. We went by car from Osaka. Shirahama is a popular beach and hot spring town and it's packed in the summer, but I was really charmed by the little white beach and all of the retro hotels, none built more recently than the 80s. We checked into an inn, where the bathtub faucet drew water from the surrounding hot springs. I don't love the smell of sulfur but this detail was so novel and cool. We had a big course lunch at the hotel and then walked along the beach. The next day we spend the morning and early afternoon at the beach, then headed back to Osaka by way of some really gorgeous wild mountain roads. We stopped at a place where there was a forest museum and a little shop selling charcoal products. I can't forget, though, that I thought I was gonna die on the drive home because the guy's driving was CRAZY and the wheels kept crossing the white line at the edge of these high mountain roads, ugh! Kansai drivers! I didn't really know the people I was with -- it was an older Japanese ceramics artist, his Japanese-American friend, her American husband, their American niece or something, and a little Japanese boy. We got along okay without really bonding. It's funny that I remember it as one of the best trips I ever went on and in the six years since I have been dying to get back down there one more time. And I just did!

sakino-yu, shirahama by hopemeng
sakino-yu, shirahama, a photo by hopemeng on Flickr.

This time I made it to Saki no Yu, an outdoor hot spring in Shirahama, one of the top 3 in Japan I guess. Look at it! It's amazing! A week ago I was in that far pool at the edge of the ocean, naked and simmered and splashed by the waves, yelling "POSEIDON!" It was excellent. I've wanted to go to this famous onsen for a long time and now I've been and it was awesome. Mid-April was the perfect time to go to Shirahama. No crowds at all, and it was just warm enough to kick back.

Here Comes the Sun

I'm ready, are you?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I've often complained about Japan being too bright. I like low brassy light, soft lamps or whatever. In Japan, cafes and bars and restaurants and drugstores and grocery stores are equally super florescent.

Post-earthquake/tsunami, we've been threatened with blackouts, so everyone's trying to save power, and the city's been dimmed. At first I sort of liked it -- and still kind of do, I mean, my eyes are spared the usual florescent assault, and we're saving electricity, and it gives a sense of community, kind of, like we're all working together to get through this.

Then I went to Shinjuku tonight, and here was the neon jungle, switched off, in the dark.

You know where this is. It's where Bill Murray first arrives in Lost In Translation -- one of the most recognized tacky blinking flashing electric vistas in Tokyo. And now the screens and signs are shut off, and you can barely see the faces of the loiterers.

It's spooky. See Kimura Takuya up there atop the ALTA? He's been there for as long as I can remember. He is the holy guardian of the East Exit and his majesty is now cloaked in shadow! You get used to seeing things as they essentially are, and then you see them like this, and it makes you uneasy. You know?

Here in Tokyo, we're just reading the news, hoping for the best, mourning for those up north. Some have left for other countries or for the south. Some of us still have emergency bags packed. Most of us are fielding scary emails from abroad, pleas to get away from here. It's a strange time to be here, but me and mine are okay, and I hope the same for everyone else. Best wishes, best luck.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Don Quixote

If you buy a per-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-r-rsonal item at Don Quixote, it is lovingly wrapped in very discreet cloud-patterned paper. Then it goes into an opaque black bag. Duh. I guess ran into some apathetic cashiers in Shibuya on this particular day. Thanks, Donki. Let's have no shame. Surely my reputation was only mildly affected among salarymen-in-the-know as I wandered home.

Anytime Anywhere

Where I come from, you can't buy booze after 2AM. In Japan, I sometimes head for the station at 6 in the morning past bars full of grisly owls still throwing back beers -- and hard liquor is sold alongside instant noodles and potato chips in convenience stores.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Now I'm Valentine's Day in Japan

Valentine's Day in Japan is when girls give boys chocolate and love. One month later on White Day, 3/16, boys return the gesture. I would tell both holidays to blow me but, as you know, I like any holiday that calls for arts & crafts so I spent all last evening making rocky road and no-bake cookies and all this morning hand-making and -painting paper boxes to wrap it up in.

Last week a student asked, "Ms. Roeser, how many boyfriends do you have?" "About 507," I replied. That was a lie. I have a lot of extra chocolate in pretty boxes. Who's lonely? I can help.

Friday, February 11, 2011


The only endearing thing ever found near Tennozu-Isle Station. There were many good-natured construction workers on the job that afternoon. I saw them posing for photos for each other.


What, you don't love me anymore? YOU ARE MISTAKEN & I WILL CORRECT YOU.

I am the sweater king, I am the bathroom photo king, I am the snow prince when I feel like it!
Ever so more where that came from.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sapporo Snow Festival

I went to Sapporo this weekend with Selena and look how promptly I'm telling you about it!

So check it out -- that is one cold city. But it is very pretty, the people were warm and friendly, and they know what to do with a lot of snow -- party with it.

I guess the military brings in truckloads of snow and snow and snow to be piled and sculpted. There's Snoopy, and behind him Mister Potato Head, and behind him, men at work.

My companion instantly recognized this baseball player. I was like SWEET, GIANT SNOW GUY WITH CORN!

This is a pretty unbeatable picture of Selena on the ferris wheel. Mountains! Mountains!

Dreamy guy sculpting an ice Pegasus with a chainsaw while a cheesy beer ad mirrors our delight. You're welcome.

Let me tell you about highballs in Japan. I came to Japan two years ago drinking whiskey and soda. A few months after I arrived, Suntory started this HIGHBALL ad campaign. A highball according to Suntory is Suntory scotch, soda, and lemon. The campaign was so giant and successful that now when I go to a bar EVERYONE is ordering highballs. There are special HIGHBALL BARS. What? Even this snowy festival has an ice sculpture devoted to highballs. The thing is, at some places, like big chain izakaya, if you order a highball, you get the cheapest scotch in a big mug of soda with a squirt of sweetened lemon syrup and a slice of lemon. Sugary and nast. So it's smarter to order whatever whiskey you want, plus soda. Then you have to explain to the table why you ordered a whiskey and soda instead of a "highball." Okay, every time I explain this, I can't remember why I'm annoyed by the highballs in Japan thing, but nevertheless, I usually am.

Whoa! Giant owls and foxes or something with a big snow building!

But you know what I really came for, right? FUCK YEAH!

Dinosaurs, man!

Yes! Dinosaurs!

The dinosaur centerpiece commits a minor faux pas...

MINOR? OMG IT GETS ME EVERY TIME! STEGGY! This video is the sole reason Stegosaurus is my favorite dinosaur.

If you're in Japan, fly around. I've gone to Kobe and Sapporo for about 20,000JPY using Skymark. You can reserve tickets online and buy them at a convenience store with your reservation number. Flying long distance within Japan is often cheaper than taking trains!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Make it moist, damp

This hideous appliance is a PET bottle humidifier I bought very cheaply with very little faith. If you're prone to dry skin and you want to move to Japan, watch out! Winter in Tokyo is so, so, so, so dry. I don't know how it is for everyone, but around late November here my nails start breaking off, my hair is parched, and my skin, ugh! Last year my skin got so dry it cracked. My back and my hips were just awful. I tried everything but a humidifier, because being from one of the wettest places on earth I kind of didn't really know what a humidifier was? But it has changed my life! My skin feels amazing!

I should have bought some sleek ceramic number like this I guess. It looks kind of psychedelic to me. If I designed humidifiers I would obviously start with dragons and stoner gnomes, but whatevs. Anyway, humidifiers are sold everywhere here. Which makes sense. Because it's so dry. I could have figured this whole thing out a bit faster. I spike mine with a peppermint, frankincense, rosemary and lemon essential oil blend. Happiness. So I have got winter DOWN, man. Electric blanket, humidifier, Vaseline lotion from home, Heat Tech leggings/tights/undershirts = this is under control.

Edit: Hahaha of course someone has already made a dragon humidifier, duh. But I think we have a lot more places to go with this...

I work out in the fucking suburbs, way out in the suburbs. I hate suburbs. But almost any place looks pretty once at least in awhile, if you can see the sky or the ocean. You know why? Because Earth is an awesome planet. Try to remember that once a day.