Gran Via

I stood in front of the Hotel Granvia for about a half an hour, and as I waited for you I couldn’t help wondering what on earth “Granvia” was supposed to mean.

Was it a reference to Madrid’s Gran Via, literally “Great Way”, the so-called “Broadway of Spain”, the street that never sleeps? And if so, what did that have to do with muted Kyōto, a city where many restaurants close as early as nine in the evening? Or was it in some way an allusion to the “Great Vehicle” of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Probably not. Most likely, the owners just liked the “sound” of it.

These silly, often meaningless names that architects and planners insisted on slapping on buildings, even here in Kyōto, the very heart of Japan, often made me wonder if the Japanese hated their own culture and language.

Unfortunately, the folly wasn’t limited to naming. Infinitely worse, it expressed itself in monstruments like the awful Kyōto Tower that stood across the street from me like a massive cocktail pick. A fitting design, because the people who had the bright idea of creating it must have been drunk.

The bombings of WWII, which reduced most Japanese cities to ashes, spared Kyōto for the most part, meaning the ancient capital is one of the few cities in Japan with a large number of buildings predating the war. Or shall I say, was. Because that which managed to survive the war proved no match for wrecking balls, hydraulic excavators, and bulldozers.


 ー From A Woman's Tears, due out in late 2017. For more, go here.


School Lunch

My wife visited our son's elementary school today to attend a lecture about kyūshoku, or school lunch. The presentation ended up being more interesting than she had expected.

In Fukuoka City, there are 144 elementary schools (grades 1-6) with a total of 80,077 students. The schools are divided into five blocks to prevent shortages in ingredients as almost all of them are sourced locally from within the prefecture.

To my surprise, each school has its own kitchen and a staff of up to 8, including licensed nutritionists. (I had been under the impression that a central kitchen was being used.) Vegetables are hand washed and hand cut. Although most dishes are made from scratch, some of the items, such as today's paozi (steamed dumplings), are prepared in advance by third party producers.

The lunches, as I have noted before, include many international dishes as a way of introducing kids to other cultures ahead of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and World Swimming Championship that are going to be held in Fukuoka.

Today's lunch included a Chinese style stir-fry, paozi dumplings, bread with locally grown fig jam, and milk.

Each meal costs on average ¥243 ($2.23) and contains about 530 calories. Meals for junior high kids contain 640 calories; those for high schoolers, 740.

And, no, the food is not gluten-free and may contain lethal quantities of peanuts.

Thai-style Gapao Rice and Japanese-style White Stew

Pork and Beans, Raisin Bread, and Cabbage/Kelp Stir Fry

Fish flavored with Sesame, Miso Soup, and Rice



Happy to say that this is now a thing. Check it out.



Sumiyoshi in Summer




Kampai! is Out!

A very, very nice surprise this morning.

My latest work, Kampai, has managed to break the top ten in Japan. 

I'm not crazy about the cover, to be honest. And, the final product is very different from what I intended to write, but, but, but, there's still a lot of interesting information thrown in with anecdotes of my life in Japan. A Kampai! 2 is in the works, and may come out perhaps next year.

Lemme tell ya, this has been perhaps the most productive nine months of my life. In addition to the dozen or so articles I have written for a number of different sites, mags, and journals, I have pumped out:

a new novel (A Woman's Hand), rewritten another (Rokuban), gotten half done on a third (A Woman's Tears),

two works of nonfiction (Kampai, Boys Have Dingdongs),

a collection of essays and stories (🖤 FUK, due out soonish),

a photo collection (Covered), 

and, two textbooks (Speak Up!).


I hope the next 12 months will be as productive or more.


For more on my writing go here.



Yasukuni, it ain't

During a long run in an unfamiliar corner of town this morning, I came upon a broad set of stone steps, flanked on either side by massive stone lanterns.

Thinking it was the entrance to a shrine, I climbed up the steps. To my surprise, I found a number of monuments dedicated to those who had died in modern Japan's wars and foreign engagements from the overthrow of the shogun and restoration of the Emperor to power, known as the Meiji Restoration (1886), to the Russo-Japan War (1904/5), the Manchurian Incident (1931), and on to the Pacific War which ended 72 years ago this summer. This sombre memorial to Japan's militaristic past is not listed on the map, nor were there any signs outside of the premises indicating what awaited visitors at the top of the stairs.




I will return in the summer during the Bon Festival to see if there are any special ceremonies taking place, like those which occur every year at Gokoku Jinja.


For more on "Tani Park", go here.