Marching for Peace and Equality

As the past week wore on, the violent confrontations between police and protesters lessened. Starting midweek the crowds at the daily protests remained peaceful, and I looked ahead to the weekend and considered taking the kids to a peaceful march ourselves. I didn’t make this decision lightly, keeping their safety in mind first. But I also realized that we couldn’t live so close to a huge event and not take part. Mark and I decided on a plan to see the action while staying far enough to keep ourselves safe. And off we went.

We set off on foot around 2PM, walking one mile and arriving at the Dirksen Senate Office building right next to the Capitol building. We hung back enough to give ourselves space from others, which remained our theme for the day. We stayed on edges, walking on the sidewalk instead of in the street. We wanted to give ourselves physical space because of covid, but I also always wanted a quick exit in case we needed to leave right away.

After some remarks and chants, the march started. The crowd streamed down Capitol Hill, heading in the direction of the White House. I can’t even begin to describe the power of seeing so many people, all carrying signs, chanting slogans, and demanding change. Media describes the crowd sizes as “over 10,000”, but it was clearly more people than that.

The chants. Say her name: Breonna Taylor. Whose streets: our streets. This is what democracy looks like. No justice: no peace.

One of the more poignant moments for me was watching the crowd stream past the now-shuttered Newseum. The building facade includes the text of the First Amendment to the Constitution, and I felt so much pride to witness thousands of Americans exercising that very right:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The crowd streams past the shuttered Neweseum, peaceably assembling to their hearts’ content

We asked the kids if they wanted to continue on, and they did. We ended up walking all the way to the White House. We stayed to the south, where the Washington Monument is. We did not go to the north side, where Lafayette Park and the newly-renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza sit. I later read that the largest protest of the day assembled there.

We saw some police presence, but very little. They mostly hung back and watched the crowds, and protesters mostly left them alone. Only the assembly of officers outside the FBI headquarters and again at the US Customs and Border Protection headquarters looked vaguely menacing all kitted up in their riot gear. But again, they and the protesters did not engage each other.

We eventually turned back and headed home, surprised by how long we stayed. I was pleased to see the kids interested in pushing on.

Now comes the challenge. After taking part in such a historic event–what next? Exercising our right to peaceable assembly is an important first step, and I’m pleased that the kids saw the power of that firsthand. But what change we enable will make the difference in actually seeing equality for all Americans. I’m still figuring out what that will look like for our family.

This Week in Washington Has Been the Longest Year of My Life

Hey there! It’s been a while. I wrote my last post almost one year ago, the last night before leaving Japan and returning to the US. Over the past year I weighed letting the blog just sit versus periodically updating some big milestones of re-entry to US life. Not updating won out until this past week, with the events following George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis. Given everything that has happened here in Washington DC lately, I felt compelled to document in a little more detail the experience of living through it.

A giant disclaimer: I’m trying to document purely what the experience has been like for us as residents of DC during a historic time. I’m not asking for pity for us, or trying to paint ourselves as victims–because we’re not. Especially for friends in different US cities and around the world, I attempt to paint a picture of what it has been like to witness the things you all watched on the news this week. Given all of that, I’m not a journalist. So my bleeding heart/lefty leaning side will surely come out.

So let’s get started!

Lincoln Park is green rectangle in the center-right of the map view above, and our house sits just north of that

First a little geography. We live in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, just north of Lincoln Park. So we are about one mile from the US Capitol building to our west and one mile to the DC Armory to our east. The White House sits not quite 3 miles (about 4.5 km) away. Lafayette Park lies due north of the White House. It has been a traditional site for protests going back decades.

The photo below shows Tessa and I stopping during a bike ride for a quick selfie in Lafayette Park a few weeks ago. Directly between us and the White House you can see tents of peaceful protesters who have lived in the park for years in support of various causes. Historically, the long-term protesters and White House security personnel maintain an understanding on how each side regards and treats the other; the nearby St. John’s Church gives the protesters and other homeless residents access to bathrooms and shelter.

Stopping for a quick White House selfie in Lafayette Park during a bike ride on May 10, 2020

Last weekend the protests in DC started heating up, and on Sunday night DC’s mayor Muriel Bowser set a curfew of 11PM Sunday to 6AM Monday. We woke up Monday to news of violent protests and looting occurring overnight. My friend Petula is a columnist for the Washington Post, and she posted some frightening photos from the scene at Lafayette Park. Protesters overturned cars and set them on fire. In response, police fired rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowds.

A rubber bullet fired at protesters on Sunday at Lafayette Park [Photo: Petula D.]

At work on Monday my co-workers and I discussed how ill at ease we felt. Something bad is coming–I can feel it, one co-worker said. I rode my bike home on Monday and took some photos of stores and restaurants in our neighborhood that had windows smashed overnight.

Monday afternoon we learned of earlier curfews, effective 7PM to 6AM the next day. They were in effect both Monday and Tuesday. It was strange to imagine that simply walking my dog or chatting outside with a neighbor became grounds for arrest.

Early evening on Monday, Mark and I watched live on TV as US Park Police charged in to clear Lafayette Park of protesters. Flash grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets preceded Trump’s photo op holding a Bible in front of St. John’s Church. We watched the split screen in disbelief, not understanding what we were watching.

Tuesday brought another night of curfew. As we sat in our yard eating dinner we noticed a small plane overhead, which is unusual for our part of DC. I speculated aloud that perhaps flight paths were altered, then joked that maybe it was the Russians. Tessa immediately flashed a peace sign at the sky and smiled while we laughed.

Unfortunately the truth turned out to be far scarier. According to vice.com, the FBI and military are flying surveillance aircraft over the DC protests. Now I realize that this makes me sound absolutely crazy. But again: the military is flying aircraft over DC. It’s Saturday night as I write this, and the same planes are flying circles overhead right now.

The flight path of surveillance aircraft over DC on Tuesday night, with our house’s location marked with the purple X

And the noise. All week long we heard non-stop helicopters. And sirens. The sirens and helicopters sounded all through the night, making sleep impossible. In the still night air we could hear flash grenades fired at the White House, over three miles away. We strained to hear rapid popping, trying to convince ourselves that it was only firecrackers and not gunfire.

After the first few chaotic nights, the protests quickly became peaceful. One final curfew on Wednesday night lasted from 11PM to 6AM Thursday, and no curfews were declared after that.

Meanwhile the police presence in DC ramped up.

Washington DC is not a state. Instead, it’s a city with federal oversight, and this status limits the mayor’s powers compared to other cities and states. Trump brought in National Guard from outside the area despite the DC mayor’s request not to. As documented by politico.com, federal law enforcement agents started appearing at the now-peaceful protests, many of them without markings to identify what agencies they belonged to. My friend Robert took the photo below and saw others approach the officers and asking where they were from; their questions were ignored and left unanswered.

Now a common sight in DC: heavily armed law enforcement officers without any marking indicating their agencies [Photo: Robert P.]

Throughout the week National Guard units from outside DC assembled at the DC Armory a mile away. My friend Denise lives across the street from the Armory and had some rather alarming encounters with armed National Guard soldiers on her corner. We also witnessed lots of armored vehicles rolling through our neighborhood just a few hundred yards (meters) from our house.

Military vehicles rumble past Lincoln Park, only a few hundred yards/meters from our home

Meanwhile Mayor Bowser’s and President Trump’s feud heated up. The White House security team expanded the perimeter of streets closed to the public around the White House. Mayor Bowser decided to emphasize which streets still belong to DC, and it all came to a head with Friday morning’s surprise news: DC’s Department of Public Works and local artists started painting BLACK LIVES MATTER directly on the street in letters so big that satellites can pick it up from space.

She also renamed Lafayette Plaza, making it Black Lives Matter Plaza. My initial reaction was glee, but that quickly changed when I started hearing why some Black Americans were not thrilled. The Black Lives Matter DC movement criticized the move as an empty gesture.

My friend Greg was not especially impressed either, posting the following to Facebook: Ladies and gentlemen, we are now pawns in a feud between the mayor of DC and Trump. This gesture is how movements get hijacked.

So that’s our week.

On Saturday we took the family to march in the peaceful protests, and I’m so glad we did. That will get its own blog post. Stay tuned!

We Fly Tomorrow: The Final Post From Japan

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One final, awesome manhole cover, a Japan specialty

I sit here in our room at the Navy Lodge on the Yokosuka Naval Base. It’s Tuesday around 5PM, and the rest of the family is out. Tessa is spending a last day with her Japanese friends from school who came down from Yokohama. Mark and Cy went off to the pool for a swim. Our dog Ruby is due here at the Lodge in about an hour, having spent the last week at the dog sitter’s place.

We fly out tomorrow, returning to the US for good.

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From the Navy Lodge Yokosuka, our sort-of view of Tokyo Bay. If you look past the parking lot and shipping containers.

The last week has been a blur of closing out errands. Clearing one room for the Do Not Pack items that we will carry with us on the flight. Watching the movers pack up our household, frantically grabbing at items to carry with us. Remembering the odd paperwork, pair of shoes, or other item that got packed (such as our DC house keys) and won’t turn up until the shipment reaches us in late September, at the soonest. Taking the dog for the final round of health checks and sorting her crate, travel documents, and repeatedly reassuring the airline that she has a pointy nose and poses no health risk in flight. Closing out utilities. Selling the nice car and junking the old car. Checking out of the house and returning keys to the landlord. One final gig with both bands. One last visit for Cy to the music store so he can play around with the used bass guitars. Turning off the mobile phones. And tears. So many tears.

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Cy’s last visit to Ishibashi Music in Yokohama

We are both excited to return to the US and incredibly sad to leave behind our life in Japan.

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RIP, Benji the Orenji. You served us well.

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Tempura Crime Scene members enjoying the Mamonaku show

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Tempura Crime Scene celebrates ‘Murica

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Mamonaku holds a rehearsal on July 4, America’s Independence Day. Which means that Americans Bruno, Marta, Brad, and Bill tar and feather Brits Rich and Nic.

We will reach DC and immediately start with the same errands in the other direction. Thankfully we already have our house, complete with kitchenware, furniture, and the trappings of basic life. So at least that part will be easy. Then we go on to the next layer: Turning on new mobile phones. Retrieving one car from storage and re-registering it, then buying another new one. Reconnecting with family and friends. Getting the kids ready for sleepaway camp ten days later. I will try my hardest not to be the When I Was In Japan person so I don’t bore my DC friends too much. But considering that it has been my life for four years, I will definitely be that person.

New opportunities and adventures will start up quickly. Tessa (grade 8) will immediately begin the highly-fraught high school application process. Cy (grade 7) will start attending high school open houses as well. I have a not-quite-a-job-interview in the works. And of course I’ll have to find a new band!

See you all on the flip side.

Stone Lantern Shopping in Hayama

Stone lanterns appear throughout Japan at shrines, beside temples, in private gardens–and in the household goods shipments of expats returning to their home countries. Today Mark and I set out to buy lanterns of our own, hopping in the car and heading about 30 minutes south to a stone lantern shop in nearby Hayama.

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We pulled up to the small but very promising shop called Negishi Stone and started browsing.

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The proprietors, a father-son duo from the Negishi family, said that they do not make the lanterns on-site. Instead they purchase the lanterns from a wholesaler in Ibaraki prefecture, and the Negishi shop sets up the lanterns outside to allow them to age. The father explained how the shop’s setting nestled in a narrow, wooded valley allows moss and other natural colorings from the local environment to grow on the stones and give them personality. He estimated our lanterns at about five years old.

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In addition to lanterns, the shop also sells animal and religious carvings–plus one carving of a musical group that brings to mind the latest bands to hit the Yokohama gaijin rock band scene! I’ll let you all decide if the carving depicts Mamonaku or Tempura Crime Scene.

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Mamonaku or Tempura Crime Scene?

After about 20 minutes of browsing, Mark and I decided on these two beauties. We look forward to setting these up in our garden in Washington.

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Getting There

Negishi Stone is open by appointment only, so call ahead. The son speaks English but the father does not, so have a Japanese speaker handy when you make the call, just in case.

The shop is easily reached by car. If you plan to arrive by public transit, then mention this when making your appointment and the Negishi family will pick you up at the nearest train station. Your purchases will be shipped to your home.

The shop accepts cash only, so come prepared! The smallest lanterns start at just under 20,000 yen and go up in price from there.

Negishi Stone Co. Ltd.
1074 Nagae
Miura-gun, Kanagawa-ken
〒240-0113

GPS Coordinates:
35°16’52.7″N 139°35’39.4″E
35.281309, 139.594271

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A Visit to Naoshima, Japan’s Art Island

Last weekend Mark and I celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary. We farmed out the younger mammals to stay with friends, then headed out for a quick overnight trip with just the two of us. We had originally planned to drive Mark’s convertible to Hakone, a popular resort area only 90 minutes away. But alas, an eruption warning for Mount Hakone convinced us to choose a new destination. So we decided to visit Naoshima, a small island with a worldwide reputation for its collection of art museums and installations.

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Naoshima’s story could have reflected the fate of so many rural areas in Japan, which have been hit especially hard by Japan’s aging and shrinking population. Yet Naoshima and several surrounding islands have escaped this fate. As outlined in this excellent piece by NPR, a company called Benesse Holdings–best known for its Berlitz language schools–decided to find a home for its extensive art collection about 30 years ago. Headquartered in Okayama, a sleepy-ish, mid-sized town in Western Japan, Benesse CEO Soichiro Fukutake started looking nearby for a community willing to work with him. He bought a huge tract of land on Naoshima island and hired superstar architect Tadao Ando to design and build his dreams, including several museums, hotels, and smaller art houses. The annual number of visitors today is estimated around 800,000 people–not too bad for an island of 5.5 square miles (14 square km) and a full time population of roughly 3,000 people.

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Benesse Art House includes several galleries of contemporary art, and a hotel! The guests of the hotel can visit the galleries after hours, which we enjoyed very much.

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We also had the exclusive use of our own private funicular to get from the museum to the cluster of hotel rooms up the hill. I highly recommend traveling by private funicular as much as possible.

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Our suite was in the Oval section of the hotel; I found it impossible to pass through the Oval without pulling out my camera and taking yet more photos as the light changed. The views of the Seto Inland Sea changed with the light, and I never grew tired of staring out at the horizon.

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In addition to the museums built by Benesse, the villages have gotten in on the art action. Street art, colorful cafes, and lots of English signage made it clear that the island is All In on its art identity.

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Perhaps the most famous single artwork on Naoshima is Yayoi Kusama’s Yellow Pumpkin. Situated very near our hotel, I wandered down to it several times and took an absurd number of photos as the light changed.

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While I wish our visit were longer, I’m so glad that we had the chance to go. Even if it’s just for one night–do it! There’s nothing else in the world like it.

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Egg Sandwich Pringles: A Cautionary Tale

I love me some Japanese snacks! Kit Kats get all the attention, and people clamor for new or limited edition flavors. There are even Kit Kat boutiques. Personally I’ve never really cared that much for them. Regular Kit Kats are fine, but I actively dislike their most famous Other flavor, Matcha (green tea). I bought a bag once to try them out, and no one in the family liked them at all. We even threw away a mostly uneaten bag. Considering that my children have always attacked any dessert or candy as if it’s their last, that’s saying a lot. It tasted like white “chocolate”–already a bad start–combined with chalky, undissolved matcha (green tea) powder. They’re super popular both in Japan and overseas. Just not in our house.

A representative sampling of assorted Kit Kat flavors at our neighborhood grocery store

But potato chips? Oh boy. Love me some fancy flavored potato chips! Japan does not disappoint. I’m not sure how I went down the road of seeking out strange potato chip flavors, but it’s become a bit of an obsession. My poor friend Maki has been drafted as my lieutenant in the quest. Any time I find a new, strange flavor I send her a photo, a review, and ask her to confirm my understanding/translation of what exactly I’m eating.

Read on for some recent examples.

Let’s start with Pringles, that American favorite.

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Party Chicken Pringles

While finishing up a ladies’ ski weekend and shopping for snacks to eat on the train, I grabbed a green can of Pringles without reading it, assuming that I got sour cream and onion flavor. I did not. Instead, I got Party Chicken Pringles. Which pretty much tastes like the smell of the box from takeaway fried chicken. Not terrible, but not so great either.

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Grilled Chicken Pringles

To continue chicken-themed Pringles, I present Grilled Chicken Pringles. Tasted sorta like Party Chicken Pringles. Just not exactly.

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Smoked Cheese Pringles

Next up: Smoked Cheese Pringles. These were actually pretty tasty–they sort of tasted like smoked Provolone, only moreso. I would eat these again.

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Sukiyaki Pringles

Maki, my patron saint of Japanese junk food mentioned above, got in on the action with this next gem, Sukiyaki Pringles: “I’m at Haneda. Just found sukiyaki flavor. Kanto region limited.” Exclusivity and Limited Time-ness are hallmarks of odd Japanese food flavors, and Sukiyaki Pringles hits both marks. Sadly we don’t know how they actually taste–because apparently even the patron saint of Japanese junk food has her limits. But it’s safe to say that they were either OK, or really gross.

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Egg Sando Pringles

While stocking up for a hike in the Kamakura hills, I took it too far with Tamago Sando (Egg Sandwich) Pringles. I picked up and set back the can several times, then decided to go for it. How bad can they be, I reasoned? Pretty bad, it turns out. Egg Sandwich Pringles taste like regret.

I saw these in a convenience store and go so excited! Mystery Flavor Pringles!! What could they possibly be? Some kind of chicken, it turned out. More like Grilled Chicken Pringles, and not so much Party Chicken Pringles.

Moving beyond Pringles, here are some other brands and flavors.

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Consomme (Chicken Soup) Chip Star

Chip Star is Japan’s local/blatant Pringles imitation. They like their chicken flavors as well, as demonstrated by the Consomme Chip Star pictured above. For those of you who haven’t attended culinary school or a dinner party in 1957, consommé is a clarified chicken stock. So basically, we’re back to chicken flavor.

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Chip Star Salty Lemon chips

I could read the lemon (レモン)but not the salted part–Maki to the rescue, again! They were mostly salty with a hint of bright citrus notes. So lemony, but not too much. I liked them! Also this is hands down my favorite packaging. Isn’t it beautiful? I didn’t save the container, and I’m seriously considering buying another pack so I can keep the cylinder. Because I am insane. Since Chip Star packs its chips with a plastic bag inside the cylinder, I won’t even have to worry about a greasy container.

Next up we have another iconic Japanese brand, Calbee.

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Calbee Pizza Potato Chips

Honestly I’m not sure what to think of Calbee Pizza Potato chips. Are they amazing? Disgusting? A guilty pleasure? All of the above? I can’t quite decide. I keep trying them and wondering what I think. Meanwhile, other people definitely love them, as exhibited by the uproar of the Great Pizza Potato Shortage of 2017, as documented by the truth seekers over at Sora News 24.

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Calbee Nori (Roasted Seaweed) and Salt chips

Another Calbee flavor, Nori (roasted seaweed) and I think salt, based on Maki’s help with an earlier flavor. Nori is a pretty popular flavor, and most companies offer some variation of it. I would like a little more nori flavor in these, but they’re still quite good.

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Calbee Edamame and Garlic chips

Calbee’s Edamame and Garlic chips: lots of garlic flavor, and super tasty! A winner.

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Koikeya Ume chips

OK, time for a little confession. I’m not 100% that these are ume (pickled plum chips) since I didn’t confirm the kanji with Maki. But there’s a picture of ume in the upper right corner, so we’ll go with it. I was surprised to see this last week at the grocery store, since I’ve seen ume chips in February/March as the ume trees blossom across Japan. Of course pickled ume are available year round, but ume as a seasonal flavor seems like an early spring thing. Ume are salty and sweet, and absolutely delicious inside an onigiri rice ball. So they make for pretty tasty chips as well.

 

Momma’s in a Rock ‘n Roll Band

When I learned of our move to Japan four years ago, I immediately imagined the killer things we would see and do. Like watching sumo. Or traveling around Japan to go skiing, or look at wisteria and toilet museums, or visit temples near Yokohama. Joining a rock band wasn’t really on my radar. Yet.

About a year before leaving DC, seven-year-old Cy started drum lessons at Music On the Hill, our fabulous neighborhood music shop. After a few months of watching Cy tap away on the practice pad and then a starter electronic drum kit, I decided that I needed to get in on the action. I started drum lessons myself, and six months later we moved to Japan.

After arriving in Yokohama, the Google led me to my first music-related break: the lovely and talented Marcos, my drum teacher. Cy and I toiled away, performing in annual recitals with Marcos’s other students.

As loyal martayaki readers may recall, the big break came in 2017, when local band Honmoku Blues Express needed a bongo player for upcoming gigs. Lead singer Tom saw Mark and asked if I knew how to play bongos. “Well she’s a drummer….”, Mark replied. And that’s how I bought bongos and taught myself to play, with guidance from Marcos and YouTube.

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Playing at YC&AC, June 2018

A few months later some guitar-playing friends asked me to join them for casual jams, which eventually turned into gigs in the Members’ Bar at our club, Yokohama Country and Athletic Club (YC&AC). After a few months I cajoled the rest of the band into letting me play the drums instead. Gradually we added a bass player, a lead singer, keyboards, and a new name: Mamonaku. Mamonaku is Japanese for up next, and you hear it on train platforms as a train approaches.

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A little after that, another band was born: Tempura Crime Scene. Bass player Brad tapped me as the drummer. Most of the TCS band members work for Nissan, so it’s widely known as the Nissan house band.

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Tempura Crime Scene’s debut at YC&AC, March 2019

Our friends come to hear both bands play. But here’s the crazy part: they keep coming back. After a few gigs word got out that there are two more gaijin (foreigner) bands on the Yokohama music scene, and we started getting invitations to play with other bands, and at other venues.

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Mamonaku at Antenna America, November 2018

It’s been absurdly fun. I mean, I get to play in a band! How fun is that? It’s a lot of work, but I love it.

The craziest part is that I’m only an OK drummer. Sure, my friends heap praise on all of us after every gig, which is really kind. Because who doesn’t love getting called a rock star? But honestly, I’m not that great. I’m competent, and I can keep a beat pretty well, and I practice a lot. I mean, A LOT. Between Mamonaku and Tempura Crime Scene, I’ve learned around 50 songs in the last year. Singers can find lyrics online, and guitar players can find tabs (chords) from different sites and apps. They still work hard to learn songs, but at least the web gives them a starting point. There aren’t really the same resources for drums; learning a drum part means listening, memorizing, and maybe transcribing some challenging intros or fills. (And in case you were wondering–yes, there is standard drum notation. Though I’ve been known to scribble “pssht on 3” and similar.)

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Both bands have varied levels of musical ability. Some of our musicians are phenomenal, and some are pretty OK. I’m toward the pretty OK end. But a band playing together well doesn’t require absolutely phenomenal musicians in every spot. All you need is a baseline of competence, the ability to get along with others, and lots of patience for each others’ mistakes, suggestions, and crappy song ideas. Playing nicely with others is huge, and not just in a band. Think of examples in your own workplace or social circle. It’s easy to think of the brilliant writer who can’t meet a deadline, or the phenomenal soccer player who insists on taking every shot on goal himself instead passing the ball, and so on. Playing in a band is like that.

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An example of *not* playing along nicely with others: caught in the act of posting unflattering rehearsal photos of fellow band members to the group What’s App chat

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Tempura Crime Scene rehearses at Cloud 9 practice studios. Sometimes we’re nice to each other. And sometimes we grimace at questionable song ideas that thankfully don’t make it onto the set list. Like here.

I learned a lot from Marcos, as I still do from my weekly lessons with him. He gives me exercises to tweak skills that I struggle with, and gives excellent feedback after a gig. I’ve also learned a lot from actually playing gigs. Learning songs at home mostly means playing along to a recording. Playing with other people means that *I* keep the beat, not the recording. If the song is dragging then I try to catch the bass and guitar players’ eye to speed up the tempo. If I make a mistake, I keep going without grimacing. If someone else makes a mistake–maybe missing a cue, or coming in early–the rest of us all follow along.

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Mamonaku at Golden Cup, March 2019

During a gig I’m constantly listening to myself play, and my inner dialogue runs nonstop. Am I dragging a little behind the beat? Did I get that kick rhythm right? There’s a big fill coming up. High hat control isn’t quite right, so keep it closed. Wow, Clapton drum parts are really tedious. The syncopated high hat rhythm is off, so go back to straight eighth notes. The toms are too flat and I keep hitting the rim; remember to pitch them forward more after the song ends. The ride is too far back; pull it forward between songs. Gah, the singer came in early, adjust! And so on. So for those of you who tell me that I look really serious when I play or that I should smile more–this is why.

So what’s the best part of a successful show? Afterwards, when a fan comes up to me and says, “That was so cool! I want to learn to play drums too!”.

Our next show is coming up on May 11 at Benny’s Place in Motomachi. Come on by!

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Dziadziu Visits Japan: All Kyoto, All Day

This morning we set out for our first stop, the National Modern Art Museum of Kyoto. After the crowds of the previous days we enjoyed the quiet solitude of the galleries.

From there we continued on to the shrines nestled along the Higashiyama mountain range. After strolling through Nanzenji shrine, we continued on to my favorite, Eikando. Eikando draws huge crowds during the peak autumn foliage season, or momiji. The rest of the year it’s a fairly quiet place, which I love.

After pausing for some refreshment of matcha green tea and a red bean paste sweet cookie…

… We continued on to Ginkaku-ji, or the Silver Pavilion.

After lunch we headed for easily the most crowded spot of our trip so far: Kinkaku-ji, or the Golden Pavilion.

All day, everywhere, we saw sakura. Cherry blossom fatigue starts to set in with so many trees around, and so many people determined to capture the perfect shot. I know–poor us.

For our last dinner in Kyoto, we enjoyed the varied offerings of an izakaya. On our way to the restaurant, we blended in with the foreigner crowd on foot determined to find an excellent meal. But once we reached the restaurant, we saw nothing but Japanese customers surrounding us–always a good sign, especially in a heavily touristy area such as Gion. We ordered an assortment typical to an izakaya: grilled chicken skewers, assorted vegetables with miso sauce, a soft boiled egg nestled atop potato salad with anchovy, and steak cooked to perfection.

It capped off a lovely day with amazing sites, perfect weather, so much sakura, and the best company.

Tomorrow we board our final Shinkansen: back home to Yokohama.

Dziadziu visits Japan: Hiroshima and Kyoto

I can’t believe that it’s only day two of our trip! We’ve seen and done so much already.

This morning we headed out to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Loyal martayaki readers may recall that I visited this museum back in 2016 when Grandpa Don came to visit. The experience was a bit different this time due to a recent renovation–but still utterly gut wrenching.

The Children’s Peace Monument

After the museum we strolled past the Children’s Peace Monument and Genbaku (Atomic Dome). At all three sites the size of the crowds struck me. Here is probably the least fun thing you can do on vacation, looking at photos of brutal death and destruction. Yet people care, and spend their free time learning about such dark times in history. It gives me hope.

The former Bank of Japan branch, designed by my friend Marcos’s grandfather

Right as we were leaving the museum, my friend Marcos sent me a suggestion to check out a building that his architect grandfather designed. Since the building was only a few minutes walk away, we headed over to see it for ourselves.

Built in 1936, the building originally served as the Hiroshima branch of Bank of Japan; it survived the nuclear blast and now serves as an exhibition space. We enjoyed the photo exhibit on display.

After a quick lunch, we boarded yet another shinkansen, this time bound for Kyoto.

After relaxing in our hotel for a bit, we headed for Kyoto’s busiest tourist site, Fushimi Inari shrine. It’s not only the most visited tourist attraction in Kyoto but also in all of Japan. The late afternoon visit proved to be a wise choice; we experienced fairly uncongested pathways as well as the Golden Hour for photography, right before sunset.

We enjoyed a traditional Izakaya dinner then called it a night, enjoying the sites on our stroll back to the hotel.

Dziadziu Visits Japan: Himeji Castle and Hiroshima

My dad’s here! Dziadziu (grandfather) came to see the grandkids and see what our life in Japan is like. After a few days of Yokohama sites, it was time to hit the rails.

Dad said that he wanted to see Hiroshima, so I decided on a stop at Himeji Castle along the way. So we boarded our first Nozomi Super Express Shinkansen of the day.

As loyal martayaki readers may recall, I visited Himeji Castle once before.

We arrived in Himeji and saw tons of people. And sakura (cherry blossoms)! Honestly I had no idea that the castle is surrounded by them, so it was a lovely surprise. A gorgeous Sunday afternoon with sakura in full bloom brought out the masses, but somehow no one seemed to mind. The long lines moved along at a steady pace, and the announced wait time of 60 minutes to enter the Main Keep (main part of the castle) turned out to be about 20 minutes. Our fellow line standers all seemed in good spirits. Call it the magic of the sakura, or simply good manners–but everyone waited patiently, enjoying the beautiful day and incredible scenery.

Standing there, looking at these breathtaking flowers, and this stunning castle–I swallowed a huge lump in my throat. It’s impossible for me to feel anything but pure gratitude that I have this opportunity, and that I shared it with my dad.

After the castle Dad sampled his first bowl of katsudon (pork cutlet with egg over rice) and soba noodles.

Then we returned to the Shinkansen for a quick 60 minute ride, continuing on to Hiroshima.

We arrived late afternoon, checked in to our hotel, and relaxed a bit. Then dinner!

If you mention a visit to Hiroshima, you’ll get very different responses from Western and Japanese friends. The Westerners frown a bit and ask if I went to the Peace Memorial and other sites related to the atomic bombing. Meanwhile Japanese friends light up and enthusiastically ask, did you try any okonomiyaki?!?

So for dinner Dad and I headed to Okonomimura, or okonomiyaki town–really a building with several floors of okonomiyaki stalls. We carefully reviewed the stalls, weighed our options, then judiciously chose one. Kidding! We sat down at the first place with two open stools, then ordered beer and a Deluxe Okonomiyaki.

Well nourished, we retired to our hotel for a solid sleep ahead of Monday’s plan: a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Atomic Bomb Dome.