Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Perfect Love


Femie, a fellow Blog genius, not so unlike myself (whoah! The ego!) asked me to blog about my perfect love. Or rather, I think the challenge was to stop pausing and explain myself. I may have boasted that I do some things, and think certain ways, about love... that a regular man -let alone one perpetuating a patriarchal dominion over the woman- would probably not consider. Would this have anything to do with my being raised by a single mother and later a grandmother? Maybe. That perhaps I’m more in tune with my feminine side? Maybe not. My friends can attest to the fact that I’m an average man with just the right amount of machoness not to seem too annoying. Confidence, that’s what it is! Surely, the excuse we egomaniacs like to make.

Come now, let’s be smart about it. The perfect love just is. It exists whether we wish it to or not, and there is no pattern, no perfect mathmatical formula or equation to predict the outcome or design of love, and it is unbiased and unprejudiced to every rule mankind has ever made. Love has broken them all. I will confess that I have an amazing woman who idolizes me and I worship her also. The point is, when you do love some one with all of your heart, things are easy. The only thing that isn’t is love. Love is hard.

The example I used was:

Sayaka's mother loves me. She will bring me a cold green tea or coke to drink and sit next to me and whisper how much her husband has been annoying her. Sayaka's dad is either oblivious or used to it, because he'll be in the next room doing something only to come out and annoy his wife by asking her to do it for him. lol. I normally get up and help Sayaka's mother at the drop of a pin... all Sayaka has to do to get me to help her is give me *that look.

What can I say, I'm the rare kind of guy that loves to do the dishes with his girl or for his girl (depending on how tired she is). I always figured it was the right thing to do. Granted washing dishes isn't as manly as working on the Harley after a big dinner... but that's not the point now is it? It's not about ONLY me. This is a relationship... two become one.

Love takes dedication, work, perseverance, patience, understanding, and there is always (ALWAYS!) a constant battle to make oneself responsible for the other. The moment the relationship fails is when you start caring about yourself more than the other (or vice-a-versa)... and that's when the relationship is doomed. In a relationship where two people are concerned placing yourself first is the surest way to offset the balance, gain disdain, and ruin an otherwise perfect equilibrium. Social constructs, or family politics, or economics can all play a part in ruining the balance, but the lovers who persevere are the ones which will have the strength to tackle these obstacles together!

There is the Greek Myth of Psyche and Eros, and these two are paired for a reason. Psyche means “mind” and literally translates to “spirit” in Greek. Eros means love, or “heart.” The mind and the heart create the spiritual connection that love needs to grow strong. You can be the smartest man in the world, but without any heart, you’ll never know the depths of true love. And I suppose the opposite is true as well.

The whole idea behind "love" is that it's something eternal, but only as long as you keep it nurtured. Love is like a fire. If you let it die out... it's pretty much put out for good. But if you feed it, make it grow, kindle it, and then it roars with an overwhelming passion. Chopping the wood, care taking, regulating it, getting help when you can't fix the problems, sometimes breaking off contact with family or friends because they threaten your bond with your significant other, these are often the sacrifices that people aren't willing to make. Those in the instance they are asked to give something up -they will reject the act. And when this happens, when the hard work is brushed aside a love, any love, can become malnourished --it becomes rotten and leaves a sour taste in your mouth. This is the moment where either the lovers rekindle and rebuild a love, or it is where those with weaker constitutions take the easy out, and give up.

This means nothing to do with people who aren’t right for each other, because there are many of those types who are incompatible, but the obvious dilemma would be, how many of us have mistaken incompatibility for some failure not in the other, but in ourselves? I think in this modern age of the great fantasy of a romantic and fun love, almost self aggrandizing, we too often place the blame on “incompatibility” when we should cut out all the fuss and fess up to our bad choices and laziness towards love. The greatest symbol of love is holy matrimony -also known to the layman as marriage. It symbolizes a sacred union between man and women which means something more than just a functioning organism. He said this is a union of 'one flesh.' That the greatest honor and love we can give ourselves is the exclusive and mutually exclusive love of the other. This is our gift to each other out of love, and this means we must honor our obligation, our promise, and our vowes to love none other. Other man-made cultures believe in more than one wife. What are they crazy? This is a man's callow 'sexual' fantasy, a man who's been swayed by the temptation of the flesh, and a man who has obviously never been married before. One wife is more than enough! In the truest form of marriage we can attain a love which is so sublime that we can experience that joy which God put into the universe when woman and man were created for EACH OTHER.

Cheating is cheating period. The man who does this puts himself in the greatest moral bind of all. He either will gain a newfound gluttony and crave more of the delicacies of the flesh, all the finest and juiciest the perverters of the world can provide, or he will inevitably feel remorse and his conscience will weigh in on him causing him missery. Both end in ruin. Both end in the unjust torment of another's betrayed soul. They are not kidding when they say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Men should be wise to remember that.

Divorce is just a side effect of sin and shows our arogance to believe we could just set the cruise control and lay back. Arogance, this is the same sin which made us fall in the first place. It is the illusion which we base all of our bad descisions upon because we want something greater than what we have -and we don't want to take the time or put in the work to get it. Yet we could all benefit from a stern lecture, or we could jus realize, We made our bed and now we have to sleep in it. Divorce is just another way of saying "irresponsible." Those who divorce because they are battered and beat probably think those who divorce because they lacked fidelity are, well in all politeness, self conceited prudes. I think good old uncle Ben would tell Peter, "With great love comes great responsibility!"

There are many reason relationships fail, but the reason true love can work is because it is a design greater than the total sum of our conscience. Sadly, I've seen it happen all too often before, the staggering divorce rate which has shattered this small American village tradition of marriage… marriage is just a status quo and a game to many, also shatters the notion of love. It’s true that anything which is real is harder to work with because it requires an effort and expenditure of fortitude and energy on our behalf. That's why a real relationship is a hundred million times more difficult than the "Hollywood" idealized one. That's why "romantic" comedies are enjoyable, because they show the pleasant parts of courtship, but they rarely ever tackle the true adversity we have to face to overcome our weakness and give love a try.

The triumph of love requires an endless amount of sweat, blood, and tears. Many lonely souls have gotten themselves muddled in the tangles of complex relationships because they desperately seek companionship, comfort, and the spiritual home betwixt the comfort and embrace a couple warm arms can afford. Yet all so often, when the going gets rough, the tribulations of love scare the desperate into an endless cycle of "get out before you're hurt again" and that's when the self-torture repeats. Maybe this is an internal defense mechanism we all have, one which alerts us if the love was an illusion, but for the ones that jump into a life-long comitment of marriage only to find their dream melt away, to back out for any reason has to be justified. Minus the sweat, blood, and tears poored out through self-discipline and dedication love is nothing but a distant melody which floats faintly on a breeze, barely distinquishable from any other type of relationship. To bring it up, to orchastrate it fully, to send it out in torrents and blasts, to reach perfect harmony together requires delicate and precise conducting.

This, in turn, requires a thoughtfulness on our behalf. A consideration, compassion, willingness to forgive, the ability to bend and compromise, sometimes to stand firm, and a promise we commit to that goes beyond our everyday needs... and I have discovered personally, the splendor which can be had in following these common sense things. That by loving someone else this fully I gain that which I was missing in my life; someone who can return my affection on equal terms. Love is an active force which demands we take an active role. Whereas love at first sight is merely a crush, love beyond first sight can often sneak up on us like a cat, ready to pounce. It may unexpectedly happen, the occurance unpredictable -the spontaneity always exciting, sometimes awkward, other times divine, the deep intimate passion always rewarding, the spiritual connection always fulfilling.

The greatest aspect, or attribute, of love is the fact that the truest love is so enduring. Odysseus had his Penelope, and Tristan had his Isolde. I too have mine.

Am I the perfect lover? No. I'm far from it. I have my faults just like anybody, but I constantly try to re-educate and model myself into a more adequate lover. Because my woman thinks I am perfect, I guess I have the right to say what I feel, that I don't think others are doing such a hot job of it. My own parents sure didn't. I guess what it comes down to is that I satisfy my woman's needs, desires, and cravings. I feed her emotionally and make her dreams come true. We spiritually complete each other, and I'm ever humble for it. I can’t express my gratitude for God finding me the perfect match, my soul mate. It may sound like I'm bragging, but I assure you, I'm only speaking about what I'm so honored to have and partake in. If it's something you've always wanted but have never had the opportunity to experience, then I sympathize with you, because I once was in your shoes too.

In all sincerety, just know that it's okay to be jealous, if you want to be.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Return to Japan: T-2 Months

Prayers for Peace

You may all be wondering why I haven't updated recently. The truth is I've been busy getting ready. As some of you know I have been hired by JET PROGRAM (Japanese Exchange Teaching) and I once again return to Japan!


I'm very excited. This week I received my prefecture and city of placement. I will be teaching in Hiroshima Prefecture in the conglomerate city of Sera-cho.

On a side note the origami paper cranes represent prayers for peace. Both Nagasaki and Hiroshima have many thousands of colorful paper birds strung together to from prayers of peace for a future where atrocities like the atomic bombings will never have to happen again. The belief is that for every thousandth paper bird a wish will come true. This type of honorific and highly visual prayer method can be seen at any genbaku (atomic bomb) memorial or museum.

It's a beautiful tradition of reminding us that peace should always be the first answer to any ethical difficulty or dilemma. For me this shows the high moral rationalization which the Japanese have always used in their regards to nature and life. These things are precious, and that's a message you get when visiting Japan which other countries seldom provide; or what I mean to say, the way the Japanese express it is an art of subtle reflection which I believe would benefit many more people. It's a way of thinking along the lines of serenity -to be at peace in the world. And this is something we desperately need more of. The paper cranes remind us of the reasons why.

Hiroshima here I come!

English is the second language of Japan -one of the most affluent and bilingual cultures on the planet. Everyone in Japan is "language happy" and enjoys conversational language. They use 'conversation' as their primary form of learning English (and other languages); however, I think this is where the system has gone wrong.

You can learn how to speak decently by conversation, but the whole point of conversation is to get to a point and finish talking about the subject. English, and especially American English, in my opinion is very abrupt in its design. Plus American English has the most complicated slang of almost any language in existence.

American slang talk, including colloquialisms, includes and spread or smattering of various languages and language trends mix-matched from a myriad of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-lingual blends. You end up getting Spanish, French, Irish, Japanese, African American combinations (depending on region -it various quite substantially) causing a very bizarre form of street "lingo." This should scare anyone into learning slang, but it shouldn't be a crutch. If you can learn the difficult hip-hop "rap" talk and other common forms of slang used in everyday English, then, your English skills are already pretty high.

Some Japanese, however, think that speaking in English is entirely separate from the written form, much like Japanese conversation is separate from the book form of the language, but for English this rule hardly applies. For example, many Japanese will listen to rap music all day long desperately trying to get a firm "grasp" on the cool rhythms and sounds of the words, but at the end of the day their over-all English comprehension remains really quite low.

In English the two forms of written and spoken are closer intertwined than you would first think, and the only real way to become a "better" English speaker is to read more. Many Japanese neglect this part of the language learning process when studying English; not because it's harder but because it's more time consuming. It's easier to get to a point and have a simple conversation. Afterwards you feel like you really progressed, but the real key to learning English, especially the proper American English, is to read books.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Taste of Japan

Don't get me started. I'm serious. Okay, so what is it about the Japanese and food? Most of it is not heavily spiced or seasoned. In fact, the first time I made Mexican food for Sayaka's family they ALL thought it was way too spicy. I used one packet of El Paso taco seasoning spread across twice the amount of meat it required. This water downed seasoning mix was no where near spicy... but that's the difference between Japanese food and anything else... it's subdued.

All the flavoring in most Japanese dishes consists of natural flavoring. Crab soup is a sea-food soup which is cooked with the crab shell in it because they believe the nutrients and flavor will come out of the shell and flavor the soup. So yeah, as I practically fractured my teeth on impenetrable shards of crab shell, the soup was delicious. Most Japanese food uses this theory in their cooking. Almost all of it is sea food related, and if not, it will definitely be served with Miso soup.

Miso soup is God's gift to earth, and the Japanese gift to humanity. It's the healthiest and best tasting light flavored soy soup ever invented. I have to have it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner to be satisfied, and I drink it up on cold days and days I'm sick. There's nothing better than a hot bowl of miso soup and a cup of white rice. Imagine when I tell you it took me about two months to get used to the flavor of miso. When I first tasted it, I thought, ick. This is bland. And there is tofu chunks floating around. It's no surprise, I'm pretty picky when it comes to what I like, but I'll be willing to try anything (even more than once) to put on a show of good faith.

It's no wonder that acclimating into a new culture can be full of pleasant and sometimes not so pleasant culture shocks. But the most fun I've experienced of all the "culture shocks" I've ever had has always revolved around food. Whether it is that Indian curry I shouldn't have ordered at 50+ the hotness level, which physically bloated my stomach and gave me a fever in a not so friendly allergic reaction, or the time when I ate bad (spoiled) sushi and threw up all day long... the truth is I have had my share of interesting experiences with food.

The Japanese love food. It's almost a game, to try and sample as many of the various foods you can. Japan has the densest and most abundant foreign restaurant franchise I've ever seen. In fact, I've never seen so much variety in my life. My Japanese fiancé loves to sample every "new" place that is not Japanese in origin, and I personally like to try all the "Japanese" restaurants. Eventually we keep mental tabs on the ones we enjoyed and the ones we will never go back to again. It's one of the fun things to do in Japan.

The Japanese offer a very inventive and creative look into what you can do with food. Especially stuff you would never think of as edible, they some how have made into a side dish or part of a three course meal to be eaten. Then there are foods like Nato, fermented beans, which stick together like snot. Yeah, it sounds gross, but that's the only real way to describe it. I still haven't been able to get used to Nato, but it doesn't bother me like it first did. There were lots of Japanese foods that challenged me. As I mentioned, I'm a bit picky, but I'm willing to try anything.

I haven't had Calpis in a long time. For a westerner, especially a grow up in the wild wild west of Montana, where the real cowboys are, that drink had me laughing so hard the first time one of my Japanese friends offered it to me.

I said, "Cow piss, what? You want me to drink -what?!"

Imagine my relief when it turned out to be a sweet tasting beverage, and not what I thought it was.

Speaking of mistaking food for other things... don't get me started on Uni (sea urchin). When Sayaka's mother plopped down a plate of Uni for me to try I did a double take. I said, "What this? I hope it's not what it looks like." I took in a deep sniff, trying to smell what it was, but it had the faint smell of sea food, like everything else in Japan. Heck, it took me half the year to get used to Sushi... now I love the stuff. You see, uni looks like diarrhea to the layman. I'm not kidding; it looks identical to a heaping pile of feces, the very wet and oddly orangish brown kind. Uni was one of those big "culture shocks," but it wasn't as startling as the "odori ebi" they made me eat. Oh my God, seriously... I grew up on a staple diet of beef and potatoes. After all, beef -it's what's for dinner. Think about it, after 25 years of solid foods... all of them cooked, singer, blackened, or burnt, I was up against the dancing shrimp. I looked pale... like I was about to lose my stomach.

If their not eating living things, or freshly killed and still writhing, the Japanese are finding new ways to shock you with what they put into their iron stomachs. Whether it be bamboo sprouts, or still squirming squid and octopus tentacles, odds are, the more food you experience in Japan the more traumatized you'll be. But I wouldn't change that for the world.

Sayaka has a very “specific” look she gives me whenever I start freaking out about my food. It’s the kind of look that says, “You’re a big sissy who whines too much. Shut up and eat your food.” Needless to say we have a ton of fun enjoying our meals together. We could be described as the big timid American and his bold and invincible Japanese fiancé who will eat until happiness, at least until satisfaction. If only eating out wasn’t so darn expensive, this would be the perfect world. Eating together is our way of sharing something we both love with each other, the love of food. After out grand adventures and miles of meals later, we tend to cool down by taking evening walks in the humid Japanese spring evenings, partly for exercise and partly for our love of spending time together. Sometimes we stop off at Seven Eleven or at Lawson for a cold Coke and beverage. Nothing beats a nice Coca-Cola at the end of the day, or for that matter, nothing goes better with a freshly fried plate of Yakisoba noodles.

The truth of the matter is most Japanese food is unusual in one way or another. Even many of the Japanese love or hate certain foods they have in their own culture. Japan has a very unique flavor and way of eating, and coming from America, where anything from any culture goes, Japan's very specific but very unique pallet was something I had to adjust to. But now that I have, these once terrifying foods are something I crave on a daily basis. Just goes to show you, trying new stuff is always good for your soul.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The First in My Heart

She is the first in my heart, always and forever.

My girl is the most special woman I've ever known. She is the kindest, most honest, sincere, and loving Japanese woman on the face of the earth. She has style, she never backs down to me, she is my equal, she always speaks her mind, what a great mind she has! She will show public affection for me -and for a Japanese woman that's a rare thing. She'll brush aside cultural taboos to show me off and kiss me in public. Old Japanese grandma's and grandpa's jaws hit the ground -awestruck- when they see this beautiful Japanese woman loving me, her white American fiancé. It's rare, for a girl to be so affectionate when she was raised in a country which tries to hide its real emotions, to step out from behind to mask to show her true face, that’s a big sacrifice and one she made for me. It’s precious, she’s precious, and the important thing is I feel loved.

Often time’s curious couples will ask us if we're married. We explain to them that we will be soon. It never ceases to amaze me how people can pick up on our "deep love" as if they had a “deep love” radar beam honing in on us. Soon afterward we get bombarded with a million and one questions concerning our future plans. Where will we live? Where will we work? Is the wedding going to be in America or in Japan? What type of wedding will we have? What do our parents think of our international, multicultural, multi-racial union? So on and so forth.

We politely grin and as if we were a programmed answering machine, and with a communal voice, we rattle of the answers with precision responses, after all, it will only be the one million and second time we say it. But it never bothers us, because we're proud to show our love. Some Japanese girls swoon, and in passing, sometimes we catch pieces of their conversations. The middle school or high school girls make comments to each other about us in relationship to their “ideal” love, one I assume is free and open. Most often their comments focus on finding a "dream guy" also, or comments such as, "what a great looking couple" all of it, of course, flattery to our ears. Typically we'll hear the Japanese word kakkoii (handsome, neat, and stunning) whispered quite frequently to describe us.

Sayaka and I listen to these secretive comments and are always glad when we can give somebody hope for an actualized dream, a dream I live with my soul mate, my Sayaka. That in Japan, hope of a decent guy is a common desire. Yet, it's more than a fairy tale fantasy… when you have a country with a slew of men who think more with their heads below their waists than the heads above it, as a very male dominant patriarchal society permits, it is the dream of finding one's very own prince charming that I see in the recesses of the average Japanese women’s soul-search. That soul mate which will respect and love you as much as you love him back, can that type of man; that type of love really exist? That's what I see in their eyes, a deep longing for something greater. A woman hungers to be independent, self actualized, and have their guy accept them for who they are. A guy willing to sacrifice his own socially acceptable ‘treats’ –the eye candy of flesh and temptation laid out on the side of the road for every Japanese man’s eye’s to devour- in all the girlfriends, wives, and lovers of the world there is a great yearning for the man who has eyes only for her; as my eyes are only for Sayaka.

In those elegant and patient women, built of emotion steel and Novocain, the older Japanese wives who walk ten paces behind their drunken husbands show an obedience and loyalty they desperately dream of; that mutal exchange of an eternal commitment; a promise to her and her alone. Their Japanese husbands play their callow games, all more like boys rather than gentleman, as they ogle every prostitute or hostess club attraction on the side of the neon-lit streets. Japan is a country of lonely women just waiting for the time when their boys will grow up to be real men, to be the type of man not afraid to show his love or affection to his own wife and to finally open up his emotions, finally, buckling up and committing himself to no other but the woman he married. Women want a real man, a mature adult, who can talk to her and make her feel special on that emotional level –a very intimate and sacred place where the union of a man and woman’s mind and heart can be shared and melded into one. Inevitably, with time earned patience, the Japanese wives role their eyes as their silly husbands which act like boys instead of men. Set in their ways, these men live a childish universe where their every fantasy can come true, a man’s juvenile fantasy of lust for that sacred women put on this earth to fulfill him spiritually, will they every learn I wonder?

In order to grow into real men they will first have to put aside childish things... no matter how tempting the fantasy may be... it's an illusion. Real love comes from that anguish of the heart, not to appease it but to test it. I feel sad for these wives, for they put up with the failings of their husbands time and time again. And they show a greater love through their compassion than any man could ever get through sinful indulgence in the flesh. The man's infidelity is the very sin with leads him down the road of perdition. While the women here show us a very safistocated love, poored out from mind and spirit -all of it a godly love; a pure love. Whereas the men, show a rather simple... even crudementary love -the kind you would give to a pet rather than an equal.

When the graceful women spot Sayaka and me, they whisper to each other, giggle, and admire how my eyes never stray. Mine are eternally locked onto Sayaka's eyes, because they are the biggest and most beautiful brown eyes I've ever seen. And the worst feeling in the world for me is to see those eyes sad. You know, I can get lost in her eyes. There are worlds to be had in her eyes. If only more men knew this about their women, maybe they'd be more loyal. But I dare say, they are missing out on the truest joys a woman can bring. I am genuinely honored to have Sayaka, for her to be a part of my life, my very own Japanese princess, the queen of my world, and the keeper of my heart.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Kimono 着物

Contemporary Geisha in trainning.

Kimono (着物) literally translated to “putting on something” or “something worn.” The kimono is a traditional clothing from Japan. Initially the kimono was influenced by the Chinese Hanfu through the extensive trading and cultural exchanges between Japan and China (approx. 5 centure C.E.).

All traditional kimonos are sewn by hand and often hand decorated. Formal kimonos are made strictly from the finest silks, and can be three to five layers, depending on the cost. Kimonos can be used for various functions including: casual wear, formal wear, for weddings, and also are the proper clothes worn by traditional Geisha.

Memois of a Geisha

From my experiences, I’ve come to admire the beauty of kimonos. In my opinion they are the most feminine and beautiful woman’s clothing ever invented. Although, the challenge is getting into one. It typically takes a woman over an hour with the help to two to three assistants to help her get properly fitted and tied up. There are many steps to putting on the kimono, and the more layers the more difficult the process becomes. Since kimonos are so tight, the obi (Japanese sash which holds the kimono in place) often would be tied as tight as a corset. Kimonos restricted a woman’s movement by about 87% and she had to take small steps. These small graceful steps would make the illusion that a woman could seemlessly glide like water over any surface. To go up steps in a kimono is almost impossible. When I accompanied Sayaka’s little sister to her photo shoot after her seijin-shiki (成人式), or traditional coming of age ceremony, we had to help her up and down the stairs due to her immobility.

Sleeves on kimonos hold great significance. Traditionally young virgins would wear kimonos which covered nearly every part of their body from head to toe. Only the face was permited to be visible, and even then, it was painted white. Only a small portion of flesh on the neck was allowed to be shown, for traditional and ceremonial reasons. However, as the woman was fully covered down to her fingertips this small piece of flesh on the back of the neck (no bigger than your thumb) often added a subtle seductveness to the kimono dress. Once a woman was married, her kimono’s sleeves would be shortened to just above the wrist, and the length of the sleeve is synched so it doesn't taper down her sides. This shortened length allowed others to know that she was unavailable, and also distinguished her as a full woman. From what I gather, Geisha always wear long sleeved kimonos (because they are more elegant), yet when they become full Geisha the kimono collar changes from red (denoting youth) to white (womanhood).

A wedding kimono (notice the shortened sleeves)

Men can wear kimonos for special ceremonial occasions such as his wedding or the famous Sumo wrestlers formal kimono –which must be custom made to fit the large men. Men’s kimonos are often subdued colors, plain, and have little to no patterns. Women’s kimonos are often bright colored and have many intricate and beautiful designs. Even the all white wedding kimono is hand stitched with the finest silk embroidery.

Today, you can see women wearing kimonos while waiting for the subway, or just crossing the street. The younger Japanese generation wear kimonos to formal events such as their high school and college graduations, and also the turning of age ceremony called seijin-shiki (成人式).

Sayaka's blue Kimono (far right) cost more than my car! Sayaka is the only one wearing a traditional kimono. The rest of the dresses are hakama only.

For a closer look at the make-up and parts of the Japanese kimono I have included the accompanied list, borrowed from Please note that hakama and yukatas are worn by both men and women on a regular basis, and are informal. Many times foreigners not accustomed to Japanese culture will mistake hakama or yukatas for kimonos, but kimonos are more elaborate and more expensive. A high quality kimono can cost anywhere from $10,000 (American dollars) to $36,0000. The five layer kimonos used in the movie “Memoirs of a Geisha” were priced around $36,000 to $40,000 dollars, however, they were altered to look more cinematic. Real kimonos do not have low neck lines like the ones in the movie. A traditional kimono’s neck line will cut off just at the nape of the neck, whereas wedding kimonos cover the neck entirely.

Kimono (Japanese: 着物, literally "something worn"

Women's kimono

Most Japanese women would be unable to properly put on a kimono unaided, since the typical woman's outfit requires twelve or more separate pieces that must be worn, matched and secured in prescribed ways. Professional kimono dressers still help women put on kimono, usually for special occasions. Kimono dressers must be licensed, and while they often work out of hair salons, many make house calls as well.

The choice of which type of kimono to wear is laden with symbolism and subtle social messages. The specific choice relates to the woman's age and marital status, and the level of formality of the occasion. In descending order of formality:

Kurotomesode (黒留袖): a black kimono patterned only below the waistline, kurotomesode are the most formal kimono for married women. They are often worn by the mothers of the bride and groom at a wedding. Kurotomesode usually have five kamon printed on the sleeves, chest and back of the kimono.

Furisode (振袖): furisode literally translates as swinging sleeves—the sleeves of furisode average between 39 and 42 inches in length. Furisode are the most formal kimono for unmarried women. They have patterns that cover the entire garment, and are usually worn at coming-of-age ceremonies (Seijin Shiki) and by unmarried female relatives of the bride at weddings and wedding receptions.

Irotomesode (色留袖): a single-color kimono, patterned only below the waistline. Irotomesode are slightly less formal than kurotomesode, and are worn by married women, usually close relatives of the bride and groom at a wedding. An irotomesode may have three or five kamon.

Notice how the Obi (sash) is folded to look like a flower.

Hōmongi (訪問着): literally translates as visiting wear. Characterized by patterns that flow over the shoulders, seams and sleeves, hōmongi rank slightly higher than their close relative, the tsukesage. Hōmongi may be worn by both married and unmarried women; often friends of the bride will wear hōmongi at weddings and receptions. They may also be worn to formal parties, such as galas.

Tsukesage (付け下げ): a tsukesage has more modest patterns that cover less area—mainly below the waist—than the more formal hōmongi. They may also be worn by married and unmarried women.

Iromuji (色無地): single-colored kimono that may be worn by married and unmarried women. They are mainly worn to tea ceremonies. The dyed silk may be figured (rinzu, similar to jacquard), but has no differently colored patterns.

Komon (小紋): fine pattern in English. Kimono with a small, repeated pattern throughout the garment. Somewhat casual: may be worn around town, or dressed up with a nice obi for a restaurant. Both married and unmarried women may wear komon.

Edo komon (江戸小紋): Edo komon is a type of komon characterized by tiny dots arranged in dense patterns that form larger designs. The Edo komon dyeing technique originated with the samurai class during the Edo period. A kimono with this type of pattern is of the same formality as an iromuji, and when decorated with kamon, may be worn as visiting wear (equivalent to a tsukesage or hōmongi).

Yukata (浴衣): informal unlined summer kimono usually made of cotton, linen, or hemp. Yukata are most often worn to outdoor festivals, by men and women of all ages. They are also worn at onsen (hot spring) resorts, where they are often provided for the guests in the resort's own pattern.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Memoirs of a Geisha: Worth Seeing?

Memoirs of a Geisha

About two years ago I picked up a book from Barnes & Noble’s bargain book shelf for six dollars. It was the hard cover edition of Arthur Golden’s book Memoirs of a Geisha. Several years later and after a lot of controversy the Hollywood film adaptation of the book is released. Granted I’m slow in getting around to viewing this film, I thought it was worth mentioning.

One of the funny things for me about this movie was the controversy which surrounded it. Many American’s are complaining that it is merely a Hollywood representation (or fantasy) of an idealized 30’s era Japan. Isn’t this what the art of cinema is; a vivid fantasy to lose ourselves in? I find this funny because most the critics and especially the (generally poorly educated) American audiences who view this film will not have read the book or know much about Japanese culture which inspired the novel. That said, the movie does contain a vast and accurate portrayal of a specific Japanese period, a pre-war era which brings insight and richness to the unknown world of the Geisha.

Memoirs of a Geisha 1

The other instance of controversy arises in the casting choices of the three main actresses. Many viewers have complained that the three leads are of Chinese descent and that this is a form of type-casting which shows Hollywood’s ignorance and sponsors a sort of pan-Asian world view in which all people with slanted eyes meld into one generic race. All I can say is for all the American’s and Chinese who are up in arms about this subject are forgetting that this is a movie, and like any artistic work, there are times when certain artistic choices are made to tell the best story possible. Other times it is about drawing in a crowd with famous faces. There are some who think this film takes a very superficial look at Japanese customs and others cater to a more politically correct (faceless) world view complaining that a movie about an important Japanese tradition should star three Chinese actresses is shocking.

Inter-Asian acting

Yet nobody ever complained about Reese Witherspoon or Jodie Foster’s shaky British accents nor has anyone complained about Ewan McGregor or Ralph Fiennes acting as red blooded Americans? All I can say is that certain people are trying to use political correctness debates to push their political agendas (a desperate cry for attention) but they are overlooking the quality of the acting and the art. “Memoirs of a Geisha” is a well acted film, and Ziyi Zhang, Michelle Yoeh, and Gong Li were cast for their skills and not their stunning looks alone. They have been seen before by American audiences, and carry a certain weight of celebrity recognition, something which Hollywood needed to try and make up for the enormous budget of this epic film. Even with the inter-Asian acting there are quite a few prominent Japanese actors, and to say that a film about Japan should contain only Japanese people is ignoring the wealth of gifted international actors that are available today. If anything this film shows a type of cultural and social mingling which brings more awareness among the various races of the world. And with the tension between Japan and countries like China and Korea, I think this is a bold step forward in helping these countries bridge cultural gaps and years of tension and misunderstanding.

Quality Acting

You may be surprised at the prominent Japanese cast that is in this film. You may recognize Ken Watanabe from films like “Batman Begins” and the “Last Samurai.” Also a personal fan favorite of mine was Koji Yakusho known for the cult classic “Shall We Dance?” (And no, it’s not the Richard Gere/J.Lo remake). To my amusement there was a new face which I instantly fell in love with, a young Japanese girl called Suzuka Ohgo who plays the young Sayuri (Chiyo). She not only has one of the cutest smiles in cinema today, but she had a charm about her and I’m looking forward to seeing Ohgo-chan do more acting in the future. Many other Japanese and Japanese American’s make appearances in this film as either actors or supporting cast. Even the famous Japanese Chef Nobu Matsuhisa has a cameo appearance.

Controversy aside Rob Marshall’s epic saga about Geisha is a highly visual, colorful, and emotionally complex film. It may not be the most perfect means of insight into Japanese culture, because believe me the only way to really experience Japan is first hand, but I personally had no problem with the cast or quality acting. Although, I admit that at first I was hesitant about the casting, but when you finally see the actors bring the characters to life you see their great skill and hard work which makes me wish more movies were made with this much love and care. Contrary to popular belief Geisha’s are NOT prostitutes. They are multi-talented and versatile women artists of Japanese high culture. They are keepers of Japan’s traditional arts and customs. There is no sex, full nudity, or even much violence (other than some slaps, hair pulling, and American bomb dropping). In all respects, this is a classy and elegant film which respects its subject matter.

Memoirs of a Geisha 2

So how did Hollywood take three of China’s hottest stars and turn them Japanese? The answer is in the name Liza Dalby. Liza Balby is an American anthropologist specializing in Japanese culture. She wrote a book called Geisha based on her experiences with becoming the first (and only) foreigner ever to successfully become a Geisha. Dalby was the voice of experience which helped transform three other foreign women into seemingly authentic Geisha.

The sets, colors, props, and design of the entire movie is highly Japanese. Most everything was imported from Japan or built using authentic Japanese materials imported specifically for this film. Even if the movie gives only an artistic impression of Japan, it’s a richly painted portrait used with authentic tools of the trade. I must say that the art direction, costume design, and make up and hair stylings of this film are stunning to say the least. The hand produced kimonos are some of the most wonderful and beautiful pieces of clothing ever put onto the silver screen.

Memoirs of a Geisha 3

My hope is that if Hollywood does continue to based movies in or around the mythical and historical elements of Japan that they continue there quality and respect to Japan as so elaborately portrayed in films like “The Last Samurai” and “Memoirs of a Geisha.” If you liked this film or films about Geisha I also highly recommend "The Sisters of Gion" (Gion no Shimai) which, interestingly enough, was made authentically in the 30's era Japan in which this film takes place.

If you’re interested in Japan or seeing a more or less historically accurate fiction of the country and culture, “Memoirs of a Geisha” will not disappoint. If you’re interested in history and Japanese Geisha, this movie will also be for you. If you like great acting and high end drama, this is definitely a worthy film which won’t disappoint. My final analysis is that Rob Marshall’s “Memoirs of a Geisha” is a great piece of cinematic art which opens up and spurs a desire for greater cultural awareness giving everyone valuable insight into the wonderful world of Japan. Even if it is innately a Hollywood production, the care and attention to detail is there, and if you respect quality film making, without holding on to the bias of political agendas, I think you’ll find this movie dazzling if not spectacular.

Memoirs of a Geisha 4

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Jewel Bonus

Jewel bonus DVD

Sorry, I know this isn't technically Japanese, but I posted this last night to see if the image would convert automatically from the scan to fit on my Blog. I was going to delete it again, but then I went to bed and kind of forgot about it. Instead of confusing everyone with vanishing pictures, I'll just leave it up instead.

At least this way we can enjoy Jewel's blond barbie-esque beauty. Although, she's a lot more feminine and peachy soft than waxy old Barbie. Has anyone esle seen the Again and Again video? It's really cool, and show's Jewel! Hey, that rhymed. Maybe I can write song lyrics now. "There once was a bee sipping some tea!"
Anyway, you can find the Again and Again m-video and the wonderful Goodbye Alice in Wonderland m-vid at Jewel's official website: Enjoy!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The Origin of my Blog Title: The Muffin Man Revealed

Kamei-san and Me in Japan

Why is my Blog called "Do you know the Muffin Man?" Is it because I have an afinity for children's fables, or perhaps, is it because I like muffins? Well, both of these are true statements, however, neither is the reason for why I chose this title.

Rather, Kamei-san, our night time security guard and serogate grandfather-figure from the KGU international dromitory is the reason why. How does a funny little Japanese man influence such a thing as a Blog title you might ask? Simple, because he was brave enough to ask the question!

One evening my Texas roomate and I were headed out the door, on our way to grab a bite from the local Seven Eleven and rent a movie. As we were leaving the building Kamei-san urgently beckoned to us as if something were wrong. He shufftled up to us in his slippers and we stood frozen still. You see, my roomate and I didn't know if we were in trouble, if there was any troulbe, or if we had forgotten something. We leaned in and listened intently to what Kamei-san was about to say. Then, this small Japanese man with no English language skills whatsoever looked at us sternley and in a broken Japanese accent asked, "Do you know the muffin man?"

My roomate and I were thrown off guard. We looked at each other seriously, then back at Kamei-san. We did a double take just to make sure he wasn't joking with us, but the man was ernest in his question. My roomate started bellowing out with laughter. I couldn't help but follow suit, and poor Kamei-san just stood there with a serious grin waiting for a reply. When we asked him why he wanted to know he shuffled into his office and popped back out with a grin to show us a book. He was studying one of his children's school books on "basic English lessons" in which the topic was western stories and fairytales.

At last after having a good laugh we were relieved that it was merely the most profound question we had ever been asked. "Do you Know the muffin man?" My roomate and I still talk about this incident to this day. Now you know the rest of the story.

My first Hanami experience (only half of my ex-roomates are pictured here)

Next to Kamei-san, the other significant person to affect all exchange students who reside at the KGU international dorm is Terada-san, the head of the facility. He is the guy crouching to the bottom left of the photo. Terada always stayed active and organized all our fun extra-curricular events. He took all the foreign exchange students camping, to museums, to festivals, and every day outings. Yet when he wasn't making our Japan experience the best possible he was running the dorm with military precission. His dry sense of humor and caring heart made him our serogate father in Japan. I really miss these guys, and next time I'm in Kumamoto I'm going to pop in and say hello. This has been a nostalgic remeniscence, thanks for reading my Blog.

Last Exile

Last Exile

It's rare that I will hype or even talk about Japanese Anime, because I love all animation (even the bad stuff) and tend to be bias. However, there is one Anime series I want to recommend because I saw more imagination and passion in the art of this series called: Last Exile than in any other.

Normally I don't review Anime series, because I think the experience is something that you have to figure out for yourself -after all cartoons aren't for everyone. But I do recommend this show for anyone interested in trying out Japanese Anime for the first time or for veteran fans who enjoy top notch quality animation and stories. I don't want to ruin the story, so I'll just tell you a brief snippit of what it's about. Two young orphans, Clause and Navi, race there unique magnetic/steam flying planes, called vanships, to win money and parts. They join a courier service to gain extra money and when they must deliver a message in the middle of a civil conflict the two find themselves at the center of an encroaching World War.

Soon our heroes find themselves taking on a bigger mission than they can handle when a small child named Alvis (Al) is left in their charge. Clause swears at all costs to protect the innocent girl, and he keeps his promise. But not before the mysterious Alex Rowe, a notorious mercenary warrior who helms the most feared airship of all, brings Clause, Avi, and Al onto the infamous battle ship Silvana.

Once joined up, Clause and Avi become part of Alex Rowe's crew, and a new cast of characters are introduced as everyone sets out on a journey of survival. Amongst the chaos, Alvis seems to bee the focul point of the war, as her mysterious past and purpose is only known to an elite few. As the mystery unfolds an ancient relic known as the Last Exile threatens the world, and only Alex Rowe and his band of mercenaries along with Clause, Avi, and Al can save the world and bring peace and order.

Tatiana flies in red

The series Last Exile has some of the best character designs I've seen in a steampunk genre. The lead character designer is the famous Japanese artist Range Murata known for his contributions to the ROBOT art book anthologies. Along with the amazing design, this series has a wealth of imagination akin to Star Wars. Many people have compared this show to George Lucas's epic series as Last Exile shares many original and fantastical ideas with a fun and fairytale type spirit. The mixing of myth and legend and technology give the series a rich atmosphere and wealth of concepts to pull from. The animation consists of 2-D and 3-D elements which are blended seemlessly together as this is one of the better animated series coming from the acclaimed GONZO Studios.

For anyone who wants to experience a wonderful Japanese Anime (animation) or wants advice on where to start, I would recommend you watch Last Exile. It has intriquing characters and never becomes cliche. The story and art is excellent, the designs and ideas one hundred percent original, and it ranks as one of my top favorite Anime series. For people who know and love the series Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cowboy Bebop, Samurai Champloo, GTS: Stand Alone Complex, and Escaflowne, and Naruto will definately love Last Exile.