Monday, September 22, 2003


This blog has moved. Click here to go to my new blog. The new blog has a better template, so no more differently sized fonts and horrible colours. Also, categories! Which means that instead of having to be bored by general grumbling about Tokyo, you can click on a particular category and be bored by a particular grumble about Tokyo's trains, for instance. Just in case this link stops working here is the new URL http://journeywoman.rediffblogs.com

Today's posting is an account of Saturday's earthquake. See you there, I hope.

Friday, September 19, 2003


No, not me! I am talking about some of the people ( I use the term loosely) who appear to have visited this site. I had a dull day today, tidying and running errands, so I dipped into the search engine tracker. Shocking, shocking stuff. Apparently there are people out there who are looking for "photographs of old people in swimsuits", "animated fat getting bigger and fatter!!!!", "ladies wearing stockings driving trunks" and worst of all Aishwarya Rai in her birthday suit. ( Note to non-Indians: Aishwarya Rai is India's hottest movie star. If you could lay your hands on any such pictures, one billion people would be queueing for them). And all these searches have somehow managed to turn up my staid family blog, with my innocent references to swimming with geriatrics and watching the Samba festival. I don't think I have talked about animated fat though. Most mystifying is someone who wants to see a naked torii. ( A torii is the Japanese term for a temple arch)

I have to say I am really curious about all the quiet people who are apparently visiting this blog. When I started this blog I had fond hopes of my friends and family reading it, but apparently they think I am some crazed geek and refuse to indulge me. Its a bit difficult for me to decide what to write about when I don't know who my audience is. I know that my friends would want news of Maya and Sanjeeb, but everybody else is probably thinking " Enough already with the domesticity. Tell us about the weird and wonderful stuff you do in Japan." So, if you plan on dropping by this blog regularly, please leave a comment and let me know who you are.

I see from my tracker that people from New Zealand and California have visited. Perhaps you are looking for pictures of sheep in swimsuits or fat and old Japanese people? If so, sorry to disappoint, but if not, thank you for visiting.

I just know this second reference to Aishwarya Rai is going to bring more sleazy traffic.

Thursday, September 18, 2003


Robin's tongue-firmly-in-cheek parenting blog Speaking as a parent set me thinking about my own parenting philosophy. I have to confess that I don't follow the wise and ever so dull advice of Dr Spock and Penelope Leach. My role model is Calvin's dad in Bill Watterson's hilarious strip. For those not in the know, Calvin's dad livens up the drudgery of parenting by pulling Calvin's leg at every and any opportunity. Here's a good example: Calvin asks how babies are born. "Most people just go to Sears, buy the kit and follow the instructions,"says his dad with a deadpan face. "But you were a special at Kmart. Almost as good and a lot cheaper."

There's another wonderful strip where Calvin asks why old photos are black and white, and his dad tells him the world used to be black and white before, but now it's in colour. Quite plausible, I thought, and so did Calvin.

I haven't gone quite that far yet, but I have been pushing Maya's boundaries. She's at the perfect age for a leg pull, not young enough to be freaked out and terrified, but not old enough to tell the difference between jokes and reality. The other day we were sitting in the garden and she was complaining about the ants as usual. I reached out, picked up an ant and pretended to pop it into my mouth. Yum, I said. Her face was a picture. Horrified fascination does not begin to describe it. Yesterday I was making a tamarind curry. She sniffed at the tamarind, so I told her it was a cockroach. She wrinkled her nose up. "Are you kidding, mama?," she pleaded. I had to come clean so that she would eat the curry, but Mama's curious dietary habits seem to amuse and repel her simultaneously.

She has already asked where babies come from and I told her we can pick them up at our grocery story, but she didnt' seem to buy it, probably because our neighbourhood is packed with pregnant ladies. I am still trying to come up with a creative explanation as to how the babies got in the ladies.

"I imagine it must be a great temptation to misuse one's parental authority for private jokes," says Watterson. Tell me about it.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003


This weekend I dragged Sanjeeb to see Pirates of the Caribbean. He didn't want to go. His logic: how can a movie with pirates and ghosts based on a Disney ride be any good? My logic: How can a movie with pirates, ghosts and Johnny Depp be bad? I tend to like movies described as being "swashbuckling" having "panache" and featuring "roguish" characters. I finally convinced him to go after telling him Keira Knightley was going to be in the movie. Wearing a corset.

Well, we were equally divided after we saw the movie. I thought it was so bad it was almost good. Sanjeeb thought it was so bad it was very very bad. We both agreed that Johnny Depp makes a very original but entertaining pirate, mincing and swaying with brio and sporting tons of eyeliner, braids and gold teeth. Perhaps the first pirate in history to do a gay impersonation. Why was he mincing? You will have to watch the movie to find out. Geoffrey Rush hammed it up marvellously too, never dropping his sneer for a second. But the plot was ridiculous, even considering this was a summer movie where scriptwriters are optional. There was a battle between valiant soldiers and ghostly pirates who could not be killed. So then why did the intrepid soldiers bother with the battle? Answer: so the 14 year olds watching this flick can be sold all kinds of battle merchandise, plastic figurines and tickets to the sequel.

I won't give away any more of the plot , but Roger Ebert has a very funny review here.

Sunday, September 14, 2003


In a burst of uncharacteristic energy, we decided to go swimming at the public pool this weekend. Entering the pool is something of an obstacle race. First you buy the tickets, then purchase mandatory swimming caps if you haven't got one ( we have a whole range from candy pink to lemon yellow) , remove your shoes, enter your name and address ( why?) , find a 100 yen coin for the locker, put your bags in the locker, put on separate slippers to use the bathroom, remove all jewellery including wedding rings and then finally enter the pool. Only to find that the lifeguard is shooing everybody out because of the mandatory 5 minute break every hour. During these five minutes the lifeguards perform a series of strange operations, sometimes twiddling the ropes, sometimes inserting a large plastic tube into the pool. They could be cleaning it, but every hour?

Once you are actually in, public pools are a good spot for people watching. You realise that Japan is really an ageing nation; very very old people outnumber the kids by two to one. You also realise why Japanese geriatrics live so long when you see all those tiny 80 year olds doing water aerobics to the accompaniment of Gloria Estefan.

Swimming in the pool, like everything else in Japan, is governed by Rules. There is a kiddie pool where you are not allowed to bring your own floaties, tubes or swim gear. Neither are you allowed to scream or jump in. The adults pool has separate lanes for serious swimmers and doggy paddlers. In the serious swimmers lane, you are required to swim continuously and not stand up, float about or otherwise play hooky. I wanted to get some much needed exercise, so I did laps in the serious swimmmers lane, where I was constantly overtaken by some fanatically fast Ian Thorpe wannabes.

When we came out, we found that our shoes, which we had carelessly strewn about, had been neatly rearranged in a row. We used to be mortified by this; now we have just got used to it.

Friday, September 12, 2003


I am sure there must be some mums who manage to work from home successfully. I just haven't met any of them. I have spent the past two days interviewing people on the phone while The Lion King is blaring downstairs, dinner is burning itself to a cinder on the stove and Maya is banging on my office door. I always try to schedule interviews while Maya is at at school. Invariably though, people I call in the morning utter those dread words "I'll call you back." When, I want to rage? When Maya's in the bath and I have my hands all soapy? When I am in the middle of dishing out dinner? Usually, the summons comes at these times, or worse, when Maya is on the potty. Luckily Maya is at the age when I can trundle her off to the television, pop on Cinderella, and dash upstairs to the phone. Sometimes I think if John Logie Baird ( inventor of the idiot box) were alive, I would marry him.

People just seem to be so mean to us homeworking moms. I remember an editor of mine hearing distant bawling and saying "What is that horrible noise?" I remember thinking,"If you ever have kids, I hope youhave quintuplets with colic." Yesterday, one of my interviewees said " I don't know if it is your accent or the phone line, but I can't understand anything you are saying." Well, excuse me for not going to finishing school and speaking like Julie Andrews. It is at times like these that my mind seems to have turned to mush.

Homeworkers of the world unite! We have nothing to lose but our brains.

Wednesday, September 10, 2003


Tokyo sometimes is so....whimsical. While doing the school run today I noticed a sign: "St Mary's Mead Ltd". It sounded vaguely familiar, and then it came to me. Miss Marple's stamping ground, the little village where everyone from the butcher to the kitchen maid is secretly administering arsenic to their kith and kin. I was so enchanted by this I nearly did a little jig. Somehow, finding a fellow Agatha Christie fan in the heart of Tokyo, even if I can't communicate with him, warmed my heart.

I have also noticed The Little Prince cafe in Aoyama; apparently the novel is a huge hit with Japanese office ladies. And I read this sweet article the other day ( can't find it unfortunately) about Japanese office ladies saving up to visit the home of Anne of Green Gables fame in Canada.

Sometimes all this whimsy can cascade into sugary kawainess. And sometimes it can be plain baffling, like when I picked up a karee pan ( curry filled bread roll) in the supermarket today , to find it labelled "Hyannisport." Hyannisport? As in the home of the Kennedys? ( I think) What's next? Sushi labelled "Chappaquidick?"

Tuesday, September 09, 2003


Well, I don't have anything to blog about since I have been spending every minute of the day trying to round up reluctant interviewees for my article on contemporary Japanese photography. I have been bashing my head against the language barrier with little success..but then, nothing new about that.

What is new is that Sanjeeb summitted Mount Fuji last weekend, as they say amongst mountaineers. Those of you know him must be reeling with disbelief, but he has proof. Photos taken on the top, and which I might just be able to add to this blog someday. Hey, I finally got my About page up, so anything's possible. ( Yes, I know its all squooshed up).

I have asked him to blog about it, so you can soon expect a creative effort on the lines of "It was cold. It was hard. It was very beautiful on the top. I ate lots of chocolate."

Thursday, September 04, 2003


Very bad pun, I know, but that does describe my current state of mind. Just been asked to write a short for the Far Eastern Economic Review. The good news is that this is what every freelancer dreams of: being assigned a story without having to bust your brains trying to come up with an idea that the editor likes. The bad news is that it is on the investment value of contemporary Japanese photography, something I know nothing about. Did a little research on the net and found out that the topselling photographers include a woman who dresses up as a French maid and photographs herself posed on a satin bedspread and a man who takes shaky photos of empty movie theaters. Their "art" goes for upwards of US$ 50,000. Hmmmm......

This isn't the first time I have had to keep a straight face while writing about contemporary art. I wrote about a man disembowelling chickens and calling it art here. But at least he didn't get paid for it. So I have spent the morning trying to find out why taking fuzzy photos of dreary movie theaters is art that sells, and why my sharply focused pictures of my beautiful daughter aren't. I can't say I am any the wiser. I think I need to take an art appreciation course. In the meantime, though, I will need to convince sundry experts at Christie's and Sotheby's that I know what I am talking about. It's giving me a coronary.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003


You know you are very very far away from home- or leading a normal life-when you get excited about finding a new phrasebook. I am not just excited; I am ecstatic. Among other things, my new phrasebook has the Japanese words for padded envelope, swimsuit, sunglasses, all things I have struggled to buy in the last few months. When I tried to find the swimsuit section in the huge Tokyu department store, it took me almost an hour, because people kept pointing me to the kimono, kiddy and toy section. Obviously my breast stroke looks like I want to swaddle myself in a kimono.

Now I think I have an excuse for going out and buying lots of swimsuits and sunglasses. I can also say "I am tone deaf" if I am invited to karaoke, "I hate natto " ( fermented soy bean curd) if I am invited to dinner, and "I have a rash in my nether regions" or "Go away" if I am crowded on the train or accosted by Mormons, as happened yesterday.

My life just seems to get curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would say. Soon I will have to believe six impossible things before breakfast.

Monday, September 01, 2003


In my quest for bloggable experiences, I often do very stupid things. This weekend I dragged the family off to the Asakusa Samba Festival. Last year around half a million people came. This year, they brought their uncles, aunts, grandpas, grandmas, kith and kin, or so it appeared!

The Samba carnival is one of Tokyo’s bizarre sights. I saw photos on a website, and it seemed like the kind of thing that Maya, with her obsession for sequins and jewellery, might enjoy. We thought getting there an hour in advance might get us room to breathe. Turned out we should probably have got there the previous night in order to have any chance of a decent vantage point. We were packed tighter than sardines, and had to take turns hoisting Maya on our shoulders. What we did see was very …ummm…jiggly. The costumes weren’t quite as skimpy as the Rio ones, but certainly skimpy enough. Enough feathers, headdresses and sequins to keep Maya happy, and also some tableaux with mermaids, men on stilts, and very weird singing kabuki dancers. I liked the tableau featuring beach volleyballers best—G string clad Japanese men doing what might be the samba, or could easily be the Macarena for all I know. Then a long procession of school kids playing “Copacabana” on xylophones.

We got tired of craning our necks after an hour, so had to leave before it really got going. On the way back, there was a near stampede near the station, and I had to use my stroller as a weapon to batter my way through. Not too many people had been foolhardy enough to bring a child, but then Maya will have to get used to sharing her space with a billion people once we return to India, right? I noticed a lot of people had brought folding stools with them to stand on. Why didn’t I think of that?

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