little sarah Big World

Tag: Tokyo

The Promise of a New Season

Election Season 2015, Bunkyo-ku, Tokyo

Election season. Female voices drift in through my morning windows, from loudspeakers attached to vans, crawling the city night and day, gently imploring its citizens to lend their votes. Sometimes not so subtly: in Kanda, they’ve been frantic, competing voices trying to match or raise each other’s intensity.

I can’t understand what they’re saying, but it sounds desperate: “Please! Please choose me! I’ll do a good job! I swear! I’ll keep all my promises! I’ll do my best! Listen to me! Pick me!”

And the neighborhood scorecards fill up with faces, though I don’t know if they’re winners or just candidates.

*       *       *

Much of Japan remains a mystery to me. At times I feel possessive, territorial, hissing and arching my back at the gaijin tourists in Shibuya. “What are you doing here?” I wonder, eyes narrowed. “Go home. This is my place.”

But I feel equally ever the outsider, socially isolated, searching in vain for my tribe, longing for a place called “home” that I know I’ll never return to. I’ve spent too much time sitting in bed, eyes fixed on the screen in my lap.

*       *       *

Friends and visitors come from the States, and they marvel at this city, ask unanswerable questions for a malcontent navel-gazer like me. I try to understand my adoptive home, but it often feels impenetrable, and I’m still wary of diving in completely, not yet certain I want drink the Kool-Aid.

Tokyo, as Seen from the Park Hyatt in Shinjuku, April 2015

The best explanation I can offer is that for everything that’s true of Tokyo, its opposite is also true. People are charmingly polite and will go out of their way to help, and you might be refused service flat-out for being a foreigner. Someone on the train will move over seats without hesitation, wordlessly, so you and your friend can sit together, and someone else will push past you, damned if they’re going to miss their train to work.

The food is healthy and light and fresh, and it is more fried meat and greasy noodles than you could ever imagine. School girls titter like little birds, hands cupped to their mouths, and they lug lacrosse bags slung over tanned, toned arms. People are very friendly and welcoming, and you will feel that you can never belong. People are shy and reserved, and strangers will introduce themselves to you, ask you where you’re from, tell you their stories.

Nobody speaks English, but also everybody speaks English. People visit temples and shrines daily, and they frequent girls bars and love hotels. Highways weave in and out of skyscrapers, every inch of your vision filled with signs and shops and throngs of people, more than a million passing through Shinjuku station each day, and on weekend nights the streets are slick with vomit, teeming with boisterous drunkards, over-served salary men teetering precariously on the subway platforms.

Tokyo Dome City, April 2015

And yet, I have never lived anywhere so clean and quiet and safe, with parks in every single neighborhood where old men gather to talk and women bring their children to laugh and play in the sunshine. Business people take mid-day strolls, stretching and doing calisthenics in their uniform suits. Kind citizens feed stray cats. Strangers exchange smiles and nods.

*       *       *

And now the elections. Candidates cruising for constituents, barking promises through megaphones, up and down residential streets for weeks. Equal parts foreign and familiar, for me. This morning the amplified voice is serene, a woman’s voice, in a language I still don’t understand. She calls to me, in bed my bed, I wake, clear morning sunlight kissing my legs. An invitation, welcoming me back to the world, enticing me to join.

“Come outside,” she seems to say. “Come out and be a part of this.”

Trees in Bloom, Nagano, April 2015

Today, I believe all the promises.

Christmas in Japan

City Sparkles

The beautiful thing about Christmas in Japan is that, in a country where Christians account for only 1% of the population and upwards of 70% of Japanese claim no religious affiliation, they’ve dispensed with the sacred and spiritual altogether, distilling the holiday down to a pure, commercial venture.

In this sense, it’s exactly like in the US, but without any of the pretense, which is equal parts refreshing and disturbing. Blind devotion transcends nationality, but Disney must have signed a deal with the devil for the level of allegiance and sincere enthusiasm it garners from most Japanese.

The Mouse is in the house, friends. So Chad and I went and searched him out.

Lights, Crowds, Chaddo

We began at Tokyo Station, following the crowds through the mid-town shopping district to see what amounted to twinkly lights on busy tree-lined streets, though to surprisingly stunning effect.

Taking Pictures of Picture Takers

From there we were herded from one Disney-themed tree to another. Don’t be fooled by photography–most of these were only slightly bigger than you’d see in someone’s house; for us, the real fascination was following the fervor.

Princess Tree

Also not captured in these photos: policemen with bullhorns corralling throngs of thousands as snap photos of light displays that are easily trumped by many US front lawns at Christmastime.

Roller Coaster...of Love

From Tokyo Station, we caught the subway over to Tokyo Dome City, where the Christmas “Illumination” continued, but with fewer people.

Light Tunnel

Tunnel of Love

We explored a light tunnel, and then rode the Thunder Dolphin, a roller coaster with a drop so long (218 ft) that I ceased feeling fear and accepting that this was my new reality–that I would fall into nothingness, forever. We purchased a commemorative photo, in honor of: best coaster faces, ever.

All the Pretty Little Colors

We ended our night at Wins, nearer to the Tokyo Dome, where we bowled 3 rounds and poured illicit (and cheap) whiskey into our vending machine-bought cans of ginger ale. Then Chad ate a burger at a boardwalk-style eatery, just before closing, and we rode the train home, in bed before midnight.

Tokyo Dome, December, at Night

The next morning (Christmas Day), we traded in Japan’s traditional Christmas Cake (strawberry shortcake) for pancakes with fresh fruit and yogurt. And for Christmas dinner, we opted for soy meat with broccoli in place of fried chicken. (The whole Christmas cake and fried chicken phenomenon in Japan is a prime example of the ways in which advertising has directly and intentionally warped and misconstrued the holiday to glorious, frightening all-American effect. They order buckets of KFC in advance, like we would do with Turkeys for Thanksgiving).

Lights in the City

Then went and saw Gravity in 3D. All in all, a magical, one-of-a-kind Christmas.

Merry, Scary Christmas

Christmas Altar

Sundah Dolfin


This is how we did it. Details to come.


More to Come

“Do not burn yourself out. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there.

Rooted & Free

So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks.

Chaddo in the Wild

Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space.

Irridescent Fun Guys

Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators.

Japan Anew

I promise you this: You will outlive the bastards.”

Edward Abbey



“I Am That”


“I Am That Which Repeleth”

I wanted to giggle, we were standing so close

On the train, I sit one seat over from an old man, though I suspect he will likely have that Japanese death-breath that’s become so inescapably familiar as I commute across the island via a series of confined spaces. All sallow skin loosely arranged around a skeletal stance, this one, and I purposefully choose to sit nearer.

I’m trying to expand my sense of self, while simultaneously dismantling my ego. Trying not to see others as separate and different from myself, something foreign. Entertaining the idea that we could be infinite reflections of the same connected consciousness, variations on a theme. So that “other” is not removed from me. It is me. And I am that.

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(w/ Chad)

And so we turn towards simplicity. Towards sanity and good health, and that means early morning runs and healthy, home-cooked meals, fewer vices and better sleep.

Our first meal cooked together!

It means long walks and longer talks, checking in every morning, and after work, and before bed. It means facing our problems (for me: job stress and anxiety) head-on, rationally, and knowing the difference between a worthy challenge and a waste of time.


Most of all, a turn towards simplicity means a turn towards each other, and towards what really matters in life–our well-being, our friends and family, our passions and interests, and our sense of wonder, inspiration, creativity and drive.

And yesterday it meant epic shopping: new wardrobes for new jobs, plus bags of books to feed our hungry minds. It meant a day trip to Tokyo, a shopping field trip, with burgers and fries and iced coffee and frequent pauses to observe/avoid the madness, plus a Sunday stroll through the park, and big plans for the future.

*       *       *

It feels good to follow our own good advice.

Things I Have Not Been Telling You

On a Windy Day

It’s not just adjusting to a new life, Friends. It is everything all at once. It is a new life, new country, new apartment, new job(s), new marriage and new definition of myself. Who is littlesarah, after all, without her friends? Without her family, or her coffee shop job, or her perfect apartment in the Avenues? Who am I in this Big World?

Better question: how am I coping? (Answer: not perfectly. Not as well as I had thought/hoped).

Historically, I have not dealt particularly well with Changes.Yet, as my mom so astutely pointed out, “I don’t know anyone who places themselves at the epicenter of change more than you.” (And I did appreciate that little earthquake reference).

So. What I’m trying to say is there are many reasons I’ve been distant, silent, cryptic, etc. But I’m back, and I want to let you know why I was gone and what’s been going on.

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True Love Means Getting Up Off Your Ass


Now That I’ve Got Your Attention

Shinjuku, Tokyo

Sometimes we all need a kick in the pants, and I’ve had nearly nothing but, of late. My ass is sore as hell. Life is kicking me in the pants, so is my job search, so is my husband, so is Japan.

Meaning: there will be no resting on my laurels, no getting comfortable, no easy way out. If you want to be a writer, littlesarah (the world seems to say), then you’d better dig in and make it happen. (But be prepared to go through hell for it, first).

So just as I’m getting back into my writing–prioritizing it (for once)–Cousin Misty nominates me for a Versatile Blogger award. “Put your money where your mouth is, Cuz” (she seems to say).

And who better to give me the push that I need, than someone who takes writing seriously, who makes it her business. Her blog, Surviving in Italy, is a no-holds-barred, honest look at what it really means to be an expat, to be in love, to make art, to get bruised…with cynicism and humor, in equal parts. She also dedicates herself to beautiful, brutal memoirs and essays (plus the occasional work of fiction) at Dirty Filthy Things. And she makes high-end clothing. And she’s a model/spokeswoman. Probably she has laser eyes, too.

What I’m saying is: it’s a lot to live up to, but I’ll try. Also, thank you for this nomination.

Harajuku Fleurs

Without further ado, Friends, here we go!

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