Lower humidity and a nice breeze enticed me out the door to take a walk around Tokyo this afternoon. I started with a circuit of Shibaura Island, and then continued north to Hamamatsucho Station/Tokyo World Trade Center. I then turned west toward Shiba Park and Tokyo Tower. Zojo-ji Buddhist Temple is at Shiba Park, almost at the base of the tower.

I like Zojo-ji. It is the closest major temple to where we live on Shibaura. [However, right now it is undergoing restoration so most of the temple buildings are covered.] One of my favorite things about Zojo-ji Temple, though, is the Jizo garden at the perimeter of the temple grounds. Under the huge old trees, the Jizo garden is shady and quiet… a peaceful respite from the busy surrounding city.

Jizo — or OJizosama — is a popular Buddhist deity known as the protector of travelers, women, and — most especially — children. You see these little statues placed at many of the shrines here in Japan. Jomyo-in Temple near Yanaka Cemetary in Tokyo, is said to have over 84,000 of them all lined up row, upon row, upon row. The thing I like best about Zojo-ji’s Jizo garden, is that they are all so nicely dressed in their little red hats, bibs, and capes, and all have colorful pinwheels spinning in the breeze.

There are many reasons that these little stone statues are placed at shrines and temples. Since they are known as the protectors of children, sometimes pregnant women place a statue to pray for the health and safety of their unborn child. Also, families who have lost a child, either through stillbirth or death, will place a statue to commemorate their loss and to pray for safety of the child in the afterlife. Jizo often wears a red robe under which it is said he shelters and hides the children, safely shepherding their souls to heaven.

Most of the Jizo statues wear little handmade caps and bibs, or capes or robes… usually bright red. Many of the temples (Zojo-ji is one of them) sell the red caps and bibs. The red color symbolizing protection and safety. But some of the statues wear other colorful outfits. Often there are flowers and small toys, candy or fruit left for the children.

It is a very moving and poignant sight to see… but today all the pinwheels were spinning happily in the breeze.


August in Tokyo…

August in Tokyo. Hot, hazy days with high humidity, and the air so thick with moisture that you feel like you need gills to breathe. Even though we are on the downside of summer with less than a month left before the autumnal equinox, it is still sweltering-ly hot. The temperatures have really not been that high, I guess — usually in the high 80’s/low 90’s during the day — but when combined with the humidity, the afternoon heat index is usually between 105 and 110. We all feel wilted and soggy with sweat.┬áMost office buildings and apartments buildings don’t air condition hallways, lobbies and elevators, and my husband’s office only has the AC on between 8 am and 6 pm. Woe to anyone going in early or staying late!

Despite the uncomfortable heat, summer in Tokyo is full of activity. There are matsuri (festivals) almost every weekend, and many include nighttime fireworks displays. There are beer gardens set up in many of the parks, and street food vendors abound. August is vacation time for the local schools, so children are out and about, playing in the parks, riding bicycles, and running along the sidewalks.

In Akibahara, in front of the Owl Cafe

I think I have mentioned before about how “sun-conscious” the Japanese are… even in this heat, many women wear long sleeves and long skirts or pants. Most wear hats to shield their faces, and often long finger-less gloves to protect their hands and arms from the sun. Umbrellas become more valuable providing shade than they are to keep the sparse rain off. I find that I think more about sun exposure now too. I wear more sunscreen here, and cover up more. The sun seems so intense here.

I have been staying inside a lot more than usual. Aside from my almost daily trip to the supermarket, I have stayed pretty close to home. It is just too hot to be out for very long. From my vantage point up here on the 30th floor of our apartment building, I notice that there are fewer people out walking during the day. Seems to be mostly people going to and from work. Early mornings and evenings see more pedestrian traffic, but the sidewalks are much less crowded during the middle of the day.

However, I can tell that the days are getting shorter — at summer solstice in June, the sun comes up in Tokyo at around 4:30 am, and now in late August, it doesn’t rise until after 5 am. And now — Japan does not have daylight savings time — the sun sets just after 6 pm.

Still, the heat is with us… at least for a few more weeks. We still try to get out on the weekends… sometimes just a walk along the canals to see the ducks, or to one of the parks. Here are some summertime photos from Tokyo…

Pretty summertime flowers

At Hibiya Koen — a park near the Imperial Palace

Spot-bill ducks and babies — and a Japanese Wagtail — along the canals

A Large Brown Cicada. The air is full of the reverberating “wee-oh, wee-oh” call of cicadas
A cormorant fishing in the canal

A small victory in Japan

One of the things we brought to Japan from the US that we’ve really enjoyed is a small hydroponic garden


But recently the LEDs that provide light for the garden stopped working. What to do?

A call to the manufacturer was no help. “Out of warranty, your tough luck” was pretty much their reply. Of course we could always buy a new one and have it shipped from the US. Meh.

Next stop was a search on YouTube to see if anyone else had this problem. Sure enough, we found someone who had the same garden, and the same problem. Seems they determined that 3 capacitors on the circuit board had blown. And they provided some handy instructions on how to fix the problem.

After a quick disassembly we found the circuit board. Should be an easy thing to take the board to Akibahara – Tokyo’s electric town – and get a repair.

Well, sort of easy. Finding the right shop amid the hundreds of electronics places turned out to be challenging, especially with our limited Japanese language skills. “Kondensa okikaeru” got us some blank stares, but eventually we found someone who knew what capacitors we needed. Unfortunately, “can you install” — anata wa insutoru dekimasu ka –didn’t lead to any results.

So, capacitors in hand, we returned home and proceeded to un-solder the old capacitors and install the new ones. Not being terribly proficient with a soldering iron, this had its challenges.

But a few solder connections later, we were ready to try out our newly repaired – we hoped – LED panel. Plug in the cord … step back to arm’s length, just in case something blows up.. and YES!… the panel lighted up just as it’s supposed to!

So we’ll keep an eye on our light panel for a few days, just to be sure everything is working right. But for now at least, a small victory in our life in Japan.


Of bankbooks and sushi

So many things I appreciate about Japan. Last Saturday, I stopped at the ATM. Here in Japan, ATMs offer more than just a place to withdraw cash. One service is, when you insert your bankbook, it updates all the transactions.

IMG_3020[1]Except, last weekend the machine told me that my bankbook was out of pages. What to do? Well, next time at the office I asked a co-worker. She said the ATM would generate a new bank book. So, another trip to the ATM. Insert my bankbook. Fortunately, there are English menu options, since my ability to read kanji is still very limited. Sure enough, one of the menu items is “new bankbook.” Pushed the button, and the machine starts making computer noises, with a screen that says this may take a few minutes. A few minutes later, viola – a new bankbook pops out, followed shortly by the old book. Gotta love it.

And then there’s sushi. We have a favorite sushi place near Tamachi station. Nothing fancy. There’s a conveyor belt sushi-go-round, and also sushi chefs who will fill orders upon request. There’s an English menu, but the Japanese menu is more complete, and by now, we know enough to read some of the Japanese menu. And… we’ve even learned how to place orders in our infantile Japanese. The sushi chefs are very patient, and most of the time we can communicate well enough to get what we want. It’s always good, and pretty reasonably priced.

Of course, there are many other things we like about Japan. We’re already thinking about what we’ll miss when my assignment ends in a year and a half. In the meantime, we plan to enjoy all the things this culture has to offer. It’s a great experience.


Jet Lag….. *yawn*

We are back from our trip “home” to Atlanta. I had a nice visit with our family, and my husband finished his business trip, plus had a few days to see our children as well. We took care of a few “homeowner chores” on our house in ATL, and we got to visit restaurants we miss, and do some shopping, etc. It was a pretty pleasant 16 days… aside from JET LAG.

Let’s face it… jet lag sucks. If you have ever traveled by air and crossed multiple time zones, you know this. Jet lag messes with your body. It upsets your sleep, your appetite, and your digestion. It gives you “foggy brain” during the day, and makes you sleepless at night. And the more time zones you cross, the worse it is… and the longer it lasts.

In the past year and a half, we have done a lot of air travel. So far in 2017 alone, I have already had 10 flights of 10 hours or more. The direct flight to ATL from Tokyo is about 13 hours — a little longer on the east to west leg, and a little shorter on the west to east leg. From this, some observations:

  • In general, jet lag from west to east travel is worse than east to west travel. I know there is an explanation, and it involves circadian rhythms, but I don’t exactly understand it. All I know, is that I can leave Tokyo, fly 13 hours, cross 13 time zones, and arrive in Atlanta at the same “time” that I left Tokyo. lol… I become a time traveler. Then it takes me a week to feel normal and sleep normally again. When we fly from ATL to Tokyo, we “lose a day” and arrive about 26 hours after the time we left Atlanta. (13 hour flight plus 13 time zones equals 26 hours later.)
  • Either way we fly, that 13 hour time difference pretty much turns our days and nights upside down. We find ourselves getting sleepy/groggy at lunch time (roughly midnight in the other location), reviving a bit in the evening, and then waking — almost invariably — at around 3 or 4 in the morning. Sometimes we manage to go back to sleep at 5-ish, but sometimes not. Today, for example (our second day back), I woke at 3:15 am Tokyo time, and never could go back to sleep. We finally gave up and got out of bed at 5:45 am — even though this is a holiday (Mountain Day in Japan) and my husband didn’t have to go to work.
  • Under the influence of jet lag, my appetite is wacky. I get hungry at odd times, and don’t feel hungry at normal meal times. My digestive tract becomes confused and sluggish (we will leave it at that…) and my mind becomes somewhat muddled. I sometimes lose my train of thought, and find myself staring out of windows… a lot. lol.

It all gets better with time… slowly. Day by day, my sleep becomes gradually more normal, and everything starts to adjust to the new time zone again. It is unpleasant, though, for those first few days. I guess it is just the price we have to pay for living in a foreign country, so far from “home.”