We all arrived safely in Hawaii and so we bid a final farewell to Tokyo Tales. New life, new blog. Thanks for all the memories and much love to all.
Come by and see us at:
We all arrived safely in Hawaii and so we bid a final farewell to Tokyo Tales. New life, new blog. Thanks for all the memories and much love to all.
Come by and see us at:
The day before we bought our house in Hawaii, we went to a farmer’s market in Hilo, where a pleasant young man was selling organic honey, and not just any organic honey. It was hard to get my head around the concept of Java Plum Blossom organic honey. Do such things really exist outside of fairy tales?
We had discovered organic honey a few years ago. There’s a store nearby that specializes in it, all different sorts from all over Japan. It is impossible to describe how wonderful it tastes, especially if you try it side-by-side with supermarket honey, which by comparison tastes like engine grease. It’s not unlike the difference between the joyous explosion of citrus magic that comes from a lemon and the chemical-infused gunk that comes out of a plastic lemon, despite the adorable packaging.
So we brought our treasure back to Tokyo and savored it over the next months, parceled out from the mother ship into my Peter Rabbit Kewpie mayonnaise jar.
I’ve never met a rabbit that eats mayonnaise, or honey for that matter, so I’ve never really understood why Kewpie chose Peter. It makes about as much sense as a bunny bearing chocolate and colored eggs at Easter, but like the plastic lemon, the jar is just so darned adorable that I’ve kept it for years and years.
And now I’m packing up and moving halfway across the Pacific Ocean. I don’t want to carry the honey back to where it came from, so I gave it away. But I couldn’t give up Peter.
I am astonished at the things I feel I have to keep. I’ve painlessly given away so many things, but am faced with a pile of special somethings that just don’t want to fit into my suitcase: the plastic, now-retro toothpick dispenser, the coffee can I’ve been using forever, the miniature whisk we used to make kitten formula when Plato and Dana were babies. It’s really just a bunch of junk but it feels like leaving these things behind will be leaving little pieces of me scattered across the trash heaps of Tokyo. I’ve had six long months to come to terms with this loss, and have been vehement about not wanting the lovely Hawaii house to be cluttered, but here I sit, paralyzed with indecision.
Just as I don’t want to abandon my bits of nonsense, I find it difficult to let go of Tokyo Tales. This will be the last one, the tail end of the tales, if you will. It has been a journey full of both delight and distress, a source of invaluable catharsis for me, and I thank each and every one of you for sharing it with me.
With a bit of effort and a dusting of luck, we will begin again, a new home, a new life, a new jar of honey.
Aloha and mahalo.
On the second day of our trip to Hawaii this February, I came across a pair of Tree of Life earrings in a little shop on Maui. It was love at first sight.
They have a simple design, silver backed with something opalescent. There is a subtle magic in the way their roots are fused with the earth, their branches fused with the sky. They are life, its strength, its ability to persevere, to withstand the wind and the rain and still stand strong. They are a perfect yogic Mountain Pose, spine long, shoulders back and down, toes spread, chest and collar bones open, receptive, resilient, strong.
All of that for thirty dollars plus tax.
Armed with the confidence that comes with magical possessions, we bought a house on the Big Island and turned our lives upside down.
Back in Tokyo, we started on that slow and painful process. We have counted down from more than six months to less than three weeks. Along the journey of sifting through the detritus of 32 years in Tokyo, I realized we only have two pieces of furniture that we care about; the beautiful cherry wood sideboard, a birthday gift to Rochi many years ago, and the glass doll case I found abandoned in the rain. The cost of shipping those things was astronomical but I looked inside my heart and knew that while they are only bits of glass and wood, they are irreplaceable and therefore beyond value. The decision made itself.
I also rediscovered the vintage Tiffany’s gold and sapphire jewelry I’d inherited from my grandmother. I am told it is quite valuable. To me, it only looks a little like the Cookie Monster.
I loved my grandma, miss her always. I love imagining her wearing these lovelies. When I look at them I can smell her special smell, feel her big, soft arms around me, see her red lipsticked smile as she cooed sweet noises at me, made me feel special, made me feel loved.
I wear the Tree of Life earrings nearly every day and still draw strength and confidence from them. At the same time, I cannot imagine myself ever wearing grandma’s jewels. I doubt I will ever have the type of style they demand. But I will never sell them either. In both the same and different ways, they are as irreplaceable as the sideboard and doll case.
And therein lies the fundamental contradiction of life. While everything is different, it is also the same. I’m starting to believe that knowing that, living that, is the key to happiness.
I’ve been binge-watching The Walking Dead for a couple of days. If you’re lucky enough not to know this, it’s a zombie apocalypse horror series set in the near yesterday/present/tomorrow. Some sort of horrible disease takes over the world and kills most of the population, which then comes back semi-alive and feeds on anything that is actually alive. It’s your basic zombie stuff, but the zombies are pretty horrific. I won’t describe them. You can do a Google image search if you’re curious. But I will give you this: remember the face ripping scene from Poltergeist? Tame stuff, that. The Walking Dead will curl your toes and curdle your stomach.
The level of violence is astronomical, truly gruesome. I have always wondered where Edgar Allan Poe came up with his scary images. I’ve read that he was a mild mannered gent, married, home for dinner every evening, not the opium-smoking, knuckle-dragger you’d expect. But compared to him, the The Walking Dead writers must be snorting PCP and eating monster trucks for breakfast.
Believe it or not, the series is into its ninth season. I just started the second. Yes, I’m addicted. The thing is that the whole scenario goes so far beyond anything with even the remotest connection to reality that it’s kind of funny. I can’t stop wondering how the heroes can be so naive and so quick to heal from horrific injuries despite a lack of both medicine and doctors.
I also know enough about production to know that the zombies are spending more time in hair and make-up than on set. One of the first zombies we meet only has half a body and is dragging its emaciated self around a public park looking for someone to play with. Or eat. It wasn’t clear at that point. I don’t know how they managed the half-body. Special effects? Animatronics a la Disneyland? I lay in bed last night with images of zombies tap-dancing marionette style inside my head and nearly laughed at the absurdity of it all.
And that’s exactly the appeal of this kind of entertainment. My brain has been on overload for far too long. There have been too many powerful, external influences pulling and pushing me through life, too many things beyond my control. I can lose myself in Zombieland for a while, give myself a break from reality because at times reality is more than I can face.
But reality is what we make it. I’m told that even though the lava is flowing close, the only effect it has outside the immediate eruption area is a glow in the sky at night, a perpetual sunset. In a sense, the lava is a gift, a grounding in reality. It reminds me that there’s no such thing as paradise, not in the sense of perfection or magic. Just like happiness, paradise is a frame of mind. Some people surround themselves with the finest of everything in a Park Avenue penthouse and are never satisfied; others are overwhelmed with gratitude for a palm frond hut at the edge of a jungle, no bills, no neighbors, no plumbing. Some people go through life as zombies, blindly following a path laid down for them by others. Some people have their eyes open and find their own path, mindful of their place in the universe, the power they have to influence for good or for evil.
I am somewhere in between. I don’t need Dom Perignon and a Bentley; I do need clean underwear and a toilet that flushes. The Hawaii house offers both.
The reactions I get from people when I tell them we’re moving to Hawaii are overwhelmingly positive, supportive, happy for us. This is the dream, the fantasy. We are not unique in wanting this, but we have taken the leap pretty much everyone wants to take and are trying to make it happen. We’re moving forward, moving toward something, accepting uncertainty as part of the deal.
We may be groping ahead somewhat blindly but our eyes are open and, outside of TV land, there’s not a zombie in sight.
In April and May of last year, I asked my hair cutter to cut my hair shorter and shorter as a way to prepare myself for the inevitable.
One day not long after my final haircut, I was at Smile, a neighborhood drugstore. (There’s already an astonishing number of drugstores in Tokyo and they keep opening new ones. At least 99.9% of the junk they sell is stuff I would never buy, and the list of what I do buy keeps getting shorter, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish. A funny thing, though, is that they only sell OTC drugs. Pharmaceuticals are only sold at pharmacies.)
The Smile “pharmacist” is an older woman who has been very helpful when I ask for weird things like mosquito spray in February (She found some!) and cold medicine without caffeine (doesn’t exist). That day, she commented on the shortness of my hair and I made a lame joke about Takarazuka, which is a women only theater troupe, many of whom have very short hair because they play male characters.
Well, she exploded in Smiles (see what I did there?) saying she was a major fan and offering to copy some of her DVDs for me. It was a kind offer and I accepted even though I knew I would probably never watch them. I only know about the group because there were always posters advertising their performances outside the sento public bath I had to use my first year in Japan because my apartment had a squat toilet and no bath.
Last week, we went to Smile to consult with her about my itchy eyes. She looked me over and said that I looked hale and healthy and we told her, gently, that I had had cancer last year but was feeling much better. More explosive Smiles (I did it again!) and she gave me a bear hug, something Japanese people do so rarely I can barely remember how it’s done. Then she plucked a cat hair off my sweater and called over two other women who work there to exclaim over the almost absurd adorableness of our cats.
But there was something much, much more to all of the oohing and aahing than cats. I was so deeply moved I had to fight off tears, which I could at least blame on itchy eyes.
The preamble to the World Health Organization charter reads, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” And yet, when I asked my oncologist about physical therapy, all I received was a sympathetic half-smile.
I realized I would have to take my well-being into my own hands. So I studied lymph drainage videos on Youtube (How did we ever survive before Youtube?) and found a therapist on my own. He has been working out some of the scar tissue in my torso. I didn’t know that such a thing is possible; the doctors say I have to have additional surgery to cut out scar tissue.
Say what? You want to cut me open…again…to clean up the mess from cutting me open?
I don’t think so.
I progress with recovery, an ongoing process, a seemingly endless series of baby steps. Just recently, I have noticed some of my muscle strength returning, a glimmer of the joy yoga used to bring me. For months, just turning over in bed and standing up hurt every joint; just imagine being so tired that getting out of bed is exhausting. But this morning I did a seamless transition from core work on my back to downward facing dog. (If you’re not a yogi and don’t know what that means, please feel free to be impressed. A few years ago, that would have been gibberish to me, too.)
While I can’t really complain about the medical treatment I received in general, I have discovered some glaring holes in the system. Women’s health is still a secondary issue, shrouded in mystery, whispered about behind closed doors. And women’s well-being is a non-issue; the very existence of our well-being is questioned. A prime example: Number one on the Japanese list of side effects we and our families might expect to see from chemo is grouchiness, whereas grouchiness doesn’t even appear on any of the English websites I consulted. I would assume Japanese society still expects women to smile, no matter what, a concept the West seems to have ditched. There was a time when women marched and burned their bras for the right to be bitchy. I am grateful to them.
(Heavens. I just deleted two paragraphs about social injustice and bullying and racism and guns and violence and the lunatic fringe, which includes people who decide to move to Hawaii during a volcano eruption. Who would do such a thing?)
Apologies, dear reader. It seems a bit too much at times, coping with the fallout from last year while Madame Pele is raining her fallout much too close to my soon-to-be backyard. May I ask that you do whatever it is you do, pray or chant or meditate or light incense or do a hoopla dance, to send a little luck my way? I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
One of the many monumental challenges that moving to Hawaii poses: I will have to drive. Our house is in the middle of nowhere. Even fetching an egg will mean getting in the car and driving. The closest store, imaginatively called “Da Store”, is three miles away and the only fresh produce they have is wilted lettuce.
I will have to drive. I have a license, but since I left the States 30 years ago and gave my 1974 Super Beetle to my mom, I haven’t driven. Not really. I hate driving and I suck at it. I did drive for a few minutes in the Florida Everglades 25 years ago, but as I approached, crocodiles ran in all directions, screaming in terror. My driving skills, never worth sneezing at in the first place, are rather rusty.
Having a car in Tokyo is really more of a liability than an asset, so I’ve always been a bicycle gal. My bicycle, though, is as old and rusty as Methuselah. It’s not worth the price of shipping it, so the trash people came today to take it away. We came back from lunch today and it was gone. It made me sadder than I expected.
I’m trying to make the transition to car life. We’ve been casually shopping for cars, meaning looking at other people’s cars as we walk around. Honestly, I’d be afraid to drive anything bigger than a Tonka truck, so when we found this one, we both fell in love.
It’s a Daihatsu Canbus and just as cute as a baby bunny wrapped in a pink blanket eating marshmallows while being cuddled by a koala. I mean, this sweet little guy is actually smiling. It doesn’t matter that he’s a roller skate with a box on it and powered by a sewing machine that tops out at 60 mph. That’s just my speed.
Unfortunately, it turns out that these tiny Matchbox cars are not up to US crash test standards and therefore unavailable in the States. I have the option of self-importing, but that would be a mistake for several reasons: 1) it would be expensive, 2) the car would be an orphan, unable to have his cogs and switches replaced without significant trouble, and 3) he would get stolen within minutes because everyone would be so terribly jealous that I had the cutest car in the universe.
So I’ve come up with a solution. I’m sure Tonka trucks do come up to American safety standards, so I am going to get myself a pair of Tonka dump trucks, lash them to my feet, and use them as roller skates to get around the island. That’s a sensible solution, no?
I’m trying to get rid of my Christmas tree. I haven’t used her in the past few years and don’t want to haul her across the Pacific Ocean. Plus, she doesn’t stand a chance with Monkey Boy and George in the house. But I’ve had her for more than twenty years; I know this because every year after Christmas I wrap her in the same tattered sheet of newspaper.
Three times I’ve taken her downstairs and three times I’ve brought her back up. I guess I feel an affinity for the old girl. She’s seen a few holidays, waited patiently for the seasons to change, allowed two generations of cats to toss her on the floor and never lost her temper. Maybe she has a few kinks in her spine and her branches are a little off-kilter but I think she might not be ready for the trash heap. Not yet.
It’s funny which things are easy to let go of and which things attach themselves to us, snapping turtles of the psyche.
When I was a little girl, I had an old flannel nightgown I carried around with me. I would rub it against my nose while I sucked my thumb. I called it my “smoker”. I don’t know why; maybe sucking my thumb reminded me of my grandfather sucking on cigarettes. Around age seven, I gave my smoker to my parents and told them not to give it back. And then I asked them to give it back. And then I put it in a drawer myself, vowing to stop sucking my thumb. And I did stop.
Not so many years after that, I started sucking on cigarettes. It took me 35 years to stop, but I did.
I think if I can mentally tuck my Christmas tree into a drawer with both my smoker and my smokes, I might be able to let her go.
If I can’t, does anybody want a used Christmas tree?
We’ve set our departure date for August 4 and I am determined to downsize. I give each item a feng shui moment, asking it, “Do I really want to carry you across the Pacific Ocean?” More often than not, the answer is, “No.” We toss old documents, choose which photos need to be kept, which are better forgotten, give things away, delete no-longer-relevant computer files. I had four boxes crammed with old letters at the back of the closet, couldn’t bear to toss them, couldn’t bear to read them. So we had a bonfire in the back garden.
Fire: cleansing, mesmerizing, comforting, final.
We continue to wait out the ridiculous quarantine period (83 more days!) and there is an unhealthy coating of frustration mixed into the sparkling tropical fruit salad that awaits us halfway across the Pacific.
Or so we hope.
I took this photo in April at Volcanoes National Park. There were two sputtering pools of bubbly lava, far enough in the distance to seem unreal. No biggie.
I came back to Tokyo, carried on with preparations.
And then Kilauea started to kick up her heels.
So far the lava is only flowing in Leilani Estates, which is two developments away from our house, about 15 miles, a safe distance, we hope. But I have this nagging image in my head, a scene from Minions, where a T Rex is balancing on his toes, trying to keep his balance by flailing his tiny, useless arms and then…
…he topples into a pit of bubbling lava.
I can’t describe how painful it is to read the news, to watch new vents opening, creeping northwest, creeping toward our little piece of paradise.
When I asked Realtor Ron to make our offer on the house, I started to cry. I hadn’t realized how much I wanted it until it looked like I might get it. And now I might not get it after all.
But at the same time, I’ve lived here for 32 years, lived through typhoons and earthquakes and tsunami. And I’ve had cancer and will live with the fallout from that for the rest of my life. I’m finding an odd sense of comfort in that, in the way that things go in parallel, they go full circle, they usually work out in the end. One way of the other, we will move forward into whatever the future holds for us.
For now, we wait. And we hope. There’s nothing else we can do.
I find myself hovering on the edge of a knife, trying desperately not to topple over into the Land of Schizophrenia. How am I supposed to sit quietly and continue recovering when paradise is waiting for me just a hop and a skip across the Pacific Ocean?
This is the first papaya I harvested from one of the trees in my new garden. I had to wash some sort of white goo off its skin (Gekko guano? I don’t wanna know.) and artfully place some chunks of lemon to hide its blemishes, but it smelled like fairy breath and tasted like the first blossoms of dawn. The garden is young; in time there will also be avocados and lemons.
We did all the fancy tap dancing required to get the cats past quarantine. Their microchip numbers are listed on the Holy List of the Acceptable and now we have to wait 120 days. I don’t understand why. They have all been vaccinated and their blood examined by the People Who Decide These Things. They do not have rabies. They cannot get rabies. But we are told to wait and so we do, while visions of tropical fruit dance in our heads. Each night, we toast each other saying, “I don’t want to be here.”
Perhaps it is as it should be. The next three months will give us time to sort slowly and lingeringly through the detritus of 32 years of living on this tiny, delightful island. It’s harder than I realized it would be. The new house is light and airy and I want to keep it that way, so I will bring an absolute minimum of junk with me. I’ve gotten down to two small photo albums, three favorite reference books and a couple of novels. I’m picking out special items to send to people who matter, saying sayonara to things that don’t matter, making peace with separation, making peace with myself.
Everything points to this being the right move to make. A lot of things have come together in a final-feeling sort of way, almost as if Japan is giving us a gentle nudge toward the airport, tearfully waving a handkerchief at us from the departure gate. It’s been a good run, but to quote Douglas Adams, “So long and thanks for all the fish.”
I’m trading in a tiny island for an even tinier one, earthquakes for volcanoes, power tools for coqui frogs, nomiyas for luaus, salarymen for aging hippies, bicycles for surfboards, konnichiwa for aloha, Amaterasu for Pele. I’ve been making a mental list of things I will and won’t miss. The won’t list is longer.
I can’t wait to see how all of this is going to unfold.