A Picture of Love

It might not be immediately obvious, but in this photo is evidence of love.

Within 30 hours of reading an email from a friend in Yokohama, a gentleman from Yamato Transport was at my door with a beautiful bag.

K had not yet read my “One Hundred Hours In” post and did not know about my ongoing quest for toilet paper. However, she had noted that after the panicked rush on supplies, toilet paper had been restocked in her local supermarket. While she had enough and did not need to purchase more, she thought I might be struggling to find it.

Therefore she bought a 12-pack (customers were now being limited to one each) and kindly offered to courier it to me. In addition, she suggested that she might look for other things I could not find in my neighbourhood. All I needed to do was let her know.

How fortunate I am to have a loving friend who anticipates my needs and offers to take care of them.

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One Hundred Hours In

Day four is always the worst for jetlag. This is my brain at day’s end. However, with all manner of stuff sorted and behind me, I relax with French bread, Hokkaido butter, brie and Gouda cheeses, cabbage salad, and a French Bordeaux.  Life is glorious.

Here I am in the middle of a palpable COVID-19 fear-vibe which the press feeds with abandon. I begin to question the right to the freedom of such press. Might it not be up there with hate speech to foment such paranoia when it would be much more productive to help shift people toward a level Buddha mind?

Here’s what voice of reason Malcom Drake posted online.

  • As someone who went to medical school…I feel bad for people who don’t understand what’s happening. This corona virus is not something that should be causing ANY panic, but the way the “news” is reporting it, people are being convinced it a “serious” issue, when it really isn’t.
  • To put it into perspective Sars, Mers, Ebola, Swine flu, H1N1, and the “bird flu” ALL had much more significant mortality rates, (from 10% to 50%, with Ebola having the 50%), Covid-19 is at 2%… even the annual flu has higher numbers. People, also, don’t understand the significance of the numbers. Of all infected 81% are mild cases with people already recovering and another 14% are not life threatening. The 5% of “critical” cases are among the elderly and people who have compromised

On sunny days the mood lifts a little; however, an elevated mood of anxiety and hostility even resulted in an unusual altercation on the train on account of what is business as usual in Tokyo. It’s not uncommon to see Japanese commuters cough and sneeze without covering their mouths or cough into their hands, then grab onto the bars or straps and even booger mine while riding the trains. It’s been going on for years.

Also, the ignorance concerning and the cavalier misuse of masks is not new either. Since my arrival I continue to observe the habits I’ve seen since first traveling here in 1998—soiled masks dangling from an ear, or pulled below the chin to blithely sneeze into the train carriage, as well as constantly touched/contaminated to eat, apply makeup, or engage in conversation.  Malcom Drake also had this to say:

  • Also, people should be aware, “surgical” masks only work for Exhalation NOT Inhalation; they are designed to prevent the spread of infection, but are useless in preventing contraction of a virus.

In addition, along with all the details (and dozens of email) regarding taking possession of the apartment, filing the requisite forms as well as items in the suite which needed attention, there was the problem of cancelled school. The real estate agent (who was aware of my situation) emailed before noon on Monday. Before the end of office hours of the same day he needed to know whether I planned to cancel my April lease as a month’s notice was required.

Image credit to Tokyo Skytree Website. http://www.tokyo-skytree.jp/en/

Before boarding my Tokyo-bound flight I’d emailed the school administration to inquire whether I might be able to find private lessons, but like the real estate company the office isn’t open on weekends. I had no expectation that I would get an answer from the school before my decision was required. These things take time and it seemed to be running out for me.

With rain pelting down and my mood tanking, I wondered how I was going to make up my mind. All along, I’d simply followed the signs. The whole enterprise was green-lit all the way almost to the point of being spooky. Now what? I wanted to stay, I was super-stoked to study, but not to loaf around for two months with nothing to do. Frankly, I needed and longed for  another sign.

Image credit to Sogetsu Ikebana website http://www.sogetsu.or.jp/e/

Ping! An email from Sogetsu administration. They’d found a teacher who would accept me. Could I attend her morning class the next day?  The teacher needed to know immediately so that she might place and order with the florist. My sign! After saying yes to the administration I emailed my agent: I’m staying.

Then, a teacher found, I had to find her (not that difficult once you know where to go, but not that easy based on Google Maps which has led me on quite a number of scenic tours in Japan). In the end, she had to come to the station to find me, and that’s how we started the first class.

Lovely! Even so, everything was unfamiliar. Not at all like waltzing into a classroom where I know where everything is or what to expect because I know and have worked with the teaching staff and assistants for many months. Like most people I am a creature of habit. Having acquired an apartment in the same building I enjoyed in 2017 and 2018, I had been looking forward to my little routine of walking to Sogetsu Kaikan for lessons every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. That said, something different isn’t necessarily something bad.  After a class yesterday and another today, I can say it’s a good fit.

Then another happy surprise. This morning my friend in Yokohama sent me an email to let me know that the supermarket near her home had restocked toilet paper. She’d bought a 12-pack and was shipping it to me. It would arrive before noon Thursday (tomorrow). Wow!

Earlier I had written that poet Nayyirah Waheed’s words gave me focus and loft.

live that life. the one that gives you

breath. and. takes your breath away.

After 100 hours of my Tokyo life I begin to understand why people retire and head for the sofa. It’s so easy. So comfortable.  (And so boring.) But right now, that’s all I want. A little bit of nothing to do—and time to catch my breath before my next class on Tuesday.

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On the Ground in Tokyo

Day one (and two counting the International Dateline) the Air Canada Flight 003 pilots got us into Narita on air like glass. No one sat in the two seats next to me; therefore, I spent 5 of the 10 hours horizontal and snoozing. Not quite the luxe mattress I have at home, but along with many other little kindnesses and astonishing blessings along the way, that was another and infinitely better than sitting upright. Customs was no problem.  My luggage shipped and was at my apartment moments after 10 AM check-in. All splendid.

However. Oh yes. A substantial however. Shortly before boarding in Vancouver I received an email from Sogetsu Kaikan administration that due to COVID-19 classes were cancelled for the month of March. Not long before, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had urged all public schools to close; therefore, the announcement did not come as a huge surprise. I’d played what if scenarios in my mind some days before when Akane Festa, the celebration of Sogetsu Iemoto’s (current hereditary Grand Master) 60th birthday which I’d been invited to attend had been postponed.

Then another development while I blissfully slept the night before take-off (Japan is a day ahead of Vancouver). People began panic buying toilet paper (as well as paper towels, sanitary products and diapers), carting buggies of the stuff out of Costco and clearing the shelves in every store. Somehow a rumour had flamed across the Internet that supplies out of China were going to stop.

When I saw that news after landing I knew that level of doo-doo might take a great deal more level Buddha-mind than I’d anticipated. The real estate company gives me a starter set of three rolls. After that I have to supply my own.

Truth is, Japan produces its own and has plenty. Just not on the shelves of any stores. On the bright side, Japanese homes don’t have insulation as we do in North America. I like to imagine that those who have acquired their Hoarders R Us badges have likely stacked the stuff to the rafters and may be enjoying what we’ve known all along. Could start a whole new home improvement industry.

Thank heaven my apartment is equipped with a state of the art Toto with a wash-let. I might have to resort to using that though I’ve managed to avoid doing so since first traveling to Japan in 1998. We’ll see what devil-ups as Jean Chretien used to say.

Meanwhile, with luggage delivered and not having had breakfast, I wandered into Citron in the 15 degree sunshine. To my delight, Jonathan the owner, happened to be in and was overjoyed to see me. Likewise. I haven’t seen a photo of me looking this happy 2018. Tadaima! I’m home.

Then on rainy, rather gloomy and 5-degree day three (which according to the Weather Network felt like 2 degrees), Sogetsu administration contacted me to let me know that a teacher had offered to let me join her class in Meguro. Plus I found tissue. No not toilet paper exactly, but a 12-pack of flushable pocket tissue. Showers of blessings. We’re good to go.


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Up and Away: Thoughts Before Flight

I’m poised for takeoff to Tokyo during a COVID-19 crisis that might play out any number of ways. Though they said the same of SARS and it did not happen, phrases such as possible world pandemic are used more frequently in the media now. Face masks (even though their usefulness as a prophylactic is questionable) are impossible to find in Tokyo or Victoria. It’s a challenge to proceed with caution and prudence in the face of numerous uncertainties.

Nothing is without risk. Every day is a gamble, never a promise. Any given day might result in a vast range of unknowns–good or bad. Even doing nothing and going nowhere aren’t safe. Not one day comes with a guarantee that anyone anywhere will live through it. That we (mostly) do day after day after day is enough to make the mundane miraculous.

Though it’s anything but easy to achieve it, in the face of uncertainties the Buddha offers wise counsel: Keep your mind level. If your mind is level the whole world is level.

So I dare and soar toward my next Tokyo experience—whatever it holds. Today my dreams and I lift off. Here’s praying for no turbulence and safe landing.

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Living My Dream: Tokyo 2020

The other day, after waiting in a short checkout line at Canadian Tire, I put my purchases on the counter and greet the woman across from me.

Good afternoon. How are you today?

Living my dream, is her deadpan reply. A snort-worthy rim-shot line if I ever heard one.

A dream is an odd, elusive thing. Sometimes it hijacks the mind and draws you away from the present moment. Then again, the force of a dream is not unlike the pull of gravity on the course of a river toward the sea. It is here and now as well as then and there in every way.  Paradoxes being what they are, a dream centers you in the present without contradiction.

Rumi said: Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.

So. Here goes. Once more I acquiesce to the “strange pull.” In a few days I will return to Tokyo to resume my ikebana studies and reconnect with old friends.

Last year this time while in the throes of moving into my new home, any notion I entertained of doing so was a vague oh maybe someday laced with well, we’ll see what happens.

Then relaxing after another day’s work by stumbling down a variety of YouTube rabbit holes, I click on an arresting TEDXBigSky talk by Ulla Suokko: Do You See the Signs of the Universe?

Not long after, as I look out my living room window I notice a white plastic bag the wind has blown into the rhododendron.

On it bold red letters spell Edo. Caught on a branch it hangs there for several days (in case I somehow miss the sign, I suppose).

It is not the only sign. I keep a list on my phone each time another appears. Finally, much as Suokko did, I say to the Universe: Okay, okay I get it. Now give me the dollar signs.

Toyota launches its Olympic campaign: Start your impossible.

As an act of faith I sell the jewelry I no longer wear which languishes in a drawer doing nothing of value for me. My income tax refund comes in.

When optimism toward the venture begins to flag, out of nowhere many other signs appear. Among them an Air Canada advert asks and answers: Where will your dream take you? Making your dreams travel.

Even so, it takes months before I am willing to risk or commit. However, after I book my tickets and celebrate at Vista 18, “Leaving on a Jet Plane” plays as I sip bubbly and gaze over the orange infused strait thinking of Japan.

Since starting, all systems have been go. Bit by bit, I’m packing up and moving again. A blissful momentum not unlike a gentle, guiding hand has smoothed the pathway forward as one by one the numerous elements that must align in order to succeed in such a venture click into place.

Poet Nayyirah Waheed’s words give me focus and loft.

              live that life. the one that gives you

              breath. and. takes your breath away.

By great good fortune (and perhaps the will of the Kami-sama) I can return to an apartment in the same building I occupied in 2017 and 2018. A short walk from ikebana classes at Sogetsu Kaikan and minutes from the Ginza Line, I will once again savour the charming streets of Gaiemmae and call them home sweet home.


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Where–How–Why–to Begin?

In Joke Show on Netflix, comedian Michelle Wolf said that a blog is conversation that no one wants to have with you. Continue reading

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Christmas Lights Butchart Gardens

The closest thing Victoria has to rival the Christmas lights of Japan is the show on view at Butchart Gardens. Keen to view the displays as close to Christmas as possible, I ventured out yesterday around 4 o’clock thinking I might catch sunset too. Well dream on. Continue reading

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My Love Affair with the Christmas Tree

I must have inherited my love of Christmas trees from my paternal grandmother who kept hers up until Orthodox Christmas in January. After everyone else had taken theirs down and boxed all the baubles and tinsel, the magic continued at her house. Continue reading

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The Culture Map: A Book Review

Today I return to an old love besides Japan—the book review. Continue reading

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4.20 You in Ikebana: Experiments in Personal Expression

In November 2018, I completed Level 4 of the Sogetsu School’s course in ikebana studies in Tokyo. That achieved, I was asked to choose a flower name and granted certification. Afterwards I returned to Canada, bought and moved into my new home, and resumed ikebana studies with the class I joined in Victoria. Continue reading

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