Category Archives: Weather

How to Name a Typhoon

Screenshot-2017-10-25 Typhoon Committee Typhoon Committee is an intergovernmental body organized under the joint auspices o[...]

When I went to bed on Sunday night, the media were calling #21 a massive typhoon (technically a tropical cyclone). It turned out to be a proverbial tempest in a chapot. I couldn’t sleep that night but that’s OK since I’ve always been a fan of violent weather. Well, almost always. When I was a little girl, there was a huge tree right outside my bedroom window and every time there was a storm, I was convinced the tree would fall onto the house and crush me to smithereens. I would cry and cry until one of my parents came up to comfort me. And, boy oh boy, the lies they made up to get me to shut up! One of them once said the roof was made of rubber so if the tree fell, it would just bounce back off again. I believed it. Kids are dumb.


So I lay awake and listened as the rain pelted the windows and the wind whined a bit, but that was the extent of it. There were no broken flowerpots or tree branches, no upturned old ladies, no banshees wailed, no witches sailed past on broomsticks. Although it’s been raining for what feels like months, the typhoon passed by within an hour. Despite all the dire warnings, typhoon #21 inspired yet another media circus about a non-event.

The next morning I got a message from a friend in the States implying that the Western hemisphere is more civilized than this one because they use names instead of numbers for what they incorrectly call “hurricanes”. The US uses people’s names, alternately male and female. They were all female until 1979 when a lot of women burned our bras in protest and they changed the rules.

So I thought I should look into this matter.

It turns out that Asian typhoons do have names but we don’t use them here in Japan. There’s a super secret group called the ESCAP/WMO (Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific/World Meteorological Organization) Typhoon Committee who are responsible for naming typhoons in the Western Pacific. The Committee has 14 member countries, all in Asia except, for reasons that escape me, the United States, who got together and made a list of names. Each country contributed five names and the names are used in sequential order according to the alphabetical ordering of the English names of the member countries, starting with Cambodia and ending with Vietnam. Our #21 was called Lan, a name contributed by the US. Last week’s typhoon, #20, was called Khanun, named by Thailand. Currently, #22, Saola (Vietnam), is kicking up her heels somewhere around Guam.

Japan’s contributions to the list include Kujira (whale) and Usagi (rabbit). I wonder who was responsible for that one? “Quick! Latch all the windows and hide the cabbages and carrots! Typhoon Bunny is coming!”

Long story short, it turns out that the reason we use numbers instead of names is that many of the names on the list are too hard to pronounce in Japanese, which has a very limited syllabulary, and our newscasters are very lazy indeed.


Mystery solved.


Meditation Cat Says…

Our ancestors may have lived perfectly well on what they could hunt and gather. They may have slept on the bare ground and worn mammoth skin to cover their tender bits. They may have gone to bed and risen with the sun and planned their life events around the movements of the celestial orbs. They may have believed in the spirits of rocks and rivers and trees and mountains and butterflies and unicorns. But when it’s over 34 degrees outside and the humidity has blown the mercury right out of the thermometer and turned my hair into a fuzzy blonde afro and my brain is starting to resemble last month’s applesauce, I believe in swimming pools and central air conditioning and ice cubes in my drinks. Although celestial orbs and unicorns are still pretty cool.

Blown Away

Yesterday, we went to a shakuhachi concert held in a Catholic church during a typhoon.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAOur friend Alec, the one in the middle, invited us. The church was surreal, with a Japanese priest and a primarily Philippine congregation.  We arrived in time to catch the tail end of the afternoon mass and I realized I had never been inside a Catholic church before, except as a tourist, but we duly stood and sat as instructed and it was over soon enough.

I’ve always been fond of wind instruments in general, and the shakuhachi in specific. It’s just a bamboo tube with some holes drilled in it, and it’s played using only the five tone Chinese scale, yet by varying the angle they blow across the mouthpiece, wiggling their¬† heads around in weird ways and partially covering the finger holes, players can achieve variations of sound that are quite astonishing. A lot of it is based on sounds existing in nature, so if you close your eyes you can hear the wing flaps of soaring birds, the cajoling flow of water over rocks in a shallow river, the haunting, lilting cries of small animals in pain or fear, the wailing of high winds through mountaintop trees. The tones range from bottom-of-the-ocean deep to make-you-cringe shrill. Alec managed to create the sound of a nesting crane using the way you roll an R in Spanish.

They played a variety of songs. Some were traditional, although I wouldn’t be able to tell you if this is sheet music or a restaurant menu.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAThe tall guy, Chris, is a composer and arranged this somewhat less traditional piece.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAYup. Look closely. That’s I Feel Good by James Brown, highly stylized. I didn’t recognize it beyond “gosh, that sounds familiar”, until I saw the sheet music.

The only negative was the two little girls sitting two pews ahead of us stuffing their faces with potato chips and shrimp crackers all the way through the concert. They should consider themselves lucky that there was an old lady in the intervening pew, because otherwise we might have clunked their skulls together. Their mother was too busy playing with her phone to notice so we probably could have gotten away with it.

Otherwise, it was a pretty groovy way to spend a blustery Sunday afternoon. And when was the last time anyone got to use the words “shakuhachi”, “Catholic church” and “typhoon” all in one sentence?

A Tale of Zen

Years ago, a friend and I went to Kyoto. While we were there, we visited Ryoanji Temple and its renowned rock garden. It was a cold, overcast weekday and nobody else was there. We sat on the wooden porch next to the garden and as we watched, a single snowflake fell. It was one of those rare and very special moments; I could swear I heard the sound of one hand clapping.

Unfortunately, most of the time, this is more like what my life looks like.

Zen garden school

Although I only very rarely dress up in an orange sheet, I do often feel like the guy at the side with his head in his hand. More often, though, I’m one of the clowns playing in the sand. And that’s probably just as it ought to be.


There was a man on the train this morning carrying an umbrella that was designed to look like a rifle. It had a fake wooden stock complete with trigger and trigger guard, the umbrella part was printed with a camouflage pattern, the tip even had a muzzle and a sight. I bet he looked out the window this morning and thought, “Shoot!* It’s raining. I guess I’ll need my gunbrella.”gunbrellaI couldn’t stop staring at it. The guy looked otherwise normal, but I just couldn’t imagine wanting to own such a thing, much less carry it around in public. Talk about passive aggressive. Who comes up with these things?

*See what I did there?

The Veg in All of Us

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAThere’s a temporary fruit and veggie stand across the street from the dojo. One never knows when or if it is going to appear, nor what they’re going to be selling. Some of it is domestic, but I’ve also seen grapes from California and dates from the Middle East, among other things.

The fellow who usually runs it is the friendly sort.

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAI once got some scrumptious strawberries and blackberries from him for one of my infamous tarts. And he often has blueberries. A few days ago, I got some teeny tomatoes, both red and yellow. Last week, he had some rather tasty looking mushrooms. I picked up a bag and said I thought I’d saute them in butter.

His head snapped up and a huge grin spread across his face. “That sounds really yummy!”

“Doesn’t it? Maybe some garlic and white wine, too.”

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAAs I started to walk away, he said, “Hey, Oneisan (big sister), add some of this at the end. That will taste good.” And he handed me a package of Italian parsley. And it was good. And I was charmed that he called me Oneisan. At my age, I’m more likely to get Obasan (auntie). Yuck.

It’s very cold today, and when I dropped by to see what he had, I asked if it isn’t difficult to be outside like that every day. He said that yes, it is, but he gets to talk to a lot of people and he likes that part. (Another huge grin.)

I can relate. As much as I love being freelance, it’s always feast or famine. Nothing happens for the longest time–if I’m home alone, I’m likely to spend the day in my sweats, never leaving the house, never speaking to anyone–then things get busy and it’s too much too fast and my groggy brain has trouble processing all of it.

The odd thing, though, is that it tends to work out. I had gobs of outside jobs in January, sometimes two or three a day. This week, my schedule is completely clear, next week I’ve got one meeting scheduled. But work I can do here at the computer, in my sweats, keeps coming in. Motivation to get it done is the biggest roadblock, and it was severely lacking today. A friend suggested that I go do something very Japanese that I have forgotten is exotic to people who don’t live here. So I got dressed, even went so far as to put on a bra, and went, alone, to the soba/udon shop where I ate curry udon, both things I had never done before. And it was good. And I came home and managed to finish the work I had to finish today.

So if I can focus, and remember to eat, and stay away from Candy Crush (and this cursed blog!), all will be well. (Huge grin.)

The 2014 Snow Sculpture Awards

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to…
The 2014 Tokyo International Snow Sculpture Awards!

Highly unqualified non-professional photographer: Eda

Completely biased and proud of it jury-of-one: Eda

Just to set the tone, here’s during and after.

Across the streetAnd another after:

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERANow, on to the awards! (Drum roll, please.)

In the Classic Snowman category:

Snowman CollageAs appealing as some of the others are, the jury chose this one for the happy smile, interpretive use of branches for arms, and strategic placing of flower pot and mikan.

In the Kamakura Ice House category:

Kamakura collageWhile the others were valiant efforts, these little girls were really nice about letting me take their picture. And I liked the mini-snowman on the roof, which really should qualify this one for both categories, but let’s not be greedy.

First runner up: Hinata’s Snow Bunny

Saori snow bunnyThe jury felt that both the bunny and the little boy took cuteness to a whole new level.

The Grand Prix goes to: Eri’s Totoro!

Eri and TotoroBoth unusual and exceptionally well executed, this one goes in the hall of fame, plus she has promised to do a Neko Bus if there’s ever another heavy snowfall.

And last but not least, the Booby Prize goes to:

PENTAX DIGITAL CAMERAThe jury is not sure she wants to know what that’s supposed to be.

Congratulations, one and all, and happy snow day!


A Tale of Snow


I mouse around the house in my solitude, grateful that I can stay home today, grateful for my long sleeved t-shirt, sweatshirt, fleece sweater, neck warmer, corduroy granny pants and fuzzy socks, grateful for the kerosene stove, hoping that the gas will last, dreading the thought of going outside to refill the tank.

Tokyo’s rare snowfalls are normally things of wonderland beauty—large, wet tufts of snowflakes falling gently and covering the world with cotton candy fluff.

Today’s snow is not one of those snows. Today’s snowflakes are small and independent, each going its own direction, driven by gusting winds, swirling and eddying off the neighbors’ rooftops. Haphazard flights, confused, chaotic, they make kamikaze dashes against my window. The dejected sky is grey and heavy. I open the window to take a picture and snowflakes attach themselves to my eyelashes and camera lens.

I heat a can of tomato soup and toast a stale English muffin, make a cup of coffee and eat the last chocolate truffle.

The narrow street is nearly impassable. A single soul stumbles through the ruts, trying to protect herself with a collapsing umbrella. The news reports that the trains are shutting down.

I shrug more deeply into my comforting layers of warmth and whisper thanks for silver linings.


This picture has nothing to do with this post,
but I like it and this is my blog and I can do what I want with it.
So there.

The guy from New York that I met at Burger King last week was complaining about how cold Japanese houses are. It’s true. Central heating is rare in private homes; only individual rooms are heated. I have a small gas heater that takes the edge off the living room and kitchen. A portable kerosene stove heats this room, but the other rooms are the same temperature as it is outside. Bedroom, hallways, bathroom, all cold. No wonder the Japanese invented the heated toilet seat.

My buddy Randy said that a while back his wife got athlete’s foot, and a week later he got it, too. They went to the foot doctor together and the doctor said, “That’s not athlete’s foot. It’s mild frostbite.”

So with yesterday being rather blustersome, and because we like them, we went to D’s wonderfully centrally heated house to play with him and his kids. Three of us were working on a jigsaw puzzle, all the while making silly comments using silly accents, when D walked in and said he didn’t have enough points on his movement monitoring wrist thingy, so I suggested that he jump up and down. He did, and without looking up from the puzzle, I said quietly, “House go bouncy-bouncy.”

We all burst into prolonged giggles until Miranda, who is 13 and too cool for jigsaws, marched her pubescent self into the room and demanded to know what was so funny. Without looking up from the puzzle, I glanced at my puzzle mates and said quietly, “Daddy go jumpy-jumpy. House go bouncy-bouncy.”

Hysterics all around.

D just stood in the doorway staring at us. The look on his face…now that was cold. But being an all-around good egg, he forgave us and soon enough all was warm and fuzzy again.

I don’t care what they say about antibiotics and MRIs and stem cell research. There’s nothing so healing as a good, long laugh.