Thursday, February 25, 2010

Friends on Planes

I never talk to anyone on the plane. I can make small talk with the best of them, but my focus isn't on making new friends when I fly because I'm usually asleep. That's why I thought it was interesting that I found myself talking to a woman on my flight from New York to Chicago Tuesday night.

My original flight was delayed, which would've caused me to miss my connection to South Bend, Indiana. Somehow I managed to squeeze on an earlier flight as a standby and sat next to a woman named Tamiko. Like me, she's half Japanese. Also like me, you wouldn't know it just by looking at her, although her name kind of gives it away. In the late fifties her American father was in Japan researching a book and hired her Tokyo-born mother as his interpreter. They fell in love, married, and had Tamiko.

But that's not the only fascinating story about her. Tamiko, who grew up Connecticut and works in New York, was on her way back to Memphis, where she has been living since last August. Her two-year-old son, Colin, has a brain tumor and is receiving treatment at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. I was impressed by Tamiko's strength and matter-of-fact manner in telling me how Colin was diagnosed, his three surgeries, his current blood clot, his progress and love of life. She didn't feel sorry for herself or for Colin; she's accepted the fact that her son has a brain tumor. She, her husband, and their older son are doing everything they can to live a normal life and help Colin live a normal life as well.

Of course, it's not a "normal" life, which is why I was so impressed. They uprooted themselves from their daily routines to move into Target House while Colin is treated. Meanwhile, Tamiko still has to work and finds herself occasionally flying to New York and Boston for conferences. I'm surprised that this chance meeting has caused me to think about Tamiko and Colin so much these last two days. I'm now following his progress through his website and his YouTube channel.

I firmly believe I was meant to meet Tamiko. Is it because of our connection to Japan? Probably not, but it sounds good. At any rate, one day I'll run into Tamiko again. She and her family will be out of Memphis, out of hospitals, and Colin will be cancer free. I wish them the best.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

My Japanese January

I don't live in Japan, but living in New York is the next best thing. We may not have an organized Japan Town the way LA and San Francisco do, but there are a ton of Japanese-related things to do here. We've already turned the first page on the 2010 calendar – and we're nearing the completion of the second week of February! – and I've taken a moment to reflect upon the cultural highlights of January. Among the highlights: I wrote my first story for Baseball Reflections, met a Japanese singer who dresses as a maid, was interviewed by a major Japanese television network, heard Bobby Valentine speak at the Japan Society, saw a Japanese dance performance, and attended the aforementioned maid's show at a karaoke place, and had a couple of great Japanese classes.

"I'm just a bunny who doesn't speak English very well . . ."
In my ongoing attempt to learn about Japan's (and New York's) otaku culture, I met Reni-chan. I've written about Reni and her Japanese "Maid" Shows for I decided that in order to learn more about the phenomenon of cosplay culture in NYC, I should get to know more about Reni and why she dresses as a maid with bunny ears. Reni's manager, Agent Sato, was kind enough to arrange an interview at NHK studios in Midtown Manhattan. NHK followed Reni around the entire month of January, recording her every move for New York Wave, a documentary that is scheduled to air in Japan in early March. Meeting her was a treat, and she told me that she felt more comfortable being interviewed by a female.

The interviewer becomes the interviewee
Agent Sato scheduled my interview with Reni at the NHK studios so that the New York Wave documentarians could record a portion of it. I'm thrilled by the prospect of appearing on Japanese television, but I realize that the editors have a month's worth of footage for a twenty-minute program. Therefore, the likelihood of my face ending up on the cutting-room floor is high. The premise of the show centers around New Yorkers – not necessarily Japanese, not necessarily American – who have become successful through creative ideas. Hiroshi Noguchi, the director of the documentary, first learned about Reni after his daughter saw her at the New York Anime Festival last September. He was intrigued – as I was – about how a Japanese person with limited English speaking skills can come to New York and create a niche for herself among an obscure fan base. When he asked me what interested me about Reni, my response was, "I'm fascinated by people who are fascinated with Reni."

Japanese Maid Show at a Karaoke Bar
A few days after meeting and interviewing Reni, I attended her Maid Show at Karaoke Top Tunes. There I met people who are fascinated by Reni and with Japan's anime and cosplay culture in general. Many young people were dressed as their favorite anime characters and sang along with Reni and her guests. Although many people there seemed unashamed of their costumes, I spoke to a couple of people who don't like to advertise their love of anime. "I'm an adult; I'm a professional," says Brandon, someone who considers himself an otaku but admits it to only likeminded friends. Ari, who played football in high school, kept his otaku leanings and cosplay activities a secret until he met friends in college who shared his passion. The show was actually more entertaining that I anticipated, and Reni's performance proved to me that she's actually a good singer. Make no mistake; Reni isn't just a bunny. She's an intelligent, talented person who seems genuinely devoted to her growing fan base. My study of otaku/anime/cosplay continues, so you haven't heard the last of Reni.

Q&A with Bobby V.
The highlight of last month was by far Bobby Valentine's lecture at the Japan Society. A few blogs linked to the blog entry I wrote. I thought that was cool. and Amazin' Avenue used one quote from the Q&A blog entry to speculate about the possibility of Bobby V.'s return to managing the Mets. I think it's amazing how one quote can spark a conversation.

The second week of February is nearing an end, and my Japanese cultural adventures continue. Learning to speak Japanese. Food forum at the Japan Society (article forthcoming). My next installment for Baseball Reflections.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

My Friends Send Me Cool Things About Japan

All of my friends know I'm obsessed with Japanese culture, so from time to time they send me links to cool Japanese things they find on the Internet.

My childhood friend Tammy sent me this one about a cafe in Japan that serves you what the previous customer ordered. It's called Ogori Cafe, ogori meaning "my treat." Interesting concept.

Fellow JapanBaller Dan forwarded me Gizmodo's tweetpics from Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi. The shot of Mount Fuji is astounding.

Of course, my husband is always on the lookout for crazy posts featuring Japanese animals, and he usually finds them on Japan Probe, one of my favorite sites. Love this one: Ban-chan, the sitting dog.

The Japan Society tweeted this ESPN the Magazine article about New Orleans Saints linebacker and Super Bowl winner Scott Fujita, who was adopted by a Japanese-American man.

If you find any cool Japanese stuff, feel free to pass it along:

Wish I Could See the Yuki Matsuri in Person

I'm not a huge fan of snow, but I might like it more if I lived in Sapporo (札幌) and could see the Yuki Matsuri (雪祭り- snow festival) every winter (冬).

"Snow Miku" twitpic from kmatsu75

"Miku" is Hatsune Miku, a "vocaloid character" that's a synthesized voice. It's some kind of software that somehow creates J-pop songs. Read more about it here. And go here if you want to see her frolic in the snow. 

Here's a little report about the Yuki Matsuri I found on YouTube:

See more pictures and videos on the website Pink Tenacle.

What happens to the sculptures when the festival ends tomorrow? Do they sit around and melt, or are they bulldozed?

Monday, February 8, 2010

Nyaran Update: No More Nikukyu Manju!

My friend Kubota-san in Japan informed me that the sale of nikukyu manju have been temporarily discontinued! If you recall Nyaran, my new favorite Japanese commercial character, nikukyu manju is the product he sells during his business trip. Kubota-san was surprised to discover that it is an actual product. Clicking the link on the manju page takes you to, where people once placed orders. Unfortunately, demand seems to be greater than supply. Kubota-san was kind enough to translate Jalan's statement for me:

"We can't keep up with production of Nyaran Nikukyu Manju because the demand is so high. We apologize for the trouble and thank you for your patience."

This upsets me because I wanted to order some! (Even though I didn't know nikukyu manju existed outside Jalan's commercials.) Anyway, "temporarily" implies that one day nikukyu manju will return, and I look forward to it. Maybe I'll find them when I return to Japan in September for JapanBall . . .

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Happy First Day of Spring!

Okay, according to the Gregorian calendar, spring begins on March 21 this year. However, the Chinese lunar calendar decrees that the first day of spring is February 4. The Japanese observe the beginning of spring on February 3 with a celebration called Setsubun (節分).

Check out my explanation of Setsubun at

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I've Been Linked!

I love shameless self-promotion.

A couple of prominent blogs dedicated to the New York Mets linked to my story about Bobby Valentine. I'm thrilled!

Take a look at a screen shot of the chart showing how many people viewed my blog as a result of the links: is run by professional blogger Matt Cerrone, who also presents video content for SNY, the television network that broadcasts the Mets games. Cerrone posted a quote about the possible return of Bobby V. as the Mets' manager. The other website that linked to my wrap up of Bobby V.'s visit to the Japan Society was Amazin' Avenue, an unofficial blog about the Mets. Blogger Joe Budd linked to my blog entry and simply said, "Let the Bobby Valentine speculation begin once again."

I'm excited that these links prompted hundreds of unique viewers to shrinecastle, but I realize it's because people are more interested in Bobby V., as evidenced by the graph below:

In other blog news . . .
On the travel blog Upgrade: Travel Better, a person by the handle of RLee commented by posting a link to my most recent blog post about Nyaran, my new favorite commercial cat! Upgrade's Mark Ashley asked for help in translating Nyaran's commercial for Jalan, a Japanese travel company. RLee was kind enough to say that my blog post offers a good explanation for the cat's name. Thanks to RLee and Mark Ashley for finding this blog post!